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



Doris Williamson


29th January 1981

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New Lives - Malcolm Tillis

We are now moving on to yet another compound and Mr. N. is telling me about a Frenchwoman living alone up the Sacred Hill near Ramana’s former Ashram. He says we must go to see her — well — maybe tomorrow.

For the moment we are to see a stately English woman who as we arrive is entertaining most lavishly her daily visitor. He will only eat directly from her hands and is rather particular as to what is offered. She is introducing me to him, but he is not too interested. Polite peacocks can’t eat and say at the same time: How do you do?



Interview 33

I went to South Africa at the age of 6 and spent most of my life there although I was born in England. Then by accident I found my way to Australia in 1963, and just as accidentally found my way to India ten years later. Two friends were going to India, and over a tea table they said: Why not come along? Just as casually I said: I will! Within two weeks I was in India without any plans or desire to be here. I didn’t even have an interest in India. But since then I have lived here practically all the time.

Here in the Ashram?
At first I was at the Theosophical Society at Adyar, but a friend brought me here, and that’s how I heard about Ramana Maharshi.

But what made you want to stay on?
That’s difficult to answer. These things are preordained. Looking through my life I see I had no control over anything that happened — one thing lead to another in a sort of sequence. So coming here was also inevitable. I feel there must have been a strong link with Ramana somewhere in the past because circumstances took me round India and I have met, sometimes unintentionally, many gurus and teachers and they never made an impact. When I came here, I knew I was home.

What is it that attracted you to Bhagavan’s teachings?
The utter simplicity. I suppose most of us realize there’s something beyond our mind and reasoning. Bhagavan showed it so clearly that I immediately responded to his teaching and knew it was the basic Truth, that I as an ego didn’t exist.

You haven’t felt the lack of his physical presence a disadvantage? Most of us seem to need a living guru.
No, not at all. Don’t misunderstand this, but if one is ready for advaita — non-dualism — you no longer need the physical guru. You have to externalize God until you can internalize Him — the same with the guru. Your own guru isn’t in the body, so you’ll understand what I mean (she had asked).

That’s true, but I knew him personally; I could ask him questions… he taught me personally.
To me, Bhagavan is the universal Self, so he’s no different from me. Well — perhaps I should say he’s not outside me. His presence is very, very powerful.

Yes, I understand all that. How is your day spent?
So many people ask what on earth I do all day. All I know is that there’s not enough time to do it. There’s always a turn-over of interesting people, many making enquiries; so as they think I’m an old-timer here they seem to think I know more than they might know. This leads to interesting conversations, and I learn a great deal. Then I read. Recently I helped type a book from manuscript. Occasionally I help in the library when the librarian is away. There’s always something to do.

Can you say something about your spiritual practice?
Well — I find it almost impossible to meditate. Only recently have I come to realize what people mean by meditation; a mental process to control the mind. I instinctively felt that wasn’t the answer to meditation. Bhagavan’s way of asking: Who am I? — stills the mind, and in my estimation, is true meditation.

You don’t sit in any formal position for this?
I find I can’t — physically I can’t because I can’t get up from the ground. I think of meditation as a constant awareness. To sit controlling the mind for a certain length of time is contrary to what I believe. Bhagavan’s direct instructions were so simple — just to ask — Who am I? And to find I am non-existent. Bhagavan answered his visitors’ questions at their own level but gave no specific instructions. That is the beauty of this Ashram — it’s not an organization, it’s not a place where you’re told to do this and not that. It is left to you. There are no rules and regulations. The books are available, the meditation room is available, the atmosphere is available — but no one will tell you what to do.

Can you say something about the benefits of this path?
A feeling of inner peace. One’s sense of values have altered. The tempo slackens. One is no longer dashing about looking for gurus or teachings. There is freedom from anxiety. One is able to accept one’s destiny, knowing the destiny of the body isn’t the reality.

Was it hard to give up your family for Ashram life?
That question is not applicable… I have no family. I was free.

Have you met any teachers here who you consider realized?
Only one have I sought out: Nisargadatta Maharaj, who lives in Bombay. He is not so well known, but many from this Ashram are attracted to him (See Interview 50 with Jean Dunn). There seems to be a link between him and Ramana Maharshi, although his personality is different. He is a simple little man living in a slum who until recently smoked cigarettes non-stop. He now has cancer of the throat, so his smoking days are over. When one is in his presence one knows this is a realized soul. The advantage is that one sees in front of one the reality, not theory, not conjecture — this is what a realized soul is about. It’s a tremendous experience. His teachings are not unlike Bhagavan’s. In a way he enlarges on them. But it’s his presence that inspires. I visit him regularly.

You said you have found inner peace: can you say anything to those still looking for it?
The obvious answer is what the teachers themselves have said. One wrote a book on Hinduism and said there are four legitimate aims and we all have those aims to some degree with emphasis on one. The first aim is to enjoy yourself. When you are tired of that, the aim is ambition — you want to be the manager, the captain of the ship. When you become bored with that, the aim is to become a philanthropist — you want to save the world. When you discover the world cannot be saved, and no one wants to be helped, you discover the only person you can help is yourself. This sounds selfish but it’s completely logical. All teachers tell us we are to work on ourselves because we are the world, the universe. The individual makes the universe. And one perfected individual in the world does more good than all the philanthropists put together. So each individual must work on himself. That’s all that can be done.



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© Malcolm Tillis 2006