Gerald Heard

Gerald Heard

Anglo­American essayist and intellectual

Born in London on October 6, 1889, Henry FitzGerald "Gerald" Heard lived a life that would take many fascinating and fateful turns. Heard spent his university years at Cambridge University's Gonville and Caius College. There, in 1911, he took a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in history.

Following Cambridge, Heard worked for Lord Robson of Jesmond, then Sir Horace Plunkett, founder of the influential Irish agricultural cooperative movement. Heard published his first book, Narcissus, in 1924, which advanced the revolutionary idea that fashion and architecture provide clues to the evolutionary stages of mankind. In 1929 he produced his second book, The Ascent of Humanity, a brilliant, groundbreaking essay on the philosophy of history that was awarded the British Academy's prestigious Hertz Prize.

Heard began his career as a public speaker in 1926, lecturing for three years under the auspices of Oxford University. In 1929 he became literary editor of The Realist, a short-lived but significant monthly journal of scientific humanism. There he worked with a distinguished editorial board that included Aldous Huxley, Julian Huxley, and H.G. Wells. Pacifists Heard and Aldous Huxley, associated with the Peace Movement, gave lectures in England in support of their cause during the mid-1930s.

Gerald Heard arrived in New York City in April 1937 on the S.S. Normandie, accompanied by Aldous Huxley. He traveled throughout the United States, taught for a term at Duke University, and embarked on a lecture tour with Huxley before settling in southern California in early 1938. The next year he met Swami Prabhavananda, founder of the Vedanta Society of Southern California. Heard subsequently introduced the ecumenical Vedanta philosophy to Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, and other Western notables, which prompted mystery writer Ellery Queen to write, "Gerald Heard is the spiritual godfather of this Western movement."

It is said that Aldous Huxley went to a few Ouspensky meetings in London. Eventually Huxley settled for Gerald Heard who draws heavily on Eastern philosophy. In Huxley we may find a symptom of a desperate tendency to turn in our crisis to ideas and teachings that stand outside the stream of Western culture. Orage, Ouspensky and Gurdjieff painted a crisis-picture - in one part as black as any school of Western pessimism, in another part so bright as early Christianity. In this balance-by-contrast of the dark and the light is a principal reason for their appeal to moderns.
In 1941 Heard put the larger part of his personal financial resources into building and endowing the pioneering Trabuco College, which advanced comparative-religious studies and practices. Directed by Heard, and 30 years ahead of its time, Trabuco College was discontinued in 1947 and later donated to the Vedanta Society of Southern California. In addition to writing essays, articles, and short stories, Heard published an astonishing 18 books during the 1940s.

In the 1950s, along with his friend Aldous Huxley, Heard also became one of the first to explore the spiritual potentials of LSD and for many years served as a spiritual guide to people who began experimenting with it. He introduced LSD to psychiatrist Oscar Janiger, who pioneered LSD research in the United States and introduced the drug into the Hollywood community. Heard was instrumental in introducing LSD to a number of intellectuals including philosopher William Ernest Hocking and Jesuit scholar John Courtney Murray.

Heard came to believe that consciousness interacted with reality to create our map of reality. LSD was a means of making us conscious of that process and then reconstructing the map (or maps) we used to put together our worldview, an idea later championed by Timothy Leary. Heard also came to identify the Greek god Pan as the symbol of the new world of consciousness into which humanity was entering.

Heard left behind a vast literature exploring his many interests. Many who have encountered his work on a single subject are quite unaware of the vast spectrum of his contributions.