January 1983 I receive a letter from Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh's secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, that from now on I may call myself Swami Pantha Chinmayo. I have become a 'sannyasin', a disciple of the Indian guru who will later be called Osho. Of course, a few things preceded this ...
From a very young age I get the message, under the influence of my father in particular, that I am not good enough. I am not the tough, handy and sporty boy he would have preferred. I was a shy bookworm, and the only way out of my feelings of inadequacy was to try to be better at something he and my school friends are definitely not good at and earn respect that way ...
I dug holes in the kindergarten sandbox to see what would be hidden deep under the sand. Other kids didn't do that. Wells and sewers also had my interest: an invisible and hidden world right under my feet! A little later, once I was able to read, I collected scientific articles from the Utrechts Nieuwsblad. The first results of the DNA research, the beginning of space travel. I loved it all. When I was a little older I devoured books on elementary particles and cosmology and I had a simple chemistry lab in my parents' garage. I also gained admiration for it at school. I certainly wasn't the most popular, nor the brightest, but at least I knew things that no one else knew ... (Ha!)
In addition to natural science, I also devoured books on parapsychology, UFOs, theosophy and things like that. As a teenager and young adult I consulted the Tarot and the I Ching and practiced astrology. All very exciting to me! A little later I read the books of Carlos Castaneda, J. Krishnamurti and others. I studied philosophy at the University of Amsterdam for five years, join a radical left-wing activist group and took my first steps in therapy land.
During a visit to the Kosmos in Amsterdam (the weekly swing evening), together with some people from the residential group where I lived at the time, I have a profound experience. I bought some weed from the home dealer in the tea house and light a joint. The stuff doesn't work out well at all and I get very anxious and paranoid. The fear keeps getting stronger, until I am completely frozen, completely alienated and in my head. Then suddenly it changes. I feel free, clear and fully present in my body. It feels wonderful. My mind and my body are exactly in sync. Walking, sitting, breathing, everything goes without any doubt. I walk around the building for a while. Only one person is on the same wavelength as I am and we smile at each other in mutual recognition. All other people are visibly in their heads and are only concerned with themselves. Even when they talk to each other, they don't listen, but talk like robots running a program. I realize that I normally do that too, just like everyone else. I also realize that my biggest concern is what people will think of me, even when I'm alone! But not now. I have the impression that I can see exactly what people are thinking and really enjoy my condition. It is only when I go home that doubts arise: how can I deal with my housemates in this situation? They will not understand this. Doubt breeds fear and in no time I am again ordinary neurotic and 'unenlightened'.
That taste of course made me want more! I tried for a long time to relive this state...
In the early eighties I came into contact with students and books of the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and a while later, after a lot of doubts, I decided to also take 'sannyas', or become a follower of Rajneesh. In popular parlance they would say that I was 'joining the Bhagwan'. I started wearing red clothes, topped with a necklace of wooden beads and a medallion depicting Rajneesh.
Rajneesh states that you can reach a state called "Enlightenment" where the individual merges with the cosmos and Unity Consciousness arises. That idea really appeals to me. Finding the real secret, to be 'Awakened', knowing the Origin… Fascinating! And apparently that goes hand in hand with a step-by-step development through meditation, which according to Rajneesh, can coincide with fully celebrating life at the same time. In order to achieve enlightenment, a number of blockages and conditioning usually have to be seen through and removed by doing psychotherapy. You become more and more aware, more and more centered, more and more alive, to finally come to full bloom as an Enlightened being ... and your life becomes a 'flow', in sync with the universe. How tempting!
Then followed a ten-year immersion in the chaotic whirlwind of the sannyas culture and subcultures with its therapy groups, communes, meditations, ecstasy trips, pushed visits to Oregon, paranoia, intimidating leaders, emotional blackmail and lot's of manipulation. But also with silence, connectedness, fantastic parties, a lot of exuberant and cheerful energy. I come into contact with zen, sufism, shamanism, t'ai-chi, tantra, rebirthing, bioenergetics, dehypnotherapy, etc., in short, with all walks of alternative spirituality and humanistic psychology. I half and half believe in karma, reincarnation, chakras and chanelling.
I have done it all and after those ten years there were still years of other adventures on the "spiritual path". It took a long time before I can shake off that whole thing and I realize what I am actually doing and I can also appreciate it. It took me a long time to really stand on my own two feet, feel good about myself and stop wondering what some guy could tell me about the answers to life's ultimate questions.
"The key feature of a hypnotic trance is its invisibility to the entranced mind." (Robert Saltzman)
"All paths lead away from truth" (Shiv Sengupta)
What are the lessons I have learned from this adventure? Well, most of all, I've remembered what I don't want, what is not okay for me. It is not okay to put someone above me as (all) knowing guru or leader. Nor is life in communes. Thank's a lot. And of course I also enjoyed this spiritual fair, all that energy and the beautiful people I met, including my current partner!
The most important lesson, however, is that running away from what's going on here and now, looking for a (future and permanent) way out of feelings of lack and inadequasy, is a very bad (and very costly!) idea.
But that lesson I only learned much later, after first working with the Australian 'Master of the West' (seriously!) Barry Long and then with a whole series of satsang teachers, both in person and through dozens of books and countless videos ... I learned it through seeing that I don't have to be a fuck-up. I can take responsibility for my life, learn and master skills, be active in the world and get respect. And that opened me up for a different way of looking at life: this ordinary life I am having right now really is enough. The need for a father figure, the need to be special, the need to be the knower of deep secrets and be recognized for that is not completely gone, but it is a lot less present and doesn't drive me anymore.
I still dare not say that the Sannyas movement was a sect, because after all we were free to come and go as we pleased, yet I can say that many of us, including myself, behaved sectarianly. Because we have seen the light. I myself have thought that way and I am sure, many with me. And still I have to be careful not to fall into that trap again, because as an ex-sannyasin I can once again look down upon all those 'stupid, naive believers' ...
In fact, I have never really felt at ease with the whole culture of the sannyas happening: the songs, the folklore, the superstition, the paranoia, but on the other hand I also wanted to be part of it and so participated in much of that nonsense. I still know the songs by heart ... However, I did thank for the excesses, for example the cult around pieces of marble floor from his stay in the ashram that are (still!) sold as relics ('Osho marble'). Really ridiculous, just like the gatherings of the 'White Robe Brotherhood'. And people don't die, but 'leave their bodies' ... Really? There is no talk about 'God', but 'Existence' really means the same thing, and so on. In that sense there is little difference between the sannyas community and other religious communities ... I have also experienced abuse of power by center leaders and therapists and I have also been guilty of this behaviour myself and of course the sannyas movement is not unique in that either.
Also, not all therapy and meditation has passed me by uselessly. As a 'spaced-out' mindfucker sitting blankly in his head (look at the photo at the beginning of this article), I don't think I've gotten any worse :-)
Nor dare I say that Bhagwan / Osho was a con man, although I have my doubts about his role in the events in Oregon (see the Netflix documentary "Wild Wild Country"). Besides that, there is the hypnotic quality of his lectures and I think he was well aware of that quality and what the effect was on the people he was addressing... For example:
The message in this video sounds absolutely OK (to me anyway), but the method is that of the hypnotist: the slow, dragging voice, the long strokes at the end of the words, eyes that don't blink, the movements of the hands. They easily put you in a kind of pleasant trance. Very well done! And you will only notice this, when not, or no longer, 'under the influence'...
But much more important, dangerous and intrusive (to me anyway) is the idea of 'Enlightenment' as a permanent condition. A state that can be reached in the future after sufficient effort and purification. I and many tens of thousands with me have long believed (and many still believe) that Bhagwan was in that state as an 'Enlightened Master' and that his so-called mastery could help us get there too. I now know this is bullshit. Every experience passes. Permanence of whatever is an illusion. There is absolutely no point in pursuing the illusion of enlightenment.
I'd rather wonder what's going on here and now. What do I know for sure here and now? Why is there the need to walk away from what is here and now? What makes me search?
And Bhagwan has probably had an awakening experience, but otherwise was just a human being like you and I, no more, no less. An ordinary person, then, but with an exceptional charisma, enormous readability, a more than excellent insight into human nature and a healthy 'fuck-you' with regard to conventional religion and politicians. But, in my opinion, also with a gigantic ego that had to be continuously fed by as many worshipers as possible.
It is still difficult for me to see Rajneesh as an ordinary human being and not as an exalted figure on a pedestal, so strong has the hypnosis and the indoctrination been. In that regard, I also blame him for doing absolutely nothing to keep followers from adoring and worshiping, quite the contrary. I get nauseated when I hear sannyasins shout 'Oshooooo' in ecstasy. Really not healthy, as far as I'm concerned.
By the way, Zen has an excellent answer: "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him" ... Not an incitement to murder of course, but a 'pointer' to see that no one is able to teach you the most important things in life: "who or what am I, what is this life, what happens when I die?" When you can accept this, the dependence on the therapist, on the guru, who turns out to be a human being who suffers just like you and me, stops.
This is a wonderful question to live with as you read, listen to, or work with various folks who are writing or talking about nonduality, awareness, meditation, spirituality, or however they describe it.
Do they point you to right here, right now, just as it is?
Do you come away feeling that you lack something, that there’s something more to get, that they have something you don’t, that you need to go back to them again to really “get it”?
Do they speak from presence and their own direct seeing, or do they seem to be coming from an intellectual place or from beliefs? Does listening to them evoke open presence in you, or does it get you entangled in thoughts?
Do you feel relaxed, awake and relieved of seeking in their presence, or do you feel more and more entangled in mental confusion and wanting something you think is missing?
Do they make themselves seem special or different? Do they tell you their awakening story, or do they emphasize the awakeness that is right here, belonging to no one?
Do they speak to you with humility, as a fellow-explorer, or do they speak as your superior in some way, as the Master, the One in the Know, the one with all the answers, the Authority, the Enlightened One?
Are you free to question what they say?
Can you interact with them “off-stage” as regular human beings, or do you only get to meet them in a very controlled setting, when they are “on stage” being the teacher?
Do they reveal and share their human side (their own shortcomings, doubts, uncertainties, mistakes, or whatever it might be), or do they come off as beyond it all and perfect?
Do they speak with certainty about metaphysical things that may actually exceed the epistemological limits of a human being? Do they claim to know how the whole universe works? Do they admit to uncertainty? Are they open to seeing things they hadn’t seen before, to changing their minds?
Are they pushing beliefs, conclusions and answers, or are they inviting a kind of ever-fresh, open exploration and discovery, not knowing what will be discovered?
Do you feel like you’re exploring together with them, that you’re looking and listening and wondering together in a shared way, as friends, or are they the one in the know and you’re following them?
Do they challenge you at times, push you, maybe even upset you? And if so, is it in a way you ultimately appreciate as being helpful, or is it in a way that feels abusive and demeaning?
What do you feel they want from you if anything? Is there a whole system they want you to sign up for, an organization they want you to join? If there is an organization or different events or programs being offered, do you feel like you need these to get somewhere better, or are they being offered in a different spirit, as simply ways to continue exploring and clarifying?
In one sense, there is no path to Here-Now because we are always already here. And there is no awakening in that sense because we are already awake. But we don’t always recognize that. Fully realizing that (making it real), waking up to where we are, sobering up from the search for a better tomorrow and a better “me,” waking up from the hypnotic trance of our stories and ideas, discerning the difference between the map and the territory (between conceptual formulation and direct experiencing)—this is an unfolding process without end. Teachers can be very helpful in this process—they have been for me and sometimes still are. It’s healthy to acknowledge what we don’t know or haven’t yet fully realized, and to admit that someone else may be “farther along” on the pathless path in that sense, and thus able to help us. There’s no shame in getting help, and false egalitarianism is just as pernicious as authoritarianism.
These questions I’ve posed aren’t intending to suggest that everyone is equally clear or equally free from confusion and delusion, or that you should walk away prematurely and settle for a life of confusion and misery because you’ve bought into the IDEA that you “shouldn’t” want anything different. The longing to wake up comes from the deepest place in us. But it often gets hijacked by the ego and side-tracked into a search for exotic experiences, final understandings, a perfect personality, a pain-free life, or freedom from any kind of uncertainty.
These questions are intended to invite us all to question the ways we seek authority figures or parental figures, the ways we keep ourselves from standing on our own two feet and trusting our own insights, the ways we continue to search long after we have found. Many of us have a lot of self-doubt and a deep sense of lack and unworthiness, and it’s all too easy to assume that someone who sits at the front of the room and speaks with authority and certainty must be superior to us, and must know what they’re talking about. And that may not be true at all. So these questions can be helpful ones to live with as we engage with various teachers and groups. Ultimately, of course, life itself is the teacher. Every moment is the teacher.
The therapist I sobered up with back in 1973 from my near-fatal plunge into alcohol and drugs once asked me how I felt about our relationship. I told her I felt like she had all the power. "I do have all the power," she told me. "You gave it to me. You gave it to me for a purpose, and when you're ready, you'll take it back. You'll learn all my skills, and you'll be your own therapist." She believed therapy should be a relatively short-term process. You learn to stand on your own. I was with her for a year, and I did learn her skills. What she said was a beautiful description of the healthy parent/child, or teacher/student, or therapist/client relationship. These are all potentially helpful relationships, often essential ones, but it’s important that they not become a permanent dependency. The child must grow up and leave home, the client must leave therapy, and the student must leave the teacher—and that doesn’t mean that the student must never see the teacher again, or that the student might not learn something more from the teacher (or vice versa). They may still live or work together, maybe they remain friends, so the leaving isn’t always about physical distance. It’s about what the Buddha meant when he said, “Be a lamp unto yourself.” It’s about trusting your own light. Which isn’t really YOUR light; it’s simply LIGHT. No one owns it. No one is actually separate from it.