With “Here we are in Italy, the country of pasta and – I must say without any doubt – pasta is really good here, and it comes in all kind of shapes,” Shantidharm starts the final part of his life story.
Read previous parts under Shantidharm, the Life of an Ordinary Man
We have no idea what we will do to make money and where we will live. But we feel it is time to start living out of our own creativity and not to work anymore for companies or banks, as we had done since we left the Osho communes. We are confident we can do something ourselves.
When we started looking for a place to stay, we were in touch with Italian sannyasins we knew from Pune. They tried to help us find houses or apartments to rent but nothing worked out. As I said at the end of Part 3, after a few months of searching and staying in temporary places, we were lucky to find an independent apartment in a big house just outside a village near Volterra, Tuscany. Spontaneously, from an unexpected source, life provided us a beautiful place to stay.
The house, one kilometre away from the village, was surrounded by vineyards, olive groves and natural fields. We had a big garden space all around the house and I enjoyed mowing the lawn, cutting the hedges, planting flowers, etc… We also had a vegetable garden and some chickens which provided us with daily eggs.
Effortlessly we melted into the family living on this property. They adopted us, as we were, to be part of their life. When we departed 15 years later, we all cried and could not say a word. Tears were beautiful and showed how we really were connected from the heart.
Early on, I gave computer lessons to some sannyasins living in the area who wanted to know more about using their computers. It felt good at first to be able to help friends and to get a little money from it. It was a sign that I could do something with my computer knowledge.
In the winter of 2000, I also started to create the web portal meditationfrance.com . My Meditationfrance partner, Khirad, gave me the first content and I designed a website with it. We wanted to create an information website about meditation and Osho in French. It was very basic at the start but it grew over the years, especially when we decided to open it to all the people working in the field of meditation and therapy that we felt good about.
Today it has become the main reference website about meditation, tantra, therapy, yoga, shamanism, alternative medicine, music, book editors, travel agencies, in the French-speaking countries, although the majority of visitors and advertisers are from France. It is well indexed in the search engines since I took care from the beginning to insert proper meta tags in all pages.
The working arrangement around Meditationfrance was simple from the beginning: Khirad is the front office, I am the back office. All that is done, changed or accepted to be on the website is approved unanimously and we share equally in what comes out of it.
Between Deepa and me we spoke five languages, so we also tried, early in our life in Tuscany, to sell translations of websites, catalogues, etc., from Italian to Japanese and other languages. We contacted some people, some shops, but with no success. However, Massimo and Inger, an Italian and Dutch couple running an agriturismo (a farm with holiday rooms or apartments for tourists) invited us to their place to get to know us better. They were interested in our offer for their website which was already in four languages.
Although we did not do a Japanese translation for their website, we had a nice meeting and they told us about a Japanese couple who once came to their place. Not having a car, not speaking much English and no Italian, they stayed in the apartment the whole week, just enjoying the nature around the house. So Massimo said to us jokingly, “Why don’t you create a job and bring Japanese people to visit different places in Tuscany?”
Back at our home, we found the idea good and worth a try. We immediately created a webpage in Japanese to offer a tour of Tuscany for Japanese people, singles, couples or a maximum of three people at a time. Deepa showed the page to some sannyas friends in Japan and with their feedback we improved the site and created more pages. We put it online in February 2001 and a few months later, in April, we had our first Japanese clients. I was the driver and Deepa was the guide.
We visited many places. Deepa studied the history of Tuscany and of all the villages we took people to. We continuously adapted the tour in accordance with the likings and interests of the person or couple who booked. When we saw things were working well, we registered a small business for our activities.
Doing these tours, we started to have a lot of contacts. We met so many new people. We were in the world enjoying ourselves, spreading our joy and meditation. We were creating our life out of our own creativity. It was great fun.
I was also in touch with Melissa, who had contacts in the USA with some businesses her father was involved in. With her help I managed to get an order for two good websites. During this time in Tuscany, I created websites for various people: holiday houses, agriturismo, real estate, souvenir shops, restaurants, poetry, wind chimes, a massage school, etc. Of course, the most important website was Meditationfrance. The more it grew, the more it changed; Khirad and I were always improving the design and the content. What we were offering was changing according to the demands of our advertisers. We managed to create packages for all kinds of advertisement, monthly, annually, ads, banners, etc.
Tuscany is such a beautiful region in Italy: nature, villages, beaches, food, wine, people, weather; a combination we loved very much and we enjoyed it all. Time was passing and we did not feel it; our creativity was blooming. We had complete freedom to do what we wanted. We renovated the apartment we rented. The owners let us do what we wanted; they were always supportive. We bought a new kitchen, we repainted the entire flat, we always had new ideas for projects.
The owners enjoyed our company and our contributions to our small community. I particularly enjoyed the different aspects of our Tuscan life: working at the computer, driving for the tours, mowing the lawns around the house, raising vegetables, being in the fields with the olive trees and the vines, etc.
Nevertheless, in 2005, I felt like going to Pune alone. So I took three weeks in winter and went to the Osho Resort. I met some old friends and then I ended the three weeks with a deep experience of meditation. So when I left, I knew I would be back to go deeper into what I had just experienced.
I returned to Pune in the winter of 2009-2010. Deepa drove me to the Pisa airport. I had decided to do a three months’ self-made silent meditation retreat within the Resort. I would spend all days at the Resort, eat at the different venues and simply meditate.
At the beginning I started my day in the samadhi for the silent morning meditation, but I felt it was too short. A beautiful silence would start to arrive and then suddenly the gong would sound and it would be time to leave. It did not feel right. I wanted to remain longer in this silent inner state. So after a few days, in the morning, instead of going to the Samadhi, I went to sit near the swimming pool and I could stay in my meditation as long as I wanted. So good.
My days were very simple: sitting, walking, eating, in silence.
I had a room in a rented apartment across North Main Road. I was in the Resort in the early morning and went back to my room in the evening to do nothing until sleep came. Going back to the apartment, I had to cross the North Main Road, a highly trafficked road in the evening, so I made it a game to cross this road, I called it the Zen crossing. Each day was different, each day was a challenge, each day was Zen time.
While in the Resort, I did not speak to anybody. I was not participating in any meditation programme nor would I stay for the White Robe Brotherhood. I preferred to be in my room alone in the evening. Every day in the Resort, I would simply sit silently all day wherever I wanted. I would walk when sitting was enough and I would eat when hungry.
My freedom was to do just what I felt to do, no programme and no timetable, just enjoying being silent in this beautiful oasis of meditation in the heart of Pune. While sitting, I would often remember some sentences that Osho used to say, at the end of his last discourses when he was leading us into meditation: “Be silent, close your eyes… and feel your body to be completely frozen, go inside deeper and deeper and enter into your centre… witness that you are not the body, witness that you are not the mind, witness that you are only a witness, and everything starts settling… You disappear, only existence remains. This is the ultimate freedom: freedom from oneself.” *
One day, during a walk in the Meera area, my walking slowed down gradually and it became very very slow, when suddenly a big thunder shook my body from bottom to top. I could not walk nor stand anymore. I had to sit and let the shaking be in my body. I sat on a small wall near a house in Meera and my body was shaking. When the shaking stopped, I cried and cried without holding anything inside. Then I laughed at the situation I was in and finally all became silent. I remained in this silence for some time. How long I was there, I do not know.
When I finally opened my eyes, nobody was there, the place was quiet. I felt great inside and I went for a walk in the Resort. I felt so calm. I felt so light as I walked. I thought that people would see what was happening to me but nobody was paying any attention. Everybody was busy with their own story, their own life; everybody was going somewhere, doing things. They had no concern about what was happening to me. So I simply and totally enjoyed this new space that opened within me. It was very liberating. I did not need to bother about what people would say. Nobody can know, nobody has to know. “My inner world is my own intimacy. It will share itself naturally and spontaneously. I simply have to grow it inside myself,” I thought. “My concern should not be for the others to see and acknowledge what is happening to me, but to keep the light alive within myself.”
I felt totally free: meditation is my own, meditation is my inner world, meditation is a secret light burning within. And to find this light is the greatest thing of all.
After that day, every day, wherever I was sitting or walking or eating, meditation happened very easily. I truly enjoyed being with my inner space in silence, never trying to convey anything about all that was happening within me. This is my jewel, this is my hidden treasure, this is my hidden splendour.
After this first meditation retreat, I came back to Tuscany. I had lost some weight but I was feeling so good. Life continued effortlessly with our friends in Tuscany, our Japanese tours and website activities.
During the next winter, 2010-2011, I went back to Pune with Deepa. This time we stayed for two months and we rented a room in the same apartment where I had stayed the year before. Khirad, my partner at Meditationfrance, was also there with his girlfriend Sitara. We were in Pune to prepare a tour for a group of French people who were coming to visit the Osho Resort for the first time.
Eric, the director and founder of a French travel agency called Oasis Voyages, and who specialised in spiritual travels, wanted us to put together an Osho Resort tour for one week. So we organised it before their arrival, creating a programme with meditations, a small group in the multiversity, a visit to the Osho library and a talk with Amrito. The tour went very well. Everybody enjoyed the Resort and all that we had prepared for them, even though the group arrived the day after the German Bakery was bombed. Consequently, we had few things to explain to them in our first meeting during breakfast at Hotel Sunderban before proceeding to the Resort welcome centre
We had planned to do more tours every year but I decided to stop after this one. It had been a good experience and I did not feel to repeat it. We appreciated our stay in the Resort after the tour ended. I kept on doing my silent meditations and Deepa started to write a book in Japanese about her life. It is on sale digitally on Amazon. Later on, when we will live in Japan, we will see about getting it published as a paperback.
Back in 2009, Meditationfrance started to become very popular. Daily visits were growing and we attracted more and more advertisers. I redesigned the whole website with a clear menu bar indicating all the sections we had on the website for a better visitor experience. Khirad and I also had an idea to have a web radio and to organise a festival of meditation and celebration.
We got lucky with the web radio: an opportunity came up with a sannyasin from Germany. He told us he had a free web radio, hosted at Radionomy, but he did not have enough of an audience to avoid paying the music royalty fees. We decided to take over his radio. The name was Radio Magico. We kept the name but changed the whole music selection by regularly uploading New Age, chill-out, meditative music. We created a daily programme and the audience grew very quickly. People from 110 countries listened to it. Unfortunately, as the years passed, Radionomy started to invade our programme with ads and then they had issues with copyrights in some countries. Slowly, slowly our audience dropped. When they finally merged with Shoutcast in December 2019, we decided to end this project. But it was a good web radio experience for 10 years.
In 2011, Meditationfrance started to have a decent number of monthly and yearly visitors. It felt like the right time to start create an annual spiritual festival. We called it Festi’Spirit. It is based on meditation, love, laughter, sharing, inner transformation and spiritual growth. We got the thumbs up from Trimurti to co-organise it with us. Trimurti is a centre for spiritual growth, which hosts many different types of groups and seminars, all year round in the south of France near Saint Tropez.
500 people came for the first festival in June 2012. We created a three-day programme with various workshops and meditations, inviting therapists and meditation leaders present on Meditationfrance (for example, Margot Anand, Sarita, Paule Salomon, Amiyo, Shanti Mudita, Dominique Vincent, etc. ). Music consisted of two outdoor night concerts with Satya and Pari on Friday, Prem Joshua and band on Saturday and one piano concert on Sunday afternoon with Marc Vella. We ended this first festival with a laughing meditation.
Three years in a row we co-created this festival in Trimurti. In the second year, we had two outdoor night concerts with Red Fulka (with Praful) on Friday and Milarepa One Sky band on Saturday.
We have been organising Festi’Spirit every two years since 2017. The sixth edition will be in May 2021 in the Hameau de l’étoile near Montpellier.
We have also organised four meditation festivals in Paris in the Tao Center from 2014 to 2017. These were co-creations between Meditationfrance, EnlightenNext Paris and Tao Center Paris. Meditationfrance always made sure to have Osho meditations in the three-day programme. The festivals were always booked out to the capacity available in the Tao Center.
I went to Pune again in 2013 and 2015, each time for the two months of February and March, to meditate in my own way, sitting silently, and enjoying the beautiful Osho Resort.
When I came back from Pune in April 2015, Deepa and I felt it was time to say goodbye to Tuscany. We had stopped organizing the Japanese tours three years previously, as the money generated by Meditationfrance was enough for us to live on. It was better to put our full energy into the website and all that was happening around it. Going to France was a natural decision. Life brought us to Carcassonne in southern France, where we easily found an apartment. During the following five years, I got to visit a few long-time advertisers. That allowed me to conduct video interviews and get to know them better.
France has been a good transit lounge, but we never really felt 100% drawn to stay in this country. We visited Japan in September 2018 and July 2019 and we really felt that this was the country we wanted to live in. As webmaster and technical director of Meditationfrance I can do my job anywhere as long as I have an internet connection. Deepa was born in Japan and although she spent most of her life in Europe, she now felt ready to live there.
We were supposed to leave on 31st March 2020, but one week before our flight was cancelled due to the Covid-19 crisis. At the time of writing this article, May 2020, we are still in France waiting for the next flight available to Osaka, Japan. We are ready to go, with our four suitcases and portable computers. We are really looking forward to yet another new start, another adventure…
Guess what is one of my favourite stories told by Osho? Mojud, the Man with the Inexplicable Life.
Love to you all on the path of meditation and celebration.
Silence is the real religion.
* Source: Osho, The Zen Manifesto: Freedom From Oneself, Ch 1, Q3