by Joan Shack
Deification of the world is an ancient Upanishadic teaching: “Whatever exists in this universe is to be covered with the Lord.” Swami Vivekananda reinvigorated this teaching by defining practical Vedanta as service of God in man within society. “The poor, the illiterate, the ignorant, the afflicted – let these be your God. Know that service to these alone is the highest realization.”
Though the adjective ‘integral’ is not used to categorize Vivekananda’s teachings, he did sow, through his words and through his actions, the seeds for an approach to spirituality that ‘integrates’ the whole of life. In keeping with his vision, and in honor of his 150th anniversary, John Schlenck was one of the founding members of the e-newsletter, Integral Vedanta News (IVN), along with Judy Howe Hayes and Joan Shack. The IVN focuses on events and service activities in the West that promote cooperation, broaden outreach, or demonstrate new approaches to integrating Vivekananda’s teachings on service in the society at large.
In a recent IVN issue (October 2014), prior to his passing, John’s contribution to Vedanta was outlined in the article entitled “Music as a Form of Worship.” The article (verb tense changed) is given below with an introductory paragraph written by John.
MUSIC AS A FORM OF WORSHIP
Music, visual arts, and religion emerged simultaneously with the emergence of modern humans and have been closely linked ever sense. Music has tremendous power to stimulate every kind of emotion. This places a responsibility on the creative, spiritual-minded musician to use his/her gifts in the service of spiritual ideals—as a vehicle to communicate these ideals, as a means to refine and intensify spiritual feeling, and as a path to divine awakening. —John Schlenck
John served as the music director at the Vedanta Society of New York from 1961 to 2013. Over the years, he composed songs, cantatas, and oratorios based on Vedantic and other spiritual texts, as well as symphonies, concertos, solo and chamber music. A founding member of the journal American Vedantist, he has served as editor and writer for many years.
For the last eighteen months, John resided at the Vedanta Center of Atlanta where he was in charge of the Center’s music program. His lectures at the center included: “Holy Mother—an Ideal Karma Yogi,” “Vedanta for Agnostics,” “Vivekananda, the Revolutionary,” and “Worshipping the Divine Mother through Music.”
His oratorio Seek the Eternal was performed at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1993. His oratorio trilogy A Mission to the World was performed at Alice Tully Hall in New York City as part of the New York Vedanta Society’s centenary celebration in 1994. Original compositions of his were offered as part of the Swami Vivekananda 150th birthday celebration at the Vedanta Centers in San Francisco, Providence, and New York.
His impressive list of recordings, lectures, and articles are available online on the following sites:
Featured is a list of John’s CD’s and recordings, as well as several music videos which can be viewed online. In addition to his musical collection, this site includes links to a variety of projects including music, inspirational and informative writings, and lectures with intriguing titles such as “Beethoven, Vivekananda and the Heroic Struggle.”
This site includes a list of John’s recordings from 1996 to the present. Online music videos are available here, including Prelude on a Poem of Tagore. The visual experience of the beautiful photos along with the music truly deepens the listening experience.
Vedanta West Communications Inc. was founded in 1996 to foster the development of Western Vedantic forms of expression. The sheet music of John’s original work is available here. Information regarding Vedanta West projects such as “Vedantic Arts Recordings” that celebrate and promote spiritual life is also included.
One may access the quarterly journal, American Vedantist, on this site. American Vedantist includes current and archival articles, newsletters, interviews and inspirational writing on various topics as well as a “Reader’s Forum.” This not-for-profit online journal is dedicated to developing Vedanta in the West and to facilitate companionship among Vedantists.
Joan Shack, a retired community college teacher, co-founded Sri Sarada Society in 1992. The Society is a nonprofit association of spiritual aspirants interested in the application of the universal ideals of Vedanta with Holy Mother, Sri Sarada Devi, as our inspiration.