Details about Dr, Jean Klein’s life are sketchy. In the tradition of yogic teachers he never thought it important to focus on himself. When somebody asked him a personal question his reply was “There’s no person to answer personal questions. I listen to your question and I listen to the answer. The answer comes out of silence.” Not only did he not want to speak about himself, he did not want to even take credit for his own teachings!
Wikipedia indicates that he was born October 19th 1912 in Berlin. He came from a cultured background and several members of his family were good musicians. He himself started with the violin at the age of six and a half, eventually becoming a talented player. Though there was nothing remarkable about him as a child, his mother described a peculiarity. As a child he would occasionally sit in silence that she described as “not daydreaming”.
As he grew into his teens he had this “strong urge for freedom” that he describes later. This drove him to read Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche, and was especially influenced by Gandhi, whose teaching of ahimsa/non-violence led him to become a vegetarian when he was 16. He also read people like Coomaraswamy, Aurobindo, and Krishnamurti. But the person who had the greatest impact on him was Rene Guenon. Dr. Klein describes reading Rene Guenon’s work as a turning point.
At the same time, he had experiences that confirmed what he had read. He describes a “glimpse of oneness or self-awareness” that occurred when he was 17:
“I was waiting one warm afternoon for a train. The platform was deserted and the landscape sleepy. It was silent. The train was late, and I waited without waiting, very relaxed and free from all thinking. Suddenly a cock crowed and the unusual sound made me aware of my silence. It was not the objective silence I was aware of, as often happens when one is in a quiet place and a sudden sound throws into relief the silence around. No, I was ejected into my own silence. I felt myself in awareness beyond the sound or the silence. Subsequently, this feeling visited my several times.”
He went on to become a doctor and outwardly lived an ordinary life. During World War II he became part of the French resistance. But there was still “a lack of fulfillment”. Then he “felt a certain call to go to India” and he arrived in 1951. He says that he was not looking for a guru and there was no specific reason or mission why he went to India.
But he did meet a teacher. He was introduced by friends to a man who eventually became his teacher. Not much is know about this teacher except that he was a Sanskrit Professor in Bangalore, and he was referred to as “Panditji” Rao.
One day when Dr. Klein was discussing the Upanishads with his teacher when his teacher asked him, “Do you know who you are?” The question perplexed Dr. Klein and his answer was “Yes I do somewhat know myself.” But his teacher then asked him, “Do you know the knower of it?” This simple question was a turning point.
He later said, “My master always pointed out to me during our life together that all perceptions need an Ultimate Perceiver. The ultimate perceiver can never be the object of perception. Once false identification with the body is understood, we are led to the question ‘Who am I?’–and the one who asks is himself the vivid answer. The searcher is himself that which is sought.”
Then one morning, “Between deep sleep and awakening, there was a sudden vanishing of all the residues of ‘my persons’, each having believed themselves hitherto to be a doer, a sufferer, an enjoyer. All this vanished completely, and I was seized in full consciousness by an all-penetrating light, without inside or outside. This was the awakening in Reality, in the I am…I knew myself in the actual happening, not as a concept, but as a being without localization in time or space. In this non-state there was a freedom, full and objectless joy.”
Eventually he had an urge to communicate his experience and his master suggested that he do so in Europe since he was himself European. He started teaching about 1960 but he never sought students, “People came to me. I have never taken myself for a teacher, so I never solicited students. The teacher only appears when asked to teach.”
Like all teachings that hold that our real nature is truth, what Dr. Klein says is essentially simple: “You are primal awareness. Life is only primal awareness. Between two thoughts or two perceptions you are. You know moments in your life when a thought completely disappears into silence, but still you are.”
This primal awareness is that which underlies all other kinds of awareness. “At first you may experience silent awareness only after the dissolution of perception, but later you will be in the silence in both the presence and absence of objects.”
The striking thing about Dr. Klein is his independence. He teaches Advaita but he rarely uses its technical terms. In fact, he has developed his own vocabulary which consists mainly of the special use of words like ‘listening’, ‘transparency’, and so on. Nor does he refer back to the tradition for any kind of confirmation. For those looking for teachings related to non-duality without technical jargon and Sanskrit lingo Dr. Klein’s work is a great source.
Dr. Klein passed way Feb 22 1998 in Santa Barbara, California. His core teaching summed up in the following passage:
“If we disinterestedly observe the arising and disappearing of all the states we experience, we soon come to realize that each state, each perception, each thought, is reabsorbed into an unspoken knowing, knowing as being. This, the continuum, the only reality, is there before activity commences. Let yourself sink deep within this stillness each time it makes itself felt.
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