Part three of ‘In the West’: Shivananda makes the best out his compulsory three weeks in the Swiss military service.
Everything is perfect
While working in Switzerland, making money to go back to Pune, the army called Shivananda to do the yearly training. He presented himself wearing orange and was brought to court. The judge made him a special offer: to wear the green uniform and do the three weeks, and the court case would be forgotten. He would not even have to spend time in prison as a punishment for causing trouble. Read ‘In the Swiss Army’.
The judge was happy about my decision to wear the uniform, because he didn’t have to sentence me to six months in prison for refusing to do service. But the commanding officer, who had also attended the court procedure, became very angry. He was not happy that I hadn’t been punished at all.
He said to the court, “Okay, this was an offer, but if something of his uniform or anything of his military equipment is missing, the offer is invalid.” He tried to refute the offer. I had somehow felt this might happen because, at home, I had prepared my things very carefully. I took such good care, looking at every needle and thread, every little piece. I cleaned my pocket knife. We had a set of brushes and shoe polish for cleaning the boots; a set for cleaning the rifle. A lot of things! And then various pieces of clothing. The staff sergeant checked every single item; I had everything and everything was perfect.
Finally, the judges left. What they had to do, of course, was to write a report. They cannot just have a court case without a report. I later heard that the judge got a big hit because he was not allowed to do such a thing. The decision went higher and higher; it became a case in itself. And from the top down, from the highest authority it trickled down to my commanding officer that, “If this man is misbehaving in any way it’s you who will get punished.” Getting such threats meant he won’t advance in rank and so the commanding officer told my lieutenant, who was the highest officer in my squad, “Look, you watch this guy. If he is misbehaving, I will punish you.”
That’s how it works in the army.
Being treated gently
I got to know about all this only later on. At this point I was just surprised that the lieutenant came to wake me up every morning, very softly, and asked, “Hello. Are you okay? How did you sleep?”
“What would you like to do today? Would you like to be inside or outside?”
“How is the weather?” I would ask.
“Well, the weather is quite nice today. Maybe we can do something outside?”
They treated me with kid gloves. The lieutenant was afraid I would freak out or create trouble. I had an incredible time in those three weeks!
My comrades reacted to this in different ways – of course I was the big thing. I saw this in my sannyas life many times; when you show yourself in a sincere way you only have a) really good friends and b) people who avoid you, who are scared of you, who reject you.
During the three weeks I had good friends and those who didn’t want to have anything to do with me. But the people who liked what I had done were in the majority, because I had done something against the army, something many of them would have also wanted to do – to stand up to this bullshit. But they all knew the consequence: it’s six months in prison. Hence nobody ever stood up.
I received support from the ones who admired my courage and were also interested in me as a person and wanted to know more about my life as a sannyasin. Actually, I never had so many friends in the army than during this time. They felt like accomplices.
A ride home with the commanding officer
After the first week we could go home for the weekend. My commanding officer, the one who had objected the lenient judgement, was living in Riehen, the same village I was from. I asked my friends what I should do. Shall I ask him for a ride or not? One of them suggested that I should just ask because he could always say no. I thought, “Well, what can I lose? I can ask him.” And I did. Maybe I am his enemy but he is not my enemy.
When I asked him, he looked away; I could see that he was not comfortable with this situation, but he did not have the courage to say no. He replied, “Okay.”
In the car the climate was rigid; he was kind of playing Swiss. We talked about this and that but he never really opened up. I presented too much of a danger to him. Anyway, I was proud that I had asked. I was not uncomfortable. I think being uncomfortable was his problem. For me it was like a challenge, such as, “Let’s see what happens…”
Music Group in the bunker
After the weekend I came back by train and brought my guitar, a first in my military service although it was generally accepted to bring an instrument. Of course, you cannot play music during the training, only in the evenings, when you are free. I brought the guitar because I knew all about the bunkers – huge bunkers, they are like cathedrals – with amazing acoustics!
One evening I played our Music Group songs in one of the empty bunkers. Just by myself. Then a couple of comrades came – of the friendly type – and asked, “Can we join you?” “Sure.” And so we created, maybe the ten of us, something like a music group. In a bunker!
Night-watch with a Walkman
For the first week I had chosen to be at the telephone switchboard. It was an old-fashioned contraption where I wore headphones, receiving incoming calls asking to be connected. I then had to call the requested person and announce, “I connect.” What I liked about the job was that I could listen in to every conversation and get all the news first-hand. Also, because in that room I was out of the ‘firing line’.
After ten days I became fed up with this every-day routine and asked to become a night guard. That was a job that most people didn’t want to do. My comrades preferred to do something during the day and then have time off in the evening; although the village was too far away, there was a restaurant, an ‘Alp’, a 2-kilometre walk away. It turned me off to see how everybody behaved with the waitress, how they got drunk and hear their boasting, typical male attitude – rough and loud – which I had already experienced in other work situations before.
For night-watch you have a precise route lined out where to make the rounds. You do one round for one hour and then a second guard takes over and does another round for one hour. Sometimes we were the two of us, but most of the time I was alone. When you walk on your own, you have a German Shepherd and live ammunition with you.
Another reason why I wanted to be a night guard was because I had just bought myself a new Walkman. It would not have been allowed to listen to music on headphones, because as a guard one has to listen to the surroundings. However, I felt safe in the night, with a loaded gun and the dog next to me, sitting on top of the mountain, seeing all the lights in the valley and looking at the stars in the clear sky. I was feeling so high listening to the recordings from Music Group in Pune, and hearing Osho’s words during those nights.
Shivananda vs Ackermann
I remember another incident. After a group exercise we had left our guns lying on the ground and gathered to stand ready at attention, when the command “Truppe antreten mit Gewehr,” (troops line up with rifle!) was given. And I could not find my rifle.
Everybody had their names marked on their rifles, for example, ‘Markus Fischer’, but mine just had ‘Shivananda’. It was the commander who found it and I knew it was mine from the way he looked at it. He picked it up, read the name and… I saw that he was going to shout out the name written on it, but then caught himself and very angrily roared, “Ackermann! Take the rifle and change the name.”
Many of my comrades called me Shivananda or Shiva. The ones who liked me called me Shiva and the ones who didn’t like me, called me Ackermann.
Even now I can tell if somebody accepts my spiritual path or not, mainly in my family. If they do, they call me Shivananda, if they don’t, they call me Heinz.
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.