Featured Remembering Here&Now — 05 November 2011

Satya Vedant tells us the story of a journey from New York on a bus full of ‘Share-a-Home’ people

Satya Vedant’s story below is in response to the question: “What situation at work in the commune became a device for you?”

With a master, around a master, there is no such thing like ‘work’. It is not work, it is one’s way of expressing love for our master. With ‘work’ come expectations, likes and dislikes. With a master, whatever it is, it is always an offering. Whatever happens around a master is essentially a device for our own transformation, however insignificant the occurrence may be.

Elderly black man

Credit: Shutterstock

With Osho, anyway, whatever was happening around him was always a challenge. The Ranch, for instance, was a huge phenomenon on 64000 acres of land with multiple possibilities for creative expression. We used to start at six in the morning and go until eight in the evening with just two hours break when we stopped to greet Osho during drive-by. We were working around the clock in more than 50 departments and we had the opportunity to express our love for our master in as many creative ways as possible. So, everything which was going on there was a challenge. Every moment we had to be aware of “Where do I stand?” Not just “What am I doing,” but “How am I doing it” became significant.

In that context, one day a message was related to us that we would bring homeless people, ‘street people’ as they are called, to the Ranch and show them how to grow, how to bring meditation, happiness and joy to their existence. I thought it would be a real challenge to bring them to the Ranch because they would have had no idea about an environment like ours. But when the message came, no matter if it was in Oregon or in Poona: “Message comes“and you “just do it.” If you ask me what I went through, well, I went through nothing. I was just excited that I would have a chance to comply with a message, a project that was given to me.

Before we left a team had already gone to New York and had set up a base for us in an apartment. There was another sannyasin who came with me, because in those days for projects like these we would always be paired up. We were to fly from Portland to New York.

As soon as we reached New York we started searching for the street people. We walked through streets and alleys to look for them. Then we saw them, lying around on the pavements, screaming, shouting, swearing, and all that. Our next question was: “How do you attract them?” You could be standing there a whole day and they won’t bother about you. We needed to find something we could offer to them, something like a sandwich, juice, and so we did. The first day we did not bother to talk to them; we simply offered them food – which they took.

Then slowly we started spreading the message that “We would like to invite you to come with us to Portland, Oregon as our guests at the Ranch.”
Someone asked “Guest? You mean we don’t have to work or do anything?”
I said, “Yes, you don’t have to do anything, we provide you with food, clothes, shelter and whatever you need.”

It was too good to be true. In this world, and in America of all places, how can you have anything for free? They were obviously skeptical. They simply did not trust us. They used to laugh, make faces and move away. But our job was to persist. By the third day, they slowly began to sense that we were serious and that there was no catch. Someone passed the word that they would only come if their leader gave them permission.

We spotted the leader; he was sitting on the pavement surrounded by his lackeys. His face looked very serious and, for all the time we were there, he was staring at a pocket watch which he was swinging from his hand. We greeted him, “Hello sir, good afternoon sir.”

He wouldn’t even look at us and continued staring at the swinging watch. We continued and said, “We would like to have your friends come with us to our ranch in Oregon, where we have good facilities, food, etc.”

He did not say a single word… and kept staring at his watch. Then suddenly he said, “Take my photograph.”

How to take a picture? We had no camera with us; we hadn’t thought of needing one. I immediately told the other sannyasin, “You run to the store and buy a Polaroid camera.” That was the only way (in those days there were no mobile phones) – so we bought a camera and took his picture which came out nicely.

Then the leader ordered, “Give me fifty dollars for taking my picture!” We were quite surprised but then promptly ended up giving him the fifty dollars – and the photograph.

He took his time and – I can’t recollect what he did exactly, perhaps made a sign or gave a clue – but he did give his consent for them to come with us. People around him relaxed a bit. You can imagine the situation. These were people who had come out of prison, lunatic asylums, from all kinds of broken homes. They were murderers, burglars, you just name it. They were huge guys with dirty shabby clothes, lazing around on the street. As we began to sense that there indeed was a possibility of them coming with us, we told them that on Thursday five o’clock in the afternoon, a Greyhound bus would leave from there and take them to Oregon.

So Thursday came and there was the Greyhound bus. Slowly people started climbing into the bus with almost nothing else than a bundle of clothes. We had clear instructions that we were not to feed them anything non-vegetarian. And what would that be? We had only two choices – cheese sandwiches and peanut butter sandwiches. In addition, we had bottles of wine. That was the only way to keep them calm and make them go to sleep. Moreover, they enjoyed the wine.

Suddenly one guy, who carried a bundle in one hand and a cage with a small bird in the other, climbed into the bus and sat down. The moment he sat down, he lifted his cage and asked, “Hey birdie, do you want to go to Oregon?” As if hearing the bird answer, he said “No? No?… Okay. She does not want to go,” and got off the bus.

Somebody else asked “Where is Oregon? How far is it?” When we said it was three thousand miles, they became afraid that there was something wrong – some of them might not have travelled more than three miles in their whole life. Finally 40-50 people settled down and we started to move.

Now we crossed New York and as we entered Pennsylvania it must have started drizzling. There was oil on the road which made it slippery. Suddenly a car tried to cut in from one side and, although our driver was driving carefully, he hit the breaks forcefully in an attempt to avoid a crash. The bus went through a big jerk and the people sitting in the back seats bumped into each other.

They got so furious, these big guys came swearing to the front and took the driver by his neck. They were about to kill him! I was trying to save him, pleading with them, “Please sir, don’t do it, sir,” while the other sannyasin was stuck to his seat, shaking, unable to move. I was completely at a loss. How was I to stop these guys?

Finally they relented, “Because you are asking us, we are leaving this man alone, otherwise we would have killed him.” They would not have hesitated! They must have gone through many such situations before, even created on purpose…. The driver was completely shaken up but somehow kept his cool and continued driving.

If that was not enough, once on the road again, one guy got up and shouted, “Open the door, I want to leave!” I tried telling him that this is a highway, there is nothing here; where would he want to go?

“No!” he said, “you stop the bus or I will jump from the window.”

Finally the driver had to take a detour to reach a Greyhound stop where the man could be dropped off. It was late in the evening already and we had to knock on the door of the office to wake up the unhappy manager of the bus stop. We gave him money so that a ticket could be arranged for this man to go back to New York. And that is how this particular episode ended.

The next morning we reached Chicago. There were obviously a few men who didn’t have any intention of coming with us all the way to Oregon. About 10-12 people promptly got off and disappeared. Meanwhile, the bus driver had spread the word about the kind of people who were on the bus and how he almost got killed. The authorities of Greyhound in Chicago refused to take us any further. We were in a fix now, as we had clear instruction to bring them to the Ranch. So I called the Ranch and got connected to the lawyers. They in turn called the higher authorities at Greyhound and threatened to sue them for not fulfilling the contract to bring us to Oregon. That changed the situation and they were able to find a bus driver who was willing to come. So we continued the journey with about 35 people.

It was a very intense moment, in the sense that several things were happening simultaneously. First of all we had to make sure that the men were calm and quiet. We gave them wine and served them food, pacified them and treated them with respect. Moreover, it was a challenge to stay awake all the while. I was always afraid that if I dosed off and something went wrong, I wouldn’t have the time to do anything about it. I was sitting right next to the driver and for three thousand miles, which is three nights and four days, I did not sleep. I don’t know how I managed to stay awake all this time.

Meanwhile, the men on board started to become restless. They were completely fed up with cheese sandwiches. How can you have the same food day in and day out? I could understand their frustration but what could I do? I did not have much money on me. By the time we reached Salt Lake City in Utah, it was clear that they were going to create a mutiny or run away. So we stopped in the early morning at a restaurant. However, seeing the men get off the bus, the restaurant owner refused to let them in. I had to negotiate and offer to pay double to make him finally agree to feed them.

While this was happening, suddenly one man took his bundle and started to run away. I ran after him and somehow persuaded him to come with us to Oregon, promising him a return ticket back to New York. Meanwhile our men had a wonderful breakfast with omelets, sausages and everything else you can find on an American breakfast menu. In the process all the money that I had on me was gone. I called the Ranch for more funds and was told that money would be arranged for us to pick up at the Idaho bus stop.

When we reached Idaho, a couple of sannyasins were waiting for us. When I saw them, they appeared to me like angels that had come down from heaven. I hugged them with so much joy! To hear them talk was like music in my ears in contrast to the screaming, shouting and swearing that had been around me for the last couple of days. They gave us some money and told us not to worry. After all, the Ranch was not too far from Idaho.

In the end we finally made it to the Ranch and now the next step was for other sannyasins to take care of them – arranging their accommodation, giving them clothes, feeding them and helping them to settle in. This was the second bus to arrive with homeless people. After that many more buses came from different parts of the country.

The point is that all along our life’s journey, every situation challenges us to see where we are and where we stand. It demands awareness, the alertness and ability to shift from normal gear to a new gear, where we are completely neutral, where we are not reacting against this or that, simply accepting the reality as it is rather than projecting and questioning why a situation is the way it is. I was doing my best to take care of my men but still they were the way they were. They did not know how to relate to me. It was a challenge for me to understand and learn to relate to them.

This is how, in a multi-level framework I was given the opportunity to check my reality – with me as a human being, the work that was going on, and the love for the master and his vision.

Interview with Satya Vedant, compiled by Surabhi and Atsara and edited by Osho News

Photo by Shutterstock: www.shutterstock.com

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