Self-Discovery Portal

Greatest Western Teachers of Modern Times
~ What Do They Recommend? ~

Franklin Merrell-Wolff Franklin Merrell-Wolff | Douglas Harding | Richard Rose

I lived in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, and I saw Jiddu Krishnamurti – who was then in his mid-80s – at the public talks he gave at Ojai each spring, but I didn't get up to Lone Pine to meet Merrell-Wolff. I had read his Pathways at Richard Rose's recommendation and thought it was a good book, but it didn't inspire any action on my part. My curiosity was not directed toward meeting Wolff at the time, which I now regret. So my understanding of his teaching comes second-hand and is based largely on his writings.

When I reread Pathways twenty years later, one of the key points that struck me was Wolff's conviction that Recognition can come through either thought or feeling – i.e., through intellect or intuition. He cited Shankara as a notable example of the former path, which Wolff said was his own path, and Jesus as a notable example of the latter. He thought that the path of feeling or intuition was the more commonly followed route and noted that the typical advice of those who had followed that route to the end of the line was that stopping thought was necessary.

Wolff said that, in his own case, stopping thought did not accomplish the desired result. More generally, he found that no technique was ever helpful unless he first modified it for his own conditions.

The heart of Wolff's philosophy is what he referred to as the Fundamental Recognition. Synonyms he used were Knowledge through Identity, The Great Space, and Consciousness without an object and without a subject. He equated these with Eastern terms shunyata, nirvikalpa samadhi, Tao, SAT and dharmakaya. Other phrases he used were The Awakening, the end of all religions and The High Indifference.

Conditions that Favor Recognition:

Wolff said that most cases of illumination in the west appear to be spontaneous awakenings. Recognizing the low rate of success among intentional seekers, he noted three conditions – two essential and one contributory – that pave the way. The first condition he considered essential was a desire for Liberation. He admitted that it could take a variety of forms and may not be not be seen for what it is. And the moment of Transition may come as a great shock if the outer desires conflict with the deeper inner desire. He cited St. Paul as a notable example of this.

The second factor he considered necessary was a spiritual guru. He believed that the guru appears when the pupil is ready, and that it could appear either inwardly or outwardly – with or without recognition by the pupil. He felt that effort put forth by the student was effective in drawing help but does not cause transcendental results. He saw Recognition as "a spontaneous induction out of Spirit Itself" and felt that man's "personal effort merely removes barriers in his nature that inhibit this spontaneous induction." Even without direct outer instruction, Wolff felt that delving into the writings of a teacher with whom the student felt a close rapport would set up a "magnetic harmony" that was favorable to success.

While proclaiming that the message of the guru has transforming power and should be accepted without resistance, Wolff cautioned that the concepts used to convey the message may be off-base. Because of this, he emphasized the additional need for discrimination.

The third factor, which Wolff classified as immensely helpful although not necessary, was being in the presence of a person who has become "identified with the Light." He said this puts the seeker into a field of Consciousness that tends to arouse some degree of that same kind of consciousness in the seeker. He referred to this process as induction or contagion, saying it was the same as what Jesus called leavening. Repeated inductions, he said, would tend to produce a condition where the Inner Light of the student would "catch on" for Itself. Even though this induction could work on what he called "somnambulistic" (see below) people, the student should put forth effort and active aspiration in order to maximize the probability of success.

Barriers to Recognition:

The flip side of factors that favor Recognition are the barriers to such, and Wolff itemized four. The first he termed egoism, the sense that "I am I and none other." He said this led to pride, conceit, jealousy, inferiority and superiority complexes, and thus to all friction between individuals and groups. The shell of this microcosm has to be cracked or melted so that individual consciousness can merge with Universal Consciousness. The strong intellectuality and powerful will or desire that tend to build a strong egoism are helpful from a standpoint of bringing greater power to the project of finding answers but make it difficult to escape the microcosmic egg.

Somnambulism is a barrier through weakness rather than strength in the subject-object field. While the sleep-walker is more accessible to induction, he is also more likely to flow into Universal Consciousness without retaining self-consciousness – less than the highest destiny of man. The "way" for somnambulists involves strengthening the capacity for self-determination and self-directed thought, in effect strengthening their individuality.

A third barrier is sensual desire – sensuality being the opposite of spirituality in Wolff's view. The reason is that desire directed toward sense objects carries consciousness away from where the "universal key" is to be found. Going toward ponderable objects, Wolff tells us, is going toward essential nothingness or illusion.

The fourth barrier to Recognition is that of false predication – assigning properties of the subject to the object, and vice versa. We predicate self-existence to the objects of consciousness. Things or objects thus come to be taken as primary, and then the question arises as to how a self-conscious Self ever arose. In truth, the most primary fact of all is the Self that thinks and senses. Its presence is the one immediate reality that can neither be proved by logic nor found by experience – for it is the foundation of both. So the real problem is how does the external universe come into existence. False predication superimposes a second, illusory universe on the original.

The Mystery of Dhyana:

The ultimate Consciousness is beyond the reach of thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition. It thus depends on another Way of Consciousness, the Buddhist name for which is dhyana, a latent function of Consciousness. In It alone lies the door to Enlightenment. Wolff echoes Huang Po when he tells us that the function of dhyana is a mystery. He says that instructions for arousing it to action exist, but they can only be "collateral objective aids to certain psychological temperaments."

Anything that can be experienced or thought exists through contrast with its opposite. Otherwise it couldn't be isolated from the totality of all consciousness. If A stands for any such object, state, etc., then the universe of possible experience or thought is "either A or not-A." But ultimate Reality lies in neither of these compartments – and thus we say "It is neither A nor not-A." To the pure thinker, THAT which is neither A nor not-A is Voidness. But through the Door of Dhyana IT is found to be substantial Fullness.

Will, discipline, practices:

  • "It is good practice for an aspirant, at an early stage, to acquire familiarity with several disciplines. He will be more in sympathy with one course of self-training than with others, and this will be indicative of what, for him, is the Way."
  • "All activities that require a strong, incisive use of the mind and all will-directed efforts particularly in directions more or less distasteful, are highly helpful. Strong intellectuality affords one of the best resistances to the dreamlike state. It is easier to master the egoism of intellectuality than build strength in the too dreamy consciousness."
  • "This is a point of peculiar difficulty on the path, for the old motivation has ceased to operate, and the opposite force does not yet dominate. It can become a place of despair. One can continue at this point only through the exercise of the will without any affective aid. With persistence, he finds himself within the field of another force. The attraction of the subject now acts as spontaneously as formerly did attraction of the object. Eventually, the subject itself is 'turned away' from."

The Mystic Death:

When two complementary subatomic particles such as positron and electron are brought together, the result is mutual destruction. In their place, a flash of radiation spreads indefinitely throughout space. So also is the effect of the mutual cancellation of all dichotomies of experience and thought: neither A nor not-A, B nor not-B, etc. The flash of radiation that spreads indefinitely through space is the symbol of the Enlightened Consciousness. To achieve the mutual cancellation is to effect the Mystic Death, and this requires faith and courage.


"It is the contrast of pain and joy, united with their appropriate causes, that tends to shock the dreaming consciousness into wakefulness."

"It is not comfortable to have to stand by waiting for pain to perform its purifying office."

"It is not comfortable watching men sow the seeds of pain, when another and joyful life is near at hand, just waiting to be accepted."


In Philosophy of Consciousness Without an Object, Wolff laid out a series of 56 aphorisms as a tool for integrating the self with the not-self. He said that he had seen that the aphorisms had the power to produce transformations. They begin with the assertion of the primacy of Consciousness:

1. Consciousness-without-an-object is.

Thus the aphorisms and related commentary begin with a challenge to our traditional, objective paradigm and continue to topple our world-view to the extent that we can allow.


Here's an attempt to pick out key points that represent Franklin Merrell-Wolff's teaching as I understand it:

  • Use whichever side of the thinking vs. feeling dichotomy is your strength.
  • Absorb the words of illumined men. They will strengthen your desire for liberation.
  • Develop your ability to discriminate.
  • Be aware of the race-horse and donkey team. If intellect is your strength, it may try to run ahead while conflicting emotions become stubborn and dig in their heels.
  • The door to awakening is dhyana, the workings of which are a mystery.
  • Essence-recognition comes through a third way of knowing: in addition to perception and conception there is a direct, immediate introception, or knowledge through identity.
  • When the desire for illumination becomes primary, it will burn up all resistance.
  • Effort attracts help and promotes acceptance.
  • There is a great advantage to being in the magnetic field of awakened men.
  • A real philosophy is a way of life.

"... Realization manifests in a vast range of forms, some seemingly the opposite of others, so for all men there is somewhere the easiest and most direct Way."

Web sites with further information:

Recommendations / Douglas Harding

Recommendations: Franklin Merrell-Wolff | Douglas Harding | Richard Rose

Who are they? | What is a Total Answer? | What do they Know/Believe? | What do they
Summary Comparison | Their Publications | Ongoing Work | GT Home

© 2000-2024. All rights reserved. | Back to Top