Third excerpt from Steve Small’s book, Mind the Gap: these words that grabbed his attention; a new name in the post – Prem Sudesh; a ticket to India.
London, June 1976
I stood in a green bedroom in an Islington communal household, rooted to the spot by what I read.
“Tantra loves, and loves unconditionally.” Gosh. This was indeed a bold statement, pinned on a notice board above a small desk. Such an offer was surely worth considering. I had no idea what Tantra was, only that it was some kind of spiritual approach, but its claim of loving unconditionally held some appeal. I moved closer and read the passage underneath, transcribed from a talk by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the increasingly popular Indian guru.
“Tantra … says yes to everything … it never says no to anything, because with ‘no’ the fight starts … The moment you say ‘no’ to anything, you become the ego … now you are at war …
“When there is no ‘no’, how can you fight? How can you be at war? You simply float. You simply merge and melt.” *
Wow. This sounded amazing, and so very simple! Maybe a bit too simple? Still, having had a taste of it, I for one would love to float again, only more sociably this time. The only trouble with floating, in my experience, was that it very often turned into drowning when tried with another human being. They had a way of gripping onto you and taking you down as they went under. Or was that just me? Was it a product of my paranoia, having mixed with the wrong company? Either way, I read on.
“You become one. The boundaries are there no more … Whenever you say yes, your being opens …
The whole existence suddenly is transformed…” *
Transformation – yes, this sounded attractive: more radical and much less hard work than change, which took forever. So far my own quest to say yes to existence had backfired. After certain traumatic experiences, my internal no was emblazoned through me like the legend in a stick of Brighton rock. No to my parents, authority, to the staff at the local Jobcentre; even to lovers, – anyone who tried to get close.
Which road should I follow: surrender or defiance? I needed a map.
“When you sit in front of Bhagwan, he just sees everything inside you,” my older and wiser friend Jerry (now re-named Geetesh) told me. “He sees all your past lives – everything. He’s a cosmic therapist. You really have to go there Steve.”
“Look, I don’t want to be a guru-worshipper,” I said disdainfully.
But I had another friend, a single parent of a teenage girl, whom I could never put in the bracket of ‘guru chaser.’ Ann was perceptive and hard-headed, an educated working class Glaswegian, Marxist and feminist. Yet she went to Pune for a month, writing regularly back. At her own darshan with the teacher, Ann came straight to the point, asking, “Why do I want to have a baby?” He replied that she should focus on her own inner baby instead, because “you have never loved, or been loved, tremendously,” Ann told me on her return. “You should go there, Steve. Face up to whatever it is you’re avoiding.”
“But what exactly is a sannyasin, in your understanding?” I asked.
“Someone who recognises they are completely alone.”
“Really? But if you know you’re alone, why do you need him so much??!”
“Because we keep forgetting it. He’s there to remind us. He’s not like a normal person, who needs something from you. He’s a mirror.”
“A mirror to what?”
“To that in you which is eternal.”
Gradually I was being pulled. I did the active meditations regularly; but the final and most decisive influence from other people was that of Giuseppe.
He was short, stocky with black, Afro-style hair, possessing that seductive innocence of a Botticelli cherub. At his secondary school Giuseppe had worn his hair very long, which was strictly prohibited. To avoid detection he kept it controlled, in a narrow ponytail down his back, and whenever a teacher was near, ensured he faced that authority-figure head on, emanating that cherubic innocence, careful never to show his profile. However, one day the headmaster did glimpse his unacceptable hairstyle from the side.
“Come here boy!” he roared and grabbed hold of Giuseppe, who then let diplomacy slip. “Oh, fuck off, man, and leave me alone.”
“WHAT DID YOU SAY, BOY???!!!!”
“I suddenly realised,” Giuseppe recounted, “that I was surrounded by mad people, that this wasn’t a place I could stay a moment longer.”
We met in spring 1977 and I was impressed by his sincere commitment to spiritual enquiry. He’d read many books by Gurdjieff, whereas I found them so complex I couldn’t get past the first page.
Rajneesh’s followers were conspicuous as they walked around London, a city where millions dressed in black and grey: the orange-clad disciple was a moving target of curiosity, if not ridicule. You were obliged to try and explain what you were doing: were you in some sort of travelling street theatre?
“Everything we humans aspire to be is absurd,” Giuseppe told one young woman at a party, his huge brown eyes gazing steadily at her curious face, enveloping her in an aura of sincerity.
“We pretend to be so serious, so important… We try to hold onto some kind of permanence. A sannyasin is simply someone who has seen through this whole pretence and who refuses to take him or herself seriously any longer.”
Hearing him say all this, that little yes inside me grew slowly bigger. Meanwhile in the summer of 1977, the first ‘Festival of Mind, Body and Spirit’ was held in London’s Olympia, introducing an exotic spectrum of self-discovery pathways to the broader public. The sannyasins had a stall there, broadcasting Bhagwan’s taped lectures throughout the day.
Nearby was a geodesic dome. I’d never been in one before; you had to crawl through a low entrance and wonderfully soothing music played within. Its composer was also a painter. Displayed around the dome, his portraits looked as the music sounded. They showed humans alone or in pairs, in a quiet landscape, and behind each stood an ethereal, cosmic parent figure emanating mother-of-pearl light. Their eyes were eternal and peaceful; their long limbs contained and supported the fragile humans. This was something I wanted to say yes to. This was cosmic parenting. I spent as much time as I could in the dome. In this protective environment, with time suspended, I decided to take a jump, and wrote to Bhagwan asking for a new name.
Whilst waiting for the reply, I recalled my return journey by car from Spain four years previously, shortly after a disastrous LSD trip. As we drove between towering mountains, I re-read a letter in a book from a teenage girl who’d also taken Lysergic Acid.
“I have entered a country so vast it terrifies me … this new landscape is so raw and undefinable. Nothing can ever be the same. I can’t remain in the narrow limits of my parents’ generation, working like a robot, consuming. I cannot go back to how life was before. Yet I have no map for this new terrain.”
I had never told anyone about this letter or how much I identified with its writer. About ten days after my letter to Bhagwan, a reply came back, the crisp light page bearing his signature. My name was to be Prem Sudesh. It meant Country of Love. “Now is the time,” he wrote, “to begin exploring the inner territory.”
A wave of surprise surged through me. Was this coincidence, or was Bhagwan psychic? In any case, a few weeks later I bought a plane ticket to Bombay.
One autumn evening Giuseppe came to visit. We sat together as the sun began to sink, casting a mellow glow across my room. Eventually our conversation tailed off, and we simply looked at each other, resting in wordless rapport. The ‘no’ had receded: I was at one with Giuseppe. So something had shifted: it was possible, after all, to float safely when other humans were present.
I gazed at the slightly yellowing white wall, which was now a prism refracting many colours, pulsating with aliveness. Perhaps this was what Bhagwan meant by Tantra, by the sense of separation melting. Wholeness was arising spontaneously, without effort or technique. Then I reflected, well, if this can happen here, next to the Holloway Road, why bother going all the way to India?
As if reading my thoughts, Giuseppe looked at me with those huge almond eyes.
“Did you know I’ve got my ticket?” he asked. “I’m flying out there at the end of October, by charter plane.” We were on the same flight. At that moment, I knew my journey would be okay. Whatever happened, at least Giuseppe and I would be close. My ticket was one-way, so while travelling home overland, I’d get to see some more of India.
Last but not least, we’d get a break from 1977’s raucous punk music.
*) From Osho, Tantra: The Supreme Understanding, Ch 5