Ernest Wood

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Fast Facts
Spiritual Thinker
Yoga, Theosophical Society
Main Countries of Activity: 
India, England, USA
Date of Birth: 
18 August 1883
Place of Birth: 
Manchester, England
In His/Her Body ("alive"): 
Date Left His/Her Body: 
17 September 1965


Youth and Education

Wood received his education at the Manchester College of Technology, where he studied chemistry, physics and geology. Because of an early interest in Buddhism and Yoga, he also started to learn the Sanskrit language.


As a young man, Wood became interested in Theosophy after listening to lectures by the theosophist Annie Besant, whose personality impressed him greatly. He consequently joined the society's Manchester lodge, then one of the world's largest, and in 1908 followed Annie Besant to India after she had become President of the Theosophical Society Adyar. Wood soon became one of her assistants, working in close contact with both Annie Besant and Charles Webster Leadbeater, who had arrived in Adyar in 1909.

Due to his close working relationship with Leadbeater, Wood was in a position to observe the discovery of the boy Jiddu Krishnamurti by Leadbeater, who soon declared him to be the vehicle for the "coming World Teacher". Wood's own eyewitness account of the events surrounding this discovery is detailed in his autobiography, Is this Theosophy...?, published in 1936, and in two articles written after that.

At the suggestion of Annie Besant, Wood became deeply engaged in educational work. Since 1910, he served as headmaster of several schools and colleges founded by the Theosophical Society. He became Professor of Physics, Principal and President of the Sind National College and the Madanapalle College, both teaching colleges of the Bombay and Madras Universities. He actively promoted theosophical ideas by conducting lecturing tours and publishing numerous articles, essays and books on a variety of theosophical subjects, among them a Digest of Helena P. Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine. His lecturing led him to places throughout India, and he also traveled to many countries in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. India stayed his place of residence until the close of World War II, when he relocated to the United States.

It was only after becoming disillusioned about the future of the Theosophical Society that Wood started to devote himself primarily to a thorough study of the yoga classics. In the wake of the Krishnamurti affair, which had led to the splitting of the society, Wood decided to campaign for the office of president after Annie Besant's death in 1933. He was however defeated by George Arundale, one of Charles Leadbeater's close allies, in a campaign that Wood later described as unfair and questionable. Disenchanted about the direction the society had taken, but very impressed with the now mature and independent Krishnamurti, Wood turned to yoga.


In India Wood had come into close contact with many yogis and Hindu pundits. As a practising yogi, vegetarian and teetotaller (he had adopted this lifestyle after reading Sir Edwin Arnold's The Light of Asia in his boyhood) he was warmly received by Indian yogis, many of whom became friends and advisers to him. During his early years in Adyar, the Head of the Vedantic Monastery Shri Shringeri Shivaganga Samasthanam in Mysore Province, Sri Jagat Guru Shankara Charya Swami, bestowed upon Wood the title of "Shri Sattwikagraganya" in recognition of his efforts to introduce Indian pupils to Sanskrit.

Wood did, however, apparently not become an official pupil to any Indian master, the way several other Westerners did. In 1928, during a visit to New York, he again came into contact with Krishnamurti, who was by then turning away from the Theosophical Society, gradually to become a teacher in his own right, renouncing the ceremonies and occult hierarchies created by the leadership of the Society. Wood describes in his autobiography how deeply this meeting affected him, prompting him to turn back to the classic yoga literature as a source of inspiration. Wood spent his remaining years writing and publishing on yoga. He moved to the United States, where he served for a short time as president and dean of the American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco, and later moved to Houston, Texas, where he joined the staff of the University of Houston, Texas. Together with his wife, Hilda, Wood helped in the establishment of a Montessori school in Houston, Texas, which was then named after them.

From his earliest times in India, Wood had worked on translations from the Indian classics, such as the Garuda Purana. At the end of the 1920s, he began a thorough study of the Yoga classics with the assistance of several Hindu scholars. These studies resulted in the publication of numerous original translations of famous yoga texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, Patañjali's Yoga Sutras, Shankara's Viveka Chudamani, among others. In his own commentaries to these translations, Wood tried to make the philosophical ideas contained therein applicable to modern life. His writings are, however, not merely of a theoretical or speculative nature, but contain many references to his own practical experiences in these matters. Taken in combination with his concise treatises of the yoga discipline as a whole (such as the volume Yoga, Penguin Books,1959/62), and his earlier writings on concentration and memory training, Wood's works contain a complete introduction to Raja Yoga, or the yoga of the mind. Because of his sparing use of Sanskrit expressions they are easily accessible by western readers.

Wood died on September 17, 1965, only days after finishing his translation of Shankara's Viveka Chudamani, which was posthumously published unter the title The pinnacle of Indian thought.

WIKI & Homepage of the School of the Woods, history section


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