Franklin Merrell-Wolff

by Staff

It was September 11, 1893, and there was a fundamental shift happening in the world. Swami Vivekananda, the direct disciple of the great Indian Saint Sri Ramakrishna was speaking at the Parliament of World Religions, and with his first words, “Sisters and Brothers of America . . . ” the entire audience erupted in a standing ovation that lasted for more than three minutes. Franklin Merrell-Wolff was one of thousands who were profoundly moved by the Swami’s words. He had always felt that understanding reality was beyond the intellect, but hearing the words of Vivekananda became a defining moment, after which he devoted his life to confirming this truth for himself.

He was born in 1887 in Pasadena, California, the son of a Methodist minister; his family invested in vast tracts of land along the coastal areas of north Los Angeles and in the San Fernando Valley. Franklin graduated from Stanford University in 1911, majoring in mathematics and minoring in philosophy and psychology. He went on to Harvard graduate school to pursue philosophy and then, during World War I, because he was a conscientious objector, worked as a medic.

During Franklin’s academic career, it became clear to him that he must “reach beyond anything contained within the academic circles of the West.” Consequently, he relinquished a promising career in academia to purse his spiritual quest. It was at this time that he married Sarah Merrell, and their lifelong spiritual partnership began. Franklin describes it himself:

“While I was in the midst of the discussions of a metaphysical seminary held at Harvard during the academic year of 1912-1913, I saw, at once, that if such Knowledge were an actuality it was of far greater importance than even the greatest intellectual achievement within the limits of the subject-object field. . . I resolved to make the search and pay what price might be demanded. In the years since, I have been more than once discouraged and have permitted lateral desires to lead me into side-excursions. But I always returned to the search. I tested various different routes, finding values and defects in all, and then, at last, by combining the best that India has to offer in the field of metaphysics with the best of western science and philosophy, and then adding thereto some modifications of my own, I found a road that has proved successful.”

During the next twenty years, Franklin was able to live on money obtained through his family’s properties. He also dabbled in gold mining at times. Franklin became deeply engaged within the theosophical, Sufi, and Hindu traditions. In 1936, he became drawn to the work of the Indian sage Shankara and the teachings of Advaita Vedanta. It was during this period that he had two Realizations, which became the foundation of his philosophy. The first Realization confirmed Shankara’s nondual perspective, and the second transcended the teaching into his own, describing it as “Transcendental Consciousness.” In the written records of these mystical unfoldings, he described them as premonitory recognitions. These insights were on the true “I” in relation to subject-object consciousness. “I” was understood to mean the inner core of subjectivity. This insight was accompanied by a sense of joy and illumination and a “current” of profound depth.

Upon meditative reflection, he realized that true Realization was a recognition of Nothing—Nothing that is identical with the Self. He recognized that the light of consciousness then turned back upon itself, toward its source, and “consciousness” was realized as absolute fullness and identical with himself. To Franklin, this was not a new experience but a re-cognition of the truth this is, was, and always will be. He found that the nondual knowledge of identity which transcends space and time shifts the base of reference in consciousness, transplanting the roots of identity from the relative to the transcendent. Subsequently, he began experiencing the contrast between the joy and freedom of the Self and the emptiness of the relative world, while deeply feeling compassion for others. A fundamental realization occurred resolving these contrasts which he coined as “High indifference-equilibrium.” It was the complete resolution between all opposites—a profound level of recognition of all aspects of the Self. In Wolff’s words,

“I was no more and God was no more,
but only the Eternal,
which sustains all Gods and Selves.”

As Franklin’s wife observed him entering deeper and deeper, she urged him to describe what was happening to him. After some resistance and feeling no need in himself to do so, he relented and wrote of his experiences in a book titled, Pathways Through to Space and later in, The Philosophy of Consciousness-Without-an-Object. He opened his home every Sunday to students pursuing Perennial Wisdom. Those who came were touched by his clarity and presence. He spoke of a clear map of higher consciousness which drew from his own realization, and touched on Buddhism, Christianity, and the work of Shankara, whom he regarded as his greatest influence. He never developed a “method” for others to follow or believed in founding an organization to carry on his work. He felt that realization could not be passed from one person to another, but that one could assist in essential ways; ultimately, realization came spontaneously of itself as it had for him. For Franklin, the tradition of enlightenment was ever renewing; it stood outside of dogma and could never be organized.

Recognition Beyond Experience
In the past, two important Recognitions have come to me. First, nearly fourteen years ago, in a setting which it is not neces­sary to delineate, I suddenly recognized “I am Atman.” This effected important changes of outlook that persisted. Second, less than one year ago, while engaged in the public work mentioned above, and while deeply interested in a book giving a report of a living Indian Sage, I also suddenly recognized that Nirvana is not a field, or space, or world which one entered and that contained one as space might contain an external object, but rather that “I am identical with Nirvana, and always have been, and always will be so.” This Recognition likewise had its persistent effects upon the personal consciousness.

We are now ready to return to the Recognition of ten days ago. I say “Recognition” rather than “experience” for a very defi­nite reason. Properly it was not a case of experiential knowledge, which is knowledge from the senses whether gross or subtle, nor knowledge from deduction, though both forms, particularly the latter, have helped in a subsidiary sense. It was an Awakening to a Knowledge which I can best represent by calling it Knowledge through Identity and thus the process—in so far as we can speak of process in this connection at all—is best expressed by the word “Recognition”:

I had been sitting in a porch swing, reading. Ahead of the sequence in the book, I turned to the section devoted to “Liberation,” as I seemed to feel an especial hunger for this. I covered the material quickly and it all seemed very clear and satisfactory. Then, as I sat afterward dwelling in thought upon the subject just read, suddenly it dawned upon me that a common mistake made in the higher meditation—i.e., meditation for Liberation—is the seeking for a subtle object of Recognition, in other words, something that could be experi­enced. Of course, I had long known the falseness of this position theoretically, yet had failed to recognize it. (Here is a subtle but very important distinction.) At once, I dropped expectation of having anything happen. Then, with eyes open and no sense stopped in functioning—hence no trance—I abstracted the sub­jective moment—the “I AM” or “Atman” element—from the to­tality of the objective consciousness manifold. Upon this, I focused. Naturally, I found what, from the relative point of view, is Darkness and Emptiness. But I Realized It as Absolute Light and Fullness and that I was That.

A Selection of Franklin’s Writings
Wolff also expressed his realization in the form of poetry and short aphorisms. Regarding his aphorisms, he writes: “There are two lines of approach to, and employment of, the aphorisms. They may be regarded as seeds to be taken into the meditative state, in which case they will tend to arouse the essentially inexpressible Meaning and Realization which they symbolize. This we may call their mystical value. On the other hand, they may be regarded as primary indefinable’s upon which rest a systematic philosophy of the universe and its negation.”

The Nameless
Above, below, to right, to left, all-encompassing,
Before and after and all between,
Within and without, at once everywhere,
Transforming and stable, ceaselessly;
Uncaused, while fathering all causes,
The Reason behind all reasoning,
Needing nought, yet ever supplying,
The One and Only, sustaining all variety,
The Source of all qualities, possessing no attributes,
Ever continuous, appearing discrete,
Inexpressible, the base of all expression,
Without number, making possible all number,
Containing the lover and the beloved as one,
Doing nought, remaining the Field of all action—
The actor and the action not different—
Indifferent in utter completion;
Diffused through all space, yet in the Point concentrated,
Beyond time, containing all time,
Without bounds, making bounds possible,
Knowing no change;
Inconceivable, yet through It all conceiving becoming;
Nameless ever and unmastered;
THAT am I, and so art Thou.

Consciousness-Without-An-Object Is
Before objects were, Consciousness-without-an-object is.

Though objects seem to exist, Consciousness-without-an-object is.

When objects vanish, yet remaining through all unaffected, Consciousness-without-an-object is.

Outside of Consciousness-without-an-object nothing is.

Within the bosom of Consciousness-without-an-object lies the power of awareness that projects objects.

When objects are projected, the power of awareness as subject is presupposed, yet Consciousness-without-an-object remains unchanged.

When consciousness of objects is born, then, likewise, consciousness of absence of objects arises.

Consciousness of objects is the Universe.

Consciousness of absence of objects is Nirvana.

Within Consciousness-without-an-object lie both the Universe and Nirvana, yet to Consciousness-without-an-object these two are the same.

Within Consciousness-without-an-object lies the seed of Time.

When awareness cognizes Time then knowledge of Timelessness is born.

To be aware of Time is to be aware of the Universe, and to be aware of the Universe is to be aware of Time.

To realize Timelessness is to attain Nirvana.

But for Consciousness-without-an-object there is no difference between Time and Timelessness.

Ever-becoming and ever-ceasing-to-be are endless action.

When ever-becoming cancels the ever-ceasing-to-be then Rest is realized.

Ceaseless action is the Universe.

Unending Rest is Nirvana.

But Consciousness-without-an-object is neither Action nor Rest.

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From Pathways Through to Space. Copyright 1983, Three Rivers Press.