Excerpt from Satyananda’s book, The Cosmic Madhouse. It is 1977; Jörg Andrees Elten and Jay Ullal from ‘Stern’ magazine arrived in Poona the day before and met with Arup in the ashram. She invited them to go/come for the morning discourse.
Poona, 28th June
We arrive on time at the ashram, and walk past Laxmi’s office towards Lao Tzu House. A long line of orange-robed ‘sannyasins’ is already forming at the gate, through which we glimpse an abundant, fertile garden.
Arup and another woman are standing at the front of the queue, sniffing everyone as they pass through the gate. As I move to the front, Arup bows forward a little, as if about to give me a kiss on the cheek, sniffing loudly she smiles and says: “Mr Elten, you smell of shaving foam. Please don’t sit at the front; you need to stay at the back of the hall.”
What’s all the fuss about? I think to myself.
Shoes were to be left at the gate and Jay had to leave his camera bag outside. The disciples pass in silence down the narrow path, overhung with jungly foliage that sways above our heads. ‘Chuang Tzu Auditorium’ – named after the Chinese mystic – is a half-round hall open to the garden. It has been added on to the house where Osho lives; white-washed walls, concrete pillars and a tiled mosaic-type floor, loudspeaker boxes. From the ceiling a rather tasteless chandelier hangs over the disciples sitting cross-legged on the floor. They form a semi-circle around a low podium.
Silence, not even the odd cough; nevertheless, an announcement comes over the speakers: “Friends, please remember not to make sounds or to cough during the discourse. Please be aware that germs can be spread by coughing. You will not be able to leave the auditorium once the discourse has begun. If you think you may cough, please leave now and the guards at Lao Tzu gate will show you where you can sit and listen to the discourse over the loudspeakers.”
I was eyeing a place where I could sit with my back leaning against a pillar, but a burly ‘swami’, bearded and bald, was standing there, his big blue eyes scanning the hall. As I attempt to sit, he signals me sharply but silently that I may not stay there. Strange way to go about things, I think, and sit down somewhere else, feeling the cold seeping into my bones from the floor. These seating arrangements are definitely unreasonable.
Two sturdy sannyasins, wearing white gloves, carry a kind of arm-chair onto the podium. One of them, with an impressive red beard and a large head, removes the linen dust-cover from the chair and folds it up carefully. He then sits down next to the podium. “That’s Shiva, Osho’s bodyguard,” whispers my neighbour, but the burly guard hears us, flashes a withering look in our direction.
We sit and wait in the stillness, exotic birds chirruping away in the garden; and further off, the sounds of the locomotives from the freight yards. Way up above the sound of a passing aeroplane…
Osho arrives with the silence of a leaf drifting to the ground. He is of medium build, clad in a snow-white custom-made cotton robe. With great care, he steps on to the podium. His hands are folded together in front of his chest; almost imperceptibly he nods, smiling radiantly. Slowly he traces the whole arc of the semi-circle of people in front of him, seeming to look directly at each one. The disciples themselves, sitting ram-rod straight, fold their hands together in front of them in greeting.
Many look as if they are just drinking him in, some gazing at him with wide eyes and half-open mouths.
Osho settles into his chair and a slender middle-aged Indian lady appears, her dark hair tied tightly back under a headscarf; Ma Yoga Laxmi bows respectfully in front of Osho as she hands him a simple clip-board, and he takes it from her without a glance.
It is his eyes that fascinate me from the first moment. Black and full of a razor-sharp intelligence. Suddenly the focussed seriousness transforms into a smile of all-encompassing, impartial friendliness. This is a man completely present in the moment, totally concentrated, powerful.
The broad forehead makes his bald head seem domed, the greying sideburns merging with his full beard. He slips the sandal from his left foot, and slowly crosses his left leg over the right one, then he brings the finger tips of his almost transparent hands together, turns his head very slightly towards the microphone in front of him and almost whisperingly, he begins his discourse. His English is marked with a pleasant Indian accent, his words uttered with ample pauses between them, as if to give space to what he is saying. There is a harmonious rhythm to the discourse, like poetry.
Sometimes Osho’s voice gets louder, and takes on a harsher, metallic edge. Then his eyes open wide, and his gaze drills into the breathless crowd before him. Some people seem to have occasional tics, quivering as if they had just been struck with a kind of mysterious transfer of energy from the master. Others scratch their itches, or gulp drily.
Osho is speaking without notes, his gestures delicate and elegant. Watching him is a pleasure! Slowly, I start to pick up on the meaning of his words and I am astonished at the intellectual and rhetorical brilliance of the talk. These discourses, as his talks are called, are always tape-recorded and so I know that I can buy the cassette of the lecture later on.
Osho was talking about Zen Buddhism. I remember some fragments of what he said, as he explained what imperfection is:
“To be incomplete is beautiful,” he says. “The day you are perfect, you are dead. Perfection is death, imperfection is life. … Imperfection means you still have a future … imperfection means tomorrow will be exciting.” He makes a distinction between perfection and totality. If you want to become perfect, you will have to follow some idea, some pattern.
“Totality is yours, perfection is borrowed – that’s the basic difference,” he says. “Be total in each moment – when you are imperfect, be TOTALLY imperfect. … If you are sad, live it totally. … Cry, weep, … let tears come. Pour your whole heart into it. Don’t be afraid, don’t be shy, don’t be embarrassed. If you can live it in totality you will come out of it more mature, more grown up, more grounded, and capable of living more happily.”
Osho compares Buddha with Jesus. Buddha grew up in a palace, a prince speaking a sophisticated language. Jesus, the son of a carpenter, spoke the rough tongue of fishermen and builders, of farmers and prostitutes. Very few people could understand Buddha, but Jesus was understood by everyone. At the same time as the poor of the third world were being increasingly drawn to Jesus, Buddhism was experiencing a renaissance in the wealthy Western world, especially in the US. The developing world was becoming Christian and the developed world was turning to Buddhism.
With no inhibitions at all, some sannyasins stretch out on the floor, apparently dozing. As long as they don’t snore, this seems to be acceptable. After about an hour and a half, Osho says: “Enough for today.” He stands up and as before brings his hands together in front of his face and, turning slowly, smiles at everyone. As silently as he had arrived, he returns to his house.
Somewhere, a woman sobs. A few sannyasins, heads lowered, quietly weep. Couples lie strewn about, entwined as if asleep. While the red-haired bodyguard and his partner took care of the chair, other sannyasins were kneeling down with their heads resting on the podium, their arms stretched out to touch the place where the master had been sitting. I have the impression that I am surrounded by patients – unhappy, tortured and stressed-out. Eventually the auditorium empties out.
Arup accompanies us on a walking tour of the ashram. I had assumed there would be a kind of meditative quiet, a monastic remove from the world, but in fact the place is buzzing with activity. In the Buddha Hall, an energetic blonde woman who made me think of some Nordic heroine, leads about a hundred sannyasins in song and circle-dancing. ‘Sufi-dance’ it was called, but it looked more like Alpine folk-dance to me.
In a large open-plan office, young women were typing away, taking care of the international correspondence. There are about 40,000 sannyasins worldwide, and their number is increasing rapidly. However, only a lucky few actually live inside the ashram, close to the master himself; these are the so-called ‘ashramites’. They live and work in five villa-like buildings which are dotted throughout the lush tropical gardens of the ashram. They work as gardeners, electricians, carpenters and craftsmen, photographers and graphic artists, sound-engineers, laboratory staff, tailors, cooks and cleaners and – last but not least – as therapy group-leaders. Arup tells me that the ashram is the largest psychotherapy centre in the world. The most advanced approaches of the humanistic psychology movement were being integrated with ancient Eastern meditation techniques, and especially with the new meditation techniques which Osho himself had developed.
I had a chat with Swami Prem Gunakar (‘Enjoyer of Love’). He is a small, pale man with an aristocratic air, and his job is to prepare the ashram book contracts with international publishing houses. Three years ago he was known as Jobst von Hanstein and was a lawyer in Hamburg. “I’m now 37,” Gunakar tells me, “and my career is over; I have no money, but I have never felt safer and happier than I do now.” Is he a loser or is he a kind of bon vivant?
The way he describes the effect Osho has on him is: “It’s as if this man has an energy-field around him, in which all your thoughts and feelings and actions come together to serve a higher purpose.”
On the way to the rear of the ashram, we pass some orange-aproned, tanned figures, who are carrying metal containers full of cement on their heads. One of them, a dainty ‘ma’ (the honorific name for a female sannyasin which means ‘mother’) takes Arup by the hand, and shows her a cage with a rat trapped inside.
“What shall I do with it?” She asks Arup nervously, and gets the brusque reply: “Set him free over on the other side of the river!”
On the first floor of ‘Jesus House’ we enter a large, darkened room. A lamp burns beneath a small jade statue of Buddha. The room is largely unfurnished, just mats and cushions dotted around.
As soon as my eyes adjust to the low light, I notice a thin young man who looks like he has just stepped out of a Renaissance portrait of some saint; he sits writing near a lamp, has long silken hair, and a withdrawn, mystic look on his face. In the alternative music world there are many who consider him to be a kind of genius. His name used to be Georg Deuter. Osho gave him the name Chaitanya Hari (‘Divine Consciousness’). He composes the meditation music for the ashram, cassette-tapes of which are on sale. When Arup introduces us, he laughs quietly, “Man, being a journalist is such a bizarre thing to me now! A few years ago I was a reporter in Munich and it seems like a lifetime ago.” He invites me to return when I have more time.
Eventually, Arup leads me to the ashram restaurant, which is called ‘Vrindavan’. Nearby are the therapy rooms, and as we step down in their direction, I hear a long drawn-out scream.
Arup, not batting an eye, just tells me drily: “Individual therapy happening.” She opens the door to a windowless room which is covered in green mattresses. “The walls are all padded, so that if someone freaks out, they won’t hurt themselves,” she informs me.
By this time, I was starting to think that an article about this place would be sensational!
Laxmi: the expression in her eyes is completely new to me – innocence and intelligence together. She sits at a glass-topped desk; behind her are shelves full of Osho’s books.
An air-conditioning unit hums somewhere. I recall the submissive posture she had this morning as she gave Osho the clipboard. Laxmi as little grey mouse – that’s how she looks, but in fact she is the boss of a large organisation, self-confident, accustomed to command.
“Perhaps you will not be understanding everything here in the beginning,” she says in her sing-song voice. “Have patience, open up, be vulnerable.”
When can she give us an appointment for an interview with Osho? With some regret, she tells us that Osho does not give interviews. “Actually, he is not there.” Not there?
“But I just saw him there in the discourse!”
Laxmi chuckles patiently: “You are not understanding. Osho has no ego. He does not exist as a person. He is the existence!”
I stand up and thank her for the friendly reception. She tells me to be patient, to have fun with my work and promises me her full support.
Back to the hotel for lunch. A couple of hours siesta, and a dip in the pool, in the rain. The humid climate is making me feel weak.
Later, over a coffee in Vrindavan garden, I meet up again with Swami Prem Gunakar, the aristocratic lawyer. He has his arm around the slender waist of a ma. Smiling, he says to me, “So; are you completely confused yet?” I sit next to him. What is this guy doing here, I am wondering. He was once a typical ladder-climber, he says, a member of the young-businessman’s association, getting ready for a future political career.
“I always went along with other people’s expectations for me – especially those of my family. I even went to all the social events of the local nobility. That seems kind of weird to me now! Gradually I started to feel that I had no centre of my own whatsoever, that I wasn’t ‘me’ and was just acting out a role. Then one day a copy of Sannyas Magazine fell into my hands – that’s the magazine which the ashram publishes. That was the first time I read an Osho lecture: it was really a revelation! A few months later, I arrived in Poona.”
How long was he planning on staying? He just looked at me, astonished, “Forever, obviously!”
Evening – I visit the musician, Chaitanya Hari. Another swami is also there, and they sit together cross-legged on the floor, candle-lit. A spacey kind of harmony-of-the-spheres music is playing. I sit down and listen and notice how gradually a deep peace suffuses me. I feel really good, relaxed, happy even. Nobody says a word, and after a while the music fades away. We just keep on sitting quietly, and I slowly leave the room. I take one of the motor-rickshaws waiting outside the ashram and go back to the hotel. Diary-keeping until midnight, and then reading the Sannyas Magazines, which Arup gave me, kept me up until three in the morning.
Excerpted from ‘The Cosmic Madhouse’, Dhiren’s translation of the German bestseller ‘Ganz Entspannt im Hier und Jetzt’ by Satyananda
Bhagawati’s review of Satyananda’s book
The Cosmic Madhouse
Available at hierjetzt.de – soon also on Amazon
German-born Satyananda (aka Joerg Andrees Elten) (20 March 1927 – 29 January 2017) was an international political reporter for the German Stern magazine. In 1977 he was assigned to report about Bhagwan and the ashram, became a sannyasin, dropped his career and moved into the ashram. For many years he lived in West-Mecklenburg, and together with his beloved, Deva Gitama, gave workshops and continued to write articles about current news and spiritual themes and was frequently invited as a public speaker. hierjetzt.de