How Franklin Merrell-Wolff Found A Pathway Through to OM
1. The First Eureka
Franklin Merrell-Wolff was a brilliant American academic who gave up his career to seek spiritual enlightenment. It was in the early decades of the twentieth century, and only the most basic Eastern writings in the field were available in the West. He was working with the translated teachings of Shankara, and had met some unnamed sages whom he held in high regard. After about twenty years on the path, he attained the supreme enlightenment in 1936. How can we be so sure of this assertion? Because Merrrell-Wolff’s trained intellect and mastery of Western critical-philosophical thinking enabled him to express the ineffable states he experienced, and the subtle numena he apperceived, in pellucidly incisive terms. This makes it easy to compare his descriptions with the recognized classics of spiritual attainment and with one’s own innermost truths. It also shines clear light on the nature of absolute reality, and provides invaluable signposts for those still traveling the Way.
Merrell-Wolff wrote two books: the first is Pathways Through To Space, a diary of the latter stages of his transformation. It has all the immediacy of the breakthroughs as he first attained them, and descriptions of the amazing states when they were still new for him. Several years later he wrote The Philosophy of Consciousness Without an Object, which recaps the events in the context of the deep understanding and Weltanschauung which had grown out of them. It’s the latter book which I draw on for my presentation.
What Merrell-Wolff called his “ineffable transition” occurred when he was 49 years old ~ as it turned out, exactly halfway through a long and rewarding life. There were two key “premonitory Recognitions”, the first at age 35. In his practice leading up to that point, he found that he was unable to master the ability to stop his thoughts, no doubt because he was so intensely intellectual. Stopping thought is considered a basic prerequisite of attainment, and many lesser souls have foundered on the same shoal. But Merrell-Wolff worked out an incredibly difficult but successful way around the obstacle: he learned to systematically discriminate between his sense of self, his subject-consciousness, and all perceived objects both external and internal to his person ~ including his own thoughts. When he attained perfect identification with pure subjectivity, it triggered the breakthrough, which he phrased as the Recognition that “I am Atman“.