Witnessing is the key

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Ojas wrote about his life-changing experiences, from his first Dynamic Meditation, living in the ashram in Pune and commune in Rajneeshpuram, to the recent interviews he gave after the Wild Wild Country craze unfolded in the Netherlands.

Ojas in Rajneeshpuram, 1984

Jump into the abyss

Starting in 1955, I lived for twenty years as an ascetic Franciscan monk (the strict ascetic branch of the Capuchins), but I was too rebellious. In 1973 I was kicked out – because I preferred Vipassana meditation to prayer. Four years later Osho gave me an unexpected spiritual impulse.

It happened not because of his books, or the stories I had heard about him, but because of the shock my first ‘active meditation’ had given to my whole system. In those days I was happily living with an American girlfriend in Amsterdam, enjoying an interesting job working as the Secretary of the National Council for Socio-cultural Training. Although it looked as if I had reached a peak in my life, it didn’t satisfy me at all. Inside there was a deep longing for truth, unconditional love, the real meaning of life, and neither spiritual teachers nor books had given me any answers.

A friend told me about ‘active meditations’ which were held at Kosmos, a famous New Age centre in Amsterdam. I decided to go, dressed in my neat blue jacket and tie. I was welcomed by people dressed in orange to what they called ‘the jump into the abyss’. I wondered what they meant. I climbed down a staircase and was directed to a room which was definitely too small for the 30-40 people who had already gathered there. But before I could think, the doors closed and I was plunged into darkness and deafened by the loud noise of drumming.

The meditation shook me on all levels. Like a lightning bolt it became clear to me that up to then I had lived totally in my head, which was fine for a job as a successful civil servant, but not okay for my body and soul. Stress and bad habits emerged during the first stages of the meditation. And I roared like a lion. In the fourth stage the silence was immense; I had a deep experience of the energy field inside and around me. And then dancing in the last stage in my blue jacket and tie? No problem. Something that I couldn’t understand had happened to me and there was a deep feeling of connectedness, joy and ecstasy which stayed with me for days.

Active meditations

In the days that followed I could hardly work. I bought a tape of the meditation and, together with my girlfriend, we started every morning with drums, jumping and silent dancing. On one of those mornings I had a vision of Osho and it became clear to me that I had to meet this man. Like a homing pigeon I flew to Pune where I met Osho. He gave me sannyas and sent me back home to my job, this time in orange clothes. Of course, my colleagues were amazed and bewildered, but I didn’t care. I continued to do my work successfully and, in the meantime, took time to integrate what I had discovered.

In those days I wrote: “In my ascetic tradition it was said that by repressing the body, the senses, instincts and emotions it was easier to reach God. For Osho this is a sick joke and I discovered he is right. His meditations gave me a new perspective and I pursued this with much diligence.” Still now I enjoy listening to the wisdom of my body, see how my senses open up when I am with my partner or in nature, and how this always brings me to the ‘alive and kicking here and now’, the only place where life exists. All the rest is mind stuff, even the dominant virtual world of the Internet of Things.

Are emotions dangerous on the spiritual path, as I was told? I discovered that they are a sign of vitality and – by witnessing them – can be transformed into endurance, empathy and tolerance and become the foundations of peaceful and vital living together with family, neighbours and friends all over the planet. Witnessing is the key in this game. When asked by a journalist, a few years ago, I explained the power and importance of Dynamic Meditation, for us all and specially for people like me ‘who live in the head’. These are the people – and there are many of them who live in a ‘virtual’ world – who need to be grounded again in their ‘body’ and in the ‘here and now’.

I compare our present time with the Axial Age, the Achsenzeit as coined by the German philosopher Karl Jaspers; about 2500 years ago there was a transition time like ours in which new ways of living had to be discovered and a few wise men such as Lao Tzu, Confucius, Buddha, and others, broke with the traditional ways of living and brought new spiritual perspectives to the world.

Play with your thoughts

Of course, to integrate all this, I had to live for a ‘longer period’ with the Master. I dropped my job in autumn 1977 and, to be with Osho, moved to Pune and remained there until 1981, and later visited Rajneeshpuram.

Although in those days the ashram in Pune was the Mecca of the Human Potential Movement, Osho didn’t give me any therapy groups to participate in but instead suggested I work in the kitchen. During a short dialogue in darshan, when Osho asked me a few questions, every time my reply started with “I think…” He suddenly interrupted and said, “Stop thinking!”, and added, “Go, and help my people in the kitchen.”

In Vrindavan kitchen, in those days ruled by the notorious Deeksha, I washed cups for two years, trying to ‘stop thinking’. Looking back I have to say: it was hell and heaven. But in the turmoil I learned immense lessons which have stayed with me for the rest of my life.

That’s why a few weeks ago, when Deeksha apologized on Facebook for her way of dealing with us I could write in response: “Dear Deeksha, for me Vrindavan was in fact a blessing in disguise and I use this opportunity to thank you for the role you played. ‘Witnessing is the key’, these words by Osho were for me a must to survive in Vrindavan. And you helped me by pushing and pulling to make these words an unforgettable, vital source in my life, up to this moment.”

The reason I can write this is because something unique happened in Vrindavan. Deeksha had arranged for my birthday, on 6th April 1978, a darshan with Osho where I could ask him questions. And I had a big question! In those days I was desperate because for six months I had been trying to ‘stop thinking’ as Osho had asked me. And no result at all! Whatever I did and tried, my thoughts were always there. My mind was going on and on like crazy. So, this was my question when I knelt in front of Osho.

Osho looked at me with great compassion and uttered these words that I will never forget, “If you can’t stop thinking, play with your thoughts.” That very moment it happened; I could see my thoughts, my frustrations, my suffering. There was a watcher. I was witnessing them… Still, when I think of this moment, I feel immense gratitude – Osho gave me the key.

The New Man

Unexpectedly, in January 1981, I was called to return to the Netherlands. The reason was that I had been asked to talk on national TV at a symposium organised by Christian churches. The topic was ‘Churches and New Religious Movements’. Because in the past I had been a well-known rebel in the church and was now part of a new religious movement, I was chosen to come and talk.

In a half-hour dialogue with a Christian monk I spoke about my experiences at Osho’s ashram. At the end he asked a strange question: ‘Are you enlightened now?’ I explained to him that for me ‘enlightenment’ is a Hindu concept that we in the West can hardly understand, but that ‘witnessing’ was the key and that people who are able to use this key can be called The New Man. In the wake of this statement a lot of mainly positive responses came.

One of them was, a few years later, when a Dutch TV station started shooting a film about the life of sannyasins in the Netherlands and Rajneeshpuram. Together with three other sannyasins I was asked to play a leading part in it. In this film the focus was the impact of meditation on our daily lives back home and on ‘worship’, as we called our work in Rajneeshpuram. Of course, ‘witnessing’ was a hot topic in the film and as title they chose ‘The New Man’. The documentary was made in 1984, which was the high peak of the sannyas movement worldwide.

Our utopian Rajneeshpuram came under the spotlight and the Dutch were astonished to hear about the 126 square miles of undeveloped land in the outback of Oregon where a few thousand well-educated and skilled residents worked seven days a week to create a new environment for a sustainable, cooperative and harmonious living. The birthplace of The New Man? A year later, in 1985, this utopian city collapsed under the pressure of the outside world and internal conflicts.

In another documentary made in the Netherlands in 2004, people who played a leading role in 1984 were interviewed about their lives after the destruction of Rajneeshpuram. Also in this documentary we hear Osho speak and see how his words and his meditations were still inspiring people all over the planet. This documentary deserves the name it was given: ‘The New Man II’.

Ojas today

Talking with trees

In the ‘90’s, once more Dutch TV became interested in the life of sannyasins. In those days I had started, together with my wife, the Green Party in the south of Amsterdam. After a while I became an Alderman and, because of the success of the party, a journalist asked me about my secret.

Because the job was hellish and so stressful, every morning I went to meditate under a tree in our nearby park. Could I tell him that? I had learned from Osho how to deal with the media and because I knew that ‘meditation’ was not – yet – an exciting word, I told the journalist that every morning, before starting work, ‘I am talking to a tree’.

This statement created great hype in the media: “An Alderman is talking with trees!” The media asked me questions and a professor at an Agricultural University even started to defend me (trees have senses and you can really communicate with them). So, I was asked to talk about that topic on ‘Kopspijkers’, a national satirical programme about ‘what is happening now’ followed by ‘ten serious minutes’. I was interviewed for these ‘ten serious minutes’. During that time I could talk about meditation, how for me witnessing was the key and how people who meditate are the new generation; they can live in the moment, in a relaxed and engaged way in the chaos of our times.

Sometimes it still surprises me how it works. Lately I was called to talk at the ‘Show News’, a national Dutch entertainment programme on lifestyle, film &TV, celebrities, royalties, gossip, etc. The presenters asked me to comment on a statement by Lady Gaga, the famous American songwriter and actress, who had said in an interview: “I love Osho, especially because of his book Rebellion.”

“What is your comment? How can a materialistic lady be spiritual?” I explained how Osho’s spiritual message is totally rooted in the material world. The New Man has roots and wings, he is Zorba and Buddha at the same time. When I mentioned that, the presenters started laughing and said, “Yes, we remember. When we were young, every Saturday we went to the disco Zorba the Buddha. It was great fun!”

Wild Wild Country

Two months after its launch on 16th March, the documentary ‘Wild Wild Country’ is still being discussed and we feel the reverberation of the worldwide attention it had during this time. And – does it always have to be good news? No, not at all. Good news, bad news, every publication is okay. Osho understood this golden rule of ‘getting known and then give the message’ very well. We experienced this with the Netflix documentary. Not at all only good news. But the effect was amazing.

In the Netherlands, every nation-wide newspaper published articles about it. Lots of interviews followed. Even De Volkskrant, a Roman Catholic left-wing newspaper, published a front-page splash with a photograph of my mala with Osho’s picture in the locket, placed on a maroon background. A few times sannyasins were interviewed on national TV and twice on prime time. Always with pictures of Osho, of Pune and Rajneeshpuram being shown. I remember Osho once saying, “Holland is my country.” * For a moment it looked as if it were true again.

And there was more. Suddenly people, especially young men and women, became interested in Dynamic Meditation. No wonder as they live more and more in a virtual world. It is quite an experience for them to feel their bodies again, to scream and yell before falling into deep silence and find themselves. The meditation gives an anchor in the ‘here and now’ and they feel more grounded and free in a high-tech world.

After watching the documentary, the question came up in me: Was the collapse of Rajneeshpuram at the same time also the destruction of The New Man? According to me: No, not at all. Because what happened inside each individual sannyasin, the lessons we learned were not part of the film.

A final effect of this hype was a sudden deep cohesion amongst sannyasins. In the middle of this tsunami of articles and interviews I told a few sannyasins that I would like to come together for ‘sharing and meditation’. Within a few days we organised a nation-wide meeting of sannyasins and friends of Osho in the Meditation Centre Wajid (The Hague).

Enjoying here and now

Now, aged 80 plus, I look back at the hills and valleys of my journey with Osho. I don’t practice active meditations daily any more – I leave that to the young people – but the effects of Dynamic Meditation are deeply rooted in my body and heart. I still enjoy teaching therapy and meditation at the Osho Humaniversity and feel inspired by the creative ways with which sannyasins write in Osho News. Once a month sannyasins come together at the Mevlana Commune in Amsterdam, where we meditate, watch a video of Osho and sing the old Pune songs.

The core message of Osho, ‘witnessing is the key of my sannyas, the master key’, keeps me alive and kicking in the here and now, connected with friends all over the world.

Ojas de Ronde

* Quoted from Socrates Poisoned Again After 25 Centuries, Ch 18, Q 2

www.denieuwemens.eu (in Dutch)
www.vgamsterdam.nl/blog (in Dutch
De Nieuwe mens I: 1984 (content: Amsterdam, Zorba de Buddha, Rajneeshpuram)
De Nieuwe mens deel 2: 2014 (content: what happened with the leading persons of De Nieuwe Mens 1 after Rajneehspuram)

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Wild Wild Holland
“Stop!” – and then a huge silence… – Ojas is interviewed on video (in English)

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