In this interview Pedro talks to Punya about his life as a teacher and musician.
The first time I became aware of Pedro was about two years ago at an open mike in the Satori Café in Corfu. He had just released his album ‘Pad Hazel’ and sang for us one of his songs to a recorded background. What kept me from getting up and dancing was the joy of watching him sing and dance on the tiny stage. My mind had difficulties with putting together the vision of a grey-haired man and this agile body clad in shorts, trainers, t-shirt, dancing with tremendously cool movements, from time to time swinging his cap to emphasise the rhythm, or making a point in the song.
I had seen him around before, but did not know much about him excerpt that he was called Pedro, that he was running a mantra band called ‘Singing Buddhas’, and that he was from Switzerland. However, now it turns out that he is not even from Switzerland but from Liechtenstein.* If you thought Switzerland is small…. Liechtenstein is a 157 km2 piece of land squeezed between north-eastern Switzerland and Austria, lying snugly (and with best weather, I hear) in the valley of the Rhine; the river acting as ‘border’ to Switzerland. Liechtenstein, maybe as a reaction to its predominantly Protestant neighbour, is strictly Catholic. This atmosphere of course influenced Pedro’s early life, in particular in those years, when everybody was living in a more insular way.
(In this loose translation from his native ‘Liechtensteiner’, which sounds pretty much like Swiss-German, I have tried to bring in the liveliness, ageless enthusiasm, and wonder at everything that happened in his life, in the interview he gave me this morning.)
In the strict Catholic village where I grew up, for instance, it was difficult to date a girl – which meant not much more than talking to her and maybe holding her hand – because she would have curfew at 8 pm. And just imagine that on a Saturday evening, our whole family gathered around the TV and watched some programme with Schmalz songs. But some singles started to circulate between friends. I remember those 45 rpms we listened to on a Lenco record player. To hear ‘My Generation’ by ‘The Who’ was simply orgasmic.
In 1962 there were already songs by the Beatles. It was a totally different world. We wanted to get out of that narrow village; with the music we wanted to dive into a new world. A few friends from my village, Schaan, got together – we have come together recently and none of us really remembers how it all started – and formed a band, calling it ‘The Chayns’. We were about 16 years old. I was the singer, also played guitar, and friends of mine played lead guitar, bass and drums. We covered songs by the early Stones, Cream, Kinks, and others. Being on stage of course we were in view of all the girls – exactly what we wanted!
To be part of a band was also to have the right looks. My pitch-black hair kept growing and growing… and because I tan quite dark I was soon called Winnetou, like the fictional Native American hero in Karl May’s books. I was sent to the barber, and then a second time, because it was not short enough for my father. My family is very musical, we were encouraged to play music – in fact my two brothers are professional musicians; they play New Age music under the name of ‘Back to Earth’ – but that long hair was over the limit…
After my baccalaureate, which I took in neighbouring Sargans, it was time for me to leave my parents’ home and face the big world. I enrolled at the University in St. Gallen. For me it was like arriving in New York. And there I realised I am quite a city man, not a country man. It was thrilling to live there, just to stroll through the streets. My co-students went home every weekend, but it never crossed my mind – of course I went to visit my parents from time to time – but the city was my home now. And then the girls did not have to get home before 8 pm!
While living there I founded a band with my two brothers. We called it ‘Blowjob’. American visitors tore the posters from the walls and wanted us to sign them to take back home. I think my younger brothers did not even know the meaning of the name…
After two years in St. Gallen – in order to get my degree in Business Administration and Management – I moved to an even bigger city, Basel, which then became my home for over 25 years. I worked in close-by Liestal as a teacher in a professional school for commercial apprenticeship – my students worked three days a week in a job and then attended professional school two days a week. They were motivated students because they could immediately apply in their job what they had learned. The system of apprenticeship we have in Switzerland is a very good way to learn a skill – practice and theory at the same time. (I hear there are experts from other countries who come and have a closer look at this system.) Of course, when I eventually became a sannyasin I was teaching wearing red!
While living in Basel, in 1990, I had also started a Rock band called ‘Kato Haze’, for which I had written and composed the songs. We did not have many gigs but for me it was an important moment because I discovered that I was indeed a singer-songwriter. I could do it! A moment of truth – “Stunde der Wahrheit.”
I came to sannyas – like many men have – through a woman. Her then husband was the first person I had seen in orange. I took sannyas in Zurich from the centre leader, Premyogi. That was in March 1982 and in June that year we all went to the Second Annual World Celebration in Rajneeshpuram. In my student years I was involved in politics, intellectual, and left wing of course. We had actually thought of creating a commune in one of the many abandoned mountain villages in Ticino, Switzerland. All the more was I impressed to see what the sannyasins had managed to do with this deserted Ranch after only one year; the houses, the rivers and ponds… It felt very special for me to belong to all this.
Unlike others who say they have fallen in love with Osho, some just by looking at his photo, my connection was more by reading his books. He convinced me. I would say to myself, “Aha, yes, this makes sense, it fits, I agree.”
I visited the Ranch every year for the Summer Festival, together with the Zurich sannyasins. In 1985 I went alone and remained until the Ranch closed. Some of the sannyasins had bought some yellow school buses and offered lifts to various places. One was marked “Seattle” and I hopped on that one. It was already November and there was snow on the roads. I remember that we happened to drive behind one of the trucks that brought the Rolls Royces to the dealer in Texas. At one of the hairpin bends towards Antelope I saw just the top two cars while the rest of the truck was hidden by the slope. It looked as if the cars were flying in the sky. I will never forget this picture.
I then went to the Pune Commune in 1991, a year after Osho had left his body. For many years I visited Pune regularly; twice I spent full six months there while the other six I worked as a teacher. I was fortunate I could receive unpaid leave to do that. In Pune, apart from doing Dynamic and Kundalini Meditations every day, I participated in the Therapist Training, then in the Stream of the Mystery School (Power Group, Men’s Liberation, etc.), and Path of Love, which I liked very much. Then in 1997 in Sedona, USA, I participated in Psychology of the Buddhas with Kavisha, Yogi, Wadud and Waduda.
That same year I moved from Basel to Zurich (in Swiss parlance so-called rival cities…). The sannyasins in Basel had dispersed and I was already familiar with the Zurich group because I used to regularly attend the Sannyas Disco in Zurich. After a year I also became a DJ, and enjoyed doing that for the next 15 years.
In 1999, I co-founded the ‘Singing Buddhas’. We are well-known in Switzerland as the mantra band. We have even had events in Vienna, Munich and Berlin.
Now I want to tell you how I met Gatha.
I first saw her in 1995 in Pune, and then reconnected with her in 2000. She had been in Pune for several years and then moved to Byron Bay in Australia. She came back to Switzerland to get some papers together so that she could apply for residency there. We met and fell in love. She was on the verge of cancelling her return trip to Australia but her friends warned her that a relationship with Pedro might not last long – I had some kind of reputation as a womaniser – and that she would later regret it if she missed the chance to emigrate to Australia. This brought me to propose to her that we should stay together for at least nine months. She accepted and cancelled her trip. We both relaxed. I knew I could be relaxed because she also had promised not to break the relationship before nine months was up. Guess what? We are still together – after 18 years!
In 2003 I became self-employed. I started offering workshops for teachers, about class management – how to deal with a class. Having had a background in teaching for 30 years, and all the groups I had done in Pune and in particular the Co-dependency and Systemic Constellation trainings, I was well equipped for the job to teach other teachers. Of course, this brought me to an edge, as I had to be very good to keep their attention. I see that in my life I often put myself into a position of challenge – not consciously but it comes from somewhere inside; as a teacher I stand in front of a class; as a musician again on a stage. It helps me to be present, to be attentive and awake.
While teaching or performing you always pick up on the energy of the audience, or in students, you pick up from body postures or facial expressions if something has been understood and if I come across. So, there is always an interaction with the audience, even non-verbal. One has to be present to adjust to all these changing situations.
I have given these one-day workshops for 15 years, called ‘Der Reaktive Tanz im Klassenzimmer’ (the reactive dance in the classroom). The title hints at the fact that the teachers need to learn to get out of the circle of reaction – one usually becomes angry or slumps down in defeat – they learn how to come out of the reaction dance. There was nobody else who gave this type of workshop. I must have been good because I was recommended from one school to another. I visited about 200 schools in all.
There is a side of me which is very focussed, very disciplined. People can rely on me. And the other side is looser. I love being in nature, listening to the birds. I can sit in a coffee shop and watch the passers-by for hours. I love doing nothing. I love waiting. If I do not catch a train I do not mind waiting for the next – there are so many things to see, even in a train station…
About 8 years ago, in a workshop where we talked about our bucket list, all the things we still wanted to do, I felt that I had not done enough music in my life. There was that short experience with the band in Basel where we had played my songs – that would be the direction. So founded the band ‘Pad Hazel’ and, in 2016, we released a CD called ‘Till I Found You’. Last year we played at the Volkshaus, Zurich and this year at the Pachamama Festival, also in Switzerland. This summer we played at the Liechtenstein National Day Festival (15 August 2018). It was a beautiful set-up with 3 sound stages. Thousands of people came. We were well received.
And now something new is on the horizon; the members of my teenage band, ‘The Chayns’, met again three years ago, after 50 years! These last 2 years we’ve met and had rehearsals on 4 or 5 weekends. We have now decided to appear in public in December in our native Liechtenstein, playing covers of 60’s songs as we used to do.
I seldom think of the past, but now that I am telling you my story I feel a lot of gratitude. Gratitude to my parents who, despite the strict Catholic upbringing they gave me, the straitjacket of having to watch what the neighbours thought of you, opened me to music, and they gave me the opportunity to study at University. From my father I got his calm side, and love for nature. From my mother the joy of travelling, socializing. We were 6 children, plus the parents, so even if there were already 8 people at the table, there was always space for a friend to join or even stay over for the night. Such openness.
I am also immensely grateful to Osho. What I have learned from him is to have a distance from my thoughts, not to get identified with my mind, “you are not the mind.” And through being a watcher I have discovered that I can really relax.
There will now be another step: “You are not the body…” Not quite ready for that one though…
* The Principality of Liechtenstein has 11 municipalities (Gemeinden), 157 km2 of land out of which 2/3 mountains; it is 25 km long, 6 km wide, population 36,000.