Commentaries on Living by Jiddu Krishnamurti
Life is beautiful. Life is terrible. Life is simple. Life is hard. Life is a river. Life is a rollercoaster. Life is this. Life is that. Since time immemorial, human beings have grappled with this complex idea of life. What is life? How is life? Why is life? While poets and philosophers have interpreted, understood, and appreciated life, everyone must have given this pertinent question a thought — what is life all about?
In the heterogeneous potpourri of thought systems with which we reckon the Indian subcontinent, thinkers and philosophers of exquisite variety have emerged. When one becomes weary of the trials and tribulations of existence and a thirst for the Supreme meanders one’s path into that of a seeker, the necessity of having a guru or a mentor arises who would lead one, by the hand, from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge, and from death to immortality. In his three timeless notebooks titled Commentaries on Living, Jiddu Krishnamurti traverses through the sea of problems that life subsumes in clear and straightforward terms.
The topics in this recipe for salvation are neither alphabetically nor thematically arranged. It comprises essays dealing with subtle concepts such as thought, belief, ideology, virtue, suffering, beauty, desire, and awareness. Jiddu Krishnamurti’s writing stirs the restlessness and perplexity crucial to understanding the truth in one’s heart. The problem of self-realisation, in spiritual terms, is subjected to a close critical examination. The individual self of a human being becomes the text, and a spiritual understanding of all that occurs in one’s environment becomes the focal point of consideration. However, as one begins to think so, Krishnamurti quickly relegates spirituality to a desire that merely serves to lead one astray.
The dominant idea in Krishnamurti’s writing is to reduce the understanding of one’s self to such dimensions that nothing whatsoever remains. However, this idea is not novel to an informed reader of Indian philosophy. To such a soul, it is almost akin to the Upanishadic idea of neti neti — not this, not that. Nevertheless, it does not end here, instead goes beyond it. The subtle idea is that the self would find it reasonable to reveal itself when nothing remains. And this self, according to Krishnamurti, is dark and hollow and does not provide the experience of existence, consciousness, and bliss. It is something that cannot be desired. It is something that does not have to be attained. It is instead the realisation that occurs when one is prepared for it. In the entire process, one is not only probed to pull down the walls but also the bridges that exist between oneself and the truth.
The most exciting aspect of these notebooks is that anyone and everyone who reads them is bound to be influenced by them in one way or the other. Krishnamurti’s philosophy might be somewhat radical for those who subscribe to any belief, religion, thought system or ideology. Vociferously, he speaks against identification with any belief system whatsoever. The revered teacher even derides those who tend to label themselves as ‘Krishnamurti-ites’.
Every story begins with a question that elicits a response from the reader, challenging his most fundamental assumptions, and finally leaves the reader with an opinionated stance of the writer, giving him a new perspective on the topic of discussion. Throughout his writings, it is observed that there is a deliberate emphasis on the need to liberate oneself from the shackles of thought, belief and perception. Detachment, therefore, seems to be yet another significant theme of his musings.
Is it then only a book on self-realisation? It would certainly do an injustice to reduce Krishnamurti to a philosopher contemplating the problems of life and beyond since he does not merely ponder upon life as a thinker. Still, intentionally or unintentionally, a poetic sensibility more often than not creeps into these notebooks. The entire work seems to lie in the interstices between literature and philosophy. To bring the reader’s attention to a point, the mystical writer first develops an intricate yet simplistic looking atmosphere. One of such musings is as follows:
On both sides of the road were orange orchards, well ordered and well kept. After the hot day the smell of purple sage was very strong, and so was the smell of sunburnt earth and hay. The orange trees were dark, with their bright fruit. The quail were calling, and a road-runner disappeared into the bush. A long snake lizard, disturbed by the dog, wriggled off into the dry weeds. The evening stillness was creeping over the land. (27)
Krishnamurti’s language is as profound as his thoughts. Now and then, imagery of a unique build finds expression in his exquisitely crafted essays. The tone is not preachy, making it an exciting read for adults and children alike. Despite the highly figurative language used throughout, clarity of thought pervades all over the work. Though the ideas are complex, the language is as simple as possible. This notebook is comparable to those written by Albert Camus, Francis Bacon, and Antonio Francesco Gramsci.
The merit of this philosophical work is that it does not claim to be one. On the surface, one can also look upon it as a personal diary written by an individual making subtle observations while walking through the ridges and grooves in life. It is an anthology of excerpts from Jiddu Krishnamurti’s notebooks, where he scribbled down the experiences of every passing day while examining it with a sense of completeness. It is a record of the conversations with individuals who meet the great teacher every day, seeking solutions to the troubles of daily life. It can also be read like a self-help book, acting as a window to the soul and might become instrumental in leading to the transformation of the mind.