Back when Osho was alive, it was easier to make sense of what sannyas meant. First it was a new name, red clothes and a mala, and that set you apart, even in the classrooms of the Dutch schools where I first had that experience. It also made you a target for bullies — there were a few occasions where I had to fight my corner in the playgrounds or on the streets. But the flip side was, in the communes you felt like part of one big, red-clothed family.
Of course, in Poona life was more genteel, there was a certain respect for the spiritual seeker. The last time I was in Poona back in 1997 I was wandering around in a red robe and it was lovely. I worked for a little while in the book design department, doing design on a small volume called ‘The Path of Meditation’ while I stayed in a flat overlooking the river near the burning ghats. You could just kind of go with the flow, you could say your sannyas was defined by the ashram.
But half a lifetime later, the question of what does the life of a sannyasin in modern life mean came back to haunt me. In a previous topic we came out at the description “a meditative life, with joy, creativity and celebration.” But does that actually mean one should meditate? I know there are sannyasins who make that their first question on meeting a new fellow sannyasin, “but does he meditate?” For me that goes too far, when I meditate I like to sit zazen, but not every day!
Or alternatively, how do you pursue joy, or creativity, or celebration? The last time I was at a gathering with a decent number of fellow sannyasins was at a sannyasin’s birthday party in Amsterdam, it was good fun. We were outside in a park, sitting on the grass by a canal, and everybody had brought some food and drink. Definitely that was a celebration. For creativity I write, I enjoy photography, or I dabble in music. In short, it seems to me it takes a certain awareness to move in the ordinary life as an Osho sannyasin. One has to make the most of the opportunities offered; not everyone has a whole recording studio but I have my trusty Mac.
As you get older though, some things move more to the background, like parties, and other things like health issues come more into focus. When you’re young you think life carries on forever the way it has been doing and you’re essentially immortal, and a lot of sannyasins stay young for a considerable span of years, but at some point you start noticing that uncles and parents around you start having serious health issues and start dying.
These days I sometimes care for another older sannyasin, who is now in his late eighties and has trouble remembering things, and has some moodiness problems. He doesn’t always see the world as a place to dance and celebrate anymore. I’m only just 50, but I can see those kind of things come to us too, and I hope I will be able to keep my sense of joy and wonder to the end.