For over 45 years I have had some kind of relationship with the work of the educator J Krishnamurti.  I have seen him, heard him speak, I have read books, watched videos and listened to audio recordings; I met him briefly once, but he was more interested in my young children than he was in me.  The man himself has been of passing fascination in that his story has more than its fair share of fairy tale elements, and, inevitably, many of those that have written about him have shed more light upon themselves than they have upon the man.  It is in the message that I have found a constant source of learning and renewing of understanding.

As a 19 year old in London just 18 months out of British Public School after 11 years as at boarding school, I had embarked upon an unconscious process of re-education.  Rejecting the system that had been effectively designed to produce leaders of the British Empire; men who would be unemotional, insensitive, arrogant and capable of withstanding all the possible physical and psychological discomforts that could be found in any foreign land, I pursued the possibilities that had been awakened by the intense cultural shift that had taken place during the 1960s, the decade that I had spent at school.  At an evening talk at the Buddhist Centre I came across Krishnamurti through a passage read by someone there.  It was on organised religion and powerfully exposed the hypocrisy and deceit that I had experienced at first hand in my schooling.  It was uncompromising, stark and discomforting.

What does it mean to engage with the work of one individual in one’s life?  Does it mean you become a devotee, a follower, as I saw so many people do, creating a sense of belonging by seeking out their own pet guru choosing from seemingly endless array that rode in on the tides of interest that flowed to and from India in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s?  In life, does one have to find a code by which one lives; an orthodoxy, an ideology?  Or does one engage directly with life itself?  Attracted by the sparseness of Zen Buddhism, the similar brevity of words found in the Tao te Ching and the simplicity of Buddhism, I found that Krishnamurti’s way of questioning, creating seemigly paradoxical statements and unfolding insight through negation led me to explore life, not settle on ‘inspirational quotations’ or trite phrases.  As I have over the years met people who were closely involved with Krishnamurti’s work, mostly in education in the UK and India, some for a very long time, I have been struck by the integrity and humour of the vast majority of these people.  Many have become friends.  All have spoken of Krishnamurti the human being, not his intelligence alone, but also his fallibility and mistakes. Always they spoke of his sense of affection for humanity – you could feel it, hear it when he spoke in front of the crowds in the tent all those years ago.

I have learnt from my wife, our children, the students I have taught and continue to teach.  I have learnt from the wind, the sun, the rain, the sea and the hills that fall away into the mist.  I saw into death through the eyes of our golden retriever on the night before he died, and through a moment of understanding with my father just a few days before his troubled life ended.  There is so much that teaches us and we do not need the words of another to tell us how to live.  However, I continue to return to the work of Krishnamurti, particularly regarding education and nature, as I walk the path of shedding all the thoughts that have crystallised into unshakable convictions, empty ideas that carry their own destruction: re-education is a lifelong process.

I have deliberately not quoted any words from Krishnamurti here.  Look if you are interested, but treat them lightly, observe them as you might some lofty bird circling the sky that melts away so silently.  As with all words, watch yourself and do not get caught up in the net of identification or rejection.  If necessary, put them to one side.  My feeling with language is that what is not said contains as much significance as any utterance.

photographs taken by Maggie Alexander of the Ganges near Rajghat, Varanasi.