A few years ago, Ma Prem Mangala, who left her body this month, wrote this account of her taking sannyas.
How I came to take sannyas? What would you like – the very long version, the long version or the short one? I guess the very long version is the whole story of my life up until that point. And that would definitely be too much. The long version would involve all the details and adventures of the two or three years preceding that happening. And the short one … well maybe I had better stick with that. It has taken me almost two or is it three years to get it together to get around to writing this, so I better not be too ambitious or I will run out of steam before the end.
The short version began in 1974 as I was sitting at the foot of a disused lighthouse on a peak above the only town in St Helena. The details of how I got there comes mainly with the long version but enough to say I had just run away from my life of the last few years as a magazine writer and then editor in Cape Town. It had been a brief but successful career where I had risen fast and easily to become a big fish in the tiny pond that was English speaking journalism in South Africain the early 1970’s. And suddenly at around 25 or 26 years old, I had found myself in the midst of a major futility attack and identity crisis. It was brought on partly from having achieved too much too easily and too fast and being left with the feeling of nowhere else to go. And partly by the pressure from well meaning workmates and friends that the next step to take in my life was get married and have a family. And both of the above were very much accentuated by the discovery of what was then reputed to be the finest grass in the world, which had opened the doors of my internal consciousness into spaces which made more sense than anything else that was going on in my life.
To stick with the short version, more by default (and idiocy) than any deliberate choice, I found myself one morning sailing out of Cape Town on a 37 foot yacht. Allegedly I was crew for an American yachtsman who was in the middle of an around the world voyage by himself and had decided he wanted some company. The only other person on board was Penny, my ex-secretary from the magazine, who, I was still sane enough to know, was even crazier than me. Probably somewhere around about 10 days later we found ourselves at the tiny island of St. Helena, a lump of rock in the midst of the Atlantic ocean which is usually only known to around the world yachtsmen as the stop-off between Cape Town and South America; and in history books as the place where the British locked up Napoleon. The previous days had been eventful only on an internal plane. Becalmed for days on end, we had sat in the tiny space staring into the grey misty nothingness of the ocean with almost no communication. Since I had announced I had no intention of sharing the skippers bunk, I had become acutely aware that there was something extremely strange about him. Or I had gone completely mad, I wasn’t 100 per cent sure which.
Dry land and the normality of other people around brought a brief touch of sanity but within 2 days it became clear that our skipper was a total nutcase. A retired marine from the Korean War, he lived in a world of his own where I was a paid part of a syndicate hired by Nixon to, in his words ‘make a patsy’ out of him. In other words, to fuck him over. We later heard that he had been gaoled any number of times for attacking others who were, in his mind, part of the plot. After a last terrifying night on board when both Penny and I thought the other was being murdered, we left the yacht with our few belongings and sought refuge on the island.
I shall avoid the temptation of going into details of life on St. Helena but enough to say there is no airstrip, we were the last yacht of the season to come through, and the only way of get on and off the place was a small cargo ship that went between England and Cape Town, normally every 3 weeks. But some 6 months before there had been a fire on one of the two ships on the route and so only one was running at that time – every 6 weeks. There was a two year wait for one of the 12 passenger berths to England and little chance on the one going to Cape Town for some time. We were effectively marooned.
The 5000 local populace was made up mainly of the descendants of the cargo of two, or was it three, slave ships that the British left there when caught mid-Atlantic with the abolition of slavery – how ever many years back that was. And with a handful of the straightest, snootiest of British colonial officers running the place who hadn’t yet discovered that the British Raj was over. To them we were a major embarrassment. To the locals we were the gossip and fascination of the town – stared at wherever we moved. In fact the only place to find some quiet was by the lighthouse. That first day we were befriended by the wife of the local rubbish collector who gave us a room in their house, and where we stayed for the next couple of weeks along with their 14 children.
Finally someone offered us a small empty cottage out of town in an isolated part of the mountains. We were due to move in the next day when we heard there was a ship coming through en route to Cape Town with one available berth. Which brings me back to sitting at the foot on the lighthouse, eyes closed, looking inside myself for direction. I knew that Penny wanted to go and I had mixed feelings about returning to the chaos I had left behind in Cape Town in the confused state I recognized myself to be in. I knew I was a mess, lost in fact. But I was very clear that the only thing that mattered was permanently finding that elusive inner space that I had tasted and loved inside myself through the use of substances. It was at that instant that I felt Osho for the first time. I can’t remember now how I felt it but I knew that help was available inIndia; that someone or something was calling. But I was still arrogant and independent enough to think I could do it alone. There was this strong belief that if I could just escape from people I could find it. So Penny left, and I moved to the isolation of the primitive cottage to explore and hopefully find myself.
I have never been very good at remembering timing, but somewhere around two months later, there was another berth available on the ship to Cape Town and I decided to take it. I had learnt nothing really in that time except that I couldn’t find what I was looking for alone – I needed help. So I returned to Cape Town and after another series of adventures that lasted for somewhere around a year, I found myself on a Magic Bus, traveling through Europe on the way to the East and what was then known as the Hippy Trail.
Again timing is guess work but after many often tough, but certainly adventurous months of traveling, mainly alone, through Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, Ladakh and India, I came to Dalhousie, a little hill station in the Himalayan Mountains. There was a young Buddhist monk running a meditation retreat for a bunch of westerners in one of the old British colonial houses. In one sitting I knew I had found what I was looking for. All interest in substances, in fact in anything, disappeared before the joys of meditation. I loved it. In fact that was all I wanted to do – sit there with my eyes closed zoning out for the rest of my life. Apart from a couple of excursions to do Vipassana retreats with Goenka I spent the next few months there in a mainly blissful void. And would have been happy to continue to stay there, but this Buddhist monk was a wise man. (He later dropped his robes and became one of the foremost meditation teachers in the West.) He obviously recognized that my addiction to meditation was to some degree avoidance of living and in a very loving and kindly way, pushed me down the mountain and back into life.
While I was in Dalhousie I had briefly met a young man in a long orange robe who talked about a guru in Poona called Bhagwan. I certainly wasn’t interested in a guru but something must have stuck in my mind because I decided to call in there on my way down south. It was my intension to go to Sri Lanka to find a Buddhist center where I would be able to continue my Vipassana retreat. There were other travels and adventures on the way, but the only relevant one was a visit to Pushkar. In those days it was still a quiet primitive little town and I had one of the highest trips in my life after sitting with the sadhus drinking bhung made from the holy waters of the lake.
Some time later I took a train and arrived at the Pune station. The first thing I remember was a very acute pain in my right side that happened as I stepped down onto the platform. “That’s strange,” I remember thinking, and clutching my side took a rickshaw to the Rajneesh Ashram. I still remember walking through the gateless gate and up the path towards Jesus House. It was somewhere in the second half of 1975 and the ashram was still in its very formative stages. But there were plenty of westerners around in long orange robes, all apparently smiling and laughing and hugging each other. I hated it instantly. The superficiality, the outgoing-ness, the Western-ness of it all. I remember walking up to Sheela who was sitting at a small desk on the open balcony of Krishna House and saying innocently, “Well, I’m here.” In my memory she said, “Big deal,” but I am not sure now whether she spoke the words or that was her tone.
Kundalini meditation was just starting in the tent over half the front garden that served as the meditation hall in those days. A bearded American gave directions and leaving my small pack at the side I jumped in with the hundred or so others. Somewhere in the first half of the meditation I felt extremely sick and just managed to get out of the tent to vomit over the vegetable garden outside. Interesting, I thought. Then there was a hideous sleepless night in a smelly cubicle in Mobo’s Hotel. The noises of people talking and fucking and coughing came from all directions over the thin low partitions in the cavernous hall. I hate this place, I remember thinking. But the next morning I was back in the ashram for Dynamic. I can’t remember how long I lasted but somewhere in the early stages I lost consciousness and then came to at the end of it all. Wondering at the powerfulness of these meditations I went up the bearded American after to report on what had happened. “Oh very good – cleansing,” I was told.
An hour or so later sitting on the steps of Krishna House I started talking with an English guy who turned out to be a doctor. After a few minutes he said, “Do you know you have bright yellow eyeballs? I think you have hepatitis.” He was right. What did I expect after drinking water from an Indian lake, no matter how holy?
Somehow I found myself a little room in the servants’ quarters of a house somewhere down the road from Mobo’s. And that I only got because I wasn’t a sannyasin. The Indian guy who owned the place made it clear he disapproved of this Rajneesh guy from the start. I stayed there for the next 6 weeks unable to move. After the first week or so of intense negativity, I remember it as a very peaceful time. For weeks I burnt up with a high fever – I was always wet. I owned maybe 4 T-shirts and would fill them all with perspiration in one night. I knew and saw no one and was kept alive by the young Indian cleaning man who would fetch water, wash the T-shirts and I guess must have got food from somewhere. (He is still around selling second hand clothes on the road in front of the German Bakery near the Ashram and I feel I owe him my life – a debt that I still happily pay for when he is in need.)
I suspect I cleaned out lifetimes of negativity in those weeks. I emerged a bag of bones, extremely delicate and fragile and made my way to the ashram. Somehow the laughing faces and hugging people no longer offended me. I found it magical. But mainly it was sitting in the morning discourse that caught my heart. It was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to me. The discourses were in Hindi so it wasn’t what he said, it was who he was.
Some days or maybe even weeks later I booked a darshan. I had been to them before – they were then on the back porch that is now the home of the Rolls Royce – but I had never gone up to sit before him. I had watched him, smiling, seducing, cajoling people into sannyas. He was wonderful at it. The perfect wise old father figure, ultimately persuasive, he would pull any number of tricks to convince the guest to receive that mala.
I remember walking down the road in my fresh clean robe for my first personal darshan, trying to decide if I would allow him to persuade me to take sannyas. Somewhere outside of the Blue Diamond I remember thinking “Well, why not. I can always drop it again when I leave.” He asked me what I had been doing and told him about my love of Vipassana. He gave a long serious talk about how it had been designed for people who lived 5000 years ago and that modern Westerners needed a different type of meditation to release blocked energy and emotions before Vipassana would properly work. And then at the end he looked away as though to indicate he had finished and I was dismissed. No seducing, no sweet smiles, not even a mention of sannyas.
“I want to take sannyas,” I spurted out. He continued to look into the distance as though he hadn’t heard me. “I want to take sannyas,” I said again louder. “Hmmm????” he looked down at me quizzically. So a third time I had to ask, “I want to take sannyas.” And then he grinned, and I knew he knew, that I knew how well he had got my number. I had expected him to seduce me and he had made me almost beg instead. For me it was the beginning of an enormous respect that continues to this day.
“Now be courageous. Take the quantum leap! Just as the snake slips out of the old skin, slip out of the old. It has fulfilled its function, it has brought you to the new. Gratefully say goodbye to it and plunge into this exploration that is becoming valuable to you. Plunge into this insecurity, into this danger, because life is where insecurity is; life is where danger is. There is no way to live totally unless you learn to live dangerously — more danger, more aliveness; less danger, less aliveness.
And I am making peaks upon peaks available to you. This is an unending chain. You will reach one peak thinking that this is the end and now you can rest, but by the time you have rested a little bit you will become aware of a higher peak challenging you, calling you forth. A new pilgrimage starts. And this goes on and on.
Life is an eternal pilgrimage. There is no goal to it, it is a pure journey. Hence the joy of it. If there was a goal to it, that would mean a full stop to your life. Then what are you going to do? After the full stop there is nothing, nothing more. Life knows nothing of full stops. Life is a continuum, a song that never ends, a story that goes on unfolding. Each moment something new is ready to happen if you are available.
Your observation is true. You say, “Unimagined ecstasy, unimagined pain.”
That’s how it has always been. I don’t talk much about the pain, because that will make you so afraid that you will not take the jump. I talk about ecstasy to persuade you, to seduce you into taking the jump. Once you have taken the jump you will know that there is great pain too, but that pain is a blessing in disguise. That pain is the pain the gold passes through when it goes through the fire: it purifies, it makes you more and more integrated, it gives you centering, it creates a soul in you. Without this pain there is no soul, and without this pain no ecstasy is possible. You would like to bypass the pain and reach the ecstasy, but that cannot be done.
Aes Dhammo Sanantano: this is the law and the law has to be followed; you can’t go against the law. But once you have known the ecstasy, it is worth going through all the pain. You can sacrifice everything for the ecstasy, because ecstasy is another name for God approaching closer to you. Your melting into God is what ecstasy is all about.”
Osho, The Dhammapada: The Way of the Buddha Vol. 6, Ch 6, Q 1
Excerpt from the book, Past the Point of No Return