V. Trabuco College

The Trabuco shrine mid-1970s.

Unknown photographer.

by Jay Michael Barrie

A long-cherished dream of Heard’s had been to establish a place where the study of comparative religion, together with research into and practice of the techniques of meditation and prayer as taught by the major religions of the world, might be carried on. In 1941 Heard put the larger part of his personal financial resources from his inheritance into building and endowing Trabuco College, completed by builder Felix Greene in 1942 as envisioned by Heard. It consisted of a large complex of Mediterranean-style buildings situated in the middle of some 300 acres, about 75 miles south of Los Angeles near the then-remote and small community of Trabuco Canyon.

For the next five years, from one to two dozen revolving students meditated three times daily, studied, performed many chores, worked in the garden, prepared and ate vegetarian meals, and listened to lectures on religious life.[5] Heard penned several books during his time in residence. Aldous Huxley and others lectured there on occasion. 1949's Prayers and Meditations, with contributions by Heard, Huxley, and others, was one book that was a direct outcome of the Trabuco experiment.

However, the paucity of people, particularly the young and able-bodied, who were sufficiently interested in the experiment to endure the life of isolation and rigorous self-discipline, made it increasingly impossible simply to maintain the building and immediate grounds, let alone spend any appreciable amount of time in pursuit of an interior life. Thirty years ahead of its time, the Trabuco College experiment was finally discontinued in 1947.

The facility was made available for several projects during the next two years. None of these ventures, however, measured up to what Heard felt was the raison d’etre of Trabuco's having been originally established. Consequently, and at his specific request, in 1949 the facilities and property were turned over to The Vedanta Society of Southern California, and subsequently became the Ramakrishna Monastery.

Along with Swami Prabhavananda, Heard co-edited the Vedanta Society’s journal, Voice of India (later Vedanta and the West) from 1939 to 1941 and contributed many articles to it over the years. He later served as an editorial advisor to the journal from 1951 to 1962. The 1940s, his most productive decade of writing, saw no fewer than 18 books published. His creative output, seemingly inexhaustible, resulted in essays, articles, short stories, introductions, and epilogues appearing in a variety of publications. In addition to his non-fiction writing, Heard authored several mysteries and supernatural fantasies under the pen name H. F. Heard, including Reply Paid, The Notched Hairpin, and Doppelgangers. His best-selling 1941 novel A Taste for Honey, praised by Christopher Morley, Rex Stout, and Boris Karloff, was loosely adapted into a movie, 1967’s The Deadly Bees, the first in the killer-bees genre. (Karloff played Mr. Mycroft in the ABC TV adaptation of A Taste for Honey, which aired on February 22, 1955.) His 1947 whodunit, "The President of the United States, Detective" won first prize in the second-annual Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine short-story contest. Translations of Heard’s works have appeared in French, German, Japanese, and Spanish-language editions.


Notes

[5] Personal reminiscence by Trabuco College student Marvin Barrett, 2002.