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

Compiled, Edited and Mainly Photographed by
Malcolm Tillis

  1. Vijayananda
  2. Melita Maschman
  3. Brahmachari Gadadhar
  4. Bill Eilers
  5. Simonetta
  6. Swami Jnanananda
  7. Bill Aitken
  8. Bramacharini Atmananda
  9. Jamie Smith
  10. Martha Smith
  11. Radheshwari
  12. Omkara Das Adhikary
  13. Gopi Jai Krishna
  14. Ellen Schector
  15. Paul Ivan Hogguer
  16. Giorgio Bonazzoli
  17. Anil Bhai
  18. Russell Balfour-Clarke
  19. Norma Sastri
  20. John Clarke
  21. Peter Hoffman
  22. Dhruva
  23. Maggi Lidchi
  24. Sz. Regeni
  25. Baruni
  26. Michael Zelnick
  27. David and Sally
  28. Wilhelmina van Vliet
  29. Norman C. Dowsett
  30. Father Bede Griffiths
  31. Matthew and
    Joan Greenblatt
  32. Lucy Cornelssen
  33. Doris Williamson
  34. Lucia Osborne
  35. David Godman
  36. Hamsa Johannus de Reade
  37. Sir
  38. Joachim Peters and
    Uli Steckenreuter
  39. Richard Willis
  40. Chitrakara das Adhikary
  41. Aviva Keller
  42. Ma Prem Leela
  43. Swami Prem Pramod
  44. Ma Amanda Vandana
  45. Swami Anand Bodhisattva
  46. Swami Nadama
  47. Sister Arati
  48. Francis Reck
  49. H.H. Giriraja Swami
  50. Jean Dunn
  51. Raymond and
    Maree Steiner
  52. Bhikshu Ngawang Samten
  53. Ani Tenzin Palmo
  54. Kate Christie



Martha Smith

Kirpal Ashram
Vijay Nagar

4th January 1981

Click for a printable view


New Lives - Malcolm Tillis

It is my last night in Delhi. All the train reservations and the itinerary have been booked and confirmed, but I am suddenly filled with inadequacy and fear not normal to my nature. The thought of constant upheaval for so many weeks appals me: two days here, three days there, four days somewhere else. And I haven’t photographed even one of the nine persons I’ve Interviewed so far. I beg Jamie to come with me to at least take the photographs. Instead, he gives me a much needed lesson on my old camera.

A little later Sant Darshan Singh, who is a shining example of humility, patience and kindness, comes to see me in my room. I tell him: I feel like an orphan suddenly thrown out into the cold world. Yes, he says, full of love and compassion — But wherever you go, never for one moment forget that your guru is watching over you… that Power must guide and help you!

I know that is true, and I know I am suffering from pre-concert nerves.


It is now very late at night, but Martha is waiting for me; she is keeping her promise. HER life is one long upheaval — my life of upheaval is, after all, only for a few months: Martha's life of upheaval, ironically, is taking place on a static Ashram stage, a refuge of stillness and tranquility for everyone else…



Interview 10

Jamie spoke much about seva, and I can see you are very much into that as I have been waiting five days to snatch one hour of your time. Can you describe your day to day life in the Ashram?
It has been our good fortune to serve the Master in a personal capacity for the past five years or so. I have learned that to live and serve in an Ashram means one has to completely forget about one’s own self. One’s personal needs become secondary. It is an experience in living for others. Part of the day is your own, but — there can never be fixed times — most of it is taken up in helping the many Western devotees who come here for short visits. Physically it is sometimes difficult; inwardly there’s joy and gratitude for being allowed to serve others. Sant Kirpal Singh used to say: Do you lose anything when you give? — No! — On the contrary, the heart becomes larger as the self expands to embrace all. The important part is to lose oneself in the Master and see that he is the doer: it’s he who is serving, not oneself.

But how do you cope with the individual problems of the people constantly coming from the West that obviously form part of your dayly life?
As I am from the West I know a little of what they are going through. Many devotees coming to India for the first time are rather stunned by the great culture shock. This may be why Master Darshan has someone from the West looking after them — it needs somebody who can relate to their needs. As you’ve seen, there’s a constant flow of people: some ask for the Ashram’s printed literature, others renew subscriptions to Sat Sandesh, the monthly magazine, some may be sick in need of medical care. The main request is…Can I see the Master, I need to speak to him?

Does that mean you are in charge of arranging private Interviews?
Yes. Everyone arriving from abroad meets the Master, and anyone with a personal problem can request a private Interview. I list everybody’s arrival and departure information – each person is taken care of.

What sort of problems come up? How do you actually spend your day?
Apart from giving personal attention to visitors, there is quite a lot of secretarial work. The main difficulty with that is that one can never sit quietly for long and concentrate and complete the work. There are constant interruptions: people knocking at the door requiring something, asking advice or just wanting a friendly chat. Sant Kirpal Singh often said: Life is one long interruption!

Can you explain how anyone arriving from abroad finds the way to the Ashram?
Only initiates or those accepted by the Master for initiation are generally allowed to stay. We’ve set up a system where those expected to arrive at Delhi airport are met and brought to the Ashram where they are shown their rooms. The daily schedule is explained: everyone, along with putting in seven hours for meditation each day, is encouraged to do seva. For instance, there’s kitchen duty, welfare officer’s duty, and airport duty.

But there’s a schedule laid out for Ashram visitors?
The bell rings at 3 a.m. for meditation, at 8.30 we have breakfast, then more time for meditation or seva until lunch. At 4 we have satsang consisting of a recorded talk by Sant Kirpal Singh or a Video-tape of Sant Darshan Singh. This is followed by an hour of meditation. At 6 is the highlight of the day: Master Darshan usually gives a question and answer session in English for the Western devotees. It is usually recorded on video-tape. This is followed by a light meal. Everyone is expected to fill out the daily self-introspection diary which was started by Master Kirpal. That is the general schedule. My schedule is a bit different and I often feel there’s no day or night.

Now the time I start in the morning depends very much on the time I finish the night before. Sometimes the work takes me through into the morning. Well, the night before last, Jamie and I went to the airport to meet a close friend who was coming with her three children. But after that, there happened to be twelve private Interviews, and the Master himself stayed up till 4 a.m. At midnight, he saw that I looked tired so he said I should take rest. I find I need five to six hours sleep. Sometimes I don’t get to bed until 3 a.m… that’s when the bell rings for everyone to get up! Master himself is usually up all night — he sleeps very little. Generally I am able to put in a little time for meditation before the round of calls and interruptions starts again.
So you can understand why it has been so hard for me to give you this hour.

Now you are making me feel awkward…but could you say more about your close personal contact with Master Darshan?
He has his own way of working. Usually as something comes up that needs to be done he will call the appropriate person to come and take care of it. I am called to make phone calls, work on correspondence, work on transcripts, and locate books. If a religious or community leader is coming to visit the Ashram, I help prepare a set of books for presentation. The Master likes to know who is coming and on which date they are leaving. I also help prepare the interview lists and go get people when he calls for them.

Would you explain how the Master presents his teachings?
He teaches by example. The Masters in this line encourage us to fulfill our worldly obligations but at the same time to develop the spiritual life. The Masters themselves have earned their own living and often married and had children.

One of the most important teachings is the weeding out of our short-comings by filling in the introspection diary. There are sections for failures in chastity, truthfulness, non-violence and humility; not only the failures in deed, but also in thought and word are to be examined and eradicated. Master Darshan emphasizes the importance of a pure and ethical life as the only way back to God.

You ask how the Master teaches. Well, a rather intriguing incident comes to my mind which will give you a good example. A brother from Canada, rather intellectual, asked many questions on how to keep the introspection diary properly. The Master told him to come up front and bring his diary with him. The Master then asked him to go back through the day and remember all his failures as he recorded them on the diary sheet. The total came to 32. The Master then asked another brother to place 32 marks on this boy’s face with a pen. As there was a mirror in the room, the Master requested him to look at himself, and then asked him if he had a date with his beloved, would he like to meet her like that? Then the Master gave a discourse on how we all are hoping to meet our Beloved — God — but this introspection diary is the mirror which shows us every day what is standing between us and Him.

Has your married life been a help on the path?
Sant Kirpal Singh used to say that married life is no bar to spirituality if lived according to the scriptures: it is a companionship on the way to God, and as such is sacred. Most of the Masters in the Sant Mat tradition were married. They earned their own livelihood, had children, perfected their sadhanas and taught. Jamie and I have both found marriage to be a helping factor on the path — in a way, we are each other’s mirror.

Of course, I know no fees are charged in this Ashram, but donations are accepted, aren’t they?
Donations towards the mission’s work are all right, but Master Darshan is very strict: he will not personally touch a single penny. Even if a cheque is sent in his name, it is returned — I know this as I have to deal with this sort of thing. He maintains himself on his Government pension. I should also explain that the policy is not to accept donations from non-initiates. He is also strict about not allowing anyone to touch his feet — an Indian form of reverence. He is very simple and his needs are simple. He never wears flowing gowns or special colours. He touches people by his example, and his simplicity draws them to the path so that our own God qualities also begin to flower.

In contrast to some other Ashrams I have been visiting, here the Western devotees appear to be given more attention than the Indian devotees.
They are all given much attention. The Master comes out every day to sit with the Indian sangat in addition to giving two satsangs in Hindi each week and meditation sittings. There are no caste differences here, for the Masters of Sant Mat teach that we are all brothers and sisters in God, and as such must relate to the divine in each other. Any barriers there are between people are man-made and wrong. I would say that the Master is aware that the Western devotees have come thousands of miles to see him and sometimes for very short periods. But I would like to emphasize that he is not concerned with outer circumstances or forms or even past actions. He will embrace a poor man as warmly as a rich man: he takes everyone into his fold. And I can tell you this is true even with sinners. He says: Every saint has a past, every sinner a future.

I have noticed many times especially with young people who may have lived rather immoral lives, that when they turn to the spiritual path they become obsessed with guilt. Here the Master consoles and encourages with patience – well, the patience of a saint.

Martha, I can see on the calendar printed for the Ashram that Sant Kirpal Singh is quoted as saying: “Man is what he thinks about all day long.” Would you like to explain what that means?
He often used to say: As you think, so you become. If our thoughts are towards God, then we become part of Him; but if we spend most of the day with thoughts of lust or mental criticism against others or in thinking angry thoughts or how to acquire this or that thing, these thoughts react and drive happiness away. Moreover, thoughts are powerful; the next step is action caused by these thoughts which usually means we do things often detrimental to ourselves let alone others.

I can also see a quotation by Sant Darshan Singhji: “Through the unbounded compassion of the Master we can attain communion with God.”
I think it was Master Kirpal who said that when he met his great guru, Baba Sawan Singh, it was through his unbounded compassion that he was given initiation. If the saints themselves say this, how can we poor souls covered in darkness and illusion know what compassion is showered on us when a perfect being draws us into the Light. A perfect Master promises never to forsake his children even to the end of the world. He goes further: he says when we leave this physical body at the time of its death, he will be there in his astral form to help and guide us into the beyond. This is a tremendous, and I might say, unique part of these teachings.

When did you get drawn to the teachings?
I became interested in yoga when I was 17 -- I met someone who had just returned from India. I was loaned Dr. Julian Johnson’s Path of the Masters – I just read it through during the night and finished it by the morning. It was as if the secrets of the universe were being explained and the purpose for which we are on this earth plane was made clear. I didn’t know what a master was at that time, but soon I was led to the feet of Sant Kirpal Singh and was initiated in 1971 when I was 18. I spent my days putting in five to six hours of meditation and going to satsang as well as to college.

Now I am going to plunge deep and ask you whether all this intensive meditation and service you are now doing has in fact fulfilled your deepest desires and you are a better person?
If anyone who knew me ten years ago came to see me now, I can hardly think they would recognize me. They would probably walk past me. I am a totally new person — I fit your book well, Malcolm. When I first came on the path I didn’t fully understand the teachings; I went overboard with intense desire to leave off old habits, friends; I even detached myself from my family in my zeal to progress. It wasn’t until I came to India and saw how the Master lives that I realized this is not necessary. We should grow within the setting in which we have been placed and have fellow feeling and love for all with whom we come in contact. I feel this path has made me a better — certainly a happier — person and a more integrated human being. I know I have a long way to go, but at least I’ve been put on the right way.

Did you find it difficult to change from your devotion to Master Kirpal Singh to his successor, Master Darshan?
The new Master from the beginning emphasized over and over again that those coming to him must look on him as a brother if they had already received initiation – he could never become our guru. He explained he is here only to help the old initiates to come closer to Master Kirpal. I can tell you that through my association with Master Darshan I have indeed grown closer to my own guru. As I explained, my initial idea of the path and what a Master is was all wrong. I had learned everything through books, and you just can’t get the essence, the fire – call it what you like – out of any spiritual book. Books give us a glimpse, a taste, a pull…there’s nothing wrong with them – it’s like a photograph gives us a good impression of a person, but it rarely does the person justice – how can it?

In those early days did you ever see yourself living and serving the guru so closely?
During my own Master’s life (Sant Kirpal Singh Ji) it was my most cherished wish to live at his feet. I actually had asked permission to study nursing at the University of Delhi in 1972 but my father would not allow me to go. I met the Master in 1972 when he came to the United States on his Third World Tour. I was unable to come to India until after he had passed away. Jamie had visited Master Kirpal in India in 1973 and the last thing he said to him was “This is your home.” We could see the same spiritual power that had been flowing in the Beloved Master Kirpal was now working through a new human pole. I have always felt India to be my home.

Jamie and Martha Smith returned to the USA where they set up house in Florida, had a daughter, and where they continue their service at their local Florida Satsang.


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© Malcolm Tillis 2006