Sarito Carol Neiman from The Osho Foundation, explains how Osho brings the ‘psychology of the Buddhas’ to the world’s current existential crisis.
The year is 1979, the place is Pune, India; the setting is a 10-day residential Vipassana group taking place on a sheltered rooftop terrace in the leafy suburb of Koregaon Park. The building is part of the extended campus of what is now known as the Osho Meditation Resort. It is February, as I recall, the temperatures mild and skies a brilliant blue. Nights are just pleasantly chilly enough to be snug inside a light blanket, on top of a comfortably padded mattress laid upon a polished tile floor.
I’ve got eight more days to go in this ten-day marathon, and if it keeps up like this, I think to myself, I am going to Lose. My. Mind. ‘Poor girl,’ they will say, ‘she lost her mind.’ While I sit alone in some featureless, stark-white room with padded walls, wrapped up in a crisply ironed, stylishly belted straightjacket.
It is the same round and round, the same wheel, like a musical earworm, and it goes like this: ‘What colour bicycle do I want to get?’ … (I wish she would stop coughing and blowing her nose) … ‘I’ll do the pottery course after, I wonder how it will feel to play with clay again?’
When the tap on the shoulder comes round the circle to me, this time I accept the invitation. Open my eyes, stand up from my bench, walk barefoot across the polished tile floor to the end of the terrace where Gopal and Pradeepa sit in their sunrise-colored robes spread like wings around them. Their job is to keep the clock, make sure the food arrives on time. Keep us from falling asleep on our meditation benches with a stealthy, silent tap of a stick on top of the head. Ring the bell when it is walking time, walk slowly with us as we walk, ring the bell when walking time is done and we sit again. Invite us, every so often, with a light touch on the shoulder, to come out of the structure for a moment and speak to them should the need arise.
I sit in front of them. I speak, for the first time in two days. It is a half-croak, a complaint: ‘I cannot believe the trivia that just keeps going round and round in my head.’
Gopal regards me for a long moment – benign, serious, taking in what I have said. Pradeepa giggles, a light, tinkling sound.
Then Gopal speaks. ‘It sounds as if you think some thoughts are important,’ he says.
The Zen-stick impact of the words knocks me back on my heels – it was true, I did think that! And here I am, trying so hard to have an important thought, maybe even a thought that will make me enlightened, and all I get is this endless merry-go-round of bicycles and pottery, and a feeling of shame for my annoyance with that poor faceless woman who has a cold. No wonder Pradeepa had giggled, I was getting just what I deserved.
I go back to my seat, and by the time we enter the last five days of the group I seem to have got the knack. Days and nights pass in timeless ease, simple rhythms of sleeping, eating, walking, sitting. Observing the occasional bicycle as it passes by, the perfect pot arising from the wheel, supported by my capable hands. Birdsong, a cough, sounds of people and animals passing by on the street below. A sniffle, a rustle of leaves in the breeze. Coming back to the breath. By the last day, I feel I could stay here forever. But that isn’t the point, of course, the point is to go back to my own room, shake the dust out of the covers on my bed, buy the bicycle, sign up for the pottery course, get on with my life. Now carrying inside me a glimpse of the space that has no need for anything to be other than what it is.
Much has changed in the world since then – both in my own world, of course, and in the world we all share. Our understanding of what is important – or even how to decide if a thing is important or not, or if anything needs to be done about it – has undergone tremendous upheaval over the past forty, fifty years. Perhaps it has always been so, but it seems like the pace of change is accelerating, the number of ‘problems’ to be addressed overwhelming, our power to do anything meaningful about what is broken alarmingly out of reach in the chaos in which we live.
As Osho says in the preface to Enlightenment is Your Nature, as our old structures and authority figures, belief systems and institutions prove inadequate and begin to crumble around us, it seems the whole world has gone neurotic. And this neurosis, he says, is because ‘all outer definitions have disappeared, all props have been taken away…. In the past it was very easy to answer the question, “Who am I?” Hindu, Christian, Mohammedan, Indian, Chinese, Tibetan, white/black, man/woman – things were clear, people knew who they were. Now it is not so clear; all those labels have disappeared. … Now man is becoming adult, mature. You have to work out your own identity. It is not so easy.’
As we stand at our current collective existential crossroads, it appears that many are choosing to cling ever more desperately to the certainties of the past, to recover them by force if necessary. While others scramble to find medicines that will cure the disease, words that resonate with a truth we can all recognize in our hearts, a language to speak that we can all understand. Or, in the arena of the marketplace, to offer ‘quick fixes’ for whatever we think is broken.
The results have been a mixed bag – on a personal level, a pill for this and a mantra for that, this diet, that exercise to lighten the burden of our days. On a collective level, affirmations of this future versus negations of that past, or the other way around. All alongside a growing worry that we are already hopelessly trapped in a collective straightjacket of our own making.
In that sense, this latest offering from Osho is a kind of manual for growing roots to sustain us through turbulent times. It is a tool box for creating the ‘Noah’s Ark of consciousness’ he has said elsewhere will be needed if, in fact, the world around us really does go insane. Gently and with great compassion and humour, he takes apart all the old props and supports – beliefs, judgments, superstitions, codes of behavior – and shows us what they are made of, so we can bid them a clear-eyed and respectful farewell. All along the way, he honours the usefulness and relevance of those things of the past, in their respective times. He does not spare what he identifies as a ‘new priesthood’ of psychotherapy, nor even some of the more experimental ‘humanistic psychology’ methods that emerged in recent years. But he does offer guidance to those who have been called to those professions, pointing the way toward a therapy that sees its purpose not as ‘fixing what is wrong’ but as a loving support to clear the ground for planting seeds of meditation.
The insights Osho offers throughout the book strike a chord that feels urgently needed, especially against the backdrop of our times, and more relevant than ever. These are not insights aimed at how we ought to structure a new society, devise new forms of government, or rescue the planet from the disastrous effects of climate change – other Osho books exist for that. This one is aimed squarely at bringing each of us back to our unique and individual selves, in the here and now. It challenges us with the awesome responsibility to create our own path right where we are, in awareness and love, to live each moment from a space that has no need for anything to be other than what it is. To trust that our simple and uncontaminated presence in the present is the soil from which a healing and transformative future can arise.
‘This is a great opportunity,’ he says. ‘Don’t take it negatively, otherwise you will be in madhouses. Take it positively, accept the challenge, and you will be the first real human beings on the face of the earth.’
Enlightenment is Your Nature, by Osho, is published by
Watkins in September. Paperback, £12.99