The tight-rope dance to bring Osho into the Italian consciousness…
This year Oshoba celebrates its 20th anniversary. It was founded by Akarmo to distribute the Italian Osho Times and Osho’s translated books in Italy. During the winter months some of the staff come to work in Pune, where they are allotted an office space, and in summer they return to Italy.
When in Pune, I often used to visit them for a chat – it was all so intriguing for me: the publishing, the translating, the planning. But they also wanted me to come and visit them in Italy. There was no excuse for me to decline the invitation as I lived in close-by Lugano. Following their directions I arrived at a tranquil apartment block surrounded by gardens in a residential area. The offices were bright and airy, with computers, dispatch material and a lot of boxes filled with books on the floors. And those friendly faces!
I had become friends with Akarmo and his then-beloved Sonia, and not just because of our common language; so while in Pune we often had dinner together and after White Robe we walked home part of our way. I was always intrigued by the fact that they would be more interested in hearing my stories of the day and they gave me all the time and attention to my non-stop talking – which was mostly about music – rather than talking about themselves. (Do you remember that Oshoba is also the name of the high-energy samba music which Nivedano and his band used to play for Osho before the White Robe meditation?)
This sense of listening and putting themselves in the background is prevailing even today. It took an almost six months’ wait to get from them the material for this article. First because to write about themselves, even for an anniversary, was not on their priority list – and secondly because, although all of them have a vast experience in writing and interviewing people, they said that to write about themselves felt quite strange. Though with the help of Marga, who was kind enough to take the interviews for me, we finally got it together.
The story begins when Akarmo went back to Pune in 1987, expecting to work there as a carpenter, but was given the job of translating the newly founded Osho Times into Italian. The magazine was translated into many languages directly from the English version, whilst nowadays the content between the various Osho Times is totally independent. It was printed in India, dispatched in bulk to Italy and then distributed via the left-wing magazine Re Nudo.
It felt akward to Akarmo to be happily working out of India without connecting with the readers. So the next time he returned to Italy to earn his money for the next stay in Pune – the back-and-forth many of us had to do – he opened a little office as a reference point for the subscribers and advertisers. “This was all voluntary work done in my spare time. It was never a business. It was wonderful to work on Osho’s magazine and to distribute it to our fellow travellers – that was enough of a reward,” he says.
But soon he noticed that the expenses were too high to bear and that there was always less and less time to do the ‘proper’ work. Something had to be done. Videha, who had been involved in finding publishers in Italy to print Osho’s work, suggested they sell his books. At the time, unlike now, they were hard to find in the bookshops and the publishers were of minor importance and with only limited distribution. “We created an advertising page on Osho Times to promote Osho’s books and so we became distributors in Italy. Once you start… once the cat enters the house, as the Zen story goes… it never ends – because soon the next question came: what about the meditation CDs and Osho’s videos? So this is how Oshoba started,” Akarmo recalls.
Despite the fact that through the years they have accumulated 50,000 addresses of people interested in spiritual growth and made a name in the field, economically it has always been, and still is, a tight-rope walk. “What we miss are manpower and money, but never new ideas!” One of the developments were the subtitles on Osho’s videos and, more recently, the Festivals. These came about from the direct contact with clients and subscribers.
Akarmo says that in Italy Osho is getting more and more known, that almost everybody has read something by Osho or is at least familiar with the name Osho. This is a great achievement. Many of Osho’s books are now published by one of the major publishing houses, Mondadori. You can find their books in supermarkets, train stations and airports. Their margins allow that books can be sold, from the very start, with a discount of 25%, a price Oshoba cannot compete with. But Oshoba has the advantage that they can offer advice; they are not just selling books, they are companions on the path.
“It is a different thing if you buy a book in a shop where the vendors have no clue about Osho, or if you buy it from us. We can give them advice which one to choose or with which meditation to start. Sahaja, Gila and I have been sannyasins for over thirty years and if someone phones we can walk them through each one of the meditations and give assistance. Exactly out of this work, which was being done as part of vending books and music, we saw that there was a need for people to come together and meditate. So came the next idea: to organise Festivals!”
The first festival was in 2000, in Varazze, in collaboration with Nirodh and Ushma (from the Osho Arihant Centre), Videha and Anando. In 2013 they even have five: OshoFestival in April, Meditando in July, Osho Maha Vipassana (in collaboration with Miasto) in September, Liberi di Essere in October and the New Year’s Party in December. The now traditional Osho Festival attracts hundreds of people, not only from Italy but from the whole of Europe. It lasts 4 days, because of it being rather short everybody participates totally and intensely. The energy created is so high that it is easy to meditate also for beginners. “It is wonderful to see the change in the faces just after the first morning! People come up to me and say, ‘Mamma mia, it is incredible what is happening here!'”
“We only invite internationally renowned facilitators to run the classes. We have 50 events in these 4 days – and we only charge 90 euro. I know it is ridiculous, but we want that more and more people can come also because of this very affordable fee. Of course, each year, we are anxious to know if we will break even or not; but what we want is a high standard and a low price.”
Since the recession which has badly hit Italy, the tight-rope walking is experiencing high winds and no one knows if even the Osho Times will make it to the other side. “Of course we are also trying to meet our subscribers half way. For instance a subscriber gets a free book immediately, two further books over one year, two DVDs per subscriber, ten issues a year – all this for just 46,50 euro. These books are not end of stock material but books we are publishing specially for our subscribers.” Because Oshoba has also became a publisher of Osho books!
“Many a times we have a book we think is very valuable but is not taken up by any of the publishers, so there we step in and publish it ourselves. It is important that Osho’s message – which we know is basically about ‘meditation’ – is accessed from various angles, from the Christian world, Tantra, Sufi, Zen, Tao, from all the various paths. And we want to fill in all the gaps.”
Oshoba is set up as an association. The company, not being tied to a physical person, allows directors and staff to come and go – as sannyasins tend to do. Should one of the staff decide to leave, the company remains standing. Akarmo first had Samudra and Veetchitta as collaborators, later others replaced them and even more joined. At present there are 7-8 staff. The sub-sections are: Oshoba (www.oshoba.it) for the sales of books and CDs, book publications and also functions as Italy’s main Osho Information hub; Osho Experience (www.oshoexperience.it) for the organisation of the festivals and meditation events and then the printed and online magazines, the Italian Osho Times (www.oshotimes.it). Akarmo is the founding-partner and co-administrator of Oshoba as well as the director and art-director of Osho Times.
It is astonishing to see that the magazine is run by three people alone. “Of course we work Saturdays and Sundays but we also get a lot of help from volunteers. Someone has energy to transcribe an interview or do a translation – they have fun doing it and at the same time they support the magazine. This goes also for the festivals. If we did not have all those volunteers at the reception and in the halls, we would not be able to run them so smoothly. There are hundreds of ways people can contribute so that Osho’s words are available and the dance continues.”
Marga interviewed also some of the ‘oshobini’, as the staff is jokingly called, and asked them about their experience of working at Oshoba. This is what they say:
“I have been part of Oshoba for 22 years. For me it is not only a job, in fact it has now become an integral part of my life. There is passion, creativity and all these challenges… I had to do things I had never done before: design, accounts, stock management, procurement, custom service, IT and more to come… Why this job is so precious to me is because I can see that, thanks to Oshoba, so many people have come in contact with Osho and, ultimately, with meditation. This not only through Osho’s words but also through their direct experience of meditation at the events we organise. It is such a joy to meditate together with so many people. Also what is importamt to me is the friendly connection we have between us ‘oshobini’, a clean and sincere friendship full of support and trust. I feel very privileged to work here.”
Gila: e-shop and book stand at festivals
“Although Oshoba is part of the business world which follows the rules of economy and commercial communication, there is this collective energy which comes from meditation. The whole ‘business game’ is filtered though the quality of meditation. This is a great advantage for us personally, because we know that each one of us here is trying to find out who they are. We observe those moments when we catch ourselves: “Aha, I am still reacting in this way instead of opening my horizon to see the other’s point of view” or “I must hate that job because I keep postponing it.” Being a watcher – of course not 24/7, otherwise we would be a business of Buddhas! – but the attention is there. Also to work with such a group turns work into a meditation. Osho used to say that a meditator needs to have other meditators around him because it creates energy. This collective energy is very helpful, at least for me. My work has to do with content and I am fortunate that much of this content are Osho’s discourses which I translate or where I edit someone’s translation. Each text gives me the opportunity to go deeper into the meaning of his words while trying to render in the best possible way in Italian what he is saying. I also love to help with the festivals. It is such a joy when you see all these happy celebrating people! And to know that you have helped so many little plants to grow and transform into all these beautiful flowers, is very rewarding… and that in the mean time you have grown as well.”
Sahaja: chief-editor of Italian Osho Times
“When I saw the Osho Times magazine for the first time in 2000 shortly after I had taken sannyas, I felt inside my heart: “One day I will work for this magazine.” It was a little more than a thought and it just slipped away as it came and I soon forgot about it. Now I am in the middle of it. It is great to combine my passion of writing with that other big passion: Osho. I sometimes describe myself as a ‘spiritual journalist’. And the people at Oshoba are ‘my people’. It is a small family involved in something greater than us, something that doesn’t belong to us, that belongs to Osho and all the Buddhas of all times and all the fellow travellers around the world. Still we have to run it as a business, following the rules of the world and that’s not always easy because, especially in Italy where there is a strong Catholic conditioning, many people think that spirituality must come free and that everything we do should be free. We are not the Vatican who can draw from the enormous riches they have accumulated over the centuries…”
Marga: editor of Italian Osho Times, advertising account manager
“I love to work for Oshoba. I love interacting with people. From our little office I communicate over the phone or internet, in Italy and in the rest of the world. I am in contact with a lot of different people, age and nationality, but in each of these contacts there is a common denominator and that is the love for Osho and the passion for our inner search. I am in contact with the world of Osho, day in and day out. This is very important to me. And on the other hand I am connected with the ‘outside’ world. Feet on the ground and wings to fly. I appreciate this very much. I am also proud that with the limited means we have at our disposal so much can be accomplished!”
Dhana: festival organisation, Oshoba newsletter editing, OT proof-reading, advertising account manager
“I have been working at Oshoba since 2001. These years have given me a lot. All the jobs I have done before were concentrated on attaining something (money, a better future, recognition, etc). Since I have been working here a whole new world opened up for me. I see work as a way to know myself. My attention is now directed towards the inside rather than the outside. I try to live moment to moment as much as possible. Work gives me a certain centring. I am also taking care that the job gives me satisfaction and that it nurtures heart, body and spirit and that it constantly gives me new opportunities to know myself better. I have started to watch my thoughts and emotions, and see when I am in the heart or in the mind, and also to appreciate the limitations of my body. I am very grateful to have had this opportunity.”
Sakshin: online orders, dispatch, client service, proof-reading, webmaster, newsletter
At this point we also want to give credit to these former collaborators: Shola who has designed the websites and the magazine until she recently decided to work as an artist full-time, Bali who has worked for many years with Oshoba and is now a worker at the Miasto commune, and Prahas who has supported the Festival management for many years and has now quit because of health reasons. And last but not least a lot of credit goes to Videha for his relentless, unconditional support and to Anando for her love and support.
To support the work of Oshoba you can participate in one of the events (www.oshoexperience.it), buy one of the 250 books translated in Italian or order a CD (www.oshoba.it). If you buy Osho books through Oshoba or any Osho Meditation center in Italy (as Osho Miasto) rather than in the bookshops or shopping center, you can give a direct support. Or subscribe to the Italian Osho Times (www.oshotimes.it) if you speak the language. Facebook Group
Text by Punya for Osho News, based on interviews by Marga and Bali from Osho Times