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Jiddu Krishnamurti and Anthony de Mello, S.J.: Two Spiritual Guides from India to Enlighten Us

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Disclosure: I co-edited and contributed to the anthology COMMUNICATION AND LONERGAN: COMMON GROUND FOR FORGING THE NEW AGE (Kansas City, Missouri (USA): Sheed & Ward, 1993; now distributed by Rowman & Littlefield). Bernard Lonergan, S.J. (1904-1984), was a Canadian Jesuit philosopher and theologian, who taught at the Gregorian University in Rome for many years. His most famous work is INSIGHT: A STUDY OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING (Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1992; orig. 1957). So not only Jiddu Krishnamurti, but also Bernard Lonergan can help the New Age emerge. After two terrible world wars in the twentieth century, humankind should fervently hope and pray for the New Age to emerge decisively and definitively in the twenty-first century. But the Jesuits alone cannot usher in the New Age decisively and definitively, even though they are equipped with Ignatian spirituality, including Anthony de Mello's work. For the New Age to emerge decisively and definitively in twenty-first century, far more people around the world will have to voluntarily undertake to open themselves to becoming mystics, than the Jesuits and other monks in various religious traditions. In short, an unprecedented number of people around the world today will have to undertake to become mystics through the practice of meditation and contemplation. End of disclosure.

Roland Vernon sums up Krishna's thought about freedom as follows: "Freedom from the known, he maintained, is the key to a truly religious life, a life spent in union with creation and the divine energy inherent in it" (page 218). But this unitive way of life is the way of life of a mystic.

However, there is an enormous paradox at the heart of Krishna's thought. Let me explain the paradox by using the expressions "On the one hand" and "On the other hand."

On the one hand: Our ego-consciousness embodies our limitations.

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On the other hand: But the way we can transcend the limitations of our ego-consciousness and thereby change, however gradually, is through mystic awareness in the present. But our ego-consciousness limits our ability to experience mystic awareness in the present.

In any event, mystic awareness in the present represents the altogether different consciousness (i.e., different from our ego-consciousness) that individual persons need to experience occasionally in order to change, however gradually. In short, mystic awareness in the present holds the keys to the kingdom or reign of God that the historical Jesus proclaimed as having come.

In Tony's July 1980 preached retreat in Denver, mentioned above, he was almost playful in the way in which he described the paradox at the heart of Krishna's mature thought. Tony says that the mystic's experience can be expressed with the statement "I live now not I." This is the existential experience of the mystic. The is-not-ness of the I [i.e., ego-consciousness] in the expression "I live now not I" draws attention to both the altogether different consciousness that Krishna discusses and to the limitations of ego-consciousness that Krishna discusses.

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Jiddu Krishnamurti's Thought and Walter J. Ong's Thought

My favorite scholar is the American Jesuit cultural historian and religious thinker Walter J. Ong, S.J., mentioned above. (His family name is English; for centuries, it was spelled "Onge"; it is probably related to the English name "Yonge.")

As I read Roland Vernon's biography of Krishna, I was able to connect certain points in it with comparable points in Ong's thought. However, as far as I know, Ong does not explicitly discuss Krishna's mature thought anywhere. But as I mentioned above, Ong does explicitly discuss Tony's work.

Now, I have mentioned above Krishna's emphasis on choiceless awareness, which Tony also emphasizes in his posthumously published book AWARENESS (1992), mentioned above. Krishna's mature thought about choiceless awareness strikes me as similar in spirit to Ong's operational definition of the self in his book HOPKINS, THE SELF, AND GOD (Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1986), the published version of Ong's 1981 Alexander Lectures at the University of Toronto in Canada.

Krishna's mature thought about choiceless awareness also strikes me as an experience that occurs at the level of empirical consciousness, as Bernard Lonergan uses this term in his book INSIGHT: A STUDY OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING (1992), mentioned above.

I have also mentioned above Krishna's critique of ego-consciousness because our ego-consciousness is predicated on the past, whereas the altogether different consciousness of choiceless awareness in the present centers on the experience of the present. Krishna's critique of ego-consciousness being oriented by and toward the past strikes me as overlapping with Ong's critique of retrospectivity in his book INTERFACES OF THE WORD: STUDIES IN THE EVOLUTION OF CULTURE AND CONSCIOUSNESS (Ithaca, New York (USA): Cornell University Press, 1977, pages 230-271).

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In light of his critique of retrospectivity and being oriented by and toward the past, Ong prefers to be generally future oriented and generally hopeful about the future. However, he stops well short of making any specific predictions about the future.

By contrast, Krishna's critique of ego-consciousness being oriented by and toward the past leads him to accentuate living fully and participating fully in the present. But Ong does not thematize anything comparable to the altogether different consciousness that Krishna discusses in connection with mystic experience.

Digression: Ong's essay "Maranatha: Death and Life in the Text of the Book" in INTERFACES OF THE WORD (1977, pages 230-271) is reprinted in volume two of Ong's FAITH AND CONTEXTS, edited by Thomas J. Farrell and Paul A. Soukup (Atlanta, Georgia (USA): Scholars Press, 1992, pages 162-190). End of digression.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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