Lani talks to Punya about events during her young adulthood and seeing Osho for the first time.
I come from Charlotte, North Carolina. I feel I was born there but that I don’t really belong there. It was a nice place to start my life because it’s in the South, it has a warm vibration and I like the Southern hospitality. I grew up in a Jewish family and in a Jewish community which was very close-knit.
One of the things that inspired me or influenced my life the most was the fact that we had an Israeli Youth Director in our synagogue. I always loved his vitality and dynamism. He took groups to Israel every summer, so I went with him the first time when I was 16; that was in 1973. It was my first time abroad and I loved being introduced to a different culture. I was so impressed that they cut their own bread (I grew up in America where bread came cut in plastic bags) and that they ate tomatoes and cucumbers for breakfast. I remember loving the pioneering spirit.
Back in America all I could think of was how to get back to Israel. But I stayed in Charlotte until going to University for a couple of years. I am not a book-learner, I love to learn from life so University was quite boring. I studied Art and Business. I said to my father, after two years of University, “I want to go back to Israel.” So I found a program for college graduates and I talked my way into the program without being a college graduate… It was called The World Union of Jewish Students. I lived in a Southern town in Israel called Arad. That is where I started learning Hebrew; it was an intense language learning program, six hours a day, six days a week, for six months. They didn’t use any English, only Hebrew.
It was a jump into deep water. I loved hanging out with children; they were my main teachers. The program lasted a year: six months of learning and six months of working in their field of study – which I didn’t have, so I started looking at Universities in Israel. Well, I don’t know where my brain was because the idea of reading and writing in Hebrew, which I don’t even like to do in English… so I dropped the idea. Then I thought, “Well, I am going to join the army.” I wanted to do all what Israelis did. I did not want to fight but I wanted to be part of it all.
Hanya, my mom, said to me, “Don’t you want to come back and finish school before you go into the army?” I went back to America, finished University graduating with a degree in Human Development and Learning, and became a school teacher, even without liking to read books myself. I have a way of learning by absorbing, listening, talking with people and doing experiential things. I eventually taught at a Jewish day school in Charlotte. I loved being around children. At that time I had already decided I didn’t want to have my own; I loved watching my mother as a mom and dreamed of being a mother, but I was so happy the children went home to their parents. I found they were also little teachers for me. After one year I had ‘ants in my pants’ (that’s a theme throughout my life…), I needed to move on.
I went to New York for a job interview to work in an office to support university students that wanted to emigrate to Israel. I was not impressed with the people who worked there. I had arrived after a two-hour flight and there was no “Hello, how are you? Would you like to have something to drink?” But, there was a bulletin board where I saw a program called Interns for Peace which was written in English, Arabic and Hebrew; Baraim Assalam in Arabic, Nitzane Shalom in Hebrew. Their office was just across the street. I went over, signed up for this program and went to Israel a month later. This program was bringing Arab and Jewish children together.
After living in a Kibbutz for a four-month training period, I lived in an Arab village for one year. Tamra was in Israel near Haifa, not in the occupied Territories. The second year I was in Kiryat Ata, a near-by Jewish town. This was from 1981 till 1983. I got so depressed, seeing the conflict right in front of my eyes. I am talking about Israeli citizens that are Arabs; there is such a gap between Arabs and Jews, the way how they live. I am not talking about the Palestinians in the West Bank. They are treated like second class citizens. It was very, very hard for me, very depressing.
Osho had come into my life before I went to Israel through my aunt, Kaveesha, in 1976. My brother David, who is two years younger than me, also went to be with Osho, in 1979. I was always watching them like under a microscope, “What are they doing now?” But also at the same time thinking, “That’s not for me, that’s not for me!” I will never forget when David sent me a package to Israel: it had a red velvet robe, a newsletter from Rajneeshpuram and a discourse cassette in it. Every time I put on the tape I fell asleep, I could not understand a word. I knew he was speaking my language, but I could not understand a word. And the newsletter had an article about David working on the farm in Rajneeshpuram. I said to myself, “My brother is working on the farm? Getting his fingernails dirty? There must be something happening there.”
When I came back to the States my cousin, Kaveesha’s son, was getting married. I first went to visit David and Kaveesha in Beverly Hills; they were living in the Rajneesh Estate, a big house with about 25 people living together. It was like a center, a commune, with Hasya, Kaveesha and Yogi. I was blown away by the people who were living there; they were from all over the world – Germans, Japanese, Brazilians, French and Belgians. They lived there before going to the Ranch and therapists used to come and work there. Everybody kept talking about this Ranch in Oregon.
I said to David, “I want to go visit this place before I go back to Israel,” – because I had come to the States just for the wedding. The wedding was in Colorado, so David made arrangements for me to fly on Air Rajneesh from Portland to the Ranch. I flew from Colorado to Portland, took a taxi to the private airport where I was greeted by the stewardesses. Asha was a Lufthansa stewardess and the other one was a teenager. They were wearing their mauve Air Rajneesh uniforms and their malas. They said to me, “Hi, you must be Lani. We have been waiting for you,” and my insides were going, “Oh my God, they are going to brainwash me.”
They invited me to join them for lunch, and my mind went, “Everything is so different…” You understand, you don’t get invited by pilots and stewardesses to go out for lunch! So we went for a Mexican lunch and on the way back, “Let’s go for Haagen-Dazs.” So I sit in the car – there are two stewardesses and two pilots – and I said, “You know, I don’t have a ticket.” When you fly on a plane you have to buy a ticket… They said to me, “You can buy one when you arrive.” “Really?” On the plane everybody is excited and crying and I was so curious, “What’s going on?” I later understood that it was not a regular day. Osho was going to come to the Mandir and be with the commune after the Festival was over. It was at the end of July 1983. Amitabh announced, “Fasten your seatbelts, if you have one,” and then they started distributing bubble gum and Dramamine to everybody. I think we were about 25 people in a DC-3. I was visiting the Ranch for a week.
Osho came out for a dancing darshan [when a dancer would dance around Osho on the podium]. That’s when you walked me over to the Mandir. I was really taken care of. It was my first introduction to Osho because I hadn’t read his books. There was live music. I had never felt so much joy in one place. Aahhh, it was like “wow!” I’ll never forget Taru singing the Gachchhamis; I burst into tears.
Afterwards I walked over to the cafeteria and started meeting people.
I love being pampered, so the next day I went to Chiyono Beauty Salon and had a facial — they put crystals on my chakras – very unique for that time. At the Multiversity I booked sessions – never did therapies in my life before. I had energy balancing, re-balancing and an astrology session. My first session was an Alexander Massage with Nishant. I melted into the table and asked, “You do this all day long?” He said, “No.” “What else do you do?” “I am a fireman.”
I said to myself, “Now these are my people.” What touched me about the Ranch was the pioneering spirit that attracted me to Israel but here it wasn’t only Jewish, it was more. I can’t say I was attracted to Osho directly; I was attracted to his people. What I loved was that they were rebellious, intelligent people; they weren’t just hippies. I called David and said, “You know, I think I am going to have one of those necklaces around my neck one day.” I returned to Israel and literally packed up everything and came back to America. I was finished with Israel.
When I arrived back to America I started freaking out, “Oh my God, if I go to that Ranch I am going to have to leave who I think I am behind.” I started getting cold feet. When I got to Charlotte, David called me and asked me if I wanted to organize a group for some of the therapists from the Ranch. Teertha and Vedana came to Charlotte. My mother, my father, my brother, two cousins, two friends and me were in the group.
That was the time when Hanya, my mom, had decided to divorce my dad. So my mom and I came to the Ranch two days after the group and we took sannyas a week after we arrived, together. She became Vedanta Hanya and I became Shantam Lani. I had a giggle when I got my name. Lani is my original name, it means heaven (from Hawaii – my mother found the name in a newspaper), and I actually like my name. So it’s either ‘heavenly silence’ or ‘silent heaven’.
I stayed on the Ranch for two years. My first experiences there were a group with Teertha and then the Counselor Training for three months. I thought at the time I was going to use this for being a school teacher, working with people, because I did not know if I would stay there. I got the certificate but never became a therapist.
After that I started cleaning; I was in Raidas. I would see Suruchi every morning and get sent to different places, and loved it. When I called my grandmother I told her, “I am having the time of my life cleaning toilets.” Then one day I was sent to Zarathustra on a regular basis and became the tea mama there. I used to make tea for 200 people every day and get very creative making different honey butters and chai. I loved getting creative with the mopping down the aisles. Next came the University; I used to organize jobs for the group participants; again I had to be very creative to find so many jobs for half an hour every day.
Then I was changed to Sariputta shop, which was the electric, plumbing and HVAC (air conditioning). When I asked to go work there, I said, “I don’t know anything about this,” and they replied, “That’s okay, you take care of the people. We’ll take care of the rest.” So I did. Next was security for a little bit and then, because I was a school teacher, I was sent to Portland University to complete my degree so that I could teach in Oregon. I lived in the hotel for I think about a month. I got a certificate and then taught at the school in Antelope for… I don’t remember really, but maybe one week or a month. I didn’t stay very long. But the kids always loved to hang out with me. They would even come spend the night with me.
Then I worked at Tao Connection with Narendra, I don’t know if you remember Narendra? We were roommates in Alan Watts, after I lived together with you. I remember entering the room for the first time and he said, “I just want to let you know that I don’t smoke, I don’t drink and I don’t relate.” I lived in this tinzy little room with this man!
To be continued…
Interview by Punya