by Edith Dickenson Tipple
Review by Cliff Johnson
Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata
HARDCOVER $22.00, 490 pp. 2010
Edith Tipple has put to good use her remarkable capacity for organizing and presenting spiritual literature in this wonderful collection of lectures by the former head of the Vedanta Society of Southern California. The vivacity and universality of Swami Prabhavananda’s teachings are well represented in this aptly titled volume. Of course, I confess a prejudice toward this book, since he was my guru (as he was the author’s), but I have tried to be blind to that in this review. It is simply a delightful gathering of his lectures, fully demonstrating both his expressive personality and knowledge of the teachings of Vedanta.
Tipple has organized her book into four sections: Concepts, Incarnations and Teachers, Scriptures, and Spiritual Practices. There is also an Introduction, “Renaissance of Vedanta,” a significant lecture, which she wisely chose as a way to first present Swami to her readers. She is to be admired for gathering together under “Concepts” lectures that range from “God, Soul and the Universe” to “The Problem of Evil.” Swami was a loyal member of his Order, but he was also a universalist. By that I mean he had a wide and varied interest in any number of things; a great many of them found their way into his lectures. This could range from a commentary by D.T. Suzuki (whom he knew) to a spiritual truth from Meister Eckhart. I can attest that Swami was always full of such surprises in his lectures!
In the next section, “Incarnations and Teachers,” Tipple presents ten figures ranging from Buddha through Brahmananda. This last deserves some special mention. Swami Brahmananda (1863-1922) was Prabhavananda’s guru, for whom he had unquestioned love and devotion. If we were in Swami’s presence and the conversation lagged, all someone had to do was say, “Tell us something about Maharaj (as Brahmananda was familiarly known),” and he would at once become enlivened and recount some lesson he had learned from his guru or an instructive anecdote.
The following section, “Scriptures,” contains the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Tantras and the Bible. Swami published selections from the Upanishads with Professor Frederick Manchester and his popular Gita with Christopher Isherwood. Both are well represented in Realizing God. One of the more remarkable books written by Swami was Sermon on the Mount According to Vedanta, demonstrating his deep love for Christ. Swami comments on the famous statement of Christ “I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life” in this way: “First let me explain what is meant by ‘I am the truth.’ Everything that I sense and perceive is true, but only for the moment. The next moment it is gone. But truth is changeless Reality, the eternal Reality—call that Brahman or Atman or Christ. Whatever name you may give it, there is one changeless, eternal Reality.”
The final section, “Spiritual Practices” contains some twenty lectures that, in many ways, represents the Swami at his best. They include such diverse topics as Householder and Monastic Life, How to Pray, Pranayama, and Silence. In selecting lectures for this section, as in the others, Tipple has been judicious. “Feeling that the lectures of the 1960s represent him at his prime,” she writes in the Foreword, “I began with those and afterward added valuable material from other decades.”
Deserving special note is Tipple’s splendid short but informative biography of Swami Prabhavananda at the close of the book. It is a fitting tribute to a remarkably able representative of Vedanta to the West. She has also included an excellent, detailed index to bring the book to a close.
CLIFF JOHNSON has been a member of the Vedanta Society of Southern California since 1960. He was formerly managing editor of Vedanta and the West magazine and a brahmachari of the Ramakrishna Order. He is the recent author of Quest for the Eternal: The Philosophy and Practice of Vedanta. QUEST543@YAHOO.COM