Lakes, dams and new buildings in a ‘non-existent’ town

From 'On the Edge'

On her second visit to Rajneeshpuram, Punya discovers the many changes that were made during her 9-month absence, and wonders how suddenly a city could be disincorporated and become ‘illegal’.

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I had suspected that the work on the Ranch would have continued at the same supersonic speed I had witnessed during my first visit; nevertheless, on my return, my jaw dropped – and remained dropped – throughout the whole tour that the Twinkies gave me to update my notes.

The previous evening, driving down into the Ranch from Madras, I had already seen the new earthen dam and lake. Imagine going to visit your family and after nine months of absence you discover a huge lake at their doorstep. The road which had taken me to the Desiderata trailers the year before was now below the water level and the county road had to be rebuilt higher up alongside the waterline. In the middle of the lake floated a two-storey wooden construction with diving boards and a shop (for ice-cream, I hoped) which suggested that this place was going to be fun as soon as the weather warmed up. As it was along the county road I was told we would need to wear swim suits. Nude bathing was restricted to Patanjali Lake. (I slowly came to realise that Americans were totally different from what I had thought they would be. In my eyes, being the New World, they should have been more liberal than we were in historic and traditional Europe. I thought accepting nude bathing would be a matter of course.)

The reason for building the dam was, in the first place, to collect water. The lake was in fact a reservoir. The main concern of our neighbours was that our presence would lower the water table, which would affect their farming, and the lake was one of the means to avoid that. Another water-saving measure had been introduced from the very beginning: all showers had a button on the head to stop the flow while soaping or shampooing. We also learnt to turn off the tap while brushing our teeth (which is now being advertised 20 years later by the UK government on TV: 36 litres of water saved). We also did not flush the toilets each time, except in particular instances; but this was not something we would reveal to our visitors.

The dam and lake had been opened with a ceremony, which I had missed, and marble plaques in honour of two great mystics and masters of the 20th century (of which our visitors had never heard) had been placed at the edge of the water:

– Krishnamurti Lake

– Gurdjieff Dam

Further information about the 45-acre lake which I had to memorise was that it had filled up in less than 6 weeks (which overcame everyone’s concerns about low rainfall, even ours), its capacity was 330,000,000 gallons (for those who needed numbers; for me it was just enormous) and the height of the dam was 80 feet. Soon I had to become acquainted not only with gallons and feet, but also with inches and Fahrenheit degrees. Later, working in construction, I realised that this way of measuring the world was much closer to the human body. An inch which in Italian translates into ‘un pollice’, actually meaning ‘a thumb’, is a measurement which, to my feeling, has more to do with real life than one centimetre. Later I got to know ‘2×4 eight-footers’, a description of a piece of wood difficult to translate into metres and centimetres. The drawback was that calculations in multiples of twelve were beyond my mathematical training.

The tour notes also listed details about our restoration programme and erosion control:

– 1 million willow trees planted along the creeks

– 200 silt dams (check dams) built

I knew that this was the result of Raghuvira’s crew working in distant valleys. I had admired in photographs the clean and aesthetic design of the dams and was intrigued by the fact that they built them so beautifully knowing well that nobody, except themselves, would ever see them.

Then there were all the new buildings in the industrial area (11,000 sq. ft.):

– RBG, which stands for Rajneesh Buddhafield Garage

– Rahul petrol pump

– Gorakh recycling centre (paper, cardboard, cans, glass, compost) in a remote valley

– the welding shop (3,500 sq. ft.)

– Saraha, the carpenters’ workshop

On the right we could already see the 23,000 square foot foundations of RIMU, Rajneesh International Meditation University. This building did not really make sense to me as everybody I knew was a worker; but the plan was that soon we would have visitors to attend courses in meditation.

We also had a new garage for heavy-duty machinery. Interestingly, its name was Mahavira, a very gentle saint from the Jain tradition, so gentle that he used to sleep only on one side, concerned he would kill any ants if he rolled over. Also the fire department, with the one huge red fire truck, had the name of a ‘cool’ mystic, of Buddha himself: it was called Siddhartha.

Rajneeshpuram map

While I was in Switzerland, there had been disputes about the validity of the incorporation of our city. We were suddenly living in an illegal city. (I had heard of illegal drugs and illegal gun trafficking, but had never heard of an illegal city.) In one of the press clippings, which I later filed, Bob Stacey, an attorney for the watchdog group, 1000 Friends of Oregon, said: “Rajneeshpuram does not exist.” How surreal can you get?

Apparently Wasco County was worried that it had to come up with millions of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars for sewage, water, electricity and roads for a city consisting of thousands of residents of a religious ‘sect’ which was not even Christian and was headed by a foreigner. All we had actually done was to ask for help to upgrade the county road which runs through the property. We financed everything else ourselves.

The incredible success of our commune had triggered a lot of jealousy in our neighbours. (I heard they were even jealous of our lake.) They started to campaign against us and it looked as if they could not live in peace until they had destroyed our creation.

As we had lost our city status, I was no longer allowed to mention the sewage lagoon which was now illegal. With the incorporation, our 2.2 acre ‘greenhouse’ had become a ‘meeting hall’, our Rajneesh Mandir. What would it be now that the city was dis-incorporated? While I was away, the construction team had enclosed it with solid walls and glass at each end to give shelter for the winter celebrations.

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I was happy to see that cows and chickens were thriving although I was not particularly interested in the farming side of the commune. On the other hand, I was delighted to see that wild birds had finally begun visiting the Ranch – some staying on – although my enthusiasm was soon dampened as these red-winged blackbirds were already considered pests: they had gathered in big numbers and were behaving in a rowdy manner, very much like starlings do back home. I had to mention the 700 laying hens (Osho had suggested we eat eggs as they contain a protein important for our brains – “no vegetarian has ever won the Nobel prize,” I remember him saying) and the new methane digester which produced fertiliser and gas from the cows’ manure.

We never drove down to the Surdas vegetable gardens with the visitors, because there was a danger of getting stuck on the steep road and because the tour would have lasted too long. However, we always mentioned the nurseries, greenhouses and the salad washing unit, as these were part of our pioneering image and our desire to become self-sufficient. I was lucky to see the Surdas gardens now on my introductory tour. It was a totally different world down there because it was green: rows and rows of greenery the details of which my horticulturally ignorant mind could not identify. At the edge of our fields I could see the white-water river which was the border to the east of our property and more fertile fields beyond, dwarfed below an imposing mountain. I recognised some of my friends under their straw hats which confirmed that this green world also belonged to my world. We were far from being self-sufficient, as the number of inhabitants kept increasing at a rate with which the vegetable gardens never managed to keep up, but we were always pleased to see on our dinner plates what Surdas had sent up to Magdalena Cafeteria: it was fresh, organic and, above all, home-grown.

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Photo credits: Yogena, Prabhat, Saten, Oregonlive, Stern
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