By Br. Nitya Chaitanya
When I arrived at the Vedanta Society in early 1953, Gerald Heard spoke every other Sunday at the Hollywood Temple and every other Sunday at the Santa Barbara Temple, alternating with Swami Prabhavananda, the Founder-Minister of the Vedanta Society of Southern California.
Swami Prabhavananda and Gerald each had their own audience. Both were very charismatic speakers. Gerald’s approach was wide-ranging and intellectual; whereas Swami dealt more with the practical side. But some of Swami’s followers would sniff at Gerald, wondering, “Why is he here?” There was a feeling among some of them that Gerald was trying to be a guru. But I never felt this way, and neither did Swami Prabhavananda nor did Gerald, who explicitly avoided this role. It was just certain of Swami’s more avid devotees. Gerald never said anything negative about Swami; he was never heard to backbite. And I never heard Swami Prabhavananda say anything derogatory about Gerald. Both men shared a mutual respect and affection toward one another that they maintained through the years.
During the 1950s, both men found themselves becoming busier. And Gerald began exploring areas that were not of interest to Swami Prabhavananda. Among his many activities, Gerald was also in St. Louis lecturing under the auspices of Huston Smith for several years. Gerald simply no longer had as much time at his disposal as before. But there was never any rift between Swami and Gerald.
Gerald had an extraordinary open mind. The basic message of Vedanta is there in his writings. He was pursuing a path not in opposition to Vedanta, but one parallel to it, giving it his own individual slant. His mature mind was that of a Vedantist. And that meant practice, which Gerald maintained; he always carried that with him. His mind was so wide-ranging and seemed to go at such a dizzying pace, that I wondered how he was able to put the brakes on it when he meditated, which he did several hours each day.
You get a feeling of an earnest seeker in his books — never preachy. You are not being handed down something from on high. Rather, you feel you are receiving an invitation to come join in this wonderful enterprise of seeking, as if he were exclaiming, “Here’s an opening, a door. Come along.”
Br. Nitya Chaitanya had been a monastic member of The Vedanta Society of Southern California from 1965 until his passing in 2010 at the age of 80.
"You feel you are receiving an invitation to come join in this wonderful enterprise of seeking, as if he were exclaiming, 'Here’s an opening, a door. Come along.'"