Spiritual Diseases

On the Go

4-6 of Subhuti’s Pune Diaries

Read previous section: The Way to Planet Osho
These three excerpts were written in December, 2013

Pune Diary 4: In Bed with Benadryl

Arrival in Pune would not be complete without a sore throat, cough and irritated sinuses. Yes, the potent local cocktail of polluted air and germs got to me fast this time! It’s a familiar bug that I’ve had before, a travelling virus with three stops: starts in the throat, goes up into the nose, then down into the lungs. It seems like this year I have a mild attack so the worst should be over in 2-3 days, although the cough is sure to last longer.

Meanwhile, it’s time to lie back on my hotel bed, watch feel-good movies and surround myself with my old friends: a bottle of Benadryl cough syrup, a pack of ayurvedic blue-coloured pills called ‘Septilin’, a bottle of ‘Olesan’ eucalyptus oil for steam inhalations, and truckloads of paracetamol and vitamin C.

In Bed with Benadryl

One tablet is missing from my usual collection: a popular ayurvedic cold cure which tastes terrible and seems effective but which, so recent internet rumour has it, contains unacceptable levels of mercury, lead and arsenic. “Watch out! 600 times the safety limit!” warns a friend from France. It’s probably a scare story he read on Facebook but still, I think I’ll skip it – pity, though, I thought it worked pretty well; the taste was so horrible you had to get well.

The immediate effect of my sickness is, of course, to slow everything down, so that, having arrived here at Western speed I cannot keep up the momentum. Instead, I’m confined to bed with sneezing fits, coughing attacks and generally feeling like a lost soul who’s stumbled into a swamp and is now slowly being sucked under. Thank god for friends with 30 GB memory sticks loaded with pirated movies and a laptop on which to watch them.

In India, sickness has its meditative side. Back in the 70s, we used to call Hepatitis A ‘the spiritual disease’ because although it seemed accidental if you caught it – usually from contaminated water or fresh-squeezed juices – it was in fact a compulsory meditation retreat, an invitation to experience the miracle of nondoing, because for six weeks you were too weak to move a muscle, to do anything at all.

A journey to the bathroom was a huge project, so there was really nothing to do except lie on your bed, be admired by your friends for looking romantically yellow – oh those deep, soulful, mustard-coloured eyes! – and watch geckos catching flies on the ceiling, which they tended to do, as I recall, about once an hour.

Hi-tech filtration systems and bottled water have made ‘Hep’ a rarity for tourists these days, but a shot of local flu, nicely laced with polluted air, will definitely slow things down for a while. The cold weather doesn’t help, because it keeps smoky air trapped near the ground and the night watchmen guarding Koregaon Park’s mansions and apartment buildings will burn anything – rubber tires and plastic bags included – to keep warm in the early hours.

By the way, for the uninitiated and unprepared, there are three things that people tend to forget when visiting India: how cold it gets in winter (Dec/Jan), how hot it gets in summer (April/May) and how wet it gets in the monsoon (July/August/Sept).

Now the temperature is down to nine degrees at night and I ask for extra blankets from the hotel staff to transform my room into a cosy sick ward. Room service brings me tea and toast. Cate Blanchette is giving an excellent performance in Blue Jasmine on my laptop and nobody expects me to do anything.

Ah India…. It’s good to be here once more.

Pune Diary 5: Open to the Sky

Buddha Grove Pune

The white marble floor of Buddha Grove has been deep-polished like never before, so it looks like glass. In fact, when the sun shines it looks wet, as if covered with a layer of sparkling clear water. Amazing! This big, oval-shaped open space is shimmering like a mirage in a desert.

Of course, it’s going to be a real challenge to keep this open space so pristine and clean… so many feet dancing… so many leaves falling from the surrounding trees… so many birds sitting on branches above, doing what comes naturally….

One of the driving forces behind the marble polishing marathon is Bodhi Hannah, an 84 year-old German sannyasin who comes here every day with her enormous Japanese bow to shoot arrows at distant targets. She loves the noble art of Zen archery and sometimes I watch her, noticing how she goes through the elaborate ritual: bowing down to the target before shooting… fitting the arrow to the string… raising the great bow above her head and then bringing it down and aiming all in one smooth movement.

The thing is, if you watch her and don’t look at the target, you simply can’t tell if she’s scored a bull’s eye or missed the target altogether. Her slow, graceful movements are the same, her facial expression is the same… I like that. In Zen, it’s the process, not the result that matters.

Anyway, Bodhi Hannah can also be seen, on many mornings, carefully cleaning stains off the marble which the staff’s big electric scrubbing machines haven’t been able to wash off.

Celebration in Buddha Hall in Pune 1

Flashback: for much of its 35 year-old existence, this floor was protected. In the late 70s, this was Buddha Hall, a meditation space where Osho arrived every morning at 8:00 am to give his daily discourse. It had a simple roof of corrugated metal sheets, supported by wooden posts – all covered with white cloth to make it look nice.

But Osho didn’t like poles. He liked to see everybody. So, in the late 80s, when he returned to Pune after the Oregon years and the World Tour, his sannyasins created a huge steel arch, right across the hall, and draped a massive plastic canopy over the top, just like a big tent. The open sides were surrounded by the much-famed ‘world’s largest mosquito net’ – it never made the Guinness Book of Records, though.

The tent structure lasted until 2002 when the new Osho Auditorium opened its doors for the first time. Rumour has it that, by then, the steel arch was way beyond its ‘use by’ safety limit, being constructed of big steel boxes welded together and held in place by steel ropes.

However, as I recall, it wasn’t so much the decaying arch that drove us out of there, but the steadily mounting indignation of the neighbours; those poor, long-suffering local home owners who’d been putting up with our noise and music since 1974. The legendary Indian character trait of spiritual tolerance had finally worn thin.

Oh yes, and during its whole career, the hall never had planning permission. Osho wasn’t big on ‘asking’ before ‘doing’ and anyway the Pune Corporation hated us so much they would never have given us their blessings.

Okay, enough of nostalgia. Now, all roofs have gone and this open-to-the-sky Buddha Grove hosts one of my favourite activities: the morning dance celebration, when, during an hour of music, people in maroon robes come and dance freestyle in the sunshine, any way they like. It’s a time to move the body, greet friends, gossip, flirt a little and get lost in the dance.

Some people wear shoes, some love to be barefoot. Let’s hope we don’t leave too many marks for Bodhi Hannah to clean up.

Pune Diary 6: Holding On, Letting Go

Lesser short-nosed fruit bat

As usual, I arrive early outside Osho Auditorium for the Evening Meeting. It’s a nice moment of waiting and relaxation: standing with other white-robed meditators, close to the little artificial lakes that separate us from the big, black auditorium. When it was being designed, Osho said he wanted people to cross a bridge over water to get to the meditation space… symbolism for the seeker leaving behind the world.

My Swedish friend, Aphrodite, likes to come early, too, so together we enjoy the fading light and watch the big fruit bats fly over our heads at tree-top level, their dark, prehistoric shapes silhouetted against the slowly dimming light of the Western sky.

The bats do their fly-by routine every evening, announcing our time to meditate. They live in a grove of old trees on the other side of Pune, by the river, and every evening fly across the city to their feeding stations in Koregaon Park and beyond.

Apparently, these bats are called ‘flying dogs’ in some countries and ‘flying foxes’ in others. I saw one up close last year. He grabbed hold of a power line with his claw-like feet, which would’ve been okay except when he was hanging downwards his nose touched another power line below it. An electrifying experience!

Poor guy. He fell to earth, enabling me to see his features: two big front teeth like a rat, face like a small dog, ears like a fox, brown fur body of a squirrel, but no tail – just long, black, shiny, pterodactyl-style wings out of Jurassic Park.

These guys live off fruit from the giant banyan and baobab trees around Koregaon Park and you certainly know when it’s happening because the ground beneath the tree is covered with a circular, brown carpet of half-chewed fruit. Bats eat this stuff, but humans don’t, as far as I know.

Anyway, I also notice, inside the resort, that whenever a tree is in fruit and the ground is littered with debris, the walls of the black buildings surrounding the tree get covered in brown streaks of an unknown substance – well, not really unknown, because, of course, it’s bat shit.

Bats don’t go to the bathroom when they’re hanging upside down, naturally, because they would cover themselves with their own emissions. Not very nice for a well-groomed bat. So… what happens?

It seems they have a super-fast digestion rate. They find a tree-full of fruit and then stuff themselves all night long, while hanging upside down on the branches. Then, at a certain moment, when they’ve eaten enough, they let go of the branch and fall towards the ground. Opening their wings and starting to flap, they pull out of the dive and zoom upwards, releasing a fast-moving stream of digested fruit products as they do so.

Technical aviation detail: they probably use the point of maximum g-force, which pilots know when they pull out of a plane dive, as a convenient release mechanism for their digestion.

Within the confined space of the resort, with almost no distance between a tree and a building, there can only be one result: dozens of brown streaks on shiny black walls and one long cleaning job for the staff. Thank you for sharing guys….

These three excerpts were written in December 2013

Read the previous section of ‘The Pune Diaries’ and how the story goes on…

SubhutiAnand Subhuti has been a disciple of Osho for 38 years. He first came to Pune in 1976 and has been a regular visitor to India ever since. In the 70s, he worked in Osho’s Press Office and in 1981 travelled with the mystic to Oregon, where he founded and edited The Rajneesh Times newspaper. Subhuti has written a book about his life with Osho, titled ‘My Dance with a Madman’, and recently authored a romantic novel set in Koregaon Park titled ‘The Last White Man’, ‘Wild Wild Guru‘.

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