Memories of Gerald Heard

by William H. Forthman, Ph.D.

The first impression of Gerald Heard was of a scintillating speaker both in conversation and from the podium. He had the Irish gift of the gab, which was re-enforced with an unusually wide range of interests and information. He combined a great curiosity with a fine memory, so there were few subjects he could not address.

Secondly, he was a theorist, a synthesizer, and a person offering bold hypotheses about the course of history, of human evolution, of spirituality. Like the Buddha he felt the suffering of the human condition (including his own) and sought an effective remedy.

Having decided that the way to remedy egocentricity was through a change first in conduct, then character, and finally in consciousness, he set about modifying his own behavior, which included a celibate lifestyle and devoting hours each day to spiritual exercises. His writings on the life of the spirit grew out of his own experience. He became a role model and advisor to many who had not found help in more traditional religious or psychological practices.

Gerald was interested in and well informed about the history of intentional communities and educational institutions including the Benedictines, Dartington Hall, the Ramakrishna Order, Oneida, British universities, the Quakers, Buddhist orders, and many more. In the early 1940s he founded Trabuco College, mostly from his own funds, in an effort to create an institution which would facilitate the development of a contemporary spirituality. His hope was that a contemporary institution could preserve important values of the past while avoiding what he regarded as the negative aspects of the former institutions. There was always a small group of truth seekers living there. After several years he decided to leave Trabuco because he concluded it was not producing the educational and spiritual outcomes he had hoped for. His conclusion that this effort had been a failure was a deep disappointment to him.

His books were developed first in conversation and lectures and then written out in long hand with almost no rewriting. From childhood he had a gift of storytelling that was displayed in his short stories and novels, but he may have regarded fiction as a bit frivolous.

Like his friend Aldous Huxley, Gerald had struggled in the 1930s to abort the looming war. Again, like Aldous, he held fast to his pacifism when war came. Although living in the United States since 1937, both of them were denied U.S. citizenship for this stand.

A less visible trait of Gerald's was his kindness. He performed many quiet acts of help to people in distress. He treated everyone with respect. As a twelve year old I was impressed that this brilliant man treated me as an intelligent participant in conversation, and for twenty-five years he conversed with me as if I were an equal.

Life was not easy for Gerald. He had ongoing pain from a childhood back injury, digestive problems, and he suffered from depression. But he worked on through low moments and did what he could to reduce suffering. He was an impressive and gallant spirit.

Dr. William H. Forthman, a retired Professor of Philosophy at California State University, Northridge, first met Gerald Heard in 1939, when he was twelve years old, at Christopher Wood's home in Laurel Canyon. When he graduated from high school in 1944, Dr. Forthman went to live at Trabuco College until he was drafted in May 1945. Upon his discharge in November 1946 he returned to Trabuco, which by then had electricity installed. From August 1951 to September 1958, while a student at UCLA, Gerald gave him the task of typing three or four of his manuscripts. He last saw Gerald Heard in 1964. Dr. Forthman concludes "Gerald was a central influence in my life and one of the most fascinating people I've ever met."

"A less visible trait of Gerald's was his kindness.... As a twelve year old I was impressed that this brilliant man treated me as an intelligent participant in conversation, and for twenty-five years he conversed with me as if I were an equal."