Part two of chapter ‘In the West’: Shivananda is court-martialled when he shows up for the mandatory annual Swiss army service dressed in orange and wearing the mala.
One day, during the six months I was in Switzerland, staying at the Malar Centre and making money [see “Go there and make money…”], I suddenly received a letter from the Army saying that I had to do the annual three-week refresher course. The largest part of the Swiss army, which is actually a militia, consists of regular citizens like me, hence all able-bodied citizens have to participate in this training every year. It’s a way of filtering out to see if people are still fit enough and a way to keep everybody in line.
The service was scheduled in two months’ time and I asked myself, “My God, what am I going to do? How can I go as an Osho sannyasin? I’ll be a soldier. It doesn’t fit.”
One day I met Nirvesh in the kitchen and told her about the Army service and my dilemma. She said to me, “It’s very simple. You just go the way you are.”
Upon hearing this, I understood and said, “Yes, that’s how I will go. I’ll go as a sannyasin. I’m not refusing the army, but I just go the way I am.” That made us both laugh.
On the day the training was to start, I left the house dressed in orange.
In Switzerland, all soldiers have their own uniform, shoes, rucksack and a rifle at home. One travels and arrives at the meeting point already dressed in uniform and armed. And, as you are wearing the uniform, you don’t need a ticket on the train. But I travelled as a sannyasin, all in orange, and with the mala, taking the rucksack and the uniform with me, including the rifle with the bullets.
The meeting point was the railway station of Oensingen, a small village in Canton Solothurn. As the train was pulling in, I already saw soldiers standing on the square in front of the train station. I freaked out, so much so that I had to rush to the toilets. I had the shits. I was so scared. What were they going to do to me?
I walked onto the square; a few soldiers recognised me and said, “Oh, Ackermann.” We usually called each other by our last names. They asked, “What’s happening? Why are you wearing orange? Are you a dog handler? Where is your dog?” This because those who work with army dogs are allowed to wear civilian clothes since many dogs are allergic to uniforms. But, of course, they most likely would not wear orange…
“No, everything is fine. I’ve come to do the three weeks,” I replied.
“Why are you wearing these clothes?”
By then the commander got wind of what was going on, he called me to his jeep and asked, “What’s going on? What’s happening?”
“I came to do the three weeks.”
“What’s with these clothes?”
“I was in India, now I have a master and now my name is no longer Ackerman. It’s Shivananda. And I am wearing orange clothes and I wear this mala but otherwise everything is fine; I can be here and do the three weeks. No problem.”
“Jump into the car!” he ordered.
I hauled my luggage into the jeep and we drove off.
On top of the mountain there was a position set up from where to defend the country with Bloodhound rockets against aeroplanes. Nowadays those rockets no longer exist. It’s too old a system but at that time it was one of the most advanced systems of anti-aircraft defence; as soon as an aeroplane entered Swiss airspace, they could launch the rockets to defend the country. It was a secluded place, and secret; it was not marked on any maps. Only the soldiers and locals knew about it. From the air the area simply looked like a holiday place but underground were shelters with tunnels and corridors, and the storage of the rockets. It was quite an exciting place.
The commander brought me up to that station and put me into a prison cell.
The guards were comrades I knew and they asked, “Why have they put you in prison?”
“Because I am wearing orange clothes.”
“Yeah, but did you do anything?”
“No, I didn’t do anything,”
That same day the commander ordered a court to be set up; two judges in military uniforms came all the way from Berne. They cleared an office, put a few tables together to make it look like a courtroom.
The judge was a great man; I could immediately sense that he could feel me somehow. He wanted to know everything about Pune. So, for about four hours I talked about Pune, answering their questions about Osho, the meditations, the groups, and the music. When I was talking about the music group, I suddenly felt the contrast between the sannyasins singing in Buddha Hall and these soldiers here so strongly. At this point I started crying. It was so touching. Such contrast. So, for four hours I talked about Pune just because they wanted to know the background for my refusal to wear a green uniform.
“I am not refusing the army. I can serve the army also while wearing orange.” I said.
The main judge asked, “Of course you refuse the weapon then too, don’t you?”
They thought that now, being with a guru, I for sure was a pacifist.
I answered, “Actually, this is funny because if you had asked me two or three years ago I would have said, ‘Yes, I am a pacifist. I would never shoot anybody!’ But, when I was in the encounter group in Pune I found out this was all bullshit. This was just a lie. Actually, I would really enjoy shooting. And also, in the group I realized I could kill somebody. If the situation is such that I am so angry and so charged, I could kill a person. So, I love shooting and I can kill; I am not refusing the weapon at all. Actually, I love to have such a nice weapon.”
Of course, he was in shock. This is what the army would have wanted to hear from every soldier, but nobody ever says it. As a soldier you never say, “I can kill.” Of course, they want every soldier to kill. But they wouldn’t say it. That I said it, was a shock to them.
After those four hours of questioning, they retreated to another room, to discuss the matter.
When they came back, the main judge said that they had heard me and decided I was not a potential danger to Switzerland. Of course, that’s the whole point. Is this man dangerous for the army? Is he dangerous for the country? Then he added, “Not to put on the uniform is another way of refusing the army service. For this there’s only one punishment and that is six months in prison.”
I knew that they could not give me any other punishment. Either you join the army or you refuse – and then it’s six months. Nowadays it’s different, but at that time there was no possibility to do social work instead. It was either six months in prison or joining the army service.
The judge paused and added, “If you decide to put on the uniform right now and do the three weeks service, I will forget the whole court case. I leave from here and there will be no consequences. That’s the only thing I can offer from my side.”
I could feel that this offer came from him personally. He would not have really been allowed to do that. He should have given me at least ten days arrest for such misbehaviour. Because in the army, even for a very small breach of behaviour, they put you in prison for three days. And for what I had done they would have to put me in prison for at least ten days.
I exclaimed, “That’s quite an offer, can I think about it for 15 minutes while going for a walk?”
And he said, “Yes,” and called two soldiers to guard me.
We were on top of a mountain in the Jura, on the Hellchöpfli, a beautiful spot which was peeking out above a sea of clouds that were covering the land. Just the tops of other mountains could be seen sticking out from the blanket of clouds. I was simply standing there and looking. The sun was setting and everything was coloured red and orange. It was magnificent. I saw the Alps on the other side of the Midlands. It was an amazing sight.
We then climbed to a spot nearby, which I knew from before, a place I liked very much, on top of a cliff. A beautiful place with an oak tree. When I saw the sun setting in such beauty I suddenly started crying and crying and crying. I felt that the guards, who were sitting next to me, could feel me and that they were a bit embarrassed at the same time.
Then I heard this voice inside of me that said, “Shivananda, it’s okay. You have done it. Go and tell them you will wear the uniform. It’s no problem. You are a sannyasin and you showed them you are a sannyasin. Go and do the three weeks. It’s no problem. Go.”
It was so strong inside of me that I said, “Yes! Yes!”
I returned with the two guards and told the judge that I would take his offer. I put on the uniform and served my three weeks.
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.