Book Review: ‘Krishnamurti For Beginners: An Anthology’

The most important book that I read this year was titled ‘Krishnamurti For Beginners: An Anthology’, published by Krishnamurti Foundation India. I had purchased this book sometime around 2006 when I was in Ahmedabad, and had already read it once or may be twice. This was my third reading of this book. Krishnamurti rarely fails us and always impresses us by his insight into problems and issues we come across in our everyday lives. After a biographical sketch and an outline of Krishnamurti’s philosophy by Radhika Herzberger, this book presents a collection of Krishnamurti’s writings, diary notes, speeches, dialogues and conversations. He does not belong to any religious sect or philosophical school; instead, he has a direct and straightforward way of looking at things, and through every piece of writing or conversation he encourages you to look at ‘what is’ instead of ‘what should be’. According to him, this conflict between ‘what is’ and ‘what should be’ is the root cause of most of the problems. 

Here I would make an interesting observation. At the time when I had purchased this book, I was studying Krishnamurti extensively as I wasn’t aware of him or his philosophy. I was new to his writings and had difficulty in comprehending. The more I read, the more I got confused. At the same time, I found it difficult to put his books down — after all, whatever he said was true and correct; it is another matter that I was not able to understand them. Perhaps all that time I was trying to understand and interpret him in terms of what I knew already — which was of course, very little. But as I said earlier, Krishnamurti is completely different and new, and cannot be classified into any category. However, when I read it this time, it was a smooth sail and everything made perfect sense. All the time while reading this book, I kept wondering how come I could not understand it 15 years back. No, it was not because of language, which is of course very easy, simple and conversational. Perhaps something happened after I turned 40 — may be I got more mature and developed patience for listening to alternative views, or perhaps I gained more experience which allowed me to see what Krishnamurti was talking about. I do not know. All said, I highly recommend this book, and all books by Krishnamurti, especially if you have crossed 40! If nothing else, then at least do read his ‘Commentaries On Living: Series 1, 2 and 3’.

As I mentioned earlier, Krishnamurti offers an entirely different and new perspective of the world. It is very difficult to give a summary of the book because diverse topics and problems are discussed between its covers. I can only mention a couple of them. For example, when a questioner asks him whether there is a God, Krishnamurti asks him whether he can free the entity which he calls God from the word ‘God’. This is because the word ‘God’, or whatever name he uses to identify it, encompasses tradition, memory and several other things. Can he just look straight at that without taking any recourse to any word? The questioner wonders how could it be possible — after all, we do need words to indicate any object, e.g., in the material world we use words ‘table’, ‘chair’ and so on to specify which particular objects we mean. In reply Krishnamurti says that the parallel is not appropriate. In the material world, the object is universally understood; so while using the word we already know accurately which particular object the person is referring to. However, in the present case, everyone has a different idea and theory of God and there is no universally accepted view. So the word does not accurately specify any single concept or theory or entity. The discussion continues beyond that but I found this particular argument very interesting.

As I told earlier, one of the concepts Krishnamurti reiterates in his conversations is the distinction between ‘what is’ and ‘what should be’. This distinction leads to conflict — both in society as well as within an individual. I am a greedy, cruel and wicked person but I want to be noble, kind and charitable. As a result, every day of my life is turned into a conflict between my actual state of being and what I want to be. According to Krishnamurti, this conflict is the root cause of much trouble we face. In the given context also, only when we look straight at ‘what actually is’, do all illusions disappear and we come face to face with truth. The questioner argues that if such is the case, then we can justify war by the same logic, or may be kill somebody or loot some other. Krishnamurti responds saying that if you accept ‘what is’, then there should not be any war in the first place, nor would there be killing, looting or some other form of exploitation. We cannot break a rule and then seek an excuse based on the same rule! 

There are several quotes which I simply loved and found them apt and precise. For example, in the course of my discussion with friends on relationships, I usually say that when you love, you don’t think of yourself; instead you think of your beloved. (See for example this post: Transformation Within A Relationship). If you are still thinking about yourself and your predicament, then it simply means that you do not love. Perhaps I got this idea from Swami Vivekananda who in his discourse on Bhakti Yoga, used to say — Self-forgetfulness is devotion/love. And here, towards the end of the discussion on God, after giving his arguments, Krishnamurti says, “When there is no illusion ‘what is’ is God or any other name that can be used. So God, or whatever name you give it, is when you are not. When you are, it is not. When you are not, love is. When you are, love is not“.

Another beautiful quote is — “Everything must end for the new to be“. I find this quote has reverberations beyond the context where it was used. If you want to create a new world, you have to break away from tradition and conditioning, and take a fresh look at the world today, every day. In relationships also, you have to get rid of memories good and bad, happy and sad, wounds and hurts, everything, and take a fresh look at your partner/friends/companion. The problem is that we have created mental images of people based on their behaviour towards us, their habits, strong and weak points and so on. Likewise, we have an image of ourselves, based primarily on ego, pride, values, and so on. Add to that the ‘what should be’ which contributes the maximum to this mental imagery both of our partner as well as ourselves. As a result, the relationship is not between two individuals, instead between these two images. If you want to have any meaningful relationship with your partner/friend, the first and perhaps the only step is to break these images, and look at your partner as well as yourself ‘as you are’. This brings us back to the idea of accepting ‘what is’ and not ‘what should be’. But everything must end for the new to be.

Krishnamurti has an entirely new way of looking at almost every question. For example, you must have come across this question from different people — “What is life?” Or may be “What is the purpose of life?” or “How should we live or what is the correct way to lead our lives?” And then there are answers to this question from religious gurus, scriptures and motivational speakers — everybody. Funny, isn’t it, that even those people whose own lives are in deep mess are over-eager to preach others! Krishnamurti has a short, crisp and direct answer to this question — “A man who lives never asks ‘what is living?’ and he has no theories about living. It is only the half-alive who talk about the purpose of life“.  

I can keep talking about this book but have to stop somewhere. Most of the other passages which I wanted to talk about are incidentally extracts from his “Commentaries On Living” series. I highly recommend the three books in this series. I would write an overview sometime in future. But then ultimately everything boils down to practising what you read and learn. As Krishnamurti himself says, “It is very nice to sit and listen to what is being said here, but if it has no relationship to your actual life, it is much better to shut your ears, because if you hear the truth and do not live it, your life becomes a hideous confusion, the sorrowful mess which it is.

If you are not familiar with Krishnamurti’s philosophy but want to explore it, then this book is a good place to start.

Title: Krishnamurti For Beginners: An Anthology
Publisher: Krishnamurti Foundation India
Print Length: 240 pages
Price (Paperback): ₹ 120

1 thought on “Book Review: ‘Krishnamurti For Beginners: An Anthology’

  1. Madhvi

    I could find Krishnamurti’s thought floating through your words. I really enjoyed reading and wondering myself on his philosophy of looking at things unbiasedly but proportionately. Honestly speaking, “What is” and “what should be” has brought turmoil in my childhood days when I should have been experiencing the world as I see, but brought out differently by the people around me. No wonder, the curiosity towards philosophy especially Kirshnamurti’s thoughts has brought me back to have first experience of thing. I am also thankful for writers like you who enrich such curiosities.
    You said it rightly that it’s difficult to make a summary of his subject. However, I tried my best to compress it in a way of my understanding. Do give it a look and let me know what you think, Here it is


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