My mother once huffed, “We gave you a perfectly good name.” She was right, they did. I have always thought the name Susan, means “Star,” but when I look up its etymology, I find that it comes from the Hebrew and means “Graceful Lily.” So why, with such a lovely name (whether Star or Lily) would I go by a Sanskrit name? It’s because I get asked some version of this question so often that I write this post. It’s a valid question. I’m a WASP, not a Hindu. But then again, I’m not Hebrew either.
In the early eighties I had an Italian therapist named Veetgyan who wore purple and a string of wooden beads with a picture of an Indian man around his neck. He was a kick-ass therapist for whom I had a great deal of respect. When I asked him about the picture of a beautiful white-bearded man behind his desk, he said simply, “That’s my guru.” When I pressed him for details, he suggested that if I was interested in what he had to say there were many books full of his words. “Which books?” I wanted to know. He said to just go pick one. It would be the right one. I remember being surprised that he didn’t suggest I join or convert or whatever one did. I understood that whatever relationship he and his guru had was a private affair. I did as he’d suggested and found that very book , and what I read there cracked something open in me. My response to the words of Bhagwan, as he was then called, brought to mind Kahlil Gibran’s words in The Prophet: “No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge. The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness. If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.”
I’ve always been a bit of a rebel, so I wasn’t keen on the whole joining a group, having my clothing choice restricted, wearing a picture of some dude around my neck, or having a weird name which would make people roll their eyes. I’d been Sunshine, which morphed into Sunny at the tail end of the back-to-the-land movement, but by 1980 I was doing my best to be relatively normal, and was having only a modicum of success.
In 1983, I stopped resisting the deep longing to draw near, and applied for “Sannyas”; the full meal deal. Close friends took a step back. I guess I was a little overzealous. It was much like falling in love in that I was so smitten and breathless with excitement I couldn’t keep still.
There was no dogma attached to what this man said. No preaching. He was, as he said, “a finger pointing to the moon.” He urged us to stop trying to bite his finger and have a look where he was pointing. Which was, essentially, in the direction of wakefulness, awareness; being fully present. If he preached anything it was to celebrate everything. To be Zorba the Buddha. To be in the world but not of the world. To live fully, joyously, and totally. Now, in 2014, this looks like a no-brainer. Then, it was akin to heresy. I’m pretty sure my family considered calling in the deprogrammers. To the accusation that he was brainwashing us, I heard Bhagwan say that we needed to have our brains washed – they were so full of nonsense. I couldn’t argue with that! In June 1983, I received my new name: Ma Anurag Deepam, Light of Love. Deepam. It sounded strong and clear.
Bhagwan, later Osho (he got to change his name too!) left the party in January of 1990. Yes, I know there were terrible politics around him, a zillion misinterpretations, accusations, and all sorts of nonsense. Even now, there’s a lot of childish power-hungry bickering going on around what he left with us. None of this matters to me. I suppose you could say that I always kept a relatively safe distance from the so-called ‘inner circle’, whether that was from my choice or from not being ‘chosen’, is not for me to say. It doesn’t matter. I was touched in a profound way by his words and his presence, both in Oregon and in India. Those years were for me the richest, juiciest, and most life-changing. I learned ‘to touch and be touched’ in the Rebalancing Training, which is a healing art that continues to sustain me twenty-five years along, and which is also the subject of my memoir, Touched.
I am grateful for every inch of my life, even the hard crusty bits. And I am grateful for my name, which I keep because it means Light, and it grows ever more crucial in these dark and challenging times to keep the light strong.
Also, on a whimsical note, like Prince, Elvis, Adele, Bono or Cher, no one asks, “Deepam who?”