In Search of Rosewater. Templestowe.


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The supermarket. A friendly Greek woman sells me a bright pink bucket.

The pharmacy: a porcelain Chinese pharmacist says, pointing:

“There’s a Persian shop just across the plaza”.

And on the way a friendly Aussie girl who could be something else but probably isn’t any more, from the sound of it.

Rosewater, nuts, dried fruit,  Yazdi – sweet honeycakes.

Women’s voices, poetry in the air.

“It’s Farsi, our language, she laughs”

“We were talking about how hard it is to put children to sleep.”


And on the way home a church sign:

“A Jesus Metaphor: I am the bread of life.”

An Australian suburb.


Can we please stop asking women …


“Can we please stop asking women to modify their behaviours in public spaces and start asking men to stop perpetrating violence against women?”


We aren’t asking men to not be violent to women? Golly who knew???

Sure lots more needs to be done in the area but, in the meantime since no final solution to the problem has yet been achieved, to suggest sensible precautions on the part of women may not be such a bad idea. But pop your head up over the sex wars parapet and mention that and you’ll be shot down in flames to cries of ‘victim blaming’.

It is doing our young women a disservice to encourage them to believe that, just because you have a right to something, that right is guaranteed at all times and in all places. Violation of human rights is pretty damn common on the planet at the moment. Children are being ripped off their parents and incarcerated FFS. Refugees are being kept in indefinite detention, community water supplies are being polluted by big business with seeming impunity….

Gillian Meagher was offered an escort home on the night she was murdered, and refused it, understandably believing herself to be safe – she lived a short walk away – Melbourne is generally a safe and friendly city – why wouldn’t she feel okay to walk home alone at night? And wasn’t it her right?

In a mobile call just before she was attacked Eurydice Dixon indicated she was uneasy and would be relieved to get home, but tragically her right to walk home unafraid at night did not protect her.


Being reminded of the possibility that even in an open friendly city like Melbourne the possibility of attack exists and being shown ways to avoid attack or protect oneself during an attack seems more useful than cries of “It is the attackers fault, you die blameless!”

Mobile phones give a false sense of security, they may record but, currently, do not protect. We need to be advising women how to properly protect themselves, not telling them ‘you shouldn’t have to’.

Of course they shouldn’t have to! But to treat women as if they have no responsibility to take precautions for their own safety, to decry the police for reminding women of the need to take care is to infantilise women, as if they are a special category whose rights should be guaranteed at all times and in all places without any effort or awareness on their part outside of screaming, two-year-old-style “I have my rights” over and over again on social media and attacking those who have the sometimes unenviable task of protecting those rights.

Male violence against women exists, it has done for a long time. As a society we are only beginning to address it’s causes and attempt meaningful remedies. In the meantime lets stop sacrificing ‘what is’ on the altar of the ‘what should’. And let’s stop shooting the messenger.

The Myth of the Stork


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This is an edited version of an article I wrote in response to a long interview with former sannyasin Jane Stork in The Age Magazine in 2009. The Age ignored it and it appeared on the SannyasWiki website. In light of recent renewed public interest in Osho I thought it could do with another airing.

In your article entitled Escaping the Bhagwan, April 11, 2009, Jane Stork freely admits to having engaged in a conspiracy to murder Oregon District Attorney Charles Turner and to attacking Osho’s Doctor with an adrenalin-loaded syringe. Surely this begs the question “Who had the lucky escape?” — The residents of Rajneeshpuram danced in the street on the departure of Silverman and her group, of which Jane Stork was a member. So I imagine they had no doubts about the answer to that.

For clarity let me mention at this stage that his disciples stopped using the honorific “Bhagwan” many years ago and he has since been known simply as Osho. It has never been grammatically correct to call him “the” Bhagwan – a point the Australian Press has ignoried for years.

But let’s get back to Ms Stork and her escape. Let’s go along with the conceit that it was Stork who had the lucky escape —  considering all this happened 33 years ago it is a moot point whether she escaped at all. I was involved, as were many of my friends, in the same commune as Jane Stork and the events she has obsessed about for so long were for most of us simply grist for the mill – we saw what had resulted from our own unconsciousness and irresponsibility, learned from it, and moved on.

Of course moving on might have been harder for me too had I been naïve enough to get sucked into Sheela’s nefarious activities. The scale of the audience would have been much larger for a start and the temptation to save face by blaming someone else would have been greater. Osho was adept at facilitating the airing of our dirty linen in public and there are on record many instances of his closest disciples having their “trips blown” in public discourse. Most considered it a privilege. Some missed. But, after all, that is why we were all there.

Stork says in the article “To come to terms with that much self-delusion is really difficult, it’s a long, slow, painful process.” I suggest that if she’d had the integrity to take responsibility for her actions at the time she wouldn’t have had to spend so many years constructing a justification for them. She could have moved on long ago. Her lack of a sense of responsibility is glaring in light of the emphasis Osho places on self-responsibility. Wasn’t she listening? Or maybe the question should be: Who was she listening to?

But before we decide whether Stork is any kind of credible witness, let’s ask ourselves: What kind of woman is she? That is, apart from being a self-confessed attempted murderer. Does she deserve the full-colour treatment afforded her by The Age? In these difficult times does she have a message of hope to share with her fellow human beings? Does her extraordinary intellect warrant her being interviewed widely on radio and television including Channel 7’s Sunrise breakfast show, the ABC and A Current Affair?A Current Affair? Really? Sounds like more of the same old, same old, affair to me. Is this woman unable to get a job or something that she needs to squeeze this dry old lemon yet again?

“Stork was introduced to the Bhagwan’s teachings through a psychologist she was seeing because of personal and marital problems. “I didn’t even notice that (the psychologist) was wearing a long orange robe and had a string of beads around his neck.”

Is Jane Stork blind or is she really being disingenuous when she says she didn’t notice that a psychologist she consulted in the Public Health Department was wearing a long orange robe and a string of beads around his neck?”

I consulted the same psychologist around the same time, knowing about the beads in advance, so I can vouch for the fact that his orange robe was orange in the orangest possible sense of the word. He was also sporting far more than the normal complement of hair, both facial and cranial, for public servants of the time. No way could this extraordinary get-up be simply overlooked – that was part of the point for heaven’s sake. So why would Stork make this claim? Is she trying to make out that the psychologist in question was sneakily infiltrating the public health system in search of naïve housewives for his sex cult?

Giving Stork the benefit of the doubt, I am prepared to accept her claim of blindness and naivety, it being my own direct experience that Sheela had no time for intelligent, on-the-ball-people. However, Stork’s stance as an expert on all things connected to the commune strikes a discordant note when coupled with such blindness. Either she’s as dumb as she makes out or she’s not. She can’t have it both ways.

I notice that the personal and marital problems that Stork was experiencing in WA before going to Poona neatly morph into deliberate moves to fragment families and drive a wedge between husbands and wives, parents and children. Suddenly it’s someone else’s fault and Jane is the victim.

Rolls Royces

Another interesting thing is that Stork seems to think everyone else was as blinkered as she was. She suggests that the Rolls Royces were transported to the commune in covered transports ( why not at that price?), because no one was supposed to know about them or notice their existence? I saw twenty-five of them in a row one day – they were hard to miss and very impressive. Osho also talked about them frequently in discourse and I remember wondering at the time whether he might not even be exaggerating their number, especially when I met the guy whose job it was to re-spray them on a regular basis. I was wrong as it turns out, there was over ninety.

For Osho’s take on the Rolls Royces follow this link.

It is a matter of public record that Osho didn’t actually own the Rolls Royces. They were the property of the Rajneesh Modern Car Trust and were the only asset to have appreciated in value when the ranch folded. Thousands of acres of land reclaimed from degradation were not considered to be worth much in Oregon at the time.

“Things began to unravel in 1985 when Kylie was sexually abused on the commune. At the time Stork believed the allegations were lies perpetrated by the enemies of the Bhagwan. ‘I just dismissed it as these people out there, they’re just against us and trying to mess us up’ she says.”

Stork’s fourteen year-old daughter’s affair with an older man was public knowledge in Rajneeshpuram. The couple made no effort to conceal it and it was generally accepted as unremarkable. For Stork to say she didn’t know what was going on beggars belief. My guess is that she thought nothing of it until it came time to find material for her reconstruction of a new “Jane Stork innocent victim”. Jane has moved back into a culture that has very strong opinions about 14 year-olds and their sex lives so now a love affair becomes sexual abuse. Once again Jane is thinking what she’s told to think.

“Stork says it is wrong to describe her as the victim of brainwashing by a purely evil cult. ‘I think I brainwashed myself,’ she says.”

Aha! A glimmer of light has pierced the fog but then Stork immediately does a back-flip blaming Osho in an egregious misreading of his message: “The Bhagwan had one line: the good disciple follows what the master says, the good disciple doesn’t think.” Makes me wonder if we are talking about the same man. How did she manage to overlook the following?

How could he (Hitler) rule so many intelligent people so easily, with such foolish ideas? These people were trained to believe; these people were trained not to be individuals. These people were trained always to remain in discipline. These people were trained that obedience is the greatest virtue. It is not! Sometimes it is disobedience which is the greatest virtue. Sometimes, of course, it is obedience. But the choice has to be yours: you have consciously to choose whether to obey or not to obey. That means you have consciously to remain the master in every situation, whether you obey or you disobey. Osho: A Sudden Clash of Thunder (1977)

Did she not listen? These ideas are not one-offs; they are the major part of what Osho was on about. And I know because I did listen.

The article in the Age article describes Stalk’s real guru, the power crazed Sheela Silverman as “the Bhagwan’s puppet and scapegoat, and ultimately his fall-woman.”

Fall-woman for what? Scapegoat for what? – It was not Osho who conspired to murder the District Attorney, or had salmonella sprinkled over salad bars in a nearby town in order to influence local election results. It was not Osho who attempted to murder his own doctor or his care-giver. It was not Osho who engaged in wholesale tapping of commune residents’ phones.

This pretty scary puppet, Sheela, can be seen on YouTube, flipping back and forth between professing devotion to Osho and painting him as some sort of brain-washing monster in her ongoing, obsessive, attempt at self-justification.

In the end I am left with a feeling of sadness and something of pity for these women, especially when I read the following remark of Stork’s:

“But I’m sure he didn’t give a stuff about doing good and helping people,” she says. “He didn’t care at all for his people. They were just a nuisance, they were part of the show.”

It makes me sad that somehow Jane Stork managed to miss the experience I shared with so many  friends. Either she was so blind she did not see and feel it in the first place or her own need to save face forces her to deny the experience now.

My own experience of Osho transformed my life and I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

Brett Whitely.


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Untitled Bird 1978. Brett Whitely (oil on board with mixed media) 82 x 85.5 cm

The painting consists of a nest containing an egg down in the left hand corner,
A long necked white bird flies up towards the right. Centrally placed at the top of the painting there is a patch of light and to the right a couple of slanting white lines

Compositionally the painting is anchored by the nest and the egg. (Eggs are a recurring theme in Whiteley’s work.) Most of the objects occur in the bottom third of the canvas with the exception of the escaping bird. Long twig like branches, unmistakably eucalypt, form part of the nest and then continue off the edges of the canvas. This creates a flow from near the top left hand side of the canvas to the bottom right.

Around the nest is the effect of water, of the reflection of things outside the painting and the presence of submerged items within.
A clear influence is traditional Asian painting:

I feel like a white Asian … I wish now that my Dad had given me an Asian brush when I was eight, instead of a European sable. (1)

Whiteley’s relaxed mastery of technique allows him to play with spatial concerns in an almost surrealist way without distorting the decorative beauty of the work.
An important part of the effect of the painting consists of the subversion of the spatial relationships on the canvas which occurs as a result of:

• the disproportion in size between the bird and the nest creating a kinesthetic tension.

• the combined effect of the birds eye view of the nest and egg with the reflective qualities and depth of the water leading to similar visual ambiguity and kinesthetic tension.

• the ambiguity between water and sky. The entire surface of the canvas could be water but there is the disturbing presence of the two white lines at the top right hand side. Meteorites? Or two of those little insects that shoot across the surface of ponds? And is the light at the top of the canvas the sun coming through clouds or its reflection on pond scum? The texture of the paint in the centre of the canvas creates a sense of space that adds to the ambiguity.

These ambiguities, subtle but powerful boundary rattlers provoke a surrender to the painting independent of external reference. This immersion in the experience for its own sake, enables a powerful experience of transcendence in the viewer.

My first experience of such art-mediated transcendence was at an exhibition of Whiteley’s paintings, some years ago at an NGV exhibition. It was the first time I ever got up close and personal with a Whiteley.

I started off admiring his skill as a draftsman in the small early works, and, being a bit of a conservative as far as art is concerned, found myself both impressed and relieved to discover that he was a seriously accomplished draftsman.

And then the explosion.

Everything stopped.

No gallery, no crowd, and above all no me.

Only Beach. Sun saturated beachfullness. This.

I can’t identify exactly which of Whitely’s works it was that produced this powerful effect,  It may even have been quite different from the image I retain in my mind’s eye, but I will never forget the flavour of it.

(1) Art History:
Brett Whitely: Art and Life: The Art Gallery of New South Wales (new Edition) Thames and Hudson 2004

Lincoln in the Bardo. George Saunders.


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Lincoln in the Bardo is not an easy read, at least not initially, and the author George Saunders admits as much in an interview with Zadie Smith.

 Whole swathes of the book are made up of verbatim quotes from various historical sources, which I cut up and rearranged to form part of the narrative  (…)   The beginning is strange, and I did a lot of work calibrating that so that a reader with a certain level of patience would get through it and, in the nick of time, start to figure out what was going on. [1]

A friend, to whom I recommended Lincoln, abandoned the effort to read it fairly early in the text remarking: “I wish someone could tell me how to read it.” This review is, in part, an effort to do that, as well as a celebration of my delight in this marvellous piece of writing.

While Saunders’ technique of subjecting the reader to myriad different voices makes for a challenging read it has an important contribution to make to both the liminal and subliminal effects of the work. It works on the level of  the narrative but at a more subtle level it  shifts the perspective to one where the concept of identity is far less solid than we are accustomed to imagine.

 The prime quality of literary prose—that is, the thing it does better than any other form (movies, songs, sculpture, tweets, television, you name it) — is voice. A great writer mimicking, on the page, the dynamic energy of human thought is about as close as we can get to modelling pure empathy.[2]

Lincoln can usefully be viewed as an experiment in the use of voice and its ability to create the appearance of identity. A clue to this is in the very first lines of the book where  Saunders’ creates confusion as to the identity of the speaker by opening a novel with the name Lincoln in the title with the voice of an anonymous stranger. A stranger who, at first, just might be Lincoln. And then something  the voice says creates a cognitive dissonance with what we think we  already “know” about Lincoln.

Reading on we  hear what numerous different voices have to say about Lincoln, some of it congruent and fitting in easily with the identity we are building up in our minds for him; some of it contradictory, incongruous, food for a growing insight into how we go about constructing the appearance of identity.

The structure of the novel is indeed strange; but mimicking as it does the process of identity creation and dissolution as posited by Tibetan Buddhism and subjecting the reader to immersion in a world where that process is undisguised by the conventions of everyday life is a stroke of genius.

The word Bardo of the title is a Tibetan word meaning “a transition stage” — I have seen it interpreted as being synonymous with the Christian word Purgatory. However there are some important differences and Saunders has made it clear that he chose the word Bardo deliberately for those differences.

The term Bardo is based on a non-dualistic view of reality in which all phenomenon are simply modifications of the “ground luminosity” of consciousness, which is all there is. So, unlike Purgatory the Bardo is not a place but more a state of mind. It can even happen during embodied life as well as after death. It can continue indefinitely ─ but dissolves in a flash when the mental loops, attachments, and obsessions that maintain its existence, are seen through or released.



A characteristic of the after-death Bardo is that the fixed perceptions of our shared reality no longer provide limits to the mind, which can thus spin out of control so that any unfinished business, attachment, or obsession becomes monstrous. Saunders portrays this in the book by giving his ghosts various physical “deformities”. Like one, poor old Hans Vollman, with his permanent erection.

Another condition prevailing in the Bardo is that every centre of consciousness is transparent to every other. In Christian terms, souls are “naked before God.” So we hear the voices of the ghosts unfiltered by shame. What makes this so uncomfortable, and so absolutely riveting at the same time, is Saunders’ absolute mastery of the use of voice. We become one, through his “modelling of empathy” with some strange and unfamiliar obsessions, and some undoubtedly familiar ones.

It is a mark of Saunders skill as a writer that when some of the ghosts, those individual knots of mental obsession, do unravel and dissolve, it seems so natural. Like when we experience the “Aha!” moments of letting go of stuckness in our lives. For some of the ghosts, release comes through a genuine concern and compassion for Lincoln and Willies predicament. For others it comes through an almost accidental failure to obsess, like when we stop a child’s tantrum through distracting them with a bright object.

Lincoln in the Bardo is an exhilarating journey. If you let it do its work it will demolish you. And you will love every wonderful minute of it.

[1]Interview with Zadie Smith.

[2] Grace Paley, the Saint of Seeing. George Sanders. The New Yorker. Mar 3, 2017

[3] Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Chogyam Trungpa. 1973 Shambala Publications, Boulder, Colorado

Sea of Poppies. Amitav Ghosh



Sea of Poppies is the first  part of the Ibis Trilogy by multi-award winning writer Amitav Ghosh.

Ghosh’s  works have been translated into over 20 languages which isn’t  at all surprising if Sea of Poppies is anything to go by. It is the sort of novel that tempts one to let the dishes pile up in the sink and leave the phone on flight mode.

At first I was a tad irritated at the lack of a glossary explaining Ghosh’s frequent use of the ‘pidgin’ words and euphemisms common in British India. However, once I surrendered to it, I found that it doesn’t actually interrupt the flow of the narrative to come across these unfamiliar words, and indeed it enhances the feeling of being immersed in a country where many strange and wonderful dialects and languages exist side by side.

Ghosh is a masterly story teller interweaving his characters life stories in such a way that we get to know each one individually and intimately before they come together on the Ibis, a former slave ship now being used to transport indentured workers to Mauritius.

The practice of indentured work, in this instance,  was simply a continuation of the slave trade under a different name. Huge numbers of peasant farmers had been enticed – or forced – to give their land over to growing opium poppies for the East India Company. They had gradually been reduced to poverty and even starvation by the consequent rise in food prices and by their lack of bargaining power, which meant the East India Company could pay whatever they felt like for the product. This meant that in many families one or more members had no option but to sell themselves into servitude in the hope of finding a better life across  “the black water” or in a desperate attempt to lift the rest of their family out of poverty.

sea_of_poppiesThe story is set at a time when the East India Company was still running India for its own commercial gain with the support of the British armed forces, but with very little interference by the British Government. Ghosh’s characters are not one dimensional, even the nastiest of them is understandable, and while he paints a picture of the East India Company as rampantly corrupt and exploitative he also shows how deeply complicit were the Uppercast Indians, by this stage at least.

The characters who come together on the Ibis are many and varied, some grow and transform by allowing their humanity to overcome the blindness and prejudice of the system that entraps them, some don’t and come to satisfyingly grisly ends. Interestingly there is one character Zachary, who leads a bit of a charmed life anyway, who really doesn’t seem to grow much at all. He’s basically a fairly decent human being but is pretty determined to make his way up the ladder in a very corrupt system.  I suspect he will be featuring largely in the next two novels in the series and that his journey to self-knowledge may provide the backbone of the series.

Sea of Poppies plunges the reader into 19th Century India by the power of vivid description and by its compassionate understanding of the subtleties of human nature. Although it describes vividly man’s inhumanity to man it is ultimately a joyful and uplifting experience, illustrating as it does, the possibilty of overcoming evil through the transforming power of  love.