OJAI — The house sits hidden in an orange grove, well back from a narrow country lane that winds up through the citrus country of the Ojai Valley. The structure is modest, simple and architecturally characteristic of ranches hereabouts. It is wood and stone, plain, unpretentious.
Since 1922, it has, for at least part of each year, been the headquarters of a short, slender and now, just-turned 90, frail-looking man once called a messiah who settled here in the belief, popular then, that the dry warmth of the valley could cure his younger brother of tuberculosis. It could not.
Back Almost Every Year
Jiddu Krishnamurti has returned here almost every year in mid- to late winter, staying until the end of May. As he has done so, he has tried to convince people he is not what reporters, commentators and other observers have insisted, anyway, on saying he is: a guru, a sage, a mystic, a swami, a leader, Bhagwan this, Maharishi that, a holy man, someone who would be God.
That he has been denying he is any of these things since he was a teen-ager--and has lived a life apparently consistent with his insistance that he is not a guru--has not been sufficient to deter an ever-skeptical world from insisting regularly that he thinks he is, anyway.
Trappings of Cults
Such titles have the trappings of cults--"isms," as Krishnamurti likes to call them. He contends that cults--which he says range from individual groups of religious extremists to the broader Christian and non-Christian religious right--represent the disturbing harvest of people trying to follow some leader when, in fact, truth can only be found by oneself, in oneself.
That his denials have so largely fallen on deaf ears has been interpreted by some as confirmation of one of Krishnamurti's most salient points: that the world so thirsts for God figures that it will do almost anything to conjure one up. Faith has no value to Krishnamurti. Faith, as he sees it, is an abdication of personal responsibility.
In the years after he was, as a boy of 9, identified as a messiah, Krishnamurti led a cult, the Order of the Star, but he disbanded it in 1929 and liquidated all of its assets. It had taken a year of deliberation, he recalled, to make the decision final. But in the end, he disbanded the order because he had decided a central tenet of his value system was that "I said, 'Don't follow authority.' " And, since to lead a cult was to be an authority figure, the order had to go.
Since then, a central component of Krishnamurti's message has been a warning about how dangerous cults can be and how much more prevalent they are still likely to become.
If Krishnamurti knows nothing else, he knows perseverance; and in a small, shy, quiet voice that reflects a mind still keen, he will speak this weekend, as he did last, in a stately oak grove on the other side of town from the citrus ranch, delivering essentially the same message in precisely the same place as he has for about 70 years. Last Saturday's and Sunday's lectures drew about 2,000 people each. This weekend's addresses begin at 11:30 a.m. each day.
In many ways, Krishnamurti's is a starkly simple philosophy: that the existing world order, in which human behavior is based on a system of faith in something or another--regulated by reward and punishment--is wrong and that such concepts as nationalism and the supremacy of one religion over another ought to be foreign to it. He does not offer--and he has never offered, his writings through the decades confirm--himself as a leader for the system he advocates.
When Krishnamurti speaks in public, he scrupulously avoids referring to himself in the first person, preferring "the speaker," instead. Last Sunday, sitting on a simple folding chair on a low, unadorned platform under a spreading oak, he repeatedly cautioned his audience against perceiving him as an oracle and themselves as the people honoring the sage and awaiting his commands.
"Be skeptical of what the speaker is saying, especially," Krishnamurti told them. "He is not a guru. He doesn't want a thing from you . . . not even your applause. Please be sure of that, so you can relax. Please listen . . . not to the speaker, but to yourself.
"The speaker, he is not important at all. But what is being said (and discussed) is important. Please don't wait for the speaker to tell you what to do, which would be another form of the cultivation of guilt."
But even Krishnamurti recognizes how much he is asking of his adherents when he demands that they not perceive themselves as followers. At 90, he retains a quick, self-effacing wit. Trying to introduce a point he had made in a recent address at the United Nations, for instance, he told the crowd "the speaker . . . doesn't know why he was invited, but he went. He's not telling you this out of vanity. He's informing you."