Paul Brunton’s influence in Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.
Paul Brunton’s influence in Columbus, Ohio was evident as early as 1947 when a student of his work, Mrs. Margaret Burkley went to Croton-on-Hudson to assist with secretarial work. Later, PB visited his son, Kenneth Hurst, in Dayton, Ohio in 1948, 1950, and 1952. During these visits he also visited students and readers in Columbus. Among these students was the Reverend Dr. Roy Burkhart, minister of the First Community Church. Dr. Burkhart would write later in his book, The Person You Can Be, that he had accepted PB’s offer to be his teacher in the life of the spirit; he called PB one of the radar stars of his life.
Among those who met PB in these early years was Ione Fagan, one of four sisters who became devoted to PB’s works after she had found Discover Yourself at the library. Ione was not associated with First Community Church but happened to be there at a meeting when Dr. Roy Burhkart stopped in and announced that Paul Brunton was coming to Columbus. Ione asked to meet him as she was most interested in his work. Dr. Burkhart arranged a meeting, and Ione met with PB several times on his subsequent visits to Columbus. Her sister, Inez, had also studied at the Yogananda Center in California, but thereafter became an avid student of PB's. Ione began a small study group that included others who studied PB's books, including Jean Wharff, Margaret Burkley, Helen French, and several others. Paul Brunton suggested that the group be exposed to an Indian guru, Dr. R.S. Mishra, a neurosurgeon at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, and subsequently, Dr. Mishra met with this group. Dr. Mishra later founded Ananda Ashram in Monroe, N.Y. and had written a preface to one of PB’s earlier books.
In 1962, Ione introduced two of her young neighbors, Barbara Plaisted and Judy Borders, to PB’s book Discover Yourself, and for a brief time a new study group formed that included Patti Witter. Patti had learned about PB’s books through Dottie French. Barbara and Inez went to Ananda Ashram to meet with Dr. Mishra.
In l964, Barbara Plaisted met Cleta Rudolph in a Yoga class at the YMCA. Barbara began teaching the class at the request of the teacher, Kanwal Kumar. Thereafter, Barbara and Cleta went to Ananda Ashram in N.Y. to meet with Dr. Mishra and to learn more about meditation and related teachings. Cleta began teaching classes also throughout the Central Ohio area, which brought her into contact with many new and old students. In 1968, Linda Baldeck attended a study group at First Community Church where Barbara gave a talk on PB and Meditation. Thereafter Linda and Charles Baldeck began a continuing yoga class with Cleta. In January of 1969 Cleta established the Yoga Study Center of Columbus and continued teaching for over ten years. During these years, Barbara and Cleta continued their Yoga studies while reforming the PB study group (this study group has continued to meet throughout the years).
Barbara, Cleta, and Charlie and Linda Baldeck attended a Yoga Convocation in the summer of 1969, at Painted Post, N.Y. During this Convocation, Cleta and Barbara unexpectedly ran into a yoga student who was studying with “a student of Paul Brunton's.” This was quite a surprise, as they thought only they had such a study group and were not aware that there were active study groups elsewhere. That afternoon they met Anthony (Tony) Damiani at his home in Valois, N.Y.
In the Fall of 1969, Cleta attended a Yoga Retreat in upstate N.Y. and again met with Anthony. She invited him to Columbus to address various Yoga Groups and the PB study group. In 1970 Anthony came to Columbus; he met with Ione Fagan and with the PB study group, and he addressed students in the Yoga classes. He also spoke to a study group at First Community Church.
Margaret Burkley had remained devoted to PB and had met periodically with individuals over the years including Jane Maguire. Mary Ann Flory was introduced to PB’s works through Jane. Jane and Cleta had formed the Yoga Study Services in 1970.
In June, 1970, an open-to-the-public workshop series was held in Columbus at Willowhaven; Anthony gave talks on “The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga” and the “Wisdom of the Overself.” Over the next fifteen years many of the PB study group students visited Anthony in New York in order to meet him and to attend his classes. Anthony broadened the PB study group’s studies, introducing them to the significance of the ancient roots of Astrology, metaphysics, Plotinus, Eastern Philosophy, Carl Jung’s psychological works, and Paul Brunton’s deeper works.
Anthony continued visiting Columbus and meeting with the PB study group two or three times a year over the next fifteen years. Often he brought his son, Paul Damiani, or other students including Avery Solomon, Micha-El [Dr. Alan Berkowitz], and Timothy Smith. In 1975, Barbara Plaisted went to Switzerland to meet with PB. She brought with her a photo of the group and letters from various members.
The PB study group opened a bookstore in a basement room on First Avenue where volunteers sold books, classes met, and Yoga classes were open to the public. They initially named the bookstore Avalokiteshvara, and later the Philosopher’s Stone Bookstore. When PB visited the bookstore in 1977, he suggested to Beverly Bennett and several others that the name needed to be westernized, which was was the motivation for calling it the Philosopher’s Center. The bookstore was in operation several years with help from numerous volunteers/workers including Jan Meeder, Barbara Plaisted, Judy Borders, Linda Baldeck, Judy Strickland, and Maryann Flory. Later the bookstore closed and became a library and meeting room for philosophy students.
In 1977, PB returned to Columbus as part of a larger visit to the U.S. that had Anthony Damiani had scheduled. PB spent two weeks in Columbus, staying at the home of Richard (Red) and Patty Witter and met with students individually as well as in a group.
Later, the Columbus group had the opportunity to work on developing the Christopher Reeves “Discover Yourself” audio tape. Beverly Bennett coordinated these efforts with the New York group. The initial manuscript included material from The Secret Path and Discover Yourself.
The Columbus study group has continued to meet and remains connected to Anthony Damiani’s students and Wisdom’s Goldenrod.
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Contributions by and/or reviewed by Barbara Plaisted, Maryann Flory, Linda Baldeck, Beverly Bennett and Cleta Rudolph. Early historic information was taken from Kenneth Hurst’s book.