Taking Sannyas

Remembering Here&Now Samsara

Bodhena takes sannyas and comments with humour on the going-ons in the ashram of those days

During my first weeks in Poona, I didn’t get to see very much of Osho. Back then, he was giving discourses alternately in Hindi and in English, for a month at a time, starting on the 11th of each month. I had arrived during a “Hindi month”, so it wasn’t until December 11 that I was treated to my first live English discourse. (Then, his words had still been more important to me than his presence.) This day also happened to be Osho’s birthday, and many sannyasins had come to Poona for that occasion to have a big celebration. The discourse series was on Hakuin’s “Song of Meditation”, and Osho started out with the words, “My beloved ones: I love you. Love is my message … ” Man, that discourse totally knocked me out of my socks, and to this day it remains my absolute favorite.

From that day on, going to discourse became a regular thing for me, in fact, I started to feel that I was being pulled there like towards a magnet. By the end of the month it also had become clear to me that I could not avoid the question of whether to become a disciple any longer, so I decided to take the jump, and then just to wait and see what this was all about.

On January 6, 1978, Osho initiated me into sannyas. He gave me the name Deva Bodhena, Deva meaning “divine”, and Bodhena is derived from the Sanskrit root “bodh”, meaning awareness, consciousness, as in Buddha or Bodhisattva. “Awareness is the bridge to the divine,” he told me, hinting at the nature of my path as a seeker. He continued talking to me for quite a while, of which I don’t have very much of a recollection – my mind must have been quite gone.

As an “outside sign” of being a sannyasin, I was now required to wear “orange”, which translated into wearing clothes colored in any shade of red. Osho probably has said enough about that subject to fill a whole book. The significance of it I felt most strongly was that it appeared like a simple, but extremely effective device to get thrown back upon myself. That color just draws attention, particularly in the West, and there is no place you can hide anymore.

In addition, I had to wear the mala, a necklace consisting of 108 wooden beads (that’s 2 x 2 x 3 x 3 x 3 – for the numerologists among you) and a “guru bead”, a wooden locket with Osho’s picture.

The way I had initially looked at that whole issue was that on a woman, the mala might look OK, except for that funny locket (“Say, who’s that ? Your favorite movie star?”), but on a man it was looking downright weird – and now I was supposed to run around like that myself! It also had to be worn outside the clothes, not hidden underneath a few layers. And as far as the red clothes went, shit, at least they could have let me keep my blue jeans!

However, it didn’t take long to get used to my new “habit”, and I especially got a big kick out of wearing my mala, I really got hooked. And if somebody out there didn’t like it, well, fuck ’em. Moreover, a definite advantage this outfit had was that it made it quite easy to go underground, should that ever be needed – just put on “normal” color clothes, and you simply disappear.

Incidentally, a few days after I had taken sannyas I had the following dream. I was hanging out on the low wall opposite the main gate, where we’d always take our beedie breaks. Osho came strolling out of the gate and stopped in front of me. He took off his white robe, underneath which he was wearing a three-piece pinstripe suit, and then he flipped me the finger. Now, what could that mean? (Your personal koan, swami!)

Bodhena in Poona smoking a beedie

In many ways, the Ashram was a small universe of its own, with a totally different modus operandi than the world just outside the main gate, and with its own very particular jargon. The key word was “energy”. It was energy this, energy that, did you feel that person’s energy, what is the energy of this moment, my energy is really low today, et cetera. As we all know, energy is not static, it moves, changes, and this happens in a “space”. So life at the Ashram was seen as a play of changing energies, happening in different spaces (like in my head, or in the kitchen), and to see that you need consciousness (which, ultimately, was what the place was all about).

The more you were in a state of let-go and not clinging to your mind, the more you could just flow and fly with the whole scene. In that space people were meeting and relating to each other, was the work happening, and you could just watch how things were getting done through you, as a part of a larger entity. Sure, as often is the case, a flow of energy may be blocked, in one way or another, and this is where the therapy groups and the active meditations came in, and, at a later stage, the “work” at the Ashram.

When you were not in tune, you were bumping into so many corners that all you wanted to do was to get out ASAP. This was also the case when you were stoned on ganja, then the Ashram was a place that was better to be avoided. As nice as a doped-up head may feel, this did not jibe with the way the Ashram was operating.

Socially, people were totally respected in their individual spaces, as long as they weren’t bugging somebody else. If you wanted to be by yourself, you were left alone. If you wanted to relate, you did that with like-“minded” people, and here the commune consisted of an intricate maze of social in-groups.

If you were an ashramite, you had it made. From what I heard, that also had its price: you got your buttons pushed 24 hours a day, you couldn’t just “go home” in the evening like the rest of us. A very cliquish sub-group were the group leaders, who were often seen as demigods by newcomers. Another much-envied sub-group consisted of the residents of Lao Tzu House (which was where Osho was living), and of the people working there. By and large, it was those people who had their regular and reserved seats in discourse, closest to Osho. Even among them there was a lot of jockeying going on about who could sit where. One row closer to Osho often made all the difference in somebody’s spiritual self-esteem.

Vivek, Osho’s personal caretaker, was the one everybody was jealous of. Everybody’s first interest was to get as close to Osho as possible, in any way that was possible, the organizational structure around him permitting, and of all people it was Vivek, who by some karmic merits was in the hot seat. As the tale goes, in her previous incarnation she had been a young girl that had been a close friend of Osho when he was a teenager. When she was dying of typhoid, she made Osho promise to call her back in her next life. She was reborn in England, and traveled to India when she was in her early twenties. “Do you remember me?” he asked her when they met in Bombay sometime in the early seventies. Try to match that!

A bit further towards the periphery were the rest of the Ashram workers, but that still came with a lot of perks, depending on how long you had been working, how dedicated a worker you appeared to be in the eyes of the Ashram management, or how well connected you were in general. There was the privilege to sit closer to the front in discourse (behind the “reserved” ones), and the workers even had their own line to wait before discourse, and that line was admitted ahead of the “common” line. A very much desired thing to have was a food pass, which was an issue that was handled quite individually. Still, if you had worked for, say, half a year, you generally got your’s. Now you could eat for free, and that at Mariam Canteen, the place where all the VIPs ate.

This whole setup was not fixed, it was not like the caste system that was practised outside the gate. On the contrary, it was very flexible, and a lot depended on where an individual was at energy-wise, or where your luck just took you to. There was this beautiful lady from South America who came to Poona, took sannyas, hooked up with the Ashram stud and instantly became a celebrity, so much so that Osho even mentioned her in discourse.

Understandably, it was the newcomers and the non-sannyasins that were on the bottom rung of the pecking order. I have been told by non-sannyasins that they have often experienced sannyasins as arrogant. Well, what can I say? I have also felt this within the sannyasin community, whether it was in the vibes of some sannyasin bigwigs as they were strutting down the main drag of the Ashram, or in the frown I got from our famous musical maestro when he passed me one day while I was sitting at the back gate, strumming my guitar. I guess it is pretty much the same game a twelfth-grader plays with his underclassmen, this I’m-better-than-you-because-I-know-more-than-you kind of an ego trip, and here it came in its spiritual variety. (And the situation certainly gets more interesting if the receiving party suffers from an inferiority complex.)

From Bodhena’s Adventures in Samsara – read more excerpts…

Related discourse


BodhenaBodhena took sannyas in the late seventies in Pune where he worked first as a handyman for the group department, then as a Krishna Guard. After living in Geetam for a few months, he was invited to the Ranch where he worked in construction, security, Magdalena Cafeteria, Chaitanya (accounts) and as a paralegal at Rajneesh Legal Services. In early Pune II he worked for the Rajneesh Times, and then again as a guard at Lao Tzu House. In recent years, he has been living in Clausthal, Germany, practising nowhere to go and nothing to do. bodhena (at) hotmail (dot) com

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