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J. Krishnamurti’s Apophatic Mysticism: its Implications for Religion, Creative Insight, Spirituality, and Individuality

Panel Chair: Theodore Kneupper | Thursday, August 27, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

J. Krishnamurti’s highly publicized break from Theosophy in 1929 inaugurated an influential body of teachings. He is a major exemplar of an individual agent of change. Although he made no claim to being a ‘scholar,’ his views raise serious questions and offer important perspectives for academic consideration. Is there anything distinctive about Krishnamurti’s approach? The panel will consider how his apophatic approach entails a “via negativa” (path of negation) to a direct encounter with Absolute Reality/Truth. This is consistent with a number of schools of spirituality in Eastern and Western traditions, particularly that of Advaita Vedanta and Madhyamaka Buddhism. The particular papers will examine how this approach is central to Krishnamurti’s observations regarding the core meaning of apophasis (negation), its relevance to our understanding of religions and creativity, especially the meaning of ‘individuality’ vis-a-vis institutionalized religion, and the relationship of his views to those of neo-Vedanta.

Hillary Rodrigues

Krishnamurti and the Neo-Advaita Movement: An Inquiry

The modern global spiritual movement termed Neo-Advaita is often critiqued by followers of traditional Advaita (non-duality) Vedanta. Neo-Advaita emphasizes attainment of a pivotal insight that purportedly liberates individuals from isolating notions about the self through the realization of a unified wholeness. Attainment of non-dual realization has a long tradition in Indian religious philosophies from the Upanisadic period, via Madhyamaka and Yogacara Buddhisms to classical Vedanta as put forward by Gaudapada and Sankara. Neo-Advaita is distinctive because it typically negates the value of spiritual teachers and organized religiosity, including traditional practices such as devotionalism. While the sage Ramana Maharsi is often identified as its patriarch, in this paper I wish to problematize the neo-Advaita label and shall argue for the significant role played by the Indian-born religious teacher, Jiddu Krishnamurti. Krishnamurti’s unconventional teachings are extremely difficult to classify, leading their influence to be overlooked by scholars of this contemporary spiritual movement.

Theodore Kneupper

J. Krishnamurti's Critique of Religion

We consider the three phases of J. Krishnamurti's critique of (critical inquiry into) religion. Phase I focuses on psychological and social problems central to ‘actual' (institutionalized) religions, especially their concern with personal identity. This hinders participants from understanding truth and generates the negative consequences of fragmentation. Phase II focuses on what is called ‘true religion,' centering on recognizing the actuality of the mind's fragmentation and its liberation therefrom, particularly a shift from personal/social identity to world/cosmic identity. Phase III fully develops II, focusing on ‘living meditation,’ or the continuous gathering of attention to understand ‘what is.' This is the essence of ‘radical revolution', involving the negation of limiting thought which discloses the sacred, leading to action directed by intelligence expressing creatively through love and ultimately the transformation of society. Finally we offer critical observations about these views, particularly in relation to our understanding of the meaning of ‘individual’ vis-a-vis institutionalized religion.

Gopalakrishna Krishnamurthy

Krishnamurti's View of Attention as Negation of Thought

This paper will examine the notion of radical negation of the sort implied in the Zen tradition and Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka Buddhist philosophy. It will begin by briefly sketching traditional philosophical notions of negation, which include the radical questioning of logical formalism, epistemic certitude, metaphysical ontology and ethical theory. However, by drawing substantially from implications within the philosophy of J. Krishnamurti, I will submit that the notions of negation analyzed in the afore-mentioned categories nevertheless remain within the domain of thought. Therefore, attempts to characterize radical negation (and other religious insights) through conventional means are intrinsically flawed, and radical negation eludes final characterization. Instead, radical negation’s value appears to lie in its function as a pointer to a particular notion of attention. And thus, while utterances about radical negation are often revelatory of profound religious insights, paradoxically, they are simultaneously illuminating and misleading.

Alastair Herron

Creative Emptiness: Absenting Jiddu Krishnamurti?

This paper critically contrasts the influential, contemporary religious teacher J. Krishnamurti’s teachings on “creative emptiness” to other religious and cultural apophatic perspectives. In particular, it shall investigate whether or not there is anything unique about Krishnamurti’s approach, which is centred on personal enquiry underpinned by choiceless awareness. Within traditional religious perspectives, apophasis is implicitly related to concomitant creative artistic expression evident for example in Daoist and Japanese Buddhist visual arts. One certainly can discern such religious apophatic features, related to artistic exploration and expression, in Krishnamurti’s notion and presentation of creative emptiness. However, I will suggest that Krishnamurti’s creative emptiness can move beyond traditional religious features of apophasis in that it encompasses or elicits a profound observational awareness. Creative emptiness presents questions manifest to resist authority or interpretation, while sustaining a compassionately shared open-ended and potentially insightful enquiry.


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