Eknath Easwaran's Life

A Timeline


The Early Years


Easwaran was born and brought up in a village in Kerala state, South India, in a large extended family that lived simply but comfortably. His family came from a branch of society that is a matriarchy, in which women have had legal rights for centuries.

“I was born into the arms of my spiritual teacher, my mother’s mother,” Easwaran said. He grew up under the close guidance of his Granny, and learned from her the universal truths that form the foundation of India’s spiritual heritage. At night she would tell him stories from the great Indian epics of the battle between good and evil. His mother was inseparable from his grandmother, and Easwaran often referred to her as Granny’s teaching assistant.

Easwaran's Granny

Easwaran loved his grandmother as his favorite playmate, and was deeply impressed by her wisdom and fearlessness, but he didn’t recognize her spiritual stature until much later. In high school, he studied the English language and fell in love with its literature, playing teams sports with his cousins in his free time, swimming in the river in the summer.

Granny had the extraordinary foresight of a quietly extraordinary teacher. She was unlettered, yet insisted that Easwaran learn English and Sanskrit as soon as possible. She was a devout Hindu who never travelled, yet she sent Easwaran off to a Catholic college. And when he fell in love with the whole worldview of the West, and lost sight of his own heritage, she never doubted him and where his path would lead.


After college, and gaining first-class graduate degrees, Easwaran eventually found the job he most wanted: professor of English literature.

This period also brought his first glimpse of Mahatma Gandhi – after Granny, the greatest influence on his life – together with the nonviolent Muslim leader, Badshah Khan.

Easwaran visited Gandhi’s ashram to observe the Mahatma closely in his interactions with others. One evening, during Gandhi’s prayer meeting, Easwaran watched spellbound as Gandhi sat meditating on verses from the Bhagavad Gita. The experience inspired Easwaran to look at the scripture with fresh eyes. “It was when I heard Gandhi say that the Gita contains the answer to every problem that life has to offer,” said Easwaran later, “that I began to grasp its true significance. Gandhi had meditated on the Gita for half a century and had made it the reference for his every action. Systematically, little by little, he had translated his highest ideals into daily life.”

This insight would later come to Easwaran’s rescue. As his middle years approached, his nights became troubled by insistent questions about the meaning of life. These questions followed him through years of inner turbulence that would see the breakup of his arranged marriage and eventually the separation from his two sons.

In early 1948, Gandhi’s life was cut short. A month later, Granny’s life came to an end. Easwaran had lost his “two guiding stars.” By then, he would recall, “All my success had turned to ashes.” Easwaran decided to move his mother away from the village, where everything reminded her of Granny, to a new home in the nearby Nilgiris, or Blue Mountain.

The bottom had dropped out of his world, but the seeds that his grandmother had planted in his consciousness were soon to bear fruit. Turning to the Bhagavad Gita for consolation and meditating on its passages brought profound peace and led to the regular practice of meditation. Progress was remarkably rapid.

He turned to the writings of the world’s great mystics for guidance. Most of the accounts were by monastics, whose way of life, although he respected it, did not appeal to him. “I wasn’t going to drop out of life and head for the Himalayas,” said Easwaran. “That wasn’t my Granny’s way, nor had it been Gandhi’s. But I found a few who had chosen not to withdraw from life but to seek a higher reality right in the midst of everyday affairs. I had stumbled upon a way to bring meditation into daily life.”

This discovery led to another. Slowly, a recognition of his Granny’s spiritual stature dawned on him. Though her many responsibilities to her community engaged her from morning till night, he said, she lived in unbroken awareness of the imperishable, divine presence hidden in all things and beings. This had been the secret of her vibrant life of untiring service, unfailing courage, and unshakable security: “She never forgot God for a moment.”

Granny, like the saints and sages he was reading, was a living force who would continue to support him. Her guidance would accompany him to America as he set off in 1959 on the Fulbright exchange program, and the work he had been longing to do.

A Modern Teacher of Timeless Truths


Arriving in the US on the Fulbright exchange program, Easwaran quickly discovered that people responded as deeply to his message in America as in India. Six months after arriving, he was transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, where he lectured to a variety of audiences around the San Francisco Bay Area on the spiritual heritage of India. A dedicated group of people formed around him to study the scriptures and meditate along his lines. Among them was Christine, who would become his wife, foremost student, and lifelong partner in his work. “With the arrival of Christine,” Easwaran wrote, “most of my problems were solved.”

By the end of 1961, Easwaran and Christine had established the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation (BMCM) and his work was on a firm footing. But his visa had expired and he had to return to India, leaving a close student to maintain the Center’s activities in North America.

The next four years on the Blue Mountain in India were very special for Easwaran and Christine. Living with Easwaran’s mother and sister, they devoted themselves completely to their spiritual disciplines. They had memorable instances of what in India is called darshan, being in the presence of a great saint. They received the blessings of Swami Ramdas and of one of India’s greatest women saints, Anandamayi Ma. Easwaran also had a significant encounter with some Franciscan friars, leading indirectly to his choice of the Saint Francis prayer as his recommended starting passage for meditation.

In December 1965, Easwaran and Christine returned to the US and a turbulent Berkeley. Within a month of his return from India, Easwaran was giving talks on meditation five nights a week. Responsive audiences of loyal friends and a growing group of students flocked to hear him bring a sense of meaning to their lives. With his infectious humor and compassion, he held the doors open for all. “This is a come-as-you-are party,” he said, and he never changed his message.

In January 1968, at the University of California, Berkeley, he inaugurated the first academic course on meditation ever offered for credit at a major American university.

By the spring of 1969, it was time for Easwaran and his students to find a place of their own.


In 1969, Easwaran and Christine found a 250-acre ranch owned by a small Catholic order in Marin county, Northern California. Near the ocean, the site matched all of Easwaran’s requirements for an ashram, or spiritual community: fresh air, a quiet setting, a temperate climate, and convenient location. Easwaran chose the Sanskrit name Ramagiri, or “Hills of Joy”, for this new permanent home and headquarters for the BMCM. His students started on the monumental, much-needed renovation work. (For stories of the early ashram and interviews with Easwaran’s longtime students, see our short documentary “Quietly Changing the World”.)

In 1970, Easwaran’s mother came to live permanently in the ashram, accompanied by his young nieces, aged six and nine, who stayed for three years. More ashram children arrived over the next decade. Easwaran was an uncle for all of them, as he was for the children who visited the BMCM on family retreats years later.

Easwaran liked to call himself a “stick in the mud.” Except for a few weekend trips on the West Coast, for the next thirty years he never travelled, giving all his attention, energy, and love to the ashram and his students. But his message would become a world traveler, through his books and recorded talks.

Nilgiri Press (named after the location of Easwaran’s home on the Nilgiris or “Blue Mountain” in South India) started modestly in the 1960s, publishing Easwaran’s newletter. In 1975 the Press printed its first book, the first volume of his Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living. In 1976 Laurel’s Kitchen came out, the best-selling vegetarian cookbook written by several of his students, bringing Easwaran to the attention of a much wider public. Meditation followed in 1978 (see our new 2016 edition, titled Passage Meditation). Nearly 40 more books on meditation and world mysticism followed over the next decades, including his best-selling translations of the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, and Dhammapada


As he approached his eighties, Easwaran saw the urgency of getting his message heard and began holding regular, well-attended meditation retreats in Marin County, assisted by dedicated students. Despite chronic pain from 1991 onwards he continued to deliver hundreds of talks, drawing students from around the world. In 1990 he launched a special program, Setu, for meditators in the second half of life, and in 1993, in response to requests from retreatants, he started an annual summer program for families.

Meeting with retreatants gave Easwaran great joy, and although his health was declining he always found the energy to respond to their earnest questions. His deep, intuitive sense of his audience and his long experience as a spiritual teacher helped make these retreats life-changing events for many. After 1995, all retreat programs included a visit to Ramagiri ashram, and in 1997 Easwaran inaugurated the Center’s new retreat house.

In addition to retreats and fellowship groups, Easwaran inspired friends to start a number of projects to relieve suffering, including initiatives in nonviolence, health, simple living, and preservation of wildlife.

Whether Easwaran was relating to the students on these projects or to retreatants striving to meditate every day, he imparted his supreme confidence in their efforts. When timeless truths are brought to life in ordinary people, he would say, a tremendous force begins to work in the world.

Easwaran passed away on October 26, 1999, surrounded by Christine and his close friends. Through many decades of devoted work, he and Christine had built the BMCM into a strong, sustainable organization.

Our staff and volunteers now have the great privilege of carrying Easwaran’s torch blazing, far into the future. As more and more people experience Easwaran’s program they discover, as he did, the power of the great scriptures and mystics to transform ordinary lives into an enduring force for good. In each person who makes this discovery, Easwaran’s hopes are fulfilled.