Maurice Frydman [Part 1] - His Life Story - Your Heart will melt
Maurice Frydman is one of most extraordinary people I’ve ever come across and virtually nothing is known about him. And because of his connection with Ramana Maharshi, Krishnamurti, Gandhi, Nisargadatta, the Dali Lama I kind of view him in my own mind as a Forest Gump of 20th century spirituality.
Maurice Frydman is one of most extraordinary people I’ve ever come across and virtually nothing is known about him. And because of his connection with Ramana Maharshi, Krishnamurti, Gandhi, Nisargadatta, the Dali Lama I kind of view him in my own mind as a Forest Gump of 20th century spirituality. He was in all the right places in all the right times to get the maximum benefit of interaction with some of the greats of Indian spirituality… He was a Gandhian, he worked for the uplift of the poor in India, he worked with Tibetan refugees, he edited extraordinary books [like] “I am That,” probably one of the all time spiritual classics.
This man for me a shining beacon of how devotees could and should be with their teachers. He was just absolutely an extraordinary man. And went out of his way to cover his tracks; to hide what he actually had accomplished in his life. So I’ve enjoyed the detective work of looking in obscure placers, digging out stuff that he personally tried to hide, not because it was embarrassing, but because he didn’t like to take credit for what he’d done. So I see this as an opportunity to wave the Maurice flag and say “look look, this is one of the greatest devotee, sadoc seekers from the West whose been to India in the last 100 years, and I think more people should know about him.”
—Both of David Godman's interviews are found at:
THE INTERVIEW #1:
THE INTERVIEW #2:
Maurice “Bharatananda” Frydman:
The great karma yogi you never heard of…
“We ripen when we refuse to drift, when striving ceaselessly become a way of life, when dispassion born of insight becomes spontaneous. When the search ‘Who Am I?’ becomes the only thing that matters, when we become a mere torch and the flame all important, it will mean that we are ripening fast. We cannot accelerate that ripening, but we can remove the obstacles of fear and greed, indolence and fancy, prejudice and pride.”
Maurice Frydman, April 1976 The Mountain Path
Maurice Frydman and J. Krishnamurti
You might have come across his name on the cover of the classic giant “I Am That.” He was the man who tape recorded conversations in the Marathi dialect with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj and then translated and pushed to publish the book. What you might not know is that he carried out that deed late in his life after five decades of service to India directly and to the world of spiritual seekers at large. The people that he came across and was in deep relationship with included J. Krishnamurti, Sri Ramana Maharshi, Mahatma Gandhi besides Maharaj. Furthermore, he was also involved with the liberation of India from English rule in the state of Aundh by writing the constitution there, as well as being active in the villages of the state. Later on, he spent years pushing the Indian government for and receiving land and money to create the settlements where thousands of uprooted Tibetans escaped the Chinese invasion.
Maurice Frydman was born in the Jewish ghetto of Krakow, Poland in 1894. Being an exceptionally bright student, he excelled in school and studied electrical engineering. He was fluent in Hebrew, English, French, Russian, German and added to that Hindi later in life. His seeking started at a young age and involved delving into Judaism and studying the Talmud. He followed this by becoming a monk in the Russian Orthodox church. This path did not free his thirst and he was said to have been fed up with all dogmas. His brilliance in his school did pave the way for him to drastically change his life from his humble beginning. He had many patents to his name, by the age of twenty when he moved to Europe for his studies and started work.
During this time he came across his first teacher J. Krishnamurti in Switzerland. This meeting was prior to Krishnamurti’s break with the Theosophical Society and the relationship lasted many decades. Maurice was known to be a fierce debater with Krishnamurti whom he held in high regards. He would organize meetings for him as well as translate some of his work into French. After a period of several years, in 1928 he made a more permanent move to Paris to start a job at an electrical factory. In Paris he came across Paul Brunton’s book Conscious Immortality: Conversations with Sri Ramana Maharshi that started a burning desire to go to India.
His wish came true several years later when in 1935 he was offered a job to set up an engineering firm in Mysore, which he accepted. In his early years in India in the late 1930s he found Ramana Maharshi and spent time with the Bhagavan. As one of the regular devotees, many of his questions and the master’s response were recorded in Maharshi’s Gospel. Ramana said of Frydman “He belongs only here to India. Somehow he was born abroad, but has come again here”.
Concurrently he came into relationship with Mahatma Gandhi and was involved with his struggle to free India from British rule. It was during this time in 1938 that he asked the Raja of Aundh province to help Gandhi’s cause by freeing his control of seventy two village properties which the Raja agreed to. He then drew up a draft of declaration of independence which then was given to Gandhi. He in turn wrote the constitution of the state, giving full authority to the people of the state, a rare event in pre-independent India. An interesting side fact is that during his time with Gandhi Frydman worked on and improved the design of the cotton spinning wheels that became synonymous with Gandhi and his movement.
Frydman’s family perished in Poland during WWII and he never returned there after that.
At this juncture in his life he gave up on his job and worldly possessions. He took on the robe of a sannyasi under Sri Swami Ramdas who named him Bharatananda; a robe he later gave up as being meaningless while living the spirit of it to his death. From this time on, he did give up his salary to the needy around him. He had no room for symbols and spiritual materialism that did not reflect true ripeness; he found them to be shallow and counter productive. He regretted his inability to take further use of Ramana Maharshi’s teachings while the Bhagavan was alive. He wrote after Ramana Maharshi’s death, “Now He is still with us, but no longer so easily accessible. To find Him again we must overcome the very obstacles which prevented us from seeing Him as He was — and going with Him where he wanted to take us. It was Tamas and Rajas – fear and desire that stood in the way – the desire for the pleasure of the past and fear of austere responsibility of a higher state of being. It was the same old story— the threshold of maturity of mind and heart which most of refuse to cross”.
Maurice Frydman died in Bombay on March 9th of 1976 with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj by his side. A beautiful event ends this incredible life. During his last days of life Frydman gets a visit by a professional nurse he does not know. The nurse had been visited in a dream by an old man in a loin cloth telling her to go and take care of Frydman. Frydman refuses to accept the nurse’s offer. As the nurse is leaving she walks past a picture of the old man that had visited her in her dream. Upon telling Frydman this, he accepts her offer and allows her to take care of him. The picture: it was Ramana Maharshi who had left his body over three decades prior.
Excerpts taken from:
Dr M. Sadashiva Rao Vol. 19, No. 5 The Maharshi
Apa B Bant, 1991 Volume of Mountain Path
Written for Namrupa Issue 10 Volume 05, November 2009
Photo: Maurice Frydman, sitting 3th to the right of Bhagavan, with tie.
by Barry Gordon
"Your own being is your definitive master, the external teacher is simply a sign on the path, only your inner teacher will go with you to the goal, since he is the goal."
— Nisargadatta Maharaj, from the book — I Am That.
If you mention the name of Maurice Frydman to spiritual practitioners who are familiar with Advaita Vedanta and Tibetan Buddhism, not many would recognize it. Even so, Maurice was a key factor in the dissemination of the teachings of Ramana Maharshi , Nisargadatta Maharaj , Swami Ramdas, Anandamayi Ma, Mahatma Ghandi; And in supporting the Tibetan Buddhists. It was because of Maurice that I was able to stay in Ramana Maharshi's ashram, meet Nisargadatta, J. Krishnamurti , Mother Krishnabai and (indirectly) Douglas Harding.
I met Maurice for the first time when he was an energetic man of seventy-six, and instantly felt that he had found a friend and grandfather long lost. I had gone to India earlier in 1971 to stay at Baba Muktananda's ashram in Ganeshpuri, not far from Bombay.
When my six-month visa expired, I wanted to stay in India. I gave my passport to a Hindu politician (MP) from Bombay, whom I had met at Muktananda's ashram and who said that I could get a permanent residency status. Since this was India, several months passed without resolution in sight. One day, two friends and I decided to go to Bombay for the purpose of satisfying our cravings for ice cream and mango lassi, but the hotels did not admit us without a passport. One of my friends had heard of Maurice Frydman and suggested that we go to his house for help.
Maurice lived on Nepean Sea Street, at the home of Ms. Hirubhai Petit, a former devotee of Sri Ramana Maharshi. Mrs. Petit was a wonderful lady Parsi, a little younger than Maurice and almost deaf. It was usually seen at meal times. Maurice and she had been constant companions for many years. Maurice said that when Maharshi left his body, Ms. Petit saw a star cross the skies of Bombay and said, "There goes Bhagavan." He had made the right moment.
Mrs. Petit lived in the rooms in front of the apartment and spent most of her time meditating. In her youth she had been a piano performer, playing professionally in Europe, which was sometimes considered improper behavior for a Hindu woman in those days.
Education was a rare option for a woman. I remember a woman Parsi, perhaps in her forties, friend of Maurice and Mrs. Petit, who came to lunch one day. She was one of the first women to graduate from a college in India — and was active in social work. She told me that Maurice had been instrumental in helping her get a better education. He then gave her great spiritual and emotional support when she was experiencing difficulties in accepting the world of work, which was totally dominated by men.
Maurice welcomed and fed everyone at his door - and there were many people. After questioning me sharply (as he did with many of his guests - a skill for which Maurice was famous), he offered me an exchange. I could stay with him if I helped him to pack and send to Poland the books he had published. I do not think Maurice needed to question people, because he already knew the answers. It felt as if he held your heart in the palm of his hands and could examine it in detail. From the spark of his eyes, however, he obviously enjoyed it. He saw everyone clearly and allowed no dishonesty. A lot of deflated egos left their table being better people. That was the beginning of an 18-month relationship during which I helped Maurice with many of his social projects, but mostly to pack books for the Hindu-Polish Library, to interview Nisargadatta, and later to edit the manuscript to be published as I am That. Although he did not really need to help with the book, as he was a brilliant writer in many languages, this work became one of the ways he taught me the importance of making every detail look good.
Maurice Frydman with Nisargadatta
Together, we were going to interview Nisargadatta once a week, though I think Maurice had started the interviews about a year before I knew him. Maurice spoke Marathi (the local language) fluently, as well as Hindi, Polish, Russian, French, English and many others. Maharaj was very fond of Maurice. Once, Maurice was injured in a collision with a scooter and could not leave the house for a few weeks. We were surprised by a spontaneous visit by Maharaj, who walked all the way, with the help of one of his sons, worried that Maurice would not be able to continue his regular visits. Maharaj must have walked for more than an hour to get to Maurice's house.
Nisargadatta welcomed the visitors into a small room above the house of his family. He sat near the front window, with a bidi (cigarette) in his hand, and excitedly answered our questions, which were recorded by Maurice. In a recent video about Nisargadatta Maharaj (produced by Inner Directions), it looked as if the room had been reorganized since those days.
Maharaj and Maurice were alike in many ways. Both were inflexible as to truth and had a similar intensity that could be mistaken for anger - but it was more the fire of their enlightened compassion. In fact, all the masters with whom Maurice had been implicated were thus, except perhaps Swami Ramdas. Although Maharaj is famous as a Vedantic, I was struck by the intensity of his puja (devout worship). When the time came for the puja, all talk ceased; Maharaj took his great cymbals and began to worship and sing to the utmost of his lungs - an example of true devotion.
Maurice spoke very little about his past. The only extensive biographical material I know of is an article by Apa B. Pant, a retired Hindu diplomat (and Prince of Aundh), who was Maurice's disciple for forty years. In addition, material has been published in The Mountain Path, a magazine published by Sri Ramanasramam (the ashram of Sri Ramana Maharshi). In the house of Maurice I met Eva Moimir, from Krakow, Poland. His father, now about ninety years old, was a friend of Maurice's early days in the Theosophical Society. Eva stayed with Maurice for about six months and contributed to this article with some of her memories.
Maurice was born in 1894 in the Jewish ghetto of Krakow, Poland, from a very poor family. At that time, it was very difficult for Jews to receive public education. My grandmother (from Odessa) told me that only five percent of Jewish children were allowed to attend school. Maurice's father was a very devout man and wanted Maurice to become a rabbi, so Maurice began to learn Hebrew. I think he ended up speaking fourteen or fifteen languages altogether. At the age of ten, he spoke fluent Russian, Polish, French, English and Hebrew. Maurice went on to study electrical engineering, and at twenty, he had received patents for more than a hundred electrical and mechanical inventions, one of which was a talking book. Maurice's skills for invention and his ingenuity later would be very beneficial to the villages of India. Maurice told me that he designed all the hand tools used in the Khadi movement of Ghandi (hand-knit clothing), such as the small and famous handwheel.
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 studied Judaism seriously and even became a Russian Orthodox monk. He once told me a story that represents his character very well. AB Pant describes it beautifully: "One day, Satan tempted Maurice to jump out of a great waterfall to 'prove his faith' in Jesus Christ and the church. Then this intrepid seeker of truth immediately jumped from a precipice of over a hundred Feet! He was barely saved by some bushes in which his cassock tangled. " Maurice's impetuosity would later become a saving grace for thousands of people. Maurice, however, did not last long in the church.
Maurice Frydman and J. Krishnamurti
Around thirty, Maurice discovered the Theosophical Society, its founder Annie Besant (1), and the rising star of the Theosophical movement, J. Krishnamurti, becoming one of Krishnaji's most serious inquirers. Maurice was also friends with Wanda "Umadevi" Dynowska, an aristocrat and notable spiritual seeker. Together (in 1944), they founded the Polish-Indian library. Umadevi also founded the Polish branch of the Theosophical Society.
Maurice introduced AB Pant to Krishnamurti. Pant describes Maurice's dialogues with Krishnaji: "I marveled at Maurice's incisive brilliance and vision by challenging almost every point with Krishnaji." It was not the challenge of the arrogant or of a confident pandit. Which Krishnaji explained through his own immediate experience. In the "duel" between the two of them, there was no memory of the past or no conjecture about the future.”
Pant continues the story and tells that Maurice immigrated to France to accept a job in a new electrical factory from which he would soon become the general manager. Reading voraciously and absorbing books of religion, mysticism and occultism in the National Library, he soon encountered Vedanta (the non-dualistic wisdom of India, especially revealed in the Upanishads, the great metaphysical part of the Vedas) and immersed in the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads and the Mahabharata. Greatly attracting him were books about Sri Ramana Maharshi, especially India Secret of Paul Brunton. For Maurice, this was the greatest revelation, the inquiry: "Who am I?"— a question that I think was answered in his last stay in India.
During his stay in France, a great desire to visit India arose in Maurice. Around this time, the Diwan (Chief Officer) of Mysore, Sir Mirza Ismail, arrived for a tour of the factory where Maurice worked. Quickly recognizing the genius and skill of Maurice, Sir Mirza remarked: "Mr. Frydman, I wish you could come and visit us in Mysore and advise us on development." Diwain wanted to make a replica of the Paris factory in Bangalore (South India). Maurice told him that his bags were ready.
It is noteworthy that just as Maurice was keen to go to India, the Diwan of Mysore would arrive and invite him — not only to India, but to Bangalore, which is quite close to Tiruvannamalai — so that Maurice could spend the weekends at the ashram of Ramana Maharshi. Maurice soon became a passionate disciple of Maharshi and later compiled a series of conversations with Ramana, later published with the title The Gospel of Maharshi. Maurice asked Ramana to initiate him as a Hindu monk (sannyasi), but Maharshi refused. Once Maurice was decided there was nothing that could dissuade him. While living and working in Bangalore, Maurice visited Swami Ramdas at the Ananda ashram in Khanangad, Kerala. During one of these visits, Maurice made the resignation vows, shaved his head, and began to wear the saffron robes of the Hindu monks. Swami Ramdas gave Maurice the name "Bharatananda". This change, reflecting Maurice's inner conviction, caused him some difficulties with Sir Mirza, his boss in Bangalore.
When Sir Mirza learned that Maurice had begun the sannyas, who wore saffron robes, who went out to beg for food and gave all his wages to the poor, he became enraged. I think Sir Mirza never really understood how to work with Maurice. When Maurice was ordered to wear normal clothing, Maurice immediately offered his resignation and said: "I am free to live my personal life as I see fit, as long as it satisfies everything concerning the quality of my work as an engineer and manager.” Soon they reached an agreement in which Maurice would only have to wear a traditional dress when a very important person went to the factory. AB Pant was one of those people, and the meeting between them marked the beginning of the end of Maurice's time with Sir Mirza. Although Maurice spent much time in the company of Ramana Maharshi and J. Krishnamurti, he managed to cling to strict fidelity to external renunciation for another ten or twelve years.
The father of Apa Pant was Diwan of Aundh, a small and poor state of Maharashtra. Pant was Maurice's first and closest disciple. When Pant asked Sir Mirza to "lend" Maurice for a period of six months, he quickly denied his request. This action, of course, caused Maurice to leave permanently for Aundh. As Sri Pant tells us in his story, Maurice carried Mahatma Ghandi's inspired message to the villages of Aundh, as neither the Rajas or British autocrats of other states were very adept at decentralized democracy. Maurice and Sri Pant were called to the famous mud hut of the Mahatma and Ghandi welcomed Bharatananda with a: "So you have taken the poor Raja of Aundh and left the rich man in Mysore to his fate?" This meeting began a close association between Mahatma and Maurice. Maurice became a Hindu citizen and was deeply involved with Ghandi's work and movement for national independence. He was also active in the Sevagram movement, which continued after independence with Britain. Maurice played a key role in the invention of several hand tools, such as spinning equipment, which were then employed by the village industries movement.
Sri Pant wrote about the meeting between Maurice and Mahatma Ghandi 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 fields of Aundh. Although the daily temperature ranged from 48 degrees during the day to 6 degrees Celsius at night, he slept only with blankets and bamboo rugs. During this time Maurice was personally responsible for the abolition of the death penalty and the release of many prisoners to a democratic and open penal colony. In fact, he created the city of Swatantrapur, originally located in the fields of Aundh. It still exists today.
Although Maurice was already in his mid-seventies, when I spent time with him he was very active in various charities, most of which had been started and completed by him. In addition to publishing spiritual books, she also opened orphanages, centers for training prostitutes, and an organization to find gifts for them so they could get married. It was closely associated with Chetana Books, a publishing house and bookstore located in Bombay (Chetana was the first editorial of “Yo Soy That,” the collection of conversations with Nisargadatta Maharaj).
Maurice experimented with many things and was especially attracted to natural cures and special diets. I was being successfully treated by a homeopath for something that I later realized was poisoning Agent Orange, which I contracted during my days as a Marine Officer in Vietnam. Maurice convinced me to change him for fasting, which began with three days of bananas, followed by three days of oranges, then three days only of water; And then the same, but in reverse. Homeopathy worked better. There were always bizarre concoctions on the table - dark liquids with unusual fragrances, etc. This must have been true for years, because Pant also describes Maurice's fascination with food experiments. Ghandi also had this predilection. Maurice believed firmly in fasting and loved to tell the story of the Italian Count who lived during the Renaissance. The count was a great sybarite who, because of his excessive indulgence, was very overweight. As a result of his weight problem, the Count became ill to death. 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 without shelter in the land of Buddha. Maurice took charge of his cause and without help became an "Indian-Tibetan refugee program". The history of the Tibetan refugees reflects the determination and tenacity of Maurice; It was these qualities that helped him move mountains. Maurice literally sat in the prime minister's office until Nehru spoke to him. When he finally gained access to Nehru, Maurice advocated the cause of the Tibetans. Nehru, along with the government of India, were very concerned that if they granted land to the Tibetan refugees, then China could invade India. This was the reason why there was no official position on the refugee problem. However, Nehru found in Maurice the last of his shoe. Maurice refused to leave the prime minister's office without an official letter that could be taken to several peripheral states of India and to authorize the use of a land of more than 3500 feet that can be used by Tibetan refugees. Maurice left the meeting with the letter and sought land that was appropriate for the Tibetan settlement. What is now “Dharmsala" owes its birth to Maurice, who was instrumental in procuring most of the land and financing the settlement of the villages.
In 1976, Maurice had a second accident. As he walked through the crowded streets of Bombay, he was hit by a motorcycle. She never completely recovered from this accident and later died in the apartment where she lived for so many years, of which Mrs. Petit was the owner. Nissargadatta Maharj was at his side at the end and proclaimed Maurice a free man. Maharaj respected Maurice so much that he added his photograph to that of other saints and gurus whom Maharaj worshiped daily.
Barry Gordon holds a BA in Physics and is a Feng Shui consultant and educator, and an advanced student of Professor Thomas Yun Lin, one of the most renowned philosophers of our time.
While serving in the United States Army, a death experience in Vietnam led him to a broad and extensive spiritual path.
With extensive experience in Western psychotherapy and Homeopathy, he also lived in Hindu ashrams, Buddhist monasteries, studied with a Sufi master and with a Hawaiian Kahuna.
Barry Gordon's Website
[GO TO PART 2]