Part 13 of Bodhena’s ‘Samsara’.
Our situation in Oregon had become increasingly difficult. A lot of people really liked us, and a lot of them didn’t and were more and more active about it. Government officials became incooperative or outright hostile. A land-use watchdog group, the “1,000 Friends of Oregon” challengend the incorporation of our city in court. Neighbors, churches and others started to raise a lot of stink. And some of us in a position to do so certainly did their share to provoke more of all that.
One of our neighbors across Radha River was a guy named Bill Bowerman who owned a ranch there (and his son owned another one right next to it). He was a famous track coach and in some function associated with the athletic shoe- and apparel-maker Nike (who have their international headquarters in Oregon). For whatever reason, Bowerman hated our guts, and he exerted enough influence on Nike so that over the years they donated thousands and thousands of dollars against our cause. (Keep that in mind when you go out to buy your next pair of sneakers, whether MJ’s your hero or not.)
During that time, I left the Ranch only on rare occasions. I continued to bang nails in construction, and that whole aspect of our life appeared to be rather remote. At the most, it was a subject for gossip at tea time, or a form of entertainment, when I’d read the press clippings about us that were pinned by the dozens on our communal bulletin board.
Yes, the press loved us. In fact, for the “Oregonian” in Portland, the largest daily paper in the state, we were the “number one newsmaker”, and that for three consecutive years, 1983 to 1985. There was seldom an issue without a story on “the Bhagwan” and his “red-clad followers”, often on the front page. Facts, rumors, fiction or any combination thereof, it was printed and gobbled up by the readers.
I dare say that nobody, journalists, readers or even the residents at the Ranch, knew or understood what was really going on there. Only Osho might have been able to provide that answer, and he was in silence. And at least as far as he was concerned, he never cared about whether he was getting “good press” or not – as long as they were writing. (What does the moon care if a dog barks at it?)
What I did notice though, on occasion, was what kind of people would come down to visit. “Martians”, we called them, because they certainly stuck out in their clothes that were predominantly colored in shades of blue or grey. The road that led down to the Ranch and continued onwards to eventually leave our property again was a county road and therefore public. Anybody could use it, but only the road itself. It was up to us, the owners, to allow someone to go off the side of the road onto our property.
And enough Oregonians apparently showed enough interest or curiosity in us to drive down for a look-see. There were battered pick-up trucks driven by angry-looking rednecks, shotguns clearly visible in their racks, and with bumper stickers reading, “Better dead than red”. There was a panel truck that showed up quite frequently, with large signs attached to the sides with bible quotes warning us of what would await us on judgement day (“The wages of sin are death!”). I met nice, open people that were genuinely interested in what we were doing. I saw folks that seemed rather timid, looked around suspiciously and avoided contact. And as best as I could I tried to steer clear of those Christian fundamentalists that stood there with bibles under their arms, trying to engage anybody they could get a hold of into a conversation to save their souls. Yeah, praise the Lord, that certainly increased the entertainment value of downtown Rajneeshpuram.
It was also during that time that we were starting to get buzzed by overflying fighter jets. At first they came only occasinally, eventually as often as a few times a week. One of their favorite visiting times would be right around drive-by. They were flying so low that we could clearly see the pilots in their cockpits.
We checked out where their designated flight corridors were, and, indeed, those pilots had strayed way off course. Our complaints to the authorities were of no avail. It very much looked like somebody was pulling some strings with the US Air Force.
Back in Poona, the commune had been basically run by women, that was the way Osho wanted it. And this was even more so the case on the Ranch. Even in fields that by their very nature were rather male-dominated, like construction or heavy machinery, women were put in charge, and soon there was going to be no place where you could be safe from them. Chuang Tzu was even run jointly by two mas, who were quite busy pushing each other’s buttons, on top of everybody else’s.
The construction crews had initially been all male. At some point, one token ma was assigned to each crew, and the swamis, many of whom were quite happy living out any macho-trips they might have left, didn’t quite know what to do with them (except for maybe the occasional nooner in the bushes). So the mas were sent up to Maggie’s to rustle up supplies for the tea breaks, to run errands or maybe to clean some tools. Once we’d gotten used to our “tea moms”, more and more mas were sent to join the crews, and we could not help but to actually give them tools and teach them some of the tricks of the trade. That did not happen without creating a lot of confusion and challenging the self-esteem of us tough construction guys. Still, it proved to be a splendid device to mellow us out some and to increase our awareness of how we were dealing with one another.
And then, there was Ma Anand Sheela. In Poona, she had been Laxmi’s assistant, who then had been Osho’s secretary. On the Ranch, Sheela was The Queen. She was running the show, if necessary, with an iron fist, and she’d go and see Osho every evening for whatever guidance was needed. I have met Sheela on some occasions, and she came across as a very beautiful and gentle woman. But she also had another side to her, that of a prize bitch, tough as nails, totally outrageous and off the wall. It was her practical, hands-on approach to things that was one of the key ingredients for the amazingly smooth functioning of the commune.
She was surrounded by an entourage of women that had more or less the same qualities. All of them were obviously people you did not want to cross. That applied to commune members as well as to outside people. There was a government official who’d had dealings with some of them and who reportedly said that he’d never in his life come across a meaner and nastier bunch of bitches. Some compliment! But they sure as hell got the job done, for better or worse. In the “us-against-them” world that was developing it was certainly an asset to have them on our side, however much they’d been instrumental to create that situation in the first place.
Every couple of weeks, there was a commune meeting with Sheela, typically at Maggie’s after dinner. In grand style, she’d come sweeping in with a few of her cronies in tow and take over the show. As an appetizer, she told some Osho stories that we all loved and that got everybody’s attention, and went on to news and gossip from our commune and the sannyas world at large. She also could get quite personal with people she obviously had an ax to grind with. Jayananda, her husband, was ridiculed and ripped apart. Then there was this person who was a total blockhead, and that person had fucked up royally. For over an hour she’d go on, ranting and raving, administering verbal spankings left, right and center, dishing out piles of wit and shit.
Normally, I enjoyed the first 15 or 20 minutes of it, then became more and more bored, upset that I had to sit there and suffer through the whole thing. But I could not just get up and leave. No way.
So I decided to quit going. When a meeting was to be held, I’d sneak out after dinner, go home and have a quiet evening with myself. That strategy worked for quite a while. At some point they started to have everybody sign their name on a list before the beginning of the meeting. Still, I was able to fake that one. I’d put down my name as early as it was possible, and then slip out quietly and head for home.
Then one fateful day the meeting was not held at Maggie’s, but at the airport hangar, after dinner. Fuck that, I said to myself. Except a couple of days later I got a note to come down to Sheela’s trailer the next day, 10 am sharp. I went and was ushered into a room where there were about 20 other people waiting, and we all had one thing in common. Guess what. Somebody at some office must have taken the attendance list of the meeting and run it against a master list of the commune residents, quite a job, and with obvious results. The mood in the room was rather subdued, and that increased significantly when Vidya, one of Sheela’s heavyweights, entered, and the massacre began. She knew every one of us, under which circumstances we had come, even some details of our history as a sannyasin that we thought was long forgotten. She had an uncanny ability to read our defenses and slash through them and she proceeded in whichever way she could get through to us. Some of us with apparently thick skins got a bit more of a rap, others less. What all of us wanted the least was to get kicked out of the commune, and that threat was used in some cases rather openly, in others more veiled.
By the time she came to me, I was sitting there crouched in my corner, more in the wall itself than leaning against it, scared shitless. My excuse why I had not come to the meeting was that I had not heard the announcement – there had been so much noise at my construction site that I had been wearing protective earmuffs. Whether she believed that or not, she probably saw by the state I was in that she’d already succeeded in driving her point home, and I got away with a warning. None of us actually got kicked out, but we were all pretty much demolished. Was this shock therapy, or what? Sweet Lord, I got out of there, shaking in my boots, and I humbly went back to work.
I did learn one very important lesson that day: don’t fuck with the authorities. Or rather, when you do, proceed with a lot of caution. They have a lot of power that they can use against you, and, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t necessarily feel like becoming a martyr. I’m not advertising here that anybody should become a spineless aye-sayer. This doesn’t necessarily have to do with how much integrity I’ve got. My first responsibility is towards myself, and there is a fine, but distinct line between telling someone who is standing on my foot to get off and putting something at risk that is of much greater importance to me than testing my “power” against somebody else’s.
Moreover, for my further life on the Ranch (and after) I learned that when I was confronted with something that I, for whatever reason, did not like or agree with, then I should not avoid it, but face it, while keeping an inner distance to it. I can practise that on anything that I’d encounter in life, and the result is a more peaceful inner being. (Still practising, by the way!)
When I look back now at some of the “devices” that were used at the Ranch, I cannot say that it is up to me to judge something as right or wrong. Whatever happens, happens for a reason, and nothing happens to me unless I’ve had it coming. Life is incredibly fair that way. There are no accidents, ever. I may not know the whole story, that’s another thing. And after all, “truth is what works”. The name of the game is to wake up, and not to get onto any morality trip. I’ve come across a lot of people that are incredibly hung up about what a spiritual seeker (or master, for that matter) should be like, and that image is more oriented on those so-called Christian saints or fakes like Mother Theresa than on how reality really works. To me, it is more important to be true to myself, and to whatever any given moment might demand, whether that is “good” or “bad”. I’d rather be authentic than a phony, and let the chips fall where they may. Sure, it sounds nice to create “good” karma with “good” deeds, but karma is karma, and what I really want to do is to get out of the whole wheel and wake up.
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