Linda Ingstad (Basanti)
I met my first Vedantist in 1970 in Hollywood, pursuing an undergraduate degree in theatre at the University of California. While studying acting in a summer acting workshop with Stella Adler,I was partnered with a very lively, professional actor She was wearing a finely crafted silver amulet with a fascinating engraved design. Upon inquiry I learned the symbol was Ohm, and it had been fashioned by a devotee from the Hollywood Vedanta Society of which both she and the artist were members The artist was a man named Tat Twam Asi (that thou art), the actress was Katherine Scotty MacGregor, who soon became famous playing the character Mrs. Olson on Little House on the Prairie She invited me to attend an evening class at 1946 Vedanta Place,and the entire trajectory of my life began to shift.The atmosphere at the Hollywood center was infused with a loving peaceful presence that was pervasive, yet centered. This felt like a pretty good place to begin searching for what it was that was causing this subtle but ever present yearning in my heart, which felt oddly satisfied in the atmosphere of the Hollywood Vedanta temple.
When I was fortunate to receive spiritual instruction and mantra diksha, from Swami Prabhavananda I knew almost nothing about Vedanta. However I brought with me an innate love of an eternal something called god, and a longing to be closer to this source of infinite creation joy and mystery.
While the five years studying with Swami Prabhavanda, were intermittent they were intense due to his failing health. He laid a lot of emphasis on the obstacles and pitfalls that I should be of aware of in order to avoid the dangerous diversions and detours that were lying in wait for the spiritual aspirant. One day I recall, I was home with my 5 year old son, and we were chasing each other through the house with the radio blaring rock and roll music, the phone rang…it was Swami P. He said “Basanti what are you doing with your day?" My lame response was "oh I was just doing Japa Swami I like to do it with the music cranked up real loud”. He didn’t chastise me he just reminded me to never forget that Maharaj, Swami Brahmanda was my Grandfather, and that there was even more joy to be found within the Heart then in the world, even if we were living in the exciting world of Hollywood. He was generous with his wisdom, and I’m most grateful for the rare good fortune of knowing him as well as many other esteemed monastics of the Ramakrishna Mission.
Now, in 2023, 53 years have passed (or so it seems), the journey has had lots of failures and successes, health and illness, births and deaths, and yet the fragrance or essence experienced that first night at the Hollywood center has never left me . That first recognition of a still spot within that eased the pain of loneliness made of me a devotee, bound to the infinite expansion of Love that is Sri Ramakrishna, and Sri Sarada Devi.
My Guru said one time with a twinkle in his eye that after 50 years spiritual life can become a lot of fun, I’m beginning to understand what he was talking about
Jai Sri Ramakrishna.