'What is left there is the pulse, the beat and the throb of life.' U.G.
For U.G. there is no distinction between day and night. He takes only catnaps. All in all, he says, he sleeps about four to five hours. He eats like a bird, a morsel of food, three times a day. For a vegetarian he does not eat many vegetables and hardly any fruit. He eats practically the same thing every day. His breakfast consists of oatmeal with double or triple cream and a glass of orange or pineapple juice. Sometimes he eats the same food for lunch and dinner, when he is alone. For lunch, here in the U.S. he generally makes couscous with (frozen!) broccoli heads, or 'angel hair' with a touch of canned tomato (never fresh!), and at night he eats the same with a bit of cheese. Heaven only knows how he survives with such small quantity of food! He says, just to let the body function he 'throws' a morsel of food three times a day into his body! 'You have made eating into a pleasure movement. As far as I am concerned there is no difference between looking for varieties of food or looking for varieties of girls (or men, as the case may be).'
The only exercise he has is walking from the bedroom to living room, to the kitchen and sometimes to the toilet and back to the bed! He says riding in a car is his only constitutional—that's a lot of exercise to every part of the body because the whole body is moving with the movement of the car at the speed of sixty miles an hour! If this exercise is not enough, he goes 'malling' in the shopping malls, i.e. window-shopping.
Wherever he is people come to meet him and it is from these informal talks that several books have been compiled. More than one of these books has been translated into French, Russian, Italian, German, Chinese, Japanese and Polish.
The very first book entitled, The Mystique of Enlightenment, was the brainchild of two former Rajneesh sannyasis. Out of sheer gratitude for the role that U.G. had played in their life, they wanted to share what they had learned from U.G. with the general public. This book, along with the others, has paved its way all over the world without any fanfare. 'If there is anything to whatever I say, it stands or falls on its own,' says U.G.
Although he says he has nothing to say, and cannot help anyone at all, multitudes of people come to see him, some out of curiosity and some out of the hope that he will help them in some fashion. 'U.G. is not a teacher. He is a friend to you when your own teacher has become your enemy,' says Vijay Anand, film director, who was in the inner circles of Rajneesh's ashram for eight years before he had met U.G.
U.G. says that you should stay with your misery and that you don't need a teacher. And you don't know how to do that. It is too severe. You can't cope with the misery. You want to get rid of it. And then U.G. comes along and says, 'I can't help you. It's your misery. Go to hell.' It is difficult to understand. It's easier said than done. Vijay Anand, who has been through the gamut and has considerable knowledge of the world of spirituality and meditation, describing the predicament of the aspirant, adds:
There are moments in our lives when we go through a crisis—not an intellectual crisis but an emotional crisis, when you cannot cope with the suffering. Since no help is coming and you cannot help yourself, that is when you turn to the religious books like the Koran, the Gita or the Bible. You suddenly feel that you get solace. But that solace does not last. You read the books again. They give you exhilaration for an hour or so. Again it wears out. This goes on. And then you feel that probably these are dead words. That's why the books are not working. So when these books fail, that is the time when you start looking for a teacher. If there is a crisis in your profession, you go to an expert. If there is a problem with your health, you go to your doctor. When you have a crisis of this kind, you are likely to go to people like Rajneesh, Da Free John, and J. Krishnamurti. You do find initially that they help. These people give you a way of life. Certain meditation, certain philosophy which fills you up for a short while. You feel as if you have got an answer. As long as you do the meditation, it seems that the crisis has passed away. But the moment you stop and you are with yourself, you are back to the crisis. So you really have found no solution. Here the teacher tells you that you have not done enough of whatever you are supposed to do. So you go back and put in double the effort. This is a kind of forgetfulness like drinking. If you are honest with yourself, you will find that you are not getting anywhere. You are stuck. This is when you should meet U.G.
At times these informal conversations become heated. People are provoked into fighting desperately to latch on to whatever they believe in, while U.G. is negating practically everything they say. They might feel their very existence is threatened. Yet seemingly masochistically they keep returning to see U.G. This indeed is a sort of fatal attraction. Or it is as if the moth cannot avoid the fire. 'I don't know, and I don't give a paisa for what he says on matters religious, much less his teachings. Yet there is something in him that drags me to him,' laments Brahmachari Sivarama Sarma, a former professor of chemical engineering and Indian Administrative Service officer, who was also once nominated to be the Shankaracharya of the Kudli Math but who didn't make it for political reasons.
U.G. shuns religious persons, ridicules social reformers, condemns saints, speaks with disgust about sadhakas (spiritual aspirants), detests the chanting of the Vedas or the recitation of the Upanishads and is full of rage when one speaks of Sankara or Buddha. He becomes furious at the very mention of Sai Baba or Rajneesh. The height of his rage could only be seen when 'J. Krishnamurti freaks' approach him.
He doesn't give any solution to any of the problems raised and avoids questions about 'enlightenment'. Whenever he gets entangled in a controversy he says, 'It is so. Take it or leave it.' Whenever he is confronted with arguments he becomes violent and says, 'Who asked you to come here? You may get up and go. That's fine with me.'
He is against morality, but refrains from preaching immorality. He gets wild when somebody speaks of honesty though he is not dishonest himself. He is a bundle of contradictions. His statements are devastating. His ideas are shocking. His expressions are bewildering. His utterances are irritating.
Yet, I am pulled toward such a person! Is it my weakness? No. Or is it because of my passivity or cowardice or incapacity to stand on my own? No. Not at all. Then what? I don't know! I made up my mind not to think about him any more, nor bother to visit him; and yet the moment he is anywhere near Bangalore my nerves reverberate. I become restless and find no peace till I run to him. Why? Why? Why?
U.G. and Brahmachari have for more than twenty years shared a volatile relationship. Brahmachari apparently had the world at his feet when U.G. stepped in and prevented him from getting it. The story goes that before dying the pontiff of the Kudli Math nominated Brahmachari as his successor. This meant being an heir to a property worth hundreds of millions of rupees, a fleet of cars and a residential palace in the heart of the city of Bangalore. A contest for the throne began when a rival stepped in, challenging Brahmachari's succession. This was the beginning of a long-drawn legal battle for the throne. Obviously both sides had much to gain. Little did Brahmachari know that even his life was in danger. Had it not been for U.G., who for three months, till the appointed day of coronation, sheltered him, Brahmachari's life would have ended in a tragedy. Every day, from dawn to late night, U.G. kept him under his guard, preventing him from venturing out, dissuading him from entertaining the idea of becoming a pontiff of the math. Brahmachari was permitted to go back home every night only when it seemed safe. On the day of the coronation, when his dream of scepter, throne and crown came tumbling down and his rival ascended the throne, Brahmachari was with U.G. The next day Brahmachari took him to visit a piece of land granted to him by the Karnataka Government. That same evening U.G. dropped him off at his residence, which happened to be a garage, and handing him two rupees, the remainder of the cab fare, said, 'With this, start your own ashram...'
Months later, with the assistance of the Karnataka Government, Brahmachari set up a huge ashram on the outskirts of Bangalore, in which he also built a school, a temple, a guest house and cottages for the elderly.
Conversations with U.G. are not always of a serious nature. One of the visitors who came all the way from Rio de Janeiro, flying in a Concorde, was shocked and disappointed when he heard U.G. discussing monetary exchange rates and the stock market. 'Have I come all the way to listen to money, power and sex, instead of mystical experiences, truth or enlightenment?' To this U.G. replied, 'I have not asked you to come here. You will do well to take the next available flight to Brazil.' But the gentleman came back the next day and every day for almost a month.
Wherever U.G. happens to be, his friends gather around him. They tease each other, joke, and a party-like atmosphere prevails. 'I feel so comfortable in his physical presence,' says Paulo Marrusic, an Italian film maker. 'The atmosphere around him is very informal, easy, like flowing water. We entertain ourselves with games, like horoscopes and financial matters.' Even in India, U.G. is always surrounded by people who are either looking at his horoscope or getting some palmist to comment on his future. Everybody knows that all this is sheer entertainment for U.G.
While we are in the area of astrology and palmistry, a look at the nadi reading of U.G. done in 1988 may be of interest. Nadi, as a type of astrology, is practiced in different parts of India. In one form (kaumara nadi) the astrologer carries volumes of palm leaf manuscripts which he inherited from his ancestors, which were presumably written hundreds of years ago in somewhat archaic dialects and which contain astrological charts and readings on all the people who would visit the astrologer in future (including their names, backgrounds, their past and their future destiny).
This particular nadi consisted of two bundles of palm leaves, one of large and long leaves that looked ancient and the other of smaller leaves that appeared to be some sort of index to the text in the larger volume. On the leaves are astrological messages written in archaic Telugu and Tamil. The nadi astrologer's job is to locate the appropriate leaf in the manuscript for the person in question and interpret the contents to him or her.
Mr. Nagaraj, the nadi reader, began the proceedings by lighting an incense stick and passing it around the books with great veneration. He then held out one end of a string, the other end of which is attached to the bundle of palm leaves, and offered it to U.G. He asked U.G. to part the stack of leaves at random with his end of the string by passing it through the stack. The astrologer opened that leaf where U.G.'s string divided the stack and began reading what was written on it. These ancient scribblings, set down so long ago by some unknown astrologers and mystics, astounded all those present. The accuracy and insight with which those ancient ones were able to describe the man in question were, to say the least, mind-boggling.
The nadi astrologer himself had no knowledge of U.G. whatsoever. He was visibly perplexed when the nadi started singing the praises of this man:
What is there to say about this recluse who lives totally unattached like a droplet on a lotus leaf? This man lives like Bharata in the epic Ramayana, completely disinterested in the midst of all the royal comforts and pleasures. The combination of the planets Mercury and Saturn enabled him to understand the essence of life. He is well-read and experienced. Mr. Nagaraj stopped reading for a moment, looking doubtfully at U.G., wondering if he perhaps hadn't turned the wrong leaf. U.G. reassured him quickly that the reading was indeed accurate. So, the nadi reading resumed.
'This man will rise to prominence in his ravidasa (the phase of the Sun) like the rising Sun. Having been displaced from his native place, he never stays in any one place long. He does not go through initiation of any kind, he is born with it. His teaching is not like the teachings of hermits and jungle-dwellers. The light of his teaching keeps spreading everywhere. But he thoroughly disappoints those who come to him hoping to get somewhere. This person should be addressed as "atma" and not as "man" (implying that individuality is absent in him).'
Then, as if the ancient mystics needed a break at this point, they wrote: 'We shall continue with the reading after a break of a ghatika (24 minutes).' Mr. Nagaraj closed the book. He and his colleagues were evidently eager to know more about U.G. U.G. obliged them by explaining for the next fifteen or twenty minutes how events in his life clearly reflected this and other astrological readings. He said, I cannot make a definitive statement as to whether there is anything to the predictive part of astrology, but if anyone wants to do an intensive case study, my chart would provide a good example.
The events that I have mentioned paralleled exactly the predictions of the astrologers. Take it or leave it. Meanwhile, those who were present at the reading were all anxious to know what else the nadi had to say regarding U. G. We implored the reader, Mr. Nagaraj to go on with the reading. He consented. But, to the utter amazement of everyone present, when he opened the book a blank leaf greeted him, as if the ancient seers had anticipated our undue haste! 'The blank leaf means that my future is blank,' quipped U.G., chuckling. Then the book was closed and after a half a minute was opened once again with the string. Writing did appear on this leaf. It said:
You still have a minute and a half to complete the 24 minute break we have in the previous reading. This reading is of no use to such a man. Nevertheless, we shall continue just for the fun of doing it. You need not pay respects to us but would do better to offer your namaskarams (salutations) to the one sitting opposite you and proceed with the reading. The nadi went on: For eleven years from now, he will be haunted by the Spirit of Good Luck wherever he goes. It will not leave him... This man, whether he is eating, drinking, walking, sleeping, or doing anything, he always remains in sahaja samadhi (the 'Natural State of Union', i.e., the state of liberation)... During the final phase of chandradasa (the phase of the moon) his very look would suffice to initiate a person spiritually... For such a man what use is this reading? With that rhetorical question, the nadi ended its reading. K. Chandrasekhar, who was present at the time of the reading, recorded the above account.
At times, suddenly out of nowhere, a cloudburst hits the people present. Every word is charged with tremendous energy, and the atmosphere becomes electrified. Unfortunately, just these moments are the ones that have never been recorded. For some reason, if anyone anticipates such a moment and arranges for a recording, the moment never happens. The situation leaves the participants dazed. They may even have trouble recalling what was said and heard. Such moments can happen when one goes for a walk with U.G., or when U.G. is cooking or when one is driving in a car with him.
Sometimes people come and just sit around U.G., not necessarily participating in any conversation. The general feeling they get is one of peace, security, comfort, intimacy and communion. My friend, one of India's greatest actresses, the late Smita Patil, often spoke to me about this feeling of great ease in U.G.'s presence. Nevertheless, you are never off your guard when you are with him as you feel that you and your being are always under question in his presence.
Even strangers are attracted to U.G. The incidents below will illustrate my point:
Robert Carr was a bit of a guru himself. He had a modest following before he ran into U.G. twenty-five years ago. After meeting U.G. Robert closed shop and is now running a small restaurant near San Francisco. One day in this restaurant, a middle-aged couple who were watching U.G. all through the evening from a few tables away, made an interesting comment to Robert: 'Who is this man? Is he a guru?' they asked. 'No, he is an anti-guru. In fact, he is just a regular guy,' answered Robert. The couple were not satisfied with the answer. One of them said, 'It seems your friend knows what the rest of us don't know. But he wouldn't tell us...' Robert smiled.
I was looking for a black panther to cast in one of my films which dealt with the theme of the supernatural. The search took me to Rome. It was a pleasant coincidence that in those days U.G. too happened to be in Rome. I still savor the memory of that picturesque dawn when I wandered with U.G. through those cobble-stoned, pigeon-filled, narrow streets of Rome reverberating with the bells from the Vatican. 'Belief is an industry. Every church, every temple, every mosque is built brick by brick on the gullibility of man. If Jesus had all this security, there would be no Christianity at all,' said U.G. pointing out to the guards who were shielding the Vatican.
I found a black panther in a private zoo owned by an Italian trainer named Daniel, on the outskirts of Rome. Being a stranger to Rome, I sought U.G.'s assistance to get to this zoo. What happened there that day remains a mystery to me till now. Daniel took us into the zoo and showed us the black panther. The animal looked untrained. The chances of using this panther for the film were slim-to-none. Daniel sensed this. He tried to swing our attention to a magnificent looking nine-foot tiger who, according to him, was the best trained animal in all of Europe. Just then the black panther began growling. U.G. turned to the panther and gesturing to it said, 'Quiet, sit down.' The animal obeyed. Daniel and his wife at first seemed surprised at first. But since U.G. repeatedly managed to make the panther quiet every time he grew agitated, they were spellbound. 'Is your friend an animal trainer?' asked an astounded Daniel.
On a Sunday morning in Paris outside a church where Rue Bonaparte crosses Boulevard St. Germain, U.G. was taking a stroll. 'Do you want this picture of yours?' asked the photographer, showing U.G. a Polaroid shot which he had taken without asking him. 'No,' said U.G. Just then a voice from behind said, 'I'll take it.' She was a young, well-dressed, pretty girl with an intelligent face. 'Why should you pay 200 francs for my picture?' asked U.G. 'I like the face,' said the girl, paying the photographer. Two weeks later, U.G. happened to be at the same spot when he ran into this girl again. She invited him to her house saying, 'I want to show you something, come.' She lived on the seventh floor of a building which had no elevator.
As they spiraled upstairs, U.G. observed the residents of the building casting strange glances at him. The girl was a prostitute. Inside her apartment, the girl showed him an enlargement of his picture on the wall opposite her bed.
Later, she told U.G. why she was leading the life she was. The story was that she had broken away from her parents and wanted a degree from the Sorbonne. Since she had no money for that, she had no choice but to become a prostitute. U.G. just listened to her story. When he got up to leave, the girl said, 'You know, you are the only person who has not advised me about changing my life after listening to my story. Even my clients whom I pick up on their way out of the church on Sundays don't spare me a sermon... Who are you?' U.G. did not answer. He smiled and walked away.
U.G. seemingly leaves places even before he arrives there. The first few hours in Bombay, immediately after his arrival, are inevitably spent in arranging his future travels. 'Why do you travel so much, U.G.?' asked a friend, curious. U.G.'s said, 'My travels are always influenced by the climate. I am like that bird, the golden plover. I travel with the changing seasons. That bird travels South with the sun and returns North with the sun. That's the only way the bird and I can stay comfortable. The bird builds no nest. And I have no home.'
This has been U.G.'s way of life ever since he was fourteen years old. He has been everywhere in the world except China and now divides his time between India, Europe, the U.S. and Australia.
At any given point in his life, U.G.'s worldly belongings did not exceed twenty kilos. They have now come down to five kilos, and he seriously plans to reduce their weight further. He travels all over the world with just one hand bag. At the end of every year, that is, on 31 December, he gives away any unspent money. What his pattern of travel in the years to come will be is anyone's guess. With Valentine's death and that of Terry Newland in the U.S. (in whose studio apartment in Mill Valley, California, he used to stay when he visited there) his pattern is sure to undergo a change.
30 September 1991.
Autumn is here in Carmel. In the hush of this moonlit autumn night I sit here in the living room, leafing through the manuscript, trying to wrench out of myself as much as I can to pour into these pages.
I have come a long way through this book. On my desk I have a few beginnings. Someone once said, 'From one lunch with U.G. a whole book could be written.' Even libraries could be filled with books about this man called U.G. But books have to end just as films finally fade out. U.G.'s story, however, does not seem to have a finale. Superimposing an end on U.G.'s life is like freezing the upsurge of lava from an erupting volcano. So how does a storyteller end a story that has no beginning or end? He just doesn't...
Just as I was wrapping up, patting myself on the back for a job done, U.G. adds a postscript: 'This is just a fairy tale!'
A sign reading, "Welcome to Carmel, U.G. and Mahesh!" put up by our friends here in California is coming off the wall. 'Time to leave, time for us to part,' says U.G. pointing to the wall.
There is a kind of release and a kind of sadness every time I say goodbye to U.G. There is no way I could be like that dunlin bird that follows the golden plover. As U.G. and I drive toward the San Francisco International Airport, the after-image of our house in Carmel in which I have spent almost a month, glistens in my memory.
'Where do you go from here, U.G.?' I ask as I get out from the car. 'I'll spend some time here in the Bay Area and then on to Australia,' he answers. 'I will call you from New York or from London,' I said, trying my best to make my farewell seem casual.
'By the time you know where I am, I may very well be somewhere else,' says U.G. as he drives away, leaving me with my words and my emotions in my mouth.