Franklin Merrell-Wolff’s Realizations

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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I Felt Myself in Globality – Jean Klein

Jean Klein answers questions about time spent with his Teacher and his subsequent Awakening in Bombay

The following is excerpted from the prologue of The Transmission of the Flame by Jean Klein

How then did you meet your “unknown teacher”?

Some of the friends I met, and with whom I spoke of peace, freedom and joy, had a spiritual guide. One day I met their teacher and on this and several other meetings, I asked him many questions, questions that expressed all my earnestness to find my real center.

It seems that you trusted him at once.

I was open to him. I was struck by his lack of striving, his humility. He never tried to impress or convince. There was simply no personality. All his answers came from nowhere, no one, and yet his gentle openness was apparent. I was struck too by his argument that potentially you are, it only needs actualizing. He never saw anyone as not knowing. He gave no hold to my personality.

He gave me many answers, but during the several weeks that I didn’t see him I became aware that all my questions had been an escape, an evasion of the real question. The existential crisis I had always lived in became acute. I lived with this feeling that I had missed the real question, a question I was not able to formulate. Then I had the opportunity to visit him where he lived in a little room in the Sanskrit College at Bangalore where he was a teacher. Two other young Indians were present and they were talking about the Karikas of Gaudapada and the Mandukya Upanishad. The talk was of the four states, waking, sleeping, dreaming and turiya (the absence of objects). He said that turiya is not properly speaking a state which one enters and leaves. It becomes a non-state (turiya-citta) when you are awake in it. It is the absence of ourself which is our total presence. Then there was a silence, the other students left and he suddenly looked at me and asked, “Do you know yourself?” I was a bit disturbed by this question because I didn’t really know what he meant. I couldn’t find a way to look at it. I said hesitantly, “Yes,” because I was thinking I knew my body, senses and mind very well. He said to me, “You are the knower of your body, senses and mind, but the knower can never be known, because you are it and there’s nobody to know it. It can never become an object of observation because it is your totality.” This saying had a very strong impact on me. I had a glimpse of reality in this moment because it stopped all intellectual faculties. We were silent and I left.

And did this impact remain with you when you got home?

It left a very strong echo in me of freedom from old beliefs. I went home and lived with it free from all conceptualization and felt myself awake in this not-knowing. It was completely new, there was no absence of knowing.

Did life change or go on as usual?

Life went on, eating, meeting people. But there was now a feeling that I was behind all daily activities. I saw Pandiji many times afterwards and realized that he was my guru because this profound impact could only come from a guru. So you see he found me when I was not looking for him!

Were you at any point in the quest convinced that you would one day know your real nature?

Yes. After the first meeting with him in Bangalore. I never formulated it. It was never a goal. The word “enlightenment” never entered my thoughts. Pandiji certainly didn’t use the term. It was simply a lively feeling, without formulation, of being free from myself, free from all restrictions, all ideas, free from the knowing of freedom.

Did you ever spend a lot of time together, live together?

Yes. For three or four months.

Is it important to live with the guru?

No, it’s not important. He stayed in my house purely for practical reasons.

How did you spend the time together?

He was teaching at the college all day. Sometimes we ate together and every morning he knocked on my door very early and we sat together in silence. Sometimes we spoke about the scriptures, because, being a man of tradition, he very often referred his sayings to the scriptures. But he never did so arbitrarily. Each time he spoke this way, it was exactly the moment when I needed to know it. There was really a feeling of oneness. I was not aware of a “me” and a “he” in our being together. There was real love, not in the way we are accustomed to mean it. It was the most exalted being in love. His presence was continually drenched with warm feeling.

Did he ever transmit to you through touch?

That was not his way with me. We communicated mostly through the eyes. Sometimes he touched my shoulder or hand, but our closeness was closer than all touching.

We also walked together. He was an admirer and this appealed to my artistic nature. He loved music and singing and could imitate the sound of any bird.

Were there any disciplines or exercises that he taught you during this time?

Only to be aware of when conditioning comes in in daily life. He emphasized the problem of day-dreaming and strategy-building. He also emphasized that one should never push away conditioning but only see it clearly, and he reminded me to constantly refer to the first insight, the first non-experience.

You mean, to remember it?

Go knowingly in it, not remember it intellectually. It is presence, not a memory.

Did he teach you any yoga exercises?

No, it was not on the program! When we were sitting together he occasionally made me aware of certain patterns. I knew a few yoga postures already and, if he found me doing them, he sometimes corrected them. Mostly, we sat. Our togetherness, our meditation was never intentional. He emphasized only awareness free from objects and not to try to become a better man. Doing things was a defense for him. His presence was all that was needed—and his sayings, the way he brought the truth to me through words which emphasized the silence. He emphasized the silence after the sayings, the silence in which understanding becomes alive, free from words.

Was he in your thoughts very often?

I did not think of him because I could not personify, objectify him. There was a deep feeling of oneness. I was not at all attached to his physical being. Everything he gave was a pearl. I took it as a pearl and lived with it.

There were moments when we were just happy to be together, not talking, not thinking. His presence was my presence and my presence was his presence. His being was the transmission. In a real teacher this is all transmission is. Any intentional transmission is sentimentality, romanticism.

You have often said that you like to be pushed into the corner with questions. Did you do this with your teacher? Did you ask many questions?

Oh yes, many questions! These brought us to the edge of thinking. They exhausted thinking.

Were your questions ever of a practical nature, how to conduct your daily life and so on?

Almost never. I tried to use all my knowledge to solve the problem myself. I had a very great veneration for him and when I really looked at my feelings, I did not want to bother him with things I could solve myself. I left my time with him for other questions.

Would you mind my asking whether you remember any of the questions you asked him?

From time to time I would ask about spontaneity, or about thinking and how it functions in complementarity, how I could not think of light without reference to dark, and so on. So I asked him how I could go beyond complementarity, beyond thinking, how I could go beyond “to be or not to be.”

You obviously have a very good intellect. Would you say your questions were intellectual?

As you say, my intellect was a very good tool and I used it, but my questions arose not from the mind but from my existential conflict. As I had a strong intellect, I went as far as possible with my questions. For me the intellect was a vital element in the search. Sometimes he answered me in the form of a question which gave me no hold. He pushed me to the edge of the thinkable. Sometimes he did not answer verbally and that silent answer was even more tangible.

Would you say your approach was more jnani than bhakti, more the way of knowledge than devotion?

Yes. Not so much bhakti, of course. But all my questions were carried by love. It was never a dry, mental exercise. He also had a great intellect. Traditionally, when you are a pandit there is nothing you must not know. (laughs)

But you can only come to knowledge when there is love, unconditional adoration.

Were you ever curious about him, about his life, his role as a teacher or as a man, possibly as a husband or father, how he related to other students and so on?

No, never. I never asked personal questions and I never spoke personally about him. It was a sacred relationship. It was a profoundly serious togetherness. I never doubted his integrity for a moment.

At this time, even though you knew intellectually that there was nothing to achieve, did you still feel and function as if there was?

No. There was no thought at all of becoming or attaining. The most I could say would be that perhaps there was still a residue of eccentric energy, energy to become. But every time I was with Pandiji, his presence channeled the energy that was dispersed.

Then it is important to spend some time with the teacher?

Oh, yes.

Because you often downplay this…

It is not a question of time. It can happen at any moment in life. But there are people who have a slow intellect, slow understanding, or who are stuck in the garage. It can also be that they have such conditioned minds through years of wrong training that the mind has lost its subtlety and is the same as a slow mind.

You had, I believe, at this time some freedom from family and financial obligations.

Yes. I had previously organized my life to make this possible.

You are aware that many people wonder whether to organize their lives to be more free from their obligations and social responsibilities. Do you think that a serious inquirer into truth should do this?

One should do all in one’s power to realize this for some time. It usually means foregoing material wealth, letting go of a way of living, living in the most functional way: food and sleep.

We often hear, “First I will make money and then I will retire and devote myself to truth-seeking.”

This comes from the calculating mind. It is a statement from complete ignorance. There is nothing functional in this reasoning. It is only postponing. The right moment does not come from the mind. When you feel the urge to leave the competitive world, the desire is very strong. You don’t, of course, avoid your family responsibilities, but you see them in a different way. The reasoning to make enough money to retire on is an escape from what belongs to the immediate moment.

But what if one has several children, for example, and simply cannot change one’s job?

What is important is that you feel the inner need to be. Then your surroundings—what belongs to you—arrange themselves accordingly. Existence on this earth gives everyone the opportunity to know Life and to be awake in Life. What we are looking for is our nearest.

I am interested to know why, though your teacher never emphasized yoga, you pursued your study of it, presumably because you still had an interest in the relation between biology and psychology. Was this why you went to learn yoga with Krishnamacharya?

Yes. But I was not at all attracted to yoga from the exercise or gymnastic point of view. I wanted to become more conscious of the body. I wanted the body to become more subtle, more energized, more expanded. It was for the love of feeling the body elastic and receptive. And he was a lovely man to meet.

Was this before or after the awakening?

Oh, before…

Did you see other teachers on the level of Pandiji while you were in India?

I saw Krishna Menon four or five times later on, and found him highly able in vidya vritti, the formulation of what cannot be formulated. Absolutely a beautiful being.

And Ramana Maharshi?

Unfortunately I never met him because he passed away a few months before I arrived in India.

So while you were a disciple of Pandiji’s you were never drawn to other teachers for clarification?

There was no desire at all in me for that. I didn’t go to India to find a teacher. The teacher found me. There’s only one teacher. I quickly came to the conviction that there is nothing to teach and that what you are looking for doesn’t belong to any teaching or “teacher.” So why look for anyone? It is the presence of the guru that shows there is nothing to teach because the teacher is established in the “I am.” So I realized that only the “I am,” not a mind or a body, can bring you to the “I am.”

How long did you live in this way, seeing Pandiji?

For about three years.

And then you left Bangalore and went to Bombay?

Yes, I went sightseeing.

And during this stay there was the moment of enlightenment?

Yes, it was a total switch-over from the residual conditioned state to the unconditioned state. Awareness expanded completely and I felt myself in globality.

Had this happened before?

No. There had been glimpses, but this was more than a glimpse. There was no going back. I had found my real ground.

Did you know in the moment itself that it would be permanent or did you discover this in the days that followed?

Because of the quality of the switch-over there was no doubt that I could be again taken by duality, and this was confirmed in the days and weeks that followed. I felt a rectification in my body and in my brain, as if all the parts had found their right place, their most comfortable position. I saw all daily events spontaneously appearing in the non-state, in my total absence, real presence.

Could you say what were the exact conditions, physical and mental, before this moment: The Threshold?

There had been, for two years, a retreat of all the energy commonly used in becoming, so that when some flying birds crossed my horizon, instead of becoming lost in them, they were lost in me and I found myself in awareness free from all objects. This time what I admired, the birds, dissolved in my admiring, in presence. And admiring dissolved in the Admired. Before the birds appeared, I had been in a profound and prolonged state of being open to openness. Now I found myself as the openness, identical with openness. Openness was my being. There was no more duality.

Was there any other difference between this time and other times when you had looked at birds?

Before, there was still a looker looking at something. This was a moment when there was simply looking without a looker. Previously, it had become my nature to live in pure perception with objects, not living in the divided mind. I had for a long time ignored the arising of all qualifications.


It belongs to the traditional approach, and so that of my teacher, never to refuse or indulge the coming up of qualification, but simply to ignore, and eventually forget them. Neither to look for freedom nor avoid non-freedom. The mind simply ceased to play a role except in a purely functional way.

So in a certain way you were ripe for the moment?

In other words the moment was waiting for me!

How is life different now?

There is no more identification with time and space, body, senses and mind. All events happen in awareness.

Did your relationships change?

There was no more relationship. As there’s no longer an “I,” there is not another.

Can this non-state be described at all?

It is love where the mind is dissolved in love.

(long pause)

Interview with Jean Klein taken from the prologue of Transmission of the Flame. Third Millenium Publications. 1990. 

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