Sunyata and the Site of Silence
Blog entry by Lars Muhl from 26 September 2013
The Site of Silence
In 1991 I came across a book that immediately caught my attention. The title was Sunyata – The Life & Sayings of a Rare Born Mystic. To me, the picture on the outside seemed to represent a man, but could as well have been of a woman, dressed in a turban and Indian robes.
Was greatly surprised, however, when I found out that the man in the picture was called Alfred Julius Emmanuel Sørensen, that he was a Dane and he had been born in Aarhus.
You did not have to read much of the book, to realize that it was about a very unusual person.
As mentioned, Alfred Julius Emmanuel Sørensen was born in Aarhus October 27, 1890. In 1906 he had trained as a horticulturist and until 1910, he had jobs in Italy and France, traveling to England in 1911, where he worked for 20 years as a gardener at some of the great estates, at that time: Forty Hall, Sunbury Court, Hampton Court and Darlington Hall.
In 1929 he got to know the Indian Nobel laureate, Poet Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore was a guest at Darlington Hall and became, more and more fascinated by Emmanuel’s quiet way of being, during his three months long stay. Before leaving for India, Tagore invited the Danish gardener to accompany him to India .
– But what would I do in India, asked Emmanuel.
– Teach us silence, said Tagore.
And so it went, that Emmanuel Sørensen in 1930 went to India . The journey brought Sorensen to France, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Palestine and Syria, from among places.
In India, Emmanuel Sorensen met Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Lama Govinda, Jagdish Bose and not least, the now world famous wise man Ramana Maharshi, who were all moved by the Danish gardener. It was Maharshi who saw the highest aspiration flourish, in Emmanuel Sorensen, and it was he who baptized Emmanuel Sørensen: Sunyata, The Great Silence.
It was after this initiation that Sunyata settled down on the sacred mountain Kalimath, where he lived for more than 30 years, praised as a holy man, and paid as such, by the Indian government.
– Blessedly, I had escaped headucation (his own subtle expression of Education), property, marriage, power or ambition. I belong to no religion or any particular direction – I belong to the All. From my Viking ancestors, I learned simplicity, habituation skills, a special intuition, patience and acceptance of life’s circumstances.
His humble and loving directness, made a great impression on the wide range of intellectuals, professors, politicians, ambassadors, Rajahs, celebrities and even known military personalities, who made Sunyata’s acquaintance.
In the 1970s, hippies took the East, and a group of young Americans became acquainted with Sunyata, by that occasion. It resulted in, inviting him to California.
– What would I do there, he asked, I have no message and nothing to sell.
– That’s why! Replied the young.
That’s how it came about that Sunyata in 1974 was invited by Allan Watts Society and traveled to California, where he in his own quiet manner, taught those who wanted to learn, of man’s deepest truths, of silence and contemplation.
A cute story from the time reads: One day a journalist looked up the odd wise man from India, with the Danish accent. The reporter asked curiously:
– Mr. Sunyata, have you never been with a woman?
– Yes, once, it was in 1946. I met a woman, whose husband had died in the war, and she longed so terrible for a partner. And since I was the only man for miles around, I had to help. But that was the only time.
– Mr Sunyata, it is your own teeth?
– Yes, whose did you think it would be?
On August 5 1984, Sunyata was run down by a car. On August 13, he left this world 93 years old.
Sunyata’s books, Sunyata – The Life and Sayings of a Rare-born Mystic (available in Danish at Ørnens Forlag (publishers)) and Dancing in The Void (available at Amazon), belong to the most important books of my collection, and they have meant more to me, than words can describe. That fact considered, that such a being of light, could be produced, even in Aarhus, Denmark, tells us that we do not necessarily need to travel to India or any other places to find the light. It is also born here, there and everywhere, perhaps within, if we want it to.
For many years, it surprised me that Aarhus did not know this man, the fellow-townsman who set out into the world and came to mean so much for so many people. I thought we could at least honor and remember him by naming a street, a square, yes, only a lane after him. I believe the city is filled with streets named after former mayors, merchants and generals.
But it was on a day, when I was sitting on the bench by the small lake in the Botanical Garden, behind the Marselisborg Palace, the idea resurfaced. In 1970 I had worked as a gardener in the garden, myself, for about a year, and loved to go there. Yes, it was one of my favorite places in Aarhus. Only later, my mother told me that she too, loved to go to that place, when she was expecting me in 1950.
This is where Sunyata’s Site needs to be, I thought. Here, surrounded by trees and plantation from around the world. Where else?
I had just had the thought, when a falsetto-like laughter flowed through the Ether.
When I was also aware that this task required more effort than my own, I called Søren Hauge, immediately, who at the time was president of the Theosophical Society.
An hour later, when Søren and I, went for a walk in the park, Søren asked me, if I thought Sunyata would want such a memorial.
– Let’s ask him, I replied. And the answer came promptly:
– It’s not about my personality, it’s about the silence. The place should be called Site of Silence.
And so it came about that the help organization Hearts & Hands, Theosophical Society and Kirsten Puggaard from Lemuel Books, by joint efforts, donated a stone with the inscription:
Silence is the language of the real