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



Lucia Osborne

A bungalow
Near Ramanasramam

29th January 1981

Click for a printable view


New Lives - Malcolm Tillis

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 out!

Mr. N. is in heaven.



Interview 34

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 childhood?
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 days?
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 you then?
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 war?
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 inspired.
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 followers?
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 anything.

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 picture.
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 birth.

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.


Sri Bhagvan Ramana Maharshi






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© Malcolm Tillis 2006