How Shivananda came to design the book and cards for the Vigyan Bhairav Tantra set. An interview by Punya.
One day Garimo, the then head of the Publications Department in the Pune Commune, announced in a meeting that they had decided to republish The Book of Secrets, not in five but in two volumes, and asked, “Who wants to be the designer?” I knew I wanted to be the designer for this project so said Yes! Immediately.
Since my sannyas initiation and the dream I had that night where Osho had asked me if I knew the 112 secrets, The Book of Secrets became a constant and intimate life companion. Whenever I had a question I would pick up one of the five volumes, close my eyes, and open a page. It worked like an oracle. So many times I felt that Osho gave me a clear message. So for me, from all of Osho’s books, this was MY book, the one I would take to the ‘desert island’.
The decision to adopt the Rebellious Sprit format, as we called the squarish layout with two columns divided by a line, came very quickly. After a couple of months designing the inside pages with a lot of back and forth with the typesetters, the police raided the ashram and controlled all the visas. The ashram asked everybody whose visa had expired to leave. I was one of them; I had overstayed my visa. I bought an exit visa and left.
So you didn’t finish the book project?
No, I didn’t finish it. Anugito, another designer, took it on.
Six months later, after making good money in Germany designing layouts of magazines (Cosmopolitan, Focus, Ambiente), I came back and wanted a holiday – at least from anything to do with design.
One day I followed a friend to the top of Krishna House roof where he was working as a sign creator. When I entered the space they had just put on some disco music and the whole crew was dancing. There was a lot of laughter and joking. I immediately felt at home in that playful energy and they asked me, “Why don’t you come and join us?” After a week I even became the coordinator of the Sign Department… (Some stories from that time are coming in another episode – so stay tuned.)
I religiously avoided crossing the back road to Mirdad, where the Publications Department was located, but then one day my curiosity took me there. “What about The Book of Secrets? What has happened to it?” I asked.
“We are just finishing the films. It’s ready to go to the printers.”
I went home and the next morning, quite early, just after waking up, I heard an inner voice that said, “There has to be a list of all 112 sutras in the book.”
I thought, “That’s strange, but it makes sense somehow. There should be a list! I also remembered that Osho had once mentioned in Rajneeshpuram that if we read through the 112 sutras we will come to our sutra, to our meditation. There will be a response inside of us. Something inside will be touched.
“This is important. I go and tell them.” So I went over to Publications and said, “You know, I just had the insight that there should be a list of the 112 sutras.”
And the reply was: “Oh my God, we have been working now for so many months on this book and are so tired of it – we are so happy it’s finally finished. No, we don’t do anything more, that’s it. The book is finished.”
I thought, “What am I doing? I have been gone for so long and now working for another department. I have no right to interfere.”
I went home and the next morning the same voice said, “Not only should there be a list of the 112 sutras, there should be 112 cards!”
I thought, “That’s a great idea,” but felt it would be too much to return to the Publication Department with another new idea. The following morning the voice came a bit stronger and said, “There should not only be 112 cards with the sutras, but also with a picture!” To me it made sense because then you could not only go through the cards and find your meditation, it would also look much more attractive.
“Wow, it’s amazing,” I thought. “That would be great!” At the time Garimo was my girlfriend and she knew about this ongoing story with the voices and she suggested, “Well, why don’t you talk to Wadud? He is the one working with these meditations and he has a bigger understanding. Ask him his opinion.”
So I went to see Wadud. We stepped out into the garden; sat down and I told him the story, and he said, “Actually, I think it’s not a good idea. So many people are already misusing cards and they will be misusing these cards even more. The cards will lose their value. The meditations are jewels and just to play cards is not the right thing. So it’s better not to have any cards.”
“Yeah, good, good. Thank you for your input.” I replied, relieved that my problem was now solved.
The next morning when I woke up there was not only a small voice, there was a BOOMING voice which said, “If only ONE out of a thousand is benefiting from the cards, it is worth doing it.” I was like, “My God!” It was so strong. “What’s happening? How can I argue with this?” I felt the truth in it. When one out of a thousand is benefiting…
I told Garimo of my experience and in a very practical way she said, “Well, now there’s only one way. Go and see Anando.” She was one of Osho’s secretaries after he had left his body.
“If Anando says no, I guess that’s it,” I thought, and went to her office in Lao Tzu House. I told her the whole story; the list, the cards, what Wadud had said, everything. And she exclaimed, “What a great idea! Oh, I love it. What a great idea,” and asked, “So YOU will make the 112 cards?”
“No, no, no, no, no. I only wanted to contribute the idea. I don’t want to do them.”
“Well,” she paused, looked at me straight in the eye and asked, “WHO is going to make these cards?”
In that moment something happened in me – it was as if I was hearing myself say, “Okay, I’ll make the cards.” Some surrendering happened somewhere, although my mind could not believe what I had just said.
She then added, “Just quickly go and check with Jayesh if it’s okay with the money.” I went to Jayesh – I caught him somewhere in a Krishna House corridor, told him the story in short, he paused, looked up into the air and said, “Yeah, I think it’s a good idea. It will sell. Yeah, let’s do it.” That was it! At this point, at one level, I was still hoping he would say no…
After that I went over to the Publications Department and asked, “Do you know about The Book of the Secrets?”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s finished!”
“Well, hmm, it’s not quite finished.”
I told them the whole story and the answer was, “Well, Shivananda, I guess you have a job. Which desk do you want?” I chose a desk near the exit…
So there I was sitting at the my new desk wondering, “My God, how did I get here? How can I make 112 cards?”
Through the door comes in Abhar, and said, “Oh, Shivananda, I have to tell you an amazing Tantric story. You know I met this guy…” After her long story I asked, “Well, do you want to hear another Tantric story?”
And so I told her my story to which she said, “Wow, what a great idea! Can I be part of the project? I just left my work in the darkroom. I am available. I can help you.”
“Would you really? That would be amazing. Fantastic!”
“You know what? Let’s go over to Padma and Siddhena and ask them if they want to be a part of it too,” she suggested.
“Do you really think they would?”
“Yeah, let’s go!” So we went over to Jesus House, told them the story and they both agreed, “Oh, what a wonderful idea! Let’s do it all together, the four of us.”
Then and there we decided to meet three times a week and talk about the sutras. From the beginning we had the idea to invite different artists. So, three times a week, Siddhena, Padma, Abhar and I would meet in Padma’s office. We went through the sutras, reading one at a time and then we asked who would like to take on that particular meditation. Then somebody might say, “I have a strong feeling for this one,” and that person would take it on. They would come up with an image or had some other idea, like asking another artist who might like to do that particular one.
Which artists became involved in making the cards?
Some cards were made by Padma, some by Siddhena, some were photos by Abhar, some paintings were made by Gopa. Different people, like Sandipa, Shunyo, Premo, Socrates and some cards I made myself. Because the book was already typeset before we added the cards, no names of the artists are mentioned anywhere (which was not unusual because we were all ‘working’ for the joy of it).
I actually own this edition. It has a box with two volumes on each side and in the middle are the cards which are in their own box.
Right. The photo on the cover with the rainbow prism shot was chosen by Osho. There are rainbow colours on the back of the cards and on the box. All this because of my dream after taking sannyas. In that dream I had disappeared into Osho’s beard and the beard had turned into an ocean of rainbow colours. I also knew that Osho liked the rainbow colour effects on his photographs.
Now I am digressing even further but I would like to add this here: When a few friends and I had a plan of opening a design office in Munich, we asked Osho for a name. He gave us the name ‘Rainbow Design’. The design office never materialized, but I finally used the name for many years for my own design studio. Right now I have changed the name to ‘Rainbow Art’. So many rainbows in my life…
After some time I again had to leave ‘for the West’ and Sandipa took over the project. I asked her, to complete this interview, if she could write something about her experience and this is what she sent to me:
We were getting to the point of completing the production of the Vigyan Bhairav Tantra cards to accompany the 112 meditation-cards. They were designed to assist people in choosing a meditation method to experiment with for three months, a help to see which one would be a natural fit for them.
We had had many meetings over the months as we chose which meditations each of us would like to create an image for, and then also to look at paintings we had made and see if they aligned, and if we thought they worked well for that particular meditation method.
When we had gathered all the images for every meditation it was decided to gather some wider input. A meeting was arranged with Kaveesha to be held in a room in Meera one evening, where we set up a slide projector and showed the images one by one. The artists and designers who were currently at the commune were present, and others – perhaps there were 20 people, and we progressed through the images one by one in a slide show. Each image was looked at up on the large screen and the name and brief description of the meditation was announced. This was allowed to settle for a few moments until an OK was given by Kaveesha, or a few words spoken.
But there were a lot! Going through 112 images at a fast clip was not of course what the purpose of the images set out to do. Nevertheless, we came to the completion of viewing all the images and hearing the names of all those meditations in one intense, packed, extended session.
Kaveesha was deeply touched and profoundly moved by seeing this output of creativity and as she was leaving the room she said, “I feel stoned.” I think we all did, really, seeing our project was coming together.
Kaveesha also beautifully said, “This is our gift to ourselves.”
Now I am getting confused. Why is this boxed set titled Vigyan Bhairav Tantra and not The Book of the Secrets like the Pune 1 editions and the book which is now available?
Because of copyright reasons. For a period of time we were not allowed to use the title, The Book of the Secrets. It was Osho who had suggested we use ‘Vigyan Bhairav Tantra’ – which is actually the original Sanskrit name of the 112 sutras.
When the box set went out of print, St. Martin’s Griffin re-published the discourses in a single volume again titled, The Book of the Secrets. It’s still available in places like ebay and goodreads.com. It has over 1000 pages – but of course without the cards. (In the meantime the book has undergone a text revision and is available also as ebook .)
Yes, the cards have now been lost for most of us. As I still feel it is a good idea to have the 112 sutras printed on cards as a way of finding your own meditation technique I will create a PDF file with the 112 cards. There would be 8 cards for each A4 paper. So for the 112 cards you would need just 14 sheets of strong paper. Then you can cut them out and experiment. Good idea? (Here it is done!)
A final word on this project?
The whole cards project was like no other project I had ever done; all went very smoothly – for me! It was pure joy. It was like a miracle manifesting under my eyes.
This is what Siddhena said when I asked him recently:
I remember that feeling: How on earth are we going to do all these in the time allotted? But it was the same ‘impossible’ feeling the mind came up with in any project in the Buddhafield… And so we considered pieces of art we already had, as well as creating new ones.
Seeing the printed cards I feel the depth and mysteries of the Vigyan Bhairav Tantra. While creating a card I can recall how it would ‘take over’ my day(s). The Buddhafield was the studio!
- 112 sutras of the Vigyan Bhairav Tantra – PDF file
Related discourse by Osho
Shivananda was interviewed by Punya
Update 7.8.2022: corrected spelling from Kavisha to Kaveesha.