by Swami Atmatattwananda
In 1951, when I was in my senior year of college, a young man who had been a counselor at an international summer camp for college students the summer before stopped by my room. The group was called the Lisle Fellowship, an organization dedicated to social service and liberal interdenominationalism, founded by a Methodist minister from the University of Michigan. This venue took place in the Colorado Rockies, where each evening at sundown we would sit and meditate overlooking the scenic grandeur. There were Iranian, Armenian, Turkish, and Formosan students in attendance, as well as a Muslim, Mosin Hamdani, from the Indian subcontinent, who had marched with Gandhi to get salt, responding nonviolently to the British invasion.
This young man, Jack Glass, though his visit surprised me, had not come from far away, for he had walked down the hill to visit me in my room from the campus of the Yale Divinity School, where, years later, I realized he was a student. Jack asked, “How about helping this coming summer with the setups?” The Lisle Fellowship engaged in weekend service projects, including rebuilding or repairing homes for poor people, in the areas in and around Golden, Colorado. I said, “This summer I’d like to spend time in reflection.” He replied, “This interests me more than if you’d helped with the preparations.”
He told me he had spent some time with Gerald Heard at a place [Heard] had in Southern California, where he [Glass] had performed landscaping work, trimming hedges and the sort. He found it a place of mystical practices. And he’d asked Gerald, “How long will it take to do ‘this thing’?” He meant, in their parlance, achieving enlightenment. Gerald had answered, “You do not seem to have been affected by the world. Perhaps 20 years.”
Jack went on to become a professor of religion, as I understand it, at Vassar. And my roommate and I studied philosophy at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Chicago was everything we had hoped it would be — a place of academic rigor and the freedom that brings. For me, however, the well had run dry. In desperation I called Gerald. May I come?” was my tone. “I no longer have that place,” was the reply. I had not known of Trabuco College, and it took me a year of soul searching to realize Gerald’s sanctuary was a place called “Trabuco,” which a student had mentioned who had visited Trabuco.
So I stumbled on to the Vedanta Society, something like John the Baptist. I learned that “his place”— Trabuco College — now in the hands of the Vedanta Society of Southern California, was, by his spiritual and generous gift, one and the same as the Ramakrishna Monastery, so renamed.
At that time there were outriders all over the country talking to people about meditation and these ideas. Glenn Smiley, a spiritual mentor of Martin Luther King, Jr., was absolutely entranced by Heard and Aldous Huxley. Rev. Ralph Abernathy said at the end of his life, “It was Glenn Smiley, it was Glenn Smiley, it was Glenn Smiley.” Meaning the honor of being Dr. King’s teacher in nonviolence should go to him.
Gerald and Aldous and Chris Isherwood are responsible for many coming to Vedanta. Gerald is responsible for me. He wanted living water. He was charismatic. His inspiration was from the genuine mystics. I hold Gerald in iconic status because of these things.
Swami Atmatattwananda has been a member of The Vedanta Society of Southern California since 1955.
"Gerald and Aldous and Chris Isherwood are responsible for many coming to Vedanta. Gerald is responsible for me. He wanted living water. He was charismatic. His inspiration was from the genuine mystics."