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Sketches from the Life of Richard E. Lee, continued

Part 2: Studies with Rajneesh, and on Shamanism

In the late 1970s, Richard was introduced to the teachings of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and through the early 1980s became his disciple. He adopted the name that Rajneesh had given him, "Deva Veerendra," meaning "divine courage," and wore orange clothing. This was a time of significant inner growth for Richard, as reflected in his poem "Prelude," written in 1980. During this period of his life, Richard pondered the nature of his existence, opening himself to new ideas and concepts of life, rejecting Catholicism and embracing Buddhist philosophies, though not regarding himself a Buddhist:

Beginnings have no beginnings. Endings
do not end. Fragments. Shards of childhood thrown
against a door. A prayer to a god
who isn't there. Words stutter against
this void, shatter the silence, and yet
the silence is all that speaks, can speak,
all that can or shall be heard. Voices haunt
these shores. In woods along a path strewn
with debris of woods, an old man, I read
to a lost boy. It is not too late
even there in that disturbed innocence....
Time yet to consider....Time, still time....
I resort to memory which is sorrow, which
brings in mind that cuts and severs....

A walk through the woods thus becomes a metaphor for his journey to the past he  contemplates, and the present time in which he now defines himself:

...The woods creates itself moment by moment.
Fragments of forests that never disappear.
A dark brown path of shredded bark, eucalyptus
berries, twigs, curling leaves. Water forms at
the tips of pine needles, collects, spills off
into the light. Glistening puffballs are
entwined by strands of spidery threads. How
to say this? How to say it even as
I fold into what I see and lose the words
to say it? I walk in this place. I shape
it as I walk. And I am shaped by it....

The early 1980s marked another period of transition for Richard. While planning his upcoming retirement, he and Savya contemplated moving from their home in Long Beach. In a letter postmarked on October 12, 1983, Richard wrote: "...We may, Carol [Savya] and I, leave Southern California, may find another state, maybe a New Mexico. But wherever, I have a definite feeling we shall be leaving [Long Beach]. Yet who knows? I have to teach during the fall.... Well, I don't "have" to. It's time to make changes...." 

Richard went into semi-retirement after the end of that year. In a letter postmarked on December 16, 1983, he explained:

...I shall not be teaching again till next fall. A new life is opening for me, and that takes some getting used to. I know I will manage marvelously, bravely, but initially it will take some doing. (Rajneesh knew what he was doing when he gave me that Veerendra name. Courage. Yes, I need that.) It will be a meditative, exploratory time, a time to sort through things of my life, make decisions about them, and move on. Basically it will be a matter of slimming down, getting rid of unnecessary baggage. There is even a possibility of moving away from California. I am not sure how many more semesters I shall teach at State....

...Obviously it is a major change for me. New things will be happening. I would even like to go back to India to visit some shrines I did not on my last trips. One in particular is the shrine of a Hindu saint, Shree Ramana Maharshi. He is dead now, but he means a lot to me. His enlightenment came when he answered his own question: Who am I? Once one knows that, then he knows everything that matters. He came to know. His presence is still felt at his Ashram. So I would like to go. But physically it is dangerous. It is a pilgrimage, and one has to be in the best health....

The question "Who am I?" became of greater importance to Richard now, and his self-explorations and mystical inclinations led him to Shamanism. In a letter postmarked June 10, 1986, Richard wrote about his and Savya's move to Joshua Tree, explaining that he would still teach at CSULB, "but only in the fall. That will be coming up in a couple of months. Have to rent a cheap apartment down there somewhere near the campus. This year [Savya] will stay up here and I shall do the traveling down and back twice a week. I do not mind the drive, rather like it in fact." In that same letter, Richard also commented on his personal, spiritual development:

I was raised [a Catholic], even studied to be a priest,
and here I am! I am no longer in orange, rarely use my 
Veerendra name, but that time with Bhagwan [Rajneesh] was the most
important time of my life. I do not regret a moment of
it. I even wish I could still be a sannyasin, but the time
has come for me to move on. I have been trained to do
Shamanic work now, and in the process of that I discovered that
I am my own teacher, not a very pleasant fact but nonetheless
true for me at this stage of my development. We have met
many people up here who share our views. I have even
started a Shamanic drumming group that meets every other
week. Very instructive, very valuable work is being done
and will be done....

Richard's studies on Shamanism and drumming led to the formation of their group, Ceremonial Sounds. [See photo of Ceremonial Sounds below, taken by me during their performance at the Marina Pacifica Clubhouse in Long Beach in 1991. Click here to listen to an excerpt from "Tantric Conclusions (A Celebration of Life)," from the "Ceremonial Sounds at the Integratron" tape recorded in 1991.] As the years ensued, after having mastered Shamanism, Richard made it his own. In a letter dated August 22, 1993, Richard commented:

Ceremonial Sounds at Marina Pacifica Clubhouse in 1991I am not doing much Shamanically these days. I am doing a lot of painting, drawing, writing in my journals -- that kind of thing. It all comes together there for me. Playing my pennywhistle, drumming. Like that. Typing up a story Savya wrote that is so great.... I am painting yantras, then binding them into signatures as small books or booklets....

...When I said...that I was no longer doing much Shamanism, what I meant was that I was not doing the kind I studied to do. Now I am my own brand of Shaman, I guess....

Richard's story here.