1979: How I met Bhagwan

Featured Remembering Here&Now

Satprem’s story: “Sannyas changed my life miraculously.”

Satprem
Satprem in Sardinia on a photoshoot for a movie, before her flight to India

I was already ‘a dropout’ before I travelled to India. I changed from being an actress to studying theology and art in Berlin, and taught a short time in schools. Before my last exam, something so drastic happened that I didn’t feel like settling. The result was, I sold all my belongings at a flea market in Berlin and moved to the ‘Hippie Island’ Ibiza. I lived in a finca, an old farmhouse, made from natural stone and huge wooden beams with no electricity, surrounded by nature.

I earned my living by selling my paintings at the hippie market and was everywhere surrounded by sannyasins dressed in red – but had no idea what the meaning was. I felt attracted because they looked exotic, laughed a lot and behaved very openly. My finca was a meeting place for philosophical discussions with a group of young Europeans and Americans who had travelled around the world and met this and that Master. With a chillum going around, they relaxed in front of a warm fireplace while I actually did “chop the wood and carry the water.” Much later I came to know the meaning of this Koan. Our water came from a cisterna (a well) situated beyond a large cornfield, cut in winter. When it stood high, I had to carry the water around its perimeter, bucket by bucket.

During the meetings I overheard the words “Bhagwan and his red devils”. There was a lot of mistrust, jealousy and judgement expressed, but I also heard many interesting adventures, which increasingly evoked my curiosity to travel. One day a friend told me that he had been in Pune, India, where the guru of those “red devils” lived in an ashram, which he planned to visit. We agreed to travel together, but first to the countries which pulled me the most: Afghanistan, Thailand, Nepal, and if possible Tibet. I agreed to visit Pune at the end of our one-year trip. So we bought plane tickets to Delhi. I had no interest in gurus, after the impression I’d got from the ‘fireplace discussions’ in Ibiza.

Then a book with an orange cover and the picture of a bearded face in an amulet, came into my hands. This face touched me deeply and seemed to remind me of something: it captured more than my usual interest. A Stern reporter describes vividly his journey to the ashram in order to write an article, his scepticism and how he slowly grew into the ashram family and became a disciple of the guru. I read Ganz entspannt im Hier und Jetzt (The Cosmic Madhouse) with fascination, swallowing it in one day’s non-stop reading, even though my eyes were burning. At times my body hair stood up; I found myself laughing out loud and tears of joy rolled down my face: I was captivated by what I read and dived into a different world, yet one which felt so familiar.

When I had finished the book I told my friend that I had to meet Bhagwan; to whom I then hand-wrote a long letter explaining my background and asking which groups would be helpful for my apparently hopeless situation. I opened up completely, sharing one of my deepest, most painful secrets: the fear of being unable to truly love.

I received an answer with the start-date of our first group. So Hugo and I travelled to Pune via Delhi, with the tickets we’d booked to visit all the other places first… It was a long journey with numerous stops. To save money, we bought the cheapest third-class tickets, sharing a compartment meant for 8 people with countless bodies. They were sitting on the floor between our legs, lying in the luggage racks, sitting in the passageway and even in the toilet. I was squeezed in between sweating bodies, the smell of spices and other oriental smells and barely able to look inside my travel bag. When I tried to, immediately a face sank into the opening. My travelling companion suggested with typical humour “dive a little deeper to see better.” The stranger happily followed this cynically-meant advice . Really? Everything felt so surreal and dream-like.

We stopped at famous Agra to visit the Taj Mahal and also made a stop in Varanasi, where I wished to visit the burning ghats. The streets towards the ghats are very narrow, so I left my taxi and walked through narrow streets with temples left and right as it suddenly opened to a large platform made from stone which descended in many steps down to the water.

Fires burned everywhere, high and low. Men with shaven heads stood around a wooden pyre and set it alight. Others bought wood to burn their relative. I saw only a few women in loud mourning. The funeral was a job for a male, mostly the eldest son, who set the dead body aflame. A mixture of silent mourning, respect for the dead and loud haggling for the price of material goods, filled the air.

It smelt of burning flesh and I noticed in astonishment that this didn’t disgust me. Slowly I walked from pyre to pyre and sat on a step in front of one. Fascinated I watched the happenings. I saw dogs running around and pulling body parts from some abandoned pyres. I saw a foot falling down and greedily snapped up by two dogs, fighting for it. In the flames an arm danced up from the heat, as if still alive. I closed my eyes, heavy from the heat of the flames and when they opened after a long while, it was totally dark. No people were seen or heard. The only light came from the burning pyres and a bright-starred heaven. The white buildings of a few temples peeled out of the darkness.

I was alone with these wild dogs which looked like hyenas, with light yellowish fur, high legs, small heads and very sharp teeth. Suddenly a man in white appeared next to me with a chai wallah, asking if I wanted a chai. I felt so relieved seeing the priest and invited him and the chai wallah for a drink. He insisted I had to pay for everyone and more and more men stepped out of the darkness, taking a chai. I refused, paid for my two chais and wanted to leave. Several men surrounded me very tightly and refused to give way.

I heard aggressive questions as to why I, as a western woman, was alone at the burning ghats and more. Sweat lay in the air and it felt scary, like a potential rape. Suddenly a pack of dogs came and I could see the men disappearing with fear in their eyes. About thirteen dogs growled and formed a large circle around me. Now the men were gone… but I sat in the circle, surrounded by these very scary wild dogs. It was getting late and I had to get up at some point, which I did. To my amazement the dogs split left and right to my sides and moved calmly with me to my waiting taxi. I felt safe and protected.

The taxi driver opened the door, but when he saw me coming with all the dogs, he closed it again in fear. I knocked at the window, laughing and realised that he had indeed been waiting for me. I was told not to pay before the end of the travel and it had paid off. Finally he quickly opened the door and started into the night. In front of the hotel, he didn’t even want to take my money…

Arrival in Pune

Finally Hugo and I reached Pune and went in our dirty travelling clothes directly to the ashram, because we wanted to know which day our first group would begin. We stood in front of a huge wooden portal, named The Gateless Gate, the ashram entrance. Everything reminded me of biblical times: women and men in long orange gowns moved in slow motion in and out, cheerfully talking, hand in hand, hugging, even kissing. Beautiful children laughed and ran amongst the long-legged ones. There was a vibe of lightness and I remember that everyone looked graceful. My first fear regarding this strange movie dissolved; I thought, ‘where so many beautiful people exist, there can’t be danger…’

At a reception we said our names and after a short time a bearded, orange-robed man appeared. Our group had started that very morning and they had waited for us. He amiably advised us to first get a hotel, rest and book the next group. I don’t know where it came from but it spoke very clearly out of me “It’s now or never.”

So the Swami (as a male sannyasin is called; female sannyasins are called Ma) showed us the group’s location. I was disappointed because Hugo and I were given separate rooms. Bhagwan had given me five groups; all advanced, I later understood, with not much heavy encounter. To me they were heavy enough and it did come to encounters…

After the first group, we were invited to the first darshan outside the guru’s home, Lao Tzu House. We were told not to use perfume, scented soaps or shower gel before this meeting. Meanwhile we wore orange robes, like everyone in the ashram. Orange was the colour of discipleship, we were told. I was very excited to see the guru for the first time in an intimate situation. All groups, when finished, were invited by Bhagwan, so he could feel their energy and growth.

We were placed at the very back, because we were ‘energetically not clean enough,’ or so I understood. I stared at the entrance where Bhagwan was expected to appear. Suddenly he appeared, as if walking on air. His hands gently folded to a namaste (greeting the inner light); his long beard was white and he wore a simple white robe and plain black sandals.

I felt completely besotted. He sank softly into a large armchair, crossed his legs while one of the sandals slipped to the ground, nodded warmly and looked around with these endless deep eyes. I disappeared into this night of the unknown, completely fascinated by this being. I couldn’t shift my gaze for even a tiny second. I breathed THAT, whatsoever he represented, deeply into myself. The “me” I knew, melted away, into HIM. Even while writing this, thirty-nine years later, tears appear.

I watched so-called leaving and welcome darshans where he welcomed disciples, coming back from the West or somewhere from India, spoke some personal words to them, so sweetly and gently and did the same with people who were leaving India.

Then blue white lights flashed up and he gave Energy Darshans. One person sat with closed eyes in front of him as Bhagwan pressed a finger gently at the forehead, while several other disciples bridged the energy from him to the receiver. All I could feel was a wave of bliss, till electricity crawled up my legs, moving through my heart into my arms. I couldn’t keep them down anymore and began to sway and shake heavily. Suddenly the energy stopped and if Hugo hadn’t held my head, it would have crashed down onto the marble floor. I was in another world, silent and receptive. Something indescribably wonderful had happened to me.

Taking the jump?

I soon blended into this different world. It became my home and I forgot my wish to visit Afghanistan, Tibet, Nepal and Thailand. Here was the whole world with its colours, languages and adventures. Time ran out too quickly and we had to get ready to fly back to Europe. Before this, we wished to visit a lake in Nepal.

Often during the groups, someone’s mala (the necklace with a locket with Bhagwan’s photo that he lays around one’s neck when one receives sannyas, the ceremony of becoming his disciple) had fallen at my feet or was thrown playfully around my neck. Our time came to decide whether we wanted to become disciples. The mind is strong and the more people pressed me to “take the jump,” the more I felt resistant. Despite being so much in love with the man, I had postponed this ceremony all my six months being in the commune. I felt, ‘I am already a disciple and don’t need the mala.’

Somehow we finally decided to take sannyas and stood washed and in special dresses for the ceremony, in front of the Lao Tzu Gate. The sniffers had to decide whether we could go in for sannyas; Hugo was not accepted. Rumours circulated that one smelled too much from chemicals or ego, when refused… I was allowed in, WITH my silky shawl as turban covering the hair. I felt very lost without my friend and sad that we couldn’t share this event. When the sniffers smelt me again I closed my eyes, crossed my fingers and wished to also be refused… and I was. Happy I pulled the turban off and ran after Hugo… and were called into the office.

I was accused of having been negative about sannyas and felt, that was not the truth. I didn’t feel guilt or negativity at all, just at ease.

Satprem receiving initiation
Sannyas initiation, 14th May 1980

Before one was allowed into sannyas, one received written instructions on what to do, while sitting in front of the master.

One had to bow down and namaste.

My first thought was, ‘I cannot do this even to myself, how can I bow in front of another?’

We had one more week dancing in the Buddhafield and enjoying the ashram. One early morning I was totally alone sitting on the white marble of Buddha Hall, listening to the silent song of the surrounding bamboo. Suddenly my whole body bowed down, till my forehead touched the marble. I felt a shower of grace touching me. The message was clear and tears of release and joy rolled down my cheeks. Without thinking I ran to the place where sannyas was booked, passed the seated queue and stood breathless in front of Laxmi, Bhagwan’s sweet secretary.

She smiled calmly, “You are ready for sannyas?” How did she know? I said “Yes,” got a date and ran happily out, passing the queue. Only then did I realise that not only had I pushed in front of everyone waiting, but had forgotten to ask if Hugo could take sannyas with me. I ran back and before I opened my mouth Laxmi smiled mysteriously and said, “Of course, tell Hugo he is with you.”

“I know you from ancient times”

On 14th May 1980, we again queued for sannyas and this time we both passed through – and without headscarf. We were six of us: two Asians, two from Australia, Hugo from Belgium and me.

Hugo had asked to receive the second of his three names and I had asked for another name. Hugo was called and I watched the ceremony, so entranced that someone had to “wake me up,” because when my name was called next, I don’t remember how I sat down in front of Bhagwan.

Immediately my eyes dove down into HIS and I SAW a dream I had 10 years before this meeting.

I was amongst others sat on benches in an exotic garden where monkeys were playing. We moved one behind the other into a round place, where again we were placed on wooden benches. I felt unwelcome, like a stranger. Suddenly an androgynous being appeared in front of the half-circle. (S)he was dressed in white, sitting on the floor. I was called in front, without speaking, and sat down. We immediately melted into each other. Whilst our heads swayed softly, “I” was absorbed into this being and when the movement stopped and my eyes opened, I said silently, “I know you from ancient times.” The being agreed, again wordlessly.

I knew it was Bhagwan I had met in that dream. The same energies and some details were actual now. I also noticed, that my eyes were looking at HIM all the time as the dream passed through my mind. It seemed to have been a very long time which began with my noticing that his eyes absorbed mine with a colour changing wave of circles from a soft brown to dark and lighter shades of green, till I was gone.

“Coming back” we still sat in this empty silence together; I noticed the hand of Shiva (his bodyguard) trying to separate me from this intimacy and – swash, Bhagwan’s hand pushed Shiva’s away, before he could touch me and we kept looking at each other for a little while more.

When he put on the mala, I literally felt as if knighted and my left shoulder lowered in burden, to the amusement of the people behind. I thought, ‘I never can live up to the meaning of this name’ (Satprem means True Love). Slowly I pulled my body away from this dreamlike happening. Coming out of Lao Tzu House, people received us excitedly and in the Buddha Hall there was high energy, ecstatic dancing and singing. Many hugged us, receiving us into the family.

In one darshan I heard Bhagwan say that people without prefix had been with him 700 years ago in his last life, where he was killed by one of his disciples who was around now. I feared that this was me, with all my heavy experiences from childhood, youth and middle age. Nevertheless, sannyas changed my life miraculously.

Bhagwan, you entered my heart long before I met you in this life and never left it.

Thank You.

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