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     Section 3

The Shrine, the Relics, and the Mantra  

Swami Prabhavananda, & Sister Lalita 
(Mrs. Carrie Mead Wyckoff) 
at the Hollywood Temple shrine.
Copyright Vedanta Society of Southern California
All rights reserved, Collection of The Vedanta Archives

While living at the center as a monk, Isherwood’s contribution went beyond his considerable literary work: he did dishes, ran errands, labored in the garden, was president of the Vedanta Society, and also performed the ritual worship. He had much to say about the worship, the relics, and the shrine, his reverence for them spanning his entire spiritual life.

In 1935, Swami Prabhavananda ordered a custom shrine to be carved when he was on his first trip back to India from the U.S.[1] He asked Swamis Akhandananda and Vijnanananda [monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna] to bless the teakwood shrine before bringing it to Hollywood. He expected a brief, rather formalized blessing, but instead, as Swami Prabhavananda recounts, “the two direct disciples stood touching the roof of the shrine, each for an hour…. Swami Akhandananda came first, and I told him that I am going to take this shrine to Hollywood. So he kept his hand there, and stood there for an hour. I asked him to sit down, but he would not sit. I had to stand and talk to him. Then after he was gone for a little while, Swami Vijnanananda came. He also stayed for an hour with his hand on the shrine.”[2]    

Throughout his association with the temple, Chris felt the shrine to be a potent presence. At one point, during one of Chris’s many struggles to stay at the Center as a monk, he wrote, “I’ve got to convince myself, practically, that the shrine can give me strength to do what I could never do alone.”

He goes on to write of the shrine:

The shrine is like a bank, in which we have put our money and can never draw it out again. But it pays interest, so the only thing to do is to deposit more and more and more. It’s the shrine that really matters; the fact of its being there, always, right in the midst of our household. It’s particularly wonderful at night. You feel so safe there and there is such a sense of contact. Like sitting face to face with someone you know very well, and not having to speak.[3]


The shrine is always with us. As long as some contact is maintained with it, all is simple and possible. As soon as contact is broken, all is horrible, tense, confused.[4]

From his Diaries:

Concentration there is a lot easier. The atmosphere is extraordinarily calming, and yet alive, not sleepy. …in the shrine the air seems curiously alert. Sometimes it is as if the whole shrine room becomes your brain and is filled with thought.[5]

And decades later, February 21, 1971, he records:

I arrived early [to see Swami], so I went into the shrine room and sat up close in front of the shrine. I don’t know when I did this last—not in years… I often try to imagine myself sitting alone in front of the shrine when I’m meditating … at home.

It began working at once and without my making any effort. I kept reminding myself that it was before this shrine that Swami had had his visions and Sister used to see “the light”[6] and George [Swami Krishnananda] had been chanting for nearly 30 years. I exposed myself to it as though it were some kind of medical radiation and I were the patient… however just when I imagined myself to be open to it without any resistance… Swami was ready to see me. So I got up and left, telling myself that he is a human shrine, and therefore much more extraordinary, and that he contains relics too, his memories of Maharaj and the other disciples.[7]

About performing the ritual worship Isherwood writes:

The [performance of the] worship is very helpful…nearly always, I at least managed to get a great awareness of responsibility. Here am I, with all my karma upon me, presenting myself before the unthinkable majesty of what is enthroned in the shrine. “I’m sorry, sir. I’m the only one they could send today.”

Offering the prayers and mudras, the flowers and lights and incense, I am representing everybody I have ever known and all my unknown human brothers and sisters.

…my diary doesn’t mention what was, for me, the most important quality of the worship; it was the best of all aids to concentration. While performing the various acts of the ritual, you are obliged to keep your mind on what you are saying and doing. Thus you could scarcely avoid thinking about God almost continuously for about an hour and a half. Under any other circumstances, my span of concentration would have been one and a half minutes.[8]

Isherwood also had great reverence for the Relics, as is seen in his 1971 reminiscence above.[9] Although he rarely attended pujas,[10] saying they were not his thing, he often came later on puja days for the Arati (Vesper service around dusk). On these special occasions only, the relics would be brought out on a small tray and those present who wanted to would go into the shrine to have the relics touched to their heads. Isherwood writes in 1972:

Being touched by the relics raises a tricky question of protocol, if Don [who is also an initiated disciple of Prabhavananda] and I are both present. Since I am one of the oldest householder devotees … [I am called] up into the shrine room immediately after the … monastics …Thus I save maybe as much as twenty minutes hanging around, waiting my turn…But this time saving is of no use if I have to wait for Don, so I’ve persuaded him to follow right in my footsteps, just as married couples…It must seem to anti-homosexuals that our relationship is thus receiving a sort of sanction by the Vedanta Society. But I refuse to be embarrassed.[11]

At Swami Vivekananda’s puja breakfast in 1945, Swami allowed Isherwood to read the Katha Upanishad aloud for what he believes was the first time. He describes it as such:

Sister [Lalita] would bring coffee, bacon, and eggs on a tray into the shrine room. She would pour the coffee and later would light a cigarette, leaving it to burn itself out in an ashtray. Meanwhile, the Katha Upanishad would be read aloud, because that had been his favorite scripture. What gave this ceremony its special feeling of intimacy and personal contact was the fact that Sister actually had served breakfast to Vivekananda in her own home, while he was visiting California at the beginning of the century.

In later years, this became my only opportunity to take an active part in ritual worship at the Center, and I nearly always did the reading if I was in Los Angeles.[12]

He writes of the mantra very near the conclusion of My Guru, after Swami has passed away: “It is when I am saying my mantram that I very occasionally feel I am in communication with him [Swami]. The mantram was a gift of his love, and love is communication. The mantram is all I have of him and all I need.”[13]

The Struggle

Isherwood’s life as a monk was a struggle. He was drawn away, toward the world and his identity and future as a fiction writer. He had done very little fiction writing since having come to the U.S. He admits that the reason he never requested a spiritual name from Swami was because “Christopher Isherwood” was his literary identity and he was unwilling to abandon it. He also took occasional sabbaticals to Santa Monica that he characterized as “backsliding.”

At a time when Chris was thinking of leaving the monastery permanently, he went to Swami to confess his difficulties. Swami said:

“Now that you have come to Ramakrishna you will be taken care of … I promise you that. Even if you eat mud, you will be all right… I don’t want you to leave here, Chris. I want you to stay with me as long as I’m alive. I think you’d be all right. Even if you left here… I think you have the makings of a saint.”

I laughed. I was really staggered. “No,” said Swami, “I mean it, you have devotion. You have the driving power. You are sincere. What else is there?”

In February 1945 Time Magazine (see original article) printed an article praising the Gita translation, calling it “a distinguished literary work.” However, the Time reporter focused much of the article on Isherwood himself, including a popular speculation concerning The Razor’s Edge. John Yale (who we will introduce in more detail soon) writes:

In the mid 1940's a rumor became widespread which served to focus attention upon the possible pertinence of Indian mysticism to Westerners. It was known that Christopher Isherwood was living or had lived in a Hindu ashrama in Hollywood as the disciple of an Indian swami; and Maugham, who was a friend of Isherwood's, had just published a novel about a westerner who had become a Vedanta adept. Surely, then, Isherwood must be the prototype of Larry? It is strange that such an idea could take hold, since it is difficult to imagine two individuals more dissimilar than Maugham's Illinois-born hero and the British writer. However the rumor persisted, and it was circulated by Time magazine. This called forth an interesting response from Isherwood, printed in Time's December 17, 1945, issue: ". . . I am not, as you have twice stated in your columns, the original, or part-original, of Larry in Maugham's The Razor's Edge. I can stand a good deal of kidding from my friends, but this rumor has poisoned my life for the past six months, and I wish it would die as quickly as possible."

It should be mentioned that both Swami Prabhavananda and Chris contributed advice to Maugham on the writing of the novel as well as a subsequent screenplay written by Maugham (the Maugham screenplay was later abandoned by the film’s director) and also had input on the resulting film itself, most comically in giving acting advice to Tyrone Power for [spoiler alert!] The Enlightenment Scene. To take liberties with the old theater saying: Dying is easy; samadhi is hard.[14]

Later that year, 1945, Isherwood took a job at Warner Brothers Studios. He writes, “Up to that point, I was a monastic, despite my backslidings. Now I became a screenwriter who happened to be living in a monastery.”[15]  Isherwood left the monastery later that year.

When I asked myself, shouldn’t I have left the Center much sooner than I did, I find that I can’t say yes. It now seems to me that my humiliation and my guilt feelings were unimportant. By staying on, I was getting that much more exposure to Swami, which was all that mattered. Every day I spent near him was a day gained. And that I had lost the respect of many outside observers was, on the whole, good — or at least it was a thousand times better than if I had fooled anybody into thinking me holy.[16]

Swami Vidyatmananda  

John Yale, later Prema, 
and then Sw. Vidyatmananda

Vedanta Society of Southern California 
All rights reserved, Collection of
The Vedanta Archives

At this point, we’ll take a brief detour to introduce another valuable source that converges with Isherwood’s own narrative. It is The Making of a Devotee[17], the memoir of John Yale, later Prema Chaitanya, and ultimately Swami Vidyatmananda (for simplicity, we will refer to him as John Yale unless context dictates otherwise). He also wrote A Yankee and the Swamis. The two men were very close[18] and worked together on literary projects for the Society for years, Yale being the longtime editor of the Society’s publication Vedanta and the West. After establishing that he regarded Isherwood’s success in the world as a manifestation of the Shakti power, Yale describes his impressions:

I first met Chris in the spring of 1949 at the Vedanta Temple in Hollywood. Swami Prabavananda gave weekly readings in the so-called Green House, which contained the church parlor. On this particular evening Chris was present. Swami asked Chris and me to fetch a few folding chairs from the Temple just across the walkway. My first impression was that he looked boyish, clean, and bright. He was very approachable…

Chris usually came to see Swami Prabhavananda about once a week—usually for dinner and the evening. He drove a Sunshine Talbot roadster in those days, and later a different make of small British car which never seemed to work properly. I believe he was rather poor at that time. He was always a welcome guest, as he was full of good humor and told amusing stories about personalities he knew in the film colony or encountered in the world of writers. His relationship with Swami Prabhavananda was respectful but very intimate. Whereas we were all rather standoffish with our guru, Chris was quite daring toward him, and Swami liked this.

From the first moment we met, I reacted agreeably to Chris's charm. He gave me the immediate sensation that he liked me. He had the ability to make everyone he came in contact with feel easy in his presence, that you held a privileged position in his estimation, that he found you interesting as a person. I believe he did sincerely find almost everyone interesting, and not merely as material for future books. Chris was intensely curious as to how human nature manifested itself in its multifarious fashions. I eventually came to see this as a sort of spiritual quality. Sri Ramakrishna said that the greatest manifestation of God is in man. Contemplating man, in all his diversity, with wonder and affection, is thus akin to divine worship. Chris surely worshipped at this shrine.

When I first knew him I sometimes wondered if Chris were not as much a performer as a writer. He had learned how to gain and maintain a place as a literary celebrity. He was audacious and something of an exhibitionist. He himself spoke of himself as an actor. He had figured out human beings well enough to know that, although they might protest, they rather liked being shocked. He held the public's attention for some sixty years and holds it still— perhaps more than ever.

[Since the writing of Yale’s memoir, Isherwood’s celebrity continues to grow. He is recognized for his writing, his early stance as a bold gay rights activist has made him an icon in the gay community, and his life itself has become an object of fascination. In recent years, two of his novels have been made into films, the very successful, critically acclaimed A Single Man and Christopher and His Kind; and he is also the co-subject of the documentary film, Chris & Don: A Love Story. Moreover, his Vedanta-related work has reached a widening audience within groups who admire him for his non-religious aspects but are curious about the man as a whole, i.e. if Vedanta was good by him, they want to know more. Yale goes on:]

…that audaciousness permitted Chris to be a courageous defender of truth as he saw it, who often used the celebrity he enjoyed to promote the rights of the then discriminated against minority, the homosexual. He was candid about himself as belonging to that minority and fiercely championed equal rights for its members.

There was in Chris the devoted disciple, who maintained an intense loyalty to his guru, and a readiness, during the guru's life and after his death, to further his guru's objectives. Through books, articles, and speeches Chris did much to inform the public about Vedanta.

Chris would make his weekly appearance of an hour or so and all would turn gala. Prabhavananda would become joyous and there would be an atmosphere of fête. In these moments I resented him as someone who would eat his cake and have it too, for he seemed to manage to be sincerely devotional and happily worldly at the same time. This stance puzzled me and confused some of his other admirers.[19]

Then there was the revealer and the self-revealer, who in telling so much about himself, made us understand much about ourselves. In revealing so openly his weaknesses, his moods, the troubles he had with his ego and his sensual nature, his occasional feelings of slothfulness and discouragement, we were permitted to see deep into another human being. We, all of us, had those same feelings too, but wouldn't face them. It was refreshing to find someone who did. Chris's candor drew us close to him, and taught us to deal gently with the same tendencies in ourselves.

Swami Prabhavananda said of him that he was the most intelligent of all his disciples.[20]

John Yale doing dishes in the Hollywood kitchen
Copyright Vedanta Society of Southern California 
All rights reserved, Collection of
The Vedanta Archives

Let’s also cite Isherwood’s initial reaction to Yale and his assumptions about what Yale must have thought of him. Isherwood wrote:

I often thought that, if Prema and I had arrived at the Center at the same time and begun our monastic life together, we might have been a real support to each other. Certainly we had much in common. We had both revolted against the moral precepts of our upbringing. We both had severe standards of efficiency and were apt to be impatient of the sloppy and the slapdash. We both suffered from self-will and the rage it engenders.

…The Chris whom Prema met must have been a disappointment to him… I had become a worldling, no longer subject to monastic discipline. My visits to Swami were like those of a Prodigal Son who returns home again and again, without the least intention of staying, and is always uncritically welcomed by a Father who scolds every other member of the family for the smallest backsliding. I know that Prema was drawn to me, as I was to him, but I must have seemed a creature of self-indulgence and self-advertisement, with the easy modesty of the sufficiently flattered and a religion which was like a hedged bet on both worlds. Prema often envied me and sometimes hated me. He confessed this with touching frankness.[21]

Other Vedanta Literary Contributions: Shankara’s Vivekachudamani & Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms

Christopher Isherwood & Swami Prabhavananda
Vedanta Society of Southern California 
All rights reserved, Collection of
The Vedanta Archives

The next collaboration with Swami Prabhavananda was Shankara’s Vivekachudamani (Crest Jewel of Discrimination). Isherwood wrote that from a literary point of view, this was a simpler task than the Gita translation since it was written in a single style. He described his attitude toward his role in the process as such:

…it was easy to tell myself that I was unworthy of my task. Puritanism tempted the ego to assert itself in the role of Outcast Sinner, just when I should have been ignoring it completely. This wasn’t a question of being worthy or unworthy but of having the necessary literary skill. I had it, so what was there to worry about? It is arguable that…a spiritual teacher may lose credibility because his way of life contradicts what he teaches. But here it was Shankara, the impeccable, who was doing the teaching; I was merely his scribe.[22]

After the Crest Jewel collaboration, Chris and Swami worked on Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms, How to Know God. Literarily speaking, this was an altogether different challenge than either the Gita or Crest Jewel. The structure of sutras is by nature very terse, minimalist really, requiring commentary. As Isherwood writes: “Comment inspires comment…I found myself writing for an audience of my own, those of my friends who knew almost nothing about Vedanta and needed to have Patanjali explained to them in Occidental terms. I had the support of Swami’s approval…When I typed out the title page of Patanjali I wrote ‘by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood,’ and Swami said ‘Why put and, Chris? It separates us.’”[23]

Ramakrishna and His Disciples

The next project was Ramakrishna and His Disciples. Here is John Yale’s firsthand account of the process:

Swami Prabhavananda had always hoped to inspire Chris to write the life of Sri Ramakrishna. Swami said that realizing this project was to be the culminating accomplishment of his life. There existed at that time in English only the official life, published in India, and the English translation of Romain Rolland's biography Prophets of the New India. Chris began at last around 1957 and finished the book in 1964. As usual he wrote neatly, systematically, turning out chapter after chapter, which he brought to the Green House living room on his weekly visits, to read to the devotees. He invited and accepted their criticisms graciously. The entire text was submitted chapter by chapter to the then General Secretary in India, Swami Madhavananda, who often made corrections of fact and even of language. The latter type of correction sometimes made Chris smart, but generally he accepted suggested changes humbly or occasionally worked out compromises.

The major source of facts concerning Ramakrishna is a huge Bengali book called "Sri Sri Ramakrishna Lilaprasanga" or Sri Ramakrishna the Great Master.[24] Written by a direct disciple of Ramakrishna, Swami Saradananda, who was himself a realized soul, the book is a storehouse of fascinating detail about a divine incarnation. But, being a compilation of souvenirs and comments set down at different times, devoid of any all-over scheme, Sri Ramakrishna the Great Master contains much overlapping and backtracking… Chris took the pains to make a précis of the whole book, so as to put the material in usable chronological order.

Ramakrishna and His Disciples was published in 1965, in an American, an English, and an Indian edition. … The book was at first not a major success and even went out of print for some time except for the Indian edition. But by the mid-1980's it began to gain popularity. Once I asked Chris if he had discussed frankly with Swami Prabhavananda his own opinion of the book. Chris replied, "No, I haven't, for I feel it is not a great book. Certainly not the book I would have written if left alone.”[25]

Isherwood describes a few behind-the-scenes incidents that happened along the way during the seven year writing process. In January of 1953, he was staying at the Trabuco Monastery to get away and write a novel, as he put it, to wage “a sheer frontal attack on a laziness block so gross and solid that it seemed sentient and malevolent…” He was under great stress feeling that his future as a writer was at stake.  He uncharacteristically launched a petitionary prayer at Sri Ramakrishna in the shrine, “’If it’s your will that I finish this thing, then help me.’…My prayer could have been better phrased as follows: ‘Don’t let me feel guilty about trying to write this novel. Either convince me that I must drop it altogether, or else take away my writer’s block, so I can finish my book quickly and get started on yours.’” [26] His prayer was answered. He was able to complete the book, which he describes as “my worst novel: The World in the Evening.” However, the deal with Sri Ramakrishna was struck.

In 1957, Chris had a very vivid dream of Swami Brahmananda, the spiritual son of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Prabhavananda’s guru, in which Brahmananda blessed him. Swami interpreted this dream to mean that Chris was the right person to write Sri Ramakrishna’s biography. Chris commented, “How like Swami that was! When he had set his heart on something, it had to have the Lord’s blessing.”[27]

The Writer & Vedanta

Writing also is concerned with human beings and the greatness of any individual writer depends to a large extent on the degree of compassion which he can feel toward human beings.[28]

We see at this point that there was an uneasy tension between the sacred and the profane in Isherwood’s body of work; each existed in a separate compartment. Isherwood commented at length on writing in general and the challenge of harmonizing the two, most notably in his essay and lecture, The Writer & Vedanta, given at the Hollywood Temple, as well as a years’ long pursuit during the 1960s capsulized in the essay The Problem of the Religious Novel.[29]

Briefly, Isherwood’s outline of the challenges of writing a religious novel are:

First, the character who becomes a saint must be established as being just like anyone else. Only because of this can the reader believe that he too can succeed and be inspired to try.

Next, the character’s “conversion” must be portrayed. Isherwood notes that visions don’t work well, particularly at the early stages of the novel, because they don’t show the mental process–“dramatically they are a form of cheating.” Isherwood often refers to the conversion of Father Zossima in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov as arguably the finest example of spiritual unfoldment in literature.

Now why is the saint so fascinating? Isherwood writes:

…every writer of dramatic fiction… is eager to find characters who will exhibit the maximum variety of reaction to external events. The saint is preeminently such a character. Because his motives are not dictated by fear, vanity, or desire—because his every action is a genuine act of free will—you never can predict what he will do next…therefore he is the most interesting person to write about.

The most interesting and the most difficult. For, in attempting to present such a character to his audience of average men and women the writer cannot rely at all on that factor of familiarity, of self-recognition, which assists him so powerfully when he is describing average people, recognizable social types. He cannot expect his audience to come halfway to meet him, exclaiming, “Why, that’s just like Mr. Jones!” The saint, considered as an end product, resembles Mr. Jones as he resembles a giraffe. And yet Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith, and Mr. Brown are all potentially saints. This is what the author has somehow to prove to his audience.

…prejudices have to be overcome. The public has its preconceived notions—a figure with a lean face and an air of weary patience, who alternates between moods of austerity and heartbroken sweetness—a creature set apart from this bad world, a living reproach to our weakness, in whose presence we feel ill at ease, inferior, and embarrassed.[30] In other words, the dreariest of bores.

We come to the last phase of the story, the portrait of the perfected saint. Here I am sure I should give up in despair. Nothing short of genius could succeed in such a task. For the mystical experience can never be described. It can only be written around, hinted at, dimly reflected in word and deed.

Isherwood concludes that a good religious novel could only be written by a saint, but "saints, unfortunately, are not in the habit of writing religious novels."

Regarding the biography of Sri Ramakrishna, Isherwood also points out that many parts of that narrative would have been unacceptable in a work of fiction because they are difficult to understand and accept as true. They could only be written as a statement of fact. And actually, many of the reviews of the book were savage and illustrate what Chris wrote about the writer needing to rely on the experience of the reader to meet him partway.[31]

Isherwood characteristically favors the human aspect when evaluating the success of a religious novel. He is concerned with how the process manifests itself in the characters rather than with the abstract philosophical or even the superconscious realm. He writes, “I have never been able to grasp any idea except through a person. For me, Vedanta is primarily the Swami and Gerald [Heard].”[32] He felt that Aldous Huxley’s Time Must Have a Stop was a reasonably successful religious novel; but in supporting this assertion, he mentions only the character of the mentor (guru figure) and his transforming effect upon the protagonist. However, he takes no notice of more transcendental sections like the following, in which one of the characters suddenly finds himself dead.[33]

There was no pain any longer, no need to gasp for breath…All sound had died away, and it was quite dark. But, in the void and the silence there was still a kind of knowledge, a faint awareness.

Awareness of a name or person, not of things present, not of memories of the past, not even of here or there—for there was no place, only an existence whose single dimension was this knowledge of being ownerless and without possessions and alone.

…In the dark silence, in the void of all sensation, something began to know it. Very dimly at first, from immeasurably far away. But gradually the presence approached. The dimness of that other knowledge grew brighter. And suddenly the awareness had become an awareness of light…instead of privation there was this light… yes, there was joy in being known, in being thus included within a shining presence, in thus being interpenetrated by a shining presence… not privation, but bliss… and then as the light increased, hunger again for profounder satisfaction, for a bliss more intense… and through everlasting durations the light kept brightening from beauty into beauty. …brighter, brighter through succeeding durations, that expanded at last into an eternity of joy. …An eternity of radiant knowledge, of bliss unchanging in its ultimate intensity. For ever, for ever.[34]

[1] Information supplied by longtime fellow VSSC [Vedanta Society of Southern California], devotee Edith Tipple.

[2] The History of VSSC 1899-2009, Gordon Stavig.

[3] Isherwood, My Guru, 107

[4] Ibid. 147

[5] Diaries, Vol. I, 122.

[6] We have heard a few variations of the story, but the gist of it is that people were commenting on how long it was taking Sister to complete her pranams (bowing) at the shrine. She responded that sometimes it took her a while to see “the Light.” John Yale writes of her, “Sister Lalita … was one of the three Mead sisters in whose South Pasadena home Swamiji [Swami Vivekananda] had stayed in the winter of 1900 when he was lecturing in Southern California. Through her assistance the Vedanta Society in neighboring Hollywood was founded thirty years later. In her summer home there at 1946 Ivar Avenue (now Vedanta Place) the lectures were originally given and Swami Prabhavananda housed. And later Sister surrendered her beloved flower garden on the adjoining plot of land for its site, when it became possible to build the Temple in 1938. Sister died in 1949 … I saw her several times: a small, elderly lady, often dressed in old-fashioned lavender, with a white knitted shawl, serenely moving about the premises. It is said she talked often of Swami Vivekananda and that he came to her in vision when she died … Swami Prabhavananda, whenever he talked of Sister, called her a saint.”

[7] Isherwood, My Guru, 301.

[8] Ibid. 121-122.

[9] A personal example of Isherwood’s respect for the relics (AM): One quiet weekday morning in April of 1976, I stumbled into a remarkable scene. Swamis Prabhavananda and Chetanananda unexpectedly came to the inner shrine and took out all the relics for Swami Prabhavananda to identify. There were very few people there as the operation was kept under wraps, A few days later, we drove Chris to Santa Barbara to lecture on Swami’s behalf, and I told him about lucking into the incident. To my shock and surprise, Chris seemed genuinely impressed. He said that he had visited Swami later that day and that Swami was still in an elevated mood from the experience. When we arrived at the Santa Barbara Temple, we were met by a senior nun. The first thing Chris said was that this girl (indicating me) was present when Swami identified the relics!

[10] In this context, the celebration of a certain divine personality, e.g. Ramakrishna on his birthday, or aspect of God, e.g. Durga.

[11] Isherwood, My Guru, 307.

[12] Ibid. 181.

[13] Ibid. 336.

[14] The original saying, referring to acting: “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

[15] Isherwood, My Guru, 185.

[16] Ibid.188.

[17] Since The Making of a Devotee is an online publication rather than a printed book, there are no page numbers to refer to. The book can, and should, be read online for free at It contains fascinating stories and is a treasure trove for researchers.

[18] Katherine Bucknell in her Acknowledgements of Diaries, Volume I, writes: “I would like to thank…especially Swami Vidyatmananda who has generously read and commented on most of the material in this book.” (liii)

[19] John Yale also wrote in The Making of a Devotee: ” It has been a problem to me how anybody could be as close a devotee as Chris was and at the same time concern himself so much in his work with sex. Once I voiced this puzzlement to Swami Prabhavananda. He stared at me as though I had uttered a blasphemy, then pronounced these words with incredible power: ‘Prema, remember this: always love Chris.’"

[20] Swami had also said of Aldous Huxley at the 50th Anniversary Father Day’s Celebration, with Chris sitting next to him, that Huxley had had the most brilliant mind he had ever encountered. Huxley had already passed away. It’s interesting to ponder the distinction between a brilliant mind and intelligence, particularly in light of the kind of disciple each became.

[21] Isherwood, My Guru, 215-216

[22] Ibid. 192

[23] The book was ultimately published with an “and” between their names.

[24] Since the writing of this memoir, Swami Chetanananda also did a translation entitled Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play.

[25] Of course, his movie work was also subject to interference by the studio executives.

[26] Isherwood, My Guru, 207-208

[27] Ibid. 231

[28] Isherwood, The Wishing Tree, 158

[29] Both can be found in The Wishing Tree, a collection of Isherwood’s essays on Mystical Religion. There is a full lecture audio CD of The Writer & Vedanta. 

[30] There are striking similarities between his notion of the popular notion of a saint and the way Isherwood has described Gerald Heard.

[31] Details of the reviews can be read in My Guru and His Disciple, pp. 287-288.

[32] Isherwood, Diaries, Vol. 1, 228.

[33] The selection is reminiscent of Swami Brahmananda’s “Light, more light, more light. Is there any end to it?”

[34] Aldous Huxley, Time Must Have a Stop, Harper & Brothers, 1944, pp 138-142.

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