A Way Out

Not long ago, I wrote a piece describing some of my childhood events; parents separating, sometimes harsh disciplinary tactics employed, the benefits of having multiple parents, early rebellion, etc. and then received a message on FB from a longtime friend. He wrote about how his parents had shielded him and his brother from the reality of African American life of the 1950’s and 1960’s and how he felt he had been left unprepared to face adversity. So I started considering the situation of our conditioning.

What arose is that all of us come through our lives with various flavors of conditioning; there does not seem to be any way to avoid it. Some of us have endured the conditioning of the post-World Wars, some of us the conditioning of the effects of the Great Depression. Some of us were conditioned by the effects of the Holocaust, some by fascism, some by communism. Some of us were conditioned by democrats, some by republicans, some of us by life in the suburbs in the 50’s, some by the upheaval of the 60’s. Some of us may have been conditioned by the Ku Klux Klan, and some by the Civil Rights movement. Some of us were conditioned by Baptists, some by Jews, some by Catholics, some by atheists, some by Hindus, and some by Buddhists. Some of us were conditioned by shielding, and some by exposure. Some of us have been neglected and exposed to some terrible circumstances, and some of us have been crippled by lack of exposure to the elements. Some of us have even been conditioned by those who were escaping all of the conditionings above and so were conditioned by communal life, by new age thinking, by borrowed Eastern thinking. In fact, it is probably true that we have all been conditioned by all of the above, more or less.

Some of us, through recognizing the degree of conditioning that we had been subjected to, might have even tried to formulate a different way of raising children to try and minimize the amount of conditioning that is passed on from one generation to the next. Regardless, in the end, there is no way to escape being conditioned, being impressed with ways of thinking, beliefs, ideas, philosophies. And we continue in our lives to gather new conditionings. We appropriate new ways of thinking, new philosophies of living, but still, these too are conditionings. They are all part of what makes up the mind, the “me.”

There seems to be no way out of this quagmire.

And yet, there have been those who have gone before, all of the mystics; the Buddhas, the Christs, the Zen masters, the Sufi masters, the Krishnamurtis, the Ramanas, the Oshos, who have proclaimed that there is a way out.

Having heard this news, it becomes incumbent upon me to look for myself, to explore, to experiment and see if what they have said is true or not.

So I embark on an experiment to discover for myself.

And what I discover is that there is a way to come out of this conditioning. The way is not out, but in.

By in, I mean meditation.

For me, meditation is not about bypassing anything I wish to avoid, and it is not about imagining some fantasy world. No, for me, mediation is just giving a little time and space to have a look at what presents itself, what arises in my inner landscape and to stay with it totally, not by thinking about it, analyzing it, judging it, but by being with unconditionally, by staying with, without saying no and rejecting that which is uncomfortable, and by not clinging to that which feels good, just watching without prejudice. And I have found that in this watching without prejudice, slowly, slowly, the procession of the stream of consciousness begins to lessen, begins to lose steam, and I begin to discover that which is bigger than this small “me” conditioned by all that has come before.

This is the transformative power of meditation. This is how conditionings, impressions, memories, and desires are transformed from dense matter into spaciousness.

And it is clear to me it is not enough to have an intellectual understanding that there is a way out, that it cannot remain just another belief, just another conditioning, it has to be discovered in my very own experiencing. This experiencing is meditation.

Perhaps someone has found another way “out,” other than “in,” but it would be negligent of me not to share this personal discovery.

By the way, I do understand that there those, in fact most, who have no interest in discovering a way out of conditioning, a way out of mind, a way out of the “me,” because our entire identity is wrapped around it tightly. In many ways, the end of conditioning is the end of me. For those who have no interest in coming out of mind, then I truly hope that you are able to find love, peace and happiness in some other way. But for the rest of us, let’s get cracking until the goose is indeed out!

-purushottama

Arigato Nippon

Sumati and I arrived in Tokyo in December having come from India by way of Thailand and the Philippines. The cold was a shock to the system. Not long after arriving, I came down with pneumonia. We were staying in my friend Peter’s apartment, and as is customary in Japan, there was no heat. However, we did use to snuggle up to the kotatsu (table heater) during dinner. After dinner it was time for a jump into the very hot Japanese bath, out into the unheated room, and under the futon covers on the floor. All of these things, combined with a probably depleted immune system from traveling and living in India for several months, created an opportunity for the pneumonia to set in.

Peter was working and so had a state medical card which provided very inexpensive medical care. Because we were both blonde haired gaijins we thought that I could just use his picture ID. It worked. The only problem was I never found a doctor who could speak English, and I did not speak Japanese. The breathing problems became so severe I had to sleep partially sitting up.

I knew that Peter’s girlfriend was not happy we were staying. We felt it would be best if we found somewhere else. We met a Japanese sannyasin named Adinatha who offered us a room in his apartment. Very soon after leaving Peter’s, I started getting better, but what finally healed me was acupuncture. Adinatha knew a sannyasin acupuncturist and suggested that I go see him. I really don’t like needles, which probably saved me from more serious drugs. So, the thought of someone sticking numerous needles into my skin did not appeal. But I saw him, had a session, and still I could not say that I enjoyed it, but rather endured it. Very soon after having the session I was healed.

One day Peter called us to tell us he knew of a Japanese house that was being offered by a Japanese reporter who for some reason preferred to rent to foreigners. It was being offered for a very reasonable rent, fully furnished with everything we would need. It was also located closer in to the city on the Marunouchi subway line which was very convenient.

Sumati had started working for the same company where Peter worked, proof reading advertisements in English and instruction manuals for Japanese companies, such as Nikon, Panasonic, etc. Teaching jobs were coming my way and I was getting a full schedule. I had one job I traveled three hours each way for and taught for two. But the pay made it worthwhile.

The combination of a long-haired sannyasin dressed in orange and wearing a mala proved the perfect antidote for the serious Japanese mentality. These were very serious students, and I found the most important aid to their learning English, was creating an atmosphere in which they felt comfortable being a little crazy. They knew that it was okay to make mistakes and have fun in my classes.

When I was in Nepal, before going to Poona, I had met a Japanese couple at our guest house. Later on, I would run into them again in the Ashram. They both took sannyas around the same time as I did. Her name became Geeta and his name was Asanga. I remember seeing Asanga during some of the meditations, and he seemed to be one of the most focused people I had ever met. In my Zazen group on my second stay in Poona, Asanga was the one who performed the tea ceremony.

The rumor had been going around the sannyas community in Japan that Asanga had become enlightened while in Poona. He was returning to Japan soon. One night, Satchidanda, another sannyasin living and working in Tokyo, invited a few people over including Asanga. That night, I recognized something had changed with Asanga. It was as if his being occupied the entire room, whereas previously he was the most contained person I had ever met. In that small apartment room, he was a wide presence.

Asanga was Chinese Japanese from Chinese parents and lived in Yokohama. Sumati and I visited him one day and had lunch at a Chinese restaurant. I visited Asanga once more before leaving Japan. This time it was with my travel buddy Narayanadeva, who by this time had come to Japan. He was taking over our house and some of my teaching jobs as Sumati and I returned to Poona. By this time Asanga had opened some kind of a night spot in Yokohama called, if I remember correctly, Samadhi. The three of us just spent time sitting together in silence.

-purushottama

This is from the collection of stories, essays, poems and insights that is compiled to form the book From Lemurs to Lamas: Confessions of a Bodhisattva. Download a PDF or order the book Here.

 

My Beloved Bodhisattvas

On June 21, 1979, nearly nine months after arriving from Japan and beginning work full time in the Ashram, Vidya stopped Sumati and me as we entered Buddha Hall. She told us to come see her after discourse.Osho began discourse on this day with the words:

My beloved bodhisattvas . . . Yes, that’s how I look at you. That’s how you have to start looking at yourselves. Bodhisattva means a buddha in essence, a buddha in seed, a buddha asleep, but with all the potential to be awake. In that sense everybody is a bodhisattva, but not everybody can be called a bodhisattva – only those who have started groping for the light, who have started longing for the dawn, in whose hearts the seed is no longer a seed but has become a sprout, has started growing.

You are bodhisattvas because of your longing to be conscious, to be alert, because of your quest for the truth. The truth is not far away, but there are very few fortunate ones in the world who long for it. It is not far away but it is arduous, it is hard to achieve. It is hard to achieve, not because of its nature, but because of our investment in lies.

We have invested for lives and lives in lies. Our investment is so much that the very idea of truth makes us frightened. We want to avoid it; we want to escape from the truth. Lies are beautiful escapes – convenient, comfortable dreams.

But dreams are dreams. They can enchant you for the moment; they can enslave you for the moment, but only for the moment. And each dream is followed by tremendous frustration, and each desire is followed by deep failure.

But we go on rushing into new lies; if old lies are known, we immediately invent new lies. Remember that only lies can be invented; truth cannot be invented. Truth already is! Truth has to be discovered, not invented. Lies cannot be discovered, they have to be invented.

Mind feels very good with lies because the mind becomes the inventor, the doer. And as the mind becomes the doer, ego is created. With truth, you have nothing to do . . . and because you have nothing to do, mind ceases, and with the mind the ego disappears, evaporates. That’s the risk, the ultimate risk.

You have moved towards that risk. You have taken a few steps – staggering, stumbling, groping, haltingly, with many doubts, but still you have taken a few steps; hence I call you bodhisattvas.

-Osho
From The Dhammapada, Vol.1, Discourse #1

After discourse, Vidya told us that we were moving into the Ashram. Up to that point, we had been responsible for our own housing. We had food passes which meant that the Ashram provided our meals but we took care of our rent (mind you in India rent is not much). But we were very happy to be moving into the Ashram. We were moving into a new bamboo structure that had been built at number 70 Koregaon Park. This was a very large house two blocks from the Ashram proper, which the Ashram had acquired and in which different facilities as well as living quarters were being housed.

By this time, I was working at the bakery and given the responsibility of being one of the drivers for the bakery. This job entailed driving a large Mercedes-Benz van with left-side steering through the streets of Poona, in a right-side steering world. I also delivered fresh hot croissants stacked on metal trays in an Ashram rickshaw. The croissants had to arrive before discourse ended because it would be very difficult to deliver them with everyone filing out into Vrindavan. Of course, you never knew when Osho would complete his discourse. It could be one hour or two hours in length, though generally they were around ninety minutes long.

Arriving during discourse would require turning off the engine, pushing the rickshaw through the front gate and down the drive to the kitchen, taking great care not to upset the stacked metal trays, all the while being as quiet as possible. With all the possibilities for mishaps, it is amazing to think the worst that happened was occasionally misjudging the ending, and having to navigate through swarms of blissed out sannyasins.

-purushottama

This is from the collection of stories, essays, poems and insights that is compiled to form the book From Lemurs to Lamas: Confessions of a Bodhisattva. Download a PDF or order the book Here.

The Tale of a Ring-Tail

When I returned to Madagascar from Mauritius, I encouraged Andre, a Malagasy guy who had run the reception at the Cultural Center, to leave Madagascar. He was a fine musician and I encouraged him to go to La Reunion and join up with the jazz family. I knew it was very difficult for someone to leave their native land, especially the first time, so I encouraged him as much as I could. In fact, eventually, he did make the jump. The only thing I ever heard about him was from Ginger, the guy I went to Fort Dauphin and traveled on to La Reunion with. I received a letter from him telling me that he had run into Andre in Bombay. I don’t know anything more about what happened to him. I wish you the best Andre.

I had made plans to teach one more term at the Center, after returning to Madagascar and making a trip to Tulear in the southwest of the country. This was a solo trip for me, and on this trip, I met one of my best friends in Madagascar. I traveled to the south by my usual means of transport, hitchhiking. While waiting for the next ride out of a small village, I was offered a ring-tailed lemur for sale. He was a young male that they had on a rope leash. I paid not more than a couple of dollars, if that. Still, that didn’t make me any less annoyed when shortly after buying him he got away and went up a tree. Eventually, he was retrieved. I was sure that his fate with me would be better than it would be staying around that village. When the next truck came through town, Maki, which is what I decided to call him because that’s the Malagasy word for this kind of lemur, and I headed out. I kept hold of his leash and he kept hold of my hair, perched on my shoulders, his back feet on my shoulders and his chin resting on the top of my head with his little primate hands holding my hair.

This could be Maki.

Ring-tailed lemurs also like to sit in their own yoga posture. They sit up straight with their arms outstretched and palms facing outwards, as if they are warming their hands. I saw Maki do this in front of a fire made to keep us warm while traveling with the trucks and I also saw him do it many times as the sun was setting.

Lemurs are unique to Madagascar. This is because they developed before Madagascar split off from the African coast and also before predators evolved. This left them in relative safety on the island of Madagascar, whereas on the African continent they were wiped out. I always describe them as part dog, part cat, and of course, part monkey. The monkey part is obvious: the tail, climbing in trees, jumping from tree to tree. Their fur is soft like a cat, not at all coarse and they make a sound that is quite similar to purring. As to the dog similarity: they make a kind of dog bark and their heads are more dog like. Ring-tails have an elongated snout much more like a dog.

We made friends right away. Well not right away, first we had a crisis. We were walking down a dusty trail and he kept holding onto my hair. This was a habit that I was trying to break. In a moment of unawareness and annoyance, I pulled on the leash and almost threw Maki to the ground. The entire world came to a halt. I was shocked and he was shocked. He remained still and I prayed that he was okay. After what seemed like a few minutes, but was probably no more than a few seconds, he revived. After that I never lost my temper with Maki again and he never pulled on my hair.

When it was time to return to Tana, I took a train from Fianarantsoa. I had to hide Maki under my clothes because one was not allowed to travel with a lemur. He was very accommodating. He just snuggled up and no one knew about the secret passenger. At our house in Tana, he was not kept on a leash and was free to roam the neighborhood, much to the dismay of some of our neighbors. He did like to go in through their windows and help himself to fruit. But mostly the neighbors were quite fond of Maki. In general, the Malagasy respect their forest friends. The endangering of the lemur population is not due to a direct threat from humans but the indirect threat of loss of habitat. At night Maki slept with me, lying above my head on the pillow.

One day Maki went missing. Voahangy and I walked the neighborhood with her asking everyone if they had seen him. We could follow his path with one person pointing us on to the next that had seen him. We eventually found him. Some Malagasy had become too fond of him and had tied him up. He was happy to be liberated. When I left Madagascar, I entrusted Maki to the lady who shopped and cooked lunch for us. She had grown very fond of him. Unfortunately, Maki used to like to tease dogs. They would charge him and he would jump straight up in the air about four feet high and they would run through where he had just been. When he landed the dog would turn around for another go. Apparently, he did this once too often and a dog got hold of him by the back and gave him a pretty good bite. He died from the wound. Rest in peace, Maki.

-purushottama

This is from the collection of stories, essays, poems and insights that is compiled to form the book From Lemurs to Lamas: Confessions of a Bodhisattva. Download a PDF or order the book Here.

A Divine Abode

In my leaving darshan I told Osho I wanted to open a meditation center in Kansas City and he gave the name Devalayam. Devalayam means ‘divine abode.’ I bought a couple of series of discourses on cassette tape and several books and the center was on its way.

It was difficult at first returning to Kansas City. I was seeing friends I had passed through so much with and yet I felt myself to be in a very different place than when I had left three years earlier. Of course, there was a bit of the missionary in me who wanted to share as much as possible. I didn’t find much interest in hearing about Osho, even from my good friend that had first heard about Meher Baba with me many years ago on the Country Club Plaza.

I remember very clearly saying to myself, “Okay Bhagwan, I give up, you take over.” Very soon after giving up, I was sitting at some kind of spiritual gathering outdoors on grass in my orange clothes and mala when this guy sat down beside me. He was interested in whatever it was I was into. He was in a therapy group and had heard of Osho.

I found a house, or I should say a house found me, for a center. The house had some orange in it. I don’t remember if it was in the wallpaper, paint, or carpet, but it spoke loud and clear this was the house for Devalayam. Soon afterwards this fellow I had met moved in. We were holding meditations both at a local church gym and at the house. A small group was forming. In the daytime I drove school buses with a Yogi Bhajan Sikh.

One night around midnight the doorbell rang. Mark had forgotten his key. I opened the door stark naked. He had brought an older woman home who was interested in listening to some discourses of Osho. They came in and I set her up with a few discourses and she stayed through the night until sunrise, listening. Her name was Joyce Schlossman. She was the ex-wife of a very successful car dealer in Kansas City, Schlossman Ford. Joyce was in the same group as Mark and wanted to be a therapist herself.

Soon after I got the house, I was on my way to visit another old friend and passed by the Nelson Adkins Museum of Art. I saw a Chinese girl teaching Tai Chi on the grass. When I passed by again on my return trip she was still there, so I stopped and asked if she was taking students and she gave me the details of a new class that would be starting soon. Before long, Mark, myself, and another member of the Sikh community, who by the way had their center just two blocks up the street from Devalayam, were learning Tai Chi from Pearl. Pearl was nineteen at the time and a student at the Kansas City Art Institute. I had been smitten the first moment I saw her flow in Tai Chi.

Another therapist called to find out about the meditations. He had read Only One Sky (Tantra: The Supreme Understanding) and was very impressed. He had a practice down on the Plaza and was into the Baha’i movement. Soon there was a growing group which I tended to. I would go down to the Plaza once a week and have a raw vegetable lunch with Cliff the therapist and counsel him. Rather ironic really – me, this high school dropout twenty-six-year-old dressed in orange clothes counseling this white haired, highly respected psychologist during his lunch hour.

Mark took sannyas pretty early on and was making plans to go to Poona. Joyce soon became Ma Prem Kaveesha and I gave her a mala at Devalayam. Kaveesha had other friends that would come to the center and buy books and tapes and sometimes I would make house calls and deliver the goods. Kaveesha’s best friend was Joyce Price. Coincidentally, Joyce was the mother of Donna Price who had visited me in Madagascar. Joyce did not, however, like Osho and in fact resented the fact he had somehow taken her best friend away.

Soon another young fellow started attending the meditations regularly, and before too long moved into the house when Mark (now Prakash) left for Poona. He also took sannyas and became Sanmarg. Sanmarg left for Poona just a short while before I left in the spring. I never saw him again, but years later I saw news of his father. He had been estranged from his father when he was living at the house. His father, John Testrake, was a TWA pilot and in 1985 was the pilot of Flight 847. There is a famous photo of him being held hostage by terrorists with a gun to his head on the tarmac at the Beirut airport.

I continued my Tai Chi lessons with Pearl for months and gave her a copy of one of Osho’s books No Water, No Moon. She had it for months and never said a word about it, so finally I asked her if she was enjoying it, and she was. I had not talked to her about Osho in all that time. Finally, after months of my surrendering to her Tai Chi tutelage, I asked her out. Our first date was to a performance by Marcel Marceau, which was interesting because she said she felt comfortable with me speaking very little. We enjoyed the time mostly in silence.

Kaveesha had gone off to Poona, and while there Osho had told her she would be his Tantra leader. When Kaveesha returned, she shared her energy and her presence with many others, and a few more of her people took sannyas.

Spring happened and Pearl and I were living together. Pearl took sannyas and was given the name Ma Prem Sagara* (ocean of love). We made plans to go to India together. It would be an overland trip through Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and into India.

Cliff, the psychologist, had decided to go to Poona to take sannyas. We hoped to meet up there but I had no idea when Sagara and I would actually arrive. Prakash had come back from Poona and would take over the center as well as my car.

So in a little less than nine months, and after letting go of my own ideas, a center was flourishing in the heartland.

*Many years later Sagara would receive a new name, Sumati (wisdom).

-purushottama

This is from the collection of stories, essays, poems and insights that is compiled to form the book From Lemurs to Lamas: Confessions of a Bodhisattva. Download a PDF or order the book Here.

 

My Deepest Secret

What to do when my heart and mind are in the midst of tremendous turmoil, confusion, anger, disappointment?

I find a not uncomfortable place to sit and in that sitting just give a little space and time for all of the turmoil to completely reveal itself, the swirling thoughts, the clouds of despair, the murkiness of confusion, the fire of anger, and without turning away, I remain staying with it all. And the key, the most important key, is that I do not try to end any of this. I do not engage in thought to rationalize, I do not push away that which is uncomfortable, nor judge my feelings, I do not analyze why all of this is happening, nor jump onto the bandwagon and go for a ride into the maelstrom, but simply allow all of the thoughts and even more importantly all of the sensations and feelings that come along. And these too are allowed without judging, without hanging on to those that I like and without pushing away those that are uncomfortable. There is no spiritual bypassing of anything that arises. It is all welcome.

But of course, this is not true, I do, do all of those things. I do judge, I do push away, I do grasp, I do analyze, but by seeing that I am doing them, a little space opens up for love. And again, I am back to watching the whole drama but with just a little bit more awareness, a little bit freer of the grasping clutches of mind and emotion. But once again, the cycle repeats itself, not just once or twice but many times. But with each return to center the gap has widened.

And sometimes, there does come those special moments when the thoughts subside completely, when the hot feelings turn into “a peace that passeth all understanding.” In those moments there are no conclusions, just a remaining in a vast unknownness, and there is a gratefulness to all that has preceded, all that has contributed to creating this opportunity, to all that has led to this moment and I bow down to existence.

This secret is the art of watching, the art of witnessing, and it is the greatest gift that I received from Osho, but it is not unique to him. Below is a post where the Zen Master, Charlotte Joko Beck, who lived for some time in Prescott, AZ, describes a similar process which she names, get “a bigger container.”

-purushottama

A Bigger Container – Charlotte Joko Beck

Not Twoness

One summer day when I was Junior High School age, I must have been 13 or 14, I was sitting across the street from the house of two brothers who were friends of mine. They were eating lunch and I was waiting for them to finish so that we could continue on our day’s routine of playing in the neighborhood, riding our bikes, smoking in the woods, all the things that we liked to do.

While I was sitting on the ground under a big tree with stick in hand and drawing circles in the dirt, time stopped, and for a brief moment a window of nowness opened. In that moment, all movement of time came to a standstill, and I was being in the eternal now. It was as if a portal into reality had opened. I knew it was significant but that was all I knew. It only lasted a couple of moments, seconds probably, but it made a deep impression in my consciousness. Of course, at the time, I would not have used such terminology as eternal now, portal, consciousness. In fact, I didn’t even mention the experience to my friends when they came out of their house, but this was my first experience of what we could call Oneness. In that moment, there was no separation, no demarcation, only beingness, conscious beingness.

Looking back, I can see that this experience unconsciously became a litmus test, a North Star, that guided my life on through experimentation with drugs, psychedelics, and finally, to discovering meditation. I would be willing to bet that every one of us who has found themselves interested in a life of discovery, anyone who is reading this now, has had some brush with naked reality.

It is clear that this reality I stumbled upon is always present, it is only that most of the time I am not present to meet it and dissolve into it. Meditation has been the key to shining a light on what it is that is standing between my consciousness and this experience of nowness, and that is mind, thought. It is thought, the me, which obscures the perception of reality. It has been my experience that through meditation the movement of thought becomes illuminated. And it is this ‘seeing’ of thought that is the exit.

For many years following this first awakening, I was unconsciously searching to replicate that profound happening, beginning with becoming unconscious through alcohol. Unconsciousness is a type of oneness, as is sleep, but it is unconscious, and so is missing a key element of the experience that had happened years before. Next it was on to smoking marijuana, certainly much closer to the happening but dependent on a foreign substance, not a natural state. Then it was on to psychedelics, which were incredibly helpful in seeing how mind works, first in seeing thought in action, and then in seeing that I was the one who was supporting the movement of thought through identification.

This discovery of the workings of mind inevitably led to discovering meditation, first through the teachings and being of Meher Baba, and eventually, of course, to Osho.

I arrived in Poona in 1976 and every nook and corner of the Ashram was exuding Oneness. Upon entering the gate, one was absorbed into the vastness that lived in Lao Tzu house. We sang in Music Group and were lost in ecstasy. We did our groups and had glimpses of being outside of our little ego selves. We did the active meditations and rays of sunshine would find their way out from the center of our being. And, of course, we sat in discourse and darshan and the sun itself lovingly dismantled all the clouds obscuring the brilliance of our inner light, the Oneness within.

At the Ranch we witnessed Oneness in action. We saw what could happen when a group of meditators worked without the need for approval or compensation. We worked and loved the working, but this oneness was a group oneness, a collective. It did give us another opportunity to experience a certain type of oneness, but because it was a group oneness, it was a oneness that was by definition opposed to the ‘not group,’ to the outside, and therefore could not be sustainable, definitely could not be eternal.

It was after the Ranch that I realized I had to dive deep into inquiry, into meditation. I had to find that oneness that had been experienced so many years before for myself, without the aid of drugs or others. I had to rediscover exactly what was standing in the way of my own experiencing of oneness in this moment.

And so, it was time for doubling down on meditation. It was time to discover for myself what is this ‘witnessing’ that Osho keeps talking about. Do I really know for myself? And in this quest, I became deeply attracted to self-inquiry and the path of advaita, non-duality.

In one of the discourses where Osho is talking about advaita, he says something that had a strong impact on me. He says, and I am paraphrasing here, that advaita means not-two, and so it is easy to translate that as one, or oneness, but he says that there is a difference in how the two words or phrases feel or act on you. When you say or think the word ‘one’ or ‘oneness,’ there is a contraction, a solidification, it feels like an object. But when you say ‘not-two,’ there is a letting go, and so is a much better pointer to the actual experiencing of oneness.

Similarly, in a workshop that Jean Klein, a Western Advaita teacher gave in Boulder, Colorado, in one of those moments when meditation is exuding all around, I asked Jean, “So is this it, just more and more subtle?” And Jean responded, “I would say less and less conditioned.”

And that is the key. It is not that we need to be searching for this thing called ‘oneness,’ but that we have to simply see what it is that is preventing us from Being in this Eternal Now that we refer to as oneness, or perhaps better described as not twoness. And that takes me back to meditation.

By meditation, I mean closing my eyes, sitting in a not uncomfortable but alert position and watching whatever appears on the screen of my consciousness. Sometimes it is a cacophony, and sometimes it is just a meandering quiet stream. But whichever, I watch, and every time that I forget and I become aware that I have forgotten, I am back to watching. Slowly, slowly I discover how to watch without judging, without grasping, without rejecting, and without analyzing. And in this watchingness, the flow of traffic decreases and occasionally gaps appear, gaps in which there are no thoughts. And when there are no thoughts, there is no movement of time, there are no obstructions to experiencing this same Eternal Now that was stumbled upon so many years ago. But this time it is conscious, it is not accidental, and it does not depend on any circumstance, substance, or any other person. And these moments cannot but infuse our everyday life with more lightness of being.

-purushottama

This is from the collection of stories, essays, poems and insights that is compiled to form the book From Lemurs to Lamas: Confessions of a Bodhisattva. Download a PDF or order the book Here.

From the Lowlands to the Highlands

The coast of Madagascar was a sight to see, miles and miles of white beaches, palm trees with the mountains behind, and not a soul in sight. We pulled into a small village in the north of the country which had a French-run sugar mill. We were picking up cargo which would be dropped off in Majunga. There was a party at the company that night and we were invited by the French management. I don’t think I have ever seen a group of guys as drunk as we were. We were all young lads and had been days at sea. The Comoros was a Muslim country so we didn’t have any refreshments while there. Whiskey was the drink of choice. I’ve never been much of a hard alcohol drinker, which I reaffirmed that night.

The boat had navigated an estuary to the small village and in order to leave we had to time the tides exactly. We didn’t, so ended up aground and leaning to one side. We had to wait for the next high tide. Another couple of days sailing down the Madagascar coast and we finally arrived in Majunga.

Majunga harbor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Majunga is a dusty port town. This part of Madagascar is mostly made up of people of African and Arabic descent. All of the buildings were bleached white and reflected the hot sun. Peter and I were anxious to get on our way so we didn’t linger long. We hitchhiked out of town. The journey from the coast to Antananarivo, Tana for short, is beautiful; from the dry desert landscape near Majunga to the highlands of central Madagascar. When you reach the highlands, you begin to see the terraced rice fields of the Malagasy. On the second to the last day, a French expat couple picked us up and offered us a room in their house for the night. Wine and cheese in the evening and an omelet in the morning were quite a treat after so many days at sea.

When Peter and I arrived in Tana we were quite shocked. First by the architecture — the city was built on hills and the houses were two stories high made with brick and had wooden balconies, unexpected in Africa. Apparently, some Scottish fellow helped plan the city and put his stamp on the look. Below the hills was a small lake surrounded by jacaranda trees. On one side of the lake was the Hilton Hotel, the only high-rise building in the country. But most surprising to us were the women. The highland Malagasy people are of Indo-Malay descent: long, straight, black hair; dark olive skin; and almond-shaped eyes. Considering we were off the S.E. coast of Africa, we were quite surprised. On that very first day wandering around the city, I heard myself say, “This is a place I could get stuck in for a while.” It proved itself true.

At that time (1973), very few travelers ventured through Madagascar, so those travelers who were living in Tana knew very quickly new blood was in town. We were introduced to an American with shoulder-length hair, about our age, named Derek. He was teaching English at the American Cultural Center. He offered us a place to stay until we found something else and mentioned they needed a substitute teacher for an evening class at the center. I explained that I had never taught before and he immediately reassured me that it didn’t matter. “You just need to look over the lesson before you teach.” That was the beginning of my English teaching career. I substituted that evening and was offered a job for the next term which would begin in a month. We checked in with the American Embassy to let them know we were in town and also to get a recommendation for a doctor. The Consul General was a young, very light-skinned African American, a really nice guy; Skip was his name. He pointed me towards the embassy doctor and welcomed us to Madagascar. There was an American NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) listening post on Madagascar at that time so a few American expats living in Tana. The Malagasy doctor gave me antibiotics for the gonorrhea and I was careful to explain I had already been given a dose in The Comoros but apparently not strong enough. I wanted to be sure to get a strong enough one this time so that I wouldn’t have to come back again.

Jacaranda trees blooming in Antananarivo (Tana)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, I did have to go back again. It returned. So, so did I, to the doctor and got another dose. By this time, I was on my third dose of antibiotics and it was beginning to take its toll. After the third dose had run its course and I still wasn’t rid of the gonorrhea, I was wasted. And, my pee was no longer burning but it was brown. Somehow gonorrhea had morphed into hepatitis. Probably what had happened is the antibiotics had played havoc with my liver and perhaps caused a reoccurrence of the hepatitis I had had several years earlier in the States. But regardless, my pee was brown and I couldn’t stay awake nor eat a thing. Fortunately, we had met some French school teachers who were going on holiday and had offered us their flat while they were gone.

By this time, I knew I was going to stay in Madagascar to teach the next term, but Peter wanted to continue on to South Africa. After all, he had a friend waiting for him there, with work. He made arrangements for a flight to Johannesburg. Peter did stick around and look after me until I was on the road to recovery. I was pretty useless but amazingly only for a short while. The forced down time was an opportunity to read Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi.

After only a couple of weeks, I was getting better. We calculated what I owed Peter and I said I would send the money to him after I started working. By buying dollars on the black market, I managed to send all the money I owed him in pretty short order. I ended up staying two years in Madagascar, teaching and traveling, and it became a crucial point in my life.

What I found in Madagascar was a reconnection with life: living, being, enjoying. Life was good. Eventually there was a girlfriend, Voahangy, a beautiful Malagasy. She helped me find a big house to rent and many of the Center’s English teachers ended up living there communally. We also had a room for the travelers coming through. Randy Dodge was on the top floor in a kind of attic space. Keenan, an American, wanted to have the verandah with his Malagasy girlfriend and I had the room on the other side of the wall from his verandah. One of my windows looked out into his space. There was also a New Zealander and an Australian. Randy’s girlfriend was named Rickey, a very young, extremely beautiful and smart Malagasy girl. I think she was 18 or 19 at the time. She was one of my English students from book two through book six and into the advanced class.

Voahangy didn’t need to be an English student. Her English was perfect. She was my age and a doctor. Her sister was married to another of the center’s teachers, and in fact it was he who I replaced.

Unfortunately, I had to share Voahangy. She already had a boyfriend when I met her at a party at Skip’s, the American Consul General. Her boyfriend worked for the FOA, the United Nation’s Organization for Forestry and Agriculture, and so was always traveling around the island, fortunately. We spent the time together that we could.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had two visitors from Kansas City while in Madagascar. The first was a previous girlfriend. It was terribly awkward. Our relationship had finished a year before I left the States, although I did visit her on the way out. It was very difficult for me and extremely uncomfortable for her. I just couldn’t pretend. It didn’t help that she had put on 20 or 30 pounds since I had last seen her, but really, we were done. I hoped she would meet a Malagasy guy. She didn’t stay very long. The second was someone who I didn’t really know very well. We had gone to high school together and she was one year behind me. She had a great time and became a teacher and stayed quite some time. I don’t remember if she left Madagascar before me or after. Her name is Donna Price. We’ll meet up again.

It was the assassination of President Ratsimandrava on February 5, 1975, that set off a series of events that would eventually lead to my leaving Madagascar. The killing was blamed on a political group from the coast and the battle raged in Antananarivo for days. For a couple of days, we all just stayed in the house and listened to the gunfire. I remember running to the bathroom and ducking under the windows, just in case shots came through. Actually, we found it quite exhilarating. We had never been in a coup d’état before and were young and thought we were invincible. When the shooting died down, we went out on the street to survey the situation and had to run for cover into the American Embassy when the shooting started up again. We spent the night at the embassy and a great bond was formed with everyone there: the marine guards, the staff, and us traveler teachers. A curfew was established and we had to change the hours of our classes and begin at 6:00 a.m. in order to be able to close before curfew.

During the curfew, one night I went home with a lady expecting to stay the night only to find she wasn’t a she but a he. The curfew had already begun and I found myself out on the street when I shouldn’t be. Fortunately, one of my students was a Colonel in the Gendarmes, and it was he who drove by in a jeep and kindly dropped me off at home.

The political scene was very unsettled for months and every Malagasy who could was making plans to go to France. After Didier Ratsiraka was installed as the President in June, things got even dicier, especially for the Americans. He was much more of a socialist and had strong ties to both China and Russia. It was known he would be closing the NASA post so all of the Americans working there started making plans too.

In the middle of the fighting in Tana between the rival factions, the prison just outside of town was closed and all of the inmates were released. They were to be interred at a later date when it was safer. One of the beneficiaries of this situation was an American businessman, George Reppas. He had been arrested for some kind of fraud involving his business exporting Malagasy beef. Apparently, they were contrived charges in order to get him out of the picture so that his Malagasy partners could take over the business. He had kept himself fit in his tiny cell by practicing yoga daily. Because of the closing of the prison, he had been released into the care of the American Embassy who was responsible for his whereabouts. He was staying in a room somewhere in Tana and had a young Malagasy girlfriend who had looked me up. By this time, the semester at the Cultural Center had finished and I was planning a trip to Mauritius and La Reunion.

The expat scene in Antananarivo at that time was very small and everyone knew just about everyone else and what they were up to. George’s girlfriend, who coincidentally was leaving the island with her family, which was a jazz group, and also going to La Reunion, proposed that somehow, I help George escape from Madagascar. He had made some arrangements for a boat to pick him up from Majunga in the north. We made arrangements that he go with a friend of ours who had rented a car and would drive him up to Majunga while myself and a buddy would make our way south to Fort Dauphin, where we could catch a boat to La Reunion. Because everyone knew that Ginger, my Australian buddy, and I were going to Fort Dauphin, we thought that it would act as a decoy for George.

Ginger and I hitchhiked to the south of the country. Southern Madagascar is very rugged terrain with terrible roads, even today. In Fort Dauphin, there was an American school operated by the American Lutheran Church, and was a place American expats went for R & R. When George went missing, and knowing that Ginger and I were traveling to Fort Dauphin, the embassy assumed that he was with us and figured they would get hold of him there.

Arab dhow of the coast of Madagascar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: I received the following email from George Reppas and so will let him correct the record. When Ginger and I arrived at the American School after traveling for several days everyone asked us where George Reppas was. But by that time, he had slipped out of the country in the north. It was only the next year when I returned to the States that I heard the full story from George. He did manage to escape onto the awaiting boat after somewhat of a hair-raising chase. Randy Dodge and I had lunch with him in San Francisco. He was meeting a movie producer who he was trying to convince to make a movie of his great escape. Recently I googled George Reppas and found that he is still pursuing his dream of making the movie and had started a production company. Good luck George.

Good hearing from you, I always wondered what has happened to you and your Madagascar commune friends.

Craig Jones, our camp archivist, did a search of my name and ran across a section of your story. It was not quite right.

We were not released, as you wrote, but I took a chance that I would not be shot if I walked into the fire between the FRS and the army, and I took Professor Hercourt with me.  When we got through the women prisoners followed and then the rest.  I had instructed our guys to let the Molotov cocktails fly before leaving.  They didn’t do a thorough job and that’s why the prison was back in repair after 6-weeks.

At the US embassy I hooked up with Slater, a British agent, and he coordinated with Jackie Cauvin who had a trimaran in Majunga.  You guys did the fake ID and lined up the Swiss driver that got us through.  The Malagasy sent a hitman to the Comoros apparently to either bring me back or to hit, but he was stopped by Interpol and they took him away. I never saw any of them again, obviously lined up by The State Department.

Your story did not have it right, but I recognized that it was done by someone who knew but was without all the facts. -George

-purushottama

This is from the collection of stories, essays, poems and insights that is compiled to form the book From Lemurs to Lamas: Confessions of a Bodhisattva. Download a PDF or order the book Here.

 

Mombasa and Moroni

Moroni

In Nairobi, Kenya, while lying on my bunk in a youth hostel, a big blonde American guy entered the room and walked right up to me. His name was Peter. I wasn’t the only one in the room, there were quite a few travelers that afternoon, but somehow, we were like long lost friends. We immediately hit it off, and as is so common with solo travelers, we decided to join our wagons for a while. He was on his way to South Africa to make some money. He had a friend working there, and in those days if you were white, you could easily get a job, especially in JoBurg. I was certainly in need of money.

By the time I arrived in Kenya I had forty dollars to my name. Not bad really, considering I had left the States four months earlier with about six hundred dollars and had spent nearly three months traveling in Europe, including a month on Crete, and had traveled overland through Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, and finally to Kenya. I had looked into teaching English in the Kenyan countryside and calculated I would need to stay two years in order to save enough money to enable me to resume my travels. The pay was around forty dollars a month.

Peter and I made the arrangement that he would front me the travel money and I would pay him back in South Africa. In those days it was not as easy as it is today to pass through the countries that were on the way to South Africa. Several of the countries, if I remember correctly Malawi and I’m pretty sure Rhodesia, required that you show a certain amount of cash to be able to enter. I don’t remember how much it was but because of this fact we decided to look for alternative routes into S.A., and I got out my map. When we looked at the map, we could see this country off to the east (an island) that if we entered from the north and traveled to the south we would be just across from Lorenzo Marques, Mozambique, just a hop, skip and a jump into S.A. We knew absolutely nothing about Madagascar and that was part of the intrigue.

We did a little checking and found we should be able to get some kind of cargo boat from Mombasa to Majunga, Madagascar. Having secured our Madagascar visas, we headed off to the coast. It really was quite exciting to explore travel options in a port. We went to the harbor master and learned about a cement boat going to Madagascar by way of The Comoros. We arranged passage on the deck and decided to go up north to Lamu Island and enjoy the time before departure. A few other travelers were taking the same boat, a tall lanky English guy and a big Canadian from Ottawa named Doug.

Everyone bought supplies for the trip: sardines, papayas, bananas, oats, biscuits (cookies), etc. The night before cast off, we all went out to experience the bar scene near the big tusks in Mombasa. It seemed appropriate sailor behavior. I think all of us ended up with a lady of the night; I know I did. The next morning, we met up at the dock and set sail. It really is a nice way to bid farewell to a place — by boat. The Mombasa harbor is quite beautiful with the fort on one end and the old city, a mix of colonial and Arab architecture. I haven’t been back to Mombasa since then but I understand it has grown immensely. Apparently, the old city remains as it was. The new city just grew around the old.

I remember the first morning, the English guy was eating papaya with oats sprinkled on top and I joined in. Not long after the sea started to take its toll. The boat was quite small and so was tossed pretty well by the swells. It wasn’t until almost twenty years later I could smell papaya without starting to retch. For three days I lay in the hammock that someone had offered. Then finally, I regained my sea legs and began eating again. That was the end of my seasickness, and I was pretty damned hungry.

We slipped into a kind of timelessness on the deck of this boat — the blue, blue water of the Indian Ocean, the vast sky. If I remember correctly, I read the entire Lord of the Ring series on that trip, including The Hobbit. Peter and I also passed some time creating very elaborate board games. We created a version of battleship with extensive rules of engagement. The crew usually had a line hanging off the back of the boat on which they caught fish and often offered some to us. They also supplied us with rice. Rice and fish, I couldn’t think of a better meal at that time.

A day or two before arriving in The Comoros, my chickens came home to roost. While standing off the side of the deck relieving myself, it was anything but a relief — burning pee. That is one very uncomfortable sensation. I knew immediately what it meant and thought back to my night in Mombasa harbor. We were out at sea and there was nothing I could do until we docked in Moroni, the capital and port of The Comoros.

In port after being cleared by immigration, I immediately went in search of a medical facility. I found a clinic being run by some very nice French nuns. They provided me with the necessary antibiotics and relief was gained. After a couple of days exploring Moroni and the beaches to the north, we were again on our way on the sea of timelessness.

-purushottama

This is from the collection of stories, essays, poems and insights that is compiled to form the book From Lemurs to Lamas: Confessions of a Bodhisattva. Download a PDF or order the book Here.

 

 

Buddhaghosa

Buddhaghosa was a 5th-century Indian Theravada Buddhist commentator, translator and philosopher. He worked in the Great Monastery Mahāvihāra) at Anurādhapura, Sri Lanka of the Vibhajjavāda school and in the lineage of the Sinhalese Mahāvihāra.

His best-known work is the Visuddhimagga (“Path of Purification”), a comprehensive summary of older Sinhala commentaries on Theravada teachings and practices. According to Sarah Shaw, in Theravada this systematic work is “the principal text on the subject of meditation.” -from Wikipedia

At the Ranch, in Rajneeshpuram, I worked in the Buddhaghosa department. Which is the name that Osho gave to the department that was responsible for the sale and distribution of all of Osho’s books. Part of that work included the warehousing of all of Osho’s books. We had three co-ordinators, Ma Prem Gatha, Ma Prem Gyano and Swami Rama. They were a triumvirate of coordination.

Some of the sannyasins who worked there were, Ma Yoga Rabya, Swami Red Hawk, Shailandra and Amit (Osho’s brothers), Swami Keerti, Ma Dharma Jyoti, Ma Prem Kaveesha and these are just a few, there were many others.

So where is everybody these days: Gatha lives full time at the Ramana Ashram in Tiruvanamalai, India. Gyano lives and works at the Insight Mediation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. Swami Rama worked closely with the American Advaita teacher Robert Adams in Sedona, Arizona, before Robert’s passing, and has himself passed on a few years ago. Ma Yoga Rabiya lives at a retirement home in Ashland, Oregon, she must be in her 90’s and is still going strong. Red Hawk is a renown poet and author of eight books. Shailandra is leading meditation meetings. Amit is living and working at Osho International Meditation Resort in Pune. Swami Keerti started OshoWorld, is the author of numerous books, and leads meditation camps around the world. Jyoti lives and works at OshoDham in Delhi and also leads meditation workshops. Kaveesha started the Osho Academy in Sedona, and passed away in 1999. And myself, I am maintaining the blogsite Sat Sangha Salon at o-meditation.com which posts the words of many buddhas, mostly from Buddha Osho.

Buddhaghosa was quite the greenhouse for sprouting meditation and interestingly, the word buddhaghosa means voice of the Buddha in Pali.

-purushottama

Here you can download a PDF copy of Buddhagosa’s Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification).

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