In part 3 of 5, Surendra writes about how sex and sexuality was approached at Osho Ko Hsuan school.
By 1992, I had been at Osho Ko Hsuan school in rural Devon for about two years. One of my small jobs was driving a couple of miles up a steep hill to the miniature town of Chulmleigh. This was to do the weekly banking in the tiny branch that was manned only two mornings per week. Being an early bird, unlike most of the residents, I was up and about chirping before breakfast (sometimes to the annoyance of any night owl struggling with its preparation) and that is how I got this job.
One morning, as I was preparing to leave, a stranger wandered into the kitchen. Announcing himself as a reporter from the local paper, he asked about the police raid. I looked around at the two adults present and listened to the quiet murmur from a couple of kids in the adjacent dining room. It was a normal but sunny morning. It was very quiet and nothing untoward was going on. “You must have got the wrong place,” I blithely told the reporter who then went away. Exiting thirty minutes later, having collected the cash from the office safe, I saw a police van and several marked and unmarked cars parked near the top of our long driveway. Forever one to be focused on the task in hand, I continued on to the bank.
By the time I got back, the school was in chaos with uniformed police everywhere. It looked like the reporter had been accurately tipped off, presumably by one of their numbers. As I returned to the office, the carpets were up and extension cords and phone wires were being examined suspiciously. The bewildered adults were gathering in our sitting room. A senior police officer had been speaking to one of our colleagues and he eventually came and told us what it was all about.
During one of the weekly Sunday Meetings when the adults were dealing with school business, two girls around twelve years old had decided to do a photo session. The problem was that they had seen a few Playboy magazines and decided to emulate the poses in them. Well, I suppose we have to give them some marks for confidence and audacity. But the story gets worse. In their innocence, on the next school trip to Exeter, they dropped their roll of film into Boots the chemist for developing and printing along with the locals’ holiday and birthday snaps. Had we been operating the child paedophile ring that the police suspected, a high street photo service would hardly have been a likely choice.
Lots of meetings and interviews with the police and child protection agencies ensued. As the first one convened in awkward silence, the oldest member of our adult team announced in his clear BBC accent. “I suppose you have come to find out whether we have been fucking all the little girls and buggering all the little boys.” At least, he broke the ice. This incident also triggered our first official school inspection from the education department, something that was meant to be in place for all schools in the UK. As a qualified social worker, I was the obvious person to deal with this.
The man and woman, in their late thirties, that visited over a couple of weeks were open and had a sense of humour. They were determined to thoroughly do their job but without a heavy hand. Before the end of that term, we had all been fully scrutinized and the agencies combined to deliver an outstanding report. It praised the dedication of staff to both the academic development and welfare of the children. Underlining the high levels of freedom, support and participation they highlighted the confidence, sincerity and maturity of the kids. In short, they felt we were all doing a great job in a unique and nurturing environment.
Yet this point was not the end of the story, only the middle. The event had thrown the spotlight on sex. It forced adults and kids to think and talk about what was going on for them regarding sexual feelings and look at their attitudes towards each other.
Osho had often spoken on the importance of sex, for example:
Please don’t control, because all control means control by the ego. I teach you uncontrol: remain natural. Control makes you unnatural, artificial, arbitrary…. Remain natural, relax. Whatsoever existence has given to you – sex, love, whatsoever – accept it as a gift. And go into it, go into it meditatively, go into it consciously. So that you can see what it is, so that you can learn something from it.
And one day sex disappears. And that day is of great importance because that day you are biologically free. That freedom is not attained through control; that freedom is attained through understanding, awareness, witnessing.
Osho, Unio Mystica, Vol 2, Ch 10 (excerpt)
In the nineties, the Osho Commune in Pune, India usually had several thousand adults milling around. In the larger communes, going into our sexuality often meant exploring sexual relationships from brief encounters to longer connections. Sometimes it meant watching the lack of action but at least there was someone to fancy. Osho Ko Hsuan in those days had around fifteen adults. Even a short term mutual attraction within this small circle was very unlikely. It did happen – but rarely. Sometimes adults arrived as a couple but they did not always remain so for long. Well, there was always the holidays to look forward to.
Ko Hsuan was also home to some seventy kids aged between nine and seventeen and unquestionably, the kids held centre stage. Our roles in teaching, befriending and taking care of a particular group of kids plus domestic and administrative tasks, used up nearly all our energy. Partner relationships were not going to get much time and attention. On top of that, among the seventy kids were around twenty teenagers. As we know from our own teenage years, at this time sex can loom pretty large. This may not be in terms of any direct physical encounters although we might long for them. With the physical changes in our bodies including the hormones racing through them, we cannot help notice the impact.
Many teenage girls, given freedom, want to explore their appeal to men. As one girl said, “From a certain age I realised that whenever a man showed up, I became flirtatious.” To her surprise this even applied to the silver-haired baker who came early every morning with a tray of bread. How were the eight or so resident, middle-aged males going to relate with the adolescent girls? All the children in our care were appealing; those with feminine charms and attractive bodies, sometimes especially so.
Sooner or later, frequently or rarely, the men were going to get turned on by the girls. Of course, women were going to get turned on by boys too, but this seemed less frequent and in a less physically, sexual way. The girls loved to play with the impact of their energy but as one girl made clear, “We really like to flirt with the men but we definitely don’t want them to do anything about it.” So, there us men were, set up in one of those scenarios of ancient myth: tempted by untouchable and alluring nymphs. They were not just nymphs however, they were Ko Hsuan kids with spirits burning very brightly! Encouraged to be free and outspoken, whatever topic came up, they had great bullshit detectors and always wanted honest answers.
I remember in my first few months being the only adult around a small bonfire with a group of older kids. A game of Truth or Dare got going. A bottle was spun and whoever it pointed at had to choose between doing something outrageous or answering a question honestly. When the bottle stopped in my direction, I chose ‘Truth’. “Which girl do you fancy the most?” came at me. I did not lie but gave dithering generalities about the girls being pretty and how I was fond of them all…. A fifteen year old girl with big dark eyes and a piercing gaze stopped me in mid sentence. “No! Who do you want to fuck?” I was right on the spot and gave a truthful answer. My embarrassment was lessened by the absence of the girl in question. For a short while afterwards, there was an awkwardness between the two of us but not for long: life moved on – in triple time at Ko Hsuan. All sorts of new excitements appeared and the old were soon forgotten. In my experience, honesty may be uncomfortable in the beginning but bringing things into the open leads to greater ease in the long run.
For quite a while during and after the investigation, its ramifications were the main subject of discussion in the adult meetings. The women now felt free to speak about some of the men being insensitive around the teenage girls with inappropriate language, attitudes or behaviour. The men did a lot of soul searching and expressed their feelings about the girls in general or particular. We also had meetings with the teenagers about sex.
The new Mandir wing, under completion when I arrived, housed about ten double rooms, a communal large shower and a comfortable sitting room. At the start of term choosing roommates was a big deal. Boys had to share with boys and girls with girls but some had strong preferences. Popular kids could enjoy the glory and a few, hard pressed to find a roommate, felt very hurt. From the beginning we insisted they sort it out amongst themselves, only intervening if they got stuck with a problem. All the fourteen to sixteen year olds were accommodated in this wing. If there were not enough to fill it up, those of thirteen who seemed mature enough to cope were considered. All of these kids would be enrolled in GCSE *) external exam courses and have some commitment to their studies. At least they had to make an appearance in the classes and have a go at the homework. In terms of numbers, it usually worked out fine.
The Mandir kids were allowed to have ‘late night snacks’ in the kitchen while the rest were in bed. This was supervised by the bedtime adults. Once it was over, the Mandir kids were asked to go to their wing and stay there until the morning. They sometimes took their snacks with them and had a kettle for more drinks later on. Adults did not venture into the wing at night unless invited to some rare and special occasion or a game of poker. My time in the States lead me to introduce Seven Card Stud in my first year at the school. Played for pennies, it became very popular for a while. After several years at the school, most adults were too tired to think of staying up after 11pm. As for the Mandir kids, they learned from a young age to regulate their need for rest. They stinted on it most of the term time but still found abundant energy for much creativity and fun. They probably slept a lot during the long holidays at home.
Sexual partnerships between the kids did spring up from time to time and there was also room for more casual experimentation. The kids sometimes confided in us, especially when we were their room adults. What was very apparent was that sexual maturation was unique for each individual. Some of the Mandirs of either sex were very clear that they did not want to get into any kind of physical activity yet. Others were interested from a young age. As with the adults, within such a small group, sexual attractions were less likely. Some of the kids had also grown up together at the school and they viewed each other more like siblings. In contrast, once in a rare while, a handsome stud or femme fatale emerged in Mandir, creating thrills and heartache all around. When they left, that kind of energy left with them. In its wake remained the more usual complaints. From the boys, “Oh man, you don’t really know them. They are such bitches!” From the girls, “The boys are so fucking immature!” We had to be a bit careful when choosing adults to work with us. Hunky young men under thirty could be potential dynamite.
I always admired the tact, discretion and warm support that exuded from the women who took care of the supply of condoms available to kids who wanted to engage in sex. They also stopped the condoms being used as balloons or bombs in water fights. We had a no bullying policy at the school and made this crystal clear to the kids, especially around any possibility of sexual coercion. However, once in their own space, we relied on their personal and collective integrity to maintain those values.
Sex did happen for some of the kids in Ko Hsuan: safely, lovingly and/or experimentally. Freedom in sex meant exactly that. It resulted in honest enquiry and exploration. The kids were discovering many exciting dimensions in themselves and the vibrant life around them. Sex was important and could be powerful but was only one aspect of their lives. In the absence of repression, sex takes its place. As for the adults, we welcomed the holidays.
*) General Certificate of Secondary Education
Articles of the same series: Osho Ko Hsuan School
A former Reichian therapist, British Surendra took sannyas in 1976. He lived in Osho’s communes in India, USA, UK and Japan from the early 1980s on. In Pune 2 he looked after the painting work in Lao Tzu House, and then worked in Osho Publications. From 1991–1996 he taught at Ko Hsuan in Devon, UK, and after a sojourn again in 2001 he also became a passionate photographer. In 2013 he relocated to the Japanese Alps with his partner, Amrapali. surendraphoto.com
All articles by this author on Osho News
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