Part one of Shivananda’s next selection of short stories, ‘In the West’: here he writes about returning to Switzerland to find a job as Osho had told him to do.
I was 30 years old when I took sannyas, in February 1978 [see That’s my name!]. I stayed during the rainy season and sometime in autumn or towards winter my money was finished.
I was going to ask Osho in darshan what to do next. I knew that to some people he said, “Stay here.” But sometimes he would say, “Go and help my people there.” If he had said that to me, I would have had to remain in Switzerland and maybe open a centre – which I did not really want to do. I wanted to be in the ashram.
But in my darshan he said, “Go there and make money and come back as soon as possible. You belong here, this is your family.” I was very happy to hear this and also excited to go back in my new orange outfit; it would be the first time I was going to be dressed in orange outside India.
At the end of 1978 I flew to Zurich. The first thing I noticed… I had expected people to stare at me because of the mala, my orange clothes and my long hair, but even in the train nobody stared at me. I noticed something which is typical in Switzerland: if people see something that does not fit into their system they just ignore it. They blank it out. I was sitting at the train station and people passed by me as if I were non-existent. I experienced that during my entire stay in Switzerland.
Another thing that surprised me when I came back to Switzerland – I had been away for quite some time, travelling in Africa and India, before I ‘ended up’ in Pune – was that when reading the newspapers I had to laugh so much because it was exactly the same I had read a few years before, only with different names; the same political issues, just new names. Then I knew that this is how it is in life; always the same issues, new people, new organisations, new places, but nothing really changes.
On the other hand, I felt that I had changed a lot compared to when I had left, because of participating in the therapy groups and the meditations in Pune. I also knew that I wanted to be close to sannyasins. I had heard there were sannyasins in Riehen near Basel, at the Malar Osho Meditation Centre: Narango and Kavya, Nirvesh, Shankar and Harito.
When I arrived at the meditation centre, they all were very welcoming and gave me a room, and said I could stay there. It was a big house, rather a villa. I immediately liked the place, I liked the people, I liked the meditation room; and there were many therapists offering groups. It was an alive and buzzing place.
My next big step was what Osho had told me to do: “Make money.”
I started to look for a job in Basel, as a graphic designer. In one of the magazines advertising specialist jobs I found one in a printing company in Basel and applied for it.
I had some doubts about how I should present myself. I was quite nervous before the interview, wearing orange trousers, an orange shirt and an orange sweater, plus the mala. I also had long hair and a beard.
When applying for such a job, one is expected to bring a presentation folder. I hadn’t really done anything for many years and didn’t have much to show. I had a few projects from some time ago, but that was all. Hence, I had cut out some pages from magazines which I had not designed… I knew it was naughty, but I wanted the job. I put a lot of effort into making this presentation.
When I walked into the office, the boss asked, “What is your name?”
I replied, “Ackermann.” Of course, I told him my last name.
“Do you want to have this job?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Have you done anything like this before? Do you know how to do this job?”
“Yes, I know.”
“Okay, you have the job.”
I then asked him if he wanted to see the presentation and he just said, “No. In three days I will know more about you than by looking at the presentation.”
“There’s only one thing: I am not smoking,” I said. At that time everybody working in these big open-plan offices was smoking.
He said, “Come with me.” He showed me this incredibly beautiful room which had windows on two sides, an office just for myself, a private office! It was amazing. It just happened like that.
So that’s how I started to work in this printing place. They already had a couple of graphic designers, but they apparently needed one more.
At the time I began to work there, every day Blick [a Swiss tabloid newspaper, ed.] published something about Osho, which, of course, were sensational and negative articles.
I worked there for six months and received a good salary. My colleagues were very friendly; they ignored that I was a sannyasin, blanked it out and never asked me about anything. It was only when I said that I would quit – I had to give two weeks’ notice – that a few people started asking questions. Only then.
When I went to say goodbye to the boss who had employed me, I asked him, “There is something I want to know. Why did you take me in the first place? I was wearing strange clothes, I was not an ordinary type of guy and you didn’t even look at my presentation.”
His reply was: “I like people who are a little different and who have courage. I immediately saw that. And recently I also saw that you would be going to quit soon, because when you came your eyes were shiny and bright and in the last few weeks, I saw they were different. I thought, ‘Oh, he’s not going to stay much longer.’”
“Wow, what a guy!” I thought.
To have had the courage to show myself as a sannyasin and see that I was accepted – and exactly because of it – gave me even more courage to show myself the way I am. From this experience I learned that if I do not hide anything it works like a key and attracts the right kind of people into my life. And now that I am looking back at all these situations – with my new name, the orange clothes and the mala – I feel so grateful that I had all these unique opportunities and the chance to live a rebellious life.
As told to Punya
NB This section, called ‘In the West’, features only generic and archive photos as I do not have any of my own from this period. After returning to Switzerland from Pune – in particular after participating in encounter groups – I looked at my belongings, also at my photos and hundreds of colour slides, and decided to throw them all out. I did not want to accumulate, like my mother did, shelves and shelves full of photo albums. The only ones I have from that period, though, are just a few I found after my mother died. I took up photography again a few years later, when I joined the Gyandip/Kota Centre in Zurich, where I also became a photographer.
More adventures with Shivananda in ‘And another story…’ – as told to Punya
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 stories and artwork on Osho News