J. Krishnamurti mistrusted all religions and denounced the Eastern convention of deifying living spiritual masters. But by the time he died in Ojai, California, in 1986 at the age of 91, he had helped—perhaps more than anyone in this century—to introduce Eastern teachings on the nature of mind to the West. 

In Lives in the Shadow with J. Krishnamurti (London: Bloomsbury Press, 1991), the prime subjects diminished by this mythic figure are the author’s parents, the American-born Rosalind and Rajagopal, Krishnamurti’s compatriot and dedicated associate; but the most compelling character is the shadow side of Krishnamurti himself. While Radha Rajagopal Sloss raises disquieting questions, her book remains a refreshing alternative to the many hagiographic portraits proffered by Krishnamurti’s devotees.

With delicacy, detail, and at times a painstaking attention to fair play, Radha Sloss addresses the confusion that arises when spiritual insight is presented and/or perceived in contradiction with daily life. Radha Sloss’s mother was Krishnamurti’s clandestine lover for some twenty-five years, and the slow dissolution of that romance was followed by a series of bitter legal battles over money and property initiated by the Krishnamurti Foundation and directed against Radha Sloss’s father, Rajagopal. After administering to Krishnamurti’s needs for over forty years as well as overseeing the editing and publication of his work, Rajagopal was shunned by the inner circle and accused by Krishnamurti of mismanaging money. Krishnamurti’s rejection of Rajagopal was taken at face value by his close supporters, but the author convincingly portrays her father as the victim of a personal vendetta fueled by passions of the heart.

While retaining much of her childhood affection for Krishnamurti, who was a more active parent than her biological father, the most poignant anguish in Lives in the Shadow with Krishnamurti pervades the author’s defense of her father. Yet the major drama of Krishnamurti’s life was played out long before Radha Rajagopal Sloss was born. At age eight, Krishnamurti, a frail and dreamy child, lice-ridden and open-mouthed, was discovered on a beach in South India and proclaimed by leaders of the Theosophical Society to be the next World Teacher. With exacting expectations, the Theosophists initiated the “coming messiah” into the spirit worlds with which they claimed to have direct contact. In addition, they introduced him to the mannered informalities of international society. But at the age of twenty-nine, Krishnamurti rebelled. Refusing the role of the chosen one, he claimed that truth could not be approached by way of a teacher and that enlightenment rendered all belief systems equally and inherently useless.

Helping others find their way in a pathless land became Krishnamurti’s avowed mission for the next seven decades. During that time, he communicated his message in riveting language and provoked inquiries into human nature and the mind that were so fresh and compelling that his enlightenment and authenticity were affirmed for hundreds of thousands of people around the world. His books are printed in over forty languages, and of the fifty titles available in English, over thirty-five have sold more than 100,000 copies each. Yet, in a scenario that has become all too familiar to American Buddhist communities, Radha Rajagopal Sloss leaves us struggling to come to terms with the lives of our spiritual guides, and struggling as well with our personal investment in both the creation and destruction of their mythic dimensions.

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