What Did J.D. Salinger, Leo Tolstoy, and Sarah Bernhardt Have in Common?

(The surprising—and continuing—influence of Swami Vivekananda, the pied piper of the global yoga movement – an article by Ann Louise Bardach)

By the late 1960s, the most famous writer in America had become a recluse, having forsaken his dazzling career. Nevertheless, J.D. Salinger often came to Manhattan, staying at his parents’ sprawling apartment on Park Avenue and 91st Street. While he no longer visited with his editors at “The New Yorker,” he was keen to spend time with his spiritual teacher, Swami Nikhilananda, the founder of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, located, then as now, in a townhouse just three blocks away, at 17 East 94th Street.

Though the iconic author of “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Franny and Zooey” published his last story in 1965, he did not stop writing. From the early 1950s onward, he maintained a lively correspondence with several Vedanta monks and fellow devotees.

After all, the central, guiding light of Salinger’s spiritual quest was the teachings of Vivekananda, the Calcutta-born monk who popularized Vedanta and yoga in the West at the end of the 19th century.

These days yoga is offered up in classes and studios that have become as ubiquitous as Starbucks. Vivekananda would have been puzzled, if not somewhat alarmed. “As soon as I think of myself as a little body,” he warned, “I want to preserve it, protect it, to keep it nice, at the expense of other bodies. Then you and I become separate.” For Vivekananda, who established the first ever Vedanta Center, in Manhattan in 1896, yoga meant just one thing: “the realization of God.”

To read the full article from the Wall Street Journal, see : http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303404704577305581227233656.html

9 thoughts on “What Did J.D. Salinger, Leo Tolstoy, and Sarah Bernhardt Have in Common?

  1. mike

    Very interesting article. A long list of ppl l never realised had an interest in Spiritual things.
    Henry Miller was a big surprise, considering his ‘tropics’ trilogy.
    l wasn’t surprised by A.Huxley, though. l read his ‘letters’ once and he wasn’t impressed by Sri Aurobindo’s ‘Life Divine’ – not surprising coming from someone who thought LSD was a shortcut to Enlightenment lol.

    ” But if there were a single takeaway line that boils down his teachings to one spiritual bullet point, it would be “You are not your body.” This might be bad news for the yoga-mat crowd. The good news for beleaguered souls like Salinger was Vivekananda’s corollary: “You are not your mind.”

    That made me laugh. Hatha Yoga is big business now among the physically-obsessed beautiful people.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Yes, thats funny. Salinger’s comment is also amusing: “I sometimes wish that the East had deigned to concentrate some small part of its immeasurable genius to the petty art of science of keeping the body well and fit. Between extreme indifference to the body and the most extreme and zealous attention to it (Hatha Yoga), there seems to be no useful middle ground whatever.”

      You might like to read a recent book “American Veda” by Philip Goldberg

  2. mike

    “Faith, he wrote, must be based upon direct experience, not religious platitudes.”

    l couldn’t quite understand the above statement by Swami Vivekananda.
    lf we have direct experience of Spiritual things, then the need for faith is removed, isn’t it??
    l realize that in most religions [christianity and islam mostly] faith is required just from reading scripture etc… but still.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      That is *not* a direct quote from Swami Vivekananda.
      We don’t what the author of the article implied when she used the word “faith”.

  3. mike

    l didn’t realize george harrison was a follower of swami vivekananda, either. l always thought he was a long-term disciple of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi or the Hari Krishna movement.
    Something new everyday LOL.
    l know Mother spoke quite highly of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi after seeing his photo. Although, l think sai baba didn’t approve of what he did in the west for some reason.

  4. Pingback: Haven’t I seen you before? | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  5. Pingback: In Memoriam J.D. Salinger « virtualDavis

  6. Sandeep Post author

    JD Salinger used to attend the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda center in New York

    As we lingered outside the building, Greta took the little book out of her handbag, and explained that it was a lost German text on The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, very precious because it was completely out of print with very few known copies in circulation. Referencing the book had been very helpful in writing her paper and now she was returning it to the kind gentleman who had generously loaned it to her.

    “He’s a famous writer, you know,” she said fishing out a paperback copy of Franny and Zooey of her handbag and thrusting it at me. I was idly watching the traffic on the street, not really taking her seriously and murmuring distractedly that she must be kidding. I remember the shock I felt, like a deepening chill, when she said she wasn’t joking.

    Even before I could ask her to explain, I saw Greta waving to a tall man bounding out of the brownstone. Lanky, slightly greying, a little hunched, and holding an umbrella in his left hand, he nodded and walked quickly towards us. The long, angular, handsome face with those dark, gentle, searching eyes so familiar from the photograph on the back jacket of The Catcher in the Rye seemed to leap out at me.

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