Book by Prem Shunyo
Foreword by Dr. Lawrence Blair
It is fitting that I should write a foreword for Shunyo’s book, for it is I, as she puts it, who started her off on her adventure and waved goodbye as she boarded the plane to India seventeen years ago. She was to become an intimate disciple of the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who became known as Osho (Zen Master) shortly before he died in January 1990.
This is a story of what it’s actually like, in our lifetimes, for a Westerner to tread the path of the bhakti, the way of devotion…to seek, recognize, and follow one’s true Teacher – the gateway to one’s own enlightenment. He may not be your master or mine, but in Shunyo’s limpid telling, the truth becomes abundantly clear in the old saying: All pathways with heart lead to the summit of the same mountain – and the nearer they are to the top, the more they resemble each other.
In Shunyo’s case, her path was the notorious “sex guru” of the popular press, thumber of his nose at the establishment values, amasser of Rolls Royces and tens of thousands of uninhibitedly joyful red-robed sannyasins. The guru who was unceremoniously deported, vilified by the media, his Oregon Ashram crushed, was then – in ill health, with a few close disciples – hounded by the U.S. government from nation to nation for a year until returning to India where he died shortly afterwards of unclear causes.
For fifteen years Shunyo devoted herself to following Osho’s pathway to enlightenment, as well as to washing his clothes and caring for his basic needs. She was always the “quiet one,” the “Mary Magdalene” of the long-surviving intimates.
A dark Celtic beauty from the wilds of Cornwall, Sandy Pengelly danced, looked for love and meaning, and strived to make a living in the flower-child years of London. In 1975 she abandoned everything and went to Poona, India, to see if Osho matched up to his writings. He did. He renamed her Chetana. And much later, shortly before he died, he renamed her again: “Shunyo” – which she rather proudly explains means “Zero.”
This is the diary of the roller-coaster ride of her inner and outer adventures, which proved to be both life and sanity threatening yet profoundly rewarding.
After six years in Poona, Shunyo accompanied Osho when he visited America. She was washing his clothes for him in Oregon during the explosive years of ascent to international attention and infamy. She shared with him being shackled in chains and imprisoned in North Carolina (with no charge against her) and finally being deported – with no explanation. The ailing, fragile Osho, with a few intimates, was hounded from nation to nation, seeking refuge under constant threats and harassment. This vulnerable and astonishingly special family of people experienced years of hatred and rejection, on an international scale, before braving the return home to India – which Osho had last left under a political cloud. At Bombay airport they were nearly crushed by the tumultuous welcoming crowd.
Shunyo was with him over the following years, as he withered quickly – in body, but not in light – of a fatal, wasting disease, which was unanimously diagnosed by various independent sources as resulting from thallium poisoning, administered while in the jails of America. It was in these final months that Osho, as he was now called, released Shunyo into the understanding that she had really been following her own path all along, and it was now, like her prose and her heart, clearer than ever.
I’m sure you’ll recognize this book as truly written from the heart. It has three powerful things going for it. First: it describes the inner path of a 20th century bhakti with such innocence and literacy that it speaks to everyone who has ever tried going inwards regardless of their path.
Second: for those who haven’t, and wonder what all this “enlightenment” bit is about anyway, it’s a record of what it’s actually like to be a high mountaineer of the often cynically referred to “consciousness movement” of the last thirty years, a fly on the wall at one of the most interesting events of our time, and witness to the perennial mustering of the dark forces of ignorance against the candles of predictive clarity.
Third: because Shunyo’s path happens to have been the man who cast as long a shadow as any cult leader recently in the popular imagination, her tale is a sobering and valuable contribution to our time. And anyway, on looking back, who in history is more interesting than those who lived ideas which cast the longest shadows, and caught the greatest flack in their own lifetimes?
Dr. Lawrence Blair
Author of Rhythms of Vision and Ring of Fire
Film maker and lecturer