CSE History

“Stop struggling and start living!” That was the invitation on the first flyer distributed by the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment inviting people to learn how to meditate, practice the principles of spiritual living, and attend a new interfaith worship service. “Everyone is welcome,” it said. The vision behind those statements was a large group of spiritual seekers, regardless of religious background, sitting together in the silence communing with the One Life of God.

As a founding minister, I remember well the first worship services held at 2 pm on Sunday afternoons at the Odd Fellows Hall in the Rose Garden area of San Jose. I knew that 2 pm was not the ideal time, but a local Baptist group had their services there in the morning. Friends, family, and students of yoga and metaphysics who wanted to support the new Center attended the first Sunday service in October 1981. There was a real excitement in the air that first day and a hopefulness about how quickly the divine vision was unfolding. That hopefulness lasted six days until the following Sunday arrived; no one showed up for the worship service, and the reality of ministry stared me starkly in the face.

Through faith people find the door of liberation. —Adi Granth

On many Sunday afternoons only a handful of people showed up for services, often just two or three. Sometimes two of them were my own young children who didn’t have a choice about where they were going to worship that day. After a few months, we decided to quit. It really seemed too hard. We were paying to rent a nearly empty hall and offering a worship service to one or two people. Nevertheless, there was one woman who came every week. When we told her we had decided to quit, she said: “You can’t! I’ve been looking all my life for a teaching like this.” We listened to her and heard her. I believe it was in that moment that a real ministry began. Our focus shifted from what we could accomplish to how we could serve, beginning with one person. A deeper awareness dawned that we had a role to play in the divine plan, one that would unfold in its own way and time. From that shift in consciousness, and the surrender that accompanied it, many doors opened. We stopped struggling and started serving.

We were offered the community room of a savings and loan building in Los Gatos on Sunday mornings. People started to come and to tell others about this new ministry. People who had left traditional churches, but who were still spiritually hungry, came to hear the interfaith message, as well as to learn to sit in the silence and commune inwardly with the Divine. Couples from different faith backgrounds found a spiritual home where they could worship together. Those who had no previous religious affiliation were delighted with the freedom to develop their spiritual life in a nonsectarian environment. One man told me that when a friend invited him to go to this new worship service, he replied that he didn’t go to church. His friend said, “It’s not a church, it’s in a bank.” He said, “Okay, I’m comfortable with going to the bank!” Gradually, the group of worshippers grew from one, to thirty, to three or four hundred attending two services on Sundays.

Through the years, we have offered over a thousand Sunday worship services, as well as thousands of classes and retreats teaching people how to meditate and follow principles of spiritual living. Today, the worship services are often filled to overflowing as seekers from all religious backgrounds sit side by side in the silence of divine communion worshipping the one reality of God that is known by many names. The ministry itself has offered a witness: our lives and the lives of others are changed for good with faith in the ability of a power greater than ourselves to fulfill its purposes of healing and repairing our families, our community, and our world. All of life conspires to support our awakening and truly prospering as awakened, compassionate beings living in harmony with one another, with God, and the planet.

The spiritual root of CSE’s teaching is the tradition of Kriya Yoga, the science of Self-realization (spiritual awakening to our true nature) brought to the West by the great saint, Paramahansa Yogananda, in the 1920s. The Sanskrit word “yoga” means to yoke, join, or experience union. It is divine remembrance or the awareness of our true nature that occurs when we are restored to wholeness. The teachings of yoga are a nonsectarian spiritual path for seekers of all faiths interested in exploring the mystical path of God realization. Meditation is practiced as a way of awakening to spiritual Truth, to that which is beyond thought, opinion, or dogma.

Our message at CSE emphasizes the potential for all people to awaken, and the importance of living a spiritually conscious life by following the universal precepts of the world’s wisdom traditions such as harmlessness, truthfulness, and right use of our life energy. We are all here to awaken to the truth that this life is God’s life. We come from a common Source, live and move and have our being in that Source, and return to it. Awakening to the unity of life brings new joy in living and a clear sense of how we can each contribute to the well-being of all.

In 1998, we moved into our current location on University Avenue. As the Spiritual Director, I asked in prayer to know if the move would be right for this ministry. The words that came to me in prayer were: “Many souls will come to God there.” And so it is. On any day of the week it is possible to see people wholly engaged in some form of spiritual practice, reflecting on universal human values and the unity of all religions: attending a worship service or morning meditation, prayerfully working in the garden, walking the labyrinth, stretching mind and body through hatha yoga, studying scripture, exploring how to live spiritual teachings in small group meetings, or sharing with the children. The call of the mystic poet, Rumi, can be felt throughout the Center: “Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving—come. Ours is not a caravan of despair. It doesn’t matter if you have broken your vow a thousand times. Still come, and yet again, come.”

Every day presents us with a new opportunity to see with the eyes of faith and walk through the door of liberation into a life of peace. I am grateful to all of those who have come over the years—those who have served, those who have prayed, and those who have stayed to build a spiritual community from the seed of a divine vision. I am grateful to Roy Eugene Davis who offered the teaching and opened the door of possibility. For this day I am grateful. For the divine love that guides each and every one, constantly turning us in the direction of awakening to truth, I offer praise and thanks.

Reverence to the Divine within you. 
Yogacharya Ellen Grace O’Brian 
CSE Spiritual Director