This is a little part of the so-called 'Cappuccino Strip" in Fremantle, as it looks these days. Except I don't know where all the people are hiding in this picture, or the buses. Anyway, in the early 1980s Fremantle was one of those places you didn't really want to go after dark. A port town attached to a largish but extremely isolated city, with a very er, flavourful variety of Italian migrant culture (the local variant of the Mob) and a really depressed socioeconomic situation. Well, the winning of the America's Cup changed all that. Suddenly Freo (as we call it) was going to be put on the world stage with the historic defence of the America's Cup, it having been one by someone other than the Americans for the very first time. Ever. Apparently, just like every other victor before or since, we cheated.
So Freo was given a new lease on life, with much funding to restore the beautiful buildings, a bit of a clean-up of the seamier visible aspects of the local social fabric, and a great new influx of people started to discover what a delightful place it really was. A big part of that was a cohort of Sanyassins, both of the Australian and imported variety, who had already set up shop in large numbers. These sanyassins were known to the world as Orange People at the time, the 'followers' of Osho (then called Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh). Or as he was often warmly referred to after his death, in the typical Aussie way, "the old boy."
I'll have to say a few words about my take on the whole Rajneeshee/Osho thing, then and now, so you might understand where I was coming from with my new naming.
Firstly, I love Osho. Did then, still do. I accept him as a flawed human, who certainly did a lot that hurt people, a lot of 'bad stuff' if you like, but also one who had an incredible amount of real stuff to transmit, and who touched enlightenment - if perhaps not as permanently as our stereotype of such things might have us think on these matters. I don't see 'enlightenment' as a singularity, a solid threshold that can be crossed, but more as an infinite set of possible experiences, and something that comes in degrees for some of us. Or moments, or whatever. Maybe this is heresy for some of you, I don't know. I have read much he has written (well, spoken mostly), taken part in many of the group meditations he designed and for which his movement is well known, but never met him. This is because he was dead by the time I discovered him as more than the controversial giggling, dancing figure on 60 minutes with all the Rolls Royces.
No beating around the bush, this was a cult that did many people much harm. On the flip side this was a community in which many of its members made great personal gains of all kinds, not just spiritual, and at its centre a most non-average guru. I could go on about him anad his teachings, but it's really not important. That's what google is for.
One thing that is germane here though is that (as with so many things) the Australian sannyass contingent has/d its own flavour. I include here broadly the sanyassins who were from other countries but settled in Australia during or after the whole show was in full swing. Mainly this was in places like Freo, Byron Bay and so on. There are small sort of enclaves here and there in pleasant remoter regions also. The Aussie way of it on the whole seemed a bit more focussed on the 'party' aspect, the freedom and fun bits, the artistic and expressive stuff than others. The vibe in Freo was decidedly un-cultish, as for years by the time I arrived there the sannyassin community had been an integral and accepted part of the wider social fabric. Purveyors of the best dance parties available to man, wildly successful entrepeneurs, practitioners and patrons of the arts and certainly providing local colour. Even when the whole 'colour' thing was phased out most still dressed with great flair and individuality.
I moved to Freo in the early '90s, and bummed around as a semi-itinerant guitarist who spent half or more of my waking daylight hours (sometimes there weren't many hours that were both) installed at one of the two original cafes on 'the Strip', Papa's or Gino's. Told you it was Italianate, yes? Through both my musical interests and the cafe scene, I met tons of sannyassins, and of course once you start to go to parties then pretty soon you've met more than you could ever remember. Certain members of the community were quietly effective in the provisioning of certain illicit herbs and related substances, and this was quite important to me at the time also. Loads of really great, creative musicians and artists. And here's the thing - it was a totally non-proselytising thing. No-one bent your ear about Osho, no-one got into you about going to group meditations, and there was really no 'corporate line' if you asked questions. Ask ten different people, get ten different answers. A bit like the old boy really - ask one day hear one thing, ask tomorrow and hear the opposite. Both being true. Sure, there were lots of new-age memes about, tics of language, and stories about days in Poona or at The Ranch, and once you got a bit more intimate you could detect this underlying brotherhood, but it was more like a brotherhood of soldiers, or survivors, than that of an organisation with a purpose.
Despite Osho having died, one could still 'take sannyass' as they say. This is an odd phrase when you think about it; sannyassi meaning renunciate (one who gives everything up) combined with the opposite verb, taking. Hmm. Anyway, doing this was something you could seek out and get into. I know a few folks who did, including my wife Meeta. That's where her name came from - Ma Deva Meeta.
Not a real joiner, me. Very loyal to things like my guitar partner (OK, he's a person, not a thing) and my band (that's people, but it's a thing too, and technically it was his band) but since getting over the whole Catholic thing I saw no real upsides to organised and limiting religious practice when it came to my personal growth. From very early on in the piece however, I got really curious.
Because you get a new name...
...and you don't get to choose, and that's a really interesting thing to do.
Part of the philosophy of the new name thing is dissociation from all the ancient childhood connotations of hearing yourself called - in my case - "Eric", and thus helping you move past lingering issues. You know how you might have heard your name called when it was discovered you'd misbehaved, or when you were other wise in trouble? That sort of thing. and I have already spoken of the karma attached to my 'Eric'.
Years went by. Meeta 'took sanyass' fairly early on and was quite involved with the community and into the group meditations etc for a while. Meeta and I got married (now that's another story...). This, btw, is unusual for sannyassins Osho being rather against marriage on many grounds. There were actually a couple of people who wouldn't attend our wedding as a result. One couple who refused to come, ironically, had been together monogamously and barely ever out of each other's sight for well over a decade. Culty hang-ups, eh? I did say folks were damaged.
Our wedding was a bit of a thumbing of the nose to lots of folks, you'll read about that soon enough I guess, but it was a totally loving gesture; to all, as well as each other. We liked to rock the boat a bit. Still do I guess. As was my decision to take sannyass. I might have mentioned my Bruce Lee philosophy of spiritual seeking and growth (if not, let me know) whereby I incorporate what is useful and reject what is not into my personal scheme of things. I figure this is only potentially disrespectful to rabid dogmatists, whose opinions I won't be sharing anyway. I do make sure to do my best to get to the heart of something first. And I wanted a new name. I also wished to express my gratitude for the existence of Osho, and large elements of the sannyass community, for the great learning and growing I'd experienced. Some of Osho's words/energy managed that Zen master's trick of slicing right through all the crap and letting in a shaft of divine understanding or illumination. Very cool.
So, once upon a time you had to go to India, undergo a really long and arduous campaign of hard physical group meditations and suchlike, and eventually front up to the master to receive your name. Now you could do it by emailing a photo and a little form and his hand-chosen psychic disciples would sit as a group until they 'received' your name. And sent it to you on a very nice card. There was a ceremony held every now and then called a 'white robe' where everyone wore white, meditated and sang together, and then had a big meal. Those who had recently taken sannyass were up front in the middle and got love-bombed by all and sundry, but in a really genuine way, to give and celebrate your new name and get your mala, a beaded necklace with a little plastic-framed photo of Osho on it.
Before we cut to the final scene, I do want to say that the sannyass community in Freo were very classically Aussie about it. Meeta had the same experience. When we (each, seperately) expressed our desire to take sannyass, we were met over the next days and weeks with "why would you want to do that?" type statements, and other shit-stirring stuff. Really it was just caring, making sure you were awake to yourself and your reasons. Which I was. Mostly. I think.
The card read:
10th November 1998.
SWAMI DHYAN AADHAAR.
Swami just means male, like Mr, as Ma means female. Dhyan is like a spiritual family name, it means 'meditation', so you can interpret this as being like my background energy. Deva, by contrast, means 'divine'. There is a standing joke that all the Devas are wildly mad. Maybe this is not such a joke - the Deva energy certainly has much of the Dervish abut it. Meeta means 'friend'. This is so on-the-money for her. Aadhaar means 'foundation' or 'support'. And I guess that sums up a pretty fundamental (pun!) aspect of me too.
So there we have it, the end of the story of the namings of me.