American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation How Indian Spirituality Changed the West by Philip Goldberg; published by Harmony Books, an imprint of Crown Publ. Group, Nov. 2, 2010, $26.00, 416 pp. Foreword by Huston Smith.
Chapter 3, Section: The Madame and the Mahatmas, pp. 30-32, gives a fair approximation of Blavatsky’s life (except for the sentence: “When her second husband died she left her homeland for good”), stressing her contribution to the Western understanding of Eastern thought.
She died in 1891, a controversial figure considered by some to be a spiritual genius and even a saint, and by others to be a charlatan or a self-deluded poseur. The hundreds of books written about her have not settled the argument, but there is no doubting her impact. “Blavatsky played a significant role in wedding Western esotericism and Eastern religious traditions and in popularizing such concepts as maya, karma, and meditation,” says scholar of religion Harry Oldmeadow.
The chapter then goes on to discuss two individuals whom the author feels were influenced by Theosophy: M. Gandhi and J. Krishnamurti. The rest of the book is a fairly straightforward retelling of the impact of Indian thought on and through a select group of Americans (to say, “on American culture,” would be an overstatement). Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Eddy, Blavatsky, New Thought, Vivekananda, Yogananda, the Beats, the Beatles, Muktananda, Bhaktivedanta, Iyengar, Satchidananda, Deepak Chopra, and others are just some of the names the reader will come across. Since this is a book meant for a mass audience, it lacks the in-depth apparatus that one would find in the works of Diana Eek, Carl Jackson (whose 1981 The Oriental Religions and American Thought: Nineteenth-Century Explorations remains an excellent resource), Thomas Tweed’s similar work on Buddhism in America, and that of Robert Ellwood. The book is blessed by the addition of a selection of photographs of some of the people mentioned, an adequate portrayal of the level of celebrity that Eastern spiritual teachers have attained.