Editor’s Note: Welcome to La Jolla Light’s “People in Your Neighborhood” series, which shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about! Light staff is out on the town talking to familiar, friendly faces to bring you their stories. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send the lead via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (858) 875-5950.
Yoga, meditation and self-realization teacher Erhard Vogel has been spreading his knowledge throughout San Diego since 1974. In the past six years, he has taught a 4:30 p.m. yoga class Mondays at the Congregational Church of La Jolla, 1216 Cave St. The author of four books, his latest title, “The Four Gates,” came out last year and he regards it as “a guide to the innate knowledge of the true self.”
Vogel lives in an “ashram” (a religious retreat) in Flinn Springs and is the founder of the Nataraja Meditation & Yoga Center.
Where are you from?
“I was born in Germany in 1939, and I came to the United States when I was 15 years old. I was in New York State for a while, then New York City, where I had a career as a young architect. In 1970 I started traveling around the world on foot for four years, living out of a backpack. I wanted to research the knowledge of life that I felt was probably common all over the world, but how that knowledge was approached in different cultures.”
When did you decide you didn’t want to be an architect anymore?
“By 1970, I had been an architect for 10 years. I was on my way to name and fame, and I decided that I was doing buildings for the over-privileged at the expense of the under-privileged, and that was not what I was in this life for. So I started traveling.”
What is your philosophy?
“May you find yourself sufficiently valuable, or may you value yourself sufficiently, to be attentive to the being that you really are. That’s the whole thing.
When I was a child and I survived World War II and the bombing of our home, I came to the conclusion that I’m very special, as everybody else is, and I deserve the very best in life. I was not going to shortchange myself with momentary pleasures that distracted and disappointed me. I was to give myself the very best. And I knew that I was in charge of that, because the adults weren’t doing very well. So I decided that I was responsible for my life, the content of it, and fulfilling it.”
How did you become a self-realization teacher?
“The things that happened to me as a child meeting death made me learn that there is a real being inside of myself, and I learned who that being was, and I wanted to live up to it ... but I noticed how my mind’s activities would distract me from a pure state of consciousness, and I didn’t want that. I knew I had to learn to focus, to get my mind to do what I wanted to do, to be what I wanted to be.
In my travels I went to the Himalayas in India, where I met two wonderful, clarity beings, and they welcomed me with open arms. They recognized me and said, ‘How did you learn all this?’ because they had this knowledge from their ancient scriptures and I had it from my own being. So they invited me to teach there, which is unheard of for a Westerner. That then became my way of life. I was totally devoted to being in a state of continuous consciousness. I didn’t have to do anything, I had no responsibilities.
And then I remembered, ‘Back home there are people who don’t have this joy, vitality, health and love of being. They are suffering, because they don’t know what I know.’ I couldn’t let everyone else suffer while I knew how not to suffer.”
How did you come to live in San Diego?
“(When I came back to the U.S.) I started teaching yoga in different universities throughout the country — but yoga meaning the whole way of life of being in union with the reality of who your real identity is. I was living out of a backpack for all these years, I had only warm weather clothes, so I needed a place that was warm. I knew the south of the East Coast had a lot of mosquitoes, so I decided to go to the West Coast, which I hadn’t been before. San Diego just seemed like a good place to get established.”
What are some of your daily routines?
“In the early morning, I meet with some friends for Cappuccino, and then I come back and have some breakfast. I meditate throughout the day. I spend a couple of hours writing. Then I do my exercise routines to keep in shape, and that’s what occupies most of my day. I also do some creative things like photography and art.
I’m mostly busy with getting the knowledge out of humanity, because I know the problems that we have in this life — political and personal — are the fact that we are living in contrary to our identity, and this causes conflict within us, and we generally share it with everyone else.”
What do you like to eat?
“I like healthy food. I like foods that don’t make me lethargic or too heavy or so. Foods that are actually good. I like good cooking.”
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
“I don’t have any guilt because I do what I choose to do. So I don’t say, ‘This is bad, but I do it because it’s my guilty pleasure.’ Somebody might say a piece of cheesecake is a guilty pleasure. To me, it is a pleasure, there’s no guilt attached. If I eat it, it’s my choice, and I’m going to enjoy it. I do like a good piece of cheesecake now and then (laughs).”
How do you find this self that you really are?
“You don’t find it by having other people tell you. You don’t find it by following somebody. You have to find it through your own direct experience. As a teacher, I work as a guide creating ways of experiencing the clarity of who you are. When you experience it, then you can know something to be so.”
What do you object to?
“I’m against being untrue, false. I think the falsity, especially in relation to who we really are, is the cause of all our suffering, that’s the one thing I’m against.”