MA PREMA VEENA (Instrument of Love)
Born in 1944 in Durban, South Africa. Veena took sannyas in 1971 and presently lives in Dorset, UK

29 Ma Prema Veena

The sun slips below the horizon, outlines clean and sharp. The sky is reflected multi-coloured in the still clear water. Pollution hasn’t hit this place at this time.

It is Calangute Beach, Goa, India, 1971.

I am sitting cross-legged on the sand trying to meditate on the uncomprehended mystery of everything, when to my left I notice three western men gesticulating energetically in my direction. Ho-hum, allow me to try and comprehend in peace, please. Soon they are close. Would I be in their movie tomorrow? They are an Italian film crew making a documentary on hippies in India and they are shooting the opening shots tomorrow. Fantasies of a good meal supersede fantasies of universal meanings and, having agreed on a suitable remuneration, I arrange to meet them at sunrise tomorrow. And have I got a boyfriend? Yes. What is the colour of his hair? Blonde, like mine. They are overjoyed and request his presence too.

At sunrise I find myself seated on a motorbike behind Toby on the back of a truck. Makes filming the ride easier.

Much as we try to explain that hippies don’t journey around India on motorbikes (things will change, many years later), we find that the moviemakers aren’t interested in the slightest in what hippies actually do in India; they are interested only in their own imaginings. The wedding scene later in the day bears no resemblance to anything I have seen on my travels.

Sitting around bored as lights are positioned and shots discussed, I notice two very beautiful women – one really strikingly beautiful – observing the scene in general and me in particular. The striking one comes over to me and questions me about things. She is much more intelligent than the film-makers and a quite interesting communication ensues. Her name is Leena and she has come to India to visit a guru as has just about everybody – but wanted also to visit the already famous Goa. The film-makers had been filming the guru in Bombay and she had decided to join their entourage.

Having grilled me and Toby about our present lifestyles, Leena starts to talk about her guru. I’ve heard the story a million times over. The guru craze is the number one focus at this time – everyone has his or her favourite. In addition, there are the born-again Christians preaching under every palm tree, the junkies shooting up in every bamboo hut, and the health addicts downing the latest Ayurvedic formula – all extolling the great virtues of their particular path. I’m pretty sick of it all. I’ve been in India for nearly a year now and have seen and heard too much. It’s time I left!

Leena tells me to come and visit her guru.

“He’s different,” she says.

“Yeah, yeah,” I reply, “everyone says that.”

Then she makes a surprising offer. She tells me she will buy me a first class ticket to fly to Bombay to visit this guy. Wow, this is major coercion – I refuse indignantly. Toby, perhaps swayed by the beauty of the women, is a little more co-operative and takes the name and address of the guru’s place in Bombay. The day ends. Leena departs.

A few weeks later, a strange reality impinges on our meditative spheres, as India and Pakistan decide to go to war. Hard to get one’s head around this one as ‘peace and love’ are the order of the day in our Goan paradise. I had arranged to return to England via the same overland route as I had travelled to get here – this time in a land rover with some English guys, rather than the much slower, less comfortable method of thumb and dilapidated bus previously used. With the border closed, this now becomes impossible, and I decide to buy Toby’s air ticket back to London as he wants to go on to Bali. His passport is in Delhi and I have left stuff there, so we decide to go to Delhi together then return to Bombay, from which airport we will fly off in opposite directions.

On the primitive but peaceful Goa/Bombay boat (19 rupees, third class, deck only, three days and two nights) we journey to an eerie, blacked-out Bombay. After a night in the infamous Rex Hotel we book a train ride to Delhi leaving that evening; Toby buys a ticket to Bangkok and then confirms his seat on a flight to London on December 24th which I will use. That brings us to nearly lunchtime and there is nothing left to do until the train leaves in the evening.

“Let’s go and see this guru,” is Toby’s bright contribution to the situation. Many objections on my part are overruled as he flags a taxi and directs the driver to somewhere called Woodlands.

Suddenly I shout, “Stop! This is it.”

Both the driver and Toby are surprised. “How do you know?” Toby asks.

I don’t know but I am staring at a huge high-rise apartment block. Yes, this is the place. (Much later I wonder what made me say that.) Walking up the stairs, I’m still grumbling.

“Gurus don’t live in high-rises,” I mutter.

The door is open and a tiny little Indian lady dressed in orange greets us but says we can’t see the guru for awhile as he is sleeping. I grab my chance and make a quick attempt to exit.

“Good,” I say, “I’m hungry. Let’s go and find some food.” The little lady is quicker and grabs my hand.

“I’ll give you some food,” she says, and draws us both into a large book-lined room. There are two western guys sitting around looking holy and they talk to us. One spouts a whole lot of spiritual bullshit but the other calmly explains the meditation technique – Dynamic Meditation – that this guru has developed. I’m interested. It is unlike anything I have come across, and to my psychologically oriented mind, it makes a lot of sense.

After awhile, I escape to look at the book titles while Toby absorbs more spiritual indoctrination. Perusing the titles I’m impressed. This is good subject matter. I long to open a volume or two, but the glass-covered shelves are locked.

Finally, the little lady brings us some very nice-tasting food and some time later reappears to usher us down a corridor and into a cool, green-coloured, very simply furnished room. There is a man sitting in a chair.

We sit on a kind of couch to his right – first Toby, then someone else, then me. The man talks first to Toby, and immediately I am quite shaken. Toby had been a heroin addict for a few years and had then switched to the purity, as he thought, of living only on fruit and water. Two years of this had given him an incredible beauty, with smooth translucent skin and shining golden hair – but little or no energy. He often slept for 14 hours a day.

Bhagwan, as the man introduces himself (it means ‘the blessed one’ in the Hindu tradition), tells Toby he is on a death trip and is trying to eradicate himself. Having been with him for some time I have already perceived something like this, but this Bhagwan has zeroed into Toby’s innermost subconscious in about two minutes flat. My degree is in psychology, so my first label of Bhagwan is: “This is the greatest psychologist I have come across.”

He discusses religious philosophy with the next guy and my second label forms: “This is the greatest intellect I have come across in my lifetime.”

Then he looks at me.

“And what are you looking for?” he asks.

I draw myself up, hands primly in my lap and haughtily reply, “I’m not looking for anything. I am quite happy as I am, thank you.”

“Good,” he says with a chuckle, “then much can happen.”

I am affronted at this wisdom being directed at me and make no response. He then asks me to come to a meditation camp he is holding in January.

“Sorry,” I say, “my flight home is booked for the 24th December.”

“Then cancel your flight,” he says.

His assurance in commanding me thus is much more than my rebel female nature will allow and I state that this is quite impossible and not to be considered. He raises his hand in a gesture of OK, and soon we leave – me with much relief.

That night begins a week of hellish indecision such as I have never before experienced – and never have again. Toby and I sleep on the upper berths in the second class carriage on the train to Delhi. A few hours into sleep, I awake to the strangest sensation of being surrounded by softly pulsating light, a sensation of floating in soft clouds and a feeling of unreal, quiet ecstasy the likes of which is hitherto unknown. Despite the beauty I am alarmed and stretch out my now very ethereal arm to shake Toby awake.

“Hey,” I said, “something strange is happening. Can you have an acid flashback after two months?” The only experience I can relate this sensation to was a few ecstatic moments caused by some hallucinogenic substance I had taken some short time ago. The sixties were the age of drug experimentation and, as a child of my time, I had, of course, tried some of the stuff going around. Very quickly I had decided that it was not for me as, although new visions were certainly presented, I figured they could not be given much credence as the stimulus came from something outside of me. And my true reality could only come from within.

Slowly I drift back into a soft sleep and awake to the harsh reality of the chaos of the main Delhi train station. We find a small hotel I had previously stayed in and set about our business – but, there is an awful change. Something within me sets up a pounding, never-ceasing, refrain: you are not going home, you are not going home. My mind counters constantly: you are going home, you are going home. And I can shut neither of them up. Within a few days I am a wreck. Split into two inner warring factions, I understand madness.

By the time we make the return journey to Bombay, sanity has not returned. I am due to fly out of Bombay that night and I go to cash my traveller’s cheques at American Express to pay Toby for the use of his air ticket. Then I will confirm the flight at the travel agency in the same building. Toby goes off to take care of his ticket and returns to find me sitting on the American Express steps, surrounded as usual by an interested crowd of Indian spectators, cheques uncashed, sobbing loudly.

“I can’t do it,” I splutter. “I can’t catch this bloody plane!” Toby elbows his way through the crowd, hauls me up and sits me down inside the American Express. He assures me he isn’t concerned about getting the money and can still use the ticket at a later date. Deciding then to allow fate to dictate my future course, we agree that if the ticket remains valid when I ring the airline and ask to cancel the flight, I will stay in India; if the airline says the proposed cancellation is too late and the ticket will no longer be valid, I will use it and leave.

It is 3.00 pm The plane takes off at 9.00 pm. I phone the airline and ask the question.

“No problem,” says the staff member, “the ticket will still be valid. You can fly whenever you like.”

The Master has won.

Two weeks later – a time warp. I am in this mountain hill station called Matheran in the Ghats between Bombay and Poona. No roads up there, no cars – only little horse-drawn buggies. Huge trees meet overhead and you walk everywhere under a canopy of green. The houses are pure British Raj. I feel like I am in history. I find a small hotel, check in and wander my way over to the ‘meditation ground’ – a big open space under the trees. It is evening. Stars sparkle through the leaves and branches, there is a soft silence – that magical mystique of India pervades. I am transported I am not sure where.

I look curiously at the other 12 westerners grouped together at one side of the 300 strong crowd of Indians. Everyone is dressed in orange and wears the locketed mala. Suddenly the excited chatter ceases and Bhagwan, dressed in a white lungi and shawl, steps onto the small platform and seats himself cross-legged. He gestures to the westerners to come closer and then begins to talk in Hindi. (Later he explains that it is good for the westerners to be close as it keeps us more alert. We might space out as we don’t understand anything!) I am captivated by his presence. He emits an air of peace and calm yet incredible vitality. And what he says seems to be very funny as the crowd is laughing continuously.

Suddenly I jerk upright. He is talking in English! Just for us 13 people! He speaks simply but poetically and I am enthralled. Then he suddenly switches back to Hindi and I subside, bemused. For an hour and a half – without any notes – he keeps us all captive and I finally drift off to bed thinking this was not such a bad idea after all.

The next morning it is time for my first attempt at Dynamic Meditation. Bhagwan is sitting on a much higher platform now, seemingly to enable him to orchestrate events. He carefully instructs us on the procedure with a few asides in explanation.

Sounds OK to me. Before donning the blindfolds which have been handed out, I look around. Three hundred people are quite densely packed into the area. Could get hot, I think. I attack the breathing stage with energy. Takes some time to get the hang of it but after a few minutes I am hammering away at it as good as the next. Drums roll and it’s all OK. Then suddenly the drums stop, Bhagwan says something – and all hell breaks loose!

In shock I tear off my blindfold. The scene is like something out of an asylum – people going mad, tearing their clothes and their hair and screaming their heads off. I can’t believe it. What have I got myself into? My only thought is escape – and I run as fast as I can back to my hotel room. Panting, I consider and decide to get out while the going is good. I quickly pack my backpack, throw some rupees at the receptionist, and run down to the train station. Frustration arises as I find escape is not so easy. There are only two trains a day. The next is at 6 pm. It is now 11 am. Well, I’m not going back so I sit down on my backpack and proceed to wait, alternately fuming and freaking out. Toby has left for Bali, I am all alone in India, and I don’t have enough money for a flight back to London. What do I do now?

Three hours later I am still waiting when an Indian sannyasin woman appears.

“Bhagwan says please come and see him,” she says.

I am adamant I am not going back there, so finally she gives up and leaves. Half an hour later an Italian woman appears with the same message, very insistent.

“F— Bhagwan and all of you!” I rage. “I am not going to see him!”

She gives up and leaves – only to return a second time. She tries to calm me down and tells me that Bhagwan doesn’t want me to stay, only to see him before I go.

I guess her persuasive skills are good – and it is hot and there is still another boring four hours to wait. I defiantly leave my backpack at the little station and return to a colonial-style bungalow with the usual surrounding veranda. At the entrance she melts away and I brave Bhagwan alone. He invites me to sit down and asks me what the matter is. Despite my fear and anger, I am still touched by the beauty of the man and I calm down enough to slowly articulate my feelings. He explains that what I had witnessed was simply the madness buried in every human being which needs to be thrown out before the healing of the psyche can begin. Well, such is his gift of the gab that I am convinced against my will. He asks me to stay another 24 hours and to come back at the same time the next day. If I feel the same as I do now, of course, he agrees, it is best I go. I tell him I am really afraid of the scene and that the Indians are too wild for me. He suggests I find a place on the outskirts of the crowd.

“Find a nice tree!” he says.

Tired and upset I recheck into the little hotel, collect my backpack and go to sleep for the rest of the afternoon.

For the session of Dynamic the next morning, I distance myself as far as I can from the nearest person and start the breathing. By the madness stage a dead inertia seems to possess me and I have to lie down.

This goes against my innate drive to conquer my fears and suddenly I hear a voice inside of me calling from my belly, “Bhagwan, help me. Please help me!” Before I can register the strangeness of this I find myself blasted with a kind of electric shock and I am up going mad with the rest of them. By the ‘hoo’ stage I am well into something my mind cannot fathom, but it all feels OK so I keep on going. At the end I stagger back to my room wondering what had hit me and fall into a dead sleep.

Then I have a dream.

Bhagwan is at the end of my bed saying, “Wake up. You are supposed to come and see me.”

I jump up, look at my watch. It is 2 o’clock exactly. I throw on my clothes and race up to the bungalow. “Sorry, I’m late,” I puff. “I overslept.”

“I know,” he says. “I called you.”

Sitting in front of him on the floor I look at him in surprise. In slow motion he seems to disappear. I feel like I am disappearing too, floating into space. It feels beautiful so I just close my eyes and let it happen. I have no idea how long I sit there. All I am conscious of is stillness and a light and an overwhelming feeling of total rightness. I am in the right place, in the right space, at the right time. It’s a kind of certainty, a kind of knowing, a kind of coming to an eternal home.

At his voice I wonderingly open my eyes.

“Well,” he smiles. “You will stay?”

There is nothing else to do but nod my head.

The next day I get a message to please see him again at 2 o’clock. Seems like the witching hour for me! More assured, I meet him again. This time he is all down-to-earth business and it transpires that he wants me to take sannyas. This is too much to ask! As best I can while sitting cross-legged on the floor, I again draw myself up haughtily and inform him that I am an individual and I don’t join groups. He looks quizzically at me, sits back into his lecturing stance and proceeds to give me a discourse on why taking sannyas is not losing one’s individuality but gaining one’s real self. I remain unconvinced and show it. He stops in mid-flight and I can literally see the thoughts going through his head: hmmm, wrong approach. This is the masculine logical approach and I’m dealing with a female. Have to try something else.

I maintain my ground while he seeks another way. Then, “I have a beautiful name for you,” he murmurs.

Shit! He’s found my weak point like an arrow hitting bull’s eye. I have always hated the name my mother gave me and since leaving home have changed it twice. It’s a big thing with me. But I still don’t feel right with the current name I have given myself – so my interest is provoked.

Resentful, however, at being hooked in spite of myself, I kind of growl, “What is it?” Not looking at him. Trying to keep my distance.

Totally undeterred, he starts to talk about the musical instrument called a veena. He says it is a rare instrument, difficult to play and chosen by the goddess Saraswati because, when it is played by a master, its sound is so sublime it will instil a state of euphoria, of bliss, of love, of meditation into all who listen.

“Your name will be Prema Veena,” he says. “You will be my instrument. Through you many people will be helped to meditate.” As I gaze at Him I feel myself being suffused with a sense of absolute love; a kind of love I have hitherto never encountered. I realise I am in the presence of a being and an energy far beyond my small perceptions and understanding and I am overwhelmed with an enormity of vision which I can only glimpse, guess at. My head bows in abject humbleness. For the first time I touch His feet as the Indians do. It is the only way I can give some expression to what I feel. I am honoured to be in this presence; I am grateful to be allowed to be here.

And I know with total clarity that I have a place and a purpose in this universe and that it is He that will be able to point me in the right direction – until my understanding of the mystery of myself and the existence is complete.

The mala round my neck glows with beauteous light and grace as I stumble back to my little hotel room.

“An ancient saying says: When the disciple is ready, the master appears. The appearance of the master may look to the disciple as if he has found him, but it is just the opposite – it is always the master who finds the disciple. His ways of finding are very subtle, indirect; his ways are exactly the same as the ways of god.”

Osho, The Sacred Yes, Ch 7

From the book, Past the Point of No Return by Ma Anand Bhagawati

Past The Point Of No Return

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