Eknath Easwaran (December 17, 1910 – October 26, 1999) was a spiritual teacher, an author of books on meditation and ways to lead a fulfilling life, as well as a translator and interpreter of Indian literature.
In 1961 Easwaran founded the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation and Nilgiri Press, based in northern California. Nilgiri Press has published over two dozen books he authored.
Easwaran was influenced by Mohandas K. Gandhi, whom he met when he was a young man. Easwaran developed a method of meditation – silent repetition in the mind of memorized inspirational passages from the world’s major religious and spiritual traditions – which later came to be known as Passage Meditation.
Eknath Easwaran was born in 1910 in a village in Kerala, British India. Eknath is his surname, Easwaran his given name. Brought up by his mother, and by his maternal grandmother whom he honored as his spiritual teacher, he was schooled in his native village until the age of sixteen, when he went to attend a Catholic college fifty miles away. Here he acquired a deep appreciation of the Christian tradition. He graduated at the University of Nagpur in English and law.:118 He served as Professor of English literature at the University of Nagpur.
In 1959, he came to the United States as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley.
Eknath Easwaran teaching what is thought to be the first credit course on meditation offered at a major university in the U.S. at U.C. Berkeley in 1968
From 1960 he gave classes on meditation in the San Francisco Bay Area. He met his wife Christine at one of these talks. Together with his wife, he founded the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation in 1961. After a four-year stay in India, he returned to the Bay Area in 1965.
In 1970 he founded Ramagiri Ashram as a community of dedicated followers in Marin County.
He set up a publishing activity, Nilgiri Press, which printed his first book Gandhi The Man, telling the story of Gandhi as a spiritual as well as a political leader. His first major work was his 3-volume commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, the Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living, the first volume of which was printed in 1975 and the last in 1984. His book Meditation on the program of meditation and allied disciplines that he developed first appeared in 1978.
Easwaran’s written works may be grouped into several major categories—primarily books, but also articles in newspapers and other periodicals. Most of his books have been reviewed by spiritually oriented publications or websites, or by nationally known media such as The New Yorker, or the New York Post.
In addition, a large number of Easwaran’s recorded talks have been published in video and audio formats.
Easwaran’s translations of the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, and the Dhammapada (see article) have been critically acclaimed. Religion scholar Huston Smith is cited by the publisher as writing: “No one in modern times is more qualified – no, make that ‘as qualified’ – to translate the epochal Classics of Indian Spirituality than Eknath Easwaran. And the reason is clear. It is impossible to get to the heart of those classics unless you live them, and he did live them. My admiration of the man and his works is boundless.” In Buddhism: A Concise Introduction Smith and his coauthor Philip Novak wrote that “Our favorite translation is Eknath Easwaran’s The Dhammapada. His Indian heritage, literary gifts, and spiritual sensibilities… here produce a sublime rendering of the words of the Buddha. Verse after verse shimmers with quiet, confident authority. A bonus is the sparkling 70-page introduction to the Buddha’s life and teachings.”
Essence of the Upanishads (see article), originally entitled Dialogue with death: The spiritual psychology of the Katha Upanishad, explains how the Katha Upanishad embraces the key ideas of Indian spirituality within the context of a powerful mythic quest – the story of a young hero who ventures into the land of death in search of immortality. “Essence of the Upanishads is a westerner’s guide to this vitally important Indian text and its modern relevance to the Indian mindset and spirituality.”
In Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, Easwaran places the Gita’s teachings in a modern context and comments on the Gita’s view of the nature of reality, the illusion of separateness, the search for identity, the meaning of yoga, and how to heal the unconscious. The book views the key message of the Gita as how to resolve our conflicts and live in harmony with the deep unity of life, through the practice of meditation and spiritual disciplines.
In Essence of the Dhammapada, Easwaran comments on the Dhammapada, sayings attributed to the Buddha himself, presenting it as a guide that gives straightforward teachings about spiritual perseverance, progress, and enlightenment.
His book Passage Meditation (original title Meditation) describes the Eight Point Program that Easwaran developed, while his book Conquest of Mind goes further into the practice of these disciplines in daily life. Timeless Wisdom is a companion book to Passage Meditation and contains passages for meditation drawn from across the world’s spiritual traditions. His book Mantram Handbook: a practical guide to choosing your mantram and calming your mind addresses The Mantram, the second point in the program.
His book Strength in the Storm is an introduction to The Mantram, containing many stories and practical examples to help the reader learn how to harness the inner resources for dealing with challenges in daily living. His book Take Your Time explores “Slowing Down” and “One-Pointed Attention” in daily lives. Renewal is a pocket book of short readings on themes such as loving relationships, raising children, living simply, and aging wisely; Patience, the second in the pocket book series, shows how to cultivate Patience – “the ornament of the brave” – at any age. Other (older) books describe various aspects of leading a spiritual life: Climbing the Blue Mountain, Compassionate Universe, and Undiscovered Country.
God Makes the Rivers to Flow is an anthology of writings from the sacred literature of the world, selected by Easwaran as useful for meditation. A larger (and earlier) version of Timeless Wisdom, it contains dozens of passages from diverse traditions, and identifies passages for particular stages in life, such as caregiving, families with small children, death and dying, grief and loss, and for building positive qualities such as patience, courage, devotion to God, and putting others first. Words to Live By is a set of daily readings with Easwaran’s commentary on applying the reading to daily life.
The three volumes of the Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living are conceived as handbooks for applying the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita to lives today. End of Sorrow concentrates on the individual – how one can discover one’s innermost nature, and transform one’s life through self-realization, selfless service, and meditation. Like a Thousand Suns addresses relationships – how one can heal divisions in society, within one’s relationships, and within oneself, and realize the unity governing all creation. To Love is To Know Me gives a global view, describing what individual readers can do to make a difference in the world today, and ends with a description of bhakti yoga, the path of devotions.
Gandhi the Man traces how Mohandas Gandhi transformed himself into one of the world’s great spiritual leaders.
Nonviolent Soldier of Islam is the life story of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a Pathan (or Pushtun) of Afghanistan and a devout Muslim, who raised the first nonviolent army in history to free his people from British imperial rule. This book was favorably discussed in The New Yorker. The book also inspired filmmaker and writer T.C. McLuhan, daughter of Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan, to make the film The Frontier Gandhi: Badshah Khan, a Torch for Peace, which won the 2009 Black Pearl Award for Best Documentary Film.