Bernard Levin on Rajneesh
- 1 Introduction
- 2 The Times articles
- 2.1 May 3, 1978, page 16 - An ideal way to clear the mind
- 2.2 April 8, 1980, page 12 - Struck by enlightenment in Poona
- 2.3 April 9, 1980, page 14 - An extraordinary journey to the interior
- 2.4 April 10, 1980, page 14 - The joy of shedding their chains
- 2.5 April 22, 1980, page 15 - Loving with the mind (Letters to the editor)
- 2.6 April 25, 1980, page 14 - Causing a scandal in Poona
- 2.7 June 5, 1980, page 18 - A rather special kind of loving
- 2.8 The Times obituary, August 10, 2004
- 3 Other reviews
- 4 Jack Allanach
- 5 See also
- This page has been added for two reasons:
- Documenting Bernard Levin's three articles of 1980 about the Poona ashram, which are remarkably factual, comprehensive, and very much to the point of what Osho (then Rajneesh) is about.
- The reactions to these articles, notably by his peers and in his obituaries, which seem to show bewilderment and even contempt for a man that was otherwise seen as a hero of serious thought.
- This is what The Times says about it's long time columnist, in his obituary :
- "Bernard Levin was the most famous journalist of his day. Prolific, controversial, passionate, versatile, maddening, enthusiastic, sometimes irresponsible, always courageous, he was recognised instantly in the street by people of all ages." (#The Times obituary, August 10, 2004)
- When he started writing in The Times of London in 1971 he was already a public figure from his work for radio and TV and had been publishing in several newspapers and magazines. Until 1997, he wrote some 2000 opinion pieces in The Times. He wrote about politics, culture, architecture, theater etc, and his standing was such that he had completely free rein to write about whatever he wanted, so his choices reflected real interest.
- Levin's articles on Rajneesh started #May 3, 1978, page 16 - An ideal way to clear the mind: he had visited the "Festival for Mind and Body", a fair at Olympia, and reflected on the need for a new spirituality in the society of which he was a participant and one of the main commentators. Before that festival he probably had visited one of the London sannyas centers more than once.
- It is said that the inspiration of visiting the sannyas center and the Festival came from his then girlfriend Arianna Stassinopoulos (see below), but we have not been able to verify that from Levin himself.
- A relevant comment on his possible motivations comes from the ashram's press officer Jack Allanach (Sw Krisha Prem), who had invited him to come to Poona and spoken to him extensively during his visit there. He reports in Osho, India and Me:
- "In a nutshell, after years of battling the establishment, Levin had come to the conclusion that, essentially, nothing was going to change, that we were all headed down the drain, and that it was time for intelligent individuals to start looking about for personal alternatives. He’d gone to the Festival to check out what the spiritual supermarket had to offer."
- By going to this Festival and making an honest inquiry, he was putting his "hero of serious thought" reputation at risk. He may have had considerable investment in this hard-won position, but he let it go, having seen the failure of both unbalanced materialism and earnest activism within the system. See below for a complete quote of that section.
- The visits to the Poona ashram in January 1979 and April 1980 resulted in the three articles that are the main subject of this page, published in The Times on 8, 9 and 10 April 1980, (see below).
- The information these articles seek to convey is --in our opinion-- pretty much what an interested outsider should know about Osho and neo-sannyas. As Allanach describes the departure of Levin:
- The question sits on the tip of my tongue, burning. I can’t resist asking. “Bernard, you really do understand what’s happening here, don’t you?”
- Our eyes meet. For a moment, nothing passes between us but this look. “Yes, Krishna Prem,” he says at last. “Yes, I do.”
- What would Levin himself have thought about this episode of his work, when reflecting on it later?
- The first paragraph of his 1983 Enthusiasms conveys something of this:
- We live in a querulous age; more, we live in an age in which it is argued that to be happy is frivolous, and expecting to be happy positively childish. To be passionate in a cause provokes widespread embarrassment, and to be passionate in appreciation of the good things of life, especially the non-material good things, is to court on the one hand stern denunciation as an irresponsible hedonist, and to set off on the other the squealing and tittering of those whose motto is 'Surtout, Messieurs, point de zèle'.
- That does not sound like a man embarrassed about his earlier appreciation of Osho.
- In A World Elsewhere (1994) he is more outspoken. In that book he dives deeply in the depictions of and endeavors to Utopias. The book, as colorful as it's descriptions are, is basically one big warning. Without exception, those attempts for utopia are described as doomed, as they necessarily end in disrespect for the individual and ideological extremism. But on page 199, completely out of sync with the rest of the book, he considers an alternative:
- As the 1960s faded further and further into history, so did much of the furniture of the mind that had accompanied those remarkable years. One of the outposts to which the modern (and young) Voortrekkers repaired was the Indian ashram. By one of those ironies that rear their heads so often and so appositely, that it is most unlikely that they can all be the product of coincidence, it was at a time when the Indian government was endeavouring to become, or at least to seem to become, a modern industrial state, and the sight of the young people - who of all generations might have been the most sympathetic to India’s plight and her attempts to alleviate it - streaming along the roads, packs on backs, towards the holy man of their choice, did nothing to endear the young of Europe to those charged in India with modernising their country. The resentment was unjust in two crucial particulars; first, it was India who taught the world that there was inward serenity to be had at the feet of those charismatic Indian figures who dispense it, and second, because many of those young people who did sit at their feet benefited almost unimaginably from what they learned there, so that whatever they failed to do for India, they achieved something real and important for their own cultures and countries, it was surely, on balance, a gain.
- The inner Utopia, from which no one is debarred (since it is woven into the fabric of every human being from birth, who needs only to release and face it), was what they were seeking, and in an astonishing number of cases they found it. It may be that, in the end, all Utopias of ideology, of religion, of race, of politics, of art, of literature, of equality, of nation - all those dreams of making mankind perfect by the use of real instruments made in a real world - will have to cede pride of place to the unreal world of the ashram, the still centre in which Candide could cultivate his garden with inner peace, and in which all troubled people, which means all people, can find their own gardens to cultivate in that peace for ever.
- Bernard Levin, at least intellectually, understands meditation. Case closed.
- Knowing how much Levin was esteemed during his life, and in his obituaries, it is quite amazing that the majority of the reviews of his life that we have seen contain some explicit derision (instead of interest) about Levin's observations in Poona. See Levin's obituaries in The Times, in The Telegraph and in The Guardian below.
- And don't forget Osho's obituary in The Guardian.
- It is interesting to compare Levin's work with that other giant of English journalism, Christopher Hitchens.
- We have documented Hitchens' remarks about the Poona ashram in a review of his book God Is Not Great, and additionally in "God Is Not Great" is not great. Here too, Allanach was the journalist's host, and those remarks are also part of Osho, India and Me, p.309 - 310.
- It seems that Hitchens entirely dismisses any form of spirituality out of hand (and is ready to bend the facts to prove his point), whereas Levin actively seeks that element in human life as an essential and neglected part.
- Allanach ends his description of Hitchens' visit with a lament of his position as the ashram's press-officer :
- I wish I knew how to handle my situation. Except for Bernard Levin and a few Indians like Bachi Karkaria, I've been faced, for the last couple of years, with an unending parade of total journalistic assholes, of phoneys and liars and manipulating cheats. And somehow the combination of Rittold and Hitchens is the straw that, I feel, is about to break my back.
- And another star-reporter, Peter Jenkins of The Guardian, who was visiting the ashram at the same time as Bernard Levin's first visit. He was --according to Levin-- impressed too. But an article in The Guardian was never written, as he feared embarrassment.
- About this non-publishing, Bernard Levin had something to say. He tells #Jack Allanach (on his second visit) that he recently met Jenkins at a party :
- “but I suddenly became angry and just couldn't let him get away with it. I strode across the room, grabbed him by the lapels and let him have it. ‘Jenkins,’ I said. ‘You’re a bloody coward!’”
The Times articles
Unlike other material in this Wiki, these articles are copyright © Times Newspapers Ltd. They are quoted here as "fair use".
These articles are not widely available, so have been reproduced here.
May 3, 1978, page 16 - An ideal way to clear the mind
This article was re-published in Bernard Levin - Taking Sides (1979), p.123.
- Bernard Levin
- I spent part of the weekend at Olympia, at the Festival for Mind and Body (which continues, incidentally, until next Sunday). It is the strangest fair I have ever been to, a gathering of the guilds such as no medieval assembly could have rivalled, let alone the Motor Show or the Ideal Home Exhibition. Nor is it easy to define; the organizers say of it that it is a "meeting place for all those concerned with living creatively, economically and responsibly", but I could draw up a list of a dozen gatherings that could be so described, none' of which would have anything in common with any of the others. And if I say it is peopled by those who seek paths different from those along which our century has so far progressed, it will convey little more to those who do not already know what the festival is. And if I simply list some of those who have taken space at the festival -- and they include the Aetherius Society, the Atlanteans, Esoteric and Occult Productions Ltd, Cranks Health Foods, the Fellowship of the Inner Light, the Followers of the Way, the Grail Foundation, Granary Health Products, Human Potential Resources, Interorientation Ltd, Lotus Foods, Pyramid Energy Products, Solar Quest, the White Eagle Lodge, the Universal Church of God and the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom -- it will be written off as an assembly of more or less harmless lunatics, some of whom probably believe that there is a man who can and does walk over red-hot coals without either feeling pain or experiencing burns, merely because it is true.
- The published comment on the festival has been very interesting. This is the second year it has been held, and the organizers now intend it to be a regular annual event; last year, the coverage, both in advance and while it was actually happening, consisted almost entirely of giggling in a superior tone. There is no lack of that approach this year (we shall come to the implications in a moment), but it is now accompanied by something that can best be described as a reluctantly serious curiosity, and even an uneasy respect.
- For what is common to almost all the exhibitors -- whether what they are exhibiting is a range of foods free from chemicals or a philosophy of life -- is a conviction that what the world lives by at the moment just will not do. Nor will it; nor do very many people suppose any longer that it will. Countries like ours are full of people who have all the material comforts they desire, together even with such non-material blessings as a happy family, and yet lead lives of quiet, and at times noisy, desperation, understanding nothing but the fact that there is a hole inside them and that however much food and drink they pour into it, however many motorcars and television sets they stuff it with, however many well-balanced children and loyal friends they parade around the edges of it, however much contentment they place between it and, their own consciousness, it aches.
- Apart from a few of the sillier scientists and the more bone-headed survivals of nineteenth-century anti-clericalism, almost everybody today reacts to an assertion that the materialist explanation of the universe is obviously inadequate, and indeed ridiculous, in one of two ways. Either they assent to a proposition too obviously true to be worth discussing except as a starting-point for a discussion of what is worth talking about, or they display the kind of panic reaction that I predicted for Brian Inglis's Natural and Super-natural, and that, when the book was published, fulfilled my prediction ninety times over and then nine more.
- The panic is a healthy sign, not an unhealthy. After all, to take an obvious and familiar example, if extra-terrestrial beings exist, these phenomena 'may lead to undesirable consequences; the beings may land on earth with hostile intent But the mere existence of the creatures from space is not, rationally considered, a frightening thought. What frightens those who are frightened by the very idea is inside themselves: it is the insistence, by the higher part of their own personalities, that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in their philosophy. And the closer they approach to the moment when that insistence breaks through to all the parts of their mental, psychological and spiritual constitution, the more fierce their resistance becomes. That, surely, is why the very distinguished scientist I met soon after I wrote about Brian Inglis's book attacked me and it (he had not read it, of course) in a voice that was shrill and unsteady and with the sweat breaking out on his forehead; not because he knew he was right, but because the most important part of him knew he was wrong.
- The Festival of Mind and Body begins where that attitude ends. For those who know that our present way of life is unsatisfactory, and cannot be made satisfactory by repeated applications of the principles and policies that have made it what it is, there is on show at Olympia an almost unimaginably varied range of suggestions as to what we might do about so depressing a state of affairs.
- What we might do about it. No government enterprises are here represented, nor any political parties. Economic institutes have no stand, United Nations' agencies do not beckon the visitor, amid the showers of leaflets and brochures, the roaring torrent of courses and exercises; our universities are as silent as our great industrial companies. It would be astonishing if it were otherwise; for if they had not all failed us, the festival would not exist, or need to. Take, at random, this note from one of the organizations represented at Olympia. It offers
- . . . a highway to those in search of peace of mind by helping them to understand the God force and showing them how to use it creatively. Dormant forces, stilled at the Creation, are awakening and changing the universe; we offer you guidance to change too.
- Now that is the theme that runs right through the festival, and its characteristics are those of the Olympia gathering as a whole. It is undogmatic; there is no proselytizing; and the offer is not of something outside the individual, which is to be supplied but of some thing already inside us, which can be released. Take, again, the organization that exists to disseminate the teaching of a very remarkable Indian sage, Rajneesh: "We have", they say, "a wide range of meditation and group techniques to support your Quest". To support your Quest, note; note also the words of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, which is "concerned with enabling people to grow to their full potential as human beings", and the attitude of the group around the Buddha Maitraya [sic] Sangha, "who has assumed the title to imply the realization of the Buddha nature within himself and all of us".
- The crowds were vast: there was not a stand without a stream of visitors. And the crowd was even more interesting than the exhibitors, the most interesting thing about them being their ordinariness. Here and there, of course; there were individuals dressed in a style that the gigglers would thankfully recognize; men with long plaited hair and women with flowing robes and flap- ping sandals. (It was, though, noticeable that many of these also bore on their faces the visible signs of an exceptional serenity.) But most of the throng looked like the people you could see in the street outside. And the question therefore presents itself: why were they inside? That is the easiest question of all to answer. They were all seeking something, something that would give them not certainty (for the belief in that mythical beast died out long ago) but understanding: understanding, that is, of themselves and their place in the universe. At Olympia they could find any amount, and every kind, of suggestions as to where they might start to look for themselves, but almost every path on view began in the same place: inside the seeker. Whatever the answers, that is the question, and it is being asked more insistently today than ever before in all history, while the traditional answers of ideologues and politicians sound more and more obviously absurd., The crowds pouring through the turnstiles at Olympia are only the first drops in the wave that must soon crash over the ideologues and the politicians, and drown their empty claims fathoms deep in a self-confidence born of a true understanding of their own nature and that universal nature which is so much more than the sum of all its parts.
- © Times Newspapers Ltd, 1978
April 8, 1980, page 12 - Struck by enlightenment in Poona
- Bernard Levin
- (Photo caption: Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh: a sprinkle of jokes. )
- The scene is a huge makeshift auditorium, roughly oval in shape, a marquee with a flat stone floor; it is open all round but has a simple roof of matting and corrugated iron, supported on slim, crude, wooden pillars. On the floor some 1,500 people are sitting; the frailer among them (including me) have thin cushions. They all face a raised marble platform set midway along one side of the hall; on it there stands a plain swivel chair (it looks a good deal more comfortable than my bit of the floor, cushion and all) ; a microphone on a stand projects over the chair's arm. The time is a quarter to eight in the morning. We are in Poona.
- The first surprise is the colour; almost literally every person in the place is wearing orange. There is a very wide variety of garments but the colour, though the shade varies from almost yellow to almost red, is common to all. The second surprise is that there is total silence throughout this orange sea; over a loudspeaker there comes an appeal against coughing, but the plea is unnecessary, for the silence is unbroken, and deeper than the "Bayreuth hush" itself. Accompanying the silence is stillness; the orange sea is frozen, row upon row of graven images. Among the men, beards and long hair are overwhelmingly prevalent.
- The silence is broken by the crunch of a car's wheels and the accompanying purr of an expensive engine. A large, gleaming, yellow Mercedes comes into view, being driven round the perimeter of the hall. (I was to see the car later, being washed, and to gain the distinct impression that it is washed several times a day.) As the car approaches a covered walkway, just behind the platform with the chair, I experience the third surprise; mine is the only head that turns.
- An orange-clad attendant, on the watch for this moment, moves forward to open the car door; out of it there steps with unhurried graceful movements, a figure dressed in a white robe, beneath which his feet are clad in simple sandals. He walks slowly into the hall, his hands together in the traditional Indian greeting, and mounts the steps to the marble platform. He stands in front of the chair and turns through 180 degrees, extending the silent greeting to the whole hall; it is returned by the orange audience. He is tall, though not exceptionally so, bald on top but with long hair hanging down behind, and luxuriantly grey-bearded. He smiles. and sits down in the chair. Another attendant steps forward and hands him a small folder. He puts it on his lap, opens it, takes a slip of paper from it, an speaks for an hour and three quarters without pause, hesitation, repetition or notes. This is Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh: Or, many in that hall believe, God.
- The lure of India is almost as old as India herself; in recent years, however, it has become much stronger, and her seers and sages and sanyasin [sic] have provided new hope for more and more of the jaded spiritual palates of the West. Europe and America sense that the nirvana which, in their dissatisfaction they seek, is what India has always offered, and India's holy men are now doing a roaring trade in the provision of peace to the angry and tormented souls of those who come to learn how they may be healed, how the psychic split may be mended and the ego dissolved in the true self. As Rajneesh himself puts it, "When you have everything the outer can provide, then a natural desire arises to explore the inner".
- Holy men, like unholy ones, differ. In Bombay, I sat at the feet of an aged prophet, Nisargadatta Maharaj, who speaks in a tiny room reached by a rickety flight of stairs in a house in one of the poorest quarters of the city (and the poorest quarters of Bombay are poor indeed). Later, in the same city, I heard Krishnamurti speak to an immense throng in the open air, his voice that of the cultured West, his words those of the feeling East. Everywhere, the seekers compared notes; many spoke of other sages, in Goa and elsewhere, exchanging recommendations like tourists, singling out restaurants. Rajneesh, it is clear, has three stars.
- In the most important sense, of course, they are tourists; spiritual tourists. Many, indeed, have come to Rajneesh after a long time spent trying other roads. Now: heureux qui, comme Ulysse . . . they all feel they have come home, that whatever it was they had been seeking, they have found it. I have to say, after spending several days at the Rajneesh Ashram last year, and after a further visit last week (when I discovered that the Mercedes has now been replaced by an immense white Rolls Royce), that I am not in the least surprised.
- There are, to be sure, some taxes to pay, which is what I meant when I said that holy men differ. The essence of Rajneesh and of his teaching I shall discuss in due course; the essence, however, is wrapped in showmanship of a remarkable quality. To start with, those going to the morning discourse, which is open to all on payment of a trifling admission charge (and it takes place every day of the year, except on the rare occasions when he is ill -- or, as they carefully specify, "unwell in the body" -- being given, month and month about, in English and Hindi alternately, must first pass through an experience that brings to mind the Roman yoke; two of Rajneesh's Praetorian Guard stand in the path that leads to the auditorium, and as the long queue shuffles forward they sniff each discourse-goer as he or she passes between them.
- The reason officially given for this curious practice is that Rajneesh is allergic to perfumes of any kind; visitors are ,warned not to use scented shampoos, deodorants, or even after-shave lotions, and those who fail to pass the sniffing test are forbidden entry, though I saw borderline cases being allowed to proceed after a scarf was. bound over their offending hair. Now since nobody at the discourse sits within 18ft of Rajneesh, and some are as far as 30 yards away from him, it seems clear that the official reason is nonsense. The sniffing, like the car (which is used only to bring him a few yards from his own quarters on the ashram and return him thither after the discourse, and must therefore have the lowest milage of any car in the world), like the legends propagated by his disciples (does he really read 50-75 books a week?), like the tape-recording of his every word (all the discourses are published both in book form and on cassettes), like the four stipulations which each sanyas [sic] or initiate is asked to accept (the donning of an orange garment, the wearing of the mala, a string of 108 beads from which Rajneesh's portrait is suspended in a locket, the adoption of a new name, and the daily practice of meditation), not to mention his triumphantly stage-managed entrance for the discourses themselves -- all these trimmings must be accepted and digested by anyone wanting to understand Rajneesh, before the kernel of his mystery can be approached.
- And they can be regarded in two ways; either as irrelevances -- distracting, trivial or suspect according to taste -- or as a minor but subtly essential part of the mystery itself, designed to shake his hearers loose from preconceptions and make them more open to what they are to hear and experience; a close parallel, in fact, to the "meaningless" riddles of Zen, which also irritate those who miss their point. For my part I have no doubt at all that, with one exception, which I shall discuss, the trimmings should be regarded in the second light, and that for anyone willing to suspend traditional forms of judgment long enough to understand, they exactly serve the purpose for which they are designed. That purpose, as I say, is the emotional freeing of those who wish to hear, and benefit from Rajneesh's teaching.
- The process of disorientation takes many forms. Another very significant one, which provides a valuable test of understanding -- to recoil from it suggests that these who recoil have missed the point -- is the way in which Rajneesh sprinkles jokes, some of them very rude indeed, throughout his discourse. They are meant to illustrate his theme, and are thus his equivalent of Christ's parables; but they are also, particularly the blue ones, clearly designed to de-mystify and de-sanctify Rajneesh's own personality, to bring him down from the heights on which his followers inevitably tend to place him to the human level on which they live themselves. (Some of the jokes, incidentally, are very funny, like the one about the poor cobbler who goes to the farmer for a pound of butter and is told that he can only have it on payment of a pair of woollen socks. Woollen socks being beyond the cobbler's means, he and his family face a butterless diet, until his wife says that she will unravel part of their woollen bedspread and knit a pair of socks with the wool. She does so, and the socks are handed over in return for the pound of butter. Next time the family needs butter, the same procedure is followed, and gradually the bedspread disappears, until finally there is only enough wool to knit a single sock. The cobbler takes it to the farmer and asks if he can have half a pound of butter for it; the farmer, however, is in an expansive mood, and says he can have the whole pound. "You see", he explains, "I don't wear the socks. I give them to my wife, who unravels them for their wool. She's knitting a bedspread, and she only needs the wool from one more sock to finish it." This story was used by Rajneesh to illustrate the futility of so much of the modern world's striving and endeavour, and seemed to me to do so rather neatly.)
- Nevertheless, the showmanship and what goes with it is not all quite so innocent or salutary, which brings me to the exception. As those of my readers who have followed my accounts of Mrs Gandhi's subversion of Indian democracy may readily suppose, I found a substantial bone in my throat at this statement of Rajneesh's views on her:
- She possesses a better vision of the future and more understanding of the present. She is flexible, open, vulnerable, ready to receive anything new, and ready to understand anything that is happening in the modern world.
- Belike; but she is also a criminal and a tyrant. The reason for Rajneesh's praise of Mrs Gandhi and concomitant attacks on her democratic opponents lies in the fact that the Morarji Desai government showed itself hostile to Rajneesh and his movement, and indeed to the Indian "Godmen" generally, feeling that they damage India's standing abroad by perpetuating the myth that India is a country full of strange rites and fakirs on beds of nails, not to be thought of as a modern state with a modern state's role to play in the world. Rajneesh's people claim that there was a history of obstruction and harassment of their activities on the part of Morarji's government, ranging from the blocking of legitimate acquisition of land to the banning of a British television team that wanted to make a film at the ashram; doubtless Rajneesh feels that he will get more favourable treatment from the resurrected Mrs Gandhi. But the Enlightened are supposed to be above such considerations.
- In a different area altogether, though no less disturbing, are the claims the Rajneesh Foundation makes to be operating a university on the ashram. I have no doubt that the wide range of consciousness-expanding therapeutic techniques practised there (they include Massage, Reflexology, Alexander Technique, Acupuncture, Rolfing, Postural Integration, Hypnosis, Counselling, Rebirthing, Dynamic Meditation and many others) are of the greatest value for the growth towards wholeness of those who shop at this amazing spiritual supermarket, but there is clearly nothing that can be seriously described as University-standard teaching, and the claim that there are courses at an "International University" there, leading to a Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts or Doctorate of Philosophy degree" is nonsense, while the further assertion that "in many cases, academic credits from Rajneesh International University can be applied towards degrees at other colleges" is even greater nonsense. I do not believe, however, that this provides the explanation for the air of hostility to the activities of the Rajneesh ashram that could, certainly on my first visit, be distinctly felt in Poona among Indians themselves. There are the usual tales of dark doings, with hints of sexual impropriety, that such movements invariably attract; there are the equally inevitable allegations of drug use, no doubt because long hair among young people (the overwhelming majority of Rajneesh's followers are young) is always associated, in popular mythology, with drugs. And of course, these allegations have been picked up, embellished and printed in the West.
- Yet even a brief visit to the Rajneesh headquarters is sufficient to dispel such beliefs; I shall have a good deal to say about the disciples I talked to, but for the moment I want only to say that the gossip conveys more about the gossipers than about the subject of the gossip -- as indeed, Is commonly the case -- and that in this instance it conveys something of very considerable significance. What that significance is I shall discuss tomorrow.
- (To be continued)
- © Times Newspapers Limited, 1980
April 9, 1980, page 14 - An extraordinary journey to the interior
- Bernard Levin
- (Photo caption: Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh during an evening session in Poona.)
- In introducing yesterday an account of my visit to the Poona ashram of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh I concluded by drawing attention to some of the manifestations of the hostility this remarkable teacher has attracted. It is not surprising. For Rajneesh is, beyond any doubt. a deeply disturbing influence. At the end of the path that leads towards the discourse auditorium (which is called Buddha Hall) there is a sign reading: "Shoes and minds to be left here." The shoes present no problem: but every instinct of Man revolts, screaming, against the second provision. And yet it does not require years of meditation to recognize that all the most important and all the most forceful achievements and influences that affect human beings by-pass the mind altogether to have their effect; art, faith, sleep, joy, death, hate, laughter, fear -- none of these can be understood in terms of the mind, nor are the workings of any of them understood by the mind. And of course there is one more such area in human beings that does not depend on the mind for its existence and cannot look to the mind for an explanation: love.
- That is the business of Rajneesh, as it was the business of Christ and Buddha and Lao Tze and all the other Enlightened Masters who have born witness through the centuries to the same two principles: that love is the force that through the green fuse drives the flower. and that everything we need to be, wish to be and ought to be we already are. Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Or, as Rajneesh puts it:
- My message is: Drop the mind and you will become available to God. Become innocent and you will be bridged with God. Drop this ego, drop this idea that you are somebody special. Be ordinary and you will become extraordinary. Be true to your inner being and all religions are fulfilled. And when you don't have a mind, then you have a heart. When you don't have a mind only then your heart starts pulsating, then you have love. No-mind means love. Love is my message.
- Or. as he puts it even more succinctly: "Everybody is born perfect, with the signature of God; imperfection is a learnt thing."
- Leaving my hotel in Poona at 7 am, I paused to ask the receptionist for directions to the Rajneesh ashram; she gave them, but I thought I detected a slight smile on her lips as she did so, and when I got outside I realized what it meant. For nobody could fail to find the way to the extraordinary magnet that Rajneesh has become ; from ever part of the town orange-clad rivers flowed in the same direction, until the tributaries all met in the same stream, and I found myself outside the gates.
- I have described the scene as the audience waits for Rajneesh to appear and begin his daily discourse. It now falls to me to do the same for the discourse itself. This is a much more difficult task; for although I can convey something of his technique as a speaker, and of course quote his words, the astonishing effect it has -- an effect which seems to bathe the hearer in a refulgent glow of wisdom and love -- is something which it is easier to experience than to describe.
- His voice is low, smooth and exceptionally beautiful; he has a habit of lingering on any final consonant, not just an s. His English is surprisingly idiomatic and syntactically almost, though not quite, perfect. His gestures are hypnotically graceful and eloquent; he has extraordinary long fingers, and he uses his bands, particularly the left, in an endless variety of expressive forms. At a distance, he looks far older than his 48 years; this is the effect of the patriarchal beard and hair, but from a closer viewpoint, it is clear that his face is unlined, his eyes penetrating and clear.
- What he says is couched in language of great power and fluency; he is one of the most remarkable orators I have ever heard, though there is no hint of demagogy in his style, and no hortatory or pedagogic feeling about the content of what he says. He uses quotations and references very freely (these seem to be written down, as are some of the jokes, but they constitute the only notes he uses); in the three discourses I heard, on consecutive days, he quoted Bertrand Russell, William James, Norbert Wiener, e e cummings, Nietzsche, Whitman and others. Some of his references seem dubious: was Freud phobic about looking into others' eyes? Did Jung have a phobic fear of death and fall psychosomatically ill every time he tried to set out on a long-desired visit to Egypt "to see the mummies"? Is there a suicide-rate among psychiatrists twice as high as among the rest of the population? Is the average time an American spends in one dwelling three years, and is the average length of American marriages the same?
- Se non e vero ... Rajneesh is not trying to purvey information, but a truth that bypasses conscious thought and all that belongs to it, just as the most important activities of human beings bypass the mind. I filled pages with notes of his words, but I am vividly aware of the fact that quotation can offer only a string of apercus, divorced from the context (itself meticulously constructed and shaped, despite the absence of notes) of passion and conviction in which they are set. Nevertheless:
- We are called escapist, but if your house is on fire and you escape, nobody calls you en escapist.
- A man who is split can never be master of himself. I have never seen humanity; I have only seen human beings. People love humanity and kill human beings.
- Just as illness is infectious, so is health.
- How can you love others if you do not love yourself?
- If you go to Hell willingly you will be happy there; if you are forced into Paradise you will hate it.
- Twenty centuries of dependence on God, and man had accumulated such hatred for God that God could not be tolerated any more; that is why Nietzsche said "God is dead and man is free".
- The person you become dependent upon also becomes dependent on you; slavery is always mutual.
- The politician who climbs the ladder until he gets to the topmost rung looks foolish because climbing is the only skill he has, and there is nowhere further to climb; he is like the dog that runs barking after every car and looks foolish when it overtakes one.
- The question-mark represents the snake in Eden: when Eve asked a question she fell from grace, and when she provoked Adam to do the same, so did he.
- Man left the Garden of Eden, and returned to Paradise through the Garden of Gethsemane.
- A person who is not open lives in a grave.
- As I say, such statements, stripped bare, cannot convey the effect of a Rajneesh discourse. (These, incidentally, are: all published verbatim, involving an output of some fifty volumes a year, and they are all also published in cassette-recording form.) And apart from the effect and persuasiveness of his words, and -- an even greater force -- the torrent of love-imbued energy that is released into the surrounding atmosphere as he speaks, there is, and remains with me, the profound meaning of what he was saying.
- This is, as I have already suggested, what all the great teachers have also said. At the heart of it lies Rajneesh's insistence that the relation between man and God is not one of "thou and I"; in a dozen different ways he made the point that man is not separate from God, and I was reminded that Christ, too, said "The Kingdom of heaven is within". Nisargadatta Maharaj, in his tiny Bombay eyrie, argues the same thesis in an even more complete form; for him there is no "I", and the whole universe floats within each of us; all we have to do is to recognize the fact. Rajneesh developed his theme through the argument that we must first learn to love others; in that learning we will also learn that we are no more separated from the other than we are separated from God. (He discussed this theme, incidentally, in two of the three discourses I attended, and although the argument was of course the same, there was no repetition whatever in the development of it, let alone the words.) Throughout, he stresses that each of us is capable of finding the way unaided, and that these are the only terms in which the search can be understood or have meaning; any picture of Rajneesh as one who lays down prescriptive rules for others to follow is as far from the truth as it is possible to get.
- At the end of the discourse (he invariably signs off with the words "Enough for today"), he leaves in the same showman style that marks his entry. I watched the crowd after he had gone, and to do so was in itself profoundly instructive. Many remained seated as they had been while he was speaking, continuing to meditate silently on what they had heard. Some came up to the marble platform from which he had spoken, and prostrated themselves across it, clearly seeking to absorb some of the energy that he had expended, and that could indeed be thought of as forming a pool in which the seekers could soak themselves. Some couples embraced, remaining enwrapped for minutes on end; nobody paid them any attention, let alone exhibited embarrassment, and this was something I was to see throughout the day at the ashram. It is not difficult to see an explanation ; Rajneesh's teaching is, at bottom, of love, and the air is full of it. The love to which he points is not, of course, the body's rapture, but it is hardly surprising that for some the route lies along that path. It is no doubt this fact, together with Rajneesh's argument that we have to work through our impulses before we can transcend them (since they will take their revenge if we attempt the impossible task of suppressing them altogether), and the various encounter-groups that operate on the ashram, that the gossipers outside have in mind when they circulate their stories of dark deeds.
- But as I moved out with the rest of the audience, I embarked on an experiment that I had tried a few weeks before, in London -- to be precise, in Selfridges. On that earlier occasion, I had passed among the shopping crowds consciously examining every face I saw, seeking to discover how many of them showed that the individual in question was possessed of that wholeness, that serenity, that issues in happiness, but is not itself happiness, and that denotes one who has mastered the external circumstances of life by first understanding the mastery within. I gazed into a couple of hundred faces, and then could gaze no more, so universal was the withered misery I saw, the tension of unresolved conflict, the emptiness and loss, the pain of separation, guilt and fear.
- Now, among the hundreds into whose faces I looked as we emerged from Buddha Hall, I could see hardly a single one that resembled those in London. These faces were not lost, or even resigned: they were not the faces of men and women who had laid their burdens on another; they were not the faces of those who had given up the struggle and chosen to ignore a world they could not face; almost without exception, these faces were alive, expressive, contemplative, serene, interested, eager. In a word: innocent. From then on, I spent my time at Rajneesh's ashram talking to those faces; tomorrow I shall conclude this series by recounting what they said, and what I concluded from their words.
- (To be concluded)
- © Times Newspapers Limited, 1980
April 10, 1980, page 14 - The joy of shedding their chains
- Bernard Levin
- (Photo caption: Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh . . . an extraordinary "energy-transfer".)
- If it is true, and I cannot see how it could not be, that a tree must be known by its fruit, the followers -- he calls them neo-sannyasin -- of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh are in general an exceptionally fine crop, bearing witness to a tree of a choice, rare nature. The first quality a visitor to Rajneesh's ashram notices -- and he never ceases to notice it -- is the ease and comfort with which they wear their faith. Though they are unshakably convinced (I met only one with any residual doubts) that Rajneesh has enabled them to find a meaning for their lives and for their place in the universe, there was no trace of fanaticism in them, and in most not even fervour. A prominent British journalist would have been a considerable catch for them, and they were plainly aware of it, for the efficiency and thoroughness with which they met all my requests, answered all my questions and showed me all I wanted to see, made it quite clear that the administrative side of the enterprise is fully aware of the world outside and of the way it runs; whatever else these people are, they are not spiritual troglodytes. But if they would have been pleased to land me, there was never a glimpse of a net; the hours of talk were absolutely free of any proselytising. They have truly understood what Rajneesh meant by the words I quoted yesterday. "If you go to Hell willingly, you will be happy there; if you are forced into Paradise you will hate it."
- The joy with which they are clearly filled is, as anyone who listens to Rajneesh must deduce it would be, directed outwards as well as in; I cannot put it better than in saying that they constantly extend, to each other and to strangers, the hands of love, though without the ego-filled demands of love as most of the world knows it. They have shed their chains, and they demonstrated their freedom easily and unobtrusively, though the results at first can be startling ; a young married couple I met spoke within ten minutes of a marital problem not usually discussed before strangers (or indeed at all), yet there was no exhibitionism or inverted vanity involved, only the innocent naturalness of the nakedness in Eden before the fall.
- They come not only from haunts of coot and hern, but from all over. I met an accountant, a journalist, a psychotherapist, a housewife, a farmer, a lecturer in Business Studies, among others. Few of them are pursuing their own professions on the ashram (the lecturer in Business Studies agreed cheerfully that there was not much call for such things chez Rajneesh) and those who live full-time on the premises or -- for the place is very over-crowded -- in Poona itself, are commonly assigned tasks which are themselves designed as part of the learning process, the point being that when an individual finds himself doing the floor- scrubbing with real joy, he is already a long way towards the goal.
- Of course, everything that happens on the ashram is designed for the same purpose. The workshops are extensive and impressive; these are no fumbling amateurs messing about with batik and linocuts, but serious craftsmen turning out furniture, metalware, silver inlaying, screen-printing and the like, of high quality. But the point is that almost all of them started without any skill at these trades. The further point is that they are all obviously happy in their work, and the point beyond that is that they would obviously still be happy if they were there doing something else entirely ; this is not a story of people who discover an unsuspected talent in themselves, but one of the searchers who find in themselves something of which all talents, indeed all activities whatsoever, are gleaming reflections.
- The encouragement of this discovery is also the purpose of the therapy-groups and the various forms of "dynamic meditation". Liberation from the ego must start with liberation from the layers of self-consciousness in which we are wrapped, as in the "sufi- dancing" (I don't think Omar Khayyam would have noticed much of the sufis' teaching in it, mind you). This consisted of some simple (though not simply spontaneous) steps and movements, with constant change of partners and such exercises as pausing to look into the eyes of neighbours. I was dragged onto the floor by one of my new-found friends ("You don't have to do anything!") and even this limited experience of the disembarrassing process made me see its necessity and efficacy.
- There is jargon, of course. An experience is "heavy"; someone is "into" this or that technique; asked what he had been before coming to the ashram, one young man replied, not "a musician", but "I moved in music energy". Clearly it had never occurred to any of the full-bearded, long-haired men that they were unconsciously trying to resemble Rajneesh, instead, there was much easy talk of the difficulty of shaving in cold water and the poor quality of Indian razor blades. (For that matter, it did not require psychic gifts to see that many of the women are plainly in love with Rajneesh.)
- They are, as I say, free of doubt; but they wear their certainty like a nimbus, not a sword. A Canadian girl I met had an ease and naturalness that were like magic; she made me want to hug her, though I hardly need say I didn't. (Only afterwards did I realize that if I had done so she would have taken the gesture for no more than it was: an innocent salute to her almost incredible vitality.) Even more relaxed was the formidable Laxmi, one of the only two people who ever see Rajneesh alone; she is the administrative head of the enterprise, and she glows with a force that nearly knocked me down. And she was the first to say, in answer to my question as to what Rajneesh was to them, that they regarded him as God. I invited her to elaborate, and she willingly did; but if he is God, he is a very undeified one, and certainly in his discourses there is no hint even of "Who say ye that I am?", only a powerful sense that he is a conduit along which the vital force of the universe flows. (One of the ashram-dwellers, when I asked the same question -- what do you regard Rajneesh as? -- put it impressively in two words: "A reminder.") But there is no doubt that Rajneesh is regarded, at the very least, of being possessed of psychic powers. He never now leaves his quarters, except for the morning discourses (the evening gatherings are held on a terrace abutting on to his rooms, and he has even given up his former practice of walking in his private garden) ; when I asked why he never looked in on the various groups to see how the work was going, the reply, immediate and without affectation, was, "But he does - only not in the body". He speaks for himself at the daily discourses, of course, and for the rest of the time Laxmi speaks for him. On my second visit, however, last week, I could almost have wished she had not, for she told me of his view that Mahatma Gandhi was wrong, in his attempt to break the hideous grip of the caste system, to call the "Untouchables" Haridjans, meaning "Children of God", for this had had the effect of boosting their ego -- a remark which must rank high on anybody's list of the dozen most ridiculous things ever said.
- There is constant talk of a move to the new ashram, for which planning permission is still being laboriously negotiated. This is to be so large that all the sannyasin who want to live on it will be able to do so, and it will be entirely self-supporting; I was even shown detailed coloured drawings of the projected layout and buildings. On my first visit I sensed, or thought I did, that the whole project was chimerical, that the new ashram was to remain a dream, and that the dreaming was itself part of the technique, but on my second they insisted that the project was realistic and their intentions definite. I have heard the sannyasins' temporary sojourn at the ashram (many come for a month or so at a time, often using their annual leave for the purpose) described as a holiday; if so, it is a holiday with remarkably therapeutic qualities, for I met no one who did not testify to the gains the experience had brought, and none who lacked the visible sign of such gains.
- Is anything lost? I think not, but I am not quite certain. For some, perhaps, there is a softening of the wrong kind, a loss of definition, of individuality in the better sense. I found myself wondering how they would get on in extreme situations, of privation or persecution, or even flung back into the pressures of the life the rest of us lead. Perhaps some would be unable to cope (but then, look at the numbers who are unable to cope right now, without having had any transformative experience). Certainly they all feel secure -- not in Rajneesh's protection, but in their own new found wholeness.
- Outside, too, there were reminders of a world elsewhere. In Poona I saw the reception after a Parsee wedding, opulent beyond imagining, set in a fairy-lit garden with Strauss waltzes amplified into the night, and a present-laden receiving line that stretched on for ever. I also saw the old man with a legless child, begging by the roadside, and the tents of sacking beneath the bridge near by. Inside the tents could be glimpsed neatness and order among the pitiful possessions, a people still unbroken by poverty. To Rajneesh's followers, the wedding-guests and the tent-dwellers are suffering from the same spiritual wan, and so no doubt they are; but I think it will be some time before either group recognizes the fact.
- At the evening darshan, Rajneesh initiated new sannyasin, discoursing beautifully and poetically to each on the theme of the new name he or she had acquired; he welcomed back, with a huge and radiant smile and apt words of greetings, those who had been away; he gave a third group an extraordinary "energy-transfer", pressing with his middle finger (like a violinist stopping a string) on the centre of their foreheads, over the "third eye" to which experience reactions clearly varied from nothing at all to something close to convulsions; and he said an equally individual farewell to those who were leaving, ending in each case with the same formula, an inquiry as to their destination followed by the words "Help my people there".
- Some would say they would do better to stay in Poona and help the tent-dwellers; some, more subtly, would argue that they should help the wedding-guests. Some, and on the whole I rather think I am one of them, would say that both arguments have missed the point of Rajneesh's teaching, which is concerned to enable the individual to put himself right, since until that is done he can hardly hope to put others right. I came away, impressed, moved, fascinated, by my experience of this man (or God, or conduit, or reminder) and the people ("be ordinary and you will become extraordinary") around him. I came away, also, to a haunting fragment of time; beside the road leading to the ashram there was, in addition to the beggars, a pedlar selling simple wooden flutes. As I passed him for the last time he was playing a familiar tune: how he had learnt it, and what he believed it to be, I could not even begin to imagine. It was "Polly put the kettle on".
- © Times Newspapers limited, 1980
April 22, 1980, page 15 - Loving with the mind (Letters to the editor)
- From the Reverend Barry Morrison
- Sir, In his articles on the ashram of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh at Poona (April 8, 9 and 10), Bernard Levin enthuses over the rejection of the mind in favour of love. He even claims that this was "the business of Christ".
- This is in flat contradiction to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Jews and Christians are commanded to love God with their minds as well as with heart, soul and strength.
- Moreover, the test of love is not just a sense of peace and wellbeing, however wonderful and attractive, but character and service to those in need. I trust your readers have sufficient discernment to prefer the love of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, to that of Rajneesh, especially in the light of these words of his from a recent article in Yoga Today:
- "Remember one thing: work as diligently as possible at becoming more conscious. Forget about character. Character is a concern for the stupid and the mediocre. Let your whole concern be consciousness".
- Yours sincerely.
- BARRY MORRISON,
- The Polytechnic of Central London, 104/108 Bolsover Street, W1.
- April 16.
April 25, 1980, page 14 - Causing a scandal in Poona
- Dominik Wujastyk
- subtitle: An Indian view of the followers of Rajneesh Ashram
- (Photo caption: Ecstasy: Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and two of his followers)
- It is not possible to live in Poona and be unaware of the Rajneesh Ashram, although Mr Levin's description in The Times of the "orange-clad rivers" flowing to Rajneesh's talk at 7 am is applicable only in the immediate vicinity of Poona's most expensive hotel, the Blue Diamond, where Mr Levin perhaps stayed.
- The Ashram is just round the corner from this hotel and the whole Area (Koregaon, the site of one of the last battles fought against the Peshwas by the British in January 1818) is now a neophyte colony. In other parts of town it is rare to see a Rajneeshi (a follower of Rajneesh).
- Since the Ashram is a large social fact in Poona, most people have an opinion about it. Mr Levin referred to the "air of hostility . . . among the Indians themselves (his italics), the tales of dark doings, with hints of sexual impropriety that such movements invariably attract" and the gossips outside who "circulate their stories of dark deeds".
- I have just spent a year researching in Sanskrit at Poona university and I think Mr Levin has entirely failed to appreciate how fundamentally different Indian society is from English. Foreigners in India are in a very peculiar position with respect to caste. We are rich and powerful, or at least well connected, physically clean, and in many ways we make the signs of being high caste. But we eat meat, even beef, eat with either hand indiscriminately, accept water from anyone, drink alcohol and in several other ways align ourselves with the lowest of untouchables.
- India's way of solving this problem is to make of us another caste: videshis or foreigners, and that name contains the phenomenon we are, much as a provincial Englishman might write off some odd behaviour from a tourist with "He's foreign; he doesn't know any better".
- However, by dressing in the ochre robes of a renouncer and wearing the necklace of rudrakshi beads, the Rajneeshis are asking to be judged by Indian standards. They place themselves outside the comfortable videshi group and begin making the signs of being a sannyasin monk who has performed his own funeral rites and now wanders homeless, dead to the world, seeking only enlightenment, and leading a life of the utmost personal discipline. There are still many such men in India and they are deeply venerated
- The trouble is, Rajneeshis seem to come alive to the world as soon as they get to Poona. They are seen dining in all the most expensive restaurants, eating beef and drinking beer, and worst of all they are usually in couples, hugging in public, kissing, holding hands. This might sound tame stuff to a westerner but I can assure Mr Levin that only in one small area of the old city of Poona will he find Indian ladies behaving like that in public.
- It is not that the residents of Poona need to speculate on what goes on in the Ashram (though of course they do): they are scandalized and offended by the "ordinary" behaviour of Rajneeshis out and about in town.
- It is not possible to give in analogy that would convey the full power of the thing, but imagine a group of very rich Arab businessmen starting a church in London where they all dressed in Anglican ministers' robes, with collars, went around arm in arm with their girlfriends and had services with pot and steak pie for wine and bread. Wouldn't there be an outcry? I think that in the circumstances the people of Poona are extremely tolerant and accommodating.
- That such movements "invariably attract" this sort of response is simply not true. I do not know if Mr Levin is aware of a major Yoga school in Poona, run by Mr Iyongar [sic] (I am not a member of this either). It is universally respected and the many foreign students behave normally -- to Indian sensibilities -- in public and are spoken of with approval and regard. Any rickshaw driver would be pleased to have their fare, whereas a good friend of mine who drives a rickshaw said he would sometimes park near the Ashram and watch the Rajneeshis with a sort of horrified fascination but would never take them in his cab for fear of pollution. Others swallow their pride and caste feelings and take their money.
- I have been to a talk at the Ashram and my judgment was entirely different from Mr Levin's. The entrance fee is astronomical by Indian standards: 10 rupees buys three meals at an Indian restaurant, or more at home. Being smelled as one enters is just an intimidation technique. I am not unsympathetic to eastern spirituality, on the contrary, but the talk was of an extremely low standard, often factually wrong, and wearingly repetitive. Most of the audience was in some sort of hyper-suggestible state.
- There are many deeper questions on which Mr Levin should be taken to task, especially the question of "no-mind" (Orwell's "double-think") behind which so much intellectual and moral rubbish can hide, and the personality cult of Rajneesh himself, with his followers' preoccupation with his body (his robes, "simple" sandals, height, baldness, beard, voice, fingers, left hand, beard again, eyes). A marked feature of the Ashram is the profusion of photos of Rajneesh, now in this hat, now in that.
- Finally there is the whole question of Rajneesh's basic methods, which seem, in so far as they are serious at all, to be based partly on a misinterpretation of Freudian doctrine. They are not typically Indian.
June 5, 1980, page 18 - A rather special kind of loving
- Bernard Levin
- (Photo caption: Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh: Dignity throughout a violent episode in Poona)
- A few weeks ago, I wrote a series of three columns, after returning from my most recent .visit to India, about Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and the work he is doing at his ashram in Poona. I tried to convey something of the extraordinary refulgence of love and wisdom that emanates from this very remarkable figure in his daily discourse and that .seems to surround almost tangibly the dwellers on the ashram and his other followers who live scattered throughout Poona (accommodation in the cramped conditions in the ashram itself is very limited and come in each day to hear Bhagwan speak and to take part in the work and practice some of the techniques to self-realization that are taught there.
- Bhagwan speaks month and month about in English and Hindi alternately. On May 22. he was speaking in Hindi in his usual place of address, the open auditorium called Buddha Hall, when an attempt was apparently made on his life. At about 8.30 am (the discourse starts at 8) a young man rose in the audience (the listeners sit on the floor) and ran towards Rajneesh, crying, "You are speaking against our religion ! We won't tolerate it !"
- Rajneesh ashram has guards whose job is to maintain security (not only his, of course), and they grappled with the man ; before they could do so, however, I am told that he flung a large dagger ; this passed in front of Rajneesh (who speaks from a raised platform roughly in the middle of one side of the roughly oval hall) and fell harmlessly onto the floor. My information from the ashram is that there had earlier been a tip-off from the Poona police to the effect that an attack was to be expected that morning.
- The man was taken into custody by the police; he was identified as a member of an extreme Hindu organization ; a police statement later said that a second weapon had been found on him when he was searched, together with a document criticizing Bhagwan, in what terms is not at present known.
- Rajneesh remained undisturbed throughout the episode; his first words on it were to the effect that no authentic religion needed to be defended by assassins, and that by such actions the individual was not protecting his religion but demonstrating its weakness. In a statement made afterwards Laxmi, the executive director of the ashram, pointed out that the man was not treated roughly by Bhagwan's neo-sannyasins. "The teachings of our Master", her statement ran, "are such that our disciples did not act in an angry or violent manner. The man was gently apprehended, removed from the hall in silence and handed over to the police." (I may interpolate here that from all I saw and heard on my two visits to the ashram that is pecisely what I would have expected.)
- In his discourse the next morning, Bhagwan said that there would be other attempts on his life, and urged his followers not to be angry if one should succeed. This is what he said:
- Don't think that there will be only one man : there will be many more. But no anger should arise in you, nor should there be any place for counter-violence in you. Even if someone succeeds in future, even if my body is snatched away, your love, your bliss should remain as it is. I am happy that no one among you caused that man any injury. What he did was trivial, but what you did has an immense significance. You have made me immensely happy. You carried him with love. Even police officers were surprised, because they thought you might beat him, but you did not even slap him once.
- And Rajneesh continued; broadening his theme as he did so:
- That is why I am thankful to you - that you ran and picked him un as one picks up someone who has fallen in the street. You treated him with love, with respect, with goodwill. This should be the quality of a sannyasin. This is the mark of religion . . . For centuries Hindus and Christians and Mohammedans have been murdering each other, in the name of religion. But no person who is truly religious can be fanatic. Religion has nothing to do with fanaticism.
The Times obituary, August 10, 2004
External link to the Obituary of Bernard Levin in The Times.
Safe to say this is a laudatory obituary. It starts with:
- "Bernard Levin was the most famous journalist of his day. Prolific, controversial, passionate, versatile, maddening, enthusiastic, sometimes irresponsible, always courageous, he was recognised instantly in the street by people of all ages."
But, somewhere in the middle, we find one dissonant:
- Her (Arianna Stassinopoulos's) interest in mystic cults also appealed, though it was to lead him into one of the more embarrassing episodes of his journalism — his hyperbolic praise through a number of columns of the self-promoting guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (whose main claim to fame became his fleet of more than 90 Rolls-Royces).
We must assume this is the opinion of the author of the obituary. Levin himself has not changed his opinion; see the #Introduction for his reflections in later books.
The Telegraph obituary, August 10, 2004
External link to the Obituary of Bernard Levin in The Telegraph.
- Bernard Levin, who died on Saturday aged 75, was one of the best newspaper columnists of his age, latterly celebrated chiefly for the column he wrote in The Times from the early 1970s to the late 1990s; even before he was 30, though, he had enjoyed a career of striking brilliance and precocity in The Spectator as "Taper" (a name taken from Disraeli's Coningsby).
- In the same article he said that he had "rejected Judaism more or less as soon as I was old enough to have any understanding of what religion was about". Such religious sympathies as he had were "with quietist faiths, like Buddhism, on the one hand, and with a straightforward message of salvation, like Christianity, on the other".
- But it was to neither of these that he turned in his late forties. Instead he flirted with the notorious Indian "guru" Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, over whom he drooled embarrassingly: "(He is) the conduit along which the vital force of the universe flows". He also found some solace with an outfit called the Movement for Spiritual Awareness.
The Guardian obituary, August 10, 2004
External link to the [https://www.theguardian.com/media/2004/aug/10/pressandpublishing.guardianobituaries
- by Quentin Crewe
- Bernard Levin
- A passionate and eclectic journalist with a legendary capacity for work, whose career made him a host of friends - and enemies
- Bernard Levin, who has died aged 75, after many years of Alzheimer's disease, was one of the most famous as well as one of the most controversial British journalists and broadcasters of the second half of the last century. His ever-restless pen provoked emotions that varied from rage, even hatred, to affection and admiration. Employed during the last three decades primarily on the Times and the Sunday Times, his career had also taken him to such publications as the Observer, the Manchester Guardian, the Spectator, the New Statesman, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express.
- Towards the end of the 1970s, Bernard entered on a strange phase. He fell more in love than ever before with Arianna Stassinopoulos (now Arianna Huffington, and a political commentator in California). Through her he became involved in an organisation called Insight. Part of its ritual was to encourage each other to act out their fantasies. There were stories of Bernard's dressing up in a tutu that boggled the minds of his friends.
- Thus did he invite some 80 members of his circle to an evening at the Cafe Royale, at which he encouraged us to enrol. It was a strange experience to hear this paragon of logic, sceptical of all humbug trotting out stories that normally he would have scoffed at. At the end of it my neighbour turned to me and said, "I feel I have lost a friend tonight."
- This embracing of odd ideas led him on to writing articles in praise of the spurious guru Bagwan (sic) Rajneesh. It was part of a recurring pattern which led him to support figures he should have detested such as Richard Nixon and his vice-president Spiro Agnew.
- There are those who believe that the edge of his writing was blunted thereafter.
The Guardian, 20 Jan 1990, page 21 - Golden Guru
Editor: This article affects to be an obituary of Osho, but fully half of it consists of blackening Bernard Levin, most of that an irrelevant quote from Christopher Hitchens.
"Insight training" refers to the self-help organization Insight Seminars, completely unrelated to Osho or sannyas, in which Levin and Stassinopoulos were also interested. **
- Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh
- Golden guru
- THE Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, most famous, or infamous, or merely the richest of all the Indian spell-binders who bound Bernard Levin and other flower children of the Sixties with siren songs of spiritual and/or sexual liberation, has died in Poona at the age of 58. “Osho left his body at 5.30”, reported an attendant Swami. “The doctors say it’s heart failure.” (Since eviction from his gold-plated personal paradise in Oregon in 1985, following lurid charges of misconduct at his ashram, Rajneeshpuram, in a remote valley, Rajneesh had dropped the Hindu honorific ‘Bhagwan’, god-like, and settled for the Buddhist title Osho.)
- The reach and proselytising voltage of his personal magnetism were extraordinary. In the late 1960s and 1970s nearly everyone seemed to know some follower who had left his or her spouse, children, unfinished novel or PhD and gone first to the Poona ashram, or later to Oregon with little more than their cheque books to wear the orange and worship as close to his feet as they could get. (The foundation which administered his affairs and distributed his copious sayings was a multimillion pound industry long before the days of the later decadence, when the great Rolls Royce fleet was mustered in Oregon.)
- For many The Enlightened Master seemed for a time to have the healing touch for hidden hurts. But many were intelligent people well able to offer sophisticated antinomian defences for the kinds of grace and dispensation he bestowed.
- Among his principal bag were Bernard Levin and Arianna Stassinopoulos. As a rival pundit in a rival magazine (Christopher Hitchens) gleefully wrote: “Let the record show that in October 1979, during the closing weeks of the-‘ME decade’ Bernard Levin achieved the total state of self-absorption towards which he had been moving for so long. The venue was the Café Royal: amid incense and vaguely Oriental music, flanked by his companion, Levin rose and told a large invited audience how they could be ‘changed’; by investing £150 in a 50-hour ‘Insight training’. He testified to his own ‘astonishingly and incalculably valuable revelatory experience’: although he was not allowed to recount any detail, the same could be made available to anyone else for £3 an hour.
- "Other testimonies were proffered, some in print. ‘Happiness has no limit — my greatest friend is me’, or “it was a joy... to serve you and be served by your willingness to participate in your own unfoldment’. The effect was of a Woody Allen pastiche played dead straight, or an episode in the collapse of Kenneth Widmerpool. Key words were ‘support’, ‘joy’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘Spirit’. No pain, no sacrifice, no effort. Just £150.”
- Bernard survived the episode. Others did less well.—
- WLW & CPD.
Jack Allanach, (Swami Krishna Prem) was head of the press office during the visit of Bernard Levin.
This is what he writes in his memoir Osho, India and Me (2010), ch. 6: 1978 - 1979, last part, Pages 249 -- 254.
- Bernard Levin
- Trim and neat in his beige cotton twills and plain white shirt, Bernard Levin, at forty-odd, still has the air of an English schoolboy. Walking him around the commune, the clear brown eyes behind the donnish horn-rims missing absolutely nothing, I feel like I’m escorting David Attenborough on one of his zoological expeditions, touring him through the hitherto-unexplored habitat of newly discovered species of yeti or yak.
- He says little and asks less. The star writer of The Times hasn’t come from London to ply us with questions. “I’ve read your press kit and some of Osho’s books,” he tells me. Bernard Levin is here to observe.
- When Savita, one of Pratima’s book editors, had excitedly brought me a Levin clipping a couple of months ago, she’d been aghast I had never heard of him. Vishnu, on the other hand, had been more surprised by Levin himself.
- “The most acid pen in English journalism,” Vishnu had said by way of introduction, and then proceeded, in capsule form, to describe the career of a writer and television personality who fought fearlessly for the underdog, went for the establishment’s throat with bared fangs, called a spade a spade in no uncertain terms and who could, with a few choice phrases, prick the most pompous of British balloons. “I’m amazed, laddie,” Vishnu burred thoughtfully, handing the clipping back. “Something’s obviously happened to Bernard Levin. If I were you, I’d invite him here.”
- The article in question was a report of a visit Levin had made to the Festival of Mind and Body at the Olympia in London. In a nutshell, after years of battling the establishment, Levin had come to the conclusion that, essentially, nothing was going to change, that we were all headed down the drain, and that it was time for intelligent individuals to start looking about for personal alternatives. He’d gone to the Festival to check out what the spiritual supermarket had to offer. And he’d come away impressed, sharing his feelings in a sincere, sensitive and thought provoking article written in some of the finest English prose I’d read in a very long time He'd spent time at the Kalptaru booth, at the display mounted by London's major Osho meditation centre, and had liked what he'd seen. It was his description of Osho as a truly remarkable Indian sage that had prompted Savita’s mum to despatch the cutting to Poona.
- That very afternoon I took Vishnu’s advice. I wrote to Levin, inviting him to visit us, and included a copy of our press kit. He replied promptly, saying that as chance would have it he would be in Poona in January, covering an Anglo-Indian conference, and that he’d stay on a few days after completing his assignment and visit us.
- A few days ago, he had arrived. In mid-conference. “Much more interesting here,” he said. And he had a journalistic bonus in tow - Peter Jenkins of The Guardian.
- “Not bad,” Subhuti commented, “getting London’s two biggest papers at once.” I handed Jenkins over to Subhuti. One of Subhutis old House of Commons cronies was now news editor at The Guardian and had given Jenkins Subhutis name. I like Levin at first glance. I don’t mind having him to myself at all.
- Osho never grants interviews, but so far he’s been very cooperative with journalists, answering whatever questions they submit to discourse. I suggest Levin ask something, but there’s nothing he wants to know. Subhuti has better luck. He shows me Jenkins’ question before sending it in.
- “What does your movement signify about the condition of society?” Jenkins wants to know. “Is it an escapist and self-regarding cult? Or do you propose through changing human nature to change society and the world?”
- “Peter Jenkins,” Osho begins the next morning,
- “what is happening here is not a movement, it is a mutation. It has no concern with the society; its whole concern is with the individual. It is a revolution in the true sense of the word. There is no idea of changing the society or the world, because there is no society at all. Only individuals exist. Society is an illusion. And because we believe in society, all the revolutions have failed. The belief that the society exists has sabotaged all efforts to change man - because the belief is rooted in illusion.”
- Beside me, Bernard Levin nods in agreement. His whole attention is focused on Osho, and there’s a totality about him that is rare in people who are not sannyasins. I like him even more.
- “The individual needs a mutation,” Osho continues. “And what we are doing here is utterly individualistic - it is not socialistic at all. It may look as if it is an escape, but the word ‘escape’ in itself has nothing wrong with it. If the house is on fire and you escape from it, nobody calls you an escapist. You are simply intelligent, that’s all.
- We are not escaping, we are simply trying to understand what is the case. We arc not avoiding problems. In fact, just the contrary: we arc facing all the problems that the society has avoided. We are trying to encounter all the problems that the so-called society has been teaching you to repress.
- “They have told you not to accept yourself in your totality. They have told you that much is wrong in you - in fact, the major part of your being, of your wholeness, is wrong. That wrong part has to be denied expression; that wrong part has to be repressed. And once you start repressing anything in yourself, a rift is created. Then you go on repressing all your problems and you go on sitting on the volcano thinking everything is okay - and knowing all the time that nothing is okay. Deep down there is fire, and it is going to erupt any moment.
- “Then people become neurotic and psychotic. Then people suffer millions of diseases unnecessarily. But it serves the vested interest... It serves all those who are in power.
- “My effort here is not to change the society but to transform the individual - to help the individual to become whole, to help the individual to drop this rift between the conscious and the unconscious, to help the individual not to repress any more but to accept himself, not to condemn but to love himself.
- “The person who really loves himself, who is in tremendous love with himself, cannot do any harm to anybody, because he cannot do any harm to himself.
- “So in a way we are escapists - because whatsoever you call real life is not real. It is a distortion of life; it is something else in the name of life. And we are certainly self-regarding, because out of that regard, regard for the other is born.
- “If the individual can be helped, if the individual can be enlightened, if the individual can be persuaded to celebrate life, to enjoy life, only then will we be able to change the climate around the earth. But that is not our purpose; that is not our goal: that is going to be just a consequence.
- “Now the time has come that if buddhas are not tried, then there is no future - man is doomed. Because man has slowly, slowly invented so many violent forces, man has discovered such dangerous weapons, the next war will not be the third, it will be the last.
- “The next war will be the total war. It will destroy all life - not only human life, but all life, life as such.
- “Before it happens, please give one opportunity to those who have been saying again and again — Krishna, Christ, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Zarathustra — that the individual has to be transformed. And once the individual is transformed, society automatically changes. That is a consequence.
- “So we are not proposing any social revolution here. I am not at all concerned with the society; my whole concern is the real individual ...
- “You ask me, 'Do you propose through changing hum an nature to change society and the world?
- “I don’t propose it. That’s how it can happen - the only way it can happen. But that is not our goal.
- “When you kindle a light, darkness disappears of its own accord. You need not look for darkness with a light to find out where it is and force it to go out of the room. You need not do anything like that. If light is there, darkness is not there.
- “If man is transformed he becomes a light - unto himself first, and then for others too. That’s a natural consequence.
- “We live in the present; we live in meditation. We allow ourselves to be full of love, so that it starts overflowing. But this whole thing is non-utopian. We are not searching for a utopia. We are not searching for a golden age to come into the world, although the golden age can only come this way. There is no other way. All other ways have failed.”
- I don’t know why, but throughout Osho’s reply I’ve had the distinct feeling he’s been speaking more to Bernard Levin than to Peter Jenkins. It’s as if Osho’s answered all the questions Levin himself posed in the article that first brought him to our attention. Throughout Osho’s reply, Levin sat silently beside me, making the occasional note in the little spiral pad resting on his knee - and, unlike the other journalists I’ve squired to discourse, I feel he’s missed nothing, that every single word has been allowed in. Of the two British reporters, Levin is by far the more influential, the more far reaching, but, as well, he’s also the deeper, the more sensitive, the more intelligent man. Spending time with him, I’ve sensed his vision of life is simple, direct, uncomplicated. He seems basically at peace with himself and the world around him. Perhaps I’m right. Perhaps Osho has been speaking, through Jenkins, to him.
- But whether I’m right or not, Levin is a gift for me. After the caustic, cynical collection of journalists that have paraded through the press office since it began, he’s like a breath of fresh air. To talk to an intelligent man, to one who stretches me, is far out. To have to dig inside myself, into my own experience of Osho, and to translate it into worldly terms — and to see I can do it well with a man of Levin’s calibre — thrills me, makes me fall in love, all over again, with Laxmi’s abiding passion, The Work.
- Jenkins is off to Bombay a couple of hours after the discourse. He’s catching an evening flight to London. We promise to forward the transcript of Osho’s answer to his question within a couple of days. Levin’s going to stay on. “I quite like it here,” he says. “Besides, there’s no rush to get back. The Times is on strike and I have no idea when I'll be able to write about the commune anyway."
- And he sees it in detail each and every department. He chats with dozens of workers, sits in on the meditations and the evening music group, and even gets himself hauled into Sufi dancing for a little whirl. We spend hours gossiping with Laxmi and wander through most of the quiet groups, through Centring, Enlightenment Intensive, Vipassana and Zazen. After a couple of days he’s pretty well seen it all. “There’s not much left to show you, Bernard,” I say. “I’ll take you to darshan tomorrow night, before you leave. Is there anything you want to do, anyone you want to meet?” I ask.
- “I wouldn’t mind chatting with the two English group leaders involved in the STERN article,” he replies.
- Later that afternoon, Teertha and Somendra join us for tea. And they all get on immediately. They both like Bernard as much as I do.
- For the most part I’m redundant. They’re talking group processes, explaining how they work, what happens with people - Teertha, soft-spoken, gentle, a bit reserved; Somendra, excited, voluble, his hands waving all over the place. Actually, it’s not that they’re excluding me, it’s that my attention is elsewhere. On our waitress. It’s Vasumati. Between groups, she’s working in Vrindavan.
- Apart from one brief meeting the day she and her girlfriend Aneesha had moved into the commune, I haven’t seen her since she left the press office. She looks good: working with people agrees with her. It turns out Bernard Levin’s name is quite familiar to her - his best pal, Herbert Kretzmer, the English drama and television critic, is her father’s cousin. She sets her tray aside and joins us.
- Watching her, listening to her, I have to admit to a certain pang, to a kind of aching nostalgia for something that might have been. I find myself wishing she’d put down that cake and lose a few pounds.
- Throughout his visit, I sense, more from his demeanour than from his words, that Bernard Levin knows exactly what is happening here, that he is observing a twentieth-century buddha’s mystery school at work. I feel he understands Osho - as much as anyone can understand a Christ or a Buddha or a Lao Izu. Sitting with him in darshan, glancing occasionally in his direction, I feel my intuition has been right. Bernard Levin does recognize Osho. The only thing that makes me a little sad for this man I like so much is that his recognition is an intellectual one, and not one that’s coming from his heart. Bernard Levin is observing a phenomenon, not participating in it.
- Later that evening, after darshan, in answer to my signal, a rickshaw sputters to a halt in front of the main gate. Bernard Levin reaches for my hand. “Thank you for everything,’’ he says. “You’ve made me feel very welcome, very much at home. I’ll write about the commune as soon as the strike is over. I’ll let you know.”
- I tell him it’s been beautiful having him here. “And I hope you’ll come back one day,” I add. I mean it. I’m quite sincere.
- “I’m sure I shall.”
- The rickshaw coughs into motion, heading down the street, ferrying Bernard Levin towards the Blue Diamond, towards Bombay, towards London. He leans out once, waving. I wave back, in farewell. But not so much to a journalist. More to a newfound friend.
Also in Osho, India and Me (2010), ch. 9: 1980, Pages 305 -- 306.
- Bernard Levin Returns
- It’s good to see Bernard Levin again; it’s been almost a year. “You both look wonderful,” he says as Vasumati and I join him in the Blue Diamond coffee shop. “This past year has been good to you.”
- A few weeks back I’d received a letter saying he was coming. The strike was over and The Times was on the stands again. His articles on the commune had been ready for months. On the way home, after covering the opening of Sydney’s new Opera House**, he said he’d stop by - “just to refresh my impressions”.
- I’m dying to ask what Britain’s most esteemed journalist has written about us, but I can’t. It just isn’t done. He asks after Osho, Laxmi, friends he’d made here. The conversation is light and friendly. I’m sitting on my question. He must pick up on it: he finally rescues me.
- “After I returned from Poona last year,” he says, “I received a letter from one of my readers, from a lady whose daughter is here. She was concerned about her. She’d heard I’d been to the commune and wanted to know my impressions. I sent her copies of the three articles I’d written, telling her they were for-her-eyes-only, since they hadn’t been published yet. She returned them within the week, saying that although she’d read me for years and respected my opinion, she felt I had been far too kind.”
- I betray nothing but interest, yet inside I’m whooping with glee that, at last, something positive about us is going to appear in a major paper. The news is too good to keep until morning. Leaving Vasumati to wait for me at Lao Tzu gate, I drop in on Laxmi to tell her what Bernard had said. She tells me to invite him to tea the next morning.
- Her first question is about Peter Jenkins of The Guardian. “What happened with your friend who came with you last year?” she asks. “Osho answered his question so beautifully, but nothing has come in his paper. His writing never happened?”
- “That’s an interesting little story,” Bernard chuckles. “Jenkins was as impressed as I was when we were here. I know he was: we talked about it at length before he left.
- “When I returned to London I was curious to see what he’d written before writing myself, so I went to the library to check back issues of The Guardian. Nothing. So I telephoned him. He said he hadn’t written anything as yet, but was planning to do so in the very near future. I wrote my own articles and filed them away for resurrection when The Times strike was over, and for the next week or so I checked The Guardian, but saw nothing. Eventually, I just forgot about it. :“Some time later I was invited to a party,” he continues. “Jenkins was there with his wife. I overheard snatches of conversation, including a few references to Poona, and then I understood. What had happened was that Jenkins had returned to England, all gung-ho, ready to write about what he’d seen and felt, prepared to champion you people as it were, and his wife and friends had laughed at him, telling him he’d been sucked in by some Indian guru and that he’d look a proper fool if he wrote in your favour. He became scared. And so he didn’t write.”
- His eyes suddenly flash at the memory. “I don’t know whether it was the two champagne cocktails or not,” he laughs, “but I suddenly became angry and just couldn't let him get away with it. I strode across the room, grabbed him by the lapels and let him have it. ‘Jenkins,’ I said. ‘You’re a bloody coward!’”
- “What did he do?” I ask.
- “Nothing,” Bernard replies. “He simply looked at me in shock. That sort of thing is not my style at all, you know. He didn’t move or react or anything - I suppose because I’d been right. And that was that. So,” he concludes wryly, “don’t expect anything from Peter Jenkins to appear in The Guardian.”
- He leaves for Bombay that afternoon. I’m sorry to see him go. But not nearly as sorry as I am a week later. After seven days with William Rittold* of Der Spiegel and Heike* the ice-maiden he’d espoused, I miss Bernard Levin like a long-lost lover.
- ** Editor: I don't understand this remark. The Sydney Opera House was formally opened on 20 October 1973.
- Bernard Levin in Wikipedia
- Arianna Huffington in Wikipedia
- Arianna Huffington Denies Involvement in Sex Cult Depicted in Netflix’s ‘Wild Wild Country’ in Daily Beast.
- A rather special kind of loving in OshoNews, about the Times article with that name, see above.