How celebration tent platforms become A-frames and quadruplexes – from Bodhena’s ‘Samsara’.
There was an enormous amount of work waiting for us. We wanted to bring in many more people to live here permanently, and we wanted to make it possible for anybody who wished to do so to come and participate in groups, workshops and educational programs, and to participate in the commune life on a temporary basis. Osho’s vision had a very practical side to it, and this was going to be the main place where it was going to happen. For this, a city was needed, complete with buildings and the necessary infrastructure.
As far as our legal situation at the time was concerned, though, all we could strive for was to be an ‘agricultural commune’. And given the potential of the land and our own aspirations, that did have its limitations. We already had many more people here than were needed for an ‘agricultural commune’, and we were starting to bend the rules a little. Neighbors and officials in governmental institutions had started to become suspicious of us almost immediately, and that was not only because we wore red clothes and had those funny necklaces around our neck, because there was this Indian guru amongst us that was driving around in a fat Rolls-Royce or because we seemed to have an almost unlimited amount of money at our disposal. (“Jesus saves, Moses invests, Bhagwan spends”, as one of the Ranch bumper stickers read.) There was something in us that made us decidedly different from the rest of the Oregonians, and I can’t blame them when they must have asked themselves, “Now, what are those guys gonna be up to?”
For now, we tried to keep up a certain front as much as possible, and to explore avenues of procedure that we could follow and still build our city, lawfully. For starters, in early 1982 we incorporated part of the property as the City of Rajneeshpuram.
I started to work in Chuang Tzu, the construction department, and joined a crew that was finishing off the interior of Zarathustra, a large sheet metal building that was supposedly for the storage of agricultural produce, but was in reality housing hundreds of wooden crates containing Osho’s books and library that had been shipped over from India. We hung drywall in the office part of the building, and put in doors and windows.
A week or two later, we moved down the road to Mahavira that was going to house the heavy equipment department, doing the same type of work. When that was done, we went on to Jesus Grove and built an extension to Sheela’s trailer. And from there on to remodel one of the old ranch buildings to create a new home for Naropa, the publishing department.
We worked hard, but in a relaxed manner. We had a lot of fun with each other, and we also got our buttons pushed. Plenty. It was not only the work that accomplished that, we also treated one another generously. And sure enough, sometimes you ended up with a couple of jerks in your crew. But however hard it got, there was always somebody there to hug or to share with or a shoulder to cry on. There was an incredible and inexhaustible amount of love around the commune that was the perfect counterpart for any kind of hardship we might be going through, that made anything bearable. Yes, we did take care of each other, and we were very good at it, in many different ways.
Our trailers were cleaned daily, and when we came home in the evenings our laundry was waiting for us on our beds, washed, dried and folded. At Pythagoras, we had a small clinic that was supplemented by a number of world-class body workers and chiropractors. Those were in very high demand as due to the hard physical work and a multitude of emotional strains a lot of necks and backs went out. One of the forms of ‘preventive care’ was that every month during the full moon, announcements were made on the PA system at Maggie’s to be extra careful on the road, on construction sites and elsewhere.
My favorite though was the dentist. If you wanted, you could put on earphones and listen to soothing music while your teeth were being worked on. If it was getting a bit rough, there was a beautiful ma at your side to hold your hand, and when you opened your eyes, Osho was smiling down at you from a picture tacked to the ceiling. With all that, who’d need nitrous oxide?
The first major building that had been finished on the Ranch was the cafeteria, just in time for Osho’s golden birthday celebration on December 11, 1981. And in my whole time there I have never experienced a day when we were not treated to three delicious meals a day.
Besides a sumptuous breakfast buffet, there was always a warm lunch and dinner, with piles of lettuce and sprouts, and additionaly even brown rice and tofu for those of us who wanted to diet. (All in all, though, I guess the tendency was rather that people were gaining weight, and that not only in the form of muscle mass on ass-busting construction workers.) Once a week was ‘junk food day’, with soyburgers and soy hot dogs, and about once a month we had the vegetarian version of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, mock turkey with all the trimmings – stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie. Yum, that was absolutely dee-fucking-licious, time for pigging out!
The cuisine was strictly vegetarian (although certainly not vegan, nor was sugar or the like missing – it was left up to the individual what he or she wanted to eat). Osho has always given us a very free hand as to what we wanted to do, as long as we did something consciously, and not habitually, but about one thing he was very clear: in the communes around him there was to be no consumption of meat or meat products, including fish (but not excluding eggs or dairy products). His bottom line was that it is ‘simply ugly’ to kill such highly evolved beings as animals for your food, when you can just as well get all the nourishment you need from vegetarian sources.
Over time, more and more of the produce came right from our own truck farm, and we also started to bake our own top-quality bread (there were enough Germans among us that knew about that one).
The only thing I might have to complain about was that at some point the generous choice of jams for breakfast was replaced with grape jelly, and grape jelly only, and grape jelly it was going to be until the end. God, I’m cured of that stuff for the rest of my life.
Our working day typically started at eight in the morning. At 1 pm we’d take an hour off for lunch, and then line up on the road for Osho’s drive-by. There was a 20 minute break (‘tea time’ … after all, we’d come from India) during the morning, and another one during the afternoon, that often went on for 30 minutes or more, with plenty of coffee, tea, fixings for peanut butter-jelly sandwiches and sometimes chocolate chip cookies. (What we had depended very much on what our ‘tea moms’ were able to scrounge at Maggie’s … there were times we had regular feasts.)
Dinner was at seven. We’d hang out over a glass of beer and socialize a bit, but mostly we were too tired to feel like going for a lot of action. There wasn’t really any place to go, anyway, so we’d go home and crawl into bed with a book or our girl- or boyfriends.
Besides sex and gossip, the main form of entertainment on the Ranch was reading. It was not Osho who was the most widely read author, but a guy named Louis L’Amour, who’d written eighty-some Western novels. Everybody was reading them, not only us wanna-be cowboys, but also those tender mas. The novels provided the perfect dreams for the physical environment we were living in.
It was always really the same story. The dudes would ride around on the range, prospect for gold, rustle some cattle and sit around campfires, drinking coffee that was “black as sin and strong enough to float a horseshoe”. The bad guys were pursued through deserts and canyons, and finally would meet their fate in page-long fist- and gun-fights. The good guys would always triumph in the end and ride off into the sunset, a beautiful woman by their side. Well-told, simple stories that would go in and out without leaving any damage, and we loved them.
The paperbacks were passed around from hand to hand and there seemed to be an endless supply. During my first two years on the Ranch I must have made it through more than 150 Western novels. Then came a point where that genre seemed to have exhausted itself. I went through a brief identity crisis, and then graduated to thrillers and adventure novels (which is still my preferred reading material today).
We would soon enough find out what it meant to be in a ‘crunch’, when due to certain deadlines the workload was increased significantly. The working hours were extended, sometimes to 14 or more hours a day, the whole commune shifted into a different gear and individually as well as communally we were pushed to the limit.
In the spring of 1982 the announcement was made that in July, for ‘Master’s Day’ (also known as ‘Guru Poornima’, a traditional Indian festival held on the full moon of that month), we were going to host the ‘First Annual World Celebration’, and that we were expecting between ten and fifteen thousand visitors. Wow. All those people had to stay somewhere and had to be taken care of, food, transportation, entertainment, the works. And they were not just any people, they were our friends from around the world, and they’d come for the same reason that we were here for, to be with Osho. No, this wasn’t going to be just a humpty-dumpty job, we were going to do it like we were doing everything else – in a totally professional manner, and with a lot of love.
During the spring, when the weather had gotten warmer, scores of ‘summer workers’ had joined us at the Ranch. They were sannyasins mainly from the States, but also from European centers, that were staying in tents for the summer to help with the work. Without them, we couldn’t have done it. The preparations for the festival were started on many different fronts at the same time. Since I was working in construction, that is the angle from which I saw what was going on.
We purchased what must have been four or five thousand tents, each large enough for three persons, plus foam matresses and sleeping bags. In a huge, backbreaking operation we built a corresponding amount of sturdy, wooden tent platforms, that were then trucked to the tent sites that in the meantime had been carefully surveyed. Dozens of people worked for weeks to carry them to their place and, with the help of wooden legs, raise them off the ground and level them. That was no small feat since some of the tent sites were way up in picturesque side valleys that were not accessible to motor vehicles. And the platforms were all meticulously squared up against each other, each in a certain distance from the next ones, row after perfectly straight row.
Meanwhile, I was working with a crew (the ‘Pipelina Pipe Crew’, named after a joke that Osho had once told: There was this guy Luigi, an Italian immigrant, who was telling his friends about his work, and they were starting to wonder who this ‘Pipelina’ was that was getting laid by so many guys … until they found out that it was not a woman, but a pipeline) that was laying mile after mile of eight- and twelve-inch pipes for a water and sewer system. First we’d have a backhoe dig a four to five foot trench, then we’d spread a layer of gravel at the bottom, join the sections of pipe together, and finally the trench was backfilled by a front-end loader.
After a few weeks of that I joined the ‘blocking crew’. Several dozen shower- and toilet trailers had been rolled in next to the tent sites. They needed to be set on cinderblock piers so that their wheels were off the ground. For weeks we’d crawl around underneath those trailers, schlepp heavy cinderblocks and stack them into piers. ‘Niggering’, we’d call that kind of work with our typical mischievous sannyasin humor that wouldn’t stop at anything. With the help of pneumatic jacks we’d lift a corner of the trailer a bit higher than it needed to be, built the pier there up to the necessary height, then lower the trailer down onto it. That procedure was repeated for each of the dozen or so piers a trailer needed to safely sit on. And of course, the sucker had to be dead level. Then it could be hooked up to the pipes that we had laid earlier.
It felt like coming to a holiday camp when we eventually moved on to build a number of burlap-covered shade areas, complete with tables and benches made of cinderblocks and planks, that were going to be next to snack bars.
More often than not during that time I walked home after dinner, on wobbly knees and with aching shoulders, totally tuckered out. And sometimes I was wondering what the festival was going to be like, and whether anybody was going to come in the first place.
In late June, I was doing one of my weekly night shifts at Mahakashyap Reception. That was before we had any kind of security on the Ranch. I was the only person there awake throughout the night, to take any phone calls that might be coming in, and to be generally available for anything that might happen (and nothing ever did). Except during that night, right in front of my eyes, bus after bus after bus came rolling in, all of them full of travel-weary festival participants from all over the world. Boy, they were really coming! With tears in my eyes I waved at them (and some who did see me even waved back) and I realized that finally the party could begin.
The festival turned out to be a huge success. All in all, about thirteen thousand guests came, and of all the festivals that we were ever going to have on the Ranch that was probably the most magical one. Osho sat with us in silence for six morning satsangs and an evening darshan on Guru Poornima Day. For many of us this was the first time in over a year to see him, and for many more it was the first time ever to be in his presence.
The end of the festival meant good-bye to all our friends that had come, heartbreak city. The commune shifted down a gear, and we started to take everything down that we’d put up for the celebration. We were also confronted with the fact that summer was going to be over before we’d know it, and that we still needed much more permanent housing. The ‘summer workers’ couldn’t possibly stay on in their tents once the weather got really cold and wet. We’d need to come up with a way where we could construct our own housing on a large scale. And it had to be relatively economical. To just continue to bring in prefabricated homes was simply too expensive in the long run.
Then somebody had a glorious idea. We still had all those tent platforms that by now were stored in a side valley, pile upon pile upon pile. So we took three platforms and nailed them together to form a triangle, with one platform as the floor and the other two as the roof. A front wall was put in with a door, and a rear wall with a window. Then we added roofing shingles, insulation, electrical wiring and fixtures, interior paneling and wall-to-wall carpeting on the floor and, bingo, an ‘A-frame’ cabin was born.
In an assembly-line type operation we cranked out what must have amounted to two or three hundred A-frames and set them up in a beautiful valley called Walt Whitman Grove, along with toilet and shower trailers that we still had from the festival. And the first ones of them were ready to be inhabitated some time in the fall, just in time. Another site, Alan Watts Grove, was graced with a later, more advanced creation, ‘quadruplexes’, that combined four A-frames with a set of bathrooms between them.
From Bodhena’s Adventures in Samsara – read more excerpts…
Illustrations used with permission from James Mason, Yogena, Avinasho and from the volume ‘The Lotus Paradise’.
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