A little-known episode in the history of sannyas. Excerpt from Veena’s book, Glimpses of My Master.
In January 1974, Veena and a group of about twenty friends from the Nirvana Meditation Centre in London flew to India for what would be the last meditation camp Osho would conduct – in Mount Abu, Rajasthan. During that camp, Osho called all westerners together and “told them that he wanted them to go off to a place in central India and start building a new commune.”
Anything less like the mighty Mount Kailash – abode of the Hindu god, Shiva – is hard to imagine.
We gazed in dismay at the almost barren scene around us. There was a rough dwelling with three small rooms, a barn of sorts, scraggy patches of onions, a tree and, in the far distance, a plantation of papayas. The only redeeming feature in the scrubby landscape was a magnificent river, replete with yellow – white sandbanks and clumps of reeds.
Osho had sent thirty of us into the wilds of central India with strict instructions to ‘build the new commune’. I am sure there were two questions in the minds of many – ‘How?’ and ‘With what?’
This audacious experiment is a little-known episode in the history of sannyas. It was the first ‘encounter group’ – on many levels, on a large scale and lasting many months!
At the time, January 1974, Osho was still living in a flat in Woodlands, Bombay, and there was little space and opportunity to spend time with him. Meditation was restricted to morning Dynamic on the filthy Chowpatti Beach and we were scattered around the huge city in whatever accommodation we could find. As we were part of the early hippie vanguard first to wander around India, none of us had much money and so were forced to live in pretty unsavoury conditions. I heard one person say that Bombay was ‘the toilet of India which only got flushed in the monsoon!’ You get the picture.
Osho wanted to move to a better set-up,, but as yet nothing had materialised. So, after the January camp in Mount Abu, Rajasthan, he sent thirty of us to this farm, about a three hours’ drive east of the city of Chandrapur, Maharashtra. The farm belonged to a rich Jain family which had a large house and compound in the city where Osho had often stayed during his travels around India because, he said, the wife of the owner, Parakh, was his mother in his past life and he therefore had strong connections with her. ‘Ma’, the only name we had for her, was a kindly, comfortable woman and both she and Parakh seemed totally unfazed at being landed with this, no doubt to them, outlandish band of foreigners.
I call this an ‘audacious experiment’ because, looking back, I am a little amazed at Osho’s actions. He really did take risks! He barely knew most of us – for many the Mount Abu meditation camp was the first time they met him – yet he trusted us enough, and had sufficient faith in our integrity, to send us on a really quite dangerous expedition into central India where few western people had ever been. It was not a stronghold of the British Raj which had brought a semblance of western ‘civilisation’ and comfort to a considerable number of places in India. Rather, it was wild and untouched by any outside influence. The area was in fact termed ‘the jungle’ by Ma – a misnomer to my mind in the absence of high trees and lush undergrowth, but I think she was trying, in her limited English, to express the wildness of the place. Tigers had roamed here until recently; there were still rumours of the animals prowling on the outskirts of villages and the villagers were constantly in fear of attacks. The place was crawling with snakes, poisonous spiders and the inevitable scorpions. These, combined with the ever present menace of amoebic dysentery and tropical diseases such as dengue fever and malaria, made for pretty hazardous living.
I don’t know what the real name of the place was. Osho liked giving spiritually significant names to places – maybe to keep us constantly alert to the vast spiritual heritage he was trying to make us aware of. Mount Kailash is a holy mountain in western Tibet, sacred to Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and the shamanic religion of Bonpo.
Although a good portion of our gang of thirty had survived the perilous journey overland through Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan and had travelled fairly extensively in India, the rest came straight from western countries, many from London where the Nirvana Meditation Centre in Bell Street, Marylebone, had created much interest in Osho, sannyas and India. These sannyasins had not yet faced the tough living conditions of untamed India.
My feeling was that this was the Master at work. He always said that the spiritual path was not for the faint-hearted. It required courage, integrity, perseverance and physical and emotional endurance. Well, Kailash was the perfect initiation into the attributes required!
I confess that our arrival that first afternoon was daunting and I really thought, ‘Is this for real?’ We had travelled for three hours on an ancient bus, landed in a primitive village, Saoli, where most of the people immediately fled in fear at the sight of us; and struggled with our luggage along a tiny path for four miles. No welcoming cups of tea here! There was nothing! Where would we sleep? What would we eat? How about clean water, washing, a toilet? Building the new commune receded far into the background in the face of the urgent immediate necessities.
Ma had gone on ahead and we found that our meal for the night was to be ‘sooji’ – a kind of porridge. She then indicated that we could perhaps sleep in the attic of the rough farmhouse which comprised her room, a storeroom of farm implements and another room which was apparently destined to be our kitchen. I was the first to go upstairs and at the sight of the dirty cobweb-strewn place decided I would not stay there for an instant. Having come overland myself, I was quite happy to sleep outdoors and so the crowd was divided into those who wanted to sleep with a roof over their heads and those who preferred the stars. The former group set about trying to get the attic clean and banish the cobwebs and their residents while the remaining lot swept the veranda and lay down sleeping bags to stake claims for a sleeping space. We ate the lumps of sooji off washed banana leaves and drank a few sips of suspect water which Ma assured us was safe to drink.
Toilets had hitherto been convenient bushes but some kind of sanitary arrangement was obviously of prime importance. The consensus was, however, to leave everything till the morning because we were dead tired and maybe sleep could obliviate fears of the daunting task ahead and mask the hunger and thirst.
Young we were, and sleep came easily and the dawn brought a beautiful day – and excitement at the challenge ahead superseded the fears of the previous evening. After more sooji for breakfast, the first of many meetings was held. Osho had put a South African, Veetrag, in charge but even at the first meeting his authority was challenged by two other men: Teertha (now Paul Lowe) and Shiva (now Hugh Milne). Teertha’s nose was out of joint as he was the GREAT group leader and was obviously, to him, the rightful leader – which is why, no doubt, Osho chose Veetrag. And Shiva … well, this was Kailash, wasn’t it? Of course he should be lord of it all!! We secretly dubbed them ‘the triumvirate’.
The foremost issues were food, water, shelter and toilets. There was no obvious source of food and the dismal lunch was a katori (a very small metal bowl) of soup made from clover picked from the field (with Ma extolling its health-giving properties) and a couple of chapattis made by a local woman. This could not continue!
Ma made it clear she was not going to support us so we each put 100 rupees into a kitty and a farmhand was dispatched to Saoli to buy staples such as rice, dal, spices, salt, tea, sugar and cooking oil. We could buy flour from Ma as the barn was a storehouse for wheat and corn grown on the farm – complete with a small milling machine to grind the wheat, coarsely for the sooji for breakfast, and finely for the flour for chapattis. This was all horrendously basic but there were so many other issues to decide quickly that it would have to do for a day or two.
Then water… Ma insisted that the river water, if collected in mid-stream flow, was amoeba – free and could be safely drunk after having undergone her patented cleansing method: she had a magic crystal which she stirred round and round in the water with an unwashed hand making ‘tch tch tch’ noises which supposedly chased all the bad things away! Two days later many had diarrhoea so the crystal was abandoned and we boiled the water from then on, although boiling enough daily drinking water for thirty people was quite a task.
Shelter…. While the stargazers had had a good night’s sleep – although, as a South African myself, I was more attuned to the possibilities of scorpions and snakes than were my city fellow sleepers – the people in the attic had had to put up with, as Sudha put it, the rats playing football games from one end of the ceiling rafters to the other. The possibilities of more intimate associations with the rats made everyone anxious to find an alternate sleeping solution.
Enter Borjoram, the farmhand-in-charge – one of the best features of our time in Kailash. He was a star of the first order. A gem of a man. Without him I doubt if we would have survived the experiment, especially those initial few weeks. Firstly, he had a great sense of humour and whenever things got too much he would, without fail, make us laugh at the huge absurdity of everything. Secondly, he understood that when he spoke we didn’t understand him. This was a hard concept for the local Indians to comprehend. Having no knowledge of anything beyond their small village, they found it difficult to grasp the concept that we spoke a language other than their own, Marathi, and maybe Hindi. Borjoram quickly learnt to be patient with communication attempts. Thirdly, he spoke Hindi as well as Marathi. This was a big help as I spoke a smattering of Hindi having learned the language when I had lived in Benaras, so I was the initial ‘translator’ until others learned a few basic terms. Borjoram could also read and because a teacher in Saoli, the only person who spoke English in the whole area, had given us a dictionary of English/Hindi/Marathi words, Borjoram was able to read and show us the words he wanted to use. So we set about learning them in double-quick time. And fourthly, he was brilliantly practical; when the issue of a shelter came up, he was able to anticipate our needs and provide materials and practical construction know-how to create a structure.
After a hilarious conference in English, Hindi and Marathi and a couple of sketches, he quickly got some ideas for a shelter that might work and galvanised three or four farmhands to go off and collect sticks and banana leaves. By the next morning these simple building materials were on hand and we all set to work: putting the sticks into the ground, weaving them together with other sticks, making a ceiling of more sticks and laying the banana leaves on top to give some shade. Some people felt that this kind of shelter was too sparse and elected to put up with the rats and spiders in the loft, so we only had to make spaces for about 16 people – a long rectangular space with 8 beds each side. Yes, beds. Somebody – Ma? Parakh? – must have been busy on our behalf because in the afternoon we were astounded to see three bullock carts arriving, piled high with the typical Indian beds, charpoys, one sees in villages all over India: a wooden frame with rope laced across to bear the weight of the sleeping body. I was very relieved to be that much further away from the aforementioned creepy-crawlies.
While the farmhands were off collecting the sticks etc we got on with the next task on the list: toilets. Ideas were few and far on the ground until someone came up with the idea of a long trench dug out with a phawadaa in an empty field at the back of the house. A phawadaa is a kind of hoe with a blade about seven inches wide. We decided to try this out and a few guys dug a trench about ten feet long and two feet deep. With the width being only seven inches wide, it was easy to straddle the trench, do the necessary and then use the phawadaa to cover up the deposits with the soil that had been dug out. This was an incredible success – apart from the fact that there was no privacy at all – as it worked well and there was never a smell. When one trench was filled, we simply dug another one. The locals who happily pissed and shat everywhere, were most bemused but we could never persuade them to embark on even this most rudimentary sanitation device.
In fact, their toilet habits were the cause of our first big dispute, which took some time to sort out. I have previously mentioned this amazing river which was very clean because there was no town or city between us and its source, so it was uncontaminated by human contact. We rightly saw this was the solution to keeping cool and clean and as its shores were made up of fine yellow-white sand, we felt we had our own beach. The river was so wide you could barely see the other side so it did feel like a beach at the edge of the sea. What a gift!
But… every two square feet of the lovely bank of fine sand was dotted with piles of shit as this was the farmhands’ toilet! It took a lot of discussion, headed by Borjoram, to convey to the locals that we wanted the bank for our beach and please could they find another toilet. They were not pleased and we had to resort to bribes of a few kilos of rice and a bit of baksheesh before they relented and agreed to do their business elsewhere.
Once that problem was solved the river became our sanctuary. Without it we would have left very quickly. Osho had visited Kailash in the past and no doubt hoped that we would fall as much in love with rivers as he was himself. He talked so often, so lyrically, about his love of rivers and antics in them when he was young. I think he knew the river would be our solace in this wilderness he had thrown us into!
We did use the water for drinking – wading as far out as was safely possible to collect it in buckets – but we decided we still had to boil it.
All this took a few days and when we were sort of organised, the issue of food was again very loudly raised. Our diet now consisted of sooji with sugar but no milk for breakfast and the clover soup (renamed ‘grass soup’ by Divy), rice, dal and chapattis for lunch and supper. Boring and, given the hard work we were doing, very insubstantial. Helped by Ma and some farmhands, we had built three clay stoves: the biggest for general cooking, a smaller one for water and the dal and a special one for making chapattis. They all required wood and dried cow dung patties for fuel and collecting all this stuff took quite some time and effort. Cooking on the fires took a lot of getting used to and making chapattis was initially a major chore. They were cooked on a concave pan over the fire on top of the stove and then lifted out and laid on the embers of the burning wood on the side of the stove to ‘pop’. The popping was necessary otherwise they weren’t cooked properly and were indigestible. Necessity, however, created expertise and soon a few of us were rolling out the chapattis as fast as the Indian ladies – we needed to make at least seventy to eighty for lunch and again for supper. Some of the guys were pretty big and needed three, even four, chapattis per meal.
The essential missing ingredient in this was milk. India is a land of milk and curd users but there was no store to run off to and buy some milk. After a few days Ma tracked down a local man with a cow who could supply us with milk. Naturally he would water it down as much as he could for an optimum deal. Ma, however, was equal to this subterfuge and within a few days produced a thermometer-like instrument which was hooked over the side of the tin can and, provided it was submerged to the correct limit, showed how much water there was in the milk. Of course the cow man kept an eagle eye on the gauge so he could judge to a fine degree how much water he could add and get away with!
That first cup of tea with milk! Ah! But, there being no fridge, the milk (which we had boiled first to kill off the TB and other diseases) would go sour quickly so it was put into a special open clay pot and turned into curd. This was a welcome addition to the meals although we could each have only a spoonful.
I was wrong to say there were thirty people there; there were, in fact, twenty-eight, until two more people arrived a few days later. These were Gandha and her husband, Vedant. Gandha was a beautiful Swedish model who was famous in London, having been photographed by the likes of David Bailey and other well-known ‘60’s photographers. Important for the Kailash project, however, was the fact that she and Vedant had driven overland to India in a Land Rover. I was present when they went to say goodbye to Osho at the end of the Mount Abu Camp. They wanted to know what they should do because they had this vehicle and thought that maybe they should get rid of it if they were going to be Osho sannyasins. I had to put my hand in front of my mouth to hide my grin at Osho’s response. Despite his enlightenment he was so down-to-earth and practical and I saw the thoughts racing through his head, ’Hmmnn…, Land Rover. Vehicle. Could be very useful at Kailash!’ So he quickly told them to go to Kailash and take the Land Rover with them! It took them a few days to get to us.
The disbelief on peoples’ faces when that Land Rover appeared on the bullock cart track was comical! I had forgotten about it but of course recognised it as soon as it appeared, but no-one else knew that such a vehicle and its passengers were going to arrive. And what a boon that Land Rover was!
Just after Gandha and Vedant arrived, two people decided to go back to Bombay and be with Osho. The day before there had been quite a bust-up over food. (Maybe that was one of the reasons they decided to leave?) Teertha and his followers were extolling the joys of being Zen monks and living on a frugal diet but the real workers – Teertha didn’t like getting his hands dirty – were demanding more sustenance both in quality and quantity. Ma championed them as she strongly and very vocally disapproved of the starvation diet. Veetrag was confused with the two strong opposing views. For me, one of Osho’s favourite maxims was ‘abundance’ and I didn’t think he would go for the parsimonious Zen monk idea. So I wrote him a letter telling him about the situation and sent it with the two people.
Four days later, unbelievably fast for India, someone (maybe a servant of Parakh’s – Parakh had a telephone in his office and so did Laxmi) showed up at Kailash with a message addressed to me. It was from Laxmi who wrote that the message from Osho was that we were to have as much delicious food as we wanted and to make food preparation the most important thing in our daily routine. I quickly found Veetrag, dragged him off to a deserted place and showed him the letter and explained. I saw his face light up with joy and without hesitation he suggested that the two of us grab the Land Rover and drive into Saoli to see what we could find in the food line. He held the purse strings and it was a matter of moments for him to get the money and the car keys.
I will never forget arriving at the market! All this fantastic food and we had been starving for weeks! We first bought a whole lot of baskets and then bought as many vegetables as we could carry – including sixty bananas and barfi, an Indian milk sweet. I will also never forget the faces of the sannyasins when we arrived back and hauled the overflowing baskets out of the back of the Rover! Wow! Cooking the food presented a problem for a few moments as we had no experience in cooking this kind of food, but Prarthana, an American woman, and Chaya, an 18-year-old Jewish girl who turned out to be a brilliant cook, rose to the culinary challenge and two hours later we were lolling around, silly satisfied smiles on our faces, stuffed to the gills with our first delicious meal in a month or more. Prarthana and Chaya soon took over the cooking chores as they were by far the best cooks, although Lalita, an Italian woman, came a close third and often took over to give them some respite. It was Lalita who developed the ‘mock-blintzes’ – finely rolled parathas fried and then filled with thick curd and covered in her speciality green papaya jam!
The daily routine was now falling into place. We did Dynamic Meditation at 5.30 am, dived into the river for a ‘bath’ and to wash clothes, did chores thereafter until sooji was ready for breakfast about 7.30 am. We started work at about 8.30 am, had lunch at about 12 noon, a siesta until about 3 pm, and continued with work until about 5.30 pm. (Osho hadn’t developed Kundalini yet but I think we would have been too tired to do it.) The evenings were time to socialise, roam the area, meditate or just chill out.
Work consisted of all the chores around food preparation and water boiling, digging the shit trenches, making improvements to existing living structures, doing the obligatory few hours on the farm (cultivating the onion and okra patches and the papaya plantation) which was required as payment for our ‘accommodation’(?!), and the ‘new commune’ building project which I will talk about in a minute.
With the now good and very pure food, the totally unpolluted air, and the physical exercise, we grew astonishingly fit and healthy and correspondingly beautiful. Our skin was tanned, clear and luminous; our hair was bleached blond by the sun and shone from washing it in the pure river water using a shampoo which Ma showed us how to make with a local kind of berry; our eyes were bright and relaxed.
But there was more, much more. As the days slipped by I became aware of a certain rhythm establishing itself. The early mornings, after Dynamic, as the sun rose, took on a magical glow; there was a sense of well-being, a sense of harmony. Throughout the day I became more and more aware of my feet connecting to the earth, of a natural pulse permeating my body and soul – and the nights brought feelings of existential awe as I gazed at a sky saturated with stars or saw everyday things turned into a different unknown reality under the light of the moon.
Often throughout the night there would be a faint sound of drumming and bhajan singing coming from small villages wafting through the air – the silence was so deep you could hear for miles. Slowly I felt I was being absorbed into something far greater than myself and I felt a strange and beautiful exaltation, a wild joy at being at one with myself and my universe.
Was this Osho’s real purpose in sending us to this place? Was Kailash not a place but a state? We were city people, mostly well-educated and professionally successful, but surely out of step, out of tune with the rhythms and harmony of the earth and universe. Over the coming years Osho was to talk at length about this ‘hidden harmony’ or ‘hidden splendour’. At Kailash was he trying to give us an existential glimpse of this?
I would never again feel this deep harmony and exaltation until, nearly forty years later, I arrived at Song Mountain in central China.
The building project…. The to-my-mind-suspect reason for coming here was to build a new commune but this issue had not been broached while we were trying to get the basics set up. The day came, however, when we could no longer postpone the predicament – we honestly had no idea what to do – so we had a meeting to brainstorm the problem. We couldn’t see Osho living in a hut made of sticks and banana leaves, so what else was possible? The precious Borjoram, forever intrigued by our antics, attended the meeting and when he grasped what was under discussion, came up with the word ‘brick’ (using the dictionary, of course). He got up and mimed some actions and we slowly realised he was trying to demonstrate making bricks. Whaaaat! Make bricks?? Our minds boggled at the idea. Ma wasn’t around at the time so we couldn’t ask her for further explanations but Borjoram indicated to Veetrag (these two guys really loved each other!) that he should come with him. They and some other guys disappeared in the Land Rover for a couple of hours and we suspended the meeting until they returned.
They came back quite enthusiastic. Borjoram had taken them to a local brick-making ‘factory’ and seemed to think that we could make the bricks ourselves and build the buildings with them! Apparently there was a place nearby where the soil was a perfect consistency (clay was an important ingredient). Veetrag was convinced this was the solution to the problem but the rest of us were pretty freaked at the thought of the huge amount of hard work and time involved.
Ma and Parakh providentially arrived the next day and Parakh thought the idea was good. He sprang into action and by the following day two brick-makers had arrived, complete with the necessary brick-making paraphernalia, to teach us how to make bricks. We all assembled for the first lesson.
Oh my god! First you had to dig up the sand; then you had to fling it against upright sieves to sieve it; then you had to make a big pile of the sieved sand and form a crater in it which you then filled with water. Then with a phawadaa you had to mix the sand and water to make a kind of mud which you then ladled into wooden brick moulds. You left these to dry for a day, then turned them out of the mould and left the formed bricks to bake in the sun for another week or so. Then you stashed them up in a big pile ready for use. Simple!
For me this was a big ‘no no’ but some of the guys were quite enthusiastic and decided to give it a go. Actually, once they got the hang of it, it went surprising quickly and it seemed that within two weeks we could start building. This led us to the next challenge – how to design houses and a kind of village layout. None of us had had any experience in this field until a lovely New Zealand guy, whose name I sadly can’t remember, mentioned that he had done some building. With relief the project was immediately handed over to him to spearhead and within the space of a few hours, having talked to Ma and Parakh, he came up with a design of a rather cute round hut with a wall three and a half feet high (made from the bricks) and a roof thatched from reeds from the river. Indeed the farm dwellings were thatched in this way. Parakh said he would order the necessary timber for the central supporting poles and the beams. We would fill in the space between the wall and edge of the thatched roof with mosquito netting and make mosquito netting curtains for the doors.
The latter was really important to provide some kind of protection against creepy-crawly invasions as well as mosquitoes. Veetrag had already been stung by a scorpion and had suffered accordingly. Ma had sent him off to a local doctor who injected him with an antiserum, but he was ill for a few days. Luckily he was stung on his hand – the scorpion was hiding under a stone which he picked up – but if somebody is stung near the head or spinal column, death can result.
The building project now became our main focus until unforeseen events started to unravel our plans.
It was now the third week into February and the weather was at its best – cool in the evenings and pleasantly hot during the day. Nevertheless some people, for various reasons, felt that they didn’t want to stay and already at least six had left: Haridas and Priya wanted to be with Osho, Krishna Prem and Divy wanted to go to Goa and Somesh and his girlfriend, Bakul, had left, on Ma’s insistence, to go to hospital in Chandrapur because Bakul had amoebic dysentery so badly. They had then returned to the UK. Sudha was the next to leave.
Then came the big one…. On the anniversary of his enlightenment day, March 21st, Osho moved to Poona, a hill station on the other side of the Ghats which run down the west coast of India. Poona had been one of the main military settlements of the British Raj because it was much cooler and less humid than Bombay. It was therefore much more comfortable to live in. Two houses had been bought in a wealthy district called Koregaon Park and Osho was setting up residence there. We were a bit taken aback. What about the new commune we were supposedly building? We heard that there was going to be a big celebration on the 21st and a number of people, including Teertha, Astha, Vedant and Gandha with the Land Rover, and Veetrag, decided to go. Only Veetrag returned – with instructions from Osho to carry on building!
The work slowed and became much harder with radically fewer people. And the weather got hotter and hotter. By April the heat was almost unbearable. We took to getting up at 4 am to do Dynamic and finished work at 9 am. By that time it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. We spent the rest of the day as much submerged in the river as we could manage but even this became a problem as the water dried up and the river dwindled. The shade in the papaya plantation also provided some relief but it was a long way to walk in the sun. At night it was so hot that the only way I could sleep was to keep a clay pot of water next to my bed to soak two lungis (a lungi is a kind of sarong) in. I would wring them out, sleep on one and cover myself with the other. Within two hours they were dry and I had to repeat the process to stay cool enough to sleep a bit.
Our already disturbed sleep was further disrupted one night, just before midnight, when we were awoken by a bizarre, almost blood-chilling sound. It sounded human but unidentifiable so we grabbed lungis to wrap around ourselves and rushed out of our shelter to the back of the farmhouse.
In the moonlight we could see Ma sitting on the ground flailing her arms around in the air and hitting herself in the face with the end of her sari. Her hair was all undone and in disarray with the thrashing about and her screaming. A few feet away stood Borjoram and two farmhands looking a bit stunned but, also, I thought, a bit defiant. We beckoned him over and, while Ma keened on unabated, we had a whispered discussion. It turned out that Borjoram and the other workers had killed a snake right near the farmhouse. They brought it over to us, carrying it between them so we could see how long it was. I am not really afraid of snakes but seeing this seven-foot-long black one – mamba? cobra? I don’t know – really sent shivers up my spine. It had been slithering around very close to where we slept.
Ma was a Jain and according to the Jain religion, one should never kill any living creature. This snake was killed on her property so she experienced this as a terrible slight to her soul, hence her distress. But Borjoram spoke for himself and his mates, ‘I don’t kill it – it kill us or our children.’ His point was understandable too and I confess to feeling a bit of relief that they were alert about this danger. Poor Ma, though. We tried to comfort her but she was unreachable in her sorrow so we went back to bed. The next morning she was fine so maybe her emotional outburst was a kind of atonement for the death of the snake.
During another heat-disrupted night, in that half-awake and half-asleep state when the mind is not yet in firm control, I had a strange but very beautiful experience. Yes, a bit of esoteric gossip! I am always a bit reluctant to write about esoteric things because Osho was so strongly vocal about how easy it is to get egotistical about having esoteric experiences. He cautioned us against getting involved with such experiences and thinking that now you were a great spiritual being because you could see past lives or other peoples’ auras or go astral travelling, etc etc! But he was also OK with some playful gossip so I have decided to tell this little story.
While asleep on my wooden bed in the centre of India I seemed to see a tall man with longish blonde hair walking down a corridor of what looked like a kind of educational institution. When I slowly awoke I experienced what I can only describe as a very ‘sweet’ feeling. Osho had talked about this kind feeling, giving it the name ‘sudha’. I thought nothing more about it, assuming I was just having an interesting dream, but a few days later, while sitting on our river beach meditating I experienced the same feeling and seemed to see the same guy again – very clearly. He was wearing cut-off denim jeans! This time I knew I wasn’t dreaming and it occurred to me that maybe this was the ‘somebody’ that Osho had on a previous occasion talked to me about. When I had mentioned relationships at one point, he had told me to be patient because soon ‘somebody’ would come. Nothing else happened after that cut-off jeans vision and I concluded that my imagination was working overtime as there was certainly not much mental stimulation going on in our isolated farm in central India! Lots of space for imaginings.
Ten days into April another group of people left, including my good friend, Pratima, and we were down to nine people.
The rest of us were beginning to feel the strain of so much work and such intense heat but one of the bright spots at this time was that it was mango season. We had of course noticed trees dotted here and there on the landscape but we didn’t know they were mango trees. The fresh mangoes were divine but if you gave in to the temptation to gorge on the delicious fruit, your mouth would break out in ulcers from the acidity.
Another bright spot was the bread! Many times we longed for some western-style bread, and the creative Prarthana decided to try to make some. She got an idea for an oven having spotted a big biscuit tin about thirty inches high and fifteen inches across in a Saoli store. With the help of Veetrag and some others she imbedded the tin in the same kind of clay we had used for our current ovens, with a big space for the fire underneath. She had somehow found some yeast and got somebody to go and grind wheat into appropriately fine flour. The fire was lit and the bread went into the makeshift oven. After what she estimated was the correct time, the oven was opened and lo! A perfect loaf emerged. We were thrilled and gathered round as the loaf was sliced into enough slices for one each and we reverently took our first bite. And screamed in agony and dashed for water!! Because the person who had ground the wheat had failed to notice that the mill had just been used to grind chillies into chilli powder and we had all taken a mouthful of concentrated chilli powder! The flour was discarded, new flour in a clean mill was ground, and from then onwards we had a bit of fresh bread each day lathered with mango or green papaya jam. Little things like this meant a lot when you were so isolated.
Then, without warning, eight new people appeared to swell the ranks but this proved to be a difficult time for them and for us. They had come almost straight from Europe and had no idea how to live in the wilds of India, do the backbreaking work that was now relatively easy for us or withstand the searing heat. I felt so sorry for them but agreed with them when after 10 days of valiant struggle they decided they had to leave. A few more people went with them, including Veetrag and Prarthana. They never returned. Now we were down to five, and soon three: Lalita, Anurag, an English woman, and myself.
For the first time I felt fearful of nature. I have never before or since experienced heat like this and the merciless, almost white, sun burning up the earth turned our farm into a furnace. With only banana leaves for shade, our living space became untenable and we moved to the attic of the farmhouse. The heat was so debilitating that we had only enough energy to take care of our bodies, and the building project was abandoned. We were waiting for the rains to come, thinking that this would cool things down and we could surface once more and carry on.
I wonder now why we didn’t leave with the others. I can’t speak for Anurag and Lalita, only myself. Some of my reasons were as follows. I had been shocked at Osho’s response when a few months earlier I had written to him and said that I wanted to leave London (where I was running the Nirvana Centre) and return to India. He had responded swiftly and sternly in a way which let me know that, as a disciple, I should follow the Master’s instructions and not try to do something on my own accord. So I was determined to stay at Kailash until he said I should come to Poona. The second reason was that, despite the hardships, I was addicted to living there, and the experience of being so close to nature, which I have described above, was so deep and meaningful to me I simply could not bring myself to leave voluntarily. Maybe there was something still to understand; maybe the time was not yet right.
In the second week of May the first rains came. It was an experience beyond the power of words to describe. The thunder and lightning storms were so violent that my level of fear went up a few more notches but, on the other hand, the feel of the rain on my body, the smell of the wet earth and the sense of the parched vegetation and animals reviving and rejoicing all around was a heady mix of joy and celebration.
Ma had long returned home after expressing her extreme disapproval at our determination to stay, so we only had Borjoram for company and aid.
And the rain brought a different set of problems! Scorpions came out to play and a deadly little spider hatched and took roost in small cracks and crannies. Borjoram warned us its bite was very poisonous. Mosquitoes swarmed, along with a host of other flying insects, huge colourful moths and a new and different lot of creepy-crawlies. And it wasn’t any cooler; now it was humid as well as hot and we were always drenched in sweat.
But worst and most frightening, the river started to rise. Day by day it rose further up the banks and soon we no longer had our beach to go to. The islands disappeared and we were then looking at a sea which stretched as far as we could see. And a furiously flowing sea at that. No-one would have had a chance of survival if swept away in those raving torrents. Despite Borjoram’s assurance that the house was on high ground and had never been subjected to a flood, we were now desperately afraid as the lower areas around us had flooded and we were nearly an island.
Finally we admitted that it was time to go – and on that same day a servant arrived from Chandrapur to say that Osho had sent a message that we must come to Poona. Had he heard us? We started to pack our few belongings ready to leave the next day…. Except that that night I came down with dengue fever and by the next day had a roaring temperature and could barely stand. Departure had to be delayed. I lay almost delirious for three days not at all helped by Borjoram’s attempt to entertain me by bringing in three giant scorpions about nine inches long, two of which he set to crawling up my mosquito net! He had the third one crawling on his shirtless body. Apparently the big scorpions are not as dangerous as the small ones and he had anyhow nipped off their stinging apparatus. But the sinister crawling of the things sent me into a hysterical screaming fit and Borjoram was summarily kicked out by Lalita when she saw what he had done! I think, though, that the scorpions made me determined to get better and out of there as soon as possible; and by the next morning my fever had just about gone and we left! It fortunately wasn’t raining that day and Borjoram accompanied us to Saoli. Of course we were sad to say goodbye to him but we were equally eager to get away as quickly as we could.
But existence had one further bad card to deal. There was a transportation strike on and no buses were running to Chandrapur and it was not known when they would go again. Still weak from my ordeal I couldn’t rise to this challenge but Anurag was magnificent. Within half an hour she had found a truck – one of those brightly coloured trucks that travel the length and breadth of India carrying all manner of goods – going to Chandrapur and the driver was willing to give us a lift. For a fee, of course. We now had very few rupees left but the combined total seemed to satisfy him and off we went – possibly in more comfort than in the rickety bus we would have caught.
I admit it was pretty good to arrive at Ma and Parakh’s very comfortable house and to have a good shower, a dry bed and food cooked by somebody else. We rested for a day or two and Parakh kindly bought us all second class train tickets to Poona as we now didn’t have a single rupee left. He also gave us pocket money to buy food etc. I am sure they were pretty glad to see the end of us. The project must have caused them considerable disturbance and expense but I guess they had had to undergo a sadhana too!
After being isolated for five months it was hard to be surrounded by hordes of Indians on the train and in the stations, and my fever came back. Fortunately, being old hands at catching trains in India, we had managed to secure a luggage rack so I could sleep on that.
Finally arriving at the ashram, we stared at the huge lush green trees and nice big houses. And were in turn stared at because we were burnt almost black with the sun, were lean and trim and actually muscular from all the hard work and Anurag and I were now bleached blondes. Even Lalita’s dark hair was many shades lighter. Our clothes, too, were sun bleached to a nondescript ochre and were pretty ragged in contrast to the current sannyasins, many of whom had just come from the west and were still reasonably affluent and well-dressed in their new orange gear.
Almost the first people I met were Krishna Prem and Divy who, after hearing our stories, immediately invited me to stay with them. Anurag and Lalita quickly found places to stay too. But we weren’t allowed to rest for even an hour as someone from the office found us and told us that Osho wanted to see us that evening in darshan – only two hours hence. We borrowed clothes, showered, and lined up at the gate. When he came in he immediately called us to sit in front of him and asked us all about Kailash. He laughed and laughed and laughed at the stories we told but offered no explanation for his purpose in sending us all there. But there was a lot of head patting and multiple ‘Good! Good!’s’ so we concluded that all was OK and were pretty relieved when he told us that now we should stay there with him in the ashram.
I had another minor agenda! I couldn’t really forget the little esoteric experience I had had at Kailash and I was curious to see if this person that I had had such a clear image of was here in Poona where the number of western people had dramatically increased since the days at Mt Abu. The first meditation camp to be held in Poona was starting in a few days and I thought for sure that if this person was not a figment of my imagination he would be here. He wasn’t. The first two days of the camp came and went, I forgot about my imaginings and I threw myself into the meditations, especially the whirling which Osho had introduced for the first time.
Then, on the afternoon of the third day, while I was whirling away, Naresh walked round the corner of Krishna House! With the whirling, things were a bit blurred but after it ended and I had overcome the dizziness and could walk straight, I went over to where he was sitting talking to someone and had a close look! I was ‘in silence’ for the camp – had a badge on to show it – but I smiled at him when he glanced my way. And things progressed very well from then on.
Excerpt from the book, Glimpses of My Master, Ch 14 (second edition)
Glimpses of My Master:
Insights into the Life and Work of the Enlightenend Mystic Osho
by Veena Schlegel (Ma Prema Veena)
Our review: Glimpses of My Master
Second edition available on all amazon websites, e.g. amazon.com – amazon.co.uk – amazon.de – amazon.in
- Anandmayee, Osho’s mother in one of his previous lives – by Bhagawati