Featured Remembering Here&Now — 19 November 2011

Vandana recalls how she became an editor of Osho’s books and then moved on to become an actress in the Theater Group

You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth…
And all work is empty save when there is love;
And when you work with love, you bind yourself to yourself, and
to one another and to God
And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart,
even as your beloved were to wear that cloth…..

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

I arrived in India in December 1974, having taken sannyas in London. After a month or so of hanging out in Pune, shopping, drinking chai, doing a few meditations and attending Osho’s morning discourses, I was left with excess energy so asked for work in the ashram. Anurag, who was transcribing and editing Osho’s discourses into books, needed someone to help proofread. I had a degree in English literature, put my hand up for the job and before long was offered a room and moved into Krishna House where I remained for the next 7 years.

I think I may have been the only person who stayed in the same room in the ashram for the duration of Pune 1. A few different room-mates passed through over the years but I remained ensconced in ‘Vandana’s Room until Pune 1 disbanded in1981. And woe betide anyone condemned to share Vandana’s bathroom! Sheela, Deeksha and others tried at times to evict me but a message always came from Osho to leave me alone.

The first Therapy Groups started up: Encounter with Teertha, Enlightenment Intensive with Arup, and Primal Therapy with Divya. I’d met Divya at Quaesitor, a London growth center, and travelled with her to India. She requested me as her assistant as I had remained a committed screamer since my Primal apprenticeship in the USA and was keen to become a practising therapist. One day after I’d screamed down Krishna House with a good Primal workout (I liked to keep in practice), Osho called me to darshan.

He said to Divya “This is not good for Vandana”, telling me “You are here to build energy, not leak it.” Catharsis had become a habit which Osho cut in one stroke – including my new addiction to Dynamic Meditation. ‘Es-stop!’ he said. Banning me from all groups, active meditations and describing my mind as needing to do ‘professor work’, he gave me the gift of transcribing and editing his discourses into books.

I sneaked another try-out as a group leader, temporarily assisting Arup with the first Enlightenment Intensives – a structure with which I was familiar, having participated in several in Europe pre-sannyas (though had somehow not become enlightened!).

I loved banging the gong and intoning ‘Change your partner’ yet was once again whisked out of the group room, the explanation coming via Laxmi that Osho needed his group leaders’ energies to be consistently available and that mine ‘flickered’. While this stung a little, the gift of being hired as a fledgling editor of Osho’s books more than compensated for that ‘stick’.

For the next 5 years I sat in headphones transcribing Osho’s discourses on an old manual typewriter, writing introductions and magazine articles and enjoying the life of a privileged ashramite. At times we travelled by train to Bombay to visit the printing presses though in later years all stages of book production were done on site at Koregoan Park.

Before receiving the Master’s ban on active meditation, on one of these printing press trips I stayed with Anurag in a Bombay sannyasin’s home near Juhu Beach. I went down pre-dawn, donned a blindfold and did the entire Dynamic meditation by myself on the beach. When I took off my blindfold, the sun had risen and Indian residents with dogs were taking their morning walks up and down the beach, startled by the sight of this orange-clad Western woman hoo-jumping in the sand.

I loved editing. It absorbed and employed my ear for music, both sides of the brain, my instincts, sensitivities and intelligence, more than anything I’d ever done in my pre-sannyas life. It is work I still relish to this day. The responsibility to faithfully record Osho’s words, change only what was essential, while preserving his speech rhythms and all his wonderful idiosyncrasies, was something we editors took earnestly to the point of obsession. The intimate connection with Osho, his voice in my ears all day, was a gift to which I became deeply attached.

English Daya, stunning 6-foot tall redhead (with whom I later lived post-ashram for many years in the USA) once came to clean my room and offered assistance with editing. This offer I declined with territorial disdain. Amazingly, Daya laughed and remained a lifelong friend of this arrogant control-freak!

Visitors commented that we ashramites worked seven days. I wrote for the sannyas magazine: “Who wants a day off? Who wants a day off in the mind?!”

Five years later, the ashram began sending brilliant fashion, music and theatre performances out on tour, a public relations move to show India that we were not a bunch of hippy drop-outs. Because I had been a professional model and actress before ‘hunting the grail’ I was asked to audition for the Theatre Group’s first production, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, and was soon offered the role of Helena. I declined saying I’d prefer to continue editing the master’s books. A message then came from Osho that I was to drop the books and join the Theatre Group. Shocked, hurt, devastated, I crept down that night to the empty publications office, sat in tears at my desk and farewelled my Olivetti and headphones.

After 5 years sitting in an office wearing baggy robes, learning to use my voice and body again and rehearsing with a group of crazy actors was a type of torture. I felt abandoned and discarded by my beloved master and could not understand his ‘rejection’. I had no formal acting training; my Australian actress resume had consisted largely of appearances in soaps and commercials, and now I was expected to play a Shakespearian heroine alongside classically trained and experienced professional actors. As I had no ‘technique’ I could only grope and probe for the truth of the character within the text. There were embarrassing delays in rehearsal waiting for Vandana to stop crying.

But when we opened in Bombay something extraordinary happened. As I stood in the wings before going onstage as Helena, a shower of light and energy seemed to pour down on my head. I stepped into the spotlight and entered effortlessly into a graceful performance of precision and perfection of voice and movement unlike anything I had ever experienced. The Helena performance was close to flawless yet had nothing to do with me and I left the stage with no elation or pride.

The years of sitting writing, typing, with Osho’s voice in my ears had created an opening – something I heard described years later by actor John Malkovic as ‘third-eye access’. I had already experienced this when playing my dulcimers with the ashram musicians, an ‘empty availability’ into which the music flowed through my fingers with no sense of ‘me’ playing it. The theatre experience was a heightened version of this and one of the greatest gifts my master gave me.

In my early professional life I had been a haphazard and insecure performer. An untrained actor, unable to work consistently from technique, I’d always felt a fraud in that profession. But through my master’s grace I had now instinctively discovered the Stanislavskian process of ‘discovery’. Now I understood his rejection! I was an actor. Truly and essentially an actor.

After ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, the Theatre Group’s next production was ‘Twelfth Night’. Magnificent costumes were created by Padma and her team and exquisite original music composed by Chaitanya Hari.

I had some difficulty with that 3rd eye access in ‘discovering’ the role of Olivia and the first performance in Bombay was described by one Indian critic as ‘bloodless’. I then saw I was trying to hold on to a ‘serene and meditative’ space, both personally and in the role, to protect my spiritual aura in the company of rude actors like Anutosh, Gayaka and the like! I had to let this go to find an Olivia of more guts and gusto.

My beloved friend Pankaja took the role of Olivia’s serving maid. One evening before a performance in Buddha Hall, she and I had a bit of a spat in the garden. A short while later I stood center stage as Olivia proclaiming “Where is my gentlewoman?” No gentlewoman appeared. In rising panic I kept repeating the line until a pissed off Pankaja was finally pushed onstage from the wings.

The Dream and Twelfth Night both went out on tour, giving performances in Bombay, New Delhi – where we were received by Indira Gandhi in a marquee in front of her residence – Surat (which Anutosh persisted in calling Sewer Rat) and Ahmedabad. Loading our huge wicker ‘skips’ of scenery, props and costumes at Bombay railway station and travelling to New Delhi, via the Taj Mahal, was a tour highlight.

The T G and Rock Band also wrote and produced a brilliant show for the Indian Film Awards in Bombay, a spoof on the movie industry entitled ‘A Hollywood Musical’. One of my parts was a saloon keeper in a wild west scene in which I got to bawl the wonderful lines:

“I’m Calamity Belle
I got here straight from hell….”

The Theatre Group next started rehearsals for Hamlet. I was to play Ophelia to Anutosh’s Hamlet and Alima would play his mother. Then suddenly the Group was disbanded – Sheela referring to us as The Performing Arseholes – its usefulness coming to an end at the same time as plans to acquire a piece of land in Gujarat collapsed. The role of the TG was as ashram ambassadors, and this diplomatic role was deemed no longer relevant when its relocation plans took a sudden turn.

After the ashram disbanded in 1981 I spent some time in sannyas communes in Australia and New Zealand, then went to the USA and visited the Oregon ranch for a celebration weekend during which I realised that my master had truly thrown me out of the nest and the amazing 7-year cycle in Pune was complete. As his Rolls Royce drove by in the Oregon dust his eyes seemed to meet mine and say “What are you doing here, Vandana?” That was the last time I saw my master in his body.

Over the next 30 years my work has been various, sundry and diverse, to say the least. Activities where I have learned the most have often been quite mundane. Beloved Pankaja says I should write a book entitled ‘Meditation at the Coalface’, astounded by the variety of activities by which I’ve sustained myself after leaving India in 1981! While visiting Perth in 2002 she popped into a city department store where I was spruiking Ladies Lingerie, so immersed in my schpiel that I did not see Pankaja lurking among the knickers, later explaining that I went into a kind of trance while spruiking, having no idea from whence arose the stream of enthusiastic raving (which sold heaps of knickers).

These days I work as a paramedical therapist (never call me beautician!) in a busy cosmetic medicine practice and am happy as a sand girl using my hands to treat people’s skin.

Something we learned in Pune 1 was that no work activity had more value than another. Cleaners were in fact ‘top of the wazza’ as they were considered less mind-y and to clean Osho’s living quarters or do his laundry were the most coveted of jobs. Sannyasins were frequently and unceremoniously moved from one job to another; highly qualified new arrivals from the West often sent to jobs that in no way utilised their credentials. Work essentially required one’s surrender and devotion, yet was primarily a device to keep our selves occupied and out of the way while Osho ‘worked his magic’ – his megawatt consciousness melting and thawing our age-old resistance to truth, love and awareness.

During a visit to India in 2006 I worked for a couple of months in the Multimedia department. It was a joy to be once again given work editing Osho books for publication. One day, American Krishna Prem dropped in and roared with laughter seeing me in full ferocious editor mode, observing that I was clearly a leftover from Pune 1!

Vandana for Osho News

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