- (Alfred Julius Emanuel Sorensen)(1890–1984) Danish-born sadhu and teacherThe youngest of three children on a small farm in northern Denmark, Emmanuel (indwelling God, the name he favored for himself) Sorensen worked during his childhood on his family’s farm and attended school only to the eighth grade. K 426 SundararWhen he was 14, the family farm was sold and he entered four years of apprenticeship in horticul-ture. He had jobs in France and Italy and settled in England in 1911 and took up gardening on large estates. At one of those estates he met Rabindra-nath TAGORE, who was impressed with the quality of Emmanuel’s silence. Tagore invited the young Dane to visit Shanti Niketan, Tagore’s school in India, to “teach silence.”Sorensen arrived in India in 1930 at the age of 40 and began to teach. Immediately he was given the titles of BABA, saint, and GURU, but his gift to the people he met was not captured by these titles. In the four decades he spent in India, he traveled widely and offered his gift of “being” to those who went to him. In 1936 he met RAMANA MAHARSHI (1879–1950) at Arunach-ala and noted Ramana’s quality of self-radiance, which nourished all around him. Ramana later called Sorensen a “rare-born mystic.” On his third visit, Sorensen received a telepathic mes-sage from Ramana, “We are always aware SUN-YATA.” Sorenson wrote that he experienced the words as a “recognition, initiation, MANTRA, and name.” Sorensen thereafter referred to himself and his hut as sunyata (a Buddhist term for void or emptiness). He acquired Indian citizenship in 1953.Sunyata first lived in Haridvar, on a small island in the GANGES River, but eventually built himself a stone hut in the foothills of the HIMA-LAYAS near Almora. He accepted a small sum from the Birla Foundation in New Delhi, whose purpose is to assist saints and SADHUS (spiritual aspirants). He knew many teachers and saints of his day, including Lama Anagarika Govinda, Wal-ter Evans-Wentz, Mohandas Karamchand GANDHI, Jawaharlal Nehru, Yashoda Ma, KRISHNA PREM, Sri ANIRVAN, J. KRISHNAMURTI, ANANDAMAYI MA, and NEEM KAROLI BABA. He remained uninterested in power, fame, or money, preferring nature, his own company, and silence. He did not heal, was not psychic, and did not perform miracles. He simply reminded all he met of the identity of each person and the divine in the words Tat tvam asi—thou are That.Sunyata’s dog Sri Wuji (Chinese for “a full emptiness”) was his constant companion. The saint Anandamayi Ma accepted the dog along with Sunyata into her ashram with the words “Wuji is not a dog.”In 1973, a group of Americans from the Alan Watts Society invited Sunyata to California. At age 84, he arrived in California, where he gave DARSHAN (blessings) at Esalen and Palm Springs. In 1978 he moved to California permanently at age 88 and spent the last six years of his life there. At age 93, in 1984, he was struck by a car in Fairfax, California, and died soon afterward on 13, 1984. The Sunyata Society of San Anselmo, California, publishes articles and books about his life and teaching.Further reading: Betty Camhi and Elliott Isenberg, eds., Sunyata: The Life and Sayings of a Rare-Born Mystic (Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, 1990); Sunyata Society, eds., Sri Wuji, vols. 1 and 2 (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1990).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.