Written by Prem Shunyo
USA: The Castle
lst June, 1981, New York City.
Osho left India with about twenty disciples. Saying goodbye, his sanyasins, hands folded in namaste, had stood outside his door in the hallway and car porch and had lined the road through the Ashram. He left in a Mercedes with Vivek and his doctor Devaraj.
Vivek, with her frail child-like quality that for moments camouflaged her strength of character and ability to take command of any situation, and Devaraj, tall, elegant and silver-haired, made an interesting couple.
I left an hour later, and this was to be my first experience of feeling that the death of the commune had happened. In a way it had, because it was never to be the same again. How could it? The commune had felt like one energy, one body; we had been joined together in our energy-darshans and our meditations. That we were now to be scattered all over the world saddened me. My path was not to be just blissful meditations in magical settings, dressed in long flowing robes, unaware and uncaring about what was happening in the rest of the world. The diamond of my inner world was having facets cut and the cutting felt like a surgical operation.
On the Pan Am flight Osho, Devaraj and Vivek, with Osho’s cooks, and cleaner Nirupa, occupied the entire top floor, which was the first-class section. This was the only time Osho had been out of his near-sterile living conditions in Poona. We had done our best to clean the cabin and had covered all the seats with white covers, in an attempt to reduce any smells of perfume and cigarettes left from previous passengers.
The newness of the situation, to be sitting on a plane with Osho going to America, of all places, was exciting, despite the tearful farewell to India and all my friends. Two brothers, who taught karate in Poona, turned out to be photographers. They kept us informed of all the gossip from above as they raced back and forth, snapping Osho doing all manner of unimaginable things, such as drinking champagne. Well, at least, holding the glass.
Sheela was there. She was to be Osho’s secretary while he was visiting America. She insulted one of the stewards, and then moved on to one of the stewardesses, and within a few minutes the entire crew of the second-class section were our enemies. She tried to explain that she didn’t mean to insult the steward by calling him a Jewboy; that she had been married to a Jew, was herself a Jew…too late. Her rough tongue had done its work. For me this was typical of Sheela’s character, or personality. She was a rough diamond. My understanding of Osho and how he works with people is that he sees beyond the personality. He sees our potential, our buddhahood, and he puts his trust in our higher capabilities. “I trust my love,” I have heard him say; “I trust that my love will transform you.”
We were met at the New York airport by Sushila. Both her personality and physical appearance earn her the description of earth-mother; on the periphery she is outspoken and quite a tough cookie. I have only ever met her at airports. On this occasion she seemed to be in charge of the whole customs and luggage department. All the porters were working for her, and when it came to declaring goods, she was everywhere. What a worry it was to move Osho through a chaotic airport and try and protect him from smells that might bring on an asthma attack. I had known him in Poona to develop an asthma attack from the slightest smell of perfume or, on one occasion, the smell of new curtain fabric. He was tremendously fragile in the body, and especially now with his back pain. What would we do if an official stopped him and kept him waiting around? These worries did not reflect on Osho though. He walked through the airport calmly, looking neither left or right. I think he was so content and at ease with himself that his surroundings never touched him.
Out of the airport. New York! – I couldn’t believe it!
The drive to New Jersey was quite a shock. There were no people in the streets, not even a stray dog; miles and miles of houses and cars, but no sign of life. The sky was still and grey, no clouds, no sun. It was the opposite to India, where in the midst of overpopulation and poverty beats a heart full of life and color. I looked at the deserted streets of New Jersey and for a moment was panicked with the thought that maybe there had been a nuclear explosion and everyone was dead.
We took a winding road up a hill through a pine forest and arrived at a castle. It stood on the top of a small hill and was surrounded by lawns, then forest; it had a tower and balustrade, round leaded windows and stained glass windows. Along the same winding, forest road was a monastery, just before entering the gate to the castle, and the monks roamed in the forest wearing white habits. It was straight out of a Grimms fairy tale, right in the middle of suburban New Jersey.
Tired and shocked, I sat on the lawn with a group of about thirty sannyasins. As we waited for Osho to arrive we all keeled over in a heap and fell asleep. Then someone shouted that he was coming and we raised our sleepy bodies and our hands in namaste. Everything felt so new. I was hardly aware that I had also travelled with Osho on the plane; I was sitting on the lawn awaiting his arrival and seeing him for the first time.
For years in Poona we had only seen Osho wearing one style of robe, white and straight up and down. I used to spend hours pressing the knife-sharp creases on the sleeves, as it was the only detail. Now he was wearing a long, knitted jacket over the robe with a black and white border, and a black knitted hat. He always looked so thrilled to see everyone; his eyes sparkled and he smiled as he namasted us all and walked so graciously towards the stone stairs leading to the entrance. He sat for a few minutes with us on the lawn with closed eyes… I was reminded that in India or America, when my eyes are closed, I am in the same place. I was carrying the silence of my meditations in the ashram in India inside me. When my mind is still there are no countries, not even a world.
Osho’s rooms were still being renovated, and as a temporary arrangement he was to live in two small rooms at the very top of the castle, which he could reach in a lift.
I had been spoiled in Poona with my immaculate laundry room, so quiet and cut off from the rest of the hustle and bustle of the Ashram. In fact, no one was even permitted to enter my laundry room. I must have been a bit of a prima donna, because now I was horrified to discover that my laundry room was in the cellar! Although one area had been cleaned up, the cellar was still a cellar, full of junk and cobwebs. Periodically the pipes which lined the cellar would burst and send out a shower of steam or gas.
I went into a catharsis when I saw that I didn’t even have a bucket, but was duly amazed by the wonders of the modern world when not only bucket but washing machine arrived that same day.
I arranged my washing line on the castle tower. Walking up its winding staircase I was reminded of the many times I had climbed the tower of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (no, not as the hunchback!). At a certain point, while climbing up or down stairs like these (there are also a few underground stations in London that have the same effect) a voice in my head says, “These stairs are to eternity; they are never going to end.” And always, for a moment, I believe it and see my life stretched out before me, forever on the stone staircase. But then the last turn in the winding narrow stairs is there, and I burst through the heavy wooden door and stand on the top of the tower. Below me is a sea of green fields and houses and then a great mist, and floating in the mist is another planet called New York City. I can see it clearly, and the sky is pinkish orange, smoldering behind it.
Osho explored and experimented with his new American way of life with child-like enthusiasm.
He had for years eaten the same food – rice, dhal (lentils) and three vegetables. his diet was always strictly watched to ensure that the diabetes with which he suffered was kept under control. Devaraj would sit in the kitchen and weigh each gram of food to calculate the calories. Osho’s fragile health was difficult for me to understand. I remember when in London, sitting in the white tunnel at the meditation center, and I first saw a photograph of Osho’s hand. I remarked that he couldn’t be enlightened because he had such a short life line. It must have been Christian conditioning that made me think enlightenment meant a person became immortal.
So it was a big deal for us that Osho was experimenting with new foods – American cereals, omelettes, and once even spaghetti, which he returned untouched saying it looked like Indian worms. He watched television for a while and made trips to New York City.
Osho explored the whole castle and turned up in the most unexpected places, beaming, as we would shriek with shock, never having seen him go anywhere except to sit in his chair in Buddha Hall. He visited my laundry in the cellar. When I turned and saw him standing in the doorway I was so surprised that I put the hot iron down on my hand. Italian Anasha, who had not been fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to see Osho on his castle walks, wrote to him and asked was he avoiding her? When he visited her as she was cleaning, he affectionately put his arm around her.
Osho had always been so far away for us, always the Buddha who talked to us from the podium or helped us move into unknown realms in energy-darshans, and so this was extraordinary for us. He continued to appear unexpectedly, anywhere, and I found I was becoming more aware during the day, and was reminded of the Zen stories of masters who would suddenly appear with a stick and hit the disciple – except Osho did not carry a stick, just a loving smile.
But I have never been able to surprise him, and I asked him once if he had ever been surprised.
Osho: “There is no one to be surprised. I am absent, as I will be when I will be dead, with only one difference…that right now my absence has a body, and then, my absence will not have a body.”
However, I was certainly surprised, or rather, in a state of permanent shock at the change in my environment. I missed the commune even though I was fortunate enough to be with Osho. America always seemed to me to be unborn; it has always felt unformed, like a foetus not yet with a soul, whereas India feels ancient and steeped in magic.
My experience of watching television is that it is both addictive and dangerous, like a drug. The first few days I watched television I awoke each night screaming from nightmares. One night I woke everyone in the castle, and I opened my eyes as Nirupa was gently stroking my head, soothing me with, “It’s alright, it’s alright.” I stopped watching television, and I don’t wonder how it is that people’s minds are so full of junk and violence from the television.
I sat alone on the tower with closed eyes, but meditation did not happen so deeply for me. It was more in the air to fall in love. Almost everyone fell in love at the castle. Vivek and I had a love-affair with the same man, but there was no fight, no jealousy. In fact we used to laugh about it. I know that it is “normally” thought to be strange, even suspected that a person does not really love if jealousy is not there. But I was learning that the opposite is true. Where there is jealousy, there is not love. It was here that Anando, whom I first met in the meditation center in London, and Devaraj, Osho’s doctor, were to meet and fall into a love that lasted many years.
I had been wearing shapeless, orange robes for the last six years, as had everyone else. Now it was time to adapt to our new environment. Our clothes were still to be the colors of the rising sun, and we wore our malas, but now we wore “American clothes.” In my case it was a punk outfit from which my knees, shoulders and many other parts of my anatomy could be unzipped. I am sure we looked pretty weird as we explored our new terrain in small groups, excited and laughing about everything we saw. We were actually coming from another world.
Osho began driving lessons. Sheela and her new husband, Jayananda, arrived one day in a black, convertible Rolls Royce. Osho came down the steps of the castle with Vivek, and placing black Russian hats … la Gurdjieff on the three passengers, he took the wheel. Off down the hill they went with the car hood going up and down, up and down, as he tried out all the buttons as they drove along. We, the spectators, were shocked, as we had not expected that he would drive himself! It must have been twenty years since he had driven a car, and that would have been a small Indian one, and on the other side of the road, in India. But, what a wonderful sight!
Each day Osho invited two people for a drive in the car with him and Vivek. For some of the passengers it was rather more than they expected, and they came back white-faced and shaken. On more than one occasion Vivek, on her return to the castle, would ask for a stiff whiskey to calm her nerves.
Osho liked to drive fast. Forgetting that he was the only person driving on the road who was actually “awake,” and therefore, safer than anyone else, his passengers could not contain their gasps and muffled screams as corners were taken in wide sweeps. And he always made for the fast lane. On more than one occasion Osho said that there was too much fear in the car. Once he stopped the car and said that if people didn’t relax then he would stop driving altogether.
A back-seat driver exclaimed, “You just missed that car!” and he replied, “That’s your judgement!”
Nirgun, a spunky sixty-year-old who cooked for Osho, describes her ride on a dark, stormy night as the most exhilarating experience of her life. Afterwards Osho sent her a message that she had been the only person so far who had really been present.
As Osho left twice a day for the car ride we used to sit on the lawn next to a hydrangea bush, rich in blue flowers, at the bottom of the stone stairs, and send him off with music. There was Nivedano, a dark and mysterious Brazilian, who was then a new sannyasin. Years later, still playing music for Osho, he was to show his other talent – building waterfalls. There was Govinddas, a pale German who played sitar as well as any Indian, and Yashu, a Spanish, gypsy woman who played two flutes at once, accompanied by Kavia, her three-year-old daughter, on bells. Rupesh (Osho’s tabla player) was a dynamo of energy and I was so happy to see him when he arrived that I jumped on him with such enthusiasm I knocked out my front tooth on his head. Our neighboring monks heard the music and freaked out. They accused us of practising black magic and having “sacrificial rites.”
Sheela was now well established as Osho’s secretary and Laxmi, who had done this work in India, was now on holiday and Osho told her to relax and do nothing. In fact, a year later he was to tell her that had she listened to him she would by now be enlightened. She tried playing music with the musicians, but no good; so she decided to be the cook. Alas, it was evening time before our lunch was ready, so that didn’t work either. Poor Laxmi. She then tried to show that she was as good as anyone else by drinking alcohol at a garden fete that we gave for getting to know the local people. She got drunk and fell off a table. Later she was to branch off on her own, gather a small group of followers and attempt to start a new commune for Osho.
Around a Master when situations change there is nothing to be done except go with it, because everything is changing all the time in existence, and with a Master the emphasis is on accepting change. A few people who in Poona had jobs with a certain amount of power or prestige, were to find it impossible to adjust to their new positions. Some went their own way and the group around Osho changed, just as great winds come and dead branches fall from the trees.
I understood from talking to Devaraj that Sheela did not simply become Osho’s secretary because of the convenience. Although she was Indian she had become an American citizen through her first marriage and had spent a lot of time in America. It was more involved than that, and had in fact begun four or five months before in Poona.
Devaraj had written a book and in it he says:
“…Sheela, with the active or passive help of us all, became the ‘boss’. It wasn’t that Bhagwan said one day, ‘You are the best person for the job’; he merely confirmed that she had in fact taken the job. Any other choice would have been an imposition by him on us. In the Buddhist context this is what is called ‘choiceless awareness.’
“To have simply ‘selected’ somebody would have been against the whole way he worked. He was living in this experimental community, and for it to remain alive it had to have an integrity of its own. To just select his choice against the flow of events was not his way. He always went with the flow, surrendered totally to what existence offered to him, and gave it one-hundred percent of his support to help it work. If existence had brought Sheela to the top, there must have been some reason for it; there must have been something we needed to learn from it – and how!
“Just as Bhagwan put his life in the hands of his physicians with total trust, so he put his life’s work in the hands of his administrators with total trust. And while he is always aware of the potential for unconsciousness and ugliness in all unenlightened people, he is also aware of the potential for consciousness and beauty in all unenlightened people. He has total trust that one day, in all of us, however long it takes, consciousness will eventually disperse unconsciousness as light disperses darkness.” (Bhagwan: The Most Godless yet the Most Godly Man, by Dr. George Meredith)
I don’t think Osho “chose” anyone. It is not as though he sat in darshan or discourse, looked around and found the person with the brightest aura or most potential and said, “That one can do my laundry, or that one can cook for me…” I think whoever came his way, he accepted that person in total trust. For instance, I will never know because I never asked, whether Osho or Vivek decided to give me the opportunity of doing the laundry and thereby become part of Osho’s household – but I suspect it was Vivek. It seems as though “just by chance” I was in the right spot at the right time.
The forest surrounding the castle was filled with pines and blue spruce trees, and at night the cicadas sang so shrill and loud that it seemed the windows would break. I saw a cicada one time on a tree trunk; he was six inches long and luminous green. I thought, no wonder he sings so loud.
I liked to sleep in the woods. The alertness that became entwined with sleep was animal-like. There were always so many sounds and rustles of leaves. It was a little frightening, but I liked that too.
A woman, unknown to anyone, came from Germany. She was a Christian fanatic and she spread rumors through the town about Osho.
Soon hooligans started to come to the castle at night. They spray-painted the walls telling us to “go home…” and exploded paper bombs. These make a tremendous noise, and we jumped out of our beds thinking real bombs were exploding. They threw rocks through windows, shattering glass.
We started guarding, and I stopped sleeping in the woods. What with the monks drifting through the morning mists in their white habits and cars full of shouting hooligans, I was beginning to feel uneasy. We had been minding our own business, disturbing nobody and yet people did not like us – we were different.
We stayed at the castle for three months. Most of this time Sheela was away looking for land. She came up with “The Big Muddy Ranch,” in central Oregon, 64,000 acres of barren desert that had been overgrazed and left to die over the last fifty years as a tax write-off.
Sheela purchased “The Big Muddy” because she found it on the anniversary of her late husband’s death, and signed the papers for it on his birthday! At least, that is what she said.