Chintan talks to Punya about his early life, his studies, meeting Osho, making cheese in the Pune ashram, and his farming experience on the Ranch.
I have so many questions; maybe we start with talking about where you grew up, what you studied, and how you came to meet Osho?
Let’s start with that, with my childhood, since it’s kind of an organic journey. It all fits together.
I grew up in Geneva, Switzerland. I come from a working-class family where abundance – material abundance – was not quite the thing. My parents never had a car; we never went on holidays except once when I was 7 or 8. There was always this sensation, this message that, Oh, we can’t afford it; there isn’t enough.
A real Calvinist upbringing, especially when I was a small child. In the 50’s, after the war, it was still incredibly tight, still very traditional. There was this general flavour of conformity, that we have to behave properly. For example, schooling was still very traditional, based mostly on discipline. My parents never had friends. It was this small world. There was a good side to it; I always felt loved and supported by my parents, there was no problem, but it was so small. When I became a teenager it was like, Come on, there’s more to life!
At the end of high school I earned the baccalaureate and then took a year off. I have the good fortune to have a brain that works well, but studying is not really my thing. I decided to have fun and live my life on this sabbatical; I hitchhiked for four months across Europe, sleeping anywhere in the open – it was fantastic.
When I came back, I was 19, and it was like: Okay, there is no way I will go back and live with my parents! It’s time to fly. So, a bunch of us got together, all of the same age. We were teenage friends, boys and girls, and decided to live in a big flat in Geneva. In this commune I started to expand; to live the way I wanted to live. I started to breathe, to experiment with something new.
When I think of this time it was all about expansion, finding oneself, finding – a bit more clearly – one’s direction in life. I remember that since I was thirteen I knew that my life would be different from that of my parents. There was this clear understanding.
Parallel to that, I refused to go into the army. At the time in Switzerland, every male had to join. At 17, it was already clear that I would take a stand against mandatory military service.
What would that mean? Going to prison?
Yes! At age 19 we all had to go for one day to a military camp. There were physical tests and we got certain marks – running, throwing, jumping; an athletic test to see how fit you are – I was very fit at the time. At the end, you had to sit in front of a man whose job it was to decide in which division you would be sent.
He asked me, “So, what do you want to do?”
I replied, “Oh, I’m here to tell you that I don’t want to go into the army.”
He blanked out a bit and then said, “Ah, okay. Why?”
“I just don’t want to go into the army.”
“Okay, so I’ll put you with the paramedics.”
“You can do whatever you want, I don’t want to go into the army,” I replied.
A year later, in 1970, they sent me an order to join, and of course I didn’t show up. Eventually, I went to a military court and received a four-month suspended sentence. They said, “But we will ask you to come back.” A year later I received another order to join which I didn’t follow up either. I made a second appearance in a military court, with another judge who was much nicer, and was sentenced to three more months which were added to the previous four months.
Altogether seven months in jail! Eventually, because you usually do only two-thirds of your sentence, I ended up doing five months. That was quite an adventure. Part of the time, during the day, I could work in a hospital – that was more relaxing, but yes, it was quite something.
It was one of those early experiences in life where I stood up for what I wanted, even if it meant going to jail. There was something very empowering in doing that, I remember.
So, there are all these different elements that happened within a few years. There was finishing school, leaving home, travelling across Europe, the communal living, jail. I was 18 in ’68, the big time of experimenting. It was all about: Let’s try to live something else.
How did you decide what to study?
I was very good at mathematics, so when I was 15 I decided to study that. I remember one of my teachers supporting me to go in that direction. Then I said to myself, No, maths is too theoretical, I’m going to do physics. I was also good at that; physics is also a bit mathematical, but more out there, more practical.
On the other hand I also love nature; that was always my main resource. I love hiking, I love being in nature. When I’m in nature I always feel I’m in contact with something bigger. So, one morning I decided, Okay, I’m going to sit beside the lake and wait until something clarifies.
I waited for a couple of hours or so – just looking at the Jet d’Eau, the big fountain in the lake, watching the ducks.
And I pondered what else to do other than mathematics or physics, and went on saying no to different options. My responses were mainly: Oh no, this is too much indoors. Oh no, I’m going to spend my whole life in an office. Oh no, not this. Maybe if I do geology, I’ll go out once in a while, but mostly I’ll be again in an office…
Suddenly it came to me: Oh, agriculture. I could enrol at the Swiss Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich and study agronomy. At least I can do farming if I want to, or, if my brain needs to work a bit more specifically, I can do scientific research, so I’ll have both trainings.
As I let that sink in, it was clear that what I wanted to do was farming. Yes, I will do scientific studies, but actually, ultimately, I want to be outdoors all the time, and the only way I can be outdoors all the time is farming.
This is why I decided to be an agronomist – not an obvious choice for someone who grew up in a town. But this was one of the key decisions in my life, very important. When I think of it – I was really guided.
It’s interesting that you said to yourself, “I’ll just sit here and it will come.” Your insight is very beautiful: that you just have to wait and then clarity will come.
Yes, exactly. That’s really the theme in my life. To wait and see what happens. This is exactly what it is. In Human Design, this is my design: to wait until the invitation comes.
Did your parents help pay for your studies?
I got a grant from the government and was living very cheaply. I was one of those hippies who can live with nothing; I didn’t need much money. When I had spare time I would work on farms, earning not much but enough to keep me going. I never felt I was poor. It felt like: Oh, life is abundant and I live very simply. This is my choice. I eventually finished my thesis and graduated.
How old were you by then?
I was already 25, because halfway through my studies, in 1974, I stopped once more for a year in order to go to jail, for those five months. The rest of that year I worked on farms again. So, by the time I finished I was two years behind schedule.
I wrote my thesis while living on a big farm where my brother was renting a flat.
One day the son of the owner asked me, “What do you want to do afterwards?”
I replied, “I want to be a farmer. I want to take over a farm.”
He said, “Great, I want to quit. Take my place and work with my father. We can make arrangements with my sisters. I will need three years for my transition, because I want to start something else, and then you can take over the farm for good when my father retires.”
It was offered to me on a tray. In Switzerland it’s not easy to find a farm, so this was quite an offer. I thought, This is impossible. It’s overwhelming. It felt like a present.
I do have some angels…
That’s also about the time Osho came into your life?
As soon as I finished my thesis I started working on that farm. After about six months these really dear friends of mine, Pravina and Bhakta, went to Pune. (I’d known Pravina since I was 16. She was one of my teenage friends. I met Bhakta when I was 20 at some New Year’s Eve party in the mountains. Somehow we clicked and became best friends.)
When they came back a year later we would often hang out together. They told me and my girlfriend everything about Osho, about Pune, about doing groups, what had happened to them. There was a joy, an expansion in it. The more they talked about it, the more my girlfriend and I felt like, We should go and have a look.
In winter there was nothing to do on the farm – we didn’t have animals – so every year we could take a break for four months. When the moment came to make a decision about what to do that winter, my first thought had been to go to Africa and visit a friend. But then one day when we visited Bhakta and Pravina in town, they said, “We’re just going to order our tickets to go back to Pune.”
My girlfriend and I looked at each other, and we said, “Oh, we’ll come with you. Let’s just go!”
So we ordered our tickets for Bombay, and then on to Pune.
Again, it was one of those decisions that were in the flow. It was not a break from something else or a change of direction. It was completely in the flow of what was already happening.
This is the theme of my life. It’s waiting and being in the flow.
We arrived in Pune and stayed on M.G. Road. It took us two or three days to eventually go to the ashram. I entered the ashram, walked three steps and said to myself, This is what I was looking for.
I didn’t even know I was looking for anything…
In nature – while farming or hiking – I’d often come in contact with something much bigger, whatever that was, and felt that I would find it sometime. It was clear to me that it’s somewhere out there and that I would eventually become more consciously in contact with it.
And now entering the ashram it was: This is what I was looking for.
And, It is here!
I had never seen Osho. But I’d heard his voice on tape at the Geneva centre which was run by Gayatri. With Bhakta and Pravina we often went to her flat and listened to discourses, and had snacks afterwards. It was like going to a party. So, I’d heard Osho, but had not seen him yet.
There’s another magical piece: I love to tell this story, because… I feel it’s the Master at work. We entered the ashram and Bhakta and Pravina said to us, “Let’s go to the cafeteria, to Vrindavan, maybe we’ll find some friends.” So, completely trusting, I followed them, my girlfriend beside me.
There were these huge trees – and in love with nature as I am – all I did was look up and up, almost breaking my neck. Oh, wow, I’ve never seen anything like this! I love these trees! I kept following Bhakta and Pravina, and when I reached Vrindavan I saw huge coconut trees.
Suddenly I looked around, and they were gone. Where did they go? I walked back, passing by the front office when Bhakta came out and said to me, “Oh, I also put your name down on the waiting list to see a secretary – for a darshan appointment.”
I said to him, “Wait a minute, we’ve been in the ashram for three minutes. Just give me time to arrive.” I was still wearing blue jeans, a blue t-shirt….
“Then I can cross your name off.”
“No, no, it’s okay. Just leave the name. It’s just my resistance.”
I went into Laxmi’s office; there were about six or seven people before me to talk to Arup. I didn’t speak English so well, but I understood that she always asked the same questions: How long are you going to be here? What do you plan to do?
So, I prepared my answers, ready to go and see her. I arrived in front of her, she looked at me and said, “Do you want to take sannyas?”
I’d been in the ashram for ten minutes… I looked at her and said, “Yes!” Not even a second of hesitation. “Yes!”
“Okay, I’ll give you an appointment in three days’ time. Wear orange clothes and start meditating.”
That was it. Okay, here I am. I’ve found my place. Never seen Osho.
The next day I went to discourse and couldn’t understand a word. I didn’t understand English very well, but it was also because I was not familiar with the terms used in the spiritual world. When Osho was talking about ‘the mind’, I didn’t really understand what he was talking about. (In French we don’t even have a word for ‘mind’. They use mental, but it doesn’t translate as what mind means in English.)
This is how I took sannyas and how it happened – immediately.
And when I sat in front of Osho it was, Wow. It was fantastic!
Again, all these different events are connected with each other; deciding to study agriculture – because nature was where I knew something else was happening. Refusing to go to the army was part of trying to live another kind of life – and it was an empowerment. Living in a commune when I was 20 was, again, trying to live something else. So, all fitted together to find a different direction in life. Different from the lifestyle my family had – so small and tight. That’s maybe why… breaking out from that.
So that’s the story of how I came to Osho.
How long did you stay in Pune?
I stayed for four months, as planned, and then went back to farming.
In my leaving darshan Osho asked, “When are you coming back?”
“I’m farming, I don’t know when I will be back.”
He then gave me this beautiful talk where he explained that when we work with something that grows, like farming, we are also growing.
He then added, “This will be your meditation.”
And how long did you stay at the farm, the whole summer?
By November, at the end of the farming season, I was six months away from taking over the farm. I knew something had shifted and that working on a farm was not really my destiny.
In early December I went back to Pune. I did the meditation camp, and every afternoon we had Nadabrahma. In that meditation a voice came – usually I don’t hear voices, I am not that kind of person – but I would hear Osho’s voice saying, Drop it, this is a golden jail. (‘This’ meaning taking over the farm.)
It was like, Wow, that’s quite a decision!
On the second day I heard the same words, same voice. It kind of shook me.
Third day, same voice. I said to myself, Okay, if I still hear that voice, if I still get that message by the end of the ten days of the meditation camp, I will write to the old farmer saying that I’m walking out on him.
Ten days later the voice was still there. I wrote to the old man and apologized. He’d adopted me like a son. That farm was a golden opportunity for anyone who wants to farm in Switzerland. Very rare! It was a big farm – by Swiss standards – fantastic land, great location. You couldn’t have dreamt of anything better. He was so disappointed, also because we had such a great connection with each other.
In my second leaving darshan – I needed to go back to the farm to collect my belongings – Osho asked me again when I would be back.
I said, “Well, I could come back right away but I still have this wish to look after cows in the Swiss mountains, in the Alps.” He looked at me with a big smile and said, “You know, it’s nearly the same to be with cows in the mountains as to be with me, so do what you wish to do.” So this is what I did. It was my last fantasy. I spent more than five months up in the mountains, in the middle of nowhere, with the cows.
Living in a small hut and waking up in the morning hearing their bells?
Yes, exactly. I was looking after sixty cows – it was quite a job. They were already big, just before they gave birth, not yet giving milk. I also had three goats to make my own cheese.
I was by myself for two and a half months and Laila, my girlfriend, then joined me for three months. It was fantastic. I got into such a harmony with nature. It was unbelievable. This feeling of being part of something much bigger, of being one with nature was very strong. It was one of those magical times in my life, one of the best things I’ve ever done.
And then back to Pune?
Yes, eventually we both came back to Pune ‘forever’, at least for two years…
Where were you working?
First in the cheese factory – I actually started it.
English Rashid who was in charge of the gardeners had the idea of opening a cheese factory in the ashram, so that we could have our own, uncontaminated cheese. He had heard through my friend Avesh that I knew how to make cheese, so he came to see me one day and said, “I heard you know how to make cheese. I’m in charge of the gardens so I don’t have time to do it myself, but we can start it up together and then it’ll be your thing.” I said, “Great.”
He went to see Laxmi and she felt it was a great idea. Here some politics: when Deeksha heard about it she said, “No way, this should be part of Vrindavan.” Deeksha was claiming her territory, but Rashid was a fighter. He went back to see Laxmi and said to her, “It’s going to be a separate department and Chintan will take care of it.” Eventually Laxmi gave the OK – and in reaction, Deeksha created her own cheese factory…
One day this guy walks in and says, “I was put into Deeksha’s cheese factory to make mozzarella and I don’t have a clue how to make cheese so – I’m coming to pick your brains.” It was Nityanando – this is how we got to know each other… I said to him, “I don’t know how to make mozzarella so I’m not the right person to ask, but I can show you what I do.” This is how the secret of cheese-making reached Deeksha’s kitchen.
I made cheese for almost two years, and then for the last month, before Osho left Pune, I worked as a guard in Lao Tzu House.
I understand you were asked to join the Ranch in Oregon very early on, because you were an agronomist?
Between India and the US I spent only a week in Switzerland – to get my visa – went to the castle in New Jersey first and arrived at the Ranch towards the end of July 1981. We were about 50 or 60 people. The first thing I did was help Rashid start a small veggie garden at the back of the ranch yard.
I remember you as the man looking after the cows. Was that your territory?
Yes, I worked with the cows. Together with Agneya, a Welshman who now lives in Australia, we ran the dairy. We started at the old barn in the ranch yard with 20 dairy cows and moved to Rabiya a year later, eventually increasing the herd to 60 cows. We also took care of the irrigated meadow around the barn and the alfalfa fields for the cows – down by the river. Other people joined us along the way.
I also created the vineyard, and when we had to buy beef cattle for tax purposes, I went to Northern California accompanied by a local cattle dealer to check and bring back 200 cows and 200 calves, riding with the cowboys to rein them in. It was kind of cute.
There were different aspects of farming on the Ranch. For example Prema Hansa, aka PH, would tend to what we call dryland farming; he bought all those huge machines. There was also the big, irrigated truck farm down by the river, initiated and overseen by Neehar.
Even when I was no longer involved with the practical work at the dairy farm, for another year and a half, every second or third day I went to milk at 3.30 in the morning (we used to milk three times a day) just because I loved to do that. It was really my passion.
During the last 15 months on the Ranch I worked partly as a guard around Lao Tzu House, during Osho’s drive-by or at the Mandir when Osho would be present. The rest of the day I was involved in construction.
That’s what I did on the Ranch. That was my journey for four and a half years.