THE GERALD HEARD OFFICIAL WEBSITE
WRITINGS BY AND ABOUT GERALD HEARD
"When love and understanding
wholly replace greed and fear,
then the illusion of time is conquered."
The Creed of Christ, 1940
J. G. P. Delaney, Ph.D.
November 25, 2005
Brenda Mitchell, Ph.D.
June 29, 2007
Notes on the Prehistory of the Human Potential Movement: The Vedanta Society and Gerald Heard's Trabuco College
Timothy Miller, Ph.D.
July 30, 2007
Rhea White, Hon. Ph.D.
October 26, 2007
Edited, with an Introduction
by Professor J. G. P. Delaney
by J. G. P. Delaney, Ph.D.
This hitherto unknown and unpublished memoir of the English artist Glyn Philpot (1884-1937) by the philosopher and mystic Gerald Heard (1889-1971) gives a vivid and eloquent description of both the man and the artist.1 Philpot’s tact, his personal charm and his engaging conversation are depicted as well as his great gifts as an artist, his manual dexterity and his concern with both meaning and with surface quality in painting. However, it was Philpot’s personality, which according to Heard was greater than the artist, that made him one of the most remarkable people that Heard had ever known. His account gives us a sensitive and well-rounded view of Philpot’s character.
Yet, Heard is also careful to place Philpot within the artistic movements of the day. His description of him as ‘the young hope of the old side’ aptly describes the great éclat with which he arrived on London’s artistic scene, famous by his mid-twenties as a brilliant young artist devoted to traditional values in painting, rather than to the revolutionary credos usually associated with the young. A contemporary review described his ‘Diabolical Cleverness.’2 His first and very successful one-man show of portraits and his unashamedly literary subjects painted in glazes like the Old Masters was held in 1910, the year that the famous first Post-Impressionist Exhibition in London announced the arrival of new values in art. He seemed the traditionalists’ answer to the Modern Movement.
This was to change radically in the early 1930s, when Philpot shocked the public and many of his patrons by adopting some modern techniques and principles. Heard perceptively notes the beginnings, and even the causes, of the change. Philpot eventually became tired of portraiture, though it had brought him fame and a large income. Such murals as the ‘Oedipus and the Sphinx’ and the ‘Leda and the Swan’, which were painted on silver foil (a very up-to-date technique) for the dining room at Mulbery House in what Heard called his moonlight tone of ‘silvers, greens, and blues’, gave him a sense of freedom and challenge that he no longer experienced in his portraits or subject paintings. In this, Heard rightly sees ‘the beginning of the next effort - the attempt he made to achieve a kind of bridge between the classic tradition which he loved and the new thought in art.’ Philpot had always striven to acquire new techniques and to attempt new challenges within the classical tradition. Now, he came to feel that ‘new modes of expression are continually necessary if the artist is to add to the sum of beauty in the world, and not merely to echo, or to express some admiration for, some beauty already crystallized in a recognized form.’3 Philpot’s new style, first seen in the Royal Academy summer show in 1932, tried to combine modern elements such as expressive drawing, flat colours and simplified forms with the figurative subjects he had always loved. It led to hostile reviews in the press, to a drastic drop in income and to his having to sell his country house, Baynards, so vividly described by Heard.
When they met, Philpot at only 30 years old was already a famous artist, while Heard, five years his junior almost to the day,4 was a young man who had only recently left university. Both men were deeply interested in religion, but their religious journeys grew divergent. Both rejected the religion of their upbringing. Again, Philpot was the conservative. Having been raised a Baptist, he converted to Roman Catholicism, following in the tradition of many British artists and intellectuals who had ‘gone over to Rome’ since the Oxford Movement in the 19th century. Even though his homosexual relationships later put him at odds with the church’s teachings and though he expressed some doubts on one occasion, he generally remained, as Heard declares, ‘wholly satisfied’ with the Catholicism he had embraced. Heard, on the other hand, had been raised an Anglican, and had even thought of taking Anglican orders, like his grandfather, his father and his older brother.5 However, his adventurous mind and his nervous breakdown in 1916, no doubt the result of conflicts caused by his strict upbringing under a stern father and an oppressive version of Christianity that emphasized hell and his own damnation, set him off on an entirely different route. In their early discussions, they had still had enough in common for Philpot to encourage his friend to become a Catholic. However, Heard had already moved so far from his early beliefs as to characterize these conversations as analogous to those between ‘a bird and a fish’.
By the time that his friendship with Philpot came to an end in about 1935, he had moved on from a short period as a secular humanist, who accepted the moral but not the theological tenets of Christianity, to Buddhism, pacifism, and the practice of yoga and personal asceticism. In his turn, he had also become quite famous as a scientific commentator on the BBC, and his lectures, published weekly in The Listener, were published in book form in 1932, 1935 and 1936. In 1924, he had published his first book Narcissus, followed in 1929 by The Ascent of Humanity, which earned him the Henrietta Hertz prize from The British Academy. In this, he interprets history, not as the traditional ‘drum and trumpet’ account of wars and battles, but rather as ‘the shadow cast by the evolving consciousness of man.’ Humanity had already evolved through various stages of consciousness, but the process was continuing and now humans, having mastered the outside world, must turn their attention inward and gain the self-knowledge and self-control that will enable them to identify again with the Life Force that pervades and contains the universe.
The disagreement between Philpot and Heard - ‘not so much on theology as on the issues from which theology rises and the acute problems of actual conduct’, as Heard put it, seems to have stemmed from the former’s perception of religion as a codified set of beliefs and ethical principles derived from Revelation in the Bible, and the latter’s rejection of formal religion in favour of a concentration on the evolution of man’s own consciousness and on an omnipresent, non-personal Life-force. Philpot’s intuitive love of metaphor made him prefer the rather objective, narrative and personal drama of Christianity, while Heard’s more transcendent and psychological approach eventually found its home in Indian mysticism. By the mid 1930s, their views had diverged to the point when discussion between them had become awkward, and even friendship, strained. This led to a separation of the ways.
Eventually with Aldous Huxley and his friend Christopher Wood, Heard left for the USA in 1937.6 In California, he met Swami Prabhavananda and became involved in the study and practice of the Vedanta, the ancient Hindu scriptures.7 It was through Heard’s influence that such intellectuals and writers as Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood became involved in the Vedanta movement.8 Philpot, on the other hand, remained a Catholic to the end, his sudden death occurring at age 53 in December 1937.
This memoir is undated, and in it Heard only once mentions a precise year, 1923. However, internal evidence suggests that he must have met Philpot late in 1915. Heard says they met shortly after he settled in London, which probably occurred in that year. After leaving Oxford in 1913, he had spent two years working in Sussex. A few weeks after their meeting, he had been introduced to Vivian Forbes, whom Philpot had met in August 1915. Heard also indicates that he and Philpot met before his nervous breakdown in 1916. The last dateable incident in the memoir is Philpot’s decorating the dining room at Mulberry House in 1930. After this, they met a few times, but their final meeting must have occurred around 1935, as Heard states, thirty years after their first meeting. The description in the memoir of Philpot’s dreary, temporary rooms in London accords well with that date, since he was selling Baynards and looking for accommodation in London at that time. Since Heard also states it had been a decade since he had last seen Philpot, the memoir must have been written around 1945.
Editor's note: I have silently corrected obvious spelling and typographical errors, expanded a few contractions and tidied up the punctuation, so as to facilitate reading.
- J. G. P. Delaney
Endnotes to Introduction
1 I am deeply indebted to John Roger Barrie for kindly bringing this memoir to my attention, for allowing me to edit it, for his careful proof-reading of the text and for his unfailing patience and generosity in answering my many queries. Much of the biographical material regarding Heard comes either directly from him, or from the excellent biographical account of Heard by his late father, Jay Michael Barrie, as posted on The Gerald Heard Official Website.
2 The Evening News, London, England (11 Feb 1910).
3 ‘The Making of a Picture,’ Apollo (June 1933), pp 286-7.
4 Philpot was born on the 5th, and Heard on the 6th, of October.
5 Heard’s father was the Rev. Henry James Heard (1856-1931); his grandfather, Rev. John Bickford Heard; and his elder brother, Rev. Alexander St John Heard.
6 Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) English novelist and essayist; Christopher Wood (d 1976), a pianist and close friend of Heard’s.
7 Swami Prabhavananda (1893-1976), founder of the Vedanta Society of Southern California.
8 Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986), English-born American novelist, whose book A Meeting by the River is dedicated to Heard.
Memoir of Glyn Philpot
by Gerald Heard
It is now just thirty years since I first met him and it is a decade since I last saw him. Since then one has met a number of people who are considered famous and certainly are remarkable, but I am not sure that any of them have given me quite the sense of uniqueness that Glyn did. I had just come to live in London and of course had heard about him, for he was what one might call the young hope of the old side - there had suddenly appeared a young man of brilliant powers who nevertheless was a traditionalist from the start and not a revolutionary. That made him a figure of controversy at once, and of course his great power as a striking portraitist gave him another public beside the intellectuals. I had been taken to see some of his pictures already and certainly such studies as the ‘Breton fishing boy’ and the ‘head of the Negro’ were of direct appeal; they held even the most casual sight-seer.1 I was invited to meet him at the Randall Davies house.2 There were no other guests and, as soon as we were dining, one forgot he was a very successful artist for of course he was as brilliant a talker as he was a painter - indeed he was essentially a personality - one whom if he had had no specific art people would have said of him that his character, his style was far more remarkable than anything he did. And that was true. That Glyn cared for his painting immensely, no one could doubt, but though he was a great worker and a fertile inventor, his art never actually consumed him - he was indeed more remarkable than it. We were once discussing Van Gogh and he remarked with something almost of impatience, ‘I could see a chair as he saw that chair he painted but I should have to be more than half mad to do so.’3 It was like all those judgements of his a shrewd one. He knew well of what lay beyond paint, to which paint is only a curtain, but he wanted to be complete; he dreaded deformity, disbalance, ill-taste.
Gerald Heard I by Glyn Philpot
oil on canvas, c. 1915
We stayed talking at the Davies’s house till late and then he asked me to walk back to his studio flat in Tite Street.4 The moment one entered it one saw how perfectly he could make every thing he touched reflect him. It was a difficult place to make look comfortable, still more gracious, but he had given it some real beauty. Indeed as one learnt, it amused him to take ugliness and, with a brilliant economy of material, to turn the dull thing into an object of peculiar distinctive quality. I stayed with him till one or past and we met very often after that. He started three paintings for which I served as model, and few things have interested me more than when - and this of course was rare - he would let one watch him actually working on them.5 The speed of his brushwork was uncanny; you felt he was, in the famous simile, simply wiping off a grey film and exposing underneath a finished brilliant picture. He had been taught at the Beaux Arts and so he had this strange flair for rapid work, seemingly able to strike out brilliant likenesses without any sketch, study or correction.6 To the lay-man it was a wonderful exhibition of sheer dexterity. Then one day he turned with his usual smile, ‘The trouble with your face,’ he said, ‘Is that at first glance it all seems on a big scale and the more one looks at it, the more one sees that in point of fact everything is really quite small.’ From that day one’s use as a model was over but we found somehow a lot of thing in common, tho it still puzzles me what he found in one’s own shape of mind. Very soon one was able to discuss with him that other great interest of his life - religion. But there, again, one came across his vastly intuitive attitude toward it. He had become, not long before, a Catholic and was, and always remained, wholly satisfied.7
I had been trained as an historian and a little as a theologian so my approach was very different.8 It did not make him wary or intolerant, and I was deeply interested to learn from him all I could of his approach and contact. He used to ask, “Why don’t you become a Catholic?” and we would then enter on those discussions which resemble, one always imagines, the kind of exchanges that would take place between a fish and a bird if they agreed to discuss the advantages and necessities of their respective positions in the world of life. Through him I met a number of people who were actually artists or connoisseurs, and so began to see something of that world which is essential[ly] non-historical because interested in immediate presentation. I had not seen anything of this world before nor understood its standpoint, and I owe to him the fact that I met the intellectual world, much of which naturally was much more extreme than his own position. One saw also his peculiar tact - part of his art of living - with personal relations. There was nothing finer in all his skills than his charm with people, and it was at its best with those people he was most with - unfortunately an uncommon progression. In a few weeks, I had met Vivian Forbes, who was to illustrate so much that was best in Glyn.9 Glyn saw in this remarkable young man a gift that was chaffing the whole body and mind to find its expression. He said to me of him, “Through Vivian I can do something in art which I couldn’t do myself”. That may well have been true: what was undoubtedly true was the fact that by his care of Vivian Forbes he brought out of himself something that was perhaps more greatly creative than any of his art work. It was not that he had in him any of the rather unresilient character of the philanthropist. It was I believe his love for getting the best out of anyone’s problems with the lightest touch and skill, to release what he could see was there - just in the same amused way, he would suddenly set about rearranging with lack of bustle but with amazing speed, someone’s uglyly arranged room, their garden, or even rescue from a clotted collapse a dinner that someone had been trying to serve from good materials but with little mastery. He could cook when he liked, as he could do anything else, as far as I know. Clothes, too, about them he had his own notions and gifts. He was always dressed perfectly but that did not make him submit to any idea that a tailor might have of smartness - I remember his emphasis on the fact that white evening waistcoats just must not be as tho they were made of ironed white paper. The texture of the cloth must show, the roll of the lapels must be natural and able to be given a just touch as you put them on, like an early 19th century cravat - the made-up in that genre filled him with horror.10
Gerald Heard II by Glyn Philpot
oil on canvas, c. 1915
Not many months later I was ill, and he came down into the country to stay with me, where I had been lent a cottage.11 This was the first time that one had actually shared house with him. One saw the steady plan he had of his life - he read with the same delight and the same selection as he did everything else. He was then absorbed by Huysmans.12 The mixture of deep Catholic piety and detailed power of noticing the irrelevant and the macabre, fascinated him. After it was to be Proust.13 I was young and crude enough to ask why these authors absorbed him. Sometimes my questions would make him impatient, but most of the time he would be gentle and try to make me appreciate their curious richness, their appositeness to their time. Finally he said, I remember, ‘We differ about the way to take things: I’m only interested in metaphor..’; and then with a laugh, ‘and I really only like it when it’s fully mixed’. There was a lot of truth in his joke. He was involved in a double problem - he was both dramatic and also presentational - the story, the climax in things interested him, but also the beauty of actual texture. I think that made him loyal to Venice and made his art, not merely of painting but of living, so largely a recall of the late Renaissance. Those striking pictures - the ‘Statue under the Sea’, ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’, the ‘Three Kings’, they were dramatic but they were also arresting studies in sheer appearances.14 I often wonder what would have happened had he not had a disappointment in the great religious picture - the ‘Christus’ he painted for Scotland.15 He told me that it was felt to be in some way inhuman and wrong. Afterwards he returned to this central problem which because it is larger than even great art may be touched on by one [who] is not an artist. He attempted that big work, the three great striding figures, and one felt that Michelangelo had come to Venice, and Rome had asked the Sea-Kings artist guest whether he might not come to the religious capital and there work at themes in which sumptuousness was lost in sublimity.16 He could have, but again the problem arises, can a man be fully-rounded and one-pointed. He had so many gifts that had he chosen one, the others must have been sacrificed.
A few months after, he had just been made an R.A., we were down staying with him at a mill-house on the north downs and again one saw his skill in living which appeared so casual but was always distinctively selective.17 He disliked scholarship, yet his information on any subject he actually wished to use was always adequate. There was nothing that would escape his attention and touch in a house - from the daily paper he would make a scrap-book of odd snapshots and paragraphs which18 made a kind of jumble glass picture of the human kaleidoscope. When we went for a walk and he found the path dull, he would set us designing menus. Tea, one remembers, must never have sweet things but various frail toasts and sandwiches cemented with various pâtés.19
When next back in London he had moved to a house in Knightsbridge, and again he made it almost too perfect by the skill with which he arranged things nice enough in themselves but owing their charm to their detailed composition.20 Lunching there one day one met at last one of the figures which he loved to embroider - a great art critic who had always defended Glyn’s work from the moderns and who Glyn loved.21 The man was also a bon viveur, and as he was then old - he died a couple of years later - he had become very round. ‘He’s like an enormously ripe plum,’ Glyn remarked, ‘One keeps one wondering what would happen if he caught on a thorn’. That did not mean that he had anything but respect for22 the super-plum’s judgement. ‘I don’t care what the other critics say. They don’t know what I’m trying to do. But when he said, “This last work of Philpot’s is a little disappointing”, I felt I must have been careless’.
He loved music, I think, as much as painting. The opera would have kept him alone from ever being content with the country. The ballet, though, I think, meant most to him. He greatly valued a painting which he made of Nijinsky as Oedipus confronting the Sphinx.23 It had about it a quality which may mean nothing to artists but which was present in so many of his paintings and which gave them a quality which balanced that sense of sumptuousness which I have called Venetian - instead of the rich golden lights there was the cold of the moon over it all. The music he composed was, however, without this quality. It brought out still another side of his nature - His ‘Little Lamb who made Thee’ was one felt a perfect setting for Blake’s poem, which moves as all Blake’s work does move on that edge which can either lapse into Pathos or go over - as Wordsworth lost the power to go - out into a world of awe and even terror.24 There he showed, and in one or two other snatches, a perfect simplicity and directness, that innocency which isn’t stupidity or inexperience but the incapacity to be nocuous, mean or frightened. Once discussing Opera with an enthusiast he said, ‘“The Magic Flute” is of course the best because the music and the theme can go together for there is no attempt at realism.’25 Yet he would never reject Wagner and indeed all his life he was determined that fantasy and sanity, beautifully ordered common sense and this-world plenty should go with the transcendent.26 It was clear, one almost says inevitable, that he could have been a writer. I often asked him to do so. He always said that to do it as he would, would take too much of his time. I think, tho, the reason was that narrative and picture are in contrast to each other, one must choose one way or the other, if not of looking at life at least of rendering one’s impression of it. And all his life he was skilfully, quietly, but none the less unrestingly working, one might almost say wrestling with that problem of decoration, design and significance, story, description. In the end, I think portraits really had come to tire him. The great Salisbury is a command piece.27 The picture of old Bishop Gore suddenly seemed to recall him to his interest in a set subject and indeed the old theologian’s sad face I think stirred real sympathy in the artist.28
One hot night in ‘23 we were all asked to go to the new studio flat in Holland Park.29 Here at last Glyn seemed to have a place which was not a problem asking for the assistance of a genius but a house which lent itself to his skill. He made it a wonderful place, and I always felt it suited him better than any other. Every object, that book, this picture, the arrangement of flowers, was of interest. But he was not quite happy with it and began to want the country. Then he had his most entertaining adventure with a house.30 One recalls coming in to see him and he looking up to say, ‘Here’s a place which they are advertising as suitable for an institution - they mean for a quiet secluded mental-home.’ It certainly was forbidding enough, and never did he make a more brilliant facelifting operation on a poor collapsed piece of mid XIX pretension. It was the last house I knew him in. Our friendship had gaps - there were spaces when I was away, he away and others when we were taken up with issues in which the other had nothing to give. But we would meet again and his vividness would start us off where we had begun years back.
The last time, the last stretch was when coming down from Cambridge where I’d been staying with Lowes Dickenson - Cambridge and Bloomsbury had made a kind of alliance against the Royal Academy Chelsea and the traditionalists, and I was then once again much with Cambridge.31 I had got into the carriage, which was full when, as the train began to start, a man hurried up, entered and then saw no place to put his suitcase and little to sit. Looking up, I saw it was Glyn, asked him to put his suitcase under my seat and to sit beside me. He was as gay as ever, came to see where I was then living with Christopher Wood, and, they too liking each other, we saw once again one another frequently. The last spell together was when Wood and I picked him up at Chartres and Christopher drove him and me through the west of France down to Carcasonne - that fantastic reconstructed medieval fortress town which stands like a frontier castle between the Atlantic side of France and the Mediterranean.32 We arrived at night and in a storm of rain and Glyn, as we found rooms in the hotel, had a telegram from Paris asking him to come as soon as possible. It was from Vivian Forbes, and so my last tour with him closed - as had the one before I had taken with him to Italy with his hurrying off that he might be of use to a friend.33 Actually my last sight of him was a number of years after. He would send for me now and then suddenly - once when he had, as it were, gone to ground in a strange house in that strange desert of houses to the west of Vauxhall Bridge Road. It was a place almost sinister, for it had no windows - only skylights and was filled with rather dusty divans and old rugs on the lightless walls. He hadn’t troubled to alter it - he was simply resting for a little. Again he called for me to come to him when he had taken a brief refuge by going to bed in one of those huge hotels that tower up at the south west end of Kensington gardens.34 It was winter and he had drawn the curtains and was reading by a shaded light. I asked him what was wrong. He smiled away the enquiry and I never suspected that he might actually be seriously exhausted. I never heard him complain of his health or anything else, tho often about other things he would have sudden keen moments of protest, which generally broke down into laughter. The last time I spent an unbroken hour or two with him alone was, I think, when he as usual suddenly rang up and asked if I would come down and sit with him while he worked - I was to go to a lovely house in one of the small squares not far from Westminster Abbey.35 On arriving, I found he had the house to himself and was shown up to a very fine dining room. He was decorating it for a friend - all in that what I have called his moonlight tone - silvers, greens and blues. One saw in the big designs he was sketching on the walls with that wonderful readiness of technique which he commanded, the beginning of his next effort - the attempt he made to achieve a kind of bridge between the classic tradition which he loved and the new thought in art. He did not, I knew, think he had succeeded, but nevertheless he felt that the effort was worth while. After all nothing is more remarkable - it has been pointed out by all great historians of art - than the fact that often from those who cling longest to a style which most practitioners of their age have abandoned, comes - as with Bach for instance, a final flowering of the old stock which produces a yield which in its way can never be surpassed.36
His taste was certainly catholic. In Chinese work he had a special pleasure, always picking up small pieces of carving which had given him pleasure. Once when I was ill in bed, he called and put beside me a Chinese carving of a duck, done in some smoky crystal, with a spray of lotus in its mouth. “I’m going to leave that with you while you are in bed, it will cheer you up. Don’t you see, it’s so like the delicate way that Daisy eats a piece of spaghetti.”37 He could be biting too in a humorous way. He knew I had a young critic friend who had said hard things about his art, a man who too was of no little elegance and with something of Glyn’s love of textures - “Do you know what I think of, when I think of him?” he asked me (They had incidentally never met) “I think of a piece of rather worn velvet lying in the corner of a dusty drawer.”38
Toward the end of my time in England, I saw him just once or twice. Then I heard from a friend we had in common that his doctor was really alarmed about him and had ordered him complete rest.39 I wanted to go and see him but he did not wish to be visited. My friend Christopher Wood, however, did get permission to see him. He recovered from that attack and then I saw him for the last time. He came in for a moment unexpectedly to see Christopher. We talked for a little and, as far as I remember, Christopher had to go out. The talk turned to religion. It grew grave: we came to a deadlock - not so much on theology as on the issues from which theology rises and the acute problems of actual conduct. I felt a great sense of sadness come over me for then though I did not know that I was leaving London for years, I did feel that somehow our friendship had reached its close. I went with him to the lift. As he stepped in, he turned round, broke into his laugh, smiled and waved his hand. I know that he knew better than I that something had come to an end but he would not let it close in anything as heavy as gloom. He was right, for differences are not the fundamental things of life - agreements are more powerful, and as one looks back, it is in his charm and generosity, his gifts and power of happiness that one finds that he is living.
Endnotes to Memoir
1 In 1914, Philpot did two paintings for which a French soldier modelled. One, entitled A Young Breton, or A Breton Boy (Tate Gallery, was exhibited at the RA in 1917, while the other, entitled Guillaume Rolland, a Young Breton, or Apache (Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto), was shown at the International Society Exhibition in 1914 and the Venice Biennale in 1922. The powerful Head of a Negro (1912-13), first exhibited as ‘Billy’ at the Modern Society of Portrait Painters in 1913, was the first of a long series of paintings of black men by Philpot.
2 Randall Davies (1866-1946), writer and collector, whom Philpot first met in July 1910 and whose portrait he painted c 1912.
3 Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), whose famous painting Van Gogh’s Chair (National Gallery, London) was done in 1888.
4 Philpot’s studio was at 33 Tite Street from 1912 to 1923.
5 Philpot did two head sketches of Heard, painted by artificial light one evening after dinner, probably in 1915. When Heard left England for the USA, he gave them to a friend of his and Philpot’s, the painter Eliot Hodgkin (1905-1987). He in turn gave one to Heard’s secretary and executor Jay Michael Barrie (1912-2001), while the other was sold by a London dealer.
6 In Paris in 1905, Philpot actually studied at the Académie Julian, rather than at the Beaux Arts, but his teacher, Jean Paul Laurens (1838-1921), taught (and probably used the same techniques) at both institutions.
7 According to his niece, Gabrielle Cross, Philpot became a Catholic shortly after he turned twenty-one in Oct 1905, but no supporting evidence for this date has been found.
8 Heard had studied history at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge from 1908 to 1911, and stayed on there until 1913 to study theology on a college scholarship given to those preparing to take Anglican Orders.
9 Vivian Forbes (1891-1937), artist who did drawings and watercolours of distinction. Having met Philpot in the army in August 1915, he became increasingly dependant both financially and emotionally on Philpot, and committed suicide shortly after Philpot’s funeral.
10 Heard is probably referring to Philpot’s distaste for ready-made ties, as opposed to those hand-tied by the wearer himself.
11 The cottage is unidentified, as is the date of this visit.
12 Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907), whose best-known novel À Rebours (1884) became the ‘breviary of the Decadents’ and influenced Oscar Wilde and others. Huysmans’ partly autobiographical works reflect many of the intellectual movements of the late 19th century and eventually describe his return to the Catholic Church.
13 Marcel Proust (1871-1922) whose autobiographical masterpiece À la recherche du temps perdu, an attempt to recover a lost past by stimulating unconscious memory, was published between 1913 and 1927.
14 Under the Sea (1914-18), exhibited International Society, 1916; Belshazzar’s Feast (1913), exhibited International Society, 1913; Adoration of the Three Kings (1918) (Baltimore Museum of Fine Arts), exhibited Royal Academy, 1918.
15 The Sacred Heart Altarpiece was painted in 1922 for St Peter’s Catholic church, Edinburgh, where Father John Gray, poet and friend of Oscar Wilde as well as of Philpot, was pastor. Due to a misunderstanding, the same subject had already been painted for the church by the Scottish painter, Malcolm Drummond, so Philpot’s painting was not needed. After Philpot’s death, it was given to a monastery near Margate, where it was destroyed in the collapse of the building where it was being stored.
16 In The Journey of the Spirit (1921), which shows three nude male figures striding across a strange, barren, landscape, Philpot tries to represent more generalized, cosmic, ideas in a Symbolist style, rather than the specific biblical references of his earlier paintings. Critics rightly saw the influence of Michelangelo in these muscular figures. Heard’s point is that this monumental quality, so evident in Michelangelo’s sculpture and his great works like the Sistine Chapel in Rome, is combined with the earlier influence on Philpot of Venetian art, with its love of colour, of gorgeous fabrics and of surface quality in general.
17 Philpot was elected ARA in 1915 and RA in 1923. The cottage on the north downs has not been identified.
18 The word ‘with’ in the text has been emended to ‘which’.
19 For afternoon tea, Philpot would have pâté de foie gras, and on one occasion during the war when he invited six soldiers, he had caviare and cake.
20 5 Park Row, Knightsbridge, where Philpot lived from 1919 to 1923.
21 The ‘great art critic’ was probably Paul G. Konody (1872-1933), who published an appreciative article, “The Art of Glyn Philpot,” Drawing and Design, 3 new series 41 (Sept 1923) 577-9, 588-97, as well as numerous perceptive and favourable reviews of his exhibited work. The ‘disappointing’ painting has not been identified. As Philpot became an R.A. in April 1923, and left Knightsbridge for his new flat in Holland Park in late May 1923, this dinner seems to have taken place in late April/early May 1923, possibly when Konody was researching his article on Philpot. Konody actually lived another ten years.
22 The word ‘from’ in the text has been emended to ‘for’.
23 Philpot did several portraits of the great ballet dancer, Vaclav Nijinski (1890-1950), which were exhibited at the Fine Art Society, London, in March 1914. A great lover of classical ballet and especially the Ballets Russes, he also painted a number of other dancers.
24 Philpot set this and other poems by William Blake (1757-1827) to music. In his Intimations of Immortality (published in 1807), William Wordsworth (1770-1850) explores the meaning of his early intense experiences of childhood and their gradual fading as he grew older.
25 The Magic flute by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91) has an entirely fantastic fairy-tale plot with light, comic elements.
26 The music of Richard Wagner (1813-83) is based on a heavier machinery of Teutonic mythology. Heard’s point seems to be that Philpot’s tastes in music, as in other things, were very catholic, and not dogmatic.
27 Philpot’s large state portrait of the 4th Marquess of Salisbury (1917), was received with acclamation by the critics and the public when exhibited at the RA in that year.
28 Philpot’s portrait (1920) of Rt Hon. Charles Gore, D.D., Bishop of Oxford, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1921.
29 Philpot and Forbes took over the flat in Lansdowne House, Lansdowne Rd in May 1923. It was built as flats for artists with large north-facing studios and had been formerly occupied by the artists Charles Ricketts (1866-1931) and Charles Shannon (1863-1937), who had both influenced Philpot’s early work.
30 In 1927, Philpot bought Baynards Manor, a large brick mock-Tudor house, which had been divided into 3 cottages and which he restored to its original state. Because of the financial difficulties that followed his change of style, he was obliged to sell it in 1935.
31 Goldsworthy Lowes Dickenson (1862-1932), Cambridge don, historian and humanitarian, who promoted the establishment of the League of Nations (whose name he may have invented) and who wrote the Introduction to Heard’s The Ascent of Humanity. His biography was written by E. M. Forster (1934).
32 This trip from Chartres to Carcasonne probably took place in t931-2, while Philpot was living in Paris.
33 This trip to Baveno and Gardone on the Italian lakes took place in May 1925, and from there Philpot and Heard then visited Bologna together.
34 The strange house and the hotels are unidentified, but the former sojourn may have occurred in 1935 when Philpot was selling Baynards and looking for a flat in London.
35 In 1930, Philpot decorated the dining room of Mulberry House, Smith Square, Westminster, London, which belonged to his friends and patrons, the Lord and Lady Melchett. For this, he was paid 1200 pounds in November, 1930.
36 Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), German baroque composer who clung to the Renaissance style of polyphony while his contemporaries had turned to chords and melody.
37 In 1916, Heard had suffered a nervous breakdown and a long illness afterwards. It was probably during this period that Glyn visited him. Daisy Philpot (1881-1957), Glyn’s devoted elder sister, who acted as his secretary and housekeeper.
38 The young critic is unidentified.
39 Philpot suffered from high blood pressure and a hectic schedule, and was several times ordered to rest in the latter part of his life.
J. G. P. Delaney obtained his Ph.D. at Edinburgh University. He is currently Professor of English Language and Literature at Université de Moncton, Moncton, N.B., Canada. Professor Delaney is author of Charles Ricketts, A Biography (Oxford, 1990) and Glyn Philpot, His Life and Art (London, 1999), as well as numerous articles and pamphlets.
The Barrie Family Trust is most grateful to Professor J. G. P. Delaney for his kind permission to republish his article, Gerald Heard's Memoir of Glyn Philpot (c 1945) and its accompanying portrait, which originally appeared The British Art Journal, Vol. IV, No. 2, Summer 2003. Introduction, textual emendations, and footnotes are Copyright © 2003 by Professor J. G. P. Delaney, All Rights Reserved. Text of Memoir of Glyn Philpot is Copyright © 2003 by The Barrie Family Trust, All Rights Reserved. Image of Gerald Heard I is Copyright by The Glyn Philpot Estate. Image of Gerald Heard II is Copyright by The Barrie Family Trust.
by Brenda Mitchell, Ph.D.
Two largely ignored paintings from Georgia O'Keeffe's oeuvre, D. H. Lawrence Pine Tree and Gerald's Tree I, bring up several important issues concerning O'Keeffe's disguised portraits and her close relationships with literary figures. In both paintings O'Keeffe has portrayed male writers (men of culture) as trees, an apparent paradox from a woman linked to the world of nature by her contemporaries and even by the artist herself.1 O'Keeffe once wrote: "I feel like a little plant that he [husband Alfred Stieglitz] has watered and weeded and dug around—and he seems to have been able to grow himself—without anyone watering or weeding or digging around him."2 She later distanced herself from the world of culture, especially literature, declaring to painters Arthur Dove and Helen Torr, "I am quite illiterate."3 Yet she lived at the center of American avant-garde art production, and included in her library were major works of philosophy and literature, as well as art theory by, among others, Clive Bell and Wassily Kandinsly (in whose Concerning the Spiritual in Art O'Keeffe would have encountered Theosophy). The apparent paradox begins to disappear when we recognize that her subjects in these paintings, British novelist D. H. Lawrence and Irish writer Gerald Heard themselves experienced ambivalence toward the world of culture, and that O'Keeffe's symbolic portrayals placed her squarely in the mainstream of American Modernism.
"Georgia O'Keeffe painting in her car, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, 1937"
Photograph by Ansel Adams.
Copyright © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust,
All Rights Reserved.
Used by kind permission of The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust.
Reproduced by kind permission of the Center for Creative Photography.
In this distinguished photograph, taken by world-renown photographer Ansel Adams,
Ms. O'Keeffe, graced with an enigmatic half-smile, is captured painting "Gerald's Tree."
Although they have been discussed in the O'Keeffe literature, the portrait aspects of D. H. Lawrence Pine Tree and Gerald's Tree I have been overlooked.4 While at first these images seem to have little in common, the subjects to which they refer shared important similarities: Like Toomer, Lawrence and Heard were writers interested in mysticism who traveled to New Mexico, and were strongly ambivalent to the world of industrial technology and culture. Toomer followed Gurdjieff; Lawrence was interested in Theosophy; and Heard was involved with Hinduism and Buddhism.
During the late 1930s O'Keeffe met three writers at Ghost Ranch (a dude ranch that accepted guests)—Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard, and Christopher Isherwood—each with significant interest in Eastern religions and metaphysics. Huxley and Heard were there in the summer of 1937, and Isherwood passed through on his way to California two years later. Heard had published The Source of Civilization two years earlier, and two years later, he published his ideas on the evolution of consciousness in Pain, Sex, and Time.5 O'Keeffe found Heard's footprints around the tree where he had been dancing, as well as a cryptic inscription he had etched into the earth at the base of the tree. "Gerald's Tree was one of many dead cedars out in the bare, red hills of Ghost Ranch," O'Keeffe wrote. A friend [Heard] visiting the Ranch that summer had evidently found it and from the footmarks I guessed he must have been dancing around the tree before I started to paint it. So I always thought of it as Gerald's Tree."6 She painted two versions of the tree, indicating its importance to her.
"Gerald's Tree I" by Georgia O'Keeffe
oil on canvas, 1937, 40" x 30 1/8".
Gift of the Burnett Foundation.
Copyright © Georgia O'Keeffe Museum,
All Rights Reserved.
Used by kind permission of Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.
In contrast to the dramatic nocturnal view of D. H. Lawrence Pine Tree, O'Keeffe has viewed the spiky dead cedar of Gerald's Tree I head-on in brilliant daylight against an orange mountain. Her description of Heard's behavior at the site hints that the tree may have marked a personal sacred space for both writer and painter. In fact, the shadow at the base of the tree resembles a figure of a man dancing, with his arms spread wide.
The fact that Gerald's Tree I depicts a dead cedar, rather than the "erect, alive" pine of the Lawrence portrait, probably carries symbolic meaning as well. Painted eight years after The Lawrence Tree, the dead tree may symbolize Heard's sense of impending destruction, for he was even more convinced than Lawrence that modern technological society was bound for collapse. While in Lady Chatterley's Lover Lawrence proposed nature as a refuge from technology, Heard's solution was to turn from the material world to the inner spiritual life. Given his spiritual leanings, it is possible that Heard was engaged in a kind of shamanic activity with regard to the dead cedar. According to Nevill Drury, trees, in the form of the World Tree and the Tree of Life, carry important symbolic meaning in shamanic religions, Norse mythology, and the Jewish mystical Kabbala.7
Heard feared for the survival of civilization, predicting complete destruction if civilization did not take steps to save itself. Writing during the rise of fascism and Stalinism, Heard described the condition of contemporary culture as a "problem," "in crisis," and a "dilemma," if not caused, then exacerbated, by the use of technology to create armaments. These "crises" stemmed from Western culture's emphasis on the outer world of culture while neglecting the inner world (or the "extra-individuality" of humans, to use Heard's term). Heard called for the integration of these worlds in order to avert the coming disaster. Believing that Eastern cultures had set an example in the development of the "inner world," Heard proposed the practice of yoga as an empirical means of integrating inner human psychology and external society. He wrote:
Yoga solves the problem of the self-divided individual, that of the individual
and society and that of consciousness and Life and indeed the universe, through the single solution of making the individual learn how to achieve knowledge of his extra-individuality....Society is the macrocosm, the
projection of its constituent psyches. When they are fissured, society is chaotic, anarchic. When the inner psychological conflict is resolved the
outer order, social justice, economic health, result.8
Heard further developed his ideas on the evolution of consciousness in Pain, Sex and Time, published on the eve of World War II. Here he focuses on Eastern thought and Western mysticism and calls for psychic evolution using examples of mysticism throughout history. Once again proposing yoga as a method for achieving heightened consciousness, Heard also discusses extrasensory perception, telepathy, and clairvoyance, and concludes that the development of psychic powers is necessary to "save civilization."9Like Lawrence and Toomer, and to a certain extent even Stieglitz, Heard rejected Western technological society, which had produced one World War and was about to spawn another. His beliefs, which he likely discussed with O'Keeffe and others, supported the notion of the "artist as seer," or clairvoyant, who sees what others do not—as O'Keeffe the artist saw "photographically real" portraits that passed into the world unrecognized.
O'Keeffe also enjoyed playing jokes on "the men," as she called her art world contemporaries, and she enjoyed having secrets—knowing something about the meaning of a painting that no one else would discern. O'Keeffe's arboreal portraits expressed her admiration for these writers, and at the same time tweaked the noses of the art critics. For while critics trumpeted the female sexuality of her flowers, they did not notice the phallic imagery of the trees, nor did they recognize them as portraits. Georgia O'Keeffe was not just a woman of nature painting trees: She was a sophisticated artist participating in an intellectual dialogue with the artistic and philosophical issues occupying some of the most interesting thinkers of her generation.
Endnotes to O'KeeffeA version of this article was presented at the Midwest Art History Society Meeting, March 1994, and appeared as a chapter in "Music that Makes Holes in the Sky: Georgia O'Keeffe's Visionary Romanticism" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Illinois, 1996). I thank Sarah Burns and Katherine Manthorne for their help.
- Brenda Mitchell
1 Anthropologist Sherry Ortner's essay, "Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?" in Michelle Zimbalist Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere, eds., Woman, Culture, and Society (Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University, 1974, 67-87), provided a point of departure for some of my interpretations of O'Keeffe's arboreal portraits of male writers. Ortner defined "culture" as a "special sort of process in the world." She further explained that women were identified with "nature," which every culture devalues as being of a lower order than "culture." O'Keeffe and the subjects of her portraits, Jean Toomer, D. H. Lawrence, and Gerald Heard, all shared an ambivalence about the superiority of "culture" even while "generating and sustaining systems of meaningful forms (symbols, artifacts, etc.) by means of which humanity transcends the givens of natural existence."
2 Jack Cowart, Juan Hamilton, and Sarah Greenough, Georgia O'Keeffe: Art and Letters (Washington, D. C.: National Gallery of Art, 19871, 183.
3 Ibid., 222.
4 Charles Eldredge discusses D. H. Lawrence Pine Tree in Georgia O'Keeffe: American and Modern (New Haven: Yale University, 1993) 198, 219. Because the painting was originally exhibited as Pine Tree with Stars at Brett's, Eldredge identifies it as an homage to O'Keeffe's friend Lady Dorothy Brett, who stayed in New Mexico after the Lawrences returned to Europe. According to Eldredge, "Titles of O'Keeffe's works often changed over time, a circumstance that complicates research....The alterations in nomenclature occasionally were made by her, but more often by others." He quotes the artist: "I don't put names on them. I never do." I believe that this statement, together with the fact that O'Keeffe used the title The Lawrence Tree in her 1976 book, invalidates the Eldredge identification. O'Keeffe may not have given the painting its original title. In addition, O'Keeffe mentioned the painting in a letter to Mabel Dodge Luhan in 1929, referring to it as "that tree in Lawrences front yard as you see it when you lie under it on the table"; Cowart, Hamilton, Greenough, Art and Letters, 192.
5 Gerald Heard, The Source of Civilization (London: Jonathan Cape, 1935), and Pain, Sex and Time (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1939).*
6 Georgia O'Keeffe, Georgia O'Keeffe (New York: Viking, 1976), n.p.
7 Nevill Drury, The Elements of Shamanism (Dorset, Eng.: Element Books, 1989), 24.
8 Heard, The Source of Civilization, 235.
9 Heard, Pain, Sex and Time, 261.*
Brenda Mitchell, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Art History at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Her current research interests include Contemporary Japanese Art, Art and Identity, and Feminism in the Visual Arts. She has been the recipient of two teaching and research fellowships in the Center for Developmental Psychology and Psychiatry, School of Education, Nagoya University, Nagoya, Japan.
The Barrie Family Trust is most grateful to Professor Brenda Mitchell for her kind permission to republish excerpts from her article, O'Keeffe's Arboreal Portraits of D. H. Lawrence and Gerald Heard, which originally appeared in Woman's Art Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2. (Autumn, 1998 - Winter, 1999), pp. 3-7. Text is Copyright © 1998 by Brenda M. Mitchell, All Rights Reserved. Professor Mitchell’s article is accessible online at JSTOR.
* Pain, Sex and Time was reissued in 2004 by Monkfish Book Publishing.
More on Gerald's Tree
by Professor Brenda M. Mitchell
O'Keeffe described this painting in her 1976 book Georgia O'Keeffe (The Viking Press, New York, plate #90) wherein she wrote that her "friend" had been dancing around it. There is another interesting piece of information in Georgia O'Keeffe: Selected Paintings and Works on Paper, published by the Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, 1986:
Plate #23: Gerald's Tree II—includes an exhibition history and provenance, a reference to Heard's 1937 visit to Ghost Ranch, and an excerpt from a letter she wrote to Stieglitz:
"I found this written on some hard smooth sand in the shade of a tree
where he [Gerald Heard] had been walking -
Do not act as though Know that you
you were in the be are in the presence
and you will "
That was the cryptic message she found, with its unusual spacing.
A response from The Barrie Family Trust: The "Do not act" admonition is a typical Heardian warning. Heard frequently and over time used the term "Presence" to indicate the transcendent, ultimate Reality. The phrases "Know" and "and you will" are quintessential Heardian resolutions peppered with encouragement. O'Keeffe's testimony thus bears the unmistakable ring of authenticity. Heard must have been in a heightened state of ecstasy at the time when he interacted with this tree, the desert, and his deity.
"More on Gerald's Tree" used by kind permission of Professor Brenda M. Mitchell. Copyright © 2007 by Brenda M. Mitchell. All rights reserved.
The Vedanta Society and Gerald Heard's Trabuco College
by Timothy Miller, Ph.D.
From its beginning in 1962 the Esalen Institute has been known as, among other things, a meeting ground between East and West – “something of a center-point for the translation of Asian religions into American culture,” as Jeffrey Kripal has put it.1 Some of the foundations for that reputation are fairly well known to those with at least a cursory familiarity with Esalen’s history and programs. That Esalen co-founders Michael Murphy and Richard Price were influenced—one might say inspired—by Frederic Spiegelberg at Stanford University; that they became involved with the nascent American Academy of Asian Studies, where they came into contact with other Asianists, including Alan Watts; that Esalen early on presented workshops and seminars that promoted East-West encounter: those things are familiar parts of the record. But history is a complex tapestry of influences, and in the case of Esalen those influences go beyond Spiegelberg and Watts and the Academy of Asian Studies. This paper seeks to bring to light another part of the Asian-American encounter that helped make Esalen what it finally became.
Walter Truett Anderson, in his history of Esalen, provides a brief but intriguing glimpse of one group of persons who helped Murphy and Price as they worked to refine their vision of what would become Esalen: Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard, Christopher Isherwood, and others who were, in Anderson’s words, “members of the sizable circle of Southern California students of Buddhist and Hindu philosophy.”2 Particularly important, in Anderson’s account, was Gerald Heard, a close friend of Huxley’s who had himself founded a center that in many ways portended Esalen. Heard’s proto-Esalen (about which more presently) had closed in 1947 after just five years of operation, but Heard maintained a passionate interest in human growth, human potential, for the rest of his life. Here is Anderson’s depiction of Heard’s passion as experienced by Murphy and Price in 1961, as they were trying to put their plan together:
Huxley had so diffidently advocated a research project, had so hesitantly suggested its revolutionary possibilities. He thought something of that sort might happen. Heard thought it had to happen. Mankind, he believed, was at the turning point and could be saved from destruction only by a great leap, a new vision. There would have to be a psychological revolution, and, yes, there would have to be institutions to serve it. He had written of the need for "gymnasia for the mind" and in the 1940s had launched his own version in Southern California, a spiritual/educational center called Trabuco College. It had failed, but Heard remained irrepressibly optimistic about the prospects for new undertakings, new horizons, vast evolutionary transformations. He was a man of limitless energies, a brilliant and tireless talker. He welcomed the two young visitors, and they had a long conversation, a stunning four-hour exploration of evolutionary theory, biology, theology, philosophy. They spoke of many things, all connected to Heard’s vision of a huge transformation of the human species that was, he was sure, trying to take place.
Murphy and Price came away from the meeting feeling—as people who entered into conversation with Gerald Heard had often felt—a slight buzzing in the head, a certain overloading of the mental circuits. Yet it had been an invigorating and positive experience. Until then their project had been tinged with uncertainty, with a maybe-it-will-work-out-and-maybe-it-won’t sort of doubtfulness that naturally accompanies thoughts of risky new ventures into the unknown. But Heard’s enthusiasm, his sense of a cosmic mandate, changed all that. Murphy and Price were now both filled with a new sense of urgent conviction about their project: it would happen. It seemed to them, that day, that it had to happen.3
In a more recent conversation with me, Murphy confirmed Heard’s influence on him, and said that forty-two years later he still had vivid memories of that pivotal four-hour conversation. Heard’s vision of the possibilities for the evolution of human nature, and his wedding of the evolutionary to the mystical parts of the human psyche, made a powerful impact on Murphy. Just as Huxley’s language about human potential helped shape the philosophy that would drive Esalen, Heard’s insights into the human mind and passion for centers where spiritual and moral evolution could be fostered helped round out the founding vision. So perhaps Heard could be called the catalyst of Esalen: Murphy and Price came away from that day with Heard “absolutely on fire,” as Murphy put it, and firmly determined to found the Esalen Institute.4
This paper will sketch the milieu in which Heard, Huxley, and others had been immersed some two or three decades before the founding of Esalen. My hope is to make it clear that alternative religiosity as it developed in Southern California in the first half of the twentieth century was one source, and an important one, of the Esalen work and indeed of the larger human potential movement, in whose development Esalen played such a pivotal role.
Some of the history I am relating here is that of the Vedanta Society, the first form of what is commonly known as “Hinduism” to take root in American soil. Although many are well familiar with the general outlines, at least, of the Vedanta story, for the sake of those who are not I will provide a few brief pieces of background.
The American part of the story begins with the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. The Parliament, part of the Chicago World’s Fair of that year, attracted an unprecedentedly wide range of delegates and speakers, from James Cardinal Gibbons, the leading Catholic prelate in America, to an obscure young Indian swami called Vivekananda. From his first address Vivekananda was a sensation. Demonstrating considerable polemical gifts, he smashed stereotypes about Indian religion, declaring, for example, that polytheism did not exist there and that the Indian use of images did not constitute what westerners deemed the abomination of idolatry. Vivekananda’s Hinduism was that of the Ramakrishna Mission, which was peaceful, expansive, all-tolerant, and given to works of charity. The swami did not condemn any religion, but welcomed them all in the human race’s universal pursuit of truth. His good looks and striking attire further helped him carry the day in Chicago.
In the end Vivekananda’s most notable achievement may have been his establishment of the first Hindu organization in the United States that attracted western members. After the Parliament he stayed in the U.S. for several years, putting in place the foundations of the Vedanta Society. In his wake came several other swamis from the Ramakrishna Mission who expanded Vivekananda’s work and attracted yet more western followers.5
The strand of the Vedanta Society’s work that has the most direct implications for the eventual founding of Esalen was that of the development of monasteries and retreat centers. The seeds of Vedanta communities were scattered as early as 1895, when Vivekananda assembled a group of female disciples at the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River for intensive spiritual teaching, and the participants began to feel that they should live communally, sharing the work of daily living and immersing themselves in the life of the spirit. Vivekananda himself returned to India before any permanent monastery had been opened, but before he left a series of assistants and successors had begun to arrive, including Swami Turiyananda, who in 1900 opened a 160-acre retreat called Shanti Ashrama in California. Shanti, the land for which had been donated by a new Vedantist, was a remote and austere place, fifty miles from a railroad or market and a lengthy stagecoach ride from the rail terminal in San Jose. Residents lived in tents and had to dig a well to get water. The hardships of Shanti undoubtedly helped define its relatively short life span, which amounted to a decade or so.6 By then, however, new developments in the larger Vedanta movement provided more convenient sanctuary.
In 1906 the first Vedanta temple in San Francisco was opened, and as had been the case with earlier Vedantists, some of the earnest seekers sought a more intense religious immersion than simple Temple membership would afford. In response to their requests another swami, Trigunatita, opened a monastery for male members on the top floor of the new temple, a wonderfully exotic structure that had survived the great earthquake and fire just after it was constructed and that remains in place today. Soon a separate convent was opened in a rented house nearby for female adherents.
Again the ideal of getting back to the land and opening a communal center removed from urban life beckoned, and soon Trigunatita purchased a tract of around 200 acres near Concord, across San Francisco Bay. The development plan involved what today would be called a land trust, with the Vedanta Society retaining twenty-five acres for common use and the balance sold to members as homestead lots. The plan was tremendously ambitious, calling for a temple, a library, a hospital, a retirement center, and an orphanage as well as the private homes. Adequate financial support, however, was not forthcoming, so the dream outstripped reality. In 1915 Trigunatita was assassinated by a deranged former student, and his death effectively meant the end of both the urban and the rural monastic communities (although a few monks continued to live, and still do, in the 1906 temple in San Francisco).7
In the years of Trigunatita’s work a similar project, Vedanta Ashrama, was opened at West Cornwall, Connecticut, in 1907; it survived until 1919. Back on the west coast the Vedantist communal vision would languish until 1923, when Paramananda, who had emerged as most influential swami after the departure of Vivekananda, purchased 135 acres at La Crescenta, outside Pasadena, where he established the Ananda Ashrama. Finally the Vedanta movement had a community with staying power; Ananda Ashrama is still very much there today, and has functioned over its eighty years as a major Vedanta center. It has facilities for meditation and personal spiritual work, and it hosts public lectures and other programs. True to the vision of the Ramakrishna Mission, the community built a “Temple of the Universal Spirit” that was available for worship by persons of any and all religious persuasions. Ananda Ashrama achieved a solid financial footing through the development of several cottage industries and attracted a wide range of visitors.
Meanwhile, additional centers were established—Abhedananda Acres, named for yet another of the swamis, in the Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles, also in 1923, and then others.8 By the 1920s, in short, the Vedanta Society had established, on American soil, several spiritual institutions that functioned both as monasteries and as retreat centers. Eventually similar Asian-inspired religious communal centers founded under other auspices than those of the Vedanta Society were operating as well.
The exotic religious traditions of India did not appeal to the great majority of Americans, obviously. But they did find pockets of interest here and there, typically attracting well-educated, intellectually adverturesome people. One such pocket of interest was a group of Hollywood writers and intellectuals of whom the best known was Aldous Huxley. A new swami, Prabhavananda, moved to Los Angeles from Portland in 1929 and began to develop a Vedanta center in Hollywood. Although the move was regarded as unfriendly by the existing Vedantists of Los Angeles, who saw the new swami’s work as a kind of turf invasion that threatened the local dominance of their own Swami Paramananda, eventually Prabhavananda attracted Huxley as well as his colleagues Christopher Isherwood and Gerald Heard to his congregation. [Ed. - Heard made first contact with Swami Prabhavananda and later introduced Isherwood and Huxley to the Swami.] The three literati were prominent enough in their day that their presence led many others to the Hollywood center, and the Vedanta Society of Southern California, as it is now known, has been a leading arm of the Vedanta movement ever since.9
Of the literary lions of the Hollywood Vedanta center it was Gerald Heard who had the most to do with the road to Esalen. Heard was born in London of Irish ancestry in 1889 and educated at Cambridge. He studied theology, planning to follow his father into the Church of England priesthood, but he was never ordained. He did retain a profound and enduring interest in spiritual matters, however; one early manifestation of that fascination was his work as an official of the Society for Psychical Research in London. His spiritual interests continued to inform his career as writer, philosopher, and public speaker—but those interests were so wide-ranging that his essence is hard to delineate.
Heard was a well-known British intellectual by the 1920s, editor of a notable journal called The Realist, BBC science commentator, and prize-winning philosopher. Over his lifetime he wrote thirty-eight books, including several well-regarded philosophical and historical treatises such as The Social Substance of Religion,12 The Source of Civilization,13 and The Five Ages of Man.14 Some of his works, including several books and a number of articles in the leading Protestant weekly The Christian Century, were outwardly Christian in orientation, with titles such as The Code of Christ: An Interpretation of the Beatitudes15 and The Creed of Christ: An Interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer.16 But his spiritual passion was far too wide-ranging to be contained by a single historical tradition. A reader picking up a copy of The Eternal Gospel, for example, might have been expecting a Christian treatise, but quickly was told that “The Eternal Gospel has always been known to all mankind, though with varying explicitness” and that “it is that element owing to which [all] religions are great and enduring,” a perspective essentially identical to that of the Vedanta swamis.17 Heard, incidentally, also wrote several mysteries and works of fantasy under his birth initials H. F. Heard (for Henry FitzGerald Heard), including such memorable titles as The Great Fog and Other Weird Tales18 and Doppelgangers: An Episode of the Fourth, the Psychological, Revolution, 1997.19 One of his novels, A Taste for Honey,20 was later, with considerable artistic license, turned into a 1967 movie called The Deadly Bees, the first in the killer-bees genre, and a nonfiction work titled Is Another World Watching? The Riddle of the Flying Saucers21 was one of the first UFO books.
Gerald Heard and his close friend Aldous Huxley came to the United States in 1937. Heard had been offered a chair in historical anthropology at Duke University, but he decided after a single term that university life was not for him, and he left for southern California, where in 1939 he encountered Prabhavananda and immersed himself in the study of Vedanta, finally becoming a formal disciple of the swami in 1941.22 Among other things he devoted his literary talents to the movement, co-editing, with Prabhavananda, the Vedanta Society’s journal, Voice of India, from 1939 to 1941 and providing editorial advice and articles for it for years afterwards.
By then he was well on his way to founding what would become a pioneering incubator of the human potential movement, Trabuco College—not a college in the sense of a traditional educational institution, but a center for a collegium, community.23 (Perhaps Heard’s choice of the name “college” reflected that of Black Mountain College, which Heard and Huxley visited in 1937. Black Mountain was a college in the traditional sense in that it undertook the education of post-high school students, but it was relatively unstructured, communal, democratic, and thoroughly experimental in its approach to just about everything.24) The looming specter of World War II had planted in Heard, a devout pacifist, an apocalyptic sense of the direction of human society. His prospectus for Trabuco—written, reportedly, with some input from Huxley25—eloquently conveys his despair over the direction of things: “Humanity is failing. We are starving—many of us physically, all of us spiritually—in the midst of plenty. Our shame and our failure are being blatantly advertised, every minute of every day, by the crash of explosives and the flare of burning towns. We admit this. We are not proud of our handiwork. We know that we have, somehow, taken the wrong road.”26 And why was it all happening? The war, he argued, was the product of a civilization undermined by “diseased egotism and individualism—the fundamental appeal to greed and fear as the two sole compelling motives of man.”27 Humanity, Heard believed, stood at a crossroads: it needed vital transformation, or it would die. The solutions to problems usually favored in our secular society were not true answers:
To the majority of the men of good-will, ‘the way out’ means chiefly social reconstruction, the general acceptance of some new political or economic faith, or a further attempt to erect an international organisation with which to curb the rival ambitions of nations. Admittedly all this work is valuable, but does it go to the heart of the evil? Can the statesman, the economist, the engineers, the architects, the social workers guarantee us against another and more terrible international breakdown within the next twenty years? They cannot, for the will to destruction is within ourselves. Rebuilding the cities and bringing vitamins to the survivors is only a repair job. Readjustment of our economics, however drastic, the reframing of our code of international behavior, however enlightened, will not change our hearts.28
And what was his formula for the necessary transformation of our consciousness? Heard believed that an entire “new race” of spiritual leaders could be created through disciplined religious immersion, and that the new race could lead humankind in a wonderfully constructive direction, in contrast to the destruction of war then so evident. But the path would be difficult to locate and even more difficult to follow:
It is very old, and narrow, and difficult to find. It is the way of humility and of self-discipline and re-education. It is the way back to God. We have to educate ourselves to discard our old values, for they were false. We have to learn that God is the only Reality, and that the whole visible world is real only in so far as He constantly sustains it. Behind those words is more than just ‘another formula.’ Behind them lies the live, intense, unutterable vivid Truth—a truth which can only be apprehended through a slow hard lifetime of study, prayer and disciplined, ascetic living.29
In response to that need, Heard wrote, Trabuco:
…aspires to a type of community which will, we hope, become fairly common, both in this country and in Europe, in the years to come. It is un-denominational, and its doors are open to both men and women. It is not intended to be a place of withdrawal from the world—quite the reverse. But its founding trustees believe that only through change of individual character can there be any real apprehension of God’s nature and will, and a lasting change in civilisation or humanity. Self-education comes first. And such an education necessitates three things:
a. Research. The enormous mass of existing literature, from many countries and ages, on techniques of prayer, ways of self-integration and methods of psycho-physical development must be re-examined and re-interpreted in modern language to meet contemporary needs.
b. Experiment. We must test out these techniques and determine which are the most applicable and convenient.
c. Practice. Having chosen the particular techniques best adapted to our individual needs, we must proceed to make them part of our daily living.
The founders do not regard themselves as possessed of any special message or esoteric "revelation." Trabuco begins its work in a spirit of humble and open-minded enquiry. There are no "prophets" among us. We all start from the beginning, bringing nothing but our need for God and our trust in His Grace, without which search for Him is vain.
Trabuco hopes to grow, spiritually and organically, as the growth of its members progresses. Our ultimate structure may well be a modern version of the medieval university. There will be the students, whose whole concern must necessarily be self-education; the "masters," who are sufficiently advanced in their own self-education to be able to instruct and assist the students; and the "doctors," who are sufficiently qualified to be able to go out into the world and teach. Trabuco aims to become a new kind of missionary college, combining the world-wide concern and zeal of the old missionary work with the psychological and social knowledge of the present day.30
The community was to be spiritual, but without a sectarian basis. Heard had recently been immersed in the Vedanta version of Hinduism, but his background was Western Christian, and he was steeped in the literature of the Christian mystics and monastics. As one visitor put it, Heard “made a specialty of comparative religions, and with that incomparable erudition which brought biology, anthropology, and a host of other academic disciplines into the picture as well, quoted the Sufis [and] Hasidim, as well as Buddhist and Taoist ideas.”31 Moreover, Heard did not promulgate any rigid party line. Students were freely allowed their own points of view:
Lunch was served in the large refectory. As we lined both sides of the long tables, Gerald sat in a large chair on the raised portion at the far end of the hall, reading to us from some elevating book. On those days when he happened to choose a Mahayana or Zen reading and Sister [Dhammadinna, a Theravada nun] disagreed with it, she could be heard whispering loudly to her neighbor, "What rot!" She had visited Japan and had a poor opinion of the purity and orthodoxy of the Zen monks.32
Organizationally, Heard planned to establish a core group of resident members who would constitute a small, unpaid staff serving those who would come for limited terms, thus being “of service to maladjusted younger men and women prepared to submit to a regime whose strict discipline and fixed hours may help them regain full control of themselves and return to a more integrated life in the world.”33
The gathering storm of World War II did more than just give Heard a sense of urgency about the development of the human potential. Wartime restrictions on the purchase of building materials were already imminent, so Heard had to scurry to build his new campus. Raising funds from sources that included his own inheritance (he came from an upper-class family) and probably included gifts from the wealthy, largely female, patrons who had funded many other Vedanta-related projects,34 he purchased several hundred acres—various accounts give differing exact figures, ranging from 300 to just under 400 acres—of isolated, rolling ranchland in Trabuco Canyon about 60 miles southwest of Los Angeles, some 20 miles inland from Laguna Beach. Although suburbia is sprawling into the area today, in the 1940s the setting of the Trabuco campus was serene, in the middle of miles of forest, orchards, and grazing land, twenty miles from the nearest store. Development occurred quickly, and the buildings of the College were finished by 1942. One resident provided the following description of the institution’s setting and facilities:
On a clear day, as we told every cloudy day’s visitor, you could see the Pacific Ocean, lying 17 miles to the west, over the valleys and lower hills in superb display. Built like a monastery, true; yet it was not built as one, exactly. Gerald Heard and his friends had garnered the funds to create this handsome pile of brick and tile in the Italian fashion. It sprawled from the water reservoir at the top of a long slope to the dormitory at its bottom, the whole structure exposed to a magnificent overlook of sky, cloud, valley and farm, distant roads and a spot of sea. The old engraved bell, nearly two feet in diameter in a modest tower and the hexagonal chapel, original and controversial, as well as the oversize bricks, were features of true distinctiveness.35
Just how many people participated in the austere life of Trabuco is unclear, and in any event the number varied, naturally. The buildings were reportedly designed to hold 30 (or perhaps as many as 50) residents, and one observer at the beginning of 1946 reported that about 25 were then there,36 although a slightly smaller number—one to two dozen---seems to have been more typical.37 Perhaps the numbers were small because casual and affluent southern Californians were not attracted to the discipline and austerity of daily life at Trabuco. Although Heard’s spirituality was eclectic, with a goodly Hindu component, his prescription for monastic life seems to have come straight from the asceticism of the Benedictine tradition. Laurence Veysey details the spirit of self-denial thus:
Austerities included a near-total absence of heat and (for wartime reasons) of electricity. More than this, it was understood that no physical pleasures were supposed to be enjoyed by the residents, even eating. Meals were deliberately sparse and colorless, beyond mere vegetarianism. To prove her zeal, one woman ate mud. Even nature worship was discouraged as a distraction from pursuit of the Divine. In a remarkable round windowless building called the Oratory, whose interior was always kept completely dark, the members spent three hour-long periods of silent meditation daily.38
On the other hand, there was also high tea every afternoon.
The monastic restrictions did impose a requirement of celibacy, even for married couples who visited Trabuco together. That may have had as much to do with Heard’s outlook as it did with monastic necessity; Heard was a homosexual who never came to grips with his sexual orientation and developed a strong disdain for any kind of sexual activity. [Ed. - Heard was celibate from the early 1930s on.] In any event the rule was considered excessive by some would-be Trabucans, and seems to have helped hold down membership in the community. In some cases it backfired, as when Felix Greene, who had overseen the construction of Trabuco, and Elena Lindeman, a stalwart member, developed a romantic relationship, soon married, and thus departed.
Detailed accounts of daily life at Trabuco are few. Despite Heard’s desire to emphasize independent spiritual work by each resident individual, he ended up being the de facto spiritual and temporal leader, and was a major factor in the creation of the powerful intellectual and spiritual energy that infused Trabuco. “The intellectual treats were tremendous, and the zeal for making spiritual progress was intense,” a former participant reminisced years later.39 One visitor to the community recalled the scene at the daily informal breakfast:
Gerald would sit on a high stool for his [breakfast], beaming down upon his little flock of students and coming out with those bursts of insight and arcane memorabilia which made up his style and his identity. A few of those gems have stayed with me all the years since, e.g., "Nicholas of Cusa said, ‘God is beyond the contradiction of contraries.' " I thought then and think now, how profound that was and how Vedantic. Another day he told the story of the Sufi saint Al-Hallaj, who ran through the street crying, "I am He" and subsequently was decapitated. "The moral," said Gerald, "is that even if you know it, don’t go about shouting it to others."40
Twice daily Heard gave lengthy “seminars,” and individuals were expected to meditate three hours each day in the Oratory. Heard himself meditated six hours per day, a practice he observed for much of his life. A manual work requirement further added structure to the day’s activities; sex roles were fairly traditional, with women doing most of the cooking and men doing the outdoor work. Nevertheless, the participants in the community had a good deal of time for their own pursuits, which were diverse. In 1945, it was reported, the three avowed focal points of work at Trabuco were “the study and practice of mysticism, high-level experimentation with ESP, [and] rest and recuperation for tired religious workers.41 Heard, among other things, wrote several books there.
For several years the community went about its spiritual work. One resident member later described it as “a miniature revival of the Transcendentalist spirit of Brook Farm” and even as having the been the crucible of what we now call postmodernism.42 But Trabuco College never attracted the expected and needed core of long-term members and suffered from Heard’s leadership style. A natural leader he was not: his human relations and communications were often awkward; his emotional torments were too real to suppress. Maria Huxley, Aldous’s wife, was sharply critical in writing about him, after Trabuco’s breakup, to her son Matthew:
There is no doubt that Gerald really made a mess of the whole thing, chiefly by having favourites and then dropping them to take up another and so often making the dropped favourite despair of everything and leave Trabuco and God; forgetting that God and Gerald were not the same thing…It transpired that Gerald was even more of an autocrat that we had thought; and more self-satisfied too…Poor Gerald, I suppose.43
But even had Heard’s style been different, Trabuco might well not have survived. By and large its residents were intellectuals whose sincere desire for spiritual solitude did not erase their mental vitality and their involvement in the hectic culture of Southern California. The pieces of the puzzle, in short, did not fit perfectly together.
Heard clung to the vision for five years, but eventually became discouraged, especially at the failure of the community to attract permanent residents. At the close of World War II he hoped that Trabuco’s pacifist reputation would attract conscientious objectors and disillusioned soldiers, and a few of them did materialize, but as with the others they tended to stay for a little while and then move on. Heard also tired of the physical demands of maintaining an extensive piece of real estate. By 1947 he had had enough of his communitarian experiment, and he shuttered it, telling friends that it was the will of God that it close.
Heard moved back to Los Angeles and let the property be used for a school for children, which soon incurred debts and itself closed. He resumed his career as a writer and lecturer and finally died in Santa Monica in 1971.44
At this point I would like to interrupt my narrative to argue for just a moment with Walter Truett Anderson, from whose work this paper takes its beginning point. In his discussion of the important conversation that Michael Murphy and Richard Price had with Gerald Heard in 1961, of Trabuco College he simply says, “It had failed.”45 That language is used over and over in regard to intentional communities that have closed. The Shakers, who are tenuously still alive after well over 200 years of communal life, are going to have that said about them just as soon as their last community in Maine closes. Some, in fact, would say that Shakerism failed long ago, when it began to suffer steep declines in membership. Someday Esalen will close, and it will probably then be said to have failed. I, however, find that language regrettable. A limited lifespan is not a failure. Am I a failure as a college teacher because my students eventually leave the university, or for that matter because I am going to die someday? As I was preparing this paper and doing a web search for any tidbits on Trabuco College that had earlier escaped my notice, I came across a short piece by one Swami Yogeshananda, who has spent much of his life as a Ramakrishna Order monk and writer; it turns out that what started him on his spiritual path was a two-week stay at Trabuco.46 Communities and spiritual movements and human potential centers make important contributions to the progress of the human race, and the fact that they eventually close down, as all human institutions do, does not inherently mean that they have failed. The Trabuco campus has been a center for spiritual life and growth for over 60 years. It is the site of an ongoing monastery. Several books and other pieces of literature were written there. Many persons earnestly seeking meaning were exposed to the wisdom and erudition of Gerald Heard and Aldous Huxley at Trabuco. Is Trabuco College a failure because in its original organizational configuration it operated for only five years? I can’t see that Trabuco failed at all; its positive influence on those who benefited from their experience there continues to resonate through our society, and even the physical facility serves an important spiritual purpose.
But to return to the main story: two years after the community closed, when it was clearer than ever that the experiment was over and that no other fitting plans for the campus were forthcoming, Heard donated the property to the Vedanta Society. Under its new auspices the institution reopened as the Ramakrishna Monastery in September, 1949.
The physical facility was ideal for its new purpose. As one monk in the first group to move in wrote, “Terra cotta everywhere. Long corridors of brick, matching tiles overhead. What better complement could there be to the ochre of the sannyasin’s robes, dipped in the red earth? Fire–it was the color of fire, symbolic of the transience of earthly things: fire, in which the monk’s body would finally shred and crumble on the pyre.”47 For more than half a century it has functioned as an all-male monastery (women have separate monastic facilities elsewhere within the Vedanta movement). Although the monastic life seems to be more structured than that envisioned by Heard, Vedanta has always been an open-minded and flexible movement, and variations in personal quests are still respected. The seeker today is advised that:
To some extent, each person’s spiritual path will be different and is worked out in consultation with the Head of the Center. The Four Yogas—Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Raja Yoga—are blended in a combination suitable to each person’s temperament. In our lives we try to work with concentration yet detachment, worship, work, and pray with devotion to God; study and contemplate the scriptures and affirm our true nature; and spend time each day in meditation.48
Just how long the monastery will endure remains a bit of an open question. It has never had more than a handful of members, and its land base has diminished. In the 1970s, needing to cut its property-tax bill, the Vedanta Society of Southern California donated all but 40 acres of the once-extensive property to Orange County for use as a park. Now development is at the monastery’s doorstep. Although plans to put 705 mobile homes on adjacent land fizzled some years ago, in November, 2002, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved plans for the construction there of some 283 homes, some of which would look directly down into the monastery grounds, and then in January they approved two more nearby projects, with 162 more homes. The developers behind the first project, known as Saddleback Meadows, plan to level the hill that has largely protected the monastery from visual intrusion by earlier housing developments by keeping heavy machines at work for three years moving 9.3 million cubic yards of earth. Moreover, the other two projects, Saddle Creek and Saddle Crest, would destroy 492 mature oak trees, and all three of the projects pose a threat to already-polluted waterways in the area.49
Farewell, monastic tranquility. The monks at Ramakrishna Monastery have actively entered the legal and political battle against the developments. As one of them, Wil Devine, commented, “When you fight a battle, you can do it out of anger or out of love. These real estate developers, I have nothing personally against them. They are part and parcel of God in different forms. But I have to fight them just the same. It’s my dharmic responsibility.”50
At any rate, for the moment, at least, the Ramakrishna Monastery endures, and so do several other monastic centers under Vedanta auspices. That they have a kinship with the Esalen Institute many might find surprising, but the path of human evolution moves in unexpected directions.
I will close by noting that the connection between Esalen and the Hollywood spiritually inquisitive intellectuals, if that is a proper characterization of them, continued once the Institute was started. Heard was there lecturing soon after Esalen opened, in the fall of 1962. In November, 1963, he spent a month in residence, and he was there when Huxley died on November 22, participating in the vigil that Esalen held for Huxley. In the meantime Huxley and Isherwood had been to Esalen as well. But that is another, later, story.
If there is a final point here, it is the simple central point of the study of history: human events do not occur in vacuums. We live in a vast, interconnected web of ideas, people, places, and events. Esalen, like every other human undertaking, had a historical context from which it arose. As long as people seek to discern the meaning of life we will have Esalens—or wish we did.
Endnotes to Notes on the Prehistory
1 “An Interview with Dr. Jeffrey Kripal,” Tolle Et Lege: Religious Studies at Rice [University] 1:1 (2002), .
2 Walter Truett Anderson, The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the American Awakening (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1983), 57.
3 Anderson, Upstart Spring, 12-13.
4 Michael Murphy, telephone interview, January 8, 2003.
5 On Vivekananda and the World’s Parliament of Religions, see, for example, the works of Carl T. Jackson: The Oriental Religions and American Thought: Nineteenth-Century Explorations (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1981), 243-61, and Vedanta for the West (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), passim.
6 For a description of life at Shanti Ashrama and the problems posed by its location see Swami Atulananda, With the Swamis in America and India (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1988), 61-79.
7 See Swami Gambhirananda, History of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1957), 181.
8 An overview of the development of Abhedananda Acres is provided by Laurence Veysey, The Communal Experience: Anarchist and Mystical Communities in Twentieth-Century America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973), 266-70.
9 Several works provide elements of the history of the Vedanta movement. See, for example, Vedanta in Southern California: An Illustrated Guide to the Vedanta Society (Hollywood: Vedanta Press, 1956); Jackson, Vedanta for the West; Sara Ann Levinsky, A Bridge of Dreams: The Story of Paramananda, a Modern Mystic–and His Ideal of All-conquering Love (West Stockbridge, Massachusetts: Inner Traditions/Lindisfarne Press, 1984).
12 Gerald Heard, The Social Substance of Religion: An Essay on the Evolution of Religion (London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1931).
13 Gerald Heard, The Source of Civilization (London: J. Cape, 1935).
14 Gerald Heard, The Five Ages of Man: The Psychology of Human History (New York: Julian Press, 1963).
15 Gerald Heard, The Code of Christ: An Interpretation of the Beatitudes (New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1941).*
16 Gerald Heard, The Creed of Christ: An Interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer (New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1940).*
17 Gerald Heard, The Eternal Gospel (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1946), 5, 6.
18 Gerald Heard, The Great Fog and Other Weird Tales (London: Cassell and Company, 1947).
19 Doppelgangers: An Episode of the Fourth, the Psychological, Revolution, 1997 (London: Cassell and Company, 1948).
20 Gerald Heard, A Taste for Honey (New York: Vanguard, 1941).*
21 Gerald Heard, Is Another World Watching? The Riddle of the Flying Saucers (New York: Harper, 1951).
22 Basic biographical information on Heard is located on “The Gerald Heard Official Website,” http://www.geraldheard.com.
23 The ensuing description of Trabuco College and Heard’s social and philosophical observations that propelled him to establish it is based on my earlier research on the subject; see Timothy Miller, The Quest for Utopia in Twentieth-Century America, volume I (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1998), 185-88.
24 The report of the Heard-Huxley visit to Black Mountain College comes from a University of Utah student project on the history of Black Mountain. Heard was not far from Black Mountain during his short sojourn at Duke University in 1937, and he was always interested in cultural alternatives. See Katherine Reynolds, “Black Mountain, Meteor among Mavericks,” at www.blackmountaincollege.org/bmcref/reynoldscss.html.
25 See Veysey, Communal Experience, 271.
26 [Gerald Heard], “Trabuco” (prospectus), manuscript, Huxley Collection, University of California at Los Angeles library system. I appreciate the assistance of Daryl Ann Dutton Cody, who located the manuscript and, faced by a no-photocopying stipulation placed on it at the time of its deposit at UCLA, copied it out for me in longhand.
27 Gerald Heard, The Third Morality (London: Cassell and Co., 1937), 314.
28 Heard, “Trabuco.”
29 Heard, “Trabuco.”
30 Heard, “Trabuco.”
31 Swami Yogeshananda, “Trabuco College Tryout, http://geraldheard.com/recollections.htm#Trabuco_College_Tryout
32 Yogeshananda, “Trabuco College Tryout.”
33 Heard, “Trabuco.”
34 Veysey says that a large legacy was important to the basic funding of Trabuco (Communal Experience, 271). Jay Michael Barrie, Heard’s longtime personal secretary, also mentions Heard’s inheritance as financially vital. (See Jay Michael Barrie, “Who Is Gerald Heard?” on the Gerald Heard website, www.geraldheard.com.) Other writers simply mention gifts by various supporters, which would conform to the pattern of generous giving that funded many Vedanta Society projects. Clearly a substantial amount of money was involved, given the large tract of land that was purchased and the fact that several good buildings were erected.
35 Swami Yogeshananda, Six Lighted Windows: Memories of Swamis in the West (Hollywood: Vedanta Press, 1997), 51.
36 Anne Fremantle, “Heard Melodies,” Commonweal 43:15 (January 25, 1946): 385.
37 One to two dozen is the figure given by Barrie in “Who Is Gerald Heard?”
38 Veysey, Communal Experience, 271.
39 Joseph Franklin Griggs, M.D., “A Review of My Spiritual Search,” posted on an internet discussion forum at http://www.show-control.com/txt/joes.txt.
40 Yogeshananda, “Trabuco College Tryout.”
41 Yogeshananda, Six Lighted Windows, 51.
42 John E. Whiteford Boyle, Of the Same Root: Heaven, Earth, and I (Washington, D. C.: Academy of Independent Scholars/Foreign Services Research Institute, 1990), inside front cover.
43 Quoted by Sybille Bedford, Aldous Huxley: A Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf and Harper and Row, 1975), 463.
44 Some unattributed details pertaining to the life of Gerald Heard and the history of Trabuco College come from Veysey, Communal Experience, 270-78. Other information is from the authoritative Gerald Heard website at http://www.geraldheard.com.
45 Anderson, Upstart Spring, 12.
46 See Yogeshananda, “Trabuco College Tryout.”
47 Yogeshananda, Six Lighted Windows, 51. The second chapter of this book, titled “High Above Hollywood and Vine” (pp. 35-88), contains several passing vignettes of life at the facility in its Ramakrishna Monastery phase.
48 From the Ramakrishna Monastery website, http://www.vedanta.org/monl/wim.html. The homepage of the Monastery website is at http://www.vedanta.org/cent/rammon.html.
49 “California Monks Wage Fight on Developers,” New York Times, February 4, 2003, p. A16; Matt Coker, “Hillside Strangers: Trabuco Canyon Monks Brace for Major Changes to Their Quiet Lives,” Orange County Weekly 8:15, December 13-19, 2002; online at www.ocweekly.com/ink/03/15/cover-coker.php.
50 Quoted in “California Monks Wage Fight on Developers.”
Timothy Miller, Ph.D., is a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas. His research interests focus on alternative religions in the United States, and especially groups practicing communal living. He has published several books on alternative religions, communal groups, and other topics.
The Barrie Family Trust is most grateful to Professor Timothy Miller for his kind permission to republish his article, “Notes on the Prehistory of the Human Potential Movement: The Vedanta Society and Gerald Heard’s Trabuco College” as originally published in On the Edge of the Future: Esalen and the Evolution of American Culture, ed. Jeffrey J. Kripal and Glenn W. Shuck (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005). Text is copyright © 2005 by Timothy Miller, All Rights Reserved. On the Edge of the Future may be purchased at Indiana University Press.
Abstract: A biographical sketch of Heard is given, followed by a discussion of the following ideas espoused by Heard: (1) Human consciousness is evolving. (2) Both science and religion have important roles to play in forwarding the evolution of consciousness. (3) Science is as much a creation as is art. (4) Every insight into the outer world must be balanced by a corresponding increase in knowledge of the inner world. (5) Science is not static but is also evolving. (6) What we see, the data confronting us, depends upon our powers of conception and imagination. (7) The universe is set up to favor those who attempt to grow and evolve. (8) To evolve we must consciously cooperate with the process. In order to do so we must alter the aperture of consciousness. Contemplative prayer is the best way to accomplish this. The author emphasizes that only by taking these steps can parapsychology advance significantly.
It can fairly be said that Gerald Heard got me into parapsychology. He wrote that parapsychology was at the “growing edge” of human thought; it was the most advanced outpost in the exploration of human nature and of the universe. Agreeing intuitively with Heard, I joined the staff of the Duke University Parapsychology Laboratory in 1954. Once involved in experimental parapsychology, I found I had to put aside Gerald Heard’s ideas as well as my own preconceptions about psi. With some reservations, I became part of a world in which meaning may be the goal of one’s activity, but it cannot be the instigator of action.
I had to learn a different language and an entirely new approach to the data I had chosen to understand. I was made to see that what Gerald Heard wrote was mainly speculative, as were my own ideas, but in the laboratory we would be struggling with the “real thing.” It was mighty difficult to glimpse, and practically impossible to get hold of! Although I believe that if Gerald were still alive he would find meaning in our reports, basically I do not feel the field has advanced much beyond the level it was at when I entered it in 1954. However, our experiments plus meta-analysis have raised the status of replicability, but they do not take us to a new level of understanding.
In my youth I did not heed the small voice that whispered, “There has to be another way.” Now, nearly 30 years later, I can no longer deny it. It has been my conviction from the very beginning—an idea also espoused by Heard—that in parapsychology we are studying ourselves—what used to be called our souls. What we are studying is also our means of viewing and conceptualizing our subject matter! If we do not advance rapidly or far, it may not be because there is really nothing to this stuff, as the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal would have it; it may simply mirror the fact that we have not gone very far. If we want to study consciousness we have to become more conscious.
We have to grow in consciousness. It may well be that we will not be able to make more sense of the data of parapsychology until we become more than we are at present—both individually and collectively. In speaking of physiological psychologists, Heard remarked to an interviewer: “They’ll never get anywhere trying to measure the soul solely with machines, or listening to it solely with microphones. To listen to the soul, they must listen with the soul. No other instrument will avail” (Ashby, 1956, p. 27). I submit that with the rise of parapsychology science will have to incorporate into its paradigm the fact that the seer and the seen, the investigator and the investigated, are one and the same. This insight is at the core of Heard’s thought and of the world’s sacred mystery traditions, indigenous and civilized.
I confess that I am reviewing his legacy as much for myself as for the members of the Academy of Religion and Psychical Research gathered here today. What does he have to say to us that might enable us to significantly advance beyond our present position? My aim is to introduce to you or reacquaint you with Gerald Heard and his ideas and to assess their relevance for parapsychology as it enters its second century, dating from the founding of the Society for Psychical Research in 1882 at Cambridge University—Heard’s alma mater.
First, here is some background about Gerald Heard. Christened Henry Fitz Gerald Heard, he was born on October 6, 1889, in London, although the family home was in Ireland. Heard took honors in history at Cambridge, and after serving as a political assistant to a British attorney general and in Dublin with Sir Horace Plunkett during the Irish Rebellion, he returned to England and began his career as author, editor, and lecturer. His first book, Narcissus, was published in 1924. In it he tried to work out historically the connection between architecture and the clothes people wore. It also, however, foreshadowed his lifetime interest in the evolution of consciousness.
He came closer to the vein with his second book, The Ascent of Humanity, published [five] years later, in which he suggested that history is the reflection of changes in human consciousness. It won him the Henrietta Hertz Award from the British Academy. He also edited the short-lived monthly, The Realist. The British Broadcasting Company engaged him as a science commentator and he did a fortnightly broadcast called “This Surprising World” for four years, followed by another entitled “Science in the Making.” Both, or at least selections from them, subsequently were published in book form (Heard, 1932b, 1935). Heard was also a member of the Council of the Society for Psychical Research from 1932 to 1942.
With Aldous Huxley, he came to the United States in 1937, ostensibly for a series of lectures, but there was a deeper reason. He had been unsuccessfully engaged in pacifist activities in England, and he has written that he felt “Britain would refuse to wake up, until too late. There was work to which American friends were calling, and it was all too clear that only in America was there left any freedom for men to choose their course and to avoid blind collisions” (Kunitz & Haycraft, 1942, p. 631). He was offered the chair of historical anthropology at Duke University but instead chose to settle in California, as did Huxley. In Hollywood he met Swami Prabhavananda and studied Vedanta, which was to be a strong influence for the rest of his life. In 1942 he founded a center for spiritual studies and growth called Trabuco College. His hope was that it would serve as an experiment in living the intentional life. There were many difficulties, and it simply did not work out as he had hoped. It was to be the strongest personal test for Heard of one of his favorite sayings: “A disappointment is but the postponement of the appointment.” In 1949 he gave the estate to the Vedanta Society of Southern California, and later it became the Ramakrishna Monastery. From then until his death in 1971 he lectured, wrote, and entertained a steady stream of visitors. As his secretary Michael Barrie put it: “He was constantly besieged by people, most of them young” (Barrie, 1972, p. 17). I was one of them. I know, too, that Michael Murphy was another. He consulted Gerald before he made the final decision to found the Esalen Institute at Big Sur.
Heard’s longtime friend Christopher Isherwood told an interviewer that Heard helped him to,
“…relate to everything on a higher plane. He has been constantly talking for eighteen years, has spoken to psychiatrists, industrialists, the top communicators in every field. Often they appropriate his ideas and pass them on. His talk sets eggs in many nests. They hatch years later. He’s too much for most people to swallow, too original. Yet he has had as much influence on contemporary thought as Frank Lloyd Wright on contemporary architecture.” (Ashby, 1956, p. 23)
Gerald was nothing if not prolific. In preparation for this paper I have read all of his considerable opus that I own, consisting of 43 books [ed. note – some of which were cowritten with others] and 65 articles, book reviews, and chapters in books. His writings fall into five categories. The first includes writings about science and the findings of science with their implications for our view of ourselves and our world. Second are books that can be characterized as social histories. The third group contains works about the intentional life—why it should be lived and how. Fourth are his fictional works. He wrote mystery and detective stories and novels, almost all containing an element of the supernatural and the spiritual. He told Thaddeus Ashby, “From detective stories, I became interested in supernatural stories, stories in which you confront the terrors at the back of your mind” (Ashby, 1956, p. 25). Some of the books in this group were written under the pen name H. F. Heard, and it was under this name that he received the Ellery Queen Award in 1946 for the best mystery story of the year. Finally, there are his articles, book reviews, prefaces to books of others, and letters published in magazines, as well as individual chapters in anthologies. Almost all of these dealt with aspects of parapsychology or the mystical life.
It is not possible in the time available to discuss all of Heard’s ideas. I will limit myself to his views on the nature of science, the evolution of consciousness, and their relevance to parapsychology. One theme was primary in all of Heard’s writings, although he approached that central message in a variety of ways. He said that human evolution is continuing, but it is not physical evolution that continues, it is the evolution of consciousness. But consciousness cannot evolve unless we cooperate with the process. It won’t happen automatically. It’s up to us whether or not it continues in us. Whether or not we continue depends largely on how we see ourselves and the Universe in which we live. Heard holds that we need both science and religion in order to respond fully to the call for growth.
I will start with his views about the nature of science, drawing heavily on his fifth book, This Surprising World (Heard, 1932b), which was one of the first histories of science, and to my mind one of his most important and insightful works. Here he deals not only with what science is but what it is not. This is a matter of central concern to parapsychology. I suggest that our conception of what science is has a bearing on the problem of repeatability in our field. In physics and biology—maybe even in the social sciences—you can get away with a mistaken view of science, or what I will call “false” science (or “scientism”), because your subject matter to some extent is repeatable and publicly verifiable. But in parapsychology if we try to follow false science, we won’t get anywhere because we do not have reliable data to begin with, and false science will not be capable of producing any. Our subject matter thus far has been nothing if not capricious. Later in the paper I will suggest that by improving our instrument we may improve the data we are studying. At this point I would simply like to say that our only chance for real progress may lie in following the method of what I will call “true” science.
First, let us consider what science is not. According to Heard, it is not simply a matter of gathering many facts and submitting them to logical analysis. He says: “The scientist...has his intuitions: his creative hypotheses are formed when the facts to conform them have yet to be found, and with the insight of an artist, he realizes that they are proved when pedestrian minds still think them only hypothetical” (Heard, 1932b, pp. 17-18). If Heard is right, and of course I think he is, then the way we are going about our research in parapsychology is wrong. Establishment parapsychology holds that one must seek facts first, and then more facts, and then maybe—for dessert—you can inject a cautious hypothesis into a paragraph at the end of your report. If, however, this is a participatory universe as some physicists now say it is, then maybe we won’t be able to get many facts until we have a hypothesis around which they can cluster! Perhaps speculation—or the vision out of which it grows—should be the main course, and the dessert would be the data that come at the end to verify it. Even parapsychology itself has evidence that suggests Heard’s hypothesis is correct. It is called the “psi-determined experimenter effect.”
Second, Heard points out that science is not objective. Science has criticized religion, philosophy, and art for their subjectivity so it has a vested interest in appearing objective itself, even though it isn’t. He suggests “that science may have to follow the growth of religion, philosophy, and art. They [too] once thought they had direct apprehension of reality. They had to acknowledge their relativity, their subjectivity” (Heard, 1937b, p. 22).
Third, science is not a field of inquiry that deals with knowledge as if it existed in a limited universe—one that is graspable. Instead, Heard says, “The Modern Age begins when men can open their minds to the idea of infinity” (Heard, 1932b, p. 29).
Science is not the study of what is objectively “out there,” and facts, even if they existed independently, cannot speak for themselves, as false science would have it. Both what we see and what we take as the significance of what we see depends on what we are. According to Heard, what happens when a fact is observed is that there is “a remarkable experience, a flash between a terminal of consciousness and a salient point of circumstance,” and “any change in our perception of the world around us is due to a change in our inner nature” (Heard, 1932b, pp. 37, 41).
What then, in Heard’s view, is science? First, he says science is a means by which the human mind envisages “not a bounded universe but a definite balance, proportion, and relation between itself and the universe, between consciousness and experience, between seen and unseen” (Heard, 1937b, p. 29).
Second, he proposes that when the scientist has achieved the proper balance, when he or she is on the right track, there is a “psychological test of truth,” or of judging that one is on the right course. Inner conflict is allayed; one feels energized; and one experiences a sense of peace, delight, and wonder. As long as we can find meaning in our data, we can be sure we are progressing with a proper and balanced growth “whereby object and understanding reciprocate” (Heard, 1932b, p. 108). The hitch is that the meaning isn’t going to fall into our laps—we are going to have to create it by ourselves, out of ourselves.
For, as his third point, Heard says it is essential to realize that “science is a creation—as great as the creative power we call great art” (Heard, 1932b, p. 32). He adds,
“The supreme value of science, the immense future that is opening is not anything so partial as a subconscious selection of external facts, however reasonable the pattern they yield may prove, but the light this growing method as it grows in consciousness throws on the relation of mind and sensation, of ourselves and the world in which we find ourselves.” (Heard, 1932b, p. 33)
In a sense, a scientist is a craftsperson—even an artist. The subject matter of his or her specialty (which consists of both data and conceptions of the data) is the vehicle. But it is not true to say that the ideas are in his or her head and that the data are separate from the scientist and his or her ideas. This is false science. In the same way, the potter’s clay is not separate from the potter. Carla Needleman, in The Work of Craft, describes the following moment of self-discovery while working with clay:
“The object looks like me, not physically but actually. I have no need to try to express what I am, I can’t help expressing it. The object is a mirror, an accurate reflection. That I took so long to recognize it is a telling commentary on the fact that I don’t know myself. The way I walk, the way I play cards, the way I weave or carve or throw, express me. But only in crafts is the result of that expression frozen in time and space like a still photograph, distinct and separate from myself, calling to be seen….in crafts only those can hear the object calling to them who have tried to work honestly for a higher quality of craftsmanship, and who have an emotional stake in the results produced” (Needleman, 1979, pp. 50-51).
I disagree with her when she says this mirror effect can occur only in connection with a craft. The psi experiment has long struck me as just such a still photograph, catching us where we are and throwing back to us the image of our limits. It is mirrored to us not only in our subjective sense of bafflement and dismay but in the hard data, so-called, or lack of it, with which we are confronted. As for having an emotional stake in the results, surely this is true of the psi experimenter. Think of the time that goes into planning an experiment: reviewing the relevant literature, discussing protocol and design with colleagues and consultants, enlisting collaborators, finding funding, recruiting subjects, collecting data, applying statistics, analyzing the results, and, hopefully—having significant results to report! To invest this much time and effort and self puts us right on the edge. Yes, there is an emotional investment. But if our results turn out to be insignificant, or contrary to our experimental hypothesis, or tantalizingly equivocal—that’s us! That’s what we must deal with. And it is not imposed from without. It is a mirror of what is within. If we want to change the picture that is projected before us, we must change the film.
How does one change the film? First, one starts with the assumption that it can be done. Human nature is not static. It is not finished. Minds grow. Minds increase their capacity to take in, to assimilate. And as the mind grows, it is able to see further, cast a wider net, project from a deeper level. This act does two things: it enables humans to see things in a different light and it creates new data with which to work! As in the Bible, to him that has, more is given.
Gerald says psychology has “permitted us to see that the true history of man is not in his acts but the growth of his mind” (Heard, 1932b, p. 69). He holds that science can be viewed as the product of “the gradual widening of consciousness whereby it takes in an ever larger range of experience and reciprocally becomes capable of giving it an ever larger meaning” (Heard, 1932b, p. 40).
If the results of our experiments make no discernible sense, then that throws us back on ourselves. That is good. It brings us up short by depicting our limitations. It would be tragic if that were all. But it need not be the end. Heard proposes that “if we change ourselves, changing our power of apprehension, we change the universe confronting us” (Heard, 1937b, p. 240).
A central theme running through Heard’s work is that every advance in knowledge of the outer world must be balanced by a corresponding advance in the data presented by our senses. Heard holds that the import of science is this: it brings human consciousness to a point where it can perceive that our “essential nature is a mind and the body is only its projection and also that the universe’s essential nature is . . . a mind, and matter is only its projection” (Heard, 1932b, p. 138).
How, in our science, are we to advance to the internalization of this realization? In The Eternal Gospel, a book in which Heard presents the essentials of what his friend Aldous Huxley called the “perennial philosophy,” he declares that “this world is a place for the development of the soul, for the emergence of a complete consciousness,” and, “every insight into the outer world must be balanced by an equally enlarged knowledge of [our] true and full nature” (Heard, 1946, p. 221). Here in the West our knowledge of the outer world has far outstripped what we know about the world within. Our first step, then, is to redress this imbalance. This is needed simply to get us to the starting gate!
In Heard’s view, parapsychologists are in the best position to do this. Our data indicate the existence of a psychological counterpart to the cosmology revealed by the new physics. He proposes that the origin of our economic, political, and social unrest—even as, I might add, the parapsychological problems of null results, psi-missing, and the reversal effect—lies in ourselves. Our troubles arise from a fault in our own consciousness. Heard proposes that if reconciliation could take place within, then “the outer conflicts will resolve themselves and… by advancing psychological knowledge and experience to the degree which physical knowledge and power have been—disproportionately—advanced, and Life will go forward to its destiny and goal” (Heard, 1937a, p. 401).
Furthermore, he says that “proportionate advance can only be through a method of changing the aperture of consciousness, enlarging and shifting the field of awareness above and beyond that restricted field, which has given us the present world of means and facts… a field so long brooded upon exclusively, that we cannot imagine any other” (Heard, 1937a, p. 404).
An important insight of Heard’s is that just as the world with which we are confronted is not static, neither is true science: “Science is not simply observation, the setting down with exactitude any happening. Consciously or unconsciously science is highly selective. No advance in objective observation could be made until man was equipped with an instrument to cut into the continuum” (Heard, 1931, p. 254).
Reality, however, has no divisions. We artificially limit it by choice, and it is usually to our advantage to do so, but it is an error to take the map for the territory. When we understand that any limitations that confront us are of our own making, then we are no longer bound so tightly. Gerald insisted that concepts—our power to conceive, to imagine—must always precede percepts, or what we perceive as being “out there”:
“Every new advance of knowledge of the outer world must wait upon a new faculty and technique of comprehension. …First there must be what, when it is unconscious is called faith, and when conscious an hypothesis. The coming of this faith or hypothesis is perhaps always sudden, unforeseen, revolutionary. It springs from the depth of the mind of which consciousness can have no direct cognizance.” (Heard, 1931, pp. 254-255)
I submit that there is an outward counterpart to this inner experience. It is also “sudden, unforeseen, revolutionary,” and “springs from the depth of the mind of which consciousness can have no direct cognizance,” and we have called it psi. Perhaps the revolutionary, groundbreaking, evolving edge of any science involves psi, which may well come to be defined as the study of the evolutionary edge. We are certainly in need of a new advance in understanding, for thus far we have had to deal with facts that are well nigh incomprehensible. In our need to comprehend we keep seeking more and more facts, but as Heard points out, what is needed may not so much be more facts, but something that we are not now aware of, something we can grasp only by faith, but which eventually will become conscious in the form of an hypothesis.
In another book, Man the Master, Heard points out:
“Research, however detailed, may be held up, not through lack of facts, but through lack of significant ideas, an hypothesis of meaning on which the facts may be ordered.... Science can be held up until there appear[s] the really original mind, which can create a new frame, which can throw still wider the net of meaning over the shoals of darting facts.” (Heard, 1941a, p. 127)
He calls this person the “hypothecator,” the “one who, by constantly feeling his [or her] way along the outer frontiers of thought, can make the new frame of reference, the new world picture” (Heard, 1941a, p. 126). Elsewhere he carried this to its ultimate conclusion, stating: “The science of the possible [which I take to refer to events in the macroscopic world of time and space] is the science of as much faith as you have” (Heard, 1953, p. 159).
The fact that the perception of new data is preceded by an act of faith brings us to another of Heard’s major leadings, and that is the central connection between science and religion. For example, the mathematician Laplace said he had no need for God in his hypothesis. But it appears that science can go only just so far without faith; or is it that nothing can move without faith, and that after a certain stage this fact must be consciously recognized and dealt with? In A Dialogue in the Desert, an imaginative account of Jesus’ temptations in the wi1derness, Heard has him realize that God,
“…guides—as His immense preknowledge can alone guide, so perfectly, so unobtrusively, with such consummate skill, that man’s cooperation is always being tested up to its limit and just not to the breaking point.... But only those who walk with God can be fully aware that they are being guided—the rest feel it is chance—a few others, that somehow things fall out so that they learn and grow.” (Heard, 1942a, pp. 16-17)
Or it may be that in parapsychology, as a result of one of those cataclysmic leaps by which life advances, we are called upon to achieve a higher station, so that what worked for physics, and even perhaps for biology and psychology, will not work for us. Parapsychology may have had its origin in the need of human beings at this stage of their evolution to become co-creators of reality, whether or not they have done so at any other stage of their history. Any lesser hypothesis, for us, would be in terms of “false” science and would not work, that is, would not produce significant data.
Either way, I think that to become full parapsychologists we will have to do whatever is necessary to become conscious that we are being guided, and be willing and able to follow the least lead. Only by being inwardly aware of the next step will we be able to progress outwardly. If this is the case, what is the best way to do it? If Heard were still with us, what would he suggest we do in parapsychology?
For the record, I will mention here some of his writings on parapsychology. In several books and articles he dealt with the reasons why scientists, in particular, find it difficult to accept the data of parapsychology (Heard: 1934, 1937b, 1942b, 1947, 1952). He was much concerned with the implications of the findings of parapsychology (Heard: 1936, 1937b, 1948). His most intensive studies were involved with mediumship, and with Theodore Besterman (1933) he published a brief account of an attempt to measure the direct-voice phenomena of the medium Mrs. Gladys Osborne Leonard. Elsewhere he wrote about the history and development of mediumship (Heard: 1929, 1932a, 1937b, 1944a, 1944b, 1950, 1954, 1955). The question of survival was also of interest to him, particularly as he saw that how our view of what might survive vitally affects the quality of our living here (Heard: 1929, 1948, 1954). He also wrote about the potential trainability of ESP (Heard: 1935, 1939, 1944b, 1954) and was one of the first to point out the importance of experimenter attitudes (Heard: 1947, 1954) and the role of the observer in parapsychology (Heard: 1944a, 1954).
Nevertheless, however insightful his parapsychological observations are, I do not feel that they represent his major contribution to our subject, nor will they get us out of our present impasse. His thoughts on the connection between science and the evolution of consciousness, however, do contain ideas that would help us both conceptually and practically, as I hope to show next.
Part of Heard’s message is that human nature can change. Not only can it change, but it is meant to change, and in fact if it does not change—if we do not cooperate with the forces moving us to change—we will probably become extinct at our own hands. A favorite quotation of Heard’s is Cromwell’s, “He who is not getting better is getting worse.” The only way to save ourselves—and the world in the process—is to be reborn with a transmuted consciousness. His life aim was to show why this had to be done and how it could be accomplished.
He also posits two forces working in our favor. One is that within us there already exists the urge—the necessity even—to grow. Second, the universe is friendly. It is biased in our favor if we will choose to cooperate with the call to transmute ourselves. Our individualism, which was once the apex of our development in that it enabled us to reflect upon ourselves, at this stage is a hindrance to further advance. We need not give it up, but neither can we rest in it. Heard says, “individualism is only partial self-consciousness... [It] .. .is that stage of psychological evolution when the foreconscious has become critical and aware, but at the cost of leaving a large area, the subconscious, behind” (Heard, 1941a, p. 30).
Heard uses the image of a spiral to describe the evolution of consciousness. Our present extreme degree of self-consciousness is not the end of the psyche’s evolution: it is the beginning of another phase. What until now has been the primary tool of science, analysis, will no longer spearhead any progress. Certainly this is so if we want to develop a science of consciousness, and it seems we have no choice but to do so. At this point many people may sit up and say it is impossible to apply the methods of science to the higher reaches of consciousness. It is true that old science, or what now must be considered false science, cannot be so applied. But new wine calls for new bottles. Science should grow even as we grow. Surely we can develop new techniques that are just as scientific as the old ones, but more appropriate than they were, both to our subject matter and to what we are beginning to grasp as our true nature.
If we grant that new bottles are needed, how are they to be fashioned? Heard, echoing T. S. Eliot, holds that “the way forward is the way back” (1952, p. 134). According to Heard,
“If we are to advance we must cast back…Human thought, when it faces failure in its leading stem, may “sprout below the graft”…We are called on not to return to the past, but, with the sharp-angled spiral of ascent, to recover and translate in scientific terms (as our intenser consciousness demands) the intuitive knowledge which the past knew only as an art, and which our immediate predecessors dismissed therefore as untrue.” (Heard, 1939, p. 60, p. 62)
We must search for “techniques humanity has employed in the past to dilate the aperture of consciousness” (Heard, 1939, p. 73). To do so we may have to let go of our analytic faculties entirely, at least for awhile, in order to grasp and take hold of an entirely different method. But the ultimate goal is to have both the old and the new, or in Heard’s words, “with widened range we must preserve the highest clarity of focus” (Heard, 1939, p. 93).
According to Heard, the best—in fact he thought the only—way in which that aperture can be widened and thereby the evolution of consciousness continued is through prayer, which he defines as “a method of empirical discovery, a technique for contacting and learning to know Reality” (Heard, 1944b, p. 51). He considers prayer, in this sense of the word, to be “essential…for the intellectual progress of mankind” (Heard, 1944b, p. 51).
I feel that in order for any real breakthrough in parapsychology to occur we will have to confront our problems from a different level of ourselves, a level with which we are not now in touch and cannot even imagine. It is the level Heard called “the deep consciousness,” or the “deep mind.” According to Heard, prayer could serve as the bridge between the ego consciousness epitomized by old science and the deep mind that, it appears, is both the end and the means of what I have called true science.
Heard’s description of the human soul embarking on the raft of prayer speaks perfectly to our own condition as parapsychologists seeking a new foothold on mainland science. He says that the way to new life,
“…is always through the effort toward higher consciousness and that this goal must be found by leaving the familiar, the comfortable, the easily comprehended and going out into the unknown, along an unfamiliar path and to an unspecified goal. Defenses and assurances must be abandoned for mobility and uncertainty. The rigid narrow answer of instinct must be given up for the tentative questioning of faith, that migratory urge that knows only that it must leave its home and follow the trackless trace, the soundless call.” (Heard, 1944b, p. 53)
Time does not permit describing his approach to prayer in detail. Heard (1944b) devoted an entire book to it, in which he describes three levels of prayer. The highest, or the contemplative, is the one I am most concerned with here, although I would note that Heard sees all three levels as involving elements of psi. Contemplative prayer is defined by Heard as,
“…a constant, unwavering awareness of...the extrasensory reality, of a state of reality where consciousness is fundamental and events and things are symptoms and obvious resultants from that all-pervading consciousness. It is a method whereby the mind may rise, until attaining total power of pure intention the consciousness at last knows itself as united with the single and universal consciousness. Then turning again outward it can see the so-called objective universe as a manifestation of that single Consciousness.” (Heard, 1944b, p. 32, pp. 35-36)
Thus will we come to what, adopting the term used by Radhakrishnan, Heard calls integral thought, and as he put it, the discovery of the “SELF, standing behind the self, the universal consciousness embracing the individualized consciousness as the brain embraces the eye” (1944b, p. 109).
And that, I submit, is the only place from which parapsychology can significantly advance. From that vantage we will at last be inside the projector, and so in a position to change the film, or even to create our own. Then, as Heard says, we “will produce an art as beyond the art of all other ages as is the full scientific cosmology beyond that of any other time, and [our] conduct and the frame of [our] mind, our sense of others and of [ourselves] will be, must be, as harmonious and as great” (Heard, 1944b, p. 229).
References to Legacy
Ashby, T. (1956, June). Exploration into Gerald Heard. Faith and Freedom, 3-6, 22.
Barrie, M. (1972). Some reminiscences of Gerald Heard. Parapsychology Review, 3 (3), 13-18.
Besterman, T., & Heard, G. (1933). Note on an attempt to locate in space the alleged direct voice observed in sittings with Mrs. Leonard. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 28, 44-45.
Eliot, T. S. (1952). The dry salvages. In The Complete Poems and Plays 1909-1950. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
Heard, G. (1929). The Ascent of Humanity. London: Jonathan Cape.
Heard, G. (1931). The Emergence of Man. London: Jonathan Cape.
Heard, G. (1932a). Spiritualism put to proof. Listener, 1213.
Heard, G. (1932b). This Surprising World. London: Cobden-Sanderson.
Heard, G. (1934). Science and psychical research. In T. Besterman (Ed.), Inquiry Into the Unknown (pp. 1-11). London: Methuen.
Heard, G. (1935). Science in the Making. London: Faber & Faber.
Heard, G. (1936). The new epoch in psychical research. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 30, 316-324.
Heard, G. (1937a). The Source of Civilization. New York: Harper.
Heard, G. (1937b). The Third Morality. London: Cassell.
Heard, G. (1939). Pain, Sex, and Time. New York: Harper.*
Heard, G. (1941a). Man the Master. New York: Harper.
Heard, G. (1941b). Mediumship and mysticism. Tomorrow, 1 (1), 30-33.
Heard, G. (1942a). A Dialogue in the Desert. New York: Harper.
Heard, G. (1942b). Some of the convergences which initiated parapsychology. Journal of Para-psychology, 6, 26-37.
Heard, G. (1944a). Letter to the editor. Journal of Parapsychology, 8, 237-240.
Heard, G. (1944b). A Preface to Prayer. New York: Harper.
Heard, G. (1946). The Eternal Gospel. New York: Harper.
Heard, G. (1947). The psychology of the psychical researcher. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 41, 12-15.
Heard, G. (1948). Is God Evident? New York: Harper.
Heard, G. (1950) Morals Since 1900. New York: Harper.
Heard, G. (1952). Letter to the editor. Journal of Parapsychology, 16, 149-152.
Heard, G. (1953). The supernatural. Vedanta and the West, 16(5), 151-160.
Heard, G. (1954). Books in review. Tomorrow, 2 (4), 85-93.
Heard, G. (1955). Oracles through the ages. Tomorrow, 3 (2), 31-37.
Kunitz, S. J., & Haycraft, H. (1942). Twentieth Century Authors. New York: H. W. Wilson.
Needleman, C. (1979). The Work of Craft. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Note: This paper was given at the 1982 annual conference of the Academy of Religion and Psychical Research. It was published in their Proceedings for that year, in 1984, on pp. 56-69. The present version was revised in 2002 and 2004.
- Rhea A. White
Rhea A. White (1931-2007) was Editor-in-Chief of the “Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research” and “Exceptional Human Experience.” She wrote Parapsychology: New Sources of Information (Scarecrow Press, 1992) and was coauthor with Michael Murphy of In the Zone: Transcendent Experience in Sports (Penguin/Arkana, 1995). Ms. White was Founder/Director of The Exceptional Human Experience Network and Past President of the Parapsychological Association (1984).
The Barrie Family Trust is most grateful to Dr. (Hon.) Rhea A. White for her kind permission, given in 2002, to republish her article, Gerald Heard’s Legacy to Psychical Research. Text is Copyright © 1982 by Rhea A. White, All Rights Reserved.
* Pain, Sex and Time was reissued in 2004 by Monkfish Book Publishing.