Posts Tagged ‘Krishnamurti’

Goff & Krishnamurti

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

 

Mr. Magician, mixed media, by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2012, and was inspired by a remembrance of Krishnamurti written by William Edelen and recently posted on Dave Smith’s stellar community forum Ukiah Blog Live.)

“Conventional education makes independent thinking almost impossible. Conformity leads to mediocrity. Conventional education puts an end to spontaneity and breeds fear.” Krishnamurti

I spent my two of years in college at the University of California, Santa Cruz from 1967 to 1969 when the school was considered an experimental college because professors were supposed to write evaluations of students rather than give grades, and students were invited to invent their own programs of independent study.

One guy in my dorm did an independent study entitled Surfing Poems. He went surfing for ten weeks and wrote poems about his experience. Another fellow (he loved to play his guitar in our resonant dorm bathroom) did an independent study entitled Songs From My Life for which he wrote three songs melodically indistinguishable from Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right. And a young woman in the dorm across from ours did an independent study called Pill Parables resulting in a twenty-five-page monologue about birth control pills and their impact on her sex life.

I proposed several independent study projects, but could never convince any professors to endorse and oversee my endeavors. My proposal to read the complete works of Nikos Kazantzakis and then write a dissertation was turned down by five different professors, all of whom said Kazantzakis was of no literary importance, though I suspect the real reason they turned me down was that none of them were familiar with Kazantzakis’s writing. My proposal to write and produce an existentialist play entitled Food Fight, based on the several food fights that erupted in response to the execrable food served in the Stevenson College cafeteria, was rejected by two English professors, a professor of Drama, and my Anthropology advisor. And my proposal to take a daily photograph of the same naked person standing in front of the same redwood tree at the same time of day for ten weeks was turned down by no less than three professors in the Art department.

Thus, unquestionably, the four best things about my university experience were playing basketball, playing Frisbee, courting beautiful young women, and seeing, admission free and in the most intimate of venues, the likes of Segovia, Bola Sete, Charles Lloyd, Keith Jarrett, The Sons of Champlin, and Krishnamurti.

I would not have gone to see Krishnamurti (since I didn’t know who or what he was) had not my Philosophy professor Robert Goff urged his students to go; and Goff would not have been my Philosophy professor had I been accepted into a Creative Writing seminar. But my prose and poetry submissions failed to win the favor of the Creative Writing professors, and their last-minute rejection of me necessitated my quickly finding a class that was still accepting students, such classes being rare in those days of sudden and severe budget constraints (thank you, Ronald Reagan.)

I remember hurrying up the hill to the lecture hall on a chilly Tuesday morning in October and finding the place packed with a hundred and fifty other undergrads, most as desperate as I to get into one more class to complete their course loads. Goff’s introductory Philosophy course was one of the few classes still accepting students, perhaps because it was widely rumored that Goff actually required his students to do some work.

Promptly at nine, Goff entered the hall and walked sedately to the podium—a handsome man with black hair and a subtle goatee, his brown suit impeccably tailored. “I will require at least one essay a week from each of you,” he intoned forebodingly, “and you will be expected to read all the books and articles on the syllabus in order to be prepared for the rigorous final exam.”

Then he bowed his head and waited patiently as the vast majority of the assembled host fled the hall.

“Good,” said Goff, gazing at those of us who remained. “I look forward to seeing how many of you return on Thursday.”

Eighteen returned; and though I enjoyed Goff’s lectures and the challenge of writing essays in response to Descartes and Kant and Hume, the only thing I clearly remember about the course was Goff recounting his wonderful experience with Krishnamurti. However, before I tell you Goff’s Krishnamurti story, I will tell you mine.

So…every evening for a week in November of that year, Krishnamurti sat in a throne-like chair on the stage of the Cowell College dining hall, speaking about spiritual matters and answering questions from the audience. He wore an elegant suit and tie and a white turban that seemed too large for his slender face—small potted palm trees to his right and left. I attended two of his lectures and had an impossible time understanding anything he said. That is, I knew the meanings of the individual words he spoke, but I couldn’t make them add up to anything that made any sense to my nineteen-year-old brain. Yet I enjoyed him immensely and got great mileage out of doing shamefully misleading imitations of him for my friends, speaking in a high sing song voice with a stereotypical Indian accent.

And there was one thing Krishnamurti said that I understood perfectly well—his words the answer to a question I asked myself every day: should I drop out of college or stay in? I cannot remember his exact words, but I vividly remember the gist of his advice, which was that you must be your own teacher or you might as well be a parrot.

“All authority of any kind, especially in the field of thought and understanding, is the most destructive and evil thing. Leaders destroy the followers. You have to be your own teacher and own disciple. You have to question everything that man has accepted as valuable and necessary.” Krishnamurti

On the Tuesday morning following the week of Krishnamurti’s visit, as Goff stood before the dozen of us gathered for his lecture, someone called out, “Nice tie, Mr. Goff.”

“Oh, this,” he said, looking down at his colorful silk tie. “Funny story about this. As you know, I spent quite a bit of time with Krishnamurti while he was here, and during lunch on his last day I complimented him on his beautiful tie, and the next day a package arrived in the mail. He’d sent me his tie, and here it is.” Goff paused momentously. “I wish I’d known he was in the habit of doing things like that because he drives a fabulous Jaguar XKE and I would have showered him with compliments about his gorgeous car.”

“Intelligent revolt comes through self knowledge, through the awareness of one’s own thought and feeling…this highly awakened intelligence is intuition, the only true guide in life.” Krishnamurti

Fast-forward thirty years to a dinner party in Berkeley at which I recounted the story of Goff’s tie and Krishnamurti’s XKE, to which a bearded fellow with a twinkle in his eye responded, “I doubt very much that Krishnamurti owned the XKE. It was probably a loaner from one of his wealthy admirers. He didn’t actually own much of anything.”

“How do you know?” I asked, ever curious about how people know things about famous people.

“I lived in Ojai for five years,” the bearded fellow replied. “I moved there to attend Krishnamurti’s talks. I had been severely depressed for several years when I heard a recording of Krishnamurti and his voice and words obliterated my depression. I was half-dead and he brought me back to life. So I moved to Ojai to sit at his feet. Literally.”

“What was that like?” someone asked.

“Wonderful,” said the bearded fellow, warming to his tale. “After I’d been to several of his talks, he began to acknowledge me as a regular and would often whisper to me, ‘You again? When will you ever learn?’ and pretend to be dismayed that I kept coming back, until one evening, after years of this little routine, I replied, ‘No, it’s not me again. I only seem to be the same person. I’m actually always someone else.’ And he laughed and smiled one of his lightning smiles and I’ve been happy ever since.”

“What made you so happy?” I asked, imagining I would be happy, too, if Krishnamurti appreciated something I said.

“I felt anointed,” said the bearded fellow, his smiling eyes brimming with tears. “Equal.”

Le Village

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

“I always felt that the great high privilege, relief, and comfort of friendship was that one had to explain nothing.” Katherine Mansfield

A soggy afternoon, the last Friday in October of 2010, Halloween two days away. I moved to Mendocino from Berkeley on Halloween five years ago and I have yet to tire of going to the beach. I mention the beach because almost everyone I met during my first two years here assured me that I would soon tire of going to the beach. These same people also told me that after I lived here for a year or two, I would grow stir crazy and hunger for the cultural excitement of the outer world. They were adamant I would want to travel to Mexico or Hawaii or Europe or Manhattan, or at least to San Francisco, but after five years here I have yet to experience the slightest urge to go anywhere but the village, the forest, and the beach.

Today was the last farmers’ market of the year in Mendocino. I love our little mercado. I hope one day to be one of the people selling things in our market. I will vend vegetables and fruit and books and CDs and greeting cards and Giants T-shirts and Giants baseball hats and Cliff Glover and Marion Miller ceramics, and each week zany and eccentric friends will make guest appearances at my booth. I will also have a weekly poetry contest (one entry per person), and a guess-how-many-beans-are-in-the-jar contest, with valuable prizes.

Today I would have bought a farmers’ market pie from the wonderful Garden Bakery people, but I am gluten free now and the Garden Bakery people only sell pies full of gluten. I’m predicting big things for gluten-free foodstuffs in the near future. Whomsoever comes up with decent gluten-free sour dough French bread and a credible gluten-free pizza crust will make out like big dogs.

Standing at the uphill end the farmers’ market, a light rain falling, the vendors few and stoic, shoppers scarce, the atmosphere bracingly local and groovy in the absence of tourists, I watch a local woman carrying a big basket turn away from a vegetable stand and bump into another local woman carrying an even bigger basket.

Big Basket: Hey, how are you?

Bigger Basket: I think I’m okay. I’m just so…overwhelmed.

Big: I know. I know. It’s just crazy.

Bigger: I know. I just…one thing after another.

Big: I know. I keep thinking, ‘Are things ever gonna slow down?’

Bigger: I know. It’s…overwhelming.

Big: Are you okay?

Bigger: Yeah. Yeah. I think so.

Big: Good. You look good. You’ve lost weight.

Bigger: Have I? Wow. I don’t know. Maybe.

Big: But you’re okay.

Bigger: Yeah. I think so.

Big: Good. Great to see you.

Bigger: Great to see you, too.

“Our modern society is engaged in polishing and decorating the cage in which man is kept imprisoned.” Swami Nirmalananda

When I come to the village I like to park my truck at the Presbyterian Church and walk what I’ve come to think of as a holy circuit, a labyrinth of invigorating twists and turns around town. I begin by transecting the eternally For Sale eucalyptus-dominated vacant lot, assess the state of the economy by the size of the crowd of caffeine addicts in front of Moody’s java bar, jaywalk diagonally across Lansing, and hang a left onto Ukiah, my first stop invariably the post office (home to a marvelous crew of die hard Giants fans) followed by protein confiscation at the always warm and friendly Mendocino Market (a fabulous deli with a fine wine selection and a growing number of gluten-free items on their menu). Next I visit Corners (zaftig organic groceries in a cozy former church), the bank (our one and only), Zo (fabuloso copy shop), Garth Hagerman’s (gorgeous nature photography and web meistering), Harvest at Mendosa’s (beer and olive oil and notebooks), the bookstores (used and new), the new hardware store (they should sell transistor radios), and I used to frequent our deliciously aromatic bakeries and Frankie’s pizza, but now that I am gluten-free I spare myself the glorious sights and divine scents of their verboten goodies.

So you see, though Mendocino lacks a good Mexican restaurant, decent public bathrooms, a good Chinese restaurant, a town square with comfortable benches and a virile fountain, a good Thai restaurant, a spacious pool hall, a good Indian restaurant, a movie theatre showing foreign films, public tennis courts, and a commodious tea house, we have almost everything else a reasonable human could desire.

There is the excellent Mendocino Café featuring pricey and not-so-pricey entrees, and just across Big River Bridge we have a fine bike shop where one can also rent a canoe. We have three bars (counting the hotel), a liquor store, dentists, a veterinarian, massage therapists, a hamburger joint, and several restaurants, inns, galleries, and shops for rich people and tourists. And perhaps best of all, there are no overhead wires in the village, which makes everyone who comes here feel inseparable from the sky, which uplifts us even if we are unconscious of why we feel uplifted.

I wish everyone (save for the handicapped) would park his or her vehicle in just one place when he or she comes to town, and walk from this one place to all the places he or she needs to go, instead of driving from one place to another to another and another in our very small village; but what are you going to do? Yes, the village depends on tourism and the illegal sale of quasi-legally grown marijuana for the larger part of its economic existence; and, yes, many of the houses in the area are the second and third and fourth homes of people who can truthfully be called filthy rich and only use these tertiary properties as tax write offs and weekend getaways; and I cannot deny there are days when the village reeks of decadence and disregard for the earth and a hatred of whales and trees and poor people, but how is that any different from anywhere else? I don’t know.

On weekdays around noon, dozens and dozens of teenagers come down from the high school and invade the retail sector of the village to buy crap for lunch. Many of these cuties and louts talk at the top of their lungs (don’t ask me why) and are easy to overhear. To wit: three not-quite-old-enough-to-legally-drive (thank goodness) boys stand on a corner across from Harvest Market, gorging on slices of Frankie’s gluten-rich pizza as they watch the girls go by.

Teenaged Boy #1: She is so easy.

Teenaged Boy #2: How do you know?

Teenaged Boy #3: He doesn’t.

#1: Do.

#3: Don’t.

#1: Do.

#3: Lie.

#2: She on the pill?

#1: Oh, yeah.

#3: You don’t know.

#1: Do.

#3: Don’t.

#1: Do.

#3: Lie.

#2: I think she is. Kevin dumped her purse.

#3: So?

#1: I did more than dump her purse.

#3: Lie.

#1: What the fuck, man? You in love with her?

#3: Fuck you, man.

#2: Why would she be on the pill if she wasn’t doing it?

#1: Oh, she’s doing it.

#3: You don’t know.

#1: Do.

#3: Lie

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Krishnamurti

In the post office, I witness two local men greet each other.

Man One: Hey, long time no see. Where you been?

Man Two: Here. You?

One: Mostly here. We went away a couple times. See the boys.

Two: How they?

One: Good. Yours?

Two: Fine. I guess. Who knows? You know?

One: Right. Right. Who knows?

Silence.

One: So…things okay?

Two: Same. You?

One: Good. Same. You still…?

Two: Yeah, yeah. Same old. You?

One: Just, you know…working away.

Two: Right. Business good?

One: Can’t complain.

Two: No. No. Can’t complain.

“To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.” Samuel Beckett

As I’m loading my groceries and mail into my truck at the Presbyterian, a little boy rushes up to me.

“Sir! Sir!” he cries. “May I ask you a question?”

“Certainly.”

“Where is the ocean?” He asks with such unmitigated passion he might have asked What is the meaning of life?

“There,” I say, gesturing toward the quite obvious sea.

The boy frowns at the distant breakers. “I mean, how do we get there?”

“Take the trail to the left and you’ll come to a stairway leading down to the beach.” Now a man who might be the boy’s father arrives, a tall fellow, forty-something. “Take the trail to the right and you’ll wend your way along the headlands.”

“Will there be gulls on the beach?” asks the boy, nodding eagerly. “And a tall dark tree on the edge of a cliff?”

“Yes,” I say, knowing the tree of which he speaks. “And there will be ravens and ospreys circling in the air above the confluence of the river and the sea.”

“Yes!” shouts the boy, turning to the man who might be his father. “Let’s go!”

“He’s got some kind of imagination,” says the man, winking at me. “Thanks for the directions.”

“An actor is totally vulnerable. His total personality is exposed to critical judgment—his intellect, his bearing, his diction, his whole appearance. In short, his ego.” Alec Guinness

I take a seat on my preferred bench on the ocean-viewing terrace of the Presbyterian and jot down my conversation with the boy. A young woman commandeers the bench next to mine and carries on her phone conversation without the slightest regard for privacy, hers or mine.

She glares up at the sky and shouts into her little red phone, “I’m like, ‘No way,’ and he’s all, ‘Yes, you will,’ like I owe him? Can you believe it? I know. And I’m like, ‘If you think dinner and wine and a little coca-doodle-doo is the total ticket, you can forget it, buster,’ and he’s like totally furious, and I’m thinking, ‘Who told this dude I was cheap? You know? I mean, like, Jesus.”

She listens for a moment, nodding enthusiastically.

“I know. I know. I couldn’t believe it. Totally.”

She laughs unconvincingly.

“I know, I know. Totally. So I go, ‘No way,’ and he like totally clamps his teeth and gives me this look like he’s gonna kill me. Insane. I know. I so totally know. And I’m like, ‘Excuse me? I don’t think so?’ and he’s like fried out of his mind, and I’m like, ‘How the fuck do I get home because no way I get in a car with this psycho.’”

She laughs dryly, and my throat aches in sympathy.

“I know. I know. He did seem nice. Totally. I know. I know. I mean…I was like having fantasies about him. Totally.”

(This article originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser November 2010.)