Swami Narikutti or Barry Owen Windsor (1930-1994)
Narikutti Swami was a long term resident of Tiruvannamalai who lived on the lower slopes of Arunachala from 1970 until 1994. Although some visitors and local residents remember him for his outgoing nature and humour, he didn’t reveal much about himself and so he remains being permanently perceived as being enigmatic and somewhat eccentric. Because he spoke so little about himself and left no record of his life, what follows can only be a gathering of information from various sources. Even after many conversations with Narikutti all I had learnt about his past was that he had trained in architecture. After his death I continued to learn more about him from his family and his early friends before he left Australia and these reminiscences are an attempt to paint a more complete picture of him.
Narikutti Swami (Barry Windsor) was born on 17.8.1930. in Sydney. His father Arthur Windsor was a school teacher and his mother Stella Windsor (nee Gates) was a music teacher who was considerably older than her husband. Tragically she died of gall bladder cancer at the young age of 45 years when Barry was two and a half months short of his tenth birthday and his brother Noel was only five years old. The death of their mother broke the family up which resulted in a long separation of the two brothers. Barry and Noel didn’t see each other for five years as Noel was brought up by his father who moved to the country, whilst Barry was brought up by his grandmother and his uncle and aunt in Sydney.
The experience at this time must have had profound consequences for himself, his brother and his father. Losing a parent at nine years old is very painful but when coupled with the breakup of his family with the loss of his brother; the result can only be described as a profoundly traumatic wound. This combination of extremely difficult personal circumstances would have almost certainly contributed to him leaving the western world and following the eastern inner road to happiness.
Barry studied architecture at Sydney Technical College which is now the University of Technology of Sydney whilst Noel joined the Air Force and trained as an aircraft engineer. Barry worked for some of Sydney’s well known architects, Harry Seidler, Peter Muller and alongside Adrian Snodgrass, with whom he traveled to Sri Lanka on 18th April 1957.
In one of his last letters to Peter Muller, Narikutti said that he experienced an underlying kinship with a group of young men in Sydney in the 1950’s which included Peter Muller, Adrian Snodgrass, Bert Read and Alan Gilbert. He said that the underlying unity between them seemed to be founded on their similar but not identical sensibilities, capabilities and capacities. He thought they had each been born with almost identical interests: architecture, music, nature, the other arts and ultimately culminating in religion and metaphysics. With this in mind it is now not surprising to learn that even today, Peter Muller remembers Barry as having an excellent lieder singing voice, especially Shubert. Barry had been very close to his uncle who was a baritone singer.
Barry had connections with the Theosophical bookshop in Sydney and a book shop in Melbourne which was the germ of the Indian spiritual growth movement in Australia way back in the 1950s. Harold Stewart was a poet connected with the Norman Robb Bookshop in Little Collins Street who eventually went and lived in Kyoto. He worked there in the mornings and had his own special section on comparative religion and metaphysics. On the way to Sri Lanka Narikutti stopped in Melbourne and made contact with Stewart and other influential people who were connected with the sacred traditions espoused by Rene Guenon, Frithjof Schuon and Ananda Coomaraswamy.
One of Barry’s fellow students at Sydney Technical College was Bert Read who was regarded as an extremely talented architectural student. He had tremendous influence on Adrian Snodgrass, Alan Gilbert and Barry. Such was his influence that when Bert Read left Sydney technical College due to disillusionment and disappointment with the course in their fourth year, they also dropped out in protest.
Barry decided to accompany Adrian Snodgrass on his boat voyage to India. However they both left the ship in Ceylon and ended up in Kataragama together. The reason they stayed in Ceylon was, according to Adrian, that when they strolled off the boat they were met on the wharf by a monk who said he was expecting them and would they accompany him to Kataragama.
In Ceylon Barry and Adrian met Swami Gauribala (known as German Swami) and also Sandaswamy (Lord Soulbury’s son). It was an elderly servant of his who named Adrian PunaiKutti ('young kitten') and Barry Narikutti ('young jackal'). However Barry’s destination in Sri Lanka was to be the ashram of the guru Yoga Swami in Jaffna. Yogaswami was a guru who was respected and well known for seeming eccentric and who had spent some time in India with Ramana Maharshi.
From Yogaswami’s meeting and association with Ramana Maharshi and from Narikutti’s letters, it is obvious that Narikutti had early on discovered the direct way to the atman ‘the Self’ as espoused by Ramana Maharshi. In one of his last communications with Peter Muller on 1.11.1957 when asked if he had found ‘himself’ Narikutti revealed his complete understanding and lifelong committed practice to the direct path.
‘If By your words “found yourself,” you mean that I have found my way! I feel deeply inclined to agree! It is now as I apply myself to study and meditation that my interest does not flag, but to the contrary there is an ever growing conviction that it is my destiny to follow this path. It is perhaps too early, but nevertheless I venture to say that I feel as if I have ‘come home.’ I feel ‘at home’ in Indian doctrines and have also adapted myself very easily to the Indian way of life.’
‘To know or find the self, that is the ‘ego self’ requires constant meditation and awareness to see how the ego works and asserts itself. “Know thyself by thyself.” Only when the ego is vanquished does the self shine forth.’
Narikutti always maintained that his past was dead and once he left in 1957 his only visit to Australia was to receive medical treatment and some respite care before he returned to India for his last few months. His communication with family, his old group of friends and architectural colleagues ceased altogether in 1958-1961. Bert Read remembers Narikutti writing many twenty page letters to him in Ethiopia but these, like his letters to everyone, suddenly ceased. Bert was told that apparently his guru said that he was under too much influence and told him to stop writing. From Sri Lanka Narikutti regularly wrote to his brother Noel. The last communication between them was a letter from Narikutti in 1960-1961 saying that it would be his last letter home as he didn’t have any money for stationary or postage.
Narikutti stayed on in Sri Lanka after Yoga Swamis death in 1964 and after several exploratory trips to India, he finally left Sri Lanka heading for the town of Tiruvannamalai where he arrived in 1970. His destination was Arunachala, the holy hill on whose lower slopes Ramana Maharshi had made his home.
He soon discovered that there was a vacant small dwelling ‘Lakshmi Amma Cave’ high up on the western aspect of Arunachala which was maintained by priests from Arunachaleswara Temple. It was here that he was to spend most of the rest of his life.
Narikutti’s driving force was the inner guidance he received from the books he constantly read and apart from some notebooks, they were the only significant material possessions he left. He frequently walked around the hill and was well known to many of the local villagers, whom he tirelessly helped in all sorts of ways. If they were in difficulty he would assist with arranging help with food, medical care and support from others.
My personal reminiscence of him begins in the early 1980’s when I went to India for the first time. I had arrived with only the clothes I stood in. It was winter in England, thirty degrees in South India and my summer clothes were in my luggage which the airline had sent back to England. After a gruelling but interesting five hour bus journey I got to my destination… Arunachala. I looked up Chris Quilkey, whom I had met a year before in England. He told me that the best person to help me to get some new clothes was a man called Narikutti Swami. We walked into town where he pointed up the lower slopes of the mountain and showed me the building where he said I would find Narikutti Swami.
Half an hour later I got to Narikutti Swami’s house which looked like a cross between a cave and a lean-to but which was actually a very small converted old temple. I explained my problem which was obvious because I was drenched in sweat from my climb in western clothes. We both laughed at my minor but uncomfortable predicament. He had short cropped white hair with matching stubble and two pieces of white cloth which covered his broad sturdy frame. He was barefoot and seemed light of heart.
He took me down the hill to a tailor and by the time we had finished several cups of coffee I had a new cotton shirt and pair of trousers and a certainty that this man not only had integrity but that he was very unusual. We met many times over 10 years, usually for a three hour cup of coffee in the steamy heat of a South Indian teashop or for a walk around the hill. I developed great respect for him, and whenever I visited Arunachala, I always looked out for him.
I remember our conversation the first time I met him because not only did he have a razor sharp in depth understanding of so many things that interested me, but he also had an interesting way of explaining things. I was also intrigued by what underpinned the enigmatic nature of this friendly man with no past. After our first meeting I wrote down what I remembered we had discussed, so the following is my recollection and not a verbatim account.
“How long have you lived here?” I said.
“I’ve been here many years. Do you see those trees up there?” He said pointing up the mountain. “I’m trying to restore some forest to the hill. Once it was a dense forest. When I came here there wasn’t a single tree on it.”
“Are you Australian?”
“Yes. I came in my twenties and went to Sri Lanka. Yoga Swami was my guru there.”
“What made you come here?” I asked.
No-one knows this here, so please don’t tell anyone, but I trained as an architect in Australia. That kind of life was not me. When Yoga Swami died in 1964 I came to the mountain, just like he’d done. I’ve lived here ever since.”
“And your name. Where is it from?” I asked.
“They call me Narikutti Swami, but I don’t’ like all that Narikutti crap. I got the name from a wild dog who kept me company when I first arrived here from Australia. Narikutti means young jackal. I’m just an old jackal now. An old fool after thirty years here.” He said.
“That’s a lifetime here.” I said.
“But I’ve been lucky to be so happy here.”
“You must know the people here well then?” I asked.
“Yes I seem to understand them. Not too bad for an old Australian fool who tends to the trees on the hill.”
“You must have met some wise people here during that time.”
“Many fools just the same as me.”
“Usually the fool is the wisest of all because he has insights and humour which most don’t have.” I said.
“There’ve been just a few here over the last century or two.”
“Anyone special?” I asked.
“The man Venkentaramen who became known as Ramana Maharshi who lived here and probably the young Swede called Swami Ramanagiri.” The Australian Narikutti seemed deeply reflective and there was a silence. “And maybe an old friend of mine called Annaikutti. He had so many aliases like Annaikutti, Sandeswami, and Soulbury Swami. In fact he was Viscount Lord Soulbury’s son. He went back to England to take up his position in the House of Lords.”
Narikutti was very funny and indeed a very wise fool. He saw everything in a positive humorous way. He was almost like a happy child. I felt like I had known him as a friend since I was a boy. He was almost always at the same time serious and humorous about everything; as if somehow pointing out the unimportance of thinking. I was particularly interested in what he thought about suffering, therapy and the direct path.
“On a practical level, if a person still has profound issues which have not been resolved such as some past trauma, then it will be difficult for them to simply be calm inside themselves. Healing should be looked at by some sort of self examination, perhaps writing or talking to someone, even a friend. Spirituality is not a substitute for dealing with this and any kind of ‘searching’ is most likely to be just avoidant play which feeds the need of the mind to escape from the more ‘needy’ unpleasant reality. All this un-worked out stuff has to be processed, otherwise it bothers you and will block you. After the Second World War several people came and lived here who had been in POW camps and were either tortured or very shaken by what happened to them. They sorted themselves out here first and then they practiced what the old man showed them about ‘just being.’
It’s a fundamental reality check, which without exploring first, means you shouldn’t look anywhere else. It’s a hierarchy of needs check. You may need to get off your cross because you need the wood for a fire to keep warm or cook your food. But these things have to actually be in place or action still being taken about them before any journey starts into the spiritual. Avoidant spirituality is common not just in India but everywhere in temples, therapy sessions and being with a guru.”
“What about therapists, gurus and priests?”
“The main difficulty in looking at religion, spirituality and therapy seems to be sorting out who is authentic from all of the religious leaders, gurus and therapists because all of them seem to have unexpected dark sides to them. Sorting out which one you may need, if you do, is another question which I spent years looking at before I came here. I’ve met a lot of people who have got lost with gurus, therapists and religious leaders. Now the reasons why seem much clearer to me. If it helps you not having to tread all the paths that these people have trod, then I’ll explain.
Part of a religion’s function was originally to unite and to keep certain groups of people together by providing each person with a shared sense of purpose and meaning. Rituals, religious mantras and rosaries mesmerise people and are the glue that binds them together. Every religion, even if it’s just the belief of a small group of people, attempts to provide meaning about everything in life, from how to grow up, work and even what to eat and what not to eat. Religion provided a common explanation of everything in life and life’s ultimate outcome by belief in a better fate for each person in the next life.
The focus of faith is largely based on fear. Through fear, religions have clearly kept a great sense of order in the world for a very long time. But they are institutions, in some ways like schools. And they have also been responsible for a lot of conflicts.
These days, some people who seem lost don’t look to religion; they come here. They come here because religion is the most obvious thing in India as it seems to be everywhere you turn, which is certainly not the case in Western Europe. There are thousands of different gods and goddesses. Most visitors look in India for something that’s common to them all, something which unifies these, the essence of all religions. In India you soon realise that the unifying common denominator is not in the religions but in you. It could easily be said that spirituality is all psychological and that God is really inside us. Spirituality is our highest function. It is our highest way of being. God is really inside us, not outside us.
Let me try and get you to see this. The English poet Shakespeare said it when he wrote, ‘To thine own self be true.’ This is the same as the message from the old man to ask yourself ‘Who am I.’ There are two things written on the portals of the Temple of Adelphi in Greece, ‘Know the Self’ and ‘Nothing to excess.’ Christ said that the Kingdom of God is within. What could be more plain and simple than that? They are from different cultures and ages but essentially saying the same thing.
But there are all sorts of levels of attainment. For most people in the World’s larger traditional religions, their fundamental beliefs are really very much unchanged today from how they were two thousand years ago and they can go through their whole life accepting these ready-made explanations of life, God and the Universe. However, there are others who as we say in Australia are ‘non-sheep.’ These non-sheep are the most interesting. There is an old saying by the nineteenth century monk Vivekananda which says, ‘It’s a blessing to be born into a religion and a tragedy to die in one.’
Let me go a bit further and amplify this. It’s a privilege to leave one and discover your own self and find out what you are.”
“Do you think India is a good place to do that?”
“Yes, but only because by being in India you are so overwhelmed by the plethora of religious thought that eventually you are forced to give up all beliefs and all sets of rules. It’s unique.
It’s more to do with the discipline of attending to the inner Self. And not an outer set of rules. It’s inner discipline, not an outer theory about the inside like therapy and religion. It’s like riding a bike. You have to get on it and start peddling. You can’t sit on it and discuss it. You have to do it. You have to get going. You have to start having time to ‘just be,’ to be your inner Self.
It requires repeated daily work and this is probably the essence of the modern day true spiritual path. Perhaps this is why the more modern gurus of the last two hundred years have apparently seemed so popular in recent years. In the last hundred years therapists have tried to take over their function, but unsuccessfully.”
“And Jung. What do you make of him?”
“Ah Jung! It was Jung’s thoughts that made him unhappy, like many people who come here. Jung was seen as a genius of his time but he probably regretted not coming here because he wasn’t willing to take the risk. I was fortunate because I had nothing to lose. So like a fool I came here to live. The mountain has looked after me and it’s never let me down. It’s really good to be a fool” He was looking up at the mountain as if still in awe of it and he was smiling.
“You look at the mountain like a familiar friend.”
“It has always been my best friend. I think ‘good friends’ are usually less risky and perhaps better than therapists because their only motivation to help you is because they like you. There is no investment in carrying on with you other than friendship. There is only enjoying being with you. They are not getting a sense of expanding their ego, power base or popularity by seeing you. I’ve often wondered if people who present to therapists only do so in many cases because they don’t have ‘good enough’ friends.
I’m only telling you this because I have seen so much of the underlying reasons why people come here. There are lots of spiritual tourists who come here on a vacation out of an intellectual interest in what is here. But they are not interested in finding out about themselves. They don’t actually try and ‘just be’ and find out who they really are. I’m not sure I’ve met many normal people here. Lots of the people who come here and stay a while would probably be taking medication from their doctors if they weren’t here. This place really does help them.
In answer to your earlier question, ‘Is India the best place to do this… probably but you have to be cautious. Some people can become very unstable who are probably unstable anyway. I’ve see a lot of people become very strange and well… crazy. Some people appear to have breakdowns whilst they may actually be breaking through, away from what they have been. It can be as consuming as total devotion and the effects are probably the same. I have seen people pour themselves in to this and I now know that consciousness can be a painful thing for some people and it may be best left alone.”
“Basically you’re saying that some people shouldn’t dabble?”
“Yes. Some people are probably best just to worship and devote themselves to a god, goddess, a mountain a rock or a river but not to really question. This is another function of some gurus; to be devoted to. This might appear to be true for some therapists too. With some people a guru can appear to unconditionally accept a disciple’s unspoken love for them, as well as their unspoken problems and faults or sins, and the devotee can then think that they are being given love back from the guru, without all of the basic human worldly things that would usually go with loving someone. The problem with this type of relationship is that the devotee projects on to the guru, god, statue or stone and these people have to largely imagine what they think they are receiving back in return. But sometimes this might be all a person needs in their life at that time and their vulnerability may be reduced, which can be the whole point.
Others may feel that the only way they can show love is by giving money and that’s why so many gurus or ashrams are very wealthy. Perhaps it’s a sad thing to accept, but it’s a fact that some people only see themselves as being able to give money in return for everything in life. But if money is their form of personal energy then it’s probably a fair exchange. It probably only seems strange because the people who receive the money can look amusingly hypocritical by what they choose to spend it on. I’m sure you’ve seen them with their dozens of luxury cars.
If you don’t ask about your life, or question yourself about how to lead it and you don’t follow any religion, guru or therapist, you may appear to look happy. You may appear to be very fortunate and not be needy or vulnerable. But the truth is that we all know that this is not the case. Because as life progresses, it usually deals out a lot of pain.
If you are wealthy and overprotected by wealth you are usually cut off from the inner Self. That’s what the Bible meant by saying that it is more difficult for a rich man to get to heaven than to get a camel through the eye of a needle. In India God is seen as being the inner Self and this is actually what Christ meant when he said that the ‘kingdom of God is within. They are different ways of saying the same thing. Preoccupation with wealth and what it brings distract you from your real neediness, from what you can be. It is all simple psychology. But Christ wasn’t the first to say this. Five hundred years before him a Nepalese prince Siddhartha Gautama gave up everything to find the inner Self.
After some time in India you begin to notice that people who seem to be in search of ‘enlightenment’ most commonly go in search of someone else to follow. They will look everywhere and repeatedly search out guru after guru, sometimes for years, but they won’t look inside themselves and stick with that. It’s the single most frustrating thing to observe in these people and after some time it can become an amusing thing as well. Any simple honest person would simply point a finger at them telling them to look inside themselves. The Inner guru rather like the inner physician is to be always trusted above everyone else. You know when you’ve got a good doctor or a bad one. The same can be said for the Self.
India is a good place to visit and explore this, but rather like a raft, it should only be used to cross a difficult river and not to actually live on. Once you get to the other side you have to discard it and walk away as there is no point in carrying a raft on your back on dry land. The same could be said for therapy. Sadly this is not seen by most people and they easily become slaves to their need for an external Guru or a therapist. I’ve spent years here seeing all sorts of people come and go trying to answer the same question, trying to find themselves. It really is simple and you just have to look within. You have to just be and get rid of the thoughts.”
“What happens as you get more in touch with the silent part, with the inner peace?”
“You eventually see that your worst enemy is thinking about it because thinking only leads to mental constipation. Thinking blocks your ability to just be. When you get through this, you can ‘just be’ and everything is just a dance in front of you.”
Many cultures teach the way to the Self is through studying the sacred arts of Painting, Sculpture, Music, Dance, Recital and Architecture; the Self being regarded as the seventh sacred art. Narikutti had an extremely difficult start to life as a boy losing his mother early on and having to cope with living apart from his brother and father. His profound wound left him with heightened insight and awareness which encouraged him early on to study and search for healing and meaning in his life, leading him to the seven sacred arts. From 1957 Narikutti had no further need of the worldly rewards of the first six arts.
Narikutti led an austere life marked by his simplicity, humility and compassion. Many visitors and residents will remember him as being very direct by sharing his razor sharp intuition which was always coupled with his light hearted refreshing Australian humour. However he quietly and completely committed himself to a lifelong study and practice of self enquiry.
There was loose discussion that perhaps a plaque should be erected near Narikutti’s house indicating his native birth place of Australia together with the dates he had lived on Arunachala. Some of his old friends in Australia indicated that they disagreed with the idea of a plaque and curiously they were correct.
Sometime between January 2012 and August 2013, a swami who took over living in Narikutti’s dwelling had a quarrel with another swami who had a much larger dwelling just slightly higher up the mountain. The Government stepped in and demolished both dwellings. This is a picture of what remains of Narikutti’s dwelling. It is the kind of action which Narikutti would have found amusing.
Source: Ramana Hridayam
"Narikutti Swami of Tiruvannamalai" by Peter Ellingsen
Arunachala and Narikutti Swami (Barry Owen Windsor) The Jackal