Thursday, October 8, 2015

My Discovery of Philosopher/Mystic Franklin Merrell-Wolff

“Suddenly it dawned upon me that a common mistake made in the higher meditation … is the seeking for … something that could be experienced. … 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 objective consciousness manifold. Upon this [“I AM” or “Atman” element] 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.  I found myself above the universe, not in the sense of leaving the physical body and being taken out in space, but in the sense of being above space, time, and causality. My karma seemed to drop away from me as an individual responsibility. I felt intangibly, yet wonderfully, free.”

As many of you know, I combine a deep interest in eastern and western mysticism with an equally deep interest in western philosophy. This is possible for me because (though you wouldn’t know this from most present-day philosophy teachers and curricula) major western philosophers like Plato and G.W.F. Hegel shared my interest in mysticism. 

Well, I now feel less solitary in my pursuit of these combined interests because I’ve discovered a recent philosopher/mystic whose path looks not too different from own: Franklin Merrell-Wolff (1887-1985). Trained at Stanford and Harvard in philosophy and mathematics, Merrell-Wolff in 1936 had a series of “awakening” experiences that culminated in the one described above. These experiences confirmed, for him, what he had been reading in Shankara and other Hindu and Buddhist mystical texts. He wrote about his experiences in two books in which he connects them in some detail not only with these Asian writings but also with writings of Plato, Kant, Hegel, Eduard von Hartmann, and William James.

Merrell-Wolff is unique among western-trained philosophers with whom I’m familiar in that he describes his own mystical experiences as his own, and in considerable detail. William James described some experiences in print which were probably his own, but which he didn’t claim as his own. Plato did the same. Numerous people not trained in philosophy, such as Eckhart Tolle in recent years, have described their mystical experiences. But no other philosophically trained writer has described experiences like Merrell-Wolff’s.

I have some not entirely marginal reservations about Merrell-Wolff’s interpretation of his experiences and of western philosophy. But I have a great sense of being in the same room with someone who cares about the same issues that I care about, has had powerfully important experiences, and has a great deal that’s valuable to say about them.