Differences Between Advaita and J Krishnamurti : A Dialogue


I had the desire to write an article about the differences between the teachings of the seer J Krishnamurti and Advaita for a long time. The two have quite a few things in common but, as I shall show the reader, eventually, they are two very different teachings. Fortunately, I did not have to write an article because all that I had to say about this matter came about in the form of a dialogue I had with a friend on this issue. So I decided to publish the dialogue itself in this post.

The dialogue assumes that the reader has familiarity both with the teachings of J Krishnamurti and Advaita, so I have not gone in depth to give definitions of many concepts used in both teachings. Doing so, would have not only made the article voluminous, but also derailed the thrust of the article. It makes sense for me to logically assume that any any reader would bother about understanding the differences between these two systems of teachings only when he/she has studied both these systems in some depth.


Friend : “The whole hierarchical, authoritarian attitude towards life must come to an end.”

That perhaps is mankind’s most fundamental – and intractable – problem, which JK (J Krishnamurti) aptly diagnosed.

Anurag : Hello friend, good to read your thoughts. Your frequent references to Krishnamurti have caught my curiosity, as I have followed Krishnamurti’s teachings in great depth.

In fact, I gained the four qualifications (Viveka, Vairagya, Sad Sampatti and Mumukshutva) required for assimilating the knowledge of Advaita, only after extensively working out with Krishnamurti’s teachings for about seventeen years (along with some Integral Theory of Ken Wilber). So, unlike the traditional Karma Yoga of Advaita as a preparation for the qualifications, I went through the path of Krishnamurti.

I got stuck at some point because of his total disregard for all metaphysics; while my mind kept asking metaphysical questions. However, after Advaita, I feel Krishnamurti and Advaita are speaking ‘many’ things in common. Krishnamurti gives a very modern and psychological rendering of many of the teachings of Advaita. He never talks of the four fold qualifications explicitly but unequivocally talks of coming out of the “stream of society”, which is vairagya. In his “choiceless awareness of ‘what is’”, there is viveka. He never talks of disciplining the mind through effort but talks about how choiceless awareness has its own discipline(sad sampatti/wealth of six virtues). Anyone who tries being “choicelessly aware”, without controlling, modifying and filtering thoughts, will know the enormous implications it holds for tearing through the conditionings of the mind. Lastly, he talks constantly about devoting one’s life absolutely for the search of truth (mumukshutva)

Nonetheless, there are serious differences between his views and Advaita. For instance, he considers the world ‘real’ ontologically. He abhors the word ‘knowledge’ and following of any tradition. He does not accept the “Witness”. He also does not use the word Self ever, and has spoken against any permanent entity. He shows some sympathy to Buddha. But he talks of his mind reaching the Source in his book, ‘Ending of Time’, which is certainly not a concept of Buddhsim. So he is a little difficult to place in any tradition and his path/no path is certainly not the path of knowledge as developed by Gaudapada/Shankaracharya.

All these similarities and conflicts between J K and Advaita took some time for me to sift through, but ultimately I love both these teachings. Krishnamurti’s teachings are a genuine, good bridge for a modern seeker to cross the shore of materialism and enter spirituality without the deceptions of the ego. And from here on, the final understanding of reality can be effortlessly facilitated through Advaita. Of course, this is entirely my personal way of looking at Krishnamurti’s teachings. Krishnamurti would have not agreed to this at all ! In the ultimate sense, I feel that all non-dual paths like Krishnamurti are talking about the same end. It is just that different seekers have different psychological preferences at different stages of their journey in self inquiry because of which they choose different paths.

Friend : JK’s primary message was that the egocentric shell that we have built around us is (a) false and (b) the cause of all suffering – ours and that of the world. Therefore he asked one to carefully observe one’s thinking, feeling, actions, and find out for oneself that one’s thoughts, driven by one’s ego, is the problem, is false. And he goes on to say “you are the world, and the world is you”.

Not that different from Advaita’s ‘tat twam asi’: discriminate what “twam” is, through neti, neti; and then see the core of you is ‘tat’, the infinite.

Anurag : Yes, I do agree that J K expressly talks about the ego being the cause of suffering. But he does not talk about discrimination between Self/Witness and ego. His methodology is absolutely different. He is talking about manonasha/vasanakshaya – ending of mind and binding vasanas or the ending of ego definitely. But he does not talk about “discriminating” between Self and ego, which is the thrust of Advaita, and which further leads to destruction of mind.

Yes, he does say that one is the world. He proposes a rational explanation for it by saying that the thought of the individual is the thought of man. Thought is common and hence, one is the world. Experientially, he talked about ending of all psychological thought/ego (manonasha/vasanakshaya) which brings about the experience of “one is the world.”

However, Krishnamurti very clearly stated that truth cannot exist till falsity/ego exists. He used to say that light cannot exist along with darkness. Now, this is a serious difference with Advaita. In Advaita truth is always existent, though it may not be known. So in Advaita, truth is not a condition newly created, but something that one comes to know as ever existent once the spell of delusion (Maya) is removed. Moreover, truth is not a matter of a particular experience in Advaita of Shankaracharya, because one’s own essence (true Self) is the Truth, and one is constantly experiencing one’s own essence/Self in all experiences. What is required first is the Knowledge of Self which exists in all experiences.

Shankara talks about discriminating between Self and ego through knowledge. After discrimination, the ‘doer/experiencer’ is “cancelled”, but depending upon the vasanas, the ego may continue to exist. The existence of the ego makes no difference to the Self Knowledge (just like the newly gained knowledge of clay makes no difference to the knowledge of pot) but there will not be the experience of Ananda. As the prarabdha karma keeps exhausting after establishment in Self Knowledge, there is definitely a possibility of complete ending of all binding vasanas/ego and the rise of uninterrupted Ananda. One definitely gets a palpable sense of vasana load lightening. However, for a man of Self Knowledge, this too is an experience. One is what the vasanas are not. Strictly speaking Ananda is not an experience. Ananda is Self, so Ananda is what one is – in essence – even when there is ignorance. This distinction between Knowledge and Experience is the masterstroke of Advaita. Krishnamurti was based on Experience. This does not make his teachings less valuable, but it is very helpful to know the differences for any seeker who is following Advaita. I wish someone had helped me in showing these differences of Advaita against Krishnamurti even though, ultimately, both teachings talk of the same end.

Friend : I think you are over-stating the difference. JK’s emphasis is on observing your thoughts / feelings and how they arise, and then seeing that the observer is the observed, ie a thought as well. So he nudges the listener to see that the ‘I’ is no different from all ‘external’ objects. As such he is essentially teaching drik-drishya viveka.

You are right that he does not give the mind a positive construct that it is the ‘Self’ to hold on to; but he often says that through utter negation, the positive is arrived at. Is that not the same as Sankara saying that Brahman can never be known, it can only be pointed to by neti, neti? And when all that you are not has been negated, what is left is Brahman.

And as for Advaita, it is saying that the jiva, the ego is not real, is adhyaropa – which has to be negated. And in Brhadaranya Up Bhasya, Sankara says that on self-realisation, the particular consciousness is no more; it has become the universal consciousness. So actually Sankara is indeed talking about the ending of the ego – the superimposition. Which I think you are eluding to when you write: ‘there is definitely a possibility of complete ending of all binding vasanas/ego’.

An apt quote from K:

The “me” with his shallow little mind, experience and knowledge, with his heart burdened with jealousies and anxieties – how can such an entity understand that which has no beginning and no ending, that which is ecstasy?

Anurag : Yes, you are right that Krishnamurti teaches the path of negation. But the path of negation is not only found in Advaita. It is also found in Buddhism and Skepticism. Though each has got their own methodology to do so. Moreover, in the ultimate teaching of Advaita, Brahman is not the source of this world because this world was never created. In the ultimate understanding – This World is Brhaman – unborn and undying – when one sees the world bereft of ignorance. Our world of dualistic experience/samsara is not the ultimate view of reality, which is non-dual.

Coming to your other point: we have to understand what Krishnamurti means by observer is the observed, and what Advaita means by Self is only real. These are two very different statements. Your example of Drik-Drishya Viveka is actually helping me prove my point. Drik-Drishya, unlike you have said, is not talking about the observer being the observed. It talks about discriminating between the Self /Witness as the ultimate subject to all other objects – body/mind/intellect/ego. Also, please note that this discrimination is a matter of Knowledge rather than Experience (as I have pointed earlier). Experience and the Experiencer, both collapse in the sleep state, and in Advaita they are products of Ignorance, not opposed to them. Thus, only Knowledge can end Ignorance: not Experience.

Observer is the observed is a statement from J K which means something different. This is a stage which actually comes in Advaita after the Witness collapses. So essentially Krishnamurti is following a sort of Theravada Buddhism Viapssana technique. Though the end of both paths are still the same. It’s just that Advaita gets in a Witness as a very stable observer in which one abides to exhaust all vasanas. When the vasanas are exhausted, the Witness collapses.

Krishanmurti also had some misgivings about Advaita’s Brahman as being the “source” of this world. It’s true that in many teachings “Brahman” is taught as the source of the world but these are only for the sake of seekers at beginning and intermediate levels. As Gaudapada says in his Mandukya Karika:

“Verse 3.15. (The scriptural statements regarding) creation as illustrated by examples of earth, iron, sparks, etc., or otherwise, (only) serve the purpose of (ultimately) explaining the unity (of Jīva and Brahman). (Really speaking) multiplicity does not exist in any manner.”

The Ultimate truth of Advaita is that the world is Brahman, which is unborn and undying. The phenomena of birth, suffering and death or the phenomena of samsara which we all experience is actually a delusion/ignorance, which Advaita calls avidya.

Krishnamurti had only a very rudimentary and flawed understanding of Advaita. He himself had admitted several times that he had read none of these scriptures. The following was dictated by Krishnamurti on February 21, 1980. Here, as he frequently did, he refers to himself in the third person (as K.)”

“K went from Brockwood to India on November 1, 1979 (actually October 31). He went after a few days in Madras straight to Rishi Valley. For a long time he has been awakening in the middle of the night with that peculiar meditation which as been pursuing him for very many years. This has been a normal thing in his life. It is not a conscious, deliberate pursuit of mediation or an unconscious desire to achieve something. It is very clearly uninvited and unsought. He has been adroitly watchful of though making a memory of these meditations. And so each meditation has a quality of something new and fresh in it. There is a sense of accumulating drive, unsought and uninvited. Sometimes it is so intense that there is pain in the head, sometimes a sense of vast emptiness with fathomless energy. Sometimes he wakes up with laughter and measureless joy. These peculiar mediations, which naturally were unpremeditated, grew with intensity. Only on the days he travelled or arrived late of an evening would they stop; or when he had to wake early and travel.

With the arrival in Rishi Valley in the middle of November 1979 the momentum increased and one night in the strange stillness of that part of the world, with the silence undisturbed by the hoot of owls, he woke up to find something totally different and new. The movement had reached the source of all energy. This must in no way be confused with, or even thought of, as god or the highest principle, the Brahman, which are projections of the human mind out of fear and longing, the unyielding desire for total security. It is none of those things. Desire cannot possibly reach it, words cannot fathom it nor can the string of thought wind itself around it. One may ask with what assurance do you state that it is the source of all energy? One can only reply with complete humility that it is so.

All the time that K was in India until the end of January 1980 every night he would wake up with this sense of the absolute. It is not a state, a thing that is static, fixed, immovable. The whole universe is in it, measureless to man. When he returned to Ojai in February 1980, after the body had somewhat rested, there was the perception that there was nothing beyond this. This is the ultimate, the beginning and the ending and the absolute. There is only a sense of incredible vastness and immense beauty.”

Source: Lutyens, Mary. Krishnamurti: The Years of Fulfilment, (New York.: Avon Books, 1983) pp. 237-238.

In the above quote, Krishnamurti says says, “This must in no way be confused with, or even thought of, as god or the highest principle, the Brahman, which are projections of the human mind out of fear and longing, the unyielding desire for total security. It is none of those things.” Many people base their “opinions” about Brahman or Advaita based on such misleading views without understanding the Advaita Vedanta of Shankara and Gaudapada. In the following paragraph, I am just trying to give a gist of what Advaita means by Brahman.

“Brahman according to the Advaita School, unlike the positions held by other Vedānta schools, is the very nature of this world. Brahman is also known as nirguņa Brahman, or Awareness “without qualities,” but is usually simply called “Brahman.” The mistaken notion of plural self existing subjects and objects arises from a natural state of confusion or ignorance (avidya), inherent in most biological entities. Given this natural state of ignorance, Advaita provisionally accepts the empirical reality of individual selves, mental ideas and physical objects as a cognitive construction of this natural state of ignorance. But from the absolute standpoint, none of these have independent existence.

Obviously Krishnamurti had a very different notion of Brahman. The way he puts it, Brahman is an object of thought: a concept or a viewpoint. Considering the above quote, Shankara’s point of the particular consciousness ‘becoming’ the Universal Consciousness is about knowledge through identity. Actually one does not ‘become’ the Universal Consciousness but one comes to know oneself as the Universal Consciousness and comes to know that it was always the case, as the first step. One does not have to end the ego to get this knowledge. Definitely one does need to have a sattvic mind (the four-fold qualifications) to arrive at Knowledge of Self through identity. Despite the risk of unduly repeating my self, I would like to say that any teaching talking about experiences is negated in Advaita because Experiencer and the Experienced duality is the product of Ignorance. The Experiencer and Experienced are totally resolved in the sleep state. So Advaita sees through the impermanence of dualistic experiences. Experience is not opposed to ignorance, being its product. Only Knowledge/Insight is opposed to Ignorance and therefore only Knowledge cancels Ignorance. Once direct knowledge of Self is attained, it starts burning all dualistic experiences resulting in the ultimate experience of enlightenment which cannot be put in any words as Krishnamurti states above, ” words cannot fathom it nor can the string of thought wind itself around it“. Co-incidentally, Advaita talks about Brahman in the same way.

Thus, even before the ultimate non-dual experience which Krishnamurti describes, once direct Knowledge of the clay/Self/Witness is attained, how does it matter whether the form/pot/ego remain or not remain. As a pot, or without being a pot, one is still the clay. The Self is that which Witnesses the ego in all three states as the Waker/Dreamer/Sleeper. The Witness is unaffected by all the modifications of the ego. The Witness/Self is indestructible whereas all forms are destructible. This Witness stage is completely absent in the teachings of Krishnamurti.

There is no doubt, however, about the fact that the final experience, when all dualities dissolve has the same “inconceivable” character in Advaita as Krishnamurti shares.

Finally, let’s take your quote from K in the light of Advaita.

“The “me” with his shallow little mind, experience and knowledge, with his heart burdened with jealousies and anxieties – how can such an entity understand that which has no beginning and no ending, that which is ecstasy?”

I have agreed that one requires the four qualifications to have direct knowledge of Self. However, is the Self not existent when the ego is there? Krishnamurti would say that Truth is experienced only when the ego ends. He is right if we look from the standpoint of cancellation of all dualistic experiences which cause suffering. But from the standpoint of Advaita, once a person gets Self Knowledge and comes to the Witness stage, whether his experience becomes non-dual or not, he has the knowledge that all experiences have always been nothing but Awareness/Self/Brahman.

At any rate, Advaita does not retain the concept of Witness till the end. The Witness deconstructs when all vasanas are seen through. The non-dual experience after that is not something that can be captured through any words which are applicable only in duality. While communicating, necessarily because we have to use words, different people ascribe different names to non-dual experience. Krishnamurti calls is Unknown, Benediction, Truth, Immeasurable on different occasions, while Advaita calls it Brahman. The name is just a tag, or to put in more technical language – an empty conceptual designation.

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