Among the memorial tributes to the reclusive author J.D. Salinger, who died January 27, was one hailing him as a "noble soul" who was a "sincere and devoted spiritual seeker." That perspective was offered by the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York, which posted on its Web site four letters written by the late author to leaders of the center. The letters, dated between 1967 and 1975, attest to Salinger's familiarity with meditation and with the teachings of Vedanta, a theology drawn from the Vedas, Hinduism's oldest scriptures. "I read a bit from the [Bhagavad] Gita every morning," Salinger wrote in a 1975 letter.
"We thought these letters revealed a little bit about his spiritual nature," said a man at the center who asked not to be identified. "He did have a longstanding relationship with the center, and the letters somewhat speak for themselves." Salinger's familiarity with Sri Ramakrishna and the Bhagavad Gita is clear in Franny and Zooey (1961), which quotes from both texts in telling the story of Franny, whose emotional crisis manifests itself in the obsessive repetition of the Jesus Prayer as a kind of mantra. References to Zen Buddhism can be found in Salinger's later work; it was the subject of a 1977 monograph Zen in the Art of J.D. Salinger by Gerald Rosen. Salinger's varied religious interests also were described in his daughter Margaret's 2000 memoir, Dream Catcher.
Jewish Lights publisher Stuart Matlins, whose imprint SkyLight Paths publishes material from the New York center, told RBL, "We were fascinated to see the connection between the two. Looking at Salinger's work after Catcher in the Rye, one can certainly see the influences of Eastern religions." Could be cosmic coincidence: Matlins's publishing house is in Woodstock, Vt., not far from Salinger's New Hampshire home.