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Isolation of the Subjective Moment

Franklin Merrell-Wolff describes how he performed the crucial step that led to his enlightenment.

Franklin Merrell-Wolff

By Franklin Merrell-Wolff

Editor’s Introduction

In his famous book Pathways Through to Space, Merrell- Wolff describes his moment of realization like this:

I abstracted the subjective moment — the “I AM” or “Atman” element — from the totality of the objective consciousness manifold. Upon this 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. (Page 6)

The key step was something he calls abstraction of the subjective moment.

What does that mean exactly? What precisely did he do?

He answers these questions in the following excerpt from a letter. He uses the words ‘isolation’ and ‘abstraction’ as synonyms in this context.

The practice he describes here is a key component of the method that Ramana Maharshi calls ‘self-enquiry’.

Isolation of the Subjective Moment

NOW, I KNOW THAT SELF-REALIZATION is possible, but this is not knowledge of an object. Perhaps we might call the process an inverse cognition; I shall have to describe what I mean by this. If one studies the process of cognition, either sensual or conceptual, with careful subtlety he will find something like a flow out toward the object. This flow may be likened to a light-ray. The flow can be observed, itself. In some measure and it can be more or less completely stopped.

The object can be made to disappear and in its place may be found either a sense of darkness or of light. It may even induce an ecstatic state of more or less intensity. Now reverse the flow, which is a process of profound introversion, and you have Self-realization. It is a state of the Light centered in Itself and not flowing to objects. It is like beginning a judgment starting with “I” and going no further. This is the isolation of the subjective-moment. The absolute dissolution of the object is not necessary, for one may achieve his realization by reflecting only part of the ray back. This avoids trance. [Our emphasis.]

From ‘A Letter to Reid Gardner’ (1949) on the website of The Franklin Merrell-Wolff Fellowship.

Franklin Merrell-Wolff (1887 ‒ 1985) was an American philosopher, author, and spiritual teacher.

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Recommended Book

Franklin Merrell-Wolff, Experience and Philosophy: A Personal Record of Transformation and a Discussion of Transcendental Consciousness

Experience and Philosophy: A Personal Record of Transformation and a Discussion of Transcendental Consciousness

By Franklin Merrell-Wolff

Franklin Merrell-Wolff is unique among authors of spiritual books because he had a first-rate mind (he was an instructor in the math department at Harvard), he had a first-rate Western academic education (he had a spectacular academic career at Stanford and Harvard), and he had an extremely deep level of spiritual experience. This volume contains his two most important books, Pathways Through to Space and Philosophy of Consciousness Without an Object. He experienced two main stages of enlightenment, and he was particularly interested in Kant, especially Kant’s concept of the synthetic unity of apperception. Merrell-Wolff’s books are heavy going, but we know of nothing like them in the history of spiritual literature.


See it on Amazon.

This page was published on December 12, 2018 and last revised on January 25, 2019.


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