Satyananda and The Cosmic Madhouse

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Dhiren writes on the occasion of a meditation weekend, held in Stellshagen, Germany, in memory of Satyananda who would have been 90 years old on March 30, 2017. Dhiren also announces that his translation into English of Satyananda’s bestseller ‘Ganz entspannt im Hier und Jetzt’ will be published later this year.

The Cosmic Madhouse by Satyananda
The Cosmic Madhouse
(not final cover design)

Today would have been Satyananda’s 90th birthday. This article is my tribute to him and an update about the translation project which will finally allow non-German speaking friends and readers to enjoy his best-selling book, Ganz Entspannt im Hier und Jetzt, soon to be published as The Cosmic Madhouse. How the translation job fell all of a sudden into my lap at the end of last year is described below; I had planned, unrealistically as it turns out, to present him with a working draft by today, so I hope this will do for now as a posthumous birthday present!

But first, the book. It really is a fascinating story, and significantly impacted the zeitgeist of the seventies when it first came out, introducing generations of seekers to Osho. It is written in the form of a diary, an intimate and honest account of how the well-known German journalist, Jörg Andrees Elten, becomes a sannyasin. As the pages turn, we realise that the reporter is becoming the reported; the outsider becomes an insider, is invited to live inside the ashram, and roller-coasts through the vivid inner and outer landscapes of those days. The detail never gets lost, and the shimmering, volatile experience of working and living in the ashram close to Osho will be familiar to many, and an eye-opener to others. Sitting on the cold marble floor of Chuang Tzu auditorium listening to Osho, the early morning mists in tranquil Koregaon Park, the mango-pulps and chai by the roadside, the love affairs and the dramas, the joy of music groups and wild dance, the trips to Mulshi lake and the sights and smells of India, the turmoil of intense therapy groups, the ashram gossip, and the whole joyful abandon of the ‘cosmic madhouse’: all of it sparkles into life through the pages of this book.

I think it deserves a place amongst other great spiritual autobiographies; Irina Tweedie comes to mind with her own account in diary form of her life with a Sufi master, as do other books such as those by Gurdjieff disciples like Fritz Peters, J.G. Bennett and the de Hartmanns; Gaura Devi and her beautiful account of meeting Haidakhan Babaji; and the fascinating stories of disciples’ experiences in Ramana’s ashram. These writings show us that profound experiences as well as chaos, power-politics, and dismay are not exclusive to the story of Pune and Osho’s neo-sannyasins. They have in common an outer and an inner story-line, a treble and a bass motif in the musical score which unfolds in the background around a master.

Satyananda offers us an acerbic and unflinching look at what he mostly manages to take as ‘devices’: the meaningful absurdities of this ‘exoteric’ dimension. But it’s how he weaves his experiences of living and working in Osho’s Buddhafield into the account of his own personal transformation which makes the book such a remarkable, colourful tapestry. It’s this ‘esoteric’ dimension and the deeper inner rhythms of the music, that enthral you as a reader.

The book begins with a quick self-portrait, a retrospective view of an eventful career as an international correspondent who had interviewed world leaders and been on the front lines of several wars. The story-so-far of this prelude, allows us to see the despair of a successful man whose certainties have started to unravel in the face of the great existential questions. Hundreds of people, many much younger than he was, were ‘dropping out’ and hitting the road to India, many of them drawn to the gates of the Rajneesh ashram. Satyananda’s own ‘on the road again’, at fifty, was paid for by his employers at Stern magazine, one of the biggest weeklies in Germany. The main story was to be an interview with politicians such as Morarji Desai, but their star correspondent had other plans; he persuaded them to add on a trip to Pune so he could also write a story about the Rajneesh Ashram.

Day after day, he writes his notes and his impressions into a diary with the telegraphic fluidity of a great storyteller. He tells of how he is captivated, takes sannyas, lives a ‘honeymoon’ phase with the master, moves into the ashram and meets with Osho, goes through some intense therapy groups. Insights spice the entries in his diary, his pain is contained and yet almost tangible as it comes up in an encounter group, as he describes his own experiences of the brutality during the dying days of the Nazi regime. The first tastes of meditation begin, close friendships and hot dates become a backdrop to the depth of insight that starts to emerge.

He returns to Germany, dressed in orange and red, a ‘mala’ around his neck, resigns from his well-paid job and earns the incredulous disdain of former colleagues who assume he has gone mad, or worse. On his return to Pune, the drama continues; the heartbreak of separation from his girlfriend, the rapid changes in the ashram and in Osho’s work, the hilarious events around his own attempts to get his book written – a mission he had been given by Osho! The deepening of his clarity that he is in the right place at the right time, with a master he had so unexpectedly fallen in love with.

I’d been his neighbour already a couple of times; we crossed paths often at number 35 (an ashram property not far from the back gate of the ashram), where I was a gardener. I used to hear him typing away on the porch of his room as I turned the compost piles. Later, we both lived in Saswad, the remote fort outside Pune where a few hundred sannyasins went to live. He and I were among a handful of others living even more remotely, out at the community ‘farm’ in the middle of the dusty Maharashtrian hills, where he was writing and I was supposed to be building a hydroponic vegetable-growing installation. He lived, as I remember, next to Chaitanya Hari – one night they came back from the Saswad fort on a rickety moped, high and a little thrilled that they had been accompanied most of the way by an equally fast, huge cobra which had kept pace with them along the bumpy track. Later on at Rajneeshpuram, I used to go for tea and raisin-toast with him in his exiled domain at the recycling yard – I drove the big trash truck out there on any old pretext.

But it’s over the last 16 years, here in the quiet wide-open northern landscape of Mecklenburg, that I really spent most time with him. He loved it here – the room where he wrote and actually where he died, looked out over rolling fields, coppiced with little woods. In spring, they shine green-gold, yellow meadows of rape-seed and rye to the horizon. Buzzards and falcons strafe the rolling fields and deer and wild boar try to forage in the gardens. Cranes perch out in the furrows after the harvest – sometimes you see them in their strange mating dance – and in autumn, huge flocks of migrating geese fill the skies with their urgent hurry. He felt at home here – until recently, he would drive to one of the nearby wild beaches of the Baltic coast and just walk.

When Nritya and I decided to be based here 16 years ago it was a plus to find out that he was again a neighbour. He would show up at every party (there are about 20 sannyasins in the area). He was leading meditation and writing workshops with his partner Gitama in the Institute they set up, contributed often to the Osho Times. He wrote about the house-warming party we had after converting a ruined old farmhouse nearby, and put the story at the end of his collection of essays, ‘Sprung in die Freiheit’ (‘Jump into Freedom’). Last year I collaborated with him on his last CD – a guided meditation journey on trust (‘Vertrauen’), for which I played keyboards.

And then, all of a sudden, I was supposed to translate his book.

He and I had talked about how good it would be to have the book translated into English, but we were both busy and I would anyway never have volunteered myself.

Dhiren, Pankaja and Satyananda
Dhiren, Pankaja, Satyananda

What happened was that Pankaja was passing through the area in October last year and we invited her to our place for masala dosas, along with Satyananda and Gitama. He arrived first and we were just chatting about the book and how to translate it into English, while I was adding some last touches to the potato masala (not too spicy as he was finding it hard to swallow by then). Pankaja arrived, happy to see him after so many years, gave him a big hug and said straight out of the blue: “Satyananda – I always wanted to read your book! You have to get it translated soon, please! Dhiren can do it!” He and I just looked at each other and smiled… and I think I started on the introduction that night. Later, Gitama told us that in the car on the short trip to our house, he had said that he was going to ask Pankaja’s opinion who she thought should be translating Ganz Entspannt im Hier und Jetzt.

Fortuitous synchronicity staring one in the face! As we discussed it that evening, the title of the translation became clear (a direct translation sounds clumsy in English). Satyananda told us that at the end of Pune1, a sannyasin had offered to translate it, and so he asked Osho, suggesting the title, The Cosmic Madhouse. (It is a phrase that appears a few times in his diary – a joke that has a double meaning as it refers not just to the divine madness of the ashram but also to the insanity of the outside world.) Satyananda got the answer a few days later: “Now is not the time.”

Over the next few months we had meetings and phone calls, and he answered my questions as they came up about the text, before the cold of the winter started weakening him. I would pass by his house, sit with him in his room where he was working for a few hours each day on his memoirs. I sent him sections of the work as it became ready; somehow it all just seemed to flow and we got a good way through it before the lung infection took him into hospital. Not long before that, a proud moment for me; he called me up and said that he had just been reading over a particular section of the translated text:

“…and you know, I think at times it reads better than the original German! Keep going just like that!”

I laughed it off, but I was touched that he made the effort to say that to me, and I became even more determined to do it justice.

Satyananda would have been 90 on March 30th. He inscribed my copy of the original book with typical wry humour, knowing better than me what I was getting myself into: “For Dhiren, good luck my friend!”

Article by Dhiren

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