A few days ago, I was in a cinema hall in India with an aunt when she nudged me to stand up, as the entire audience was shuffling to stand. The reason? The Indian national anthem was about to be played, and this meant that everybody was required to stand up! I resisted. I moved awkwardly forward in my seat to lean on the chair in front of me, feeling horrified and aghast at how blatantly the collective unconscious conditioning was being reinforced. I was conspicuously seated, rebelling against what I perceived to be an outrageous enforcement.
There was a law passed by the current Indian government, that forced all cinemas to play the Indian national anthem at the start of the movie. And all cinema goers had to stand up as a mark of respect. That has since been rescinded by the Supreme Court. However, all cinemas still continue playing it as a blatant way of indoctrinating the cinema-going public.
Afterwards, at home, when I commented on this, my aunt said she was very upset that I did not stand up for the Indian national anthem. She even had tears in her eyes, she told me! I was surprised to hear an educated, liberal, and forward-thinking woman say this. The reason for her upset? We had gone to watch Manakarnika [The Queen of Jhansi,] a movie about an Indian freedom fighter who is a distant relative. I am also the granddaughter of another freedom fighter who sacrificed the better part of his youth to fight the British for Indian freedom and was rewarded with being sent to prison for it.
My aunt said I was showing scant regard for all the sacrifices made on my behalf for my freedom in India today. Also that I was disrespecting my family members who fought the British in an effort to free India from it’s imperial clutches.
Did this simple act of not standing for the anthem make me a rebel? I began to think.
Sitting in the Osho Auditorium listening to Osho talking about who or what he considers a rebel, I did wonder if I was a rebel. (The Rebel series was synchronistically on for the Evening Meeting at the time when I received the invitation to write on the topic.) How can I be? He talks of quite lofty ideals of who or what a rebel should be or is.
When I look at my life in moments of introspection, I see that meditation is and has been a strong foundation for me. Having been with Osho almost all my life, I realize that I don’t know any other life. So I am having to constantly ensure that I do not make meditation a habit. It can be so easy to pretend or believe that I am meditating, that I am growing, and that I will become enlightened one day.
So how do I manage to keep the flame of meditation alive within me? Visiting the Osho International Meditation Resort is one obvious way. Other ways are by inviting situations in my life that make me pause, creating a question of “What am I meant to learn from this situation?” And having a daily sitting practice no matter where I am or what I am doing also helps immensely.
All of the above are good incentives to keep me on the tightrope of alertness, keeping my inner rebel alive. When I look back on my life, I see that rebellion came naturally to me: fighting as a woman in a patriarchal society, not marrying just because society believed I should. Doing things my way has always been effortless and natural. This does not mean that I have not had to fight or not been taunted and vilified, but I appear to have not minded or brushed them off.
All the acts I did, like not becoming a doctor against my father’s wishes, not marrying but living with my boyfriend at the time, not having children, and many others, were a rebellion against being stereotyped as a woman, an Indian woman who meekly did whatever was required of her. Some actions were entirely conscious – like not having children or choosing to live with my boyfriend out of marriage – others were more because circumstances presented themselves to me.
In the West, we take living with one’s lover, man or woman, quite easily. However in patriarchal, conservative India, it is still frowned upon. So over 30 years ago, it was even more of a daring act. My father bore the brunt of all the snide remarks made by his friends and family. I just went ahead with doing what I wanted to do, breaking with convention, but my poor orthodox dad had to face the society at large. He kept forcing me to marry, have children and adhere to all the socially accepted norms. However, I resisted at every opportunity.
As recent as a few months ago, he finally accepted that what I did was right and that living my life on my own terms was the best thing I ever did! Yahoo!
However, all the standing-up-for-what-I-believed-in did make me spiky – a hedgehog with hand grenades, my beloved says – as all of this attrition, fighting for what I wanted to do, challenging accepted norms and conventions, meant that I was in a constant state of aggression and fight. With age, maturity – hopefully – and a lot of meditation, things have mellowed and softened. I have softened. Now, I do things my way with less aggression though still with the same fire and intensity. Less hedgehog with hand-grenades, more rabbit with blades of grass!
In my youth, the act of rebellion had a cause, a purpose. Fighting for what I believed in, fighting for what I wanted to do and how I wanted to live. Now it seems like there is no purpose; the inner rebel is there as second nature. I am not fighting anything; I am just doing what needs doing, learning from every situation as part of my growth. So when I colour my hair purple, it is not because I want to stand out or because I was once a punk-rock kid, but more because I want to.
We use the word “rebel” quite loosely even when we mean to say a reactionary or a revolutionary. After listening to Osho on his rebel, I have come to realize that while living in society, if my actions come out of an effort to be mindful, alert, and conscious – those very actions make me a rebel.
So in that respect, I have moved from being a reactionary or a revolutionary to a rebel. A rebel with no cause.
“The rebel and his rebelliousness are sacred. […]
The revolutionary tries to change the old; the rebel simply comes out of the old, just as the snake slips out of the old skin, and never looks back. Unless we create such rebellious people around the earth, man has no future. The old man has brought man to his ultimate death. It is the old mind, the old ideologies, the old religions – they have all combined together to bring about this situation of global suicide. Only a new man can save humanity and this planet, and the beautiful life of this planet.
I teach rebellion, not revolution. To me, rebelliousness is the essential quality of a religious man. It is spirituality in its absolute purity.”
OSHO, The Rebel, Chapter 1
This article first appeared in Osho Viha magazine, May/June issue.