When Jiddu Krishnamurti visited Washington last April, a woman called in to claim that he must have come to Earth from a UFO. He was much amused.
"I am a green little man!" he said.
It is so typical of us, and so sad, that we have such trouble believing the human race can produce a person like Krishnamurti.
The famous Hindu philosopher, who corresponded with the likes of Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley and Albert Einstein, died yesterday, aged 90, at the foundation named after him in Ojai, Calif. Brought home from the hospital in the final stages of pancreatic cancer, he spent his last days peacefully under a pepper tree outside his cottage, saying goodbye to his family and friends.
Last April he gave two lectures at the Kennedy Center, "Do We Really Want Peace?" They were his last major public appearances. He sat very straight on a hard chair in the center of a bare stage, fragile and long fingered, his body lost in the business suit he wore, and talked quietly to a packed house that listened without a sound. Sometimes, to everyone's astonishment, he would say something funny, and he would laugh at it himself. Sometimes he leaned forward, concerned, to ask, "Do you follow me?" And people would nod intently.
"Can the human brain, which has been conditioned to wars for millennia on millennia, can that human brain radically change?" he said. "That is the question."
His message was this: So change . . . and see what happens.
Later he met members of Congress at tea as the guest of Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.). Not many members showed up, Pell reported. People in politics love to believe that they are realists, but they seem uncomfortable with anyone as truly connected to reality as Krishnamurti.
For he rejected all illusions, all props and support systems. Unlike so many other holy men from the East, he refused to be a guru, rejected the publicity mills, remained free even of the modest foundation that friends set up in his name. He was authentic. He accepted no formal religion and said God is an illusion, created by human thought.
He was amazed at the TV evangelists who speak as if they have some special personal influence with God and who call on God to look after us.
"We make ourselves helpless by asking for help, by handing ourselves over to someone else," he said.
"Truth is a pathless land," he said.
"To learn about, to understand, oneself, all authority must be set aside. Authority is part of oneself. One is the priest, the disciple, the teacher . . . There is nothing to be learned from anybody, including the speaker. Especially one must not be influenced by the speaker."
By the speaker he meant, of course, himself.
The last of his 30 books, "The Ending of Time," published in 1985 by Harper & Row, was a series of dialogues with British theoretical physicist David Bohm. Bohm was fascinated by what Krishnamurti had to say about the inseparability of the observer and the observed, so important in quantum theory.
In the dialogues Krishnamurti suggests that, even as one reviews the content of one's thoughts, one should also habitually examine where they are coming from and why, as a form of self-analysis.
He worried about America, its violence, its treatment of children. He kept asking why nobody did anything about it. There was so much conflict, he said. Husbands and wives, neighbors, political parties, nations, races. He wondered if people really wanted peace.
His friends called him K.
At lunch in the Watergate Hotel last year, he politely objected when I referred to his longtime colleague and comrade Mary Zimbalist, widow of film producer Sam Zimbalist, as his disciple. "I have no disciples," he said.
He carried no money. It was Zimbalist who paid for the lunch. "When my brother was alive he took care of the money," he said. "I just give it away."
A strict Brahman vegetarian who never in his life had tasted meat, he let Zimbalist order lunch for him, but when the spinach and mushroom salad arrived he was appalled at the size of it.
When the main dish appeared, a plate of carrots, string beans, broccoli and a shirred egg, he looked it over with a certain resignation and muttered, "Same old stuff." For dessert he had strawberries and asked for whipped cream, which he applied rather liberally.
The last time I saw him he was going up to his room for a nap before meeting the senators. He stood with Zimbalist hand in hand, waiting for the elevator in serene silence.
"The speaker has nothing to teach you," he wrote once. "Please realize this. The speaker is merely acting as a mirror in which you can see yourself. Then when you can see yourself clearly you can discard the mirror, it has no more importance, and you can break it up."