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by Jay Michael Barrie

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"The world exists for man

to achieve union with God.

The universe and life are the means whereby souls achieve Enlightenment and Liberation."

The Code of Christ, 1941


With Aldous Huxley at North Carolina's Black Mountain College, 1937 (courtesy Laura A. Huxley)

On April 12, 1937, together with his close friends Aldous and Maria Huxley, their then 17-year-old son Matthew, and pianist/movie critic Christopher Wood, Gerald Heard arrived in New York City on the S.S. Normandie. He had been offered the post of Chairman of Historical Anthropology at Duke University but decided, after delivering a series of lectures in that capacity for one term, that university life would be too confining for his curiosity-ridden mind, to which absolute freedom from such constraints as academic party lines was as essential as is oxygen to the human brain.


Gerald Heard hanging laundry at

La Verne College,

1941 (courtesy Ettalie Wallace)

So after exploring the East Coast, the  Northern Middle West, and the West Coast, and following a brief joint-lecture tour on world peace with Huxley—his participation in which was cut short by a broken arm—he settled in Southern California by early 1938. This was to be his home base from then on. There he worked with the Society of Friends and the Pacific Coast Institute of International Affairs. In the summer of 1941 he directed the Conference on Spiritual Life at La Verne College, east of Los Angeles.


Swami Prabhavananda
(courtesy Vedanta Society of Southern California)

But it was in Hollywood where, in 1939, Heard met the aforementioned Swami Prabhavananda, founder of the Vedanta Society of Southern California, and began, under his guidance, the study and practice of Vedanta, which was to give him his final philosophical frame of reference. Referring to Heard’s popularizing influence of Vedanta on Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, and other Western notables, mystery writer Ellery Queen wrote, "Gerald Heard is the spiritual godfather of this Western movement."


Prepared by his conclusions regarding a self-existent consciousness that might operate outside time and space and would therefore be without beginning or end, he began accepting the Vedantic definition of Reality as being that which never changes or ceases to exist. He also accepted that the nature of this Reality is essentially a mystery. That is, it cannot be understood through or grasped by rational processes; it can only be known through an immediate experience. He accepted further that this Reality was the first cause, the source of all the diversity that we seem to apprehend through the five senses, and which, pervading the diversity and containing it in itself, could be experienced. In addition, he accepted the idea that this reality had been experienced by others, and that to experience it was the sole purpose of a human existence.

This self-perpetuating cycle of bondage to greed and the passions goes on and on, life after life according to Vedanta theory, until the ego becomes weary of it and longs to be free. Freedom is accomplished by a threefold practice: (1) discrimination between the Real (as defined above) and the unreal; (2) detachment from the unreal; and (3) devotion to the Real. Persistence in this practice of “paying attention” will at last destroy the five processes of bondage (ignorance, attachment, aversion, clinging to life, fear of death), and Reality will be experienced. This is of necessity a severely compressed rendition of Heard’s “minimum-working hypothesis,” but it has been attempted in the hope that it will interest others in reading the works of this remarkable and neglected thinker.

Gerald Heard was often dismissed as a "mystic" by a press that at the same time could not but admit the originality of his thinking, implying thereby that here was a brilliant mind that had somehow gotten off on a wrong tack and ended up with a cosmology and ethic that, although commendable in their idealism, were not only deviations from the presently accepted concept and code, but were highly impractical and thus inapplicable in the world of today. However, the true mystic does in the inner world of mind and consciousness what the scientist does in the outer world of matter, energy, light, time-space, and causation.

First of all, they both gather data—leaving out none of the data even though some may prove to be an embarrassment to established theories—from which they form a hypothesis. Then they experiment in an effort to demonstrate their hypothesis. The scientist, if he or she succeeds, produces a repeatable result. The mystic, if he or she is successful, has an immediate experience that is irrefutable and repeatable. In this sense of the word, Gerald Heard was a mystic. At the same time he always maintained that science and mysticism are not in opposition but are complementary pursuits of the human mind that are indispensable for a cohesive and thus a viable society. In other words, physics and psychology must advance side by side.

This, then, was the man of "daring theory" about whom Christopher Isherwood wrote. And he was indeed a man of “devoted practice,” for when he had gathered together sufficient data to form what he called, “the most meaningful hypothesis” as to meaning, method, and training, Heard dedicated himself from then on to a life of discrimination, detachment, and devotion.


The Trabuco shrine


A long-cherished dream of Heard’s had been to establish a place where the study of comparative religion, together with research into and practice of the techniques of meditation and prayer as taught by the major religions of the world, might be carried on. In 1941 Heard put the larger part of his personal financial resources from his inheritance into building and endowing Trabuco College, completed by builder Felix Greene in 1942 as envisioned by Heard. It consisted of a large complex of Mediterranean-style buildings situated in the middle of some 300 acres, about 75 miles south of Los Angeles near the then-remote and small community of Trabuco Canyon.

For the next five years, from one to two dozen revolving students meditated three times daily, studied, performed many chores, worked in the garden, prepared and ate vegetarian meals, and listened to lectures on religious life.1 Heard penned several books during his time in residence. Aldous Huxley and others lectured there on occasion. 1949's Prayers and Meditations, with contributions by Heard, Huxley, and others, was one book that was a direct outcome of the Trabuco experiment.

Heard and Huxley at Trabuco College,
ourtesy Vicki Zahn)

However, the paucity of people, particularly the young and able-bodied, who were sufficiently interested in the experiment to endure the life of isolation and rigorous self-discipline, made it increasingly impossible simply to maintain the building and immediate grounds, let alone spend any appreciable amount of time in pursuit of an interior life. Thirty years ahead of its time, the Trabuco College experiment was finally discontinued in 1947.

The facility was made available for several projects during the next two years. None of these ventures, however, measured up to what Heard felt was the raison d’etre of Trabuco's having been originally established. Consequently, and at his specific request, in 1949 the facilities and property were turned over to The Vedanta Society of Southern California, and subsequently became the Ramakrishna Monastery.

Along with Swami Prabhavananda, Heard co-edited the Vedanta Society’s journal, Voice of India (later Vedanta and the West) from 1939 to 1941 and contributed many articles to it over the years. He later served as an editorial advisor to the journal from 1951 to 1962. The 1940s, his most productive decade of writing, saw no fewer than 18 books published. His creative output, seemingly inexhaustible, resulted in essays, articles, short stories, introductions, and epilogues appearing in a variety of publications. In addition to his non-fiction writing, Heard authored several mysteries and supernatural fantasies under the pen name H. F. Heard, including Reply Paid, The Notched Hairpin, and Doppelgangers. His best-selling 1941 novel A Taste for Honey, praised by Christopher Morley, Rex Stout, and Boris Karloff, was loosely adapted into a movie, 1967’s The Deadly Bees, the first in the killer-bees genre. (Karloff played Mr. Mycroft in the ABC TV adaptation of A Taste for Honey, which aired on February 22, 1955.) His 1947 whodunit, "The President of the United States, Detective" won first prize in the second-annual Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine short-story contest. Translations of Heard’s works have appeared in French, German, Japanese, and Spanish-language editions.

For the remaining fifteen years of his active life Heard spent his time and energy in writing, lecturing, research, travel, and making numerous radio and television appearances. "Vacations!" he decried, "Who has time for a vacation? I suffer from an insatiable curiosity: the Universe is my hobby." His bearded face, ready wit, and sonorous voice were a familiar sight and sound on television screens in the 1950s as he addressed himself to such diverse subjects as history, literature, and mental health. He moderated an eight-part series, Focus on Sanity, which appeared on CBS television in 1957.

      Gerald Heard, Christopher Isherwood, Sir Julian Huxley,

        Aldous Huxley, and Linus Pauling, Los Angeles, 1960.2


He lectured at most of the major colleges and universities in the United States, including Harvard, Cornell, Princeton, the Universities of California at Los Angeles and Berkeley, the University of Southern California, Mills College, Rockford, and Wabash. At Colgate Rochester Divinity School he delivered the Ayer Foundation Lectures that would become 1946’s The Eternal Gospel. At the Oberlin Graduate School of Theology he was the Haskell Foundation lecturer in 1958. He spoke at religious venues as diverse as the Vedanta Society of Southern California, the First Congregational Church in Akron, Ohio, Temple Sinai in Beverly Hills, and the Soto Zen Temple in Honolulu. Nearly two hundred and fifty recordings exist of his lectures during these fruitful years.

At the invitation of Professor Huston Smith, Heard spent two years (1951-1952) in St. Louis as visiting lecturer in philosophy at Washington University on a fellowship from the Danforth Foundation. Out of these lectures came his penultimate major work, The Human Venture. He received a two-year fellowship grant from the Bollingen Foundation (1955-1956) under the auspices of Washington University's Department of Philosophy. This enabled him to undertake the research that resulted in 1964’s The Five Ages of Man, of which Robert R. Kirsch, literary critic of the Los Angeles Times reviewed as, "…the most important work to date of this challenging and brilliant philosopher, a volume which in scope and daring might be the Novum Organum of the twentieth century."

Late in the 1950s Heard made five narrative record albums. But he still had one recording project in mind, a contemporary interpretation of the Bardo Thodol—The Tibetan Book of the Dead—which provides a rites of passage for the dying. He had tried to interest both Aldous Huxley and Igor Stravinsky in performing it, but neither of them ever became sufficiently interested, although Huxley did use versions of some parts of it in Time Must Have a Stop and in his last novel Island. So during a three-month stay in Hawaii in the late fall and early winter of 1960, Heard wrote the script for his final recording, Re-birth, which was produced in 1961.

Despite leading such a busy life, he maintained the regular schedule of meditation, lasting six hours daily for many years,3 which he had begun years before it had become fashionable. Heard wanted nothing more than to attain spiritual liberation. And although his personal lifestyle was abstemious to the point of being monastic—he was celibate by choice for the latter several decades of his life—his rule of thumb for moving about in the world of people and things without being offensive or a nuisance, echoed the advice of his favorite saint, François de Sales, "Ask for nothing, refuse nothing."

During these later years he was constantly besieged by people, most of them young, seeking answers to problems mostly in the "What’s-it-all-about?" category. His innate humility and self-abnegating manner precluded him from ever regarding himself as a teacher, but at the same time he felt a strong responsibility to tell those who sought him out what he believed. He would try to interest them in living what he called an "intentional life," a way of life based on the cosmology, with the ethic and practice that could be deduced from it, which is outlined in Training for the Life of the Spirit. If this proved too much for them, he would then encourage them to look into psychical research. With hope, the person might become intrigued enough by this investigation into the nature of consciousness (as had Heard himself in his early years) to move on to an interest in the nature of their own consciousness and begin asking themselves the three essential questions, "Where am I? What am I? Who am I?" with which Heard had dealt in 1955's The Human Venture.

On February 5, 1966, Gerald Heard suffered the first in a series of 32 strokes that left him increasingly incapacitated. After several years of a slow decline, Heard succumbed peacefully on August 14, 1971 at his home in Santa Monica, California, at the age of 81. The gallantry and courage with which he faced an increasingly cruel ordeal during these years was nothing short of heroic. His many years of inner discipline gave him not only fortitude but serenity and a cheerful acceptance.

Most people, at first encounter, were drawn to Gerald Heard by an elusive but compelling attraction that he exerted, quite unconsciously, and by which even he was continually and genuinely puzzled. When asked after his passing what one word best described him, his personal physician instantly replied, "Magnetism. Even when he was old, speechless, and at the point of death, he still had that magic 'something' which drew one to him." The fullness of his scholarly and learned mind pouring out in scintillating talk, coupled with his personal charisma, made Heard a fascinating man. Sophisticated and fashionable when the occasion demanded, he could, at his ease, be boisterous and untidy. His comments on his favorite composers, which included Monteverdi, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms, would be as razor-sharp and incisive as his discourse on metaphysics. But always he was gracious, humble, and sympathetic, with an almost saintly capacity for patience. When listening to the seemingly endless self-preoccupations of others who sought him out, he would say with heartfelt empathy about their plight, "If I don’t listen who will?"

With Henry R. Luce... 

...and Clare Boothe Luce, summer 1962

It is small wonder, then, that with his many gifts, his Irish charm, and his sweet and gentle nature, his friends and admirers were legion and varied: businessmen and actors, musicians and scientists, college professors and novelists, theologians and zoologists, art critics and astronomers, poets and psychiatrists. They included Henry and Clare Boothe Luce, Igor and Vera Stravinsky, Robert Craft, Steve Allen, Edwin Hubble, Swami Prabhavananda, Dave Brubeck, Nancy Wilson Ross, Mary Wigman, Malcolm Sargent, Fr. John Courtney Murray, E. M. Forster, Dr. Sidney Cohen, Morris Graves, Ethel Barrymore, Roger Fry, John Gielgud, W. Somerset Maugham, David Kahn, John Van Druten, Bill Wilson, Kenneth Clark, Rev. Edmund Opitz, Rev. Roy Burkhart, and John Betjeman.

With Igor and Vera Stravinsky, Hollywood, 1961

With Nancy Wilson Ross, New York, 1962

This recital of well-known names may seem uncalled for, particularly in connection with Gerald Heard, who was himself so lacking in aspiration to fame. But one makes no apology. There seems to be no better, certainly no more apt way of illustrating the universal appeal of not only Heard the man, but also of his ideas. What he had to say made sense to a host of people tremendously varied in their temperaments, nationalities, education, cultural backgrounds, and life work.

Gerald Heard was a pioneer and a catalyst. His groundbreaking early philosophical works interpreted history in the context of mankind's evolving consciousness. His innovative cosmological schema depicted mankind’s evolutionary purpose as fundamentally spiritual and teleologically oriented; it incorporated data from disciplines as seemingly diverse as anthropology, archeology, astronomy, biology, ethics, history, mysticism, mythology, paleontology, physics, physiology, psychology, religion, and sociology into a unified whole. His 1950 book, Is Another World Watching? - The Riddle of the Flying Saucers, among the first full-length works on UFOs, was completed in three weeks. In the early-to-mid 1950s, along with Aldous Huxley, he helped pioneer serious, clinical investigations into accelerating spiritual growth and promoting social sanity. His ideas on sexuality, viewed as a force that could be harnessed for spiritual evolution as outlined in 1939's Pain, Sex and Time, and his theories on homosexuality as an evolutionary, spiritual phenomenon, were maverick. Trabuco College was the first coeducational, spiritual community in America to incorporate ecumenical, non-sectarian religious principles and practices. Preferring anonymity to the limelight, Heard was a behind-the-scenes inspiration and catalyst who spurred many individuals to pivotal accomplishments in their particular field of endeavor. And, as
Nigel Burwood of Any Amount of Books succinctly penned in 2006, "Heard is sometimes championed as the first hippie on earth. He was known to affect long hair and denim and espouse mystical ideas in the 1930's."


Because he was so far ahead of his time, Heard’s appeal was limited to those who were open-minded enough to recognize that he thought in terms of fundamental and timeless principles that have been and will continue to be applicable to all ages and in all societies. The threat that he recognized in the first half of the twentieth century—of a technology that would, in its development, outpace psychological growth—has materialized. Yet, still we have no idea who we are. We have no idea as to why we are in a human body. We have no idea of what our relationship to each other really is. Lastly, we still have no idea as to the nature of our universe or of the Life Force that permeates and holds it in itself.

Mankind's prevalent cosmology is and has been for several hundred years, since the time of Copernicus and later Newton, increasingly scientifically and technologically oriented, with infinite progress and growth as its goals. And this orientation has increased exponentially since the advent of electronics, printed circuitry, miniaturization, and artificial intelligence. Yet this cosmology, man’s frame of reference, is hopelessly out of date. His behavior has no sanction other than self-interest. He has a tiger by the tail.

So the arguments for living a life of the spirit are as pervasive today as they were when Heard first wrote them down in the 1940s. Indeed, they are more than pervasive. We are now in the mess he then foresaw. Is there a way out? "Turn within!" Heard would repeat today. There, in the mind, or rather what lies beyond the mind, is to be found That, "by knowing which all things are known," as it is said in the Upanishads. It is now our one hope of finding a spiritual-psychological unifying field theory, as it were, an integrating force-principle that can stop the headlong rush to complete communication breakdown and total societal disorganization. Strong words? Perhaps. In Heard’s day there were still a few options. But there an alternative?


Jay Michael Barrie (1912-2001) served as Gerald Heard's personal secretary, business manager and editor, associated with Heard from their meeting in December 1944 until Heard's death in August 1971.


At right: Gerald Heard and Jay Michael Barrie,

Laguna Beach, California, June 1945

(undetermined photographer - probably

Christopher Wood)



Primary Sources:

  1. The present work consolidates excerpts from "Some Reminiscences of Gerald Heard" by Jay Michael Barrie, published in Parapsychology Review, Vol. 3, No. 3, May-June 1972, Copyright 1972 Parapsychology Foundation, Inc., along with the “Introduction” to the 1975 edition of Training for the Life of the Spirit by Jay Michael Barrie, published by East Ridge Press, Copyright 1975 The Barrie Family Trust. Excerpts from "Some Reminiscences of Gerald Heard" by Jay Michael Barrie used by kind permission of the Parapsychology Foundation, Inc.

  2. Supplementary information—primarily from the Heard Family genealogy prepared by Stawell St. Leger Heard, Gerald Heard publicity materials, and from testimony by Jay Michael Barrie—and textual revisions and emendations by John Roger Barrie, Copyright 2002 The Barrie Family Trust.

Many thanks to Stawell Heard Jr. and to Marvin Barrett for reading and offering their indispensable comments on the entire text. Equal thanks to Stawell St. Leger Heard who read and commented upon the section on Gerald Heard’s genealogy; to Dr. Rhodri Hayward of the University College, London, who read and commented upon the section on Gerald Heard’s 1920s to 1930s activities; and to Kate Targett, formerly of the Plunkett Foundation, who read and commented upon the section on Sir Horace Plunkett. Their valuable suggestions enormously benefited the text.

1 Personal reminiscence by Trabuco College student Marvin Barrett, 2002.

2 "Gerald Heard, Christopher Isherwood, Sir Julian Huxley, Aldous Huxley, and Linus Pauling, Los Angeles, 1960." Photo by Ralph Crane of TimePix. Reproduced under license from TimePix.

3 Personal reminiscence by Marvin Barrett, 2002.

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