Teertha first saw Osho when he gave a discourse in Bombay, in 1967; after a meditation camp he takes sannyas and is confronted with his wife’s reluctance to accept his wearing orange.
The setting: Bombay, 1970-1974, People Gather and Turn Orange
Osho was expressing radical insights into formerly irreproachable icons such as Mahatma Gandhi, and had aroused outrage and hostility in certain sections of society. That, plus his state of health, which suffered from the constant traveling, prompted him to cut down his speaking commitments and reduce his lecture circuit. In 1970, he left Jabalpur and relocated to Bombay, where his idiosyncratic views would be more appreciated. He moved into a flat and employed a dynamic woman devotee, Ma Yoga Laxmi, as his secretary. She was to be the practical arm of his work for the next 12 years.
He now began initiating his people into what he called neo-sannyas, a spiritual alliance with him that involved wearing only orange clothing and a mala with his picture on it; taking on a new name; and committing to one hour of meditation a day. To those who complained about wearing nothing but orange, he was to say, “If you cannot change something as simple as your clothes, how will you ever change yourself?”
Several of his publications became available in English, and he was starting to attract the attention of people in the Bollywood movie industry as well as foreigners, mostly from England, Germany and the US.
It was during this period that his English-born companion and care-taker, Ma Yoga Vivek (later to be re-named Prem Nirvano) came to live with him. Thereafter, they were inseparable.
Teertha: The Power of Orange
I came across Osho for the first time in 1967. My brother had brought home a magazine where I read an article written by this Acharya Rajneesh, and what was written there filled me with awe: How can a man write like this?
I was deeply touched and badly wanted to know whether this man was still in his body… perhaps I could meet him?
Just a short while later, there was an ad in the paper saying Osho would be giving a talk in a conference hall in Bombay, and as I was working for the railways in Bombay itself, off I went to see him in person.
He was wearing a long white lungi tied at the waist, with a second white piece of cloth, a chadar, thrown around his shoulders, and he was sitting cross-legged on a cushion on a platform draped with bright fabric, which he had accessed by climbing up onto a chair.
The first thing that impressed me was how Osho had namasted his audience as he came onto the podium. This was a real breakthrough. Up till then all the religious teachers I had come across would extend a special blessing mudra with the right hand up, and I had always felt this gave the impression they considered themselves superior. A namaste, on the other hand, means I greet the god in you, which meant he recognized the divine in each of the people who had come to see him – and that really appealed to me. He then went on to call his audience “mere priye atman” – Sanskrit for my beloved ones, which was also surprising. This was the first time I had heard such an address.
But it was while listening to him speak that I fully recognized this man as an incarnation of god, a truly realized being. There was a beautiful simplicity about his speech – and I was struck in particular by one thing he said: that man is miserable because he is asleep.
Man is not miserable because of his bad karmas, or because of his evil thoughts; it is just because he is asleep. This was the first time I’d heard anyone suggest something so radical.
In 1969 I attended a three-day meditation camp in Gujarat, where Osho was giving a series of Hindi discourses called Main Mrityu Sikhata Hun (meaning: I teach you death)1. The whole set of lectures was about death and dying.
In the morning he would talk for one hour, then there would be a meditation on death. And in the afternoon there would be questions and answers. Then, on the third day, Osho asked us to sit in silence with him for one hour.
I was puzzled about this, not knowing what it was to sit in silence. I looked around to see what the others were doing – everyone was sitting still, with their eyes closed, their backs upright and legs crossed…so I followed suit and as I did so, I slowly started relaxing. First the body relaxed, then the mind relaxed…and soon it was very beautiful just to be sitting in some unfamiliar silent state, watching my breath slow down until there seemed to be nothing happening at all.
When I began to hear people leave the terrace where the meditation was taking place, I realized it was time to go. But my eyes would not open. Only when the carpet we had been sitting on was being cleared away, and it touched my knee as they rolled it up around me, was I forced to look at what was going on. An hour had passed since the other participants had left; I hadn’t noticed.
Before coming to Osho, I had been seeing a swami called Shivananda, of the Divine Light Society in Rishikesh, and Shivananda had given me a mantra, which I sat with in the mornings regularly. Now it occurred to me that, since it was so beautiful to sit silently, rather than reciting my mantra when at home, I would sit in silence instead.
But I soon found out that the depth of silence I had felt while sitting with Osho present did not occur when I was sitting in my room.
So I wrote him a letter.
I asked him: It was so beautiful being in meditation with you. How is it that at home the silence doesn’t come in the same way? Have I taken the wrong step?
In the beginning when you were speaking I was looking at your face without blinking, as in tratak2, and sometimes you would disappear. There were moments when I heard your words but couldn’t see your body.
Then I added a question: Could it be that my eyesight is bad?
Osho sent me the following handwritten reply in Hindi, translated here:
The experience will deepen.
So work hard.
With a longing,
With a resolve,
Even the wrong step taken towards the divine is not wasted!
Therefore, there is no question of the right step.
Keep on going, and watch.
Religion is an experiment,
Not mere faith.
Religion is an experience,
Not mere belief.
It was signed Rajneesh ke pranam, and over that he had inscribed his ornamental signature, which looks almost illegible compared to the one on the sannyas form3 that I received later on.
Shortly before I went to a meditation camp at Mount Abu, I realized that I felt ready to become Osho’s disciple. I had heard that to prepare for initiation into ‘neo-sannyas’, the movement of his devotees that Osho had just started, we had to wear only orange, so I went to have an orange robe made. But as soon as I had picked it up from the tailor I suddenly found myself crying. And I began crying so much that my wife Prasanta didn’t know what to do. She had never seen me cry before so she called all the neighbors in to help, but they didn’t know what to do either, and they all stood around looking at me like some kind of oddity. They had never seen a full-grown man sobbing.
When it came to taking sannyas, I felt a great deal of fear, and found myself unable to make the final step – literally, because there were stairs to Osho’s room at that Mount Abu camp, and I went up and down several times before finding the courage to open the door. To become a sannyasin felt to me like a kind of death and I didn’t know if I was ready to die yet.
But I did take the final step. And I came back from the camp dressed from head to toe in the color of sunrise and stood at the station, waiting for a train to Kalyan, the suburb where I lived, noticing how everybody was looking at me – the bright orange naturally attracted attention.
When everyone looks at you, where do you look? You look inside, at yourself. Suddenly I was alert to what was going on inside me. It was a beautiful ‘device’ that Osho gave us – to be in the crowd yet always aware of the watcher within.
From time to time the crying continued to come over me, and I didn’t try to stop it. These tears were about my own death… Not that I was afraid, but it was as if something greater than me was moving through me, and these tears were a kind of catharsis.
My wife, however, was so worried about my periodic outbursts that I had to write another letter to Osho. This time I wrote: Even though I am crying a lot I feel good to have taken sannyas. But my wife is so worried about my sannyas that now she is crying!
Osho sent his reply through another Bombay-based sannyasin with a verbal message: Come to see me next Sunday and bring your whole family. My “whole family” would have included our four children, and that was not possible. So when we went to Osho’s Bombay home, Woodland Apartments, the children stayed outside the room with my brother while I went in with just my wife. Only the nine-year-old slipped into the room at the last minute and sat down next to us.
With the three of us in front of him, Osho asked me, “So what is the problem?”
“I have no problem,” I said. “Prasanta has a problem.”
So he turned to her and she immediately responded, “He took sannyas without asking me!”
Osho smiled and sat back.
“Many husbands go gambling, drinking…they go to the movies. Do they ask permission from their wives? Even without your permission, he has not done anything wrong.”
“But I am worried about his health,” she said to him, ”because since taking sannyas he doesn’t show any interest in his food, or in the children. He stays all by himself.”
“That is normal in the beginning; it’s what happens. But by and by he will take an interest in food again – and in the children. Plus his health will be even better.”
Prasanta knew that at that time Osho allowed some of his people to choose between wearing either orange or white – although he’d specifically told me to change to orange – so she asked him: “Him being at home in orange clothes doesn’t look good” – she was referring to the Hindu custom where traditional sannyasins wear bright orange to show their renunciation of work and family – “why can’t he wear white, like your other sannyasins?”
“Don’t be worried,” Osho said. “You will be even better off than before. In orange clothes he won’t do anything bad – he won’t go to a movie, he won’t go to a pub, he won’t smoke… That’s why orange clothes are better than white!”
At that moment I understood again what a great multi-layered device these clothes were. Orange makes everyone look at you and that brings awareness to yourself in the crowd, you become an individual and therefore more responsible. Now he was giving another slant to it.
“But with these orange clothes,” Prasanta continued, “he may leave home like a traditional Hindu sannyasin!”
“No. For that, I take responsibility. As long as he is my sannyasin, he will not leave home.” And then he paused. “But cooperate with him.”
And then he went on to recount, “There is one sannyasin in Jabalpur whose wife would not cooperate with his sannyas, and so all that was left was for him to separate from her and the family. After that, the wife came to me crying and saying, ‘My husband is gone!’ But it was she who had been making it difficult for him…
“If you cooperate with your husband, if you let him meditate, I take responsibility for the outcome. My sannyas is about staying at home.
“Nobody has told him to take sannyas… He has taken it of his own accord because of his search from his past lives. If you had not allowed him to take sannyas with me, he would have gone to another master. And that master wouldn’t allow him to stay at home.”
Then Osho turned to me and said, with a chuckle, “Bring her along with you to the next meditation camp. She will go even deeper than you go!”
This was quite a seductive statement, and after meeting Osho all Prasanta’s doubts and concerns about me disappeared. But in spite of that invitation, she never did come to a meditation camp with me, nor did she ever feel inclined to take sannyas. It was I who kept going deeper and deeper.
My work was as chief ticket inspector for the central railway, and on one occasion, a few years after I had taken sannyas and had begun my meditation, while I was on duty on a long, overnight journey, breakfast was supposed to be delivered on board at a certain station, but for some reason it didn’t turn up, and all the people waiting to eat became very angry. They came after me, shouting, screaming and abusing me for failing to arrange for the breakfasts that they had ordered earlier.
In this normally stressful situation, I was surprised to find myself quite calm and quiet inside. Instead of reacting to their abuse, I was able to respond to them in a focused, grounded way, telling them that I had already sent a telex to the next stop and that breakfast would come on board there. Once they felt no reaction from my side, these people relaxed and dispersed. And by the time they got to eat their breakfast, they had forgotten all about the delay.
After that incident, one man who had witnessed it all called me over to him and asked, “Tell me, who is your guru?”
It was surprising. He recognized I must have a master by the way I had handled the abuse. It was as if a new centeredness had been born in me.
After 40 years of work with the railways, I retired in 1988, and went to live in Poona to contribute in Osho’s commune there – something I had always longed to do. And my wife chose not to come with me.
Exactly ten years later, I suddenly had a desire to go even more deeply into silence and I asked my new life companion, Suha, who was also working in the commune, to tell my coordinator that I wouldn’t be coming back: “I don’t need to go to school any more. Tell her I have graduated.”
Now, I just sit in silence at home. With your eyes shut, anywhere is beautiful – and it’s not so far to walk!
Swami Yoga Teertha (Shori Lal Bhanjana)
Born in Punjab, India, in 1930, left his body on 30th May 2012
All photos credit to Mukti (Elvira Ardenghi) except for Teertha in profile: Manish (Alessandro Bedetta)
e le altre a ELVIRA ARDENGHI MUKTI.
Excerpted from Encounters with an Inexplicable Man: Stories of Osho as Told by his People, by Savita Brandt, Dancing Buddhas Publishing
Page to LIKE: facebook.com/EncounterswithanInexplicableMan
1) Main Mrityu Sikhata Hun was published in English in two volumes, under the title And Now and Here.
2) Tratak is a meditation that involves staring at a single point without blinking – an object as a candle, or one’s own face in a mirror – a method that naturally stills the mind.
3) When someone became initiated into sannyas, Osho used to write out their new name on his letterhead, which he then signed and gave to them. This letter was sometimes known as the sannyas form.