Bodhena’s arrival in the States: Geetam and the Ranch (part 11)
Devika and me left Poona in mid-August and went on to the States in early October. We were staying at her parents’ place in San Diego and were just checking out the local sannyasin scene when she was contacted by Geetam, an Osho Center in southern California, whether she would like to come to live and work there as a resident. And yes, I lucked out and could come, too. So, in late October we left for the desert, and, looking back, it appeared to have been an incredibly smooth ride.
Geetam was located about 30 miles as the crow flies northeast of San Bernardino, way out in the countryside near the small town of Lucerne Valley, on the edge of the Mojave desert. What made it special was that when the ashram in Poona closed down, the group department was moved there. All the hot-shot therapists and body workers were there, plus between 40 and 50 residents to run the place, and in addition to that the (paying) participants in the groups and other programs.
Originally it had been a rather laid-back sannyasin center, complete with hot tub and swimming pool, but that had changed quite drastically with the advent of the group department. Just the sheer amount of people needing a place to stay stretched the capacity of the place to the limit, so many of us were living in tents. (I have to add that these were quite comfortable – they were put up on wooden platforms, hooked up to electricity and equipped with kerosene heaters that were needed in the cold desert nights.)
I got a job in the maintenance department, fixing all kinds of things. The work went fine, the hours were agreeable, the food was excellent and every evening at five we would get together at ‘happy hour’ for a glass of beer or wine to unwind. Still, the energy of the place was very intense.
Among sannyasins there had always been a rather relaxed attitude regarding sexual promiscuity, and here it was even more relaxed. I had come there pretty much as a part of a one-on-one couple, but it didn’t take long before we both joined the Big Party that was going on. This added an enormous amount of juice to whatever other button-pushing was going on during the work. We went through incredible stuff regarding jealousy, possessiveness and everything else connected with relationships.
I remember once, after a full moon night, I came to work in the morning, took a good look at a couple of my co-workers, and we realized that we’d all been hit pretty hard the previous night. So, under the pretense to fix something somewhere, we took off into the desert, sat down in a shady spot, chain-smoked Camels and did a lot of sharing. Like before, in Poona, and later on the Ranch, it was that love and understanding and support that enabled us to face whatever was coming up through the work and otherwise. That was one of the main reasons we were here for – how can you get to know the deeper realms of your being when you don’t know what kind of stuff is hidden just beneath the surface?
Although the Ranch was off some 800 miles to the north, we all felt very close to what was happening there … and to Osho. The management at Geetam was in regular phone contact with ‘The Land’, as we called it, and occasionaly somebody would go up there on some business. Upon that person’s return, we’d have a ‘family meeting’, where we would get a first-hand account: Osho stories, gossip on how our friends were doing that were already there, and any kind of other information – we’d sit there with glowing eyes and soak it up like a sponge.
It became apparent that for most of us Geetam would be a jumping board to get to the new commune. Osho wanted to have as many people there as possible, so the priority was to set up as much housing as was technically feasable. In those first months we bought dozens of prefabricated houses, over-length, double-width ‘trailers’. They were rolled in, sited and connected to electricity and water. Each had eight bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room and kitchen, and could be occupied immediately. And at Geetam we’d know when another trailer or two were ready, because that was when the word would come down from the Ranch for a few lucky ones to pack their bags and come on up.
For Devika and me the time came in February 1982. The family meeting where the announcement was made turned into the usual farewell party, with lots of hugs and smiles and tears. Two days later, the two of us and another swami put our few belongings into an old pick-up truck and headed north.
At first glance, ‘The Land’ appeared to be anything but hospitable. When we came to the edge of the property in the waning daylight, greeted by a ‘Rancho Rajneesh’ sign by the roadside, we caught a glimpse of seemingly endless hills that were dotted with juniper trees and were gently sloping down towards the John Day River that was bordering the property in the east. We seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. There was a bit of snow on the ground, and a cold drizzle was coming down.
By the time we made it down the winding and unpaved road to the actual Ranch, it was dark. Since it was already past dinner time, most of the people there were off to their homes and the place appeared rather quiet and deserted. And at Mahakashyap Reception, a sign on the wall informed us that “If it weren’t so hard, it would be too easy.” Still, we were expected. There were some sandwiches ready for us, and we were driven to our trailer, a few miles further down a muddy road and then steeply up a hill. We were too tired to register very much more.
When we looked out of our bedroom window the next morning we were awed by the view. We were high up on the slope of a hill, overlooking a wide valley with a small creek at the bottom. There were a couple of other trailers in the vicinity, a few hundred yards away. And way down, about a mile away, on the lower parts of the opposing hillside, was Magdalena Cafeteria.
As it turned out, due to the local zoning laws we were not permitted to build just anywhere. The land was classified for agricultural use, which meant that only a certain number of buildings could be put up in a given sector of land.
The original ranch buildings (now that area was called Jesus Grove) were at the confluence of two creeks that, a few miles onwards, emptied into the John Day River (or, rather, Radha River, as we had renamed it). There wasn’t an awful lot of flat land. The valleys that the creeks ran in were rather narrow, at the most maybe half a mile wide. And the valleys were surrounded by hills, and those by even more hills, all with small, sometimes canyon-like dry valleys between them, and covered with sparse grass, sagebrush and a few juniper trees.
Still, the land certainly had its own, stark beauty, that was accentuated in places by imposing and bizarre rock formations that some of the hills were adorned with. Yes, this was Western country, and if my information is correct, even John Wayne himself starred in a couple of movies that were shot here years ago.
As a consequence, you had to cover quite a distance to move around the commune which, particularly in the early days, took some effort. The existing roads were not paved, and huge clouds of dust were trailing behind moving cars. During wet weather, things were quite muddy. In fact, the mud, from which the original name of the Ranch, ‘The Big Muddy’, had been derived, seemed to be everywhere. And every building had an entrance room where we would take off our shoes that was aptly called the ‘mud room’.
A few years later, we’d have the most extensive public transport system in the state of Oregon (‘Rajneesh Buddhafield Transport’), but initially all we had was an old school bus that would pick people up in the morning for breakfast, do a run at lunch time and take a round or two after dinner to bring everybody home. Beyond that, during the day it was quite easy to hitch a ride with any of the trucks, pick-ups or other vehicles that we had and that were necessary to do the work. However, if you got stuck somewhere at night, in a lot of cases it meant that you had to walk home, which could take up to an hour. No rickshaws here, baba!
It wasn’t much of a problem though to make it down to Maggie’s Cafe for breakfast (just slide down that muddy hill, and then plod back up again a bit on the other side). And this was the place where everybody met everybody else. What a blast to see old friends again that I hadn’t seen since Poona! So many hugs and smiling faces, and then the stories we all had to tell … man, here I was, home once more.
Among the 300 to 350 people here there were many I had never seen before, and everybody looked quite different than back in India. Gone were the robes and sandals and the loose, flowing dresses. They had been replaced by western, rather unisex clothing of the rugged outdoor type with heavy boots, and some people were sporting cowboy hats. Most of the swamis had cut their long hair (as I had myself upon leaving Poona), and some had even shaved off their beards. We’d undergone a transition, from hippie to cowboy. But everybody was healthy and happy and full of zest. These were still the pioneer days, and life had a beautiful quality of simplicity, earthiness and innocence to it.
And of course, Osho was here. His trailer was tucked away in a scenic side valley called Lao Tzu Grove (or, in Ranch jargon, ‘B-Site’). His health had improved visibly, and he was still in silence. Every day at 2pm he would go out for a ride in a shiny Rolls Royce. This was when we all lined up by the side of the road to greet him with a namaste. He’d slow down, raise one of his hands in greeting and look at each one of us in passing by … and then disappear in a cloud of dust.
Compared to the juice he had doled out in Poona, these appeared to be rather homeopathic doses. Still, depending on how open you were and what you needed, these encounters could be quite intense … a darshan on the road. We all felt incredibly blessed to be able to be here with him. That was all that really mattered. And certainly, if it weren’t for him, none of us would be here.
From Bodhena’s Adventures in Samsara – read more excerpts…
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