Meeting with:

Meeting with Jiddhu Krishnamurti

I picked the book up -- a dangerous practice indeed to just pick up a book, open it and find a voyage you have to set out upon without delay. In the book there was a question to Krishnamurti, viz: "Are you or are you not a member of the Great White Brotherhood of the West?" And the answer was immediate, and succinct: "Sir, what does it matter!?" So, as was my bent, I had to find out immediately who this Krishnamurti was, what were his antecedents and where did he live. Being lucky enough then to have a card at the Cal Library, U.C. Berkeley, I was able to make a useful and massive investigation fairly quickly.

Krishnamurti and his younger brother, Nitya, were, in 1908, Hindu waifs strolling on the littoral of the Indian Ocean at Adyar. India. There, they were "discovered" by H.P. Leadbetter, a factotum of the Theosophical Society. Initially, he was impressed by their demeanor. But then by his own magical, psychic means he ran exhaustive tests; thus to discover that Krishnamurti, especially, was, even as a child, an embryo Messiah, destined to develop into a great spiritual being. So Mr. Leadbetter, after many difficulties, managed to separate them from their father (a minor functionary at the Theosophical Society in Adyar) and spirit them off to London to be the new ornamental trainees of the English Theosophical Society under its founder Annie Besant.

Somehow, Krishnamurti (under the affectionate sobriquet, "Krishnaji,"as his friends have called him ever since) was somehow able to survive not only his anticipated Messiahship, but also the dense esoteric mumbo-jumbo which surrounded him as child, and emerge, indeed as a free spirit, unbeholden either to his new benefactors or to their ecstatic prophecies on his behalf. After many changes and decisions and perilous spiritual disciplines and ecstatic experiences, Krishnaji emerged as a world-wide speaker (who refused to call himself either "teacher" or "Guru" but who acted instead as a somewhat gentle -- though sometimes austere -- amanuensis) to those who were hot on the track of the "desire and pursuit of the whole."

Somehow I was able to get the phone number of this remarkable being, and I called him up to ask for an interview. He gave it to me immediately, and a date was set when I would go down to Ojai.

Krishnaji was 49 when I first met him, but he looked like he was in his late twenties. After ushering me in to his "studio," he asked me some questions about myself; and then he was silent for a long while. At first uneasy at the lack of discourse, I then began to understand that there was something remarkable happening in his silence. It was like an upwelling of deep peace which surrounded us both and permeated the room. Since I had never experienced anything like this by myself or with anybody else, I quickly understood that this was somehow "where" real spiritual life might begin. And I vowed that I would not rest until I had comprehended the meaning of this "Silence" (which was to take me on a long but necessary Voyage of thirty years, until I met and meditated with Sri Adi Da Samraj).

Then living in Los Angeles, I would hitchhike up to Ojai (about 90 miles away) as often as possible to be with Krishnaji. And we had many conversations about the nature of life, the meaning of the 2nd World War (then ongoing) and the right conduct of daily existence. His personal manner was very different than the formal, didactic stance of his platform presentation. If I did not understand something correctly, he would grab my arm, move right up to me and say emphatically (with gestures) "Look! I want you to get this!" Always said with urgency, but also compassion. He seemed to be a strange combination of gentle persuasion and tender ferocity in his urgent plea that I comprehend what his true meaning was.

Knowing my age was 23, he asked me one day what I was going to do about my impending induction into the army via the draft. And I told him that I did not believe in killing people and would not go into the army, and had sought a classification as a conscientious objector. "But," he asked, "What if they don't give you that status?" "Oh," I responded, "then they will threaten me with prison. And he asked: "And what if you do not yield to that threat?" I said: "Then I will be tried and sentenced to the Federal Penitentiary." He was silent for awhile and sighed. Then he said, reflectively: "Oh, I see. Then you are really serious about all of this?

"Yes," I said,"I am."

I had heard that he knew Aldous Huxley (or that Huxley knew him!) So I asked him if he had read Huxley's book called Ends and Means. He replied "No, I do not read much, but know the issues discussed in the book, and I have discussed them with him." Of course, the center of the book is that the ends never justify the means. And that the means of life must always be lived out as right action. And you yourself must decide what action is "right" and never do things just because you are commanded to do so. Some book for a modern age, where nonconformists are often threatened with prison or worse for not toeing the mark! Krishnaji might appear to be somewhat starry-eyed and idealistic, but he was, in fact, a realist about how the world worked, and had experienced many of its buffets, even before his emergence as an austere teller of truths to power.

I had just finished reading Aldous Huxley's introduction to The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, but Krishnaji didn't know the book, and did not seem interested in Ramakrishna. But, being deeply impressed by the introduction, I was drawn to read the first part of the book before I had to return it to its owner. So was very much interested in this book and knew that I must read it intensively. But before I could get to that, Krishnaji questioned me more thoroughly about my background and parental influences. Finally, he said: "Well, you have laid out a courageous and formidable task." I said: "Well, it already been extremely difficult, and I have only just begun. But what exactly do you mean?" He thought for awhile with his fingers pressed to his head, and then said: "Well, you see -- but let me get something to show you first." He left the room and returned with a folding diagram called a Histo-Map. On it, laid out in a long diagram was an extended map of India from its origins down to modern times... And Krishnaji put his fingers at the top of the map, which was labeled Vedic Times, and then slowly ran down to the present, commenting as he went. "You see," he said. "This is one of the longest histories of almost any country in the world. And one of the factors intertwined with this, 'Longevity', is the fact that for most of the four thousand years we see here, India was not violent. "Not," he continued, "non-violent in Ghandi's sense, but for most of its history simply not afflicted with the terrible violence of Western Europe, even though it was not totally peaceful either." "Now, then," he continued, pointing to a small map of the United States, "The United States was heir to Western violence, and, indeed, born in the revolutionary war of 1776, which was not a pacifist affair..." He paused, watching me, then continued: "So you see, you, who come from a violent background, have taken up a strongly non-violent stance right in the midst of a raging world war. And sooner or later you will have to come to terms with that violence which you have inherited, and somehow deal with it. And I do believe that though with courage you may get through it, this won't be easy. and you will have to somehow transcend the inherent contradiction." I had listened carefully to his thoughtful comment, and thanked him for it.

Meeting with Christopher Isherwood

I had heard that the Vedanta Bookshop at the Vedanta Temple in Hollywood would have a copy of "The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna", and so I went there to enquire about it. I was helped by a genial English gentleman, who asked me many questions about my interest in Ramakrishna and why I was in Hollywood. This helpful person turned out to be Christopher Isherwood, well-known author and playwright who was then entering the Ramakrishna Order as a novice disciple.

He was a genial, knowledgeable kind of person who knew a lot about Ramakrishna and, it seemed, he even knew Aldous Huxley who had written the introduction. So then, one thing led to another and he asked me a lot of questions about myself and my present circumstances. And I told him truthfully that I was a spiritual seeker who also happened to be in an imbroglio with Selective Service, over my attempt to get recognition as a conscientious objector to armed service. And I told him also that I had been deeply influenced by my omniverous reading of Huxley's books, and especially his splendid "Ends and Means". And, also, that I would very much like to meet Mr. Huxley while I was here in Los Angeles. He thought for a while, and then said: "Well, perhaps it can be arranged."

Of course, as with most cultivated, East Indianized Englishmen, the talk will sooner or later get around to the Bhagavad Gita. So Isherwood asked me the inevitable question about being a war resister: "After all, when Krishna saw that Arjuna refused to fight, he simply told him to cease his unmanly trembling. Which Arjuna did, renounced his conscientious objection and slew the foe. In glorious heaps."

"Yes, indeed," I replied.

"That's all very well if you believe the current [1943] slogan of 'Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition!'"

"But what we are seeing now is 'Praise the ammunition and bypass the Lord!' Which is probably not quite what Krishna proposed. But to me now, after reading Gerald Heard's The Creed of Christ, it sure does sound like it. And anyway, when Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, he said, 'Thou shalt not kill!' And that sermon is closer to me now than Krishna 4,000 years ago; and that's what I'm going to bear witness to in refusing to kill as commanded -- the supposedly absolute ancient authority of the Gita notwithstanding!"

Christopher Isherwood didn't reply, but simply smiled at me. So then I said: "And maybe in the last 4,000 years, lots of changes could have slipped into the text of the Gita, throating false words to the lips of the God who recommends that because of 'Dharma' [Scripture], the ends absolutely justifies the means. Kind of a droll command coming from the Divine, wouldn't you say?"

Meeting with Aldous Huxley

If you go to Lancaster at the edge of the Mohave Desert you will be close to Pearblossom Heights, which is close to Llano, where the Huxleys lived. Hitchiking and walking it took me almost until noon to reach their place set back from the road and surrounded by trees and shrubs, like a kind of oasis in that hot, dry climate.

Mr. Huxley came out to greet me in the front garden. A very tall, handsome man, it was obvious that he suffered from visual impairment. He was followed by his wife, Maria, a lovely Belgian lady who, upon seeing my underweight frame, said briskly: "I'm going to fatten you up!" So, after the usual small talk of introducing myself and being introduced to them, I was invited to lunch, and we soon sat down. As I did so, I noticed a large sculpture of D. H. Lawrence in the corner of the garden.

They wanted to know a little of my recent history, and so I described my meeting with Krishnaji, and the quality of immense silence that I felt about his person. Huxley said: "Well, you see, Krishnaji took you right into the radiant silence wherein he himself dwells. So you didn't have to wait in the anteroom." I spoke about the great difference between him and a man named Peter the Hermit who I had met on my journey to Ojai. He lived in a kind of "camp" in a tent with two dogs, one of whom was named "Annie Besant." Later I found out that Peter had been a radical organizer with the American I.W.W., often hopping on trains to get around the country. On one of his stops he went to a public library where, quite by chance, he found a book by Brother Lawrence called The Practice of the Presence of God. And this book, in an instant, converted him from radical political life to radical spiritual involvement. When I met him he was in his sixties, all dressed in white, with a clean, scrubbed look about him. He mentioned his sparse vegetarian diet and his shunning of all types of addiction.

Smelling my odor of tobacco he quickly fixed me with a glaring eye and started in: "Yes, I can see that, although you talk about spiritual life, that you're just like the rest of them, standing in line for those doomful cigarettes, shambling around life like an animal, without the slightest notion of what you ought to be doing.

Then he shouted: "WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO GET UP ON YOUR HIND LEGS AND AT LEAST ACT LIKE A MAN?" As I recounted all of this to the Huxleys they laughed heartily. And Mr. Huxley commented: You must understand, Kerwin, if you as a young man go about contacting people who are on the spiritual path, rest assured that they are going to notice a great deal about you, and perhaps (without any tact) make direct comments about what they see!" So I continued about Peter the Hermit, and his own declaration of independence from middle class life: He had said: "I wash my own (pointing to his clothes), and I clean and prepare my own food of the simplest kind."

I commented: "But why does he have to live in a kind of gypsy camp on the edge of town?"

"Well," said Mrs. Huxley, "it may be a way of showing the world (and you too) that he is a beginning renunciate who has embarked on a spiritual life which is bare and simple without any of the amenities which are common in modern America."

"Yes," said Mr. Huxley,"in a country like this, which is based mainly upon consolations, the person who rejects that ideal will probably live unconsoled and perhaps adhere to a radical regime of fasting and prayer -- at least in the beginning stages."

I said: "Well, I have heard of communities where people practice a simple form of Communism, where they work together and share everything, but I have also heard that these communities rarely last --"

"Quite so," interjected, Mr. Huxley, "and indeed right across the road from us is a powerful example of one such experiment. May I tell you about it?"

"Please do," I said.

He continued: "In the early part of this century a large group of people (who were idealists) gathered together and formed a community known as Llano, right across the road in the same area which we live now. They had been inspired by the Christian Gospels and by various other groups who had decided to do something radically different in regard to living together so that like "The Three Musketeers" it was 'All for one and one for all!' That was the ideal, anyway."

"How many were involved?" I asked?

"Oh," he answered, "At first there was a small core group of planners and movers and shakers, and then a large group of interested, but not really active people. All in all, several hundred, I believe.

"But how long did it last?," I said.

Huxley pondered awhile, and then answered: "They had about 300 acres, enough capital and enough equipment and idealists to last up until about 1925. Then the intense conflict between idealism and actuality began to cut into their hopes. And so they got to fighting, and within a few years the whole thing just fell to bits, and what is left of the wreckage across the road is all that remains of a large Utopian Community" and he sighed, "not founded in reality." We had finished lunch, and the Huxleys got up and escorted me down to the road where we could see twin portals still standing, some wrecked buildings, and a lot of rusting farm machinery.

"Well," I said, "they must have gone through a hellish time before the whole thing went belly up."

"No," said Mr. Huxley, reflectively, "if you are thinking of the Dante-esque hell of The Divine Comedy, it wasn't like that. Because Dante being a writer knew that he had to provide a situation where people could actually watch the sufferers in hell without themselves being part of it. But here at Llano, since everyone was involved, there were no spectators apart. You had to be in it and of it to experience what they went through. Whereas in Dante's observation of the Inferno you can have a safe seat and comment: "Is that Smith down there in the fire pits? Terrible sight! And a bit of a nasty smell too ----" Huxley held his hand over his nose and made a grimace. And then continued: "But however much we feel for him, it's perhaps best not to be where he is, don't you think?"

After Huxley had spoken about Dante, he turned to other matters. To hear him take up a theme, develop it, and then resolve the questions which appeared was really thrilling. He knew what he was saying and he said what he was knowing. There was a natural punctuation in his speech, with commas and semicolons placed correctly. Paragraphs were properly placed too, and the climax or "point" of what he was saying was never neglected. This speech, or "conversation", as you will, was wonderful to hear. For I had never heard it done so well. And it was also a matter of cadence, style, emphasis, supporting points, and asterisks of intuition. Nothing canned (or rehearsed) about it at all. And yet, if it was transcribed, it would read as clearly and as well as it had been heard.

I knew about Huxley's enthusiasm for Thomas Love Peacock (1785 - 1866), and I had made it a point (not knowing I was going to meet him!) to read carefully and with enthusiasm the wonderful comic novels written by this unusual 19th century author.

I bring this up because I could sense and feel in the cadences of Husley's expression, the sure influence of Peacock in the background. Indeed, before leaving I remarked upon this to him and he waved me away by saying: "Oh, you are too kind!" But I could tell he was pleased that I had brought it up.

And so the Huxleys continued for a while telling me about the Lost community of Llano, and how it had vanished from the Mohave Desert in only a few years, like a sodden rainbow which fell from the sky before it could manifest as a full spectrum.

And then Huxley, remembering no doubt what Isherwood had said about me, asked: "What about your tussle with the draft board about being a conscientious objector?"

I answered that the way things were going, they were reserving for me a suite in the Graybar Hotel."

"The what?" Huxley asked.

"Oh," I answered, "it's just a more pleasant term for the Federal Penitentiary which is more or less set up to receive rebels who have a cause, even if not guilty of moral turpitude in its demonstration."

Then, Mr. Huxley asked me: "So far in your Hejira in this war-torn world, have you been threatened with violence?"

"Only once directly," I answered, when I was in a movie theater, and they were showing footage of a group of Japanese soldiers being incinerated with a flame thrower. And the audience was laughing and clapping as if they had just seen a comedty skit. After which everybody was supposed to stand up and sing the National Anthem. I refused to stand up, and came close to getting beaten up at that time."

Then I remembered something Krishanji had told me, and I repeated it to them: "He told me that I did not come from a country with a pacifist background, like India's, but with a strong violent history. And that violence was not only a part and parcel of my background, but was now present in my very blood and bones. How to transcend that background without getting crazy in the process?

And I also remembered what I had heard when temporarily incarcerated in the San Francisco County Jail, before pre-sentencing review of my case. A middle-aged man, obviously in bad shape, was unceremoniously brought into the bullpen and just dumped on the floor, rather than being led to a cell. After awhile I went over and asked him where he had come from. "From Alcatraz on a writ of habeas corpus." I asked "What happens if you get out of line on Alcatraz?" He answered off-handedly: "Oh, they take you down to deep-lock (which is the deepest dungeon) and there they sap the whey out of you!"

Mrs. Huxley interrupted to ask: "What is a sap?" I answered: "A sap is a leather bag, filled with buckshot. It gives serious pain, but it leaves no marks, so is used for third-degree interrogations from which "free and voluntary" confessions are said to come.

Mr. Huxley interjected: And what was the County Jail like?"

"Oh, I answered, it was a place set up to punish either violence or non-violence, but it definitely had a tone of anger and fear.

Huxley asked: "Did you meet any memorable people? I said, "Yes, one outstanding person, who had suddenly become a conscientious objector under exceptional circumstances and was brutally punished for it.

"Please tell us about him", Huxley asked. I responded: "This man, called Slim, had been a military policeman guarding a prison compound. He was an expert in Judo and a noted marksman. One of his prisoners escaped. He had raised his rifle, but hesitated to shoot the running man. One of his superiors called out: "Shoot, Slim! For God's sake, shoot!" Somehow the suddenness of the event, combined with the order: "For God's sake, shoot!" completely baffled him, and he threw down his rifle. A serious situation. Because he was then given the 5-year sentence of the escaped prisoner. And that was five years at hard labor. Which meant that he was taken to a local disciplinary camp. Under armed guard, he was ordered to labor in a swamp, carrying stones. If he did not carry or arrange the stones quickly enough, the guard would beat him strongly with a sharp bamboo switch. After a few weeks of this 'drill' he wondered how long he could take it. Then suddenly he had a plan, and put it into effect. The guard had beaten him with the bamboo with particular ferocity. But he was able to grab the bamboo and pull the guard into the pit. There he was able to break his shoulder, grab his gun and get out of the pit, where he commandeered a boat and escaped from the scene. But then, aware of the grave future trouble he was causing himself, he turned himself in, and was then awaiting trial in the County Jail where, because they had failed to search him, he came into the jail with a large .45 Colt Pistol on a thong in his jacket. Later he called for the FBI to come visit him. When the two men walked into his cell, much to their fear and astonishment he pulled out the .45 and handed it to them. I never knew what happened to Slim. because I was myself temporarily released a few days later. "So," Mr. Huxley concluded, "in a violent country Slim refuses to kill in a crisis, is then treated harshly, escapes and faces a dark future."

I then asked one more question of Mr. Huxley: "Do you think in this world there will ever be a true culture of ends and means governing life?"

He paused for a moment before replying: "Unfortunately, the possibility is minute! But this doesn't mean that we should give up or that the game is not worth the candle -- especially if the candle is lit with the living flame of love!"

I thanked the Huxleys for their gracious hospitality and was about to leave when Huxley put up his hand and said: "One favor from you, please: If you are put in prison, please send me a letter, and I will surely reply."

I thanked him again before leaving. And I did send him a letter from prison, and he did graciously reply.

And two years later I was able to read his splendid Perennial Philosophy, and then realized that, at the time of my visit, he was just putting the finishing touches on it. In it, I discovered the quote from the 10th-Century Egyptian Sufi Saint, Mohammed Al-Niffari, which directly inspired me to paint The Voyage.

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Meeting with Gerald Heard

And, incidentally, I had the privilege of meeting Gerald Heard as well, if only for a brief time. And I saw that he was an eccentric and fantastical person who was also someone to be reckoned with. After all, anybody who can write a tome like Pain, Sex, and Time may be temporarily dismissed, but not completely ignored -- especially when he follows that with a two-volume set entitled, The Creed of Christ and The Code of Christ. Henry Fitzgerald (Gerald Heard's born name) was five years older than Huxley. He did not write as much as Huxley, but he wrote very well. And he was in no sense a second-rate conversationalist. Huxley and Heard were quite a team -- like dopplegangers dredged up from the history of high mysticism, but with matching comic eccentricities. As if their seriousness and scholarship had been briefly dowsed in the esoteric extravaganzas of
Thomas Love Peacock (comic English novelist, author of Headlong Hall, Nightmare Abbey, Crotchet Castle, and Grylle Grange , among many other books. He was a friend of Shelley and a particular favorite of Aldous Huxley). One can only imagine a portrait of Peacock at 80, smiling at what was said. Now that would be a Crotchet Castle scene par excellence, with moats, portcullises, and elphin dungeons. And, of course, relentlessly accurate and intricate ormolu dialogue!

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