J. Krishnamurti, BKS Iyengar and TKV Desikachar | The Men Who Made Modern Yoga

Mark Whitwell
9 min readJun 28, 2021

By Mark Whitwell

BKS Iyengar, Yehudi Menuhin and J. Krishnamurti in Saanen, Switzerland c. 1950s.

Jiddu Krishnamurti (11 May 1895- 17 February 1986)

Truth is a Pathless Land

“Truth is a pathless land,” Jiddu Krishnamurti famously declared in 1929, before stepping down as the world leader of Theosophy. “Man cannot approach it through any organization, through any creed, through any dogma, priest or ritual, not through any philosophical knowledge or psychological technique.”

In other words, if you are trying to get to Truth on a path, then that path is leading away from Truth.

Truth is the given condition of all Life: your hands holding your phone; your eyes reading these words; the vibration of all life happening is Truth, already. This understanding was Krishnamurti’s profound and beautiful offering to the world.

Jiddu Krishnamurti was born in the small town of Madanapalle in South India. When he was fourteen, he was found playing on the private beach of the Theosophical Society near the Adyar river where his family lived.

He was discovered by Charles Webster Leadbeater who thought him to be the perfect candidate to become the World Teacher of Theosophy. Leadbeater was supposedly entranced by Krishnamurti’s uniquely clear aura, “the most wonderful aura he had ever seen, [that was] without a particle of selfishness in it.”

Krishnamurti was taken in by the Theosophical Society and raised by Annie Besant. The Order of the Star in the East was formed in 1911 in anticipation for Krishnamurti’s emergence as a new global spiritual teacher.

Beginning in 1922 however, after settling in Ojai, California, Jiddu had a series of experiences of “mystical union” with the cosmos. He was awakened to the already existing presence of Truth, or, as he describes it, “the immensity.” Krishnamurti realised that he was Consciousness Itself already. The idea of Truth as a future-destination left his mind.

Krishnamurti’s spontaneous realization led him to dissolve The Order of the Star and to denounce all concepts of organisation, belief, the dynamic of the special teacher and his followers and the role of the guru.

The paradox of J. Krishnamurti’s life however, is that even as he dissolved his position as a leader he nonetheless remained a spiritual or philosophical authority.

For his lifetime, he nursed a contradiction: he would denounce the role of the special person on the stage whilst nonetheless being that very person. He would give lofty talks to crowds of spiritual seekers who did not yet ‘know.’

Krishnamurti’s followers remained stuck in the position of the seekers who were trying to realize or duplicate what Krishnamurti had felt in Ojai. This is why if spiritual transmission, even love transmission, occurs within a hierarchy then it simply does not work. It is a love that makes you sick.

Krishnamurti and Desikachar

I first met J. Krishnamurti through my teacher Desikachar. It was Krishnamurti who said to Desikachar:

“Don’t become one more monkey.”

Don’t become a guru; don’t exploit the gullibility of the public in this idea of being a ‘knower.’

I loved Desikachar for walking that line. On the one hand, he was his father’s son and Krishnamacharya was very much a great patriarchal authority figure and scholar within his Vaishnava tradition.

In his lifetime, Krishnamacharya was never quite able to give up that role of the ‘knower.’ Although he made magnificent efforts to do so and to be beautifully humble.

“Whoever says he is a guru is not a guru” he said.

But it was Desikachar, with the help of J. Krishnamurti, who finished the job of ending the position of the male ‘knower.’ He walked through life honouring the authority of his father’s knowledge by bringing it into the world as a friend to everybody.

My statement about Desikachar is that he ‘attained ordinariness.’ Whenever the cultural tendency to be the boss appeared in him he would correct himself.

We must profoundly see the non-necessity and the obstruction produced by these corrupt social orders that created civilization in Europe and in Asia.

No one can be second to anything or anybody and no one can be superior to anything or anybody.

My teacher U.G. Krishnamurti (no relation to J Krishnamurti) had a lovely statement: “No one should be a slave to anybody.”

At the same time, we must attain ordinariness with each other. In that ordinariness as human beings who love and care for one another in local community. This is how we share the tantras of Yoga.

The tantras of each person’s direct intimacy with and participation in Life as it actually is. The Given Reality that some cultures call God, Nurturing Source, Truth. Not the typical Yoga of trying to get to Truth that J. Krishnamurti was rightly dismissive of. But the Yogas of participation in Truth.

In his lifetime J. Krishnamurti also displayed a paradoxical and hidden relationship to Yoga where he would say one thing and do another.

In his private life he was a devoted practitioner and lifelong student of Desikachar and Krishnamacharya. In his public teachings however, he was dismissive of Yoga as either spiritual seeking or merely as a means to attain bodily health.

Jiddu Krishnamurti’s interest in Yoga was sparked through his friendship with BKS Iyengar. The two met via the famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin in Saanen, Switzerland in the early 1950s. And for many years Iyengar taught Krishnamurti a vigorous gymnastic practice.

A decade later, Jiddu travelled to Madras to seek out the renowned Yoga teacher and guru to Iyengar: T. Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya was well known by many theosophists and friends of Krishnamurti as a great teacher.

Because his health was not improving under Iyengar’s guidance, he asked Krishnamacharya if he would help him deepen his understanding of the practice. Krishnamacharya asked his son TKV Desikachar to teach Jiddu.

In his book Health, Healing, and Beyond Desikachar described their first lesson in December 1965:

“Before beginning our first lesson, I expressed a desire to see Krishnaji’s yoga practice. He was ready in no time. In spite of his 69 years, the postures he demonstrated were of the most advanced nature — all the variations of headstand, shoulder stand, hand balance, and many difficult back arches.

And although his frame was small and the postures varied and stupefying, his chest was as tight as a barrel. I also noticed that his breath was restricted and panting, his hands trembled, his neck was like granite, and his eyes sometimes rolled with tears.”

Together with his father, Desikachar simplified Krishnamurti’s home practice. He removed the headstand, showed him how to breathe in asana and pranayama, and taught him how to move with a new quality of effortlessness. Krishnamurti enthusiastically took to this new regime:

“Krishnaji was so keen to learn that I saw him every day, some days more than once. I was amazed at his remarkable ability to adjust to this new instruction, so contrary was it to the instruction which he had previously received and practised. In a few weeks, there was no trace of previous training” — Desikachar.

With respect and tact shown towards Iyengar, who was Desikachar’s uncle and a frequent participant in Krishnamurti’s gatherings in Saanen, Desikachar took over as Krishnamurti’s personal teacher.

Desikachar reflects how Krishnamurti had a tremendous enthusiasm for the subject and always showed up for lessons on time.

Krishnamurti became so committed to the teachings that he offered to finance Desikachar’s studies, “Sir, if necessary, I will sell my shirt and send you money, but please study; you must.”

Later, he left a message for Krishnamacharya requesting that he teach his son everything he knew. Desikachar later said that Krishnamurti’s interest made him become a better student of his own teacher.

For the remainder of his life, Krishnamurti practiced Yoga for an hour per day (sometimes two) finding it useful in keeping his body healthy and for clarity of mind. His favorite definition of Yoga was “Shanti” or Peace.

The mountains at Ojai where Jiddue Krishnamurti set up the Pepper Tree buildings | Mark Whitwell

Say One Thing, Do Another

Despite J. Krishnamurti’s passionate interest and respect for Yoga, he never made it part of his public teachings nor did he give it to his followers en masse. Although he knew that Yoga was relevant to what he had experienced and what he taught, he would publically dismiss

Yoga as altogether separate from the kind of non-dual spiritual realization that he was trying to communicate. He often showed irritation when questioners would ask about the subject:

“You can practice yoga, the exercises of different kinds. The speaker has done some of it for years. But you can do this kind of yoga exercise for the rest of your life, you won’t awaken spiritual insight”-Brockwood Park 1979

It was Krishnamacharya and Desikachar’s firm view however that if you are in a relationship with a realizer like Krishnamurti then Yoga was absolutely necessary.

Yoga was the practical response that you could do if you receive or perceive Grace in the company of a person like Jiddu. It was the means by which any ordinary person could participate in the clarity of a realizer’s embodiment and to maintain clarity in their own everyday circumstance.

Without Yoga, Krishnamacharya would say, the beautiful non-dual ideals of a realizer like Krishnamurti would remain ‘other’ to the recipient and the mind will remain fixated on duality.

Many of the people around J. Krishnamurti remained frustrated in their lives because they had no way to respond to his presence or teaching.

The mood around him was often one of frustrated seekers who were trying to understand and live what he was saying but with a sense of failure and disappointment. They would then judge themselves perpetually for not being able to understand him.

In his book The First and Last Freedom one seeker asks: “When I listen to you, all seems clear and new. At home, the old, dull restlessness asserts itself. What is wrong with me?”

This is the inevitable merry-go-round that students get put on when inspiration is taught outside of a Yoga context.

Jiddu Krishnamurti had a presence, a real beauty and he had his own realization that he was at One with the universe.

But he didn’t necessarily have the Yogic culture and knowledge that goes with that realization which can make it useful to the ordinary person.

It is sad that Krishnamurti was unable to make the connection between the Yoga that Desikachar and Krishnamacharya taught him and its vital relevance for his followers.

The realization that Krishnamurti had under the pepper tree in Ojai is the natural state of all human beings. We are all at one with the cosmos. We ARE the cosmos and each person is a beautiful, utterly unique flower blooming in their own garden.

Yoga is the practical means of participating in this fact. When we move and breathe according to the principles that Krishnamacharya taught we feel the obvious Truth that is Life. By having our own Yoga, we can fully enjoy and make use of the fruits that saints and sages like J. Krishnamurti bring forth.

TKV Desikachar and Mark Whitwell underneath the Pepper Tree at Ojai where J. Krishnamurti had his famous realization.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mark Whitwell has worked as a yoga teacher around the world for several decades. He is known for encouraging everyone into a simple daily practice and helping people rehabilitate out of the disillusionment and excesses of the westernized ‘yoga’ scene. He first met his teachers Krishnmacharya and his son TKV Desikachar in 1973 and realized the supreme usefulness of yoga as a response to inspiration and grace. Mark Whitwell was further influenced by his friendships with UG Krishnamurti and the power of ancient Siddha Yogis of South India.

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Mark Whitwell

Mark Whitwell has worked as a Yoga teacher around the world for the last 45 years and is the author of 4 books on Yoga. He lives in Fiji with his wife Rosalind.