A Buddhist perspective on Krishnamurti?

Discussion in 'Eastern Religions and Philosophies' started by iBrian, Jul 28, 2005.

  1. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    I have a friend who is very into Krishnamurti - I've tried to read a little, but generally stumbled.

    Anyway, I just read the following and it seems to make plain sense - but it also sounds very Buddhist in it's approach.

    I'd just like to ask the Buddhist members whether they are familiar with Krishnamurti, and also try and get an idea of whether there are any general attitudes towards Krishnamurti from Buddhists.

    More information on Krishnamurti here:
    http://www.comparative-religion.com/alternative/jiddu_krishnamurti.php

    And here's a recent quote:

     
  2. Devadatta

    Devadatta New Member

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    Hi Brian. Not an official spokesperson, but the general bio of Krishnamurti is that he was specifically recruited in India by the theosophists (the famous Madame Blavatsky, Colonel Olcott, etc.). The thesophists were instrumental in reviving Buddhism in Sri Lanka, looked to Buddhism as one of the primary models of their own thought, and I believe did consider Krishnamurti effectively as a Buddha.

    Krishnamurti, as I understand it, finally broke to some degree with his patrons. I don't think he ultimately followed the script they set out. In particular, he refused to be the founder of new sect.

    As to whether he was buddhist, read any page of his dialogues and you see the resemblance. I don't think he himself would have labeled or pinned himself down that way. But his "choiceless awareness", a phrase I believe originated with him is very much akin to Buddhist mindfulness training.

    The main difference is that Krishnamurti never set up a Buddhist-type metaphysical framework, and to my knowledge was not much concerned with rebirth or any afterlife. So I think othodox Buddhists would have no problem pointing out how he is not Buddhist, while recognizing the value of the kind of mindfulness he taught.

    That't my best guess.

    All the best.
     
  3. Awaiting_the_fifth

    Awaiting_the_fifth Where is my mind?

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    He makes a good point, it is up to the student and not the teacher to reach enlightenment.

    Having said this, it is good to practice moral discipline in such things as meditations and choice of foods (something I am really bad at). I think he has gone to far to the relaxed end of the spectrum to be considered "middle way"
     
  4. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    Indeed - in the bio on CR I mention about this, but so far as I know, his breaking from the Theosophists was pretty complete (os so is claimed from the Krishnamurti writings I've read.

    However, what touches upon myself with regards to Krisnamurti's points is it reminds me very much of Buddhism - except as without the tracts of cultural tradition.

    The impression I'm given is that Buddhism was formed within a crucible of Indian cultures, and therefore both formed from and was formed by cultural ideas of the time.

    In the instances of rebirth, for the sake of argument, would it not be pertinent to suggest that the intricate mechanics of this in Buddhism arise primarily arise from a need to answer Hindu philosophers?

    I appreciate that there's a level of depth regarding Buddhist though that I am ignorant of - but the most important elements of Buddhism, so far as I perceived them, always seem to focus on the need for the questor to find "truth" - yet there seems a whole dogmatic framework already in existence describing what this "truth" is. Therefore I keep wondering how controlled Buddhism is by cultural factors, rather than independent principles.

    Perhaps, conversely, there even an argument to be made that Krishnamurti took certain principles from Buddhism, and simply applied them in a way that is more accessible to Western rationalism by focusing on a form of spiritual relativism.
     
  5. Devadatta

    Devadatta New Member

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    Hi Brian.

    (I’m sorry for going on so long in what follows, but somehow it all seemed necessary to say what I felt about the issues you raised. If there’s anything that’s old news, I apologize; I was only trying to provide some helpful background.)

    Here are my heretical views. Others can pick up on the orthodox end.

    - Again, I don’t think there’s any question of the Buddhist background to Krishnamurti’s discovery/recruitment and to the thinking of the Theosophists. (Though I can’t say I could ever take Theosophy properly speaking very seriously – Isis Revealed! – my impression was that it was a pastiche of Buddhism plus various esoteric traditions, blah blah.)

    - As to whether I'd call Krishnamurti a Buddhist (if that's the question); being a heretic, I'm obviously not in the position to give a seal of approval. But in a way his refusal to found a sect kind of answers the question. I would respect his wishes to be unaffiliated.

    - I’m not sure what you mean here by the “relativism” part.

    - As for the idea of the dogmatic. I’d make a distinction between the non-pejorative and pejorative senses of the word. The outstanding example of a dogmatic system in the first sense is Catholicism. Catholics will tell you that dogmas, as set out for example in the creeds, are simply first principles that provide a logical base for all doctrine and for the church as a whole. I don’t think any sect of Buddhism is in that sense a dogmatic system. It doesn’t aim for that kind of logical rigour. On the other hand, dogmatic in the pejorative sense of “using dogmas to exert power over others” knows no sectarian boundaries. So, sure, you can find dogmatic Buddhists.

    - As for the main point, the short answer of course is that you’re right; the Buddha like any of us was situated within a certain cultural, conceptual & linguistic framework. But the question is how he was situated.

    - The Buddha was extant roughly during the Brahminical period of Indian religion, the era of the Upanishads. This was a formative period for Indian thought, roughly contemporary with the formative period for Greek philosophy, when Indian sages of various description developed many of the ideas we now think typical of Indian religion: samsara, rebirth, karma, etc. During the preceding Vedic period, Indian religion (that is, the religion of the Vedas; lots of other religion was happening under the radar), was much more a function of priests & tribal leaders making sacrifices for healthy children & more livestock, not necessarily in that order. It was analogous in that sense to the equally this-worldly orientation of early Hebrew religion. There was very little overt speculation or metaphysics, in a form we would now recognize.

    - The thing to keep in mind about this formative period is that there was a proliferation of views. The Indian tradition already had pretty much as wide a range of philosophic views as did the Greeks. There were sceptics & materialists, schools that denied the principle of causality; there were a range of metaphysical theories. In short, while it’s probably true that karma & rebirth were already popular notions, it was not the dominant paradigm it later became.

    - One reason this background is obscured is the backward-looking tendency of orthodoxy; everyone’s always looking for the longest pedigree. There have been some Jewish mystics who claimed that Abraham already knew the Zohar, a cabbalistic text of the 13th century of our era. Similarly, Indian tradition has it that everything was already present in the oldest Vedas; fully developed Vedanta philosophy, which developed much later, was somehow already implicit. (Incidentally, this is one reason why the Aryan migration theory so exasperates the traditionalists. If everything came from the Vedas, then the Vedas better have come from India. I rather think that if all Indian religion really had come from the Vedas, it would have been much the poorer for it.)

    - So the Buddha was not a good “Hindu” boy who broke with tradition, for the simple reason that what we call “Hinduism” didn’t exist. Hinduism, with its emphasis on devotional practices, represents the final broad stage of Indian religion, and didn’t develop until much later. The Buddha was raised and lived against a background of Brahmin priests and evolving Vedic practices and in a ferment created by various new sects & sages, among them sages of the Upanishads.

    - In this ferment, the Buddha’s borrowings were I think more limited than you might expect. These were mainly the notions you’ve mentioned: samsara, rebirth & karma.

    - Now, you may ask, did he simply accept these notions because of cultural conditioning? Or did he make his own investigations, thoroughly examine these notions through the deep penetration of his own mind, and verify them to be true, as tradition has it? In other words, if the Buddha had been born in Palestine, like Jesus, would he have discovered and announced the same teachings on samsara, rebirth & karma?

    - I don’t know. I am pretty confident that the Buddha didn’t simply adopt a ready-made metaphysic, for the simple reason that it hardly existed at the time. But whether he would have come up these notions spontaneously, I can’t say.

    - But we could look at it another way. If the Buddha had been born in Palestine, he could have picked up something about reincarnation; the idea was floating around; it was present in Greek thought as least as far back as Pythagoras; even Jewish mystical tradition entertained it, though probably later. On the other hand, he would have found himself in a culture that generally did not buy the idea. The Jews of Palestine either believed in the final resurrection of the dead, or in no afterlife at all. So would the Buddha still have taught karma & rebirth to Jews?

    - The answer depends on in what sense we take the framework of samsara, karma & rebirth. Do we take it literally or symbolically, essential to the dharma, or as a skilful & useful framework?

    - The orthodox will tell you that of course the Buddha would have taught samsara, rebirth & karma because these are the literal, integral foundations of the whole dharmic edifice.

    - On the other hand, I think it’s quite possible that a Buddha in ancient Palestine might have used a different framework. After all, the Buddha’s principle aim was not to advance a metaphysic; if anything, his aim was to take apart all metaphysics. If another framework had turned out to be a better tool to achieve his ultimate aims, in a given context, I think he might have used it.

    - So while the Buddha used a framework common to the culture of his time, he was also radically different in his aims & approach. Leaving aside his striking pragmatism, among other differences in style & tone, there are two ways in which he was radical:

    - First, he was a radical simplifier. The Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path. So much of the Pali Canon reads monotonously like a book on the ABCs because he was intent on getting Indians off their high horses. The culture was awash in tsunamis of metaphysics & proliferations of viewpoints. He said: what if you just sat down for once and let go of the compulsive theorizing about you, yours & yourself, and just let it go? What would you find? Would it be so terrible?

    - Second, he had a radically strange idea. Lots of sages talk about going beyond good & evil. He talked about going beyond being & nothingness. All that theorizing about Atman & Brahman, all those metaphysical theories looking for some eternal refuge from death & change, he called obstructions. Even aspiring to heaven was a stopgap, and all the gods & even Brahma were figures of fun. He would cling to no state of being. But the alternative was not to retreat to materialism, nihilism, annihilationism, or the denial of causes, conditions and their continuities; it was not to choose nothingness. No-thingness was something you could play with, if that turned your crank. No, it was go beyond being & nothingness, to the impossible state of Nirvana.

    - So at the centre of Buddhism is this impossibly strange idea that nobody understands. Hence, the attraction.

    - Many orthodox Theravadins, who stick to the most original discourses, appear to take Nirvana to mean literally disappearing out of life and into the inconceivable. They literally believe in the elimination of all those pesky desires to get there, wherever there is. And enough said, they say.

    - The Mahayanist take on Nirvana is much more difficult to sum up. The main emphasis still tends to be otherworldly. That is, bodhisattvas and buddhas continue to recycle themselves in and out of samsara, out of kindness to strangers, but they operate on a plane far removed from you & I, our bad teeth, and our tendency to develop gas from eating too much broccoli.

    - But there are lots suggestions, hints and outright declarations in some of the Mahayana sutras that help us bring it back down here, where we live. The Lankavatara Sutra tells us that it’s not a matter of literally eliminating desire – as if we could – but in turning our heads right around. The Lotus says that everything is already of the nature of Nirvana, that Buddha nature is effectively eternal, etc. But the Mahayana universe is endless.

    - Once you go in, you may never find the exit.

    - On the other hand, you can always find the entrance.

    All the best.
     
  6. Francis king

    Francis king New Member

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    nicely put, devadatta
     
  7. jiii

    jiii ...

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    I was just reading Zen Master Who?, which is a book by a Western Zen teacher named James Ford, who is also the founder of Boundless Way Zen centers in New England. He briefly mentions Krishnamurti in his book, noting him as "a figure who needs to be noticed in any survey of Western Zen."

    His early life as Ford records it rings true with most of what was mentioned here. Jiddu Krishnamurti was "raised to be a world spritual teacher, the new incarnation of Christ and Maitreya Buddha", by Theosophists Charles Leadbetter and Annie Besant. But he "shocked his mentors and sponsors when he came of age by repudiating all titles and association with the Theosophical Society. Instead he spent the rest of his life as a writer, lecturer, independent philosopher, and spiritual teacher."

    Ford mentions that although Krishnamurti drew slightly from his theosophical background, he was most influenced in his teachings by the Advaita Vedanta, what Ford summarizes as "Hinduism's radical nondual philosophy, through which many find connections with Zen." He goes on to add that many admirers of Krishnamurti's teachings found him to be remarkably similar in attitude and tact to Chinese Zen masters.

    One point that Ford makes clear is that Krishnamurti did have his own meditation regimen, but that he offered no practices or methods of any sort to those he taught. Thus, he would not ordinarily be considered a Zen Buddhist or Buddhist, really. As Ford explains, "instead he relentlessly pointed to direct attention, bare awareness of 'what is.'"
     
  8. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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  9. Snoopy

    Snoopy Active Member

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    Hi,

    How strange, I'm just thinking of buying this book! What do you make of it; would you recommend it?

    s.
     
  10. jiii

    jiii ...

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    I finished reading it just yesterday. I almost want to reread it after I've gotten through my next book, since it presents a good deal of information which is pretty difficult to take in the first go-round.

    The book can be thought of as a primer in the history of Zen, right up to the present, with a special focus on the individuals that shaped its direction, development, migration, and emphases. The author, James Ford, dedicates a good deal of time to talking at length about Western Zen teachers, which is what makes this book truly unique.

    Without plenty of experience with North American Zen organizations, the actual workings of North American Zen are mostly unknown. I know that despite being very familiar with 'book Zen', I have no experience with Zen centers and before reading Zen Master Who? the nature of Zen in the West was obscure to me, to say the least. What Zen lineages are present in North America? Which lineages are the strongest and weakest in number? How does developing Western Zen currently differ from original Eastern Zen, and how is this likely to change in the future? Who are the primary Zen masters of North American Zen today? How are things such as monastic life, ordination, and dharma transmission handled in American society? How is koan instrospection conducted by modern Zen teachers? Who's 'Zen' and who's, well, not exactly Zen? All of these questions are addressed at length by Ford in what I can only call an "insider's look" at the people, places, and important events in North American Zen.

    For anyone who has read a good deal about Buddhism or Zen, there are many names which we come to recognize instantly: D.T. Suzuki, Alan Watts, Krishnamurti, Nyogen Senzaki, Thich Nhat Hanh, Robert Aitken, Stephen Bachelor, Shunryu Suzuki, Ruth Fuller, John Daido Loori, and Steve Hagen, to mention only a few off the top of my head. Although people tend to know this or that about these individuals, until now its been quite a difficult task to understand how they all fit together and how their contributions to Zen relate to one another.

    He also dedicates some time to examining many criticisms which have been raised against Zen by the West. And by that, I don't mean that he goes on and on about how Zen is not nihilistic in an attempt to satisfy a few philosophers who are bent out of shape. He addresses some very pertinent social issues which Zen has been facing for the last few decades and explores the difficulties and challenges it will face in emerging as a truly stable and unique North American Zen.

    Ultimately, the focus of the book is on what Ford refers to, more than a few times, as the 'living Zen' of North America. This is not a philosophy book in any way, but rather a survey of Zen as it is now practiced and is developing in North America.

    I definitely enjoyed reading. It'd be worth picking up if the topics I mentioned are of interest.
     
  11. jiii

    jiii ...

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    I finished reading it just yesterday. I almost want to reread it after I've gotten through my next book, since it presents a good deal of information which is pretty difficult to take in the first go-round.

    The book can be thought of as a primer in the history of Zen, right up to the present, with a special focus on the individuals that shaped its direction, development, migration, and emphases. The author, James Ford, dedicates a good deal of time to talking at length about Western Zen teachers, which is what makes this book truly unique.

    Without plenty of experience with North American Zen organizations, the actual workings of North American Zen are mostly unknown. I know that despite being very familiar with 'book Zen', I have no experience with Zen centers and before reading Zen Master Who? the nature of Zen in the West was obscure to me, to say the least. What Zen lineages are present in North America? Which lineages are the strongest and weakest in number? How does developing Western Zen currently differ from original Eastern Zen, and how is this likely to change in the future? Who are the primary Zen masters of North American Zen today? How are things such as monastic life, ordination, and dharma transmission handled in American society? How is koan instrospection conducted by modern Zen teachers? Who's 'Zen' and who's, well, not exactly Zen? All of these questions are addressed at length by Ford in what I can only call an "insider's look" at the people, places, and important events in North American Zen.

    For anyone who has read a good deal about Buddhism or Zen, there are many names which we come to recognize instantly: D.T. Suzuki, Alan Watts, Krishnamurti, Nyogen Senzaki, Thich Nhat Hanh, Robert Aitken, Stephen Bachelor, Shunryu Suzuki, Ruth Fuller, John Daido Loori, and Steve Hagen, to mention only a few off the top of my head. Although people tend to know this or that about these individuals, until now its been quite a difficult task to understand how they all fit together and how their contributions to Zen relate to one another.

    He also dedicates some time to examining many criticisms which have been raised against Zen by the West. And by that, I don't mean that he goes on and on about how Zen is not nihilistic in an attempt to satisfy a few philosophers who are bent out of shape. He addresses some very pertinent social issues which Zen has been facing for the last few decades and explores the difficulties and challenges it will face in emerging as a truly stable and unique North American Zen.

    Ultimately, the focus of the book is on what Ford refers to, more than a few times, as the 'living Zen' of North America. This is not a philosophy book in any way, but rather a survey of Zen as it is now practiced and is developing in North America.

    I definitely enjoyed reading. It'd be worth picking up if the topics I mentioned are of interest.
     
  12. Snoopy

    Snoopy Active Member

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    Hi,

    Thanks very much for this extensive review. I live in the UK but I would still be interested to read about the development of zen in "the west" so it's going on my To Read list.

    Thanks again.:)

    s.
     

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