The Vedanta movement, brought to the United States in 1893, attracted many intellectuals in the '40s--notably British lecturer Gerald Heard and writers Christopher Isherwood and Aldous Huxley.
When Heard broke briefly from Vedanta, he and Isherwood's cousin, Felix Greene, bought 300 acres of land above Trabuco Canyon in 1942 and built Trabuco College.
In his autobiographical "My Guru and His Disciple," Isherwood recalled that Heard intended it to be a college in the sense of the Latin word collegium : "a community." Non-sectarian and non-dogmatic, it was to be "a clearinghouse for religious experiences and ideas."
The project was a mixed success. In 1947 Heard turned the college and property over to the Hollywood-based Vedanta Society of Southern California. It has operated it as a monastery ever since. Isherwood and Huxley returned periodically over the remainder of their lives, sometimes staying weeks to write and rest.
"The chores I do here are voluntary and therefore pleasurable--pulling weeds out of the vines or raking the kitchen garden in the blazing sunshine," Isherwood wrote in his diary in May, 1952. "The hot courtyard with the dark-leaved fruit trees has a sort of secret stillness; one feels hidden away, miles from anywhere."
The outside world has now intruded somewhat on the monastery. There have been isolated incidents of vandalism and stolen tools, so now the gates and toolsheds are locked at night. A sign at the gate warns visitors against shooting and riding off-road vehicles.
While builders and conservationists debate the extent of development to take place in the canyon, the monastery's isolation is relatively secure. Of the original 300 acres, 240 were donated to the county for preservation as open space, providing a buffer against development. One 27.7-acre parcel for sale is outside the retreat's front gate, but the monks say they are unconcerned. The hilly plot will be hard to develop, they say, and is at slightly lower elevation than the monastery.
The Vedanta Society of Southern California maintains temples in Hollywood, Santa Barbara and San Diego, along with the Vivekananda House in South Pasadena.
Ramakrishna Monastery, at 19961 Live Oak Canyon Road, is open to visitors daily from 9 to 11 a.m. and 3 to 5 p.m. Public lectures are held Sundays at 4 p.m. except in summer. They resume Sept. 17. A small bookshop specializes in metaphysical and philosophical topics, in addition to works on Vedanta.