The Making of a Teacher
|Author||Tim Flinders and Carol Flinders|
|Country||United States, India|
|Genre||Spirituality, Religion, Biography|
|Publisher||Nilgiri Press; Penguin India|
The Making of a Teacher is a spiritual biography of Eknath Easwaran (1910-1999). Written by Tim and Carol Flinders, the book was originally published in the United States in 1989. Adopting an oral history approach, the book recounts numerous conversations with Easwaran that describe his childhood, career as a professor of English literature, spiritual awakening, and service as a spiritual teacher in the United States. The book also profiles his current way of life, and relationship with his grandmother, his spiritual teacher. An Indian edition was published in 2002. The book has been reviewed in newspapers, and also excerpted.
In 1989, Eknath Easwaran had been teaching meditation in the US for more than 25 years. A former professor of English literature in India, Easwaran had in 1968 taught perhaps the first credit course on meditation at a major US university (pictured, below right). He had also published many spiritual books, had founded a meditation center, hosted numerous meditation retreats, given thousands of talks, and served as spiritual teacher to thousands of students. According to the Flinders, themselves longtime students, many people whose lives had been affected by Easwaran wanted to know more about him. "'Who is he?' they ask, through letters, at retreats, and at his Tuesday night talks. 'What is he really like? And how did he get to be that way?'":7 In The Making of a Teacher, published in 1989, the Flinders' aim was
to trace Easwaran's development as a spiritual teacher - as much as possible, in his own words ... Perhaps it can best be approached as oral history. We have tried to set forth what Easwaran said and to convey some feeling of what it's like to be with him when he's talking.:8
|A series on the life and works of|
|Books on Meditation|
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— Image courtesy of —
Blue Mountain Center of Meditation
The Making of a Teacher contains five chapters, each named after the setting of the conversations that it recounts with Easwaran. Each of the five locations also played an important role in Easwaran's life at the time the book was written (late 1980s). Accordingly, each chapter also uses its setting to profile one facet of Easwaran's way of life and modes of interaction with the people around him.
The first chapter is entitled "Santa Sabina: Profile of a Teacher," after the location where Easwaran's Blue Mountain Center of Meditation was offering its meditation retreats. It portrays the attenders at a retreat – their diversity in age, gender, profession, and geographical residence – and describes their interactions with him in a two-hour question and answer session.
The book's middle three chapters chronologically focus on Easwaran's childhood, his life in India as a professor, and his life in the US as a spiritual teacher. Chapter 2 recounts Easwaran's upbringing in a South Indian village near the town of Palghat, in Kerala State. The conversations describe his large matrilineal ancestral family, with special attention to his grandmother, whom he identifies as his spiritual teacher. He described her as established in "samadrishti... seeing the same Lord in everyone,":73 "always full of God's awareness,":70 and as being "orthodox in a very unorthodox way"::74 In their ancestral village, most of Easwaran's family worshiped at a temple to the god Shiva. But Easwaran's grandmother
worshiped just as freely in the Krishna temple or the temple of the Divine Mother ... she knew, on the strength of her own experience, that all of them led to the same goal. And I absorbed this....:74
Chapter 2 also describes Easwaran's daily routines at Ramagiri Ashram, the spiritual community that he founded. Easwaran works in a glass-walled office "within view of his students... for long stretches at a time and is available each day for consultation.":61–2 He "often jokes that he lives in a glass house.":62 With regard to being a spiritual teacher, Easwaran states that people in India know that the responsibility of a spiritual teacher is "formidable," and that spiritual teachers must be "on duty all the twenty-four hours"::94
I get alarmed when I see some people in the West acting as spiritual teachers without access to the deeper resources that come with Self-realization. I don't think they are fully aware of the awesome responsibilities on their shoulders, which can become unbearable. I never knew anyone in India who tried to become a spiritual teacher .... It's not a job you apply for – it finds you.:94
Exercise is an "unvarying part":107 of Easwaran's routine, and chapter 3 is set on a beach walk by Easwaran and his wife Christine. The conversations recount Easwaran's years as a college student and professor of English literature. As an undergraduate, he attended Saint Thomas College, receiving inspiration from its headmaster, Father John Palocaren (later a Monsignor). Deeply immersed in English literature, he attended graduate school at the University of Nagpur, and later taught at a small college in Amravati. A Muslim colleague helped Easwaran develop an appreciation for Persian poetry:
There were evenings when with his friends we would take turns reciting The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám in English and Persian, and students would come in great crowds to listen. This was academic life at its richest; to my knowledge, I couldn't have been happier.:120
Easwaran soon established a national reputation as a columnist for The Times of India, a story writer for the Illustrated Weekly of India, and a regular speaker on All India Radio. He was appointed full professor and chair of the English department at the University of Nagpur. Yet during this same period, Easwaran started sensing that something was missing from his life, although he had "no clear sense of what it was.":125 Easwaran attended lectures by prominent intellectuals and "steeped himself":128 in Western psychology. But these speakers and thinkers were unable to answer his most basic question, "What is the purpose of life?":128
Chapter 4 describes a visit to U.C. Berkeley by Easwaran, his niece, and several friends, to see a play by George Bernard Shaw. Easwaran's party also briefly visits the lecture hall where Easwaran in 1968 taught what is believed to be the first accredited course on meditation offered by any US university (see photo).:148 Conversations describe Easwaran's discovery of his distinctive method of meditation, based on meditating on memorized spiritual texts, and his prolonged period of spiritual practice – "years of discipline":164 – before he became established in meditative consciousness. During this period he felt he was being "carried along in the arms":164 of his spiritual teacher, his grandmother. He had experienced a "voice from within, saying 'It's time to wake up! It's time to seek God,'" that he eventually discovered was his grandmother's voice. She had been his teacher all along, having "planted all the seeds":46–47 during Easwaran's boyhood. As he engaged in systematic spiritual practice, Easwaran found himself gradually developing a "mastery of the mind,":164 conscious as well as unconscious, and encountering and developing a relationship with the "deepest sources" of his life, "call it Sri Krishna, the Christ, the Compassionate Buddha, or the Divine Mother.":165
Chapter 5 describes one of the public talks that Easwaran gave each week in Petaluma, California. Before the talk, a coffee hour drew people of all ages, and some of Easwaran's students held meetings for social and environmental service projects. In his talk, Easwaran comments on several verses from the Bhagavad Gita, using metaphors that range from the Olympic Games to a scriptural image of a tortoise. He discusses how his system of spiritual practices can be used to help address environmental problems as well as to overcome addictions of all kinds.
The book also contains a foreword and reproduces 41 photographs from all periods of Easwaran's life.
While the book is pure joy to read, its real value is in how it explores with crisp reality the process of Easwaran's conversion from being a satisfied intellectual to a practicing contemplative. And he didn't renounce anything, except for those qualities that inhibit the meditative mind. He simply changed careers from teaching English to teaching meditation. Few other books will so inspire Hindus to pursue meditation and its accompanying states of clarity, control and genuine caring.:17
Reading the down-to-earth stories of Easwaran is a meditation in itself – one minute you're reading the introduction, and before you know it, several hours have passed and you're looking at the jacket and wondering ... ‘Where did the time go?’:F11
She concluded that the Flinders "have succeeded" in their "aim ... to ‘re-create not only what Easwaran has said but to convey some feeling for what it's like to be with him when he's talking – and for what it's like to be one of his students.’":F11
In The Hindu, Behal described Making as "a journey in introspection, one told with devotion, and with an accuracy that makes for interesting reading." She averred that "Easwaran's simple description of what changed in his life when he touched the great depths of meditation" – "‘now I see into the world. I see the Self, the divine spirit that throbs at the heart of every creature’" – is perhaps not "the most energising point of discussion to begin." But "that is what endeared him to the people who came in contact with him. His undramatic sense of being, his almost low-key lifestyle and, most of all, his amazing compassion for his fellow beings."
The Internet Bookwatch stated that Making "is both inspiring and informative," telling the "fascinating story of how this noted teacher of meditation transformed his own life." The book "vividly demonstrates why so many people have used this method to draw upon their deepest reserves of compassion, wisdom, and serenity."
- Flinders, Tim; Carol Flinders (1989). The Making of a Teacher: Conversations with Eknath Easwaran. Petaluma, CA: Nilgiri Press. ISBN 9780915132546. OCLC 18983479. ISBN 0915132540 (191 pages).
- Ebook: Flinders, Tim; Carol Flinders (1993). The Making of a Teacher: Conversations with Eknath Easwaran. Petaluma, CA: Nilgiri Press. OCLC 556053557. (191 pages).
- Flinders, Tim; Carol Flinders (2002). The Making of a Teacher: Conversations with Eknath Easwaran. New Delhi, India: Penguin India. ISBN 9780143028338. ISBN 0143028332 (191 pages).
- Suchitra Behal (April 7, 2002). "First impressions [review of several books, including the Making of a Teacher. By Tim & Carol Flinders]". The Hindu. Chennai, India: The Hindu Group. ISSN 0971-751X.
- Anonymous (September 30, 1989). "Untitled [review of the Making of a Teacher, by Tim and Carol Flinders]". Hinduism Today. 11 (9). Himalayan Academy. p. 17. ISSN 0896-0801. OCLC 214444439.
- Kathy Helms-Pokrajac (March 12, 1989). "'The Making of a Teacher' tells one man's journey to life's goal". The Times (Indiana). pp. F–11.
- Anonymous (September 1996). "Untitled [review of the Making of a Teacher, by Tim and Carol Flinders]". Internet Bookwatch. Midwest Book Review. 6 (9). OCLC 80547565.
- Tim Flinders & Carol Flinders (March 1990). "Eknath Easwaran climbs high in meditation mountains [excerpt from the Making of a Teacher, by Tim and Carol Flinders]". Hinduism Today. Himalayan Academy. pp. 1, 7. ISSN 0896-0801. OCLC 214444439.
- Tim Flinders & Carol Flinders (Autumn 1989). "The death of a seal pup [excerpt from the Making of a Teacher, by Tim and Carol Flinders]". The Quest. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Society in America. 2 (Spring): 88–89. ISSN 1040-533X. LCCN 94660549. OCLC 18441178. OCLC 705778309 (ejournal).
- Tim Flinders & Carol Flinders (1989), The Making of a Teacher.
- Making states that the Santa Sabina Center was located on the campus on Dominican College (1989, p. 20).
- The word samadrishti (in the form samadarsanah) occurs in chapter 6, verse 29 of the Bhagavad Gita. Sargent's (1979) translation states that "Samadarsana has a special meaning ... The atmans, or selves, of all creatures are conceived to be the same ..." (p. 300).
- The last name of John Palocaren was published by Easwaran in his book Seeing with the Eyes of Love (1996, p. 8).
- The location is not given in Making, but is given in Jones, Constance A.; James D. Ryan (2006). Encyclopedia of Hinduism. New York: Infobase Publishing / Facts On File. ISBN 978-0-8160-5458-9. "In 1946 he [Easwaran] began teaching at Amravati in Maharashtra." (p. 144)
- "On the evening of Monday, January 3, 1968, 2000 LSB had standing room only for the several hundred Berkeley students who had registered for The Theory and Practice of Meditation (Religious Studies 138X, four units' credit; instructor, Eknath Easwaran). To anyone's knowledge, it was the first accredited course on meditation offered by any university in the United States – or, for that matter, in the world. An article on meditation in a national weekly described Easwaran's course, mistakenly referring to the Blue Mountain Center of Zen Meditation" (Making, p. 148)
- This photo of Easwaran teaching at UC Berkeley also appears in Making on page 140.
- These quotations are from chapter 1 but are included here for coherence.
- Easwaran states that the Bhagavad Gita states that "As a tortoise draws in its limbs ... you can train your senses so well that when danger approaches, you just say 'Withdraw' and they will – instantly" (Making, p. 183). Verse 2:58 of Easwaran's translation of the Bhagavad Gita states "Even as a tortoise draws in its limbs, the wise can draw in their senses at will" (p. 23, Easwaran, The Bhagavad Gita, 2010).