A Truly Remarkable Woman, Worth Remembering – Robert Rabbin

I think it’s important to honor the lives and legacies of people who have touched our hearts in some way, who have touched the lives of others in uplifting and inspiring ways.

It’s important to celebrate the qualities we admire and respect and want to pass on to our children by shining a light of gratitude on those who embody those qualities. And so I want to remember Jean Dunne, a truly remarkable woman worth remembering.

I lived in Mill Valley, just north of San Francisco, from the late ’80s through the mid-’90s. At some point during those years—I can’t remember precisely—I heard that Jean Dunn lived not too far away, in Vacaville, about half way between San Francisco and Sacramento, on I-80.

Jean had lived in India for many years, first as a disciple of Ramana Maharishi, and later as a disciple of Nisargadatta Maharaj—both popular, if misunderstood, gurus from India. Nisargadatta had acknowledged that Jean had realized her true nature and was to carry on his work after he passed from this world, which he did in 1981.

I, too, had lived in India with a guru, though to the best of my knowledge he never publicly said I had realized my true nature. (Inasmuch as he passed from this world in 1982, I’ll have to say that on my own behalf. But not here, not know. Later. Stay tuned lovers.)

With our mutual back-story of living in India with gurus, and being mindful of her standing in the non-duality culture, I wanted to speak with her.

I held her in high regard based on her years of study and service. I contacted Jean and asked if I could come for a visit. She was most welcoming. I set off with two friends, Monika and Norman. We were full of expectant good cheer for the prospects of a great adventure.

It didn’t take long to drive the 45 miles from Marin County to Vacaville. Once there, we had to locate the trailer park Jean lived in, which was situated right behind a cement factory. We found the park, then her single-wide mobile home—standard issue it seemed to me. I remember pausing for a moment, trying to take this in. I could see bits of the cement factory sticking up nearby, and could see and smell the dust of it, which I knew so well as I worked as a mason’s apprentice for a year in 1969.

It seemed odd that someone with the quiet notoriety of being a realized being would end up living in a mobile home park behind a cement factory. Jean was around 68, maybe 70, years old when we knocked on the door that day.

This tiny little thing, couldn’t have been bigger than a bird, weighing 75 pounds, but bright and energetic as all get out, opened the door and enthusiastically welcomed us in to her home. She was thrilled we came and said she had baked some brownies for us and had made come coffee. Did we drink coffee? Yes, of course. (Actually, Monika and Norman didn’t, but how could they refuse her home-brewed coffee?)

She took us to the kitchen area, where she asked us to sit around a card table, on which was a plate stacked high with brownies, a pot of coffee, and a carton—not a pack, a carton—of Marlboro cigarettes. Next to the table was an oxygen tank and mask, as Jean was suffering from emphysema at that time.

As she served us coffee and we helped ourselves to the brownies, she asked, “Would you like a cigarette?” Well, Monika and Norman said no, very politely. While I didn’t smoke, I just felt that I should accept. It felt to me as if the cigarettes were a kind of sacred thing, a ritual thing, such that if I didn’t smoke I would have somehow spurned her heartfelt hospitality.

So I said, “I’d love to have a cigarette with you, thanks.” Well, I don’t believe I’ve ever made anyone so happy in my life. She just beamed and offered me a pack. Well, for the next hour or so, we sat around the table talking, eating brownies, drinking coffee, and smoking up a storm.

At one point, Norman asked about the paradox of taking a drag on a cigarette and then a drag on the oxygen mask. (He later said to us he was afraid she’d blow us all up, smoking right next to the tank.) Norman and, to a slightly lesser extent, Monika, were keenly and religiously health-conscious. They just nibbled on their brownie and barely touched their coffee. They kept shushing and waving the cigarette smoke away. I was, let’s say, not as concerned with my health. I seem to recall gulping down brownies and cups of coffee. I probably went through half a pack of Marlboros, too.

Well, it was quite a scene: here is this lovely, dear, sweet-as-sugar woman, reputedly self-realized, having lived and worked with one of the great non-dual masters of the last century, sitting at a card table in a mobile home behind a cement factory eating brownies and drinking coffee and smoking Marlboros, all the while taking great gulps of oxygen from a tank to help her breathe in the face of her emphysema.

When Norman (I’m sure it was Norman) asked, politely, she just broke out one of her best smiles and chirped, “Well, dearie, what can I do? The body seems to like smoking. I don’t interfere.” (All these years later, I can’t swear this is a direct quote, but it reflects the spirit of what she said.)

And that was that. After about an hour or so, we could see that Jean was getting tired, so we thanked her, and we left.

I don’t remember anything from our conversation. Not a word, except those words of wonderful welcome and offers of brownies and coffee and cigarettes. I do remember her beautiful sweet smile and gentle eyes. I met her once, maybe 25 years ago. I am telling this story now for the first time. I don’t know why it’s popped into my consciousness, but it has.

I have no idea if dear Jean had realized her true nature. I tend to scoff at those terms and claims these days. But I can say that she was completely, utterly gracious and charming and sweet and vulnerable and transparent and loving—I can say those things based on my experience. I haven’t met many like her. I don’t think I’ve met anyone like her. She was a beauty. A rare, authentic beauty.

She passed from this world in 1996, at 75 years of age. Her legacy? Insofar as I see it, her legacy is the fragrance she emitted, the fragrance of authenticity, the smell and scent of deep beauty, peace, kindness, humor, self-acceptance and loving nature. All this seemed, in her, to be the most natural thing in the world. Oh, yes, that’s what a real human being looks like. Simple, basic, natural, original-self kind of beauty. A child. A true child. An embodiment of simple kindness, open-hearted, friendly, welcoming, respectful, joyful. I’ll take those as meaning she was self-realized.

-Robert Rabbin

Thank you to Parvati Devi for pointing me towords this article which was first published in Elephant Journal.

You can read more on Jean Dunn here.

Here you can download Jean Dunn Journals – Being with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj.


The Way of Nisargadatta Maharaj – Jean Dunn

An Interview with Jean Dunn first posted on September 13, 2010 on the Inner Directions Journal website.

Jean Dunn had the rare opportunity of being close to the contemporary sage, Nisargadatta Maharaj.  With unquestioning faith, she wholeheartedly absorbed the teachings and presence of Maharaj, opening herself up like a reed to the flow of consciousness that Nisargadatta Maharaj was and is.

Jean Dunn

Over the years Jean published three books that contain transcripts of Nisargadatta’s talks, recorded during the years she spent with him.  This is an interview between Jean Dunn and The Inner Directions Journal, followed by a few selections from the personal diary she kept from 1977-1981.


IDJ:  Was your introduction to spiritual life through Ramana Maharshi or were there other influences before Ramana?
Jean Dunn:  Well, yes.  That’s a long story.  I was interested in Joel Goldsmith.  All my life, it seems I have been searching for something.  We all are searching but usually in the wrong places; it does lead us on.
IDJ:  Did Joel mention Ramana Maharshi’s name to you?
Jean:   No.  I was told that he was preparing to visit India when he died.

IDJ:  When did you first hear about Nisargadatta Maharaj?
Jean:  About one year before I first saw him.  I was staying in Sri Ramanasramam (the Ashram of Ramana Maharshi), and friends were regularly going to see him (Maharaj) in Bombay.  I felt there was no need to see anyone else since the Maharshi was my teacher.  I put off the trip twice.  The third time friends came and asked me to go, I agreed.  So I did, and that was it.
IDJ:  After seeing Maharaj did you return to Ramanasramam?
Jean:  Yes, I continued to stay at the Ashram.  When Maharaj got very sick, during the last couple of years of his life, I moved to Bombay.

IDJ:  Can you give me a brief description of what took place daily in Maharaj’s flat?  Did he have a special routine?
Jean:  Early in the morning, about 6:00 a.m., there was arati (offering of lights) with a group of us.  I would arrive before it started and help clean up the room from the day before.  After arati I went out for coffee and returned to help Maharaj hang the garlands and put kumkum (vermilion) on the pictures of different saints hanging in the room.  There was a meditation for an hour, then bhajans (devotional singing).  From 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon Maharaj answered questions from visitors.  When the visitors left, we usually went out for tea or buttermilk.  Maharaj would usually buy something for his granddaughter; he was crazy about her.  When Maharaj rested in the afternoon, I would often go and just sit with him.  There wasn’t another meeting until 5:00 p.m. and this lasted until 7:00 p.m. Following the evening session there were bhajans, then Maharaj read from various Hindu scriptures, explaining the meaning in Marathi, the local language.
IDJ:  Was there a particular reading that Maharaj liked best?
Jean:  Not that I know of, though I never asked.  I sat through them because it didn’t matter to me what he was reading from.
IDJ:  Maharaj did not use traditional Vedantic terminology to describe the approach to Truth and the removal of ignorance.  Would you say that was one of the unique aspects of his teachings?
Jean:  To me it was.  He was so natural, and yet you knew that he knew he was not that body.  He let that body do whatever it was doing, whatever its nature was.  I don’t know how to explain it.

IDJ:  Did Maharaj provide any type of initiation to those who accepted him as a teacher?
Jean:  Yes.  He gave me a mantra.
IDJ:  Did Maharaj recognize a formal Guru-disciple relationship?
Jean:  Well you see we’re not separate.  There’s no separation; we are one.  For the sake of conversation he may have said so, but he told me and the others there, “Don’t imagine any separation; we are one.”

IDJ:  I believe Maharaj’s own spiritual practice was complete in about three years, so he must have been a ripe soul.  Did he ever admit to that?  Did he ever talk about that?
Jean:  No.  He’d often talk before visitors came.  There was a group of us that would come early, and he’d tell us stories.

Maharaj left everything after his Guru died; he was going to the Himalayas and decided to stay there until he got Realization.  Along the way he was walking barefoot in an area where there were no houses to be seen.  As soon as he felt hungry, he noticed smoke coming from a house on his left, so he approached it to ask the residents for food.  The residents fed him and he drank water from their well.  When he went back to the road and turned to look behind, from where he had just come, there was no house there at all.

Later, in the Himalayas he met a fellow disciple who persuaded him that it was more fruitful spiritually, to go back into the world.  So he did and he returned to Bombay.

IDJ:  At the time Maharaj returned to Bombay, was that what we would call a period of sadhana or spiritual practice?
Jean:  Yes.  That’s when he built the room upstairs where we all met.  He only had one business left out of eight, so he took care of that business while all of his spare time was spent upstairs in meditation.  It took him three years, after his teacher died, to realize his true nature.

IDJ:  Is there anything Maharaj specifically said or did that helped to transform your own life spiritually?
Jean:  It was simply what he was.  I probably needed all the teachings; just being in his presence was the key.

IDJ:  Is it correct to say that Maharaj didn’t stress any preconditions for serious seekers?
Jean:  He said you must do your homework.
IDJ:  What do you think he meant by homework?
Jean:  I think he meant one must have been on a spiritual path and have studied the various teachings.
IDJ:  Were there any other restrictions such as diet, etc.?
Jean:  No, Maharaj was not a vegetarian.
IDJ:  What about traditional practices?
Jean:  No, though he did them at one time when he was young.  The only thing he continued to carry on, in a traditional sense, were bhajans.

IDJ:  Maurice Frydman said that “simplicity and humility are keynotes of his life and teachings.”  How would you summarize his message to someone who is reading this for the first time?
Jean:  If you’re seeking the Truth, this is it.  But it’s not something everyone wants.  Most people want something to make their life better:  money, a better house, and so forth.  This has nothing to do with the world.  That’s why loving a Guru is so helpful.  That love is your own Self.
IDJ:  We don’t often find, in reading Maharaj’s teachings, the integration of Love and Wisdom that were manifest in him.  Do you find that this understanding may be missing on the part of the reader?
Jean:  Yes, particularly in European or Western countries.  Until you meet your Guru or become one with the Guru within, the understanding is mostly intellectual.  Maharaj said that this generation is ready for this teaching.  There was a time when devotion to a God was prevalent; now people want Truth and the search is with the intellect.
IDJ:  Could you expand on this further?
Jean:  When you become one with your Self, it’s pure love.  You can’t help but feel love and that love flows out.  This love combines with knowledge, and you yourself are that knowledge.  We have been seeking knowledge outside, but it’s right here where we are.
IDJ:  Maharaj often uses the words I Am or I Amness to describe the gateway to the Absolute.  What is the I Am he refers to?
Jean:  That’s what you are at the present time, Universal Consciousness.  That I Amness is the same as Consciousness, that which lets you know you exist.

IDJ:   Did Maharaj encourage you to record his conversations, or did he have any direct participation in their subsequent publication?
Jean:  No. I had been home to visit my family, and when I came back, there was no recording taking place.  The talks were so deep that Suresh Mehta and I got a tape recorder and asked Vanaja, who attended daily, to record the talks for us.  When she sent me the completed tapes, I just started transcribing them.  It was continuing without anyone mentioning it until Maharaj discovered what I was doing.  He then gave me his blessings, and it just developed into the books.
IDJ:  Did you feel any difference when you returned to the states and practiced Maharaj’s teachings, as compared to being in his presence in India?
Jean:  No, no difference.

IDJ:  Are there certain aspects of Maharaj’s teachings that you would hold forth for those here in the West?
Jean:  He stressed meditation and being your true Self.
IDJ:  While Maharaj often didn’t talk about effort in the conventional way, since no effort is needed to attain one’s own Self, did he encourage effort, understanding that Realization is an effortless state?
Jean:  There is no need for effort, only understanding.  What effort can give you that which you already are?  Simply observe that which you have been identifying with, with detachment, make no judgments; do not try to change anything.  What is this thing which you have identified with?  You will find that it is just like a robot or computer, which has been programmed by others.  A child lives in pure Consciousness at a very young age.  The mother tells it:  “You are a boy (or girl), your name is ——, I am your mother, this is your father.”  The programming starts.  Others, such as teachers, friends, etc. also program the child.  The actions and reactions of that “person” are based on this programming.

From Jean’s Journal

November 18, 1980
  (to me) Whatever projects you have started, complete them to the best of your ability.  It doesn’t matter if the projects are a success or failure.  Complete what you start to the best of your ability.

Do not talk about the experiences you have with the blooming of the Consciousness; keep it to yourself.  Stabilize in the Consciousness.  Stabilize the Consciousness.  Self must be determined to do this.  You must make a decision.
Questioner:  Is there anything which can be considered sacred?
M:  Yes.  That which does not get polluted with the experiences of the objective world is sacred.

December, 1980

Maharaj:  Perhaps you might be getting some blessings, some benefits from listening to my talks, I don’t know.  A person who is already dead is not worried about anything.  Whether the people like it or not, I don’t care.  All my actions are not through my body and mind but always Universal Consciousness, appearing to work through this body.  So, I don’t remember anything of the past and act.  It is action in the now.
Questioner:  Where does Consciousness come from?
M:  It never comes and goes; it only appears to have come.  It is a feeling that it comes and goes.
Q:  Why does Maharaj know this and we do not?
M:  It is not difficult for you to know also, but what is the identity with which you are asking?
Q:  Can karma be changed? Is it karmic?
M:  It is all Consciousness working, not this one is working and that one; it is all Consciousness working.
Q:  Maharaj said he is not going to die?
M:  No one was born and no one dies.  When people first learned about this illness, those who have affection for me come and talk to me and write to me.  They give so many medicines and advice.  Why should I do that?  Whatever has to happen will happen.  I have no interest.  Why should I run from doctor to doctor?  I don’t have fear, so I don’t have to do anything.  Those who have fear run from doctor to doctor, from medicine to medicine.
Q:  What is Sat-Chit-Ananda (the literal translation is Being-Consciousness-Bliss)?
M:  It is words, language. In the Absolute there is no emotion. You can take it that Sat-Chit-Ananda is the limit which your mind can describe of that state which cannot be described.  The one who experiences Sat-Chit-Ananda is there before the experience.

You see me as tangible you think I am, but actually I am not.  In my true state, I am not.

April 22, 1981

Questioner:  Is stabilizing in Consciousness meditation?
Maharaj:  Who stabilizes?  It is Consciousness that stabilizes in Itself.  (Looking at me) This one has understood her nature.  It is all due to her faith in the Guru.  Unless you have such faith in the Guru, you do not establish in your Self.  These people go from this swami to that swami.  What for?  To gather knowledge from scriptures.  Stick to your Consciousness; remain in that, and all the burden of your concepts will drop off.  Do not take the help of your Consciousness to build up new concepts.
Q:  Habit is a great force which makes one stray off.
M:  The habit of considering Self as the body has influenced everyone so much.  The knowledge “I AM” is your Guru.

Be in the One who continually remains a witness to this “I AM.”  That is Avalia (Avalia is an Urdu word meaning one who is Original).

Who is the one who sings bhajans?  It is the intellect of that Guru; who are you, an intruder?

The actions of the whole world depend on this intellect, but when this intellect reaches its apex, it gets merged into Parabrahman (the Absolute).

This article and many more can be seen at:  http://www.innerdirections.org/journal/dialogues/the-way-of-nisargadatta-maharaj/

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