Krishnamurti’s The First and Last Freedom: A History and Context

Rider Books recently published a new edition of Krishnamurti’s The First and Last Freedom. When it was first published in 1954 it quickly became very successful. Not only did it introduce many new readers to Krishnamurti but it also brought large audiences to his talks around the world. The fact that Aldous Huxley wrote the foreword to the book no doubt helped ensure its popularity. What follows is an attempt to place this remarkable book in its historical context.1

1954 cover
The First and Last Freedom was Krishnamurti’s second book published by a commercial publisher, the first being Education and the Significance of Life (1953). It was published in 1954 by Harper in America and by Gollancz in the UK. The book included a ten-page foreword by Aldous Huxley. According to Mary Lutyens, writing in The Years of Fulfilment, “It was an immediate success and by the end of the year was in its sixth impression.”2 The book was edited by his then associate Rajagopal and was divided into two parts. The first part consists of 21 chapters on topics such as self-knowledge, fear, desire and self-deception. The second part contains a series of questions and answers taken from various talks.
Ragagopal, Krishnamurti, Maria and Aldous Huxley, c. 1947
In his foreword, Huxley wrote, “In this volume of selections from the writings and recorded talks of Krishnamurti, the reader will find a clear contemporary statement of the fundamental human problem, together with an invitation to solve it in the only way in which it can be solved—for and by himself.” By then Krishnamurti and Huxley had been good friends for a number of years, having met at Huxley’s house in Hollywood, California in 1937. Krishnamurti wrote about his friendship with Huxley, “Those two had a strange relationship with each other, affectionate, considerate and it seems non-verbal communication. They would often be sitting together without saying a word.”3 He once recounted how Huxley had encouraged him to write during World War II: “Why don’t you write something,” Huxley had asked him, Krishnamurti recounts,” So I did and showed it to him. He said, ‘It’s marvellous. Keep going.’ He used the word marvellous. So I kept going.” Mary Lutyens thinks that Huxley was reading parts of what would later become Commentaries on Living, which would be published in 1956.
1954 Cover
Huxley for his part always had a great respect for Krishnamurti, and remained impressed by his books. In a letter dated 22 February 1957, he wrote to Dr. Humphry Osmond, “Have you read Krishnamurti’s new book, Commentaries on Living? Together with the previous volume of selections from his talks, The First and Last Freedom, it offers an amazingly subtle diagnosis of our psychological delinquencies and an amazingly practical, though difficult, self-treatment.”4 And after listening to one of Krishnamurti’s talks in Saanen Huxley wrote, “It was like listening to a discourse of the Buddha.” This famous quote comes from a 1961 letter, again to Dr. Osmond. The extract reads in full: "And thence to Gstaad, where Laura has rejoined me, and we breathe good air, eat large meals and listen to Krishnamurti, who is giving a series of talks here – the most recent of them among the most impressive things I have ever listened to. It was like listening to a discourse of the Buddha, such power, such intrinsic authority, such an uncompromising refusal to allow the poor 'homme moyen sensuel' any escapes or surrogates, any gurus, saviours, führers, churches. ‘I show you sorrow and the ending of sorrow’ – and if you don’t choose to fulfil the conditions for ending sorrow, be prepared, whatever gurus, churches etc. you may believe in, for the indefinite continuance of sorrow."5 Huxley’s friendship with Krishnamurti was clearly based as much on personal liking as on mutual respect for the other person’s work.
1975 Cover
The extracts in The First and Last Freedom come from verbatim reports of Krishnamurti’s talks between 1947 and 1952. After the end of World War II, which he spent in Ojai, Krishnamurti had been scheduled to travel again but fell ill with a serious kidney infection. He would be sick for a year and a half. By the time he was finally able to travel, India had become independent on August 15, 1947. He went to India via London and would be away from Ojai for nineteen months.

After a busy speaking schedule in India, he took a long rest, in Ootacamund, or Ooty, as it was known, in the hills near Chennai, where he was the guest of some friends. It was during this time that Krishnamurti underwent a number of intense experiences, which he referred to as “the process.” At some point near the end of his stay in Ooty, on May 30, 1948, when he came to after fainting because of the intense pain, he said, as reported by Pupul Jayakar: “The pain has disappeared. Deep inside me I know what has happened. I have been stocked with gasoline. The tank is full.”6
1975 Cover
After returning to Ojai from India he kept up a busy travel and speaking schedule until 1950, when he took a whole year off, during which he “spent much time alone, meditating, going for walks and ‘pottering about the garden’ in his own words…”7 From November 1951 on the round of travelling began again but the first public talk was not until 1952, at Vasanta Vihar in Chennai. By that time he had been publicly silent for sixteen months. So the period between 1947 and 1952, from which the extracts in The First and Last Freedom were taken, was one marked by intense bouts of travel, recovering from illness, and long periods of contemplation and reflection. Extracts in the book came from talks given in Bombay (now Mumbai), Ojai, Madras (now Chennai), New York, Banaras, Bangalore, London, Rajahmundry, New Delhi, Poona and Paris.
1977 Cover
When the book was published in 1954 it was an immediate commercial and critical success. The Observer reviewer wrote: “…for those who wish to listen, it will have a value beyond words.” And The Times Literary Supplement wrote: “He is an artist both in vision and analysis.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the American author and aviator and wife of Charles Lindbergh, wrote of the American edition, “…the sheer simplicity of what he has to say is breathtaking. The reader is given in one paragraph, even one sentence, enough to keep him exploring, questioning, thinking for days.”8
2004 Cover
Today the book is as striking to read as it was then. As David Skitt points out in his excellent new preface to the new Rider edition of The First and Last Freedom, Krishnamurti “has lost none of his relevance” in the twenty-first century. Sue Lascelles, editor at Rider Books, puts it this way: “Occasionally controversial, always enlightening, Krishnamurti guides us through issues that concern us as much today as they did at the time when he wrote his classic work. He touches upon a wide range of human experience, from suffering and fear, love and loneliness, sex and death, the meaning of life, to the nature of God and personal transformation – and consistently relates these topics to the quest for truth and freedom. We are challenged by him to think for ourselves and encouraged to develop everyday self-awareness, on the grounds that truth can only be realised through self-understanding.”

In her mind, “this is an especially refreshing perspective in an age when so many of us hunger for certainties; yet continue to look outside ourselves, to external authorities for all the answers.” She was therefore delighted to have the opportunity to be publishing The First and Last Freedom once again and bring this important book to the attention of a new generation of readers. We are glad to be able to offer it to you at a 10% discount. To purchase the book go here.
1Thanks to Wendy Smith and Duncan Toms at the Krishnamurti Foundation for their help with researching this article. Any remaining errors are the responsibility of the author.
2Mary Lutyens, J. Krishnamurti: a life (New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2005), p. 393.
3Ibid., p. 354.
4Extract from a letter dated 22 February 1957 by Aldous Huxley to Dr. Humphry Osmond, as quoted in Letters of Aldous Huxley (Chatto and Windus, 1969), edited by Grover Smith, p. 818.
5Extract from a letter dated 4 August 1961 by Aldous Huxley to Dr. Humphry Osmond, ibid., pp. 917-918.
6Mary Lutyens, J. Krishnamurti: a life, p. 375.
7Ibid., p. 384.
8Ibid., p. 393.