54 Interviews with Westerners
on their search for spiritual fulfilment in India

Compiled, Edited and Mainly Photographed by
Malcolm Tillis





non-duality. The most important school of Vedanta philosophy which postulates One Absolute Reality, Brahman.


divine bliss, joy; an integral part of many sannyasis names.


“nectar of immortality”; represented in certain ceremonies by a sugar solution.


a devotional ceremony characterized particularly by the use of lighted candles or lamps.


term used in yoga for bodily postures assumed in meditation; the practice of asanas is the primary activity of hatha yoga. A mat used for meditation.


ashram, asrama:
a place of retreat and meditation; also, the term which refers to each of the four stages which make up the ideal pattern of Hindu life: brahmacharya (celibacy and study), grhastha (householding, which generally includes marriage, work, and community involvement), vanaprastha (retirement, or withdrawal from the world), and sannyas (renunciation of worldly things and dedication to spiritual life).


the immortal Self, the soul.


Aum, Om:
the three sounds composing the mantra Om. The primal sound from which the entire cosmos comes into being. The name of God.


a human incarnation of the Divine; i.e. a person who is fully Divine, a Saviour, Sat Guru.




Baba, Babaji:
Sadhu, an affectionate word for “father”, a title of respect.


the intermediate state between death and rebirth, according to Tibetan Buddhism; it is described at length in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which deals with how the soul should conduct itself in the bardo.


Bhagavad Gita, Bhagavat Git, Baghavadgita:
“Song of the Lord”; an important Hindu religious epic in the Mahabharata. In it Sri Krishna teaches his disciple, Arjuna, the art of right action.


God; sometimes used for a God-realised person.


devotional hymn; religious chant.



selfless, spiritual devotion; worship of God through personal love; Bhakti is one of the three most widely recognized paths of salvation, the others being Karma (ritual and good actions) and Jnana (spiritual knowledge). The Bhakti movement developed in medieval India and is closely associated with Vaishnava Vedanta; one who chooses this path is called a bhakta.


bhakti yoga:
spiritual discipline which emphasizes devotional worship as a path to union with God; the “devotional” yoga.



one of the three devotional aspects of Brahman; this aspect is associated with creation.


a practitioner of celibacy; often refers to one who lives as a spiritual student or seeker.


Hindu term for the supreme reality; though Brahman is one and undifferentiated, there are three devotional aspects: Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu.


the priestly caste of Hindus (sometimes spelled Brahman).



an Awakened or Enlightened one; usually refers to Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, also known as Shakyamuni.


a system of thought based on the insights of the Gautama Buddha (sixth century B.C.); Buddhism is essentially nontheistic, and was originally based on a relatively simple and straightforward set of principles, articulated by the Buddha as the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path; about 500 years after the Buddha’s death, the original Buddhism – which emphasized the use of right action and contemplation in order to achieve Nirvana or surcease from being – became distinguished as Hinayana (represented today in the tradition of Theravada Buddhism), and a “new” Buddhism – the Mahayana – was introduced, emphasizing as its goal the individual attainment of Buddhahood, and adding a new religious dimension of ritual and prayer; there are many types of Buddhism today, some closer to the “old” and some to the “new” model.



a system of division within Hindu society; caste is based on heredity and occupation, and traditionally there was virtually no mobility or interchange among the castes.


literally, “wheel”; yogic term for a psychic center of the body; the yogic model of the “subtle body” includes seven such nodes of energy, each coordinating with certain physiologic organs and with certain aspects of spiritual development.


a student or disciple of a guru.





deva (fem. devi):
generally, a higher being.



literally, “view”; a transmission of spiritual experience, frequently silent; a collateral usage – particularly in the Northern tradition – refers to the event of a guru giving an “audience” to his followers, i.e., allowing himself to be viewed and experienced.


term used in both Hinduism and Buddhism (may be given as dhamma in Buddhist references) to mean duty, righteousness, the law, or the correct way, i.e., the principle of cosmic, social, and individual order.


a rest house for pilgrims, usually built near a temple; frequently used as a term for a guest house or hostel.


a long cloth of white cotton, worn loosely tied about the legs and waist.




dhyana yoga:
a spiritual disciple which emphasizes meditation as the means of achieving union with God; the “meditational” yoga.




Ganga ma:
“mother” River Ganges.


red ochre earth-colour traditionally used by sannyasis to colour their clothes.


gurubhai, gurubai:
a “brother” or “sister” linked by initiation from the same Guru.



the script of the Punjabi language, used in early religious writings of the Sikhs.


Guru: spiritual master or teacher.



a mantra given by the guru for meditation.




hatha yoga: a spiritual discipline that focuses on the relationship of mind and body; the “physical” yoga, the yoga of effort.



a comprehensive worldview, which functions as both a religious philosophy and a way of living followed by the majority of India’s inhabitants; Hinduism takes many forms, varying significantly (both in theory and practice) from region to region, and among various guru-centered groups. But common to most forms of Hinduism is the goal of liberation from the cycle of reincarnation; there are a great many religious texts associated with Hinduism, the most widely influential ones being the Rig Veda, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita.




japa mala:
"japa” meaning repetition, as of a mantra, and “mala” meaning a sort of rosary.



added to a name as a sign of respect, trust and sympathy.



jnana yoga:
a spiritual disciple leading to union with God through transcendent knowledge; the “mental” yoga.




a term used in both Hinduism and Buddhism (may be given as kamma in Buddhist references) meaning “action,” referring to the law of cause and effect; often used to describe the relationship between causes in a previous life and effects experienced in a present life.


karma yoga:
a spiritual discipline that focuses on selfless activity and/or performance of ritual as the path to union with God; the “active” yoga.


a group devotional event expressed in ecstatic singing of God’s name. One person leads, others repeat in chorus.


an incarnation of Vishnu representing the embodiment of love; Krishna is a prominent figure in several Indian religious epics, and his love for Radha is a central theme in Indian erotic mysticism.


a term used in esoteric yoga for an energy (also called the “serpent power” or “serpent fire”) which lies dormant at the base of the spine until it is awakened through yogic practices and ascends through the body by moving along the path of the chakras.




Tibetan term for a spiritual leader.



God’s divine play in the world to attract the devotee to Himself; activity that is of use to others.




the “great” mantra.



“lord”; a term of respect which may be used by or with regard to holy men.



the death of a self-realised person; the ultimate experience of Reality.


“great soul”; a person who has conquered the ego and achieved union with the Divine.


a rosary, a flower garland.


a term used in both Buddhism and Hinduism to refer to a word, phrase, or syllable which has sacred significance; many repeat a mantra in meditation.


a word used in both Buddhism and Hinduism to denote the illusory nature of physical reality; delusion, appearance, or more specifically, the appearance of the One as a multiplicity of phenomena.


"liberation” from transmigration; the release from the cycle of reincarnation into the physical world. The highest aim in Indian philosophy.




a term especially used in Buddhism to denote perfect mental equilibrium, inner freedom.




the most sacred of all sounds, which contains all sounds and represents the Divine.


Om mani padme hum:
“Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus”; a powerful and widely used mantra.







joining the palms of the hands at the heart in greeting.



prashad, prasad:
food offered to a deity or saint; once it has been offered, it has been blessed and may be consumed by the devotee.


ceremonial worship of a deity with lights, incense, flowers and fruit.



pundit, pandit: a learned Brahmin who can recite from the Vedas and knows Sanskrit grammar.





raja yoga:
an advanced form of mental yoga.



doctrine of the “transmigration of souls” from one bodily life to another.



Tibetan Buddhist teacher and guide.



sage or wise man; seer.





spiritual discipline; a person following a spiritual discipline is called a sadhaka.



holy man, a wandering ascetic, a saintly person.



the blissful state of experiencing pure consciousness; this is the supreme goal of yoga. A shrine containing the ashes or body of a saint.



the cycle of rebirth.



vows of renunciation.



sannyasi, sannyasin:
one who has undertaken sannyas, and entered the fourth stage of life (see “Ashram”), and whose sole aim is moksha.


ancient language in which many Hindu and Buddhist religious texts are written.



“holy”; this term is used in two ways: (1) to describe a religious tradition of Northern India which is devotional, and concentrates on inner experience rather than on exterior forms, and (2) as a title applied to teachers in this tradition; it is also a popular synonym for sadhu.





Satguru, Sat Guru:
a term used in the Sant tradition to refer to the inner voice of God, as mystically apprehended and experienced by the devout; the term is used by different groups and in different contexts, sometimes referring to a personal teacher who is a human vehicle for the inner voice.


a gathering for the purpose of sharing testimony of spiritual experience or teachings given by a Guru.


having the quality of “goodness”; “goodness” (sattva) is one of the three modalities of the experienced universe, the others being rajas (passion) and tamas (darkness); the three qualities constantly interact to produce the complexity of the world.


generally, “service”; either of a practical nature (in work maintaining the premises and affairs of a religious place, movement, or personage) or of a broader humanitarian nature. An important factor in spiritual life.


Shakti, Sakti:
the feminine consort of Shiva; also used as a common noun to denote “energy” or “force”; when used generically (“a shakti”.) the word refers to the feminine component of a spiritual dyad; Shakti is most often worshiped as Kali, and Kali, in turn, has many forms which represent different aspects of the goddess and have different names, e.g., Durga, Parvati.


Shiva, Siva:
one of the three devotional aspects of Brahman, associated with time and fertility; the masculine component of the dyad Shiva-Shakti.


special powers (such as levitation) achieved through the practice of mystical yoga.



Sikh: the term may be used in two ways: (1) a practitioner of Sikhism, and (2) one who comes from a Sikh family and maintains the Sikh culture, but has ceased to practice the religion; there is a prescribed form of appearance for Sikh males (they typically do not cut their beards or hair and frequently wear the turban) which gives special coherence to their group.


a religious movement separate from Hinduism (although it retains elements of Hinduism); Sikhism is part of the Sant tradition of Northern India; it was established by the fifteenth century Guru Nanak and perpetuated by his successors, the last of whom died in the eighteenth century. Sikhism includes aspects of both Hinduism and Islam, and its tenets include the belief in one God who does not take human form, but exists as the principle of truth; the sacred text of Sikhism is the Granth Sahib.


Sri, Sree, Shree, Shri:
a title of respect, meaning generally “revered one.”



a mystical form of Islam.



in Buddhism, scriptural works; in Hinduism, aphorisms concerning religious belief or practice presented in verse form.


a spiritual leader; a more specific usage refers to a Hindu initiate of a religious order who has taken monastic vows. One who is master of himself.




Theosophical Society:
a group formed in 1875 to promote the study of psychic phenomena and comparative religion; it was centered on the visions and writings of its founder Mme. Blavatsky and her follower C.W. Leadbeater, which brought together esoteric doctrines from many sources; though its influence declined by the 1930s, the T.S. aroused interest in Eastern spiritual traditions in the West, and is still a well-known organization, headquartered in India.


Tibetan Buddhism:
Buddhism – primarily in its Vajrayana form – was taken into Tibet from India, beginning in the seventh century C.E.; by the thirteenth century, Buddhism had almost disappeared from India, and Tibet had begun to develop its own distinctive form of the religion, much of which is set forth in texts known as the Tantras; Tibetan Buddhism has a very rich and complex system of symbolism and ritual practice, which includes not only extremely esoteric matters, but much ceremonial pageantry as well; before the virtual destruction of Tibetan religion by the Chinese after 1958, Tibetan Buddhism (sometimes called “Lamaism”) had achieved an extensively developed network of monasteries, which served as the centers of Tibetan cultural life.


term used in Tibetan Buddhism to refer to a reincarnated lama.





literally, “relating to Vishnu”; frequently refers to a particular interpretation of Vedanta which stresses the importance of devotional worship and the role of divine grace.


the third “way” (or “vehicle”) of Buddhism – a continuation of the Mahayana tradition; Vajrayana (which is also known as Tantric Buddhism) places great emphasis on the use of mantras and other techniques to enhance psychic experience, as well as on the mastery of occult powers; the practice of this way requires initiation, instruction and “empowerment” by a guru.


revealed knowledge; a collection of sacred texts (the Hymns, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads) which are accepted in Hinduism as divine revelations; the earliest portions of the Vedas are generally thought to have been composed around 1500 B.C.


literally the end of the Vedas the most influential tradition of Hindu theology, derived primarily from the Upanishads, and elaborating in various ways the doctrine of Brahman.


sacred ash.



a form of insight meditation taught by the Buddha.



one of the three devotional aspects of Brahman, associated with existence and duration; usually worshiped through his avatars, Krishna and Rama.





a pilgrimage, journey.


a system of spiritual discipline (associated with both Hinduism and Buddhism) intended to lead toward union with the divine; there are four main paths of yoga (see bhakti yoga, hatha yoga, karma yoga, dhyana yoga), as well as many particular yogic systems developed by specific sects or individual gurus; when the term “yoga” is used nonspecifically, it often refers to some form of dhyana yoga.


yogi, yogin (Fem. yogini):
one who practices yoga.