SWAMI DEVA RASHID (Divine Unerring Quality)
Born in 1937 in London, England. Rashid took sannyas in 1977 and presently lives in Hollocombe, Devon, England.

34 Swami Deva Rashid

These bright crisp winter afternoons, I’m laying hedges round the field I keep the beehives in. I learned that agricultural skill – they call it pleaching here in Devon – some thirty years ago, before the current tractor-mounted chain flails were invented. You have to learn to work with how the trees and shrubs grow naturally, and then it’s only after twenty years that you see the merits and the lapses in your pleaching work. Although I’ve barely used the skill in the intervening years, you don’t forget such things.

In the early seventies, I lived in London working as an artist and art lecturer. My life began to change the day I popped round to the local grocer’s for a bag of sugar. I asked the owner where he kept it since the usual shelf was empty.

He looked quickly round the shop, bent behind his counter, and came up with a bag of Tate and Lyle. “That’s one pound fifty, I’m afraid,” he said.

I said, “What! Seven times its usual price? How can that be?”

He shrugged, “The OPEC oil embargo. Toilet paper too.”

That evening, my partner Nicky and I talked long into the night. She too was a painter, and we had a child together. We decided we would rather starve growing our own food than find ourselves exploited every time the world trade system threw a wobble. I walked away from the labyrinthine corridors of the art world and bought a farm.

We were all so ignorant and innocent back then. I thought politics was working for the common good; I thought religions were exclusive stairways to celestial realms; I thought relationships were lifetime contracts; I thought I wasn’t good enough. Disillusionment is painful and, for me, a lengthy process.

Once, at the age of fifteen, I had had a vision of the unity of life. I’d been sitting on the Green in the village where my great-aunt lived. A coach full of old age pensioners from the East End of London had pulled up opposite the pub. I watched them climb down, singly and in groups, chatting, laughing, or silent. Something like a tidal wave of love broke over me. In that moment, I had known that I was one of them, that I too would grow old and die, that poverty and richness are peripheral to life, and that love is what connects.

In spite of spending most of the sixties in a totally unworkable marriage, deep inside me I knew a transcendent love was possible. My name means ‘the divine is unerring’. Now I flow with that divine current. Back then, I fought and suffered. Deva Rashid was the name that Osho would give me at the age of forty after forty years of fight and suffering. At the age of seven, I had been sent to a bleak English boarding school. I was bullied, overwhelmed, and miserable. That’s how you become a man, they said. To make myself some friends and allies and to get myself some status in the rat pack, I conceived a game. I would drape a towel over my head, put my underpants on top to secure it, and everyone knew I was an Arab. Then, sitting cross-legged on my bed in the dormitory, I would invite the other kids to have their fortunes told. I used a mix of prior information, a certain psychic ability, and schoolboy cunning. And I started each session with the chanted words, “I swear by the beard of the prophet that I, Haroun al Rashid, will tell you the truth about your future.” Where had I gotten that name from? Where did Bhagwan get it from?

We had a good life on the farm: spacious, independent, and intimate with nature. Still, it felt that fight and suffering were never far away. We worked the livelong day, learning skills like cheese and butter making, carpentry and building, managing a horse-drawn implement, herding with a sheep dog, killing, butchering, and curing our own animals, sowing, nurturing, harvesting, and preserving farm and garden produce, and keeping bees. And pleaching. We didn’t have much time for painting.

When you’re happy, you can sometimes see more clearly. What I saw was that there was a certain something missing from my life. It was as if this venture satisfied my every need and fulfilled my wildest dreams, yet some key component somewhere wasn’t properly in place. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was. Until an incident one winter’s day.

I was driving into Hereford to lead a workshop in art therapy; from time to time, a cash income was necessary. There’d been a heavy fall of snow overnight, and more was threatening over the dark blue Welsh hills. Driving was becoming increasingly hazardous. I stopped at a roadside telephone booth to postpone the workshop.

I had started to dial the number when I happened to look up. I froze with horror. Sliding broadside down the road towards me was a massive yellow tanker truck. As I watched, I saw the driver give up with the steering. He was high above me for a moment, and he too had horror written on his face, envisaging my crimson blood across his yellow bulk. In that moment of impending death, I knew. I knew I hadn’t lived. In some crude way, too quick for rational thought, I saw that my life had all been focused outward, seeking happiness, success, fame, and approbation. I had not journeyed in to find again the truth I knew but had forgotten. I had not lived authentically. I had not found that love, the source of who I really was. Some instant knowing along those lines flashed through me.

The tanker hit the curb and jumped it. Its movement slowed and skewed. It stopped hard up against the cast iron phone booth, rocking it and shattering the many panes of glass.

The driver jumped down from his cab, “Are you okay?” Something unutterable had flashed before my eyes. My life was just a wasted dimness. My life could be a brilliance. The missing quotient had been flashed up on the screen. I said, “Just shocked. Not even scratched.”

The next day, I told the headlines of the story to my neighbour, a wiry little man who farmed four hundred acres with his brother. “Perhaps God’s trying to tell you something, Bai,” he said in his melodious Welsh accent.

Those words stayed with me in the coming weeks. The trouble was, I wasn’t too keen to meet this fellow God. At school, we learned about a pretty awful one – a choleric English gentleman writ very large. As an adolescent, I’d tried to find some super-pilot who would help me navigate this perilous and painful life.

Then I’d staggered through a painful marriage. And divorce and separation from two much-loved daughters. Now that I was happy once again after nearly forty years, that missing ‘something’ had come knocking at my door.

Our son went daily to the local village school. Another son had just been born that autumn. At Christmas time, we all went to the school carol service in an ancient Norman church down by the River Wye, the sweet and tranquil Wye that once had been a rampart for the Celts against the raging Saxons. The church was small and lit by candlelight. The voices of the children singing familiar old melodies rose and hung like blossoms in the darkness of the vaulting overhead. We were sitting in a place made sacred by a thousand years of worship. Something of the Beyond touched me. Tears rolled uncontrollably down my cheeks.

Our farmer neighbour sent the Minister of the local Methodist chapel to visit us. Thereafter, every Sunday afternoon for nine months of the following year, we packed into a little tin-roofed chapel, where the local farmers sang their hearts out while their sheepdogs, tied with baling twine, lay quietly in the porch.

For nine months, I was on a religious quest, thinking that it was a spiritual one.

Gradually, the Christian dream became a nightmare of prescriptive rules. Sunday morning service in the chapel became a purgatory of suffocating ritual.

Nowadays, when you go into a bookshop, you mostly find a whole department dedicated to ‘Mind – Body – Spirit’, with shelves and shelves devoted to all kinds of religions, cults, philosophies, theologies, teachers, mystics, and allied esoterica. Back in the mid-seventies, all you’d find was one small shelf of commentaries on the Holy Bible. Ram Dass’ book, Be Here Now, was already out of print.

I picked up a book on meditation. It was written by a very serious Catholic priest who’d been to India. I tried to sit in meditation. Even fifteen minutes was too much. On that glorious farm, where nature’s harmony and beauty met the eye at every turn, I felt both invited to and excluded from a timeless truth. We lived as close to paradise as you can get. Right next door. The door was locked, and we didn’t have the key.

Now I know I only have to wait, and all I need comes to me; then I didn’t know. Then I suffered in a turmoil of conflicting drives and impulses. Yes, I’d learned you had to wait for twenty years to see what nature thought about your pleaching; I didn’t realise that I too was something like a seedling in a cosmic hedgerow, and I too would come to my maturity in due season.

We had no telephone up there on the farm. One day a letter came from an old friend of Nicky’s, who would later be called Alankar, saying she was on her way to India to meet a wise man called Bhagwan. And then, within days, I received a letter from one of my closest friends. He was writing from a beach in Goa. Now named Anuragi, he described the inner waves of peace and joy that came to him from sitting with this same Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Good for them! Both of these separate friends were unattached and fancy-free. The idea of a guru was, for us hard-working, born-again, self-sufficient farmers, too improbable. Way too exotic and extravagant. We’d bought this farm forever and forever. It was September 1977.

Fortune’s Flying Circus had sent out its advance publicity. I remember the bittersweet taste of those days. I loved what I did, and it wasn’t enough. I basked in the flow of farming life, and I relished the thrill of painting. But what was it for? What did it mean? I’d come to see that the Christian way had nothing for me, yet where else was there to turn to? Sweetness outside and a bitter hunger within. I was living in a contradiction.

One autumn day, we had a visit from our farming neighbour and a church elder. They were wondering about our absences from Chapel and our lapses of morality, such as swimming in the River Wye on Sunday. I stood out in the top meadow with them, overlooking the great plotted landscape that spread all the way across to the Brecon Beacons. We were diminutive figures under a sky hung bright with clouds like laundered sheets. One thing led to another. I remember shouting unchristian words to their retiring backs, “Fuck off and don’t ever bother to come back!”

Next day, as usual, I was in the milking parlour in the early morning. Slanting rays of winter sunshine scattered pools of golden light across the straw-strewn floor. A painter-actor friend called Roddy was in the kitchen making toast for the children’s breakfast; Nicky came into the cow-tie unwrapping a parcel.

She sat down on a milking stool and held up a red hardback book. She opened it at random. While I milked, my head nestled into the great warm flank of Buttercup, our Guernsey cow, I listened to her voice, clear and fluent, weaving through the rhythmic squirt, squirt, squirt of the milk in the enamel pail. By the time Buttercup was dry, we were both in tears.

I foddered Buttercup and loosed her in the pasture. I put the milk in skimming pans. In the kitchen, once again, we read that same excerpt to Roddy. It was from a book by this same Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, My Way: The Way of the White Clouds:

“So I say to you that there are two types of living. One: fear-oriented; one love-oriented. Fear oriented living can never lead you into deep relationship. The love-oriented person is the religious person. The love-oriented person means one who is not afraid of the future, one who is not afraid of the consequence – who lives here now.

… Love is a rare flowering. It happens only when there is no fear, never before. That means that love can happen only to a deeply spiritual person. Sex is possible for all. Acquaintance is possible for all. Not love.

… If you can allow love to happen, there is no need for prayer, there is no need for meditation, there is no need for any church or temple.

… For a lover, there is no death. For a non-lover, every moment is a death, because every moment something is being snatched away from him.

… When there is love and two centres have met and dissolved and merged, a new alchemical quality is born. Contentment is there. It is as if the whole existence has stopped – no movement.

… Make love a sadhana, an inner discipline. Don’t allow it just to be a frivolous thing. Don’t allow it just to be an occupation of the mind. Don’t allow it just to be a bodily satisfaction. Make it an inner search, and take the other as a help, as a friend.

… Then through this relationship you will achieve the ultimate relationship. Then the other becomes just a door.”

In the silence that ensued, someone said, “This man knows.” And someone else said, “We should meet this man.” In that moment, my knees became so weak that I had to sit down on the oak bench by the kitchen table.

I looked down at the huge old slate slabs under my feet. I heard the ticking of the kitchen clock. My body shook. For the first time in my life, an intuition in me recognized the power of something infinitely greater than myself. I was overcome with awe.

When you’re in the flow that life requires of you, everything that needs to happen happens easily and painlessly. Now each new happening arrived promptly on the heels of its precursor. For three whole years, we had not left the farm. At this time, we were excitedly looking forward to a two-week Christmas holiday in Spain at the home of Nicky’s mother. The very next day, a letter came from her to tell us that, regretfully, our visit would now not be possible.

The gap. Two weeks of it. Nowhere to go and very little money to go there with. Next day, a cheque arrived through the post for one thousand Pounds Sterling, payment for some paintings we had sold a while before. But you can’t go to India for just two weeks!

It might have been the very same day – my memory is not totally reliable – that we came to hear of a young friend from the village who was looking for accommodation for two months. He was reliable and experienced with animals. The way was open for a great adventure to begin: a visit to the Master.

Within three weeks, on December 23, 1977, five of us, including my stepson, were bundling through the Ashram’s Gateless Gate in Pune on our way to meet this man of truth.

That moment of arrival is vivid in my memory. The lightness, the laughter, and the beauty in the faces of the men and women, all dressed in orange robes! It seemed that we were leaving a world of black and white and entering a world of colour. We were quitting winter and entering summer.

Of course, the world is spun from light and dark, from happiness and sadness, from bad as much as good. I came to understand that the ashram was not different from the world; it was in fact a microcosm of it. And more. It was a hotbed, a forcing ground for worldly growth. It was a place to live out all our hopes, desires, and fears. Osho said he was a finger pointing to the moon, the moon that shone in empty space inside each one of us. He spoke with humour and a total lack of dogma. And, each day, we sat in silence, at a distance from our home-spun stories. We sat precariously above the void. Of this golden visit, I recall only the beauty.

On the third day, standing in a long line in the early morning, conspicuous in our blue jeans and our white T-shirts, waiting for the Master’s discourse, watching the soft faces, the little groups of people hugging, the silent inwardness of people, I remember turning to Nicky and saying, “We’re still Christians, aren’t we?” I don’t know what I meant. I guess I didn’t know my head was in the tiger’s mouth.

Sitting in the back of Buddha Hall behind that silent multitude, Bhagwan appeared to us to be a tiny lighthouse rising from a placid sunrise sea. His voice was softer than the whisper of the wind, and we leaned towards him as plants lean towards the light. He took us on a wondrous journey of the spirit. At the end, he rose and greeted us with folded hands, rotating gradually through all points of the hall. Namaste. He glided to his car and was driven slowly, oh so slowly, round the hall. Those of us at the back and sides swung round to face him. Bhagwan was seated in his car three meters from me, window down, smiling behind his folded hands. That killed me. The kindness in those eyes, the compassion in the smile, the beauty of those hands – on top of all the wisdom of his words, it was the look of him that killed me. The tiger’s mouth closed. I lay down there and then and cried. I cried a line through every epoch of my life. I cried the tears I’d never cried through childhood, adolescence, and my early manhood. I cried for love, I cried for hate, I cried for loss, I cried for gain, I cried for everything created, and for everything destroyed. I cried beyond all possibility of words. People came and knelt beside me, stroked me, and passed on.

My family and I all took sannyas that same night. We each were given the prefix name of Deva. Nicky became Rashida.

I built us a bamboo house in the garden at Prem’s, where later there was a restaurant. We hired an ayah to take care of the boys in the mornings when we went to Bhagwan’s discourses. We started to explore the friendships, the therapeutic groups, and the meditations that the ashram had to offer.

Two months later we were back in England, selling up our home: the piebald work horse and the fine bone china tea set; the bed I built in which both boys had been born; the car; our paintings and our wardrobes; a great collection of Victorian farm technology; our much loved sheepdog; and a library of books. We were dismantling our former life. I would not be seeing for a while my daughters from the previous marriage. People called us stupid; people called us brave. We were neither. We were doing what we had to do. It was agony to leave my daughters, even though I saw them very little. I hoped that they would one day understand that I had had to go to make myself a better person. I was doing what I had to do. Bees go where the honey is.

I mentioned pleaching earlier. Down below my house, four beehives need protecting by a proper hedge. The sun is shining. I want to be out there in it. The past was beautiful, challenging, inspiring, confusing, scary, and sublime. The past contrived to bring me to this present moment, and, after all, this is where I live. Here now. More than thirty years later, Osho is in my blood and in my very cells. His laughter is in my heart. I hardly ever think of Him because, in some way, He is me.

“This is the answer: live moment to moment and you become a buddha. A buddha is one who lives moment to moment, who does not live in the past, who does not live in the future, who lives here now. Buddhahood is a quality of being present here and now – and buddhahood is not a goal, you need not wait, you can become just here and now.”

Osho, And the Flowers Showered, Ch 8

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

Past The Point Of No Return

Spread the love