by Jon & Anna Monday
Freedom and courage come to mind when considering John’s legacy. We came to know him through American Vedantist, a courageous enterprise and a unique outlet that offers a home for often unorthodox ideas freely expressed to a readership already conversant with the Ramakrishna movement in the West—its vocabulary, philosophy, and culture. And all the while he remained dedicated to the Ramakrishna family, living the life.
John was an excellent editor. He had an old-school mastery of grammar and an appreciation that grammar is the very backbone of clear writing. But just as importantly, or perhaps more importantly, he exercised a very light touch on the intellectual content of submissions; he resisted the temptation to try to bend the writing to reflect his own way of thinking. This is not to say that he was either casual or indulgent; he vetted and fact-checked submissions meticulously. If he had a counterpoint, he argued it, but was open-minded in the discussion. He didn’t need to win. But he did need to be convinced. He was also very generous with his praise. He wrote of the American Vedantist work as “doing a service.”
As we (Jon & Anna Monday) worked as a team, we have both common and individual experiences of John.
[Jon:] I first became aware of John when we lived in New York for a short time in the early 1980s. He was always very welcoming, literally, seemingly stationed at the door of the West Side Center. He was such a fixture; I didn’t know if he was a monk or an extraordinarily active householder doing service for the Center. But John really came into focus for me through American Vedantist. AV provided a platform for the sharing of viewpoints that might be unique to those who came to Vedanta from a Western background. I believe it also provided “translations” of Vedanta scripture and orthodoxy into an American idiom.
The need for such a journal became especially clear for me when after more than a decade of research and writing I composed a controversial article that many felt should be published, and many others felt should be burned. The article was rejected by the journals of the Order, but AV stood ready to put it in print. John demanded to see proof at every step before publishing. He encouraged the American spirit of journalism at its best: Get the story out.
And then there’s John’s considerable contribution to the music of Vedanta in America. I felt honored to videotape his musical presentation at Swami Vivekananda’s 150th celebrations in San Francisco in 2013. It was a masterpiece, showing his skills as a composer, arranger, and performer, incorporating chorus, vocal soloists, and instrumental accompaniment in full, rich, multi-cultural compositions. I got the sense that John was using all his powers along lines of excellence.
[Anna:] At first finding him forbidding, I came to realize that beneath the austere sobriety, he was both fair-minded and considerate, treating the vulnerable egos of writers with delicacy, someone with whom I could communicate without having to run the gauntlet of Personality. That being said, I set out to get him to laugh but could never manage it. However, when I started writing him occasional notes on my tablet, Autocorrect managed the trick. Having experienced what autocorrect can do to the text of an email, (as if it were demonically conscious, a virtual reincarnation of Froggy the Gremlin from Andy’s Gang) I was on guard: when I typed “…I will send you a pdf,” Autocorrect substituted “…I will send you a dog.” This tickled him.
I was truly shocked when I found out that John had died. Unlike many of us, who wind down as death approaches, he was active and forward-thinking, ready to embrace the freedoms and possibilities afforded by the brave new world of online multimedia publication. It was as though his story was ending in media res. But then, since we related exclusively through correspondence, I was only in contact with the work of his still-vigorous mind.
He is missed.