Featured Profiles > People — 27 January 2015

Nigam’s path to sannyas and his life at present.

The first step

It was a summer day in Berlin in 1977. Standing at the window of his sixth floor office of the Technical University where he worked as a research assistant he was idly looking down to the prominent broad ‘17th June Street ‘ (the name is based on the East German Uprising of 1953). On the sidewalk directly under his window a new name had appeared: BHAGWAN. Such lettering at the front of the main building of the University at that time was not unusual and every day different names would appear, sometimes Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara or some other hero of the revolution.

He had heard the name before but decided to check it out and went to a small book flea market nearby, asked about Bhagwan and was given an address in Kreuzberg, one of Berlin’s districts. Spurred by curiosity he arrived at what looked like a disused factory that felt almost forbidding. Entering a dimly red-lit room he took in a blurry scene with sultry, red-clad cuddling couples.

“To my perception this obviously was a group that took ‘Make Love, not War’ literally, much like the countless other communities of that time attempting to free themselves from the bourgeois constraints and wanting to create a better, a more just and a more loving world.”

He attempted a fast retreat but was stopped by one of the sannyasins present who handed him a small paperback, a German translation of Hammer on the Rock.

“In that moment something happened that I remember to this day: outwardly our conversation was about the book, but inside something happened that I had previously never experienced and for which I could not find an association. I looked into his eyes and there flowed compassion, warmth, a direct trust and my usually watchful anxiety withdrew instantly like a calmed watchdog that retreats to his pillow and curls up comfortably.

“In those days my professional career meant everything to me, and sannyas would certainly have spoiled it. But this lively encounter, this look, this warmth, hit me on the spot and had me almost turn back. Today I say that I met Osho in this moment…”

At age 8 with his sister at their First Communion
At age 8 with his sister in the evening
With his girlfriend in Berlin 1976
During sannyas initiation in Pune 1990
Pune 1996 in front of Sunderban hotel
Nigam and his partner Prem Sonja in 2012
Nigam 2012 at age 62

The second step

Ten years later, Nigam had achieved everything he had dreamt of: he had become a professor in Munich, had married and lived a settled and organised life. But out of the blue, he began suffering more and more from vertigo, an affliction that almost became his constant companion. “Within a few months, my life had turned into a living hell.”

A psychiatrist gave Nigam the solid advice that only he had the power to get out of it. Turned on by the book Fate as an Opportunity by Thorwald Dethlefsen, he was drawn to the Reincarnation Therapy of this man. After a long wait, it began in 1989. “Here I was able to get to know myself in my deepest depths. I didn’t have to believe anything and was allowed and encouraged to find all the answers within myself. Within four weeks I went through a deep cleansing process and in the end I felt softened up like a newborn.”

The therapy opened up many new occasions in his life. In the summer of 1989 he also visited the Munich Tao Centre for the first time and booked sessions with Devapath (Osho Diamond Breath). “Of course I was quite curious and wanted to know how it is when you have a master. So I asked Devapath one day why he had become a sannyasin. He looked at me and said, ‘Come from the heart!’ I was completely baffled by his simple answer. From someone like him I had expected a wordy rational explanation, reasons that make a man embark on such an adventure. And then this simple, honest answer that touched me right in my own heart.”

He plunged into doing Dynamic Meditation regularly. By then the vertigo was only felt subtly. And his marriage dissolved on its own.

“At last I was freed from my prison that I had created myself and was now able to spend more time at the Tao Centre. I got a taste of Osho’s people, who were all different, but also had something in common: they all loved freedom, they were unconventional, sometimes even paradoxical. They lived their own unique lives and weren’t templates.

“I was constantly exposed to new kaleidoscopic impressions. The many beautiful women did not leave me unimpressed and my self-imposed solitude did not last too long. What I had failed to live during my youth, I was able to catch up with now. In retrospect, I can say it was a great time! Had I not had this experience, I would certainly regret it today. I would even say that it was during that time that I got reconciled with my manhood. When I was young I had often wished to be a girl. That desire was finally buried.”

In November 1989 the Berlin Wall fell.

“I remember that I attended a therapy group at Tao Centre the very next day and the falling of the wall and consequent liberation were mentioned during an exercise. I thought it quite strange to incorporate a political event in a therapy group. But for many years after that, it seemed to me as if I were internally connected with the fate of East Germany; that was a very strange synchronicity.

“Then came the Christmas holidays and I had already been thinking about making a trip to India. I finally wanted to see the source that inspired this colourful life at the Tao Centre. However, the holidays around Christmas time were too short, and so I had to postpone the trip to Poona until the next summer vacation.

“Then, on January 19, 1990 Osho left his body. Also on this day I was at the Tao Centre and I saw many crying. Although I had heard Osho say many times that death is the largest peak in life and that we should celebrate it, I felt just sad that day. Maybe I was also sad about my missed opportunity that I would never be able to see Osho.”

The third step

“On August 31, 1990, after an exactly eight hour’s flight from Brussels I landed in Bombay at 3 a.m. When I got on the shuttle bus that took us from the plane to the arrival hall, I saw a girl and knew immediately that she was travelling to Poona also. But I was too arrogant to speak to her, because I wanted to make sure I would find out the best way by myself. When she spoke to me in the arrival hall I met her joyfulness with coolness and embarrassment. Once outside the airport building all hell broke loose and I was secretly glad that we were two. Her name was Nirakar and her presence was very helpful.

“On the taxi ride to Dadar Station, I saw an endless presence of miserable huts standing among garbage. Despite it being the rainy season no green was to be seen, just dirt, mud and stench. Clusters of people were either sleeping in the dirt or crowded closely on a truck bed, the vehicle that ferried them to work. At the station we were constantly harassed by beggars; I could not look into their eyes out of sheer bad conscience. I do not know who had given me the foolhardy advice to acclimatise in Bombay for a few days before continuing to Poona. I just wanted to get out of this endless sea of poverty, filth, noise and stink.”

When Nigam and Nirakar finally arrived in Koregaon Park in the early afternoon, he felt relieved. However, their arrival didn’t work out the way he had imagined it. There was no map available of the area and no poster showing the main opening times for a first-time visitor. He was thirsty but there was no tea available, and he felt nothing at all about that special energy field which sannyasins always raved about. When he checked into a room at Hotel Sunderban he was shocked about the naked room that reminded him of a waiting room at a train station. There was no closet, only a few hooks were haphazardly fitted on the whitewashed walls and a double bed stood right in the middle of the room. The old dust allergy that he thought he had conquered a long time ago returned. He wondered if it was the bed smelling musty or the air in Poona or his aversion to the whole of India.

“After a few days I got more used to life in Poona. The allergy decreased but I was still nervous because I could not resume my usual activities. I felt completely useless, like waiting for Godot. I registered for voluntary work and started watering the plants around Buddha Hall. Slowly, I started to relax and recognised that I was only seeing the negative side of everything and couldn’t be happy. Even when I was actually enjoying myself I didn’t show it, but looked for a gripe and complained about it. Realising that and the insight that I am a German through and through with all the negative stereotypes hit me hard.

“In one discourse Osho told a joke about Jesus who could cure any disease. One day he met a man on the road who wept bitterly, although he looked quite healthy. Jesus asked him, ‘Why are you crying?’ ‘Oh Jesus!’ said the man, ‘I’m German!’ And Jesus sat down and wept too.

“I often laughed tears when Osho told jokes, even if I didn’t understand all of them. Sometimes I could laugh about myself and my stupidity. Were the sannyasins not seekers, just like me? In fact, I felt them to be like family. After three weeks I asked myself whether I wanted to be a sannyasin. Conscientiously I made a list and wrote down all the pros and cons. I worked for many days on that list, because I constantly found a new aspect. In the end I was not really convinced, but maybe Osho was right when he said that one should first take the jump and then look.

The fourth step

“On Sunday, September 23, 1990 I was initiated in the Sannyas Celebration in Buddha Hall. Before that I wondered how I would feel leaving the last safe anchor in my life and how I would get into the unknown, vast ocean ahead me. How would I feel the pain of the lost past and the joy of a newfound freedom? Secretly, I had even expected a miracle. Perhaps the sky would open above and Osho embrace me. But none of that happened. Before me sat stout Zareen and just said, ‘Are you really a professor? That’s quite incredible.’ And then she draped the mala around my neck and pressed a paper in my hands with my new name: Swami Dhyan Nigam.

“Everybody around raved about how beautiful the ceremony was and the group took me in the middle and gave me lots of cuddles. Nirakar was also there and gave me a picture of Osho. But I just could not take anything in, I felt sad and disappointed yet I wasn’t even able to cry.”

Nigam returned to Munich in October of that year.

“A totally different scene opened up, there was damp mist in the air, and accordingly, the light was dim. I went through the pedestrian area in the city’s centre and although there were countless people around me there was no noise, just the clatter of many shoes on the pavement. The scene was almost spooky and suddenly I saw people’s thoughts: Each of them had a curtain of thoughts hanging in front of their face and no one, absolutely no one saw me, because everybody was busy with their own thoughts. These were the undead, not living people. In a single moment all the misery and suffering of these people was revealed to me, which was much larger than all the sorrows I had seen in India. This perception lasted maybe a minute or two, but I have never forgotten about it.”

The present

“Today, more than 24 years later, my life has changed a lot. I gave up my career as a professor three years after returning from Poona and founded a software company, which I then sold again. I live in a small town near Munich. In the late afternoon, I usually find time for Kundalini Meditation. My life’s been pretty quiet. There is nothing to do and nothing more to achieve, yet I am involved with hospice work and arranging funeral celebrations.

“I like talking with the farmers on my hikes through nature. They have never been in Poona and yet they sometimes have a worldly wisdom that amazes me. Here in the countryside I see just how much happens all the time in nature and in life itself. Life has its own wisdom. Osho has given me everything I need to live and I’ve never desired another master. Maybe life itself is my master.

“Today I can see that I had completely childish expectations in Poona, and that the disappointment was a direct result of my unreal expectations during my inauguration. Why should I be special? If I am simply ordinary, I have the freedom to participate in the joy and rejoicing of existence.

“In the course of my sannyas life I understood Osho in different ways. For many years I felt like a child of Osho and now he has become something of an affirmative instance in the background, watching me and my movements. Growth happens by itself and Osho gives me gentle confirmations that all is well, just as it is.

“Life is a mystery. I am grateful that I met Osho and many of his sannyasins and got to experience also some of their joy. My inner self is already pure joy and I only need to accept it. Osho has shown me that it is possible to listen to my own inner voice and to follow it unconditionally, to simply trust life without any expectations.”

Nigam and Bhagawati