Maurice Frydman

by Barry Gordon

“Your own Self is your ultimate teacher. The outer teacher is merely a milestone.
It is only your inner teacher that will walk with you to the goal, for he is the goal.
—Nisargadatta Maharaj, from the book I Am That

Maurice FrydmanIf I were to mention the name Maurice Frydman to spiritual practitioners who are familiar with Advaita Vedanta and Tibetan Buddhism, not many would recognize it. Yet, Maurice was a key factor in disseminating the teachings of Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Swami Ramdas, Anandamayi Ma, Mahatma Gandhi; and supporting the Tibetan Buddhists. It was because of Maurice that I was able to stay at Ramana Maharshi’s Ashram, meet Nisargadatta Maharaj, J. Krishnamurti, Mother Krishnabai, and (indirectly) Douglas Harding.

I first met Maurice when he was a feisty seventy-six-year-old, and instantly felt I had found a long lost friend and grandfather. I had come to India early in 1971 to stay at Baba Muktananda’s Ashram in Ganeshpuri, not far from Bombay.

When my six-month visa expired, I wanted to remain in India. I gave my passport to an Indian politician (Member of Parliament) from Bombay, whom I had met at Muktananda’s Ashram and who claimed he could get me permanent resident status. Since this was India, quite a few months passed with no resolution in sight. One day, two friends and I decided to go into Bombay for the purpose of satisfying our ice cream and mango lassi cravings, but the hotels would not admit me without a passport. One of the friends knew of Maurice Frydman and suggested we go to his home for assistance.

Maurice was living on Nepean Sea Road at the home of Ms. Hirubhai Petit, a long-standing devotee of Sri Ramana Maharshi. Ms. Petit was a wonderful Parsi lady-a bit younger than Maurice-and almost deaf. She was generally seen only at mealtimes. Maurice and she had been constant companions for many years. Maurice said that when Maharshi left his body, Ms. Petit saw a star fly across the heavens in Bombay and said, “There goes Bhagavan.” She got the time exactly right.

Ms. Petit lived in the rooms in the front of the apartment and spent most of her time meditating. In her youth she had been a concert pianist, performing professionally in Europe, which was sometimes considered improper behavior for an Indian woman in those days.

Education was a rare option for women. I remember a Parsi woman, perhaps in her forties-a friend of both Maurice and Ms. Petit-who came by for lunch one day. She was one of the first female college graduates in India and was active in social work. She told me that Maurice had been instrumental in helping her acquire higher education. He later provided her with great spiritual and emotional support when she was experiencing difficulty finding acceptance in the world of work, which was then completely dominated by men.

Maurice welcomed and fed everyone who came to his door-and many people came to his door. After sharply questioning me (as he did many of his guests-a skill Maurice was famous for), he offered me a trade. I could stay with him if I helped package and send to Poland the books he published. I don’t think Maurice needed to interrogate people, for he already knew the answers. It felt as if he held one’s heart in the palms of his hands and could examine it in detail. From the sparkle in his eyes, though, he obviously enjoyed it. He saw everyone clearly and would allow no dishonesty. Quite a few deflated egos left his table better people. That was the beginning of an eighteen-month relationship during which I helped Maurice with many of his social projects, but mostly packing books for the Indo-Polish Library, helping him interview Nisargadatta Maharaj, and subsequently editing the manuscript to be published as I Am That. Although he didn’t really need me to help with the book, for he was a brilliant writer in many languages, this work became one of the ways he taught me the importance of getting even the smallest detail right.

Together, we went to interview Nisargadatta Maharaj once each week, though I believe Maurice had started the interviews about a year before I met him. Maurice spoke Marathi (the local language) fluently, along with Hindi, Polish, Russian, French, English, and several others. Maharaj was very fond of Maurice. Once, Maurice was injured in a collision with a motor scooter and couldn’t leave the house for a few weeks. We were surprised by a spontaneous visit from Maharaj, who had walked all the way with the help of one of his sons, concerned because Maurice had not shown up for his regular visit. Maharaj must have walked for more than an hour to reach Maurice’s home.

Nisargadatta met visitors in a small room above his family’s living quarters. He sat by the front window, with a bidi (country cigarette) in hand, and animatedly answered our questions, which were tape recorded by Maurice. In a recent video on Nisargadatta Maharaj (produced by Inner Directions), it looks as if the room had been rearranged since those early days.

Maharaj and Maurice were alike in many ways. They both were uncompromising concerning truth and had a similar intensity that could be mistaken for anger-but was more the fire of their enlightened compassion. In fact, all the teachers Maurice engaged were like this except perhaps Swami Ramdas. Although Maharaj is famous as a vedantin, I was amazed at the intensity of his puja (devotional worship). When the time came for puja, all conversation ceased; Maharaj grabbed his large cymbals and threw himself into worship-chanting at the top of his lungs-an example of true devotion.

Maurice shared very little about his past. The only extensive biographical material I know of is from an article by Apa B. Pant, retired Indian diplomat (and Prince of Aundh), who was Maurice’s disciple for forty years. Additionally, there has been material published in The Mountain Path, a magazine published by Sri Ramanasramam (the Ashram of Sri Ramana Maharshi). At Maurice’s home I met Eva Moimir from Krakow, Poland. Her father, now about ninety years old, was a friend of Maurice’s from his early days in the Theosophical Society. Eva stayed with Maurice for about six months and has contributed some of her memories to this article.

Maurice was born in 1894 in the Jewish ghetto of Krakow, Poland, to a very poor family. At that time, it was very difficult for Jews to receive a public education. My grandmother (from Odessa) told me that only five percent of the Jewish boys were allowed into school. Maurice’s father was a very devout man and wanted Maurice to become a rabbi, so Maurice began to learn Hebrew at a very early age. By the age of ten he was fluent in Russian, Polish, French, English, and Hebrew. I believe he later spoke fourteen or fifteen languages in all. Maurice went on to study electrical engineering, and by the age of twenty, had received patents on over one hundred electrical and mechanical inventions, one of which was a talking book. Maurice’s abilities of invention and resourcefulness would later be of great benefit to the villages of India. Maurice told me that he designed all the hand tools used in Gandhi’s Khadi (hand-spun cloth) movement, such as the small, well-known hand spinning wheel.

Maurice’s services were in demand in many parts of Europe. However, around the age of twenty-five, he had an overwhelming desire to see God, and this intense desire helped determine the balance of his life. Maurice was allergic to dogma. He seriously studied Judaism and even became a Russian Orthodox monk. He once told me a story that is very representative of his character. A.B. Pant describes it wonderfully: “One day Satan tempted Maurice to jump over a mighty waterfall to ‘prove his faith’ in Jesus Christ and the church. So this intrepid seeker after truth immediately jumped down a one-hundred-foot precipice! He was saved only by a few shrubs in which his cassock got entangled.” Maurice’s impetuousness later became a saving grace for thousands of people. Maurice, however, didn’t last too long in the confines of the church.

Around the age of thirty, Maurice discovered the Theosophical Society, its founder Annie Besant, and the rising star of the Theosophical movement, J. Krishnamurti. He established a very close, fifty-year relationship with Krishnamurti, becoming one of Krishnaji’s most earnest questioners. Maurice was also a longtime friend of Wanda “Umadevi” Dynowska, an aristocrat and remarkable spiritual seeker. Together (in 1944), they founded the Polish-Indian Library. Umadevi also founded the Polish branch of the Theosophical Society.

Maurice introduced A.B. Pant to Krishnamurti. Pant describes Maurice’s dialogs with Krishnaji: “I marveled at the incisive brilliance and insight of Maurice as he challenged and argued almost every point with Krishnaji. It was not the challenge of the arrogant or self-assured pandit. Rather, Maurice responded to what Krishnaji was explaining through his own immediate experience. In the ‘duel’ between the two of them, there was no memory of the past or any conjecture about the future. It was all happening here and now, from moment to moment. It was ever fresh, new and fragrant.”

As Pant tells the story, Maurice immigrated to France to take a job in a new electrical factory at which he soon became General Manager. Voraciously reading and absorbing books on religion, mysticism, and occultism at the Biblioteque National, he soon found Vedanta (the nondualistic wisdom of India, especially revealed in the Upanishads, the great metaphysical portion of the Vedas) and engrossed himself in the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads and the Mahabharata. He was greatly attracted to books about Sri Ramana Maharshi, especially A Search in Secret India, by Paul Brunton. For Maurice, this was the greatest revelation, the inquiry, “Who Am I?”-a question that I believe was answered during his later stay in India.

During his stay in France, a great desire arose in Maurice to visit India. Around this time, the Diwan (Chief Official) of Mysore, Sir Mirza Ismail, arrived for a tour of the factory in which Maurice worked. Quickly recognizing Maurice’s genius and skill, Sir Mirza Ismail remarked, “Mr. Frydman, I wish you were free to come and visit us in Mysore and advise us on development.” The Diwan wanted to replicate the Paris factory in Bangalore (South India). Maurice told him his bags were already packed.

It is remarkable that just when Maurice strongly desired to go to India, the Diwan of Mysore arrived to invite him-not just to India but to Bangalore, which is close enough to Tiruvannamalai for Maurice to be able to spend weekends at the Ashram of Ramana Maharshi. Maurice soon became an ardent disciple of the Maharshi and later compiled a series of talks with Ramana, subsequently published under the title Maharshi’s Gospel. Maurice asked Ramana Maharshi to initiate him as a Hindu monk (sannyasi), but Maharshi refused. Once Maurice’s mind was made up nothing could deter him. While living and working in Bangalore, Maurice visited Swami Ramdas at Ananda Ashram in Khanangad, Kerala. During one of these visits, Maurice took the vows of a renunciate, shaved his head, and began to wear the saffron robes of a Hindu monk. Swami Ramdas gave Maurice the name “Bharatananda.” This change, which reflected Maurice’s deep inward conviction, caused some difficulty with Sir Mirza, his employer in Bangalore.

When Sir Mirza discovered that Maurice had taken sannyas, was wearing saffron robes, went out to beg for his food, and gave all his wages to the poor, he became furious. I think Sir Mirza never really learned how to work with Maurice. When he ordered Maurice to change back into more standard attire, Maurice immediately offered his resignation saying, “I am free to live my personal life as I see fit as long as I satisfy all those concerned with the quality of my work as an engineer and manager.” They soon came to an agreement that Maurice would only have to wear traditional dress when a VIP came to the factory. A.B. Pant was one of those VIPs, and the meeting between the two marked the beginning of the end of Maurice’s time with Sir Mirza. Though Maurice spent much time in the company of Ramana Maharshi and J. Krishnamurti, he managed to cling to the strict adherence of outward renunciation for another ten to twelve years.

Apa Pant’s father was Diwan of Aundh, a small poor State in Maharashtra. Pant was Maurice’s first and closest disciple. When Pant asked Sir Mirza to “borrow” Maurice for a six-month period, he was quickly denied the request. This action of course caused Maurice to leave permanently for Aundh. As Sri Pant tells the story, Maurice brought the inspired message of Mahatma Gandhi to the villages of Aundh. Since neither the British nor the autocratic Rajas of the other states were fond of decentralized democracy. Maurice and Sri Pant were called to the Mahatma’s famous mud hut and Gandhi greeted Bharatananda with, “So you have caught hold of the poor Raja of Aundh and left the rich one in Mysore to his destiny?” This meeting began a close association between Maurice and the Mahatma. Maurice became an Indian citizen and got deeply involved with Gandhi’s work and the movement for national independence. He was also active in the sevagram movement, which continued after independence from Britain. Maurice played a key role in the invention of several hand tools, such as spinning equipment, that were later employed by the village industries movement.

Sri Pant has written about the meeting between Maurice and Mahatma Gandhi in the books, A Moment in Time and An Unusual Raja, both published by Orient Longman.

For three years Maurice lived under an acacia tree, in the wilds of Aundh. Though the daily temperature ranged from 120 degrees in the day to as low as 20 degrees at night, he slept only with a few blankets and some bamboo mats. During this time, Maurice was personally responsible for the abolition of the death penalty and the release of many prisoners to an open democratic penal colony. In fact, he created the city of Swatantrapur, originally located in the wilds of Aundh. It still exists today.

Though Maurice was already in his mid-seventies when I spent time with him, he was very active in various charities, most of which he had started and brought to fruition. Besides publishing spiritual books, he also started orphanages, homes to retrain prostitutes, and an organization to find dowries for them so they could marry. He was also in charge of India’s Tibetan refugee program. He was closely associated with Chetana Books, a publisher and bookstore located in Bombay. (Chetana was the original publisher of I Am That, Maurice’s collection of dialogues with Nisargadatta Maharaj.)

Maurice experimented with many things and was especially attracted to nature cures and special diets. I was being successfully treated by a homeopath for what I later realized was Agent Orange poisoning, contracted during my days as a Navy Diving Officer in Vietnam. Maurice convinced me to switch to fasting, which started with three days of bananas, followed by three days of oranges, then three days of water only; then the reverse of this sequence. The homeopathy worked better. There were always strange concoctions on the table-dark liquids with unusual fragrances, etc. This must have gone on for years, because Pant also describes Maurice’s fascination with food experiments. Gandhi also had this predilection. Maurice believed strongly in fasting and loved to recount the story of the Italian Count who lived during the Renaissance period. The Count was a great epicure who, because of his overindulgence, was grossly overweight. As a result of his weight problem, the Count became deathly ill. However, by simply cutting his food intake in half, the Count successfully restored his health.

When the Chinese invaded Tibet and thousands of Tibetans fled to India, they found themselves to be shelter less in the land of the Buddha. Maurice took up their cause and single-handedly became a one-person “Indian-Tibetan Refugee Program.” The Tibetan refugee story reflects Maurice’s onepointedness and tenacity; it was these qualities that helped him move mountains. Maurice literally sat in the Prime Minister’s office until Nehru would talk with him. When he finally gained access to Nehru’s ear, Maurice pleaded the Tibetans’ cause. Nehru, along with the government of India, was very concerned that if they granted land to the Tibetan refugees, China might invade India next. This was the reason there was no official stand on the growing refugee problem. However, Nehru met his match in Maurice, who refused to leave the Prime Minister’s office without an official letter that could be taken to the various Indian border states, authorizing land use above 3500 feet to be used for Tibetan refugees. Maurice left the meeting with the letter and searched for land that would be appropriate for Tibetan resettlement. What is Dharmsala today owes its inception to Maurice, who was instrumental in procuring most of the land and funding to set up the villages.

In 1976, Maurice had a second accident. While walking in the crowded streets of Bombay, he was struck by a motorcycle. He never fully recovered from this accident and subsequently died in the apartment he lived in for so many years, owned by Ms. Petit. Nisargadatta Maharaj was by his side at the end and proclaimed Maurice a free man. Maharaj so respected Maurice that he added his photograph to the other saints and gurus whom Maharaj worshipped daily.

Barry Gordon is a Feng Shui consultant and educator, and a senior student of Professor Thomas Yun Lin, one of the most renowned Chinese philosophers of our time. While serving in the U.S. Military, a death experience in Vietnam led him on a very broad and intensive spiritual path.

www.geofengshui.com/gordon.htm