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An Extraordinary Life


As a friend of Gerda Ursula Zinn (Ambika) for 45 years, I enjoyed the brief sketch of her interesting life in your April 5 issue. What I missed was a glance into her remarkable traits of character.

Ambika had a heart broad and warm. Though somewhat formidable socially, she was there for any friend in need: “What can I do to help?”

She had incredible perseverance: The word “can’t” was not in her vocabulary. In her late 60’s, short of funds, she physically re-roofed her own house. Approaching 40, and after meeting Swami Prabhavananda in Switzerland, Ambika totally turned her back on her past as a renowned actress and determined to find a way to come to the U.S. to follow her spiritual quest. It was especially difficult at that time and the war had taken all her funds. She arrived in New York with $100.

But once here, she supported herself as a housekeeper and a waitress and devoted the rest of her life, nearly 50 years, to what she considered her life’s work. Ambika cannot be remembered without acknowledging that work, and her extraordinary fortitude and one-pointed devotion.

She recorded, on her small Sony cassette recorder, all of Swami Prabhavananda’s lectures and classes as well as those of visiting swamis and guests who spoke at the Vedanta Society. Her collection ended up including all material from the 1940s through the 1970s. She painstakingly copied them and donated several tape libraries to the monasteries and convents of the Society, and to any friends who were interested. In her late 80s, Ambika learned to digitize all these tapes for the Vedanta Society Archives.

Ambika was an original, and a shining example of what can be done if one only has the desire and the resolution to do it.

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