The sannyasin in our backyard

Media Watch

Meet the local architect with ties to the late spiritual leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, popularized in the recent Netflix docuseries Wild Wild Country, writes Stacy Girard. Published in D magazine, Dallas, USA, September 2018 issue.

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Dallas architect Ajay Kothari recalls his 1977 family vacation to India with postcard clarity. On the itinerary: meeting spiritual leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh at his commune in Pune – a bucket-list request from his father. Kothari, then 17 and living with his family in Kenya, was up for the pilgrimage, too, having observed meditation techniques with his dad since age 14. “The influence was seeping in without my awareness,” he says.

For those who haven’t yet binge-watched the critically lauded Netflix docuseries Wild Wild Country, here’s a quick rundown. The bearded Bhagwan, the controversial luminary later renamed Osho, relocated his commune to a barren ranch outside Antelope, Oregon, in 1981 with the idea of creating a fully sustainable, utopian city large enough to support an influx of 7,000 orange-robed followers. His one-time secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, was responsible for overseeing the development of the new city of Rajneeshpuram, which included creating infrastructure – housing, roads, power, airstrips, restaurants and retail – as well as cultivating the desert earth into farmable land for crops.

The six-episode doc has it all. There’s a guru with a fleet of Rolls-Royces, new age mysticism, rampant sex, a failed assassination plot, Hollywood moguls, and a conspiracy to overthrow the city government that entailed the poisoning of area salad bars to prevent otherwise civic-minded citizens from making it to the polls. (For the latter, among other things, Sheela ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four and a half years in prison.)

While free love, cultured salmonella labs, and tranquilizer-infused beer headline the sizzle reel, Kothari remembers things differently. He vibrantly reflects on that moment in India when he knelt before Bhagwan, an experience he describes as “pulsating silence.” Kothari accepted his mala – prayer beads with a pendant featuring a photo of the guru – and received his first assignment: a group workshop to explore the question, “Who am I?”

“I was the only kid in the room and the youngest to be placed in a group,” he says. His father made arrangements for his son to extend his trip, and at the conclusion of the intense, four-day spiritual prescription – a process Kothari likens to peeling an onion – he met again with Bhagwan and experienced his first glimpse of “complete blissful silence,” or a satori.

“It was about collective support,” he says. “I never thought of it as a cult or a religion. It was about walking your own walk.”

Ajay and Osho
Soul Men: Ajay Kothari with spiritual leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in 1977

A few days turned into two months of meditations, workshops, and morning discourses presented by Bhagwan, which culminated in Kothari’s exit darshan, a meeting with the master. The high school student received his next assignment: to run a meditation center back in his hometown of Nairobi. Kothari did, and, two years later, he returned to Pune to meet with Bhagwan and received his sannyasin name: Swami Ajay Bharti.

Swami Bharti moved to the States in the early ’80s to study architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington. It was during that time that he made his way to the Oregon ranch for Rajneeshpuram’s first and second annual World Celebration. “The place was just magical,” he says. “There were the most beautiful people from all over the world rejoicing.”

While he has no intention of becoming a guru himself, Kothari is set to launch a schedule of weekly meditations and weekend meditation intensives this fall. “We’re not being taught to connect with our own experiences,” he says. “Remember when you were a child and you would whirl like a top with no fear of falling down? How many adults do that?” he asks. “We’ve become top-heavy; our head rules everything.”

He has even bigger plans for raising the collective consciousness. Over the next 18 months, the Sava Holdings principal will capitalize on his expertise used in designing and developing boutique hotels (he co-owns Aloft in downtown Dallas and Richardson, Element at DFW Airport, Four Points by Sheraton in Coppell, and others) to create micro-meditation resorts in the United States and abroad, tentatively called Footprints of Consciousness, A Meditation and Celebration Resort. Programming will be flavored by the arts and science-based techniques. Environmentally friendly, modernist pods will serve as stylish lodging for guests seeking enlightenment 2.0.

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