Praful talks to Punya about his early life as a music student, opening up in therapy groups and finally taking sannyas.
I was born in Düsseldorf, Germany. At a very young age I, like many children, started my musical education with a recorder. When we moved to Bonn – the city where I pretty much grew up – I started to play a Yamaha electronic organ. I was seven or eight, I think.
Once a week, after work, my father would meet me at the Yamaha organ school where we played together in the same class, at least in the beginning, until I probably started picking up things faster than he did. I soon became the best in the class.
These lessons became the most precious hours we spent together; they created a beautiful connection with my father. He died when I was 11, of cancer. Maybe because of these lessons, which had created such a strong bond with him, that music became a big part of my life. Certainly this was not the only reason, but it was surely part of it.
It’s as if he passed his love for music on to you and you then developed it?
There was a lot of love for music in the family, even though nobody was a professional musician.
After my father died, my mother kept the organ in the living room as a memento, and when I became a teenager I was still playing it, but I also wanted to take it to the rehearsal cellar of a band I was playing with. My mother absolutely didn’t want that; she wanted to keep it as a sacred object in the house.
As a rebellious teenager I insisted that the only reason for ‘this thing’ to be there was that someone could play on it (and I was the only one in the family who could). I wanted to play it in the band, with the boys! One day I got so angry that I said to my mother, “Okay, if I can’t take it with me I will never ever play one single note on it again.”
She said “No, you can’t take it with you.” …And I never touched it again.
I then bought a synthesizer and played – a lot – in that band. (It was one of those synthesizers that I should never have sold – because now it would be worth its weight in gold! It was a PPG, for those in the know, a monophonic synthesizer. Every modern musician would love to have an analogue synthesizer from those olden days…)
I had a friend who had rich parents. They had a Steinway grand piano in their living room. As he was my best mate, we were always getting together and often played four-handed piano pieces on it, for example pieces by Debussy.
And then… when I was 18, I went to a concert of a school band, playing Brazilian bossa nova songs – just easy songs. In the band there was a saxophone player – a tenor sax. It was the moment of revelation for me! Already when I heard its first notes, I knew. “I have to play that!”
I didn’t have the money to buy a sax, but I received one from a school in my town that had a big music band, called Big Band. If you played in that band they would give you an instrument for free.
For three years, from when I was 18 until I was about 21, I played in this big band – swing music by Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Count Basie etc. Later, some of us created a new Big Band where we played more modern arrangements, like Thad Jones, complicated and more difficult to play.
‘Big Band’ has a set formation. As for a symphonic orchestra where you have so and so many violins, so and so many flute players, etc, a classical big band formation – the way it was played by Glen Miller and Count Basie – has 5 saxophones, 4 trombones and 4 trumpets. Plus a drummer, a bass player, a piano player and often a guitar player. Basically it’s a big horn section. It’s a great school because you learn to play in tune, to play well, and you also learn to play together with others. It was a wonderful school for me.
At that time I was also part of my first fusion band where we played our own compositions, mostly inspired by the music of the Pat Metheny Group. Already then I loved the more eclectic type of jazz music, like that of Keith Jarrett (Köln Concert), musicians found on the Munich ECM label. Jan Garbarek is a famous sax player from Norway, and you also know Keith Jarrett. They were all on ECM. That was the kind of music I listened to. It was jazz that was not too intellectual. It had more feeling in it. It’s a kind of fusion of different styles, overlapping between jazz, ambient and New Age music. There is a strong sort of meeting area there.
I left my childhood home just a week after my 18th birthday and moved into a community until I finished school. I had been at war with my parents, especially with my stepfather. (My mother had married again and I couldn’t get along with my stepfather – there was a lot of fighting.)
I had also done judo since age 7, and during my school years, in my spare time, I earned money teaching judo (I already had the brown belt and was fighting in German championships). Obviously, I couldn’t live from that alone, but luckily, when I turned 18, I received access to a little inheritance from my father. It wasn’t a lot; enough though for me to have a good life for a year or two without having too much to do.
After finishing school, when I was 19, I didn’t want to go to university right away. I didn’t know what to do with my life. I had no clue. But I felt that music was calling me very strongly – but also sports were still very much on the agenda, especially judo.
You see, if you want to be successful in sports – and in music – you have to put in a lot of energy to become always better and better. With judo there was a point where I would have had to attend weekend camps and do trainings more than 3-4 times a week. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t feel that I wanted to make this the only focus in my life. And I also felt that music was calling me more.
But before all this became clear, I was just hanging around, not really knowing what to do with my life. I had a motorbike, a Moto Guzzi, and a girlfriend. All very nice, but then something was missing in the relationship. I felt I needed to end it but she didn’t want to let go. So there were a lot of things that made me feel I needed to get out of there for a while.
Also living in Germany… I always had the feeling that “These are not my people, this is not my country.” I felt a little bit out of place. So something was calling me… I later understood that it was the beginning of my spiritual search, that I was searching for another type of community which I hadn’t yet found as a youngster.
And then I said to myself, “Okay, I am going to sell everything, I am going to go and travel for a year and see if I find out what I want to do with my life.”
I had the intuition – I still don’t understand why or how it came – that if I left now and took with me all the money from everything I had sold, I wouldn’t have anything left when I came back. I knew I would probably travel until all the money was gone.
So what did I do? Because I knew that on my return I would want to play music and therefore needed my own instrument, I went to a shop and bought myself a brand-new saxophone. And, without ever playing a note on it, I put it in my parents’ attic.
“I don’t know what I want to do with my life but I know for sure that I want to play this instrument, so I better buy it now so that it’s there when I come back.”
I then travelled for almost a year. I went first to Crete and lived on the beach, then to Israel and worked in a kibbutz. I stayed in Israel for about six months and made many friends. It was a wonderful time, an intense time. Then on to Egypt, Turkey, the whole area. I also visited Bulgaria.
I came home after almost a year. Another issue was awaiting me: at that time in Germany there was still compulsory military service. I had to go through the conscription process. I didn’t want to be part of the military, so was accepted as a conscientious objector. So I had to do my civil service, which was 20 months long.
As part of my civil service I was given work in a school for multiply-handicapped children. It was a strong experience because these children’s capabilities were extremely limited. It was not easy; nothing really changed with these children. It was often hard to even make contact with them. It was a bit frustrating in a way. Also maybe because in my free time I was practising music like a madman. I already had the feeling that I wanted to make music my profession. But I also knew that I needed to practise a lot in order to become good enough to have a chance to make a living out of it. And I didn’t have enough time while I was doing my service.
When my social service was finished, first I wanted to go to a music school in Rome but then decided to go to the Netherlands – because I had the feeling there was a higher teaching level due to the wider choice of music schools in that country. I didn’t feel like staying in Germany after I had come back from my travels. Eventually, I was accepted in Hilversum at the Jazz Music Conservatory. And at age of 23 I moved away and lived in the Netherlands, with some interruptions, for 25 years.
It was a good time, in a way – I learnt a lot. I knew I could become quite a skilled musician, but it was also a very difficult time. The whole jazz environment was so mindy – and very competitive. Because of that I became even more mindy and emotionally closed than I already was.
When college finished I realized I had actually lost myself completely. Rather than walking on the path of “Yeah, this is what I want to do in my life,” which when I started I had burning very strongly like a flame inside of me, after five years of information, information, information it was rather like, “Okay, now I can play any type of music I want to play. I can play almost like Coltrane, like Michael Brecker, almost like Wayne Shorter, but what do I actually want? Why do I want to make music?”
I had no clue any more. The studies had killed the spark. I can’t blame the school, because the school is there to give information, but it was a pity that there were no ‘holistic teachers’. Only one or two of them were able to help me beyond mere information about music. That was too few.
Looking back, of course, I can say that I am very very grateful I attended that school. If I had to do it again I don’t think I would; but at the time it was good. Because I was getting a scholarship from the German government for studying in Holland, I didn’t need to worry too much about money. I could just focus on becoming a good musician.
Now we are coming to my Saturn return, the moment I became 28.
I was finished with the music school.
School finished, living in Amsterdam, a lot of things started falling apart and crumbling on top of me. The scholarship had ended and I didn’t know how I would live. A lot of fears started coming up. I had a girlfriend, who then left me because she felt she couldn’t really feel and reach me. She thought I was too closed – which I was. This was where Osho came into the picture.
I had known about Osho for a long time already, because my elder brother was a sannyasin. His name was Prem Rupen (he died on Tenerife in a surfing accident in 1987, when he was 27.) I had already done my first Dynamic Meditation in 1983, in the centre in London where he had taken sannyas. I had visited him when I was still young, 19. The first book by Osho that I read was My Way, The Way of the White Clouds, when I was 18. And I always had a very strong inner knowing that resonated with what Osho was saying. Something in me knew, “Yes, this is right. This is completely right. I just could never express it so perfectly.”
I was young then, and also a little bit scared of this whole… following a guru, or whatever. I thought that if something had to happen it would, and I was not willing to take a bigger step than just sort of watching things from the sidelines.
I wasn’t ready, although I always looked for a connection with sannyasins and felt very much at home with them. During my studies, for instance, I lived in an apartment together with a sannyasin, Siddhamo. (Now, since many years, he has been living in Helsinki. He was one of the great keyboard players who many times played in Buddha Hall in Pune, and he can be heard on many recordings from the World of Osho.) It wasn’t my moment yet.
When my studies ended, it felt like, “Okay, I need to get some help, I need to sort myself out.” And the only place I knew where I could get help and do some therapies was Pune. Because I knew about Osho and my brother had been a sannyasin, I thought, “Okay, if there is a place in the world where they can help me it must be Pune.” So again I packed up and again gave up everything; I gave up my house and left a few things in a friend’s attic in Amsterdam… and flew to India.
And so I arrived in Pune. It was 1992; Osho had already left his body. I didn’t know anybody there, I only had a recommendation letter from Sid, my friend the piano player. He had told me, “You just go to the House of Love on Riverside and give this letter to Milarepa.” I didn’t know what was in the letter. I still don’t know. Milarepa opened the letter and looked at me and said, “Do you want to play tonight?”
I had the soprano sax with me and my silver flute (in music college I had also started playing the flute as a second instrument – and I really developed a great love for the flute also). I replied, “Yeah, sure, why not?” And so I started playing pretty much every night, but then also started doing therapies.
At the Multiversity reception I explained all about those fears that were coming up in me: how I was to survive in the world working as a musician, what might come up if I allowed my true feelings, fear of being abandoned and left alone, fear that I was not worthy, fear of being unloved if I showed my true self in all its vulnerability and human-ness. I said that I did not know what to do with them. I was first given the Pulsation group with Samarona, then Primal groups and others. That was my first big shake-up. I stayed 9 months in Pune (with a short break in Nepal renewing my visa), and a few weeks before leaving I took sannyas. Before that, for a long time I thought, “I don’t need this,” but one day during Mystic Rose, I do not remember if it was in the laughing or crying phase, anyway at the end of one of those 3-hour sessions, I looked at Osho’s picture that was hanging in the room – it was that black and white picture where he has this intense look, with his hands folded. I just looked at him… and it totally hit me – I was electrified, he looked right through me. Next thing was, I walked into the sannyas office saying, “I want to take sannyas.” I just knew at that moment that it had to be so.
I had done a lot more groups in Pune as well. It was wonderful. I started to find out more about myself, meditating and playing music. I also think that what really saved me was not only releasing a lot of emotional stuff, but also the understanding that from the moment of my father’s funeral, when I was 11, I had stopped feeling things. I had closed myself. Because I was seeing my mother in pieces, I decided I needed to be strong for her, I needed to replace my father. I put on an armour around my heart to make myself stronger. That’s also why I hated my stepfather so much – because there was no room for another man. I was the one replacing my father.
When I was in Pune all this started coming out and being released in the groups – and also with the help of music.
To be continued…