Yuri recollects his travels and how he met Osho.
T’was a long time ago in a far away place when I found what I had been looking for. I had been living in India for a few years having bought a one-way ticket there with the thought that I will never need to return to the west again. My mission – to find a living Buddha or die trying. I spent most of the time living in Benares, Shiva’s city on the Ganges, where I studied sitar and watched the procession of corpses to the burning ghats by the river.
Daily, my routine involved waking at 3am, doing my meditation and then playing sitar for five hours till my one hour lesson with a sitar teacher. Afterwards, I walked the streets for food and then to the ghats to watch the corpses burn and the ritual scattering into the Ganges.
Later, I’d walk the streets and alleys looking for the Buddha with all my heart. There were many teachers, fakirs, sadhus, acharyas, and frauds about and occasionally a jewel. Despair would hit me on occasion and I rued that I was born 2000 years after the likes of Jesus and Buddha – yet, somehow, I knew that there had to be a master here. I just had to be there when he or she passed me on the street. So I looked and looked.
I prayed to Shiva and asked that he help me and to cleanse me of my ignorance. The cleansing was so intense I nearly left my physical body. I was living in a room upstairs owned by a large family that made sitars in an area called Dasaswinath Ghat. I got dysentery and was feverish and fading quickly but the flame of my desire for my master burned brighter.
I lay in my cot listening to the sound of a bird in the tree outside my window and I found myself sitting next to the bird looking at myself lying in the cot. I was not afraid as I had shape-shifted in my body before. I prayed so pointedly to see my master before I died and I was rewarded with a disembodied bald head of a man with a beard and a kindly face smiling at me from the ceiling corner of my room. I etched his face into my fevered memory and was grateful for the vision. One problem, I did not know who he was, because I had never heard of Osho before.
I got better and many months passed as I looked and looked for that face in the crowd around me till the memory began to fade. I left Benares when the cleansing was too intense and my body needed to recover. I had heard of a saintly Benedictine monk who was retired and living in Gujarat and decided to make the trip to get his blessing. He was living on the side of a mountain in a little cottage 6 miles from a remote village. He had a nun who lived nearby who took care of him as he was very old.
I found a little family owned temple nearby and was given a space on the porch in exchange for singing chants during the afternoon arti ceremony. Mornings, I spent with him talking about my hopes and aspirations, making peace with my Catholic upbringing. He asked if I wanted to take communion and I said it had been a long time since I confessed. He said that there was no need to confess sins to take communion, rather he suggested that I put forth what I wanted to have happen in the world and to wash it down with the flesh and blood of Jesus. Well, that rocked my guilty Catholic world!
He was a peaceful, beautiful man, Belgian of origin, but had lived in India for 40 years serving the people he met. He wore an orange robe now and an amazing white beard and I loved him for his enlightened views on Christianity. It was early December and we talked of doing something really special for Xmas, a holiday I had long given up as useless.
One morning I awoke crying, and I had a desperate desire to leave. This was unusual for me because I did not cry often and, though I followed my intuition, it was not telling me where to go, just that I had too. I came to the monk, he saw my pain and asked what was up. I told him that I knew I had to leave and I did not know why. He was understanding and reminded me that I could come back.
I walked down the mountain and then got into a yak cart for the trip into town and the railways station. I got on the only train headed away from there and got out in Ahmedabad, a huge junction a few hundred miles from Bombay. I was bewildered to say the least, because I lived mostly in quiet places and I was in a sea of humanity without any idea where to go. Panic and fear ruled the day. I got on a train that was leaving the station which headed, I later found out, to Bombay. Whew! Things were going from bad to worse quick.
I got off in Bombay main station and walked around it (no easy task because it was huge) and I cursed my intuition for dragging me into this hell. I was so angry and night was descending so I walked to the ticket counter and asked about a train out of there. He said there is one last train and it was headed to Poona! Where’s Poona? It doesn’t matter because I’m outta here!
I arrived in the shithole of the Poona station after midnight still mad as hell. I went to a nearby temple to ask for a night’s sleep being a travelling monk, and had the door slammed in my face. This had never happened to me before, as I was used to staying free at a temple for a song or two.
I walked back into town and found a 5 rupee cot in a dharmasala near the station. Exhausted, I slept a wounded sleep till I was woken in the morning by a huge Indian man snoring beyond comprehension. I groaned and turned around to find a young Australian man dressed in orange clothing greeting me in their unique and cheerful way. I was not having it till he invited to treat me for brekky and inquired if I was here to see the old man.
“What old man?” I asked.
“Aw, haven’t you heard of Bhagwan? (Emphasis on the Bhag!).
“No, who is he?”
He was amazed I had not heard. He got a rickshaw and we headed for the ashram only to arrive late with the front gates closed. We smoked and walked around Koregaon Park chatting about this and that till the gates opened and I got to walk in and see the prettiest women and men I had ever seen, hugging and kissing each other. I had been alone for years and this was too much – but I was riveted.
The next day we came back and I sat all the way in the back of the meditation hall, wondering what was gonna happen as the silence around me grew. I heard the crunching of the gravel before I saw the car approach. The clasped hands came first then the beard and the bald head on that ever so graceful body moving to the podium.
He seemed to look straight at me and…I remembered the face in the corner of the room – so long ago. It was question-and-answer day and he whispered, “The first question….”
I was gone.
Yuri was born in upstate New York in 1952 to a Ukrainian immigrant family. He went to India in 1976 and took sannyas in 1978. He now lives in Santa Barbara, California, where he is a somatic psychotherapist. He goes to Thailand to apply the hands-on work he does with humans to trauma in elephants.
Drawing by Shanti