Krishnamurti Foundation’s May Gathering Zooms Online
Can the Mind Be Quiet? That’s the timeless and perhaps uber-timely theme in the novel coronavirus era for Krishnamurti Foundation America’s annual May Gathering, which in our “old normal” times would draw hundreds of higher-consciousness seekers to the KFA’s bucolic grounds in Ojai, reminiscent of the days when the Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti himself would conduct talks each spring. This year, of course, the gathering will be confined to live streaming as we remain confined to our homes.
The topic was one Krishnamurti, who was considered one of the greatest philosophical and spiritual figures of the twentieth century, pondered for decades as part of investigating such areas as the nature of the mind, the value of meditation, the potential for psychological revolution within human relationships and bringing about radical change in society. He actually wrote about the query of a quiet mind himself in one of his publications.
“The human mind is never alone,” he wrote in a work of the same name as the theme. “It has so many experiences, is burdened with so many words, the memories of so many things stored deep within itself, the impressions, the conclusions, the opinions, the propaganda that has been put into the mind. It carries it wherever it goes – on a walk, in the air, sitting quietly, ruminating about things, or in the solitary cell of the prisoner or the monk. It is never alone…”
Virtual May Gathering
The 2020 May Gathering, which takes place this weekend, May 2-3, via the Zoom platform, features more than a dozen different talks from a variety of speakers on topics related to many aspects of Krishnamurti’s teachings, an enormous body of work that some have estimated at more than 100 million words, representing 60-plus years of appearances around the world. His charge to the Foundation at his death in Ojai in 1986 was to spread his uninterpreted teachings around the world. That mission will be fulfilled via the airing of two recordings of Krishnamurti’s teachings which will open each day’s sessions – “To Watch Without Any Movement of Thought” and “What Makes Us Change?” – both from public talks in Ojai in 1983, the latter not coincidentally a conversation with polio vaccine developer Jonas Salk. The speakers that follow are all scholars of and/or former colleagues and students of Krishnamurti, many of whom have either written or edited a recent relevant book, said Jaap Sluijter, KFA’s Executive Director and the curator of the gathering.
Among them are Mark Lee, a trustee of the KFA and its former Executive Director for 20 years who has had a half-century association with the Krishnamurti teachings and the Foundations, and served as first director of the Oak Grove School in Ojai, which was founded by Krishnamurti in 1975; Michael Mendizza, an author, educator, documentary filmmaker and former trustee of the KFA who has co-created three biographical documentaries and educational programs about the life and insights of Krishnamurti; Professor Krishna, who first met and heard Krishnamurti in 1957-58 and was a Professor of Physics at the Banaras Hindu University in 1985 when Krishnamurti asked him to take charge of the Rajghat Education Centre as its Rector and Principal of the Rajghat Besant School; Stephen Smith, who served as coordinator of the Krishnamurti Centre in Ojai, and is the editor of the Krishnamurti book Insights into Education; and David Edmund Moody, Ph.D, who was the first teacher and later the director at Oak Grove before earning his doctorate and later writing three influential books on Krishnamurti. (More on Moody below.)
Also on the roster are four younger scholars who are early on their paths of research and study into the philosopher-educator’s teachings.
Jaap Sluijter – who has a Masters in Mechanical Engineering and has worked as a design engineer in the fields of camera systems and musical instruments before joining the KFA – talked about Krishnamurti’s work and influence, its applicability to our current situation with the COVID-19 virus, and what the gathering encompasses over the phone from his home in Ojai.
Q. Why are we still studying Krishnamurti today, more than 30 years since his death? How does his work apply to our current times?
A. Krishnamurti traveled around the world as philosopher-educator on topics of consciousness and tried to tell people about human potential, the possibility to be free and fulfilling the potential to be connected with everything. The emphasis of what he was saying was that we should not believe what we are thinking. Don’t accept authority, your own or others, because anything you believe gets in the way of seeing, looking directly to what’s going on. And you can’t find freedom through knowledge. Any form of authority gets in the way, so don’t follow anybody. He was rigorous about that, adamant even. Which is why he didn’t like people seeing him as a guru. His was the pathless path of the non-guru guru, to fit him into the traditional framework. The purpose of the foundation and the event is to continue educating people that the real problems of life and the world are related to our consciousness. It’s not something from the outside in.
I’m imagining that philosophy seems hard to accept but perhaps even more important during our current crisis with COVID-19.
It’s particularly relevant to these times. How do we come to a different kind of society? He would say it is from the individuals who have freed themselves from attachment to the past who can create something new. The gathering can be helpful because it continues the teachings for people who are interested in these concepts – whether already relatively familiar with his work or brand new to it. There are the speakers, and also something for those of us who feel isolated and don’t have the chance to meet often with people who share that interest. There’s a big longing for people to meet and connect with others, and learn not just through a book, but with each other. The gathering in person is also a place to meet and engage with like-minded people, but we’ll do our best to recreate that online with Q&A sessions after each presentation. It’s hard to do that without a physical presence or opportunity to look everyone in the eye. But Zoom lets us meet the demand, the longing for connection. Already more than 1,000 people have signed up, which is unheard of for us, many more than before. I think that means that COVID-19 has been a catalyst for people to look for more sources where they can engage.
More directly, how do you think Krishnamurti might have responded to COVID?
I think on the one hand he’d say that how we use Nature as utilitarian, without caring, has its consequences, that the virus is a manifestation of how we feel so disconnected with nature, which is why we exploit it and ravage Nature without a second thought. But he might also look at it from the point of view of people in prison, that the crisis is an opportunity to reflect and learn about yourself, to take advantage of the slowing down and limited interactions by reflecting on your life.
You have the opening presentations after the audio of Krishnamurti’s talks. What’s on the menu?
I’ll give an overview of the day, and talk about what’s inspiring me at the moment in Krishnamurti’s work and developments relevant to the current situation, and also educate people about what the Foundation is doing. On Sunday, my talk leads into a conversation that will cover some of the material we had put together for the upcoming conference that had to be canceled. We’ll bring those topics out in dialog form, go into some of his questions, such as how evolution might have gone wrong for humans to have become non-free. We plan to look at how his self developed in relation to his work, and bring in the topics that the later talks will cover.
Can we end by me asking about your path? How does a mechanical engineer go from designing camera systems and musical instruments to spending his time promoting the work of Krishnamurti?
I feel it was somehow inevitable… You look at the state of the world and the state of yourself, and at a certain point spirituality and psychology and philosophy just seem more important. What Krishnamurti was pointing at looked like the most sane thing (addressing those areas) that I’d read. That’s why I’m here. It seems pretty urgent for the world.
(Krishnamurti Foundation America’s annual May Gathering takes place 8:45 am-5 pm on Saturday and Sunday, May 2-3. Admission is free. For more information, the schedule, speaker bios and registration, visit https://kfa.org/maygathering2020.)
Moody’s Musings on Krishnamurti in the U.S.
David Moody’s latest book, Krishnamurti in America, focuses on the latter part of the philosopher’s life, including controversies over his struggles with an earlier foundation, and an affair with a woman in Ojai that only came to light after his death, areas that previous biographies ignored. The book is subtitled “New Perspectives on the Man and His Message,” which Moody said was also meant to help dispel the idolization of Krishnamurti as a guru or prophet.
“I wanted to re-cast his philosophy and put it in a different light,” Moody said. “The conventional image was that he was a religious and spiritual figure, and if people read his talks they’ll experience some kind of enlightenment and maybe escape from all of their troubles. There’s some truth to that point of view, but it overlooks the vast majority of what his philosophy was really about. It was at an entirely different level, that of ordinary psychology and the regular psychodynamics of everyday life. That’s the center of gravity of his teachings. If you come to them thinking that he’s going to be your guru and tell you how to meditate, you’ll be disappointed.”
That’s partly why Moody wanted to explore the philosopher’s time in America and Ojai, including the long affair.
“People only learned about it after he died, and her daughter wrote a book about it, and they were shocked,” he explained. “Many of his followers assumed he was purely spiritual being who had no interest in sex.”
In other words, perhaps, think of Krishnamurti more as Freud than the Buddha?
“Well, it’s hard to find a particular figure who would be comparable,” Moody said. “He deals with the anxieties of everyday life – the fears, the motivations, the conflicts in relationships, loneliness, desire, issues at that level. The book is about how to understand his holistic approach to the nature of psychology, dealing with the issues of everyday life but looking at consciousness as a whole. Even Freud’s broad view was more fragmented.”
Asked to speculate on how Krishnamurti might have viewed COVID-19, Moody pointed me toward his most recent piece of writing, an essay on the topic published on his blog in late March. You can read his fascinating take here: www.davidedmundmoody.com/2020/03/24/krishnamurti-and-the-coronavirus.