There wasn’t any obvious or logical reason why I should become interested in India and Indian philosophy. Maybe I lived there in a previous life. In this life, I grew up in the Catholic Church. I went to Catholic school for eight years. My parents never mentioned India.
Thinking back, in 1973, a friend and I found ourselves in Port Bou, Spain, a border town on the Mediterranean Sea. We found a room at a hostel. Port Bou wasn’t our destination; how we ended up there is a whole other story. We climbed around some huge rocks until we came to a small patch of beach. While we were sitting there, I noticed an old man coming over the rocks. He had followed us. We greeted him when he stepped down onto the beach. It turned out he was there to give us a message.
We talked for a long time, and finally he told us that, whatever we did in life, we had to study what he called “Mental Science.” Considering the unlikely series of events that had preceded this conversation, and the risk he took to meet us, I took him seriously. I asked him where to start and he gave us a few suggestions. I followed his advice, just very slowly.
I moved to Tucson in 1977 and sometime in the 1980s I discovered that there was a branch of The Theosophical Society in Tucson, so I joined. The old couple who hosted the meetings had actually met Annie Besant and Krishnamurti when they were young. The group gradually dissipated, and dissolved in the early 90s. During that time, I picked up a book called The Sermon on the Mount According to Vedanta, by Swami Prabhavananda. I really liked it. It really made sense. Then I found out there was a Vedanta book store in Hollywood. I called them on different occasions and ordered more of Swami Prabhavananda’s books, including the Gita, Upanishads, Crest Jewel of Discrimination, Srimad Bhagavatam, and others. I also bought Swami Paramananda’s Book of Daily Thoughts and Prayers, which I carried around for years.
Sometime after the turn of the century, maybe 2003 or 2004, I realized that I didn’t know anybody else who was interested in Vedanta. I was a mailman for thirty years. A family on my route got mail from The Vedanta Society in Hollywood. I wanted to make contact, but didn’t want to be too abrupt about it. I never actually saw anyone there when I went by. Then there was a fire behind their house and they moved. After about six months, they came back. Meanwhile, I decided to send an e-mail to the Hollywood Center. I told them that if they knew anybody in Tucson who studied Vedanta, ask them to contact me. Nobody at the Center knew me, so I never expected a response; but the next day I had several e-mails, including one from Swami Sarvadevananda. He told me that a young professor from Australia had just moved to Tucson, to work at the university, and wanted to start a group. He was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in Australia. I called him. I don’t know why I expected an Indian accent, but when he answered the phone, he sounded like Crocodile Dundee; when I saw him in person, he was indeed a tall Sri Lankan, a lot younger than me.
One of the other e-mails was from Bob Kimmel. He was initiated in the 1970s and had a solitary practice for thirty years. I met him and two other guys at the old Borders. Bob became one of the original members of the first study group in Tucson. I finally met Victor Silverstein on my route, and he also joined the first group. His family came later.
We met every other Sunday morning, at the professor’s house. We had our meeting, followed by snacks. His wife always made extra-strong coffee for us. We assigned ourselves the task of reading The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. We would read some pages and then talk about it. We knew we wouldn’t finish it in this lifetime, but we had faith that we would all meet again.