Christopher Isherwood

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Author of The Berlin Stories, which inspired the musical Cabaret, Christopher Isherwood also wrote a series of books resulting from his decades-long involvement with the U.S.-based Vedanta sect affiliated with Swami Vivekananda, who introduced yoga to the West in 1893. Born in England in 1904, Isherwood moved in 1939 to Los Angeles, where he was introduced to Swami Prabhavananda, head of the Vedanta Society. Devoutly anti-religion (the word "made me wince and grit my teeth with loathing"), Isherwood nonetheless took to the Vedanta philosophy. Vedanta Press later published Isherwood-Prabhavananda translations of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra (How to Know God, 1953) and the Bhagavad Gita (The Song of God, 1944), as well as Isherwood's Ramakrishna and His Disciples (1965). After the swami's death in 1976, Isherwood wrote a candid, touching account of their relationship, My Guru and His Disciple (North Point, 1996). In a sense his life's work—he died in 1986, having written 20 books—followed from his early adoption of a witnessing self, as in his famous quote, "I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking." Intent on seeing the real, both within and without, he helped countless others do the same.