In this first part of an interview with Bhagawati, Maneesha talks about how she came to hear about Osho, the period in Oregon and her move to Europe.
A surprise e-mail by Maneesha evoked loving memories of her and the realization that she hadn’t been visible in our worldwide community for many years. Of course the next thought was to have her tell her story. Soon a Skype connection was established and we asked Maneesha to start from the beginning.
Hearing about Osho: The biggest yes-feeling
In 1973 I was studying dance in NYC. Home from college for the summer, I received a long-awaited letter from my best friend from high school. She had left for Europe to meet her boyfriend Cole, while I continued traveling around the US with a few friends in our magic hippie bus. The letter was from India. They were doing a Vipassana retreat with Goenka; he loved it and she hated it – the heat, the flies, sitting still all day. I wrote to her, “Come home!”
The second letter was very different. (Yes, hand-written letters in those days!) In a chai shop she had met a young girl called Sarita, hair in long braids and purple eye shadow, who told her about a guru called Bhagwan. So she went up to Woodlands, an apartment block in Mumbai, met this master, became a sannyasin and received a new name, Ma Satya Priya. On many pages she wrote enthusiastically about him, about wearing orange, the mala, the meditations he gave her, and the meditation camp in the hill station Mt. Abu she had attended. In the letter she explained the stages of Dynamic Meditation in detail so I decided to try it. It makes me laugh now to think about my attempts to breathe and scream into a pillow, but at least I tried, and I wrote that to Priya. In her third letter she said, “You are so open – you did it! Next time you write, send me a picture of you.”
One morning I woke up remembering a lucid dream. I was in a crazy house; it had crooked wooden floors and walls that kept changing angles. I was struggling to walk when I suddenly realized that if I went wherever the floors and walls took me I would reach where I had to go. “If I fall, I fall, if I hit the wall I will bounce off in a different direction. All I have to do is to go with it and everything will be fine!” I woke up ecstatic! I wrote to Priya about the dream and that I had realized that all one had to do was to just ‘yield’ and that then life would take us. I sent the letter off together with my picture.
After a couple of weeks Priya wrote back that she was coming home. I went to JFK Airport to pick her up; she came down the escalator in a long, bright-orange dress wearing this mala around her neck. She looked radiant, more beautiful than ever, shining. I was in awe. During the taxi ride she told me about Osho and how it was to be around him. It was so incredible that I kept saying to myself, “This is it! This is it!” but still all of it felt as if it had nothing to do with me, and my life.
When we arrived at my place, Priya opened her suitcase and took out a black and white photo that Cole, who was now called Krishna Bharti, had taken of Osho. It showed quite dramatically Osho’s face lit only from one side – and on the photo was written in black ink: ‘To Maneesha with Love and Blessings’ and a scrawl that Priya said was his signature. (I wish I still had that photo – unfortunately a family member threw it away a few years later – but that’s another story!)
Priya then also pulled out a signed sheet of paper with my name on it, dated August 4, 1973, and explained, “When I went to see Osho to say goodbye, I showed him your picture and your letter. He looked at the picture, read your letter and said, ‘Ah yes, she is only in the eyes now, but she will go deep. You bring her a new name and a mala, and then you bring her to me.’”
I asked her, “Does he know me or what?” With a smile she replied, “I guess so!” She held up a mala and put it around my neck. I immediately fell on the floor, laughing and crying, with the biggest yes-feeling I had ever had in my life, no thoughts, and everything appeared pink around me.
Priya stayed at my apartment for two weeks and every day we did Dynamic together; I cried all day long, every day. I was scared. I went back to college dressed in orange, and interesting things continued to happen to me, one of which was a second out-of-body experience (the first I had just before I received Priya’s first letter).
I eventually left college, two and a half years in; being fed up with it. I did not feel that I had found a direction in my life except that I knew I loved dancing. I then moved to Chicago where I had what looked like an ideal romantic artsy bohemian life; waitressing at night, studying dance at Columbia College during the day and living in a bay window apartment with my boyfriend, a student at the Art Institute – but I was miserable.
I started meditating at a tiny Osho center run by a sannyasin called Puja. One day she phoned to tell me that two sannyasins had just returned from Pune and asked me if I wanted to come over, meet them, and do Dynamic together. As soon as I arrived two black guys walked in: Swami Krishna Govinda and Swami Bodhisattva. They were excited to meet me; they were two cool Chicago street-smart guys, transformed – joyous, funny and overflowing with stories about Osho and Pune. I came out of that Dynamic on fire. I knew: I am going to see Osho – now.
Within two months I had made enough money to be on a plane with another Chicago sannyasin, the lovely Satprem. It was February 1976.
Pune 1: Some secret inner knowing
When I sat in front of Osho on my first darshan I could hardly speak. He asked me, “So, what have you been doing in Chicago?” and I replied, “Working and dancing,” to which he said, “You will dance for me!”
I must have looked at him aghast. “Don’t you want to dance for me…?” (I nodded, mouth agog.) “So you do the meditation camp and in ten days come back and dance for me.” He had also asked about groups but he must have seen my resistance – both my parents are therapists! – and so he didn’t give me any to do, but some time later I ended up doing the Encounter group anyway.
So I pre-booked a darshan for ten days later – after the camp – and had an orange dress with a big circle skirt stitched up. I arrived at the darshan with a quickly borrowed tape recorder and a cassette tape ‘Journey to Satchidanda’, a Jazz piece by Alice Coltraine and Pharaoh Sanders that I had heard for the first time only the day before. Now I waited patiently for Osho to call me to come forward.
Towards the end of the darshan Osho looked at me and asked, “And what about you?” “You told me to dance for you,” I replied – thinking he had forgotten. He chuckled, “Yes, yes, but… anything to say?” I just shook my head. Osho gestured everyone to move back and make space in front of him. I stood up, so scared! I only remember that I looked at him, started with a big sweep of my arm – and the dance took over. I was turning and spinning, anchoring myself by looking at Osho’s face. When he stopped the music I fell at his feet. He asked me to close my eyes and shone his penlight on my chakras. He said, “Very good!” and gave me a towel. I felt so, so fortunate that I could express myself with my dance and did not have to say anything with words.
This first visit was six months, of sitting with him in Chuang Tzu auditorium, listening to him, one month Hindi, one in English, the meditations, dancing, darshans, of so many incredible moments, friendships, lessons, realizations; like Vipassana’s leaving the body and his first discourse on celebrating death, the deep connection I had with Sheela’s dying beloved, Chinmaya, and later with my beloved Sudha, both of whom helped me understand what sannyas was all about.
When after three months I asked if I should go back to my boyfriend, Osho said to me in a darshan, “Lovers are easy to find – love is hard to find. You stay here and you find love! And, you have been avoiding a few things – go into them.” Boom. Next day I fell sick – two months of hepatitis; all I could do was lie – and watch.
When my visa was finished I flew back to Chicago to make money and returned with my boyfriend. That was at the end of 1977. After a few months he wanted to go back. I wrote to Osho and asked him if I should leave with him and his answer was: “If you can manage to stay, there’s no need to go.” My boyfriend left, and I never saw him again.
Without fear I plunged into the mysterious happenings of the ashram, accelerated by the energy darshans and the music groups. I was lucky to be asked to sing in a 3-part harmony with Anubhava and Abhinandan at the very first Celebration in Buddha Hall; Osho was sitting on the podium, we musicians were in the back. Our voices, flanked by little Yuthika and Savita, broke the deep silence, until everybody in the hall joined in for the chorus.
Then I started working, which brought me deeper into the life-changing current of the ashram, and I fell in love with Arpitam. He worked in the bakery; he was tall, handsome, and irresistible to me. Although I had had one long relationship and boyfriends, this was the first relationship that plunged me into changes beyond my control; my heart burst open and I saw my longing for love; also my hormones and body changed completely. Or maybe it was Osho’s presence and the meditations. Our love story lasted two and a half years; then existence took him away as mysteriously as he had brought him to me. It was a period that shed light on many things, also events from my past.
For a year I made garments with Padma in her sewing room in Jesus House; later I worked in the kitchen with Deeksha and was dancing with the theatre group for the Midsummer Night’s Dream production, after Madhura had asked me to work with the actors and help them get more into their bodies. In these little sessions I felt for the first time as if something would come over me, some inner feeling, some secret knowing about how to help them go inside and awaken their bodies. I knew it was Osho that had come up inside me. It is hard to put it in words, but I felt as if he revealed a truth, the essence of what Zorba the Buddha is – the joy of allowing our wild life-energy to be expressed and, and at the same time, remain still in our deepest center. This knack has been inside me ever since. Again and again I bow down to this gift which I have received from my master.
I remained in the commune until it closed in 1981. I remember it as a paradise; together we all moved through depths and heights, cleansing the past, emotions, relationships, meditations, music groups, speaking darshans, energy darshans, and being moved by him every day in the discourses. I thought it would never end. And who thought of the future anyway?
In spring of 1981 I wrote Osho a letter asking him if I should visit my parents for two weeks; they wanted to see me. The answer came through Laxmi. She said, “He says you can go, but stay for a few months.” “No – two weeks,” I corrected, adamant that I wanted to come straight back. But she just kept saying, “He says, stay for a few months…” When I had finally given up and bought the ticket, I happened to be on the same flight to the USA as Osho, only a day later. Aha!
Back in the US, I went from place to place, a bit lost, waiting to be invited to join the commune in Oregon. I went to Essex near Boston and stayed at the beautiful Sambodhi centre which was run by Swami Stephan. There I worked and lived with about ten other people, fell in love with Bhajan, and set up a cleaning business. I also started giving dance workshops here and there. I had a good time; Krishna Bharti was there too for a while, so were Padma and Siddhena. But after six months I had become impatient and called the Ranch to ask if I could come. I had Sushila on the phone, who didn’t even know me, but she said, “OK – just come!” Although I was head over heels in love with Bhajan I packed my bags.
Rajneeshpuram: The party on wheels
Rajneeshpuram was wonderful until it wasn’t… Again the joy of being together in our devotion, moving with the master, this time in our own city! For a year I drove buses; mine was known as ‘the party on wheels’. I also worked in construction where I became quite an expert at caulking; later I was in the pipe crew, but my favorite time was when I worked in Gorakh, riding on a truck picking up the garbage all over the Ranch. I had a ball with gorgeous Mradula and the super-funny, loving Satyananda in the recycling yard.
In the last year I worked in security; everybody felt that there was an increasingly strange undercurrent in the field. I remember the agony we were all feeling, not knowing why, the strange dreams, asking each other, “How are you? Isn’t it really intense these days?” – always thinking, as we disciples do by default, that what we feel has something to do with us, a part of the growth process – which is ultimately true, but can blind us from questioning things that are happening around us or from what we may be sensing. We were feeling something painful – even if we were not privy to any of the strange doings, like wiretapping, or poisoning, like some were.
Europe: Maybe Holland?
Even after it all came out, I never understood all the crazy, disillusioning events on the Ranch – I just remember knowing that I was on this boat with Osho, wherever it was going. I doubted it all, but not him. When Osho ‘had to leave’ the US I got so angry that I did not want to live there any longer. I went to Germany and stayed at the Cologne center. Then, through my close friend English Pratima, I joined the new publishing house, Master’s Press, in Italy. Yatri, Navyo, Purvodaya and Veena had already gathered there. Later also Arpana came aboard and I heard that a certain Anugito, a designer, was also meant to join the crew, but he never showed up.
A few months later Osho landed in Greece. With the little money I had left, I got on a plane to Crete. Finally I was with my master again. The bliss of sitting with him morning and evening as he spoke from under a giant carob tree, surrounded by the sea. That’s where I saw Anugito for the first time; he was taking photos for the Dutch Rajneesh Times, but we didn’t really meet. After a few weeks Osho was deported and again we all scattered in all directions. At the airport, with 200 dollars in my pocket, I stood wondering where to go next. I didn’t like Germany, Italy was too difficult language-wise and no opportunities to make money for me, but – maybe Holland? Most of them speak English, and are friendly and helpful! My belly said yes. So I bought a ticket to Holland.
Although Sheela had closed the center everyone still lived there. I got a room and gave Tarot readings in a bar to make a few guilders. I met Shahido who was planning to give a massage workshop. I suggested we do it together: a massage and dance group. As we needed a poster we went to Anugito to design one for us – he now had his own graphic design company, Artcetera. We met, we flirted, and as love stories go, especially in the sannyas world, we were drawn together as events beyond our control unfolded. Well, amazingly, we are still together, to this day!
To be continued…