The Sir John Templeton I Knew
Sir John was a spiritual genius and a bold contrarian thinker who was far ahead of his time. While still in his teens, he developed a mature sense of the mystery of human connectedness within an original universal Mind, of which our individual minds are but small points of light. A farmer who lived near Sir John’s boyhood home in Winchester, Tennessee, once remarked, “That John Templeton, he was born old.” Sir John wrote, “Those who are philosophically inclined may find it helpful to understand God’s unlimited love as the original and ongoing basic creative force of the universe. This love was present before the beginning, and it continues to hold all things together. Our fleeting human emotions and perceptions are in fact mere glimpses of God’s perfect love” (Pure Unlimited Love, p. 19). He wanted people to become aware of a spirituality of love as an expression of a metaphysical energy, and, therefore, as distinct from human emotion.
Pure Unlimited Love Beyond the Limits of Time and Place
I knew Sir John for two decades before his passing in 2008. I was struck by an experience he recounted in 1994 about his travels soon after his Yale graduation. He was visiting the home of friends in Israel just after World War II, before it became a nation. The home came under attack, and young Templeton had to flee for his life. Back home in Winchester that same night, his mother had a dream premonition that her beloved son was dead. She was so distraught that she threw away the cherished box of letters he had written to her. Sir John’s son, Dr. Jack Templeton, lamented many years later in 2012, “Can you imagine how wonderful it would be to have those letters today!” When John returned home and learned of his mother’s premonition, he was convinced that there must be a nonmaterial universal aspect to the Mind that allows for such uncanny episodes of connectivity based on powerful love. After hearing this story, I told Sir John that I had felt equally imperiled one night on the Pacific Coast Highway when I was a freshman at Reed College. After barely surviving, I stumbled into my dorm at 11 pm pacific time just as the wall telephone rang. It was my mother calling. She had just awakened in New York at 2 am eastern time in a state of panic, having had a dreadful premonition. She was sure I was dead. “Thank God you are alive,” she panted. Based on similar experiences with our motherly premonitions, Sir John and I agreed that love somehow transcends time and place. We concurred that there may well be One Original Mind, of which our individual minds are very small yet intimately connected parts. We then joked that his mother’s premonition from 6,000 miles away was more impressive than my mother’s, because she was only 3,000 miles away. That evening, Dr. David B. Larson and I introduced Sir John to the renowned Dr. Larry Dossey, who was invited to the conference to join Sir John for dinner. Sir John agreed to fund Larry’s initial conferences on the theme of “nonlocal Mind.” I recall Sir John quoting the Nobel Laureate physicist Erwin Schrodinger, “The total number of minds in the universe is one.” Sir John, like many philosophers of mind, understood consciousness/Mind to be so absolutely fundamental that it cannot be derived from finite matter or the brain.
When I accepted responsibility for Sir John’s project on “pure unlimited love” in 2001, I knew that some colleagues would have doubts. When Sir John and Charles Harper DPhil announced the project at the annual advisory meeting in Nassau that summer, at least several advisors within earshot of Sir John urged me not to take it on. Sir John observed this during the break as they gathered around me to say that “pure unlimited love” or “unlimited love” was a ridiculous concept. Sir John walked rapidly down from behind the conference table to thank me: “You can grow through a little persecution,” he said with a smile. Russell Stannard, the world renowned British high-energy particle physicist, walked over and made a point of praising us both. Russell also believed that Mind precedes Matter, and that Love was likely the underlying energy of the universe. These ideas had been the topic of my Sixth Form thesis at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, they had been met with enthusiasm in conversations with a young Steve Jobs at Reed, they were firmly endorsed by the neurophysiologist and Nobel Laureate professor Sir John Eccles at the University of Chicago, and by the great historian of religion Mircea Eliade at the School of Divinity of the University of Chicago, where I was a doctoral student (1978–1983). Several decades have passed now since establishing the Institute. Word has gotten around. The Dalai Lama, for example, wrote to me at Stony Brook on August 1, 2020, stating his appreciation for the Institute’s “convergence of science and spirituality to benefit humanity” as uniquely focused on the great theme of “consciousness and interconnectedness.” He thanked me for resisting the materialistic western approaches to Mind.
There is no way to fairly examine pure unlimited love without being open minded about a spiritual level of reality that can invade our consciousness. WH Auden, the great metaphysical poet, captured his experience of this invasive love:
“One fine night in June 1933 I was sitting on a lawn after dinner with three colleagues, two women and one man. We liked each other well enough but were certainly not intimate friends, nor had anyone of us a sexual interest in another. Incidentally, we had not drunk any alcohol. We were talking casually about everyday matters when, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, something happened. I felt myself invaded by a power which, though I consented to it, was irresistible and certainly not mine. For the first time in my life I knew exactly—because, thanks to the power, I was doing it—what it means to love one’s neighbor as oneself. I was also certain, though the conversation continued to be perfectly ordinary, that my three colleagues were having the same experience. (In the case of one of them, I was able later to confirm this.) My personal feelings towards them were unchanged—they were still colleagues, not intimate friends—but I felt their existence as themselves to be of infinite value and rejoiced in it.”
Sir John wanted to learn much more about these transformative experiences, and had supported a project on Spiritual Transformations with Dr. Sol Katz PhD of the University of Pennsylvania.
A Magnificent Request from Sir John as He Lay Dying
Dr. Jack Templeton, Sir John’s son, called me in the summer of 2008 from his dad’s home in Nassau with a request: “Dad is dying, and he only has a few weeks left. He has a final book he wants to write, but he will not have time to write it.” Jack paused to process his emotions. “He asks if you would do it for him.” I responded: “Jack, I am reluctant only because no one can ever really capture the mind of another, but I could possibly try to work closely from Sir John’s writings faxes and conversations. Jack, did he give us a title?” “Yes, he did,” answered Jack, “Ultimate Reality is Unlimited Love.” I responded, “Jack, please go back to Sir John and ask if we could add a question mark? It might make this a little easier.” “Yes, I can,” he spoke. A few minutes later, Jack said, “Yes, dad says it can be Is Ultimate Reality Unlimited Love?” That book was published by Templeton Press in 2014, with a Foreword by Drs. Jack and Pina Templeton. It includes some of Sir John’s many faxes to me, and reflections from his friends and family about the place of unlimited love and spirit in his life. Sir John knew well that this central aspect of his thinking would be tough for some people even in his own Foundation to grasp, but he trusted me with it as he lay dying. Sir John was a courageous dreamer who allowed me, a relative nobody, to share in his dream.