World-renowned composer Karunesh talks about his love for music, meeting Osho and playing for him. (Part 1 of 2)
Karunesh, how and when did Music come into your life?
It started when I was a small boy at school. I grew up in a strongly Catholic family in Cologne, Germany. We lived just opposite the church, a stone’s throw away… During my entire childhood I was involved in church activities; one of them was singing in the church boys’ choir. In elementary school I was also involved in music; I had a beautiful voice, could sing very well and had a musical ear from early on.
My family was not very musical, although my father played a little bit guitar and the mouth-harp, but not much more. My brothers were not musical at all.
I also became part of the Orff orchestra, a church group where I played the Glockenspiel. This looks like a xylophone but the keys are made of metal, so it sounds as if bells are struck. Later on, when I went to junior high, I was in the orchestra, playing the trumpet.
That I was involved in so many musical activities had also another reason: being part of the choir or the orchestra, we got time off from school because we had to attend to the rehearsals, play in parades, carnivals and in church and all that. I took advantage of that – a little bit.
After school I apprenticed as a graphic designer, but after working for a year I left the job because I didn’t like the atmosphere and pressure related to it. Then followed all kinds of different jobs just to get my rent and food together. During that time music completely dropped way.
It took me quite some time until I picked up music again. As a sannyasin I moved to the Hamburg commune, Dharmadeep, in 1980. In Pune at that time, whenever Osho was ill, instead of discourse there would be satsang, which had periods of humming, silence, read-out quotes and soft live music. That’s when for me a new adventure started: satsang music. In Hamburg we had a beautiful band and because the meditation room at the time was too small to accommodate the commune members and the sannyasins living in town, we had two satsangs every day; in the morning for the “family”, those who lived in the commune – which at one time was over 180 strong – and in the evening for the “public”.
For a long time I played every day in the morning and evening. Different musicians came and went. That’s how I learned to play with various people coming from different music genres. It was actually also the time when I got to play on my first synthesizer – which is my main instrument now.
As a teenager I always looked into the windows of music shops for synthesizers. There was a particular one I liked very much but could not afford, a very small Yamaha MS10. It happened when I lived in Hamburg that this particular synthesizer mysteriously came to me. How did I get it? It’s a mysterious story. But here it goes:
We had a small restaurant connected to the ashram. At times, I was working there in the evenings as a waiter. One day two young guys came in, sat down, and ordered something to drink, as well as a little snack. When we were about to shut down, I went up to them and said, “We are now closing, can you please pay your bill?” and they replied, “We don’t have any money.” They had something with them; it was wrapped in a blanket, and they said, “We leave this here instead of paying.”
I was impressed by their outspokenness and all I could say was, “Ok, you know, just forget about it, it’s on the house.”
The next morning, when we came back to clean the restaurant, beside the table where they had been sitting, there was still that package. I opened it – and it was exactly the synthesizer, the very one I had been looking at through the windows in the shops when I was a teenager. Exactly that model! (I don’t know if that was secretly set up by some friends, but nevertheless, for me it was a miracle!)
That’s how I started to play music! Playing day by day at Dharmadeep, I slowly learned more about the synthesizer and how it worked. I taught myself to play the keyboard in that way.
How and when did you meet Osho?
I met Osho in September 1979, when I was 23 years old; but I had ‘met’ him earlier through the sannyasins in Cologne where I lived. I came across the book, My Way: The Way of the White Clouds, which was really an eye-opener for me. And then, of course, also Satyananda’s book, Ganz entspannt im Hier und Jetzt (The Cosmic Madhouse), which was a bridge to Osho for so many.
Chaitanya’s music, Deuter’s music was also important for me. I had two of his first vinyls, Haleakala and Aum. First I didn’t know he was a sannyasin because on one of the covers he was sitting on a beach in a white outfit. So I didn’t really make the connection. But I was very attracted to his music. I had also met a few sannyasins and was very impressed by the way they lived their life.
My girlfriend at the time was also attracted to sannyas. At some point she went to Purvodaya, the centre in the countryside close to Munich, to attend a workshop. She took sannyas there and came back to Cologne with a new name.
It became clear then that I also wanted to take sannyas; but I definitely wanted to take sannyas from Osho himself. I didn’t want to go to Purvodaya or anywhere else. So we booked a ticket and flew to India, luckily with a group of friends because my first arrival in India was a big shock. I was not prepared for that. It was a kind of… “Jesus, what is going on here!” With the group I felt I was in good hands.
I remember that we arrived in Pune in the evening, exactly at the time when the energy darshan was happening. During evening darshans the ashram was closed and for the energy darshans the electricity was turned off in the whole ashram. It was pitch black and we couldn’t enter. Instead of waiting outside we took a walk around the block – and I felt sooo at home. It suddenly hit me: Wow – this is home!
On one of the next days I saw Arup (now called Garimo). Anybody wanting to take sannyas had to fill in some forms – and my English was not very good. One had to check a box if one wanted to keep the old name or wanted a new one, such as Deva, or Krishna. I had not understood that system. I was 100% sure that just by taking sannyas one received a new name, because all the sannyasins I knew had new names.
When a few days later I was called up in darshan and sat in front of Osho looking into his eyes, he put the mala around my neck and said, “This is you new name: Swami Deva Bruno!” I was shocked. Bruno? No Krishna or Shiva or…? He then started to explain the name and the next big shock came when I heard, “Deva means divine and Bruno means darkness.” I was shocked. Me, dark?
I sat there not getting a word with my limited English, staring at him, as if hypnotised. But later on, when I read what he had said to me, I saw actually how very nice it was what he said about darkness. But at the time I was not open for that. I had that name for a year and then, at the first Festival on the Ranch, I received a new name, Deva Karunesh, ‘divine compassion’. And that felt right, “Okay, that is my name.”
I was in Rajneeshpuram only for the Festivals. I was not a Ranch guy, it was too tough for me, I didn’t like the politics there, and that it was so dry. The first time I visited, there was only sand and dust and inside the tents is was burning hot. I was happy to be back home after my 8 days.
In 1987 I flew to Mumbai when Osho was there. I stayed at the Sun-n-Sand Hotel in Juhu Beach, not too far from Mumbai’s centre. I did not like it at all – just sitting at the pool, drinking cocktails and waiting and waiting. Visitors could see Osho one evening a week, but could get tickets for three nights in a row for every three weeks. I decided to spend three weeks in Goa. When the time came closer to return to Mumbai, I realized just how much I liked it in Goa that I gave the three evening tickets to friends and stayed put. And suddenly I heard the rumour that Osho might move to Pune.
I managed to call the ashram in Pune and on the line came Latifa, whom I knew from Hamburg. She said, “Yes, he is coming in a few days. If you get on a bus right now, I can reserve a space for you in the ashram.” I immediately packed my bags, jumped on a bus and went to Pune. For the first three, four months I stayed in a nice little room inside the ashram.
Osho arrived a week later and the ashram slowly slowly started to be a little bit more organized. For me that felt like pioneer work; we were just a few hundred people and had to start everything from scratch. It was really really very sweet.
Osho first spoke in Chuang Tzu auditorium; Buddha Hall was still without a roof. We were just a few musicians – Milarepa, Joshua, me and 2 or 3 others. We hardly had any instruments, no sound system. In the beginning I played an Indian harmonium, a shruti box. In Chuang Tzu, which is small compared to Buddha Hall, we sat all very close to each other with the musicians in the 5th row, about 7 metres from Osho’s chair. That was the most amazing space. It was such a fresh and innocent space. It went so deep.
To play for Osho was such an honour, such a blessing. This had always been my wish, my dream, “Oh, I would like to play in front of my master.” And then suddenly it happened. That first year in Pune was my most blissed-out and blessed time in my sannyas life, the closest I came to Osho. I felt so very very blessed to be playing for him.
Then more and more people came, the ashram grew larger, and Chuang Tzu became too small so that Osho started coming out twice a day, morning and evening – which meant that we played twice a day. When more musicians joined we took turns; if we played one day in the morning, the next we would play in the evening.
Already in Chuang Tzu Osho started to dance, his energy dance, when he directed energy towards us with his hands. He would then suddenly stop and look at one particular person and shower his energy – and also the music stopped. I remember one time, I still played the harmonium, he turned towards me and remained there for eternity, looking at me. I was playing and pumping on the shruti box! I totally lost control of the instrument. While my left hand was pumping hard, the whole harmonium pivoted to the right against the person in front and the keys came out of reach… it was crazy!
Slowly slowly we started getting instruments from abroad. When once I had to leave and renew my visa, I flew to Singapore and bought a lot of instruments for the ashram, our first synthesizer and other equipment. I was very much involved with the music, not just playing for the discourses; there were entertainment evenings and music group, there was always something happening with music.
This continued for quite some months until the marble floor of the Buddha Hall was laid and the tent-like roof went up. To play in Buddha Hall, with many more musicians and for so many people, was still great and amazing, but it never felt as intimate as it had in Chuang Tzu.
I took over the music department when Milarepa left the country to renew his visa. It happened to be exactly the time when Osho wanted to have some changes done to the music. Nandan, one of Osho’s caretakers, came to me and said, “Osho is not happy with the music.” “Oh, full pressure on me!” I thought. I didn’t even know what that meant. “Well, maybe there is not enough energy in the music.”
The music was mostly instrumental, sometimes with songs, but mostly instrumental. We tried different melodies. But the next day again I heard, “You didn’t do it right. He wants to change.” I felt I was in a pressure cooker and kept saying to myself, “Milarepa come back, where are you? Don’t leave me here in this mess!” We eventually managed to put more energy into the music. We were so fixated on nice melodies, nice chords, instead of energy.
I felt Osho’s beam on me. I was in his focus. I felt very uncomfortable that he was not happy with the music. My heart was racing and I was freaked out. “You have to do it right,” I said to myself. And Nandan came again and again and said, “No, you didn’t get it.” I was feeling so bad, letting the master down… And one day he let us know through Nandan, “If you don’t get it together we will stop the music altogether.” That was really ‘major pressure’! A few days later we managed to put more rhythm, more energy into the music. Nandan then came and said, “He is happy now, he is fine now with the music.” Such relief…
When Milarepa came back, after a couple of weeks, we continued with this kind of music for a while. Then again Osho was not happy with the music. Milarepa talked to Nivedano, a professional percussionist from Brazil. That’s how the Oshoba, the high-energy Samba music started. And then the message came, “Yes!” It was perfect for Osho because it was just energy. The musicians in Nivedano’s band could easily follow Osho’s energy, the movements of his arms, speed up and stop. Which was much more difficult when we had a melody to work with.
Any more memories from the time you were playing for Osho?
Playing in front of Osho put me often in such a no-mind space, where the person, the ‘doer’ disappears and existence takes over. And still – when nowadays I play in satsangs, specially at our evening meetings in Buddha Hall in Corfu – the same happens sometimes, as if Osho were actually sitting in front of us…
Another interesting thing happened to me with Osho; it was in Buddha Hall, on Osho’s birthday. The musicians were all sitting on the floor with their instruments and I was the only one standing in front of my keyboard that was placed on a high stand in the middle of the hall. Osho started the ‘let go’ meditation. Everybody lay down, just me standing like a ‘lost and not found object’ right in front of him. He looked straight at me – it felt as if a wave of energy rushed right through me – not knowing if I felt totally blissed out or totally embarrassed…
I remember another beautiful incident; one day Osho gave presents to all the musicians. Unfortunately, I was already on my way to the airport, leaving Pune after six months to fly back to Germany. I was very sad that I missed receiving a present from the master. But during my taxi ride I made peace with the situation and I let it go. I didn’t know that somebody coming from Pune, who had arrived in Cologne a day before me, had a beautiful robe from the master for me! That was again a little lesson of ‘when you have no expectations and let go, the whole existence is available to you.’
Interview by Punya – in a few weeks we will publish the second part of this interview