Feel the danger before it comes

Remembering Here&Now

In this second part, Prabhat remembers being an armed security guard towards the end of the Rajneeshpuram experiment.

Part 1: Why we got the Guns?

Prabhat in Rajneeshpuram
Prabhat in Rajneeshpuram (Surdas)

Something started changing at a rate that made it impossible to ignore. Like an avalanche you only notice when it is halfway down the mountain. The energy changed. The fun was fading out. Once loving laughter seemed to turn sarcastic. We grew miserly with our love.

All of us instructors were rebels, we came as rebels and we remained so. We started to detect an undercurrent of activity to which we were not privy. We saw friends going off the Ranch in ‘regular’ clothes, mysteriously. There were meetings in Jesus Grove all the time, it was less and less pleasant to go in there. At the time I was living in an A-frame right outside Jesus Grove, and Pratima and I would sometimes go to the house casually for no special reason. But no more.

One day I was told that Sheela would come to the firing range for instruction. She arrived with a group of ladies, all of whom were on the original list. For a while chaos entered a place that was always run in military order. Then I said in a stern voice I did not know I had, that if, right away, y’all don’t shut up and do what I tell you, I will throw you all out of here. Silence. Order was restored. Nobody said a word about it later, and Sheela started packing a revolver herself. She had a purple leather outfit, a pearl mala, and a gun I had ordered specially for her, Smith & Wesson 38 Chief’s Special.

It was not much fun anymore.

I can’t remember if I felt hurt that I was never asked to do anything beyond my role of establishing, training and equipping the security force. Sandi told us one day in a low voice that he was asked to be a listener to tapped conversations. I realised right then how grateful I should be to be spared. We were rebels, and had no role to play in the underworld. Still we trained everyone, the friends in the underworld too.

One day Sheela told me that I was to conduct a session at the firing range in front of every news agency that cared to come. I was devastated by this news. I hated it and thought it was a stupid thing to do, but when I voiced my sentiments I was cut short and sent to prepare.

I had a bunch of students that day, men and women, as always all wearing brown suits. I – back to the cameras at all times – gave them a military firing range drill where they were shooting at faraway targets, first prone on their bellies, then advancing to shoot kneeling, and finally erect, shooting from the shoulder.

Curtain.

Many years later, when I saw this same footage in the Netflix series, Wild Wild Country, I fully understood something that in real time my instinct had known but my mind could not grasp: This is what it was. A theatre group! A performance played so well, and promoted so cunningly, that no one wanted to come close to us, any longer, unless they had the National Guards of three States to back them up. Certainly no more careless rednecks shooting up road signs as they drove through our town on the County road!

We were never an army. We were never anything other than a bunch of former hippies now residents of a La La Land, dressed as Secret Service – third best, personal, and promoted as assassins. And while we played the role, we each had an incredible opportunity to go beyond something that only great intensity can overcome…

By now duty turned into routine you could sleep through, and still those first times were so potent that the whole game was changed in an everlasting way. An understanding had grown that was not borrowed from my Master anymore but was my own.

None of us would shoot anyone ever.

Sometimes, standing on the podium, facing a sea of ten thousand friends, the thought would sneak up on me: “What will you do if you sense trouble?” Nothing I would do with the Uzi, that’s for sure. What can you do? Even Dirty Harry would not shoot into a crowd of friends. The state I was striving for was acute alertness, to feel danger before it comes. The only thing I could see myself doing in such a case was to come, with my body, swiftly between It and Him.

As tension grew and ecstasy became a hindrance, I started withdrawing. We trained new instructors. I still did shifts at the Bedroom, on rides, on helicopter duties. I still filled up requisition forms and ordered from catalogues: ammunition, belts, Motorolas – just the same way I’d been ordering tractors and manure spreaders a couple of years earlier, only the catalogues were different. But I went to the firing range less and less. I was now working at the photography temple and wanted very little else.

Prabhat and Nandan, 1982
Prabhat and Nandan, 1982

One day I was sent to join a group of mostly women, to clean the trailers adjoining Osho’s house where the ‘Lao Tzu girls’ lived, Osho’s caretakers. They had been temporarily confined to the infirmary on the pretext of a conjunctivitis outbreak. I don’t know why I was sent. I had spent much time in this house with these beautiful friends when my then beloved Nandan lived there.

Nowadays I went there every day, but only on Bedroom-guarding duty. Still I went…

What we did in those trailers – cleaning an already spotless place, thus accusing the Lao Tzu girls of neglecting their duties, and probably allowing Julian access to put a microphone in Osho’s chair – was so blatantly wrong and needless that it tore away the remnants of disguise that still covered what had become perverted and sick. I was so sad. On the second day when we had finished, the girls came back home. I went down to Surdas and picked from the fields a huge bunch of flowers, came back to the house and gave it to Shunyo who opened the door for me.

When the “Share a Home” fiasco unfolded I had nothing at all to do with it. Only time I remember going down to the trailer village was when they told everyone not to drink the beer over there – and I just had to check out this beer!

The program broke my heart and momentarily changed something in my commitment. But again, blessed as I have been all my life, I was spared from getting my hands sullied. I remained a spectator, sitting in the back rows, tears running down my face.

For me that was rock bottom.

By now Osho was talking again, up in Lao Tzu house. There were no armed guards in the room where he gave his intimate talks, but I was there either just sitting, or with a camera. It was soothing to hear him again, but as soon as I left Lao Tzu gate behind me I was engulfed by the dark cloud. There was something for me to see and understand in all of this, I knew, but I was too involved to figure it out.

One day Sheela left. It was a shock. Or was it? It didn’t matter, she was gone. A ray of light tore through the clouds and shone on the fallen statue of a queen.

Excitement shot through the commune. We all sensed a most welcome change and at the same time an apprehension that it had come too late for the Ranch – as we knew – it to survive.

The first thing I did after Sheela left was to go to Lao Tzu and ask Vivek if she would ask Osho if we were to continue with our security routine. She went in and came back very quickly. He said to continue exactly in the same way.

So we did.

More friends of Sheela’s group wanted to leave. Myself and others were called to search the bags they were taking with them. This was as insulting as anything that had happened before. I was humiliated to search the belongings of friends I knew and mostly loved. Still, search I did, and halfway through, again it dawned on me, that this was just another scene to pour my available totality into and see what happened. I said goodbye and felt clearly that soon we would all go our ways.

The lectures delivered in Mandir right after Sheela left were a pain that tore me from inside. It was the hardest thing for me to stand on the podium, which mercifully I did not do much. Before, when I was on the podium, other than my attempt at alertness, there was a sea of calm. There was soft intricate music on the podium even when the hall was utterly silent.

Now it was a different energy. I sensed despair and betrayal. And even as I reminded myself that what I feel is what is inside me, I was not comforted. The place was crawling with FBI agents, police officers, INS guys etc. I took them around and showed them what we had already discovered, walked them through the maze of conceit that had been created in complete secrecy by some of my friends.

We found Minox spy cameras, revolvers that did not come through me, bio lab, endless microphones, dark books and magazines, all pitiful, halfhearted attempts to do something none of us was meant to do. I showed them everything, as Osho had instructed us to do, with a growing sense that we were orchestrating the finale.

One morning, after a particularly stomach-wrenching lecture that I sat in, my nerves so exposed that it hurt, I went up the stairs from the Mandir, fell into the arms of a Swami I don’t remember and exploded.

After this, a great calm came over me. I could see without disturbance the incredible beauty in what we were a part of, and could see with immense gratitude the trouble our Master had gone through to make me see all this. I knew instinctively that this great show was nearly over and a new one was to be initiated. One where I was on my own, finding out what in all of this was mine.

P.S. My memory has always worked in a non-linear way. I remember moments that had great impact on me and have no use for the correct order of things, hence I could have messed up the order of events, hopefully I captured the spirit of it.

Prabhat

Prabhat (Nimi Getter) is a photographer based in Tel Aviv, Israel. nimrodgetter.com

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