Final part of ‘In the West’: Shivananda continues his storytelling while Punya asks the questions.
Previous stories about the army and more in ‘And Another Story…‘
While doing my yearly three-week army service in Switzerland, I always asked myself, “Would it be possible to take so many women like we are men here – 200 or even more – and make them do what we are doing?” I knew it would be impossible. It’s impossible to get 200 women and make them do such stupid things that we did here. It’s impossible.
Do you think men are more like robots?
Yes, yes, definitely. Osho’s women have much more courage. They would just say, “I am not going to do this.”
In the army they just drill you. For instance, in the middle of the night they wake you up and yell, “Take your boots and show them to Lieutenant Gerber at the Bären Restaurant in 10 minutes!” You get dressed in a hurry and rush off with the second pair of boots in hand and run for two kilometres to show them to the lieutenant for him to check if they are clean.
He also had his preferences. If he did not like you or if he wanted to punish you for any reason he would just say, “No, they are not clean.” Then you would have to run back, clean them and show them to him again. Of course, this kind of exercise made many soldiers angry. It’s a way to test them, to see how far they can go, if these men would do it. And they did – but sometimes I saw someone disobey, and to make an example, he was given 5 days in prison. This would scare most of us.
Or the commander would make the soldiers stand in line in the courtyard – in the rain – for no reason at all, just as a test to see if someone is freaking out. During the entire three weeks I was on the edge of freaking out a few times. I always had this fantasy of taking my rifle, throw it on the ground and let out a big scream. Maybe I was lucky that I didn’t do it.
But also in the commune you were asked sometimes to do things that did not make sense or you did not want to do.
Yes, but it’s a different thing. Surrender is different than just being forced by a command. It’s a totally different thing, because surrender is not about breaking your will.
People who were not involved in commune life used to ask me, “Why do you do these things? Why do you work without making money? Why do you do a job that you normally would never do?”
First of all, there’s always a different purpose when you are in a spiritual commune to which you surrender. You obviously give yourself to something higher. You offer yourself. You normally say, “’I’ have this idea, ‘I’ have that idea, ‘I’ do this, ‘I’ do that, ‘I’ don’t do that.” ‘I’, the ego.
When you have that kind of experience, of surrendering to a commune, you actually do things in a different way. There might be resistance at first – resistance is normal – but you go through it and then you see what comes out on the other side. You can actually see that doing a certain thing, which you did not want to do in the first place, has freed you up. It has given you a lot more freedom.
My experience in the army was that they want you to first accept the hierarchy. As a soldier you are on the lowest rung and then you have all these other men higher up. You then you have to greet the higher-ranked one; you are actually forced to greet the higher-ranked, to show respect. You are forced to obey anyone who is higher than you.
Nobody who is on the same level as you can give you an order. If a soldier wants you to do something you can tell him, “No, I am not doing this. Go and get an officer and then I’ll do it.” You only follow the higher-ranked. This hierarchy is being used as a measurement to enslave you, a way to break your backbone. They break your own judgement.
I saw in the commune a lot of rebels. They were rebellious in many different ways; maybe refusing to work, refusing to do something they were asked to. I could see that there was a lot of freedom in that; you could easily rebel. I never had the feeling with Osho that I was forced to do anything I didn’t want to do. Of course, there was the danger of being ‘punished’.
The ‘punishment’ could be… For instance when I was in the commune in Zurich I was the head of the graphic design department. At one time I didn’t comply to a request. I didn’t obey. I did it my way and not the way the person in charge wanted it to be done. They called me and said, “We think it would be good for you to have a change. We send you to the Zorba the Buddha Restaurant.”
I immediately left and turned up at the restaurant kitchen where I was asked to wash pots. That was meant to be a punishment, but for me it was very different. First of all, I was proud that I did the graphic project my way. Secondly, that I didn’t say I was sorry, that I stood to what I had done, although I knew what consequences it could have.
As soon as I started, I realized that I actually loved washing pots! It was great fun to be in the kitchen. I would not have wanted to go back to the main office. Later, the restaurant needed a waiter, so I became a waiter. “Well, now I’ll have fun as a waiter,” I thought. They could have asked me to do any other job and it would have been OK.
What I experienced in the commune was that in situations like these, where I had not followed the given directions and when I had not been ‘proper’, they always ended up in an expansion.
You also lost your identity as a graphic designer, I imagine.
Yes, I also saw that I could have been stuck being identified as a graphic designer. There is the ego, the pride, because you can have the idea that to be a graphic designer is more important than to be a pot washer. Actually, to become a pot washer freed me from this identification.
I felt that there was joy in saying yes, but always with the trust for Osho in the background. Because he is the one I am surrendering to. The big difference between the army and the commune is that the surrender is to Osho. I felt that I can benefit and receive from him. He knows me better than I know myself – that was always my feeling. If I go along with whatever this journey brings, it is always beneficial, as so many events in my past have proven.
Another example is when I was told that the Berlin commune needed a graphic designer.
“Tomorrow morning you take the train to Berlin.”
“But what about my girlfriend, Shivani?”
“I think it’s good for you to separate a little bit.”
Of course, I didn’t want to leave Kota Commune in Zurich. I didn’t want to leave Shivani. It would never have crossed my mind to join the commune in Berlin. But still something in me said, “Well, there is something in it which I am not aware of yet. At least it will be an adventure, so why not take the chance?” I could have refused to go, but I didn’t.
By saying yes, I always felt it gave me something which I could not have received otherwise. It then happened that in Berlin I was only needed for a short time, for two or three weeks. Then I was told, “They need a graphic designer in Cologne,” so I went to Cologne. I worked for the Osho Times there. After another short while I was told, “It’s time for you to go to Rajneeshpuram.” So, I went to the Ranch. Probably I would not have had the chance to go there if I had remained in Zurich.
That journey for me was a positive experience and I think it was for Shivani too. She had surrendered to that opportunity, to be on her own, to say yes. She also liked that period of separation; she was not grieving or suffering. Shivani then came to the Festival on the Ranch and we stayed together. After the festival – a few months before the Ranch closed – back in Zurich Shivani and I took an apartment together, as Kota had gone bankrupt.
There is a big difference, because in the army you meet these men who are basically cowards. Many of them are. They want to have their secure life, their secured family life, a secured job, and in order to do this they do all that bullshit the army tells them to do. They will not take any risks. I saw what this is doing to these men, mainly the ones I felt connected to, the ones who were on my wavelength.
My feeling is it’s tribal. There is the tribe of those who always follow and do things according to the rules, the ‘good’ people. And then there is the tribe of people who go their own way, the rebels.
You said earlier that when you follow an order in a spiritual commune you feel better and expanded. I think that’s the clue.
Yes. In the army, after you follow the order, you don’t feel better. You just feel, “This is just bullshit!” You feel crushed, you just feel they have managed to demonstrate their power again. How little, how small you are. It’s all about power. Who has the power.
When I came back from those three weeks of military service, I felt even more strongly, how much I had benefited from being a sannyasin. Without Osho I would not have had the courage to rebel.
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.