This is about a dinner without edible ingredients. That’s because it’s not a dinner
but a book. I have just published Dinner with Osho. Its title is short but its subtitle is long. It carries all the keywords necessary to fit the book’s content on a postage stamp: Dinner with Osho: Intimate Tales of Two Women on the Path of Meditation. A large postage stamp.
These are two lovely Indian ladies whom I met ten years ago when I was researching my first book Encounters with An Inexplicable Man. I was compiling a collection of stories and anecdotes from people who had had personal contact with Osho, and I needed to do it before we all dispersed to far-distant places – or died. Osho himself had left his body in 1990, and those of us who knew him are all getting close to leaving ours.
For various reasons, I had expected the first book, that I nickname Encounters, to be a quick make. I had a few interviews already stored on my laptop. I had a lot of people around me who had known Osho. As I saw it, I’d just have to sit, take their stories, do the edit, bring them back for a final once-over and…Bob’s your uncle!
But the word got out. And because I was living close to the former Rajneesh ashram in Pune, India, now Osho International Meditation Resort, people crowded in with everything they longed to share about their face-to-face contact with Osho. And it was hard to say no.
Most had one or two stories to relate. One American who had known him since 1973 came with nine! Nine seemed an awful lot, but I listened enthusiastically to each one… And then there were Urmila and Shobhana.
When they came to me with their offerings – both reliable, authentic sources – they had 40 or so stories each! Here was a mother-lode – a huge abundance of one-to-one meetings with Osho that I could not turn my back on.
But to listen to all their accounts and go back again and again to get the details right…? I knew it would take a whole extra chunk of time and put Encounters on the shelf again (I had been sick and had had to postpone it once already). For a moment I considered asking them for just the best one or two, and sending them home.
Yet here were two women getting on in years whose stories may otherwise never be told. I shelved Encounters for a whole year to dig that rich mine of intriguing and illuminating tales, and to repeatedly go back to my sources, and, in Urmila’s case, do so right up to the edge of her passing.
These two Indian women in their seventies had spent intimate social time with Osho when he used to travel in India, long before he retreated into his Poona ashram and his solitary room in Oregon, and became largely inaccessible.
We had heard from a few men of that era – but just one woman. Dharm Jyoti’s tight little book of brief anecdotes, One Hundred Tales for Ten Thousand Buddhas is a joy to read. But due perhaps to her loyalty as a devotee, she does not talk much about herself. How did Osho’s teaching affect her broader life? What as a woman did she learn from him? You can’t help asking.
In two separate narratives, Dinner with Osho looks into the difficulties Urmila and Shobhana encountered trying to maintain their on-off relationship with Osho as their spiritual master. And yes, they did have dinner with him. In Shobhana’s case it was a tough teaching lesson in non-identification. In Urmila’s, it was a matter of tearing her hair out to create the perfect farewell meal before he left her city – and much of her life – for good.
We discover a good deal about the day-to-day context in which the exchanges between them and their master were reflected – mainly wise and loving, but sometimes mysteriously harsh. We see them experimenting with the guidance he gave them. We live their little delights and emotional bruises as he leads them through the art of meditation and provokes their ego attachments.
And there are letters… Such letters! Osho and Shobhana had a fair period of correspondence, and though her letters to him are lost, his to her are included in this volume and reproduced in colour in their original Hindi.
At one point, he writes to her: “You have asked about the distressing state of women. In this context there can be no other way than a collective struggle. This is not a question of this or that woman. This is a question of human thinking […] Just being quiet about it won’t do – what is needed is radical change at root level.”
This is India in the 1960s. Where, in the West, the contraceptive pill was beginning to liberate women from their chains to motherhood, India was still lost in the values of an earlier age – rooted in tradition and steeped in rigid social expectation. The role of women had barely changed in hundreds of years. And decades of economic constraints delayed this big-hearted and richly diverse country’s emergence into the modern world. Even today, most of these traditional attitudes to women and their role remain largely in place.
Just this month, for example, following a court ruling, two ladies had to be accompanied by police to be able to pray in a temple that had for hundreds of years been exclusively for men. Riots followed. After their visit, the temple had to be ‘purified’ to cleanse the god who inhabited it from the vibrations of women of child-bearing age in case he be tempted out of celibacy by their sexuality.
It is hard to absorb these beliefs without first understanding the deep adherence to religious observances and social norms to be found in largely rural India. Villagers and townspeople alike live with their communal and tribal dictates, many of which exclude or straitjacket women.
Osho’s deep and compassionate understanding of the female sex and its predicament is revealed in these tales of two very dissimilar ladies – one an educated intellectual married to a military man, the other an emotionally starved housewife tormented by her mother-in-law. Inevitably their spiritual journeys with him are very different.
Through 25 years of their lives, we watch as Osho slowly draws them out of the confinement of their habitual worldviews – both inner and outer – and reveals to them a far broader landscape, one featuring the heart as well as the head, balancing them in the middle way.
Dinner with Osho: Intimate Tales of Two Women on the Path of Meditation is on sale now and soon to be available via Amazon.