The date of birth of Jiddu Krishnamurti was determined by Mary Lutyens, his biographer, to be May 12, 1895. His birthplace was the small town of Madanapalle in Chittoor District in Andhra Pradesh. He is a Telugu Brahmin. His father, Jiddu Narayaniah, was employed as an official of the British colonial administration.
In 1903, the family settled in Cudappah (Kadapa). Krishnamurti had contracted malaria in his childhood and he would suffer recurrent bouts of the disease over many years. In memoirs written when he was eighteen years old, Krishnamurti described psychic experiences, such as seeing his sister, who had died in 1904, and his late mother.
Krishnamurti's father retired at the end of 1907, and sought employment at the headquarters of the Theosophical Society at Adyar. Narayaniah had been a theosophist since 1882. He was hired by the Society as a clerk and he moved there with his family in January 1909.
In April 1909, Krishnamurti first met Charles Webster Leadbeater, who claimed clairvoyance. Leadbeater had noticed Krishnamurti, on the Society's beach on the Adyar river, and was amazed by the "most wonderful aura he had ever seen, without a particle of selfishness in it." Leadbeater was convinced that the boy would become a spiritual teacher and a great orator; the likely "vehicle for the Lord Maitreya"—in Theosophical doctrine, an advanced spiritual entity periodically appearing on Earth as a World Teacher to guide the evolution of humankind. Subsequent to this, Krishnamurti was nurtured by the Theosophical Society in Adyar. Leadbeater and a small number of trusted associates undertook the task of educating, protecting, and generally preparing Krishnamurti as the "vehicle" of the expected World Teacher. Krishnamurti (often later called Krishnaji) and his younger brother Nityananda (Nitya) were privately tutored at the Theosophical compound in Madras, and later had their education abroad.
During this time, Krishnamurti had developed a strong bond with Annie Besant and came to view her as a surrogate mother. His father, who had initially assented to Besant's legal guardianship of Krishnamurti,was pushed into the background by the swirl of attention around his son. In 1912 he sued Besant to annul the guardianship agreement. After a protracted legal battle, Besant took custody of Krishnamurti and Nitya.
In 1911, the Theosophical Society established the Order of the Star in the East (OSE) to prepare the world for the expected appearance of the World Teacher. Krishnamurti was named as its head, with senior Theosophists assigned various other positions. Membership was open to anybody who accepted the doctrine of the Coming of the World Teacher.
His public image, cultivated by the Theosophists, "was to be characterized by a well-polished exterior, a sobriety of purpose, a cosmopolitan outlook and an otherworldly, almost beatific detachment in his demeanor." Demonstrably, "all of these can be said to have characterized Krishnamurti's public image to the end of his life." It was apparently clear early on that he "possessed an innate personal magnetism, not of a warm physical variety, but nonetheless emotive in its austerity, and inclined to inspire veneration."
Krishnamurti and Nitya were taken to England in April 1911. During this trip Krishnamurti gave his first public speech, to members of the OSE in London. His first writings had also started to appear, published in booklets by the Theosophical Society and in Theosophical and OSE-affiliated magazines. Between 1911 and the start of World War I in 1914, the brothers visited several other European countries, always accompanied by Theosophist chaperones.
After the war, Krishnamurti embarked on a series of lectures, meetings and discussions around the world related to his duties as the Head of the OSE, accompanied by Nitya, by then the Organizing Secretary of the Order). Krishnamurti also continued writing. The content of his talks and writings, revolved around the work of the Order and of its members in preparation for the Coming. He was described, initially, as a halting, hesitant, and repetitive speaker, but his delivery and confidence improved, and he gradually took command of the meetings.
He also fell in love, in 1921, with Helen Knothe, a seventeen-year-old American whose family was associated with the Theosophists. The experience was tempered by the realisation that his work and expected life-mission precluded what would otherwise be considered normal relationships and by the mid-1920s the two of them had drifted apart.
In 1922 Krishnamurti and Nitya travelled from Sydney to California. While in California, they stayed at a cottage in the Ojai Valley. At Ojai they met Rosalind Williams, a young American who became close to them both, and who was later to have a significant role in Krishnamurti's life. They found the Valley to be very agreeable. Eventually a trust, formed by supporters, purchased a cottage and surrounding property there for them. This became Krishnamurti's official place of residence.
It was at Ojai in August and September 1922 that Krishnamurti went through an intense, "life-changing" experience. This has been variously characterised as a spiritual awakening, a psychological transformation, and a physical conditioning. The initial events happened in two distinct phases: first a three-day spiritual experience followed, two weeks later, by a longer-lasting condition that Krishnamurti and those around him would refer to as the process; this condition would recur, at frequent intervals and with varying intensity, until his death. These experiences were accompanied, or followed, by what was interchangeably described as, "the benediction," "the immensity," "the sacredness," "the vastness" and, most often, "the otherness" or "the other." It was a state distinct from the process. According to Lutyens, it is evident from his notebook that this experience of otherness was "with him almost continuously" during his life and gave him "a sense of being protected."
Since the initial occurrences of 1922, several explanations have been proposed for this experience of Krishnamurti's. Leadbeater and other Theosophists expected the "vehicle" to have certain paranormal experiences, but were nevertheless mystified by these developments. During Krishnamurti's later years the nature and provenance of the continuing process often came up as a subject in private discussions between himself and associates.
The process at Ojai, whatever its cause or validity, was a cataclysmic milestone for Krishna. Up until this time his spiritual progress, chequered though it might have been, had been planned with solemn deliberation by Theosophy's leaders. He took his first step towards becoming an individual. For his future role as a teacher, the process was his bedrock. It had come to him alone and had not been transferred to him by his mentors. It provided Krishna with the soil in which his newfound spirit of confidence and independence could take root.
As news of these mystical experiences spread, rumours concerning the messianic status of Krishnamurti reached fever pitch as the 1925 Theosophical Society Convention was planned, on the 50th anniversary of its founding. There were expectations of significant happenings.
On 13 November 1925, at age 27, Nitya died in Ojai from complications of influenza and tuberculosis. Despite poor health, his death was unexpected, and it fundamentally shook Krishnamurti's belief in Theosophy and in the leaders of the Theosophical Society. According to eyewitness accounts, the news "broke him completely." but twelve days after Nitya's death he was "immensely quiet, radiant, and free of all sentiment and emotion"; "there was not a shadow ... to show what he had been through."
Over the next few years, Krishnamurti's new vision and consciousness continued to develop. New concepts appeared in his talks, discussions, and correspondence, together with an evolving vocabulary that was progressively free of Theosophical terminology. His new direction reached a climax in 1929, when he diagreed with Leadbeater and Besant on the continuation of the Order of the Star.
Krishnamurti dissolved the Order during the annual Star Camp at Ommen, the Netherlands, on 3 August 1929. He stated that he had made his decision after "careful consideration" during the previous two years, and that:
"I maintain that truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path. ... This is no magnificent deed, because I do not want followers, and I mean this. The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth. I am not concerned whether you pay attention to what I say or not. I want to do a certain thing in the world and I am going to do it with unwavering concentration. I am concerning myself with only one essential thing: to set man free. I desire to free him from all cages, from all fears, and not to found religions, new sects, nor to establish new theories and new philosophies."
Following the dissolution prominent Theosophists turned against Krishnamurti, including Leadbeater who is said to have stated, "the Coming had gone wrong." Krishnamurti had denounced all organised belief, the notion of gurus, and the whole teacher-follower relationship, vowing instead to work in setting people "absolutely, unconditionally free."
He soon disassociated himself from the Theosophical Society and its teachings and practices,but he remained on cordial terms with some of its members and ex-members throughout his life.
Krishnamurti would often refer to the totality of his work as the teachings and not as my teachings.
Krishnamurti resigned from the various trusts and other organisations that were affiliated with the defunct Order of the Star, including the Theosophical Society. He returned the money and properties donated to the Order, among them a castle in the Netherlands and 5,000 acres of land, to their donors.
From 1930 through 1944, Krishnamurti engaged in speaking tours and in the issue of publications under the auspice of the "Star Publishing Trust" (SPT), which he had founded with Desikacharya Rajagopal, a close associate and friend from the Order of the Star. Ojai was the base of operations for the new enterprise, where Krishnamurti, Rajagopal, and Rosalind Williams (who had married Rajagopal in 1927) resided in the house known as Arya Vihara (meaning Realm of the Aryas i.e. those noble by righteousness in Sanskrit). The business and organizational aspects of the SPT were administered chiefly by D. Rajagopal, as Krishnamurti devoted his time to speaking and meditation. The Rajagopals' marriage was not a happy one, and the two became physically estranged after the 1931 birth of their daughter, Radha. In the relative seclusion of Arya Vihara, Krishnamurti's close friendship with Rosalind deepened into a love affair which was not made public until 1991.
During the 1930s, Krishnamurti spoke in Europe, Latin America, India, Australia and the United States. In 1938, he met Aldous Huxley. The two began a close friendship which endured for many years. They held common concerns about the imminent conflict in Europe which they viewed as the outcome of the pernicious influence of nationalism. Krishnamurti's stance on World War II was often construed as pacifism and even subversion during a time of patriotic fervor in the United States and for a time he came under the surveillance of the FBI. He did not speak publicly for a period of about four years (between 1940 and 1944). During this time he lived and worked at Arya Vihara, which during the war operated as a largely self-sustaining farm, with its surplus goods donated for relief efforts in Europe. Of the years spent in Ojai during the war, he later said: "I think it was a period of no challenge, no demand, no outgoing. I think it was a kind of everything held in; and when I left Ojai it all burst."
Krishnamurti broke the hiatus from public speaking in May 1944 with a series of talks in Ojai. These talks, and subsequent material, were published by "Krishnamurti Writings Inc" (KWINC), the successor organisation to the "Star Publishing Trust." This was to be the new central Krishnamurti-related entity worldwide, whose sole purpose was the dissemination of the teaching. He had remained in contact with associates from India, and in the autumn of 1947 embarked upon a speaking tour there, attracting a new following of young intellectuals. It was on this trip that he first encountered the Mehta sisters, Pupul and Nandini, who became lifelong associates and confidants. The sisters also attended to Krishnamurti throughout a 1948 recurrence of the "process" in Ootacamund.
When in India after World War II, many prominent personalities came to meet with Krishnamurti, including Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. In his meetings with Nehru, Krishnamurti elaborated at length on the teachings, saying in one instance, "Understanding of the self only arises in relationship, in watching yourself in relationship to people, ideas, and things; to trees, the earth, and the world around you and within you. Relationship is the mirror in which the self is revealed. Without self-knowledge there is no basis for right thought and action." Nehru asked, "How does one start?" to which Krishnamurti replied, "Begin where you are. Read every word, every phrase, every paragraph of the mind, as it operates through thought."
Krishnamurti continued speaking in public lectures, group discussions and with concerned individuals around the world. In the early 1960s, he made the acquaintance of physicist David Bohm, whose philosophical and scientific concerns regarding the essence of the physical world, and the psychological and sociological state of mankind, found parallels in Krishnamurti's philosophy. The two men soon became close friends and started a common inquiry, in the form of personal dialogues–and occasionally in group discussions with other participants–that continued, periodically, over nearly two decades. Several of these discussions were published in the form of books or as parts of books, and introduced a wider audience (among scientists) to Krishnamurti's ideas. Although Krishnamurti's philosophy delved into fields as diverse as religious studies, education, psychology, physics, and consciousness studies, he was not then, nor since, well known in academic circles. Nevertheless, Krishnamurti met and held discussions with, other new agers including physicists Fritjof Capra and George Sudarshan, biologist Rupert Sheldrake, psychiatrist David Shainberg, as well as psychotherapists representing various theoretical orientations. The long friendship between Bohm and Krishnamurti went through a rocky interval in later years, and although they overcame their differences and remained friends until Krishnamurti's death, the relationship did not regain its previous intensity.
In the 1970s, Krishnamurti met several times with then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, with whom he had far ranging, and in some cases, very serious discussions. Jayakar considers his message in meetings with Indira Gandhi as a possible influence in the lifting of certain emergency measures Gandhi had imposed during periods of political turmoil.
Meanwhile, Krishnamurti's once close relationship with the Rajagopals had deteriorated to the point where he took D. Rajagopal to court to recover donated property and funds as well as publication rights for his works, manuscripts, and personal correspondence, that were in Rajagopal's possession. The litigation and ensuing cross complaints, which formally began in 1971, continued for many years. A substantial portion of materials and property was returned to Krishnamurti during his lifetime; the parties to this case finally settled all other matters in 1986, shortly after his death.
In 1984 and 1985 he spoke to an invited audience at the United Nations in New York, under the auspices of the Pacem in Terris Society chapter at the UN. In November 1985 he visited India for the last time, holding a number of what came to be known as "farewell" talks and discussions between then and January 1986. These last talks included the fundamental questions he had been asking through the years, as well as newer concerns related to then recent advances in science and technology, and their effect on humankind. Krishnamurti had commented to friends that he did not wish to invite death, but was not sure how long his body would last (he had already lost considerable weight), and once he could no longer talk, he would have "no further purpose." In his final talk, on 4 January 1986, in Madras, he again invited the audience to examine with him the nature of inquiry, the effect of technology, the nature of life and meditation, and the nature of creation.
He did not want anybody to pose as an interpreter of the teaching. He warned his associates on several occasions that they were not to present themselves as spokesmen on his behalf, or as his successors after his death.
A few days before his death, in a final statement, he declared that nobody among either his associates or the general public had understood what had happened to him (as the conduit of the teaching), nor had they understood the teaching itself. He added that the "immense energy" operating in his lifetime would be gone with his death, again implying the impossibility of successors. However, he offered hope by stating that people could approach that energy and gain a measure of understanding "if they live the teachings". In prior discussions he had compared himself with Thomas Edison, implying that he did the hard work, and now all was needed by others was a flick of the switch.
Krishnamurti died of pancreatic cancer on 17 February 1986, at the age of 90. His remains were cremated.
Krishnamurti constantly emphasised the right place of thought in daily life. But he also pointed out the dangers of thought when it becomes knowledge that acts as a calcified projection of the past. According to Krishnamurti, such action distorts our perception and full understanding of the world we live in, and more specifically, the relationships that define it. He saw knowledge as a necessary, but mechanical, function of the mind. The capacity of mind to record can present barriers, however. For example, hurtful words spoken in a relationship may become memories that influence actions. Thus knowledge can present a division in a relationship and may be destructive.
The brain, trained as it is to record, provides safety and security, and "a sense of vitality." The recording creates an image of oneself, of loved ones, firm, politicians, priests, and of the ideal. If these images are fixed, one "will always be getting hurt, always living in a pattern in which there is no freedom." But if one is able to "listen to it completely without any reaction, then there is no centre which records."
Krishnamurti founded several schools around the world, including Brockwood Park School, his only international educational center. When asked, he enumerated the following as his educational aims:
Global outlook: A vision of the whole as distinct from the part; there should never be a sectarian outlook, but always a holistic outlook free from all prejudice.
Concern for man and the environment: Humanity is part of nature, and if nature is not cared for, it will boomerang on man. Only the right education, and deep affection between people everywhere, will resolve many problems including the environmental challenges.
Religious spirit, which includes the scientific temper: The religious mind is alone, not lonely. It is in communion with people and nature.
The Krishnamurti Foundation established in 1928 by him and Annie Besant runs many schools in India and abroad.
Krishnamurti attracted the interest of the mainstream religious establishment in India. He engaged in discussions with several well known Hindu and Buddhist scholars and leaders, including the Dalai Lama. Several of these discussions were later published as chapters in various Krishnamurti books. Those influenced by Krishnamurti include Achyut Patwardhan and Dada Dharmadhikari.
Interest in Krishnamurti and his work has persisted. Many books, audio, video, and computer materials, remain in print and are carried by major online and traditional retailers. The four official Foundations continue to maintain archives, disseminate the teachings in an increasing number of languages, convert print to digital and other media, develop websites, sponsor television programs, and organise meetings and dialogues of interested persons around the world.