Most of us dislike reading
lists. We particularly dislike reading them if they include
words, names and places in a language other than our own.
In the list of names found in the Interview section of this
site, you will find almost half in Sanscrit, Hindi or Tibetan.
All the names belong, however, to Westerners, yet they will
perhaps mean little to Western readers. So the question
is: should there be further lists explaining (1) who these
people were before the name-change, (2) the reasons for
the change, (3) has the change changed them, (4) how I came
to meet them, and finally, (5) the purpose behind why I
wished to meet them? Would this added information help the
reader before reading the Interviews themselves? If you
think not, this is perhaps the moment to skip the rest of
this Introduction and go straight to the Interviews.
But if you are sufficiently intrigued to learn more about
these people first - then read on.
So to explain: these Interviews
were given by Westerners disillusioned by the material values
worshipped, in the West. They tell us how they were drawn
by an inner spiritual hunger to India, a country where they
found fulfilment - a deeper meaning to their lives. As so
often happens, and certainly in these life-histories, when
a higher awareness is awakened, it may well be that spiritual
guidance will be sought from the teachings, and indeed from
living teachers, in India with its rich cultural heritage
and where its age-long mystic tradition is as potent as
ever. In India, unlike most countries in the West, to spend
time and effort developing one’s spiritual life is
an acceptable part of daily life: it can be discussed openly
in tea houses, with strangers at railway stations, with
taxi drivers. Most Indians admire anyone involved in spiritual
practice, on a spiritual search. They are not shy to ask
questions. Of course, you don’t have to talk about
your inner self to anyone. If you do, no-one will think
it odd, excentric, a waste of time. This is a country where
the age-old culture of spiritual enquiry is alive, and very
During the eleven years
I lived in India, from 1973 to 1984 as an initiate of Sant
Kirpal Singh, I was often lent or sent books about other
Westerners who had also come to spend extended time in India.
But they were often about Westerners who had been drawn
onto the guru-trail in search of an evolved being but who
stumbled onto one which leads innocent victims into the
hungry jaws of a white-bearded, impressively-robed monster
who leaves them more spiritually - and often more materially
- bankrupt than before. These accounts would often be amusing,
sometimes they had reason to be bitter, but were made all
the more readable by being slanted, prejudiced or misinformed.
They made me wonder why hardly any serious in-depth studies
had appeared dealing with the many Westerners who have taken
the plunge, left the bright lights of home and are now living
fulfilled lives in this vast, fascinating country. There
is no shortage of books on India’s host of saints,
seers and gurus, but what about their Western disciples?
Why has so little appeared by them, or about their achievements?
They may have taken to the simple life, but surely they
are not all under vows of silence?
I felt so strongly about
this that I eventually took courage, packed a bag and went
out into the field to record their experiences myself. This
collection of personal Interviews is the result. It is the
outcome of a concentrated five-month journey/quest that
took me all over India. Sometimes I had to travel under
stressful conditions for days hoping to track down someone
whose life-story is unique. I travelled alone, reluctantly
at first, until after many setbacks I was given much needed
strength and reassurance by being thrown headlong into the
centre of a miracle. To my bewilderment I found myself on
my way to Agra but unaccountably on the wrong train and
on the wrong day. This life-enhancing incident, described
in the narrative, has illumined the rest of my life.
My intention from the start
was simple enough: to tape-record the personal stories of
as many Western followers of different gurus, disciplines
or paths as possible. This seemed to me the most accurate
way to capture their histories, their adventures, the reasons
why they changed their lives — and most important
— the benefits India brought to the New Life.
Above all, my intention was to publish their accounts in
their own words without superimposing my own preconceptions
and values. It was not especially important to me how long
each person had been in India, although I caught up with
some who had arrived over fifty years ago. (Russell Balfour-Clarke’s
ticket was paid for by Mrs.Annie Besant, the President of
the Theosophical Society in1909, and thus he was given the
remarkable task of teaching English to the thirteen-year
old J. Krishnamurti).
The commitment to the New
Life does not exclude dedicated followers of the Judeo-Christian
tradition: Anil Bhai, born John Davis into an English Catholic
family, and still very much a Catholic, is but one example.
It was each person’s serious commitment to a chosen
path, and above all why it was being pursued in India, which
was the deciding factor for inclusion in this project.
From those attached to
a guru or lama whether by vows or initiation, I soon noticed
that truly dedicated disciples reflect at least some of
their mentor’s consciousness. And that consciousness
finds expression through the disciple’s life-style,
speech and actions. It was because of this close attachment
that several intimate portraits - seen through the eyes
of a close disciple - capture the unique, personal qualities
of some of India’s most celebrated modern-day saints:
the French-born Vijayananda’s lyical account of the
many years he spent at the feet of Anandamayi Ma; Maggi
Lidchi weeping through her reminiscences of the Aurobindo
Mother; the Polish-born Lucia Osborne, Ramana Maharshi’s
last living Western disciple, on her great guru; Sir on
the conrovertial Sathya Sai Baba; H.H. Giriraga Swami (the
American President of the Hare Krishna Temple in Bombay)
on Srila Prabhupada; and the English novelist, Kate Christie,
on being drenched in love from Sant Kirpal Singh.
The printed word often
veils the expressiveness and subtle shades of meaning conveyed
by the spoken word. In the editing of these Interviews every
effort has been made to retain each person’s individual
speech rhythms and idiosyncrasies. As English was not always
the mother tongue of the person Interviewed, this proved
yet another challenge. It is, however, a sad fact that the
shining quality and vocal expressiveness, which were often
complimented by radiant facial expressions when the other-worldly
beauty of the New Life was being described, cannot be transmitted
through the printed word.
Anyone who can reveal to
others their potential for experiencing the Divine within
themselves is surely to be revered. Most devotees, nevertheless,
are inclined to revere their own guru to the exclusion of
all others. This often leads to suspicion, and to what can
be called the Guru-Protection-Syndrome, which sometimes
made communication and enquiry from an outsider difficult.
It was particularly difficult at the Ashrams of Swami Muktananda
and Sathya Sai Baba. At Muktananda’s, after twenty-four
hours of pleading, placating, promises, I left without even
unpacking my tape-recorder (they had agreed to the Interviews
by letter). At Sai Baba’s I persisted, accepted all
sorts of conditions, was treated to a personal mini-miracle
by Babaji himself, but still had to creep away surreptioutiously
at the crack of dawn with two “unofficial” Interviews
and a bewildering 4-day experience I am not likely to forget.
However, most of those
I met were far more approachable and co-operative although
in some cases not easy to tie down. In one Ashram I was
kept waiting five days before the person I wished to Interview
could give me an hour of her time; but the Interview is
unique as it vividly illustrates the whole meaning of selfless
service, and what it is like for a Westerner to be close
to a guru and serve him under conditions of great trust.
I was constantly aware
of the contrasts created by the abandonment of the old life
for the new. What was the former principal clarinetist of
the Rotterdam Symphony Orchestra doing wearing flowing red
robes, or the Italian priest editing a Sanscrit magazine,
or a Californian dentist’s assistant caring for the
hundred-and-four-year-old Sant Gulab Singh? I found the
dynamic Simonetta, once Italy’s foremost woman fashion
designer, resigned to sleeping on the floor of her Ashram
room and using her simple bed as a table. Tenzin Palmo,
a librarian from London, preferred living in a cave 12,000
feet above sea level. The Steiners from Australia had settled
for a bungalow in the foothills of the Himalayas.
There’s no lack of
variety covered in these Interviews: you may not like everyone
you meet here or even relate to their life-styles. But there
will be some you will never be able to forget, and others
who make such a powerful impact, you will love them all
your life. You will find a former Nazi youth supporter who
served a jail sentence after the 2nd World War, two reformed
heartbreakingly disturbed teenage rebels. There are also
some exceptionally brave people who abondoned successful
careers - even their families. A few, however, arrived in
India with their married partners - one couple with their
4 children, all six committed Buddhists. You will also find
ascetics living alone in isolation, and saintly souls who
knew instinctively from childhood there was a richer life
waiting for them to find and unfold.
Once I had gathered courage
to start taking the photographs (only one person subsequently
refused permission for his to be published) I was able to
ask some of those who had been Interviewed if I could photograph
them with their gurus. This also gave me the chance to ask
them a few questions. H.H. Sakya Trizin patiently smiled
his way through the photograph, but in a few powerful words,
gave out the Buddhist teachings on present-day Western mind-conditioning.
Swami Chidananda made a poiniant plea, which he said I should
publish, about proper spiritual teaching children need,
but are now, even in India, not taught seriously. The photograph
I was able to take in the evening light of the saintly Anandamayi
Ma shows her serene beauty, her inner smile, but conveys
little of the magnetic aura emanating from her. This contrasts
significally with the informality surrounding the legendary
Sant Gulab Singh who, when I asked him if I could I go up
onto the roof of his house with him, allowed me to sit with
him as he dried his long silver hair in the winter sun.
I didn’t dare ask the seriously ill Nisagardatta Maharaj
anything after he had put me through an embarrassing public
grilling which developed into a yelling scene and which
left me fascinatedly appalled. In contrast, the gentle Sant
Darshan Singh sitting on the floor attending to his correspondence,
later asked me to stay for lunch. But here I was most fortunate
indeed as I was on home ground as one of his father’s
All these dramatic contrasts
encountered during this journey/sadhana helped me understand
that just as there are so many paths leading to fulfilment,
so are there travellers on the way. The many travellers
who agreed to be Interviewed had in fact started off from
17 different countries in the West. For instance, Melita
Maschman had been a journalist in Germany, Bill Eilers a
businessman in Canada, Giorgio Bonazzoli was a priest in
Italy, Swami Bodhisattva an orchestral musician in Holland,
and Swami Prem Pramod a Scottish diplomat. The routes and
goals they chose and the tests and obstacles they had to
overcome are rich and varied. They read like human adventure
stories, and embrace sects within Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity,
as well as the Radha Soami Faith, Sikhism, and a synthesis
of Hinduism and Christianity as expounded by Father Bede
I encouraged all those
whom I Interviewed to be frank about the difficulties which
are encountered along all paths of endeavour. Some have
been remarkably frank. Some spoke only on condition that
a transcript would be sent to them before publication. Only
in one case did the person, who spoke at great length, wish
to conceal the name of his guru. A few have become well-kown
as published writers - they have their own web sites. Seven,
at least, have now become gurus themselves with their own
devoted followers, a remarkable attainment in a country
not lacking in home talent.
During my lengthy wanderings
which a project of this scope entailed, much kindness was
showered on me by complete strangers. Others were instrumental
in encouraging and guiding me. To name them individually
would be impossible. They know they have my gratitude.
Many of these extraordinary
people have been an enduring source of wonder and inspiration.
Some have since become close friends. Some of course, with
the passing of time, are no longer in the physical body.
All had come to India from diverse backgrounds, and those
still here amongst us, may now indeed be treading diverse
paths. Yet I see one unifying truth: once people pass through
the gate in search of higher consciousness, no matter what
manner of life-style they adopt, no matter where they choose
to live, no matter if they eventually return to the West,
they can never pass back through the gate into the old life.
Some of those you will
meet in the course of reading these Interviews had adopted
Sanskrit, Hindi or Tibetan names, and a few have been accepted
as Indian nationals. But all of them though drawn to India,
are out of Western context climatically, culturally, psychologically.
So the question remains: in order to live the New Life was
it absolutely necessary to make such a dramatic change?
Let them now speak for themselves.
Mussoorie, India, 1981-1984