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Werner Erhard

the founder of est

This article is taken from The Book of Enlightened Masters: Western Teachers in Eastern Traditions, by Andrew Rawlinson, Open Court, 1997, ISBN 0-8126-9310-8. Tells of the lives and teachings of nearly 200 influential Masters. Drawing a background for understanding these teachers as part of a phenomenon, Rawlinson presents his version of the story of the blooming of Western Teachers, and then looks at their meaning and significance in terms of comparative religion and spiritual psychology, all of which is presented in a separate section that may be left unread if one merely wishes to gain entrance into the life and work of any one Master/Teacher. Please purchase this encyclopedic work from a local bookstore or the Internet.

Erhard is an unusual teacher in a number of ways. He tried numerous methods of investigating the mind over a period of ten years or so -- nearly all of them connected with Western psychological disciplines rather that Eastern paths and he has never claimed to represent an Eastern tradition. But I include him for two reasons. First, because the language of est is an instance of spiritual psychology and its four principles: that human beings are best understood in terms of consciousness and its modifications; that there are spiritual practices that can transform consciousness; that there are teachers or masters who have themselves done it; and there is some form of transmission from teacher to pupil. True, Erhard's version of this is all his own. Spiritual practice is a form of group work rather than individual meditation; the teacher need not be Erhard himself but anyone who has been given that function within est; and transmission is perhaps not the best term to use of what, in est's vocabulary, is called 'getting it'. Yet even so, what Erhard says about his own break through-the day he 'got it', when he was driving to work in San Francisco in 1971-is clearly part of the whole phenomenon I am describing.

"What happened had no form. It was timeless, unbounded, ineffable, beyond language . . . I realized that I was not my emotions or thoughts. I was not my ideas, my intellect, my perceptions, my beliefs. I was not what I did or accomplished or achieved. Or hadn't achieved. I was not what I had done right or what I had done wrong. I was not what I had been labeled--by myself or others. All of these identifications cut me off from experience, from living. I was none of these.

"I was simply the space, the creator, the source of all that stuff. I experienced Self as Self in a direct and unmediated way. I didn't just experience Self; I became Self . Suddenly I held all the information, the content, in my life in a new way, from a new mode, a new context. I knew it from experience and not from having learned it. It was an unmistakable recognition that I was, am, and always will be the source of my experience.

"Experience is simply evidence that I am here. It is not who I am . . . I no longer thought of myself as the person named Werner Erhard. . .1 was not identified by my 'false identity' any more than by my 'true identity'. All identities were false .

"I was whole and complete as I was, and now I could accept the whole truth about myself. For I was its source. I found enlightenment, truth and true self all at once."

Secondly, prior to this experience, when he was investigating all kinds of techniques, Erhard had come across Zen. I cannot say anything definite about his knowledge and practice of it. It is not made much of in Bartley's book- which is in effect Erhard saying what he wants to say so he could have emphasized it if he had wanted to--but I have been told that he practiced with the Rinzai teacher, Yamada Mumon Roshi (not to be confused with Yamada Ko'un Roshi), who thought highly of him. No doubt those who were close to Yamada Roshi could confirm this. In any event, Erhard has never claimed to be a Zen teacher. But he does say that of all his investigations, only Zen was essential because it "gave some form to my experience. And it built up in me the critical mass from which was kindled the experience that produced est."

There is, of course, far more to Erhard and est than this. But it is worth knowing even this much.