Shantida writes about his taking sannyas.
My life was a mess. I navigated the divorce well enough but when my daughters, 7 and 5, were moved 2,000 miles away, my cultivated, conditioned persona shredded. I was suicidal for a year and a half.
Strenuous yoga brought me back from that precipice until the precepts of that path proved to be repressive and even militaristic. I rebelled and moved out of that ashram. Desolation returned to my life. I was a 36 years old assistant professor of philosophy at a Florida, U.S.A. state college in my seventh year of teaching.
On an August afternoon in 1977 I wandered into a bookstore and there happened what I take to be a miracle or a divine accident. After several minutes of browsing, my eyes fell upon The Book of the Secrets with Osho’s image on its cover. One look and I stumbled back a step, these words flowing through my shocked awareness: “Whoa! How can anyone be so virile and so vast?” I picked up the book, held it between my prayer-like palms. Then I opened it to see what it offered me. Page 29 gave itself and my eyes fell upon this sentence: “Yoga is suppression with awareness; tantra is indulgence with awareness.” And somewhere later in that discourse words that I forever remember but can no longer locate, words I paraphrase: Mine is the path of tantra; the path of womb-like receptivity.
My heart melted, flamed. I was forever changed. Not only his words, his transformative energy, but the succinct and total appropriateness to my life at that time convinced me there are convergences, there are no coincidences.
Within the week I also bought I Am the Gate and quickly wrote to Pune requesting initiation into neo-sannyas. Within two weeks an answer and application came from Yoga Laxmi. I laughed with joy, appreciating the irony of the envelope address. The first name was not Joseph, my given name, but James, the name of my elder brother! No mistake, I thought. I am not who I think I am anyway.
I got the passport photograph and return posted the form. By late October my life’s greatest gift arrived: “13.10.1977 Swami Anand Shantida”, my birth date into Osho’s Buddhafield. I went quickly to a craft shop and purchased 108 wooden beads. I made a locket with his picture on it. I dyed tangerine all the Sikh white yoga clothes. I next went to the dean of faculty and announced my rebellion.
I told Dean Meyers that I had filtered every sentence I had said in class: was it law abiding? Was it in keeping with the state constitution? I was telling him, I said, that from then on I would speak the truth as I best knew it. Civil but curt, he thanked me, and three days later I was removed from classes. I offered to resign rather than put the college through a trial-like hearing against me. Within three days I applied for a passport and bought an Air India ticket to Mumbai.
On November 8, 1977, the day before my brother James’s birthday, I stood in line for a welcome darshan outside Lao Tzu House. I passed the hair sniffing test but the scrutinizing Ma took my homemade mala. I had so wanted to share my handiwork with Osho. I imagined he would laugh with enjoyment. In The Open Secret, A Darshan Diary, Maneesha summarized my arrival darshan, p. 111. Osho laughed as I shared that I too had taught philosophy. He placed the beautiful rosewood mala over my head and told me “wu wei wu, it takes great effort to be effortless.” He suggested four groups: Centering, two others, and Encounter with Teertha.
Dynamic at 6:00 every morning. Kundalini at 5:00 every afternoon. Osho’s sweet and hammering discourse 8:00 to 9:30 every day. English or Hindi, it didn’t matter. His voice, his presence, his energy, his words – and those sweet birds delighting to sing and chirp in the vibrant foliage surrounding Buddha Hall. What balm, what encouragement to “make the great effort.” Centering group was marvellous. Part respectful confrontation, part Gurdjieff movements, and other parts too. A sweet opening of my person and my being. By December I was ready for the Encounter Group.
At lunch time on the first day as we adjourned and left our padded group room to go for lunch, Teertha had me carry a two-foot long sausage-shaped pillow and not put it down. “It is your mind,” he said. “Watch it.” Wilhelm Reich energy work was often used; one intense session was focused on bringing up our buried anger: The exercise was to sit as on a chair with one’s back against the wall. But there was no chair. The discomfort became extreme and it went on and on and was accompanied by our invoked rageful screams. Then came the instruction, “Go ahead. Throw your anger onto someone else.” I chose the biggest and most energetically armoured man in the group and punched him in the belly. His surprise returned to me with a fist into my nose. As I crumbled to the floor I had what I call a moment of satori. My body and mind was unconscious, but something was still aware, a wordless presence, watching.
On the group’s last day, Teertha related to each member his message or insight. To me he said, “Shantida, you will make it because you are sincere.” Words and encouragement I have never forgotten. After chai that afternoon he returned to our final session and showed us an exquisite wooden shakuhachi flute which he wanted but couldn’t afford. He said the price, $400 U.S. dollars, and left it at that. Four one-hundred U.S. dollar bills was all the money I had and it was in the satin M.G. Road coin purse I wore around my neck. I gave it all to Teertha and said to myself, “I throw myself on the lap of existence.”
I immediately asked Arup for ashram work and was sent to Deeksha in the kitchen. The workers’ chai and slice of homemade bread with a thick spread of peanut butter as well as generous handouts from various former group mates sustained me until I was given a food pass. After some weeks, the manager at the cafe on Bund Garden Road, where I slept on an iron cot in the walkway between the kitchen and serving area, finally believed me that although, in his perception, I was a rich American, I really was not going to have money to pay my rent. He told me I had to leave.
The next morning I did Dynamic, as had become my custom, on the street in front of the ashram. I didn’t have the rupee or two for admission. During the 4th phase, as I undertook to freeze my posture, my body slumped and I was lying on the edge of the pavement, which at 6:35 a.m. was still darkened. The sweet Ma, who led the Tantra Group and had co-led the Encounter Group, came upon me. “Shantida, what are you doing?” That very day I was given accommodation on the roof veranda of an abandoned hotel next door to the Blue Diamond Hotel.
Kitchen work was good. I didn’t succeed as chai wallah but then Deeksha sent me to wash aprons. This was done on the roof of Jesus House and was solitary work. I was very inward at this time and had been so since groups ended in December. So much energy and bliss too was moving through me. The energy on the roof of Jesus House was palpable, still, silent, and sacred. It was now April 1978, and becoming hotter every day. The kitchen aprons accumulated twice a day. They were scrubbed in a 4 foot by 4 foot floor sink with a 6 inch lip. I knelt there and used a sturdy hand brush on each apron. Rinsed and wrung, they were line hung there on the open roof. By the time the afternoon load was ready for hanging, the morning load was dry. I found this work to be exhausting, but the grace, the energy, the Buddhafield, more than compensated. My heart was continuously open. I spent most of my time alone and in a state of calm mind and near bliss.
In early May I contacted food-born hepatitis A and by June, Air India had reinstated my expired ticket and I returned to the States. In my farewell darshan Osho invited me to return when I could and told me that I would “have to go to the market again and again.”
Readjustment to the insane and unconscious ways in the States was not easy. There was no return to teaching for me; that pseudo-intellectuality was past. I settled in an Osho group house in Washington, D.C., called Devadeep, and found work as a kitchen helper at “The Old World Market.” The sweet irony of its name was not lost on me.
I managed to return to Rajneesh Ashram in Fall 1980 and stayed until it closed in 1981.
My partner of 7 years and I are students of Tara Brach (tarabrach.com), whose Buddhist teaching is as life-affirming and expansive as Osho’s. Nonetheless, Osho is always with me. And he always will be.