An extraordinary journey into the interior

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In his second article of four, Bernard Levin described the impact Osho’s presence and discourse has. Published in The Times, UK, 9 April 1980.

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The Times newspaper article

In introducing yesterday an account of my visit to the Poona ashram of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, I concluded by drawing attention to some of the manifestations of the hostility this remarkable teacher has attracted. It is not surprising. For Rajneesh is beyond any doubt a deeply disturbing influence. At the end of the path which leads towards the discourse auditorium (which is called Buddha Hall) there is a sign reading: “Shoes and minds to be left here.” The shoes present no problem: but every instinct of Man revolts, screaming, against the second position. And yet it does not take years of meditation to recognize that all the most important, and all the most forceful, achievements and influences that affect human beings by-pass the mind altogether to have their effect; art, laughter, fear – none of these can be understood by the mind, nor are the workings of any of them understood by the mind. And of course, there is one more such area in human beings that does not depend on the mind for its existence, and cannot look to the mind for an explanation: love.

That is the business of Rajneesh, as it was the business of Christ and Buddha and Lao Tzu and all the other Enlightened Masters who have born witness through the centuries to the same two principles: that love is the force that through the green fuse drives the flower, and that everything we need to be, wish to be and ought to be, we already are. Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Or, as Rajneesh puts it:

My message is: Drop the mind and you will become available to God. Become innocent and you will be bridged with God. Drop this ego, drop this idea that you are somebody special. Be ordinary and you will become extraordinary. Be true to your inner being and all religions are fulfilled. And when you don’t have a mind, then you have a heart. When you don’t have a mind only then your heart starts pulsating, then you have love. No-mind means love. Love is my message.

Or, as he puts it even more succinctly:

Everybody is born perfect, with the signature of God; imperfection is a learnt thing.

Leaving my hotel in Poona at 7 am, I paused to ask the receptionist for directions to the Rajneesh ashram; she gave them, but I thought I detected a slight smile on her lips as she did so, and when I got outside I realized what she meant. For nobody could fail to find the way to the extraordinary magnet that Rajneesh has become; from every part of the town orange-clad rivers flowed in the same direction, until the tributaries all met in the same stream, and I found myself outside the gates.

I have described the scene as the audience waits for Rajneesh to appear and begin his daily discourse. It now falls to me to do the same for the discourse itself. This is a much more difficult task; for although I can convey something of his technique as a speaker, and of course quote his words, the astonishing effect it has – an effect which seems to bathe the hearer in a refulgent glow of wisdom and love – is something which it is easier to experience than to describe.

His voice is low, smooth and exceptionally beautiful; he has a habit of lingering on any final consonant, not just an s. His English is surprisingly idiomatic and syntactically almost, though not quite, perfect. His gestures are hypnotically graceful and eloquent; he has extraordinary long fingers, and he uses his hands, particularly the left, in an endless variety of expressive forms. At a distance, he looks far older than his 48 years; this is the effect of the patriarchal beard and hair, but from a close viewpoint, it is clear that his face is unlined, his eyes penetrating and clear.

What he says is couched in language of great power and fluency; he is one of the most remarkable orators I have ever heard, though there is no hint of demagogy in his style, and no hortatory or pedagogic feeling about the content of what he says. He uses quotations and references very freely (these seem to be written down, as are some of the jokes, but they constitute the only notes he uses); in the three discourses I heard, on consecutive days, he quoted Bertrand Russell, William James, Norbert Wiener, e e cummings, Nietzsche, Whitman, and others. Some of his references seem dubious: was Freud phobic about looking into others’ eyes? Did Jung have a phobic fear of death and fall psychosomatically ill every time he tried to set out on a long-desired visit to Egypt “to see the mummies”? Is there a suicide-rate among psychiatrists twice as high as among the rest of the population? Is the average time an American spends in one dwelling three years, and is the average length of American marriages the same?

Se non è vero… Rajneesh is not trying to purvey information, but a truth that bypasses conscious thought and all that belongs to it, just as the most important activities of human beings bypass the mind. I filled pages with notes of his words, but I am vividly aware of the fact that quotation can offer only a string to aperçus, divorced from the context (itself meticulously constructed and shaped, despite the absence of notes) of passion and conviction in which they are set. Nevertheless:

We are called escapists, but if your house is on fire and you escape, nobody calls you an escapist.

A man who is split can never be the master of himself.

I have never seen humanity; I have only seen human beings. People love humanity and kill human beings.

Just as illness is infectious, so is health.

How can you love others if you do not love yourself?

If you go to Hell willingly you will be happy there; if you are forced into Paradise you will hate it.

Twenty centuries of dependence on God, and man had accumulated such hatred for God that God could not be tolerated any more; that is why Nietzsche said, “God is dead and man is free.”

The person you become independent upon also becomes dependent on you; slavery is always mutual.

The politician who climbs the ladder until he gets to the topmost rung looks foolish because climbing is the only skill he has, and there is nowhere further to climb; he is like the dog that runs barking after every car and looks foolish when it overtakes one.

The question-mark represents the snake in Eden; when Eve asked a question she fell from grace, and when she provoked Adam to do the same, so did he. Man left the Garden of Eden, and returned to Paradise through the Garden of Gethsemane.

A person who is not open lives in a grave.

As I say, such statements stripped bare, cannot convey the effect of a Rajneesh discourse. (These incidentally are all published verbatim, involving an output of some fifty volumes a year, and they are all also published in cassette-recording form. And apart from the effect and persuasiveness of his words, and – an even greater force – the torrent of love-imbued energy that is released into the surrounding atmosphere as he speaks, there is, and remains with me, the profound meaning of what he was saying.

This is, as I have already suggested, what all the great teachers have also said. At the heart of it lies Rajneesh’s insistence that the relation between man and God is not one of “thou and I”; in a dozen different ways he made the point that man is not separate from God, and I was reminded that Christ, too, said, “The Kingdom of heaven is within.” Nisargadatta Maharaj, in his tiny Bombay eyrie, argues the same thesis. In an even more complete form: for him there is no “I”, and the whole universe floats within each of us: all we have to do is to recognize the fact. Rajneesh developed his theme through the argument that we must first learn to love others; in that learning we will also learn that we are no more separated from the other than we are separated from God. (He discussed this theme, incidentally, in two of the three discourses I attended, and although the argument was of course the same, there was no repetition whatever in the development of it, let alone the words.) Throughout he stresses that each of us is capable of finding the way unaided, and that these are the only terms in which the search can be understood or have meaning; any picture of Rajneesh as one who lays down prescriptive rules for others to follow is as far from the truth as it is possible to get.

At the end of the discourse (he invariably signs off with the words “Enough for today”), he leaves in the same showman style that marks his entry. I watched the crowd after he had gone, and to do so was in itself profoundly instructive. Many remained seated as they had been while he was speaking, continuing to meditate silently on what they had heard. Some came to the marble platform from which he had spoken, and prostrated themselves across it, clearly seeking to absorb some of the energy that he had expended, and that could indeed be thought of as forming a pool in which the seekers could soak themselves. Some couples embraced, remaining enwrapped for minutes on end; nobody paid them any attention, let alone exhibited embarrassment. It is not difficult to see an explanation; Rajneesh’s teaching is, at the bottom, of love, and the air is full of it. The love to which he points is not, of course, the body’s rapture, but it is hardly surprising that for some the route lies along that path. It is no doubt this fact, together with Rajneesh’s argument that we have to work through our impulses before we can transcend them (since they will take their revenge if we attempt the impossible task of suppressing them altogether), and the various encounter groups that operate on the ashram, that the gossipers outside have in mind when they circulate their stories of dark deeds.

But as I moved out with the rest of the audience, I embarked on an experiment that I had tried a few weeks before, in London – to be precise, in Selfridges. On that earlier occasion, I had passed among the shopping crowds consciously examining every face I saw, seeking to discover how many of them showed that the individual in question was possessed of that wholeness, that serenity, that issues in happiness, but is not itself happiness, and that denotes one who has mastered the external circumstance of life by first understanding the mastery within. I gazed into a couple of hundred faces, and then could gaze no more, so universal was the withered misery I saw, the tension of unresolved conflict, the emptiness and loss, the pain of separation, guilt and fear.

Now, among the hundreds into whose faces I looked as we emerged from Buddha Hall, I could see hardly a single one that resembled those in London. These faces were not lost or even resigned: they were not the faces of men and women who had laid their burdens on another; they were not the faces of those who had given up the struggle and chosen to ignore a world they could not face; almost without exception, these faces were alive, expressive, contemplative, serene, interested, eager. In a word: innocent. From then on, I spent my time at Rajneesh’s ashram talking to those faces; tomorrow, I shall conclude this series by recounting what they said, and what I concluded from their words.

To be concluded…

© Times Newspapers Limited, 1980

Read first part: Struck by enlightenment in Poona

Bernard LevinHenry Bernard Levin CBE (19 August 1928 – 7 August 2004) was an English journalist and author, described by The Times as “the most famous journalist of his day.” He became also a well-known TV broadcaster and published 17 books. Bernard Levin came to Pune with his then partner, Arianna Stassinopoulos (later Arianna Huffington) and wrote three extensive accounts in his column after visiting Shree Rajneesh Ashram.

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