A bunch of rebels

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Prabhat tells his story: how he came to sannyas and his experience as a commune member in Poona and Rajneeshpuram.

Nimi in Tel Aviv, 1975

The summer of 1975 was a good year for hippies. I think we not only believed we could, but we actually thought we were going to change the world and make it a better place. One day I was sitting with my friends in my Tel Aviv apartment, smoking dope, listening to music and discussing where we should go for a few days. North or south? As was customary in those days, the debate lasted a good many hours. By the time we reached the decision to go north, it was night.

We all piled into my pink VW van, and I started driving while everyone else fell asleep very quickly. While driving through the night, I increasingly felt I was going in the wrong direction. As I found myself trying to make a U-turn, I was not surprised at all that I had already driven all the way to Nuweiba in the Sinai Desert, just by the shore of the Red Sea.

My friends who had fallen asleep thinking they were going to Rosh Pinna in the north did not seem to mind at all that they woke up just after sunrise in Nuweiba, almost the southernmost place you could go at the time. We settled among the dunes finding shelter from the sun in the ever-changing shade of the palm trees. By evening when the cool breeze started, accompanied by millions and millions of stars, we all dropped acid. We had orange sunshine.

There and then I decided to go to the East, about which I knew only two things; one was a book of Mogul paintings I had found on a flea market, and the other was the book, Meetings with Remarkable Men. In those days no one in Israel went to the East, or knew anything about it. It was not even easy to find a way, but we found one, me, my girlfriend and a friend. Three weeks later we ended up in Bombay, without a visa. But they let us in anyway.

The incredible shock of seeing the India of 1975 for the first time was mixed with an immediate feeling that somehow I had arrived home. A feeling I still have every time I come to India. We found a place to stay. Then we took a boat to Goa where we stayed for a while and then back to Bombay, then to other places and back, until it was time to leave Bombay. My friend felt like going north and I felt like going south. We split the money we had left. We split the chunk of charas we had left. I bought a long train ticket all the way to Kanyakumari for my girlfriend and me, with as many stops along the way as we cared to make.

The first leg of the journey was to Poona where we had to change trains. We were intending to change train and continue straight away. In the chaos of jumping on the moving train as it entered Victoria Terminal, we found ourselves sitting opposite another Western couple – not that common in those years. We became friendly on the way and when we reached Poona, we took a couple of rooms by the station. Our new friends said something about a master by the name of Meher Baba who, they had heard, lived in Poona.

I had no idea what ‘a master’ meant, but I was ready and willing to check out anything. The next morning we started asking around about this Baba, but nobody knew anything about him. Until somebody said, “I don’t know about your Baba, but there is a guru in town.” He told a couple of rickshaw drivers to take us to 17 Koregaon Park.

Prabhat in Poona

We got there. It wasn’t much at all, just a couple of houses and a barnyard. There were some Westerners walking around wearing orange and malas, which alienated me – until 1:00 o’clock; someone had told us that a tape lecture was going to be played at that hour. So we found some shade and sat on the ground. When the lecture started playing, it hit me like a diamond bullet right between my eyes. I had never heard anything like it. It was an alien language that I vaguely remembered I spoke. I was going to stay and find out more.

We enrolled in the meditation camp that started the next day. Over the next 10 days, we got up early every morning in our rooms at the station. Had the boy bring a bucket of warm water, washed and went to do Dynamic and then lecture and the rest of the meditations. In lecture, Osho was speaking directly to me, answering every question I had in my heart.

When we went to see him, the four of us, in an evening darshan, we sat at his feet and everyone said something to which he answered. When lastly it was my turn, I mumbled something. He looked into my eyes and said, “It would be good to take sannyas.” Without stopping, he wrote my name, put the mala around my neck, and prescribed the meditation I had to do every morning at sunrise.

When I left the Chuang Tzu driveway, where the meeting had taken place, a Ma looked at me and said, “I’ve never seen anyone so happy!” I didn’t even know that. After that I had to flee.

I bought a big Indian alarm clock to wake me up for my meditation every morning, had myself a couple of orange pyjamas made and booked a ‘leaving darshan’. I told Osho I had to go and find out what had just happened. He said it was a good idea. “What happens if I don’t come back?” I asked. Then he looked me in the eyes and said, chuckling, “I pulled you once, I can pull you again.”

That’s how it happened. I had never heard of him before I actually looked into his eyes.

Very shortly after I was given sannyas, I continued my travels and tried to figure out what had happened, because for me everything was totally new. I actually remember writing in the diary I kept at the time, that I needed to be in a place where I couldn’t do anything else but figure out what had happened. Something like a jail.

For a long time I travelled in the south of India on that same ticket. And finally, when I left India, through a very complicated and bizarre story, I ended up in jail in Oxford, in England, because of some dope. There in jail, where I spent almost a whole year, a friend of mine in London would come and bring me Osho books that I had ordered. Every day I would try and work on the different meditations from the Vigyan Bhairav Tantra.

That was probably the best year of my life. My time in jail was a necessary step, absolutely necessary. And when I got out I was ready to go back to Poona and never leave – which I did.

India 1979

My first job in the ashram was in Mariam Canteen, which was the canteen that made food for the workers, the ashramites. It was a branch of Vrindavan, run by the dragon lady, Deeksha. I worked there under Sagar, ‘Proper Sagar’ as he was known.

I was the bread wallah, cutting bread for a while. I would go early in the morning into town by rickshaw to collect bread. Then I would cut slices of bread with a knife to make sandwiches for 700 workers; 22 slices out of the ashram bread and 25 slices out of the city bread. Sagar would sometimes stand behind me. If he caught me cutting only 21 slices, boom, his stick would fall on me.

It was a nice game that we played, but then I was moved to what I really, really loved: the theatre group. Because I already had experience in lighting for movies before I came to India. In the theatre group I stayed till the end of Poona One.

Then one day I was called to the office by – I think it was Vidya – and was asked to report that night at Lao Tzu House. I went and was told that I was going to be on a very small crew of people who would be packing up Osho’s library. And that I shouldn’t say anything about it to anyone!

I don’t remember how long it took, but at least a week. We were only a few people – among them was Nandan, with whom I fell in love. We packed all the books into big crates. Of course, rumours were already circulating in the ashram about new communes, new places… Everywhere it was buzzing with rumours.

That’s where I found out that Osho was leaving and where he was going, making the deduction from the address we had to stencil on the crates – which was in New Jersey. Then indeed one day while we were still packing, we were asked to come to the corridor; Osho walked past us and we namaste’d each other. He stepped into the car and left. Vidya told me already then that I should come to the States as soon as I could make it.

Prabhat in Rajneeshpuram

When I arrived at the Ranch, my first job was in Surdas, at the truck farm, where we eventually grew the vegetables for the kitchen. I worked there for a long time. It was great! In the very beginning it was really a Wild West thing; only a few people, hardly any rules, lots of hard work, all open. No negativity of any sort whatsoever. Perfect!

We started to work the fields. I had a very limited experience working in a kibbutz for a few months. I knew how to operate tractors but I knew very little about everything else. I made silly mistakes in the beginning, for instance deciding to mix all the vegetables with seeds of flowers.

We made this mix and it was beautiful indeed. The whole field full of flowers, but obviously we couldn’t really work it. We couldn’t do anything mechanical because everything was mixed. It was a disaster from a practical point of view.

That was the beauty of the Ranch. In the beginning at least, we were privileged to be able to plan things without having to be accounted for. Through my silly mistake we didn’t get enough vegetables for the kitchen; so we just bought the rest or we bought more. It wasn’t a problem. Nothing was judged by the results, but by the process and the process was beautiful. We all poured our hearts, our efforts and enthusiasm, and commitment into it. We were having a blast! A little while later a few ladies arrived who knew much more about how to do things right, and it became in no time the most elegant, advanced truck farm you could imagine, long before the new age approach started.

Similarly there were other experiences like that. In that first year we were building a bridge on a culvert that was then washed away at the first flood. But we learned from that, and the bridges we built later will probably stay long after everyone is gone from that area. We made some mistakes and through this process we very quickly, in no time at all, matured to do all the projects we did thereafter, so elegantly and so professionally, and so well.

In the beginning, when the Ranch started, Magic happened. We had all this amazing energy, for me anyway, to draw on.

Prabhat in satsang

Very often people make a demarcation line at the moment that the guns appeared on the Ranch. There’s before that and after that, which is a valid division. The time before that, the time I was just talking about, was when the foundations of the place were built. However, it is much more interesting to the wider public, or especially when making a series such as the Netflix WWC to concentrate on the later part, the conflict, because it is much more dramatic. For us sannyasin, that first part is where the whole foundation, the whole base for it was built and that was incredibly beautiful.

Yes, magic happened in the beginning, all that energy and creativity, then clouds came over and things started to change. At one point, Sheela and Osho decided there was enough proof that attempts could be made on his life and that he was in danger. They decided to create this third security force. We already had the Peace Force, and we had the Security that were manning the control booth all over the Ranch. This time it would be an armed Security Force. (The Peace Force belonged to the police; we were independent.)

I was called from Surdas to Jesus Grove to a meeting where all these things were announced. I don’t remember exactly, but there were 21 or 31 other people, including all the Mas that were running the community.

Four of us, me and three other friends who had served in an army, were asked to create this Security Force army and become instructors of the trainings. That was done. We started training those on the original list in shooting revolvers, and ended up instructing a lot more people as well. The list grew… and we instructed them on revolvers and on Uzis, which we had purchased. (As you know, in America, you just pick up a catalogue and they come in the mail.) We instructed them in handling and firing these rifles.

I don’t remember. I’m not good at dates, but I think that just before the third summer festival, we started to accompany Osho on his rides. That was the first appearance in public. Before that, nobody knew that this was happening. That was a big shock: to see people with guns next to Osho. It became dramatic when we were standing on either side of the podium, because then you had to include us in the frame every time you looked at Osho.

It was a huge shock. But we approached this the same way we approached everything else, with totality. We four instructors were all rebels, all of us. We came from different countries, one from Switzerland, one from Israel, one from Australia, one from South Africa, but we were all rebels. During those trainings there was also a lot of fun and a lot of laughter.

When actually the time came to stand or walk next to Osho, yes, the thought of Would I kill someone? often crossed my mind. What would I do? There was never ever in my mind, and in those other people that I had talked to, that we would ever shoot into the crowd.

On the first day that Osho appeared, the first morning satsang of the festival, which was the first time we stood on the podium with guns – I was one of them – the energy, the level of awareness was intense. To stand in front of 10,000 people was extremely potent and strong… I was so totally tuned that I could feel the energy which came from each individual who sat in the hall, or at least it seemed that way. I could feel the animosity that some felt against me, not me personally, but me as a symbol of a gun. That was however a very mild background noise, because I could feel very strongly the love that people felt for Osho. I thought to myself that this was an energy thing; the guns were just props.

If I wanted to describe to myself now, What was I doing up there? I would say: I had to be as aware, as alert as I was capable of at that particular moment, and to sense if any harm was aimed at us. And if I did, the only thing I saw myself doing would be to put myself bodily between it and him. I don’t think any of us would have ever shot anyone. I can say that with all my heart. I trained them all, even the people who were used later on in the dark operations, I don’t think any one of them could have shot anyone. We were not capable of doing that, no.

This is what I feel now. Because there was never the opportunity to test that. I don’t know what would’ve happened if it was tested. All I can say is what I remember feeling then, and what I feel now, and the fact is, and there is no arguing about that, we didn’t shoot, we didn’t shoot one bullet.

I realized – and I only appreciated it fully not long ago when I saw the Netflix series – that what I had sensed in real-time, instinctively, but did not fully comprehend was: what we did was theatre. We played tough security guys with guns, crazies who would do anything to protect their guru.

That show worked so well that nobody came into our property again, and nobody would have entered without support of the National Guard. No more people just driving through the county road and shooting at signs. That worked incredibly well and that’s what I think we were: the Security Force was a show, a theatre group. My move from Surdas to Security only meant that a new role was written for me. That’s the part I played then. It was as much fun as any other role and it worked.

When the Ranch folded it was an incredible opportunity for anyone who wanted to look at it, to see the whole development of human society in such a short time, and without anyone getting hurt. It’s not often you get to have this understanding, and experience the amazing mystery that happens around it. We watched it all unfold in front of our eyes.

Admittedly, I always felt lucky and blessed and privileged, and life has treated me very nicely. I was treated very nicely on the Ranch as well. I was treated very nicely in prison. That’s my point of view and I understand and can feel for other people who had very different experiences than mine, but this is mine. Mine was that it just unfolded so incredibly beautifully, that I’m forever grateful to have been a part of this mind-blowing experiment.

When Osho died I feel that for me he was replaced by Life. Before it was Osho; now it is Life. It’s the same trust and it’s the same love that I felt for him. The trust that wherever it takes me is the same for me now – it has maybe always been there since I was born – but definitely since I met Osho.

The most profound feeling that I have constantly is of gratefulness, gratefulness to him, gratefulness to life. I feel myself so incredibly lucky to have lived this beautiful and amazing experience, and to be able also to crystallize it and to make some of it my own. I have the greatest love for Osho and the most profound gratefulness.

Based on a podcast by Swaram.

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

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