Franklin Merrell-Wolff’s Realizations

Franklin Merrell-Wolff

Franklin Merrell-Wolff

Franklin Merrell-Wolff’s Realizations

Wolff grounds his philosophy in his Realizations, and not in mere rational speculation. In his written report of his mystical unfoldment, Wolff identifies three premonitory recognitions and two fundamental, or transcendental, Recognitions.

First Premonitory Recognition: “I am Atman”

Wolff’s first premonitory recognition took place in 1922, approximately 14 years prior to his transcendental breakthroughs. Wolff describes this first recognition as a noetic insight into the truth of “I am Atman”. The term “Atman” is a Sanskrit term that Wolff uses to refer to the transcendental subject to consciousness (see the discussion above of the second fundamental of the philosophy). Just prior to this insight, Wolff had been engaged in the practice of discrimination of subject (Atman) and object (world). This practice of discrimination is fundamental to the teachings of Shankara, the founder of the Advaita Vedanta school of nondual philosophy. The purpose of this practice is to effect a disidentification and detachment from the objects of consciousness, and a realization of identity with pure subjectivity. Although Wolff previously had been intellectually convinced of the truth of the proposition “I am Atman”, this time he suddenly realized its truth at a deeper level than the intellect. Although this was only a veiled Realization, it nevertheless brought a sense of Light and Joy, and had persistent positive effects, such as a certain change in the base of thought, bringing clarity where there had previously been obscurity.

Second Premonitory Recognition: “I am Nirvana”

The second premonitory recognition took place in late 1935, approximately 9 months prior to the first fundamental breakthrough. Wolff describes this recognition as the realization that “I am Nirvana”. Prior to this noetic insight, his thought upon the subject of Nirvana had been involved in the confusion that Nirvana is a kind of other-world separate from the relative world of subject-object consciousness. While meditating upon Nirvana, however, it suddenly dawned on him that “I am Nirvana”, where “I” is understood here to mean the inner core of subjectivity. Like the Atman, Nirvana is never an object before consciousness. It is therefore identical with the subject to consciousness, or the true “I”. As with the prior recognition, this insight was accompanied by a sense of Joy and Illumination within the relative consciousness, and had persistent effects. In addition, there was a sense of a Current with profound depth.

Third Premonitory Recognition: “Substantiality is inversely proportional to ponderability”

The third premonitory recognition took place in late July, 1936, about two weeks prior to the fundamental breakthrough. Prior to this insight, Wolff experienced certain logical difficulties reconciling Transcendent Being with the physical universe. These difficulties arise from the habit of regarding objects of consciousness, i.e., any appearance in consciousness that we can ponder or experience, as in some sense substantial. Although Wolff had a prior intellectual conviction that the Transcendent Being was more substantial, the intellectual idea alone had failed to have a powerful transformative effect on his consciousness. This third premonitory recognition, however, had a profound effect on his consciousness that served to clear the way for the fundamental breakthrough that would follow in a matter of days. Wolff expressed the insight with the following proposition: “Substantiality is inversely proportional to ponderability”, or “Reality is inversely proportional to appearance”. In other words, the degree of true substance or reality is the inverse or opposite of the degree of ponderability. Thus, concrete objects of experience, which have a high degree of ponderability, are the least substantial. Subtle or abstract objects of experience, on the other hand, which are less ponderable, partake of a higher degree of substantiality and reality. The effect of this insight upon Wolff was an acceptance of substantial reality where the senses reported emptiness, and a greater capacity to realize unreality, or merely dependent or derivative reality, in the material given through the senses. This insight brought about a more profound shift of identification with the transcendent supersensible reality, and a correspondingly profound detachment from the objects of consciousness. This shift was decisive in clearing the way for the fundamental realizations that were to follow.

First Fundamental Recognition: Realization of Self, Liberation

The first of Wolff’s two fundamental Realizations took place on August 6, 1936. In contrast with the prior insights, which retained objective elements in his own consciousness and thus fell short of genuine identification, the fundamental Realizations unequivocally transcended the subject-object or relative consciousness. Just prior to the first Realization, Wolff had been meditating upon the teachings of Shankara, particularly the discussion of Liberation. Upon meditative reflection, he realized that his efforts to attain Liberation involved a seeking after a subtle object of experience. But any new object of experience, no matter how subtle, was something other than the objectless transcendent consciousness. Thus, Liberation does not necessarily involve any new object of experience or change in the content of consciousness. To seek such a new object or experience, therefore, is a mistake. Genuine Realization, therefore, is a recognition of Nothing — but a Nothing that is absolutely Substantial and identical with the SELF. The result of this profound realization was the complete and instant cessation of expectation of having any new experience or relative form of knowledge arise. The light of consciousness then turned back upon itself, toward its source, and the pure Atman was realized as absolute fullness and as identical with himself. This Recognition was not an experience of any new content in consciousness, but a Re-Cognition of a Truth that is, was, and always will be. It is a nondual knowledge of identity that transcends space and time. Nevertheless, there were various effects experienced within the relative consciousness, that may be considered expressions of the Recognition. Because the Recognition is not the recognition of any particular effects or phenomena, they should not be confused with the Recognition itself. Some of the effects Wolff experienced were: (1) A shift in the base of reference in consciousness, transplanting the roots of identity from the relative to the transcendent, (2) a transformation of the meaning of self from a point-like principle opposed to objects of experience to a space-like identity with the entire field of consciousness and all its contents, (3) a sense of penetrating knowledge into the depths of reality, (4) a transcendence of space, time, and causality, (4) complete freedom and liberation from all bondage. Also experienced were qualities of joy, felicity, serenity, peace, and benevolence.

Second Fundamental Recognition: High Indifference, Equilibrium

Although Wolff’s first fundamental Realization was an unequivocal transcendence of the subject-object consciousness, for a period of approximately 33 days there remained certain unresolved tensions preventing it from being a full state of equilibrium. This tension consisted in the contrast in valuation between the superlative Joy, Peace, Rest, Freedom and Knowledge of the Transcendent and the emptiness of the relative world. There was a distinction between being bound to embodied consciousness and not being so bound, with a subtle attachment to being not bound. Counter-acting this subtle attachment, however, was Wolff’s prior acceptance of the bodhisattva vow, a commitment to the value of relative manifestation and embodiment, motivated by compassion for all sentient beings. With this motivation, Wolff resisted his strong inclination to retreat into the transcendent bliss of nirvanic consciousness. Instead, he sacrificed his strictly personal enjoyment of those transcendent values in order to maintain a relative embodiment and help liberate all sentient beings. This act of compassion and ultimate renunciation led to an unexpected second fundamental Recognition that resolved the residual tensions between the universe and nirvana. The Realization represented a complete Equilibrium, not only a relative equilibrium between objects, but also an ultimate Equilibrium between relative and absolute levels of consciousness. Because this realization does not give any more valuation to nirvana than to the universe, and recognizes no ultimate difference between the two, Wolff called it the High Indifference. It is the complete resolution of tension between all opposites, the complete transcendence of all distinctions, including the distinction between the transcendent and the relative. At this profoundly deep level of Recognition, all self-identity, both in the highest sense of the transcendental Self and the lower sense of the ego self, was no more. In Wolff’s words, “I was no more and God was no more, but only the ETERNAL which sustains all Gods and Selves.”

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4 responses to “Franklin Merrell-Wolff’s Realizations

  1. Franklin Merrell-Wolff had a very different appraisal of Sri Aurobindo than Osho, who was basically a college professor who discovered a way to make money by offering sex and drugs in the guise of meditation

    Franklin Merrell-Wolff
    Eulogy on the Death of Sri Aurobindo
    May/June 1951

    Whensoever there is a fading of the Dharma and the uprising of
    unrighteousness, then I loose myself forth into birth.

    For the deliverance of the good, for the destruction of the evildoers,
    for the enthroning of the Right, I am born from age to age.

    From The Message of the Gita, ch. IV, verses 7 and 8, as translated by
    Sri Aurobindo.

    That the times in which we live bear the mark of the “fading of the
    Dharma” and the “uprising of unrighteousness” in exceptional degree
    has long been evident to many of us who have, therefore, been alerted
    for Avataral Descent in one or more embodiments. For those who are
    spiritually awake the signs of such Descent, in more than one
    embodiment, currently or within the recent past, have not been
    lacking, so that indeed a time of exceptional darkness has also been
    the occasion for the manifestation of rare inner Light. Among these
    embodiments the late Sri Aurobindo stands out as one of the most
    luminous figures of all historic time. It is but fitting, therefore,
    that we should direct at least some portion of our thoughts and
    regards towards this man who in rare degree manifested the Divine
    nature and wisdom.
    Sri Aurobindo was born on August 15, 1872 and passed from the physical
    embodiment on the fifth of December, 1950. Rarely have we known lives
    so packed with accomplishment as were the 79 years of this man. His
    formal education began in England at the age of seven and was
    completed at Cambridge. His life work began in the secretariat of the
    Gaekwar of Baroda and soon extended to the teaching of English and
    administrative work in Baroda College. It was not long before his
    interests were drawn into the field of Indian politics and in the
    years just preceding 1910 he became the leader of the independence
    movement. In fact, he originated the technique of non-cooperation
    which was later continued so effectively by the late Mahatma Ghandi.
    Like other such leaders he experienced arrest and waited a year in
    jail for the trial which ultimately cleared him from the accusations
    brought against him.

    This year was the turning point in his life for, while on one side he
    faced the harshness of incarceration, yet it was during this night of
    physical life that there began for him the Illuminations and
    Realizations which opened the way for his primary life work. So when
    at last acquitted, he left forever the political and professional
    fields, retired to Pondicherry, the French territory in India, and
    there spent the remaining forty years of his life in a rare productive

    For the biographer able to trace only the tangible events in a human
    life, the final forty years might well seem poor in the material
    offered; but for him who has metaphysical vision, these were the great
    years which reveal One with a stature comparable to that of a Krishna,
    a Buddha or a Christ. These years saw the manifestation of greatness
    in two senses. First, there was a vast literary production in both
    the medium of prose and poetry, which is available to the scholar and
    which may be in some measure evaluated by the latter. The second and
    greater part of his labor lay in those unseen dimensions which only
    the few can ever truly evaluate. Along with this double labor, and
    really incidental thereto, an Ashrama was established, open to both
    sexes and dedicated to the dual objective of individual Realization
    and the Spiritualization of the world in a sense and is not restricted
    to the human portion of that world.

    Leaving this all too brief sketch of an extraordinarily full life
    work, we must turn to an evaluation of the more tangible production of
    his last forty years. Aurobindo became a Yogi and a Rishi or, as the
    Buddhists would say, an Enlightened One. He was not merely a mystic
    but a master of mystical and Gnostic consciousness with a
    comprehensiveness that does not seem to have been surpassed within
    historic times. His literary work was dedicated almost exclusively to
    the revelation of Gnostic Consciousness, in so far as that may be, and
    to the encouragement and guidance of effort upon the part of all who
    may respond, to the end that they too may know the Gnostic
    Realization. But he implemented this work with a most unusual
    scholarly equipment, both in Oriental and Occidental material. While
    this equipment is strongest in the Vedic and Yogic philosophical, and
    general literary, linguistic and historical sense, yet there is not
    lacking a considerable understanding of Western science, save only
    that phase of science of which mathematics is an essential part.
    Along with all this, Aurobindo was thoroughly trained in, and a master
    of, the English language in both the forms of prose and poetic
    literary production, and thus for the first time in the history of
    Indian Gnostic contributions we have original production in the
    language of the reader of English, and in terms adapted to the needs
    of the modern mind; all of which results in a product of far more
    value than the translations of ancient Sutras composed for a mentality
    which is strange and often incomprehensible to us.

    While it is true that Sri Aurobindo often speaks in pejorative terms
    of the mind and the reason, particularly in later writings, yet his
    formulations, even in his poetry, are always highly rational and,
    therefore, intelligible. The reader does not have to labor with the
    unintelligibilities which are so often the curse of metaphysical
    production, as in the case of Jacob Boehme. Perhaps despite himself
    Aurobindo found it to be impossible to cease being reasonable, and the
    reader may well be thankful for this. The writer would class him with
    Shankara as being one of the two clearest and most rational of
    mystical philosophers. And further, Aurobindo rarely if ever imposes
    intellectual violence upon the reader since he avoids categorical
    assertion and denial in the highest degree possible, though the
    authority of Direct Realization is such that the categorical form
    cannot be completely avoided. He suggests possibilities or
    difficulties for the reasonable consideration of the reader and in his
    philosophic writings and letters ever seeks to lead the understanding
    by argument rather than to compel it by authoritarian pronouncement.
    The result is that the thoughtful reader is often convinced away from
    his previous predilections and, when not convinced, yet feels that
    Aurobindo permits and respects his different view. Of all the merits
    of this great man, this is not the least.

    Lack of space prevents saying more than a word concerning the
    substance of Aurobindo’s yogic philosophy, but we would fail in the
    sketch of this man’s life and thought if we did not say something. In
    the main, he continues in the current established by the Vedas, the
    Upanishads and the Gita and, in so far, is in accord with the
    established Indian tradition. But he derives from, or superimposes
    upon, that current interpretation which, in certain important
    respects, diverges radically from views that have been predominant in
    India, particularly the views of Sri Shankaracharya and the
    Mayavadins. He teaches a philosophy of universal Realism as opposed
    to the Mayavadin Universal Illusionism. Hence, for Aurobindo, the
    attainment of Nirvana, while a preeminently valuable achievement, is
    but the beginning of a process which returns to the world in order
    that transformation may be effected in the evolution, whereas, for
    Shankara and the Mayavadins, the evolution is simply irrelevant and
    Nirvana is a culmination. For Aurobindo, world process and
    development remain significant even for the Divine Life.

    The Crown of Sri Aurobindo lies in this that through him the Divine
    has been drawn down into the mundane field for its spiritualization in
    a degree and sense that has rarely if ever been realized heretofore,
    and thus he is truly an Avatar.

    Hail to Thee, Thou Man God!

    Reprinted in the New Age Interpreter, May June 1951, and in Mother

    During his lifetime Sri Aurobindo was comparatively unknown in the
    Western world. As this December marks the tenth anniversary of his
    passing he is beginning to be hailed universally as a more than
    ordinary being, a Great Being among the Great.
    –Gertrude Wolff–

    Reprinted in Assembly of Man Bulletin 4 (December, 1960).

    • It’s a shame that you had to cheapen such a nice posting with such an ignorant comment about Osho. What do you know firsthand about Osho. It appears based on your comment that you have not even read what Osho has said concerning sex. Don’t rely on second hand information, look for yourself.


      • any thoughts about Osho’s comments on Sri Aurobindo vs Merrell-Wolff’s? I understand that the individual who put this site together considers Merrell-Wolff a fully realized being.

        As for Osho, there are several dozen individuals here in Asheville who associated with Osho in Oregon and India. The comment is based on their direct experience. As for his being a professor, why hide from that? My first reading of him was in 1974. As far as I recall, he either still was a professor or had recently left academia. Both I and the people I have referred to have read extensively in Osho’s works; in my case, over a period of more than 35 years.

  2. I am the person who put this site together. Let’s let both Osho’s and Franklin Merrell-Wolff’s comments on Aurobindo stand on their own. No need to get into the middle.
    As to your “As for his being a professor, why hide from that?” I don’t find a single word in my response to you that suggests any kind of hiding from the fact that he was a professor, he certainly didn’t. Anyway, I don’t know why you would make such a comment considering that Franklin Merrell-Wolff was a mathematics professor at Stanford.
    My comments are in relation to your “make money by offering sex and drugs in the guise of meditation.” What are you talking about? Are you talking about teaching Tantra as a means to transcend sex. And what does that mean. It means taking awareness into whatever you do, whether that be while cleaning the floor, walking in the garden, drinking a cup of tea or even in a sexual embrace. But you must have read that yourself in your reading him “for a period over 35 years.” You must have found quite a bit that interested you to continue for so long.
    And just for the record, Osho left his University teaching position in 1966 and began traveling all around India giving lectures and leading meditation camps.
    You are welcome to contribute through the comments but let’s try and stick to our own experience and let others communicate their own directly. I am sure your friends in Asheville do not need a spokesman. Be a light unto yourself. cheers!

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