FLOWERS OF EMPTINESS: Reflections on an Ashram by Sally Belfrage

FLOWERS OF EMPTINESS: Reflections on an Ashram

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Wonderful stuff--the diary of a warm-hearted, clear-headed, and highly ambivalent pilgrim who came face to face with God. Or at least one of his human manifestations, namely Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Lord of the Full Moon), a world-famous guru from Poona. As an atheist, feminist, political radical, and generally rational person (remember, from 1965, Freedom Summer?), Belfrage would seem to be an unlikely candidate for sannyasin (roughly, apprentice saint); and so she was. Yet, thanks to a free plane ticket from two women friends, she found herself literally at the feet--which were, she notes, exquisitely pedicured--of the divine guru, more or less transformed. Confronting Bhagwan is ""to quiver with life, to be thoroughly involved, to be exposed to the light with lens wide."" Granted, Belfrage will quickly drop her new name, Ma Deva Kanan (Sanskrit for Divine Wild Forest). She will not, as other sannyasins do, wear orange robes for the rest of her life. She will not swallow her objections to Bhagwan's cult of the personality. (""Why do you let people call you God?"" she queries, ""What does God call you?"") And she won't stay in Poona, but return to London, to her children and her career as a writer. Yet for all this her life has been permanently changed. She has been blissfully liberated from the chains of ego, which paradoxically means that she has found her deepest self. ""Never lose contact with your inner wilderness,"" the swami advises her, and one feels sure she won't. Belfrage describes her conversion with quiet eloquence (it's a rather Zen Buddhist experience, but the eclectic Bhagwan apparently has many spiritual arrows in his quiver). Still, she never gets lost in private sensations, never loses sight of the great swarming mass of humanity outside the ashram gates. In dozens of painfully vivid sketches, Belfrage evokes India as it looks to a guilty tourist--fascinating, repulsive, and ultimately heartbreaking. (""If you can be calloused enough,"" she notes sardonically, ""India need not interfere with the soul's search."") A simply splendid performance.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1981
Publisher: Dial