Bodhena’s ‘Samsara’ part 16
Meanwhile, life in the commune was continuing, business as usual, so to speak. While I was in security, I had largely missed the biggest crunch in the history of the Ranch, the town house crunch. In construction, we had gathered enough experience to tackle large-scale projects, and, starting in the fall of 1983 and continuing well into 1984, built the Lao Tzu town houses. They were located in a wide semi-circle, where B-Site opened up towards a relatively wide valley, in which Kabir Creek was running that came from the downtown area, past Rajneesh Mandir, to eventually pass Maggie’s Cafe and then on to the truck farm and Radha River. We put up almost a hundred town houses, two-story buildings, each with nine bedrooms, four bathrooms, four toilets and a living room with a small kitchen corner. It was a gigantic operation, and every hand that could be spared elsewhere was put to work.
Since security was considered a priority, I worked there only during relatively brief stints of “alternative worship”, but still, I got a good taste. The site was bustling with activity, sometimes for periods of weeks with work days that went from 6 am to 10 pm.
During the same time, more or less, we built a hotel (with well over 100 rooms, all with attached bathrooms), a large two-story mall building that stretched along the whole length of the downtown section of the county road (“Devateerth Mall”), with retail space downstairs and office space upstairs, and, for good measure, a number of smaller buildings, for storage and other purposes. And all that in addition to all the other building that had already happened. Our city was starting to take shape.
By the end of 1984, Rajneeshpuram had a downtown area that featured two restaurants, an ice cream parlor, Buddhagosha Bookstore for Osho’s books, Omar Khayyam Bar, a post office, a bank, a travel bureau, a boutique, a gambling casino, and, last, but not least, a beauty parlor where residents could get free haircuts by top-notch hair stylists.
Of course, for a meal in a restaurant or a drink in the bar you needed money, and there were enough people here, residents or visitors, who apparently had enough of that. Like a lot of my friends there, I was more or less broke during my whole time on the Ranch, and money wasn’t really needed, since for residents all the essentials were provided for by the commune, for free. (That included even a pack of cigarettes a day.)
Elsewhere in the commune, the group department had turned into “Rajneesh International Meditation University” (“RIMU”), offering a wide array of groups, courses and sessions. After all, we had some of the top therapists and body workers in the world, and they were kept pretty busy. On a number of programs sponsored by the “Rajneesh Humanities Trust”, sannyasins could come and participate in the commune life for a few weeks or months.
All in all, in the summer of 1985, the number of residents and visitors had grown to anything between four and five thousand at any given time, about 2,000 of them “permanent” residents, and that was not counting the people who came by the thousands to our celebrations. What had once been a forlorn cattle ranch had turned into a flourishing small city.
We even had our own airport. Originally just a dirt strip where small craft could land, it was now a long tarmac runway, complete with landing lights, a hangar and an arrival and departure building. “Air Rajneesh” (Motto: “There is only one sky to fly in!”) was flying to Portland on a regular schedule with its two seasoned DC 10s, and on the flights a couple of cute teenage mas were serving refreshments as stewardesses. A few times, I flew back to the Ranch from Portland after having done a week of security at the Hotel Rajneesh, and, looking down onto our city, was amazed how small it really was, compared to that big world outside.
On another front, though, trouble was brewing, and soon the shit was going to hit the fan, big time. The number of lawsuits we were engaged in had been growing steadily during the years. Government institutions, private persons and seemingly everybody else in Oregon were suing against us, for a multitude of reasons, and by mid-1985 we were involved in dozens of court cases. In May 1985 I joined Rajneesh Legal Services (“RLS”) as a paralegal, and there were more than 200 of us working there, taking care of the load.
A grand jury that had convened in Portland had been busy for a while, and by September it seemed imminent that they were coming down with some indictments. Obviously in anticipation of several arrests, Sheela and about 20 people of her “inner circle” packed their bags and left the Ranch for Germany on September 14. The commune was in shock. And the shocks continued as by and by a whole ton of stories came out about activities they had been engaged in behind our backs, activities not only directed against institutions and persons in the “outside world”, but also against us. They clearly had misused the authority that had been entrusted to them. This definitely increased the energy level in the commune. We had called in the FBI and were investigating together with their agents (some of the alleged crimes were “federal” crimes, for instance wiretapping, besides arson and attempted murder and more), and on top of all that the Oregon National Guard had been mobilized, ready to invade should that be necessary. The pressure was becoming very intense.
Yet, we still had each other. I have to admit that at some point I started to wobble a bit, only to be told by a friend, “Hey, Bo, now’s the time where you can show whether you’re really a meditator or not!” Quite true. And above all, it was Osho, who stood up for his commune, who’s tireless support prevented things from turning into chaos.
In the end, however, the City of Rajneeshpuram did not survive. The forces against us that wanted the commune destroyed were too formidable, and they included people in the highest levels of the Reagan administration (among them was the Attorney General at the time, Ed Meese). Their assessment that our weakest spot was Osho’s immigration status proved to be correct, and eventually he had no choice but to leave the country. On November 14, 1985, we all saw him off at the Ranch airport. After a brief court hearing in Portland, he flew on to Delhi, India. It soon became clear to us that without him present we were not going to be able to continue, and that we had to close down. And, considering what happened in Waco, Texas, a few years later, we had been relatively lucky that things turned out the way they did.
Some people left right away, others stayed on, some for months, to help with the chores that were still awaiting us to wind down our operation in an orderly way. So, where was I? With Osho gone, my main reason for being there had vanished. All my friends and everybody else were leaving by the busload, and it was only a matter of time before we’d all be gone. Where to go and what to do became the crucial question. No, I was not afraid or freaking out or thought that I had been dropped by existence that had been supporting me so beautifully. I did not feel betrayed by my master who, after all, had walked out on me for the second time. This was a beautiful opportunity to see where I was at with myself, a chance to apply what I had learned to “real” life, on my own. I had to be practical and focused on what needed to be done in the moment. Yes, I was pretty relaxed and in a good space, and I even started to look forward to what adventures might await me out there.
As could not be expected otherwise, Devika and me had had some pretty heavy duty times with each other. We’d broken up, gotten together again, and finally broken up, seemingly for good. But towards the end of the Ranch we’d become good friends again and decided to make our start out in the world together. Her parents had moved to Santa Cruz, California, in the meantime and had offered that we could stay at their place until we found one of our own.
At the end of November, on Thanksgiving, I got on an outbound bus and saw the snow-covered hills of the Ranch for the last time. I did not cry, nor did I look back at that moment, but a big chunk of my heart will always be there.
Well, so what had it been all about, then? You can’t say that we hadn’t been warned. Way back in Poona, Osho had remarked at some point that the new commune was going to be “the biggest marketplace you’ve ever seen”. Sure, we may have come with our own illusions. We were going to have a model commune, the envy of the New Age, where we’d all live blissfully until the end of our days, together with our master. And certainly we’d all get enlightened. What we got instead was a tough crash course in down-to-earth, basic spirituality, Osho-style. He had always had the knack to create situations in which we could learn, and this was one of them.
I can’t remember any more what it all was that I went through. What remains today is more a certain taste. On the outside I might have looked radiant, but inside, most of the time, something or other was cooking. In a multitude of ways, I was thrown back upon myself, again and again and again, until I was reeling and hanging in the ropes, through devices that were anything but conventional. And so much more would have been possible had I been ready for it then. It was all given to me without me having to ask for it, a great gift, laid right into my lap.
Looking at it now from a certain distance makes the picture a bit clearer, but it still keeps evolving. Throughout the years, there have been things popping up that unquestioningly had received their share of work during the Ranch. Somewhere inside I am still digesting. Ultimately, Osho has given me my freedom, to the extent that I was able to receive it. Not a cheap, superficial freedom that gives me the license to do what I want to do out there, but a deeper, much more important freedom from having to do something in particular in the first place, that enables me more and more to just take what life decides to give to me and to let the river carry me to where it wants to.
I don’t know how much Osho knew about what was going on in the commune, or why he didn’t interfere. I’m sure that he was aware of the potential of certain people that he had put into certain positions. In one of his last discourses on the Ranch I heard him say that “the Ranch had been designed to fail”. OK, let’s put everything into a big pot, give it plenty of energy, let it cook for a while and see what happens. Ka-voom, and then on to the next caravanserai.
The city that we built and any other work we might have done was always of secondary importance, almost an accidental byproduct, to inner processes that were happening, to our personal growth. We were given an incredible freedom and space to act out whatever we needed to act out, and use that collectively, as a vehicle for our growth. The commune may not have succeeded, but it was an invaluable teaching for so many of us, however much we were able to appreciate it at the time it was available. That is what really counts. The commune was not an end that was to be achieved, “only” a means.
I have noticed that to this day the reputation of the Ranch is a rather negative one. The organization in Poona as well as many individual sannyasins have a strong tendency to see it as a dark spot in our past, and would prefer if it hadn’t happened. In New Age circles it is not uncommon that the Ranch is referred to as “Osho’s fascist work-camp”, or something to that effect. Whether those people have been there at all in the first place or not, I don’t think they are able to see the Ranch as what it really was, as just a teaching, way beyond the confinements of “good” and “bad”, and to me that makes it the work of a truly great master.
What remains with me today is a deep gratitude (if I may be permitted to use the g-word) towards Osho, towards everybody who had been there, and, yes, to the Oregonians, who possibly to this day still don’t know what hit them.
From Bodhena’s Adventures in Samsara (soon to be published in book form) – read more excerpts…
Some photos thanks to Yogena
Bodhena took sannyas in the late seventies in Pune where he worked first as a handyman for the group department, then as a Krishna Guard. After living in Geetam for a few months, he was invited to the Ranch where he worked in construction, security, Magdalena Cafeteria, Chaitanya (accounts) and as a paralegal at Rajneesh Legal Services. In early Pune II he worked for the Rajneesh Times, and then again as a guard at Lao Tzu House. In recent years, he has been living in Clausthal, Germany, practising nowhere to go and nothing to do. bodhena (at) hotmail (dot) com