Jiddu Krishnamurti, 90, Indian Philosopher, Dies

Times Staff Writer

Jiddu Krishnamurti, the Indian philosopher who was proclaimed in his childhood to be the new messiah but then spent almost all his entire adult life denying he was, died Monday at his ranch house home in Ojai, the victim of pancreatic cancer. He was 90 years old.

Erna Lilliefelt, spokeswoman for the Krishnamurti Foundation of America, said death came peacefully at 12:10 a.m. She said the remains would be cremated. No memorial service is planned.

Krishnamurti had been hospitalized briefly after his return in early January from an annual four-month stay in India. Lilliefelt said the cancer was discovered during the hospitalization but doctors concluded it was already terminal.

Almost every year since the 1920s, Krishnamurti had presented a series of talks at an oak grove outside Ojai at which he had insisted he was neither a guru, a sage nor even necessarily a philosopher--only a teacher sharing ideas with anyone who cared to listen. This year’s talks were canceled after the initial hospitalization. The foundation said Krishnamurti had expressed a final wish that several schools he founded in the United States, England and India--including one in Ojai--remain in operation but that no one should be named to “carry on with these teachings in my name now or at any time in the future.”

Krishnamurti was born in Madras, India, in 1895, the son of a man who was an ardent follower of the Theosophical Society, a cult-like organization popular at the time. As a child, Krishnamurti attracted the attention of Annie Besant, leader of the society, who proclaimed him to be the new messiah who was to preside over the organization disseminating her mixture of Buddhism and Indian Brahmanism.


In 1922, Krishnamurti moved to Ojai, attracted to the Ventura County valley by reports that the air there could cure his younger brother of tuberculosis. Though the brother died, Krishnamurti stayed on, and Besant eventually organized a group called the Order of the Star that was to be Krishnamurti’s vehicle for spreading his own gospel.

But in 1929, the young man stunned Besant and a public that had grown accustomed to news media coverage of his teachings and life style, by proclaiming the Order of the Star dissolved. He also renounced the claims about his quasi-divinity. Besant eventually accepted his decision.

Asked for Simple ‘Awareness’

Krishnamurti spent the rest of his life living in England, India and California, writing and giving lectures on his philosophy of self-reliance and awareness to such varied groups as scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and diplomats at the United Nations. Although he spoke against nationalism and the supremacy of one religion over another, Krishnamurti never offered himself as leader for those ideas. He asked that those who listened to him not necessarily “believe” but simply be “aware.”

The Krishnamurti Foundation, formed as a structural entity to disseminate books, pamphlets, tapes and other materials, served as financial support for Krishnamurti and his work. The foundation, which last year began preparing for Krishnamurti’s passing, will continue in operation to support the Krishnamurti schools and distribute printed and other materials, the foundation said.

Krishnamurti lived modestly and owned little property. His living quarters around the world were in the hands of other people.

‘Divinity’ Had Become ‘Ugly’

Recalling the decision to renounce his proclaimed divinity in an interview with The Times last year, Krishnamurti said: “It had gradually become ugly. If I promised reward, I would have quantities of money . . . great estates. You understand? At one time, I used to have all that when I was quite young. I said it’s all wrong.”

Despite what he did in 1929, Krishnamurti was dogged most of his life by media accounts that insisted he was some sort of guru, no matter how much he tried to deny it.

Referring to himself in the third person as “the speaker” in most of his public appearances in recent years, Krishnamurti, who never married, told an audience at the annual talks last year to “be skeptical of what the speaker is saying, especially.”

“He is not a guru. He doesn’t want a thing from you . . . not even your applause. Please be sure of that, so you can relax. Please listen . . . not to the speaker, but to yourself.”