Jiddu Krishnamurti, 90, an Indian philosopher and teacher whose quest for truth and spiritual freedom had a profound influence on the lives of millions who met him or heard him speak, died of cancer Feb. 17 at Ojai, Calif., where he had lived for part of every year since 1922.
For more than a half century Mr. Krishnamurti had traveled about the world, meeting with audiences in the United States, India, England and Europe, in what he once described as an effort "to set people absolutely, unconditionally free." The essence of his style was a straightforward talk in which he encouraged his listeners to explore problems within themselves, and he touched both the ordinary and the famous.
Aldous Huxley was a friend of his, and he once said listening to Mr. Krishnamurti was like hearing "a discourse by the Buddha." George Bernard Shaw described him as the most beautiful person he had ever seen. Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Bertrand Russell studied his philosophy, and Lindbergh once observed that a single phrase from one of Mr. Krishnamurti's talks was often enough to keep a listener "exploring, questioning, thinking for days."
Although he was the author of more than 40 books, most of them dialogues and lectures, Mr. Krishnamurti insisted he was neither a guru nor an authority figure, and he often declared that human beings needed neither spiritual authorities nor organizations. "The important thing," he often said, "is to free your mind of envy, hate and violence; and for that you don't need an organization."
The underlying theme of most of his books and dialogues was that in order to achieve freedom man must first become aware of the psychological conditioning that prevents him from seeing what is real.
His last major public appearance was at the Kennedy Center in Washington last April to speak on the issue: "Do We Really Want Peace?"
Milton Friedman, a White House speechwriter and special assistant to President Ford and a former Reagan speechwriter, arranged that talk. It was preceded by a tea for members of Congress given in Mr. Krishnamurti's honor by Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.). Earlier that month he spoke to the Pacem in Terris Society at the United Nations.
Born in the south of India in May of 1895, Mr. Krishnamurti was the eighth child of an impoverished Brahmin family. While still a teen-ager he came to the attention of Annie Besant, president of the Theosophical Society, an organization that believed humanity was on the verge of being led into a new spiritual age by a "World Teacher," a devine spirit that would take human form.
Besant met Mr. Krishnamurti while on a visit to India and became convinced he was the vehicle in which the "World Teacher" would appear. She sponsored his education in England and France, and in 1911 founded the World Order of the Star in the East, an organization aimed at promoting recognition of Mr. Krishnamurti as the "World Teacher."
But in 1929 at a meeting in Holland before 3,000 members of the order, Mr. Krishnamurti dissolved the organization and repudiated the notion that he was a vehicle for leading humanity into a new age.
"Truth is a pathless land," he told his followers. "You cannot approach it by any religion, any sect . . . . You are accustomed to being told how far you have advanced, what your spiritual state is. How childish! Who but yourself can tell whether you are beautiful or ugly within?"
He announced he would continue traveling around the world and meeting and talking with people, but he would no longer support or be part of any organization. As he traveled, he acquired a growing corps of disciples. John Barrymore asked him once to play the part of Buddha in a film, but he refused. And Greta Garbo, after hearing him speak, walked away from her career in the movies.
His friends established foundations in his name in California, Britain and India, but Mr. Krishnamurti took pains to steer clear of involvement in their operations. The foundations created schools in Ojai, Calif., Hampshire, England, and at five locations in India. For the last several years, Mr. Krishnamurti had lived in California, England, India and Switzerland.
Toward the end of his life many of his teachings seemed to have a special meaning for the scientific community. In 1984 he spoke to a gathering of nuclear scientists at the National Laboratory Research Center in Los Alamos, N.M., and in 1985 he published a book, "The End of Time," which consisted of a series of discussions with David Bohm, the English theoretical physicist.
What Mr. Krishnamurti was proposing, said Bohm, was that the root of much human sorrow, disorder and misery is "in the fact that we are ignorant of our own processes of thought."