Entertaining a hungry peacock is easy once you know
his habits. The wife of the late Arthur Osborne, Ramana’s early biographer
and editor, is almost an Ashram institution — so many visitors come to
see her. She has lived here almost forty years. Many devotees know her, love
her, visit her. Mr. N. is telling me how warm-hearted she is. A Polish-Belgium
woman is staying with her at the moment, and as we enter the bungalow, she is
the first person we meet.
Mrs. Osborne eventually comes to greet us but is doubtful,
somewhat coy about starting the Interview:
Don’t you know — she laughs — I am
also writing a book about Ashram life?
Well — I reply — perhaps there’ll
be room for two.
Mrs. Osborne isn’t too sure.
Mr. N. puts in a good word: You must give the Interview,
his father is Polish!
Oh, is that so?
She is laughing very loud now and not too convinced…
when you are playing at being difficult you can also play for time.
Mr. N. is very serious: he presses on …and Doris,
he explains, has given an Interview and Lucy also, and I’m going to take
him to that French lady…
Even more laughter from Mrs. Osborne as she interrupts:
So many ladies?
Yes, yes — he insists -- so all the more reason
you should also say something.
Mrs. Osborne likes teasing. Her reaction to all this
is perfect theatre: Are you sure -- she says vey seriously -- but absolutely
sure, his father is Polish?
The poor man isn’t at all sure, how can he be?
But at last here’s a cue for me: Will it help
if I tell you I am absolutely sure!
Ah — well — in that case — she is
saying with measured resignation -- right, but only because of your assurance
will I talk, so bring those chairs over here and let’s see what comes
Mr. N. is in heaven.
Now you will have to question me… that’s
the only way anything will happen; I’m not good at Interviews.
Very well… [Mr.
N. encourages me to begin]… I was just thinking that you must be Bhagavan’s last living Western
disciple who knew him in the flesh. How did you meet him?
The last? — Oh — yes, perhaps I am. You see, my husband was teaching
in the University of Bangkok; at that time I was interested, very interested,
in sculpture. I was involved in a sort of self-enquiry; it wasn’t “Who
am I?”, but “Who are you?” Someone sent us a booklet on Bhagavan with a picture. I saw the face
and thought: That’s the most fascinating face I’ve ever seen, the
most living and at the same time the most serene… It would make a marvellous
subject for a sculpture. That was my first idea. I had been trying to find out
who I am since childhood, wondering, asking, judging.
Where did you spend your
In Poland... I was born there! (Much laughter, especially from Mr. N.). In Poland
we are interested in physical beauty. I thought I was ugly when I looked in
the mirror — I was horrified. There was a girl at school who was really
beautiful, and I thought I would like to change with her… I didn’t
know about transplants then… but I was thinking, could we change the heart
or brain? Then I thought: Am I the heart and brain? That started it —
who am I really? But in Siam I was caught up in sculpture, and all that lapsed.
When we came to India we had three small children, the youngest wasn’t
even a year old.
When was that?
1943 — no — beginning of 1942. Our friends arranged for us to stay
in Kashmir to avoid the hot season although my husband wanted to come straight
to the Ashram. Since the time he was a school-boy he was interested in spirituality.
It was he who brought me to it. After a few months the British High Commissioner
said women and children shouldn’t go back to Siam as the war was getting
serious. My husband went back to his post and we were offered a house here.
I was then able to meet Bhagavan. I had some preconceived ideas,
but when I saw him… oh!… everything fell away. His eyes were transparent,
looking through you. When you sat with him there was a feeling of oneness —
everything is one, is one, is one!
Was he speaking in those
Yes, of course — I spoke with him — I used to show him my letters.
My children were the first Western children who came here. They were made a
tremendous fuss of. Since that meeting all my interest in sculpture fell away
— no longer important. So that’s how it started.
What sort of age were
Now I’m 76 — I’ll soon be 77 — so I suppose I was, yes,
38. I have spent exactly half my life here. Now although I had no news from
my husband for four years — not one letter — nothing mattered…
That was because of the
He was interned: they interned all Westerners although he was a civilian. It
may have been some sort of test for us. I sent my 3 year old son(1)
to Bhagavan; he said: Bhagavan, please bring my daddy back
safely. From that moment I didn’t worry. I am describing all this in my
book so I can’t give you everything — you don’t mind?
Well, he did come back
safely! Can you say how he started the magazine: “The Mountain Path”?
It was to spread Bhagavan’s teaching. He felt what
had already been written not suitable for Westerners. It was his service, dedicated
to Bhagavan, and was an immediate success.
Then one day my husband told me: My time is up, we should prepare for it. He
even told me of what he would die, and the year. He then sat down and wrote
all the editorials until the issue of the magazine which would coincide with
his death. He died in May 1970 but he had told me in 1968. I continued the editorial
work for another four years.
How did your husband
get the idea to write Bhagavan’s biography? It was so
Now look — how does anyone get any ideas? Bhagavan himself inspired people to do
things; this came spontaneously. That book has gone into so many editions and
translations. It was his work.
Yes, I do understand
that. What were your early days like at Bhagavan’s feet?
We all ask ourselves why we are here, what’s the purpose of life? I found
from the beginning you get all the answers here — in fact, you don’t
have to ask any questions. By sitting in Bhagavan’s presence everything
was resolved. When I came I knew the most important thing is to find out who
you really are. Those who are sincere get glimpses of that state and they know.
From that, the striving to make the experience steady starts.
In Bhagavan’s presence the silence
was so powerful: it was the most potent teaching. Words — he used to say
— are diffused silence. So, bathed in that silence you were, so to say,
out of yourself. All your cares were thrown among the lilies, to use a beautiful
expression. That was sadhana.
You know, after he passed away people thought we would become desolate. Nothing
of the sort! To my surprise I was walking on air: there was a feeling of elation.
Do you know why? Suddenly you realized he is the inner guru dwelling in the heart, ever present.
He had said: I’m not going anywhere, where can I go?
Since then you can feel his presence more than ever.
That’s why people come here more and more. They experience that raditaion.
And you only have to tell him something in the heart to get help, no matter
what it is.
I have been asking everyone
here how they pass their day. What do you do? Can you say?
The day could have 48 hours… 24 are not enough. I start the day by going
to the Ashram between 5 and 6 for meditation — that’s a beautiful
time. I sit till 8 or 8.30. I come home where there’s plenty of visitors
— as you’ve seen. I reply to letters. Only at night do I work on
my book till aout 1 or 2 a.m. It’s very strange: I used to do the replies
to the Letters to the Editor for the magazine, and I never had to rewrite anything.
I would read the letter, and straight away came the reply. It’s simply
as if one is nothing but an instrument of Bhagavan.
Can you share some of
the more personal incidents you experienced at Bhagavan’s feet?
Well — hmm!... they will be doubled because that’s what I am writing
about. If I hadn’t started the book I would tell you everything. Did you
know Bhagavan had a tremendous sense of humour?
And he was a very good cook… he used to cut vegetables in the kitchen.
Once, the poet Muruganar — he’s very well known — was helping
him, but he wasn’t clever with a knife. Bhagavan said: You are only fit to write
poems. And then on another occasion he told a lawyer: You are only fit to argue
in Court. He was so exact, and nothing was wasted. Once I saw him bend down
to pick up three grains of rice from the floor. It was like seeing the Divine
before you. Every act, every movement expressed this. He had a thousand faces.
He had stilled the mind, but that didn’t mean he was like a block of wood.
On the contrary, he was not hemmed by individual thoughts. He was omniscient.
He was the master of thought, not its slave.
You are telling me much
more than I dared hope. Did Bhagavan perform miracles to help his
Oh, yes! But they were done in an unobtrusive way — you hardly recognized
them as miracles. A child was dying; the doctors had given up hope. The parents
sent Bhagavan a telegram. From the moment
it arrived here, that child started getting better. The parents came to thank
Bhagavan. He said: What happened? They
insisted he had saved the child. He then explained: If the attention of a jnani
is turned in a certain direction, divine activity starts. That I heard him say
in English. Help and grace came spontaneously. He didn’t have to show
A man’s wife died — you know in India
we have to cremate within 24 hours. It was raining cats and dogs. The poor man
came to Bhagavan saying: What should I do? Bhagavan looked through the window and
replied: It looks as if it might stop! That was all. It stopped. That was the
way he did it. Wild animals would come right up to him; there was no fear because
they knew there was nothing but peace in him.
That’s such a vivid
I usually make awful faux pas whenever I’m Interviewed. A pandit
came from Pondicherry to Interview me for the All India Radio. He was talking
about their form of yoga which is supposed to bring down
the Divine Light from above. I said: Hasn’t it come down already?
You were fortunate to
be drawn to a living saint.
Yes — we must find a genuine guru — genuine. He who has not
found the way himself, how can he lead, except through all sorts of by-ways?
There are many so-called gurus, and I know a lot about them…
but I prefer not to say any more. Those really sincere find the way. The real
guru is the inner guru of the heart. The outer guru is his decoy who creates conditions
to turn you to the inner guru.
What were Bhagavan’s teachings about leaving
the physical body at the time of its death?
This body is but a garment — we don’t die, we never die. Schopenhauer
said: There isn’t an inch of ground that hasn’t been a human being.
Why? We drop the physical body, it turns into earth, a tree grows, that eventually
turns into coal or ash; it’s a perpetual mobile. Our life here is like
a moment in which we prepare our future state. It’s very important what
we do now. I had to give a speech in Bombay. I told them: Do you know what your
real bank account is? Not what you have, but what you do — that goes with
you: everything else is left behind.
It’s important how one lives because our last
thoughts go with us at the time of this physical death: they determine our future,
most definitely. This is also according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Death
can be a wonderful experience; it’s a transition. You can almost say that
our life is death, and our death a rebirth. To go into the Beyond is our true
What is encouraging is ernest effort – it never
fails. People sometimes say no effort is necessary: you are there already. But
we are as we are with all our inherited tendencies. We should be as we should
be. Yes, we are It already, but we have to work hard to know it, experience
it. Knowing it intellectually isn’t enough. If you want to learn to play
the piano or to ski, it requires effort until it becomes effortless. So why
should’t this apply when the objective is infinity? Do you agree?
Yes, I do. I wonder --
have you met during your long years in India any other enlightened saints?
No one came up to Bhagavan! He was extraordinary. Just
to see him walk, just to watch his actions… they conveyed something. And
I want you to really understand about his silence: it was most potent. With
others, such silence could be embarrassing… I won’t say any more.
Did you and your husband
build this house or is it Ashram property?
I built it with four workmen, without a plan, without an architect. I built
it like a sculpture: first two rooms, then the verandas, steps, arches —
and the upstairs is rather nice. We just created it as we went along. The people
here have such love, such devotion to God. One of the workmen was deepening
the well, and I saw him folding his hands to do namaskar. He had found a small
picture of Bhagavan in the well — floating
— it must have fallen in.
Is that why you are happy
to stay on in India?
Arunachala has kept me. During the war the British High Commissioner sent us
letters: The last ship is leaving for England, please make sure you are on it!
My husband had been released by the Japanese so they were doing everything to
help readjust ex-prisoners. We didn’t even show those letters to Bhagavan; we couldn’t imagine living
anywhere else. It was hard for my husband with his high qualifications and little
possibilities here. It worked out right.
His literary work has
helped awaken the sleeping West perhaps more than most writers in recent years.
Lots of people even now write saying it was through his books that they came
to a turning point in their lives. I have met many here whose lives were changed
by his books.
Did he leave any writings
about his own life?
He wrote an autobiography which stopped at the point he fell ill. I am putting
it together and bringing it up to date. I will also include some of his editorials.
Apart from his books
on Bhagvan, were there others?
He did studies on The Incredible Sai
Baba, The Rhythm of History, The Question of Progress…
What was that about?
In that book he shows what is called progress is no progress, how everything
geared to make life more convenient makes us less happy. Then he wrote –
just a minute – yes, this was for young people -- Gautama Buddha, and that had a Foreword by the
Dalai Lama. All his books on Bhagavan have been translated into many
laguages including several of the Indian languages.
But don’t you think I’ve told you enough
for today? If you like, come to tea tomorrow — I may tell you a little
more…do come. But perhaps you will leave your tape recorder in your room…Yes?
Mrs Osborne worked sporadically on her autobiography but was never able
to finish it or put it in a suitable form to be acceptable to a publisher
by the time of her death a few years after this meeting. It remains unpublished.