This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.
Raymond van Mil has photographed the Amsterdam nightlife scene for the past eight years and regularly takes photos for VICE Netherlands. If you’re Dutch, you probably know him as the man who flashes his camera in your face while you’re drunk on the dance floor, but you’ve probably never heard of him being referred to as “swami Antar Sangit.” The 46 year old’s pre-photography days were very different from the life he lives now. Before he went from music venue to nightclub to document the most beautiful party-goers and sweatiest mosh pits, Van Mil wore red robes and jumped around breathing heavily with hundreds of other people, as they tried to fall into a trance. He was a member of Bhagwan, the cult that’s recently resurfaced as a popular conversation topic since Netflix launched the documentary series Wild Wild Country.
VICE talked to Van Mil about his days in the cult and how he ultimately wound up as a photographer. This interview contains Wild Wild Country spoilers.
VICE: From Bhagwan-swami to party photographer. Where do we start?
Raymond van Mil: In Nijmegen [a Dutch town that’s close to the German border]. I was 20 years old and I’d been smoking quite a lot of weed. One day I ate a space cake and ended up having a bad trip that lasted several days. I suffered from anxiety attacks—up to a few a day—and months later I still wasn’t doing better. I started looking for help and ended up with my friend’s mom, who was kind of a hippie. I don’t really know exactly what she did, but it was some kind of healing session. When I got up afterwards, I felt fine again. From that moment on, I started to get curious.
What happened next?
I started taking yoga classes taught by a man from Nepal. I liked them, but also found it restrictive. Meanwhile, friends of mine were very into Osho, who at that point had just recently died [Editor's note: Bhagwan, later referred to as Osho, was the guru who started the Bhagwan movement; he died in 1990].
Did you immediately feel like you had found the right crowd for you?
Well, my friends said, “you should do dynamic meditation,” which means breathing very heavily and moving around wildly. I lived in a big garage in Nijmegen and was on welfare, so I had time to do it for months, just alone in my garage, using a CD I had been given. It changed my whole being.
And that’s when you knew that Bhagwan was your guy.
Yeah. My best friend went to India and called me at some point to say, “Man, you really need to come here.” So I went to an ashram in Pune for five weeks.
You arrive in India, took the train to Pune…
Then you get on a rickshaw to go the ashram. You arrive at the entrance—a type of gate—which is where you register. I also had to take an HIV test. The AIDS epidemic was in full swing and nobody knew exactly what was going on, so they tested everyone just to be sure. Ultimately, you were given an entry pass.
What did it look like on the inside?
Kind of like tropical festival grounds. There were palm trees, book stores, a great kitchen, a huge meditation room—some kind of festival tent. You ate and slept in the ashram’s general vicinity. People who lived in that part of Pune rented out their houses.
Wasn’t the whole ashram thing one big scam?
Not at all, it didn’t cost a thing. Books were sold at sales prices, and the food was cheap too.
What did you do all day?
In the morning, you’d buy breakfast and a mango lassi and walk to the ashram. You could take courses, but I had no money so I mainly did free stuff—hanging around the bookstore, chatting with other people there, meditating, and reading Osho’s books, of course. Every night there was a big meditation with about 1,000 other people, which I always joined. There were about 1,500 people in the entire ashram, and most of them came together every night to meditate.
What about the sexual morals? Did people have sex in public like they do in Wild Wild Country?
That part was just about finished by the time I got there. It was all very non-restrictive, but I think the whole “sex in public” part happened mostly during the 70s.
Hanging around in bookstores and meditating for five weeks straight actually sounds kind of boring.
Some people went there to let loose, but I was really into meditation. I wanted to fully explore that.
What where those massive meditation sessions like?
Osho taught all kinds of things. Sometimes we sat; sometimes we did a dynamic meditation. I’ve also done laughing meditation—meaning that you laugh for three hours, then spend an hour meditating. Or gibberish: making any sound that comes to mind for 45 minutes straight.
Yeah, like that. You do that for 45 minutes straight and after that you sit still. Your mind is quiet; all the craziness is gone. It works like a charm.
So how did you end up becoming a swami?
After a few days I decided to do sannyas, which meant that I officially became a follower and took on a different name. I had to fill out a form and tell them what my occupation was. In those days, I made a lot of music, so my name became “swami Antar Sangit,” which means “inner music.”
Was there an initiation ritual?
Yes, during the big evening meditation. We watched a video every day at the exact time Osho used to do his lecture, followed by a meditation. Usually about 10 people did sannyas. Together with the others, I had to sit in a row in the aisle, and the leader put a necklace around each one of our necks. Then they whispered my new name into my ear.
Was it, “Congratulations! Now you’re ‘swami Antar Sangit’!”?
Something like that. It was very symbolic. You didn’t have to use [the name], but I decided to. I kept it for a long time. There are still people who know me as Sangit.
So what happened when you came back home? You returned to the Netherlands and suddenly you weren’t Raymond van Mil anymore.
I told everyone that meditation was a very serious thing for me and that I took the sannyas, and I asked if they minded calling me [Sangit] from then on. Most people did.
That seems like a weird conversation to have.
A very weird conversation! It’s definitely weird to think about it now. But it’s also funny that I went for it full force.
How did people respond? What did your family say?
My family… hmm. My parents were always very understanding, but they never called me Sangit. That bridge was too far to cross, and I understood that.
What did you do after the ashram?
I joined a Bhagwan communal living group in a big house in Beuningen, close to Nijmegen. There were quite a few people there, including families. We had vegetable garden and a meditation room, and we cooked organic food together. Every week we all got together in a big circle and talked about what we were thinking about and how we felt.
What else did you do?
Nothing. Drawing, going out, meditating, and making music. Ultimately I left because I didn’t make any progress. I studied Chinese medicine for years. I got really into tai chi. I also participated in [tai chi] competitions.
Were you good?
Yeah, I was! I placed second twice at the European tournament for pushing hands. That’s a kind of tai chi—like sumo wrestling without hitting, in which you push the other person off the mat. I taught it for 10 years.
How did you end up returning to Raymond van Mil?
When I was about 30 years old, I realized that Raymond, my real name, had this personal weight to it that was more important. It was time to bring this time in my life to an end. I started exploring meditation techniques developed by two teachers from Kuwait. With that, I ultimately developed my own method.
Wait. There’s a Raymond van Mil meditation technique?
Yes. It’s called Intrinsic Movement.
Back to Osho. What do you think of everything that happened in Oregon in the 70s? Those were your people and they allowed everything to go haywire.
I didn’t hear about it until later. Within Bhagwan, it’s a trauma of sorts—everything went off the rails there, with Osho’s mysterious death as a result.
So you separate what happened there from the Bhagwan movement itself?
Things didn’t go wrong because of what Osho taught. It went wrong because a big group of people built a completely new town and moved into it. That creates a completely different power structure because it requires some people to take the lead.
Was Bhagwan a cult or not?
Not to me. But that place in Oregon was. Those people who invested so much money into it and built that town—yeah, you could call that project a cult.
Does that embarrass you?
Yes, it does. When I tell people about my personal history, I always end up defending myself for what happened there. On the other hand, that entire project did go along with the experimental way they approached everything. They tried everything, including building a new town. And that didn’t go well.
Looking back on it, what’s the most important thing that attracted you to the Bhagwan movement?
That everything was completely free from judgement and very open. When you met somebody, they were immediately like family. It’s almost similar to the vibe at a really good festival.
Did that change you?
Yes, turned me into a completely different person, especially when it comes to social relaxation. It also really helps me when I work. You can send me anywhere and whatever subculture I come into contact with, I mostly feel right at home there.
So in that sense, you are party photo guru Antar Sangit.
Yeah. And I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
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