American Veda by Philip Goldberg

In the last month I have finished reading two books! So what? Well, I very rarely finish reading books. My shelf is full of uncompleted ‘interesting’ reads that somehow I gave up on, a bookmark marking the high or low water mark. I do aim to finish them all… someday. The two books I finished recently were The Fry Chronicles by Lord Fry, and American Veda by Philip Goldberg. It’s a good read – a comprehensive history of Indian Vedanta-yoga’s influence on Western thought and culture, or as the subtitle has it: ‘From Emerson and the Beatles, to yoga and meditation – how Indian Spirituality changed the West.’

It came to me through the archives due to its many references to Krishnamurti. Here are some extracts and highlights from the book, with related media from the www:

Emerson accused Christianity of “noxious exaggeration about the person of Jesus,” imploring ministers to cast behind them all conformity and acquaint man first-hand with Diety.

“Let me admonish you, first of all, to go alone; to refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men, and dare to love God without mediator or veil.”

~ Emerson

Vivekananda on yoga:

“It is wrong to believe blindly. You must exercise your own reason and judgment; you must practise, and see whether these things happen or not. Just as you would take up any other science, exactly in the same manner you should take up this science for study. There is neither mystery nor danger in it. … Any attempt to mystify these things is productive of great danger.”

Aldous Huxley said that ‘the unit of world peace is individual peace, that a forest is only green as the individual trees in the forest are green. He thought material objects were, like the shadows in Plato’s cave, the visible expression of an underlying nonmaterial essence.’

Star Wars was structured from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the archetypal hero’s journey.

We all know about the Beatles hooking up with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Harrison and McCartney continued a TM practice. In 1969, George Harrison produced an album Radha-Krishna Temple, from which Govinda was the second single:

Stevie Wonder was also influenced by the Mahamantra. John Coltrane said his goal was to point out to people the divine in a musical language that transcends words. His widow, Alice, became Swamini Turiyasangitananda – her name meaning ‘the bliss of God’s divine music’. Philip Glass is heavily influenced by Yoga-Vedanta.

An example of a less successful import:

Satchidananda’s message to the 60s flower children was: you can’t take a pill to become enlightened any more than you can take one to be a doctor. He prompted many to switch from drugs to meditation and asana. Peter Max followed suit.

Swami Rama’s office sign read: Swami Rama: Inquire Within. During 1970 and 1971 scientists recorded his ability voluntarily change his skin temperature, raise and lower his heart rate, alter his brain wave patterns, and ceasing his heart. This enabled Western medicine to increase its understanding of the mind-body relationship.

BKS Iyengar cured himself of influenza, malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid, through asana and pranayama. He went on to be the single most influential yoga teacher in the world. Students included J. Krishnamurti and Yehudi Menuhin, with Iyengar yoga being perhaps the most well known variety of postural yoga.

The influence of India in the work of Yeats and Eliot is explicit. After discovering Vedanta aged 30, he said that it “confirmed by vague speculations and seemed at once logical and boundless.” He wrote: The mystical life is the centre of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write. Among many others directly influenced were Huxley, Isherwood, Maugham, Salinger and Hesse.

In Cosmos (the most successful PBS program in history) by the great Carl Sagan (the less evil Agent Smith!) he visits a South Indian temple and explains that Hinduism is the only religion whose proposed time-scale for the universe matches the billions of years documented by science.

Harry Oldmeadow said he was, “at once so deeply Christian and so deeply Hindu, at a depth where Christian and Hindu in their social and mental structures are blown to pieces, and are yet found again ineffably at the heart of the other.”

‘Thomas Merton’s admiration for Eastern Mysticism came as a revelation to Catholics, many of whom took it as permission to explore those pathways themselves.’

The Gospel According to Thomas discovered in 1945 ‘reads like an Upanishad’:

“When you make the two one, and when you make the inside as the outside, and the outside as the inside, and the upper side as the lower; and when you make the male and the female into a single one … then shall you enter the Kingdom”

Eckhart Tolle’s work is ‘so suffused with Vedantic principles as to infuriate Hindus who would like him to pay proper homage.’

Says Goldberg at the end of the book:

“We need cosmically conscious minds and cosmically compassionate hearts. Vedanta itself says that its own eternal truths are virtually useless unless grounded in the direct experience of ultimate reality.”

I’ll leave you with my current favourite American Vedanitst musician, MC Yogi, who blends two of my loves: hip-hop and yoga. His album’s been in the Top 20 world music charts for over two years.



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