Los Angeles has always been a kind of Mecca for the rest of the country. People have been coming west for centuries in pursuit of their dreams, whether they were gold miners, Hollywood hopefuls or spiritual seekers. We’ve heard a lot more about the gold rushers, then and now, but it is the spiritual teachers who have made an indelible mark on the world.
According to James Lovelock, the scientist who formulated the Gaia Hypothesis, the entire planet is a unified, living, breathing organism: the rainforests could be thought of as lungs, and the atmosphere a circulatory system. And, according to philosopher Peter Russell, the human race might be thought of as the brain of the operation, each one of us a single cell in that brain.
Because Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world and is constantly broadcasting ideas and information across the entire “global brain,” it possesses tremendous potential for helping us, as a race, to unify and become harmonious and constructive rather than discordant and destructive. Perhaps this is why, historically, so many pioneers of consciousness have, at one time or another, set up camp here. (And why we have heard of them!) Quite possibly they were drawn, consciously or unconsciously, by the idea-amplifying power that characterizes the city.
Below are just a few of the countless consciousness-raisers who have graced our city by setting up residence here.
Yogi Bhajan 1929-2004
Originally from: India
Came to Los Angeles: 1968
Definitive Quote: “You should make yourself happy, that by looking at you, other people become happy.”
Yogi Bhajan, the ambassador of kundalini yoga to the west, first shared his teachings with members of the ‘60s drug culture. He believed that many who were seeking spirituality and transcendence through drugs would prefer to reach those aims more holistically, through breath, yoga and meditation.
In a uniquely L.A. turn of events, one of his students was Johnny Rivers, who owned the record label to which the 5th Dimension was signed when they recorded “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” from the hit musical Hair. It went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six weeks and helped to inspire Yogi Bhujan to incorporate the concept of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius into his teachings. He predicted that this dawning would occur in 2012.
During his lifetime, Yogi Bhajan authored more than 30 books, and for those who enjoy Yogi Tea, the quotes on the tea bags are his. His teachings live on (via his students) throughout the city, most prominently at Yoga West in Beverly Hills and Golden Bridge Yoga in Hollywood.
Z Budapest 1940-
Originally from: Hungary
Came to Los Angeles: 1970
Definitive Quote: “The goddess is alive and magic is afoot!”
Feminist and pioneer of goddess spirituality, Z Budapest was arrested in 1974 for reading tarot cards in her candle and metaphysical shop in Venice. Her nine-year court battle, during which she argued that tarot reading was an important and viable healing art, concluded with an acquittal and the debunking of California’s anti-fortune telling laws. To raise public awareness about her case, she appeared on The Tonight Show to discuss the situation with Johnny Carson.
Z Budapest has written and published more than 10 books on feminist spirituality. Though she now lives in Oakland, she still periodically teaches and presents in Southern California at the Goddess Temple in Orange County. And, her legacy continues to live on in Los Angeles wherever tarot cards are read professionally and in the local chapter of Take Back the Night (an annual march and rally against rape and violence), which she originally founded.
Anaïs Nin 1903-1977
Originally from: France
Came to Los Angeles: 1955
Definitive Quote: “People living deeply have no fear of death.”
Famous for her journals and erotica as well as her high-profile affairs and friendships, Anaïs Nin was a proponent of living and loving as deeply and fully as possible, and her books and stories continue to rank among the best-loved and recommended when it comes to inspiring sexual pleasure, adventure and liberation. Her writings link love and sexuality to joy, courageous living, spiritual awakening, self-expression and personal freedom.
Louise Hay 1926-
Originally from: Los Angeles
Came (back) to Los Angeles: 1980
Definitive Quote: “Love is the great miracle cure. Loving ourselves works miracles in our lives.”
With her bestselling book, You Can Heal Your Life, Louise Hay helped to popularize the idea that our thoughts and feelings create our reality. She was instrumental in the subsequent flourishing of the holistic wellness industry, as her work has helped integrate into the mainstream the idea that our thoughts and feelings underlie and define our degree of physical health. She was also an early AIDS activist in West Hollywood and helped host the first fundraiser for Project Angel Food, a nonprofit that delivers food to HIV/AIDS patients, as well as patients with other illnesses.
Her enormous, ongoing contribution to contemporary self-help literature is massive: the publishing house she founded to publish her first book, Hay House, is among the most successful in the genre, publishing such authors as Doreen Virtue, Wayne Dyer, Christiane Northrup, and Esther and Jerry Hicks.
Marianne Williamson 1952-
Originally from: Houston, TX
Came to Los Angeles: 1983
Definitive Quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.”
Marianne Williamson is a best-selling author and a Unitarian minister. Her message is tradition-inclusive and is grounded in the teachings of the Course in Miracles. In Los Angeles she founded Project Angel Food, and is also the founder of The Department of Peace Campaign, an organization working to establish a U.S. Department of Peace.
Manley Palmer Hall 1901-1990
Originally from: Ontario, Canada
Definitive Quote: “The way of heaven can be known and experienced through the heart.”
The author of more than 150 books and essays about metaphysics and the occult, Hall began his consciousness-raising career in Santa Monica at the age of 20 with a speech about reincarnation. His legacy continues to live on in Los Angeles with the Philosophical Research Society (PRS), which he founded in 1934.
Originally from: India
Came to Los Angeles: 1925
Definitive Quote: “Success should be measured by the yardstick of happiness; by your ability to remain in peaceful harmony with cosmic laws.”
If you’ve ever been to the Lake Shrine or Self Realization Fellowship, you’ve experienced a part of Yogananda’s invaluable spiritual contributions to Los Angeles and the world. He wrote numerous books, including the spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi. His role in helping to bring about the present spiritual renaissance can’t be overemphasized: in fact, he’s often credited with initiating the popularization of meditation in the West.
Edwin Dingle/Dingle Le Mei
Originally from: England
Came to Los Angeles: 1927
Definitive quote: “Through the individual lies the way to spiritual rebirth of every nation and positive peace throughout the world.”
Dingle Le Mei had a publishing empire in Hong Kong in the early 1900s, and while on a mapping expedition, walked across China into Tibet, where he was greeted by monks who reportedly said, “What took you so long?” Enraptured with the new thought and practices he encountered in Tibet, he established the Institute of Mentalphysics, a blend of Christian and Eastern thought, in Los Angeles in 1927. It was one of the earliest introductions of some of the tenets of Buddhism to the West. He later established a teaching and retreat center on 420 acres in the high desert of Joshua Tree (complete with Frank Lloyd Wright designed architecture) that currently operates as the broadly ecumenical Joshua Tree Retreat Center for many different paths of spiritual thought.