MA DEVA SHANTA (Divine Silence)
Born in 1953 in Munich, Germany. Shanta took sannyas in 1977 and presently lives in Northern Germany.

39 Ma Deva Shanta

I was seventeen years old when meditation hit my life. Strangely enough, I encountered it not through any spiritual group or master but very profanely through the adult education class in Munich, a municipal institution open to everyone. Other classes in English, French, cooking, sports, or pottery were offered there too for a reasonable price.

My then boyfriend and I signed up because I was interested in almost everything at that time that could broaden my horizons – except soccer.

The conductor of the course was a distinguished-looking man of about 70 years of age, with snow-white hair, wire-rimmed glasses, a friendly face, and a tangible charisma. The meditation evenings were held in his big flat in an old building in Schwabing, the famous artist quarter of Munich. The participants would sit on chairs row by row in a room with high ceilings and an old wooden floor. He would draw the curtains, lower the lights, and speak about watching one’s breath and one’s thoughts. We were to imagine an empty room within us and anything that could disturb it; all the worries and troubles of the outside world were to stay out. And should thoughts arise to penetrate the silence of that room within, they were to be seen like people who would enter but would leave again. I was reminded about this first introduction into meditation when I heard many years later Osho talking about the thoughts that would disturb our inner silence and how we should just watch them like clouds that would appear and disappear if they were just observed and not hooked into.

During one of those meetings, we sat in a circle, holding hands. We were to feel the energy that flows through us being transmitted through our hands. I liked this exercise and was amazed to feel this collective stream that connected all of us, no matter if we knew each other or not. At that point, my boyfriend freaked out and attacked the course leader, asking him what kind of nonsense he was doing and talking about. I was totally embarrassed and ashamed of this behaviour. Also, several other participants were disturbed by this interference and didn’t want any of it. Through that incident, I felt for the first time a real, painful inner separation from my boyfriend because he experienced this delicate moment totally differently than me. It might have been the beginning of the end of our relationship, which lasted for four more years.

There was another couple in this seminar, maybe ten years older, who invited us to their home one evening. They had two children and a great flat in a subcultural district of Munich that was very much en vogue. They had developed the entire attic of an old house; there were no inner walls, and tasteful, mostly antique furniture separated the huge space into functional units. This style of living was utterly alien to us and catapulted us into a different, vaster dimension than we were used to living in our parents’ homes. This friendship, however, ended suddenly when my boyfriend started an affair with the wife. She had fun having a young lover, and I suffered from a broken heart and burning jealousy and fell headlong into the first relationship crisis of my young life. And all this because of meditation.

My next brush with meditation occurred while I was in Greece. Travelling with backpacks and sleeping bags, we (reunited after the affair) settled on a deserted, dream-like beach on Crete. It was a wonderful time during which we felt as free as birds, swimming naked in the ocean and cooking our meals over an open fire on the sand. We wanted to live like this forever. One evening I was lying on the beach looking up into the dark blue night sky displaying a myriad of stars when all of a sudden I felt the sky within me, yet at the same time I felt I had grown beyond myself and belonged to this eternal firmament. This feeling – or was it a sensation, an experience? – disappeared as fast as it had appeared, and I couldn’t even judge if it was good or not. It was just enormous and something I had not experienced hitherto.

My active search for ‘something’ started when my boyfriend and I finally split up – a very painful experience; after all, we had been living together for five years and had met at a tender age. I was now 21 years old. Apart from the pain and absence in my heart, there was also frustration with the university. I had enrolled because I thought more knowledge and education would enable me to realize something or other. However, I felt lost at the university and found whatever I learned to be impersonal, useless, and without insight—no trace of human development or such.

This was in the mid-seventies. Many people my age had the strong desire to experiment with new styles of life; there was a collective longing to throw off old structures and social constraints and look for different forms of living. The nuclear family was looked at as a source of neurotic behaviour, and living as a single was completely out; also, the good old relationship between man and woman had seen better days. The members of the Berlin Commune 1 with their showpiece couple, Rainer Langhans and Uschi Obermaier, gave an example a few years ago. They had lived communally together with like-minded young friends without being subjected to the usual rules and restraints. Now, all over Germany, young people moved together, sharing large flats or houses in cities or in the countryside, known as WGs (Wohngemeinschaften = communal living). They wanted to live communally either because they were students who couldn’t afford a flat on their own or because the times of living isolated as lodgers in some bourgeois spare room, subject to the curiosity of the resident Hausfrau, were definitely over. Many were fed up with living by themselves and rather enjoyed spending endless nights with beer, wine, grass, and cigarettes discussing life in general, politics, religion, socialism and communism, social structures, and so on.

In particular, the students felt that it was no longer a lonesome fight but all about teamwork – together and not against each other – at least in theory. But also many other social groups started to form at that time: private kindergartens with anti-authoritarian education, parents’ initiatives, women’s groups, creative art groups, and so on. Of course, all this brought up other problems, in particular what was called ‘free love’ and the communal ownership of material things, which were not easy to deal with. Slowly, people also became aware that the outer changes in circumstances initiated by leftist groups by means of politics and revolution weren’t working by themselves. It was the individual who had to change if anything was supposed to happen. It became clear that the power structures in the leftist groups that were considered the most progressive were the same as the institutions they were fighting against. Especially feminists put the finger on this obvious contradiction because most of the leftist groups were dominated by men.

Out of pure necessity and frustration, people had to begin analysing their group-dynamic processes if they didn’t want to fail with their own claims and political and social goals. Psychologists and therapists were called upon, and disturbing behaviour patterns that would come up again and again and which endangered the group goal were scrutinised.

Personal problems, character traits, and individual inhibitions moved more and more into the center. As long as the individual was subject to fossilized and neurotic behavior, it was impossible to create a better society, which was ultimately the goal of each of us. Various forms of therapy came into fashion, many of them from America, where they had been used for several years already: Gestalt therapy by Fritz Perls, Primal Scream by Arthur Janov, Bio Energetics by Alexander Lowen, and Orgon Therapy according to Wilhelm Reich. The classic psychotherapy, according to Sigmund Freud, was seen rather as a joke or was regarded only from a historical viewpoint.

I, too, reached out and looked for a new way to live. I instinctively felt that it couldn’t continue as before but that a new era had begun, also for me personally. I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t spend my life as planned as a teacher of German, history, and sociology. I lived in a tiny apartment in Schwabing, and with the help of an alternative newspaper, Das Blatt, I came in contact with many active people. Das Blatt (The Sheet) was a simple black-and-white paper, an anti-medium to the elegant titles of the large publishers, and the editorial staff and everyone else working there were set up totally democratically.

Every week, the street sellers of this paper were eagerly awaited, and every WG had this paper on their kitchen table. The editorials were critical, leftist, and subversive in a witty way. Because of its cheap advertising rates, it advanced to become THE communication tool of the scene. Through Das Blatt, I got in touch with ecologically engaged people, also called Ökos, vegetarians who established the first bio-shops in Munich and the first ecological farms in the countryside. I met people who were totally into Janov’s Primal Scream therapy and therefore moved to designated therapeutic centres in the countryside. And I also got in touch with members of the AAO, a radical therapeutic community around Otto Muehl, an action artist from Austria. I attended several meetings set up by them, but I was pretty much turned off. This kind of commune was simply not my thing.

Through a girlfriend, I met a man who was about to quit his job as a successful builder and embark on his inner search. He gave up his large flat and had nothing better in mind than to move into my small apartment, which was the first home on my own since moving out of my parents’ house. Of course, I liked the idea to begin with but couldn’t anticipate how soon we would be on each other’s nerves. We planned a three-month trip in a VW bus through Europe, during which we would visit various therapeutic centres and spiritual communities and maybe find a place where we could live a meaningful and responsible life. Shortly before we were to leave, Georg went for a weekend somewhere in the country side to visit the farmhouse of an artist, where also some kind of meditation weekend was happening.

When he returned, I already felt his presence before he even entered the flat. I opened the door, and he looked at me. He had never looked at me so unconditionally open, honest, and full of love as he did then. He radiated a presence I had never felt before. I only noticed remotely that he was wearing orange-coloured clothing and stored that as something that had to do with his changes. Orange was anyway a fashion colour just then. He told me he had meditated for three days, but not just by sitting there but in a dynamic way. I looked at him clueless and thought, “Oh well.”

I wanted to rent my apartment out for the time we would be travelling and put a note on the board at the university. The first guy who showed up at my door was wearing bright orange clothes and a necklace with brown wooden beads. He looked unworldly; this impression was fortified by his strong nearsightedness and the thick glasses he wore. I thought he was coming to visit my boyfriend, who had continued to wear orange clothing after that weekend and had been on and on about it being the colour of the sunrise. But they didn’t know each other, and that guy wasn’t all that unworldly – he had removed my note on the board, so he was the only one who ever showed up for my apartment, and I ended up renting it out to him.

He seemed a bit strange, didn’t talk much, and maintained he was studying German. He said he wanted my flat because he wanted to withdraw into himself. I didn’t know then that years later I would live with him together in a commune, that he would become a well-known astrologer, and that we would watch the 1986 Football World Masters on TV together.

Our travels around Europe turned out pretty awful, although we saw a lot and even made it to Findhorn, the spiritual farming commune of Eileen Caddy in Scotland, where they were growing huge cabbage heads. The travel itself was appealing and full of interesting experiences, but there was less and less understanding between us, and every day we became a little more alienated. We often did the Kundalini Meditation during those days, the shaking meditation that Georg had learned on that meditation weekend, just stopping somewhere in the forest or in the fields, but I felt more and more miserable and was glad to return to Munich. I was relieved Georg moved out immediately; we split without a big deal; our emotional connection was not very profound – maybe had never been – and I had again space for myself, within and without.

I couldn’t shake off thinking about the commune where Georg had that decisive meditation experience, and one day I went there to participate in a meditation weekend. I felt rather small and inhibited because all the others seemed cheerful, happy, loud, and, in my opinion, unrestrained. Every one of them spoke loudly and in all detail about their mental and psychological state of being and their intimate personal problems, but when I would ask them something more concrete, such as what their profession was or how they made their living, they seemed to dislike that and only answered in a vague manner. The entire atmosphere was hippie-like, somehow loose and easy, and compared to that, I felt grim, serious, and conventional. The meditation weekend was led by a nice Indian guy who talked very gently and was laughing and smiling a lot. During the whole meditation weekend, I did not feel anything spectacular that came close to the experiences I had before. More or less, I felt awkward.

Nevertheless, I continued with the meditations in a small meditation centre in the Amalienstrasse in Schwabing, mainly with Dynamic and Kundalini, which felt just physically great. After a while, I felt less inhibited in my daily life; I started taking things easier, and a new experience, a certain spontaneity, arose from within: I responded immediately to people or situations.

At some point I also figured out that those meditations and the lifestyle of people in the country commune had originated in India and had to do with some guy who had intense eyes and a long beard and was called Bhagwan. He was something like a wise man and seemed to be nice. Everybody wanted to get back there to his so-called ‘ashram’ in India and said they felt just great being there. Those who had been there already several times were constantly wearing orange clothes and a necklace with wooden beads and his photo. I felt far removed from all that, but I decided in 1977 to use my holidays to visit this man. This ashram was near Bombay, in a city called Poona. Although I had no idea what an ashram was, according to all the stories I had heard, the place seemed familiar and nice.

Egypt Air offered the cheapest flights to Bombay via Cairo. I joined a group of people for the train journey to Frankfurt; some of them were already ‘sannyasins’, and I was ashamed by their noisy and pushy behaviour. They confiscated half of a train carriage with the energy of a puberty-stricken school class. Being a greenhorn, another woman and I had attached ourselves to a sannyasin woman from Munich with a lot of travel experience who had been living in Poona before. She had a sewing machine in her luggage, which she said she needed in India.

We landed in Bombay. Shortly before entering the customs area, she put the sewing machine in my hand and hissed that this was my machine now. I thought this was fine, and I was happy to help her out. Before I knew it, that sewing machine had been entered in my passport as an imported item. I wasn’t quite sure what consequences this would have later on, but as there wasn’t anything else said, I forgot all about it. Actually, it turned out that I did not have any problems leaving the country; I used some kind of excuse that I do not remember anymore. But still, I found it quite impudent that she used me unknowingly as an importer for her sewing machine. In the worst case, I would have to pay customs or a kind of fine for it if I didn’t bring it out of the country again. All these incidents – the unrestrained people in the country commune, the loud and pushy guys in the train, and the tricky behaviour of the woman with the sewing machine – made me kind of suspicious about the people who were in contact with this Bhagwan; they seemed to be kind of egoistic and egocentric. On the other hand, they were open, juicy, and alive, talking about things about which I could not talk even with my best friends.

We took a taxi to continue to Poona. I was in culture shock. Never before have I seen such alien images. It was monsoon season, and the people who were walking on the streets and sidewalks, some of them pulling antiquated wooden carts loaded with fruits, coconuts, bricks, or other building materials, seemed to have emerged from a different era. Dark-skinned women in colourful saris were working on building sites, carrying earth in woven bamboo baskets, moving as gracefully as Paris catwalk models. The taxi drive was extremely dangerous, and I kept worrying about my life. The landscape was breathtaking, and I felt I had entered a strange fairy tale and would never be able to come out again.

At last we arrived in Poona and spent the night in a lousy hotel between Koregaon Park (where the ashram was located) and the main railway station in a ‘room’, which was actually a partitioned area on a verandah with a mattress on the floor and a lot of noise and a few bedbugs thrown in. The next day, we went straight away to the ashram. There were so many visitors from Western countries, and I felt a certain familiar civilisation albeit wrapped in Indian cloth. I immediately felt a sense of well-being, and shortly after my arrival, I saw Bhagwan taking a walk through the premises, a lovely man with white hair and a white beard. But I was soon to realize that this was his father, lovingly called Dadaji by all.

The next morning I visited the morning discourse held by the real Bhagwan, a two-hour talk of which I hardly understood anything; my school English simply wasn’t adequate. I did not feel anything special; I saw the whole happening on the stage with a distance and as a kind of spectacle, and I thought to myself, see, that’s how an enlightened master looks like. However, I did enjoy those morning discourses, and I felt energetically recharged after joining them, like after a hike in the mountains in fresh air, although the Poona air was pretty polluted.

After a few days, I started shopping for orange clothes in the many stores lining M. G. Road, a busy, noisy, polluted shopping road full of cars, rickshaws, and bikes, not to mention the cows here and there, which was about a 20-minute drive from the ashram. Nevertheless, it was fun to dive into Indian city life, and I embarked like so many others on the ‘tailor trip’. This meant indulging in the countless beautiful fabrics available, carrying them to one of the secretly recommended tailors, and having them sewn up according to personal patterns or copied from a well-loved original garment. Everybody seemed to have a special tailor and be on the ‘tailor trip’.

Of course, by now I wanted to meet Bhagwan also personally, and so I had an outfit especially made according to a German pattern for my first ‘darshan’ – the first personal meeting with Bhagwan – and felt incredibly well decked out. I was, however, far removed from taking sannyas, which meant I just didn’t know. Sometimes I was wavering yes and then no, and this is what I said to Bhagwan when He looked at me and asked, “And what about you?”

After listening to what I had to say, He told me to close my eyes and imagine feeling like a Buddha statue. I became very calm yet felt excited at the same time. When I opened my eyes again, He said, “And how do you feel right now?” and a simple ‘YES’ arose from within, effortless. And that was it. He seemed to pause for a moment and wrote something on a piece of paper, saying this would be my new name. He spoke for a while about the mind, which would always waver between extremes, and that it was about becoming quiet to attain an inner silence.

“And this will be your new name: Ma Deva Shanta. Deva means divine, and shanta means silence. Divine Silence.” He said much more, but this is all I can remember from that sannyas darshan. He placed the necklace with the wooden beads around my neck and pressed the medallion against my third eye area. This was unusual, as He usually pressed his thumb against people’s third eye. It was an uplifting, solemn, yet cheerful moment.

I literally drifted out of Lao Tzu House; I felt so weightless as if I were walking on clouds. As I hadn’t planned on taking sannyas, none of my friends were there with whom I could have celebrated. But I did meet a sannyasin I knew from Munich who had also been to darshan, and together we walked out of the main gate down the dark road to Mobo’s Hotel, a run-down colonial monstrosity with decadent charm, ordered toast and mango lassi, and spoke about our experiences.

During the next few days, I tried to get used to my new identity and the necklace with the wooden beads. I felt something was strengthening, yet this also made me feel a bit rattled. I sensed that all the usual behaviour patterns I had adapted to in my life and in relating to others could not be upheld any longer. It just didn’t feel right anymore. I felt I had to learn again how to approach people to communicate with them. The atmosphere in the ashram increased this feeling because most people seemed to behave rather oddly. There were no specific manners, no politeness, only an honest expression of feelings, and that had a tendency to be abrupt and raw, positive as well as negative. I felt stripped of make-up, naked, and devoid of the roles with which I had managed life until now. At the same time, I felt as if I was plugged into an electric socket, being part of an energy that gave me unheard-of powers. This energy was like a river that not only ran through me but through everybody else too and connected us all closely. This river had seized me, and as it was impossible to go against that current, all I could do was surrender to it. I felt a kind of super-personal connection and intimacy with all the people and everything else surrounding me.

Every day I participated in Sufi dance, one of the many events offered by the ashram. It was led by Aneeta, a divine-looking blond Californian woman with a glorious voice, who taught us traditional and modern songs, which we sang all together in a chorus, partly in harmony. Fitting in with the music, she taught us dance steps, which we did either alone or with a partner. One day, in a sudden harmony of voice and movement, I lost my composure, started to cry, cry, and cry, and collapsed. I do not remember how long I was crying, but suddenly I felt an arm around me, and I was lovingly cuddled and rocked softly. Glancing up through a torrent of tears, I looked into the beaming blue eyes of a dark-haired Swami guy I’ve had an eye on for a while. The beautiful one, whose name I did not even know, said a few loving words in English to me, saying that the tears were beautiful and that I should allow them to flow.

From that moment on, the dam had broken. All the resistance and crusts I had built up in my life and carried around with me crashed down and made space for enormous freedom. I felt a totally new and vast life energy that filled me with deep trust and offered me a lightness free of sorrow and worries. This was really the moment when I took sannyas, and this experience had only insofar to do with the Master in that He had somehow pushed me into it and supplied the energy to experience it. For that, I am grateful to Him to this day. All else, however, is mine.


This state, as outlined above, did not continue all the time until today. But if I don’t feel this state at times, I do know that it always exists and that it is a gift to experience it.

“Surrender is the easiest thing in the world. If you cannot do surrender, you cannot do anything! In fact, surrender is not a doing at all; it is a non-doing. You don’t do it, you simply relax into it. There is nothing like doing. What do you do when you go to sleep? You don’t do anything; you simply relax into sleep. That’s what surrender is: if you love me, you relax into me.

There is no effort needed. Effort means resistance, effort means you are fighting. Something in you is not ready, something in you wants to deny, something in you wants to say no – and against that you are trying to say yes, hence the conflict – otherwise, no effort is needed. Just see me and listen to me, watch me, just feel me and surrender will come on its own. One day you will suddenly find that you are no more; then it has a beauty. It is effortless.

But it is going to happen; maybe that is why you started feeling some negative space. Before surrender one has to go into many negative spaces. Many doubts arise, many dark nights of the soul have to be passed. Before one comes to the oasis it is a long desert. But when the darkness becomes too much, then know well that the morning is very close by, by the corner. The night is darkest before the dawn.”

Osho, The Open Door, Ch28

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



Book Cover Past the Point

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