God in the Age of Kali
Saint, Mystic, Nihilist, or Charlatan?
Brawley meets UG in New York City in 2002, and for the next five years trails and travels with him in Europe and in India, learning along the way that thought is debilitating, that it is difficult to not think, that lessons cannot be taught and cannot be learned, that it is not all nihilistic but it seems so if you think about it, and so on, in what seems to be a five-year long "apprenticeship" that could as well be a script for Beckett's new version of Waiting for Godot with the subtitle "A Madcap Adventure." Brawley stays around till UG dies quietly and is cremated unceremoniously in Switzerland in 2007.
What enlivens Brawley's masochistic journey across the world are UG's asides and commentaries on life and people. For example, UG says this about Gandhi: "That bastard Gandhi was the worst thing that ever happened to India. I don't even want to touch the Indian Rupees. Why they have to put his filthy picture on every note.... If he were here right now I would kick him in his pants. I said to his face when I met him: 'One day they will put a teeny veenie bullet in you and that will be the end of you'" (p. 33). And about (Jawaharlal) Nehru: "Then that Nehru went in for partition because he was sleeping with Mountbatten's wife Edwina. That bitch talked him into it. She was a real bitch" (p. 33). Or about his once guru and friend, the more famous Jiddu Krishnamurti, "... He tried to hug me! I didn't ask him at that time but now I would have said to him, 'Krishnaji, do you have any homosexual tendencies?' Can you imagine? That bastard'" (p. 41). Or, "India is a spiritual shitland and it should be wiped out for what it has done to this planet" (p. 66), and "America should be wiped out too, but do you mean to say they are going to go gracefully? Not a chance! Unfortunately they will take with them every form of life on this planet!" (p. 66).
All these seemingly wild, random exclamations were taken with large doses of salt or were ignored by those who came to see him and to listen to him, because in an absurd way they all understood that it was absurd, and that it was UG's manner to drive them crazy to the point of an enlightenment that he promised they would never experience! I remember that back in 1983, one of the young Western men at the Bangalore meeting wore a t-shirt with the slogan: "You ain't got a chance!"
If they were all told that they did not stand a chance in attaining what they seemed to want and what they believed they might get from him, why did UG attract so many faithful, and why did they stick with him, give him money, entertain him, and take care of him? Does this all not point to an UG cult, with the intelligent, smart, and knowledgeable "devotees" just not able to break away from his hypnotic hold on them?
UG Krishnamurti and J Krishnamurti shared an uncommon lot, and their lives intertwine in fascinating and paradoxical ways, with UG trying to shame his elder fellow-guru for his double-standards, mixed messages, and complicated personal life, while realizing at once that traveling and living as he did, he imitated J Krishnamurti in inescapable ways. Both claimed that the way we live, think, and act are destructive and debilitating, but that paradoxically we are also wired to live, think, and act in these ways, unless some "accident" befalls us, changing us and freeing us irrevocably. UG indicated that there was no specific tactic, practice, or philosophy that would help us experience such an "accident," and he sharply criticized J Krishnamurti for holding out such hope to people. UG shadow-boxed JK on this score, and yet what accounted for so many joining the UG cult if they did not hope for some grace from this guru?
I taught at The Valley School for two years, and as a young, confused man I realized that the Krishnamurti philosophy and the cultish dynamics that prevailed around him were debilitating if taken too seriously. I realized too that the teachings in Indian yoga, philosophy, and practice provided more sane and healthy strategies for pursuing mental, physical, and spiritual well-being, and cults were cults, however smart the followers, and however sophisticated the gurus.
Goner therefore is an interesting read for those who have begun to discover the two Krishnamurtis. It also provides some insight into the human quest to transcend, and of human weakness and gullibility. There is no escape from thought with thought, and those traveling that road will encounter enormous pain, failures, and frustration. But then, accidents may happen!
Ramesh Rao, Professor and Chair, DN3 Program, Columbus State University, Columbus, GA, is the author of two books on Indian politics and society and has written numerous op-eds for newspapers and magazines in India, the U.S., and the U.K. Ramesh served as Human Rights Coordinator and Executive Council member at the Hindu American Foundation between 2004-2013. He spent the first twenty-eight years of his life in India where he worked as a bank officer, a school teacher, and a copy editor. He received his MS in Mass Communication from the University of Southern Mississippi, and his PhD in Communication from Michigan State University. He taught at Truman State University in Kirksville, MO, and Longwood University in Farmville, VA, before he joined Columbus State University. He lives with wife Sujaya, and son Sudhanva in Columbus, GA.