Krishnaji as I Knew Him

by Radha Burnier

[Krishnaji is a form of Krishna that expresses both affection and respect. It's often used to address Jiddu Krishnamurti by his intimates. Katinka Hesselink 2010]

Radha Burnier, President of the Theosophical Society, gave the following talk, previously published in The Theosophist, at the Adyar Lodge, Madras/Chennai, in February 1994

Krishnaji was a mystery. I think that no one who came into contact with him really knew him as he was; there were depths to him which none seemed to touch.

The strongest feeling I had with him was that inwardly he did not belong to this world. He was like a fish out of water in various situations. Except in those moments, such as described in the volumes of Commentaries on Living, when he penetrated deep into the psyche of the persons he was interviewing, he was alien to the kind of thoughts and emotions that were in other people, for example,attachment - to people, things, issues, organizations. He could have gone into all that if he had wanted to. When he was meeting a person, in order to help him he unraveled to the core the other's problems. But as C.W.Leadbeater also said earlier, he did not look into a person's mind unless he was asked to do so, because it was like reading a private letter. Therefore, in the normal circumstances of life, the jealousies, attachments, disappointments, and other worldly attitudes around passed him by and he seemed to be standing above all that, and there was a tangible aura of extraordinary purity and innocence in him.

To say he was like a child does not seem to convey quite what he was, because children have tantrums and sometimes show anger or jealousy. So one could say he was like a flower. There was that quality of great innocence and purity. And in spite of the fact that he spoke so powerfully, and at times appeared to be uncompromising, challenging, he was always very loving, very gentle; he did not like to hurt anyone. This did not mean that as a teacher he would say pleasing things to people. On the contrary! Even in respect of ordinary things, he would say what needed to be said. The students in Rajghat once gave a performance and Krishnaji was asked how he found it. He said it was a rotten show. The performers and producers were upset. So he said, 'I am very sorry to have hurt you.' He spoke very kindly and affectionately, but ended by saying, 'It was a rotten show.'

He could combine straight speaking with extreme gentleness, consideration and delicacy. This sort of combination exists in people who have risen above the patterns of the mind. His approach to things was very subtle, and in that dimension seeming opposites mingle together and cease to be opposites. One found that in Annie Besant also. People who knew her have said that she was tender like a mother, but also strong and dynamic. It was beautiful to see in Krishnaji this quality of gentleness, care, a warm affection even to people he did not know at all, combined with profound insight and wisdom and that forcefulness which was evident in his talks.

I used to go to Bombay to listen to his talks. He was staying in Peddar Road. I used to take a bus from Juhu to reach his residence where there was always a little crowd. When it was time for me to leave, none of the people there who were my friends bothered because they were all excited about being with Krishnaji and what he was talking about. They hardly noticed who came or went. But in spite of the people and preoccupations, Krishnaji would be the one person who would ask, 'How are you going back? Is not the bus too crowded? It must be dirty;take a bath and change your clothes when you get back.' He would say these things with so much care and affection.

He did not allow anyone who evinced interest in understanding life to take anything for granted. On one occasion he asked me, 'Why were you doing such and such?' I replied, 'In order to help.' And he turned upon me very directly and said, 'Who are you to help?' It took me time to come to the core of what he may have meant. At that moment, I accepted that I did not know very much, and to presume that I could help was a mistake. Later I realized that there was great depth to that question, for the whole idea that one can help another is based on dualistic thinking. It is only when duality ceases that something like 'help', a sharing, an intercommunication takes place. This incident is just an example of how he challenged assumptions and ideas taken for granted. Every position of the mind must be questioned, examined carefully and deeply. What he was teaching was not merely through the public talks or the discussions, but in all the different moments of daily life.

He would ask certain questions, which seemed not only challenging, but stern, and there were occasions when people got upset. Year after year he would ask me what happened at the Theosophical Convention. Once he asked what I had spoken about, and I told him. He retorted, 'What do you know about it?' This kind of remark was wonderful, because then one questions oneself, 'What do I really know about this? What do I mean by knowing?' We take it that if we read some books and talk with some people, we know enough about the subject to put a talk together and address people. And some may say, 'Oh,you gave a wonderful talk.' On the other hand, Krishnaji would make one think and ask oneself, 'What do I know about it. Do I really know?' This was most stimulating. Contact with him was not just a matter of basking in his presence, a very beautiful presence, but it was a mode of waking up into knowing oneself and knowing life below the superficial level.

I believe he had a very special kind of sensitivity. The pure mind probably has a natural sensitivity that is lost when self-centred, worldly thoughts crowd it, which is the case with the average person. But in him the sensitivity was very natural. There was a particular person who had helped to recover the Vasanta Vihar property from adverse possession, who wanted to see Krishnaji. He was invited to lunch so that Krishnaji did not have to give a special time to him. But because he was thought to be a rather rough sort, it was decided not to put him near Krishnaji at the table. Krishnaji always sat at one corner that was nearest to his bedroom door, and this gentleman was put on the opposite end. But although at every meal Krishnaji sat in 'his' place, that particular day he went directly to the other end and sat opposite the guest, to whom he gave a lot of attention and affection, as if to negate these ideas about who are better and who are worse. His sensitivity made him aware of what happened behind the scenes.

The sensitivity was not only at this level, but at others also. He had been speaking for many years about dropping the past. His language changed periodically, probably because he did not want people to get stuck with words. Therefore, he used new phrases every now and again. At that time, when somebody came with a grouse or hurt, one of his favourite phrases was, 'Drop it,Sir ' Most people live in the past, recollecting over and over again some stupid little bygone thing. Only when we learn to drop all this, or die to the past, to use another of his phrases, the mind is fresh. He himself did not retain the past. Perhaps he could not, because his teaching was meant to be fresh and uninfluenced. So the question was asked, 'Since you do not remember, how did you record in your Notebook what happened at various times?' It is an interesting question, because he did not record all that is in the book as soon as it happened. He gave an answer which each one can interpret as he wishes, 'It is all there,' raising his right arm up.

What can one make of such a cryptic response? We may speculate that if time does not really exist, everything is somewhere all the time. Theosophical books mention the akashic records in the to-us invisible realm. However, the interesting point is that, according to him, he did not remember and write; he saw it was there. It was again a kind of sensitivity he apparently had.

The earliest I knew him was here at Adyar. He used to live in his flat on top of the headquarters building, still called Krishnaji's flat. Dr.Besant got it built for him, and it was kept for him as long as she was alive. As a child, I used to see this young man, always carrying himself very straight, who was fond of walking by the path along the river, which at that time was very clean. He used to play tennis in the evenings on the court near headquarters and the River Bungalow, which was great fun for us children. We would stand around the court, hoping that somebody would hit the ball outside, so that we could run and throw it back. Krishnaji, who was always interested in children, would come and talk to us between the games. Occasionally my mother used to play. In those days he was fond of exclaiming 'By Jove!' So he taught us to use that phrase and say 'Amma (mother) playing tennis, by Jove!'

Later on he changed to saying 'Jesus'. Once I said to him, half in fun, when I met him in Saanen, 'This will go down in history; people will think you were a good Christian.' From that day I never heard him say 'Jesus'. Perhaps he thought there was a risk and he did not want to provide the slightest chance in the future for anyone to think he had a partiality for Jesus.

Going back to the early days, he was very fond, even then, of Nature in all its moods. When the monsoon rain poured, he would go out for a walk in the pyjamas and kurta that he generally wore. He bought a tricycle for me and my brother, and on the first day we went round and round his large room up on top. He urged us on enthusiastically, 'Come on, go faster, faster,' and we tried to cycle as fast as we possibly could. He himself used to drive a car later on quite fast. He probably learned to drive from the driver of Miss Dodge, who was a wealthy heiress of the Dodge car family and helped many Theosophists financially. Anyhow, one of her drivers warned Krishnaji, which he repeated with great glee, 'Take care of the other fool on the road.'

There was the profound, very serious side of him, passionately concerned with the suffering of the world. In the account given of his last days, he is reported to have remarked, 'You do not know what you have missed.' When we cannot see the truth, we do not know what we miss. We are like the people in Plato's cave. In his talks he sometimes expressed the extreme concern he felt about the sorrow of the world. 'I could weep for you,' he said. But along with that there was the merry side. He liked relating jokes. On one occasion, we were told, Mrs.Gandhi was invited to lunch, when her son Sanjay was at the height of power, overriding ministers and administrators. Krishnaji started telling jokes after lunch. One of them was about the man who went to heaven and was told by St. Peter that he could have anything he wished. This man had always longed for a particular kind of fast sports car. St.Peter told him, 'Of course, every kind of car is available here. Choose what you want, but there is one condition. You must mind the speed limit.' The man was sorely disap-pointed but wanted the car in spite of the frustrating condition. Soon,he came back to report to St.Peter that he saw somebody else driving very fast; and he described the car. St. Peter replied, 'We cannot do anything about it, that is the boss 's son!' Mrs.Gandhi was perhaps taken aback, but it seems she had the grace to laugh.

Krishnaji was a different person when he was talking about serious things. There was a tremendous flow of wisdom. Many people experienced a great sense of clarity while listening to him or discussing with him. The whole atmosphere was one of deep enquiry and seriousness. He was always reluctant to give answers, either to solve personal problems or during the discussions. He would go round and round, asking questions, making comments, so that others could see for themselves,and not have him telling them what the answer was. He did not tell people, 'Do this, or do not do that.' When there were problems in America and there was questioning about my being a Foundation member, Krishnaji did not say, 'Would you resign from the Foundation?' But by that time I knew him fairly well and what he had in mind. I did not care if I was a member or not, for it is the understanding of life which one is concerned about, not with being a member of an organization. He did not tell people, 'This is right behaviour,' or 'You must be a vegetarian,' which did not mean that he did not care about right behaviour, or was not himself a strict vegetarian. He did not want anyone to behave in a particular way because he was told to; each person must see the rightness for himself.

Some members of the TS were upset by Krishnaji's remarks about the Masters. What is the Master? Is he just the image anyone has in the mind? Sometimes the question was asked of Krishnaji, 'Are you a freak?' and he said, 'No.' According to him the possibility of freedom exists for everybody. Then, who is the free man? What is a free man? The Master in the real sense is one who has found inward freedom, and is master of his own life. Krishnaji did not allow conventional thought, accepted ideas and patterns to remain unchallenged on this or any other question. How much good he did by posing challenges on a variety of questions! Because challenges were part of his approach, one could not help feeling tremendously enriched as a result of contact with him.

I would like to end with the beginning: Krishnaji was a very gentle, living being, pure and simple like a child. I believe he lived in that profound ground of being, where that equality is experienced of which many religious traditions have spoken. There were no highs and lows in his life. He was exactly the same with a Prime Minister or the gardener, in terms of inner relationship. He could give as much love to a complete stranger as he did to people who were near him. He would meet somebody unknown, take that person's hand and speak a sentence or two, and make that person feel flooded by his love. Every person who was in contact with Krishnaji was in danger of imagining he was special and close to Krishnaji. The ultimate in spirituality is this flowering love, and he was manifesting it all the time.

The comments about how he liked big cars and nice clothes are misleading. Once we were walking on this beach and a little fisher boy came and held out his hand. Krishnaji looked at me, but I did not have my purse and he never carried one. Krishnaji just took off his waistcoat, made of fine material, and gave it to the boy. On another occasion when I went to see him immediately after his arrival in Madras, he said ,'Radhaji, I would like an angavastram.' I got three or four, one of the classical type, green, red and gold and the others simple. When I asked, 'Which would you like?' he replied, 'Leave them, and I will see. 'The next day, the finest one was on the shoulder of Pandit Jagannath Upadhyaya - given away. It was irritating to some when they bought nice silk and made a kurta for him, and next day somebody else was found wearing it! He did not have the feeling of difference,and was untouched by possessions and worldly thoughts. One cannot but feel that knowing him was a great privilege, a contact with a very holy person.

by Radha Burnier
February 1994