(This article was written in 2002 for publication online, and is being published here in honor of the life and passing of U.G. Krishnamurti, who left his body on March 22, 2007, in Vallecrosia, Italy)
It is December 21, 2001 in Bangalore, Karnataka, India. Just the night before I had met my friend Kirsti on the dirt road outside of Ramana Maharshi’s ashram in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu. Kirsti, originally from Finland, had come to India on three week tour twenty-five years ago, became a sadhu and has never stepped outside of Indian soil since.
“I just got word. Guess who’s in Bangalore?” she asked.
“I have no idea.”
“Guess,” she said. “He’s the ultimate anarchist.”
“Krishnamurti?” I joked. “I thought he was dead.”
“The other one,” she said, “U.G. You must know of him.”
“Only by name, really.”
She smiled in such a way that made me very curious. “I guarantee you have never met anybody like him,” she giggled. “If you want to know how far somebody can go, you just might want to check him out.”
Less than twelve hours later, I am aboard the cheapest, most run-down Indian bus I had ever set foot on, the engine so desperate and the parts so worn that the bus vibrates the whole of the five hour journey. I sit alongside my sadhu friend as rain pours outside, and sometimes inside the bus, en route to visit U.G. Krishnamurti.
Kirsti unpacks her few belongings in the barely passable lodge room I have rented for us, as I attempt to work out what questions to ask him, should I be granted an interview for this article.
“We better bring Rescue Remedy with us, just in case you get the interview today,” Kirsti says, only half-jokingly.
I am terrified, though I do not know of what.
I soon learn that U.G. has no formal home. You are only likely to find him if you are fortunate to receive a message from somebody who knows somebody that he is somewhere. And even then, you must locate the obscure address given that no rickshaw driver seems to be able to find; then you must see if he is actually there; and finally, whether or not he will see you.
Declared by fans and foes as anything from a jivan mukti, to a genius, to a nihilist, U.G. will admit nothing. “I’m just a big elephant, looking for a place to pass my last years,” he told me, “I used to feel like the whole world was my home; now I don’t feel comfortable anywhere.”
U.G. lives off of whatever fits in the small suitcase he carries with him around the world. Already an acclaimed speaker at the age of 19, a fully educated Brahmin, fluent in Sanskrit and scripture, destined for unparalleled spiritual and intellectual greatness, U.G. left it all. Since then, he has been “on the road” for over 70 years, fleeing from potential disciples, organizations springing up around him, and any type of conventional guruhood. Of all the spiritual teachers who insist they are not teachers, dharmically justifying that there is “no one to teach,” and “nothing to teach” while still collecting large funds and sizable bodies of “non-students,” U.G. is the singular individual I have known who actually walks his talk in this regard. He has no students, no organization, hasn’t formally lectured in decades, collects no money, and hasn’t the least intention of doing so. Still, it is as though he cannot help to convey teachings through the radical example of who he is.
At 2:30 in the afternoon, we walk into a small living room in a home in the Bangalore suburbs, and although I have no idea what he might look like, the small framed, white-haired man sitting on the couch is clearly the one we have come to see. He is wearing a white sweat suit. His silvery hair outlines a clearly defined jaw bone, clean-shaven cheeks, deep set brown eyes, and a bright smile (apparently he has recently been growing in a brand new set of bright white teeth).
The first afternoon I pass with U.G. is spent listening, with awe and delight, as he chats and jokes with, as well as addressing in unsettling seriousness, the various people who have come to see him. Some come to delight in his company, some to seek answers for their perceived spiritual and worldly predicaments, and others out of sheer curiosity.
That night, I rewrite my questions, for he has already undermined each of them.
Fortunately, years spent with my own spiritual teacher Lee Lozowick, the American Baul crazy-wisdom master, are apt preparation for this meeting. Having spent a decade with a teacher with a reputation for demonstrating behaviors that defy all common Western conceptions of spiritual mastery, I am quite unphased when U.G. tells me, “Your English is terrible!” Or, “You’re the worst kind of interviewer there is. You’re full of greed! Every word you say to me, every question, is an expression of your greed! Whatever it is you want from me, it is greed! I guarantee that you’ve never had an original thought in your life!”
With U.G. Krishnamurti, there is no ground to stand on. None. Not an ideological ground, not an emotional one, not a spiritual one. The person of U.G. is a wrecking ball of all tendencies toward spiritual materialism, East and West. Every spiritual insight, concept, master, and possibility can be quickly co-opted by ego to strengthen its own fortress, thus creating a “spiritualized ego” that is even more difficult to undermine. If I had to describe how I saw him “teaching” people, though he himself would surely deny even doing that, it would be a complete undermining of their entire spiritual search as well as every imagination they have about that which is “spiritual.” It is not a conceptual undermining, but an actual one.
For example, I ask him:
“U.G., how. . . “
He instantly interrupts, “The moment you say ‘how’ you are in a concept, just looking for another one to replace it.”
“But how can I not do that?”
“Don’t try to not do anything!”
“But. . .”
“The very idea that you need to be something different that you are, the idea that there is something you can get, all that was placed into you!”
“Can I get rid of it?”
“No! You can’t get rid of anything.”
“But how can I proceed along the spiritual path?”
“There is no spiritual path! There is nothing outside of you!”
“But what can you advise Westerners on the path?”
“Drop it all! Forget about the spiritual path.”
“But what to replace it with?”
“Don’t replace it with anything!”
Next, U.G. is wildly banging the table with his fist so hard it could break a strong man’s bones, much less those of an eighty-something-year-old man, yelling, “The only reason this hurts some people is because somebody taught you that this was a table and there was something called ‘pain!’”
And so the afternoon passes, interrupted by snacks, political debates, movie producers and famous politicians coming to take in this odd form of “blessing,” and watching U.G’s play, as he verbally chases some would-be disciples out of the room, while stripping others of their psychological and ideological foundation. Laughter that reaches into the bones is shared by all.
And yet, while he unapologetically slices and dices the philosophical and spiritual paradigms of the few in the room who are foolish enough to attempt to take him on, as well as dismantling the personalities of the questioners, his respect for Life Force that drives humanity is immense. The ignorant and foolish people around him are his company, and he serves them, with no reward, day after day. Other teachers are available randomly, by invitation, via payment, reservation. When U.G. is there, he is just there, ten or fifteen hours a day, to respond to anyone who is willing to place themselves in his fire.
In spite of his insistence that he cannot offer anyone anything, and that he has no interest in doing so, he is quickly prompted to raise his voice with a power unknown to most of his similarly-aged peers, and passionately shout for the ten or twenty-thousandth time he has done so in his life to the individual before him who is unable to see the mire of their own self-created suffering, “It is very hard to understand what I am saying! You are asking questions to which you already have the answers. If you did not have the answer, you could not have the question.” And then, “The fact that there is no meaning, no significance, no purpose to life is something you are unable to accept.”
U.G. Krishnamurti is a true master of Advaita-Vedanta, although he would never label himself as such. In Western spirituality, teachers of Advaita-Vedanta philosophy are springing up as quickly as California poppies in the springtime. Hundreds of neophyte spiritual aspirants operate under the tutelage “Advaita masters,” preaching the teachings of Advaita-Vedanta, teaching us that the “I-thought” is the only problem, providing technology to give us tiny glimpses into the reality of no-self. However, this essential insight, critical to undermining the false identification with the egoic personality, must not only be glimpsed, but integrated into the whole of the body, transforming it such the realization becomes tacit and thorough. Unfortunately, for most people, the insight remains at the level of mind, and then memory, and thus when it is transmitted it lacks the quality of depth required to change not only one’s attitude or knowledge base, but the whole of their existence.
U.G.’s mastery of this essential understanding of Advaita-Vedanta is such that he is a living example of this transformation, rather than someone who expounds upon it. The mind may be more readily impressed by one who elegantly professes, “There is no ‘I’ here, only consciousness itself,” accompanied by a knowing look in the eyes, an air of tranquility and quietude, an aura of austerity. Yet I can assure you that none of this is to be found in U.G.’s company. He will not be gazing into your eyes and telling you that you are already one with all that is, yet he will be expressing the essence of the Advaita teachings at all times. The silence and spaciousness described by realizers of Advaita principles can be found in the emptiness behind his words ¾the total non-attachment to even his own viewpoint, his capacity speak without pride, without face, without grasping at anyone or anything.
He is also an utter heretic, and for this reason he is disliked by many. At one moment he is describing Buddha as “the biggest conman who ever existed,” and in another telling us that the only god he admires is Krishna, because he had eight wives and 16,000 concubines, whereas he himself couldn’t even handle one wife. But it is only the surface, and those who do not perceive what is beneath see only their concepts and entirely miss the man. U.G. endured decades of spiritual sadhana that almost nobody alive could imagine. Influenced by the teachings of the world’s greatest spiritual masters, including Ramana Maharshi and J. Krishnamurti , U.G. knows the gods so well that during his transformation, the archetypes passed through him and he bodily became them one after the other. He is a man who has suffered, prayed, fasted, lived as a homeless on the street s of London for years, and endured a physically agonizing process of transformation (which he refers to as The Great Catastrophe) such that he insists to all around them that they in no way want to be enlightened because to endure such a process of transformation is nearly unbearable. His cynicism toward spiritual life is backed by wisdom; his critique backed by pure-knowledge; his words and gestures intended always to teach, even if he will never once admit as much.
U.G. is a beautiful man because he is a living example of true spontaneity. His very being defies all ideas of spirituality, enlightenment, religion, and every other type of conventionality. He is oftentimes heralded in spiritual circles as anything from “rude” and “insulting,” to “arrogant,” “condescending” and “blasphemous,” and in relationship to our conditioned, cultural, psychological way of living, thinking, acting, he is all of these things. He is an insult to the conditioned mind, and a Lover only to the fully unadorned freedom within each of us. If there is any idea we are identified with even if that “idea” is as grand as Buddhism, justice, Krishna, God, or spiritual life , U.G. is sure to throw a spear into its center. How many of us are prepared to tolerate hearing Jesus Christ and the Buddha referred to as a conmen or women as bitches who ruin their children ?
Yet at this very moment the individual present in his company is faced with two options: one, to discount him as an arrogant, righteous, coldhearted, spiritual cynic; or 2) to look deeper into the teachings he is pointing toward. U.G. is teaching that the reason we feel we are lacking in anything, or in need of some imagined enlightenment, is simply because organized religion (whether Buddhism or Christianity) has taught us that; has taught us that we are missing something. When he is criticizing mothers, he is addressing the construct of “ownership” between parents and children that, at the moment of birth when the child hears, “I am your mother,” first teaches us the illusion belief that we are separate from one another – a belief construct we will work to undo throughout the whole of our spiritual lives.
U.G. Krishnamurti is not my master, and I have no investment in elevating or sanctifying him. Instead, as someone whose job it has become to interview esteemed teachers throughout the world, attempting to sift through piles and piles of spiritual rhinestones in search of the few existing diamonds, I wish to expose the man of U.G. Krishnamurti for who he is: an uncommon gem among masters, one of the rarest I have ever seen. He is a man without face, without shame, without pride. A man who is truly free; a man unadorned.