Enlightenment is Physical: An Introduction to U. G. Krishnamurti


The following article is excerpted from: The Biology of Enlightenment: Unpublished Conversations of U. G. Krishnamurti After He Came into the Natural State (1967-71) published by HarperCollins India. 



One day, during a discussion in Madras in 1953, J. Krishnamurti brought up the subject of death. From the year 1947, U.G. Krishnamurti had been listening to JK's talks and had even engaged him in personal discussions on a few occasions. He was there in the room that day, listening to JK talk on a subject on which he himself had, as a Theosophy lecturer, given talks not so long ago.  Towards the end of the discussion, JK, in his usual style, hammered the question what is death again and again. UG did not know what happened, but the mind slowed down and he said to himself rather loudly, 'Apart from all the discussions I have heard and my own so-called experience of death in the area of experiencing, apart from all these, I really....' He could not complete the sentence and slumped back as an overwhelming fear of death seized him. He gasped for breath and felt as if 'a vacuum pump was sucking the life out...,' and then he felt invaded by an overpowering current of energy. At the time somebody threw a question at JK and the discussion continued, but now UG was cut off from it. After an hour or so he walked out of the hall, feeling completely out of this world. It was a tremendous experience and, by his admission, from then on his perception of things underwent a radical change.

Eventually, this 'near-death experience' was to lead him up to the 'final death' and awakening into the Natural State in 1967. It seems, the near-death experience is, almost as a rule, a necessary prelude to enlightenment. This seems to have been the pattern in the lives of sages. However, at the time, UG brushed it aside as of no importance and thought that it would fade away over a period of time. But the experience did not fade away; it altered his being and, like fire, kept burning for the next fourteen years, bringing on tremendous physical changes and experiences before culminating in the death of the experiencing structure, the self. 

Years before, in 1963, while UG was staying at Ramakrishna Mission in London, he had experienced the first stirring or awakening of Kundalini or Serpent Power. And then, over the next three years, from 1964 to 1967, there had been clear signs of the approaching changes. For instance, if he rubbed his palms, or any part of his body, there used to be a sparkle, like a phosphorous glow.  And when he rolled on his bed with unbearable pain in his head, again there would be sparks. The body had become an electromagnetic field. And he had started suffering from ‘terrible pain in the brain'. It was what may be called the period of ‘incubation'. It was the preparation of the body, of the cells, to mutate.

Two months before the completion of his forty-ninth year, UG, Valentine and some friends happened to be in Paris and, one evening, at the whim of UG, they all went to Casino de Paris. What happened to UG at the casino was a precursor to the incredible biological changes he would soon undergo. Sitting with his friends and among the fun-lovers, watching the cabaret, UG did not know whether the dancer was dancing on the stage or he was doing the dancing. There was a peculiar kind of movement inside of him.  There was nobody who was looking at the dancer. There was no division there. A week after this experience, one night, in a hotel room in Geneva, he had a dream. He saw himself bitten by a cobra and dying instantly. He saw his body being carried on a bamboo stretcher and placed on a funeral pyre at some nameless cremation ground. And, as the pyre and his own body went up in flames, he was awakened.

During the summer in August 1967, JK came to Saanen to give his talks. UG had completed his forty-ninth year and his body was now like rice chaff burning -- smouldering inside, slowly and steadily moving in circles towards the outer surface, as it were, preparing the body for the 'metamorphoses' that would challenge the very foundation of human thought built over centuries. After the public talks, JK held discussions on his educational project.  Despite his differences with and criticism of JK's ideas, UG attended all these talks and discussions. He was still not finished with JK; rather, he was not finished with himself and his own search for nirvana. On the last three days of the discussion, JK sometimes would, as if it had all been pre-ordained, veer away from the main topic of the discussion and talk of the comparative state of mind, of silence as a movement, as energy, and so on.  And UG would feel that JK was describing, supplying words for what was happening to him. 'In that silence there is energy,' JK would say, and UG would feel his body vibrating as if flooded with energy. One day, even before JK started talking of silence, UG found himself in the state of silence. It all seemed strange.  Something was going on there and UG couldn't fi gure out what it was. Finally, on the last day of the gathering, 13 August 1967, at one point, JK started saying: '...in that silence there is no mind; there is action ....'

UG was stunned. Again, it seemed JK was actually describing his state of being! How could that be? But it seemed to be true.  So, 'I am in that state!' UG thought to himself. If that was so, then what had he been doing all these thirty-odd years, listening to all these people, struggling, wanting to attain the state of Buddha, of Jesus -- when in fact he had already been there! 'So I am in that state' -- the self-assertion, along with a sense of huge wonder, continued for a while. And then it suddenly seemed ridiculous to be sitting there, listening to JK's description of his state of being.  He got up and walked out of the tent. But he was not finished.

The sense of wonder transformed itself into a question: 'How do I know that I am in that state?' The question burned through him like a maddening fury.

On his way back to his chalet, he sat on a little wooden bench under a wild chestnut tree overlooking Saanenland with its seven hills and seven valleys bathed in blue light. The question persisted; the whole of his being was possessed by that single question: 'How do I know?' It was like a question in a whirlpool. He had become the question.

There was silence; it was the mind that was aware of the silence, not simple awareness. When Krishnaji said what is is a comparative state of mind, that hit me hard. That was my state: what is. It was not total silence. And I thought: what have I done? Fourteen years back, in 1953, I had experienced the great silence and I had not moved an inch from there.

The next day he said that in that silence there is energy and my body was vibrating, it was like a whirlpool of energy. And then on the last day he said that in that silence there is action and it seemed he was supplying words to describe my state. But then I thought that if in that state there is action, I wouldn't know it.  How do I know then? Is it the mind that is projecting that state?

This kind of questioning went on and on.

If an action has to take place then that silence is action and that action I wouldn't know. So two images were operating at the same time and they were not two different things, they were one and the same, preventing anything from happening. This struck me in a moment and the whole thing stopped all of a sudden.  The question disappeared.

The disappearance of the question marked the extinction of thought -- the thought-structure crystallized and strengthened over centuries by cultures and religions. The comparative state of mind, the 'I' linking up the thoughts, the psychic co-ordinator that uses the body for its own continuity, was suddenly gone. It was in fact the 'death' of the 'near-death experience' which had become a stumbling block and yet had led him on, paradoxical as it may sound, to its own destruction. To put it differently, after the 'near death experience' his life had been somewhat bound up with JK from which he had struggled to free himself over the years. Using a traditional metaphor, but without meaning any disrespect to JK, UG says, '...but this monkey on my back continued to stay there however much I tried to free myself from it, but now I freed myself.  How the monkey jumped off by itself I don't really know.' He had actually freed himself not from JK so much as from himself. The monkey jumping off by itself was nothing but the experiencing structure, the self, knocking itself off. In his words again, 'It took fourteen years to free -- not from Krishnamurti -- but to free myself from my own experience.'

From that day on (when he sat under the chestnut tree), for seven days, UG's body underwent tremendous changes. The whole chemistry of the body, including the five senses, was transformed.  His eyes stopped blinking; his skin turned soft; and when he rubbed any part of his body with his palm, it produced a sort of ash. He developed a female breast on his left-hand side. His senses started functioning independently and at their peak of sensitivity. And the hitherto dormant ductless glands, such as the thymus, the pituitary, the pineal, which Kundalini Yoga calls the chakras or energy centres, were reactivated. And on the eighth day, he 'died'. 

It was a 'clinical death', says UG. He felt a tremendous burst of energy and all the energies from different parts of his body seemed to draw themselves to a focal point. It was terrific and terrifying.  The terrific movement of the life force continued and it seemed to be converging at some point in his body. It was the sign of approaching death. There was nothing he could do. Things were happening beyond his control. He stretched himself on his bed and got ready to embrace death, as it were. Then a point arrived where it seemed as if the aperture of a camera was trying to close itself, but something was trying to keep it open, perhaps the 'I', the residue of 'thought', refusing to die. Then, after a while, there was no 'will' to do anything, not even to prevent the aperture closing itself. And, it closed.

This process of dying, the final death, 'lasted for about forty-eight minutes'. His hands and feet turned cold, the body became stiff , the heartbeat and breathing slowed down, and he started gasping for breath. UG could not later remember what exactly happened at that time. He was finished. It was a clinical death. But he was destined to come back from death. When the landlady came up to his room and said that there was a telephone call for him, he came out of it, as he was meant to. But it was not U.G. Krishnamurti who came back; he had disappeared.

In the Pali Canon, it is said that when Siddhartha Gautama came into the state of nirvana, he did not say, 'I am liberated', but, 'It is liberated'.

When I knew and saw thus, my mind was liberated from the taint of sensual desire, from the taint of being, and from the taint of ignorance. When it was liberated there came the awareness: 'It is liberated.' I directly knew: 'Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being.' (Majjhima Nikaya, Maha-Saccaka Sutta-36)

The way UG described his coming into the natural state is quite revealing.

How I got into this state I will never be able to tell. I may trace it back to a particular point and beyond that I don't know what happened. There is no story; my autobiography comes to an end on 13 August 1967. It is finished. It is just living.  The search has come to an end. The continuity of all kinds has come to an end. The evolution has come to an end. It is finished, complete. Everything is done by itself. It is just a flower giving out its own fragrance.

~ * ~

The natural state is a physical and physiological state of being. As UG reiterates in these conversations, whatever transformation he had undergone was within the structure of the human body and not in the mind at all. The transformation or biological mutation was triggered by the dissolution, rather, by the explosion of the question: 'How do I know?' There was no answer. It was the end of all answers, all knowledge born out of the separative existence. This is of critical importance to note, because in most religious discourses, enlightenment is often described in psychological terms, as an act of knowing or as understanding, when in fact it is the cessation of the very demand or need to know that which cannot be known.  The mind cannot penetrate there. So, you give up, surrender, stop without knowing how to stop. It is the withering away of the ‘will'.  It is the end; it is the 'blowing out' of all histories, of all narratives, of all epistemologies.

Thought is matter, vibration, sound, and when it stops, says UG, the whole atomic structure of thought explodes. In other words, with no answer coming (because there is no answer), with no movement whatsoever which is absolutely essential for the continuity of thought, the question itself, which is matter, blows up, setting off a series of explosions in the nuclear plant of the body, blasting every cell, every nerve. It is the death pang of the self, the destruction of psychological memories stored in every cell. 

This 'I' or the self, says UG, is a squatter; that is, it uses the body for its own continuity, and, over the centuries, it has superimposed itself on every cell of the body. In other words, the 'I', with its age-old memories, experiences, along with the animal consciousness, is deeply embedded in every cell of the body, throwing the body out of its rhythm, out of its natural state. That is the meaning of Adam's fall and exile, the original sin, the loss of 'innocence', avidya or ignorance, and the cause of sorrow.

So if we have to end sorrow, recover our unitary state of consciousness, if the human being has to truly begin to function as a human, then, the ‘I', with all its fears, anxieties, its sense of lack and insecurity and the animal trait of aggression, has to go, has to be cleansed. The cleansing has to take place not just in the brain, but in every cell of the body on which is superimposed the tremendous psychological fear and shortcoming in the form of the ‘I' or the ‘self '. If we have to put it in the language of molecular biology today, if (a series of) mutation of cells is what caused the emergence of (self-reflexive) self-consciousness, the ‘I', then, it shall be another mutation or series of mutations in the cells that shall dissolve the ‘I' that has outrun its original purpose and turned destructive. In UG's words:

In order to let this happen (the natural state) what is necessary is to put ourselves back. It is a complete cycle. We were in a primordial, primeval state of being. Once we have to go back.  Not that we actually go back, but we have to stop all our gains with all the wisdom which we have acquired.

It is not a change in the structure of your thinking, but a change in the structure of the whole of your physical being.  That means every cell in your body -- the ten billion cells in the brain and a hundred billion connecting cells -- has to undergo a transformation.

We have in common what they call the animal brain, which we share in common with the animals. And all our behaviour patterns are influenced by this animal brain, although we have developed the mind through centuries of culture, education and training. And all that we have superimposed (the ideas, culture) on this animal structure inside of us is not something really with us. It has remained only in the world of ideas -- in the field of thinking.

What UG means is that all our noble ideas and profound ideals have not percolated to the cellular structure of our being, but have remained in the field of thinking. That explains why, under our skin, as it were, we have remained barbaric. That is the animal trait and we haven't been able to escape it despite cultural and technological progress. All our teachings on love, brotherhood, compassion, and all our political and cultural efforts to build a society based on the values of equality, freedom and dignity have hardly touched the core of our being, which remains animalistic. In effect, we are not yet fully ‘human'; rather, we remain a perilous mixture of the animal and curtailed or yet-to-be-born human. 

Man is something that ought to be overcome, surpassed, said Nietzsche. It was a ground-breaking thought in the West, though his idea of Superman as a way out was not quite the answer. Aurobindo's experiment in yoga was directed towards the actualization of the human in us, which he called Supramental Being. The mind has not been able to change human nature radically. We can go on changing human institutions infinitely and yet the imperfections will break through all our institutions. So it must be another power, said Aurobindo, which can overcome that downward pull. 'If the animal is a living laboratory in which Nature has worked out man, man himself may well be a thinking and living laboratory in whom and with whose conscious cooperation she (Nature) wills to work out the superman, the god.'

All major enlightenment traditions in India teach the same: Ignorance of our true nature is the fear of death and cause of our suffering, that the human being is constitutively immortal, and that he or she is already always god. The human is god in the sense that the energy or power (or whatever one wishes to call it) that created the world (not that one can posit a beginning to creation) is the same energy that is operating within the human being and in all creation.

UG was a living testimony to that possibility, just as the Buddha and Jesus were. He was the living example of that transcendental state of being. It was as if our great yearning to surpass the half-man, half-animal to become fully human, to become god, came to fruition in UG.

UG did not, of course, use high-sounding words or expressions like 'superman' or even resort to traditional terms; instead, he used simple terms like 'creative energy', 'human flower', 'natural state' to describe his state of being. A few times, though, he did refer, however reluctantly, to traditional expressions such as Brahmasakshatkara, Nirvikalpa Samadhi, Turiya and so on, and also to the modern term 'mutant', meaning the one who has undergone biological mutation. However, the one thing he stressed -- even over-stressed at times -- was that the natural state, or nirvana, or enlightenment, or whatever term we want to use, is a pure and simple physical and physiological state of being, where, it is not the self or the mind, but a different kind of intelligence that is in operation. It is a state where the human animal has flowered into a human being, into a human flower. Perhaps such an individual is the end product of human evolution, if there is such a thing. In other words, if there is a purpose to evolution at all, then, it is to produce such human flowers. 'But this process of evolution,' UG says, 'is retarded or delayed because of the culture, because of our anxiety to shape man according to a pattern, a model, or an idea or belief.'

Every human being is different. As UG would put it, 'Each individual is unique, unparalleled; there is not another one like you in the whole universe. That is your natural state.' But we ignore that fact and try to put everybody in a common mould and create what we call the greatest common factor. Our education, religion and culture are geared towards producing copies of acceptable models, and, in the process, destroying that unique, living quality in a child, in every human being, which is yearning to blossom and express itself. Otherwise, there would be more human flowers. 

But, given its nature, society cannot be interested in such human flowers. At best, it can put them on a pedestal, domesticate them and make them a part of its structure. This structure, based as it is on conflict, on divisive consciousness, has to seek its own continuity at any cost. And since we too seek our continuity, however much we may rebel against and wish to be independent of society and its ways, we put ourselves into its structure to ensure our continuity.

Indeed, all our revolutions and ideas of creating a new society fall under the framework of this self-perpetuating structure and hence they have not worked. In other words, thought or the thought structure put in us by society, being self-protective or bourgeois by its nature, is not the instrument to bring about a new society. That is the reason why our very 'solutions' have turned into monstrous problems and come back to haunt us. And the moral exhortations, as proffered through the centuries by the founders of religion and great leaders of humanity, have not helped us either. That is to say, the religious and political leaders have come and gone, but 'the world seems to go on in its own way'.

'You are not at peace with yourself and how can you create peace in the world?' asks UG. As long as we function the way we are functioning, we perpetuate the state of sorrow and misery. 'As long as the mind, the thought structure, is functioning, you can't avoid all this, you are caught up in this dual process, in pairs of opposites; it is the mind!' So, no matter what we do for years and generations, there is not going to be a fundamental change, because it is not a question of trying to find new concepts, new beliefs and new values, however radical or profound. That is not the way.

The body has to change. The body has to undergo a mutation. It is not the mind. Every human cell carries the knowledge built from thousands of years; rather, the whole 14 million years of the past is embedded in the individual. So the human being is not different from the social consciousness. All the thoughts and feelings you talk about are not part of you, it is the society functioning in you. If that comes to an end, then there'll be an explosion and there'll be the radical mutation in the body. When the explosion takes place the whole structure of thought collapses and it affects the whole human consciousness. This seems to be the only way we can affect the world, by bringing about a structural change within oneself. That is the only way. All other reforms, all other intellectual pursuits, teachings, philosophies, they are all thinking about thinking itself, which is a pure and simple dialectical thinking. It is not going to lead us anywhere.

The destruction of the thought structure, however, does not mean the disappearance of the mind altogether. This is something quite revealing and needs to be emphasized because, generally, we assume that in the natural state, or the state of enlightenment, the mind is totally absent or destroyed. In these conversations UG explains at length why it is not exactly so. He says:

Once the thought structure is destroyed, not actually destroyed, but disappears, then what takes over is only the physical.  Everything falls in its place, even the thought, the mind (stripped of its psychological content), which had been a master of this body, goes silent, becomes a servant, letting the body function in its own natural way.

If we have to explicate further what UG says, the death of the self, or the thought structure, means that the mind is purified of the self, which is but a bundle of psychological memories. It is cleansed of its emotional content, so to say. That is, once the self is made toothless, as it were, it lapses back to its original or primordial state; it remains in the background, not as a storehouse of emotional memories but as a data bank of factual memories, which is absolutely necessary to communicate and function in the world. So the natural state is not a thought-less state. UG explains: 'The mind can never interfere, it is finished. The role of the mind as the dictator is over. It comes only at your bidding to supply factual memory, and when there is no use for it, it is gone. And there is silence, pure consciousness, consciousness without thought.'

That is to say, the body takes over-in the sense that the human instinct, revived and rejuvenated by the chakras or the energy centres, takes over. Chakras, or the ductless glands, such as the thymus, the pituitary, the pineal glands, are the 'locked up' energy centres in the body. Once the intrusion of the self has ended, the 'triggering device within the body' releases this locked up energy, which in turn transforms the body. In other words, once the parallel movement of thought, which is the self, comes to an end, the unitary movement of life begins to express itself. In this state there is no conflict, no fear, no death, because the dualistic mode of thinking and being has come to an end, because the constant desire to reach out to something that does not exist is over and done with.

In such a state, the dictatorship of the mind is finished, because it has realized, as it were, that it cannot solve the problems it has itself created. This is self-realization -- if one has to use the traditional term -- where the unnatural movement of the self ends and the natural movement of life begins to express itself.


The Basis of the Book

Soon after his coming into the natural state, in the month of August 1967, UG openly talked of the biological changes he had undergone with friends and whoever else was curious and cared to listen. The present collection is a record of some of these conversations he had with friends between 1967 and 1971, in Saanen, Paris, Italy and India. On his second visit to India in the month of May 1972, he gave his first public talk at the Indian Institute of World Culture in Bangalore. He never again gave any public talk, nor would he accept invitations to speak at universities or institutions. But he could not, nor would he, stop people from meeting and talking to him. And he responded to their queries and answered their questions candidly, holding back nothing, 'revealing all the secrets.'

For nearly forty years till his death, UG travelled to practically every country in the world, and, wherever he stayed, people flocked to see and listen to his 'anti-teaching'. He usually stayed with friends or in small rented apartments. The 'shop' was kept open from early morning to late evening for people to visit freely, without any prior appointment, coming and going whenever they wanted.

The impact of what UG has said and done is difficult to assess today. It will probably take several decades to unfold the enigma, the mystery. Perhaps the biological sciences will have a vital role to play in this unfolding process. All this would certainly help us to understand this state intellectually, and perhaps even help us put our lives on a different level where the search for non-existent gods and goals has come to an end. But to know this truly, we have to know it not in the mind but in the body. ‘This is not knowledge, not an experience at all,' says UG. ‘You have to live it, live through it.'


The Way It Is

We may roughly discern about three phases in UG's life and 'teaching'. During the first, from 1967 to almost the late 1970s, his approach may be termed as raw, soft, tender and obliging. During this time, the bodily changes in UG were still going on and it was to take another three years for these changes to settle down and let the body fall into a rhythm all its own. The reader will know that these conversations (from 1967-71) are a classic example of that phase, wherein we find UG, referring, though cautiously, to other sages and their teachings and to certain religious texts approvingly.  This was, in a sense, a different UG, an unedited UG, who was 'open' and persuasive, taking along, or leading the listeners, ever so sympathetically and caringly, on a journey into the exploration of the functioning of the mind and the body, pointing out the irrelevancies of methods and techniques for 'self-realization', the unnatural state and its problems, the natural state as a physiological state of being and how it could impact or change the world consciousness and so on.

During the second phase, in the 1980s and 1990s, he was literally a sage in rage. His words were deep, explosive and cathartic. He was like fire that burned everything into a heap of ash so that a new beginning could be made, without the touch of sorrow. This was also the time when he decided to go 'public' by way of giving TV interviews and radio talks in order to reach out to people in the wider world, who may be interested, honest and ready to 'die' in order to see things as they are.

Some of the statements he made during these days were at once subversive and stunning: 'Love is war. Love and hate spring from the same source. Cause and effect are the shibboleths of confused minds. Mind is a myth. Feeling too is a thought. Thought is your enemy. Man is memory. Charity is vulgar.  Mutual terror, not love, will save mankind. Attending church and going to a bar for a drink are identical. There is nothing inside you but fear. God, soul, love, happiness, the unconscious, reincarnation and death are non-existent figments of our rich imagination.....'

He was like a machine gun that went off every time we tossed a question at him. It was like skeet shooting. He exploded every myth, every frame of thought, challenging the very foundation of human culture. Finally, and invariably, after rejecting and dismissing every idea, he would point out: 'My interest is not to knock off what others have said, but to knock off what I am saying. More precisely, I am trying to stop what you are making out of what I am saying. This is why my talking sounds contradictory to others. I am forced by the nature of your listening to always negate the first statement with another statement. Then the second statement is negated by a third, and so on. My aim is not some comfy dialectical thesis, but the total negation of everything that can be expressed.  Anything you try to make out of my statements is not it.'

It was during this phase that people would call him, especially in the media, a cosmic Naxalite, anti-guru and so on, and this image of him as a raging sage somehow got over-emphasized and stuck even in the minds of UG admirers, not to speak of those who had only a vague idea of him and his teaching. It only showed how difficult it is, caught up as we are in a dualistic mode of thinking and being, to understand the non-dual truth (advaya, there is no two) he was trying to communicate. The fact, however, is that, like the Buddha, he was merciless yet compassionate. Like the Buddha who knocked off all narratives as mere mental projections or constructs and as a hindrance to come into the state of nirvana, UG, by exploding all our ideas and ideals, not only pulled the carpet from under our feet, but destroyed the very -- apparently secure but false -- ground on which we stood. He would not allow us to cling to any lie, because a lie is a lie and it falsifies our lives. The truth, howsoever hard, shattering and shocking, had to be brought to us.

The last ten years before his death may be characterized as the phase of playfulness and laughter. During this period, he rarely engaged in 'serious' conversations; rather, he started to do something else other than answer tiresome questions-for all questions (except in the technical area, which is something else) were variations of basically the same question revolving around the idea of 'becoming', or 'being', which, nonetheless, amounted to the same 'becoming' process, that is, seeking continuity of the self. So there used to be long stretches of utter silence: embarrassing, even exasperating; also, mercifully, a great relief from the burden of knowing. And then he would start playing his enigmatic funny little 'games', or invite friends to sing, dance, or share jokes. The space would explode with laughter: funny, silly, dark, and apocalyptic! At last, freed from the tyranny of knowledge, beauty, goodness, truth, and god, we would all mock and laugh at everything -- heroes and lovers, thinkers and politicians, scientists and thieves, kings and sages, including UG and ourselves! 

A caveat is in order here. The different phases we tend to see in UG's life is our own reading or interpretation of things, and it could easily change when viewed from a different perspective. And all perspectives, we know, are informed by our expectations or wishes.  However, the essential thrust in his approach was always the same. One, he described the way we functioned in the unnatural state, caught in a world of opposites, constantly struggling to become something other than what we are, and in search of non-existent gods and futile goals. How all of us think and function in a 'thought sphere' just as we all share the same atmosphere for breathing. How and why we have no freedom of action, unless and until the self comes to an end; and why the self, which is self-protective and fascist in nature, is not the instrument to help us to live in harmony with the life around us. Two, preferring the term natural state over the term enlightenment, he insisted that whatever transformation he had undergone was within the structure of the human body and not in the mind at all. He described the natural state as a pure and simple physical and physiological state of being. It is the state of ‘primordial awareness without primitivism', or the 'undivided state of consciousness', where all desires and fear, and the search for happiness and pleasure, god and truth, have come to an end. It is an acausal state of 'not knowing'. And he never tired of pointing out that 'this is the way you, stripped of the machinations of thought, are also functioning.'


The Last Days

This extraordinary yet enigmatic journey that began from Gstaad on 13 August 1967, so to say, came to an end on 22 March 2007 in Vallecrosia, Italy, on the Mediterranean coast close to the French border. In many ways, the way UG died, rather the way he 'chose' or decided to pass away, reminds us of the way the Buddha died -- by going away from cities and towns where he taught -- in a remote place called Kusinara, with only Ananda as his companion and witness. Perhaps the Buddha went away to this distant place because he was finished with his teaching, because he did not wish all his words to be converted into sacred mantras, into a religion, and himself converted into a god. But that was not to be, and that is quite another story.

After he came into the natural state, UG said, 'This is the way to live.' And the way he lived and moved in the world for the next forty years was a perfect living example of the natural state, or what may be called non-duality in action. Responding to questions on death, UG would often say, 'Life and death cannot be separated. When what you call clinical death takes place, the body breaks itself into its constituent elements and that provides the basis for the continuity of life. In that sense the body is immortal.' And true enough, during his last days, he said, 'This is the way to die', and he died the way he lived, with no fear, no anxiety, with no self in operation there. He withered like a tree, like a leaf turning yellow and falling off; his body, almost skeletal, resembling the emaciated Buddha, 'reduced to a frame of bones over which the skin was tautly stretched and the veins and sinews lay like a web'. 

Seven weeks before his death, UG had a fall and injured himself while washing his clothes in his bathroom. This was the second such occurrence in two years. He suffered no fracture of bones, but it was a serious injury and he did not want such an incident to occur again, making him further dependent on his friends for his daily upkeep. He refused all medical help and intervention. Though his leg healed somewhat and a month later, one day, he even ran on the spot -- which was more like little baby jigs, to the huge amusement of his friends -- he never regained his strength. And, as his health rapidly began to deteriorate, he decided it was 'time for the old man to go' and let his body take its own natural course.  He was confined to bed and his consumption of food and water became infrequent and then ceased altogether. He was eighty-nine years old. Eight days before his death, he joined his palms in namaste, thanked his friends and advised them to return to their places. Only his long-time friends, Mahesh Bhatt and Larry and Susan Morris, stayed back to guard his body and do whatever was necessary when the end came. On 22 March 2007, upon Susan's suggestion that UG would not go while any of them was still in the room, the three friends decided to go out for a while and 'give UG a chance to slip away'. True enough, at 2.33 p.m., when they went out to a nearby departmental store to get a cup of coffee, UG passed away quietly.

There were no prayers, no rituals or any funeral rites. After the cremation, Lucia, in whose house he had breathed his last, went in a sailing boat into the Mediterranean Sea and let go of UG's ashes.


A Human Flower

UG was a sage in the way the Buddha, Jesus, Ramana and Ma Anandamayi were, and they were not the only ones. In these conversations, it is interesting and significant to note that UG calls himself a living testimony to Buddha and Jesus. He says, ‘Here, this state is different; this is the natural state, which is the state of the Buddha, Jesus, and all those who stepped out of the thought structure.'

There is, of course, no need to compare and contrast or even integrate the way the sages lived, or their teachings. Just as a daffodil, rose or jasmine gives out its own fragrance, every sage, who is a human flower, is unique and different in his or her expressions, although his or her essential message is always the same, which is to end sorrow, to lead humanity to the state of undivided consciousness.

The sages are indeed the 'messengers of god', or what you call 'saviours', not in the orthodox religious and exclusive sense of the term, but in the sense that they bring home the wonder and mystery of life, indicating the possibility of ending sorrow, ending the thought structure, the self, which is the cause of sorrow. But, by putting them on a pedestal and worshipping them as gods, messiahs or avatars, we have lost their real message and, instead, we have created structures of beliefs and faith, which have become the source of conflict, violence and sorrow. That is not the way. ‘We imitate (sages) and that is not going to help,' says UG. ‘You doing good, being kind, giving up something, behaving in a certain way, are all attempts to imitate the lives of the sages. That is not going to help and that is not the way to consider the sages, whether the Buddha or Jesus or other sages. If they are there it is to enable you to understand that there is a possibility of being there, of that state of being. But what you are doing is to imitate their lives and to create this imitation all over the world. You create Buddhists and you create Christians and there is a conflict between the two. The belief is the one that separates you from others, from everything that is there. But it is all one. Life is one unitary movement.'

All existence is one; there is no two. Life is a unitary movement. That is the message of every sage, and if there is a mission to his or her life at all, it is to enable other individuals to surpass the animal in them and become human flowers. A sage is the new society, the new world, the change for which humanity has been yearning for over thousands of years, through its philosophies and religions, however flawed and erroneous these may be. It is possible, for every human being is a potential sage. 'You are unique,' says UG. 'You are far ahead of the Buddha, Jesus and all these religious teachers put together. But this uniqueness cannot express itself unless the limitations are destroyed'; unless 'you touch life at a point never touched before'.

UG was unique in the uncompromising way he brought home this message. On the one hand, if he revealed a creative continuity of the enlightenment of the Buddha, and the Upanishadic and later sages of India, on the other hand he marked a radical departure from these traditions.

Once an individual steps out of the thought structure built over thousands of years of civilizational and cultural processes, and touches life at a point never touched before to step into this state free of animalistic consciousness, he or she becomes a complete human being, a human flower. It is the natural state of being that Buddha, Jesus and in modern times, Sri Ramana, stepped into. It can't be different. But, since each one has had a different background, and given the culture and language of the period, the expression of this state is naturally different in each one of them. It is this difference that marks them out as unique. Now, in the light of UG's 'teaching' we can revisit these sages and begin to understand afresh their teachings -- the true meaning of various concepts, such as the Biblical expression 'original sin', 'peace that passeth understanding'; or, the Buddhist notion of 'emptiness' and the Hindu notion of ‘fullness'; the concept of nirvikalpa samadhi or turiya, or the state of adrhanarishwara and so on.

UG also marked a radical departure from the enlightenment traditions in the way he 'de-psychologized' and demystified the notion of enlightenment, and redefined it as the Natural State in physical and physiological terms. And in the way he critiqued all epistemologies, especially the religious, offering us release from the tyranny of the so-called sacred symbols and ideas. His insistence that there is no soul, there is only the body and that the body is immortal, could serve as a corrective to our hackneyed, psychological reading of the state of enlightenment or nirvana. Indeed, this should help us to free ourselves from the religious obscurantism and intellectual dross in which the enlightenment traditions have been trapped for too long, and offer a new reading of the sages, in a language that is not shrouded in mysticism and mystery.

As the years passed, UG completely dropped using or referring to traditional/religious concepts and symbols that he used, although with great caution and reluctance, in the early years. He said:

The easiest thing would be to fall back on such a lingo. All the religious teachers used the then available literature, they used words like god, beyond, immortal, heavenly and such expressions.  In our times Ramana did the same. He read texts of Hinduism in order to understand what he had come into and that coloured his mode of expression, and he fell back on the Hindu terminologies to explain things. Jiddu Krishnamurti may have come out with this strikingly original approach and developed a new mode of expression. But, where do all these take one? To me all that seems inadequate.

The body is in a state of quiet, of relaxation, which you can call bliss, truth, love, god or reality or anything you like, but it is not that, because there is nobody looking at it. I look at that thing (microphone) there and I can bring out the word and say it is a microphone. But here, for this state of being, there is no word you can find to describe it. So the words bliss, love, god, truth are all inadequate to express this state of being.

In a discussion in India during this early phase, when someone insisted that UG's words were a reaffirmation of the teachings of the Buddha, Sri Ramana, Ramakrishna and the teachings of the Upanishads, UG said:

I am not saying that this is something that has not been said before. Several people have come into this state and they have expressed it in different ways. But what I am trying to point out is you must reject not only that but also what I am saying.  It has to be your path. The essence is not different-how can it be different? It can't be, because the movement of life and its functions are exactly the same in everybody. But its expression is bound to be different, because it's your path and you come to a point where you reject your own path as well. This is a pathless one.

Image by katrina nicole, courtesy of Creative Commons license.