Part 17 of Bodhena’s Samsara: he is now in the Santa Cruz scene
I arrived in Santa Cruz with 30 bucks in my pocket. I was 37 years old by then and had practically no experience of how to make a living out in the world, and even less so in California.
Santa Cruz was (and largely, still is) a pretty laid-back town of about 60,000 inhabitants, about an hour’s drive down the coast from San Francisco, at the north end of Monterey Bay. Up to the sixties, Santa Cruz had been a sleepy little fishing town where many Italian immigrants had settled. That changed when the University of California opened a campus there, and subsequently it had become a mecca for all kinds of young folks. Just about any subculture you can think of has a strong following there. There are all kinds of activists (“Save the Whales!”), surfers (“What’s up, dude? Catch a wave?”), an amazing number of musicians and bands, deadheads, gays, hippies, punks, skins, you name it. New Age-wise, it is a supermarket, California-land at its best. During the late seventies and early eighties, there had been a lot of sannyasins living there, and many of them were returning after the Ranch.
With that many freaks in town it made it in many ways easier to live there, I didn’t stick out as much as I might have in other places. (And what made it even easier was that sometime during the last weeks on the Ranch Osho had lifted the requirement that we were to wear only red clothes – now any color clothes were fine, and no mala any more, either.) What made it harder to survive in Santa Cruz was the fact that there were so many of us who wanted to live there. That drove the rents up, and kept the wages down, a perfect example of the law of supply and demand.
Nevertheless, existence provided. I always made the right connections and met the right people. Within days, I was working for a temporary agency. The lady who was scheduling the jobs there happened to like me and kept me busy. After a few weeks Devika and me had enough money together so that we could move into our own apartment. It turned out though that we were heading into different directions, and eventually split up. By that time, I was working in a carpentry shop, where I was making patio furniture and bookcases. That lasted for about half a year, and I moved on to a remodeling job with a couple of sannyasins. (One of those guys meanwhile got himself enlightened and now makes his living as a satsang wallah by the name of Arjuna. Then, he had done electrical work and had struck me as being pretty much of a regular guy. I guess you can never tell.)
By the spring of 1987 I seemed to have it made. I was working for a small mail order company, writing invoices and packing parcels. The stuff we were selling was quite interesting – it was free form crystalline amino acids, and our clientele consisted mainly of body builders and health freaks. After a lot of back and forth, I had myself a steady job.
Still, it hadn’t all been a bed of roses. Many of us had left the Ranch with our heads in the clouds, full of great plans of how we were going to take the world out there in storm, how we were going to be just raking in the dough. There was a lot of disillusionment that happened and often a rather rough awakening to the harsh realities of the rat race.
As far as I went, I had in some instances been amazingly naive. Hell, I didn’t even know how to fill out a job application. The ones I sent out while still doing temp-work I had completed very truthfully, in particular regarding my work background. There wasn’t very much I could have put down anyway, so I just stated honestly what I had done and where, including “18 months of Rajneesh Security”, on Osho’s Ranch. In one instance I was invited for a job interview which, as far as I could tell, went rather well. My prospective employer, some carpenter looking for a helper, seemed to be a nice enough person, but told me after the interview was over that he had never had the intention to hire me – he’d just been curious what kind of a guy I was that had sent in an application like that.
So, pretty fast I learned that I had to reinvent myself, that I had to come up with a work- and personal history that was tailored to what they wanted to see, that was conclusive and that I’d be able to back up. As sad as it was, in order to survive I had to learn how to lie. My greatest asset, though, proved to be not any work skills I might have had, but my attitude towards the whole game, and for this my time with Osho had prepared me very well. Whatever happened was just the next thing that came along in life, no big deal, I did what I could do, as well as possible, and that was that.
To the east of Santa Cruz there is a coastal range covered by beautiful redwood forests, the Santa Cruz Mountains, and it was there that I was to have one of the great love affairs in my life. Oh, I just loved the redwoods. Early in the 20th century most of the virgin forests there had been cut down – it was mostly with that wood that San Francisco was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake. The hills were bare for a while, but since the redwood tree is a conifer that has the ability to grow sprouts out of its own stumps, the forest quickly regrew, largely unaided by humans. If you take a walk there today, you can still see the fire-blackened stumps of the old trees, surrounded by younger trees that by now might be 70 or more years old themselves. Besides the sequoias, as they are also called, there are some hardwoods, namely oak and madrone. Although it is a second-growth forest, it has a wildness and an aliveness and a beauty to it that totally fascinated me and that was so much unlike the forests I had come to know in Europe.
A sannyasin friend, Prembuddha, owned a parcel of 55 acres (22 hectares) of prime redwood forest way up in the mountains, where he lived with Magdalena, his ladyfriend, in a small cabin with a large woodstove that had been fashioned out of an old oil drum. When I went up there it seemed to me that I was entering a fairy tale land, and soon it became a second home to me. I built myself a tent platform, atop a couple of old stumps, four feet above the ground and surrounded by a small grove of tall trees. It was overlooking a meadow with a huge, old redwood in the center that we called the Buddha Tree.
I went up there many a weekend, hanging out and helping with the chores. In particular, I enjoyed splitting wood, two foot long sections that were set upright and then split lengthways with the help of a long-handled and well worn-in maul. And there was just nothing like firing up that ol’ stove when there was a rainstorm coming down in the winter, with a pot of Prembuddha’s world-famous chili beans simmering on top of it, and with Leela the cat purring away in some corner.
As I mentioned, there was quite a New Age scene in town. After having been in Poona and on the Ranch for so long, I was a bit curious as to what was happening out here. There were all sorts of spiritual groups here, from the Hare Krishna to a Subud temple and all kinds of Christian sects. In the mountains, there were a few Buddhist and Tibetan centers and monasteries. Readings? No problem. Astrology, palm, aura, past life, anything. Tarot readings were even advertised on TV. The town was overflowing with massage therapists, and featured a couple of massage schools. Channeling was a hot item in California, there were all kinds of disembodied entities around trying to give their message to humanity, so, naturally, there was a young woman in Santa Cruz who was channeling Shri Yukteshwar (the guru of Yogananda – the one with the autobiography).
Have you ever come across a walk-in? What that is, it’s when an entity that does not have a body to live in somehow takes up residence in somebody else’s body. (What happens to the soul of that body I could not find out, but that’s not my problem.) In any case, in Santa Cruz I knew this guy who was dead sure that he, in fact, was such a walk-in, a body-snatcher. On the outside, he was the son of a Californian hippie-couple and a successful chiropractor, with a strong tendency to be an over-achiever. And he was totally at a loss as to what the fuck he was supposed to be doing on this planet.
By and large, I found the whole scene a bit naive. For my taste, there was too much saving-the-world stuff going on. To me, it’s consciousness first, and everything else happens as a consequence. I can help others only to the extent that I have cleaned up my own act, so that’s where my first priority is. Sure, the world appears to be in a very sorry state, but what do I really know about where it may be heading? Who am I to interfere? Now, that doesn’t mean I won’t help that old granny across the street, but I do that rather on a spontaneous basis, I don’t have any big plan. To me, it seems that everybody out there is trying to mess around with everybody else’s lives, blaming everybody else for anything, and nobody knows what is really going on – except for a few awakened beings among us, and the only thing they can do that is of any value is to help us wake up, to whatever might be beyond the veil of our dreams.
There was one group, though, that attracted my interest. Through a flyer I had learned about a “Society of Abidance in Truth” (SAT), where satsangs were held once a week. At that time I did not really know what a formal satsang was, in its true generic sense, except that when we had sat with Osho while he was in silence we’d called that satsang. So, on a Sunday night in early 1987, I went. The satsang was held in a small hall, with a capacity crowd of 50 or 60 people in attendance. The teacher who held the satsang went by the name of “Master Nome”, or simply “The Sage”, and he was seen as an awakened being, in the lineage of Ramana Maharshi. He could have been anywhere in his thirties or forties, had his hair closely cropped, and was wearing loose pajama pants and an Indian-style shirt, all in white. We sat in silence for maybe 20 minutes, and then he gave a short advaita-based talk (without notes) and moved on to answer questions from the audience. He spoke in a way that was crisp and clear, and he had a beautiful sense of humor (one of my favorite lines of his referred to academic titles as “decorated ignorance”). I quite enjoyed myself, but it was not until I had left and was walking home under a starry sky that I started to focus my awareness more towards my inside. Something in me clicked, and I realized, “Yes, that was just how it felt like to be in Osho’s presence!” Something in me had recognized the taste of that energy field, had remembered. Now, that got me thoroughly intrigued. Here I was, far from Poona where Osho meanwhile was again, but going there was out of the question because at the time I didn’t have the financial means. It was not that I was desperate to go back. I was fine where I was, but to have a place right in town where I could recharge my batteries, I certainly couldn’t ignore that.
I went for several more satsangs, until I was approached by people from SAT who, in a nice way, made it clear that I should become a member of the group if I wanted to continue to come. This I did not want to do. I might have felt quite at home with the Sage, but not so much among the kind of people he had attracted in the group around him. However nice and friendly, they appeared a bit too straight and yuppie-ish to me, they came across as a bit phony and repressed. It’s not that I questioned their validity as spiritual seekers, but they were certainly a different brand than Osho’s sannyasins. And my commitment was really somewhere else. So, at least for the time being, I continued on my path without the Sage.
However, I had learned a lesson that was to be of great importance in later years. If I met someone that claimed to be awakened, or if people inferred that quality to somebody, I had a way to check that. If I could catch that vibe, then, at least for me and for my own purposes, that was the truth.
From Bodhena’s Adventures in Samsara (soon to be published in book form) – 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