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



Raymond and Maree Steiner

Sakya Monastery
Near Dehra Dun

2nd March 1981

Click for a printable view


New Lives - Malcolm Tillis

I am now on the night train to Delhi: Mr. Malik true to his word did not let me down. The much needed reservation was waiting for me in his office. I’m still trying to work out what is happening; I know there’s a purpose behind everything that’s going on, in spite of what Nisargadatta Maharaj appears to expound.

My own guru’s guiding hand has been constantly over my head, as Sant Darshan Singh reminded me so dramatically when I left Delhi all those weeks ago. There have been so many extraordinary happenings during this long journey to prove it: the wrong-day-wrong-train incident at Agra being perhaps the most spectacular and certainly most life-enhancing.

Still, what happened with Nisargadatta -- not being able to leave Bombay -- but now having a berth in a first-class air-conditioned compartment at such short notice — it must have some meaning. For the moment, I am grateful to lie down; there’s much on which to reflect.

In Delhi I make straight for Kirpal Ashram where I am welcomed back by Sant Darshan Singh himself. He listens attentively to some of my adventures. When I show him Pritam Singh Nagpal’s letter describing how he came to rescue me in Agra, such is the disarming humility of the Saints, Master Darshan presses the paper to his forehead in a gesture of profound respect, smiles and says – Brother, did I not tell you that the Grace of the Master would look after you?

He then asks if I can spare the time to check the proofs with Jamie Smith of the Pictorial Biography of Sant Kirpal Singh which has now reached an advanced stage after years of research and hunting for rare photographs of the Beloved Master.


Sant Darshan Singh although only in his sixties, became seriously ill. He kept up his punishing schedule to the last day of his earthly life when, typical of his generous nature, he called several close devotees to thank them for their years of selfless service in the cause of the Masters. In the middle of the night he asked to speak to Jay and Ricky Linksman by phone in the USA to suggest last-minute alterations to the text of his final book which they were seeing through the press. He then lay down, his mission completed, and was gone.

This was in June 1989. Under his successor, his son Sant Rajinder Singh, the spiritual work has flourished with many new Science of Spirituality Centres opening all over the world.


After a few days basking in the haven of peace and simplicity of Kirpal Ashram, I leave for Hardwar with renewed strength and gratitude. I still have to take the photographs I missed to accompany the first few Interviews. I have been told that Anandamayi Ma is in her Kankhal Ashram.

Ma is as gracious as ever and I am allowed to photograph her with Vijayananda (Interview No.1). She appears to be extremely frail, but that is only the appearance of her physical body. She still shines; she is in another world. This difficult photograph, taken in the fading evening light, has an inner glow of its own.

This well-loved Saint, Sri Anandamayi Ma, left the physical world the following year: she was 86. Since childhood her consciousness was completely emerged in the Divine. Her impact and influence was not so much through her words or teachings - although there are many books that cover them - but through personal relationship. This is essentially the great mystery and secret of the ancient Indian guru tradition which she embodied.

At last I catch up with Ram and Parvati; they are also at Ma's Ashram but still not ready to give their Interview. But they do give me news that the roving Charan Das has been inspired to re-start work on his opus magnus…and that they are now all planning to move up to the coolness of Mussoorie for the summer. In fact I now have the awesome responsibility to organise suitable rented accomodation for Charan Das and Richard Willis.

In September 2005 Ram Alexander sent me the following vivid account of the last years of Charan Das’ colourful yet tragic life. Four books have been written about Charles Sobraj, the con-man, jewel thief, drug dealer and serial killer; there has even been a Bollywood film based on his life. He was but one of the many extraordinary characters Charan Das met (in of all places the infamous Delhi jail) and certainly he must have written about this episode. Not many sadhus can boast a period however short as a prison resident. Several trunk-loads of Charan’s writings are apparently floating about in India, unpublished. There is surely enough for some enterprising soul to put together one book worthy of such a rare richly eccentric life? For the moment Ram Alexander’s vital description of the final journies of“The Texan Bare-foot Sadhu”should be treasured. He writes:

“Shortly after your last encounter with Charan Das (this was in Mussoorie where work on transcribing these Interviews had just started) Charan married the girl of his dreams who among other things wrote for New Age Journal Magazine in America. Their union was auspiciously consecrated at the Allahabad Kumbha Mela of 1982. When they split up a few years later, Charan became briefly introspective, but shortly re-emerged as America’s first officially recognized Naga Baba and self-appointed Guru of the Rainbow Tribe. He presided in full Naga regalia at various Rainbow gatherings in America in the 1980’s where Parvati and I also met him at that time. The Rainbow people are die-hard 60’s hippies and those of later generations who would carry on the tradition.

"In the mid 90’s I spent two glorious weeks wandering with Charan in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh (North India). I had been attending teachings of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala when one day in the middle of this, Charan Das appeared wowing out the faithful who until his arrival were totally transfixed by Richard Gere who was also attending the teachings. After the Dalai Lama’s lecture, Charan, a famous lama, Richard Gere and myself, were standing around talking. Gere recognizing a serious rival in Charan, introduced himself rather aggressively saying: “Hi, I’m the actor.” Charan, who had no idea who Richard Gere was, replied: “Yes, ‘We’ are also actors”, at which point all within earshot had an epiphany convinced that Charan (the notorious ‘We’ Maharaj) was the chosen one. Gere realised he had met his match, and his girlfriend of the moment, Koo Stark, remained glued to Charan for the rest of his stay in Dharamsala.

“The last time I saw Charan was about a year before he died – he was 49 then - this was in 1997. I was in London for one day (in transit) where we met totally by ‘chance’. His second ‘wife’, a wild Australian girl, had just deserted him, taking off in the new van (which Charan’s parents had given them for a wedding present) with an over-sexed African shaman in tow. We went to an exquisite exhibition of Roman period Egyptian funeral paintings in the British Museum.– Charan was barefoot and in a dhoti, as always, even on this cold March day. He had only recently been sprung from the infamous Tihar jail in Delhi, where he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Charles Sobraj (in for drugs and gun smuggling and a count of 12, but could be 22, murders), and the notorious Godman turned politician, Chandra Swami. Charan had finally been busted for staying in India for well over 20 years illegally. CID officers had been on his trail for years; they knew he had been in India on a somewhat out-of-date 6-month tourist visa! He seems to have been given a sentence of several years. Charan was brilliant at having his photo taken with high-ranking politicians such as Indira Gandhi and Gyani Zail Singh (President of India) but it seems these talismen no longer did the trick.

“Legend has it through the intervention of Sri Pad Baba (see Interviews at Vrindavan) he was released after having graced this infamous jail for only one month. Charan, on the other hand, at first refused to leave as he seriously considered the Tihar Jail the best Ashram he had ever been in with more major gossip than he could ever hope to record. Destiny being what it is, his cell mate was the International President of the Rainbow Tribe who was looking at a stiff sentence for running guns and drugs over the border from Pakistan into India (he claimed he had been framed). To cut a long story shorter the Rainbow King officially transferred his mantle to Charan Das shortly before Charan was escorted by the police to Delhi airport and put on a flight to Amsterdam (the Rainbow Tribe’s Shangri-La). The Amsterdam sojourn is too wild and woolly to go into here. Suffice to say that the local Rainbow people who prided themselves on their radically uninhibited lifestyle, although at first embracing Charan as their anointed leader, were ultimately not at all prepared for anyone so totally beyond the pale who made them seem like timid bourgeoisie in comparison

“Anyway, not long after our last meeting, Charan Das - now 50 - succeeded in returning to India (via Israel where he managed to get a visa!) even though he had been banned for life from returning. On his arrival, the immigration authorities realized a horrible mistake had been made. But ‘We’ Maharaj simply flashed his famous grin and waited them out as they questioned him for several hours before ultimately letting him in and receiving his blessing. That he succeeded in getting back into India at all is truly miraculous.

“This was the first time in almost 30 years that he had been completely legal in India. But the gods arranged for his passport and money to be stolen within 3 days after his arrival. Taking this as a divine affirmation, he went to the Hardwar Kumbha Mela of 1998 which marked the 24th anniversary of his love affair with the Melas. Charan Das was holed up at the Rainbow camp at the Mela, but no-one, including his old India friends, could handle being around him due to his wild outrageous behavior. He was dedicated to doing everything and anything that was not allowed and offensive, pushing everyone’s buttons including a number of Tantric Babas who were not at all amused. He was out-smoking the famous Chilum Babas and making them look bad in front of their chelas. He was also making up for his ‘years’ of reputed brahamacharya with an obsessive vengeance. Later I realized that Charan must have been an incarnation of one of the famous Kapalika Sadhus, - a medieval Shaivite sect dedicated to radical antinomianism.

“After the Mela, Charan retired to a cave above Lakshman Jula (Rishikesh) continuing his chilum sadhana and writing voraciously. He made a disciple of a local tailor whom he decided to take to Delhi with him and set him up in business. Charan returned to his headquarters,- a tin shed filled with his numerous books and writings- located on the outskirts of Delhi at a place called the Bharat Sadhu Samaj, where he soon fell ill. He was bed-ridden for about two weeks and then, feeling better, decided to spend his last remaining money to arrange for some taxis to take him, the tailor and some other sadhus to Agra on a pilgrimage to the Samadhi of the saint he considered his param Guru, Soamiji Maharaj, the founder of the Radha Soami Movement. Apparently Charan collapsed as he bowed down at the Samadhi shrine and remained in a semi-comatose state as his friends rushed him back to Delhi. There was absolutely no money left, so his tailor friend took him to the hospital late at night in a 3-wheel scooter in which he reportedly died en route.

”The story does not end here however. Charan’s body became the responsibility of the American Embassy which normally is obliged to send bodies back to the closest relatives in America. Charan, however, had become well-known at the Embassy in the weeks before his death due to his passport problems, and his tailor disciple had always accompanied him on his visits there. The tailor demanded that Charan be cremated according to Hindu rites as befitting his sadhu status, and he succeeded in getting a friend at the Embassy to help in this. The Embassy got Charan’s parents permission and even loaned the tailor the money to carry out Charan’s last rites in grand style!!!

“His extensive final writings had been left behind in the cave in Rishikesh, no doubt to be revealed at an auspicious moment. The ‘tailor’ needless to say has vanished without trace”.


Charan Das travelling rough

Ram and Parvati have given me this photograph showing them at their marriage at the Theosophical Society in Adyar (which in spite of my efforts I missed). Ram says: On the morning of the wedding an old woman approached us and asked if our mother was there. On being told, No, she said she would fill the role, it was necessary for the ceremony. It was Rukhmini Arundale (see the Interview by Peter Hoffman No.21). She had been India’s most famous classical dancer, had recently turned down the offer to be President of India, but above all, she was a great Theosophist, the last link with the early founders.

Ram and Parvati Alexander with Rukhmini Arundale


Ram and Parvati Alexander, after the passing of their beloved guru, Anandamayi Ma, left India. They travelled extensively on pilgrimages to holy sites in many different countries.

They finally settled during the mid-eighties in a “hermitage” in the remote country-side near Assisi, Italy. They visit India, their true home, for 2 to 6 months yearly. In the mid-90’s they helped create an International Guest House in Hardwar next to the Ashram of Anandamayi Ma.

Ram has recently been energetic in promoting and editing several books on spiritual subjects including, "Death Must Die", the diaries of Atmananda (see Interview 8) published by Indica Books, Varanasi.

I travel on to Rishikesh to photograph the exhuberant Simonetta who is on her way to her lepper village. She drags me along, and I am shaken by the squalor but overawed by her dedication (Interview No. 5). Simonetta has somehow managed to start a few patients weaving material to her subtle colours and designs; they are unlike anything to be seen in the rest of India. She allows me to buy a few samples.

I then meet Bill Swami. He asks his ever-patient guru, Swami Chidananda, to climb onto the Ashram roof overlooking the unperturbable River Ganges so that they can be photographed together with this breathtaking view (Interview No. 4). Swamiji had been telling a high official from Delhi Department of Education about the need to give children some spiritual education…The outer one is all right, but how can children develop — he asks — if the other equally important side is neglected? Swamiji turns to me as we go up to the roof for the photograph, and says: You should please put this in your book also. He adds that children even in India are now losing respect for their parents and just want to sit by the TV. If they are asked to do something, they reply: Don’t you know this is my favourite programme?


I am now back again near my home in Dehra Dun trying to find out if H. H. the Sakya Lama is in residence in Rajpur — I still have no Interviews from a Western Buddhist. I meet Raymond Steiner who lives near me in Mussoorie: he tells me he is on his way to see His Holiness at the new Tibetan settlement in Puruwala, not far from Dehra Dun. He offers me a lift in his jeep, saying: This is the perfect time to arrive; the teachings being given there by His Holiness are almost over, and if you don’t mind staying in a tent I can help you with some Interviews.

The tent is fine. It has been raining heavily. This is the valley where the famous Basmatti rice is harvested and sold all over the world. But I want to know what they have been doing out here in these sodden fields, living in tents while daily teachings and initiations have been given for the last three months in the monastery.

There is no time for explanations as I am being introduced to H. H. the Sakya Lama who is so relaxed, so amenable, I ask him a question instead:

How can Buddhist teachings specifically help Westerners brought up in a society, a culture, now devoted overwhelmingly to the worship of material aquisition, and where it has become the norm to be constantly bombarded with the desire to increase that material wealth?

He smiles benevolently: Material wealth, material things -- he says -- they are all right so long as we are not attached to them.

A simple, profoundly direct answer.

He agrees with amused surprise to the suggestion that he should be photographed with Raymond and his wife, Maree.



Interview 51

It appears to be one of those ironies — a fortuitous one in this case — that I’ve had to come all the way to this village in the Dehra Dun valley, to this new Tibetan Monastery to get to know you both when we are actual neighbours up in Mussoorie. Anyway, can we start by hearing about the teachings the Sakya Lama is giving?
Maree: They are the great Lam Dre teachings; the last time they were given in India was 1,000 years ago. His Holiness has spent years preparing for this event. Monks have collected here from all over India, Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan, Mustang, even Tibet.

Did he expect so many?
Maree: He expected about 800, and about 800 arrived. This new monastery was built to accomadate 800. With the opening of this temple, Puruwala will now be the seat of His Holiness.

When was this Tibetan settlement started?
Raymond: In 1967. The teachings followed the consecration of the monastery in December.

And you have been here since then?
Maree: Yes, and we shall now stay till the end.

How long have you been followers of the Sakya Lama?
Raymond: Maree has had the longest involvement — her first meeting with His Holiness is remarkable, so you should hear that.

Maree: Can I go back a little?… We came to India searching for something as we wanted to leave the West. Shortly after we arrived, we went to Bodhgaya and had a strong connection with Tibetans and Tibetan Buddhism. We visited the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala… that was in 1972. Then we went back to Australia — I am Australian by birth but English by upbringing — but in 1975 I came back alone. It was the first time I had traveled alone, and a lone woman travelling in India is an incredible experience.

Anyway, I was in Delhi in May, hot, sticky, in a typical Hindustani situation: waiting for money to come through. Someone wanted me to share a taxi to Mussoorie; I accepted to escape the heat. I traveled with an American lady who had been a Buddhist nun for seventeen years. Actually, she and Anila — who you are Interviewing tomorrow — travelled in India together when they first arrived twenty years ago.

This lady is now based in New York and was coming back to see His Holiness after several years. For the whole journey she told me about her life as a nun and all about His Holiness. As soon as I met him, there was nothing more to say because I knew instantly I had met the person I had come to India to meet. I had been all over India and checked all sorts of scenes, but nothing clicked anywhere. So it is true: when the moment is right you meet the guru. I had spent only minutes with His Holiness but I had to return to Delhi to sit it out waiting for the paisa to arrive.

Then this girl arrived, saying: I don’t know what I am doing here, but His Holiness has sent me down to Delhi although I have come all the way from New York to be with him. Then she said: I want to invite you to come with me to Ladakh with His Holiness’ party.

I wanted so much to go, but no money; then next day paisa arrived! We flew to Srinagar and caught up with His Holiness — we were the only Westerners. We traveled together to Ladakh. It was the first time His Holiness had been able to visit the ancient Sakya monastary. Ladakh had only recently been opened. I spent a blissed-out ten days. As we arrived there was a clear blue sky yet it was raining. The lamas came out dancing to receive His Holiness — it was magical. I had my birthday there and it was then I took Refuge with His Holiness. I turned around and flew back to Australia and Raymond who was looking after the children.

When did Raymond meet His Holiness?
Raymond: It took a year to unstuck ourselves — we had a decent business going in Australia — but when we arrived in Mussoorie His Holiness had left on a world tour and didn’t get back until about two years later — in February 1979. We had taken our house in Mussoorie in 1972, so I had to wait a long time to meet him.

But you’re American by birth; can you say something about your background?
Raymond: Born in New Oreleans in a Jewish middle class family: lived in London where I was into films and where I met Maree. Packed everything in so that we could get away to Ibiza where we opened the first vegetarian restaurant in Spain — this was in the late 1960’s, probably just after you left? Then we packed that in to come to India. We just flipped a coin in Barcelona to see if we should go via the Pacific or Atlantic — crazy — we went all round through Asia - as it came out we were to go via the Pacific.

Maree, what were you doing in London?
Maree: I was working as a fashion co-ordinator — a stylist — with photographers, for commercials, and film directors. I traveled all over Europe and North Africa — it was fun in a way as I was about the only free-lance stylist in London. But when I met Raymond, we both knew we had to leave London. I didn’t want Dean, our son, to have the conventional council-school education. That took us to Ibiza.

But what made Raymond give up his film career?
Raymond: Yes… it was after the last line in a documentary we were making on a Harold Robbins story. The director said: It has taken three years and twelve million dollars to bring this picture to the screen, and I can’t say I have made all the right decisions, but I certainly have enjoyed it. Then he flipped a large ash from his cigar and rode off into the sunset on a horse. Well, I thought I didn’t want to be part of spending twelve million dollars on such minus entertainment any longer; so Maree and I rode off into the sunset! I bought a still camera and since then I work with that. Hopi, our eldest daughter was born in Spain, but before she was one year old we were off to India.

So it wasn’t until spring 1979 that you could renew your contact with His Holiness the Sakya Lama?
Maree: That’s right. And from that time he began preparing for these great teachings.

I seem to remember hearing that he came to visit you in your Mussoorie house.
Maree: It was a bit strange really, because I had gone to Bombay but he told Raymond he would come for a visit. Naturally, he thought it might be with a small private party — but, well, this is Raymond’s story…
Raymond: I looked out on our lawn to see about a thousand people had arrived, waiting to greet His Holiness. When he arrived I began to understand that he was going to grant what is called Long Life initiation.

How long did this initiation go on for?
Raymond: The place was full from 7 in the morning till 1 in the afternoon, but the actual initiation lasted forty-five minutes. Somehow we managed to put up loud-speakers… no one had thought to explain anything.

Was that when you were able to Interview His Holiness: I read it quite recently.
Raymond: Yes, he was so co-operative and patient…

And full of humility; he referred to himself as an ordinary lama and spoke so highly of his teachers.
Maree: They are both here. Chogay Rinpoche has come from Lumbini to be here, and Dezhung Rinpoche has come from New York to India for the first time in twenty-three years… he was the lama who gave you the blessing for your work on the book.

Can you tell me more about his relationship to His Holiness?
Maree: He is one of the greatest Sakya Lamas. He is in his late 70s, and since he’s been in America he has recited Om mani padme hum one hundred million times. His Holiness has a special regard for him, and considers him as a great lama with real knowledge. In making predictions he doesn’t use external objects. I had heard so much about him, when he arrived in Puruwala I was overwhelmed because he can’t climb stairs, yet the first thing he did when he got out of the car was to try walking up the stairs to greet His Holiness. I can tell you tears were streaming down my face, seeing this venerable lama being helped on both sides as he went up. I grabbed hold of the children and ran round the back stairs; I was able to see His Holiness come out and greet him. He was in the room where the photographs were taken… here was his old guru back again after so many years!

Raymond: Incredible things have been happening; there were hail storms threatening to ruin the wheat crop. A heavy-duty ritual master appeared waving incense and smoke, ringing bells and chanting, doing puja: the overcast sky parted and in ten minutes there was a blue sky. And just look what happened when we arrived in the rain; a photo call had been made so that all the lamas, monks and lay-people could be photographed with His Holiness. Two previous calls had to be cancelled because of the rain, and here it was raining again for the third time. This time some lama was asked to do something about it; it didn’t actually turn into a brilliantly sunny day but the rain stopped and the photos were taken, as you saw.

You spoke about predictions. His Holiness makes predictions?
Maree: People are always coming asking about this and that. The greatest lamas know what is happening; they give the answer. Others give advice through casting dice or counting beads on a rosary. His Holiness invokes a certain deity and requests an answer: he throws a dice which is influenced by the deity; whatever the number, it indicates what’s to be done. The requests range from the banal to whether or not to perform surgery, and as to the whereabouts of recently born tulkus.

Were predictions made when the Chinese entered Tibet in 1959?
Long before the trouble started in Lhasa, predictions indicated what was about to happen. Because of this His Holiness was able to leave unharmed. The day after he escaped, the great Sakya monastery was entered by the Chinese; had he been there he would never have been allowed to leave. Earlier the same year at the age of 14 he had acceded to the throne and was therefore the head of the Sakyapa sect.

Why is the Sakya line hereditary?
Raymond: Because it’s a special race — the Khon lineage; it came down directly from the Rupadhatu heavenly realm. His Holiness is the 41st in an unbroken line of lamas that stretches back to the 11th century.

Can you summarize the teachings you have received here?
Maree: They have been rather intensive. We spend most of the day in the temple where His Holiness teaches in Tibetan, sometimes up to eight hours. It’s important to attend even though we can’t understand; the teachings are transmitted orally. After each session we receive translations with the help of a Western monk, Ngawang Samten, whom I hope will find time to to talk to you. (See the next Interview).

We have been blessed to receive these rare teachings through His Holiness, and such care and help has been extended to the many foreigners. The lamas doors are always open, so we can get guidance. The atmosphere is so warm and friendly in the midst of such high ceremony. There are so many young monks receiving the teachings; they are a joy to watch. They are serious when it comes to the teachings, but lots of fun and not at all austere outside the temple.

Tibetans are always smiling.
Raymond: The training is super-intensive. In Tibet these teachings would have been given one-to-one for nine years; here we are getting everything, including the initiations, in a matter of months. For the tiny human mind to digest one small part is difficult.

Can you say what you intend doing when you leave here?
Maree: We have received empowerments to practice certain meditations, so it’s up to us what we do. As soon as everything is over, some of us are going into retreat for a few weeks, some for three years. For a householder like myself, one practices as much as one can weave into one’s daily duties of looking after a husband and four children. To keep one’s vows one must practice.

Are there many Sakya Centres spread all over the world?
Raymond: Let me see! Well — New York, Berkeley, Seattle, Minneapolis have centers. There are three in Canada, one in England, one in Holland, one in Germany, one in Singapore, one in East Malaysia and two in France.

When we entered the presence of His Holiness to take the photographs, why did Raymond prostrate three times?
Raymond: It’s out of respect to the guru, but why it’s done three times is a form of obeisance to the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha — the teacher, the teachings and the community of monks.

Are your children being brought up as Buddhists?
Maree: Our eldest daughter, Hopi, who is now 11, is really the one who introduced us to Buddhism. When we were in Bodhgaya she became totally overwhelmed with the Buddha — she was only two — and she didn’t stop saying: Buddha, Buddha, Buddha, the whole time. We bought her a Buddha medallion… she never stopped talking about Buddha.
Raymond: She became sick not long after that; she asked for a postcard we had of a Buddha to be placed next to her bed because it would make her well.

The children have been here all the time?
Maree: Oh yes. At one point I was only going to stay for three weeks — just for the opening ceremonies and the first teachings. Then I decided I couldn’t go: there’s nothing out there in the world I could possibly want to make me walk away from these teachings. But I had the whole family with me which made it difficult, so I went to His Holiness, and he just said we should all stay as long as possible. From that point on I knew it was right: all the children, including Tashi who is 2 years old, took all the initiations. One day I knew one initiation was going to last several hours, so I took it upon myself to leave Tashi behind; as we were about to start in the temple, the curtain parted — there was Tashi: there was no way she was going to be left out — she was going to take the initiation! So far she hasn’t missed anything.

Was it your two-year-old who demanded a blessing from Dezhung Rinpoche?
Maree: You have heard about that? It was on the day he arrived and everybody of course was prostrating and offering him white scarves. Tashi for the first time also crept up, made three prostrations and went straight up to him, and bending her head, stood there. Dozhung Rinpoche could’t see her as she is so small. But she wouldn’t leave. She was waiting for him to place his hands on her head in blessing. I had to tell one of the monks to please inform Dezhung Rinpoche to give her the blessing so that she would move out of the way. He did. She then scrambled away quite happy.

Raymond: You know, the light is fading quickly so I think we ought to finish now so that I can show you your tent for the night. I’m sorry there’s nothing else at the moment.

The Steiners now live in Australia. Raymond travels a great deal as he is very much into film-making. He was associate-producer in 1999 for Lama Khyentse Norbu’s brilliant award-winning film, “The Cup”, which is not only about the day-today training of young Tibetan monks, but also about their human longings, and nautiness when it comes to football. It was filmed using no professional actors in a Buddhist monastery in India.



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© Malcolm Tillis 2006