It has been said that of all the billions of people alive today there are probably only 1000 truly Enlightened beings currently inhabiting the planet. Some say even that estimate is way too generous while others say it is not generous enough. Either way I have been more fortunate that most during my wandering path through life to have met or crossed paths with at least seven, possibly eight individuals, that were truly Enlightened beings. So said, I can speak from experience that Enlightenment is something that is --- and not some mystical or subjective non-existant philosophical happenstance beyond the reach of the common individual.
- THE BHAGAVAN SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI
- MY OWN SPIRITUAL GUIDE AND MENTOR
- SWAMI RAMDAS
- YASUTANI HAKUUN ROSHI
- ZEN MAN HIGH IN THE MOUNTAINS ALONG THE QINGHAI-TIBET PLATEAU
- ALFRED PULYAN
- ROBERT ADAMS
- FRANKLIN MERRELL-WOLFF
The teacher of Alfred Pulyan, a woman of great Attainment that I liken to a Sri Ramana only without a following or a mountain, although not listed in the above eight, is done so because of the nature of the unusual circumstances surrounding her. For more on this mysterious Enlightened woman please see Pulyan's Teacher.
In addition to the above eight individuals and Pulyan's teacher, it should be noted there are others that have also passed through my life here and there whose spiritual attainment is easily likened to the heightened levels of the above individuals. Although each in their own way contributed in my life in some fashion and vice versa, it is just that in each case relative to me the interaction did not transpire at the level of the others. Those individuals are the Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw, meditation master and Principal Preceptor of the Mahasi Meditation Center in Rangoon, Burma; Joshu Sasaki Roshi, the head master of the Rinzai-ji Zen Center and the Mount Baldy Zen Center, briefly twice; as well as Emmanuel (Alfred) Sorensen, known as Shunyata, a man of great spiritual renown --- Sorensen, it has been said, was BORN Awake. So too, there was a brief crossing of paths between Suzanne Segal and myself on a beach in northern California one morning that could possibly be taken into account.
FOUR SPECIAL CASES:
People often ask about John Wren-Lewis. I write elsewhere that I met Wren-Lewis and it is known he was Enlightened, so why isn't he included amongst others on the list they ask?
In an odd variation on the above meetings, sometime in the early 1970s, via a personal request through an intermediary, I crossed paths with Wren-Lewis who was not, that is NOT Enlightened at the time. As a matter of fact, he was actually more of a spritual skeptic. Twelve years later, as Karma or fate would have it, following a near death experience after ingesting poisoned candy while traveling in Thailand, he experienced a permanent altered state of consciousness not unlike that of the eight individuals listed above. Our meeting came about as follows:
"While on the west coast for his Regents Lecturer position, which was in Santa Barbara, California, and some twelve years before his own Awakening experience --- with no indepth knowledge of the subject --- it was brought to his attention, as the skeptic he was, that there existed a person known as the "holy man of the Channel Islands" that had Awakened to the Absolute after studying under the venerated Indian sage, the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. During the period we are talking about here the holy man was all but unreachable. There was, however, a devotee or follower of the holy man living on the mainland that had himself reached Full Attaiment some two years before. Prior to his going to Florida Wren-Lewis sought out the devotee, which turned out to be a rather long discussion between the two. The interesting part of it all is that the devotee, in describing his Enlightenment experience called it Dark Luminosity. Twelve years later Wren-Lewis described his Experience by calling it the Dazzling Dark."(see)
Following his near death experience and his Attaiment, Wren-Lewis became a fairly well known mover in Enlightenment circles. In an interview in Symposium with one Dan Sutera in an article titled "Conversations with the Down-Under Mystic" Wren-Lewis says, as written by Sutera:
"In the sixteen years since his experience, he has sought out other people who have had permanent Enlightenment experiences. He has thus far found fifteen, and only two had previous spiritual backgrounds. Just as we are all different people, John told me, there is an infinite variety in the types of Enlightenment experiences that people have."
SYMPOSIUM: August 1999 Volume II, Number 1
I was NOT one of the fifteen! Wren-Lewis passed away on June 25, 2006 at Shoalhaven, New South Wales at age 82.
The second person people ask about a lot, although not at the same level as Wren-Lewis, is a man by the name of William Samuel. In that it is known he had an Awakening experience and that I met him --- but do not list him --- the questioners wonder why.
Samuel, now deceased (1996), was a teacher's teacher of deep spiritual renown, and inline with my own mentor, known to have had a major Enlightening experience because of WAR. Paralleling almost exactly my mentor's experience, Samuel's Awakening breeched the veil because of a wartime incident, albeit with the following difference:
The incident on the battlefield that impacted my mentor SENT him on his quest. That quest, well after the war, eventually ended in his Awakening to the Absolute. Samuel's Awakening transpired right at the moment of the incident while actually on the battlefield. However, in both cases, neither of their Awakening Experiences transpired until after having sat before Sri Ramana Maharshi in the flesh. The below, cited from Samuel's A Soldier's Story, recounting that moment on the battlefield:
"During the Korean War, an artillery round burst among my men on the left flank. Several bodies were hurled about and I ran to see the extent of the damage and whether the platoon leader was still effective. Sick to my stomach at the sight, I sat down among three of the bodies sprawled along the slope. I became aware of a visual "Presence" hovering beside them. A misty, blue-white light of sorts. A different kind of light, primal, persuasive and powerful. I could not explain what I saw then, nor can I now, but with the sight, and because of the sight, I was absolutely certain within myself I was being shown evidence of the deathlessness of Life--the survival of the Child, the Soul of men. I felt a marvelous sense of relief, almost gratitude, concerning those men and everything happening that day."
The reason I do not list Samuel is for basically the same reason Wern-Lewis is not listed --- I met him BEFORE his Awakening experience. Even then I did not remember nor know I had met him until I was told so by a friend. The friend was a person from my early childhood named Adam Osborn who I had lost contact with over the years but, quite by accident re-made acquaintance with years later as an adult. Osborne was basically raised at the ashram of Sri Ramana from a very young age to a teenager. So said, he was there when I was there. After I left, years and years went by, when one day in northern California we inadvertently crossed paths.
Osborne and I kept in contact with each other on and off a little bit for a few years following that meeting until it just faded away. Interestingly enough during one of those short lived contacts, out of the blue, he brought up Giri Valam, circumambulation of the holy hill Arunachala and how it related to the two of us. Osborne's father had died in 1970 and Osborne told me that sometime prior to his father's death a man by the name of William Samuel had contacted him in the U.S. and expressed an interest in meeting his father. In their conversation Samuel told him that he and Osborne (the younger) had met at Ramana's ashram in India in 1944 and that during his stay, on the full moon of which he thought was April of that year, he, Osborne and another young boy and a few other people including his mother, circumabulated Arunachala. Osborne empasized the younger boy aspect with me specifically because Samuel thought, Osborne guessed, that the other boy (me) was his brother --- a twin brother --- because of our age, size, body build and look-alike curly haired mop tops.
The month before, 1500 miles east across the sub-continent edging up along the Burmese border the Japanese launched a three divison invasion into India. Quickly outstretching their supply lines and hoping to replenish their local needs by overtaking British, American and Indian garrisons, etc. while their lifelines caught up, didn't happen. For the most part, three months later, met by stronger than expected Allied response and caught in the monsoons, the Japanese were forced into retreat dying of malaria and starving to death --- in the end losing over 80,000 men.
In the early stages of that invasion the aforementioned William Samuel, then a 21 year old captain in the U.S. Army and a veteran of three years fighting with the Chinese Nationalist army against the Japanese in China was apparently called over to the India side of things and somehow must have finagled some much needed R & R, ending up at the Ramana ashram for a week or so in April. Before the war ended he was long back and fully entrenched in China, again fighting along side Chinese troops retaking Ishan, Liuchow and Kweilin. Interestingly enough, ten years later, after being called back into the army for the Korean War and in the height of battle, Samuel experienced nothing less than the infinite, breaking through to full Attainment.
So, even though you might say I met William Samuel, it was years before his Awakening. It wasn't until well into my adult years that I realized a meeting even occurred (via Osborne) and, although in my travels I had heard of William Samuel, I never put together the timing of the events. Sad to say, after Osborne told me about Samuel I never got around to seeking him out.
For a more fully and comprehensive look into any potential or actual William Samuel and Sri Ramana connection please see Sri Ramana's Western Disciples and attending footnotes. Additional insights can be found in The Liverpool Letter as well.
SRI BHARATI KRISHNA TIRTHA
On the evening of February 23, 1942 a huge Japanese submarine 345 feet long and aircraft equipped, surfaced out of the depths of the Pacific along the coast of California and shelled the Ellwood oil fields near the town of Goleta, 12 miles north of Santa Barbara. At the time of the attack I was a young boy living with my parents in a small beach town nestled along that same coast, albeit some distance south from Santa Barbara. Being the kid that I was the shelling was close enough that the thought of a heavily armed enemy submarine prowling just off shore indelibly etched the date February 23rd into my mind --- even to this day. It didn't help much that less than thirty-two hours later, in the darkened early morning hours a giant unidentified airborne object as large as a Zeppelin came in off the Pacific wreaking havoc all over the southland, flying right over my house, and all the while resisting the onslaught of 1440 anti-aircraft rounds, an event that has since become known as the Battle of L.A.
After the war the woman member of the foster couple I lived with was heavy into one of the early health food gurus, Gaylord Howser. She was also into what was called The Law, which eventually morphed into New Thought, promulgated by a man named Neville Goddard. Even though when I was living with her I was not yet into my teens or just barely, she was always taking me into Los Angeles, mostly to the Wilshire Ebell Theater, to hear Goddard lectures. Interestingly enough, unbeknown to me at the time, during the same period that I was attending the lectures a woman I would meet again much later in life by the name of Margaret Runyan, and who would eventually become the wife of Carlos Castaneda, was also attending the lectures.
So said, on the exact same date as the the attack on the oil fields, February 23rd, albeit 16 years later, my mentor had me take him to the Wilshire Ebell Theater, of all dates and places, to hear a lecture given by one of the most significant spiritual figures in Hinduism of the 20th century, Sri Bharati Krishna Tirtha (1884-1960), the Shankaracharya of Puri. Starting at age 27, for eight years, from the year 1911 through to 1919, as a pure astetic, Bharati Krishna Tirtha studied advanced Vedanta philosophy at the feet of Shri Nrisimha Bharati Swami. During those years of study he would leave the Swami going into the nearby forests on long solo retreats. One day in doing so he attained spiritual self-realization.
As my mentor and I were departing the theater a man came out of the crowd and handed my mentor a note inviting him to an after lecture party. Almost immediately upon arrival my mentor was ushered right to the inner circle surrounding Bharati Krishna Tirtha. The circle was composed of six or so people. When my uncle stepped up to the holy man it was quite apparent the two of them knew each other so no introduction was necessary --- which, at least for me, eliminated any formal or actual introduction, although the converstations and interactions continued as though I had been introduced.
CHOGYAM TRUNGPA RINPOCHE
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche is a special case primarily because how the meeting with him came about, the subtle intricacies behind it, and the reasons for it. See:
BUDDHISM IN AMERICA BEFORE COLUMBUS
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
ON THE RAZOR'S
The figure 1000 cited above in the sentence "only 1000 truly Enlightened beings currently inhabiting the planet" comes from eastern religion and Zen pundit Ken Wilber in his book "One Taste." The quote below, and of which I am more fully in agreement with than Wilber's 1000 figure, comes from James Swartz, known as Ram, in an interview titled Commentary on the Teachings of Ramana Maharshi and conducted by John Howells in January 2003, at Tiruvannamalai, South India:
"(W)hile enlightenment is rare with reference to the total number of people on the planet there are tens of thousands of Ďfullyí enlightened people worldwide and particularly in India. Iíve lived here many years and was introduced to the highest levels of Indian spirituality when I was quite young and Iíve lived with a number of enlightened people of the same caliber as Ramana and have personally met more than one hundred enlightened people. And this is just India. Although I am not an expert on Buddhism I know that it is a living enlightenment tradition with roots in the Veda that has been going on for a couple of thousand years, perhaps more. And there are undoubtedly many thousands of enlightened persons who gained it through that means; Tibetans, Indochinese, Sri Lankan and Japanese and now Europeans and Americans."
In the 1970s era when the discussion was held, Wren-Lewis was a self-professed nearly ordained spiritual cynic. Because of such he approached the meeting in a highly skeptical state, especially so anything regarding the potential possibility of an Awakening experience. However, he mellowed significantly as the meeting progressed for a number of reasons. Wren-Lewis had an educational background as a mathematical physicist even to the point of being a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematicas and its Applications. He was pleasantly surprised that the devotee he ended up meeting had a broad general background in astronomy and had, in his youth, met both the famed mathematician, meteorite hunter, and astronomer Dr. Lincoln La Paz as well as Albert Einstein. In a continuing vein of similar science related happenstances, some years later the devotee met the eminent theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking also.