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




A modern house in Chandigarh

6th & 7th January 1981

Click for a printable view


New Lives - Malcolm Tillis

When travelling in India you carry a bed-roll or sleeping bag. The latter is my companion, and I need it on the night train to Chandigarh although I am travelling first class — that is all relative, though. I can’t sleep, but I have the compartment to myself.

I arrive in the dark, and it’s still dark when I reach the home of General Joginder Singh, who wrote me that welcoming letter. He and his wife show their love for their guru, Sant Gulab Singh, by showering love and hospitality on a stranger who has invaded their privacy. They give me a room, make me breakfast, then drive me to the house where their guru lives and where I shall meet the American girl I have come to Interview.

I am taken straight into Santji’s room: he is sitting up in bed eating breakfast not looking his age — he is 104! He beckons me to sit on the edge of his bed, takes my head into his outstretched hands and kisses my forehead gently, sweetly — it’s like being caressed by an angel. He hands me a piece of his toast, then takes it back to put more jam on it. Radheshwari brings tea, so I am now having a second breakfast. There’s no talking, but you don’t have to talk in the presence of a saint; the saints talk by showering their love on whoever comes to them, even if it’s when they are in bed taking breakfast. I can’t help laughing, laughing because of the great feeling of happiness and light that has descended.

Radheshwari is also laughing quietly — she has been enjoying the divine mystery for years. Inner laughter bubbles out in the presence of a saint. Radheshwari has lived and laughed with Sant Gulab Singh so long that she now speaks English with a pronounced Punjabi accent; she is his only Western disciple, and she is with him 24 hours of the day looking after his physical needs. He is extremely deaf so not much talking is involved. She is there to serve, to let in the devotees who call, to pass the tea and shine.

The Interview that follows stretches over two days as we are constantly interrupted. Radheshwari is always calm and loving and co-operative. Every evening, Santji is taken by car to the Chandigarh rose gardens where he walks for a while then calls on a few of his close disciples, just like a father visiting his children. I was invited to go with him. He has never had a large following, and has prevented an Ashram organization to grow up around him. Once when offered an Ashram by a rich devotee, he replied: The real Ashram is within your heart.

But at last the house is clear of callers, Santji is resting, Radheshwari is laughing in a slightly more guarded way, time to start the tape rolling.



Interview 11

I was born in Los Angeles and raised in Long Beach, California. I was attracted towards an introspective life rather early. My family were upset — yes, quite upset — that their daughter would hide away in a cell and never come out again.

To whom were you devoted?
To Christ. My family did their best to make me go to parties and mix and, you know… But it acted the other way for when I looked around I saw there were other ways too, other beliefs. I saw the Unitarian Church, and they invite Zen monks and yogis and followers of other religions to speak. So you see, when I decided to come to India to find an enlightened saint, my family were not surprised — they knew my inclinations.

I suppose you found most Indians surprised at a young girl leaving her family.
Exactly. But at least my family is happy now that I have found what I had been longing for.

How did you make the break and come to India?
I had a wonderful job as a dental assistant earning much money for a girl of 20. I was with some top dentists on Hollywood Boulevard, but when I started looking at my colleagues coming every day, going every day, taking the money — what for? I said: Let me see some other life! At the end of the sixties, some of my friends — they were poets and artists — had been to Europe and described the life in Spain as much quieter, simpler. I saved enough money for one year in Europe, and although I met so many interesting people there, it seemed to me that everyone was in search of another way — a real way of life. So a few of us got together to go to India to look for an enlightened being. I had meditated in Europe, but I knew that on my own it wasn’t working. I knew I had to find someone who could show me.

How did you travel?
By car. We were firm in our goal. We had spoken it out and decided that on arrival in India we should split up as the guru meant for one would not necessary be the guru for the others. We were idealists — there were five of us and we loved each other, but we knew that being attached to each other wouldn’t do us any good. We were like children, and said wherever our hearts pull us we should go, and only in that way will we meet the saint who is to help us.

Did it take long to find your prospective gurus?
For some of us, no. One French lady went to Swami Muktananda; she stayed years with him. The Englishman stayed with a saint for a year and kept mauna — silence. I went to a yoga Ashram near Poona; it had a huge library. There along with learning hatha yoga and raja yoga it prepared me for the Indian way of life: how to dress, how to eat, how to behave. But even though there was a great mystic soul who helped me — he appeared in my meditations — my heart told me: You have been helped, but now you should move on. I continued the search in Rishikesh where I met several saints, but they weren’t for me. I received a telegram from one of the five friends asking me to come to Delhi. Here I met a Baba, so we all traveled to Simla where I stayed for some time.

That was an interesting, personal opening for me. During my morning meditations I would literally cry: Oh, God, show me your saint; I am here all alone, can’t you send somebody for me? Even throughout the day my heart was so intense with longing that when I went out I could hardly hold back the tears. After one month I met a lady who kept saying: My Santji is coming to Simla, you should meet him — just like that. When he arrived, she took me to him — it was Sant Gulab Singh. He was giving an informal talk to a few devotees in a house where he had been invited to stay. As soon as I saw him I was like one struck. I thought: Oh… now there’s someone! All the doubt, the sorrow, the confusion vanished — I was in supreme joy. It sounds too perfect, doesn’t it? But this is how it happened…and just as soon as I came into the room! I couldn’t understand a word of what he was speaking; I just sat at his feet watching him. He was glowing, throwing out waves of love and compassion. When he became aware of me, he opened his arms wide and called: Ao, ao, ao! — Come, come, come! He was smiling and his cheeks were red and glowing.

Was he speaking in Punjabi?
Yes, and it took me a good six months before I could understand.

How old was Santji then?
They say he is about 104 now, so he must have been just over 90 then. It’s a miracle in itself that his memory for the scriptures is still so sharp, and that he can read without glasses besides having perfect recall of many thrilling events from his past. You know, he still quotes from the Gurbani in Gurmukhi, from the Gita in Sanskrit, and from the Koran and the Persian Sufi mystics like Rumi and Hafiz in Persian. You have seen him walking without help even at his age.

Can you tell me more about his extraordinary life?
He was born in Rawalpindi, which is now part of Pakistan. He became a lawyer and had a family, but although he was born into a Sikh family and knew the Gurbani, he would never go to the gurdwara. He preferred to visit Sufi saints. His idea was that if you take only one line from any of the scriptures — just one — and live up to it, that’s enough. For instance, the line: God is everywhere. If we really understand that, can we ever do anything wrong, can we be unhappy or ungrateful? So from the beginning he said what’s the use of being a hypocrite attending long sermons but not taking to heart and living to perfection what is being said? He still teaches like that; he insists we get to the essence of the scriptures and live up to it. From his college days he was called Santji, but he has always lived a secluded life without a large following and without an Ashram or organization.

To whom does this rather large modern house belong?
Santji’s eldest brother had one small baby; when this brother died, Santji took that little boy and raised it as his own. He owns this house, and claims Santji as his father, not his uncle, for he says Santji chose of his own accord to bring him up like a son.

Can you describe how Santji broke away from his family to devote his life entirely to the spiritual life?
He often tells the story himself. He was fed up with the life of a lawyer which involved defending fellows often guilty. The climax came when he had to defend someone accused of theft. He got the man off. On being told the fee, the man said to Santji: Give me an hour — I’ll be back. He did come back and the fee was paid, but Santji asked where the money came from, and was told: Oh, there were two farmers standing in a crowd and one had just sold his horse, so I pushed into the crowd and took the money from his pocket. Santji felt so appalled to think he had been living on money taken this way that in the night he cried out to God: Save me, Oh Lord, from this profession — what good can come from money earned when someone is weeping for it? In that mood of prayer and anguish the whole night was passed. But in the morning he couldn’t hear: he had become almost totally deaf — and he says he was ecstatic: it was grace, a sign from God. He went to the Court where he was well-known, and announced: Today I am free from this profession — Today I will devote the rest of my life only to Him!

Is it known how old he was then?
I think about 55. He told his wife: From today you will be like a mother to me — I will no longer live in the house but in a hut in the orchard. He then took to the life of prayer and study, which went on until Partition when evil forces took advantage to plunder, rape and destroy. At that time Santji had large family properties, and although he intervened to plead with the gangs that attacked his neighbours, he himself was never touched: they all respected him as a saint.
However, one day when he was away, the great family house was surrounded by a mob out for plunder and rape. Santji’s wife, seeing there was no hope, gathered all the women and children round the huge well. There was firing and fighting outside and all the food was finished. Only Santji’s wife and female relations were trapped inside. She made all the ladies, the girls and children –there were 107 of them — stand round the well and repeat Guru Nanak’s Japji Sahib. Then grabbing two children, she said: My beloved children, if you want to save your chastity, follow me! She jumped into the well, and all followed — finished!

The Muslims had been asking Santji that only he should embrace Islam and all others would be left untouched. But although he was regarded as a Sufi, he replied: How can I deny the gurus? How can I deny the saints? Even at gun-point he spoke like that. They say that when Santji came back to his desolated house there wasn’t even a tear to be seen in his eyes…he said: God, You have given them, they were Your gifts, You have taken them back into Your lap, into Your Light. He quietly picked up a few things and left the place for Kashmir with a few surviving members of his family and his guru, Sant Teja Singh.

Can you say how Santji met his guru?
Pitaji has been with many saints. But Sant Teja Singh and Om Baba have had the greatest impact on his life. Sant Teja Singh came to Santji’s village in 1937 saying: I have come to take away someone marked for the service of the Lord! When he saw Santji he declared: My mission is successful! Santji prostrated at the visitor’s feet. The saint lifted him up and lovingly embraced him. From that Santji regarded Teja Singh as his spiritual master. For fifteen years he basked in that sunshine, but he now tells us that during those years he hardly spoke to his master for fifteen minutes. Without asking for anything, everything was given; whatever question came into his mind was answered.

After the guru’s passing, Pitaji’s practice of the presence of God inspired many seekers. His message was simple: God gives everything — shall I not give all I have? God protects everyone — shall I not protect whoever comes to me oppressed? God bestows mercy — shall I not offer whatever help I can to the afflicted? God forgives — shall I not also offer forgiveness?

What is a great inspiration to me in the relationship between Teja Singh and Santji — and you must remember that Santji was 30 years older than his guru — is that he once told me: My child, in all the years we were together he only spoke three sentences directly to me — he would sit in a kind of ecstasy, and if he ever spoke, it was in a general way about God and His saints; he hardly ever slept — such was his wonderful life.

The other saint who was influential in Santji’s life was Om Baba whom he met in 1952 when Baba was an old, emanciated figure living in a hut with a bench as a bed and a brick as a pillow. At that first meeting, Om Baba sat up as Santji bent low to touch his feet, and from his lips came forth a hymn thanking Lord Krishna for sending his own child so that all power and love so generously bestowed on him can now be transferred. At that moment Santji felt a shower of divine love and grace descend on him. Om Baba then explained: Until you came, my door was shut; it has now been opened to you and all your children. He had lived as a recluse for thirty-five years; his only food was a cup of tea morning and evening. He had no money, no house — nothing. All this inspired Santji to contemplate even more fully the mystery of God’s beauty everywhere so as to comprehend His words and dispensation.

Om Baba left the body a few years later. Santji says he was 110 years old. I only heard the full story last year from people who were with Santji at the time. It appears that Om Baba sent a message to his devotees saying he wished to go on a pilgrimage, for which a certain sum of money was required, but before he went he wanted to see Santji. This message was passed on to Santji who went to the house where Om Baba was staying. Om Baba got up, embraced him warmly, they spoke for a few minutes, then Santji took leave. By the time he’d reached the ground floor someone was calling from the upper window: He has left the body!

Just see - within the short span of time it takes to walk down a flight of stairs, the saints can throw off the physical body! But the strangest part of the story is that Santji just looked up and said: Yes, he’s gone. And although they all thought he would turn round and come back, Santji went on his way.

Can you tell me about the miracles attached to the photographs of Om Baba, and why Santji gave me eight this morning?
He really explained this himself. He told you that should you come across anyone suffering or in trouble, to give the person a photo. I have never seen him give eight to anyone before; it must have some meaning. But I can tell you I have seen the most incredible miracles happen through Pitaji giving this small photo of Om Baba. But he usually gives them directly to each person personally who comes with a serious problem and he asks that the photo should be placed in a locket and worn round the neck. I have seen so many return to tell him their sufferings or problems have vanished, or if not vanished at least they are able to accept and live with what is troubling them. A lady had cancer which after a major operation continued to spread: I think they only gave her another six months to live. She is wearing that locket now and doing social work here in Chandigarh.

These small photos have such power that you don’t even have to wear them. My own mother suddenly became ill and thought she was having a heart attack —she only hinted in a letter that she was ill. They took her to the hospital and found it was spondalitis; it was so advanced she couldn’t walk. The doctors told her they would operate but she would never be able to walk again. She wrote to me lightly about it but I felt there must be something serious. I told Santji: Mummy appears to be ill — just like that, nothing more. He gave me a photo of Om Baba with his own hands to put inside my letter to her without telling her anything except: This is Om Baba — nothing more. She started getting well, and before she came to see us she was climbing mountains in California. She was so happy to see me with Pitaji — my happiness made her happy, you see.

Did Om Baba perform miracles himself during his life?
Yes, he did. He had so much love for Santji that he gave him everything. There was a young married couple who had three girls, and naturally they wanted a boy. Their whole family were devotees of Santji. The wife’s mother also knew Om Baba. When her daughter was pregnant for the fourth time, she took her to Om Baba. Now the mother never actually asked for anything, but said: My daughter already has three girls, and this is her condition now…He understood, and said: Bring me a beautiful coconut, and as beautiful as the coconut so will be the son. The mother looked all over Delhi for the best coconut, and returned. Om Baba broke it, took the milk, mixed it with a little ash from the fire in his room, and gave it to the girl to drink. A son was born, and within a few days they brought him and placed him in Om Baba’s lap. Then Om Baba explained: He had been a great yogi living in the Himalayas engaged in deep sadhana… I have called him and asked God to cut one of his lives: this will be his last birth.

Do you possess anything of Om Baba’s?
Apart from his blessings and the protection he has extended to my mother, I have something most precious. When I had known Pitaji only six months — he kept me with him like his tiny daughter and took me everywhere from the day I met him — well, although he knew I was sick of the pleasures of the world, still we have to eat something, we have to wear something, and all this he provided. He had about six or seven shawls. One day he asked a devotee to bring them so they were placed before him. He said to me: Pick one! I looked, then pointed to one. Oh — he exclaimed - she has picked Om Baba’s shawl, and taking it to his forehead with great reverence, he then presented it to me saying: Daughter, take care of it, this is the only thing of Om Baba’s we have, and whoever wears it will be free from illness. My Pitaji has been so kind that after a few months with him he sent me to Swami Jnanananda (Interview 6) — (who has in his turn sent you here) — saying: “Spend some time with him — you will learn so much”. And of course I have. I have also spent much time with Sri Pad Baba in Vrindavan and with a great saint in Gujarat, Jagjivan Bapu; but he has now left the body. Pitaji would always give his permission every time I wanted to visit these saints, but Swami Jnanananda used to tease me sometimes: You have a greater problem than most devotees — he would say — because you have many gurus to please.

But Radheshwari, you have been in India so many years, how do you manage to support yourself?
This question I often wonder about myself. To think it is enough to send one into ecstasy — it’s perhaps the greatest miracle. I had an abhorrence of working for money; there’s joy in work, so working was all right. But to be handed money for it I felt was insulting, especially if one puts one’s heart into the work. But here in India one has a goal: one has come only for God. One hasn’t thought of the body, so He has blessed the body with its daily needs. I am lacking in nothing. If you think of it, Christ said: “Think not for how thou shall be clothed and how thou shall eat; does not thy Lord know thou hast need of these things?” I was so filled, crazy with the desire to find Him, I never thought about these things. Rather I thought I would prefer to be without than to be chained to a weekly pay packet. Do we really need wall-to-wall carpeting? I have had to do without so many things for a number of years, but there was joy in the heart and fulfillment in the life.

Sri Pad Baba, who I hope you will meet in Vrindavan next week, was an inspiration for me. He had nothing but a blanket to wear. I had nothing but one little bag with a change of clothes in the early days. Oh, it’s all coming back to me… at one time I only had a dhoti to wear, and when I washed it in the river I had to dry it on my body in the sun. I lived like that for months — Sri Pad Baba’s influence was so strong. These days, everything I wear has been given to me because the devotees see I am serving Pitaji day and night. The simple food we have always gets shared by whoever comes — you have seen that yourself. I can’t see that I’m in need for anything more.

And Santji; how is he supported?
Supported? He’s just sitting in the lap of God! He doesn’t depend on anyone.

Do you ever think about the future?
A few years back I started to think about security. A devoted person offered me space on his land to build a little cottage — this was up in the hills. We talked to Santji about it. His reply was: Why are you planning? At this stage you can’t even imagine what will happen to you — leave off these ideas: you are going to be happy wherever you are! I let that chance go. Since then I don’t even think about whether I will be allowed to stay in India or not – sometimes there’s trouble getting a visa. Pitaji annihilated all desires, this way, that way.

I notice that sometimes you refer to Santji as Pitaji.
Pita means father, and if one uses ji with any name it gives it more respect. Most of Santji’s close devotees call him Pitaji… he calls us all bachche, children. It is out of love — and such love he has! — that we call him father.

Although you are so integrated here, you can hardly ever meet any Westerners. Do you ever miss Western society?
Things are in the heart: one remembers sometimes, but through grace one never hankers after anything. You must remember when I left the West I was fed up with everything there; I don’t have to go through all the boring list of horrors going on then — and perhaps they are still going on. It has taken me ten years to start seeing the good side of the West again.

Like you all those years ago, many others have taken the road towards the East hoping for a better life, yet many have not found the inner peace and fulfillment you have. Is there a reason?
The reason is the destiny of each person. There is a definite benefit in seeing the world — even the Indians should see America — we should see it all, feel it all, and know that life isn’t just the customs within the society into which we are born. Many have been to India and been disturbed by the dirt and poverty, the climate and endless difficulties. That had to be for them. Others see beyond that, at the beauty: then a stage comes when we see beauty everywhere. But one cannot fight or alter one’s fate.

Did you find it difficult to adapt to the conditions?
At first I wanted to look like an Indian lady, but it’s hard even though you keep to the customs because the Indians themselves see you as a Westerner. The girls here can’t move about unchaperoned. I wanted to be free to travel. I soon found that as a Westerner I could. It’s important not to upset anyone by wrong behaviour — we’re so free in the West. So I learned to always cover my head in the company of holy men, and so on. It was four years before anyone would give me a room in Vrindavan — they were just not used to seeing foreign girls move around on their own. No Indian girl alone would still ever be given a room there. So sometimes one’s foreignness helps.

Do you see this life you have with Santji as the end of your search, or could you still go on?
Both. I could very happily jump right out of this body now, yet I see there’s far to go. Scientists are discovering that the Creation is endless — so much to be discovered had been covered, hidden. But what about He who created all this? Is He not as endless and full of mystery to be unraveled by His devotees? As long as life is, there will be mysteries. I have become happy. Why? - because I know whatever I need He gives me.

Do you still have any goals?
The one goal is Him. What He wants me to do here, He will make me do. At the moment it’s to serve Santji - until he leaves his body I will stay at his feet serving him. After that, well, that’s the beauty - I don’t know…but I do know I’ll never serve another as I have served Santji. About five years ago I arrived back from an exciting trip with Swami Jnanananda — Pitaji was so happy to see me. He was laughing in the great mystery — you see, he is not at all possessive. I was sitting with him all alone. He never speaks personally to me, so we sat in silence, and suddenly a flood-wave came on me — visually — and I blinked my eyes. A rainbow of colour showered over me, glittering light - I couldn’t see Santji through it. At the same time my body felt cool, refreshed but exhilarated…and joy and joy was that vibrating bliss! Then came to my mind what Santji had said a hundred times: All the eighteen places of holy pilgrimage are found at the feet of the guru! Since that day and that experience I never wanted to go anywhere. These sayings in the scriptures aren’t just words: Someone has experienced them as I had experienced what it means to be at the feet of the guru.

In the two days I have been here, you appear to be in a constant state of divine intoxication. But do you ever have moments of sorrow?
We are not above our moods. Sorrow comes. But that too is as precious as everything else. It’s in the depths of sorrow — the dark night of the soul — one gets the greatest revelation of His love, His grace, His mercy. And when you cry: Oh, God! God! Are you there? Show me! Show me! — and you are really suffering, that is the blessing of blessings. I have had my share of pain. Being a lone woman is no small thing. You have to find Him. I have seen Him come when you need that love. Then there’s that ocean, endless ocean of Light. Without words God will tell you: I love you, I love you most: I am waiting for every cell of my own self to come back.

So that is what I have been given here: it’s the firm foundation of faith. This is His body; He will do with it as He likes, I’m to watch. As it’s His, He must take care of it. I found out this secret in the greatest moments of pain, when one had no one else, nothing else to lean on, no source other than Him. Is it not a wonderful life to know that?

Pitaji has shown me two ways: To pray in a humble way for God’s grace to come. The other is to accept everything as it is and know He wants it that way, and if you love Him, why question His wishes? Until we find the guru, the world is the guru. We learn like that — even the wind will teach us.

When I first met Pitaji — within four or five days — we were sitting alone in the sun at Simla, he said: My child, name anything you want, just tell me. I was thrilled all over, and started weeping… I couldn’t speak. I knew what I wanted, but how can you say that you want God? But what was on my mind, having just found Santji, was staying in India — the visa. How could I stay? This was on my mind but one cannot ask for a worldly thing.

I stood up and shouted in Pitaji’s ear: God! God!

But he replied: No! No!.. He is already yours, you ask for something else!

Tears were still falling down my face but I couldn’t say anything more.

Of his own accord, Santji turned to me and said: Look, you can stay as long as you like in India…if it’s some papers, we will arrange that, you are not to worry. We will keep you.

So you see, He gave me that. I am not in need of anything else.


Santji is being taken to General Joginder Singh’s house; this serves a double purpose: he will be able to see his loving children, and I will be dropped home. Santji comes into the house and gives a 10 minute discouse to an audience of four — he rarely speaks to great gatherings. When he gets back into the car, he clasps my hands to say goodbye; I ask him to bless the work on this book. He kisses me on the forehead again, and says: I have asked God to bless you!

Sant Gulab Singh lived on for another 4 years but slipped away in his sleep having reached the age of 108.



Radheshwari married Raj, Santji’s other principle disciple, and still lives in Chandigarh.


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© Malcolm Tillis 2006