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



Gopi Jai Krishna

Vraja Academy

10th January 1981

Click for a printable view


New Lives - Malcolm Tillis

I have at last started taking the photographs; I began in Delhi, continued in Chandigarh, so now I am feeling it less of a burden. Perhaps by the time I reach Agra, my next port of call, I will be as comfortable with the camera as I am with the tape recorder.

On my second morning in Vrindavan I go back to the Vraja Academy. Radha Dasi is still acting as my guide but still will not speak. Sri Pad Baba has another young lady lined-up instead. He also introduces me to Asim who is busy showing him some manuscripts and who has been with him for years. Asim has been asked to give one of the Interviews; he is not too keen, but as Sri Padji is watching, he agrees to meet me at Radha Dasi’s this evening.

Meanwhile, Gopi Jai Krishna is sitting waiting in the magnificent porch, relaxed and beautiful in her white saree. She has a child-like quality, all open trust and wonder, yet I sense a firm determination also. Her awareness is centred, her speech clear, her life full of single-minded achievement.



Interview 13

I was raised in a Catholic family and became disillusioned as I found it unfulfilling. When I heard about the different yogas I wished to study them.

Where was all this taking place?
In America, where I was born. One day I was walking by the sea in California, and I saw an old man sitting in a yoga posture. I walked past but I felt an incredible purity emanating from him. I remember telling my mother about it. The next day I went back; the old man was there, but I was afraid to disturb him. But I was impelled: I went up to him and said: I feel you can teach me.

How old were you then?
13. He asked me what I wanted to know, so I replied: I just know I can learn something from you. From that day I went to him practically every day; he told me about different philosophies. He wasn’t Indian, but he came from a foreign country as he had an accent. He had lived on raw fruits for many years, and he explained we shouldn’t eat the bodies of dead animals. From the day I met him I changed: I couldn’t eat animal flesh, and I decided to find the perfection of life. I was with him one month and he taught me much about a pure diet.
Later I heard there were yoga Ashrams in Hawaii. Although I was still in school, I convinced my mother to let me go there. I was 15 but I found there were several Ashrams in Hawaii so I stayed in different ones. Everyone who has come on the spiritual path has heard about Paramahansa Yogananda and can never forget his story about the deathless Babaji. One day I saw in an advertisement that this Babaji who had been living in the Himalayas for hundreds of years, was sending his disciple to give lecture courses and initiation in Hawaii. So I was able to attend them.

Did you have to pay for the courses?
Oh, no. At the time I was living with another girl in a hut made of bamboo with a roof of canvas. We studied ashtanga yoga and some hatha yoga. We rose early every day, bathed and practiced certain asanas. At the end of the course, the teacher said: Now you set up your own Ashram!

You were still only 15?
Yes. I thought: We have no money, and here we are in the jungle living on fruit, but if we are meant to do this, we will do it. Someone then gave us a typewriter and sponsored us: we started. We were following the advaita philosophy — non-dualism. This teaches that God’s presence is in everything, every molecule — Sat-chit-ananda: Eternal-consciousness-bliss. We set up the Ashram, had retreats, and with divine grace, everything came to be arranged. When the teacher came there were many followers. His name was Tishananda. There were seven stages of initiation. I completed five. But throughout this whole study I felt something missing. I was certain the Supreme Absolute exists. This philosophy teaches that when Krishna appears, he has the personification of Brahman — each avatar is the personification of Brahman. Everything is the personification of Brahman, and when one reaches nirvana, at that stage one ceases to exist in individuality: there’s only consciousness of the whole — we are absorbed in bliss.

I was always attached to Krishna. Then one day I met devotees from ISKCON. They were having kirtan and distributing prasad. They stayed with us and when they left they gave us some books which I read.

I had already realized that to achieve pure devotion to Krishna would be the perfection of my life because Krishna is beyond Brahman, he is the source of Brahman. The first sloka of the Isha Upanishad says that Krishna eternally exists, he is all that is, and, simultaneously he exists aloof from that. This means that all this is Krishna, in this realm and also the beyond, where he is eternally sporting in Satchitananda. I decided to study with a branch of ISKCON.

Where did that take place?
Still in Hawaii — I was there for several years. But I had moved to a ladies Ashram-farm; we rose early, had puja, read scriptures and worked in the garden. I cooked for everyone. Every day was the same. There was one teacher, Siddhaswarup Ananda Goswami. He was a magnetic personality who had attained perfection: to hear him speak made the mind clear — one felt one could overcome anything in one’s sadhana. I studied with him for some years. But due to differences with the management, he broke away — I won’t say any more. I don’t want to be offensive in any way. He told me we should not be dependent on living in an Ashram. During all that time I had many incredible experiences, and devotion was growing in my heart.

Can you describe these experiences?
When one develops attachment to Krishna who is beyond time and space, one experiences freedom from the limitations of matter. As one progresses, one sees that Krishna takes care of his devotees wherever they are, whatever they do. I would go about without money; I just had a piece of plastic and a blanket. The island was filled with peace and beauty, stillness and goodness. I just walked in the forest; I would do a job, sleep by the sea. I never strived for anything — everything came. It was one long miracle…someone always gave me food; everything that was needed was provided. In the Bhagavad Gita it says: One who is completely surrendered, for him I provide everything he lacks. You asked me about these experiences…well, I can only say I had nothing but experienced that! Siddhaswarup Ananda had told me: It is time for you to leave everything and depend entirely on Krishna. I had been living in Ashrams for years depending on schedules, friends and now I was in the street. It was then I knew the time had come to go to India — to Vrindavan. To make the money for the fare I swept leaves in a park. When I arrived, I had no friends, no Hindi, no money.

How long ago was that?
Six years ago. I knew wherever I was to go, Krishna would look after me, would protect me. I went to a place near here called Radha Kund; I didn’t know it was a special place. Then I realized it was special to Krishna; if one goes there and bathes, one attains the love of the gopis. I stayed and studied there for some time. After that I traveled to Mayapur in Bengal, the birthplace of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. I was all alone, sleeping in railway stations with no one to talk to.

After a time, as I had a return excursion ticket, I returned to Hawaii where I spent one year living in the jungle on pineapples and avocados, which grow freely there. I chanted and had the realization that the ultimate perfection was that the soul was to be devoted to that personality who is the perfect Krishna devotee. That personality is Shrimati Radha Rani — Krishna’s beloved. I started singing bhajans to her — singing, singing, singing, becoming absorbed and meditating on her lotus feet. In this way I had one or two experiences of other worlds that no one can understand unless they too have experienced them.

But can you not give us some idea of these experiences?
One thing that happened was when I returned to India, as I couldn’t extend my six-month visa, I prayed: Oh, Shrimati Radha Rani, tell me what you want me to do; if I leave India I cannot continue my sadhana…tomorrow is my birthday; if you want me to continue living in this body, you must make a miracle happen tomorrow, otherwise I will go to Barsana where I know a deep well and I will tie rocks round myself, throw myself in and die in your own holy birthplace! Then I told her a rather complicated thing…I said: Krishna is Satchitananda, and the only way I can stay in India legally is to marry an Indian citizen; so if Krishna appears like that in the form of a young man who will marry me, I will take it as a sign that you want me to continue in this body - if not, I will drop this body in the well!

I had actually written down this prayer in the form of a letter to Radha Rani and placed it on the altar. In the morning when I got up, I was all prepared to go to the well - there was a knock at the door. A boy was there saying: I am Satchitananda. He was a yogi and his name was actually Shiva — I had met him a few days before. But here he was saying I am Satchitananda…he then explained: There I was sitting in my room and all I am hearing is Shrimati Radha Rani telling me: You go and help Gopi Jai Krishna! I couldn’t meditate; I am not even a follower of Radha Rani, so how can all this be?

He was an Indian boy devoted to another sect?
Yes, yes! At first I told him I was very busy, I have something planned in Barsana. But then he said: Look, I’ve brought you a present, I’ve brought you some sweets - but listen, Gopi; you just marry me and everything will be all right! All I could say was: What? So you see, Satchitananda had manifested through that boy, who is now a guru with so many of his own disciples.

But what happened next?
I realized this is what Radha Rani wanted. That boy was about 30. But how to make the wedding arrangements? He had been a yogi since the age of 6; he lived in jungles kissing snakes…he never had a birth certificate. They told me: How can you marry such a person? It was a matter of papers and nothing could be arranged. But I saw this was one of Radha Rani’s tricks to stop me doing that awful thing at Barsana. I was now prepared to go back to America.

Because you couldn’t get married?
No, because I couldn’t get the visa.

I see, something was broken.
Yes, that was the miracle. He went his way, I went home content. Once again I saved money to get back, but this time I stayed.

This is your third time?
Yes…but now I have a proper entry visa — and that was another miracle, for this now entitles me to stay for the purpose of spiritual study. In America I prayed: All right, Krishna, to come back to your place I will do anything. There is someone in Pakistan who gives Americans a visa; the Indian Government on the whole is not sympathetic. I knew my only chance to stay for a long period without all the bother and heartache of begging for 3-month extensions was to get to Pakistan. My plane ticket only took me to Bangkok, but there I found there was no flight to Pakistan. I didn’t know what to do — no airline could help me. I saw the manager of P.I.A. and told him I must go to Pakistan. He asked: But why? I explained. He must have taken pity on me.

He told me not to worry, he would arrange something. He was a Muslim and told me: Allah is telling me to help you…you are my daughter; don’t be afraid. You can stay in my house, and in the morning I will be able to help you. I stayed with one lady in his house, where he later explained: I have a friend in the Government of Thailand, let’s see what he can do! But I knew it was absolutely impossible to get an entry visa into India from Thailand — it’s against the law to issue anything but the normal tourist visa.

I was taken to see a prominent Sikh gentleman. He in turn took me in hand and told the authorities: Look, this poor girl is stranded here, and all she wants is to be able to carry on with her sadhana in India. They kept me a few hours, then we all went to the Indian Embassy. As soon as this Sikh gentleman walked in, everyone stood up. He just told them: Give her two years! They replied: It cannot be done until tomorrow. It was not only ready the next day but I found the visa was not just for two years but extendable for a further five years!
The manager of P.I.A. then allowed me to fly direct to India on a ticket for half price. His last words to me were: “It is all the will of Allah!” And I began to realize Allah is another name for Krishna.

Now that you are here for an extended period, how are you supporting yourself?
I had saved some money, but I came under a sponsorship letter, although I wasn’t expecting too much. But it enables me to stay with ISKCON; they have been taking care of me and giving me a small allowance. This enables me to look after my small son.

How did you get the son?
One year after that dramatic birthday when I was back in America when I was sitting in front of the deity, I said: If you want me to marry you must let me know tomorrow. I only speak to Krishna when I am very serious. I had been wandering about all over the world always alone. I thought if I don’t get a reply, I will put the idea of marriage out of my head for ever. The next day someone came, and as he walked into the room asked: Are you married? — if not, would you marry me? I started laughing and called my girl friend, but as I had said this to Krishna and she had been present, we decided to ask permission from the people under whose care I was.
This boy was an artist and had been painting pictures of Krishna for years.

I should say he didn’t know why he had asked me to marry him, but it was decided that it would be good for us to marry. I took it all as if it was meant to be. I still wanted to come back to India, but it was decided that we should have a child. There’s a certain ceremony that you have to observe, and all the time I was praying to Srimati Radha Rani, because we have to be strict even in married life. We have to be celibate except when a child is to be conceived. I prayed: If I have to go through this, then send me one of your devotees. So it was under these circumstances that my child was conceived. Later my husband said: I would like him to be called Ram Chandra…but I, being attached to Krishna, wanted to call him Barsana Prem. On the day of Ram Naomi, which is the birthday of Lord Ram, I started with labour and the child was born on that day. And of course, everyone called out: Ram Chandra has come! So that’s how I had Ram Chandra on Lord Ram’s birthday. His name is Ram Chandra Hasna — the smile of Lord Ram.

How old is he now?
Two and a half. But after the birth, my husband started having trouble with his sadhana and he became involved in the movie business. He wanted to make an animated film of the Ramayana. He was a good artist, but then I hardly saw him as he was just painting, painting. I wanted so much to return to India. Gradually, through the association with the movie industry, my husband got contaminated. I became more and more lonely although I had the child to take care of. Only now could I see we had different ideals. There was no point in dragging out our differences, so it was decided we should divorce. I had a lovely son, so the ISKCON people said we could live with them.

Now you have this wonderful extendable visa, I suppose you will never feel like leaving Vrindavan.
I will never leave; I see my son is so much clearer and stronger here. In the West one is exposed to so much contamination, it is inevitable we too become contaminated. One can’t avoid the influence of bill-boards, T.V., magazines and so many other associations. And no one understands you. Here in Vraja we have the ideal atmosphere for sadhana. I don’t want to leave… I never want to leave.



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© Malcolm Tillis 2006