By Aalif Surti
An intensive meditation camp conducted by Swami Chaitanya Bharti gave the participants an opportunity to live in 40 days of silence, excavating themselves through meditation, laughter, dancing and tears.
Consciousness is such a mystery,’ my brother Gyandev said to me at the beach on the last night. ‘When you sit here, relaxed, unfocused, it contains the entire horizon and your own body within it. But in a hundredth of a second, if there is a thought of fear or desire, it can narrow down to a speck.’
Far away on the right, the twinkling lights of Diu city gleamed along the coast. Our own lives in distant cities seemed farther still. We had only been here for 40 days, but there was no bridge left that connected that world with this. A silent humming joy within had floated through the days filled with meditation, dancing, celebration and music. And yet when we closed our eyes, there was nothing left of that either.
How did we reach a place so far removed from our marketplaces and railway stations, and offices that it was not even on the map? How did we have the courage to drop our entire lives to spend 40 days in Diu with a man who promised us only ‘nothingness’? We must be, as he had called us affectionately in the opening ceremony: ‘crackpots’.
The opening ceremony took place on 11 December, 2004. The sheer diversity of the participants was mind-boggling. Little did they know that in a few weeks they would all belong to each other more than they ever did to their own families.
Gurudev himself is difficult to capture in words. He was one of Osho’s earliest disciples who was later appointed by Osho to conduct meditation camps on his behalf. In September 1990, a series of incidents occurred to him at the end of which ‘he’ disappeared. He hesitates to talk about this incident and to anyone who asks if he is enlightened, he would just say, ‘I am what I am’.
Some misunderstandings led him to exit the Inner Circle of the Osho commune. In the decade that followed, Gurudev continued to conduct meditation camps throughout India.
Today, at 62, there is no trace of his past in him. He is neither proud of it, nor regretful. An overflowing joy and mischief radiates from him whenever he speaks, sometimes conveyed just in a little sideways glance and upturned corner of his lips. Almost uneducated, he can amaze with his eloquence and oratory.
And even more powerful than his words is his silence.
Phase I: Preparing for silence
Overlooking the ocean, facing the sunrise, was our ‘meditation hall’, actually a large cloth tent with a thatched roof. On the wall towards the ocean was a large photo of Osho laughing, below which Gurudev sat during his talks. The coir flooring started showing signs of life as the camp progressed with little shoots of grass coming through the weave. And there were flies.
If you were a visitor from Mars, you would hear one of two sounds coming from the meditation hall: loud laughter or an astonishing diversity of music: Baul folk songs, Sufi qawwalis, Hindu mantras, shlokas from the Bhagavad Gita, kirtans, bhajans, fusion and pure Indian classical artistes all floated through this meditation hall at different times of the day.
The first 10 days were devoted to chit-shuddhi or cleaning the psyche. We had come from our worldly lives with such pressing emotional issues and burning problems that quietening them was the first requirement before we could grasp the subtleties of consciousness. A time-bound regimen of active meditations beginning at 6:00 a.m. and ending at 8:30 p.m. was observed.
Gurudev’s teaching is a synthesis of Osho and Nisargadatta Maharaj, a fusion of Sufi devotion and advaita, a strange paradox. On one path the guru is ultimately considered God himself, in the other, ultimately neither the guru nor the disciple exist! On one path, everything is God’s will, on the other, nothing has ever happened!
Gurudev stirs the mixture with a whole lot of laughter and makes even arcane words like ‘absolute consciousness’ palatable for us who may think it is a brand of vodka. His laughter mantra is ‘Ho Jaaye!’ and the many loving and mischievous nuances with which he says it evokes laughter from even the most serious soul.
Gurudev reminds us in his talks, ‘Forget everything else, constantly remember your sense of Presence. I call it am-ness, being-ness. Try to identify not with the body but with the sense of Presence.’
Slowly, meditation began to deepen even in those who had never attempted it before the previous week. A few days into the camp, first-timer Aditi wrote to Gurudev:
The experience of not feeling the body (during meditation) has begun happening often. The initial excitement has now turned to worry as even when I come out of meditation there is a failure to know what to do to move my hands and legs! Although I am looking down at my body, I cannot recollect what to do to move my limbs!
Phase II: Living in silence
Contrary to popular belief, no talking, no gesturing, no eye contact for 21 days was actually the easy part. Remaining passive with all that was happening within oneself was tough.
Gurudev gave us only two ‘commandments’ for the 40 days: One, remain passive and unfocused. Two, don’t be serious.
Initially, boredom and restlessness surfaced strongly. Gurudev had discontinued his talks in silence, but after four days, he spoke in response to the following letter:
Whole day, sitting in my room either I am thinking continuously or falling asleep. I am not speaking outside but inside everything is the same. Am I missing something?
Those who were spared the boredom were grappling with intense feelings of sexuality, anger, fear, sadness, guilt and other ‘furniture’ as Gurudev jokingly called it: ‘All your life you have been dumping your unwanted stuff into the basement of your house. Now when you go within you have to encounter this furniture. But don’t start fighting with it. Just allow it to come. Treat it like a guest- maybe it is an uninvited guest! So just be with it. Remain passive. It will be going in its own time.’
Other traumas awaited those who were encountering the depths of silence. Bhola, the young jeweler from Delhi, had been meditating regularly for many years with Gurudev. But this camp clearly held something else in store for him. For the silence, he opted to stay in complete isolation in his room, but a few days into the silence he wrote a letter to Gurudev:
Today, after White Robe Meditation I went and sat silently in my room. After that when I went to change my clothes for dinner, while standing in front of the mirror I saw after 10-15 seconds that my reflection was not in the mirror. I thought that this is my imagination but this happened a second time too. Now I am very scared. Please send someone to my room to stay with me or advise me on what I should do.
Gurudev first made light of his fear. He joked with all of us that maybe the reflection had gone to meet his girlfriend or maybe the mirror was off-duty. Then he added, almost as an afterthought so as not to boost his ego, that what had happened was very valuable, a rare glimpse into his real nature, which was beyond the body.
In the final week of silence, Gurudev began Mystic Rose: laughing for forty minutes, crying for forty minutes and then sitting silently for forty minutes. The depth and painfulness of the inner surgery increased. And there were some casualties too. One evening, Gurudev read out a hurriedly scrawled note written by a young actress:
I feel absolutely torn and broken… Things are surfacing and I cannot believe what I see. Find it so difficult to disidentify… Please kill me.
In reply, once again Gurudev reminded us that whatever we could see was not us: ‘If you can see something, it simply means you are not it. You can say at the most that it is yours, but not that it is ‘you’. You are separate from it. If I see a flower, does it mean that I am the flower? So just remain passive and remember that whatever is happening on the inner screen is also not you. The movie is changing all the time, the screen remains constant. That screen which never changes is the real you.’
Another young girl was dealing with the abrupt end of a romantic relationship. She wrote one night:
It’s amazing how much anger and hurt this little body holds. Gurudev, why is it so difficult to forgive? I understand that it is only a thought that causes me pain. And that it will only take one thought in one moment to let it all go, but forgiveness does not happen. Where do I go wrong? What do I fail to see?
Gurudev answered her beautifully and advised her not to condemn the anger, just to be with it. ‘Forgiveness will happen one day,’ he said, ‘don’t try to do it, otherwise it will be fake. Just be with your anger as long as it takes. And you are doing beautifully. I am watching you. Don’t worry. I love you.’ There seemed to be tears glimmering in his eyes as he spoke.
Every night, at the end of the final meditation, he would keep reminding us of Krishna’s lines from the Bhagavad Gita:
Jo hua, accha hua,
Jo ho raha hai, accha ho raha hai,
Jo hoga woh bhi accha hi hoga.
Clichéd as they may seem, in that vast, looming spectre of complete silence and emotional turmoil, they proved a life-saver.
It became clear as days passed that there were 36 meditation camps happening simultaneously. Each one was experiencing their own hills and valleys through the forty days. Someone was learning how to let go of a loved one, another was learning how to live with love; someone was seeing his ego for the first time, someone was erasing the final shadows of the old personality. It was a journey we were walking together. The magic was that when Gurudev spoke during his talks, each person felt that Gurudev was speaking directly to them about their situation.
Take away the modern clothes and the settings and you could see the ancient guru-shishya parampara in session. The Sufis call it a circle of friends who sit around an enlightened Master and learn the subtle secrets of the soul.
The intensity of the silence grew day after day. During the evening meditations in the hall with Gurudev, nothing stirred for almost half an hour – no rustle of clothes, no cough, no movement. Just the chirrup of crickets, the wind shuffling through the hay on the roof and the waves timelessly crashing into the surf. For some moments during this silence, it seemed certain that there was absolutely no one in the meditation hall. Just an emptiness where we had been.
Gurudev also devised a beach meditation for us in the mornings, so that we could meditatively experience the natural world outside us too. It consisted of three stages, each sensitizing one sense organ: listening to the sound of the waves, gazing unfocused into the ocean and feeling the touch of the breeze and the sand. This opened many doors to feel the same sense of oneness and unity with the outer world as we had experienced in the inner world.
For most of the day, what prevailed however was miles and miles of silence. We sat in our rooms or in the meditation hall, tasting the real flavor of ourselves. And not surprisingly, digging so deep into ourselves, some did strike gold. Out of the blue, the most unobtrusive person in the entire camp, a Haryanvi farmer named Osho Dhan, wrote to Gurudev one day:
The thought of fear and fear itself have both disappeared. Can both these be reborn? Can you please speak on these thoughts?
Latifa, the tall Swedish photographer, wrote no questions, only letters of gratitude to Gurudev throughout the silence. And she always wrote of herself in third person.
It is a delight to silently witness Latifa being around in an unfocused, timeless nothingness. Sometimes stumbling around like a drunkard alone at the beach at night with all the giggling stars. Sometimes with a wave of something arising inside for a moment and then another wave coming and taking it all back into the ocean. A few things have been snatched away by a loving, caring, invisible hand. Nothing has been added. So much fragrance coming through the air. Thank You. Thank You.
But perhaps no one encapsulated the general feeling of gratitude that flowed in the final week as well as Sherry, the 23-year-old girl from Mumbai who had come for the first time. When Gurudev asked about our experiences of the silence, Sherry wrote the following:
Dearest and most beloved Gurudev,
I love you. These words I have used so many times in the past that, as words they do not express what I feel for you…. I’m overwhelmed and I remember your most precious words to be ‘passive’. I came like an empty bucket, not even aware that it needs to be filled with the elixir of life. Now sometimes in deep meditation even the cleaned bucket disappears. I thank you for being, for your presence and for your unconditional love…
Phase III: Sharing the silence
The silence swept away many identities. Clean, fresh faces emerged from the silence to greet the world of hellos and good-mornings and how-are-yous again. There was much to share, much to discuss and much to laugh about. Gratitude flowed in tears. Love shone in laughter.
There was a new learning here too. To different degrees we had all learned to shut our eyes and be with ourselves in peace. Now we had to carry this peace outside too. To go placidly amidst noise and haste.
‘Just sitting with closed eyes is not meditation,’ Gurudev reminded us. ‘Meditation has to be lived from moment to moment. There are some who only keep sitting with closed eyes and cultivating their meditation. That is like a rich man who does not know how to spend his money.’
For over a month now we had not seen a newspaper or watched television. Many of us had developed diarrhea and bouts of fever through the silence and only much later we discovered that an epidemic had been plaguing Diu and the newspaper headlines had been writing daily about it. But the laughter in the camp continued undiminished. The days flew past in a dream-like haze of dancing, celebration, crying and meditation. At their request, Gurudev initiated six of the participants into sanyas- a commitment to walk the path. As Gurudev put his thumb on their third eye to transmit his energy into each one, the silence in the hall noticeably intensified. And finally, there were so many tears when they bowed down to touch Gurudev’s feet in gratitude and reverence that the hall was bathed in the petal-soft energy of love.
The final day of the camp, 19 January, was the date on which Osho left his body. We gathered in the meditation hall at 9:30 am in white robes instead of the usual maroon. Gurudev arrived and after a small talk, stood up to face the photograph of Osho. He folded his hands and bowed to his Master in silence. Then, with a single loud clap he extinguished the lamp below it, which had been burning since the start of the camp. ‘Friends,’ he said with a heavy voice, ‘Osho has left the body. We will now symbolically cast the flowers into the ocean.’ There were tears and cries in the hall. He picked up the basket filled with the orange flowers that had decorated Osho’s photo for the past few weeks and walked to the beach. Everyone followed with tears in their eyes. The gravity of the situation hung heavy in the air. At the ocean, Gurudev gave each one a few flowers and he himself cast the first garland into the Arabian Sea.
Gyandev had a quiet surprise in store for Gurudev. He had organised a basket of garlands so we could thank Gurudev for something we could never repay. Without a word, one by one, each person garlanded Gurudev and fell at his feet. Some with tears of gratitude, some with prayers, some with the sorrow of parting- all with a love that went far beyond words.
Guruji thari kaise mahima gaaon,
Kaise suraj ko deep dikhaoon.
The atmosphere of sadness was tangible as the camp packed their bags to head back to their old lives. In groups, they dropped into Gurudev’s cottage, who cheered them up with his unflappable cheery presence and home-spun humour. They departed with a heavy heart. An SMS sent to one of the volunteers the following day from Chennai said it all:
His Presence made me absent.
His eyes gave me vision.
His voice taught me silence.
I now understand why
a Guru is first and God is next.
My hugs to that which
can’t be hugged.
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