Back in the peace and quiet of my solitary dormitory
I am writing to Father Bede Griffiths; I would like to fit in a visit to his
Ashram after my stay in Pondicherry. But first I have to send a telegramme to
the Theosophical Society in Madras, my next
port of call. In India when we have a lot of time it’s amusing to pay
a visit to village post offices — Westerners are often invited in for
chai – Indian spiced sweet tea -- while the clerk unlocks his cupboards
looking for air-letters, telegramme forms, rubber stamps and special forms.
I’m supposed to leave for Madras tomorrow but
have discovered that the train journey will take 36 hours which means I may
be too late for the marriage of Ram and Parvati — my American friends
from Anandamayi Ma’s Ashram. They are arranging the ceremony to coincide
with my arrival at the Theosophical Society at Adyar (according
to a letter from my wife who is now snowed-up in Mussoorie). I was hoping to
take their joint Interview on their wedding night.
But here I am at Sarnath’s village post office,
tealess, and being told: It is inconvenient to send any telegramme today, could
you not go to the main post office in Benares?
Inconvenient? — I ask, trying not to appear too
Very — you see, the line, she’s out of
I dash all the way into Benares — what else can
one do? First I am begging them at the Indian Airlines office for a seat on
the afternoon plane, any plane, to Madras. No chance: twenty-nine people on
stand-by. So now off to the recommended, hopefully fully functuating, main post
In India there is no queuing system: we are all expected
to push. The pushing is greater in city post offices…more people, more
pushing, the only way to get hold of a telegramme form, hand it back, pass the
money, the only way to secure the receipt. The vital sorry-I-will-be-late telegramme
finally on its way, I extricate myself, and move away all of a heap.
In the morning I am sitting on the train to Madras
dazed at the prospect of a 36 hour journey. The business man opposite me in
the compartment laughs: The train — he says — was twelve hours late
last week. I am now resigned to missing the wedding, I only hope there will
be time for the Interview… Ram and Parvati both have far-out stories.
The train this week is only three hours late, and it’s
now night-fall, and I don’t even know if they have a room for me at the
Theosophical Society. The businessman
lives at Adyar, so we share a taxi and he gets me through the locked iron gate
into the T.S. estate. One can’t get in after dark unless known to the
I find Norma Sastry, the estate secretary and to whom
I have been writing unsuccessfully to reserve a room: no reply ever reached
me. She looks as if she’s been to a party — Oh, a wedding! —
and she gives all the news. Ram and Parvati were lovely, the marriage was lovely,
and they have both left this evening for the Ashram of — oh — I
just can’t remember, but you do have a room: in Leadbeater Chambers…number
15…Ram has just vacated it.
In the room I find the remnants of a vegetarian party,
and on the table, placed so I can’t miss it, a pink telegramme:
PILL ARRIVE ONE DAX LATE FULL LOVE MALCOLM
This is indeed high style post office creative interpretive
writing; I had written:
DUE TO TRAVEL AGENT’S BUNGLING WILL ARRIVE ONE
DAY LATE. ALL PLANES TO MADRAS FULL. LOVE-MALCOLM
Madras has three seasons: hot, hotter, hottest…
this is January only the hot season, but in the morning as I start making arrangements
for the first Interview, the southern heat is forcing me to walk in the shade
of the ancient trees that line the paths of this exotically landscaped estate,
a huge tropical park borderd by ocean and river beaches.
Adyar has been the International Headquarters of the
Theosophical Society for about a century,
and there is one old resident here who remembers its early days of glory –
not quite early enough to have met Madame Blavatsky the co-founder, one of history’s
most enigmatic women who played a major part in opening modern Western minds
to Eastern thought, and who can be regarded as the grandmother of the New Age.
Russell Balfour-Clarke arrived as a very young man over seventy years ago, he
is a walking-talking-history-book. He still rides a bicycle, he still speaks
in ringing English tones, but he isn’t sentimental about the great early
days. His mind sparkles in its clarity and consciousness of expression. I automatically
feel a terrible pang of regret -- how I wish this Interview could be filmed:
one can’t meet a walking-talking-history-book every day, one that spans
almost a whole century.
Before you speak about your early life, may I
ask you if it’s true that you are 96 years old?
No! That’s not correct — I’m only 95.(1)
Hmm…my early life? Well, I am British, born in London in 1885, June 2nd.
My parents were landed gentry — squires — owners of land and farms.
My mother was a Low Church Protestant; my father, because of his love of music,
would often visit Catholic cathedrals to listen to the music although he was
not a Catholic — he was broad minded. I wanted to become an engineer,
and I was accepted at London University for a B.Sc. in engineering, but after
one year I had a six months’ illness with typhoid fever and another six
months to learn to walk again and recover.
One little door-mouse nurse came to look after me;
she had a magnetic power, and when I was raving with fever she would put up
her hand and say: “Now Dick, be quiet!” — and I was like a
When I began to think and recover — and this
is the way I came to Theosophy — I said to little nurse:
Is there nothing more to be known about God and man
than what we learn from the parson?
She gave a strange answer: There is infinitely more
to be known.
I said: Where is it? It’s not taught in the
She replied: It’s mentioned in the Bible —
Jesus said, ‘Unto the multitudes I speak in parables, but unto my own
I speak of the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven’ — that is the
Then she told me about the Theosophical Society in London where
I could meet people who had found that wisdom. When I had recovered, I found
the Society and went there.
How old were you then?
About 19 or 20 — it was in 1904. There I met Mr. Bertram Keightley who
helped Madame Blavatsky publish her book, Isis Unveiled — her first remarkable
book which made the world sit up prior to founding the T.S. He handed me a form
to fill in; there I read the Society’s three aims:
1) To form a nucleus of the Universal
Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour.
2) To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science.
3) To investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man.
I was in sympathy with these aims and paid the fee.
Later I was sent for and met Col. Olcott, the co-founder of T.S., who handed
me my diploma of membership, shook my hand and wished me well. He had a powerful
magnetic personality. I then made friends with a staunch Theosophist, Mr. A.P.
Sinnett who claimed to have had contact with the Master Kuthumi — he has
written about it in a book called, The Occult World. Due to his influence, I
wanted to become a Buddhist monk and give up Christianity, but he advised me
to follow my career for a while. I was still studying T.S. books but took an
apprenticeship on the railways in London which led to an appointment as assistant
engineer of construction in Nairobi for two years. That was a world of candles
and kerosene oil.
Did you have any contact
there with Theosophists?
No, but I formed a group of three people called the Occult Group. Now I hear
that there is a live T.S. movement in Nairobi. At night in my tent I used to
read Theosophy. I became more and more interested, and when I returned to England
in 1908 I attended lectures by Dr. Annie Besant, the new President of the Society.
I had written to Col. Olcott about becoming a monk, but he had died, and Dr.
I strongly advise you not to plunge into orthodox
Buddhism, but perhaps if we can meet
we can discuss it.
After meeting her three times, she said:
I would like a young man like you to see India —
today I have been given two thousand pounds to do what I like with, so I invite
you as my guest at the International Headquarters of the T.S. at Adyar.
I jumped with joy, but she said: No, no! —
think about it for a week, then let me know.
At that time I was also offered a very good job in
West Africa; it meant a high salary and a step up in my career. I was at a crossroads.
Now, Mr. D.N. Dunlop was a famous Theosophist who had a miniature of two adepts,
whom I recognized as the Masters Morya and Kuthumi; he had copies made for me….
They were paintings?
They were photographs of paintings made in Madame Blavatsky’s London studio
I believe; somehow she placed her hand on the painter’s head, he saw the
Masters and painted them. I was thrilled to have these copies, and as I was
at this crossroads, I placed them before me and sent out a plea: If I am worth
being taken notice of by the Society founded at your instigation by H.P.B. (Madame
Blavatsky), could you give me a hint which way to go? I received a definite
sentence in my head: Choose the way of unworldly wisdom, and there will be no
regrets. It was clear.
I arrived here in 1909 with a letter of introduction
from Dr. Besant. I was put in room no.7 at Blavatsky Gardens — a very
simple room. C.W. Leadbeater had already awakened the kundalini and was cultivating clairvoyance;
I went to his Octagonal Bungalow, and told the man leading me to say Dr. Besant
had sent me. He went in and said: Dr. Besant has come. I could hear Leadbeater
saying inside: Hmm! She must have materialized, let’s go and see. We laughed
when we met.
And then I met a shy, sorrowful-looking boy —
J. Krishnamurti. He was about 13 years old then. I was 10 years older. Mr. Leadbeater
took me into his confidence when he got to know me better and said: Master Kuthumi
has asked me and Annie to look after these two children of his, -- at that time
Krishnaji’s younger brother was still
alive. I was entrusted with the task of helping. What we had to do was to clean
up these two boys: they were unhappy, dirty, ill-fed because their mother had
died and a very hard-hearted aunt was in charge of the house — the father
was not much good with children so they were neglected.
We set to work. It was a great joy to me having come
into all this. People point to me now and say: He was Krishnamurti’s teacher.
That is not quite true. I was Krishnamurti’s constant companion, his nurse,
his valet de chambre. We went cycling and swimming together — yes, and
I did teach him his first English. I moved with him closely day and night until
his 19th birthday. That was from the beginning of his career until 1915 when
I had to go to war and join the army.
There has been some criticism
that the booklet, “At the Feet of the Master” was never written
by Krishnamurti himself during this period. Do you know anything about this?
I certainly do. When Mr. Leadbeater first saw the 13 year old Krishnaji, he was struck by his aura, which
he described as the most wonderful he had ever seen. It could not have been
Krishnaji’s outer appearance that was
striking, for at that time he was undernourished and uncared for. But Leadbeater
took him and his younger brother under his care. The father — who was
a Theosophist — and the other children were given a place to live within
the Society’s grounds. Leadbeater told me Krishnaji was destined to become the World Teacher:
He will undergo spiritual training; there will be opposition but it has to be
Now Mr. Leadbeater had Krishnaji come to him at 5 o’clock every
morning and asked him to recollect what the Master KH had taught him on the
astral plane during the night while he was out of the body. I was always present
so I saw Krishnaji write down the teachings in the form
of notes. The only outside help he received was in his spelling and punctuation
— you see, he was still learning English. But these were the notes that
were later turned into the book, At the Feet of the Master, and published under
the name of Alcyone; it has been translated into about thirty languages and
gone into forty editions or more. Yes, I know there have been many skeptics
who have tried to prove that a boy of 13 could not write such a book. But I
saw him with my own eyes; that is my personal testimony.
That is invaluable testimony,
thank you. What happened after you came out of the army?
I became a civilian again in 1924, and Annie Besant suggested I should join
Leadbeater in Australia. I was with him for five years living a strange and
wonderful life. I was initiated into Co-Masonry and into other ceremonial groups
and helped Leadbeater; I cooked his food and nursed him when he was sick. I
toured with him, he made me a priest of the Liberal Catholic Church and I attended
the meetings of the esoteric school of Theosophy and the general meetings. A
very full life. I plunged into all this with enthusiasm and believed that all
I was doing and hearing about were facts.
When you say you believed
in everything then, does it mean that later you had doubts?
Well, I’ll tell you. I don’t doubt, but through the years because
of my strong link with Krishnaji I seemed to be going through, in a
lighter vein of course, what he went through. So now I have to say that in my
book, The Boyhood of J. Krishnamurti, I wrote about things as though I knew
them, but I had been told them by Leadbeater and others and accepted them as
facts. Now I would say that whether they are facts or not I don’t know,
but because I don’t know I can’t deny or affirm.
I see. How did you part
from Mr. Leadbeater?
I married. I came back to London, took a job, but after a time my wife and I
came back here to Adyar where we lived and I was given permission to take a
job in a big engineering firm outside.
Was all this before Krishnamurti
renounced his role as the World Teacher?
Long before, oh, yes, yes…
You were still in contact
with him in those days?
Yes, of course. I met him often. I met him in Australia and observed the painful
fact that Leadbeater, from being affectionately disposed towards him, turned
against him and said everything had gone wrong. Krishnaji later told me how he was asked to
get out of Adyar and never come back. Well — as everyone knows —
he did get out, and it was only a few days ago that after fifty years he was
invited back by the President of the T.S., Mrs. Radha Burnier, and he walked
through these grounds again. I had the pleasure of welcoming him, although I
have been seeing him practically every year when he comes to India. He is now
looking in better health than ever. He is 85, you know — 10 years younger
All these many years
you have lived in India must have been very fulfilling for you.
Yes, they have. I can say that when I first came to Theosophy, my mind, through
contact with the early Theosophists, was filled with visions of the Wise Men
of the East, the Great Adept Brotherhood, the Hierarchy standing behind the
people who were said to be running the inner government of the world. But all
that has rather faded — I don’t say it isn’t true. Leadbeater
wrote a wonderful book about this, The Masters and the Path. I have been presented
with much teaching and have read many books, but I took into my heart what I
liked and made it my own. But in the past I made a mistake in an effort to help
others by writing and talking about the Masters and what they did and didn’t
do as if I knew. No, whatever progress I have made, I have progressed to this
point of view that much of my belief has fallen off me like a cloak: my Co-Masonry,
my priesthood, the teaching about karma, reincarnation,
and the rest of it. I don’t say it isn’t true, I say belief isn’t
But you do follow Krishnaji?
Yes, rather. He looks at us and says: I suppose I have to talk — why do
you come to hear me? — Well, the world is in a mess… Then he paints
a picture of the chaos of modern life. He asks: What is the root of chaos? —
the power of thought! As I sit there I remember Madame Blavatsky saying: The
mind is a great slayer of the Real; let the disciple slay the slayer. Krishnaji puts it in his own way, and then asks
if it’s the mind that creates confusion, how to stop the confusion? Well
— by realizing it, that stops it…then in freedom from confusion
there’s love. That’s his message. It’s so tremendous, we can’t
take it. He’s still emphatic that he’s not a teacher. I don’t
touch his feet — I wanted to, I feel like it. I told him the other day
when I was holding his hand on his historical re-entry into this place that
I feel like touching his feet but I’m not going to. He said: Quite right;
As a last question, what
do you think you have achieved by your seventy-five years association with the
T.S. and Krishnaji?
I am not able to estimate what I have achieved — you or others who meet
me may form their own opinion: I can’t say I have arrived at this or that.
I have learned that nobody can teach me how to meditate or “muditate”,
as most people do. And nobody can tell me how to become spiritual or to define
God. It’s all ineffable wonder and beauty and love. That’s what
I think, I can’t describe it. Should I try, I would destroy it.
J. Krishnamurti, a controvertial figure to the end, died 5 years later
at the age of 90.