An Appreciation


MAY 24, 1897- NOVEMBER 10, 1994

By Judy Matthews



One of the most precious gifts I have ever received was the friendship of Dr. Frederic Spiegelberg, former president of CIIS. Along with so many people who knew and loved him, I feel deep sadness that he is gone; at the same time, I am happy to be able to share this tribute to him with the CIIS community.

Our connection began, in an appropriately synchronistic way, in the library of the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco. I was doing some personal research on Indian art and philosophy and came across a tape of one of Dr. Spiegelberg's lectures, "The Yes and No of Yoga." I checked it out, took it home, and found that listening to it was an extraordinary experience.

First, there was his voice. Alan Watts, in his autobiography, recalled that Dr. Spiegelberg "spoke English with a delicate German accent which always suggests a sense of authority and high culture." Then, in addition to the most straightforward and lucid discussion of yoga I have ever heard, there was an amazing series of first-hand accounts of his meetings with people like Carl Jung, Martin Heidegger, Ramana Maharshi, and Sri Aurobindo.

The following morning, back at work in the Jung Institute library, I was full of enthusiasm and very curious about this man. If he was still around, which I confess I rather doubted, I assumed he lived in Europe. I was wrong. It turned out that the librarian, Joan Alpert, had been a student of his at Stanford, that the Executive Director, John Levy, was a close friend of his, and that he was alive and well and lived in San Francisco.

I wrote him an unabashed fan letter, John Levy arranged for us to meet, and so began our friendship. A real rapport developed between us across the generations. We laughed together. We discovered a mutual love of art and poetry. I would visit him, often bringing articles, art books, poetry, and sometimes bringing my paintings to show him. Between visits, I made him collages, sent him surreal postcards, went to art exhibits that intrigued him and reported back.

He would tell me about his experiences with artists like Paul Klee and Max Ernst, or discuss the early days of the Bauhaus, or be reminded of the time he administered the Rorschach test to Swami Sivananda. If I innocently brought up something, say, about Jewish mysticism, it would turn out, of course, that he had studied Kabbalah with Martin Buber.

Although in these last years he seldom went out, he was very much in touch with developments in religion, art, science, and world affairs. The intense curiosity, spirit of intellectual inquiry, and passionate opinions which characterized his long and remarkable career remained undiminished.

I conducted several taped autobiographical interviews with him. It was clear that the unifying thread that ran throughout his life was his intense curiosity, about, as he put it, "'the ultimate questions -- the mystery of existence, the riddle, the miracle, the astonishment of Being." He spoke of "the search, the never ending search about the Being of Being and the impossibility to catch it, and yet the necessity to go on searching for it." He agreed with his close friend Paul Tillich that the quest for the miracle of Being is what really makes us human.

From the time he was a very small child at the turn of the century, listening to his mother reading stories from the Bible, his earliest memories centered around his growing desire to pursue these "ultimate questions."' He kept being drawn further on this path, studying and teaching theology, philosophy, psychology, comparative religion and Sanskrit at the best universities in Germany with such teachers as Rudolf Otto, Paul Tillich, Rudolph Steiner and Martin Heidegger. Carl Jung also became a mentor and friend; Dr. Spiegelberg attended the Eranos conferences and lectured at the Jung Institute in Zurich.

He and his wife Rosalie emigrated to the United States in 1937, first living in New York City where he taught at Columbia and lectured at the Analytical Psychology Club, eventually settling in Northern California. From 1941 to 1962, he taught at Stanford. Among his students was Esalen founder Michael Murphy. Generations of students heard him lecture about the sacred traditions of the world and the relationship between ancient religions and the philosophical and psychological speculations of the twentieth century.

In 1949 he was awarded a Fulbright grant to conduct research on "The Living Spirituality of India." During his travels in India, Sikkim, and Tibet, he visited ashrams and monasteries and met many of the prominent spiritual teachers of the time. In 1951, he took a leave of absence from Stanford to help found the first incarnation of the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), the Academy of Asian Studies, and he brought many distinguished scholars to San Francisco to join the faculty, including Haridas Chaudhurl and Alan Watts. He served as CIIS's second president from 1976 to 1978.

His research led him from Zoroastrianism to Indian dream doctrines, from alchemy to existentialism. Among the books that he wrote are: Spiritual Practices oflndia; Zen, Rocks and Waters; Living Religions of the World; Alchemy as a Way of Salvation; The Bible of the World (co-edited), and The Religion of No-Religion.

Dr. Spiegelberg spoke with me about his idea of "the religion of no-religion."

Like his early mentor, theologian Rudolf Otto, he was less concerned with the meaning, character and attributes of God, or with the myths about Christianity and other religions. Instead, he was fascinated by, "the religious consciousness in which all these ideas are reflected, which has in the first place created all these myths and ideas because it wants to express itself in objective terms."

He described the role of the prophet and the dilution of direct religious experience into a concept. "The concept is the gravestone of the experience ... As soon as the prophet has spoken his word, it is translated into pragmatic terms and the numinous is lost." Since religions develop as systems missing the immediacy of the primal sacred experience, he concluded that, "the history of religion is the history of the downfall of religion."'

He spoke of "protecting God from the theologians" and imagined "a new discovery of God, above and beyond and without His name." He said that our true task is "to become aware of the mystery that is behind it all, because that is the source from which all true inspiration ultimately derives."

Dr. Spiegelberg was closer to ultimate sources of inspiration than anyone I have ever known. Now, as I experience his absence, I remember the time when I told him how much I enjoyed his book Zen, Rocks, and Waters. This prompted him to tell me that he had never liked the name of the book; his publisher had insisted Zen was very trendy at the time-- that the word "Zen" had to be included in the title. We both laughed. The original title was Vanishing into Reality.






Art that is really art opens our eyes to another side of reality. You suddenly become aware of something that you weren't aware of before... "Isness" is what the artist brings home to you... Art is always at the same time a kind of worship because it opens up a greater vision...


Why? R.S.V.P. Why is there anything at all? Or is there? Why do we have to ask such questions for which there are no answers? Why can't we stop to live in bewilderment and astonishment? Goethe said that to be utterly puzzled in front of the riddle of Being is the best quality of Man. Everything else loses its importance in front of this ultimate riddle.

Most so-called prophets and religionists have tried and struggled in vain to find meaning in existence. Only a few Zen masters and Sufis have dared to end their search with laughter. Numberless yogis have tried through thousands of years to find some type of "religion of no-religion" by leaving behind all formulations and thereby achieving a "state of no-state," rather than to get caught in nonsense answers which could not possibly satisfy our never ending search for an absolute in the midst of never ending relativity. What is left after all such efforts is still the great Why.


What matters is not the particular doctrine but the spirit that is behind it.

The one thing that matters ultimately to the inquiring spirit is not all this dead weight of dogma and detail under which the present-day specialist fairly smothers, but that profound Essence common to all human beings, which is the reality underlying all these rarefied phenomena.

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