The teacher of timeless wisdom

Published - September 20, 2014 11:01 pm IST

Eknath Easwaran

Eknath Easwaran

We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another

— Jonathan Swift, Thoughts on Various Subjects

The great mysteries are the surprises that life springs on us. It was preordained that I had to have a role in Rudy’s life, which prompted him to gift me Meditation , the life-changing book by Eknath Easwaran. A friend, after reading it, spoke of life “before and after Easwaran”. I could hardly disagree.

All but forgotten in India, the land of his birth, but remembered widely and fondly in the West, particularly in the U.S., Easwaran, through his books, conversations and lectures, has succinctly analysed ‘life’ in its totality and illuminated for humanity the path for leading a rich, value-based life that would yield sustained happiness.

There have been erudite scholars, thinkers and mystics who have dealt with philosophy, spirituality and matters concerning human existence. But very few have analysed as Easwaran has done, the core meaning of ‘life’ in relation to ‘happiness’. His writings and lectures are precise, lucid, penetrating, compassionate and bereft of ego, seeking only to help one to embark on the highway to happiness. What Easwaran offers is neither superficial nor heavy. It is a distilled analysis of ideas and thoughts, gleaned from the hoary texts that have guided humanity over ages. His depth of knowledge, deep understanding of the essentials of ‘life’, and clarity of thought, enable him to navigate through complex issues with such a light touch. That sets him apart.

How did one born in a Kerala village into a family of modest means, become a “Teacher of Timeless Wisdom,” guiding thousands across the world? Undoubtedly, his was an intelligent mind, ready to receive from his doting grandmother, “an obscure village woman,” ( The Mantle of the Mystic , Page 37), her spiritual awareness. She had the foresight to encourage him to study English and Sanskrit. With her ever-watchful eye and subtle suggestions, she inculcated in him an abiding love for all creatures living, sharpening his sensitivities.

Later, while pursuing graduate studies in Nagpur, through visits to the Sevagram Ashram, he came in contact with Gandhiji, who “stirred him deeply”. He saw at close quarters how Gandhiji had transformed his own life and led India’s struggle for freedom. Easwaran always said he was proud to be living in ‘Gandhi’s India’. Around this time, perhaps as a result of grandmother’s influence and Gandhiji’s transformation, he began to feel that the satisfactions he had found, the ambitions he had pursued and the values he had cherished “had been swept away as if with one gigantic blow.” Following this was the book, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna , which he received as a gift. In his own words, “the time was right for Ramakrishna to enter my life; the stage was ready” and “the curtain of a new life was going up for me.” An inscrutable power began to guide him, and before long he slipped deeper into meditation.

After a stint in Nagpur, a Fulbright Scholarship sent him to Berkley University, where alongside the formal teaching of English literature he gave lectures on meditation.

“The Eight Point Programme” offered by Easwaran, which starts with meditation, is a prescription to secure a life of abundant happiness. The definition of meditation is “the end of sorrow” and “mastery of the art of living”. The programme “is simply my presentation of principles and practices which are themselves age-old ... they can be followed in any religion ... belong to no movement ... asks for no change of beliefs ... it simply allows you to take the ideals you respond to ...” In a nutshell, they are universal, tuned for leading a spiritual life (not monastic life).

It is a testimony to the potency of the Eight Point Programme those such as Sumner, Sultana Harvey, David Bishop and others, who came in contact with Easwaran when they were students, followed him, participated in the task of establishing the Ramagiri Ashram in Tomales, California. They continue to live there, with no urge to step out. Their lives are satiated, full of contentment, peace, happiness and unshakable security.

After Easwaran, Christine, his wife, now in her nineties, carries on his work from the ashram. Its mission of “quietly changing the world”, reflects his life and work, anchored as it was in meditation. He saw it as “a clear, changeless goal far above the fever and fret of the day... tapped for the benefit of the world by anybody.”

Never has the need for meditation and the “Eight Point Programme” been greater than it is today, and the stunning lack of its awareness, a matter of painful concern.

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