Another excerpt from Steve Small’s book, ‘Mind the Gap’; his question to Osho is read in discourse, Primal group and lessons taken on from the therapists.
Pune, India, March 1978
I parked my bike at the ashram. The silence of three hundred humans assembled in the lecture hall was currently as loud as the morning calls of nearby birds, for people were charged with anticipation, awaiting their teacher’s arrival.
“Whoever needs to cough,” a Rasputin-haired Englishman at the front urged through a microphone, “please do it now rather than later. We don’t want Bhagwan to be greeted by a hail of coughing.” This prompted a cacophony of loud coughs and sneezes from across the concrete floored, wood-pillared auditorium, since any excessive coughing during the talk might result in eviction by one of the burly guards. This racket momentarily drowned the cawing crows and exotic parrots.
The hall had a corrugated iron, cotton-draped roof and was open to the air on each side. Another assistant placed a large upholstered swivel armchair in the centre of a raised marble platform. He cleaned the already spotless floor around it, redirecting any stray creatures away from where Shree Rajneesh, who suffered from many allergies, would soon sit. This faithful assistant would remain on ‘insect duty’ for the next hour.
Finally, the limousine came purring around the hall’s edge from its passenger’s residence about five hundred metres away, stopping behind the platform. His chauffeur opened its nearside door for Rajneesh, who emerged wearing his usual white robe and sandals and headed for the swivel chair, where he was handed a list of questions. Suddenly the strong intuition I had whilst cycling over, arose again at the rear of the hall, like a vector beaming from his head to mine. “He is going to read out my question – and it will be the first one.”
And so it was.
“The first question: ‘You have been telling us that we should accept everything in this ashram – or leave. I see around me much celebration of extravagant material wealth, such as crystal chandeliers at the entrance gate, whilst beggars sit outside on the dirt road with nothing. There are also people in positions of authority here, who seem to be on some kind of power trip. I find all this very difficult to accept. Does that mean I should leave?’
At the imploring tone of this final plea, most people erupted into laughter – possibly from relief that someone else was voicing a doubt, which they themselves secretly harboured; thank God somebody else was getting ridiculed for it.
Bhagwan’s timing and delivery were very skilled; this was evident when he lectured in Hindi, for whilst Bhagwan with deadpan face went straight on, without pause, to the next point, the Indian disciples fell about laughing, just as their western counterparts were doing now. As they held their sides or literally rolled on the floor around me, paradoxically I noticed a sense of quietude inside. I remained determined to give it a go. The illusion of belonging and of possibly receiving cosmic parenting was not yet fully played out. Meanwhile, I resolved to apply myself like my friends and stay until my savings were exhausted. A few weeks later my close friend Rajan returned to London, having exhausted his funds. The loss of this spiritual brother’s company was soothed by a letter from my biological sibling Chris.
“I am thinking I may join you out there for a while,” he wrote in his rounded, slightly off-kilter hand. Although this prospect sounded highly unlikely, only a matter of days afterwards I found myself sitting outside the Railway tea rooms, when Chris himself came walking along the market road toward me. He wore a white cheesecloth Indian shirt I’d bought him for Xmas two years earlier.
For all his cynicism, Chris took a jump into the Unknown. He soon wrote to Bhagwan about his difficulty in breathing through the nose in meditation, whereupon the teacher invited him to darshan and gave Chris initiation and the new name of Savito.
After finding accommodation to share with his devotee girlfriend Shraddha, who was about to leave London to become a long-term ashram worker, my brother stayed in Pune for a month before returning to his carpentry job in Shepperton film studio with our father. Initially he went into work in full sannyasin clothing, including his beaded locket with its intense portrait of the teacher on both sides. But his appearance provoked such a relentless torrent of ridicule from fellow workers that the next day he toned down his dress-code.
“I have never been so open as I was then,” Chris recounted in later years. But as open and resilient as he was, only the well-defended could survive in such a working environment.
The last self-development group I participated in at the ashram was called Primal. It lasted fourteen days, with constant friction between the men and women. Like most other groups, the Primal course took place in a padded, windowless underground room with subdued lighting. At the very start, one of the three leaders, a tough blond ponytailed Irishman named Naresh, told us, “If you have any preconceptions about what you need to work on in this group – for example, sorting out your self-esteem – forget them as of now.” I thought this instruction undermined personal autonomy and was another example of the misguided ‘surrender’ ethos.
I soon had other concerns, however, because the second leader, Anam, told me, “You’re obviously not taking what you learn in groups out into your daily life. I want to give you some homework assignments to rectify this. To start with, you are going to go out tonight and you are going to fuck.”
“Listen, matey,” I retaliated. “In the first place, do you have to be so vulgar? And in the second place, I’m not a performing dog, to change my behaviour on your command, all right?”
But Anam’s group therapist training had immunised him to such resistance. I guessed his parentage was half-Asian and half-English, for despite his jet-black hair and olive skin, he had the very English pre-sannyas name of Hugh Smith, along with a cultured accent.
“I’m not your problem,” he replied, looking at me levelly; which was true enough. So after each day’s group, like a mole exposed to the light, I went out to the local sannyasin-organised disco, where I made an effort to look at the dancing females but was too shy to approach anyone.
In fairness to Anam, he was the only person in Pune who openly empathised with my experience of being laughed at for that doubt-revealing question to Bhagwan.
On the twelfth day a laid-back working class young Englishman called Sateesh, with a silver ankle bracelet, began working his way around the group, firing astute insights like Zen arrows into the bull’s eye of each participant’s foibles. He told me, “You’re like a spy who’s been captured for interrogation behind enemy lines, aren’t you? You keep on coming out with all this information, but it’s all just a diversion. It’s a way of diverting people from the deeper truth, isn’t it?”
“You’re probably right,” I admitted. “But that truth is so deep, it’s a mystery even to me!”
Anam said this withheld quality was my creativity, and instructed me to go home, write a poem and read it aloud next day. In the resultant verses, I attempted to sketch each of the group participants. For instance, Anam’s co-leader Naresh reminded me of the guard in the Marvel comic Thor, who stood on the mythological Rainbow Bridge before the gates of Valhalla, challenging anyone who tried to trespass. Naresh did say one very perceptive thing that stuck with me, a long-term challenge to put into practice: “I think you need to be with people.”
Outside the ashram gates and across the road was a gathering point for sannyasin smokers. One early evening I saw a friend I knew from London called Parik, who now worked in the ashram typing pool, standing in the smoking zone. Her name meant ‘fairylike.’ Having always harboured warm feelings towards her, midway into our conversation and without any forethought, I asked, “Do you think this could be an opportunity for us to get closer?” There was a pause, then Parik shook her head. “You and I,” she said, “are just two solitary souls travelling alone through this universe.” Her smile added, “And this is how it will always be.”
At 15, Steve (Prem Sudesh) Small was inspired by the Summer of Love to get expelled from school. At 20 he left London Underground for full immersion in 70s communes, psychedelics, experimental therapies and neo-sannyas. At 35, still meditating he began teaching adults in a multi-cultural London college. At 66 he lives in rural Somerset; sawing wood, carrying water, turning compost and walking the hills and vales.