I first heard about Vedanta in a class with Deepak Chopra at the Chopra Center in La Jolla, California. At the time, 1996, I was studying Ayurveda, and researching a book about it. Deepak talked about the Four Yoga paths and I was hooked. First I fell in love with Ayurveda, then when I discovered Vedanta it just made everything in life make sense to me. It’s as if I always felt this way, believed in it, knew it, but I didn’t know that there was a name for it, or that there were all these other people who felt the same way!
Before I found Vedanta the closest religion that kind of matched my beliefs was Religious Science. It used to be called The Church of Religious Science, but it now goes by The Center for Spiritual Living and it originated through the Transcendentalist movement in the 1930s. I studied it for many years, and enjoyed it, but never really had that emotional connection with it like I do with Vedanta.
Once I knew about Vedanta I started reading everything I could about it, which mostly was Swami Vivekananda’s books. I resonated with his writing style right away. I also read Vedanta: A Simple Introduction by Pravrajika Vrajaprana dozens of time! It just made so much sense to me, I couldn’t get enough.
I found the Vedanta Society in 2015. I don’t know why it took me so long. I think because I live in Westlake Village and Hollywood seemed so far away. Especially when my kids were little, it just felt like it was a world away. But time went on, they graduated from college, and I got more serious about it. I really wanted a teacher, a guru. The books were helpful, but I was ready to go deeper. I had just come back from India, my second trip - the first trip was in 2000 with Deepak and a group of people. On the second trip I filmed a course on Ayurveda and got to spend more time living like a local. I told my husband I wanted to go up to check out the Vedanta Society in Santa Barbara and make a day out of it. I remember going into the bookstore and loving everything there! And I saw Pravrajika’s book and said “I have that!” and the nun who was running the bookshop said that Pravrajika Vrajaprana lived there! I knew it was all meant to be - I felt right at home. And then I saw all the Vivekananda books - and was so happy. So of course I bought a bunch of stuff like a tourist or something! Then we went outside to wait for the class to start - it was a class on Brahmananda’s book The Eternal Companion taught by Swami Sarvadevananda. We were waiting outside the Temple enjoying the view and Swamiji walked up to us with a big smile on his face - and I just knew he was my teacher. I smiled so big back to him and said: “I’ve been looking for you!” And he laughed and said: “Here I am!” He asked me where I lived and was surprised I hadn’t been to the Hollywood Temple yet. He invited me to come to the Gita class on Tuesday and I quickly said YES. I was always fascinated by the Gita, but couldn’t get through it. I bought various versions and they sat around my house. I even had a Gita on my bedside table and I hardly looked at it, I just wanted it there.
When I went to the Gita class on Tuesday it was from 4:30 to 5:30. Then Swami invited me to stay for tea so of course I said YES and I loved it. I loved the people, the energy, and discussion, everything about it. Then Swami invited me to stay for Arati, and I said YES even though I had no idea what it was. And I loved it. Then when meditation was over and Swami walked down the aisle, he motioned for me to follow him, and I did. And there was a buffet dinner for everyone! And then at dinner, everyone said I should stay for the 7:30 class, so I did, and it was awesome, too! From then on I went to the Hollywood Temple every Tuesday!
I first visited the Vedanta Society in April or May of 2015. But I didn’t find out about initiation until about November after one of my fellow students talked about it. They never “advertise” initiation at the Vedanta Society. Once I found out I couldn’t wait, and I was initiated on December 14, 2015 by Swami Sarvadevananda at the Hollywood Temple. He gave me the name Parama. That’s how everyone knows me at the Vedanta Society now.
I guess since I first found out about it in 1996. I wrote about it in my book What’s Your Dosha, Baby, which came out in 2004. And also wrote What’s Your Dharma about the Four Yoga paths, and Ananda, before I came to the Vedanta Society.
I think what’s most valuable about Vedanta is its application to daily life. It really gives us great tools to use. It also helps us to understand our priorities in life, and to keep things in perspective.
Vedanta has changed my life in so many ways. The community for sure, everyone is so supportive of one another, and so loving and kind. That we have Vedanta in common means we all really “get” each other. It’s beautiful. And then for me, it’s the Gita as well. It has become the biggest part of my life. I wrote Song Divine: A New Lyrical Rendition of The Bhagavad Gita, thanks to Swamiji and his Gita class I could finally understand it, and also understand it deeply enough to come up with a poetic version of it. And now I have Song Divine: The Rock Opera, which is each chapter made into a song. So it’s super easy to memorize! It’s been years in the making… and it has definitely changed my life. Song Divine is my dharma.
I went to India again for the third time in November/December of 2019. I went to record with Sonu Nigam for the album. And I went for my Goddaughter’s wedding. AND I also went for a pilgrimage. I managed to get it all in! I stayed for 2 nights at Belur Math. I took a road trip to Jayrambati and Kamarpakur. I also spent a night at the Vedanta Society Ashram in Vrindavan. I felt very close to Krishna, and very close to Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi throughout the whole trip. It was absolutely wonderful and beautiful and significant in many ways.
West Lake Village, California
Lissa Coffey is the author of Song Divine: A New Lyrical Rendition of the Bhagavad Gita which she has also set to music in “Song Divine: the Bhagavad Gita ROCK OPERA” with composer Vito Gregoli. She lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband, and is a member of the Vedanta Society Hollywood Temple.