How I Started Translating Osho into German

Remembering Here&Now

Nirvano’s story of how he started to translate Osho’s books into German, something he is still doing to this day

After finishing school I wanted to go to art school and become a painter. My father advised me, however, to do first my duty year in the army so that wouldn’t interrupt my studies any more. I did as he had advised and was sent to a tank company where they promptly put me into a tank driver’s class. The very sight of ‘our’ 13 tanks lined up in a row horrified me. Fortunately, however, I never sat behind a tank‘s driving wheel, for I turned out to be utterly useless for the job. I hadn’t even been able to drive a jeep, let alone a seven-ton truck….

But after that year in the army I felt so devastated that the thought of art school never arose again. Just in order to study something, I took up law – which didn’t interest me at all. I just went blank during my professors’ lectures on the finer points of law. So, after half a year of sheer misery, I pulled the emergency brakes. One morning, I set my alarm clock for ten minutes later, by which time I would have made up my mind about a more suitable subject right now! When the alarm went off, I knew I wanted to study German and English language and literature! As soon as this was settled, I threw myself totally into it. I took off like a rocket and started raking in top marks. And yet, unable to believe what was happening, I suspected I was a cheat.…

With those two subjects, one was more or less doomed to end up as a grammar school teacher – unless one had the guts to venture into the most ambitious world of publishing or even – unthinkable! – into writing oneself. I said doomed, because my own teachers had utterly failed to inspire me. When I finally was teaching myself, I just loved spending my mornings surrounded by all these unpredictable, keenly alive creatures. What I hated, though, was having to impose a school system onto them, i.e. to mark them for better or worse, thus conditioning them for a cut-throat competitive world, rather than awaken and foster their creativity.

From my very first taped Osho lecture in London back in January 1976, I found myself translating him into German as he spoke. This had a magical effect: Everything went in deeper as I repeated to myself everything he said in my mother tongue. This way, I probably missed a sentence or two, but I felt I was understanding him from my depth – at the same time bursting with joy. There seems to be a mystique about one’s mother tongue that no foreign language can have. And I certainly did speak English fluently by that time: I had spent one year as a high school student in Michigan, USA, one year studying at Edinburgh University, Scotland, and two years teaching German at St.John’s College, Cambridge – including giving translation classes; and throughout my English studies I had loved translating English poetry: once even, while writing a paper about Jonathan Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, I translated a whole chapter as I just saw no other way how to express my awe and admiration for that author!

Small wonder, then, that after becoming a sannyasin, this urge to do simultaneous translations of Osho became overpowering. I was then a German grammar school teacher with several holiday spells a year, so I could visit Pune quite often, sitting at Osho’s feet rather than at home listening to a tape. During one of these visits, I came to know Swami Prasad, whom I told about this secret ‘addiction’ of mine. Prasad, who at the time was himself working on the German translation of an Osho Zen book, just listened attentively; all he said was that Osho was looking for a German translator. He must have passed this on to Osho, as he lived in Lao Tzu House and had easy access to him.

Anyway, at my next darshan with the Master I heard myself saying: “I would like to come here for good.” Osho just nodded: “Yes, you come here and start work.” What could he mean? What sort of work?! In my confused surprise, I continued: “But there’s one thing – what about our little family? Ethel is expecting a baby next spring, and we are not married….”
“Is she a sannyasin?”
“How does she feel about me?”
“I think she is afraid of you.”
“Good, then you all come here as soon as the baby is born.”
And that was that.

Wow! Now I was in a fix – I hadn’t mentioned anything to Ethel, it had come out of me on the spur of the moment… Only when I saw Prasad outside Lao Tzu Gate that evening, grinning at me from ear to ear, did I begin to put two and two together… And only because I didn’t want to make a fool of myself, I didn’t dance around like a mad Sufi …

However, I was given work right away: Prasad, who had translated one of Osho’s early Zen series, gave me his manuscript to check. I enjoyed reading it for a couple of days; it was unique, true – but not German. When I hinted this to him and suggested alternatives, he just laughed his head off and, without batting an eye-lid, threw the whole typescript into the waste paper bin. I was stunned – what an act! Brushing aside weeks and weeks of work just like that! But all he said was: “What do I know? I translate Osho like those trees out there.”

Back in Germany again, I was in for another surprise. Ethel, after having heard the news, remained absolutely calm, saying: “Let’s wait and see.” But as soon as Matthias (meaning ‘Gift of God’) was born, it was clear that yes, we would be going to India later that summer! This had meant giving up my job and financial security. But when I handed in my resignation, my headmaster wouldn’t hear of it: “Are you crazy?!”, he remonstrated. “You have just become a father. Don’t you know our local School Board’s ruling that teachers are allowed an unpaid three years’ parenthood leave?” No, I didn’t know that – but liked the idea. So he himself changed my notice into a parent’s leave. We dissolved our household, even managed a trip to Finland (where our 4-months-old son ‘saw’ his first and hitherto only elk!), then said farewell to friends and family and were off.

As it turned out, I never took up teaching again: After two years in Pune, the idea of going back to teaching seemed so absurd that I did hand in my notice after all. Ironically, when the three years were up, I found myself back in Bremen with wife and child and no job: Osho was in America and the ‘New Commune’ was about to start in Oregon! Let me add: Neither then nor later did I ever regret having burned my bridges….

When, towards the end of Pune I, the ashram went agog with creative actvities my wish to become an artist of some kind stirred again. I wrote to Osho about this, but he answered laconically: “Your work is creative. Put all your energy into it.” After that I never had any doubts that I had found what I had always been thirsting for.

This is all history now, but I’m still translating Osho today. Just can’t get enough of it! And so many books are still waiting to be translated….

My aneurysm in 1996 – a bleeding in the brain, the sort of thing of which Vimalkirti had died from (while simultaneaously becoming enlightened!) – turned out to be a blessing in disguise. For not only did I gratefully realize that my language center had come through unaffected, but better still, that the last residues of my habitual mistrust of my spontaneus intuition as to “what Osho might have said had he been able to speak German” had been washed away once and for all….

Text by Nirvano for Osho News

NirvanoNirvano, after working as a professor for German and English language, took sannyas in 1976, the same year he met his wife who then became Deva Ethel. His first work assignment in the commune was translating Osho’s discourses and he is still translating Osho today. Fortunately, his capacity to do this survived his brain aneurysm in 1996. Nirvano also writes for the German Osho Times.

Comments are closed.