A Surprise Life by Sambodhi

Book Reviews

Sambodhi shares the story of her childhood, about growing up, the journey to India, the Rajneeshpuram experience and her present life

The Spiritual Journey of a Girl from Brooklyn by Susan M. Clare

Prem Sambodhi

Reconnecting with Sambodhi after reading her recently published book was a joyful moment. I’d lost touch with her over the years, although especially in Pune 1 at the ashram I was always aware of her, usually saw her several times a day and we would smile and acknowledge each other … sometimes we’d have a chat. But in Rajneeshpuram we rarely met and it wasn’t until I read her book from front to back in one go that I found out why: she had spent a considerable amount of time in Antelope and at the Hotel Rajneesh in Portland; no wonder we had rarely met, also what with the work schedules we had! After retiring in 2006, she finished writing the memoir she began in 1987. amazon.com


Sambodhi shares the story of her childhood, about growing up, the journey to India to become a sannyasin (from Brooklyn), the Rajneeshpuram experience and her present life in a very sensitive, almost detached way. She appears quite often as the witness to the events unfolding. Although she endures numerous physical hardships as a child, there is always her optimism and bright outlook that give her the courage to make audacious decisions about the way she wants to live.

After her sannyas darshan she carefully ponders her decision to remain at the ashram. “In the end, my heart made the decision to stay and my head set the terms. This was not a commitment; it was an experiment. I would stay because I wanted to know more. As soon as I had learned enough, I would leave – with or without the mala.”

She describes life at the ashram with meticulous clarity and displays a brilliant memory about details – which is even more apparent when she speaks about Rajneeshpuram later on. She describes her struggles in group situations, her wrestling with the mind, her coming to terms of giving up the “I”.  Her work for almost two years at RIMU is fulfilling, she becomes friends with many people from all over the world, and by the time Osho leaves for America most of her previous concerns “about enlightenment, surrender, or my uncertain feelings for him – all these were not longer relevant. I came to love and trust the sannyas way.”

After living for a while in Berkeley and then at Utsava in Laguna Beach, Sambodhi arrives in Rajneeshpuram in May 1982. Throughout this section of the book she painstakingly explains with utter candidness the legal situations we faced, the challenges with 1,000 Friends of Oregon, the incorporation of Antelope and Rajneeshpuram, the hostility of our neighbors, her own position, her keen observations and involvement. She speaks about the Portland projects and the camaraderie we all shared. “We were available to each other in the classic sense of doing unto others. Every day was a Sabbath.”

I was mesmerized reading about situations long forgotten or never even known and saw how different in some areas my perception of life on the Ranch is. And of course each and every one of us who lived there, will have their own puzzle piece of the story to place into the main frame.

So far so good. And then the Gacchhami’s are introduced for us to chant every morning – “we get religion”.  Sambodhi feels that something is up, her stomach churns and although she understands the rationale behind it, she has a strong sense that this is “incompatible with Bhagwan’s vision and designed to meet someone else’s requirements. We were crossing the threshold here, moving from pretense to hypocrisy.”

Her far-reaching insights throw her into the dilemma to either stay at the commune or uphold her principles. She consciously makes a compromise and looking back, she says, “I’m glad I made that choice because had I left, I probably would have adopted a smug attitude later when the commune collapsed, and missed experiencing the bond that formed and the richness gained through living and sharing the pain of that extraordinary ending with my fellow sannyasin. The satisfaction of being principled would have been small in comparison, something I wouldn’t have otherwise known.”

Many stories are shared about the work in Antelope during the early days, at the Portland Hotel Rajneesh and last but not least her time as a teacher at the public school in Antelope. After Osho leaves and the majority of us depart a month or two later, she is one of the few caretakers who stay on until June 1986. She watches the city being dismantled day by day, living with a handful of others in the back quad of the hotel and enjoying the comfortable rooms. She says, “The sweet intimacy of those last days were some of the best of my sannyas life. The sannyas world would go on – somewhere, somehow – but it wouldn’t ever be the same again, and neither would we.”

Bhagawati, Osho News

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