Some History

In his second Faith Column, David Skitt gives us a brief history of Krishnamurti

Born in 1895 in a small town west of Madras, Krishnamurti was the eighth child of Brahmin parents. Against his express wishes, the house where he was born has since been declared a national monument by the Indian Government.

In 1909 his father, a minor government official, moved to the International Headquarters of the Theosophical Society of Madras. For some years the Society had been looking for the coming of Maitreya, the next ‘World Teacher’ after Krishna, the Buddha, and Jesus.

Charles Leadbeater, a senior figure in the Theosophical Society, who claimed to be clairvoyant, picked out the boy Krishnamurti as ‘the Vehicle for the Lord Maitreya’ and in 1911 an organisation was formed by Annie Besant and Leadbeater called the Order of the Star in the East, of which Krishnamurti was made the head. Years later, in 1922, Krishnamurti was said to undergo a profound spiritual experience in Ojai, California, and in April 1927 was finally declared by Mrs Besant to be ‘The World Teacher’.

It then came as a severe shock to most of his followers when in August 1929 Krishnamurti publicly dissolved the Order of the Star, declaring that no organisation could lead to the discovery of truth. His only concern would be ‘to set man free.’ He was to dismiss the title of ‘World Teacher’ as a ‘flimsy label,’ belief or disbelief in it being irrelevant. He then went on for the rest of his life to give talks around the world when invited to do so, and probably spoke with more human beings than anyone has ever done on the deeper issues of life. As time went on Foundations were set up in India, America, England and Spain to preserve and make available his works, and schools were also established in India, America and England.

Krishnamurti’s life was by any standard remarkable. For some people the aura of ‘The World Teacher’, of a twentieth century Maitreya or Messiah, always clung to him, while others saw him as a fallible, if extraordinary, human being. Most people were deeply impressed, overwhelmed even, but it is of course difficult to know how much of that was in the eye of the beholder. Certainly anything that smacked of worship or personality cult was anathema to him. What nobody would dispute is that for more than sixty years Krishnamurti argued passionately that the problems facing us demand a radical change in human consciousness.

David Skitt was educated at Cambridge. From 1955 to 1985 he worked as a translation revisereditor for the OECD and the European Space Agency in Paris. He is a trustee of the Krishnamurti Foundation at Brockwood Park, Hampshire.
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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.