Shantidharm writes about growing up in France, his travels and finally his arrival in Pune. (Part 1)
I was born the sixth in a family of ten children, with 6 sisters and 3 brothers. My father was a street maintenance worker and my mother was busy taking care of all the kids at home. It was a real circus inside the house, but overall we had a good time and good fun. We lived in a 3-bedrooms apartment, sleeping 3 or 4 to a bed. The only weird thing was that my father would often come home drunk and shout insults at my mother. We did not like this at all and rebelled against him when we got older.
The only summer vacation we managed to have was on a farm 30 kilometres away. We stayed for one week at this place owned by someone my father knew. For the rest of the three months of summer holidays I played with local friends around our neighbourhood, which was untouched by the city. This is where we built temporary cabanas and played our games. We also often went to the city’s Olympic swimming pool which had a big park around it.
I was good at school and so, I was considered the intelligent one in the family! Out of us ten children I was the only one to go as far as high school and succeed in all my exams. As my family could not afford university fees, I chose to go to a commercial school in a town nearby.
I spent two years in a boarding school while learning to become an accountant. During the second year I was introduced to transcendental meditation (TM) by a dormitory student supervisor. After being initiated into TM (my mother managed to give me a small amount of money needed for the initiation – I still wonder today how she managed to find it, we were so poor!), a group of five of us would practise every morning and evening for twenty minutes in the student supervisor’s room.
At the end of the last school year we discovered that we all had the same mantra, even though they had told us during the initiation that it was unique for each one of us and that we should never disclose it to anybody.
We all dropped out of TM, but for me it had been good to meditate during that year and discover that there was another dimension to my being. After dropping TM, occasionally I continued to sit silently without repeating the mantra. I did Vipassana meditation without knowing it was that, and I loved it.
After graduating as an accountant, I went to work in a bank. I could have made a career there but I could not stand it. I kept asking myself, “Is this all there is? Am I going to be working in this bank for the rest of my life?” I was thirsty for more; I wanted to travel and discover the world. So, I quit my job and went to the vendanges (the grape harvests) with some friends. That was the best decision I have ever made. Life has been such a beautiful adventure, and it continues to be today.
After the vendanges I left my family to live on my own. I took a job working for a year with children with disabilities. Then came my first big trip. I was living with a girlfriend and she took off work so we could travel the whole year. We hitch-hiked all the way through Canada, the USA, Belize, Guatemala and Mexico. We had a budget of 40 dollars per week. We found some good places to work, especially in Canada, at jobs like fruit picking. This helped us supplement our budget.
After a year of incredible experiences and adventures, we came back to France and lived in small communities, although no longer as a couple. Free sex was popular and we had a lot of other relationships. The community of friends we lived with were all part of a type of liberation movement.
We did a lot of therapy groups to clean up our past and understand our conditioning. We were also militants for the environment: we demonstrated against nuclear plants; we created an ecology movement, an organic food cooperative; went to festivals, concerts and big gatherings; squatted in abandoned houses. It was an intense time. But after a while it was time for me to travel again, this time on my own.
In the spring of 1980, I went to Canada and stayed with a friend in Montreal. I loved this city. We also spent a lot of time in incredible natural parks in the Laurentides in Quebec. There we would rent canoes and, with a map of the park, go off into the wilderness for a week, all at our own pace, alone with nature, camping here and there.
I then crossed Canada by bus heading towards British Columbia for the fruit picking season from June to October. This was a good place to earn money and save for more travelling. I was a free, hippie traveller. Every evening by the river in the Okanagan Valley at Keremeos, B.C., there were small improvised parties. Everybody who came for the fruit picking season would meet to play music around a fire, play games and dance. We were all living in huts or cabanas that, at the beginning of the season, we had built in nature along the river. It was gorgeous to see the sky full of stars every night.
Autumn came in early October. Clive, an American, had joined the apple harvesting team where I worked. He was very friendly, and his philosophy of life was: Enjoy yourself! We had a good time together and understood each other without effort. He often talked about Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho), an Indian master he had met while in India. He always wanted to give me one of his books, but I always refused saying that I was not interested in gurus. We finished the apple picking season in mid-October. It was time to leave. I had a plane ticket to return to France leaving from Boston, so my plan was to go first to Vancouver and then to Seattle where I would take a Greyhound bus to cross the United States.
I travelled to Vancouver with Clive. Before leaving each other, he gave me that book by Osho he had always wanted to give to me, saying, “You have to read it, it has nothing to do with what you think of gurus. Knowing you, I am sure that you will like it.” I took the book to please him, put it in my backpack and we said goodbye.
Once in Seattle, I purchased my Greyhound bus ticket; it was going to be a three day/three night trip to Boston. I boarded the bus and after a while I opened my bag. There was Osho’s book, The Mustard Seed: Comments on the Teachings of Jesus. I hadn’t grown up with a Christian education. My family did not follow a religion. In fact I had had no contact with religion at all, so I was not really attracted by the subject. However, there was nothing else to do on the bus, so I started reading the book.
And Clive was right, I liked this book so much that I could not stop reading it. Jesus was just an excuse for Osho to deliver the most profound insights I had ever read. The person sitting next to me, an old American Indian woman, wondered what I was reading as I was so absorbed. I told her a bit about the book and she told me that it would certainly appeal to her son as well. I told her that I would give it to her when I had read it so that she could give it to him. She stepped out of the bus in Chicago with Osho’s book in her bag.
When I arrived in France, I bought another of Osho’s books. After reading it I decided to leave immediately for India. I had to meet this man. I only bought a one-way plane ticket because it was clear inside of me that once near Osho, I would not come back.
I arrived in New Delhi at the end of October 1980. At the airport I took a rickshaw and told the driver to take me to a hotel. It was early morning. I got a room but could not sleep, so went back down to the coffee shop. I was there having tea when suddenly a western woman entered, came to my table and asked me if I would remain there until she got her luggage. I agreed. She left and came back shortly afterwards. She told me she wanted to stay with me for protection and asked me what my travel plans were. I told her I wanted to go to the ashram in Pune but that I was not in a hurry. She said, “Great, then come with me to Rajasthan; it’s on your way to Pune.” That’s how we came to spend almost a month together in a nice place called Pushkar, until I felt it was time for me to go to Pune, and off I went.
In December 1980, I arrived in Pune, at the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh Ashram. There was an intense energy in the place, it was beaming everywhere. There were so many people from all over the world; and everyone seemed to live in harmony. Meditation and listening to Osho’s discourses were the foundation and the basic reason everyone was there.
Everything was easy and functioning effortlessly with joy. During my travels this was exactly the kind of place I always wanted to find; hippie communes in California or American Indian Tribes did not have this intensity, this aliveness, this freshness, this freedom. I loved this place immediately, and after a few days I sent postcards to my family and some good friends; I just wrote one sentence on all postcards: I found paradise!
I did not have much money left, so when I arrived I asked at reception if I could stay in the ashram. They told me that so many people were coming that it was not possible. I had to find a room in a hotel or an apartment. I found a cheap dormitory place in a hotel called Mobos. Every day I went to the ashram and did all the Osho meditations.
After a month or so, when I applied to take sannyas, they asked me how long I would stay. I said that I was here forever. For some reason they made me wait and wait and wait, telling me to keep doing the meditations. During these three months of waiting time, Osho stopped giving discourses. His last one was in the series The Goose Is Out on March 10, 1981. He also stopped giving sannyas initiation himself and then went into silence. Soon after that I finally had my sannyas initiation on April 7. Teertha gave me my mala and my new name, Shantidharm, meaning: Silence is the real religion.
To be continued under Shantidharm, the Life of an Ordinary Man