Cover image for Star in the east : Krishnamurti, the invention of a Messiah
Star in the east : Krishnamurti, the invention of a Messiah
Vernon, Roland, 1961-
Personal Author:
First Palgrave edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Palgrave, 2001.

Physical Description:
xiv, 306 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates ; 25 cm
Format :


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B5134.K75 V34 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The extraordinary story of Krishnamurti, hailed early in life as the messiah for the 20th century, is told here in the light of a century of changing spiritual attitudes. It is a tale of mysticism, sexual scandals, religious fervor and chicanery, out of which emerged one of the most influential thinkers of modern times. Krishnamurti was "discovered" as a young boy on a beach in India by members of the Theosophical Society, convinced that they had found the new world leader, a spiritual savior as historic and as influential as Jesus himself. By the 1920s he was attracting worldwide press attention and people flocked to his talks in the thousands. In 1922, Krishnamurti broke with the society and set out on a teaching mission of his own as a secular philosopher of spirituality. He ultimately had a career that spanned six decades, founded seven schools, published 50 books and encompassed thousands of talks. This extraordinary story is told for the first time by Roland Vernon in the full light of 20th-century attitudes in a narrative that is as compelling as any novel.

Author Notes

Roland Vernon was born in 1961, educated at Eton College, King's College, Cambridge, and the Royal College of Music.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Vernon, a professional writer educated at King's College, Cambridge, offers the most comprehensive Krishnamurti biography to date, promising "water-tight impartiality." He presents detailed accounts of the New Age teacher's life (1895-1986) and career in chronological order, using primary and secondary sources scrupulously quoted as well as unattributed interviews with students, friends and colleagues. However, Vernon's objectivity is a fairly unreflective one that often fails to systematically interpret and connect the details of Krishnamurti's life and career to important trends of his time. Vernon fails to recognize, for example, that Krishnamurti's story does not so much herald the arrival of Eastern mysticism in the West as it clearly describes and anticipates the construction of a unique Eastern mysticism by the West. Also, Vernon does not detect the apparent influence of Victorian notions of sexuality and hygiene on Krishnamurti's early trance inductions and later physically punishing purification experiences (known collectively as the "Process"). The custody and training of young Krishnamurti by the Theosophist Charles Leadbeater clearly involved what would today be viewed as child sexual abuse, and the author's reluctance to acknowledge it as such precludes a more comprehensive and accurate psychological interpretation of Krishnamurti's important religious experiences. However, this biography is still the best available, providing a wealth of detail that will be appreciated by followers of Krishnamurti. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Vernon offers a compelling account of the legendary Krishnamurti, groomed from childhood as the Theosophical Society's messiah and spiritual savior of the world. With penetrating analysis, the author sifts through controversies surrounding Krishna's tutelage under the notorious Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater, who initiated the transformation of a shy and apathetic boy into a dynamic and spiritual genius. The author carefully handles Leadbeater's infamous sexual perversion, misogyny, and various deceits (such as forging "At the Feet of the Master," purportedly penned by Krishna). The author candidly but fairly examines the life of a molded messiah whose travels, emotional development, and maturing spiritual views culminated in his astonishing 1929 dissolution of the Order of the Star, declaring that "Truth is a pathless land, unapproachable by any path, religion, or organized belief." This is a balanced study of a world teacher who, in denying his own messianic role and spiritual authority, became, ironically, even more influential and left behind a legacy of schools in the decades to come. Recommended for all libraries to fill the void of comprehensive treatments of this figure. Loren Rosson III, Nashua P.L., NH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One The Boy on the Beach * * * Headquarters of the Theosophical Society, Adyar, near Madras, South India. Newcomers to the Theosophical Society in 1909 could not fail to be struck by the sheer magnitude of Charles Webster Leadbeater. In every sense he was larger than life. Massively built, he oozed strength and vitality, even in his mid-fifties, with a chest broad as an English oak, a muscular, unbroken slope between his forehead and nose, a thick silver beard and powerful shoulders. The loose pyjama-bottoms and white muslin shirts he preferred to wear in the hot climate were somewhat incongruous on so stately an Englishman, whose frame seemed better suited to frock coats, embroidered waistcoats, spats and golden watch-chains. But it was his presence, more than his physique, that tended to dwarf all who came near him. Unpredictable, like a fairy-tale ogre, at times benign, at others fearsome, he possessed the sort of personality that refused to be ignored. When he entered a room all heads turned, when he opened his mouth to speak all other voices were hushed. He laid claim to vast knowledge, spanning both the sub-atomic and the infinite, the etheric and spirit world, the far reaches of history and the unveiled mysteries of the future. His ideas were monstrous, his ambitions uncontainable, and his assuredness incontestable. He was a fortress of conviction. Brave was the man who contradicted such a colossus.     The newcomer would also have been aware of Leadbeater's bizarre history, his long-standing prominence within the Theosophical Society, and the recent turn of events that had cast a sinister shadow on his reputation. After the rumoured adventures of his youth, Leadbeater had become an Anglican clergyman before abandoning Christianity for the more exotic spiritual quest of Theosophy, with its alluring motto, `There is no religion higher than Truth.' He had worked alongside Madame Blavatsky herself, the legendary mystic, traveller and clairvoyant who founded the Theosophical Society, and it was with her that he had first travelled to India, back in 1884. This had led to what he claimed was a clairvoyant awakening of his own, since which time he had dedicated his life to shaping the Society's philosophy through his many books, articles and lecture tours. Thanks largely to his energy and conviction, Theosophy had by now established itself as one of the most exciting and influential religious alternatives of the western world.     A recent scandal had threatened to scupper the entire project. Leadbeater had been accused of indecent behaviour towards a series of adolescent boys. Some of the charges were substantiated, but not to such a degree as to fell this towering pioneer. Enemies he had many, but he gave them little consideration, and their weapons glanced off his hide like paper darts. In his own little world, at Adyar, in South India, he ruled like a moghul. Although not Theosophy's nominal leader, he had the Society president's complete confidence, and his every utterance was treated as infallible. To the newcomer he was every inch the wise patriarch. Despite his faults, it was impossible not to be impressed by so commanding and vigorous a personality. Embedded within the luxuriant gardens of the Theosophical Society estate, right at the river's edge, lay Leadbeater's private residence known as the Octagon Bungalow, an elegant little structure with a white stucco exterior and a covered verandah on all eight sides of its circumference. Here he would retire with hand-picked helpers to work on his various esoteric and literary projects, sometimes deep into the night, until his colleagues (though rarely he himself) could barely hold up their heads or push their pens. He did allow a break in the day's labours, for a swim, at about five o'clock in the afternoon, when the trees and shrubs had begun to cast long shadows over the garden's terracotta paths, and the air at Adyar was thick with the sound of crickets. Bounding barefoot out of his quarters, towel in hand, he would lead a small masculine team at the double along the river path that went down towards the coconut plantation and out to the beach. As his secretaries and assistants scampered to keep up with him, he would stride past the groups of admirers who often hung around the Octagon Bungalow at this time of day, hoping to ingratiate themselves. Famously misogynous, he was particularly dismissive of elderly European ladies, of whom there were a number at Adyar, frequently to be seen cross-legged under a banyan tree, frail and uncomfortable, earnestly attempting to meditate or raise themselves to higher spiritual planes.     On one particular hot evening, in the spring of 1909, Leadbeater was sitting in his bungalow with a bright and ascetic-looking young Englishman called Ernest Wood. They had been working continuously since early morning, with Wood acting as the older man's amanuensis, spurring on Leadbeater's occult imagination with incisive questions, and recording the results on paper. Wood was expected at some stage to compile and formulate their jumbled reams of notes into a book, a daunting editorial task that he somewhat dreaded. They paused from their toils at five, as usual, for the late afternoon swim, and proceeded, with a few others, down to the Adyar sea-shore, a broad, pale length of beach that stretched for miles in both directions, south towards the flat expanse of the Coromandel Coast, north to the city of Madras, and faced out eastwards into the Bay of Bengal. They stripped quickly and raced down to the surf, plunging straight in and splashing each other with shouts of laughter.     Near to the water's edge a group of Indian youths gathered to watch the curiosity of naked Europeans cavorting. Separate from the others, two young boys squatted in the sand, one of them, the smaller of the two, smiling as he tried to catch the attention of the Theosophists. His hair was shaved at the front, up to the crown of the head, but grown long at the back, and worn in a pigtail, in the traditional style of Brahmin boys. Behind him sat the other boy, taller and thinner, who seemed hardly, aware of his companion's excitement, but turned away in a daydream, his mouth hanging open in a moronic expression. They were both very, thin, with their shoulders and ribs clearly visible through the skin, from months, perhaps years, of nourishment and unresolved ill-health. They hardly noticed the flies that gathered at the moist corners of their eyes, or the mosquitos that feasted on their swollen ankles.     Ernest Wood and one of his companions recognised the boys, and waved back at the younger, beckoning him to join them. This was all the encouragement he needed, and he took off like an unleashed puppy down to the sea. The other child, his elder brother, did not even notice that he had been left alone, his large dark eyes staring into the distance, absorbed and yet apparently sightless.     While Wood and his companions pulled the younger boy into the water, encouraging him in English and broken Hindi, neither of which he appeared to understand, Charles Leadbeater turned his attention to the other boy. He had always been drawn to children of this age, fascinated by their standing on the threshold of maturity. It was a crucial stage of life, Leadbeater believed, the point of transition between childhood magic and adult judgment. This gateway was vital in defining the child's future outlook; given the right guidance, and placed in the care of wise hands, the adolescent might avoid a life of misery by stepping onto the path of divine discipleship, which led to salvation itself. To Leadbeater it was the difference between a life spent in heaven or hell. But it was not pure altruism that fed his attraction for teenaged children. He felt his own power boosted in their company, in what amounted to something of an occult trade-off. The magisterial knowledge he passed on to them was to be repaid unwittingly by pupils with doses of their youthful virility, on which he became increasingly dependent as he aged. Young people, particularly, boys, acted on him like a tonic, and kept alive the spirit of wonder and vitality for which he was so admired. The practical methods he employed to extract this tonic had been, and were to become still further, the subject of much debate and scandal.     The other Theosophists noticed Leadbeater's distraction. They were familiar with his ways and knew the signs. It was the older boy, Wood suddenly realised, who had sparked fire in his leader's eyes -- young Krishna, the half-wit, the little brother's awkward shadow. Leadbeater had quite obviously been gripped by something he had seen, to which none of the other bathing Europeans, as mere Theosophical footsoldiers, had access. His ability to see beyond the physical veil, to delve into the world of subtle bodies, spirits and astral planes was well-credited in the community; indeed, it was the very keystone of his authority at Adyar. As he silently exercised his arms in a symmetrical breast-stroke, neck-deep in the Indian Ocean, his Occult imagination took wing.     Oblivious of his companions in the sea, Leadbeater had eves only for the boy, because what he beheld was breathtaking, quite unprecedented in his experience. The child appeared to be surrounded by an etheric substance of gorgeous luminescence. It was what Leadbeater would describe as his `causal body, his higher mental capacity, or aura, the accumulation of lifetimes of occult development. There was `a radiant globe of flashing colours, its high vibrations sending ripples of changing hues over its surface -- hues of which earth knows nothing -- brilliant, soft and luminous, beyond the power of language to describe ... filled with living fire drawn from a higher plane'. Here before him, housed within the form of a scrawny native, he recognised an ancient and wise soul, who had reached, through multiple reincarnations, a degree of rare development, completely lacking in selfishness, one for whom desires and feelings were petty abstractions in comparison to the spiritual work he was destined to undertake. The child's body was nothing -- a mere shell adopted for the practical business of living this life. But through that shell, Leadbeater foresaw that the boy might `be able to work for the good of humanity, and to pour out at these levels influence which otherwise could not descend thereto'.     Leadbeater did not take any immediate action. For once in his life he did not act on impulse. He brushed aside the comments of Wood who, having once or twice in the past given Krishna some help with his homework, maintained the lad was retarded. There were pressing constraints. It was a bad time for Leadbeater to be seen in the company of adolescent boys, as the furnace of scandal surrounding him was far from exhausted. And yet the possibilities opened up by what he had seen were too thrilling to be ignored. The more he mulled over the encounter, the more he was convinced that both brothers, indeed their whole family had been brought to Advar for a specific purpose, and that purpose was the product of a divine will. He, Charles Webster Leadbeater, was to be a central player in that plan, though exactly what was expected of him was as yet unclear. He would have to get to know the boys a little and, crucially, win the support of his President, Annie Besant, who was currently lecturing abroad. Tact and patience were essential -- neither of which he possessed to any great degree.     During the course of the next few weeks he invited the brothers for regular interviews at his bungalow -- awkward, one-sided affairs, as they stood tongue-tied in front of the formidable Englishman, understanding little of what he said. Gradually, through kind words and reassuring pats on the head, Leadbeater succeeded in winning their confidence, and the further he delved into the occult abyss the more convinced he became that his original hunch was correct. It was almost unimaginable and too exciting even for him, bluff and confident as he was, to spell out. And yet it fitted perfectly -- it made absolute sense of what he and the Theosophical Society had been working towards for the past quarter of a century. Such were the mechanics of the divine Logos, he told himself -- mysterious, unpredictable, but yet inevitable. It was the destiny of the world and mankind. In his boundless vanity he now glimpsed the ultimate prize and determined that nothing would prevent him reaching it. Like the sun that rises for the life and glory of the world at every dawn, so the beauty and clarity of his own role in the divine plan now manifested itself before him. It was to be his task to pluck young Krishna from obscurity, to mould and prepare him for the great mission that was his to accomplish. For into that child's body, at the appropriate time, for all the world to see, would descend the spirit of Christ himself, and mankind would behold a new messiah.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Author's Note and Acknowledgementsp. xi
1 The Boy on the Beachp. 1
2 The Melting Potp. 7
3 Make Straight the Wayp. 23
4 At the Feet of the Masterp. 51
5 Moulding a Messiahp. 73
6 Cracking the Mouldp. 94
7 In the Presence of the Mighty Onesp. 116
8 Journey to the Heart of Lonelinessp. 141
9 Fires in the Forestp. 160
10 Farewell to Things Pastp. 187
11 Teaching the Worldp. 213
12 The Empty Thronep. 245
Notesp. 275
Bibliographyp. 291
Indexp. 299