Nivedano talks to Punya about his life as a gardener and musician in Osho’s communes.
Not only is ‘Nivedano’ your name but also the signal, the command to ‘beat the drum’. How did it feel when Osho called your name?
Masters are great jokers. The more one attunes to their energy field the more one disappears into the joke. That was his great device for me – to finish me off, once and for all, with all notions about being known. He did put me on the gallery. I am grateful that he printed that name on stone and water, but more grateful yet to find out my real nameless spirit. The water dissolved the rock. Even though he was the commander and chief, his calling Nivedano was not, ever, a command. He was so kind and generous to pronounce it with so much love that every time he did so, it was Gachchami time, touching his feet, on and on, like the song goes!
A command is something to be obeyed. His calling was never a command, it was more like pointing to the obvious, pushing, like nudging to where the nameless abides. There were times when, by observing his breathing, I could place the sound of the drum right into his calling. All that was heard was the drum and not the boring Nivedano name. He told me to keep my eyes open during the meditation. Like that, then, I could observe every and most subtle nuances of his breath and place the boom right into his calling.
That game became increasingly intense because he would try to change the flow of his breath to fool me into playing off-time. I had to be very attuned to his rhythm in order not miss the beat. For months it went on and, I suppose, no one ever noticed what was going on. That was indeed my most sacred experiment into oneness with the universal, all-encompassing conscious flow.
Punya, get your drum out of the closet and give it at least one good boom every day to call the master for tea in your living room, he always comes to the one who is really calling; he loves it and blessed are the real callers of the divine.
What did it mean for you to play during drive-by at the Ranch?
Drive-by in itself was already epic! Thousands of seekers from everywhere coming to see the master, the new Buddha, the contemporary holy-man who can say the word ‘fuck’ as a prayer. This synthesis alone was already such a remarkable feature of his approach to divine expression that it is enough for 99% of humanity to have something to digest for the next few generations, namely that to fuck and to pray is the same. Nowhere ever has such a thunderous moment taken place on this earth.
One day, talking to Vinod (Khanna) and Rupesh, while doing some mischief in Osho’s gardens, we felt that for drive-by the music would be better if it really rocked the seekers and that maybe we could create a mini-carnival with dancing, going deeper, and getting our brothers and sisters to let go of the up-tight, up-right mother-teresa attitude; to let go and celebrate wildly.
On that same day Paranita, a dear friend, started a relationship with someone from Buddhafield garage who was in charge of the paint shop. My drum at that time was plain metal and we decided to paint a beautiful sea-side scene on it. We worked all night to get it ready for next day’s drive-by but what came out was a totally different scene, far from what we had envisioned to paint. What is remarkable about this is the fact that, without knowing, we painted the exact picture of the place where I am living now, the Fazenda Campo Alegre here in Brazil. The picture is almost a depiction of our place now, 29 years later. So a master plan was already in motion then – the plan to herald the New Man. This is one of the main reasons why we called this whole venture at Campo Alegre, Project New Man.
After leaving the painted drum to dry we went to work and at lunch time we met again to collect the drum at the paint shop. This had to be done on the quiet, tip-toeing and stealthily, because the so-important coordinator was there napping and he was a real pain and a stickler to mama´s directives. By that time we were already very happy about the outcome of the paint job and wanted to bring the drum to drive-by at all cost, even if it wasn’t totally dry.
And it so happened that, when Osho saw the painted drum there was recognition. His smile that day was from a different depth, something like saying, “Ok, you’ve got the message!” And from that day on, he always stopped near us and until the very end he continued to honour the drum as a divine tool, a sacred possibility, always available for the one who can play within his silences, his soundless poetries.
Drive-by was a pinnacle for our celebrative family and I enjoy all the great memories of those splendid ever-lasting moments of his presence. Saravá the drum, Salve the Master, Salve love, devotion and surrender.
I have heard that some of the drums have become enlightened in the process of being beaten. Can you tell the story?
As the story goes, a drum is always enlightened. It is emptiness at the ready, always patiently waiting for the dance to commence. The smaller drum that you’ve got from me was part of the enlightened trio of drums that were actually declared by him, the master himself, not the book, not the movie, as sound in form of bliss. Lucky you! I’ve got those drums from Brazil and took them to India in 1981 but they only became a hit years later at Rajneeshpuram, during drive-by. It really worked for Osho’s purpose of a no-mind approach to meditation using music.
The problem at the Ranch was the politics. The women in charge could not control the outcome of such a rather loud expression of our love, playing those drums, that brought the overwhelming vibrations into deep silence. Even the hills and mountains around Lao Tzu Grove rejoiced. So Osho liked the daily celebration and politics had to move down the road, to the Ranch proper.
Apparently Osho said that Oshoba, the high-energy samba music you played with your band in the White Robe Meetings, is the best music for that event. How was it created? Did you have a clear vision from the very start?
During my last years in NYC I had a group of drummers that performed every day on the streets of Manhattan; 5th Avenue and Columbus Circle by the Plaza Hotel was our day-time gig. By night we would go to Broadway and perform our acts right in front of the theatres, on the sidewalks, while the patrons were leaving the performance. It was great. The percussion music played was amazingly appealing to everyone and it was an immediate hit. The result was that we got contracts, good money, etc. Imagine, 35 years ago, in the middle of the afternoon on 5th Avenue, between 54th and 55th Street, these amazing drummers came by, all professionals – 9 to be precise – all dressed up as aliens, holy people, etc. And the sheer force of the beat could stop traffic and people. It was such a realization when that happened that when I got to Pune I wanted to try it for the energy darshans.
However, politics didn’t permit it and we had to wait until later, when Milarepa and I had a squabble about music. This was in 1989. It was decided that from that moment on the music for the White Robe would be played only with drums, and no more sing-songs. Osho loved it and the mood in the ashram soared with the sound of the beatless beat.
Once Osho said, “When the drummer is good even the Buddha will dance.” Only the fools complained about the continuous Oshoba. Some people, the so-called important ones, came to the bandstand – during White Robe – and tried to snatch the drumsticks and mallets from the drummers’ hands. It was hilarious to watch. There is the master having fun and these fools are interfering with their small minds.
Now I use Oshoba as meditation for the events that we do in Brazil. We have invitations for Japan, Europe and Canada. Maybe, if possible, I would like to get a Sannyasin Band to play next year throughout the world. We are checking the possibilities for a band of 9 musicians to travel around, playing and rejoicing with Oshoba.
Nivedano, you were also a gardener. You worked in Osho’s garden and also created the waterfall outside Chuang Tzu Samadhi. How was that for you?
Working directly for a master is all that a disciple or a devotee wants most dearly to happen. It is the greatest opportunity given by existence for one’s growth – to unravel and turn a boring and unintelligent life into a real miracle. Since Rajneeshpuram Osho was preparing and creating space for me to feel comfortable and at ease to express the yet unknown and hidden talent to create gardens, his gardens.
Right from the first moment at the Ranch I was sent to work with the gardeners at Lao Tzu House. One day he asked me if it was possible to get more of the river stones for his door steps. Rashid was also asked by him about the stones but, in the meantime, he was sent to the truck farm and I was then left as the man for the job.
I was forbidden to ride horses because I got caught, together with Rupesh and two girls while we come back to the stables at 5am one morning. The squealer, a real goody-goody boy, told Sheela about us and that became a big security breach! I then told Osho that it was easy to get the stones providing that we could use horses, because up on the snowy mountains it was too dangerous for the trucks to go.
He said to go ahead and it was a wonderful moment; to be able to circumvent the powers in place by the direct wishes of the master. I am a horse wallah from way back and rode all my life and still enjoy the feel of the horse and the liberty, spaciousness and aloneness that one finds in higher hills and plateaux around mountains. It was an innocent perk to go riding, especially if it was forbidden; it was then something of a must to be tried out!
At the Ranch we did the preparatory work for landscaping. It was in-depth speed learning about how to manoeuvre around politicians, pencil pushers and bean counters. Tanmaya was great at that. We managed to landscape Osho’s 20 acre plot with beautiful, magnificent trees and unusual plants, shrubbery, and very rare flowers and orchids.
One day the office said, “No more money for Lao Tzu Garden!” Yet two days later there were two trucks full to the brim with our plants. Salve Tanmaya. It was a struggle to get plants for the master’s gardens because landscape costs are always staggering and more so if the materials to be used are for such a great spirit such as Master Osho Embarakasne. (Embarakasne is my private and loving way to address Osho. It means Oceanic in my tribe´s tongue.)
It was indeed a preliminary stage for what would be happening some time later when we came back to Pune. I was at that time working in the sewing room, together with the ladies that made his clothes. Gayan was then, and still is, my beloved and I was learning from Asheesh, another super brother to whom I am deeply grateful, to make Osho’s socks.
And then started the real voyage into the master’s song and dance, into his very heart when he told me to go and create the gardens and waterways around the new Buddha Hall. Imagine! You are put in charge to create a beautiful scenery for his beautiful disciples to wander around in meditation. Such a great opportunity it was!
Yet the problems soon started:
“We have no money for food and you are squandering our money with rocks!”
“Why spend so much money, he will die soon!”
“You are using the money the wrong way!”
And so on and so forth they raved, complained, screamed thieves and murder, but we went on. I answered only to the master and whatever the do-gooders were saying didn’t really matter. There were very callous, envious and perverse disciples, bent on proving their idiotic views and not really seeing that our only responsibly was to be a light unto ourselves and not be bent on proving who is right or who is wrong.
The waterfall story is full of lovely passages with the master. It was a great challenge indeed and it still stands, a bit neglected for sure, but nevertheless a pinnacle of the creative expression of love, devotion and surrender of Osho’s disciples.
Are you still beating the drums?
Here at the Campo Alegre Farm, the drums are used mostly in our communications on the land. The horses come to eat by the drum sound. The workers on the fields get their directions for work also by drum language. ‘Do not disturb’ has a peculiar beat, even Gayan has a code that we often use to communicate across the river. I am deeply grateful to be able to understand part of the drum language. In India there are the snake charmers who play the flute to enchant the snakes. Here at Campo Alegre it is the drum that makes them stand on their tails and swing to the beat. The drums have some poisonous snakes as pets. Once in a while they are called to perform, the most poisonous ones, only to remind us of how fleeting this moment here is and that enlightenment is for all. The drum is to be played gracefully by the divine, in order to become enlightened.
Nivedano grew up in Brazil where his career as a percussionist started. He played, among others, with Santana, Weather Report and Pink Floyd but also with Miles Davies and John McLaughlin. He came to Pune in the mid-seventies where he took sannyas from Osho. In the commune he was gardening, knitting, but also washing pots and of course playing music. He now lives in his commune in the jungle of Brazil and will be touring as a drummer again this autumn with Milarepa. projectnewman.com