From California ‘back’ to Poona

Remembering Here&Now

After enjoying California and the American dream, Bodhena joins Osho back in Poona…

In the summer of 1987 I moved into a small cabin in the redwoods near the mountain community of Brookdale, from where I was commuting by bus to my job, and on the weekends I went visiting my friends further up in the mountains. I was living comfortably, had my fun and I did not seem to be lacking anything.

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Actually, I was quite thrilled to be living in California. I had always had a soft spot for the States, and my present life seemed to be the fulfillment of a dream I’d had for a long time. Back in 1967, during the Summer of Love, I had started to sense that there was something very special about California, and then there was all that great music that was coming from there. Ah, San Francisco … but obviously, that hadn’t been the time for me to be there.

Now, many years later, I still felt that vibe somewhat alive, particularly in Santa Cruz. I also saw that California had more dimensions to it than just that. In many different ways, it appeared that it was the cutting edge of western civilization. Just go to a natural foods store (or to a supermarket) there, and you’ll see what I mean. And the center of modern technology, Silicon Valley, was just “over the hill”, on the other side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. A friend of mine who had grown up there in the sixties had told me that then it had been mostly fruit orchards there, and now it was a smoggy nightmare of industrial parks, office parks, high-rises, housing developments, shopping malls, and endless eight-laned freeways. I guess if you take the components that the “American dream” is made up of and bring them to their logical conclusion, that’s what you get.

Generally, I felt that there I had more freedom to do what I wanted to do and to be how I wanted to be than anywhere else in the world. There were a multitude of different life styles available, and there were a zillion things “to do”, to keep you occupied, to play around with. Everybody was “into” something or other. A major part of the economy was geared to provide the means, and there were noticably less rules and regulations. Yes, it is still the land of unlimited possibilities, at least seen relatively. If you’re the entrepreneurical type (which I am certainly not), with a couple of good ideas, a few years of hard work and a bit of luck you can still make a fortune. And you also run a greater risk than elsewhere to end up in the gutter. There was a stunning amount of people that populated the streets and parks of Santa Cruz that were just down on their luck, homeless, sick, neglected, uncared for.

What I found quite amazing was the contrast between that “freedom” and a prevailing puritanism that expressed itself in a very prudish attitude towards sex and over-regulative laws concerning alcohol, tobacco and drugs. And the nationalism they’ve got going there … if the Germans would display only a fraction of that, there would be an international outcry. Well, I guess the Americans have their issues, too, that they need to work on a bit. I’m not saying anybody is better than anybody else – everybody is fucked up, only differently so.

Of course, I’m not excluding myself there. Over the past few years, I’d had quite a reluctance to come to terms with certain aspects of my national origin, which had even gotten to the point that I refused to speak German, and would do so only if it could not be avoided without creating an embarrassment. I didn’t want to have anything to do with anything German, and, quite befittingly, had ended up living in a place just about as far away from the fatherland as possible. I found it quite easy to slip into a somewhat different personality by just speaking a different language. That way I could put some of my issues on a backburner, but I noticed that it also created a distance from which I could see some things a lot clearer.


So, “California dreamin'” kept me busy for a while, until at some point in late fall it started to feel that something was missing in my life. Osho and the commune were calling me inside. I tallied up my savings – hm, not bad, and didn’t waste any more time. I quit my job, moved out of my cabin and stashed my belongings on a rack that I had suspended underneath my tent platform. In early January 1988 I left, with a one-way ticket to India and 7,000 dollars in cash in my pocket.


It felt great to come back to Poona (and that it remains for me, sorry, I’m not one of those politically correct “Pune”-sayers). Sure, the city had changed, and I cannot say for the better. For one thing, the pollution had gotten really bad. There also seemed to be a lot more people, although in India, wherever you went, there were always masses of them, so who can really tell? And the city had grown beyond Koregaon Park. Where before there had been only fields (and the bamboo hut villages of sannyasins), there were now cheap apartment buildings, dozens of them. The Ashram itself, well, who really cares, as long it was still there. Hey, it felt good just to get into a rickshaw and say, “Ashram, baba!” Before I knew it, we came to a screeching halt in front of the still so familiar main gate, the “Gateless Gate”. Strangely enough, everybody was dressed in any color clothes, no robes, and no malas. Somehow a whole new generation of sannyasins seemed to be here, the majority of them dressed neatly and well groomed. It looked like our hippie-days were finally gone. And the number of Germans and Japanese here had increased significantly, the Ashram was literally crawling with them.

Still, I ran into so many old friends that it took me half the morning to just make it from the main gate to Krishna House, hugging and chatting away merrily.

Osho’s body had not been well, and there had been phases when he didn’t come out for discourse. I was lucky, though, and got my first treat within a few days. Ah, to sit with him again and be showered by that energy … it seemed like the only thing I’d ever want in my life.


I took a couple of days to get myself organized, and then started to work, in the subscription department of the Rajneesh Times. Maybe a month or so later I was asked if I would like to become a guard at Lao Tzu House. Now, that was right where the Old Man was living, and it didn’t take me a moment’s hesitation to accept.

There was only a very limited number of people that had access to Lao Tzu, a few that lived there and a few more that worked there, mainly in the library. This was to give Osho a bit of space, and also for security reasons, so the guards at the wrought-iron gate had to have their act pretty well together. There was another guard position further down the driveway, between the car port and the swan pond, and a third one in the garden, next to Chuang Tzu Auditorium. The air here was thick with Osho’s energy, you could almost cut it with a knife. During the day, there was a certain amount of activity around the house, so the attention was focused more outward, but the nights were exceptionally special.

I loved going on a “round” at night, which one of us would routinely do every hour or so. This took me to some inside parts of the house (the hallways were lined with glassed-in bookcases containing Osho’s books), up onto the roofs, and then particularly through the garden that resembled more a tropical jungle. There were a few overgrown pathways leading through it, and my favorite part of the round was to just feel my way along those paths, without using the flashlight that I was carrying, almost becoming one with my surroundings. Needless to say that it was pitch-black in there, and, of course, I had to be as quiet as a mouse. There was a small lawn in front of Osho’s window (that was off-limits to everyone at almost any time), and at the edge of that lawn there stood a large, ancient and very beautiful almond tree. Among the guards it was understood that if you went on a round at night that that could include going up to the almond tree and spending a bit of time there. And, between you and me, there was nothing like sitting down under that tree for a while at two or three in the morning, it was just pure magic.

The day shifts in the garden were quite different due to a lot of building activity in and around Chuang Tzu Auditorium. Workers were tearing the guts out of that place and, by and by, rebuilding it into what was to be a new bedroom for Osho. It almost broke my heart to see the place demolished where I had spent such beautiful times during Hindi discourses and darshans back in the old Poona days. And when Osho’s new room was finally ready for him to move in more than a year later, from what I heard he spent a couple of nights there and then moved back into his old bedroom.


It certainly felt different being in the commune these days. As Osho had put it, this was his “third and last commune”. There was not a big carrot hanging in front of our nose in form of the “new commune”, to keep everybody excited and motivated, as in Poona I. Nor did it appear that several thousand of us were going to be here together, with a large, consistent core group, as on the Ranch.

There were still people here that had no plans to go anywhere else, as long as Osho was here, but their number was comparatively small. There were also still quite a few sannyasins working at the Ashram, probably a couple of hundred, but they were by far not enough for all the work that needed to be done, so a lot of Indian workers were hired, particularly to do menial jobs. There were still two or three thousand souls here at any given time, but most of them were returning after a few weeks, or at the most, months, to the lives and careers they had left behind in their home countries.

In many instances things were very much unlike the way they were going to evolve to in the later stages of Poona II. The buildings had not been painted black yet, nor had the pyramids been built. It was also before people were asked to wear red robes while in the Ashram, so I had no problem to continue wearing my beloved blue jeans there (which came in very handy when I was guarding during those chilly winter nights). Nor had the “White Robed Brotherhood” come into being, although the seed stages were already clearly discernible. Personally, I had never liked that hullabaloo with music, clapping and what not else before and after discourse. I’d prefer the pin-drop silence that had been there in the old times, any time.


It was also Osho who had changed. When I had first come to Poona, Osho had been a man in his prime, full of fiery energy, while now he was coming across as a bit more granddaddy-like. He was giving discourses again, his health permitting, but to me the discourses seemed to be lacking quite a bit of the temperament they’d had in the seventies. He was also speaking a lot slower.

It was very apparent that his body was not well, and he looked increasingly frail. It had always been a treat just to watch him move his hands while he was speaking, incredibly beautiful and graceful mudras. Now it seemed that he could use his arms and hands, in particular the left one, only with great difficulty. On his way in and out of Buddha Hall he almost didn’t seem to be touching the floor. While he had always been moving very lightly on his feet, we were now afraid that he might actually fall, that something as small as an errant breeze might topple him over.

One of his trademark moves throughout the years had been that, after sitting down, he’d slide the thong off his left foot, and then cross his left leg over his right knee. Always that way around, never otherwise, and he’d remain in that position for the whole duration of the discourse (or darshan, or satsang). Then, sometime in the fall of 1988, he stopped doing that, from one day to the next, and continued sitting with his legs parallel to each other, both feet on the floor.


Still, he had his bag of tricks. He liked to tease Niskriya, the German cameraman who used to stand with his camera a short distance from the podium to videotape the discourses. He jokingly called him “stonehead”, because at some point he had shaved his head, repeatedly made fun of his “Germanness”, and eventually, at the end of a discourse, even goaded him into raising his right arm in the “Hitler greeting”, the way Germans had greeted each other during the Third Reich. The audience was totally stunned as Osho in turn raised his own right arm the same way. So, there the two of them stood, facing each other with raised right arms, and you can bet that some of the Germans that were present were going through a lot of stuff.

The next evening, Osho defused the situation by raising both of his arms in greeting at the end of the discourse, and he added the exclamation, “yahoo!” to that, which was taken from a juicy joke that he had just told. And thus started the yahoo-phase of the commune, where sannyasins were seen greeting each other by raising both arms and exclaiming, “yahoo!”


During what were to be my final weeks in Poona, Osho delivered one of his last masterstrokes. He demolished his own name, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the name that he by now was known by worldwide, and the name by which we as his disciples were referring to him, a name that was very dear to us, a very deep thing. First he tossed the “Bhagwan” (“The Blessed One”) out the door. He briefly adopted the name “Maitreya” (“Friend” – Gautama Buddha had said he would come back to the world known as “Maitreya”), played around with that some, cracked a few jokes over it, only to drop that, too. Next came “Shree Rajneesh Zorba the Buddha”, but a short time later he discarded all of that, including “Rajneesh” (meaning “Lord of the Night”), the name he had acquired as a kid due to his regal bearing. (His legal name has been Chandra Mohan.)

Eventually, he came up with the name “Osho”, but not until after I had gone. (“Osho” is derived from William James’ word oceanic, meaning “dissolving into the ocean”. It has also been used historically in the Far East, meaning, “the blessed one, on whom the sky showers flowers”.) These days, I privately sometimes still call him Bhagwan, and I don’d think he minds that, wherever he may be now (but don’t tell anyone, please).

From Bodhena’s Adventures in Samsara (soon to be published in book form) – read more excerpts…
Comic of Niskriya thanks to Devakrishna’s The Mystic Rose and the Magic of the Empty Chair


BodhenaBodhena 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

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