Remembering Robert Powell

by Matthew Greenblatt

1918-2013
Robert Powrobert-powellell was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. After obtaining a doctorate in chemistry from the University of London, he pursued a career first as an industrial chemist and later as a science writer and editor in Great Britain and the United States. Robert’s exploration of spirituality began in the 1960s. His quest for deeper self-discovery led him to Zen and later to a number of spiritual masters including J. Krishnamurti, Ramana Maharshi, and Nisargadatta Maharaj.

Along with Wei Wu Wei, Douglas Harding, and Alan Watts, Robert Powell was one of the pioneers who helped to spread the teachings of nonduality in the West. Robert was respected internationally as an author of deeply insightful books on self-inquiry and spiritual exploration, including Discovering the Realm Beyond Appearance, Why Does God Allow Suffering, and Dialogues on Reality. He also edited three books of dialogues on the teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj: The Experience of Nothingness, The Nectar of Immortality, and The Ultimate Medicine.

Robert spent the later part of his life in quiet retirement, with his loving wife Gina, in La Jolla, California.

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We first met Robert and Gina in the spring of 1990 while hosting a program at the University of California San Diego on the life and teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. They were kind enough to put us up at their wonderful home. We found ourselves taking long walks together on the La Jolla cliffs, where wild flowers grow along a rugged coastline of stunning natural beauty. We became close friends and it did not take long to see that our destiny was propelling us toward a move to the San Diego area.

Robert inspired and encouraged us during the formative period of Inner Directions, even taking the helm as the original Editor of the Inner Directions Journal. I was fortunate to work closely with Robert during the editing of the Journal—and also of several books, including Talks with Ramana Maharshi—during which time I witnessed his editing genius and the contemplative nature with which he would approach the subject matter. During this period, I’d often find him sitting in his study with Fuji—a local Siamese cat that “adopted” him. Robert would be sitting in perfect stillness and Fuji, equally contemplative, was sitting right by his side.

Robert had an outwardly austere appearance, which was supplemented by the fact that he was a man of few words. However, a loving and gracious smile was never far from his lips. A deeply cultured man, he spoke several languages and approached each encounter with others in a spirit of graciousness and humility.

We had the opportunity to visit with Robert just three weeks before he left the body and his face was bright as ever—reflecting a natural freedom from the vicissitudes of ongoing illnesses. Gina said that Robert did not want any kind of funeral or service. She said he simply wanted to “leave this world as quietly and silently as when he appeared.”

While Robert Powell will be greatly missed we are grateful for the legacy he left in the form of writings, and also in lives that he touched through spiritual presence.