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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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue