Viramo reports from the recent meditation festival at Osho Gran Kustal Retreat Center, Mexico – co-organised by Osho Niranjana, USA – with live music by Milarepa and his One Sky Band.
At first I said no, I won’t go to Mexico – not even for Osho. Seems I had bought into the American propaganda that the country just south of the U.S. border was a dangerous place, seething with drug cartels and vicious gunmen and government corruption.
OshoFest, scheduled for the Labor Day weekend at a retreat center near Ensenada, sounded alluring. Milarepa would be there with his One Sky Band; old friend Maneesha was driving there to do her high energy group; and just hanging out in the sangha, with fellow sannyasins, was always a delight.
Still the mind kept throwing the negatives at me: the driving (500 miles one way from Sedona), the heat, the holiday traffic, the border crossing, the danger, the desperate immigrants, the… the… and Mexico. Especially Mexico.
So of course I went to OshoFest. It turned out to be one of the juiciest experiences of my nearly four decades as a sannyasin. Said Milarepa, “Ensenada (meaning the location of the event) was more of a divine adventure than I anticipated.” For me, it was indeed divine – an opportunity to jump into the unknown, to look at my own “stuff,” and to go beyond judgment into a space of acceptance and total trust.
Sponsored by Osho Niranjana Meditation Center, the event was held at Osho Gran Kustal Retreat Center, a new venue located in the small town of Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California. Amritanand, Niranjana center leader, was co-coordinator of the event, along with Kamala, the remarkable woman who developed the property. The retreat center is about 50 miles from the California border at Tecate (85 miles from San Diego airport), and 25 miles to Ensenada.
Gran Kustal itself is a kind of miracle. A former dusty and neglected ranch, the property has been transformed into a viable meditation space, Osho style (echoes of the Big Muddy Ranch here). Three new buildings, including Buddha Hall, a two-story guest quarters building with kitchen and dining area, and a mind-boggling hacienda style “home” with touches of old Mexico now occupy the land – all designed by Kamala.
Gardens of exotic cactus and palms and colorful flowers and winding pathways grace the terrain. A rooster announces his presence and his harem. Sheep are somewhere on the seven-acre real estate. All this under clear blue desert sky and fresh air and gentle breezes from the ocean not too far away. What a setting for a weekend of meditation and going in!
Avoid reading the news
Initially, the 500-mile drive and expenses were to be shared between Maneesha, myself, and Vismaya (the singer). Three drivers, no problem. A day or two before departure Vis got sick, had a 102+ fever, and had to bow out. Now two drivers. Maneesha and I are Mystery School veterans, long-time sannyasins. She goes back to around 1975 Poona and today is not only known as the Queen of the Dance, she leads high-energy groups in such places as Russia and China. I am looking toward my 39th sannyas birthday, a fairly mellow fellow with credentials in video production (Osho Cable Network and more), Mystic Rose, meditation and writing.
Two Osho lovers, on the road to unknown adventures. What could possibly go wrong? Not much, actually. We got lost south of the border, couldn’t find the venue, learned that it’s hard to get good directions from locals when you can’t speak their language, and finally drove through the gates fronting Osho Gran Kustal (alternately spelled Kuxtal in the ancient Mayan language, the name translating as Great Life.)
We arrive about 7 p.m., which meant nearly 12 hours on the road. We learn that the staff of the retreat center has been operating under crunch time, preparing Buddha Hall, the kitchen and the guest facilities for the event’s start time. Milarepa and his team arrived two days earlier and are put to work almost immediately.
Says Mila, “The band and I with Svaaha rendezvoused (a real word – Viramo) at San Diego Airport where we were met with the beaming smile of our great driver, Mojud. It was Mojud’s sign, ‘Welcome Osho Ensenada,’ that caught my eye and made me smile. After hearing so much negativity about USA-Mexican relations, I didn’t know what to expect at the border. But I have to say it was the smoothest, fastest, nicest, most welcoming entry into any country I have ever experienced. Another good reason to avoid reading the news!”
The One Sky Band has rotating personnel, but the same Osho energy permeates its appearances. This time bandmates included drummer Teerth, born and raised in Mexico City, now living in the USA; and bass player Prabodh, who flew in all the way from Europe for the event.
“The band, Svaaha, Madhunad, I and some of the resort team went into high-gear window cleaning,” says Mila. “And the Buddha Hall has a lot of glass! But we managed, and more, in good time. The carpets went down, and the final touch came when Navaneet showed up with a huge armful of beautiful white and red roses. In the wild wild country days, it was called work meditation, when work happens for the love and fun of it. Indeed, we had lots of laughter in the high desert sun.”
Most participants in the fiesta began arriving early evening. Staff at Gran Kustal were warm and welcoming, smiles all around. We were ushered to our rooms in the guest building, which also houses the kitchen and dining room, a little shop selling coffee and snacks, and an office, all on the ground floor. My room was on the second floor. My roommate was a long-time sannyasin whom I had never met, although our paths as Osho lovers often criss-crossed.
Anudipa was a lovely fellow from the San Diego area. He brought his guitar, and I was soon to learn that he is a fantastic musician and songwriter. This fact would soon bring us together in unexpected ways. The room is a little, uh, cramped, with two beds, three hangers, sink, lots of drawers, and toilet plus shower. In such an environment, one gets to know the other person, and fast.
The festival kicked off at nine p.m. with a warm welcome, live music, dancing, and evening satsang. About thirty or forty participants moved the energy in the superb Buddha Hall, which I heard was modeled after the Mandir at Rajneeshpuram. Looking around, I saw the hall filled with beautiful, happy people, the Mexican friends, mostly young and full of Osho energy.
Looking deeply into eyes and hearts
Saturday was a very full day that started early with yoga, followed by Dynamic, morning satsang, Heart Dance, and lunch. It was during Heart Dance (old Poonaites remember it as Sufi Dance) that I got an opportunity to look deeply into the eyes and hearts of our Mexican friends as we moved around the circle with new partners at each juncture. They are amazing: fresh, curious, bold, uninhibited, a little wild. Sometimes more than a little.
Milarepa set the tone for this process early: “This is a very serious meditation,” he said with a crooked grin. “Very serious.” Our translator was on hand to transform the English instructions into Spanish. Translators were on hand for every activity. We had three: Mojud Zorba, the van driver at the airport; Deva Maitri, Mojud’s partner and staff member at Gran Kustal; and Kamala (aka Kamalita), who has also run the Osho meditation center in Ensenada for years. The translators didn’t just translate words: they acted out the emotions and nuances of the English language speakers. (Maitri was with her baby, nine-month-old Aruna Lena. I fell hopelessly in love with that baby.)
After lunch, I dived into Maneesha’s wonderful group, “Being Yourself – Dance, the Joy of Rebellion.” Combining dance and movement with inner work, Maneesha’s groups always push my aging body to the max – and beyond. Her selection of music is varied and impeccable, and always on point. Later the first day was Kundalini, dinner (Mexican food always an option), and White Robe with music, silence, and Osho video discourse. And even later was an outdoor fire pit celebration, under the glittering stars, with marshmallow roasting and laughter, Anudipa playing and singing Osho songs and pop tunes.
It was announced at White Robe Saturday that on Sunday the usual evening meditation would be replaced by Creativity Night! People were invited to bring their talents and their creative gifts to the fiesta – their songs, poems, dances, skits, whatever. A sort of sannyasin open mic night. I remember thinking, Hmmm, maybe three or four people would show up, shyly express themselves, and let’s get on with the singing and dancing.
Back at our room, Anudipa looked me in the eye and said, “You’re a writer. Why don’t you write a poem or something and present it tomorrow night?” He said he and Maneesha were already preparing to harmonize on one of his songs at Creativity Night. “Oh, I don’t think so,” I mumbled. “There’s not enough time to put something together and I…” But it was too late. The creative juices had already started flowing, beyond my control. I wrote three verses of a poem while in a state of no-mind.
‘You will feel our spirit’
Next day dawned a little cloudy and unusually chilly. I skipped yoga and Dynamic and went straight to breakfast. Peals of laughter always emanate from the dining hall at mealtimes; it’s our Mexican friends, in a constant state of celebration at their table. Later in the morning was Nataraj, the electrifying dance meditation with a boost of live music from Milarepa and his One Sky Band. After lunch I drifted into Shakura’s group, Meeting the Inner Child. She has been at this for years, traveling all over the world to present her Primal-oriented process.
Intense partner work. Sadness. Joy. Anger. Tears, lots of tears. She is good at it. Meeting yourself in the eyes of the Other. Her six-stage Child Meditation is a real howler, outrageous and over the top. Waves of laughter fill the air. We end up lying on the floor, exhausted and feeling very much alive.
Sunday evening, time for Osho Fiesta – open mic night for visitors and hosts. My roommate called it “Sannyasins Got Talent!” I was prepared. My poem, titled “Into the Mystery,” was finished, and I’d been rehearsing with Anudipa on guitar. We tried for a groovy blues riff, but the lyrics didn’t fit so we had to settle for mellow.
The evening took off like a rocket. So many talented people rocked the hall that night. Singers. Dancers. Poets. Drag queens. There were skits, one featuring Maneesha, Milarepa and Svaaha. A martial arts demonstration. More incredible dancing. Excitement filled the air; the audience was wild. Even my poetry reading, with Anudipa backing me on guitar, drew respectful applause. Navaneet, the American who lives and works at Gran Kristal, read his essay in “Spanglish.” It was about working in Osho’s garden (he is the gardener at Gran Kristal).
Svaaha was the showrunner, keeping the energy moving in an orderly fashion. Emcee for the evening was Marissa, daughter of Osho Niranjana center leader Amritanand (and OshoFest co-sponsor) and his beautiful wife Kanchan. Not yet a teenager, Marissa (sannyas name: Pushpita) has the stage presence of a professional. She somehow got her parents to the stage, where they performed a Bollywood-style dance to high-energy music. Who knew Amritanand could dance like that?
Just when it seemed the energy couldn’t go any higher came a beautiful surprise. Milarepa describes it on his Facebook page: “One of the many festival highlights came during the Creativity Night when all the Mexican friends came forward, joined hands, and sang a ‘welcome’ song for the rest of us. ‘You will feel our spirit,’ one of the singers said. ‘We welcome you with open hearts.’ It was a touching moment that captured the vibe that has defined this festival.”
On Monday, the last day of the festival, the celebration continued. It was a short day, highlighted by Sannyas Celebration. Now the energy really went through the roof of Buddha Hall. Three malas surrounded by rose petals awaited the three who took sannyas: the former Juana, now Prem Mandira; the former Walter, Mandira’s partner, now Deva Kamal; and Antar Amrapalli, formerly Minerva, she of the incredible and sexy dance moves. Mandira and Kamal live in Anaheim, California. Kamal is an ex-cop who now works with children.
Closing remarks were delivered, amidst tears of joy and gratitude, by Kamala. “It’s a dream,” she said. “Osho commune. Singing and dancing.” Amritanand too gave his thanks and gratitude to everyone involved in OshoFest Mexico.
Milarepa’s words also sum up the joyful event: “There was such a strong contrast of the old and new: lots of old-timers, like you and me, Maneesha, Amala, Navaneet, Madhunad, stretching way back. And then the very newcomers, like the ones jumping into the Holy Fire at Sannyas Celebration. Everything happening under a clear blue desert sky.”