Sometimes irreverent, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, a delightful account of Damini’s viewing of Wild Wild Country that led her to dive deep into the underlying reasons why this docuseries was created NOW and what it has to do with America per se.
#WildWildCountry #JealousReflections #FromA #ThirdWorldFilmmaker?
NOOOOOOOO! STOP! STOP! STOP! The title is all wrong! It should read, ‘The Ministry of Sheela: Its Rise and Fall’.
Now, I admit. The film is six hours of unadulterated masala, muuuuuah (except for a very, very intriguing 2/3 min advert break for the Nike joota co-founder, Bill Bowerman)! So for digestive purposes, to balance the oozing masala, kindly permit me this boring title: ‘The Ministry of Sheela: Its Rise and Fall’.
Seriously, the film should have a cautionary warning, SPICY! Aree, after all its got our very own Gujarati ben starring in it: Sheela Onceuponatime Patel. Ab, after seeing #TheMinistryOfSheelaBen, anybody who had any misgiving about us Indian women being “bechari, oppressed, silent little things,” can keep their gobs shut! Watch out! Like me, Sheela Ben is tiny, but she sure can make the world spin, hanh. Well, even, The Old Mystic Man!
To be honest, I adore The Old Man. To be honest, I am a documentary filmmaker myself. And to be further honest, I thought for days whether to write on this or not. I decided in favour of writing because… since the good old VCR days I have not watched a film for 6 and a half hours, back to back.
Its good, hanh, this phillum. Yane, if you are looking for Sex, Guns and Rolls Royces it will keep you hooked. I mean, guns you’ll see, rolls royces you’ll see, but SEX?! You’ll be looking for it till the end of the last minute of the half hour of the sixth hour and pray… now, now, ab toh kuch action of this Sex Cult show, na! But yes, the directors will keep you hooked by getting the words SexGunsRollsRoyces in, every 10-15 mins.
Sex. There I said it! HaW!
I mean. Please understand. I come from India.
In India some thirty odd years ago, i.e., early 1980s, if we were to go to parents and say “Sex,” they’d spank us. Perhaps. But, this setting – my little Indian eyes thought – was Amreeeika, err, AMERICAAAAAA! They’d be like a little more, ummm, modern?! But, na ji na! They are like our baaps! Literally! You should see how their men’s eyes are twinkling just imagining the sounds of love making they heard three decades ago! I feel good. My Jaat, Khaapwala Uncle? Yes, he might have had the same expressions! Hindi Amreeki Bhai Bhai!
“What is peculiar to modern societies is not that they consign sex to shadow existence, but that they dedicated themselves to speaking of it ad infinitum, while exploiting it as the secret.”
– Foucault, History of Sexuality
Talking about Bhais, while this film stars a few Bens, it has two sets of American Brothers producing it, and one set directing it. With? THREE HUNDRED hours of sensational intimate archival footage! I mean, am I JEALOUS?!! The directors were not even born at that time! Some of the most happening shots, literally the spine of the film, have been shot by the Rajneeshees themselves, yes, ‘cult’ people you don’t even need to give credits to. They were unceremoniously forced out by the US government, no?!
And the directors tell us, for more than three decades all this spicy historical footage from the era of the famous Republican president Ronald Reagan was just quietly lying, gathering dust. No one to love. No one to kiss. Just waiting for the day it would be discovered. And then, just about the time when another famous Republican soontobe President, Donald Trump’s campaigns started… Boom! There, it was all discovered! Look at the coincidence, hanh! Who says God doesn’t exist?!
Hey, did I just hear you ask, what is the #colour of this God? Well, if you go by this film… surely, it isn’t Red.
“Better Dead than Red”
Early 1980s, America.
That’s the refrain you hear in a good part of the archival footage film. And it makes your little Indian mind go into a word spin.
“Better Dead than Red”
Red. Indians. Red. Communists. Red. Rajneeshees.
“Better Dead than Red”
I mean, sorry, but these Indian minds are sort of loopy. They draw these unnecessary connections. But how strange! It takes a simple Google search to find that the phrase ‘Better Dead than Red’ was a cold war slogan stating that it’s better to be bombed by nukes than to be ruled by communists! Intriguing, na!
And to think that the name Rajneeshees used for themselves was a #Commune, a society within that had sharing principles – no individual food, money, clothes; working to stay – like what the communists would perhaps have imagined?! And to think that at the same time they had the largest fleet of Rolls Royces, oodles of money, and a very successful international business?! Surely, there was a crazy interplay of ideas going on here! And surely, it deserves an in-depth investigation.
And the filmmakers would have done investigation, of course. FOUR YEARS. SIX AND A HALF HOURS. Am I jealous?! But sadly, or lets say, for the sake of THE GREAT GOD OF TITILLATION, they sacrificed the investigative stuff and just gave us the lick-lick-slurp-slurp-masala. #TheMinistyOfSheelaBen #ToughTitties
“We think the bigger canvas fits our skill set. It allows us to peel back the cultural layers, and political layers, and reexamine historical events through a new lens.” – Way Brothers, Wild Wild Country, Directors
I admit again, I am jealous. You see, I am a poor little unknown filmmaker. I make boring films, you know, the kind you have to pray for that your audience watches! Stretching up to a measly 60 mins at best. Forget money part. I am lowly INR. They are highly Dollars. No comparison really.
Actually. No comparison. Really.
For there was a time when both, INR and Dollars had in their base a common value: gold. So much INR would be equal to so much Dollar. Because so much Dollar was equal to so much GOLD and so much INR was equal to so much gold. Right? Common Denominator. But then. The President of the United States of America, in 1971, Richard Nixon, pulled out the GOLD from under the Dollar. Just. Unilaterally. Woosh. And the world was left with only one choice. DOLLAR.
So much INR = So much Dollar.
So much Indian Govt Paper = So much American Govt Paper.
Why? How? Basis?
Gone! Cholae Gaiche! Just.
And thus AMERICAN DOLLAR became the centre of the global power. And AMERICA, the land of that power.
Alright, but what does this have to do with the film?!
Nothing happens in isolation. Contexts explain. Contexts, enlighten.
This was the height of the Cold War. 1971. This was the time when everything in the world was changing. This was the time when the American State declared itself the centre of the world. Unilaterally. Just.
But this was also the time when the American society was changing in unprecedented ways. Its ‘Protestant Christian Work Ethic’ was being shattered by its young elites.
In 1969, man had reached the moon, and for the first time the earth was seen as One. That one image had cast an impression on the minds of the young, the younger, the youngest. At the same time, the American state was at war with Vietnam. Every day stories of death and killings were coming in.
Same year, 1969, Woodstock happened. The young threw away their garbs, literally. Dancing nude, wild, desiring freedom, through sex, through drugs. There was a lacuna, a vacuum. Traditional values – family, marriage, children, religion, morality, patriotism – nothing carried meaning for this generation. It was as if something has gone bust on the past. Finished. And the young were experimenting wildly to fill up this lacuna.
Experiments were taking place in the field of psychology.
In the 1950s Abraham Maslow had published his work on Self Actualisation and Hierarchy of Needs. In the 1960s, Esalen Institute – Michael Murphy, one of its co-founders, had his learning in Sri Aurobindo Ashram, India – had started experimenting with Maslow’s ideas and that of others in the Human Potential Movement. Aldous Huxley, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, all had payed their respects to Esalen. Catharsis, encounter groups – nude and otherwise, the glimpse of which we get in the film – all started from this #Counterculture #Movement, right here on the soil of America.
And yet. Even with the therapy, the encounters, the catharsis, the woodstockian free sex, the drug… the isolation, the vacuum was increasing.
“The new therapies spawned by the human potential movement [teach that] the individual will is all powerful and totally determines one’s fate; thus they intensify the isolation of the self.”
– Peter Marin, The New Narcissism, Harper’s, 1975
The grounds for the #IndianSpiritualExperimentation to break into the West had been created.
Late 1960s. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the giggling Guru, had charmed the daylights out of the heroes of the baby boomer generation. Beatles, Beach Boys, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane. The biggies of the west were all flocking to India to #Meditate.
In 1965, two years before the Beatles met the Maharishi, only 220 Americans had learnt Transcendental Meditation, Maharishi’s method. By 1968, post Beatles, this increased to 5,000. By the 1970’s, 24,000 Americans were TM-ing. By 1976, by the time the sheen of the encounter therapy groups was waning, over a million were meditating!
The psychotherapies, the encounters, the catharsis was clearing the grounds for the seeds of the Indian wisdom to be planted on the American soil.
This is the context, Rajneesh later known as Osho, developed his wisdom work in. Just about the time the Beatles met Maharishi in USA, 1967, Rajneesh, then a professor of philosophy in Sagar – a small town in central India – started touring across the country, giving discourses on self-knowledge, gathering disciples, conducting meditation groups.
Rajneesh, an avid reader – some 14 books a day, one hears – much connected with what was happening in the world, started developing his own meditation methodologies for the contemporary man.
He was clear, this was not the man Buddha had spoken to. Man had never been this rebellious, this free, this devoid of past, and this irresponsible towards the future. This was not the time for standard morality. Right or wrong, good or bad. He was creating the Esalen of the East. A blend of psychotherapy and eastern wisdom tools. Best of the west, meets best of the east. In his approach, the “ME GENERATION” had to be… seduced into Meditation. It was only via the small ‘i’, that the cosmic ‘I’ could be realised.
#SpiritualMaterialism, a concept woven into the spiritual tradition of India, where – like in the Chandyoga Upanishad, an enlightened King is seen giving wisdom practises to Brahmins/seekers – that is the line more or less all the Indian Gurus in America followed. Not of material negation, but, celebration.
While Osho, of course, mastered in this, Maharshi was the first to state it on American soil, “everyone can live two hundred percent of life (100 percent spiritual, 100 percent material); if one percent of the population meditated, it would dispel the cloud of war for 1000s of years.”
From Vedanta to Shaivism to Neo-Tantra to Vipassana to Zen to, of course, Yoga. All trotted into America. Bliss packaged, market savvy. These were the Pied Pipers from the East. Luring away all the elites.
But what was happening was so unorganised, so random, so organic that no one noticed for a while. This was not any attempt at conversion. These ideas were imports from a materially shattered, poor nation. And they came, not via a church, but via disconnected individuals, Gurus. But something was potent in them. America’s young, who had just acquired the right to vote at 18, were getting transformed. The world’s richest, most powerful nation state, the #DollarCountry was being changed by poor third world imports.
The 1970s were a phase of what an author calls, “a rebranding of meditation, secularization and medicalization of yogic disciplines.” Another adds, calling it: “the ‘Cocacolonization or MacDonaldization’ of Meditation.”
All the Indian Gurus in America did it. Packaging meditation and spiritual sutras in a language that would reach their raw audience. Whether we see it as a watering down of religion or a flexibility of the Indian spiritual wisdom to adapt… is a matter of choice.
“Indigenous peoples are never simply dupes of Western capitalism who passively absorb consumer ideology or the logic of the marketplace without reflection or agency; instead, they appropriate and transform them according to the logic of their own local culture.”
– Marshall Sahlins
The film, however, chooses to ignore all of these amazing debates and incredible contexts.
The presence of “Rajneeshees” is seen in isolation of the waves of history. As if the whole event happens in a vacuum. Devoid of any cultural, any political context. Of the interaction of east and west, of Indian traditions, of the cold war, or that of changes within America itself. Six and a half hours, by no means less, looks at NONE of this. Only dishing to a greedy audience like me, masala, on the house!
No context. Not even when the bytes are screaming for one.
Like when the former assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, Robert Weaver, speaks of the chill he got in his spine when he saw Rajneesh for the first time in a court room. It was a “dark” aura he saw, the only other time he remembers feeling that way was when he had seen… “Ayatollah Khomeini.”
Ayatollah Khomeini. I mean, Ayatollah Khomeini?! And Osho aka Rajneesh. There could be no two different personalities in this universe! One a so-called ‘Sex Guru’ from India, the other a Shia Muslim who had in 1979 taken power and established an Islamic government in Iran!
I mean, THAT deserves a cut or two of contextualisation. None of which we get in the film.
Now, if I really stretch my imagination wild, I see what Khomeini has in common with Rajneesh… a beard, a cap, a robe. And yes, come to think of it, the other thing in common he has is… people. So-called ‘followers’.
In the modern Christian western mind there is no model for a religious teacher minus a church association. Whereas in India we have many mystic Gurus who are not part of any formal lineage. They don’t even have to be Brahmins. Mahesh Yogi was a Kayastha. Rajneesh, a Jain. To go back further, Kabir, likely a Muslim. Meera, a Kshatriya queen. Rai Das, a cobbler.
In the Indian tradition, we don’t have saviours, we don’t claim to be saviours. Here we have Gurus, guides. Unlimited. Just happily popping here and there. To guide a rediscovery – not of God somewhere, up there – but of our own Godliness, our own inherent wholeness.
There is no word that carries the negativity of “Cult” in Indian languages. We believe even if the Guru is wrong, as long as the devotion of the disciple is pure, s/he is blessed. Its not about the other. It’s your own inner nature that matters. Karma.
I can’t expect Mr Robert Weaver to go into all that philosophy or culture, surely not. But I would expect the filmmakers to at least attempt an understanding, a sketching of the religious cultural context Rajneesh is coming from. That context is his motherland, India. Of which there is not even a single original shot in the film, I don’t even know if the young filmmakers even travelled here!
You see, here we believe that nothing happens in isolation. Not this event. Not these people. Not even a Guru. Nothing happens in isolation. Osho, more than anyone else, was super-connected. Contemporary. Ever responsive to his times.
Hugh Urban, professor of religion at Ohio State University writes of Osho as Proteus, or shape-shifter, defying identification: “Part of the remarkable success of Rajneesh’s teaching, I would suggest, was precisely the fluidity and flexibility of his message, which could be adapted – like UPAYA, or ‘Skilful means’ – to the particular needs of particular audiences. The primary model of Rajneesh’s style of guru-ship is that of Proteus or shape-shifter, who defies identification through his power to change appearance.”
This Proteus has to know, to sense his times in order to respond. And the world, with America as its centre – scientific culture, economic Dollar basis, rebellion towards the past – was now slowly moving towards globalism. One world. It is this new world Osho responded to by creating his idea of The New Man, transnational, spiritual-material combine.
“Sex had long been something you were. By the 1950s it was also something you could buy, not just in the traditional form of prostitution, but in the form of glossily marketed fantasy… Not only was sex an area that could be colonised by capitalism, it was also one that could expand ever more exotically.”
– Jeffery Weeks
It is in this area that Acharya Rajneesh aka Bhagwan Rajneesh aka Osho stepped in, offering to the exploratory youth of the 1970s, the meditative wisdom tools from many spiritual traditions – Vedanta, Shaivism, Sufi, Tao, Buddhist, Jain, and also, remarkably, the ancient schools of Indian Tantra.
The repeat branding of Rajneesh as ‘Sex Guru’ and ‘Sex Cult’ does nothing to contextualise these incredibly deep offerings in the simple, easy language he made available. Sitting in far-away India, I am forced to wonder, if the filmmakers have even heard of Tantric meditation practices that use sex as a method of realisation?
Oh yes, in the name of context, lest we forget, in the film there is a cursory mention of the #HumanPotentialMovement, and one byte by one of the protagonists on how most of the therapists that joined up with Rajneesh in the 1970s were former trainers of the movement. And yes, there is footage – by no means ‘secretly filmed’, do you remember how BIG the video cameras were, even in 1990s?! – of a nude encounter group.
The same kind of groups that happened in Esalen Institute, Big Sur, USA, in the 1960s – way before Rajneesh got his ashram or huge disciple following in India – images and articles which one can get with a simple Google search.
And yes, the only #Context to the Rajneesh movement which the film repeats ad nauseam is of #Jonestown. Back then, some 900 followers of an American #DisciplesOfChrist pastor turned cult leader in Indiana, had committed mass suicide! This link is repeated not just in the film, but in all the subsequent interviews!
I mean, James Warren Jones and Osho have minus zero in common. The backgrounds, the lands, the cultural religious philosophies… Ah! Nothing! Not even the cap, the beard and the robes! Aree, Ayatollah toh was at least our neighbour!!!
Jealousy changes to sadness. I am human, ah. The Way Bothers had a great advantage, 300 hours archival footage, to free a story from the stale grip of the past. Time gives you distance, na. But instead, they ended up being confined by this footage. Repeating the same cliches of the 1980s, in the 21st century. Almost 40 year stale.
Sex. Guns. The Other. Cult. Guru. Money.
If there is no context given. It had to be just a tabloidesque repeat.
“We were trying to tap into a conversation about, well, what is the difference between cult and religion? What are religious minority rights? Where is everyone’s line of tolerance where they have to say, ‘Enough is enough, we can’t have these people take over my town anymore?’”
– Way Brothers
If they are trying to tap into that conversation, they need to find a language for that. They need to do homework. And it does not help that in all the interviews the directors, post the film release, speak of the Rajneeshees, using the term ‘Cult’.
Now, in my evil little mind, a question arises: is the film simply repeating the cliches, or desiring to propagate them? Ignorance or conscious politics?
How come it is that this footage from the #ReaganEra surfaces exactly around the #TrumpTime? Is it a mere coincidence? Or could there be something more to it?
The answer lies in perhaps exploring the wide, wide gap in this gripping story. WHO WERE THE RAJNEESHEES?
“The baby boomers are the most spoiled, most self-centered, most narcissistic generation the country’s ever produced.”
“Godlessness and libertarianism has sapped the strength of the Judeo-Christian West to defend its ideals.”
“One thing I want to make sure of, if you look at the leaders of capitalism at that time, when capitalism was I believe at its highest flower and spreading its benefits to most of mankind, almost all of those capitalists were strong believers in the Judeo-Christian West.
“They were either active participants in the Jewish faith, they were active participants in the Christians’ faith, and they took their beliefs, and the underpinnings of their beliefs was manifested in the work they did. And I think that’s incredibly important and something that would really become unmoored.”
These are the words of Stephen Bannon, the chief executive officer of Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, former White House Chief Strategist, former executive chairman of the right-wing American media Breitbart News.
If after six and a half hours of watching Wild Wild Country, you can get yourself to watch this one-and-a-half-hour long film written by Bannon – Generation Zero – it will help understand a shade of the American right-wing perspective.
The transglobal world, that of speculations and traceless offshore investments, national tax evasions… that’s what the Baby Boomers created.
These Rajneeshee kind of folks who grew up creating this New Man, transglobal, cloud-elite world, with no grounded Judeo-Christian beliefs. That ever-increasing segment of liberal Americans ’Spiritual But Not Religious’ #SBNR. Who believe in Karma, in Reincarnation, who meditate and yes, those who hold American voting rights too.
“In Bannon’s telling, the greatest mistake the baby boomers made was to reject the traditional ‘Judeo-Christian’ values of their parents. He considers this a historical crime, because in his telling it was Judeo-Christian values that enabled Western Europe and the United States to defeat European fascism, and, subsequently, to create an ‘enlightened capitalism’ that made America great for decades after World War II.
“Without Judeo-Christianity, the American culture war cannot be won, enlightened capitalism cannot function, and ‘Islamic fascism’ cannot be defeated.”
Remember the Ayatollah Kohmeini statement?
A documentary is made on the editing table. The placement of these multiple characters’ stories is crucial, and tells its own tale.
Or the last episode, when Jane Stork – after poisoning her own people in Rajneeshpuram – is granted mercy by the courts, the celebration in her tone for the American Justice system, the “return to family” after the ‘cult’ experience?
According to a 2014 Religious Landscape Study of the USA, conducted by the PEW Research Centre, if there are 100 people, 71 are Christians, 2 are Jews, 1 is Muslim … and 23 consider themselves “Unaffiliated”. A huge number.
It is this segment the New Age Spirituality followers, including the ‘Rajneeshees’, fall in along with atheists of course. If you go by the market of meditation workshops in America – which now have become a part of the corporate world too, a far cry from the 1960s – this number is only increasing by the day.
In a 2012 American National Health statistics report, 8% of US adults – 18 million – were using some form of meditation. Yoga of course is a huge pull for Americans.
MAKE AMERICA GREAT, #AGAIN.
For the first time in its brief history, America is looking back. The past is suddenly the glorious one. For the very first time.
In the far right scheme of things as represented by Bannon, the generation that will help America reclaim the past glory of is… the #Millennials.
But, how to get them? Where are these future warriors headed in their heads? That’s the pulse the strategic brains of the American Right is trying to catch, and change.
The majority of young people who voted in 2016, voted against President Trump, and even more Millennials chose to stay home.
“For too long Republicans haven’t been making their case to Millennials. There’s just too much old and not enough grand in the way we express our party’s value to the next generation of voters.”
– National head of the young Republicans, Alexandra Smith
In varying frequency, there are at least 42% of younger Millennials who meditate in America, says the PEW report on the 2014 Religious Landscape Study. The study is supported by grants from the Lilly Endowment Inc. which states as one of its works, Character and Religion. “Strengthening Pastoral Leadership, Deepening Christian Life, Strengthening Christian Institutions and Networks, Improving Public Understanding of Religion.”
In this study specific questions about the younger meditating Millennials political and religious views are asked. Homosexuality; Abortion; Environment; Evolution; Guidance or right or wrong – by scripture or common sense; Political ideology and leanings.
It’s clear, the more you meditate, the less you participate in prayer or religious groups. And your politics tips #Democrat and #Liberal.
That’s not what will make America Great, #Again. No.
Sigh! Terrible how my Indian mind makes these random, high-flying implausible connections, na! Sick!
Now, it is of course, completely wrong. But… just maybe. It could also, be right. A little right.
If it is wrong, there is nothing in the film, except masala. A little maza, fun, a little masti, joy, and many ohh-aahhs. But if we assume my mind is a little right, it senses:
There is a #ReligiousCulturalWar going on in America with the #NewGlobalWorld.
And this film, which looks #BACK #AGAIN at this page of American history… is not at all about that crazy Indian mystic #Osho, not even about the badass #SheelaBenMinistry. No No!
The film is about #America. At War. With itself.
The Wild, Wild, Country.
2. Gurus in America, Editors: Cynthia Ann Humes, Thomas Forsthoefel
3. American Veda, Philip Goldberg
4. Holy Madness: The Shock Tactics and Radical Teachings of Crazy‑wise, Georg Feuerstein
7. Jim Jones
8. Pew Research
Akanksha ‘Damini’ Joshi took sannyas in 2006 and is in the nature of wandering minstrels, an Indian storyteller who uses film, sound, text and dance to share her experiences of the visible and inner worlds. She is also an award winning filmmaker and photographer. Her oeuvre stretches from making films on social and ecological conflicts, to her latest, on Hindu Philosophy. She is a one woman film company who films, edits, scripts and directs herself. Damini is presently creating a book of contemporary mythic narratives based on wisdom traditions of India. She also facilitates immersive storytelling and meditation groups. Damini’s work can be seen on earthwitness.tv. She can be followed on facebook here