Aldous Huxley and Krishnamurti

P. Ramesh

The attempt to understand Krishnamurti takes us far and wide in the realm of 20th Century thought. I myself was introduced to him through reading the works of Aldous Huxley. Krishnamurti and Huxley had met in California in early 1938 and became friends for life. They found themselves forced emigres and neighbours in California during the war as they were unable to leave America. The evidence of their subsequent work leaves no doubt that they influenced each other during the crucial period of the war. I would like to demonstrate, with extracts from the works of Huxley published during and after the war, the extent of Krishnamurti's influence on him. I shall confine myself to quotations from his 1956 collection of essays entitled 'Adonis and the Alphabet', the American title being 'Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow'.

Huxley calls man an amphibian, living in two worlds at once. He points out the division that exists in us, which makes us live in two worlds simultaneously - the world of concepts and the world of immediate experience. As a true-born, blue-blooded intellectual, Huxley is all too aware that knowledge is essential to human life. He says that, without the study of scientific theories and the humanities, 'we should be nothing but Yahoos, ' that is, brutes in human form. 'The dissemination of correct knowledge is one of the essential functions of education and we neglect it at our peril. I can learn the functions of an accountant or chemical engineer on the basis of knowledge alone... there is no substitute for correct knowledge, and in the process of acquiring correct knowledge there is no substitute for concentration and prolonged practice... where technical proficiency is needed, learning is indispensable.' So far so good. But what actually happens when we live in this world of ideas? We become, in due course, either dogmatic and stick to our ideas and opinions, or stale and repetitive automatons. Likewise, in the realm of immediate experience (i.e., the present), we become blind to the realities of our own nature and, among other things, make a mess of our personal relationships. 'The abstract knowledge which words bring us is paid for by concrete ignorance, ' says Huxley! What then is to be done? Huxley invites us, in the words of St. Paul, 'to serve in the newness of the spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter, ' for 'the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.'

And here is T.S. Eliot saying the same thing:

There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and
falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every
moment
And every moment is a new and
shocking
Valuation of all we have been.' (East Coker)

Why is this so? Because, Huxley reminds us, we confuse knowledge with wisdom. The incredible advances made in pure and applied science over the past three centuries have changed man's view of the universe and of himself. This has strengthened the view that, because we have increased control over our physical environment, we have complete hold over our behaviour too. The 'idea of progress' has played havoc with our minds, as events of this century alone would testify. From the stone tool to the artificial satellites circling overhead, man's progress is well documented. On the other hand, the poor are still with us and, for good measure, we have wars and genocide thrown in. To quote Huxley, 'Nobody, of course, can doubt the importance of accumulated experience as a guide for individual and social conduct.' But we carry a heavy burden by holding on to our'psychological memory', which is memory carrying an emotional charge, whether positive or negative.

How do we get out of this 'vast vale of tears' we have created for ourselves? How do we go about rendering 'unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's'? Huxley starts helpfully by defIning knowledge and understanding: 'Knowledge is acquired when we succeed in fitting a new experience into the system of concepts based on our old experiences. Understanding comes when we liberate ourselves from the old and so make possible a direct, unmediated contact with the new, the mystery moment by moment, of our existence.' So what we need is self-knowledge, without which there is 'no basis for thought... without knowing yourself what you say is not true' (this is Huxley quoting Krishnamurti). 'What does total awareness reveal?' asks Huxley. 'It reveals, first of all, the limitations of the thing which each of us calls 'I', and the enormity, the utter absurdity of its pretensions.' Huxley lambasts Henley for his famous lines:

I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.

Not so, says Huxley. 'My fate cannot be mastered; it can only be collaborated with and thereby, to some extent, directed. Nor am I the captain of my soul; I am only its noisiest passenger!' Hence, know yourself in relation to your overt intentions and your hidden motives, in relation to your thinking, your physical functioning.... be totally aware of what you do and think and of persons with whom you are in relationship, the events which prompt you at every moment of your existence.' It is clear that anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with Krishnamurti's language will immediately recognise his impact on Huxley. In fact, starting with his novel 'After Many A Summer' published in 1939 up to 'Island' which came out in 1962, Huxley appears to have borrowed from Krishnamurti's spiritual vocabulary. More than that, Huxley seriously attempted to live the life he was recommending for others. I shall end with an extract from Krishnaji's comment on their friendship, wherein he says, 'those (he and Huxley) had a strange relationship with each other, affectionate, considerate and, it seems, non-verbal communication. They would often be sitting together without saying a word.'

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