Christopher Isherwood is a multifaceted character. Our interest focuses on his work as a contributor to the Vedanta literary heritage. We offer the following by way of background and hope to add to the biographical and critical information presented. 

(Pictured: Swami Prabhavananda, Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, at the Vedanta Society, Hollywood. Photo courtesy of the Vedanta Archives)

FREE VIDEO STREAM:  Rare  30 minute (approx) full color Christopher Isherwood interview from 1974, with the writer in Los Angeles talking about the film version of Cabaret and other topics. James Day interviews. Day's video interviews have recently been restored. Very good picture quality. 



The following is from Jeffery Paine's wonderful Father India: Westerners Under the Spell of an Ancient Culture:

Isherwood is a good study for students of twentieth-century religion. He ranted against "sin-obsessed, life-denying" Protestantism but using easy, ready-made formulas, as though not his own but his generation's biases were speaking through him. When he damned it to hell, he merely repeated the objections to religion as his era defined religion. And what exactly were those definitions of and objections to religion? Like some, Isherwood protested the idea of God, a Boss in heaven, which then made him a junior employee in a firm doing questionable business. Like Marx, he denounced the social uses religion served, allowing the exploiters to have a good conscience and the exploited to acquiesce in their bad lot. Like D. H. Lawrence, he faulted the religious prohibitions against wholesome desires. But Isherwood's chief complaint was that religion required you to believe in far-fetched dogmas unrelated to experience. Isherwood never bothered to wonder if all religion was like his caricature of it or whether a faith without sin, dogmas, or even God might be possible. When Isherwood disembarked in New York that cold winter's morning [in 193?], had anyone then suggested that in America he would acquire an Indian guru and become a religious devotee, surely he would have laughed: he was a novelist, and not even he wrote fiction that implausible.

The critic Edmund Wilson once proposed an experiment. Wilson observed that religious words like God had been worn down to near meaninglessness and so proposed obliterating them and seeing what actual experience discovered under their pentimento. Isherwood's life in the New World came close to enacting Wilson's experiment, as a mind that had already dispensed with God got backed into a cul-de-sac from which a spiritual practice was one of the few ways out. Isherwood needed support in a world going up in flames; he required some justification for his embryonic pacifist feelings to counter the pervasive, patriotic war rhetoric. By chance he met a Hindu monk in Los Angeles who refuted most of Isherwood's stereotypes (all negative) of what religion was and supplied him a different vocabulary of faith that a sensual modern like himself could speak. Surprised as he was to have gotten involved with swamis and India, Isherwood tentatively began a spiritual life - one that the fierce preachers and fiery proselytizers of old would not have approved or even recognized - but a spiritual life nonetheless. In regard to religion, Isherwood felt like the awkward guest who arrives during the last hour of a party, knowing no one else there or what's gone on before. Only little by little did he realize he had arrived not during the last but nearer to the first hour, that he was in fact participating in one of the larger religious reinterpretations in history. Something unprecedented was being given birth to, and he was, so to speak, part of the labor pains.


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Recommended Link: if (Isherwood Foundation)