Chapter on Freedom and Fourth of July

Here is an excerpt from the novel about freedom vis-a-vis the Fourth of July:

July 4

My mini-manifesto for today, The Employees’ Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all employees are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And, that inherent in this liberty is the right to work in an environment free of suffocating control and micro-management!!” – Toni Kelly

          Every year, on the Fourth of July, Simon and I head away from the beaches and the maddening crowds toward Saddleback Mountain to a little gem of a place in Trabuco Canyon: The Vedanta Society of Southern California’s monastery. It’s nestled in the most beautiful back-country, where the branches of enormous, live oak trees fan out over the narrow, twisting roads. These magnificent trees make this area look nothing like the desert and everything like what I would imagine Madison County, Iowa looks like.

This monastery has been a branch of the Ramakrishna Order of India since 1949. Every July 4th, the monks-in-residence honor Swami Vivekananda, who as we learned today, held freedom of all kind in very high esteem – so much so that at age 39 in 1902, he consciously left his body and departed the Earth plane on July 4th.

While he was still alive, he spoke frequently about freedom from all sorts of bondage – emotional, mental, and physical. He even wrote a poem in 1898, in homage to the 4th of July, which one of the monks read aloud today, entitled appropriately, To the Fourth of July:

Behold, the dark clouds melt away,
That gathered thick at night, and hung
So like a gloomy pall above the earth!
Before thy magic touch, the world
Awakes. The birds in chorus sing.
The flowers raise their star-like crowns-
Dew-set, and wave thee welcome fair.
The lakes are opening wide in love
Their hundred thousand lotus-eyes
To welcome thee, with all their depth.
All hail to thee, thou Lord of Light!
A welcome new to thee, today,
O sun! today thou sheddest LIBERTY!
Bethink thee how the world did wait,
And search for thee, through time and clime.
Some gave up home and love of friends,
And went in quest of thee, self-banished,
Through dreary oceans, through primeval forests,
Each step a struggle for their life or death;
Then came the day when work bore fruit,
And worship, love, and sacrifice,
Fulfilled, accepted, and complete.
Then thou, propitious, rose to shed
The light of FREEDOM on mankind.
Move on, O Lord, on thy resistless path!
Till thy high noon o’erspreads the world.
Till every land reflects thy light,
Till men and women, with uplifted head,
Behold their shackles broken, and
Know, in springing joy, their life renewed
!

What a great way to celebrate freedom, both in the secular and spiritual sense, at the same time in the same place! How awesome that this monastery has existed right here in good ‘ole OC since 1949. Even more interesting, which I learned from one of the society’s brochures, is that the monastery began as Trabuco College, founded by Englishman Gerald Heard in 1939. This writer and philosopher wanted to create a religious institution devoted to the study and practice of the contemplative life. Although Heard was originally attracted to Christian mysticism, he began studying the Vedanta philosophy under the guidance of Swami Prabhavananda, founder of the Vedanta society of Southern California, and was ultimately initiated by him. When the college closed due to financial problems in 1947, Heard offered the building and 300 acres of land to the society.

And, the philosophy of Vedanta is so similar to the spiritual philosophy I subscribe to, a branch of New Thought propagated by Ernest Holmes. This is how the Vedanta Society brochure explains Vedanta:

“Vedanta teaches that man’s real nature is divine, that the true object of human life is to unfold and manifest this divinity, and that truth is universal. Vedanta accepts all the religions of the world and reveres the great prophets, teachers and sons of god, because it recognizes the same divine inspiration in all.” Amen and hallelujah!

And, the monks at this monastery are beyond generous. In between two lectures today, there is one of the most abundant offerings of a free lunch that I have ever witnessed. The monks and staff prepare a vegetarian lunch to serve about 500 people. And, the desserts? Enough to line two longs tables in the library. Someone at the monastery must just walk down the dessert aisle at Ralph’s and grab one of everything. Plus, there are homemade desserts as well. This year, someone made a beautiful mango cake that resembled a work of art.

So, Simon and I come here each year to feed our souls and our bellies on the Fourth of July and revel in our blessings, which are almost too many to count. We live in one of the most beautiful areas in the country; there is a lot of religious and spiritual diversity here (despite the over-arching presence of Saddleback Church and its leader Rick Warren); we can go to a monastery on the Fourth of July and be reminded of universal spiritual truths that the great swamis of India have imparted for millennia; and then we can go to almost any park or beach in the area for a more traditional, American Fourth of July celebration.

So, later this evening, we went to a community center in Laguna Hills, where they’d had a Fourth of July celebration going all afternoon, and listened to the live band and enjoyed the dynamic fireworks.

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