The Mind of the Guru, Conversations with Spiritual Masters
Dr. Rajiv Mehrotra
Rajiv Mehrotra, a personal student of the Dalai Lama, was educated at the universities of Delhi, Oxford and Columbia. For over three decades he has been a familiar face on public television, notably as the anchor of an in-depth, one-on-one talk show. He is currently secretary/trustee of the Foundation for Universal Responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and managing trustee of the Public Service Broadcasting Trust. He is Judge of the Templeton Prize for Spirituality, a trustee of the Norbulinka Institute of Tibetan Culture and has served on the governing councils of the Sri Aurobindo Society and the Film and Television Institute of India. An independent documentary film-maker, he has won several international and national awards. He was nominated a Global Leader for Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum at Davos. Rajiv has edited The Mind of the Guru: Conversations with Spiritual Masters (2003), Understanding the Dalai Lama (2004) and The Essential Dalai Lama: Understanding His Important Teachings (2005).
U.G. Krishnamurti, popularly known as U.G., is termed by some as a 'spiritual terrorist' as he overturns our accepted beliefs about God, mind, soul, enlightenment, religion, humanity, heart, love and relationships and gives us a totally different picture of who we are.
He left a strange and lasting impression, difficult to define, on everyone who came across him. People were either deeply shaken or overtaken by curiosity after a few minutes of talking with him. He doesn't offer hope, love, peace or spiritual salvation. On the contrary, his words are rather deflating. He discourages people from coming to see him and most often politely turns them away. Yet he remains one of the most talked about thinkers in India, and his biography topped the best-seller lists for months.
An archetypal anti-guru, Uppaluri Gopala Krishnamurti was born into a wealthy Brahmin family in the small town of Masulipatnam in Andhra Pradesh. As a child, U.G. was taught all the important Indian scriptures and their commentaries. But as he became and adult, he became a cynic, rejecting the spiritual bonds of his culture and questioning everything for himself.
In 1943 he married and had three children, but the marriage did not work from the start and the final break-up took place seventeen years later. In the early 1960s U.G. met Madame Valentine de Kerven, who was to be his lifelong companion. From a small inheritance she created a fund for U.G., which enabled him to travel as well as provided him a modest means of support for the rest of his life.
Who are you and what are you?
You are asking me a most difficult question and I will have a problem answering it. The problem, and it's not really a problem, is that the question never arises in me, but in others. I have to tell them it's a miscalculated question. Moreover, speaking precisely, the question should be, 'What are you?' But in India for centuries now we have been asking the question, 'Who are you?' I have a problem with the question because it is very difficult for me to create an image of myself and tell myself, 'This is me'. By the time I try to contemplate an image, it is no longer there. I always think in terms of the functioning of this physical living organism only.
In that case, if I look at the functioning of this physical living organism, what does it do for a living, for example?
Perhaps I could answer you in this way. We live in two different worlds. The natural living organism has a tremendous intelligence of its own. It doesn't need to learn anything to function and can live anywhere, but unfortunately our culture has created a different kind of a world in which we have to function differently. Society, culture, or whatever you call it, has created a world of ideas, thoughts and experiences for us to live in, and society says, 'We are going to educate you and fit you into this framework'. Here is the cake, and if you want a share of it, you'll have to fight for it. The more you fight for it, the larger the share you will have. So we have to become educated in how to survive in this world and fight for our share of the cake.
How do you make a living?
I have been very lucky because I was born rich, and when all that disappeared, somebody else came along and provided me with the chance to survive without working for a living. However, I would prefer not to go into that now. It is past history and is probably of very little interest to most people. I am often asked, 'Why do you travel? Do you have a compulsion to travel?' This year I have gone around the world twice, so they may very well ask me that question. However, it is a question that amuses me because we never ask that question of the birds that come all the way from Siberia to a small bird sanctuary in Mysore and then return to Siberia.
You have been reluctant to have labels like teacher or philosopher attached to you. How would you describe yourself?
Godman, guru, something like that! When people ask me, 'Who are you, what do you do?', they are not necessarily asking what I do for a living. I tell them, 'I am a philosopher of sorts. I studied philosophy, but I'm not a professional philosopher. However I have discovered something extraordinary, I stumbled into something extraordinary'.
You have at one time referred to it as a calamity that was to later change your life.
I have very purposely used the word 'calamity' in the sense that all our life we search for an external self or God, or something like that. Then, like a lightning bolt, the whole image that we have built around that image is shattered to pieces. We wish to be in a blissful state, full of ecstasy, love and compassion, but in its place we find that this is just a living organism, pulsing with life. What is there and what we are left with is just the pulse, the beat and the form of life, and there is nothing more. This comes as a shock, because we realize that all our life, all though our search, we expected that we would be something like Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed or one of the great teachers. I was expecting something to happen.
I found that all my life I had been questioning something that does not exist. This realization came as a shock to me and I said, 'This is a calamity'. That's the reason I used the word 'calamity' and also rejected totally and completely the idea of transformation, because what is there to be transformed? I didn't find anything there, so there is nothing there to be transformed. All that talk of transformation, radical or otherwise, is just poppycock, I said to myself.
This happened in your forty-ninth year. Could you tell us more?
First, I started with the question, 'How can I become enlightened like Buddha, Jesus and all the other great spiritual teachers?' I pondered over that question for a very long time, until at some point, through some sort of a mystical experience—I say that for want of a better and more adequate term—I found an answer.
Can you describe that experience?
The mystical experience is within the framework of knowledge and, therefore, I consider it to be a petty one. We experience, that we know, but that does not in any way free us from the knowledge we have acquired. So we remain dependent on, and trapped in, the idea that we owe everything to the one that has helped us to experience these things. We have not actually freed ourselves from that notion—that is why I call it a mystical experience.
That in itself is an extraordinary thing, because it awakens some sort of an intelligence in us which enables us to see things differently. We experience all the same things in a different way and try to share that experience with somebody or else or, to put it another way, we interpret the text, we see it in a more meaningful, expressive way. But I said to myself, 'This has nothing to do with what I have been interested in. This is such a petty experience'.
Furthermore, we find we have no way of going beyond that mystical experience, because it has a stranglehold on us in exactly the same way as other experiences. There is no way we can escape from that trap because it is our own experience and therefore important. What we previously considered to be the experience of others has become our own experience and the struggle to escape is more difficult than what it was before.
So at that time I could have established a worldwide organization and shouted out to humanity, 'Here is something I have discovered for myself. Come here and listen to me!' What's more, once we are freed from the demand to bring about a change in ourselves, the demand to change the world around us changes.
You have told us the consequences of those experiences, but what did you actually experience?
I realized that I am already in the state of Buddha, Jesus and the other great teachers and that I was emulating them as an example and striving to be like them to reach enlightenment. But what is enlightenment? Who is an enlightened man and what are his patterns of behavior? I said to myself, 'This cannot be enlightenment, there must be something more than this'. Although I said to myself, 'I am in the same state as Buddha, Mahavira and all the other great teachers', somehow I knew there was something more to understand. Yet the question suddenly disappeared and left me with further questions. I don't know how it happened, why it happened, when it happened or, in fact, if anything at all has happened—I really don't know.
Do you believe in the uniqueness of this experience?
I don't go around the world preaching that my experiences are unique or extraordinary. Rather I have grown to feel that I am just an ordinary man. The demand to change anything, to become something extraordinary, to be different from what I already am has somehow disappeared. In fact, the very demand to be 'anything' isn't there any more. How it happened, I really don't know. So there is no way I can share this with somebody and help someone realize what I have realized.
Is there any significance or purpose in your keeping the body going?
No, not at all! Many people ask this question. The body does not know it is alive. It doesn't need or demand anything. Why then do we need this body? It needs energy to move around; that is all that is necessary for this body. Otherwise, the life energy that is there is something extraordinary and expresses itself in its own way.
Would it matter if the body ceased to exist?
It does not know when it is alive or when it is dead. The essence of man is interested in the human body only as atoms that can be used somewhere else to maintain the balance or the level of energy.
What motivates you then to keep living?
I have no choice. I did not come into this world of my own choice and I have no reason to quit it. When the time comes, when the body wears down and when the essence needs these atoms elsewhere, what we call death takes place. Death is nothing but the reshuffling of atoms, and when they are needed elsewhere the body withdraws. It may be possible for me to keep this body going through genetic engineering or some other process that we have at our disposal, but why and for what purpose?
You have acknowledged human suffering. You have also said that what happened to you was a spontaneous event and that you cannot transmit the techniques to make it happen to someone else. What then can an individual do? Is there a process of inevitability to an individual's suffering, or is he the catalyst for his own suffering?
I have not managed it through my volition or effort. There is a Chinese proverb, 'You cannot jump off the tiger because of the fear that the tiger might gobble you up'. Somehow I was thrown off the tiger and I didn't know what had happened. So now I find that I am no longer trying to jump off the tiger. Now, for whatever reason, I have no interest in telling other people to jump off the tiger. It won't make any difference to them at all. They have to do it on their own. This is my 'doom-song!' People say, 'We are doomed'. I say, 'There is no way we can reverse this course, not a thing we can do about it, but we have to live in hope and die in hope'.
Do you live in hope?
I did! Hope is always in the future, you see. What is there to hope for? The moment we ask the question 'how', the picture becomes clearer. 'How' and 'hope' are one and the same. We constantly ask questions. 'How, how, how' to get an answer and to know more, more, more. How do we change our lives? How do we shape our lives? How do we create peace within ourselves? How do we live in a peaceful world? How do we live in harmony with the world and the people around us? But the 'how' is born out of the 'hope' that somehow, some way, we can change. So the moment 'how' springs up, hope goes with it. There is no 'how'. Somehow, the demand to know is not there in me. That's all I can say. This answer may not be satisfactory for some, but it makes no difference to me.
Am I right in assuming then that the concept of altruism would be non-existent from your perspective?
Yes, of course! To me charity is one of the most vulgar things that the human mind has come up with. We have grabbed and taken away everything that belongs to everybody. To whom are we to give charity?
But it may be different minds trying to use different vocabularies to communicate what is essentially a non-conceptual experience. We may all be talking about the same thing, but in different words.
What I want to emphasize is very simple. We are all puppets, and who or what is pulling the strings in this drama? You may call it by many names—thought sphere, culture or any other fancy phrase—but I say it is a 'morphogenetic field'. It really doesn't matter what words we use. What I'm trying to emphasize or put across is one basic thing: there is no individual at all; there is no individual mind there.
You and I have been created by culture, by society, for the simple reason that it is a self-perpetuating mechanism. So there is nothing here; there are no individuals there. The very demand to be an individual is baseless and false. Two things: there is no individual, but you have to be an individual. So the very same culture that emphasizes the need to create individuals has created this neurotic situation for us.
It seems to me you are almost abdicating responsibility to external forces. I hesitate to use the word 'external' because you might argue that there isn't an external force. But using vocabulary common to all of us, as an individual, a victim or a participant in a larger societal context, where then is the impetus for action or initiative?
You are a willing victim there. I'm not blaming you. When the situation is different then the question of victim does not at all arise.
Do I have a choice?
You have no choice! You are merely a part of it. That's all. The world cannot be anything different, because you being what you are, how can you expect the world to be different? When we are all the time preparing for war, how can we envisage the possibility of peace on this planet? We have a flag, but what does it represent? While I wave my flag here we cannot talk peace, because the other chap is also waving his flag. So how do we reconcile this situation: preparing for war all the time and speaking of peace? Peace is not something that can descend upon us.
Do you feel optimism, pessimism or do you feel nothing at all?
I don't think you can fit my feelings into either this or that. People may say I am very negative. I'm not negative, but I'm not optimistic either. What does it really mean to be an optimist? An optimist is pushing things, he is using his will, his effort, and he is living in the hope that we will somehow turn this into a paradise and all of us will live in comfort and peace. What you don't seem to realize is that the very idea of creating heaven on earth is what has turned the whole thing into hell. Actually it is not hell. If you are lucky enough to be freed from the idea of those utopias, you will make earth an extraordinary place to live in.
Would you call yourself a pessimist?
It is up to you to stick a label on me. I don't know. I don't think in terms of optimism, pessimism, negativism or positivism at all. People may have an opinion that a person is negative, but it may not be true. The negative approach is invented by thought because we have totally failed to reach our goal through positive means. We have invented a negative approach, but the goal is a positive goal. So it doesn't matter whether we approach our goal negatively or positively.
Anyway, the goal is the most important thing. What we have to do is to free ourselves from the whole value system without replacing that value system with another value system. If we all did that we would be living in a wonderful place. Take animals, for instance. They don't kill anything for an idea, but they have to survive. One form of life lives on another form of life and that is what we are doing all the time. But if you kill something for any reason other than survival, we are creating a disharmony in this world and there is no way we can reverse the process. You may call me a pessimist. I'm ready to go along with that and be labelled one.
On the one hand, you speak of the inevitability of the processes and the biochemistry of the brain and the vocabulary of life, and on the other you talk about freeing yourself from the responses, as it were.
Perhaps it is the difficulty of language. I'm not suggesting that there is something that you can do to free yourself. You are already free and what creates this demand to be free is the belief that there is something that we need to be freed from. This expresses itself in an extraordinary way. This is something which you cannot even think of creating, so where have we gone wrong? Where have we failed? It's a very natural question to ask.
Somewhere along the line, in the process of evolution, especially in the human species, occurred what we call self-consciousness. That separated us from the totality of life around us. Actually, life is one single unit, but this self-consciousness has separated us from everything. And it is that which is responsible for creating the whole religious thinking of man. We forget we have created all those things—God, truth, reality, whatever you want to call it—only as an extension of pleasure. So whether religion has turned us into cowards or our cowardice is responsible for creating religious thinking is anybody's guess. I'm not against religion at all. All the other systems that the human mind has invented are nothing but warty outgrowths of religion—even communism.
But is it mere semantics when you suggest where we have gone wrong? According to your vocabulary, we haven't gone wrong. Something and nothing has gone wrong and you say it's the value system that's wrong.
It is the value system that is fitting the events into its framework, and then saying something is wrong.
But you are describing a value that is wrong!
The created universe is perfect, but our value system makes us believe that something is wrong with it. So we superimpose on that all our ideations and destroy something extraordinary that is already there. Whether it will continue forever or not, we don't know. We may question why something was created, what is its purpose, what is going to happen, but it doesn't help us in any way to understand whether this whole thing was created by God.
Is understanding important?
It's not! We give too much importance to understanding things and to knowing things. But in a living atmosphere, a living situation, a dead value system cannot help us to understand anything.