CHAPTER TWO – A MEETING IN BROCKWOOD PARK SCHOOL
NOTE: The intentions of the School, stated in Krishnamurti's many public talks and books, can be summarized as follows: • To educate the whole human being • To explore what freedom and responsibility are in relationship with others and in modern society • To see the possibility of being free from self-centered action and inner conflict • To discover one's own talent and what right livelihood means • To encourage excellence in academic studies • To learn the proper care, use and exercise of the body • To appreciate the natural world, seeing our place in it and responsibility for it • To find the clarity that may come from having a sense of order and value.
Mr. Krishnamurti (JK) raised a single eyebrow and half-smiled when he saw me attempting to sneak into the back of the room where he was holding a class with some Brockwood Park students, who appeared to be somewhere between the ages of 12 and 16, and comprised a living rainbow in the colors of their skins and manner of dress.
I settled in and tried to tune into what they were all obviously deep in discussion about, and would be, for the remainder of the class - which lasted for another half hour or so. Perhaps I did, after a while, I’m not sure. But I do know that I was mesmerized by the friendly intensity of what I was witnessing taking place. I was particularly taken by the degree of attention that was evident , not only when JK spoke, but when each student asked a question or carried the ensuing discussion in perhaps even an entirely different direction.
I had attended a high school myself that was world famous for its academic criteria, which began with a morning-long test, just for admission. Once accepted to the Bronx High School of Science, the student was presented with a no-nonsense four-year curriculum that, in addition to its rigorous approach to the usual subjects that were taught in the other high schools in the United States at the time (the late ’40’s and early ‘50’s) , there were also ongoing and progressively more comprehensive courses in Music and Art Appreciation. And as a little topper, each student made a further commitment to the equivalent of five years of study in either Math or Science. What a choice for someone who would end up in Show Business.
Nevertheless, the result was a student body whose desire to learn was nurtured and encouraged in every way possible by the exceptional teaching staff – whose own personal commitment to the students would result, as of this writing, in a group of alumni that includes seven Nobel Laureates and five Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, -- i.e., physicist Steven Weinberg was a classmate of mine. 2
2Many years after our graduation from Bronx Science my classmate Steven would often be mentioned by David Bohm because of a famous statement the Nobel laureate physicist had made. Bohm even used Weinberg’s statement as the focus of the third of the famous series of Dialogues with JK called “The Ending of Time” – The statement: “The more we understand the universe, the more pointless it seems, the less meaning it has.” I recently reconnected with Steven and we exchanged a few e-mails that included information about my relationship with Bohm, whose work he, of course, knew about. Maybe someday we’ll pick up that conversation where we left off – perhaps at a future High School Class Reunion.
Quick flashes of all this went through my head, as I watched and listened to what was going on in this class with JK as the teacher. There was a definite similarity in atmosphere with what I had once experienced as a student at “Bronx Science” – yet different. Not better, different.
I watched as JK reached into his pocket, took out a pocket-watch, looked at it, looked up at the students and said: “You must all be tired of listening to me, by now... that’s enough for today don’t you think?”
Not a peep from the class.
He said, “Then may I get up ?", then he got up and after a slight bow to the students, he left the room.
I somehow always expected the unexpected whenever I was about to meet JK on a one-on-one basis – an experience that was entirely different than when one saw him on a dais or stage , talking to a few thousand people. And I was never disappointed. To begin with, I never ceased to be amazed at the naturalness of the man as he greeted me. His demeanor was in no way pretentious – the word “humility” comes to mind. This time he had a smile on his face and as we got within handshake distance, he extended both arms and we each grasped each other's forearms. Although I had never done anything like that before, I had seen it done before – usually in movies about ancient Roman times. Nevertheless, I found it not only natural but heartwarming in the deepest sense.
Welcome , sir” he said, adding “Will you be staying for the Talks? ”
Two things. His addressing me as “Sir” and “the Talks”. First thing first.
In all the seventeen years I knew him and no matter what the circumstances – even during the most intensely personal conversations with him, he never addressed me by my name... neither first nor last... It was always, Sir... Except once.
In the Spring of 1978 – four years after I had left Show Business in search of I’m not sure what, I was in Ojai, California where JK lived when he was in the States, since he first visited here in the 20’s. I was on my way up the path to the original house he had lived in called “Arya Vihara” – which I was told means “Noble Retreat” in Sanskrit – for a scheduled meeting with Professor David Bohm. (DB)
By then, we’d become friends and when he became aware of my real interest in the work he was doing in Physics, he was kind enough to spend some time with me whenever he was in the United States to further explain the direction his work had been taking in recent years.
That interest was as much a surprise to me as it probably was to him, initially – since he was also quite aware of my decidedly non-scientific background. As for me, I was just this guy who used to be a comedy writer and was now I suppose looking for some place else to hang my hat and call home. Not that I was about to take a shot at Theoretical Physics. Not a chance. But the more I delved into it, the more fascinated I became in the way the so-called New Physics, which generally meant “Relativity” and “Quantum” Theories, had changed the way we perceived the world.
I had no background in Physics or Mathematics except for the time at “Bronx Science” when those subjects were imposed on us, and in which I was not a very good student - particularly when compared with the genius kids I was surrounded by for four years. But the beauty and originality of DB’s approach to Physics, which he had already demonstrated in a number of books he had written – all of them now considered classics – including the two he wrote on Quantum and Special Relativity, was that he believed that all scientific concepts, no matter how mathematically or formulaically abstruse, could in some way be explained for the most part with just words. And why not, since they were all merely different languages – it was just a question of finding the right words.
And in fact, he had initially been drawn to JK’s work when, in 1959 , he was handed a book that his wife Saral accidentally happened upon one day when they were visiting a local library in England where they lived. She brought the book over to her husband and pointed to a particular phrase on a page that she knew had something to do with her husband’s work in Physics: “the observer and the observed”. The phrase was a fundamental aspect of Theoretical Physics, but this was no Physics book. It was a book By JK called “The First and Last Freedom.”
Years later, in telling me about the incident, Mrs. Bohm said: “We have a saying in Hebrew that translates as “He read it as if he was standing on one foot.” - such was the intensity with which DB’s extraordinary mind pounced upon the contents of that book.
Now, he was about two years away from publishing what would become another classic called “ Wholeness and the Implicate Order” in which he would - as the title implies - introduce an entirely new “order” within which Physics might be perceived and understood. It would also introduce, for the first time, a metaphor that could be used to understand the new order, but which has since been used to death by non-scientist writers writing about Science.
However, back then, DB’s brilliant way of explaining the manner in which these relatively new fields of Science had overturned the old “giant clockwork” concept of how the Universe works, that was introduced by Sir Isaac Newton hundreds of years before (and for which Descartes had provided the groundwork half a century before him) was a revelation – at least theoretically. For as DB would never tire of pointing out, all theories are merely A WAY of looking at things... not THE WAY. Nevertheless, Science had been creating new theories since the days of Aristotle and in many cases promoted them off-handedly as FACT – even though they knew otherwise. And that included, maybe it even began with, an attempt to define the cosmology of Nature; cosmology being an interpretation or explanation of the physical universe when considered as a totality of phenomena in time and space.
Why is this important? - especially if, at best, all of these were merely theories (which most people never realized, anyhow). Simply put, the manner in which he see the world is probably the most fundamental thing upon which we base what the world means to us – and consequently directly affects the way we interact with it. Example: If we were told there was a guy called a King or even a God (like in North Korea) who had divine power, well then that’s the way it was. It worked even better if that divine power could be linked to a cosmology that verified it. And this has been going on since time immemorial.
Then Science came along and upset that simplistic way of looking at the world. (Except in North Korea) At some point in our development, humankind looked at Nature and said – “Here’s how it works”. The list of “here’s how it works” concepts we’ve gone through since we first stood upright is endless, the last one being Newton’s description of it as a magnificent interconnected machine a few hundred years ago, which prevailed until early in 20th Century when first Relativity and then Quantum appeared and challenged it. Now here was one of the acknowledged major voices in the field about to introduce an entirely new “Here’s how itworks.” that, in asense, reconciles the other two by creating a new way of looking at both – but with the usual honest DB caveat, that it was only a theory like the others - but a theory that makes more sense, until something better comes along.
How was it different? In carefully studying both theories, rather than being satisfied with why it was that they were so diametrically opposed to each other – which they were and furthermore most physicists were convinced there was no way those differences could be reconciled– DB found the one single aspect in which they both agreed! He’d already mentioned it in his Quantum Theory book – but it went practically unnoticed. Besides, it didn’t change the mathematical equations in any way, and by then most physicists were in love with their equations. They were after all quite beautiful in their own way. And beauty has a way of dazzling us. But as we have often been told, it is also : a) in the eye of the beholder and b) it's only skin deep.
This time, DB would have the previously unnoticed – or disregarded - aspect that both theories had in common in the book’s very title, “Wholeness”. The book itself is a collection of essays that his publishers had urged him to compile from what he had written over the last 20 years – which was also about the length of time JK and DB had known each other. It specifically addresses “unbroken” or “undivided wholeness” and its implications – beginning with the fact that the old "atoms as basic building blocks” no longer made sense, had contributed to the world's "Fragmentation", and would continue to do so, as long as it remained mankind's principal way of perceiving Life. Each of the Chapters then begins to build a case that points to the need for a new order -which DB the introduces: the "Implicate Order". And the final Chapter includes an explication of how the Implicate Order can even address the possible relationship of two elements that have forever troubled Science – Consciousness and Matter. Since the days of Descartes, we were told that Mind and Body were made of two entirely different "substances" -- the Body was made of gross Matter, and the Mind was made of "immaterial Spirit", and it was God through which the two were connected. ( In recent times, different scientific disciplines, like Neuroscience, have reconciled that duality in their own way - but as DB pointed out, in doing so, they appear to have left God out of the equation - and not replaced Him, or Her or It with anything else. More about that later. )
Both Quantum and Relativity Theories agreed that Newton's and Descartes' perceptions were brilliant, but mistaken in their conclusions that the Universe is made up of the connected sum of its parts – just like a clock is. But, for the most part, Scienc generally, and Physics particularly, has never abandoned the old “atomistic” point of view it had established. Principally because the idea of “cause and effect” is not only something we can actually see - especially in a lab setting, it has also led to the extraordinary advances Science has made since Descartes' times. But according to these theories those “parts” are really only our perception of what is in actuality an "unbroken" or UNDIVIDED WHOLE. And now DB was suggesting that what allowed for a clearer understanding of this "undivided whole" actuality, which both Theories acknowledged – wasn’t like what one finds in a picture taken through a lens - which when looked at closely is made up of a whole bunch of separate little dots, ( like the “atoms” as “basic building blocks”) but that looked like a whole picture when seen from afar. He said that Quantum and Relativity were suggesting that the Universe is more like a picture taken through the relatively new field of holography.
In a hologram, all of the information is contained in each aspect of the “interference pattern” from which the hologram is constructed. For instance, if you had a hologram of the Egyptian Pyramid of Giza, and if you were to break the hologram in half, each half would still contain a picture of the entire Pyramid – a little fuzzier perhaps, but nevertheless you would now have two Pyramids of Giza. Break those two pieces in half and you’d have four Pyramids of Giza . Break those in half... etc.3
3For the record, 18th century, mystic William Blake had perceived the same thing in one peotic image:
"To see the World in a grain of sand..."
When DB published the “hologram” metaphor he was quite clear in explaining also that a hologram is a thing, and therfore merely a metaphor, whereas the Universe is not a thing ... nor is it something made up of a number of things, which is how we perceive it. It is, itself an Undivided Whole. And his last book, which would be published posthumously what he was saying would be stated even more clearly in its title -- that “What Is”, is: “The Undivided Universe”.
In other words, whereas concepts like “we are all brothers and sisters" are lovely and mean well, the actual fact is that we are indeed deeply connected. Which apparently also means that whatever we do to any aspect of the Universe, which includes the Earth and all living things, i.e., other people, we in effect do to ourselves.
Which, by the way, was something JK also tried to communicate in his “Talks.”
The “Talks”! ...
Back to our story:
I was walking up the path to Arya Vihara to see DB when JK – the man who always referred to me as “Sir,” came out of the house, accompanied by a woman named Mary Zimbalist. When he saw me, he smiled, pointed at me and said: “Carol Burnett!” How's that for bizarre?
Here was a man who for sixty years had traveled around the world, delivering a message so original and vibrant in its clarity that people like George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, Henry Miller, Bruce Lee (Yes, that Bruce Lee) and the Dalai Lama, acknowledged his place among the great teachers of the ages. But, as well as he knew me, the closest he ever came to identifying me personally, was on that day, when he called me "Carol Burnett".
Of course, he wasn't really calling me by the name of the famous television personality with whom I had worked for many years. A friend of JK’s, Mary Zimbalist, who was walking with him that day, explained:
They were watching Television the night before, when they happened upon what was the final broadcast of Ms. Burnett's weekly Television Series, that ended an 11-year run -- the longest in the history of television for the now passé format known as the Variety Show. Mrs. Zimbalist, the wife of deceased Oscar winning film producer Sam Zimbalist ( "BEN HUR") was well aware of my prior relationship with Ms. Burnett, since, when she and I first met, on the same day I first met Krishnamurti, nine years earlier in late 1969, I was still very much involved in that Show Business world. As they watched that last episode of the Carol Burnett Show, Mrs. Zimbalist mentioned the connection between myself and Carol to JK.
"Funny lady!", JK added to the Mrs. Zimbalist's telling of the incident. And he repeated it. "Very funny lady."
Years later, I would tell this story to Carol during a reunion of her Show's cast and writing staff, held by the Museum of Radio and Television. What I never told her or Krishnamurti, because it is only now, in retrospect that I realize it myself, is this: It was Carol Burnett who was directly responsible for my meeting Krishnamurti. And, it was Krishnamurti who was directly responsible for my turning away from the lifestyle during which I met Ms. Burnett… The lifestyle I once would have sworn I was born to be in… The lifestyle I thought I would die loving to be just a small part of… Show Business! More about that later, too. Suffice for now to say, as I said earlier:
(TO BE CONTINUED)