Bhagawati reviews Purushottama’s book, From Lemurs to Lamas. “I heartily recommend this book to all travellers on the outer and the inner paths.”
From Lemurs to Lamas: Confessions of a Bodhisattva
by Prem Purushottama Goodnight – o-meditation.com
Available as two paperback editions (with b/w or full-colour images) and Kindle.
Kindle and b/w paperback: amazon.com – Paperback full-colour: amazon.com
Kindle and b/w paperback: amazon.co.uk – Paperback full-colour: amazon.co.uk
Kindle: amazon.de – Paperback full-colour: amazon.de
From the adventures experienced on his travels through Europe and then mainly Asia and Africa, to the no less daring and unsettling journey within, Purushottama’s account of his life so far, is a thrilling read.
Three seemingly unrelated incidents while still based in his native Kansas City catapulted him out into the world via New York, where, with 600 dollars on him, he boarded a cheap Icelandic Air flight to Luxembourg.
Those were the days when slow travel was the flavour of the day. A time when one bumped into strangers and decided to continue the journey for a while together. A time when people offered shelter on the way, a time where kindness was shown and accepted with gratefulness. And in hindsight, inevitably for seekers on the path, guides and inexplicable chance encounters lead to snap decisions and changing lanes.
Following the narrative of his authentic experiences, I was captivated by his descriptive language and, ever so often, fine, humorous tongue-in-cheek remarks. The book has been sensitively and thoroughly edited by Purushottama’s beloved, Amido. I also enjoyed the generous spread of colour images throughout the book – each one of them speaks, too.
The unfolding story is not always linear – inserts with added memories by friends from after they had read his story, related articles he wrote on other occasions – all find their place in the book and enrich it even more.
After three months in Europe he travelled overland to Kenya via Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia, which took him a month and left him with a mere 40 dollars in his pocket. Lying on his bunk in a youth hostel in Nairobi, “a big blonde American guy entered the room and walked right up to me. His name was Peter. I wasn’t the only one in the room, there were quite a few travelers that afternoon, but somehow, we were like long-lost friends. We immediately hit it off, and as is so common with solo travelers, we decided to join our wagons for a while. He was on his way to South Africa to make some money.”
After a lot of research into affordable options, he and Peter left on a cargo ship carrying cement bound for Madagascar, via a stopover in the Comoros Islands. Hanging out on deck for days on end, he found himself slipping into a kind of timelessness… “the blue, blue water of the Indian Ocean, the vast sky.”
The year was 1973 and not many travelers from abroad came to Madagascar. He and Peter headed to Antananarivo (Tana for short) located in the highlands of central Madagascar. The very first day while wandering around the city he heard himself say, “This is a place I could get stuck in for a while.” It proved itself true: “What I found in Madagascar was a reconnection with life: living, being, enjoying.” He stayed for more than two years, earning his living by teaching English at the American Cultural Center, traveling and of course, falling in love with a beautiful young Malagasy woman, Voahangy. Peter, however, decided to move on to South Africa as planned.
Knowing only a little about Madagascar, I was riveted by reading about Purushottama’s adventures and rich experiences during his stay. One major incident was the assassination of President Ratsimandrava on February 5, 1975: “It set off a series of events that would eventually lead to my leaving Madagascar. The killing was blamed on a political group from the coast and the battle raged in Antananarivo for days… I remember running to the bathroom and ducking under the windows, just in case shots came through. Actually, we found it quite exhilarating. We had never been in a coup d’état before and were young and thought we were invincible.”
On a solo trip to Tulear in the southwest of the country, he met who became one of his best friends in Madagascar. “While waiting for the next ride out of a small village, I was offered a ring-tailed lemur for sale. He was a young male that they had on a rope leash… At our house in Tana, Maki, as I called him, was free to roam the neighborhood, much to the dismay of some of our neighbors. In general, the Malagasy respect their forest friends.”
During his last term teaching in Madagascar, his friend Peter, who had relocated from South Africa to Nepal, sent news that he was studying Tibetan Buddhism with Lama Yeshe at the Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu. At the same time, another friend, Randy Dodge who had been living at his house, had been thinking of traveling to India and Nepal. “I was interested in Nepal but somehow fearful of India. I knew deep down that it could grab me and not let me go.”
The two bought tickets on an Indian passenger ship that traveled from Mauritius to Bombay, from where they hitchhiked to the border into Nepal, which they crossed riding in a bullock cart at sunrise on New Year’s Day 1976.
They stayed in Kathmandu, had tea with Lama Yeshe at the Kopan monastery, and took a trip to Pokhara for trekking. At a Tibetan refugee camp there, he bought himself a Buddhist mala. However, he wasn’t attracted to Tibetan Buddhist practice. “In fact, the words that I heard come out of my mouth as we talked were, ‘I’m looking for something more universal and more personal.’”
They also befriended several other young travelers who later had new names. Because that’s where eventually all paths lead to – the ashram of a guru in India named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
Before that was going to happen, though, he was interested in seeing Satya Sai Baba, “I was intrigued by the possibility of a ‘living’ Master.” He and Randy parted ways, but were to meet up at the Sai Baba ashram in Andhra Pradesh.
“Visiting a Meher Baba center in New Delhi, an older Baba lover suggested that I go see a rebel of a guru named Rajneesh. I remembered the name and said I did have in mind possibly stopping there as well. He told me the Rajneesh ashram was in Poona, just a couple of hours by train from Bombay. He also said… there was some kind of Baba center there. At this point, it became clear to me I would indeed head to Poona.
“Walking out of the Poona train station, I found a rickshaw and told the driver to take me to the Sai Baba center. I said, “Sai Baba center, not Rajneesh ashram.”
“Yes, yes,” he replied. I had decided that I would first go to the Sai Baba center and then check out the Rajneesh ashram.
“As we got nearer and nearer to our destination, I saw increasing numbers of young western people dressed in orange clothes. By this time, I had been exposed to a couple of Rajneesh sannyasins and so recognized what I was seeing. We arrived at a large gate and on the top was written Shree Rajneesh Ashram. A large, blond, German fellow greeted me and I heard myself say, “I don’t think I am where I was going, but I know that I’m in the right place.”
“The first thing I read from Osho… spoke directly to me. There was no space, no separation between the words and my self, an immediacy. It was clear within days that I would not be going on to the Sai Baba ashram; I had found the living Master I was looking for.”
His sannyas darshan was a new beginning for him and at his leaving darshan a few weeks later, Osho gave him the name Devalayam for a center in Kansas City, where he was eager to return to and share what he had discovered with Osho. And Randy had become Narayanadeva.
Being back in Kansas proved a bit arduous, but within nine months, a meditation center had been established. Another visit to Pune was in the cards and, together with his then girlfriend Sagara (later renamed Sumati) they spent five months traveling overland to Pune. After mainly participating in groups and meditations during their stay, they bought tickets for the famous train to Gujarat, where the new commune was going to be. As it was not clear when this would happen, they went to Japan to earn some money by teaching English. Life in Tokyo was fruitful and in autumn 1978 they flew back to Pune. Nine months later, after working full-time in the commune, they were moved into the ashram.
In 1981, he was one of the sannyasins who were flown to New Jersey ahead of Osho and arrived at the Ranch before the end of the year after almost three months on the road with Sumati visiting bookstores and distributors taking orders for Osho’s books.
The descriptions of life on the Ranch, where he not only continued to be involved with Osho’s books, but was also a member of the Peace Force, are insightful and significant. His view of communes is that they are more like caravanserais, rather than a forever-home. Forever, he says, is going home within, it is located within.
Moving to the second part of the book, he explains:
“In 2006, Amido and I returned to India for the first time since leaving in 1981. Following, you will find accounts of meeting with some remarkable folks interspersed with my own essays, poems, stories, and insights that have occurred to me along the way. This second collection was originally titled Here to Now and Behind. I have added content and decided to combine it into From Lemurs to Lamas to make one book.
“Sometimes the voice is strong because I am not always listening. Sometimes the voice is soft because it is soothing my cuts and bruises, and sometimes the voice is silent because, once in a while, I am present. You should approach these outpourings not as the one being spoken to but rather as if you are overhearing a conversation at a coffee shop.
“I am eternally grateful to be able to witness my own un-enlightenment. It has been and will continue to be the fuel for its demise, Here to Now and Behind.”
What is presented in this second part is something to be savored, maybe even merely as one page at a time. There’s lots to ponder about, sometimes just an image, other times a several pages-long narrative about getting to know a remarkable being, and one-liner gems. Purushottama has come to a deep understanding of the inner and shares it without overtures or lecturing. His emphasis is always on meditation, which is of the utmost importance to him. He is a friend, a fellow traveler relating to another now, here.
As a teaser, a one-liner I found particularly compelling:
There is no Way to Here and Now, but there is a Way out of There and Then.
I heartily recommend this book to all travellers on the outer and the inner paths.