Jean Klein: Master of Listening

klein2The last time I saw Jean Klein was in 1996 in Santa Barbara, California. Amido and I had gone with him and his wife, Emma, to see the parade downtown. We had spent the weekend helping to care for Jean and giving Emma a break. Jean had had a stroke and was also suffering from dementia, although suffering is not the right word; I couldn’t find another. He really didn’t seem to suffer though it was clear that the conditions were affecting his body/mind.

Enlightenment with dementia, not two words you expect to experience together. Jean said he was not the mind. I found myself thinking, although unreasonably, that it would not be possible to have dementia with enlightenment. But if we are not the body and not the mind why should that be so? We know that Ramana Maharshi suffered from cancer. J. Krishnamurti’s bodily sufferings are well known. But the mind suffering, somehow that seemed different. So it was a good experience to see, from the outside anyway, enlightenment with dementia. The body, the mind were both suffering from the stroke and the dementia and yet sitting with Jean or just being around him was as before. The lightness of being that was Jean was always present.

In fact I received the strongest teaching, the sharpest Zen stick from Jean during that weekend.

I first came to know about Jean Klein when a friend dropped by my new age music shop, Mysterium, in Boulder, Colorado. He handed me a copy of I Am and offered to leave it with me. After reading the back cover I immediately accepted.

What you are looking for is what you already are, not what you will become. What you already are is the answer and the source of the question. In this lies its power of transformation. It is a present actual fact. Looking to become something is completely conceptual, merely an idea. The seeker will discover that he is what he seeks and that what he seeks is the source of the inquiry.

Even before Osho left his body I had become deeply interested in self-inquiry, in advaita. I was reading Nisargadatta Maharaj and Ramana Maharshi. Some shift had happened. Up to that point meditation consisted of awareness focused on phenomena, sensations, thoughts or feelings, but now awareness was turning on itself. This felt to be the beginning of “inquiry,” and inquiry seemed to be the entire teaching of Jean. Also, it was compelling for me that here was a Westerner who was a living master.

Discovering that Jean lived part of the year in Santa Barbara I immediately made contact with the organization and was informed that a weekend workshop would be taking place in Joshua Tree, California, in a couple of months. Amido and I participated in the workshop. Later we also attended one of his weekend gatherings in Santa Barbara. Soon we were making arrangements for Jean to come to Boulder.

During the question period in the Boulder workshop I asked Jean, “So is it this, more and more subtle?” He responded, “I would say less and less conditioned.” Through the years I have found that statement to be extremely significant.

For me the most important word in Jean’s teaching is “listening.”  He uses it in much the same way that Osho uses “witnessing.” Do you notice how similar the two words are?

We cannot precisely say what this listening is, because it is not a function. It is without intention. Being free from intention also means being free from concentration. In both we are looking for a target, looking for a result, but in listening we are simply open, directionless.

In listening there is no grasping, no taking. All that is listened to comes to us. The relaxed brain is in a state of natural non-function, simply attentive without any specific direction. We can never objectify listening, because that would mean to put it in the frame of space and time. It is listening to oneself.

In listening to oneself there is no outside and no inside. It is silence, presence. In this silence-presence there is a total absence of oneself as being somebody.

In listening we are not isolated. We are only isolated when we live in objects, but free from objects we live our essence where there is no separation. In listening there is not a you and not another. Call it love.

Jean Klein – From The Book of Listening, page 130

One night during his stay, Amido made a beautiful pasta dinner which we took to where Jean and Emma were staying. Over dinner we had some time for gossip. Jean said that he had once looked into one of Osho’s books, I Am the Gate, and read where he was talking about Hitler. Osho says that “Hitler was a vehicle for other forces. . . . He was just a means: he was used.” Jean strongly objected to Osho speaking of Hitler in those terms. Jean had helped Jews escape from Germany during the war.

In those days Poonja was very well known in the advaita circles. Jean didn’t seem to have a very high regard for Poonja, but he didn’t say why. He told us that Poonja had once stayed with him for some time in Europe. A couple of years ago I ran across the following account of one meeting between Jean and Poonja in David Godman’s book Nothing Ever Happened.

Meera [Papaji’s second wife]: It was a sort of dinner party that was attended by Papaji, Jean Klein and a small group of students from each teacher.

David [Godman]: What happened?

Meera: The disciples of the two teachers got into a debate about the teachings of their respective Masters, but the two teachers themselves kept mostly quiet. Though Jean Klein taught self- inquiry there was a lot of difference between
his and Papaji’s approach to liberation. Afterwards Jean Klein advised all his students to stay away from Papaji, telling them he was a dangerous man with a dangerous teaching. He came up to me (Meera, Papaji’s defacto wife)
afterwards and told me directly that I should leave Papaji because I would be in great danger if I stayed with him any longer.

Jean Klein’s character seemed to undergo a strange change that evening. There was a hostility and a rudeness in him that I had never seen on any of our previous meetings. He seemed to see something in Papaji that made him afraid. He wouldn’t say what it was, but he did go out of his way to tell all the people there that for their own safety they should have nothing more to do with Papaji. It was a very strange response because he had previously seemed so calm and self-assured. I was very disappointed by his behaviour and by the meeting in general. It was not a success. 

After the weekend Amido and I drove with Jean and Emma to Rocky Mountain National Park which he enjoyed immensely and commented several times on how young the mountains were.

The next year we again invited Jean to Boulder. This time he came with Leif a longtime friend. We were having a difficult time finding the right space to put Jean up and Maitri who was working with the American teacher Gangaji came forward and said he could stay in Gangaji’s mountain house. Gangaji would make other arrangements for herself.

On the day after the workshop I received a call from Maitri asking if it would be possible for Gangaji to have a meeting with Jean and so it was arranged. At the end of the meeting Maitri phoned to tell me how much Gangaji had enjoyed the meeting. Leif said Jean too had enjoyed meeting Gangaji.

By this time Amido and I were already planning to sell our house in Boulder and move to Crestone, Colorado. Because Crestone is such an alternative spiritual community, we thought it would be wonderful to arrange a workshop there with Jean.

By the summer of 1995 we had sold our Boulder house, bought a house in Crestone and began scouting out venues for Jean’s workshop. Baker Roshi had started a Zen center and that was one possibility.   A suitable building that was part of the Aspen Institute was another possibility. Before we settled on a site Jean had a stroke and it was clear that he was not going to be coming to Crestone, probably not taking any trips and certainly not to 7,500-foot elevation Crestone.

We received a call from our friend Sundro, who had been with Osho as well as Jean, telling us that he had returned from spending some time in Santa Barbara helping out after Jean’s stroke. He told us Emma could use any relief that could be offered. Amido and I made arrangements to go for a weekend and off we went.

Despite the circumstances it was a remarkably intimate time with Jean. We were a small group,  a friend of Jean’s who was his caregiver, Amido a nurse, Emma, myself and of course Jean.

One afternoon I had taken Jean out on the patio to sit and enjoy the sunshine.  I was sitting with my eyes closed when Jean said to me in a very loud voice, “What do you want from me?” It was startling because Jean was always so soft spoken, often described as having the demeanor of a European gentleman. So to hear him speak so loudly and sharply was a shock.

I had been in some subtle way begging for his bliss. There was a part of me that was reaching out to receive, rather than diving into myself. I was going to him with a begging bowl and in that moment, with that Zen stick, I could see very clearly and returned home in myself.

Emma and the aid reassured me that it was just the dementia speaking, but for me it was not. It was just what the doctor ordered and I was grateful.

Saying goodbye to Jean after the parade, with my hands held in his, gratitude overflowing and the light of awareness shining bright I bid him farewell.

– purushottama

This post is from a collection of essays, stories, insights and poems that have occurred to me along the Way titled Here to Now and Behind.

For more posts on Jean Klein look here.

7 thoughts on “Jean Klein: Master of Listening”

  1. Just noticed Ganga Meera has a link to Papaji on her site. I asked her to comment on this article, but not sure I made it through on the library’s computer. Cheers!

    Like

  2. In the text it says, “He seemed to see something in Papaji that made him afraid.” He, meaning Jean Klein. If that is true, then Jean Klein would not be truly enlightened, according to the definition of Enlightenment, as being beyond all fear.

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