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

By       Message Thomas Farrell     Permalink
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Oddly enough, Roland Vernon's even-handed account of Helen Knothe Nearing's understandable published critique of her one time sweetheart Jiddu Krishnamurti reminded me of Ong's discussion of Ignatius Loyola's imagery of a portable prison-cage in Ong's book THE BARBARIAN WITHIN: AND OTHER FUGITIVE ESSAYS AND STUDIES (New York, New York (USA): Macmillan, 1962, pages 242-259; orig. 1954).

To make a long story short, Helen's then-famous former sweetheart gave her a rather cool reception when she visited him later in life after he had become famous, and she did not appreciate his cool reception of her. As a result, according to Roland Vernon (page 258), she allows in her published memoir that Krishna was possessed of inner greatness, but she was not impressed with "the claim that he was unconditioned and lived free of attachments. In her estimate, Krishna "was conditioned and affected [by ego-consciousness] every second of his life, just as everyone else was and is" (quoted by Roland Vernon on page 258).

Under the circumstances of Krishna's cool reception of her, her critique of him is understandable. But the sweeping wording she uses ("every second of his life") in effect denies that he had ever experienced the kind of mystic experience that he has called to our attention. For this reason, I think that she has gone too far in her sweeping statement, because I think that he did indeed experience mystic awareness at times in his life.

Nevertheless, her over-stated critique of Krishna should remind us that despite momentary experiences of mystic awareness, all of us of necessity must return to our ego-consciousness. Granted, our occasional mystic experiences may enable us to change our ego-consciousness, however gradually. But our ego-consciousness remains, and it probably remains conditioned to one degree or another by our past experiences. In this respect, I would suggest that Ignatius Loyola's imagery involving a portable prison-cage can be understood as the mystic's residual ego-consciousness with its orientation by and toward the past.

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In my estimate, the conceptual construct of the Child Within (also known as the Inner Child) can help us better understand ego-consciousness and better understand the imagery of the portable prison cage. The Child Within represents the individual person's past and the limitations programmed, as it were, into the person's ego-consciousness from the past. The person carries this programming from the past around with him or her, so in this sense, it is portable. But it is like programming, so it is like a prison, even in the ego-consciousness of a practicing mystic who has experienced the healing of the altogether different consciousness of mystic experience. In other words, healing is not a one-time experience. For a practicing mystic, healing is an ongoing process. John Bradshaw likes to say that grief is the healing feeling. Indeed, healthy mourning is healing. But healthy mourning involves suffering, the kind of suffering that C. G. Jung spoke of as legitimate suffering, as distinct from the kind of suffering that might be understood as neurotic suffering. To be sure, neurotic suffering involves real suffering. But neurotic suffering is not healing. By definition, neurotic suffering just keeps recurring without healing. Healing occurs only with the breakthrough to healthy mourning.

We mourn our losses. Which is to say that we mourn the attachment that we have lost either through somebody's death or through a nondeath loss (e.g., loss of a job, loss of a spouse who has divorced us, and the like). But loss is predicated on attachment. No attachment = no loss = no mourning of our loss. However, some attachments are addictive, which is to say that they are not healthy attachments. To be sure, the loss of unhealthy, addictive attachments should be mourned in a healthy way, but this is especially challenging to do with unhealthy, addictive attachments. It is not necessarily easy to mourn the loss of healthy attachments in a healthy way, because healthy mourning is challenging because it involves suffering, as mentioned above. In any event, I think that John Bradshaw is correct when he says that grief is the healing feeling. However, I also think that Anthony de Mello is on the right track when he urges us to examine and reflect on the quality of our relationships and other forms of attachment to consider if our different attachments are healthy or addictive.

Digression: Ong's 1954 essay "St. Ignatius' Prison-Cage and the Existentialist Situation" that is reprinted in Ong's book THE BARBARIAN WITHIN (1962, pages 242-259) is also 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 52-67). End of digression.

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In conclusion, Roland Vernon is remarkably even-handed in his accessible account of Jiddu Krishnamurti's life and thought. After reading the author's account of Krishna's mature thought, I am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Krishna's mature thought is not for spiritual flounderers, to use Roland Vernon's apt term. But what would be an apt term to describe the spiritual seekers who might be willing and able to undertake the rigors of opening themselves to mystic experience through silent awareness meditation and contemplation -- the spiritual giants? Despite Krishna's shortcomings that Helen Knothe Nearing and others have discussed, I do consider Jiddur Krishnamurti to have been a spiritual giant of the twentieth century. I also consider Anthony de Mello, S.J., to have been a spiritual giant of the twentieth century. Each of them has left a rich body of thought for us to digest. Each man's thought is still important today as we struggle to work out a viable spirituality in the twenty-first century.






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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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