Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I forgot to ask my mother 'Why?'


           ukEke     ukEke     ukEke     ukEke     ukEke
               the bird I couldn't see from my lanai 
                    where I was on my yogasana mat
           Sang in full-body delight

          ukeke     ukeke     ukeke     ukeke     ukeke
                a deep, low chorus rang back from afar
                     perhaps from the plumeria trees all over Maui
          As if asking are you sure, you young one?

          these are a favorite of Shiva
               my mother's floating voice sang-back in my ear
                    (whom I haven't called in a while)
          As she picked the velvety white-yellows from our small nandivardhana tree

          it is in the way some said  
               In the way of a new gate in wicket fence around yard
                    I used to stand in the emptiness
          where the tree used to, my small feet on sawed-off trunk

          ukEke     ukEke     ukEke     ukEke     ukEke
               the bird replied in same full-body delight
                    Echoing the brimming blue-green waters
          and black-stony mountains sipping from fresh morning clouds 

          for sure it doesn't have autism  -
               the bird I couldn't see from my lanai
                    Its body is singing interaction however it wishes
          for its daily dance of survival

          If it had autism, for sure
               its body can't sing interaction however it wishes
                    for its daily dance of survival  -
          the bird I couldn't see from my lanai

* Nandivardhana - Plumeria

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

I have something to say

I have something to say.

I have been trying to say this for a few months now. It is difficult for me because I disintegrate while saying. But my ability to compose myself afterwards is better than before. This blog has gone too long without writing about the reason it came about. So here it is-

My son has autism.

My loving son has autism. He is 10 years old, soon to be 11.

I cannot explain what is difficult about “autism” being stamped on a vibrant toddler with the unspoken force of everything the label brings. I cannot explain the subsequent raw journey through the labyrinths and borders of understanding, fortitude, compassion, love, despair, hope and respect, for years. The weight of this used to roll down as tears every time I told someone or stayed heavy in my heart if I didn't tell. But how can I slip it in any conversation? It is like casually taking out my heart and saying, look, this is my heart.

This post isn't about how I feel about our autism. This post is a summary of my journey.


It began casually enough. A couple became parents to an adorable baby. A house in a valley. A small blue swing  in the yard.

“Does he have autism?” the hairdresser asked with a big smile. Not yet two years of age, my son, M, had cried at the hair cut. His then pediatrician first said “No, look at his terrific eye contact, it is not autism”. I was aware of his quirks, they were all cute.  His overall symptoms did not fit. He just needs some time, I thought, but I put my back-to-job search for which I had gotten some leads, on indefinite hold. After all, his father was a late-talker. (I wasn't to know that one quiet morning the sudden realization of not just quirks would come to find me. And that it would be a little boy who would come to his distraught mother with shocked tenderness)

Then the sliding happened. There were two blips before, they perplexed me but I forgot about them in the giddiness of early childhood. But the slide at about 2 ½ was different. Is this real or am I imagining it? Is this a phase? We consulted experts, ran from pillar to pillar, got whatever appropriate help there was. With every evaluation M was becoming part of a sum, assessed only for his skills. Then came the slide at 3 ½. His symptoms increased. He was the same little boy, full of life, but his symptoms changed.  What am I doing wrong? Confusion, disbelief and anxiety rained on us even as we emptied our pockets and wrung out our souls.


We continued with therapies and special education with hope in every breath.  M loved his preschool; he wore his little backpack with a small lunch inside and went off in the mornings. I volunteered at school, worked with his teachers, his therapists and the aides. Our home changed, we changed. Vestibular proprioceptive articulation motor-planning now became common words.  

By kindergarten M’s frustration was increasing. He was left behind. We were spending much of our time helping others help him. It seemed to me that he could either learn or cope in a setting. Obviously, he preferred to cope in a class of varied special needs where his sensory system got overloaded. He learned more with the few things we calmly tried at home; even his school staff could see that (and were surprised). Sensory integration was a big part (regular children seamlessly integrate incoming sensory information and learn to give a regulated verbal response well before starting school. The integration comes off like a symphony; we only see and cherish the outcome, we barely know how this works).  How to help with something we don’t know much about?

Autism, maybe the most complex of all disorders, affects about 1 in 50 children, mostly boys, and usually starts showing signs by 1-1/2 - 4 years of age.  I wonder what the statistics of South Asians with autism in Bay Area are; the numbers seem to be high. We come from a culture equipped with few skills to deal meaningfully with special needs. So we learn while on the go.

Everybody’s autism story is different, with some outward commonalities. No known medical cause, no known cure. A few theories exist for both but fall away under closer, calmer look through time. Some therapies exist but fail to help all children. Some lucky children respond beautifully. Symptoms are not always a marker for who will respond. Sometimes a happy parent reports success with a novel method- even when safe, we do not know if the result can be repeated. Science has much catching up to do. Parents just carve a way through all this to help the child and manage. If the therapies fail to reach a child, there’s no hand anywhere to lift him up. There’s nowhere to go. You live your story, 24/7, 365.


An extremely difficult decision- I started homeschooling.  The idea was to manage M’s learning in a more regulated environment. I registered for a private school (PSA, per Law in CA) and named it ‘Creative Minds School’ in the fall of 2009.

It was a difficult year. M wasn't comfortable in his body at times. I talked to other homeschooling autism moms and realized that we were dissimilar even within this field. We retreated into a smaller world that was more meaningful.


M's world slowly became my world. I moved to his rhythm. We went for walks, picked acorns and pine cones. Counted them. Felt the texture (he loves that). We listened to music. He liked stickers so we used them. Used some toys. He liked colored paper clips so we did a variety of things with them. Talked singsong. Used voice for affect. Communicated in silence.

I made up my own worksheets, starting with math. If a concept was unclear, I tried it differently- cut out steps, changed print, color or spacing. Or tried it a lower level or a higher level. Framed the concept in a way that didn't need a verbal output. Tried different visual placements (this helped a lot). Presented an idea in many ways. Repeated everything. Laughed over silly things.

It seems to me that I took things that interested him and built around them, very slowly. He led an activity when he very interested. Sometimes he liked the structure of Q & A of a sheet, like math (shown by fleeting shy, proud smiles). Sometimes he was reluctant to do anything and preferred his chair and music or the swing in the yard.

Moved to workbooks (I picked ones that didn't have much fluff).  Most importantly, we ‘learned’ depending on where and when M was comfortable. Be it morning or not morning. Sometimes it was in the afternoon. For 5 or 15 or 30 minutes. In the yard, at the dining table or a proper study table in his room. After each small session he liked to play on his swing or trapeze (I had one fitted in the family room) or the trampoline. Dad took him (and still takes him) to outings every day. M loves being outside, they became outdoor-buddies. Before bedtime they played some more. Had a weekend playgroup, a class here and there, family & friend visits. We went to museums, zoos, gardens, the usual stuff, all managed within our autism. There were still instances when we had to turn back and abandon an outing or cut it short.

There was some progress. We were happier. We were also still going in circles. They were bigger than before, but they were still circles. But there was progress. Then sometime in late summer of 2010, I dropped my guard. Long story short- I became even more of a partner. I learned to wait more, unlearn more of my expectations and accept all outcomes.  This happened over a few months. Maybe I was seeing an undercurrent of something and wanted to slow down. I always knew, even as a baby, even as a toddler, that he saw and learned differently. It was easier to observe this before the slide at 2 ½ because the sensory issues were lesser. How can I forget? They come back to me in every dream.


I kept trying different things without a fixed agenda distributed among scheduled activities. Some happy accidents happened. I wasn't looking for them; so I said huh and moved on. They took a while to register on me and to assimilate into our learning. Then things started adding up, which I only saw in retrospect.

I don’t know how to describe what happened next, it all was so fast. I’m going to make it very short:  In early 2011, a pattern of learning style began to emerge. By fall of 2011, he was typing sentences and more.  Slowly I began to see his mind through his typing- I began to understand his unique way of seeing the world. How can I describe my awe? I have no words.

Our world started to expand back a little. We joined a Charter Homeschool in fall of ‘12. We were back in a school system, with access to benefits- curriculum, state standards, a library, an advisory teacher and some classes. With school came some tests, in which he earned some wows.

We still have a long way to go; since schooling is only a part of the whole. It’s just that we find ourselves on a small road now and are getting used to it. 

It is a mystery how the ease and need of communication, which humanity takes for granted is changed in autism (and unfortunately, most of us equate the ability to communicate with worthiness). The pathways in the sensory-motor-coordination of eliciting an answer A to a question Q with the associated body language get changed to different degrees in autism. But this is only the collateral, autism is more than that. While M is continuing to work on his speech (which is as difficult as it is dear to his heart), it was his typing that opened a different road for us. His ability to learn came into the open only because of separating it from the requirements of a verbal output. 

(And yes, after all his home-haircuts, M has been going back to the hairdressers for 2-3 years now. He does quite well. We did not understand the difficulties of the sensory experience in a haircut when he was 2).


Autism changes lives. I changed. My worldview changed. My relationship with family and friends changed. Some drifted away, some came closer. Much advice and judgment comes my way (moms especially are found at fault for what they do and don’t do). It is hard to keep up with everything in house and life.  My health wavered. Our marriage changed. Much of our energy goes into autism (of course, this is dependent on how much autism a child has and a family’s support structure). I carry an accumulated bag of emotions- sadness, anger, regrets, fears, anxiety, gratitude and hope. But the hardest of all – the hurt in that - a child, an innocent child, has to work so hard to navigate the basics of the world, something which should have been a background foundation for life. Then there is the bias against him. Even as so much is unknown about autism, people are quick to conclude the status and fate of a child from even a different neurological tremble.

Autism also gives back. It is unlike any other disability. Your child is not only different; he/she perceives the world differently and is motivated differently. There is the joy that only special needs children give out and then there is the purity of the autism mind. There is peace in it. Joy and peace, M gives that to us and to many others who know him. I am grateful for being able to work with him. 

We are a special-needs family, we move to a rhythm of a slower and kinder world. My happiest moments come quietly, when M and I are communicating and learning from each other. Or even when I’m simply sitting in the afternoon sun in the yard and say, he is playing with his scooter and makes a graceful turn around me with a smile. When we are both quietly listening to music. My time stands still in these moments.

This blog came about in ’11. Most of it was trying to make sense of our place, by exploring an angle dwelling in my mind every month or so. I stand on slippery ground- what is my voice, do I even want one? I am unsure. I feel exhilarated on good days and fade away on days when M isn't doing well. So what can I have to say from where I come? I hear a false note in most of everything I say. 
Inconsistent and Incomplete: inconsistent because I'm learning, incomplete because my understanding will remain that. But the love M gives me, frees me. It frees me from the burdens of expectations- of failure and success, of any insight and my mistakes. Just staying true to him brings me balance.

So you see, this isn't about me at all. It is about a boy who has come here, to this spot, after a long walk, against odds.  What he has is as precious as fragile. It may not be much to show to the outside world. His path is long, it is narrow, and few people walk there. He wishes to keep walking. He has hope, he has trust and he has light in his eyes.

I asked him if he is okay with me writing about him in my blog. He is.


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What If.. ?

… Raa raa, Raa raa, Raa raa…
Raa raa, Devaadhidevaa, Raa raa, Mahanubhavaa…

My son and I were listening to this keertana of Thyagaraja, BalaKanakaMayaChela. It was Sri Rama Navami. Listening to songs was our way of marking the festival. I found myself engrossed in the words and the music, no, I got lost in them.
What a remarkable choice of words. I'm just a listener, I don't have music knowledge, but still the words stood out (they stand out whenever I hear this song).

Raa raa is a term of affection (a term for calling someone younger or very close to you). This is how Thyagaraja chose to call Rama, while invoking the grace that Rama symbolized for him. Then he addressed Rama as God of Gods, juxtaposed it with the affectionate address of Raa raa and then addressed him as a great, noble person. Why? Why this peculiar order?
(affectionate-call affection affection ---- affectionate-call - praise ---- affectionate-call - praise, set beautifully to Atana Raga)

I think Thyagaraja was interweaving his feelings of love and awe towards a higher meaning, a meaning that was both personal and magnificent at the same time.
The music and the lyrics, that’s what they do, they work their magic on our minds and hearts and before we know, the strains of magic start getting braided, lifting us into the proximity of the higher something that inspired the composer.
But why, why is Rama a symbol of such wonder? Such benevolence? Not just for Thyagaraja but for many?

I believe it is because he had a what if moment in his life where he instinctively chose one of two paths. The ensuing result became history. Err, it became an epic.

Some what if moments in the human story have changed history.
Where one moment, one decision, one event-  in a swift, singular move that slowly, without any fanfare cascaded into other events-  changed the course of a culture for generations or even for millennia. These moments interest me. Previously I have wondered not so much on the what if but more on the how or why- why, what makes a person go this way or that in that moment?
We see this in our personal lives- the what if moments we analyze in retrospect in disbelief. But what if the what if moment became a force in history? There have been many such moments.

Take mythology.

What if Duryodhana, when he went to request Krishna’s help in the upcoming Kurushetra war, decided… when given a choice between choosing Krishna OR the entire Yadava army, chose… in that moment… not the Yadava army, but, Krishna?!
Heh. No Gita would have cause to come about; Mahabharata would have not made any sense. Or would it have?

What if the teenage Rama, when confronted with the sudden shift in reality from being a crowned a prince to the holder of the burden of an old promise of his father to his young wife, a promise that meant an exile for 14 years, BLINKED? What if he said, No way Jose, you've got to be kidding, I ain’t going to the forests. He didn't do that.
Rama’s unhesitating act of grace set his place in the hearts of a people. Of all his choices in his later momentous life- what he did or did not do, this selfless act defined him the most. If he did not choose exile, he would have had a kingdom right away, but there would not have been the Ramayana. 
Of the endless possible consequences of not having this epic, one would have been- no inspiration for Thyagaraja. Would he have composed music? 

Take history.

What if the mighty Asoka decided to not kill his brothers to ascend to the throne? What if he gave up the throne at the outset? Would Buddhism have spread outside India?

What if Buddha gave up his quest for the truth when he found his hitherto buried bodily desires coming back after he started re-taking food? What spark made him decide (against common knowledge and practice at the time) to try to seek nirvana WHILE accepting food?

What if Aurangzeb was crushed by the charging elephant in 1633? (The young Aurangzeb bravely defended himself). Would Dara Shikoh have become Emperor? Would religious tensions and relations have unfolded very differently in the subcontinent? (Aurangazeb’s tyranny had an impact on society and culture).

But it is not easy to speculate in retrospect what would have happened otherwise in any 'what if' moment or event. It is as if things have a flow of their own.

Take Bush-Gore 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court in 2000. Shocking it was. But then, if Bush hadn’t been in power, would Obama, who presented a clear contrast, been able rise as a candidate for President in 2008? Gore didn’t become President and Obama is now President. What if Gore became President? It becomes difficult to guess beyond the immediate consequences.

Every what if moment becomes a weave in our human-story basket. Sitting in our basket as we are, walking around and taking time to feel and touch the weaves on our walls can make our own place and time in the human story seem surreal.

In my personal life, I had an experience that qualifies under the what if’s...

We were in our first rental car, my fiance and I, on our first road trip. We were on Highway 1, a little north of Santa Barbara.

I asked, excitedly, how fast can we go?
How fast do you want to go?
Umm, can we go a... hundred ??

He was 25 years old. The needle slowly rose and hit a hundred. Which our eyes watched in hushed anticipation. Everything was zooming past us, and the speed was exhilarating.

The 2-lane road did not have any traffic but one yellow car waiting at a T misjudged our speed. The driver waited, and then decided to merge. He arrived exactly onto our lane. There was no time to brake and stop. My fiance reflexively went into the other lane, which he saw was free. But another car was coming up; that driver in turn reflexively went into our lane. For a few seconds we both were in opposite lanes before we merged back into our own lanes. The yellow car went on its way.
It was so sudden, so instantaneous, so shocking. What if quick reflexes were not used? Instant death or worse was certain. Not just us, we would have hurt other people.   I was so shocked, so shocked, that to this day I drive below the posted speed limit on any road. I dislike speed.

At times I have wondered what would have happened if we died. Earlier I used to be in shock at the possibility. But now I don’t feel the shock for my own self, though I'm still horrified of what might have happened to others and my role in it.

Over time, over the years, the moments begin to fade away. Over tens or hundreds or thousands of years we forget to relate to the pain of the turns in our human story. They just become points in history. Somehow a turning point seems nothing more than, say,  

 Tomayto – Tomahto!

But what if we go much further back, if the meteor did not strike the Earth and the dinosaurs did not die, the meteor went off by our side, would humans have been able to evolve?  We can come up with many such scenarios.

Sometimes I imagine very intelligent aliens sitting in nice balconies with pretty views pointing out our planet to little very intelligent alien-grandchildren, saying, See that, that nice blue ball, they call it Earth, it holds some lifeforms too.
It seems like they, so far away in time and space, can see things quite differently from us. For them, Dinosaurs – Humans, may be just like, To-may-to ---- To-mah-to. Just a turn, just a flash of lifeforms in the celestial cooking pan!

What if it isn't? It isn't just a flash? What if the path that we're walking on, our tomahto-tomayto laden path takes us to a future, a distant future where WE get to lounge in celestial balconies with spectacular views? Or will that just make us- a flash in a bigger celestial cooking pan?

What if it isn't?
We'll just have to get there to find out. For now at least we get to tend to our tomatoes in our small balconies while listening to music.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Jiddu Krishnamurti: Truth is a Pathless Land

Jiddu Krishnamurti mostly said one thing. He always came back to it- Truth is a pathless land.

I like when a person succinctly summarizes his philosophical thoughts and ideas. No mystery, no verbose, serpentine by-lanes punctuated with vagueness, no mysticism. The clarity lends credibility.

Truth is a pathless land

I picked up the book Conversations with J. Krishnamurti very casually in a bookstore in my early 20’s because I have been curious about philosophical thought even as a girl of 7 or 8. But I could not follow the conversation. It became surreal within the first page. I forced myself to read about a quarter of the book and gave up. I was reading the words but they were not meaning anything.  Over the years I picked up the book a few more times to read but failed. Then the book got lost in the drum roll of time.

About three years ago I came across some of Krishnamurti’s quotes. I found them very interesting, maybe because of where I was in my life.  I read about his extraordinary childhood. A few months ago I came across his videos on YouTube. In particular, a series of conversations came into view. They were with Dr. Allan Anderson, a professor at San Diego State University (he is now Professor Emeritus). I listened to a few of these conversations, each of which was about an hour’s length. The drum roll of time had another effect, it made understanding the conversation much easier!

The videos were fascinating. Krishnamurti was serious as can be expected, but was also surprisingly animated, while still striving for clarity and brevity. He had a habit of genuine inquiry at key points- Sir, did you…? (did you understand?), which gave an impromptu personal touch to an otherwise austere conversation.

Truth is a pathless land.  He arrives at this from different angles, saying we can understand ourselves by observing how we relate and respond to others, to ideas and to things; to the earth, to the world around and within us. The process is intrinsic, no outside entities or systems are needed.  No need to understand the painstaking history of ideas and large theories of others past. I also like that he doesn't use annoying morals- like, The clay pot has emptiness, so do you! Or, When a seed takes root, the sprout only emerges right side up, so should you. He speaks in plain, unadorned language.

But why should we care about understanding ourselves? Interestingly, he seemed to have enough of an audience who wanted to find out. “This is not entertainment… Welcome to English weather”, he introduces himself with dry wit in one video where he is talking in what looks like a lawn tent with many students. He was aware that his audience was limited and had the self-control to not seek beyond that, for fame or fortune.

“.. If there are only five people who will listen, who will live, who have their faces turned towards eternity, it will be sufficient. Of what use is it to have thousands who do not understand, who are fully embalmed in prejudice, who do not want the new, but would rather translate the new to suit their own sterile, stagnant selves?..”

Though I haven’t listened to all of his talks or read all his books, I seem to prefer the conversations (18 or so, each an hour long) he had with Dr. Allan Anderson. Dr. Anderson came across as fascinating in his own right, with his genuine depth, wit and curiosity. As an interviewer he could hold the conversation, pause at key points of interest and take it in increasingly deeper directions. Krishnamurti’s solo lectures I do not prefer as much, I do not prefer the hint of an activist tone that seems to come in there.

Pleasure, Art of Listening, True Beauty, Meditation (I & II), are some of the videos I watched. With each, Krishnamurti starts with our everyday experience and goes into abstract interconnections, staying centered, always re-arriving at his core belief - you can only be in your own way, which can be the only way. Only you can find it for yourself.

“.. Man cannot come to Truth through any organization, through any creed, through any dogma, priest or ritual, not through any philosophical knowledge or psychological technique. He has to find it through the mirror of relationship, through the understanding of the contents of his own mind, through observation and not through intellectual analysis or introspective dissection..”

What’s special about this vista point?

For example, one of the topics of the conversations was about Meditation. It starts simple enough and he says why meditation performed as a practice for 5, 10 or whatever minutes a day, with or without a mantra, is a wholly meaningless activity disconnected with life. He speaks sharply of experts from the East who offer meditation as a technique and charge a fee. All this is in line with his iconoclastic views where he had maintained why he was against preset ways of formal thinking-in-a-cage even when unforced. The real beauty of the conversation comes out further along, where he describes meditation as how we live, as is, not something outside of our lives to learn as a technique. We start from wherever we are. In detailing the why, he slowly peels through layers of frozen assumptions, saunters into a rarefied space of thinking, which is free of the cause-effect tugs of entertainment, relationships, ambition, information, expertise, sentimentality, morality, art, beauty and ego. Yes, completely free of the traps of civilized life while being in civilization. And that was his specialty. Navigating this free space with clarity and care.

Knowingly or unknowingly we all crave that rarefied free space. This is where we feel alive, calm, yet alert without stimulation. It is a high state for all sentient beings capable of abstract thought. We usually experience a part of the spectrum of this high for variable lengths of time, say, while listening to a fine piece of music, for some in their faith, in beauty, in nature, in art, when holding our newborn, in kindness, in physical love, in the rings of success and power and such. We live our lives trying to access and experience more of this high state, albeit inefficiently, through our preferred routes.

Arriving at that part of conversation in the video, we may feel a little shocked- here is a person who seems to be in the vista where a mind is suspended free. If you find yourself drawn in 15, 20 minutes into the conversation, perhaps it is because of relating to this free nature of thinking. It is liberating. Somehow, understanding ourselves and discovering our Truth seem possible from here. We all must have visited this vista at some point or the other through different routes. Where enough balance-of-mind summoned itself to hope that we can live meaningfully in our way. Where the ways and means of this strange world seemed to somewhat sort themselves out. Where there was a feeling of contentment.

“.. As I said before, my purpose is to make men unconditionally free, for I maintain that the only spirituality is the incorruptibility of the self which is eternal, is the harmony between reason and love. This is the absolute, unconditioned Truth which is Life itself…”

“.. Freedom is not a reaction; freedom is not choice. It is man’s pretence that because he has choice he is free. Freedom is pure observation without direction, without fear of punishment and reward. Freedom is without motive; freedom is not at the end of the evolution of man but lies in the first step of his existence. In observation one begins to discover the lack of freedom. Freedom is found in the choiceless awareness of our daily existence and activity..”

Not a World Leader!

Jiddu Krishnamurti was born in 1895 in Madanapalle in Cuddapah in the then Madras Presidency. His father moved his family to Madras after the death of his wife. As a child, Krishnamurti had a vacant look about him. He did not do well in school. He later said that he was regularly beaten because he could not learn anything. I tried to think but no thoughts came – he said of that time period. His family lived in an outhouse of the Theosophical Society’s campus in Adyar.

One day, Charles Leadbeater from the Theosophical Society was taking a walk along the Adyar river and chanced upon the 14-year-old Krishnamurti playing on the banks with his brothers. Leadbeater saw something in Krishnamurti. Leadbeater was a person who claimed clairvoyance. He said he saw an aura in the teen, with utterly no trace of selfishness.

Krishnamurti was believed by the society to be a vehicle for a World Teacher. He and his younger brother Nityananda were taken in by the society and adopted by Annie Besant, the President. Within six months, Krishnamurti learned to read and write. He went to schools in India and Britain. But he generally did not do well in formal schooling and did not go to a University. He had a flair for languages and learned to speak a few.

The Theosophical Society was founded in 1875 in England. The headquarters was moved to Adyar in Madras, perhaps because India was more hospitable for a different way of religious thinking. The doctrine of the Theosophical Society was to find the universal brotherhood within the triangle of religion, science and philosophy and try to explore the unexplained laws of nature. The society did extremely well in India. It set up centers with followers all over the country and the world. Anne Besant was also an ardent advocate for Women’s rights and a supporter of India’s freedom movement.  But what exactly Leadbetter saw in the ragged, expressively vacant, illiterate, famished, dusty boy on the banks of the Adyar river, if it was indeed a latent intellect, we do not really know.

In his late twenties, during a travel and stay at Ojai, CA, Krishnamurti reportedly had an experience. It was described as something of an acute physical pain in the head but having an effect of higher sensitivity afterwards (he apparently had these episodes many times in his lifetime). A few years later his brother died of tuberculosis. His brother was the only connection Krishnamurti had to his past. These incidents began to define him, give him an identity. He began to question the status-quo.

A few years later, at the annual camp of the Theosophical Society in Netherlands in 1929, before 3000 members, instead of stepping up as the World Leader, Krishnamurti dissolved the Order of the Star, which was the Society’s wing to promote the World Leader. He resigned from the Society and returned all the money and property donated to the Order of the Star. Instead he said-

“.. 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 to coerce people along any particular path. If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organize a belief..”

A Coming gone wrong! Leadbeater proclaimed. Leadbeater was already estranged with sections of the Society because of discomfort concerning his unconventional ways and was living in Australia. Krishnamurthy kept his ties with Anne Besant, his surrogate mother. She helped buy some land in the hills of Ojai, CA, where a cottage was built. He lived the rest of his life in Ojai. The cottage was in a farm and around nature- hills, birds and bees.

In the following decades he traveled even more far away from the doctrines of the Theosophical Society. He gave talks and wrote books. It is amazing how much his thinking prowess came about despite having no degree from a University (or was it because of it?). Owing no allegiance to a nationality or religion and seeking no followers, he stayed away from politics and events, as a boring philosopher is supposed to. Perhaps the lowest profile he had was during WWII when he apparently came under the surveillance of the FBI for his pacifist views. He referred to his works as The teachings and not as My teachings. He maintainedYou have to be your own teacher and your own disciple.
Jiddu Krishnamurti died in 1986. He was 91.

The Experience

The experience that Krishnamurti had is difficult to rationalize.

In the book/movie of Carl Sagan, Contact, Dr. Ellie Arroway, a dedicated and proud scientist, goes to space in a space module. She meets intelligent and compassionate aliens and comes back to earth. But we on earth only see her space module rotate, light up and fall back to earth, all within a space of 17 seconds. But she insists she went to space in the space module. A scientist suddenly finds herself in a position to defend something without proof.

Who is right? Do we believe our eyes and the conclusion our minds reached from what we saw or do we believe her version? Can both happen? She is summoned by a congressional committee and questioned. After giving her version all she could offer in her defense was something like- I had an experience. It was so beautiful. Later she is given funds for research, because a more complete analysis shows an inexplicable static recording for x hours in the space-module’s equivalent of the black box, the exact time it would have taken for her to make the alleged space trip, through worm holes and all. But that is science fiction.

In the real world, those who claim the privilege of an out-of-world experience mostly tend to use this for their own personal gain. Form a religious cult and make some small magic. Unfortunately, hungry followers, money and power accumulate while the cult-head assumes the role of a conduit for boons. But how do we figure out a pretender?

Irrespective of whether we believe a person has had or not had an experience, or in the relevance of any experience, the post-experience behavior is the most telling. The loss or benefit from an experience cannot be given to another. It is their experience. How it defines their life gives all the information.

3cents of disagreement

There is an inherent contradiction in not wanting followers but then choosing to give a talk or write a book. Isn't this acknowledging in some implicit way a followership, a desire for audience?

The other is the extent of Krishnamurti’s iconoclasm.  Yes, the state of many societal systems needs to change but just like people, doesn't any people-created system come at us as-is? Moreover we have no choice as to where and into which system we are born, be it religious or national or educational or cultural. A person lives out an entire life embedded in a set of imperfect systems. 
We have to find our freedom within that framework. Sure, a subsystem which has scarcity of food is different from another which has corruption. We can only begin to contemplate about freedom when the mind can and chooses to be, as a lifestyle choice, free of the thoughts and ripples of survival and entertainment on a regular basis.
There is this long range inconsistency that comes up - how can there be disdain for (some) systems while saying ".. Freedom is found in the choiceless awareness of our daily existence and activity.."? 

I also differed with him in some other idea expansions, perhaps because of my background- I am of and from the middle-class masses.

Overall all this is minor, just small details of disagreement. 

Relevance today

If you ever find yourself exploring the nature of free thinking, J. Krishnamurti’s conversations can give much food to chew. Or maybe even give an idea to linger on just enough to reconsider  your priorities from the core up (apparently that was his ability in real life, to give a solicited suggestion or two and the person connected with it enough to take off in life again). It is remarkable that there are these recordings where his beautiful thoughts can still spring up like fresh water to a thirsty traveler. The desired effect needn't necessarily be a lofty one- the conversations are worth listening even to feel and relax in the freedom. It is a wonderful way to spend a Friday or Saturday evening!

Of what use is this Truth, this philosophical musing in general, in daily life and in ever present conflicts, big and small, you are entitled to ask. I’ll say: It has everything to do with it! It is like problem solving from the center –> out, going outwards starting from our mind, rather than the usual way which is to become clamped in societal-systems’ viselike grip in-utero onwards.

But we also know that knowing is different from understanding which stands afar from doing. We muddle through these interrelations in our own way. Indeed, there is no paved path to Truth. Truth is still is a pathless land.


1.      More about Allan Anderson is here.
2.      J. Krishnamurti’s speech to the Members of the Order of the Star in 1929.
3.      Information and  quotes are from Wiki, other Internet sources and here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A month later, in memory of..


                                 came by, they
                                  hesitated but
                                    got inside
           Sparkles in eyes, lightness in steps, just a
           boy and girl on the way back from a movie.
           Interrupted. A nasty comment by one who
           lured them inside with a singsong solicitation
           whistle. Violation became vicious. Fueled by
           entitled rage. Hours later, a nation found its
           guts were pulled off. Shocked nation lay by
          roadside, bloodied and naked in the cold dark.
           Cuts, bites, wounds for all to feel. But no one
           offered to cover even as it agonized for help,
           shivering, bleeding, throbbing. Even one tear
           of the young girl who stood up for the right to
           be herself has more worth than all that was 
           ever fathomed and will be - that almost all
           felt this later and their hearts hushed as she lay 
           dying maybe the realistic hope that there is for 
           this restless nation, so young, so old, so much 
           vigor and so resigned, now forever haunted by 
           the headline“A large number of Police Vans 
           and BSF followed the victim as her body was 
           taken for cremation.” When one, just one cop 
           or a morsel of respect in any of the 6 men could 
           have saved the night when a girl going home from
           a movie bravely battled beastliness in a quietly
           plying bus in the heart of a city in a free nation.

January 2013