iMahal Interview Series:
August 15, 2000
iMahal: Looking at your background, we see that you have gone from being a student of economics, to a US military man, to an art collector, to a student of India. Could you give us some hints as to how and why this all came about?
Arnett: I would be glad to. I was in college in the sixty's, when the Vietnam war was going on. During this period, serving in the military was mandatory. Knowing this, I opted to serve as an officer. I enrolled in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) in college. Upon graduation from college, I served in a Strategic Communication Command in Turkey for 19 months during the war.
I was very fortunate that I did not have to go to Vietnam and suffer a lot of the trauma that my classmates did. Though I was proud to serve my country as an American citizen, I did not want to make the military my career. Over time, I developed a particular affection for India and her people.
iMahal: This affection for India is interesting. What is your interest in India - is it social, cultural, religious, philosophical, anthropological, historical? What events or thinking led to this interest?
Arnett: My first interest in India came from art. After the military service, I was in the fine arts business with my brother. At that time, we dealt with Oriental Art for the most part, and some Greek and Roman antiquities, and Pre-Columbian Art. So my interest in India first grew from collecting Asian Art. I was so fascinated by the art forms that I wanted to explore the religion and religious beliefs that led to the art. I wanted to find out why they created those beautiful objects of art, sculptures, and bronze castings.
I remember going to Detroit on a business trip in 1969, in connection with my earlier dealing in fine art. I was invited to a Yoga Meditation Service at the Detroit Institute of Arts. It sounded interesting, so I went. At that time in my life, I was as happy as the next person. I was raised in an upper middle class family and had everything I wanted -- but I knew something was missing. I didn't know what it was, nor did I even know how to go about looking for it. Off I went to this meditation class that was conducted by a spiritually advanced American Yogi. He gave us instructions on how to meditate based on the Pantanjali technique. Through God's grace, I had a very deep meditation experience -- the first time I ever meditated. It enabled me to get a glimpse of my higher self, my soul or atma [Hindi variation of Sanskrit word atman meaning soul], or whatever you want to call it. That changed my life, just as it would change anyone's life who has experienced it. It was then that I learned what was missing in my life.