Pravrajika Bhavaprana (Nancy Kenny)
1946 – 2021
Nancy Kenny, known to countless Santa Barbarans as Bhavaprana, passed away on October 21, 2021, after a slow decline from Alzheimer’s disease. Her last days and passing were lived as her life was – gracefully and gently.
Bhavaprana had a uniquely unusual birth in June of 1946 – born into a New Jersey family that moved to Southern California eight years later – a family in which every member would become a devout spiritual practitioner and devotee of Vedanta.
In the early 1960s, Bhavaprana’s brother became a monk (Swami Vedarupananda) at the Vedanta Society of Northern California, leaving the family initially wounded and stunned. Deciding they needed to investigate the matter, their mother Amala Kenny – with young Nancy in tow – trekked north.
Their shock soon turned to veneration when they met Swami Shantaswarupananda, a saintly monk who headed up the Berkeley Vedanta Center. By 1965, both mother and daughter had become devotees at the Vedanta Society of Southern California, both initiated by Swami Prabhavananda, the scholar-monk celebrated by Christopher Isherwood and Aldous Huxley. Bhavaprana’s younger sister Kathe and her brother Jim would become disciples of Swami Aseshanada. (Jim’s wife would also became a Vedantin.) Kathe is now a board member of the Vedanta Society in Portland while Amala Kenny was instrumental in the formation of the San Diego Vedanta Center. The family’s last holdout, father Joe Kenny, took initiation from Swami Swahananda in his later years.
Though her day job was working as a cytologist at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, Bhavaprana spent her evenings and spare time attending lectures and classes at the Hollywood Vedanta Center off Franklin Avenue.
In 1974, Bhavaprana joined the Santa Barbara branch of the Vedanta Society, receiving her initial vows (brahmacharya) in 1981 and final vows, (sannyasa) in 1988. While her temperament and life were quiet and unostentatious, she made profound contributions to the work and scope of Vedanta around the world.
With her customary rigor and attention to detail, she created her own darkroom where she developed a series of high quality photographs – working from rare pictures taken of Sri Ramakrishna, India’s revered 19th century saint, his spiritual partner and wife Sri Sarada Devi, and direct disciples such as the famed Swami Vivekananda, who introduced meditation to the West in the 1890s.
She was also a fine writer and contributed a number of articles to various Vedanta journals and assisted Swami Swahananda in his writings. A scholar of Vivekananda’s life and teachings, Bhavaprana initiated a project where she (and other nuns in the order) typed up Vivekananda’s entire Complete Works so that it would be digitally available to one and all. The project took over a year, but her single-minded focus and enthusiasm never flagged.
Though a talented musician, she eventually sold her beloved cello to help purchase an early Apple computer, one of the first models available. She knew that the future of Vedanta’s reach and scope would be via the internet so she poured her energy into digitizing the scholarship. To the amazement of many, she taught herself HTML so that she could do her own coding. She created one of the first Vedanta websites – vedanta.org (all 120 pages of it) which became the website blueprint for other Vedanta Societies around the globe.
In her own quiet way, Bhavaprana left a remarkable footprint. She had a lifelong stutter that, while usually unnoticeable to others, was an immense burden for her. For years, she would ask her sister-nuns to make telephone calls for her because she found it impossible to start conversations. Karl Whitmarsh, a former president of the Vedanta Society, who had also dealt with stuttering, taught her what she called “the technique”—which she practiced and practiced until stuttering was no longer an issue. And with her newfound triumph, she began giving lectures – discourses that were uniquely thoughtful and inspiring.
Many things could be said about Bhavaprana—her singular faith and dedication, her love for the children who attended the Vedanta Sunday School, her wry humor and easy laugh, or her formidable work ethic. But what cannot be quantified—was her empathy, warmth and compassion.
It is a blessing she is now free of the body and mind that so encumbered her. She will be greatly missed and remembered by all who had the privilege of knowing her.
A memorial for Bhavaprana with be held Saturday, December 4, 2021 at 11:00 am in the Santa Barbara temple – 927 Ladera Lane, SB, CA 93108. All are welcome to attend