My late wife, Anne, was given the name Jnanada by Swami Prabhavananda, who also gave her mantra diksha. She spent some of her years upon graduation from UCLA as a monastic, living first in Hollywood, then in Santa Barbara. When the time came for her first vows, she understood their importance and seriousness before deciding instead on the life of a scholar and teacher rather than a monastic. By the time I met her, one of her closest friends was a senior pravrajika who would also play a significant part in my Vedanta path.
The most senior pravrajika at the time, Prabhaprana, was in many ways like a mother to her. In consequence, my friendship with the day-to-day routine of Sri Sarada Math increased; I had several helpful discussions about meditation with Pravrajika Baradaprana, and looked forward to discussing music as well, in particular my fondness for the raga. By a quite logical jump, Baradaprana gave me a small booklet, Aspects of Brahmin, which captured my interest in Vedanta. I met Swami Prabhavananda once on the occasion of Sw. Vivekananda's birthday. A year later, as Swami Prabhavananda waited until the precise arrival of July Fourth to enter Ramakrishnaloka, I knew I wished to take the next step. The memorial service for Prabhavanandaji, held at the Santa Barbara temple, was my first real opportunity to see senior swamis of other American centers. I particularly recall Swamis Adishwarananda of Boston, Prabuddhananda of San Francisco, Aseshananda of Portland, and the then junior Chetanananda, then of Hollywood, now senior of St. Louis. The combined force of their visions opened the door wide for me. I resolved to seek initiation.
The correct political thing meant to me that I'd apply to Swami Chetanananda. But when I did, I was delighted by the way he stepped back with immediate force. I do not have the power, he said. You want someone who has the power, and the ability. I have no such power. Later that day, in an issue of Vedanta in the West Jnanada and I had in our home, I read an essay by a Swami who had the power and wrote of it, in the humble way of a man who has found a great gift and realizes the nature of the gift. I resolved to ask him to give me mantra diksha. There was one momentary problem. My work situation had changed; I was jobless, looking for newer employment, my savings depleted.
"If you come to Portland," Swami Aseshananda said, "I will take you on." Exactly what I wanted, but there was one significant problem. How to get from Santa Barbara to Portland. For forty-six years, only my late wife and Baradaprana knew how I was able to afford the trip. She loaned me the money. The amazing part of the ritual of initiation for me came after the first part. We waited in the Portland shrine beyond the point where I was able to measure time. In essence, he'd offered me as a candidate. After the silence, he put his hand on my head. "They have accepted you," Swami Aseshananda said. I knew whom he meant. I knew what the process meant. At that moment, I was a Vedantist. In subsequent years, Swami Aseshananda spoke often as the place "beyond space, time, and causation" as the place where one's spirit transcends limitations. My teacher had taken me there that first time when he placed me in the care of his teacher and his teacher's teacher.
Shortly before I went to Portland that first time, Prabhaprana made me a gift of my rosary. When I returned to Santa Barbara, I had tools of friendship and practical tools.
The last segment of this aspect of my Vedanta story came years later. Swami Aseshananda had joined the Ramakrishna loka. I had been asked by him to edit his writings about his associations with Swami Saradananda, which in effect gave me a strong sense of that individual's presence. I'd often heard Swami Aseshananda's stories about his relationship with Brahmanandaji, and I'd had some darshan with the visiting Ranganathanandaji. At this time, sitting in the locker room of the Montecito Y, where we'd both been for a swim, there I was with a great personal friend, Swami Ganeshananda, a former university lecturer in geology. Swami Ganeshananda shook his head at the wonderment of a thought that had come to him. He expressed yet another effect of being beyond time, space, and causation in the way he linked the sages and sadhus of the distant past with many of the discoveries scientists were to make years later.
I nodded my appreciation of Swami Ganeshananda's observation, took a moment to internalize it, and then stepped out into the afternoon, comfortably afloat in the churning, tidal sea of Vedanta.
Santa Barbara, California