- Klein, Jean
- (c. 1916–1998)Western teacher of yoga and advaita VedantaJean Klein was an important 20th-century teacher of non-dual VEDANTA, who focused on the direct experience of the Self rather than the gradual, progressive method of enlightenment.Klein was born around 1916 into a family that loved music, painting, and art. He describes the family as “harmonious.” His childhood was spent in Brno (Czechoslovakia), Prague, and Vienna. He studied music and medicine in Vienna and Berlin, where he explored the relationships among thought, feeling, and muscle function.He became a physician, and undertook the study of Eastern philosophies, particularly the works of Mohandas Karamchand GANDHI, Lao Tse, Chuang Tsu, Tagore, Coomaraswamy, J. KRISHNAMURTI, and Sri Aurobindo. After reading Gandhi, he became a vegetarian. He also read Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and the Western Sufi René Guénon. Guénon’s writing on cosmology and tra-dition proved a turning point in Klein’s life. What struck him was the distinction Guénon made between traditional and tradition—the principle transmitted from teacher to disciple through ini-tiation: “This awoke in me the feeling that it was actually humanly possible to become fully inte-grated and awake in the whole.”He left Germany in 1933 and spent World War II in France secretly helping thousands escape from Germany. After the war, he left Europe for India seeking an environment that would wel-come self-inquiry. There he met a Pandit, a profes-sor of SANSKRIT in Bangalore, Atmananda Krishna Menon, who became his teacher and who initi-ated him into the wisdom of ADVAITA (non-dual) VEDANTA. He also deepened his long study of YOGA by spending several months with Krishnamacha-rya, the famous hatha yoga teacher of South India. Although Klein could do ASANAS (postures) quite well, he was not attracted to yoga of the physical body. He wanted to understand how the body can become more subtle, more energized, more expanded; he began to see that the real body is energy and light, not the bone-muscle structure that we assume to be the body. As Klein taught asanas and yoga, he always gave the energy body priority, stressing that all postures could be done independently of the physical body. After he had lived intensely with this understanding, one day the teaching became a lively reality, a bright and integrated truth.Klein’s teaching sprang from his insight into the nature of being and existence. He is regarded as a prominent teacher of advaita in the 20th century and an embodiment of the non-dual awareness he taught. His teaching is “direct,” cutting through all experiences, states, and paths of purification that depend upon progressive or sequential methods. He encourages students to experience existence directly. According to Klein, the progressive way may produce many delight-ful experiences, but all these are support for the ego, which is thus kept alive in a more and more subtle way. Klein’s direct approach says that our real nature cannot be known or experienced as an object. When this is clearly understood there is a letting go, a giving up of trying to achieve, to become, to find, or to understand. This letting go is the beginning of real maturity and openness to our true nature.For 40 years, Dr. Klein responded to invita-tions from all over the world to share his knowl-edge. He lived in Europe and the United States and died in February 1998 in Santa Barbara, California. He is the author of several books in English and other languages.Klein created the nonprofit Jean Klein Foun-dation in 1989 to help in the process of dissemi-nating his teaching. Based in Santa Barbara, the foundation holds meetings that are open to the public and continues to publish newsletters. It has published Klein’s journal Listening and plans to publish several books and dialogues of Klein’s.Further reading: Jean Klein, Be Who You Are (Long-mead, England: Element, 1989); ———, The Ease of Being (Durham, N.C.: Acorn Press, 1984); ———, Transmission of the Flame (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Third Millenium, 1990).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.