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.”