by William Conrad
I have known John Schlenck since 1958 when he first came to the center. To those of us who were here earlier, he was the baby of the group. Time in its flight has reduced us to Courtenaye Olden, Luz Cordero in Santa Fe and me as spokesman. All my memories of the center to date include John. When Rolande Genet died in 1960, Swami Pavitrananda asked John to move into the center and he also asked me to do the recording. And so it was for 53 years. John was a steady worker at the center, helping himself and others forward in their spiritual and material life. His composition of songs for chorus and congregation number about 100, a spiritually useful footprint on the sands of time. He was able to do this without fee because his sister Josephine acted as a patron having married Dr. Robert Gumbiner who was a successful early pioneer in the HMO field. He never made any money from his musical compositions. Since many of the songs we sing are Indian, John, being a conscientious professional, studied Indian music for some years. I remember speaking with one of our critical Bengali devotees who said, “I could understand every word.” To which I replied, “I doubt he can.”
Every year since 1962 John organized our July 4th festival, selecting or composing the music and spoken parts, sometimes in collaboration with Erik Johns, Bill Davis and others. It was a labor intensive process to which he devoted his spiritual and intellectual life. We shall sorely miss his contribution in the years to come. Let us hope those of us here will rise to the occasion.
When Jeanne Genet died in 1999, John became official secretary of the center though he was actually doing the work for a number of years. He did an excellent job keeping all things in smooth working condition.
One’s spiritual growth is revealed more by actions than words. In this respect John served many people with food, advice and comforting in time of distress. Because of my own recently developed physical problems, I was a recipient of his concern on an enhanced scale. It makes me grateful that he was here for me.
A man is known by the choices he makes when placed in a difficult position. When John first left New York, he went to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to join some old gurubhais who had long ago gone there. But he found that it was unlikely he would be able to continue his life of service and composing under the circumstances that prevailed there. We need not go into what those circumstances were. What is important is his decision to go to the center in Atlanta in order to continue his spiritual and artistic work. I asked Br. Shankara about John’s life in Atlanta. He said there was nothing John complained about only the usual minor problems of adapting to new people and a new place. However, John was recovering from the blow of leaving New York, but as Swami Vivekananda has said, “Blows are what awaken us and help us to break the dream. They show us the insufficiency of this world and make us long to escape to freedom.” (SV 7:79 +p.91)
Certainly John found a way in Atlanta for more spiritual work. One practice in Atlanta which must have been been helpful was the biweekly reading of the Chandi. There would be singing of the traditional hymns which he enjoyed very much. In fact he had more scope for his music in Atlanta than in New York. He also gave many talks which are available at the Atlanta website www,vedantaatlanta.org and can be downloaded.
As Br. Shankara said, they were glad to have John and there is now a hole in the place because of his passing. I personally had the privilege of speaking to him on the Saturday night before he died on that Sunday. He spoke of his new website for his music and of his website for the former magazine American Vedantist and of other works in progress which I do not remember specifically. His overall attitude was upbeat without complaints and an underlying spiritual tone of hope and confidence in the future. I am so glad to have spoken to him so close to his death and to find no bitterness but a confidence in the future. May he sail forth on the spiritual ocean of death with the wind of his guru Swami Pavitrananda at his back to bring him to the lap of God.