The Masters of Enlightenment: Albert Einstein

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AlbertEinsteinThe series on the Masters of Enlightenment continues today with a profile of a man who was one of the greatest scientists of all time, and who, through his blend of logic, creative intelligence and intuitive insights, opened our minds to the way the universe operates, and in the process, opened the doors of perception to the realm in which science and spirituality merge.

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879 and died April 18, 1955. He was a German theoretical physicist who discovered the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics; his theories also provided the concepts and foundation for quantum physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics. He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.”

He escaped from Nazi Germany in 1933, where he had been a professor at the Berlin Academy of Sciences, and settled in the U.S., becoming a citizen in 1940. He taught physics at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey, until his death in 1955.

Einstein published more than 300 scientific papers along with over 150 non-scientific works, and received honorary doctorate degrees in science, medicine and philosophy from many European and American universities; he also wrote about various philosophical and political subjects such as socialism, international relations and the existence of God. His great intelligence and originality has made the word “Einstein” synonymous with genius.

Einstein was a scientist, an artist, a philosopher, a rebel, and a mystic. He was an original thinker, and left his indelible mark in the collective consciousness of the world.

His life’s work earned him Time Magazine’s award in 1999, in their retrospective issue that looked back at the 20th century, as “Man of the Century.”

Young Einstein

Young Einstein

While growing up, Albert Einstein had such a spotty track record as a student that no one would have predicted where he would end up. One teacher told the young Einstein, “You will never amount to anything.” Einstein was later expelled from high school and flunked his college entrance exam.

The issue for Einstein as a student was that he did not think in a purely linear way, which is the way the education system generally teaches.

Sadly, the way the education system is constituted these days, it plays a major role in the repression of genius, human potential, and the potential for self-realization and enlightenment.

Many brilliant thinkers who have done much to change the course of humanity are not linear thinkers. They are creative thinkers who see the world in original ways.

If creative thinkers are expected to adjust their thinking from a nonlinear way to a linear one, in order to conform to the one-size-fits-all method of teaching that is the norm in education, they eventually lose their capability for original thinking. And sadly, when this occurs, the world becomes poorer for the experience.

Albert Einstein pointed this out in the case of the 19th century scientist Michael Faraday, who discovered electromagnetism. Einstein said of Faraday’s discovery, “Faraday’s discovery was an audacious mental creation, which we owe chiefly to the fact that Faraday never went to school, and therefore preserved the rare gift of thinking freely.”

Because of his own spotty track record as a student, once he graduated college, it was only thanks to a family connection that he got a job, as a civil servant in a patent office in Switzerland.

It was while working there in 1905 that he changed the course of history with his discovery of Special Theory of Relativity, which he wrote about in a published paper. Over the next few years, he expounded on Relativity Theory with papers on the nature of light and the General Theory of Relativity.

Einstein’s theories changed the notion of space and time, the notion of mass and energy, the notion of matter and light, and the way they are all perceived.

albert-einstein2He opened the door to the understanding that the universe we live in is one ruled by quantum laws, a universe in which matter is primarily empty space rich in information and consciousness. Einstein’s perceptions showed that at its core, matter is not solid but comprised of waves.

Faced with such bold new assertions, it is understandable how Einstein and other scientists of the era who built on Einstein’s theories came to adopt a mystical worldview. They realized the universe was much different than what they had been taught, and that this new conception of the universe was closer in line with the teachings of Eastern philosophies than anything existing science could define.

But Einstein himself was always a mystic. His way of learning and perceiving, as I pointed out earlier, was a nonlinear one. He was a visual thinker, and stated, when asked about how his thought processes worked:
“Words and language, whether written or spoken, do not seem to play any part in my thought processes. The psychological entities that serve as building blocks for my thought are certain signs or images, more of less clear, that I can reproduce and recombine at will.”

Einstein was a brilliant creative thinker, one who saw the universe with fresh eyes. He had beginner’s mind – the mind of an original thinker – and maintained it his entire life. At his memorial, the scientist Robert Oppenheimer proclaimed: “He was almost wholly without sophistication and wholly without worldliness . . . There was always with him a wonderful purity at once childlike and profoundly stubborn.”

Einstein and the Indian poet, novelist, musician and mystic Tagore

Einstein and the Indian poet, novelist, musician and mystic Tagore

When you mix in his creative thinking and original mind with his tendency towards mysticism, you arrive at someone who is enlightened. And the beauty of Einstein’s enlightened mind was that he was able to articulate his vision clearly, for all to understand.

You may not be able to comprehend the profundity of his scientific achievements, but there are many other things that Einstein said that are equally as profound. Here is a sampling of them:

* “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”
* “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
* “Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.”
* “I want to know God’s thoughts; the rest are details.”
* “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
* “The only real valuable thing is intuition.”
* “A person starts to live when he can live outside himself.”
* “God is subtle but he is not malicious.”
* “Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.”
* “I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.”
* “The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility.”
* “Sometimes one pays most for the things one gets for nothing.”
* “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.”
albert-einstein-21* “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
* “Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds.”
* “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
* “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”
* “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”
* “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.”
* “Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.”
* “Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.”
* “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.”
* “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
* “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.”
* “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
* “Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.”
* “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the the universe.”
* “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
* “Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”
* “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
* “In order to form an immaculate member of a flock of sheep one must, above all, be a sheep.”
* “The fear of death is the most unjustified of all fears, for there’s no risk of accident for someone who’s dead.”
* “Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism — how passionately I hate them!”
* “No, this trick won’t work…How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?”
* “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.”
* “The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking…the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.”
* “Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence.”
* “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”
* “A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.”
* “The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.”
* “Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
* “You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat.”
* “One had to cram all this stuff into one’s mind for the examinations, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect on me that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year.”
* “…one of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one’s own ever-shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from the personal life into the world of objective perception and thought.”
* “He who joyfully marches to music rank and file, has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action. It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.”
* “A human being is a part of a whole, called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
* “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” (Sign hanging in Einstein’s office at Princeton)

The Masters of Enlightenment: Basho



The series on the Masters of Enlightenment continues today with a look at Matsuo Basho, the 17th century Japanese poet who is internationally renowned as a master of haiku.

Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry, consisting of 17 moras (or on), in three phrases of 5, 7, and 5 moras respectively. Although haiku are often stated to have 17 syllables, this is inaccurate as syllables and moras are not the same.  A mora is something of which a long syllable consists of two and a short syllable consists of one.

The art of haiku stems from the Zen tradition, which I discussed in the article on Alan Watts. The goal of Zen is for the direct transmission of Truth to occur, without intermediary; as Alan Watts would say, “This is it.”

Or as Alan Watts simply explained it: “Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.”

In Zen, the desire is to have an awakening of the mind, an “Aha” moment (or in the Zen tradition, “satori”), using brief and simple koans, which are simple worded mind-bending questions and phrases that challenge the student to transcend their rational thinking capability in order to arrive at a transrational solution that allows them to open their mind to a greater reality.

This greater reality is called Zen mind, No Mind, or Big Mind.

Much of traditional Japanese culture is aimed at this direct transmission: the Tea Ceremony, the Flower Ceremony, food preparation, calligraphy, the martial arts, bonsai, and poetry – especially haiku, with its simple asymmetrical rhythm that has the power of helping the reader achieve satori.

And it is Basho who is revered for his simple haiku, with its clarity and simplicity.

Basho was introduced to poetry at a young age, and after integrating himself into the intellectual scene of the Japanese city of Edo, he quickly became well-known throughout Japan.

Basho composing a haiku

Basho composing a haiku

He made a living as a teacher, but renounced the social, urban life of the literary circles and was inclined to wander throughout the country, heading west, east, and far into the northern wilderness to gain inspiration for his writing. His poems were influenced by his firsthand experience of the world around him, often encapsulating the feeling of a scene in a few simple elements.

He made many long journeys in his life throughout Japan; in between the journeys he would live in the countryside outside of Edo in a hut his disciples built for him. There he would teach, until his restlessness overcame him, at which time he would embark on another journey.

Two of his most famous haiku are these:

1) An ancient pond
a frog jumps in
the splash of water

2) The rough sea
stretching out towards Sado
the Milky Way

And his last poem written before he died, his poem of farewell:

Falling sick on a journey
my dream goes wandering
over a field of dried grass

Here are other of Basho’s haiku:

From moon wreathed
bamboo grove,
cuckoo song.

Summer grasses
all that remains
of soldiers dreams.

One of Basho's haiku

One of Basho's haiku

Not one traveller
braves this road –
autumn night.

Clouds –
a chance to dodge

Orchid breathing
incense into
butterfly wings.

Spring – through
morning mist
what mountains there?

Autumns end
how does my
neighbor live?

Black cloudbank broken
scatters in the night…now see
moon-lighted mountains!

Husking rice,
a child squints up
to view the moon.

Clouds come from time to time —
and bring to men a chance to rest
from looking at the moon.

Whore and monk, we sleep
under one roof together,
moon in a field of clover.

Now I see her face,
the old woman, abandoned,
the moon her only companion.

To Kyoto
still half the sky to go—
snowy clouds

The Masters of Enlightenment: Ramana Maharishi

Ramana Maharishi

Ramana Maharishi

The series on The Masters of Enlightenment, which is part of the series on Spirituality, continues today with a profile of a great spiritual teacher who was a true master of enlightenment, Ramana Maharishi.

Sri Ramana Maharishi was born December 30, 1879  and died April 14, 1950.  He was a Hindu jnani, someone who had attained self-realization.

In the Indian caste system, he was born a Brahmin (a member of the priestly class), but after having attained moksha (which is literally translated as “release”) he declared himself an “Atiasrami,” a Sastraic state of unattachment to anything in life and beyond all caste restrictions.

At the age of 16, he attained enlightenment, liberation, or moksha. He then left home for Arunachala, a mountain considered sacred by Hindus, and lived there for the rest of his life. An ashram eventually grew around him, Sri Ramana Ashram, situated at the foothill of Arunchala, to the west to the pilgrimage town of Tiruvannamalai.

Sri Ramana maintained that the purest form of his teachings was the powerful silence which radiated from his presence and quieted the minds of those attuned to it. He gave verbal teachings only for the benefit of those who could not understand his silence (or, perhaps, could not understand how to attain the silent state).

His verbal teachings were said to flow from his direct experience of Consciousness (Atman) as the only existing reality. When asked for advice, he recommended self-inquiry as the fastest path to moksha.

He considered his own guru to be the Self, in the form of the sacred mountain Arunachala. Sri Ramana did not publicize himself as a guru, never claimed to have disciples, and never appointed any successors. Sri Ramana was noted for his belief in the power of silence and relatively sparse use of speech. He led a modest and renunciate life, and depended on visitors and devotees for the barest necessities.

Ramana Maharishi as a young man

Ramana Maharishi as a young man

When Sri Ramana first went to Arunachala at age 16, his was a spiritual quest, done solely for his own spiritual evolution. He had no interest or ambition in becoming a teacher. For the next 30 years, he lived in various caves around the sacred mountain. Gradually, despite Sri Ramana’s silence, austerities, and desire for privacy, he attracted attention from visitors, and some became his disciples. And with that, his reputation grew.

In 1902, a government official named Sivaprakasam Pillai, with writing slate in hand, visited the young Swami in the hope of obtaining answers to questions about “How to know one’s true identity.” The fourteen questions put to the young Swami and his answers were Sri Ramana’s first teachings on self-inquiry, the method for which he became widely known, and were eventually published as “Nan Yar?”, or in English, “Who am I?”

In 1911 Sri Ramana became known to the west when the first westerner, Frank Humphreys, then a policeman stationed in India, discovered Sri Ramana and wrote articles about him which were first published in The International Psychic Gazette in 1913.

However, Sri Ramana only became relatively well known in and out of India after 1934 when Paul Brunton, having first visited Sri Ramana in January 1931, published the book A Search in Secret India, which became very popular. Resulting visitors included Paramahansa Yogananda, Somerset Maugham,   (whose 1944 novel The Razor’s Edge models its spiritual guru after Sri Ramana), and many others.

Sri Ramana’s relative fame spread throughout the 1940s. Even as his fame spread, Sri Ramana was noted for his belief in the power of silence and his relatively sparse use of speech, as well as his lack of concern for fame or criticism. His lifestyle remained that of a renunciate.

When Sri Ramana Maharishi passed away on April 14, 1950, Henri Cartier-Bresson, the French photographer, who had been staying at the ashram for a fortnight prior to Sri Ramana’s death, recounted the event:

“It is a most astonishing experience. I was in the open space in front of my house, when my friends drew my attention to the sky, where I saw a vividly-luminous shooting star with a luminous tail, unlike any shooting star I had before seen, coming from the South, moving slowly across the sky and, reaching the top of Arunachala, disappeared behind it. Because of its singularity we all guessed its import and immediately looked at our watches – it was 8:47 – and then raced to the Ashram only to find that our premonition had been only too sadly true: the Master had passed into parinirvana at that very minute.”
One of his many books

One of his many books

Millions in India mourned his death. A long article about it in the New York Times concluded: “Here in India, where thousands of so-called holy men claim close tune with the infinite, it is said that the most remarkable thing about Ramana Maharshi was that he never claimed anything remarkable for himself, yet became one of the most loved and respected of all.”

His method of teaching was characterized by the following:

  1. He urged people who came to him to practice self-inquiry;
  2. He directed people to look inward rather than seeking outside themselves for Realization. (“The true Bhagavan resides in your Heart as your true Self. This is who I truly am.”);
  3. He viewed all who came to him as the Self rather than as lesser beings. (“The jnani sees no one as an ajnani. All are only jnanis in his sight.”);
  4. He charged no money, and was adamant that no one ever ask for money (or anything else) in his name;
  5. He never promoted or called attention to himself. Instead, Sri Ramana remained in one place for 54 years, offering spiritual guidance to anyone of any background who came to him, and asking nothing in return;
  6. He considered humility to be the highest quality;
  7. He said the deep sense of peace one felt around a jnani was the surest indicator of their spiritual state, that equality towards all was a true sign of liberation, and that what a true jnani did was always for others, not themselves.

What is Self-Inquiry?

And what was self-inquiry, which was his greatest teaching? He felt it was the most direct way of self-realization, liberation, moksha, and enlightenment. Interestingly, Ramana Maharshi often said that yoga and self-inquiry are two methods of controlling the mind, which he compared to an agitated bull. Yoga attempts to drive the bull with a stick, while self-inquiry coaxes it with green grass.

Self-inquiry has been classified as the Path of Knowledge among the Indian schools of thought. Although the teaching of self-inquiry is consistent with and generally associated with Hinduism, the Upanishads and Advaita Vedanta, Sri Ramana gave his approval to a variety of paths and practices from various religions.

Here in an nutshell is what the process of self-inquiry is:

The core of Ramana's teachings of self-inquiry asked the question, "Who Am I?"

The core of Ramana's teachings of self-inquiry asked the question, "Who Am I?"

It was Sri Ramana’s basic thesis that the individual self is nothing more than a thought or an idea. He said that this thought, which he called ‘I’-thought, originates from a place called the Heart-centre, which he located on the right side of the chest in the human body. From there the ‘I’-thought rises up to the brain and identifies itself with the body: ‘I am this body.’

It then creates the illusion that there is a mind or an individual self which inhabits the body and which controls all its thoughts and actions. The ‘I’-thought accomplishes this by identifying itself with all the thoughts and perceptions that go on in the body. For example, ‘I’ (that is the ‘I’-thought) am doing this, ‘I’ am thinking this, ‘I’ am feeling happy, etc.

Thus, the idea that one is an individual person is generated and sustained by the ‘I’-thought and by its habit of constantly attaching itself to all the thoughts that arise. Sri Ramana maintained that one could reverse this process by depriving the ‘I’-thought of all the thoughts and perceptions that it normally identifies with. Sri Ramana taught that this ‘I’-thought is actually an unreal entity, and that it only appears to exist when it identifies itself with other thoughts.

He said that if one can break the connection between the ‘I’-thought and the thoughts it identifies with, then the ‘I’-thought itself will subside and finally disappear. Sri Ramana suggested that this could be done by holding onto the ‘I’-thought, that is, the inner feeling of ‘I’ or ‘I am’ and excluding all other thoughts. As an aid to keeping one’s attention on this inner feeling of ‘I’, he recommended that one should constantly question oneself ‘Who am I?’ or ‘Where does this “I” come from?’

Realizing the mind and Self was not the ego was essential to self-inquiry

Realizing the mind and Self was not the ego was essential to self-inquiry

He said that if one can keep one’s attention on this inner feeling of ‘I’, and if one can exclude all other thoughts, then the ‘I’-thought will start to subside into the Heart-centre.
This, according to Sri Ramana, is as much as the devotee can do by himself. When the devotee has freed his mind of all thoughts except the ‘I’-thought, the power of the Self pulls the ‘I’-thought back into the Heart-centre and eventually destroys it so completely that it never rises again. This is the moment of Self-realization. When this happens, the mind and the indvidual self (both of which Sri Ramama equated with the ‘I’-thought) are destroyed forever. Only the Atman or the Self then remains.

The Masters of Enlightenment: Alan Watts

The series on the Masters of Enlightenment continues today with a profile of the Zen teacher and scholar, Alan Watts.

The last profile was of Paramahansa Yogananda, and the profile before that was of J. Krishnamurti.

Alan Watts

Alan Watts

Alan Watts was born in Chislehurst, England on January 6, 1915 and died at his home in Marin County, California on November 16, 1973.

He was a philosopher, writer, and speaker, and best known as an interpreter and popularizer of Eastern philosophy, especially Buddhism and Zen, for a Western audience.

As a young child in England, Watts had a mystical experience while sick with a fever that left an indelible mark. Also during his childhood, he was exposed to Buddhism and other Eastern influences, along with mystical Christian approaches. He went to college in London, and there met many prominent religious and spiritual teachers.

His biggest influence at that age may have come from going to a lecture from the noted Zen scholar D. T. Suzuki, as afterwards, at the age of 21, Watts published a book entitled The Spirit of Zen.

In 1938, at the age of 23, Watts left England with his wife for New York City, in order to enter into formal Zen training.

Watts left formal Zen training in New York because the method of the teacher didn’t suit him. He was never ordained as a Zen monk, but because he felt a need to find a professional outlet for his philosophical inclinations, he decided to attend a seminary where he graduated as an ordained Anglican (Episcopalian) priest.

While in seminary, he attempted to work out a blend of contemporary Christian worship, mystical Christianity, and Asian philosophy. Because of his far-reaching and eclectic mind, while still in school the pattern was set for Watts, in that he did not hide his dislike for religious outlooks that he decided were dour, guilt-ridden, or militantly proselytizing—no matter if they were found within Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, or Buddhism.

Alan Watts as a young boy

Alan Watts as a young boy

Beginning in 1945 at aged 30, Watts worked as an Episcopalian priest, until he decided to leave the ministry in 1950.

In early 1951, Watts moved to California, where he joined the faculty of the American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco. It was at this point that Watts began lecturing on radio and to audiences live, and started building up a following that over the years counted millions of people.

While Watts was noted for an interest in Zen Buddhism, his discussions delved into other subjects that interested him, including Vedanta, the new physics, cybernetics, semantics, process philosophy, natural history, and the anthropology of sexuality.

Over the years he wrote 25 books, and between his books, tape recordings, radio, television, and public lectures, he inspired a generation to re-assess their values.

Overall, his life and work reflects an astonishing adventure: he was an editor, Anglican priest, graduate dean, broadcaster, author,  lecturer, and entertainer. He had fascinations for archery, calligraphy, cooking, chanting, and dancing, and still was completely comfortable hiking alone in the wilderness.

He held fellowships from Harvard University and the Bollingen Foundation, and was Episcopal Chaplain at Northwestern University during the Second World War. He became professor and dean of the American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco, made the television series “Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life” for National Educational Television, and served as a visiting consultant for psychiatric institutions and hospitals, and for the United States Air Force. In the mid-sixties he traveled widely with his students in Japan, and visited Burma, Ceylon, and India.

Alan Watts' book, Tao, The Watercourse Way

Alan Watts' book, Tao, The Watercourse Way

Though known for his Zen teachings, he was equally if not more influenced by ancient Hindu scriptures, especially Vedanta, and spoke extensively about the nature of the divine Reality Man that Man misses, how the contradiction of opposites is the method of life and the means of cosmic and human evolution, how our fundamental ignorance is rooted in the exclusive nature of mind and ego, how to come in touch with the Field of Consciousness and Light, and other cosmic principles.

On the personal level, Watts sought to resolve his feelings of alienation from the institutions of marriage and the values of American society.

In looking at social issues, he was quite concerned with the necessity for international peace, for tolerance and understanding among disparate cultures.

In several of his later publications, especially Beyond Theology and The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, Watts put forward a worldview, drawing on Hinduism, Chinese philosophy, pantheism, and modern science, in which he maintains that the whole universe consists of a cosmic self playing hide-and-seek, hiding from itself by becoming all the living and non-living things in the universe, forgetting what it really is; the upshot being that we are all IT in disguise.

In this worldview, Watts asserts that our conception of ourself as an “ego in a bag of skin” is a myth; the entities we call the separate “things” are merely processes of the whole.

Watts did many audio programs, including this one, This is IT

Watts did many audio programs, including this one, This is IT

Watts’ work remains vital to this day, because the topics he covered are timeless in nature. One social critic, Erik Davis, notes the freshness, longevity, and continuing relevance of Watts’ work today, observing that his “writings and recorded talks still shimmer with a profound and galvanizing lucidity.”

Here, in his own words, is Alan Watts on Nothingness:

The idea of nothing has bugged people for centuries, especially in the Western world.We have a saying in Latin, Ex nihilo nuhil fit, which means “out of nothing comes nothing.” It has occurred to me that this is a fallacy of tremendous proportions.

It lies at the root of all our common sense, not only in the West, but in many parts of the East as well. It manifests in a kind of terror of nothing, a put-down on nothing, and a put-down on everything associated with nothing, such as sleep, passivity, rest, and even the feminine principles.

But to me nothing — the negative, the empty — is exceedingly powerful. I would say, on the contrary, you can’t have something without nothing. Image nothing but space, going on and on, with nothing in it forever. But there you are imagining it, and you are something in it. The whole idea of there being only space, and nothing else at all is not only inconceivable but perfectly meaningless, because we always know what we mean by contrast.

The Masters of Enlightenment: Paramahansa Yogananda

1001In the last article in this series on Spirituality, I turned my attention to discussing people who were Masters of Enlightenment. The first article on this subject profiled J. Krishnamurti.

Today I will continue with the profiles by discussing another Master of Enlightenment, Paramahansa Yogananada.

Yogananda was born Mukunda Lal Ghosh on Jan. 5, 1893 in India, and died on March 7, 1952. He introduced many Westerners to the teachings of meditation and Kriya Yoga through his book, Autobiography of a Yogi.

Since the publication of the book in 1946, it has since been translated into twenty-five languages. In 1999, it was designated one of the “100 Most Important Spiritual Books of the 20th Century” by a panel of spiritual authors.

Autobiography of a Yogi describes Yogananda’s spiritual search for enlightenment, in addition to encounters with notable spiritual figures such as Therese Neumann, Anandamoyi Ma, Mohandas Gandhi, Nobel laureate in literature Rabindranath Tagore, noted plant scientist Luther Burbank (the book is “Dedicated to the Memory of Luther Burbank, An American Saint”), famous Indian scientist Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Sir C. V. Raman.

One notable chapter of this book is “The Law of Miracles,” where he gives scientific explanations for seemingly miraculous feats. He writes “the word ‘impossible’ is becoming less prominent in man’s vocabulary.”

Yogananda's teacher, Sri Yukteswar

Yogananda's teacher, Sri Yukteswar

Kriya Yoga, which was Yogananda’s core teachings, is a set of yoga techniques that were the main discipline of Yogananda’s meditation teachings. Kriya Yoga was passed down through Yogananda’s guru lineage — Mahavatar Babaji taught Kriya Yoga to Lahiri Mahasaya, who taught it to his disciple Yukteswar, Yogananda’s Guru.

Because of ancient yogic injunctions, “the actual technique must be learned from a Kriyaban or Kriya Yogi”, according to Yogananda. He gave a general description of Kriya Yoga in his Autobiography:

“The Kriya Yogi mentally directs his life energy to revolve, upward and downward, around the six spinal centers (medullary, cervical, dorsal, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal plexuses) which correspond to the twelve astral signs of the zodiac, the symbolic Cosmic Man. One-half minute of revolution of energy around the sensitive spinal cord of man effects subtle progress in his evolution; that half-minute of Kriya equals one year of natural spiritual unfoldment.”

Yogananda taught his students the need for direct experience of truth, as opposed to blind belief. He said that “The true basis of religion is not belief, but intuitive experience. Intuition is the soul’s power of knowing God. To know what religion is really all about, one must know God.”

Echoing traditional Hindu teachings, he taught that the entire universe is God’s cosmic motion picture, and that individuals are merely actors in the divine play who change roles through reincarnation. He taught that mankind’s deep suffering is rooted in identifying too closely with one’s current role, rather than with the movie’s director, or God.

He taught Kriya Yoga and other meditation practices to help people achieve that understanding, which he called Self-realization:

“Self-realization is the knowing in all parts of body, mind, and soul that you are now in possession of the kingdom of God; that you do not have to pray that it come to you; that God’s omnipresence is your omnipresence; and that all that you need to do is improve your knowing.”

Yogananda as a young man

Yogananda as a young man

To that end, he founded an organization, The Self-Realization Fellowship, or SRF, to further the cause of self-realization and enlightenment. The Self-Realization Fellowship continues to this day, with branches all over the world; its international headquarters are in Los Angeles, California.

Yogananda’s international reputation had its beginnings one day in 1920, while meditating at a school he had founded. Yogananda had a divine vision showing him that now was the time to begin his work in the West. He immediately departed for Calcutta, where the next day he was invited to serve as India’s delegate to an international congress of religious leaders convening later that year in Boston. His teacher, Sri Yukteswar, confirmed that the time was right, saying: “All doors are open for you. It is now or never.”

Shortly before his departure, Yogananda was visited by Mahavatar Babaji, the deathless master who revived in this age the ancient science of Kriya Yoga. “You are the one I have chosen to spread the message of Kriya Yoga in the West,” Babaji said to Yogananda. “Long ago I met your guru Yukteswar at a Kumbha Mela; I told him then I would send you to him for training. Kriya Yoga, the scientific technique of God-realization, will ultimately spread in all lands, and aid in harmonizing the nations through man’s personal, transcendental perception of the Infinite Father.”

The young swami arrived in Boston in September 1920. His first speech, made to the International Congress of Religious Liberals, was on “The Science of Religion,” and was enthusiastically received.

That same year he founded Self-Realization Fellowship to disseminate worldwide his teachings on India’s ancient science and philosophy of Yoga and its time-honored tradition of meditation. The first SRF meditation center was started in Boston with the help of Dr. and Mrs. M. W. Lewis and Mrs. Alice Hasey (Sister Yogmata), who were to become lifelong disciples.

For the next several years, he lectured and taught on the East Coast; and in 1924 embarked on a cross-continental speaking tour. Reaching Los Angeles in early 1925, he established there the international headquarters for Self-Realization Fellowship atop Mt. Washington, which became the spiritual and administrative heart of his growing work.


Yogananda speaking to a packed house at the L.A. Philharmonic Auditorium, 1925

From 1924–1935, Yogananda traveled and lectured widely, speaking to capacity audiences in many of the largest auditoriums in America — from New York’s Carnegie Hall to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium. The Los Angeles Times reported: “The Philharmonic Auditorium presents the extraordinary spectacle of thousands….being turned away an hour before the advertised opening of a lecture with the 3000-seat hall filled to its utmost capacity.”

Yogananda emphasized the underlying unity of the world’s great religions, and taught universally applicable methods for attaining direct personal experience of God. To serious students of his teachings he taught the soul-awakening techniques of Kriya Yoga, initiating more than 100,000 men and women during his thirty years in the West.


Yogananda with Luther Burbank

Among those who became his students were many prominent figures in science, business, and the arts, including horticulturist Luther Burbank, operatic soprano Amelita Galli-Curci, George Eastman (inventor of the Kodak camera), poet Edwin Markham, and symphony conductor Leopold Stokowski.

In 1927, he was officially received at the White House by President Calvin Coolidge, who had become interested in the newspaper reports of his activities.

In 1929, during a two-month trip to Mexico, he planted the seeds for future growth of his work in Latin America. He was welcomed by the president of Mexico, Dr. Emilio Portes Gil, who became a lifelong admirer of Yogananda’s teachings.

By the mid-1930s, Paramahansaji had also met quite a few of the early disciples who would help him build the Self-Realization Fellowship work and carry the Kriya Yoga mission forward after his own lifetime was over — including two whom he appointed to be his spiritual successors as president of Self-Realization Fellowship: Rajarsi Janakananda (James J. Lynn), who met the Guru in Kansas City in 1932; and Sri Daya Mata, who had attended his classes in Salt Lake City the previous year.

Yogananda with Mahatma Gandhi

Yogananda with Mahatma Gandhi

Other disciples who attended his lecture programs during the 1920s and ‘30s and stepped forward to dedicate their lives to the SRF work were Dr. and Mrs. M. W. Lewis, who met him in Boston in 1920; Gyanamata (Seattle, 1924); Tara Mata (San Francisco, 1924); Durga Mata (Detroit, 1929); Ananda Mata (Salt Lake City, 1931); Sraddha Mata (Tacoma, 1933); and Sailasuta Mata (Santa Barbara, 1933).

Thus, for many years after Yogananda’s passing, and continuing to this day, Self-Realization Fellowship has been guided by disciples who received Paramahansa Yogananda’s personal spiritual training.

On March 7, 1952, Yogananda entered mahasamadhi, a God‑illumined master’s conscious exit from the body at the time of physical death. He had just finished giving a short speech at a banquet honoring India’s ambassador to the United States, Dr. Binay R. Sen, at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.

His passing was marked by an extraordinary phenomenon. A notarized statement signed by the Director of Forest Lawn Memorial‑Park testified: “No physical disintegration was visible in his body even twenty days after death….This state of perfect preservation of a body is, so far as we know from mortuary annals, an unparalleled one….Yogananda’s body was apparently in a phenomenal state of immutability.”

In years past, Paramahansa Yogananda’s guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, had referred to him as an incarnation of divine love. Later, his disciple and first spiritual successor, Rajarsi Janakananda, fittingly bestowed on him the title of Premavatar or “Incarnation of Divine Love.”

The commemorative stamp issued by India in honor of Yogananda

The commemorative stamp issued by India in honor of Yogananda

On the occasion of the twenty‑fifth anniversary of Paramahansa Yogananda’s passing, his far‑reaching contributions to the spiritual upliftment of humanity were given formal recognition by the Government of India. A special commemorative stamp was issued in his honor, together with a tribute that read, in part:

“The ideal of love for God and service to humanity found full expression in the life of Paramahansa Yogananda….Though the major part of his life was spent outside India, still he takes his place among our great saints. His work continues to grow and shine ever more brightly, drawing people everywhere on the path of the pilgrimage of the Spirit.”

The Masters of Enlightenment: J. Krishnamurti

December 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured, Masters of Enlightenment, Spirituality


Jiddhu Krishnamurti

“What Krishnamurti has done is to free spiritual life as science has done in other areas. He has maintained that one can be in total freedom from the very beginning to the very end, and he has stood for that, like a rock, for forty years. I think it may well take the world fifty more years to understand that. I think he is the man of tomorrow.”  – Vimala Thakar

The series on Spirituality continues with articles about people who were true Masters of Enlightenment.

What I mean by that term is that they were great spiritual teachers, and also people who lived by the creed they spoke.

They were beacons of light, capable of pointing a finger to help us understand the map of reality.

Today, for the first article in this series, I will profile Jiddhu Krishnamurti.

J. Krishnamurti was born May 12, 1895 in India, and died Feb. 17, 1986. He was a radical teacher of enlightenment and the truth.

I say radical because he advised people to break free of their mental shackles and discard dogmas, religions, philosophies, gurus, teachers and theories, and in its place search for the undeniable truth that lies at the heart of reality.

Krishnamurti at the age of 29

Krishnamurti at the age of 29

Krishnamurti was relentless in his denouncing of all organized belief, the notion of “gurus,” and the whole teacher-follower relationship. Instead he was single minded in his dedication to the work of setting man absolutely, totally free.

He constantly stressed the need for a revolution in the psyche of every human being and emphasized that such revolution cannot be brought about by any external entity, be it religious, political, or social.

Denouncing the concept of saviors, spiritual leaders, or any other intermediaries to reality, he urged people to directly discover the underlying causes of the problems facing individuals and society.

Such discovery he considered as being within reach of everyone, irrespective of background, ability, or disposition. He declared allegiance to no nationality, caste, religion, or philosophy, and spent his adult life traveling the world as an independent individual speaker, speaking to large and small groups, as well as with interested individuals.

Krishnamurti had first-hand knowledge of gurus and saviors, because he was raised to be a savior – at a young age, he was deemed to be the World Teacher by the Theosophical Society, a quasi-mystical organization founded in New York City in 1875 that had gained prominent international media attention and public interest and was very influential in Indian society.

The Theosophical Society had an estate in India, and in 1909 the 14-year-old Krishnamurti was living on the estate, because his father worked as a clerk for the Society.

Charles Webster Leadbeater was the President of the Society, and he noticed the young boy walking on the grounds. Leadbeater was a clairvoyant, and in the boy he recognized “a spiritual teacher and a great orator,” one likely to be used as the “vehicle for the Lord Maitreya” – the latter, according to Theosophical doctrine, an advanced spiritual entity that periodically appears on earth as a World Teacher to guide the evolution of humankind.

From that point on, Krishnamurti was groomed to be the World Teacher. He was privately tutored in India and Europe, and while in Europe met many prominent, and wealthy, people.

His daily program of studies included rigorous exercise and sports, tutoring in a variety of school subjects, Theosophical and religious lessons, yoga and meditation. At the same time, Leadbeater personally assumed the role of guide in a parallel, mystical instruction of young Krishnamurti.

Krishnamurti and Charles Leadbeater

Krishnamurti and Charles Leadbeater

Over the next few years, Krishnamurti continued his studies, but at the same time began going through a series of mystical and inexplicable life-transforming experiences. He would lapse in and out of consciousness, and described it to others as a “mystical union.” About the experiences he said:

“I was supremely happy, for I had seen. Nothing could ever be the same. I have drunk at the clear and pure waters and my thirst was appeased… I have seen the Light. I have touched compassion which heals all sorrow and suffering; it is not for myself, but for the world… Love in all its glory has intoxicated my heart; my heart can never be closed. I have drunk at the fountain of Joy and eternal Beauty. I am God-intoxicated.”

Over the next few years, these experiences intensified, and these, along with the death of his brother, to whom he was very close, led him to question everything about his journey as the World Teacher. He started changing his teachings and veered from Theosophy, and began to focus on concepts such as questioning authority and liberation, as opposed to following the teachings of any one person.

Finally, in 1929, without any warning, while speaking to the annual meeting of the Theosophical Society in India, he announced that he was disowning his role as World Teacher, and instead would focus on leading people to the unbridled truth. He said in part:

“I maintain that truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path.

“This is no magnificent deed, because I do not want followers, and I mean this. The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth. I am not concerned whether you pay attention to what I say or not. I want to do a certain thing in the world and I am going to do it with unwavering concentration. I am concerning myself with only one essential thing: to set man free. I desire to free him from all cages, from all fears, and not to found religions, new sects, nor to establish new theories and new philosophies.”

From that moment on, Krishnamurti became his own man, and spoke out on the specifics of enlightenment. He spent the rest of his life holding dialogues and giving public talks around the world on the nature of belief, truth, sorrow, freedom, death, and the quest for a spiritually fulfilled life. He accepted neither followers nor worshipers, regarding the relationship between disciple and guru as encouraging dependency and exploitation.

Nitya and Krishnamurti. Nitya was his younger brother, and it was Nitya's untimely passing that led Krishnamurti to question all the assumptions that had been made upon him.

Nitya and Krishnamurti. Nitya was his younger brother, and it was Nitya's untimely passing that led Krishnamurti to question all the assumptions that had been made upon him.

He constantly urged people to think independently and clearly and free their minds of their own incipient dogmas. “All authority of any kind, especially in the field of thought and understanding, is the most destructive, evil thing. Leaders destroy the followers and followers destroy the leaders. You have to be your own teacher and your own disciple. You have to question everything that man has accepted as valuable, as necessary.”

Included in this was inward authority:
“Having realized that we can depend on no outside authority … there is the immensely greater difficulty of rejecting our own inward authority, the authority of our own particular little experiences and accumulated opinions, knowledge, ideas and ideals.”

Krishnamurti’s home base for the rest of his life was Ojai, California, where he could spend time sequestered in meditation and writing, and communing with nature, which from an early age was one of his passions.

From his home base his insights deepened and his influence grew. He befriended and collaborated with well-known philosophers, writers and scientists, which allowed his audience to broaden.

Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986)1Over the years, his subject matter included psychological revolution, the nature of the mind, meditation, human relationships, and bringing about positive change in society. Maintaining that society is ultimately the product of the interactions of individuals, he held that fundamental societal change can emerge only through freely undertaken radical change in the individual.

“It seems to me that the real problem is the mind itself and not the problem which the mind has created and tries to solve. If the mind is petty, small, narrow, limited, however great and complex the problem may be, the mind approaches that problem in terms of its own pettiness… Though it has extraordinary capacities and is capable of invention, of subtle, cunning thought, the mind is still petty. It may be able to quote Marx, or the Gita, or some other religious book, but it is still a small mind, and a small mind confronted with a complex problem can only translate that problem in terms of itself, and therefore the problem, the misery increases. So the question is: Can the mind that is small, petty, be transformed into something which is not bound by its own limitations?”