In these times of social isolation due to coronavirus, my mind travels to India, where I once lived swathed in its jasmine perfume. I see its white sands; the sea that bathes its Goan beaches; the bluish red of its sky at dawn and the sound of mantras announcing the new day. I hear the wind blowing through the bamboos and the rain falling in torrents, flooding everything. Mother India, as the Indians call it, with its scents of sandalwood and incense; its smells of chapattis cooked each morning besides a stove set on the floor; with its colors of spices on display, piled in heaps of reds, yellows and purples; the beautiful Indian women in their silk saris and long hair that they collect at the nape of the neck, their slender waists, their large eyes with its deep gaze and their heads loaded with jugs of water or baskets of vegetables, walking erect, like catwalk models, with delicate feet covered in silver anklets.
I came to India by chance - or perhaps destiny - twenty-two years ago. And I lived there almost continuously for ten years.
It all started in Cairo in 1980, when, as a journalist, I was invited by the Egyptian government of Anwar El Sadat shortly before his assassination on October 6, 1981. An English journalist, a friend and colleague from London's Sunday Times newspaper, David Holden, had been murdered in 1977 and investigations had failed to uncover any motive. I was hoping by my visit to find out more about this event.
I had met David, editor of foreign affairs for the Sunday Times, in Chile in 1970. He was a serious, intelligent, engaging journalist, and the author of several books, including Greece without Columns. Always interested in Middle Eastern politics, he'd been investigating the peace talks between Egypt and Israel and specifically, President Sadat's determination to reach an agreement between the Arab countries. At that time, 1977, there were still secret talks going on between the Israeli government and the Egyptian president.
David traveled to Israel apparently to inquire about the progress of the negotiations. He returned to Cairo and when he disembarked from the plane, got into a waiting car. That was the last we knew of him alive; there was not a trace of who might have ended his life. All of his documents were stolen and his body found dumped near the airport days later.
There was speculation, without evidence, that in addition to being a journalist, David Holden was an undercover British intelligence agent.
Alarm bells went off in the offices of the Sunday Times. A team dispatched by the publisher spent years researching the murder, yet to this day have found no explanation for it.
What valuable information might a journalist have in his possession that could lead to him being killed in this way? During my stay in Cairo, I conducted many interviews with journalists and senior officials but found no explanation. Yet his murder had greatly disturbed me. I was acquainted with his wife Ruth, and to her, his disappearance in such a brutal way seemed both horrific and completely illogical.
Days before my trip, a friend had loaned me a book by an Indian mystic named Rajneesh (now Osho). I was struck by his intelligence, his sense of humor, the way he offered an open, free spirituality - very attractive to a person like me at that time, totally removed from religious matters. I learned that Osho had a community of followers in the city of Pune, about 150 kilometers from Bombay, and after my interviews in Cairo, and without much reflection, I landed up there, hoping to overcome my depression and my way of life, that seem to be without purpose.
India is chaos: a multitude of human beings, sounds, colours, beggars, misery - but also luxuries, grand palaces that we do not have in the West. The journey from Bombay to Pune took more than six hours in between cows crossing the roads and monkeys jumping from the trees. Finally Pune, and what has now come to be known as the Osho Meditation Resort.
A gateway - unknown arms that open. They wear orange robes and have a mala with a picture of Osho around their necks. In a great circle of marble, under huge trees and bamboos, they all dance. The orange robes float across their bodies, the hair flies in the wind, their lips smile, their eyes shine. It is a dance born from within...where you are the dance.
I feel as if, after a long journey, I have finally come home. The mind is silent. I let thoughts pass; they are clouds in a blue sky. My energy has changed. I feel free, light, full of vitality. In a few weeks, I have come alive again.
All the nationalities of the planet are represented by the people around me. Each person glowing with energy and vitality. The place is beautiful... peacocks, white swans in their lagoon ponds, small trails in the middle of nature, bodies in flowing orange robes. There is a feeling of paradise on earth.
Some paint, others play instruments, still others attend various therapy groups. There are many parallel activities and meditations that change every hour, from six in the morning until eleven at night. Also, parties, concerts and delicious vegetarian food to satisfy the Zorba gourmet that we each carry inside of us. The master stroke of Osho's enterprises are his active meditations, those that introduce dance, catharsis, breathing and deep exhalation: Dynamic meditation, designed for the constantly restless western mind. Also Kundalini and Nataraj meditations. And you can explore the depth of your emotions by laughing and crying in what is called the Mystic Rose process. Or through gibberish in 'No-Mind', babbling a self-invented language that take thoughts away from rational control. The emphasis of this work is to celebrate the union of the playful Zorba and the silent Buddha, leaving behind the repressions and constant sense of guilt that the religions have all subjected us to.
The only thing that can be called sin, Osho says, is to not be aware - the sleep-walking state in which we spend most of our lives.
Who was the enlightened Master known as Osho (1931-1990)?
He was one of the most intelligent, scholarly and scientifically oriented mystics of India. He launched himself against all the established religions and their priests (leading his opponents to try to assassinate him in India and poison him in United States jails).
He insisted over and over that humanity has not been able to reach a higher level of consciousness because those disciples of the great masters of the past lost the essence of the original teachings by establishing churches. His insistent call is that we should be our own researchers, seeking truth within ourselves.
"I want to leave you totally alone, without any creed or dogma, with no religion or god to save you. Only on your own will you find your center".
"Let go of all the spiritual games that society has created for you. It has left you without any growth in consciousness. I am a finger pointing to the moon. Don't get stuck with the finger, look at the moon".
"My effort is to leave you alone with meditation... meditation that removes all the barriers, thoughts and emotions that have built a wall between you and existence. Freedom is the highest gift, there is nothing greater or more beautiful than freedom. A man who knows himself," he says, "need have no devotion beyond himself, beyond being silent, drowning in his own splendor."
Those first days in Pune and my encounter with Osho's teachings were a great gift of existence for me. I inhaled the intense perfume that India has been disseminating for thousands of years through the great enlightened masters born within its borders.