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



Sz. Regeni

Good Guest House

23rd January 1981

Click for a printable view


New Lives - Malcolm Tillis

Two minutes away from the main Ashram there are all kinds of boutiques, show-places for the many Ashram handicrafts and hand-made clothes. I have to buy something cooler to wear; I’m feeling uncomfortable in this winter heat. But everything I see is elegantly — too elegantly — finished; after years of wearing Indian khadi – roughly hand-woven cotton -- I can’t see myself going back to this. Along the main street suddenly I see a shop selling Gandhi home-spun clothes…there I can buy kurta-pyjamas: they are cool, unpretentious, and in all Ashrams you feel at home wearing them…in fact, the rougher the weave, the more comfortable they are.

I am now floating freely more at ease in my new clothes along the sea-front towards the Good Guest House. This is a much smaller Ashram hotel, a fine building more typical of old French Raj architecture than the super modern one in which I am staying. It has a light, jolly atmosphere in spite of the heavy antique furniture. It reflects well the brightness and warmth of its manager, who sounds very Hungarian to me.

All the Hungarians in my life have been bright and warm and supremely musical, especially noticeable when struggling with the pronunciation intricacies of the English language.



Interview 24

I will answer you gladly…but my English you will see isn’t so good…I’m not a scholar…and do we have to do it now?

You may not be a scholar, but do you have a heart?

Well, why not speak from the heart?
Very well….by the way I was not born in Hungary….I was born in Transylvania, in 1925. It was later that I went to live in Hungary…(hearty laughter)…Yes, yes, and there I became a chef, and as I took part in the 2nd World War, I was taken prisoner by the Russians….one year I spent in Russia. While in prison I had a vision. A figure – serene and white – told me to go out into the world and learn. It was my first mystic experience.

That vision remained imprinted on my memory. When I saw Sri Aurobindo’s photograph – that was many years later – I immediately recognized he was the giver of that vision. By the Divine’s Grace I was miraculously freed. I went back to Hungary to complete my assignment. I spent one year in Germany, one year in Austria, some time in Italy, and then went to Australia where I lived for 12 years and learnt my nice English! But I couldn’t settle, I felt life was not complete. I couldn’t agree to get married…I was restless. Then came some books, the teachings of the higher life. I started with Paul Brunton who introduced me to Ramana Maharshi. When I first saw Maharshi’s photo tears rolled from my eyes. I felt much love flowing from him. This gave me a boost. I said: That’s it – I will go to India!

When was all that happening?
I came here in 1963, but I was preparing myself for 2 years. I had collected over a thousand books: my idea was to retire as soon as possible, study, and live quietly in Australia – it was a marvellous climate. But as you know, to read and absorb needs a tranquil mind, what I didn’t have. At first I intended to come to India for 2 years to study and get peace. But as soon as I boarded the ship I was sure an unseen hand was guiding me. That’s a wonderful feeling.
I arrived in Colombo. It was strange, the crowds as well as the atmosphere. I went to the Ramakrishna Mission, and there I met Hinduism.

Such sweetness, such joy; everything appeared familiar. I broke into tears. By that Grace they understood. Then the Swami in charge had to fly to Madras so he brought me with him. I didn’t know where to go – I just wanted to do some yoga. Someone told me: Nearby is a beautiful Ashram with a French lady and it’s modern with a swimming pool, tennis court, sports ground and…I SHRANK…I was running away from all such things. I was imagining only in jungles can you find peace – in concrete buildings, NO!

Half-heartedly I agreed to go, but I left my luggage behind, I only wanted to look at Pondicherry. So I arrived with a letter in my hand. At the Ashram I asked the first man I saw if I could meet this person. He looked, laughed, and said: It’s me. It was another sign that the unseen hand was there. I was taken to a guest house, had food, rested. In the evening everything about the Ashram was explained to me. I was told to write to Mother and say what I had to say. I said I wanted to study yoga for 2 years, then went to sleep. I don’t know what happened, but in the morning when I woke up there was no Time…no Beginning…no End. Such a strange experience. But I was happy. I felt the answer was coming and I was at peace.

Did Mother answer the letter?
Yes, the next day. She said: You may stay…about the yoga, we’ll see. Back to Madras for my belongings I went, came straight back, and I began to feel the place. I wrote Mother another letter offering my services. You see, I had worked in big hotels – Hilton Hotels. In a few days she put me to work managing this guest house.

You actually met her?
Not immediately…the secretary brought back the answer. In a few days I had an experience which opened me up for the new road, the new life.
Starting a new life is difficult: you have to forget much of what you already know. We have been accustomed to live in so much falsehood. You have to train yourself to be conscious every minute. Whatever you do must be analysed. We must control ourselves step by step. Only then can we do yoga. An example: At home you go to a store, pay the bill and put the change in your pocket. Here I did the same thing, but I found the change short. What happened? – I wasn’t as conscious as I should be. You can say that doesn’t matter, but it does – it’s the Divine’s money. I have to serve Him well and perfectly. Whatever you do, you have to be constantly conscious, no? This is how to progress in the spiritual life.

How did you meet Mother?
As I had a problem, she gave me an Interview. She said I must find harmony in my work. Harmony is a wonderful thing if you can find it. Work is our sadhana, so if you find harmony in your work, your sadhana is also harmonious. So I tried to find harmony.

Much emphasis is put on work in the Ashram, but do you ever find that the purpose behind the work is forgotten?
Once we are accepted and are members of the Ashram then the right attitude is to offer service to Mother. Through work you progress. The work is often given according to our weakness, something we usually shrink from, don’t want. But if that work is done as an offering to the Divine, the response will come…weaknesses will be conquered. I had been a good example of that…when I worked for Hilton everything was push-button stainless-steel, all up to date. I found myself here in a small kitchen with a small stove which I had to feed with wood which takes ages to even get water boiling. Cooking was my profession – yes – but I did it because it was well paid. I said when I left Australia: No More Cooking! In a few weeks here I was cooking again, and in very different conditions. Through grace, it somehow works…and…well…we come to love the things we could not love at first.

How long have you been running this guest house?
From the first year I came here, about 18 years. It was formally the house of the Mayor of Pondicherry. As you can see, it’s beautifully built, so I have kept its character with the antiques.

Do you ever have difficulties with your guests?
Difficulties are part of life. We have to be patient and analyze problems. I have had interesting experiences…ho-ho…one Swiss lady was annoyed. She didn’t like India. She didn’t like people. She was miserable with herself. She spread the misery to everyone. She stayed several weeks and left without saying goodbye to me. One year later a visitor came saying that lady spoke highly about the Ashram, she tells everyone she loves it. Then the following year here she comes again. I couldn’t believe it. She says: I’ve come to apologize for how I behaved. We had a good laugh…it’s good. I have another story.

We had another lady but she was…yes…from Hollywood. She travelled here from Japan as she had heard about us. She was very active, about 75, but she wore thick, very thick, glasses…she couldn’t see well. At 10 at night we were all quiet. Then at 1a.m. someone is knocking at my door. It is this lady asking for water. I give her a full bottle and go back to sleep. At breakfast some of the guests are laughing; they say, That lady woke up feeling hungry, she opened her bag and put some protein powder into a glass of water. After she drank it she realized it was washing powder and she was so thirsty she had to drink a whole bottle of water. But only then did she realize why all her clothes in Japan looked grey…she had been washing them in protein powder.

No wonder she was thirsty. Does this mean not all the quests are devotees?
Mother wished the door to be open for everyone.

How did Mother give out the teachings?
She often told the Ashram children that knowledge is within us but like a bud, we should give it sunlight to open and develop. The best way being with love and harmony. With her loving guidance she opened the best means of progress for each individual. This embraces casual visitors. She said she felt responsible for a person whom she may have only seen once. What a marvellous period of grace it was to live with her. Someone once told Mother he couldn’t understand Sri Aurobindo’s books. She answered: If you love me that’s enough. And that’s why the work goes on well here. When more and more people started coming, Mother began providing work for them…she didn’t like anyone idle. Karma Yoga is part of Integral Yoga: everyone does some work. Some just watch while the cows are milked so the milk is undiluted. We have shoe-makers, barbers, dentists, doctors…all serving with love.

A University Principle retired and wanted to spend the rest of his days at the Ashram. We were all happy such a qualified man would come to our school. But Mother told him to report to the person in charge of the kitchen…she said: I hear they need a dishwasher. The poor man after recovering from the shock did the work. After a time he realized it’s not the work but the attitude to it that’s important in sadhana. Three months later he was happy in the kitchen, but Mother sent for him, saying: It appears that they need someone like you in the school – a professor – you go there.

That’s what happens. You are conquering when you surrender. This happened also with a rich man who was used to commanding. But Mother again put him in the kitchen – he’d never been INSIDE one before! He decided he must at least try…it was Mother’s request. He started washing dishes, and there he saw in the water a beautiful lotus and the feet of the Divine Mother – he had a spiritual experience. And that changed his life. If any work is done in the right spirit, the Divine lifts you up and guides you.

The handicrafts made here have become extremely successful.
The hand-made paper can be compared to Chinese paper; it’s much in demand. Our work is not done for gain but to create beauty. We have a building unit to keep Ashram properties in repair, but it sometimes takes outside repairs too. The engineer gives an estimate. Once the work outside came to less than the estimate. Mother was told. She said: Take your correct commission, then give the rest back. The idea is to create and serve.

Now that Mother is no longer in the physical body, to whom do you turn for guidance?
We do exactly what we did when Mother was here: to us she IS here living amongst us. If we are conscious and watchful we don’t have to turn to anyone. We all know from within what is right or wrong, don’t we?

You seem to be so deeply rooted in the teachings, but can I ask what is the aim of your life?
To be the instrument of the Divine – it’s the highest aim a human being can have on earth. And the process is called sadhana; we have to be conscious, and then we’ll have inspiration, fire and love in our hearts.

You never find Ashram life difficult at times?
Oh, Oh….it’s like a grinding stone. We have so many lumps, so many knots accumulated from past lives. Yes – it can be painful and we shout. But that’s a sign of weakness. What is important here is the continual help given by Mother’s grace; that compensates for the grinding. If we all start singing out loud about the difficulties, it would be like a fish market, wouldn’t it?

But you are so happy…what’s the secret?
It’s not a secret. Whatever I have is by the grace of the Divine. The Divine is with us…that’s what gives us joy to live. And without that it’s darkness. You are in the mud up to your neck, right?

Now if you would like to come with me, I’ll show you the meditation room…and I’m going to ask Mother to bless you and your book so that it can be helpful to others in their life’s quest.



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© Malcolm Tillis 2006