BOOK REVIEW: The First and Last Freedom by Jiddu Krishnamurti

The First and Last FreedomThe First and Last Freedom by Jiddu Krishnamurti
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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The edition of the book I’m reviewing is the Harper Collins e-book with a Forward by Aldous Huxley and in which more than half of the page count consists of appendices of Krishnamurti’s answers to various broad-ranging questions (i.e. What is the meaning of life, and such?) Jiddu Krishnamurti was a philosopher of Indian origin who passed away in 1986. This was one of his early books (first published 1954, though this is a 2010 edition) and it covers quite a bit of philosophical ground.

Krishnamurti’s teaching attracted a unique audience and existed in a unique space—at least back in his time. The topics he addressed were traditionally in the domain of spiritual philosophy, theology, or theosophy, but Krishnamurti downplayed belief and spiritualism. His teachings were attractive to those who were interested in developing their minds and selves, but who were dismayed by religiosity and all that such proclivities brought with it. Like mysticism, his ideas are about turning inward, but sans the notion that there’s a deity residing inside. In Krishnamurti’s writings, one hears echoes of Emerson’s suggestion that one must trust oneself and not get tangled up in the ideas of others—though, again, Emerson was clearly a believer. There’s also overlap with the ideas of some secular humanists, though they tend to be more scientists and less interested in meditations of the sort that have usually been relegated to spirituality in the past. (This has, of course, changed considerably in the decades since Krishnamurti’s death. Now this is a thriving space.)

The book itself consists of 21 chapters, and then there are 38 question-appendices. The chapters are 140+ pages and the appendices are cumulatively the same length. The appendices may be offered to attract readers who read the original book in a different edition. (It’s not so much a padding situation, because the 21 chapter book is long enough to stand as a book in print edition in and of itself.) The question section offers past readers a substantial amount of new material while providing an opportunity to reread the book.

There’s too much material covered by this book to make it worth accounting for it all. The overall theme of looking within to find one’s answers plays out across topics like fear, desire, the tension between individual and society, etc.

There’s good and bad news about readability. The good news is that, as one might expect of a book with almost 60 chapters (or chapter-like appendices) in a book of less than 300 pages, the information is delivered in bit-sized chunks. The bad news is that Krishnamurti was a thinking-man’s thinker. He’s not troubled to employ story-telling, humor, or the spinning of interesting language. This is raw philosophizing, and so it reads incredibly dryly unless one is a philosophy-lover to the core.

I would recommend this book for philosophy lovers.

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BOOK REVIEW: What Does Fear Do To You? by J. Krishnamurti

What does fear do to you?What does fear do to you? by Jiddu Krishnamurti
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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This book is one in a series called “Krishnamurti for the Young.” It deals with an important subject: fear and the adverse consequences of fear unchecked. Jiddu Krishnamurti was an Indian philosopher who was being groomed for a leadership position in the Theosophical Society as a young man, but he withdrew from that organization to pursue a more independent-thinking and non-sectarian philosophy.

Judging from the fact that the first edition of this book is dated 2004 and Krishnamurti passed away in 1986, it’s safe to say that this work is cobbled together from a combination of unpublished and previously published speeches and writings. There’s a page of sources and acknowledgements that provides the citations for the previously published writings. This is presented in end-note format.

The first half of the book is a story from Krishnamurti’s life that transitions into the basic theme of the book. The second half is presented in the form of questions and answers. The questions are clearly of the type children would ask, and so they may have been from school visits and the like.

It’s a short book of fewer than 30 pages–appropriate in length for kids. It has simple child-friendly drawings that were based on originals drawn by children. While the text is edited to a readability level suitable for children, as I’ll explain below, the material by-and-large isn’t presented in manner conducive to reaching children.

The book is a bit cerebral for young children in places–both in terms of the approach to delivering the material and the concepts presented. It may be of use to older children (but they may feel it’s targeted for younger kids based on the graphics.) The central message is sound: that one can watch one’s fear and see that it’s a mental product and then one can figure out how to respond to the emotion without acting impulsively or destructively. However, a more story-centric approached would better serve kids. There’s a story at the beginning about Krishnamurti walking close to a rattlesnake, but after that it becomes much more of a philosophy and psychology lesson. Krishnamurti frequently uses Socratic Method (asking questions instead of lecturing to help the reader discover a conclusion.) This method is of greater benefit to adults and young adults than young children.

I also felt that this was clearly an adults-eye view that could have benefited from a more child-eyed worldview. There’s an assumption that kids are afraid of everything and everybody and that adults are the experts in being fearless who can teach kids everything they need to know. Only an adult whose inner-child had been brutally murdered could think something so inherently ridiculous. As someone who’s taught kids yoga and martial arts, I can tell you that this is clearly not the case. In some domains, kids are far more expert fearlessness than are adults. This is something that could be tapped into to better make the point.

It seems to me that this book might be most productively read by someone who’s going to teach kids about fear and how to manage their fears. It’s great information, but it’s not presented in a manner that seems likely to grab a child’s attention. It’s not presented in an interesting fashion, and it deals in topics like conscious and consciousness that are heady for a youngster.

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