Francis, the captured travelling sadhu,
has been listening in the background. His life of wandering/searching is totally
different from that of Charan Das who has chosen this as his way of life –
or that of the settled calmness and stability chosen by the Sisters in this
Francis travels as he feels he has not yet reached the
path leading to spiritual fulfillment. All paths lead eventually to the same
goal if sincere longing and dedication is there. That, with Grace, is the passport.
Francis loves the simplicity, calmness, the order he finds here with the Sisters.
Whenever he speaks, however, one is conscious of an inner balance. The whole
point of the search, the upheavals, the seemingly endless struggle, is to help
centre ourselves within. To be living in an enclosed life away from the distractions
of worldly activity has much to be said for it, but it is harder also: without
the knocks and scrubbings from the outside the polishing takes longer.
My great Swiss friend, Swami
Jnanananda Giri who gave one of the earliest Interviews, recently wrote saying,
“Life is indeed a gift from God. One’s aspirations and the company
one keeps are the great factors that help realize oneself and purpose. Patience
is the great lesson one must try to learn. Day by day there are the opportunities
to practice equanimity and balance in one’s conduct. This is only possible
in one’s Divine Presence”.
Francis, like Baruni at the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry,
has been dragged through the filth of the world. Now they both shine because
of the constant scrubbings. Francis has a dream-like, child-like quality which
touches the heart.
My grandfather came from Italy to America to get out
of poverty, but I don’t know where to start about me — should I
start with the spiritual side? My spiritual quest started when I was 7.
Why don’t we have
what happened before that — it can’t take too long?
O.K. So my father was a Catholic, my mother was a Baptist — she wasn’t
Italian: she was English — very different backgrounds. There were big
arguments in my family: we have this son — what’s he going to be?
They decided I could make up my own mind. First I was brought to my mother’s
church when I was about 5, and I found it pretty boring; a spiritless scene
in church. Then I was brought to the Catholic Church to see what that was like;
I really felt some power there. They told me I could be baptized if I learned
the prayers, but that I had to also have an understanding of what they meant.
I tried to get an inner feeling for them, which I guess is pretty lucky because
most Catholics are baptized when they are babies and don’t have any understanding.
When I was baptized it was one of the most powerful experiences I can remember:
the priest poured water on my head and the spirit came through Jesus into my
body: I felt totally purified — I felt there was no need to be on the
earth anymore - finished! But I got very disillusioned.
What sort of age were
Oh, about 14. I was in a Catholic school and the nuns were terribly neurotic
at that time. In my mind I started to grow a bit. The sexual repression of the
Church, the question of good and evil, the thing of only Catholics deserving
salvation helped the disillusionment. I didn’t know where to go. I read
about LSD so I tried it, hoping to get some mystic experience — I suppose.
I was about 18 then, at High School in Denver. My mind was unraveling a bit
too fast and becoming desperate: I used hard drugs for about a year and a half.
It brought me down so far that when I made a surender it was very deep. I remember
I went to a church. I was praying to Jesus: I don’t know if you exist
or not, but if you do, help me! That was the surrender, and immediately the
help came: I ran into good people, although I had no trust any more. They were
not in any organization, so this idea of good and bad, that we are going to
be saved, wasn’t there.
A group of us kept together — it was a beautiful experience.
From such a low it really made me appreciate love,
from not having it, from cutting myself off from it. It gave me understanding:
how could there be duality in pure love. I was reading St. Augustine and how
he had gone through that whole process and he had come to a state of non-duality.
But I couldn’t come across any other Christians having the same experience:
there was this duality in every Christian community, and I could never break
You didn’t think
of turning to the Eastern mystics?
I did. I was very inspired by Kirpal Singh. Then I ran into Chogyam Trungpa
He hit something in me — touched me, reflected such kindness. I became
his student for about two and a half years. Through his suggestion I studied
vipassana meditation with Joseph Goldstein.
Would you describe some
of your experiences with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche?
I had been doing Kundaliniyoga, and for some reason it was throwing
me into high energy states, so when some people suggested I should see their
guru, I went. I was expecting to see
an Indian with a beard in an orange robe. But the first thing I saw was a bottle
of wine on his table, and there was a roast cooking — it was in his house
in the early days. When he came in, I saw a Tibetan in Western clothes smoking
a cigarette — it kind of shocked me a bit, I had been having a depression
for the past few days and I just started babbling my problems out for some reason.
He sat there and listened. And then there was a moment when the babbling stopped
and our minds met, and there was just silence and a moth flew through the air.
It looked like a Chinese painting. I left, but there wasn’t such a strong
connection yet — I continued with my spiritual materialism.
The next time I met him I was again down from a love
affair — my heart was very black; but when I saw Chogyam, he was so right
there: as high as you could go and as low as you were — he was right in
the middle. And he just looked at me and reached over and pulled my beard like:
You’re O.K. as you are, you don’t have to go up any higher or down
any lower — you don’t have to go anywhere or do anything or be anyone
— just be yourself as you are: you are all right. And that was so inspiring
— for my whole life I will never forget those two seconds: such kindness
I started studying with his group in San Francisco
and got another Interview about a year later. I started the babbling as it worked
the last time but he told me: You’re full of shit! Wow…it was good.
He said I was making too big a spiritual trip out of my practice and to start
sitting with my eyes open. I did this style of meditation for 2 ½ years,
but it was very painful.
You mean you focused
with open eyes?
Yes. It was painful because all these things would come up from within without
being able to see them inside…in that meditation the attention is not
internal…it’s a form devised for Westerners. I felt the need to
go inwards so I was attracted to Joseph Goldstein, a vipassana teacher in the Southern Buddhist
tradition. Chogyam suggested I study with him. So I did a 3 month retreat with
him which was a real death and a new life again! Then everyone I met after that
had been to India and was talking about India – so I wanted to go. I have
never been a big money-making person, but I put my mind to it and worked full
effort to get the money to come here.
So how long ago was all
Three years ago.
What did you have in
mind when you arrived in India?
I wanted to go to Bodhgaya and continue with vipassana and study with Munindra, but
as I had been inspired by Rajneesh just before I left, I came to Poona but was
too sick to do any of the dynamic meditation or groups. I listened to the lectures,
observed the people and had an Interview with Lakshmi. She decided this wasn’t
for me as I had already started on a Path and that I should continue on it whereas
most people coming to the Rajneesh Ashram don’t have one and so are accepted
easily. I left and met a family near Lonavala. I stayed with them for eight
months doing kundalini meditation, and Mrs. Patwardhan
gave me shaktipath initiation. I had some trouble with my relationship with
the family, so I left.
There must have been
tremendous differences between your vipassana and kundalini practices?
I ended up with Mrs. Patwardhan because I was so sick with heavy fever, but
she said I could only stay if I took the initiation. I wasn’t particularly
keen but I took it as I thought it would enable me to meditate in a good environment.
But the kundalini was activated more than before…I
had had some experience of it.
Can you say how she
activated the Kundalini?
She just touches you and the kundalini starts moving through the various
chakras. It seems to bring up a lot of
old patterns in people: some start crying, some come out with mantras they have never heard before,
some go into spontaneous hatha yoga, some see past-life events,
some see a lot of phenomena. The emphasis is not to do anything — just
surrender to the energy, to let it take you to the source, to Shiva
the Para Brahman — God. Many people get
different experiences: shaking, fast breathing — some people are quiet
Why did you leave them?
I had a conflict as I wanted to live as a sannyasi
— their guru was a sannyasi
but they were householders, and they didn’t quite understand my desire
to leave off everything. This brought about the break in our friendship and
I ended up without any money. At least I thought: This is my chance. I had to
go to Goa, and by chance I found a temple where I was allowed to stay. Some
people told me to come to their house every day and they would give me food.
I meditated during the night and it was beautiful — it was the life of
There I met a man whose whole sadhana
was raising cows and protecting them; he would milk them and give the milk to
poor people. He was an inspiring man. He had never heard of Christ — he
didn’t know anything about him — but he was displaying such Christian
I also lived with some sadhus
in Goa. One sadhu
lived on the edge of a village of prostitutes: on the other side of his wall
lived a prostitute, and he would chant his mantras very lovingly the whole day.
A few prostitutes came to see him and had a change of heart; he affected some
of the heavy characters there and had changed their lives. In my Christian experience
he was very Christ-like. From Goa I went to a Christian Ashram: I felt a need
to make a connection with my Christian roots: I stayed there three months, then
came back to Poona to this Ashram.
What attracted you here?
Before I tell you all that I have to go back a bit. I went to see Nisagardatta
Maharaj in Bombay: he told me to go to
Alandi, and on the first day I was walking about the temple where I saw an old
man who I didn’t take as a guru but I remember touching his feet
as it seemed that everyone was doing this. When I touched his feet the kundalini went straight up my back and
I felt some energy hitting my heart very, very strong. I felt like life-times
of poisons were pouring out of my heart. I looked up, and he said through a
translator: I don’t understand your language but I know all the prayers
of your heart. He was wearing a Shirdi Sai
Baba ring, and there was a beam coming out of it hitting me in the heart.
Then he said: I know you have come to India purely for spiritual purposes…
you have gone all around… now you don’t have to go anywhere. At
the time I didn’t know what a gem he was, and I could hardly walk after
seeing him: I felt the whole Eastern hemisphere pouring into me. I stayed with
him two weeks and had various experiences with him.
Sometimes he would look like a regular old man, sometimes
his body wouldn’t be a body but all light — I couldn’t see
anything but light, his body was beaming light. Then other times I would look
at him and feel disgust at his old worn-out body, and then suddenly my thought
would change and his feet would be lotuses, and all sorts of phenomena would
be manifesting. My health was still bad and he told me it would be better for
me to leave India. I told him I can’t leave; I can’t. Then he said:
Take the deities of the temple into your heart and you’ll be protected.
Only when I left him did I realize how much I had been protected, and that he
had been with me the whole time. Then there was a deep connection with him —
when I was away from him. Every time I see him it gets deeper and deeper and
Does he have any Western
No. Through me there’s been a number of Westerners who have gone to see
him and he seems to have touched them, but none have felt a connection as deep
as mine: I am sure he has touched me for the rest of my life.
Would you now like to
give the reason why you are staying at this Ashram?
Oh, yes. After I had been through the Rajneesh period I was brought here by
an Indian, so I stayed a month doing meditation. I had a hard time with nuns
when I was young as I told you, but that relationship was mended here; also
the lack of connection with the Church, although I was still deeply attached
to Jesus, was bridged to a large degree. I find many of the Sisters here very
sensitive, heartful, serious in their search for God, which is inspiring to
me. They are extremely kind — we have had ups and downs, but they are
Now that you are back
in Poona, do you ever go to see Bhagwan Rajneesh?
I admire him very much in that he sees a new vision, a new way of life. He sees
it in a deep way and is able to reflect that jump into the new age. He has had
the courage to take the jump; now whether his ego gets into it — has gotten
into it — whether all these techniques he has developed, the experiments
and the organization that have sprouted up work or not, I don’t know.
It may fail, it may succeed, but I admire him for having the courage to try.
Most people are terrified to try — tradition is so strong, and everyone
wants to survive. He has made a break with tradition in spite of tremendous
opposition. The organization is too strong for me, it doesn’t appeal:
it’s too big a machine. But he is a person I find inspiring.
In your search there
have been so many ups and downs; what has been the high-spot and what is the
The journey is the most important thing — there is no goal; the journey
is the goal. And it is continuing. Of all the teachers I have had, I would say
Raghudas — my little old man, unknown, unsung — and Krishnamurti
have influenced me the most. Raghudas as a person, Krishnamurti through what
he stands for. Raghudas also never claims to be a guru, never wants to be an authority,
never wants to influence you to do anything. Absolutely everything is spontaneous
with him: he touches my heart. That relationship keeps growing and I see more
and more the value, and I have to care for that relationship as I would have
to care for my own son — which is me and him and everyone.
Yes, there has been a lot of darkness during different
periods…as a child during the conflict when I had to find out which of
my parents had the “right” God, and then finding He wasn’t
in any church but right inside me. Then the conflict with the drugs which led
to a state of surrender which allowed the spirit to enter on a much deeper level
but still very much through form – Christian form. Then being over-sensitive
and struggling with that, like being born into form from nothing then going
back to nothing through all these forms. There was a lot of pain and struggle
in that birth as well. Then my experiencing the falling in love with a woman
and going through the flesh into love; through form again which always ends
up in disillusionment. The Buddhist meditation, the Indian meditation, then
going through yet another form, the form of India with so many problems –
the visa problem, the not-speaking-the-language problem, the-having-the-Western-body
problem, the having-all-these-Eastern-concepts problem….they are all forms.
I have found a lot of beauty here, especially with
Raghudas: that’s another form and he’s going to die some day. It’s
just a journey that never ends. And there are always going to be positives and
negatives all the way. I can see my attachment to the form of India and I am
trying to work through that. I have a clear idea it doesn’t lie in being
in India particularity, or in any other form; I somehow have to be broken from
The Christa Seva
Ashram apparantly closed some years ago and was reclaimed by the Church
I am now returning to Bombay. Francis is accompanying
me to the Poona railway station where at the last minute I remember I still
have to photograph him! Ironically appropriate perhaps, here in a place of constant
movement, surrounded by noise, bustle and frustration, but where if we are centred
within ourselves, there is no reason why our inner calm should be disturbed.
Of course, the ideal is to be unaffected by outside disturbance of any sort,
but to remain in a detached meditative state. Saints dwell in that blissful
place. They float on unperturbable.