A frustrating portrait of the world-renowned mystical philosopher, by a biographer who attempts an unfortunate mix of skepticism and adulation.
Vernon claims he has taken a “balanced, detached position” with no agenda “either to reinforce [Krishnamurti’s] credibility or the opposite.” In pursuit of this ostensibly noble goal, however, the author leaves it very unclear exactly what readers are supposed to believe about his subject. He does a passable job of dramatizing the Victorian-era historical, cultural, and religious trends that fostered the alternative religion called Theosophy, and of portraying its colorful leaders: the eccentric spiritualist-charlatan Madame Blavatsky, the former atheist and political agitator Annie Besant, and the self-proclaimed psychic and accused pedophile Charles Leadbetter. Besant and Leadbetter did indeed “invent” Krishnamurti by picking him, as a young boy, to be rather assiduously trained as the World Teacher, a vessel for divine power. As a young man, Krishnamurti eventually broke with Theosophy but continued to impart a complex, sometimes self-contradictory set of spiritual messages via books and lectures. He shrugged off labels like “guru” or “messiah,” yet spoke of himself in the third person and, on his deathbed, claimed he was a conduit to divinity. “I don’t think people realize what tremendous energy and intelligence went through this body,” he lamented. “You won’t find another body like this, or that supreme intelligence operating in a body for many hundred years.” Vernon half-admits that Krishnamurti may have been merely a dull, malleable boy who was ripped from his family and culture and psychologically abused in a way that produced delusions of spiritual grandeur. But he also wants to avoid offending true believers. In the end he gives the game away with his hyperbolic, untenable conclusions: Krishnamurti, he says, was a “herald for the new age” as well as a “sign-post for the future of man’s metaphysical aspirations.”
Useful only until a less starry-eyed, more sophisticated treatment of the subject comes along.