Friday, February 21, 2014

John Dobson: Farewell to the sky traveller

John Lowry Dobson 

My old bud John Dobson passed away last month, January 15. 
(Though he was 99-years-old when he left his body, I'm referring to my long-time acquaintance with him). At the time  he left, I resisted writing about him here, because he was not a Skye man. Having thought about it, I have to say he belongs here at Angel on Skye, because John was mist and shimmer, myth and dream, fertile invention--if anyone could build a cloud castle, it was he.

John Dobson was my orb of the night, my loony lunar play-pal, my shooting star--a star-gazer mad and fleary as thistle down. He was a searcher and teacher of physics, with the levity of eider down let loose on the island moors. 

This dancer through life was a joyous gossamer thread to follow. I do rejoice in the memory of his rush from any part of the world to make it to our Hollywood Hills Christmas caroling ventures, in that he chose me for my voice and laughter--arm in arm--we raised our song like hounds at the moon. 

The ladies swooned over John for his loving camaraderie, his great sense of humor, his guitar-plucking, his easy ways which made us all feel like this is the kind of man we want in our lives--our ideal for true marriage of souls...we could say we wanted to marry him and thank goodness he never took us seriously.

John served as a Vedanta monastic in San Francisco and Sacramento, U.S.A., for twenty-three years (1944-67). There, Swami Ashokananda assigned him the task of reconciling Advaita Vedanta and modern physics.

For many years, he visited the Vedanta Society of Southern California--for several months at a stretch. When residing at the Vedanta Society, he presented a series of fascinating cosmology classes, each over a month in length. In his cosmology series, John started out teaching some basic ideas about the universe, the birth, growth and death of stars. Then he turned to the nature of the electron and proton, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and Einstein’s equation for the objective separation of events in 4-dimensional space-time. This led to a discussion of what is behind space-time-matter-energy and how we get from it to this universe that we perceive. His cosmology directly corresponds with the ideas of Advaita Vedanta. John then explained how spiritual practices naturally follow from this cosmology. This brilliant, twinkle-eyed science guru turned me on to physics and I am forever grateful.

Twice while visiting Southern California, he appeared as a guest on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show.

John Dobson is the founder of the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers. His books are: Astronomy for Children Under Eighty (1973); Advaita Vedanta and Modern Science (1979) (republished as Beyond Space and Time); "The Moon Is New": Time Comes In With A Minus Sign; and Plans for Building a Sidewalk Telescope (free download) (1991). John also penned two articles in Prabhuddha Bharata (1985-86) and six in Vedanta Kesari (1988-96). Nearly all of these addresses and writings were on the subject of Vedanta and modern physics, particularly in relation to the scientific cosmology of Albert Einstein.

When in Southern California on a yearly basis, John also presented a class for constructing personal large-size telescopes at a fraction of their normal cost. He has become world famous for helping thousands of people make their own telescopes. Even today, many manufacturers copy his simple and elegant design, which is dubbed “the Dobsonian”. He and many of his students have made it possible for hundreds of thousands of people to view the rest of the universe through a telescope. He felt that it is important for people to start wondering about the nature of this universe, and he said that letting them look through a telescope is a good way to get that wondering process going.

During the last few years of his life, John resided at the Hollywood monastery of the Vedanta Society. He impressed many with his zeal for life and his regular meditation habit. He left his body on Wednesday, January 15, 2014.

Obituaries appeared in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. For a glimpse into what his friends valued him for, a number of videos of John Dobson can be found on YouTube.

Thanks to the Vedanta Society and Swami Atmavidyananda for bio notes.

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