A personal reckoning of 13 years of commune life – by Priya Huffman
When, 30 years ago, I shut the door of the townhouse in Rajneeshpuram that I had helped to build and lived in for the last year of my life on the Ranch, I also shut the door on 13 years of commune life with Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, as he was known to me then.
I drove away, a 37-year-old woman with my then-boyfriend, who had worked in the ‘garage’ and was lucky enough to have procured wheels. I had one suitcase and $3,000 in cash, reluctantly given to me by my mother when she realized that I was stranded in the foreign wilds of America. My 11-year-old son had driven ahead to California with parents of his best friend, his belongings in another miraculously scavenged suitcase, of sorts. My life of the past 13 years was in tatters.
Priya and her son Sadhu in Pune
Knowing we would meet up with my son in Laguna Beach some days later, we had nothing to do but drive and attempt to take stock of our radically changed circumstances. We had unceremoniously and in rather short order, been booted out of the nest, banished from Eden, the very one we had so arduously and devotionally built.
I was alternatingly angry and deeply confused about everything, questioning who knew what, who did what, whom I could blame for all that went down — for the death of my dream, the death of our dreams. I was numb with fear and fatigue. Nor was I alone in this. Most of us had worked between 12-18 hours every day for the last two-and-a-half to four years to build our utopia in the scrubland desert of Oregon. Affectionately called Rancho Rajneesh by us, and less affectionately called by more derogatory names by the Oregonian locals whom we had hauled over the coals of our insults, presumptions and lies.
Upon arriving at our destination in California, the work at hand was immediate. It was about providing a roof over our heads, food on the table, a job to earn money — any job. It was about finding a way for my young son of 11 years of age to finally learn to read, go to school, find his footing, even though clearly, I had utterly lost mine.
The terrors and uncertainties, along with the questions and feelings, were neatly packaged away to the proverbial back-burner, there to cool for the next three decades.
The need to claim and reclaim the full measure of those missing years arose in response to writing a second book of poetry which included a section on India, causing the first round of remembrances to surface. I am also mindful of the passage of time, that I no longer have the luxury of frittering life away mindlessly, since my ‘best by’ date is rushing toward me at a hurtling speed. The push to pick up the lost stitches of those years, the reckoning of what was learned, gained, loved, and lost pressed in again after reading a [yet unpublished, ed.] book called The Day We Got Guns written by a commune member called Rajesh.
There were tears, a tender regard for the lost dreams, for the way in which so much was and probably always will be in the great puddle and mess of uncertainty. Like Rajesh, I came to my own realization that what was paramount was my experience, and now, after all this time, I regard this as a most seminal period of growth, learning and living on the edge.
This morning my husband asked me the one question I had not asked myself to date: “What did you actually learn during those 13 years?”
To my amazement, this is what came tumbling out:
– A remarkable work ethic. In the commune I learnt to focus on the task at hand in a single-pointed way. A focus that doesn’t shut out the other constituents that might be vying for my attention, but enables me to triage, without losing the thrust of the work to which I am most committed.
– From this skill-set, practiced day to day, arose the realization that no job was intrinsically of higher value than any other, that any work you did wholeheartedly was truly an offering of the heart, a worship, as we used to call it. It was born out of the understanding that every aspect of living had to be attended to — chopping vegies, doing the laundry, healing the ill, teaching the kids, cleaning the toilets, being a therapist, all had their place and need.
Often, those who had high status jobs before coming to the commune, and were overly identified with their importance, were given the lowliest jobs. The reverse was also true: those unaccustomed to power or prestige were often given ‘power over’ others to see how they responded and what arose within them — meanness, sharpness, kindness or compassion. The doctors cleaned toilets (there was no shortage since we had the highest per capita doctors — PhD’s, MA’s, MS’s — in any recorded community or small group at that time), and the secretaries were elevated to leadership positions, there to flower or flounder.
This lesson has been invaluable, especially in the years immediately after leaving. I had no shame taking jobs that were available and applied myself to being a house cleaner, doing telephone sales (no fun), and doing massage, before finding my way back to being a psychotherapist. To this day, I have such a sad sweet spot for people who are overly identified with their ‘work in the world’ as a means toward meaning and value and such respect for people who do their jobs well, no matter what they are.
– Any place where we become attached to a set of ideas or concepts that is not authenticated by our direct knowing is a lie. Osho was a brilliant orator and would speak on a different discipline each month. One month we would become enamored with Zen as he spoke of Basho and flock to emulate the outer trappings of that track. We would become contained, deliberate, and mindful in all aspects of life. One month later, we would be privy to tantric teachings and cavort around, all containment shed along with clothes, for the deep dive into the utter acceptance of all life’s energies, especially all things sexual. And so it went, through many teachings, traditions, till there was nothing left to hold onto but the truth of our own experience — because he was not going to give us answers, only more options, more confusion for us to start our own explorations. This has been of such service to me, has allowed me to feel into what is true rather than jump onto any passing bandwagon.
– The greatest gift of those early years in India was the complete and open exploration of all aspects of our emotional and sexual attitudes and behaviors. We were like kids in the proverbial candy store. Encouraged to sample, taste and eat the fruit of sensual delight, dance, sing, have sex, touch, laugh, love, be joyously free, unburdened by the past restrictions within ourselves with others. I learned to laugh and cry, feel hurt, yearn, be disappointed. I was moved like Rumi, to kiss the ground, simply because I was alive, rather than merely going through the motions of living.
– Since being out in the larger world, I have come to know many different forms of meditation and have realized that sound practice depends on helping a person engage fully, without the stricture of identification which so often closes the mind and our capacity to respond authentically. I am… a teacher… farmer… student, lover, a whatever.
Our community didn’t allow us to get fixed in roles or overly impressed with identities. By virtue of the constant waves of change that we rode in order to stay afloat, we found our way of being present without clinging to being ‘a somebody’. Some of us drowned under the pressure of that requiring wave, some soared, but we learned in a profound way that labels were merely heuristic, not essentially true. I have heard tales of meditators who have spent decades on the cushion of practice to learn what we, through the commune, learned in mere years, and learned thoroughly.
The most seductive identification however, was around spiritual acumen or proximity to the ‘master’. This was a game Osho played brilliantly, giving and taking, pulling the rug out from under the very feet he may himself have elevated. After a few years of watching our own ambitions and needs to be recognized both satisfied by external acknowledgment or smashed by non-regard, we reluctantly came to our own conclusions. It was a fantasy. Self-worth, or true self-regard was not going to be handed to any of us from the outside, and if it were, it could as easily be taken away. We each drew our own conclusions from that game.
– The word ‘surrender’ was bandied around a lot, as a means of accepting that which was handed to you, through the system. We were in essence a communist system of organization. Surrender is an empowerment, not a passive state of ‘no choice’, which is regrettably all I knew for those many years when I felt discouraged to question the authority of our community leaders.
Through this, I have come to later learn that surrender is not a passive compliant thing; it has more to do with the full engagement of our yes. It has little overlap with acceptance or resignation, but is rather a full-hearted yes to the situation as it is, whether you like it or not, whether you would prefer it to be different or not. From that vantage, it does not have a passive bone to it. Surrender is an empowerment, not a passive state of ‘no choice’, and I’m grateful that I discovered this, albeit in reverse.
– Maybe the most important thing I learned was to be judicial about giving away to anyone, outside of myself, authority over myself. This self-authorization needs to be held with the equal and opposite knowing that I am but part of the whole, not the determinant. Those two opposite pulls formed the basis of the later study I did of Jung, which was for many years the foundation of my psychotherapy practice: the play and interaction of the masculine and feminine forces within us and finding my way to honor both, rather than attempting to keep them in check or even balance.
I have no doubt that my family of origin, and the early training I received there, were the fertile ground that enabled me to so wholeheartedly accept the notion of ‘master’ as one who knew always best, so I relinquished my own voice. I violated my own sense of boundaries of ethical behavior, time and time again, in deference to belonging. This teaching was of the highest value, and the most intense meditation program I could ever have imagined.
Today I am gathering the pearls of my personal experience into arms of gratitude, mindful (as we have learned to be) that most lessons have embedded within them, the full spectrum of what really works as well as what does not. Both teachings are of value, as Osho the ultimate tantric teacher, so aptly reminded and modeled to us. Both hard earned at the feet of higher learning.
Priya Huffman (aka Ma Yoga Priya) holds an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and Psychology, a masters in Psychology, both from Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. She took sannyas at Mount Abu in 1973, and rejoined secular life in 1986 as a practicing psychotherapist. Priya is a potter and poet who lives in Boulder, Colorado and Cortes Island, British Columbia. She is the author of ‘The Territory of Home’ and of ‘Bone and Breath‘. priyahuffman.com
More articles and poems by this author on Osho News