Uncomfortable questions

Remembering Here&Now

Punya writes of her time working in the Twinkie’s office in Rajneeshpuram – from her book, On the Edge.

Rajneeshpuram street sign

The filing of the articles was interrupted around 2:30 by the visitors’ tour, which was a welcome change. Although I’m not a very articulate person (apparently due to having Saturn in Gemini which stunts speech and song), jobs very often came my way where I had to talk, a lot. (Later I would be a radio dispatcher, a psychic reader and a call centre agent under a headset.) Maybe the esoteric people call this: ‘the lessons of this lifetime’.

The afternoon tour coincided with Osho’s return from his drive out to nearby Madras. We were asked not to line up for his return (I never understood if it was for his privacy or because it interrupted our work), but it was OK to greet him when we accidentally crossed his path or were working close by. Some of the roads were blocked until he had passed and this was the occasion to stop our blue diesel passenger van, form a line by the road and wait for him. I always left it to the visitors to decide if they wanted to see him or drive on, but they always opted for what most women openly expressed as “we might as well see the man himself.” Osho usually slowed down and namasted the visitors with the same smile with which he greeted us. Very often there was silence for a while in the group and nobody knew why.

010 Anugraho bus driver cr Sudarshan Vitagliano
020 ranch tour cr Sudarshan Vitagliano
030 downtown cr Sudarshan Vitagliano
040 dam with birds cr Sudarshan Vitagliano
050 krishnamurti lake 2 cr Sudarshan Vitagliano
060 krishnamurti lake 3 cr Sudarshan Vitagliano
070 tent city cr Sudarshan Vitagliano
080 drive-by music truck 5 cr Sudarshan Vitagliano
090 drive-by music truck 3 cr Sudarshan Vitagliano
100 osho in car cr Sudarshan Vitagliano
100 RR downtown cr Sudarshan Vitagliano
110 drive-by music truck 4 cr Sudarshan Vitagliano
120 guests cr Sudarshan Vitagliano
200 leaving the mandir 2 cr Sudarshan Vitagliano
210 leaving the mandir 3 cr Sudarshan Vitagliano

All photos in this slide show were taken by Sudarshan Vitagliano

During the Festival I had given my most memorable tour of the Ranch. A yellow school bus full of Festival visitors from Italy had driven up to our meeting point and on the tour everybody was so enthusiastic about all the changes which had taken place since their last visit, that I often had to silence them in order to give – over the PA – the details of the new construction in front of us. I could leave out the entire political rap which was of no interest to anybody and injected the talk with lots of humorous bits which made the bus almost jump off the road. With them I was flying like a kite. Only later I realised that it had been so easy because I was speaking in my mother tongue, so close to my mind, so close to my heart.

But with our daily visitors it was a different affair and more of a challenge. They had heard about us in the press and wanted to see for themselves what this place was all about. I appreciated that they had made the effort to drive to do that instead of just believing the press. Inevitably, their questions were provocative, but soon enough I learned how to use the energy behind their questions, turn it around and find an answer without becoming defensive – a skill which became useful in all my future ‘talking’ jobs. Most of the time the visitors left with a hearty handshake and a “Keep up the good work!”

A frequent question was why we were working without pay for this man and for so many hours. I could always see a glint in the women’s eyes when I explained that it was easy to work all these hours as I was taken care of in other ways: my laundry would be ready on my bed when I came home, the trailer was cleaned while I was away, breakfast, lunch and dinner were served in the canteen. Most probably these women worked more than 12 hours in their house and garden and had no money they could call their own. I could devote many hours to my job and still have the time to chat and meet friends after work. All my needs were covered, including medical expenses, and I felt there was nothing more I could ask for.

The more courageous mentioned the eternal ‘free sex’ issue. I had heard Isabel answer a journalist with: “Well, we do not charge anything, if that’s what you mean,” and I sometimes used the same pun. Nobody would have believed, if I told them, that because of the exhausting physical work, mainly in the following year during the intense construction spree, it often happened that lovers fell asleep before any action had taken place. We had a joke where an Englishman goes to the pharmacist and asks for seven condoms, for Monday, Tuesday… Then an Italian asks for eight condoms for Monday, Tuesday… and twice for Sunday, and then a Ranch resident asks for twelve condoms for January, February….

Other visitors asked if another Jonestown could happen here. To my unknowing stare, my American colleagues informed me about this well-publicised tragedy: the preacher Jim Jones, founder of a Christian church called the Peoples Temple, had created an agricultural project in Jonestown, Guyana. When rumours had leaked that followers were prevented from leaving and that the place was run like a concentration camp, Leo Ryan, a Congressman, visited Jonestown for a personal inspection. On his departure, a few of the Temple members had joined him and they were shot by the Temple’s security guards. Following this, Jim Jones asked the whole community to commit group suicide – almost 1,000 people died. This was still alive in people’s minds as it had happened only five years earlier, in 1978, but I could not understand why we should be associated with this tragedy just because we were also a religious agricultural project.

Osho’s vision was so life-affirmative that a mass suicide was out of question. (There were similar tragedies which followed and are mentioned in the same breath as Jonestown: the raid on the Branch Davidians at Waco in 1993, and the mass suicide of the Order of the Solar Temple in Switzerland in 1994.) Inevitably also the journalists drew parallels between the mass suicide in Jonestown and our commune and Isabel then organised an interview with Leo Ryan’s daughter, who had been a sannyasin for many years and who spent a lot of time on the Ranch, so that she could show with her own presence that this was something totally different. […]

Cari and Ted Shay with Sarita
Cari and Ted Shay with Sarita

While Margaret and I busied ourselves with the Press Office ‘household’, i.e. filing the new clippings and preparing the press kits, Isabel, Veena, Sunshine and Sarita spoke to the journalists and the VIPs. I remember hearing the name of Ted Shay, Ph.D., a professor of Political Science at Willamette University who came to study the commune. He was accompanied by his wife, Cari Shay, Ph.D., also a professor of Political Science, but at Western Oregon University, who later became Ma Amrit Roshani and a beloved friend of mine.

Publications by Dell Murphy, James S. Gordon, Lewis F. Carter and Kirk Braun

Other names I heard mentioned in our office were Kirk Braun (Rajneeshpuram: The Unwelcome Society), Dell Murphy (The Rajneesh Story: The Bhagwan’s Garden) and James S. Gordon. They all published well-informed books and the latter’s The Golden Guru became a point of criticism against him when he was chairman of a Complementary Medicine group under Clinton. I vividly remember the German philosopher, Rudolf Bahro, who stayed with us for a few weeks. I was introduced to him because I spoke German and was delighted to meet an intelligent, unprejudiced man. Although a philosopher, he looked more like an artist or a poet, more a person functioning from the heart than from the head, as his profession would suggest.

Rudolf Bahro
Rudolf Bahro (1935 – 1997)

The girls also arranged interviews, and paved the way for Ronald O. Clarke of the Department of Religious Studies, Oregon State University, to work on a Summer Research Project (sponsored by the Oregon Committee for the Humanities) which had as its intent an objective analysis of Osho’s teachings and their social and ethical implications. If I remember well, the study took a whole year to complete and the results showed that the IQs of our people by far exceeded that of the average Oregonian. Mr. Clarke must have belonged to our more intelligent category: on the back of an Osho discourse book we printed his words as an endorsement: “Rajneesh is a man of gifted intellect and extraordinary erudition. His published discourses are a source of much wisdom, insight and poetic beauty. And I regard his teaching to be a significant contribution to humanity’s enduring quest for spiritual understanding, growth and fulfilment.”

Another study group was led by Lewis F. Carter. Apparently the group encountered problems in evaluating the results as each interviewer had his or her own perspective derived from individual religious upbringing, nationality and gender. Moreover, the interviewees, although all wearing shades of red, gave such diverse answers to the routine questions that they were too difficult to assess. Then, from the University of Oregon came Norm Sundberg, Dick Littman and Carl Larkin, psychologists, and Mimi Goldman, a sociologist, all of whom later wrote several articles about Ranch residents.

These were the few stars in our sky: intelligent people who were willing to see – even though it was through their own coloured spectacles – and to investigate with an open mind what was happening on the Ranch. But still there was a big difference: we were living the experiment; they were just observing it, like scientists trying to study wildlife from afar.

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Punya is the founder of Osho News, author of many interviews and of her memoir On the Edge.

Updated 21.9.2020: corrected caption to slideshow. Some photographs were taken during the First Annual World Celebration, others at least a year later.

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