A short, but hilarious, excerpt from Radha’s book, Tantra: A Way of Living and Loving – a day at work on the Big Muddy Ranch.
As soon as I returned to the Ranch I became a full-on, fulltime working member of the community. Like other women, I worked with the men on equal terms, enjoying the open air, the pioneering spirit and camaraderie, even the dust and dirt. It was a very ‘male’ environment. The feeling in Pune had been feminine, not only for women but also for men. The whole atmosphere had been about being receptive to the energy of the Master, sitting silently and listening, waiting for the divine to descend. We wore loose flowing robes, long hair; we were as if living in a kind of sensuous, sub-tropical paradise.
And then suddenly there we were in cowboy country, going to the very opposite extreme, wearing tight leather boots, tight jeans, a belt, thick shirts and jackets to keep out the cold, doing hard work in the open air and rough conditions.
In such a situation, I had no space to think about Tantra in terms of sensuousness or even sensitivity. There was just no feeling like that in my daily life. But one of the essential Tantric principles is surrender to life and now life was waking me up at 6:30 am, offering me breakfast at 7:00 and inviting me to start work by 7:30. With a couple of coffee breaks and an hour for lunch we worked twelve hours, then ate dinner in the communal canteen and afterwards danced at an improvised discotheque – drinking beer, smoking and generally hanging out – until it was time for bed.
When I look back on that time, I can see that it was a profound process of transformation, like the alchemy of transforming ordinary metal into gold, or, using the traditional Tantric symbol, like growing a lotus flower out of the mud beneath a lake. Almost all of the mahasiddhas of Tantric Buddhism are portrayed sitting on lotus flowers, the symbol of their spiritual enlightenment, and yet without accepting and welcoming the mud there is no possibility of growing the lotus. On the Big Muddy, I gave birth to a part of me that I didn’t know existed, and tapped into a seemingly unlimited amount of power and energy.
I have so many stories from that time, but one that stands out in my memory happened shortly after my arrival, when I was put on a cleaning crew. Together with a friend, a very particular and fastidious fellow called Krishna Prem, I was given the job of cleaning all the Ranch outhouses.
Most of the permanent buildings had their own septic tanks, or were being hooked up to a rapidly expanding centralized sewage disposal system. However, there were many parts of the Ranch where nothing like this existed, so a backhoe would come in, scoop out a hole, and a small wooden hut would be placed on top, with a swing door and toilet seat inside.
It was one of those days when the Ranch lived up to its name. It was pouring with rain – in fact it had been raining for a few days – and the whole Ranch was under at least five inches of mud. It was October or November and already freezing cold.
Such was the frantic pace of construction during the first months that no one had found time to clean the outhouses, so they were in pretty bad condition. I had some cleaning experience, but Krishna Prem was a writer and public relations consultant by profession and I don’t think, even in his worst nightmares, he had ever imagined doing what we did that day. Basically we made a friendly agreement that his job was to hold open the door of the outhouse – to prevent it slamming shut with me inside – while mine was to take a couple of deep breaths of fresh air, then go inside and clean as quickly as I could.
I still remember the look of disgust on Krishna Prem’s face, as he held his nose and looked to one side, standing as far away as possible while keeping the door open. He had a very elegant ‘Van Dyke’ beard with a curling moustache and a naturally superior air, so the overall effect was quite hilarious – rather like England’s King Charles II standing very reluctantly in a pigsty.
Then we hit one of the dirtiest outhouses. Should I be explicit? There was shit everywhere. In the hectic work schedule, someone hadn’t had time to aim into the hole properly. To clean it by hand – even with rubber gloves – would have been an almost impossible task without puking. So we devised a method: we found a hose, hooked it up to a nearby water system, then Krishna Prem held the door open while I stood outside and hosed down the whole interior.
You can imagine the scene: pouring rain, five inches of mud on the ground, shit everywhere and me blasting the outhouse with a jet of water while Krishna Prem played King Charles in distress.
Suddenly the two of us looked at each other, at this horrible situation, and started to laugh. We cracked up. We laughed and laughed, standing together in the rain. I laughed so hard that I actually peed in my pants because it was just so funny!
It was very spontaneous and unexpected, but it became a key for me: the secret of turning any situation into fun, even when it seems to be the most unpleasant thing imaginable. I could also sense the underlying transformation: the shattering of my image as an elegant woman, as a devotee in some exotic eastern ashram, as an esoteric Tantric medium… it all came apart on the Big Muddy.
Not that these qualities of mine were untrue or unreal – the path of Tantra does not deny the reality of any of them. It does not share the view of mainstream Hindu philosophy, popularized by Adi Shankara, that the world is maya, an illusion to be rejected and renounced. No, what came apart was my identification with these roles, my attachment to a self-image that had slowly been built up from the cradle onwards.