“In the West they have destroyed poverty, they have destroyed much disease, they have made man’s life longer. They have made man’s body more beautiful, they have made man’s existence more comfortable, but the man himself — for whom all these comforts, all these conquests of science and technology have been done — is missing. They have completely forgotten for whom it was done. The inside is hollow. Everything is there, all around, and in the middle there is a retarded consciousness, almost non-existential.” (Osho, ‘Beyond Enlightenment’)
To not get caught up in society’s games, to realise what really is important to us, is one of the questions that comes with the spiritual path. Once you start thinking about freedom, happiness, what is causing your suffering, you soon find out that society is not your friend. Society wants to make you into a replaceable cog in the machine of business.
When Osho says “the inside is hollow” we get an inkling of what is missing. As soon as you resign yourself to being a cog, you lose a certain authority over your life, you take the dollars industry offers to you and obey the goals set for you; but in fact taking sannyas is a taking back of that authority. It is an act of rebellion against society’s machine.
In my case and in my father’s that took the form of finding a way to have time for ourselves. My father — also a sannyasin — worked as a teacher and was able to reduce his hours, so that he basically had half-days off, as well as having long holidays. I worked in the games industry as a software developer and technical director, and have been able to take a ten-year career break. These two different approaches to earning money allowed us to find time to spend on the spiritual quest.
In the time following Osho’s death this took the form of occasionally visiting Poona. The last time I was there was in 1997, I remember standing in front of the Ashram gates and later working in the book design department. My father and I shared a little flat overlooking the river, near the burning ghats, I remember the unmistakable smells of India, spices and plants and execrable other influences.
Living this life has been a letting go of luxury, that is true. I always followed my passion, doing what I enjoyed and being good at it, but with simple surroundings. Ultimately, as U.G. Krishnamurti said, man does not need more than shelter, clothes and food. Simply living and being content with ordinary things is a good discipline, although I was never afraid to spend money on the things I loved, whether that was single malt whiskey or photography. For me it was clear that it’s better to have been time-rich but money-frugal, than to have been money-rich and died of stress at age fifty-five.
Then, what does being time-rich bring? My father used his half-days to meditate, read the paper and snooze. I joke a little, he also did a lot of Yoga, but there is a certain relaxation which is conducive to spiritual growth. It reminds me: there was a slogan on t-shirts sold in the commune, which went “Is-ness is my Business”. I took it to mean that ‘being’ was what was important, and that meditation was about discovering what was within. Later I found that prolonged silence is good for one’s being and self-knowledge, that there are things to be found in silence which you will not find in partying.
Yet is sannyas not also about celebration? It is the little things in life, bringing a farmer’s cake from the supermarket or some fried fish to share with friends from the Wednesday market in town. A good new film on DVD in the evening. A Saturday paper to read with a double espresso. A birthday at a friend’s house nearby. Ordinary life, it turns out, is pretty good.