FOREVER AT THE FEET OF MY MASTER
MA PREM FATIMA (Beloved Daughter)
Born in 1939 in Hyderabad, India. Fatima took sannyas in 1981 and presently lives in Hyderabad, India.
I was seven when I had jotted that down in my notebook. And I was not far from the truth. I had seen my family’s religious fervour burn brightest in the kitchen. Every Id, Milad (prophet’s birthday), birth, and death anniversaries of saints were observed religiously, necessitating a ‘fateha’ (prayer of thanksgiving), which, in turn, necessitated a lavish spread. On those gastronomical excesses, my family all of a sudden turned religious! It said its prayers, read the Quran, and, of course, gorged. The real essence of Islam went up in smoke. Literally. Holy smoke that emanated from the red-bricked chimney of our kitchen.
Islam, in that stifling, orthodox Hyderabadi home of mine, was nothing but gluttony, with a set of rigid dos and don’ts thrown in. My clan’s interpretation of Hadith (sayings of the prophet Mohammed) was nothing short of inanity. Even at a tender age, I rejected such trivia passing for Islam. On every questioning of the hollowness of their faith, I was threatened with the infernal rack.
“Those who question Islam are heretics. Allah shall never forgive them.” It was impossible for me to swallow their Islam, even if it was cooked with such religious regularity and served on a silver platter! I was sure there must be more to this great religion than what my people assumed. I longed for somebody to spell out its profundity to me. But throughout my growing years, my thirsty heart remained parched.
My friends of other faiths were not placed any better. They saw their folks clang the temple bells each Tuesday, watched the pundit perform ‘aarti’, chant slokas, and pray for them. Or attend church on Sundays. Sit through long sermons. Read the Bible like parrots. And feel settled with religion!
I refused to accept empty, outward gestures for religion. I craved for the core. The essence that would raise the level of my consciousness would help me understand myself. Would help me understand the mysteries of life. I longed for a taste of spirituality. And I felt it deep in my young heart that only a being who has touched the peaks of human consciousness would be able to enlighten me. A small voice within me kept assuring me that someday, somewhere, I would meet that ‘being’. The very thought brought so much love and tenderness surging to my heart. It was such a beautiful feeling. Such a private joy.
Since I had lost respect for every traditional religion, I did not pursue any and dismissed all religious gurus as charlatans. But mysticism never ceased to fascinate me. Years went by with many adventures lived, new friends made, and my horizon expanded, yet still I felt I hadn’t found what somehow I knew was waiting for me.
Living in Bombay, I enjoyed a quite daring time. A particular friend’s concern for my sinning soul had me variously in temples, shrines, and talks of J. Krishnamurti, to which I dutifully accompanied her. Rounds that left me totally uncommitted and induced only a fleeting calm. But when she mentioned another guru one day, I exploded: “Rajneesh, did you say? That charlatan! That peddler of spiritual euphoria? Never!” I hissed and slammed the door. To have suggested Rajneesh was stretching it to profanity. The sex guru was by now a swear word in India. My friend’s persistence, however, prevailed over my resolve, and we hailed a cab.
As our cab swiftly swallowed the choked Bombay evening, I geared myself up for the yawn that Rajneeshji was bound to be. The sixties had just edged out of calendars, and with them every vestige of established norms. The youth of the west, suddenly rudderless, insecure, and disillusioned, sought solace in the abiding spirituality of eastern religions. Osho had managed to collect quite a flock, varied and global. Erstwhile freaks and dropouts turned sannyasins took up every inch in the spacious hall of his Peddar Road apartment. Their eyes were glazed, their looks vacuous, and they were saffron-clad with malas strung around their necks.
Entered Bhagwan Rajneesh, now called Osho, dressed in an immaculate white robe. Head down, hands folded, he greeted his herd, lowered himself in a chair, and trapped a bevy of beautiful sannyasins in his lusty leer. Those mesmeric, lotus eyes gradually turned to orbs of burning desire.
Some letch of a guru indeed! I felt repelled and desperate for escape. My eyes combed the somnolent assembly for a way out. But the saffron sea was too engulfing for me to swim through.
Much concentrated staring later, he beamed a smile around and started to speak. And a miracle began to unfold itself, word by enchanting word. His unhurried, soothing voice ripped apart dead scriptures, moth-eaten traditions, shams, and hypocrisy. His truth, wisdom, and deep insight cast a spell over me. I sat glued to his magic through the length of his discourse.
But then, my sceptical and heavily conditioned mind sounded the alert, and strained every nerve to convince me that it was a rehash, as I had often heard before. Krishnamurti has the same insight, which he expresses in flawless English, doesn’t he? Incapable of either clarity or debate and utterly unable to sort my tangled self out, I allowed myself to be lulled into conviction. I pulled shutters over my vulnerability, remained ensnared in the familiar, though miserable, world of my mind, and left it at that.
A decade later, having roamed two continents, painted many canvases, and written a bit, I was back in Bombay, nursing a fractured foot and shattered dreams. Confined to a tiny, rented room, my life dragged from grey to shabbier grey. One dark, grey morning, I heard someone read Osho aloud. A couple of lines caught my attention, and a strange restlessness gripped me. Strange because it throbbed with a joy I had never known before.
When the landlord and his family left for work, I grabbed the book, The Ultimate Alchemy, read it from cover to cover, and was never the same again. A pebble was cast into the stagnant waters of my being. A hand had knocked on the door of my dormant consciousness. The call of the beyond was too strong this time for my meddlesome mind. Osho’s profound wisdom and rare insight, his daring and iconoclasm, and his love and compassion had me in tears of ecstasy. All that I had ever thirsted for in life was here, right under my soaked eyes. And I had wasted decades knocking against rocks and getting bruised.
When I could barely manage a limp, I rushed off to Poona. The ashram was a lyric in orange and green. Orange of its sannyasins’ surrender, green of its lush foliage. At any point in time, at least five thousand disciples filled 17, Koregaon Park with their joyous abandon. The place throbbed with energy. Osho had called it his ‘Buddhafield’. Each day came packed with song, dance, laughter, and meditation. Meditation, in fact, was the ashram’s leitmotif that latticed its vast vista of celebration and rejoicing. Of the five daily meditations, the two chaotic ones, Dynamic and Kundalini, were devised by Osho himself.
The ashram’s mornings are etched deep in my memory. Crisp and dewy as they were, with lisping bamboo groves, laden boughs licking the winds, and the twitters of birds. And then the eagerly awaited crunch of gravel as Osho’s car approached the podium. A reverential silence greeted the master as he entered Buddha Hall in all his divinity. I always heard him enraptured, drinking in the poetry of his presence. Never before in history has one Enlightened Master spoken on so many others. Osho’s vast sky includes Zen masters such as Sosan, Rinzai, Ma Tzu, Nansen, and Dogen. The Taoists: Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, and Lieh Tzu. Lesser known Tibetan mystics include Tilopa, Atisha, Milarepa, and Marpa. Sufis, Sanai, Junaid, Farid, Al Bistam, and Mansur. The Hassids, the Bauls. And many, many others.
One morning, Osho said, “Life is a great gift showered upon you by existence. You have done nothing to earn it. Don’t be ungrateful and not live it fully. Celebrate it, rejoice in it. Let that be your thanksgiving. Let that be your only prayer.”
After the discourse, I would make a beeline for the ashram’s restaurant, Vrindavan. Oven-fresh croissants, fruit, and tea made my favourite breakfast. Spread over several properties, the ashram ran many restaurants and cafés for its ever-growing international clientele.
Music group was the day’s very last happening in Buddha Hall. We danced to live music from the world over. Western, eastern, folk, pop, jazz; strings, wind, percussion, you name it. During the let-go, there was a total blackout for half an hour when Osho gave his ‘sannyas’ and ‘energy’ darshans in the Chuang Tzu Auditorium of his Lao Tzu House.
Regular daily meditations heightened my awareness; I could feel my demarcations melt and outlines blur. Gradually, day by happy day, I got woven into the ashram’s texture of love and spontaneity. My strongly conditioned mind began to thaw. The mind that pasted itself on everything it saw was relentlessly critical and judgemental. This was the mind that had read lust in Osho’s innocent eyes, which are limpid pools of love and compassion. It had joined the chorus of vituperation against him and labelled him a ‘hoax’ without having ever read or heard a line of his!
The mind was one companion I longed to part company with. It was a great solace to see it leave me, even if inch by grudging inch. Now, without its blinkers, life for me is the present moment. A primary colour, untinted with thoughts of the past or dreams of the future.
I will never forget the day I took sannyas. It was the 27th of April, 1981. Osho had gone into silence and reclusion. A sannyasin appointed by Him had initiated me and given me ‘Ma Prem Fatima’ as my new name. As his thumb touched my third eye, I saw a long passage of peace open before me, petal by fragrant petal. I heard bells peal loud and persistent in the belfry of silence. That was the most ecstatic moment of my life, when I became one with my beloved Osho. The moment when I died to the old and was born anew into His world of eternal bliss.
I am forever at the feet of my Master, who has lit my sky with so many suns and filled my garden with so many roses.
“For centuries the East has known a different kind, a different quality, of communication – it is of communion. A man will come, he will touch the feet, he will bow down, he will look at the Master, he will just sniff the air around the Master – just the fragrance – and he feels fulfilled. He has come to see that the impossible
happens. He has heard that it happened in Buddha’s time, he has heard that it happened in Mohammed’s time, he has heard about great Masters like Abdul-Aziz, he has heard great stories – and he wants to see whether it still happens, whether a Buddha is still alive, whether he can find a man of the quality of Mohammed so that the scriptures will become valid again. Each Master goes on revalidating, each Master is again and again a witness to the eternal truth: that truth can be realized.
In the East people travel. They make faraway journeys just to see with their own eyes – because you cannot see Buddha now. Twenty-five hundred years have passed; it is past, it is part of history, you can only read about it. You cannot see Krishna now, he is myth. In the East people want to see somebody who is a Krishna or a Buddha or a Mohammed or a Christ. They want to look into those eyes so that they can again become confident, so that they can again gain trust that it still happens, that God has not forsaken the world yet, that it is not just a story of the past, that it is part of reality.”
Osho, Sufis: The People of the Path Vol 1, Ch 15
From the book, Past the Point of No Return by Ma Anand Bhagawati