His friend Christopher Isherwood wrote, "Gerald Heard is one of the few who can be properly called philosopher, a man of brilliantly daring theory and devoted practice. I believe he has influenced the thought of our time, directly and indirectly, to an extent which will hardly be appreciated for another fifty years."
Born in London on October 6, 1889, of Irish ancestry, Gerald Heard was educated in England, taking honors in history and studying theology at the University of Cambridge. Following Cambridge, he worked for Lord Robson of Jesmond and later for Sir Horace Plunkett, founder of the Irish Agriculture Cooperative movement. Heard began lecturing from 1926 to 1929 at Oxford University's Board of Extra Mural Studies. In 1927 he began lecturing for South Place Ethical Society. From 1929 to 1930 he edited "The Realist," a monthly journal of scientific humanism whose sponsors included H. G. Wells, Julian Huxley, and Aldous Huxley.
In 1929 he published The Ascent of Humanity, an essay on the philosophy of history that received the prestigious Hertz Prize by the British Academy. From 1930 to 1934 he served as the BBC's first science commentator, and from 1932 to 1942 he was a council member of the Society for Psychical Research.
Aldous Huxley and Gerald Heard, 1937.
Courtesy Laura A. Huxley.
In 1937 Gerald Heard came to the United States, accompanied by Aldous Huxley, after having been offered the chair of historical anthropology at Duke University. After delivering some lectures at Duke, Heard gave up the post and soon settled in California where from 1941 to 1942 he founded and oversaw the building of Trabuco College, a large facility where comparative-religion studies and practices flourished under Heard's visionary direction. Trabuco College, 30 years ahead of its time, was discontinued in 1947, and the vast properties were subsequently donated to the Vedanta Society of Southern California.
"Our whole life must become intentional and purposive, instead of a series of irrelevant events, adventures, and accidents, happy or unhappy."
Training for the Life of the Spirit, 1941
During the 1950s, Heard's main activities were writing and lecturing, along with an occasional television and radio appearance. His broad philosophical themes and scintillating oratorical style influenced many people and attracted a legion of interested persons. But chiefly he maintained a regular discipline of meditation for many years, as the core of his mature beliefs centered around the intentional evolution of consciousness.
A prolific writer, Heard penned some thirty-eight books, the most important of which are his pioneering academic works documenting the evolution of consciousness, including The Ascent of Humanity (1929), The Social Substance of Religion (1931), The Source of Civilization (1935), Pain, Sex and Time (1939), and his last book, The Five Ages of Man (1964). He also wrote several popular devotional books, including The Creed of Christ (1940) and Training for the Life of the Spirit (1941-42).
Under the name H. F. Heard (H. F. for Henry FitzGerald, his given name), he wrote a number of mysteries and fantasies, including A Taste for Honey (1941), The Great Fog and Other Weird Tales (1944), and other retellings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle great mysteries starring the one man in England smarter than Sherlock Holmes: his older brother, Mycroft.
Following five years of illness, Gerald Heard peacefully passed away at his home in Santa Monica, California, on August 14, 1971.