An interview with Sam (aka Samvado), a sannyasin in his eighties, with a very special life story.
Sam, when you came to Osho here in Pune you were no longer a youngster, yet the image everybody has of you is that of an eternal child; sports, poker, chasing girls… Can you tell us your story or reveal your secret?
When I arrived, I was more dead than alive. I had already had three heart attacks and my doctors, on discharging me from the hospital after four months, had said to me, “You may go home, because there’s nothing else we can do for you now. You can count yourself lucky if you live three more months.”
It was 1978. I was living on my own in a large house in San Francisco, and I said to myself, “I don’t want to die here alone. I’ll go to Hawaii, and maybe I’ll leave my body walking on the beach.” I closed up my house and left. When I was there I still had agonising pains in my chest and couldn’t breathe, so I went out for half an hour in the morning, came back home, stayed in bed all day, and went out for another half hour at sunset.
During one of my morning walks I met a 92-year-old man who was teaching a group of people how to lead a happy, healthy life. His name was Paul Bragg. When I came closer, they invited me to join them.
I began to go to those meetings, and saw this 92-year-old holding talks, dancing, slapping the girls’ bottoms, then plunging into the ocean… And I, who was only 50, was barely able to walk and breathe!
I stayed on with him; he taught me to eat healthy food, breathe better, and stop smoking and drinking. After three months I was still alive, so I stayed on three months more. Then another three. One of the things I learnt from him was to sing a song every morning. I still sing that song. It goes, “Oh, what a beautiful morning! Oh, what a beautiful day! I’ve got a wonderful feeling, everything’s going my way.”
I still sing it every day, sometimes two or three times, if I remember. Somehow it gives me a certain positive energy that helps me feel I’m not old or about to die. It gives me energy to see things in a positive way.
And since those heart attacks, almost 40 years have gone by… But how did you get to Osho?
After the time I spent with Paul Bragg, someone told me about meditation and took me to a Zen monastery. I visited three different monasteries, staying about two months in each: one in Hawaii, one in San Francisco, and one in Japan. I meditated in silence, staring at a point in the wall. After six months, I decided that it was too boring for me. I didn’t want to go on meditating: I wasn’t ready yet.
Then someone told me about Osho and invited me to watch a video of his at a book fair in San Francisco. I decided to go, bought two books at random, and then it was time to watch Osho’s video…
When Osho began to talk, I felt he was so slow… Between one word and the next there was always an interval of a few instants… I thought, “This man is so tedious I’ll never go meet him!” Then I went back home and read his books… Oh my God, there was such an explosion in my whole being! Because what he was saying in those two books… I knew basically that it was a part of me, but I had never been able to express it, and had never heard anybody express it like him!
The two books were My Way, the Way of the White Clouds and Tantra: the Supreme Understanding. On reading them I was very deeply moved… In that moment I was faced with something new, something really stirring! So I said to myself, “I must meet this man.”
I began to visit the San Francisco centre together with the people of the book fair, and took part in some two- or three-day events with them. We did Dynamic Meditation and other things of that kind, and I thought, “These people are crazy!”
But I kept doing Dynamic with them too. By then, a year had gone by since my heart problems, and, thanks to the time spent with Paul Bragg, and to my change of diet and lifestyle, my heart was much better.
Eventually I bought my ticket to Pune.
In the meantime someone told me about another guru, somewhere in the Himalayas, who was worth meeting. So I arranged with some people to travel to his village, but during the journey I asked them to stop for three days so I could go and see Osho.
Those three days in the ashram were so pleasant – people dancing, singing, celebrating – that I stayed on for three more weeks. Then I saw there were all those scheduled groups and joined one, then another, then a third one… I did three months of groups without a single day’s pause between one and the other. And after three months of groups I felt enlightened! I understood that I had been self-destructive in many areas of my life: it was really time I changed, so I decided to stay. Three months became three years, three years became thirty! I have been here, to be precise, thirty-eight years.
How was your life before your heart attacks?
I was a soldier: I have been twenty-one years in the army. I joined shortly after the Second World War, and fought in the Korean war and then in Vietnam… I served in two well-known organisations; first the CIA, then the NSA (National Security Agency), which was super-secret, even more secret than the CIA, so I became a ‘super-spy’!
After I left the army I entered the world of business and found a job in a big company in San Francisco. I specialised in information technology – a knowledge I had acquired in the army – and rose to managerial roles. It was precisely during that period that I had three heart attacks in four months, in close sequence, and that was when I was told that I could consider myself lucky if I survived the next three months.
On the contrary, a new life began for me. I believe that the secret of it all lies in the fact that when I was in the army, then in the world of business, I was a very serious person. Because you have to be that way in that sort of milieu. But then, once I got in touch with Osho’s people – I found all those young people dancing and celebrating – I sort of loosened up and let myself go.
At the beginning I was shocked because I couldn’t believe someone could be so happy doing nothing else but dance. Then my personality went through a sort of change, particularly after the Encounter groups. I took part in one led by Teertha in which they tore me to pieces, because I thought I was smart, I believed I knew everything, all the others were idiots, and that I was the only one who had brains… The group helped me become aware of some things that were not good for my being.
In particular, one day after the Who is In? group, while walking home something suddenly clicked inside me. I saw that the only important thing was to be in the present moment, nothing else. Each step was ‘the present moment’, and it was like an explosion for me. This happened precisely as I was walking down North Main Road, as it was in the old days. After that revelation I fell into a sort of trance that went on for two weeks, during which I felt as if I were floating.
When I came out of that state, my personality had changed; I stopped being the serious person I used to be and became more playful. At a certain point I even overdid it! I started doing crazy things; I chased after people, played pranks and often got myself into big trouble!
Now, after thirty years, I am much quieter; I behave rather more like an ‘adult’, so to speak. But I feel fulfilled and satisfied.
A couple of years ago I decided to look for a place where I could live six months a year, alternating with the Osho Meditation Resort in Pune. So I travelled a lot: Bali, California, Florida, Europe, Thailand… I found some very lovely places, but then, on returning to Pune, I felt that the energy wave here is so dynamic, so special, so unique of its kind… It is Osho’s energy! And the people who come here are all going in the same direction, all are in search of an inward path, all want to find out who they really are. Here we are all in a quest of our inward peace and growth.
So when I came back, after a year and a half, I decided I would remain and never go away. I believe I will probably stay here until I leave my body, whenever that will happen! Somewhere in my mind I have a feeling that I may reach the age of 110, or even 120! Now I’m 87 and, after all, not so far from 100… But my body, just now, is creating a lot of problems; I have trouble breathing, and one of my calves aches, making it difficult to walk. I recently had what is called a “mini heart attack”, which looks like a real heart attack but is actually harmless for the heart. And, had another couple of dangerous health problems for different causes.
Now I check my blood pressure and do all my tests; and my heart is in good shape, like that of a boy! It’s the rest of my body that isn’t working so well… I’m going through a period of physical weakness, and I believe this is connected to my travels in search of a place to live. Since I have been here in Pune, however, I’m on the mend, and am recovering strength and health.
You said earlier that Zen meditation is rather boring, so you must have found a different approach…
Zen meditation, zazen, consists in sitting in front of a wall and focusing one’s gaze on a point. Osho teaches us that meditation is more than that. It doesn’t mean sitting in order to observe a point; it means observing ourselves, regardless of what we are doing. In addition, many of his meditations are carried out while moving, singing or dancing; this allows us to observe ourselves during everyday activities and to be in a state of meditation at the same time. If we apply this and become aware, whatever we do can become meditation.
I remember Osho used to say that even smoking a cigarette can become a meditation in which one watches the smoke go in, go out, go in, go out… Even plain walking can be meditation if it brings us into the present moment.
During most of our lives we are immersed in thoughts relative to what has happened in the past or will happen in the future, without touching on the present moment; yet it is only in the here and now that it is possible to meditate.
In his talks, Osho constantly urges us to be the witness; we can become that only if we are in the here and now, not in what occurred yesterday or in what will occur tomorrow.
So all these things become part of a meditative life. Meditation is not about sitting still for an hour, then standing up, forgetting everything and saying, “That’s done now, let’s move on and do something else.” Meditation is about bringing into one’s life, and into one’s being, a fragrance that lasts the whole day. Meditation is dancing, shouting, jumping! Meditation is more than what is expressed by the word itself, it’s a lifestyle, so to speak. This too is a part of the meditative process, and this is why Osho’s meditations are much more accessible and attractive to young people, in comparison with the concept of meditation in which you sit still and stare at a wall.
As for me, I find it a rather demanding process; I’ve been here thirty-eight years, and I’m still learning. There is no end to this process, and the more I listen to Osho the more I discover that, although I have read his words or listened to them hundreds of times, I always find something new that I hadn’t caught before and that I notice only now.
Wow! How persevering you are, Sam. You may end up becoming enlightened!
Well, it would be about time, wouldn’t it?
Interview first published in the Italian Osho Times, translation by Marta Innocenti
Note: Sam left his body on 29th April 2018 – see his tribute page
Meeting Sam – Terry Hodgkinson experiments with whirling at the Osho Meditation Resort and meets Samvado, Sufi Sam as he calls himself