The Theosophists created an organization called the Order of the Star and installed Krishnamurti as its head, but in 1929 Krishnamurti rejected the messianic role imposed upon him and dissolved the Order, claiming truth to be ‘a pathless land,’ which could not be accomplished by means of doctrine, philosophy, institutionalized religion, or by following a guru. He spent the rest of his life traveling, teaching, and encouraging independent thinking. He maintained that a fundamental change in society can emerge only through a radical change in the individual, since society is the product of the relationships between individuals.
I am particularly interested in Krishnamurti’s emphasis on the need to continually explore the implications of conditioning, and how this relates to our present system of education at the level of college and graduate study. “…It is only those who are in constant revolt that discover what is true, not the man who conforms, who follows some tradition,” he writes. Krishnamurti, with a few other thinkers, notably Emerson, has brought to my attention one of the most interesting challenges of life, and education: notably, thinking for oneself. While some may think this is an easy proposition, and that we focus sufficiently on the development of critical thinking skills in our present educational system, I would make a distinction between critical and independent thinking—one of which can be conditioned, the other which can’t.
According to Albert Schweitzer in his epilogue to Out of My Life and Thought, the crisis of conditioned thinking is one of the greatest spiritual challenges of our time. Psychologist Erich Fromm suggests that “most people are not even aware of their need to conform. They live under the illusion that they follow their own ideas and inclinations, that they are individualists, that they have arrived at their opinions as the result of their own thinking—and that it just happens that their ideas are the same as those of the majority.”
Krishnamurti is one more voice of the 20th century calling for us to examine our own behavior, our own conditioning as the source of many of our social problems. “And this is the essential part of education:” Krishnamurti writes, “to learn to stand alone so that you are not caught either in the will of the many or in the will of one, and are therefore capable of discovering for yourself what is true.”
In an institution where our motto is “Veritas,” it is, to my mind, a crisis that we do not recognize the great extent to which we are failing to fully nurture and draw out the unique potential and contribution of each individual. We study such ideas when we read Emerson, but we do not seriously entertain the extent to which they pertain to us. We have essentially removed the individual from the center of his or her own education and have come to believe that absorption and critical analysis of the thoughts and theories of others is the pinnacle of achievement. Krishnamurti writes: “Surely a school [should be] a place where one learns about the totality, the wholeness of life. Academic excellence is absolutely necessary, but a school [should] include much more than that. It is a place where both the teacher and the taught explore not only the outer world, the world of knowledge, but also their own thinking, their own behaviour.”
Here at Harvard, and particularly at HDS, it has been my experience that we pursue a certain idea of academic rigor and excellence to the neglect of many other aspects of human capacity for growth and development. I would like to see a system in which the development of the authentic, individual person and his or her contribution to life and the world is central. With Krishnamurti, I believe that social responsibility begins with the education, or enlightenment, of the individual.