What might be termed the American alternative religious movement has long expressed an interest in Indian religion, probably because of how exotic it seems to us. It’s really kind of offensive when you stop to think about it, but damned if I don’t sometimes fall for it myself. I mean, just look at this artwork!
Anyway, the Theosophical Society was among the groups that brought Indian spirituality to the west, usually in a way that’s reconstructed to make it more palatable to our society, which I guess is pretty much the same as what is done with curry. Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon focuses a fair amount on a spiritual leader named Jiddu Krishnamurti, considered by the Society to be a very likely candidate for World Teacher.
Krishamurti was born in 1895, and in Hindu tradition, he was named after Krishna because he was the eighth child. He was actually one of eleven children, but only six survived to adulthood. In his youth, he lived near the Theosophical Society headquarters in Adyar, where his father worked as a clerk. It was around his fifteenth birthday that he first met Charles Webster Leadbeater, self-described clairvoyant and alleged pedophile, who claimed that the boy could be the vehicle for the messianic figure Maitreya.
This was supposedly because of his aura, which I think translates into layman’s terms as his being a keen observer of the world who was willing to go along with just about anything. His typical manner was such that he was often thought to be mentally retarded, and it’s true that he never really took to academics despite a gift for languages, he would later describe his young self as someone who just observed without thinking.
I’d say it also didn’t hurt that he was a rather handsome youth, but apparently at the time Leadbeater discovered him, he was rather unkempt. In addition, he had contracted malaria a few years earlier, and suffered from recurring bouts of it throughout his life. Even in his childhood, however, he was surrounded by fawning girls, who were naturally compared to the milkmaids who were groupies for the original Krishna.
Annie Besant, President of the Theosophical Society, took him under her wing, and he was taken around the world and exhibited by the Society.
Much of his time, however, was spent in the fairly secluded Ojai Valley of California.
In 1929, Krishnamurti, who had been losing faith in the occult group that catapulted him into fame, officially split with the Theosophists. He still kept many of the same beliefs, however, and while he figured he might not actually be THE World Teacher, he could still be A world teacher. He went on to give speeches and publish materials on his philosophy of inner revolution. Apparently people who knew him commented on how different he was while teaching than in his private life, and claimed that he had at least two distinct personalities. Isn’t that the case for most performers, though? I guess Maitreya was his Sasha Fierce.
Krishna also befriended writer Aldous Huxley, and was viewed with some suspicion during World War II for his pacifist stance. Peter Washington shared an interesting anecdote from his later years, showing his distrust of New Age gurus, despite their similar beliefs.
“Travelling to Delhi by air in 1974, he found himself leaving a plane with the Maharishi [Mahesh Yogi], who rushed to greet the older man, clutching a flower. Krishnamurti rapidly made his apologies and left. He disliked the sentimentality of those who claim that ‘Love is all you need.’ He was also disdainful of those who walked in his own footsteps. Some time after this encounter he told friends that he would like to see the Maharishi’s balance sheet. The Maharishi might well have said the same of him.” (p. 361)
Krishnamurti died in Ojai in 1986 of pancreatic cancer, and apparently there was a renewed interest in his writings after his death. While he never officially reconciled with the Theosophical Society, the earlier tension between them died down. Radha Burnier, who became President of the Society in 1980 (yes, apparently there were still Theosophists in 1980), restored his status as an honorary figure in Theosophy.