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The Power of Words
Steve Small reflects on Mahadevi’s book, ‘From Fear to Enlightenment’

This book embodies what I regard as the best, and also the worst characteristics of devoteeism. The author comes across as deeply perceptive, authentic, courageous, and openhearted. However she can also be very prone to devotional blindness.

First off, I will only discuss one chapter, since I have to own up to being perhaps the last person qualified to review a whole book of this type. I know plenty about fear, but am out of my depth when it comes to enlightenment. In fact, nearly thirty years ago: whilst its author was still lying in her crib, I was sitting in a totally hushed, expectant Buddha Hall, Kooregan Park, Pune, hearing the exotic bird-calls and nervously watching the Rolls drawing to a halt and Bhagwan (as called then) emerging with a collection of seekers’ questions to answer, by way of his morning talk.

Nervously, because I intuited that my question would be read first - and be given short shrift. I had written sharing my doubts about a variety of what I termed elitist and authoritarian elements in the ashram: which I found a too-bitter pill to swallow. (Naively hoping ‘this guy is going to recognise and affirm that a ‘doubting Thomas’ is the truest kind of disciple!) His actual response was - ‘Get out, please. We don’t need irritating upstarts like you here.’ (I paraphrase slightly - apart from the first three words.) The whole auditorium then collapsed with laughter.

This episode was typical of the ‘sannyasin’ phase of my ‘seeking’ career. Quite apart from once being told in an encounter group by the mother-superior of UK sannyas, Poonam, ‘You remind me of Steptoe Junior in ‘Steptoe and Son’, I never was capable of leaving my mind at the gate, with my shoes. I eventually concluded two things: firstly that I was unequipped for the guru-devotee connection and secondly was uninterested in attaining a special state. Functioning consciousness of the non-super grade would be fine, thanks - if I could only manage that. I respect that devoteeism is a noble eastern tradition taking great courage, which does work for some people. It can also be one element in the genesis of an authoritarian cult.

Mahadevi started out from a diametrically opposed angle from mine. She was a devotee of Osho even at the age of nine! She also comes from a wealthy background, (‘Indo-foreign’- again, we aren’t told which other nationality) which may have left her far better equipped to concentrate on the goal of ‘super-consciousness’ than someone distracted by concerns of how to pay the next gas bill.

In true Osho tradition, Mahadevi (in the chapter I have choosen to review) unhesitatingly trashes what she regards as second-rate substitute gurus, when laying into Eckhart Tolle who for space purposes, I shall call ET - not to be confused with the character in a certain film. ET, a teacher who, since writing a best-seller (The Power Of Now), having appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s populist TV. show, and apparently charging some phenomenal amount to punters sitting in his ‘platinum circle’ - must be wallpapering his living-room with twenty-dollar bills by now - and so arguably deserves all the flack he gets. Mahadevi thinks so anyway. Indeed, her onslaught comes after scanning just three pages of his acclaimed meisterwerk - and this she only does as a tactful concession to the hapless admirer whose offer of "The Power of Now" as a gift she flatly declines, calling it ‘a paper flower’.

Her initial attack on the title of his book is somewhat unfair, being based on a highly selective interpretation of the word ‘power’. ‘Power is either a commodity or a game played by maniacs… an enlightened person can neither esteem power nor recommend it…. An enlightened person will use the word ‘strength,’ not power..’ (P132). This is a pertinent insight when applied to the political, multinational corporate and military forces busy exploiting and abusing our planet. Also when applied to a lot of human relationships. But in my dictionary there are twenty interpretations of the word ‘power’, the first being simply ‘ability to do something.’ My impression is that ET clearly attributes the same meaning to ‘power’ as M does to ‘strength’- so why not at least give him the benefit of the doubt? No way. She then goes on to demolish his claims of enlightenment - partly on the grounds that he says ‘after falling into a void, I lost consciousness..’. In the Osho/ Mahadevi model, going to sleep means it was not the real thing - ‘super-consciousness’. Also, he admits not having understood at the time that he had ‘got’ what all the sages were on about, but only later, after partaking of texts and teachers for several years. Personally, I found this account rendered him more ‘ordinary’ and thus accessible - as did his gnomish laughter on his audiotapes - but to Mahadevi it merely confirms his status as a pathetically deluded charlatan. Again - who is to say that there is only one way to awaken or realise one’s true nature?

Finally, having admitted that ‘there are hundreds of enlightened masters from East to West, from past to present’ (P132) as a parting shot she advises ET that ‘If he has a little intelligence or mercy left for his Self.. he should go to Osho’s meditation resort in Pune instead of giving distorted metaphysical and spiritual lectures.’ The implication here is that her own teacher Osho is the only authentic modern-day ‘gateway’ to true teachings! She also claims that ET is presenting teachings as ‘his,’ which ‘have been part of the daily meditations in (the Pune) meditation resort for more than three decades.’ That may be true but it overlooks the fact that they are basically ancient teachings, which surely cannot be copyrighted by anyone. Buddha, Christ and others taught various ways of liberation, which were not patented. (To my knowledge they also did not produce a book with the blurb at the top advising potential readers, as does Mahadevi ‘If you can have sex, you can also become enlightened!’ But in those times spiritual teachers weren’t subject to today’s pressurising market-forces!)

Could it be that ET came to his own understanding and distillation - with no need whatsoever to borrow or steal from Osho?

I personally found ‘The Power of Now’ an interesting, useful book and would be interested to hear the views of others who’ve read it - or indeed, who’ve read Mahadevi’s likewise interesting and useful book.

Steve Small