A candid interview with Prem Gayan.
I gladly connected with Gayan after many years, in fact since she left Rajneeshpuram. A while back while researching for books written by sannyasins, her name and the title of the first book she wrote (in German) and many memories popped up. Having contacted her, she agreed to tell us about her life and many adventures.
Let’s start all the way back – at the beginning: You were a very successful model and film star in Germany, a household name so to speak!
Yes, I was pretty famous. Being on the cover of magazines and in six movie productions made me really a household name. It was a sometimes hard but also a fantastic time. Between 1966 and 1974 I worked in Paris, London, Milan, Hamburg, Munich, and of course in New York. I travelled all over the world because being photographed wearing bathing suits was my favourite thing to do; I could go to all those wonderful, empty beaches! Bora Bora, this heavenly paradise, had only one hotel in 1970, and the Seychelles had magical deserted beaches back then. I was also famous because I was the only model who took her clothes off, for seven covers of Stern magazine – it was my way of women’s liberation! None of those covers were staged; they were shot naturally while I was running around naked, in-between shots for bathing suits, on those uninhabited beaches in paradise…
In 1974, after meeting my future husband Charles, I just knew that I had to drop my career, I felt so tired, empty and needed rest. I cancelled all jobs that were lined up and my agency thought I was truly crazy because thousands of dollars in potential income just evaporated. But I didn’t care. In September 1974, Charles and I left Munich in an old Land Rover and headed south, to Italy, my fatherland. We were thrilled to find our first home together in Calabria, where we started practising yoga, meditating and working with olive tree roots. Then, invited by new Italian friends, we stayed at their huge and fabulous old castle-like place in Sicily, called ‘Corvacchio’. We continued sculpting and loved it, yet after a while I felt too young to live in such isolation. When we tried without success to have a child, we were both quite sad.
How did you hear of Osho at the time?
We had read all kinds of books by spiritual masters, from Ramana Maharishi to Nisargadatta, to Krishnamurti and Gurdjieff, who turned out to be our door to Osho. After reading Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson three times, as Gurdjieff himself had suggested, we felt finally ready for a living master. And that master appeared shortly after in form of another book, My Way: The Way of the White Clouds, delivered to us in Sicily! And then also a friend who had just returned from Pune showed up. The mala he had around his neck seemed strange at first, but as his new master spoke also of Gurdjieff and cracked jokes in his lectures, he seemed to be the one for us.
We decided to travel to India for our honeymoon and when we set off in January 1976 to meet this master we did not think that we would take sannyas only two weeks after arrival in Pune: Charles became Vadan and I became Gayan. The famous German model and actress disappeared behind long orange clothes and loose caftans.
It was such an adventure – we participated in all the meditations and were enchanted by Osho’s lectures. We signed up for therapy groups and then, because we were so eager to see the Himalayas, we went to Nepal. It did not take us long to realise that our old life in Italy was finished. On our flight back to Sicily, we already made plans for when we could return to India. Seven months later we packed up and flew back to Pune.
And now about ashram life – it is early 1977; just the beginning of a surge in sannyasin influx within a short time.
It was January and I remember, pretty cold at night. Money was tight, so we first rented a mud hut close to the train station, where other sannyasins also lived, but it did have a faucet and a toilet that was a hole in the ground! Later, we gratefully moved to a bamboo hut, closer to the ashram. However, the fact of being so close to a living master made up for every inconvenience. People came from all corners of the world, we merged and mingled and lost all sense of time… a new life had truly begun. We were immersed in a sea of orange, red and maroon colours, the lectures every morning were inspiring, enlightening, and made us aware of our deep seated conditionings. Yet letting go of the old and familiar was not easy; we clung to our past, as if our lives depended on it.
But Osho just kept hammering away. After some time our old lives appeared more and more hollow and just simply untrue. Our dogmas and beliefs crumbled and our old thought patterns, that had kept us imprisoned for so long, disappeared in the silence of his presence. His wonderful stories and jokes made us roar with laughter. He made us laugh and he made us cry and slowly we relaxed into the present moment; listening to him every morning was of an incredible intensity. The wisdom and love that poured into our minds and hearts is indescribable. The inner freedom we felt, to finally be ourselves, was expanding our beings. So we listened, we danced and we worked, seven days a week; time was standing still…
You were one of the mediums when Osho conducted the energy darshans. What impact did that have on your life?
There were 20 mediums in all. Some of us, depending on who was called, sat close to Osho during evening darshan when he initiated new disciples. These darshans truly changed my perspective of life; being so often so close to him, initiated me into a new perception of existence. My inner world ‘slowed down’. One night after darshan, it took me 30 minutes to get home to No. 35, which was a place just next to the ashram. A two minute walk! But that night I almost could not move. I only inched forward. Everything around me was suddenly illuminated. Everything was sacred and divine. (And yes, it reminded me later of one of the LSD trips in the English Garden in Munich, by moonlight.)
Darshan was an incredible experience every time, yet this was also the most painful time of my life and I often felt like dying because Vadan and I had separated. Osho soothed my worst pain, spoke of a new freedom and for this, I was extremely grateful. But during the nights when I could not sleep because I was still waiting for Vadan to come home, I sat with Mahasattva (a former psychotherapist and at the time a night guard) at the back gate and smoked bidis. Over time, we became friends and then lovers.
Once I wanted to ‘test’ Osho! The mediums were forbidden to eat eggs, so one day I secretly munched one down, just to see what would happen. The next morning Vivek called me with a message from Osho. I was shaking when she told me that I should never eat another egg before coming to darshan. I felt so guilty and stupid. This was the last and only test I ever conducted. From that moment on I knew that he knew, and that was that.
Where in the ashram were you working?
I worked with Padma in the Fashion Department and there, one day in 1979 I was suddenly so overcome with pain that I ran out of the building and Aneeta, who led Sufi Dancing, found me clinging to a tree in the garden. She immediately helped and made sure I got to the hospital as soon as possible. There they discovered that a big kidney stone had moved downwards toward my bladder and had become stuck. I had the most frightful colic and had to be operated almost immediately. Vivek quickly sent a picture of Osho for me to the hospital, so I could look at his face while going under. Vadan came to be with me during this whole ordeal, which was really so sweet and loving. But somehow I drifted back to Mahasattva. (Although later I regretted this many times.) The Ashram kindly paid for the hospital expenses. When I was well again, I continued working with Padma and we put on shows at the Taj Mahal Hotels in Bombay and Delhi, which were well received.
Did you write any questions to Osho?
In 1980, he answered a question I had submitted about the feeling of being ‘nowhere’. He smiled his famous disarming smile and chuckled. Then he responded by saying that we were all ‘nowhere’, and that we were all ‘nobody’s’. And that I should not worry too much about it…
Osho also liked to joke about my “German soldier conditioning”, which was true, and by that time I understood what he meant. Although I appeared lively and loving, inside I was a rather serious person, bordering on being a perfectionist. He said that perfectionism was an ailment, and that everything ‘perfect’, was already dead.
In the same discourse he also said, “Gayan… much is possible. You are just on the verge! If you can drop the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’, there is not much trouble… “ I was stunned and perplexed. Yes, he was right of course, these ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ had haunted me all my life!
What did you do when Osho left Pune and flew to the USA in June 1981?
I and most likely all of us were at first surprised and shocked and then we scattered all over the globe, like leaves in the winds of time… Many sannyasins gathered for a big celebration in Amsterdam; I went there too, with Mahasattva, and then on to Munich, to stay with a friend. I felt a bit lost in these now strange-seeming surroundings. Finally I ended up in the South of France, in Grasse, in the home of French sannyasins, where Chaitanya Hari also had relocated to and was composing new music.
It was there that I wrote my first book based on the diaries I had kept over the years – on a small Olivetti, with two fingers! Starting with 600 pages, I later edited it down to 250. When the Heart is Free was published in 1982 in Germany, with a big party at the Munich Centre where many sannyasins dressed in orange and reds mingled happily with the publishing world, who were dressed for the occasion in dark suits. A few weeks later, now with some money in my pocket, I landed in Portland, Oregon. I was on my way to Osho’s new commune.
What were your first impressions and what work was assigned to you?
Soon after my arrival I was asked to come to Lao Tzu House. I had no idea what awaited me, nor could I imagine why I was called. But there, in his quarters, Osho softly asked me, what I wanted to do in the commune? Now this came as a total shock! II mumbled something about making more beautiful hats for him. He smiled and said, “That will be good, Gayan…”
I was stunned to see him so close that my mind did not function. These words just had come out of my mouth. Making hats for him? I had never even thought about this possibility. Soon after I was invited into Lao Tzu House and began my work. I made 180 hats in almost two years!
Rajneeshpuram was a fantastic experiment of how to live almost completely off the grid. But – in spite of my privileged surroundings – it was a tough place to be. In spring 1984, I had a strong feeling that a big change was coming, also for me. During the last winter, Sheela had forced all who were living in Lao Tzu to make two patrols in the middle of the night in very deep snow around the house, and then report by phone to the guards. That meant there was never enough sleep. I had developed strong migraines, and felt worse and worse every day. Never in my life had I developed such headaches and I knew my body was telling me something.
To make matters worse, Mahasattva had stayed in Munich and was now with someone else and I was heartbroken, because I had expected he would could come and stay at the Ranch. In my desperation I remembered meeting a very kind older woman, Chaitanyo, at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai years ago. She had told me to come to Maui one day but I couldn’t find her address anymore. But one very snowy winter morning, when I was sewing Sheela’s ‘Pope gown’ in Jesus Grove, I saw a sannyasin struggling through the snow drifts. When he entered the house I asked him, totally spontaneously, if he knew a woman called Chaitanyo on Maui. He smiled, yes, he did, and he had her phone number!
I took that as a sign and asked to be allowed to leave for a while. I called Chaitanyo and she invited me to stay on her porch. It sounded like heaven! Away from the cold and the snow, I would surely feel better. And I did, because there I fell in love with a wild sannyasin called Bhakta, from San Francisco…
Upon returning to Rajneeshpuram I was moved out of Lao Tzu House into Lao Tzu townhouses, just below; I had stayed away for too long. I worked in the greenhouse and later in the boutique. After a very unpleasant encounter with all the high powered ladies at the Grove (about 15 of them), I went back to my room and cried. They had told me that I had tried to run the boutique too much ‘my way’. Which was strange to me, as all I had done was to make it more appealing and beautiful, at least in my mind. Something else was brewing, that I was sure of. Now they thought that they could ‘get me’ somehow; removed from Osho’s house, I had lost his protection.
The next morning at breakfast I met by chance Christ Krishna, a German sannyasin I knew. He told me that he was leaving for California in 3 hours and asked me if I wanted to come with him. Yes, this was also a sign! He was travelling in an old VW bus and that suited me just fine. I packed up in no time and gave most of my things away. I wrote a note to Osho, and with his blessings, spread my wings…into an unknown future.
You were very courageous!
Yes, but it was also very scary to leave for good this time. I met Vadan, who was a bus driver, on that morning at the water tower, and we both cried. We did not know where and when we would see each other again.
Near Eugene in the forest Christ Krishna and I found wonderful hot springs, and there I had a re-birthing session by him, to start my new life. I drove with him on to Santa Barbara where I left him and stayed in the tiny pool house of sannyasins, found work cleaning houses and had time to reflect. Sambuddha had lovingly helped me out so I could buy an old car to make the rounds to my cleaning jobs and save some money. Although it was a priority for me to see Bhakta again in San Francisco, after a rather hectic year in Marin County and Hawaii to find some ground under my feet, one way or another my life with Bhakta was finished.
Later that year I met Chaitanya Hari at the big summer festival at the Ranch in 1985. He had just moved to Santa Fe and urged me to come along. In a car with our belongings packed to the roof we drove day and night to the Land of Enchantment. When we reached the Southwest, with its brilliant light, endless horizons and stark earth, I felt peace. Lying down on the earth I felt the jittery and exciting vibes of California slowly leave my body…
What did you do in the Land of Enchantment?
I was indeed very enchanted and finally ready to use what I had learned in India. The seeds that had been sown were beginning to blossom and I began to write again. Osho had encouraged me on the Ranch to write more. So now I was finding my wings, in the words that flowed onto the pages. I wrote many self-help books and for each one of them that got published, I also offered workshops in Switzerland and Germany.
You did return to see Osho in Pune 2, didn’t you?
Yes, I wanted to see Osho and flew to India in 1989. I remember that although I was not officially given a special seat, for a few days I ended up sitting there in front of his podium. The lectures at the time were long, very long, over 3 hours. He spoke more slowly and looked frailer. His loving gaze and the light gestures of his exquisitely delicate hands touched all of our hearts, just as they had over so many years…
One morning a great sadness came suddenly over me. It felt like a good bye and I cried as I stepped out of Buddha Hall. In that moment I knew somehow that I would never see Osho again; but this premonition wasn’t quite right, because I did see him again later, many times, in my dreams.
During the following weeks I did not miss one lecture; time stretched again into infinity… like it had before. I met many old friends and we laughed and exchanged our stories. Staying at the Sunderban Hotel just next to the ashram made it easy to spend most of my day there and it was wonderful!
After about 6 weeks I went back to Santa Fe. Santa Fe gave me the stability to keep on writing. With the help of my agent Wulfing von Rohr I accomplished many projects and could share what I had learned. I wrote two more biographies about my life and of course the time in India and the Ranch. Many women’s self-help books followed, such as The Healing of the Inner Woman, and Meditation for Women; I also designed several themed Tarot decks. The Vision Quest Tarot became a bestseller and is available in 4 languages, including English.
Please tell us about the time you were treated for cancer with chemotherapy.
Out of the blue, in 2007, cancer stopped me in my tracks; I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer stage 4, and it did not sound hopeful at all. I was devastated and went into a very deep night of the soul. I thought of Osho, of India, of Life and Death. Blessedly, my wonderful partner and husband Tony assured me again and again that we would make it through. What helped me immensely was to go into a state of very deep relaxation. Stress can be a major factor in this illness and by now that has been well documented.
Chaitanya gave me Mahasattva’s CDs Healing Trances, for which he had composed the music. From Ann Aura, a good friend and wonderful massage therapist I received weekly sessions that I am certain contributed to my healing. My friend Asti, a medical doctor in Switzerland, advised me to try healing mushrooms, which have been used in China and Japan for thousands of years. More recently they are being given along with chemotherapy, because it has been documented that they indeed support the immune system. Another physician from the University Clinic in Munich gave me what seems the best combination to treat ovarian cancer: 5,000 milligrams a day of Agaricus, Maitake and the Coriolus Mushroom. They came in capsules and I took them in the morning before I had any other food. I believed in them and they worked.
As friends and well wishers learned of my condition, I was flooded with calls and messages. With Tony’s support, I did not answer any phone calls for almost six months. All I could do was to accept what was happening and make the best of this grave situation. During the entire time we were busy with medical necessities, and went to the hospital 2 to 3 times a week. Also, because of the cancer, a blood clot had formed in my lungs, and I was on blood thinners and Tony gave me daily injections.
I responded well to chemotherapy and did not get very sick from it. When my hair fell out, I had my head shaved. My wish to have only female doctors taking care of me was fulfilled and the treatments went extremely well, although it was also very, very scary most of the time. I read a lot, listened to Osho’s discourses and felt new trust arising. I remembered him saying that cancer was a big wake-up call. Waking up, was the only thing to do. Well, I came close…
During this frightening ordeal, I wrote another book, Hope is the Key, meant to help people who were experiencing similar fates. For many months I hadn’t been sure if I could or would make it. But suddenly, one night, I was absolutely sure. My sister in Germany told me excitedly in a phone call that in a vision she had, she saw a light shine from above and in that moment she knew that I was going to be healthy again! Hope had won; now I felt that I would pull through and clung to that thought, to that feeling, to that glimmer of hope. A few months later I had surgery in Albuquerque and to the total astonishment of the surgeon the biopsies did not show any traces of cancer.
Now you look well and seem very energetic!
Cancer happened six years ago and now I am healthy and feel well. But it took about five years to get my energy back. Of course, nothing can ever be like before; much has changed. I no longer travel to offer workshops or groups in Europe but still write articles and conduct interviews with people for German magazines. For example an interview with spiritual teacher Chris Griscom for the German Engel Magazin and one with Chaitanya Hari for Connection Magazine, which is owned by sannyasins. And I also write articles for Lichtwelle in Switzerland.
Tony and I live a quiet life; he is my guardian angel. There is love, silence and the enjoyment of doing and non-doing. Standing on the very abyss has changed everything. Knowing death so close, I have finally arrived in the moment. Gratefulness is deepening and regrets are fading. Acceptance and appreciation of the ‘now’ has arrived…