by Linda Prugh
John Schlenck contributed so much to Vedantists in America and to the Ramakrishna Order. His musical compositions, which use western and eastern instruments and themes, help to establish a beautiful spiritual atmosphere for meditation. One splendid example is Part One of his oratorio “Ramakrishna: A Prophet for Our Time,” which we have used numerous times, both at the Vedanta Society of Kansas City and at the Greater KC Interfaith Council. It shows how connected Vedanta is with other faiths through the theme of “Many Paths to the Same Goal.” He himself wrote: “While traveling on pilgrimage I experienced how texts from one tradition could reinforce similar ideas from another.” (AV Vol 2, No 2, pp 7-8)
In this oratorio, the first two sections of Part One are “Truth Is One” and “Paths Are Many.” This statement from the Rig Veda is followed by many, many names of God. Then come beautiful and succinct declarations from four faith traditions; Deuteronomy – Hear O Israel; the Koran – Praise be to Allah; the Buddhist refuge chant; the Our Father from Matthew 6, and again from the Rig Veda. – We meditate on the glory of the divine Being. Then in alternating lines, a composite of these calls to the Divine concludes this glorious Overture. It is a genius work of art, featuring the Vedantic Arts Ensemble, chorus and soloists, conducted by the eminent Timothy Mount.
A second major contribution of John Schlenck is his founding and editing of American Vedantist in 1995. In the beginning, I wondered why it was necessary to include America in the title. Vedanta is Vedanta, I thought, no matter where it is. However, John himself explained very well the reason for this term when he wrote: “Editors of American Vedantist are committed to the translation of Vedantic spirituality into cultural forms understandable in the West. We are convinced that Vedanta’s real mission in the West is to inspire people to take up spiritual life seriously and to help spiritual seekers to grow, each according to his or her own inner nature. In many cases, this means adding onto a received Christian or Jewish religious upbringing, giving a wider perspective and an emphasis on the deep spiritual fulfillment possible in this life. It also means relating one’s spiritual life and ideals to the surrounding secular culture, which has been informed by both Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman roots. Common to both these roots of modern western culture is an attitude towards community and toward the world which differs from Indian attitudes.” (AV Vol 4, No. 2, p 2)
I only met John once and had a couple of phone conversations with him, plus occasional emails. I wish I had known him better, but he conveyed his innermost beliefs and deep feelings through his music and his writing. His life is a beautiful tribute to living with Vedanta!
Linda Prugh is a longtime member of the Vedanta Society of Kansas City, where she serves as secretary. She is the author of Josephine MacLeod and Vivekananda’s Mission, published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org