Bernard Levin

Bernard Levin of The Times (London)

Levin visited the Ashram several times in 1980 as part of an extensive trip throughout the East to draw a spiritual map (Osho was given the highest rating). His report on Osho and the Pune One ashram covered three days (April 8, 9, 10, 1980). The following are excerpts from his articles. These extracts are quite long, but definitely worth the read!

‘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 1500 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 color; almost literally every person in the place is wearing orange. There is a very wide variety of garments but the color, 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.
‘The silence is broken by the crunch of a car’s wheels and the accompanying purr of an expensive engine. As it approaches, I experience a 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 white 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 gray-bearded. He smiles, and sits down in the chair. An attendant steps forward and hands him a small folder. He puts it on his lap, opens it, takes a slip of paper from it, and speaks for an hour and three-quarters without pause, hesitation, repetition or notes.
‘… 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 is easier to experience than to describe.
‘His voice is low, smooth and exceptionally beautiful; 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 hands, particularly the left, in an endless variety of expressive forms.
‘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 oratory 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 three 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 psycho-somatically 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 populations? 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 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 escapists, but if your house is on fire and you escape, nobody calls you an escapist.’
‘A man who is split can never be a 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.’
‘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.’
‘A person who is not open lives in a grave.’
‘As I say, such statements, stripped bare, cannot convey the effect of an [Osho] discourse. (These, incidentally, are all published verbatim, involving an output of some fifty volumes a year, and they are also recorded 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.
‘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 wrapped 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: [Osho]’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 [Osho]’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 in the ashram, that the gossipers outside have in mind when they circulate their stories of dark deeds.
‘… 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, and that denotes one who has mastered the external circumstances of life by first understanding the master 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.’

‘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-sannyasins – of [Osho] are in general an exceptionally fine crop bearing witness to a tree of a choice rare nature. The first quality a visitor to [Osho]’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 [Osho] has enabled them to find a meaning to their lives and for their place in the universe, there was no trace of fanaticism in them, and in most not even fervor.

‘The workshops are extensive and impressive; these are no fumbling amateurs messing about with batik and linocuts, but serious craftsmen turning out furniture, metal-ware, 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. 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 remarkable 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’.

‘The wide range of consciousness-expanding therapeutic techniques practiced there (they include Massage, Reflexology, Alexander technique, Acupuncture, Rolling, Postural Integration, Hypnosis, Counseling, 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.’