You say only after about twenty-one years later the music started.
I wasn’t doing well. I really wasn’t. I just didn’t have the wiring to live happily in this world, to live peacefully, to live in a good way. I wasn’t wired to be content with myself, to love myself. Those programs weren’t put onto this drive. So I filled the drive with everything else that was around.
Then one day in 1994 I was in my apartment in New York City. I was standing in the living room and I was struck with the understanding that if I did not sing with people – I mean, it was really worded like this: If I did not sing with people – with people – I would never be able to clean out the dark corners of my own heart. Never. It was the only thing that could help me.
I’d done all kinds of meditation courses: Vipassana, Dzogchen, all kinds of stuff. Seen all kinds of teachers, done all kinds of shit, but still, the house I was living in was filthy, and I didn’t have the tools to clean it up until that day I recognised that the only thing I could do – and I could do it – was to chant with people.
I had to start. I mean, once you know something, what can you do? You could pretend you don’t know, but you know. It took me a little while, but I forced myself to go down to The Jivanmukti in New York.
I had met those people, and I asked them if I could sing. They said, ‘Yes, sure.’ So that was the beginning. It was, and still is, singing to save my own ass! I am so pleased that other people get nourishment from it, get strength from it and whatever else they get from it, but I don’t have anything to do with that. I sing to save my own ass.
Maharajji takes care of everything else. He brings the people, he does the PR, books the tickets. He does everything. I just sing – to him – and stuff happens. But I’m singing, essentially, because I have to. Period. It’s that simple.
The way I see things has changed. In other words, it’s not so much ‘me’ and all the other people. My idea of who I am in relation to the rest of the universe has changed a lot too. In other words, I’m singing for the one heart. It’s not totally selfish in the old sense of the word, but essentially I am singing because I have to.
My master Neem Karoli Baba picks up that rusty old pipe and he plays beautiful music and when he puts it down that’s when I go to sleep and eat and do the rest of my life. Then he picks up the pipe and I’m there again. That’s the way I see it. It’s hard to sell that to anybody, but really, it’s all his blessings and it’s all his transmission. He’s doing the whole thing. I am just the puppet – and happy to be the puppet. Very happy. I don’t know how I got this job, but I’m happy.
One evening I came home from being at the gallery and my girlfriend told me somebody came earlier and was enquiring about a stained glass in our window. He’d seen that it was a newly made piece. He told her he would like to come back and say hello to me because he’s also a stained glass maker.
When we met he told me, ‘My name is Michael and I live just around the corner from you. I also make stained glass.’ He told me his house was like a church. He had a flat downstairs, and they used it as a church on Sundays.
We talked a bit and he showed me some of his artwork. He also made these huge charcoal drawings depicting scenes from the Bible, which I thought were just amazing. I wanted to include some of his work in the exhibition. He agreed but he wasn’t particularly enthusiastic. It felt he just wanted to support me – but the exhibition was a great success.
We started meeting regularly and he would talk to me from his faith experience – miraculous for me. I really loved this guy in a short time. I was hungry for what he was sharing because I felt so much peace from him. And I didn’t get the impression he was trying to convert me – just sharing.
We would meet twice a week or so for months. And then one day, one Sunday, we had a very rich conversation, again about Christ and a life of service to God. When he was about to leave I asked him, ‘Michael, when you pray next time, will you pray for me?’
And he said, ‘Yes, yes…but we can do this right now.’
So I stood up and he put his hand on my forehead and he prayed a beautiful prayer. When he’d finished, I also prayed. ‘Please help me God. I want to know you in my heart.’
That was it! That was the beginning, I would say, of my real life of knowing God – not as an idea but as a living and direct experience.
How old would you have been by then?
That was in 1987, two years after my sister was shot. About thirty- three years old.
This prayer resulted in a very powerful experience. When Michael left the house I was just sitting in this space of total silence and the most beautiful feeling I could ever recall. Maybe he left about seven o’clock in the evening and I didn’t want to go to bed at all. I felt that if I slept, this feeling was going to end. I stayed up as late as I could because it was as though my entire being was cocooned in this warm spirit water.
I finally fell asleep of course and in the morning when I woke up I saw something that looked miraculous to me. In the curtain there was a split and the sunlight was pouring through – it looked like a sword coming into the room and I could see all these little particles of dust floating in the fine sun ray. ‘Wow!’ I opened the window and it was like I’d never seen the sun before, or felt it. I was seeing it inside.
I went out walking and the feeling was still there. I went to the park, the feeling was still there. Came home, the feeling was still there. This deep, deep peace, and it has never gone away, it’s never gone away.
How was your first meeting with Papaji?
We rented a bicycle rickshaw and asked to be taken to Papaji’s house. We didn’t really know the address. We were sweating, this poor bicycle rikshaw driver was sweating, and I was getting really concerned about him. I remember suddenly saying ‘Stop!’ I stepped off the rickshaw, I looked, and on the gatepost of the house in front of us it said ‘Poonja’. It was Papaji’s family name.
I looked up and there he was, walking down to the gate. I was walking towards the gate and we just met, as if it had all been planned by the Divine. Probably it was! I immediately went into shock, and he started saying very ordinary things like, ‘Where’s your luggage? Where are you staying?’ My thoughts were, ‘I’ve met God and he’s worrying about my luggage!’
A couple of days later it was the Buddha’s birthday, and somebody told me, ‘If you like you can go to Papaji’s house.’ This was also a shock because in my fifteen years with Osho there was never a question of meeting him. He was far away from everybody. When we got to Papaji’s house there were maybe ten people in his small living room and he was sitting on a little platform.
These people seemed to know him very well and they were gently talking together. Maybe there were some spiritual questions, but I think it was more like gossiping together about people: Has Fred arrived? When does so and so leave? This kind of talk. It was a very lovely energy. I was completely touched to be sitting there – after Osho always being so far away, suddenly I was sitting in the room with Papaji.
Being English, after a while I started to think, ‘Oh, it’s going to be lunchtime soon, maybe we should leave. We’re not invited for lunch.’ At that moment Papaji stood up, and as he was walking out of the room he passed me and he put his hand on my shoulder. This was so beautiful because immediately I got the feeling he’s telling me I can stay for lunch. It was the beginning of a deep connection.
Did this deep connection continue?
In my early days I was very open, very happy to meet him. And then at some point I realised that meeting him was actually very dangerous. It was like going into the lion’s den and maybe I shouldn’t be in such a rush because he just might bite my head off. I became a little careful.
In those days you would write a letter with a question, to sit with him in Satsang. I wrote three questions in my first three-week period. In my first letter, I wrote about a story from Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Prize winning writer and poet. It was about a seekerwho found God’s house but went away so he could continue his seeker’s lifestyle. Papaji liked this story and it gave him the opening to challenge my priority for being a finder.
In Osho’s ashram there was a lot of talk about blocks. You would go to do a workshop to get rid of your blocks – the blocks being mind structures. In my second letter I asked him what I thought was a very clever question, ‘Can you tell me how to get rid of my blocks?’ Papaji gave a brilliant answer. He nearly killed my ego in that moment because he said, ‘Show me your blocks.’ I immediately saw that I didn’t know what I was talking about. There weren’t any blocks. What are these blocks that I’m talking about? This was a shocking energetic moment, as if he was shaking the whole foundation of my house, but it completly didn’t fall down at that moment.
A bit later I asked him a final question, and this time I had written something from myself, but he asked me, ‘Did you read this in a book?’ In that moment when he challenged me, my eyes closed, something very strongly energetic happened, and when I looked inside there was a complete whiteout. There was nothing, there were no thoughts, there was no me. It was just all completely white, there was nothing.