While in college in the fall of 1964, I read in Henry Miller’s writings mention made of “the saintly Ramakrishna.” I proceeded to check out the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna from the college library. In family short order, I bought my own copy and read it with some interest.
In the summer of 1966, I bought a copy of Vedanta for Modern Man and was rather taken with it. That fall, I and my newly-wed wife drove to St. Louis, MO, mostly to visit the Vedanta Society there. We arrived unannounced and parked across the street from the Society, but I never got up the nerve to actually knock on the door.
In the fall of 1969, experiencing the wonder of a newly-born daughter, I wrote to Swami Satprakashananda, then head of the Vedanta Society of St. Louis, asking if there were a Vedanta group in the Kansas City area. He responded in the affirmative and in early 1970, I attended my first service at the Vedanta Society of Kansas City.
I was pleased with the group there and, after a couple of months, joined as a member. I visited St. Louis from time to time and asked Satprakashanandaji for mantra diksha. He gave me some preliminary instruction, but wasn’t willing to make me an initiated devotee.
In 1974, a co-worker told me about Transcendental Meditation and I sprang for that different version of Vedanta teachings. I then wavered back and forth for a couple of years and in 1977 I approached Swami Bhashyananda, then head of the Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago, and requested initiation from him. He agreed to my request, but for preparation, stated that I should read several seminal works by Ramakrishna swamis. I told him that I had already read all of the books he mentioned, but he replied, “Well, read them again.” I responded with a simple OK.
The only volume I can recall off the top of my head is Vivekananda: The Yogas and Other Works, but it probably included the Gospel. In any case, when I had completed this assignment, I called the swami up again to set a date for my initiation. Since it was now to be sometime in November, I suggested my birthday, November 13. Bhashyananda’s rejoinder was that, in fact, the mantra was to be imparted on the birthday of a saint and in this case that of Swami Subodhananda, one of Sri Ramakrishna’s direct disciples. As I recall it, Subodhananda’s tithi that year, following the lunar calendar, fell on the twenty-second, 11-22-77. Memorable to me what with all those multiples of eleven.
I received a mantra involving a double iṣṭa devatā, namely Sri Ramakrishna and Holy Mother, and all was well for some time. However, I couldn’t really appreciate the magnitude of what I had been given, but rather, soon wearied of the length of this mantra and fell back on the practice of TM for the most part (and fairly soon thereafter, entirely).
At this point, I would like to put in a good word for that “different version of Vedanta teachings.” I would have to say that Transcendental Meditation is a good practice, but by the autumn of 1995, I felt that it had possibly taken me as far as it could—and it had seemingly vouchsafed me profound intuitions about my possible past life and that of my eldest grandchild. Meanwhile, I have incorporated into my practice at least one of the tenets of TM—don’t focus attention on anything while doing japa, repetition of the mantra, and if your mind starts to wander to outside thoughts, just gently bring it back to the mantra.
Actually, I can’t resist relating the story of that eldest grandchild’s possible past life. Coming out of meditation one day, I “heard” a voice in my head, “I will be reborn as your grandchild. You will know me by my pinkies.” I knew “intuitively” that this was a boss of mine who had died young a couple of years before. This boss had had very distinctive pinkies, with the first phalange bent in at about a twenty degree angle on both hands. This fact had never been discussed with him and I had never “stared” at his pinkies. Still, I was aware of this anomaly. As can be well imagined, I eagerly scanned the pinkies of each grandchild soon after their birth—and nobody’s pinkies resembled those of my old boss. Finally though that eldest, born the year after my intuition, came over with his mother one day for a visit. Now about fifteen years old, suddenly, out of nowhere, he pulled off his shoes and socks and said, “Look at my toe pinkies.” Finally we had a reasonable facsimile of my boss’s pinkies, if in weird form—toe pinkies. I muttered to myself, “Someone has a strange sense of humor.”
But I definitely felt that Ramakrishna Vedanta was going to take me more surely and swiftly to the goal. And I am ever more sure of that. Then in October of 1995, the Vedanta Society of Kansas City hosted a lecture by Huston Smith under the auspices of Swami Chetanananda, head of the Vedanta Society of St. Louis and of Kansas City. That was my springboard, you could say, to bring me back into the Ramakrishna fold and I have been there since that time.
This has afforded me wonderful experiences both at home and on several trips to India over the intervening years. One highlight I would like to mention is having attended the Fourth of July celebration at the Ramakrishna Monastery at Trabuco Canyon in Southern California for more than 15 years straight. Mainly that involved giving service by helping to set up for the occasion, tending the drinks “concession,” and then taking it all down again, all over a few days time. Of course, the satsang—holy company—which it afforded me was invaluable.
To sum up, I am well pleased with what Vedanta has provided me with, a wonderful life’s enhancement and a wonderful future to look forward to.