by Susan Salm

When I first came to the Vedanta Center at the beginning of 1968, one of the first people I met was John Schlenck.  John was then—as he has always been—friendly, warm, gentle and modest…. At that time, over 43 years ago, he had already been living at the Center for nine years, and seemed a happy and serious person, a wonderful devotee.  Shortly afterwards, John and I started playing music for special events at the Center and eventually we were playing every Sunday—it was always a joyous time.  As a musician John is remarkable—gifted, hard-working, focused, thoughtful and original. And as a person he is even more so—his presence at the Center has been one of the most essential elements of constancy, his unwavering dedication and sincere devotion have always been a true source of inspiration and strength, for me as well as for many others—in fact I cannot imagine our spiritual home without John. But I do know that his good will, his common sense, his thoughtful sense of justice and his remarkably positive attitude in the face of whatever life brings will stay with me always and will continue to be an inspiration in my spiritual life.

Sometimes the separation between things is what binds them together. I realized that over the many years of having known John, since early 1968, every time I tried to speak of John, to tell someone about him or to describe him, my admiration and respect for him grew… because  it was then that I realized, over and over, how remarkable he was, how his quiet and unassuming demeanor was in fact just the outside covering of a person very deep, sensitive and loving. Inside there was intense devotion, great love for what he was doing, and total honesty—his sense of honor and of honesty was so strong.

I always knew that when I needed something, I could ask John.  He was ever ready to help, I could turn to him at any time for whatever was needed…. When I was in search of information, whether about one of our devotees past or present, or regarding the history of our Center or about the Order, whatever it was, I could simply ask John—and most likely, offhand he could tell me exactly what I needed to know.  And if not, he would be able to find the answers quickly—as every good librarian, he knew just where to look. When I recall that he was, for years, the librarian here at the Center, the musician, the composer, singer, pianist, choir leader,—and all that in addition to carrying on an active professional life as a pianist, composer and accompanist. Everything he did, he did with decorum, with great respect for those around him and for those with whom he worked, and with tremendous knowledge, care, talent, understanding and thoughtfulness.

As one friend wrote me after hearing of his sudden death: “He was such an epitome of the old Vedanta days….”  And another friend, a monastic of the Order wrote: “So, so sorry to learn about John.  Such a dedicated devotee and originator of some of the most exquisite music that the heart can feel.  Truly, his soul is in his guru.”

There is much I will miss about John—his shining example of a person who could quietly withstand many blows, who could adjust, forgive, and be open, kind and friendly to all will remain for me a model of a wonderful devotee.

To quote from a 1973 lecture of Swami Pavitrananda on the Gita: “At death the drop of water, which thought it was separate, becomes one with the ocean.”


SUSAN SALM is a concert cellist. She has been intimately associated with the Vedanta Society of New York since 1968. Email:


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