On a mild autumn’s afternoon, in Corfu, Shivananda tells Punya how he came to Osho.
The Magic Bus – and the name Shivananda
The first time I came across Osho was in 1973. I was in Berne – I had taken a ride into the city on my little scooter – and there I saw an orange bus, in front of the House of Parliament. I was so fascinated; it looked so outlandish in Switzerland. Out of the bus stepped long-haired women and men in orange robes. I went up close and thought, “My God, who are these people?” I was so fascinated by their appearance. I came even closer and saw that they were wearing malas with an oval picture of Osho and heard that they were speaking English. Obviously, they were just driving through, maybe coming from India and heading to England. I wanted to talk to them but, although I already spoke some English, I was too shy to go up to them. Also, I did not know what I should say to them and so drove off. That was the first time I met sannyasins.
And the first time I came across the name Shivananda was even earlier. In 1970 I went to work in South Africa as a film stripper at a weekly magazine in Johannesburg. After 1 1/2 years I travelled back to Europe overland, mostly hitchhiking, with an American friend, Kevin (see This is my Kevin!). On this trip I met a Swiss man who gave me a piece of paper with an address on it. He told me I should go and visit that place. It read: Shivananda Ashram – with an address in Basel. I thought “Wow!” but just said, “Thank you” and kept the address safely in my pocket. As soon as I was back home in Switzerland I took the train to Basel. When I arrived at the address I stood in front of a villa with a brass plate saying ‘Shivananda Ashram’. It was in the morning around 11am; I rang the bell but nobody opened. I kept going back there the whole day, always ringing the bell and nobody opening the door. In the evening I thought that I had done my thing, took the train back home and threw the piece of paper away. That’s the ‘Shivananda’ story.
Africa with Kevin and Anne
In 1974 I went back to Africa, again with Kevin but this time also with my Swiss girlfriend Anne. The plan was to walk from Cape Town (South Africa) to Tangiers (Morocco) – this would have taken three to five years. We did walk 2700 km, though, and got a lot of press in South Africa. It was pure adventure – never knowing what was coming next or where we would sleep that night, but after six months we split up.
We were prepared for many things (Anne even had her appendix removed before the trip), but we hadn’t taken into account the psychological stress of three people living together for 24 hours a day. Even though we sometimes took a few days break from each other the tension between us kept growing, especially between Kevin and Anne. We got as far as the border town Beitbridge (aka Mzingwane) between South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
Kevin moved on alone and Anne and I decided to continue travelling together. Instead of walking and pushing our baby prams with our belongings, as we did before, we decided to hitch-hike. The first ride we got was with a Rhodesian tobacco farmer. He liked us and invited us to his farm. There he proposed us to run his farm so that he could join the army for 6 weeks (only a white person could replace him). For us it was one more adventure and we happily accepted the deal; a few days later we were running this big tobacco farm, where our closest neighbour was more than 10 km away. After we left the farm, Anne and I travelled east through Botswana to Namibia, then back south to Cape Town and from there we hitch-hiked on the 1720-km-long Garden Route to Durban.
On the Karanja
When Anne found out that she had landed a job at the Victoria Falls in Rhodesia we split up, to my great disappointment. I was heartbroken. I walked around Durban aimlessly, not knowing what to do. One day I went to the harbour and saw this huge ship called Karanja. I immediately fell in love with it. I found out that it was sailing to Kenya and India. Since I had been to Kenya before and liked the country I decided to book until Mombasa.
The ship had three classes and all the hippies, including me, travelled third class. We all got diarrhoea eating the third-class Indian food, so we were allowed to upgrade our food to first class. Can you imagine an interior of a Titanic dining hall with the many waiters and then on one side a long table with scruffy hippies? What a scene!
The sailing from Durban to Mombasa took two weeks, because the vessel partly served as a cargo ship; it stopped at Beira (Mozambique) and Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania). In all these ports we were not allowed to leave the ship, and the reason they gave us was: “Hippies are not permitted in these countries.”
After I got off in Mombasa I strolled around this colourful city for a couple of days until I accidentally met my hippie friends from the ship. I found out that it had an engine problem and would remain in the harbour for another few days. They urged me to come back onto the ship and, since I had such a great time on it, I got a visa at the Indian Embassy and boarded again.
The Karanja sailed for another two weeks, stopping in Karachi (Pakistan) and finally reaching Bombay. When we arrived at our destination, we moved into the Carlton Hotel, a cheap hostel behind the Taj Mahal. The rats I saw in that hotel were the largest I had ever seen; but still, we loved the place. I shared a room with Bruce and a girl. She told me that she had two names. When I asked her from where she got the second name, she said, “From a guru, his name is Rajneesh. He is leading Dynamic on the beach.”
“Tell me about this Dynamic,” I asked. She then talked about jumping and screaming and that some people threw off their clothes. I thought to myself: “This is exactly the kind of guy people had warned me about.” It’s weird, on the ship from Kenya people had warned me about these people – and I for sure would never go and see such a guru!
Off to Goa
Everybody in the Carlton Hotel seemed to have only the next destination in mind: Goa. I also boarded the boat to Goa and there, for the first time in my life, I experimented with drugs. I was lucky to have the opportunity to experiment and see, in such a confined space, the effect of the various drugs. I checked out the people who took cocaine; I felt their vibes and knew this was not for me. I met people who took opium and knew, “No, I would not want to go down that road.” I saw the people who took morphine and knew that I would never ever touch that stuff. “I don’t want to become like these guys!” And then I met people who took LSD and I felt that they had my vibe. And the people who smoked marijuana and played music were the right people. My family.
I had stayed in contact with Kevin. In our letters which we sent to various Poste Restante destinations we would roughly outline our journeys. In Goa I would take the bus to Mapusa, a small town near the beach that had a Post Office, to check my mail. There was usually a separate Poste Restante counter where I had to look through hundreds of letters, trying to find my name. Kevin wrote that he had also taken the Karanja and so I went to Bombay to meet him.
Together we checked out the Satya Say Baba Ashram in Bangalore, then Pondicherry and Auroville. We wanted to stay at the Aurobindo Ashram. When we arrived, we saw at the welcome centre a sign that said, “Hippies are not welcome” so when they asked us, “Are you Hippies?” of course we both denied it. There were many things I liked there, but still the place was not resonating enough for me to stay longer. Because Kevin had hurt his back while helping fight a fire in Africa he was unable to travel further and flew back to America.
I kept on travelling in India, alone. The places I found fascinating were the Theosophical Society in Madras where Krishnamurti grew up, the Sun Temple in Konark (which dates from the same time as the Khajuraho Temples), Calcutta in the rainy season with flooded roads, Bodhgaya where Buddha became enlightened, and an adventurous trip to Nepal.
Anne and Shelley
Anne took the Karanja six months later and joined me in Kathmandu. I had hepatitis and she was just recovering from an abortion in Bombay, which had traumatised her. We were both not in good shape. As I recuperated we continued our travels to South East Asia, Bali and Australia. (All these journeys were packed with adventures and I would have loved to tell you more, but in this story we just have an outline of the events that lead me to the Gateless Gate in Pune – and to Osho.) Anne and I finally separated in Australia. I worked as a houseman (which is basically a hotel boy) in the 5-star Kingsgate Hotel in Sidney. There I met Shelley, a woman from Canada. Together we travelled for six months through South East Asia back to Switzerland.
I married Shelley in 1977 and for our honeymoon we planned to travel. Since a good friend of ours had decided to go to Kenya, we joined him. For a while we lived on a beach near Mombasa. Later I started working as a tourist guide on the plains of the Great Rift Valley near Nairobi. It was the spot where ‘Out of Africa’ was filmed. The setting was like a paradise, huge gardens and hot springs. Nearby there were villages belonging to two nomadic tribes, the Samburu and Maasai. My job was to welcome the tourists and bring them to watch the dances of these two tribes. At the end of 1977 Shelley decided to go to India. Soon afterwards I followed her, taking a flight to Bombay and then again the boat to Goa. It was October or November.
On the boat to Panjim I met two of these orange people, dressed like those I had seen in Bern four years earlier. Again, I felt drawn to them and we started talking. They immediately said to me, “Ah, you are a sannyasin.” I could not quite understand what they meant by that and asked myself why such intelligent people wore this attire: a mala and orange clothes.
After about six hours of sailing the captain made an announcement that we were approaching a thunderstorm and that the ship was going to return to Bombay but that those who wanted to go ashore could do so in a lifeboat. We were about 12 people in that lifeboat, including these two sannyasins and we were close to a small fishing village. When we arrived we asked when there would be a bus to Goa and were told, “The bus went yesterday.” “But when is the next bus?” “In one week.” The week we spent in this village was a wonderful way to experience the beautiful and simple villagers who were ready to share with us everything they had.
Later on in Goa I shared a room with Niyama, one of the sannyasins from the ship and through him I met a few others. After a month or so the sannyasins all left for Bhagwan’s birthday celebration in Poona. Shelley had decided to see more of India and moved on together with a friend.
Outwardly I was in a great situation; I lived in a little rented hut on this wonderful beach. I had friends, my guitar and some money. I had everything, but inside of me I felt there was something missing. The contentment and happiness I was expecting while living in these beautiful places and beaches around the world, always lasted for only a few days – then an unpleasant feeling of emptiness and loneliness crept back in. In the past I concluded that I had to move on and have another ‘honeymoon’ at a new place. This time it felt as if I was at a dead end. I did not know where to go, where to travel to. I was totally lost about what to do. “Now what?” The only thing I was still interested in was flying kites. I used to make the kites and then enjoyed letting them fly while going for walks in the morning.
One day I went for a walk with my favourite kite and came to a house with a tree in front. The house was one of these abandoned houses you often found in Goa. I sat down in the sun; everything was so peaceful. I tied the kite to the tree; there was perfect wind and inside of me a voice said, “If this kite escapes then it is a sign for you to go back to your hut, pack your things and leave immediately.” I was surprised. “Huh?” I looked at the kite and my mind said, “No, it is the perfect wind and it is the best kite I have, nothing will happen to that kite.”
Then something happened which usually never occurs to me; I fell asleep. When I woke up I looked into the sky, empty, I felt the string, empty; the kite was gone. I knew immediately that I had to do what the voice had said. I went back to the hut, packed my things, said goodbye to the neighbours and went to Mapusa and from there to Panjim. It was already evening. I stood at the bus stop and did not know where to go, what to do.
At the bus stop I saw a guy all dressed in white, with kurta and pajamas, a Westerner. I walked up to him, asked him where he was going and he said, “I am going to Hampi. It’s a great place.”
“OK, I will also come to Hampi.”
So we climbed onto this bus – this was the time when they had really bad buses, three people on one hard wooden bench, and crowded – and the guy who was with me asked, “Do you want to travel third class or first class?”
“What are you saying, you must be joking. This is not even third class.”
“This is true, but look: this is first class.” Between his fingers he held a little black ball.
“What is it?”
And he said, “It is opium. Anyway, I don’t care how you travel, I travel first class.”
“I will also travel first class,” I said. It was really like first class flying. It was amazing. I was just flying. Everything was so beautiful, the bus, the people, the seat. I arrived totally refreshed. It was incredible.
In those days access to Hampi was free; there were no gates, no park. Anybody could just go into any temple and say, “I stay here now.” In one temple there were some Germans, in another one the Italians, in another the French, and so I also stayed just in one place and in the evening everybody gathered and smoked chillums. On the third evening, when the chillum came around to me, I took it and I heard myself saying, “No, thank you, this was the last time I smoked a chillum.” I passed it on to the next person and that person laughed at me and said, “So many people have said that before.” I was surprised “Did I say that?” It was amazing. Why did I say that? And this voice came again and said, “Go back to your place and tomorrow morning take the first train.”
I went back to my sleeping place. In the morning I woke up early, packed my things and went to the station. The train arrived and I jumped on. In those days you could board a train without a ticket and then buy it later on in the train. The train was going and going and going, direction Bombay. Stop and going, stop and going. At one point I looked out of the window and saw the sign “POONA.”
“What? But this is the place these crazy people in Goa had mentioned, those who were always laughing and hugging.”
I jumped off the train at the Poona station and the rickshaw driver, of course, asked, “Ashram, ashram?”
That’s how I came to Osho.
As told to Punya
This is my Kevin! – Shivananda talks about his first trip to Africa and his adventures with his new, intrepid friend
More adventures with Shivananda in ‘And another story…’
Shivananda was born in Switzerland. He worked as a trained typesetter and graphic designer, silkscreen printer, bookbinder and photographer. Twenty years ago he fully engaged himself as a painter, working in Brazil and Switzerland. Music, another expression of his creativity, has been his companion for all his life. He plays the guitar and sings. In summer he lives in Arillas on the Greek island Corfu, where he facilitates painting and singing workshops. shivananda.ch – more of Shivananda’s artwork on Osho News