MAURICE “BHARATANANDA” FRYDMAN: THE GREAT KARMA YOGI YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF
The following piece was written for Namarupa:
“We ripen when we refuse to drift, when striving ceaselessly becomes 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 can not accelerate that ripening - but we can remove the obstacles of fear and greed, indolence and fancy, prejudice and pride.”
- Maurice Frydman, The Mountain Path, 1976
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 also did not feed 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 20, 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 on 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 responses were recorded in Maharshi’s Gospel. Maharshi 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 the 72-village property, 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 Gandhiji, Frydman worked on, and improved on, 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 counterproductive. He regretted his inability to take further use of Ramana Maharshi’s teachings while the Bhagavan was alive. He wrote after his 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 of 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 loincloth 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.
- Dr. M. Sadashiva Rao, The Maharshi, 2009
- Apa B. Pant, The Mountain Path, 1991