First of all, I mean no offense to the tens of thousands of people who consider exiled Indian mystic, bestselling author, free love advocate, Rolls-Royce aficionado Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, also known as Osho, now deceased, as their guru. I'm all for gurus, truth be told, and have no problem with free love and fine cars. I am not qualified to pass judgment on a man I never met, whose legacy I've only experienced over the course of a day and a half spent skulking around the state-of-the-art resort named for him in Pune, India.
A jokey comment in an email to my more-than-a-friend/less-than-a-boyfriend (I'll call him Reza) quickly snowballed into this plan for us to meet for a weekend at the Osho International Meditation Resort. The resort markets itself as a mix between "the meditation qualities of a Gautama the Buddha and the resort qualities of a Zorba the Greek. Zorba the Buddha, in fact!" In other words, it's somewhere between a Sandals holiday and a yoga retreat, with an added, sex guru glaze.
We decided that Reza would fly in from Berlin and I from Tel Aviv. We both had other business in India. With typical nebulousness, neither of us discussed whether we would be having sex. We have in the past, to great effect, but sometimes it gets weird when we're together. He's kind of irresistible but he debates that anything is resistible, even irresistible me. We communicate a lot better when we don't talk. I figured the two of us sharing a room at an ashram founded by an internationally known sex-guru was going to be interesting, one way or another.
The whole Osho phenomenon gave gurus a bad name because he was so good and so bad at the same time. He was a master of pithy spiritual anti-relationship advice ("Be a loving person rather than in a love relationship—because relationships happen one day and disappear another day."), and his books have been translated into 60 languages and have sold tens of millions of copies. He also may or may not have advocated euthanasia for children with birth defects, defended Hitler, claimed to be enlightened, and held a number of other outrageous beliefs. His Wikipedia page is awesome.
Despite, or maybe because of all this outrageousness, Osho was the go-to guru in the 70s for masses of spiritual seekers. He was playful and irreverent. He encouraged sexual promiscuity and wild dancing ("If you dance in life, then death will also be a dance!"). When conservative Indians had had enough of him and his red-clad disciples representing them on a global platform, he was squeezed out. He moved operations to America in 1981 and established Rajneeshpuram in the dry terrain of Antelope, Oregon, where his disciples implemented the largest bio-terror attack in American history, among other crimes and misdemeanors. They sprayed salad bars with salmonella on the eve of an election so that residents of The Dulles would be on the toilet instead of voting against Rajneeshpuram politicos. It was bad. He was extradited in 1985, abandoned his 93 Rolls-Royces, and spent a whole year basically living in his private jet, getting kicked out of random countries, trying to find a place to call home. Finally he returned to his ashram in Koregaon Park, where he died in 1990 at the age of 58.
Koregaon Park is bisected by a long tree-lined road in the center of Pune, a busy city three hours from Mumbai. The park is insulated by nature and protected by guards. I rolled up to the main gate in an auto-rickshaw early in the morning and was greeted by a woman who looked like Judi Dench.
I'd spent the previous night inside the Pune train station; I was dirty and hungry. The 27-hour train ride from Delhi had aged me and I could not afford to look any older than I am. Reza was born the year I was a senior in high school, and though he says age doesn't matter, it does. Or it will when I'm 70 and he's 52. His taxi from Mumbai would be there within the hour, if everything went according to plan, and I needed to look like someone he did not regret having slept with and might possibly want to sleep with again. My plan was to check into our room and clean up good before he got there.
They took my money and then they took my blood. Then they took all of my personal information.
At first, everything was really fine. Judi gave me a warm, grandmotherly welcome and pointed me in the direction of the guest house and told me registration would begin at 9 AM. I was given a temporary pass through the security checkpoint and stepped into the otherworld of Osho. Rounding the corner of a replica of a Japanese ryokan, I came to an enormous black marble pyramid, the famed Osho Auditorium. The pyramid is fronted by a reflecting pool, in which it's perfectly mirrored. Birds tweeted from well-groomed tropical plants. There was no sound of honking or barking. No dust. Not a single person in sight. I was excited.
Checking into the guest house, I was told that they only had rooms with queen beds, no doubles, so Reza and I would have to share. I wasn't complaining, flashing on a memory of a particularly great night we spent in Kathmandu during a thunderstorm. After a hot shower, I headed back across the street to the registration area, which was now buzzing with activity. It was intake time at the resort and about ten other civilians were filling out paperwork, preparing for the mandatory four-hour orientation, guided by maroon clad "sannyasins," or initiates, who have apparently taken "a quantum leap into the unknown." While most of the workers were glowing with health and exuding a particular kind of Osho-energy, I was assigned to an expressionless Japanese woman with a rash on her neck.
Where the fuck was Reza?
My wallet was quickly emptied of all its contents. Every last crumpled rupee note in my possession was assigned to deposits, registration fees, a day pass, voucher cards. The cash generated from the resort and multimedia is managed by an "Inner Circle" appointed by Osho before his death in 1990. I am fascinated by this kind of religious power. It seems there are opposing factions within the group who are still contesting Osho's will, in particular the lucrative intellectual property rights, in various courts: Osho Friends Foundation versus Osho International Foundation (OIF based in Zurich). OIF has the upper hand, with five westerners and one Indian in charge of the Pune resort nee ashram. There is a ton of money at stake.
I made my way through the registration process as slowly as possible, stalling the Japanese woman who was shadowing me, urging me to finish quickly so I could join orientation. To her annoyance I sat and texted Reza instead. I'm here where are you?
I began to feel anxious as I was ushered into a black marble room to have my finger pricked for the HIV test.They took my money and then they took my blood. Then they took all of my personal information, and soon they would take away much of my outward appearance. Ankle-length maroon robes are required dress at the resort. No street clothes.
Finally, my phone chirped.
- Did you get my message?
- No! Where are you?
- Dubai!!! Fuck you!
Turkish Air had rerouted his flight. My mood that had been buoyed solely by the idea of beautiful, sweet Reza walking through the gates now sank. The prospect of spying on a pseudo-ashram lost all its appeal. The whole point was to have someone to exchange meaningful looks of disbelief—and possibly have sex—with. We texted back and forth furiously. He only had a few minutes left on his Dubai airport WiFi pass. He was still coming, he said. He'd probably be here between 6 and 8 PM. I wanted to step outside to think but the Japanese woman stood in my way with "orientation" flickering in her eyes.
About to explode, I told her that I wanted to go back to my room and use the entry pass for tomorrow. She protested, I stood firm. After bringing in a more senior sannyasin with better people skills, she acquiesced and I slipped through security with one minute remaining on my temporary pass. I lay on the queen bed collecting my wits in the cool darkness. The almonds at the bottom of my suitcase helped a little. I began browsing some of the materials they'd handed me. I'd missed tai chi, OSHO Laughter Meditation, and something called "Squeeze the Juice of Life." It wasn't too late to buy the costume, do an abbreviated orientation, find some food, and get to the 1:30 session called "Tantra: Inner Man, Inner Woman."
Fine. I'd obey.
I exchanged one of my vouchers for my new wardrobe at the shop. No street clothes until after 9 PM. The robes were comfortable, actually, and the cut wasn't so bad. Using my voucher card, I grabbed some cafeteria food and sat at a picnic table outside near the pyramid. I can do this.
A possibly handsome man in the vein of Jim Jones—pallid complexion, acne scars and a neat conventional haircut asked if he could join me. We ate in awkward silence. Finally I asked him where to put the dish and he offered to handle it for me. Was this Osho-speak for "Come to my orgy tonight"?
Now that I was fed and the sun was beating down, I began to notice a strange overlay of sexuality spread like Olio on every Osho surface. There were maybe 60 people at the picnic area, all in robes. The atmosphere seemed very post-coital. Languid, satisfied, charged up. "It was so profound," I heard one woman say in a heavy Slavic accent as I made my way over to "Inner Tantra Taster."
About 30 of us sat in a circle, everyone in red robes except the teacher, a Germanic blond woman in her 40s wearing a black gown with a white sash. She spoke huskily into a cordless microphone, even though the room was quite small. We got right into it. She instructed the men to move to one side of the room and the women on the other. She explained that the men would be rescuing us. One big bald guy leapt to his feet and came running, robes flying, and gathered the girl next to me in his arms. The teacher sharply reprimanded him. "First, we must rouse your masculine energy! Feel the hunter, the fighter, the protector in you." The men were instructed to form a circle, arms on shoulders, and express their manliness. They began grunting and hopping up and down. Except one guy, who refused to hop, making the circle lopsided. I felt for him. I would not hop. Then they had to turn and display themselves to us women, show us their growling, manly selves. "Feel the energy in the tip of your sex!" said the instructor. So there we all were, imagining their penises. "Own it!" she said and they grunted red faced. She was really into it, strutting around. "Holding this microphone gets me in touch with my masculine energy," she said, pumping her hips forward.
Satisfied with the display of manhood, she told us women to scream as if we were being attacked. I said "ah," quietly, while the other women shrieked. Now the men could come liberate us. I was the last one to get rescued. I may have been scowling. Two men came and lifted me up and placed me gently on the other side of the room.
Then we ladies had to rouse our masculinity. Most of the women screamed and shouted and pumped their fists. One girl became quite red in the face. There was a lot of pelvic thrusting. I stood there and grumbled a bit, then expressed my masculinity by avoiding what was going on, becoming emotionally unavailable, and saying "I can't" under my breath. Next the men came and initiated us to our masculine side by painting on our faces. A man with a buzz cut approached me holding a red crayon and drew what felt like an inverted triangle on my forehead. The room was getting really hot.
"Feel the energy in the tip of your sex!" said the instructor.
Then the boys had to shut their eyes and feel their feminine side while we anointed them with our feminine energy. To do this we rubbed perfumed oil in our palms and waved them over the men's bodies without touching.
Finally we had to dance with each other. The women were instructed to stand passively. The men would be active and invite us to dance. I expected to be left out due to the scowl I wore and the ratio of men and women but a Russian man who looked exactly like Putin took me by the waist and we danced to some Latin music. We switched partners five times as the music changed. The handsome guy rubbed his erection on me through our robes with a look of total nonchalance. The guy who had initiated me danced like a crazy person. An older guy who seemed very experienced in this kind of thing locked eyes and we danced like spiders. It was so ridiculous that it was kind of fun. I got really sweaty. All this took only half an hour.
I wandered out feeling decidedly jazzed up and got myself an overpriced iced latte to celebrate in the outdoor pen where people are allowed to indulge in cell phones and cigarettes. Robed retreatants were puffing away with loose limbs and loose hair, chatting in Italian and German and Russian. I checked the schedule for the afternoon offerings and decided to check out Nadhabrahma, humming meditation, in the Osho Auditorium.
We hummed for 30 minutes straight then did 15 minutes of arm movements, followed by 15 of sitting meditation. I meditate almost every day but I fell into it much more easily after the humming. I felt connected to my body. Every chakra was vibrating. My head felt like a balloon and my fingers were tingling; my leg movements stirred up latent energy. I really wanted to have sex.
Later, ultra-clean as instructed and wearing the mandatory white robes for our evening meeting, I joined a procession walking across the dark water of the reflecting pool. Osho wanted everyone to wear the same color because it creates a unique vibration. It works. Especially that night, with the full moon above, the glowing procession swallowed up into the pyramid was quite the spectacle.
We began right on time at 6:45 with half an hour of ecstatic dance. The music was terrible, a kind of speedy banjo music. People danced like drunkards at a bar, it's the Osho way. Every once in a while the music reached a crescendo and stopped and everyone raised their arms and shouted "OSHO!" Even me. There was a signal and everyone sat down and began speaking gibberish—"one of the most scientific ways to clean your mind and break the habit of continual inner verbalization," according to Osho. The instructions were to say everything you ever wanted to say, but in a language you don't know. "Just be a first-rate crazy man," said Osho. Then we meditated. There was another sound and everyone collapsed onto the floor as if they'd drunk the Kool Aid. Then came another sound and we all sat up.
A giant screen lit up with Osho's face. He was in a sort of light blue and silver space suit with pointed padded shoulders and a matching knitted skullcap. He was a handsome man, under all that hair. His long beard and mustache, all white with a black stripe, formed a kind of sea anemone shape around his mouth. As he spoke I became totally mesmerized.
A sexy voice off camera asked him a question about having sex and he replied with answers that I wished Reza could have heard. It was about surrendering to bliss.
"That's fine. We're not a couple of teenagers," he said, leaving me wondering what a couple of teenagers would do that we would not.
Osho said: "The moment love becomes a relationship, it becomes a bondage because there are expectations and there are demands and there are frustrations, and an effort from both sides to dominate. It becomes a struggle for power."
As I listened I thought, Yes, Osho, you are right. How true. My love for Reza is like true love because I don't want to own him. So obviously we should have sex.
Osho's face hardly moved as he spoke. Sometimes the video actually froze but the audio continued and it was impossible to tell when the video came back because he was so still when he spoke.
About 45 minutes into the talk I snapped out of the sea anemone's spell and left. At the guest house I asked if my friend had come. The woman pointed behind me and there he was. Tall, gorgeous, familiar Reza. We hugged long and hard. Even after his long trip he smelled clean with a hint of sandalwood. He didn't comment on the fact that I was dressed like a bride.
In the elevator up to our room I mentioned the fact that we would have to share the bed. "That's fine. We're not a couple of teenagers," he said, leaving me wondering what a couple of teenagers would do that we would not.
Have sex. That's what. We went to dinner and then to the Plaza Dance Celebration for my favorite kind of super crappy music, then climbed into opposite sides of the bed and fell asleep instantly. He's a doctor and had been on rounds for 24 hours straight before traveling for another 24 hours, so he was out like a light. I was too tired for sex by that point anyway.
We spent the whole next day in the orientation with an international group of about 20 led by two Sanyassins, a nice Japanese lady named Nori who has been at the resort since 2009, and an Englishman named Naveen who looked like he belonged in a corporate board room, not prancing around in a gown speaking gibberish. They gave us a taste of the different kinds of practices offered including something that looked like spastic dancing and speaking in tongues.
We were finally set free to explore for the remaining part of the day. Turkish Air had lost Reza's luggage so he was walking around in his robes with no underwear on. As the day heated up, so did the sex vibe. I could see the ladies admiring the shape of his legs through the fabric. But there was no time for sex. Suddenly it was almost 6:45 and we had to get into our whites for Evening Meeting.
We danced alone in our gowns, symbolic of our night in bed alone in the white sheets. We spoke in gibberish, we sat, we collapsed like sacks of rice then sat again. The screen lit up. There was Osho again. A sexy off-screen voice asked about suicide. His reply, "Life isn't a drag, you are a drag."
Most of the lecture was about how we can become unconditioned. Hypnotized by his pauses and the way he drew out the 's' sound at the end of words to a long hisssssss, I almost missed his bawdy jokes. "My purpose is so unique," he said. "I am using words just to create silent gapssssss. The words are not important so I can say anything contradictory, anything absurd, anything unrelated, because my purpose is just to create gaps. The words are secondary; the silences between those words are primary."
After about an hour, the off-screen voice asked, "Can we celebrate the buddhas?" signaling that the Evening Meeting was over.
I asked Reza if he wanted to go have sex. In my mind. What I really asked was what he thought of the lecture. "He was intriguing and at the same time I was really uncomfortable. It makes sense to me that so many Westerners follow him because he gets the nice things of spirituality and puts them in a context of being free. But feeling good is what's keeping you from being free."
Which is maybe why we didn't have sex. We got back into our civilian clothes and headed toward the Multiversity Plaza for a Sufi dance performance, but then in the same instant we stopped and looked at each other.
"Let's get out of here."
The coolest people I know are the ones who truly, deeply do not take themselves too seriously. They are not defensive because there is nothing to defend. They don't look for praise because there is no one to praise. One benefit of being at the Osho resort was that it revealed just how gigantic and unrollable my sense of self is. Grumbling at the tantric sex workshop because I didn't want to unleash something I might not be able to control, wanting Reza's approval, wanting to be irresistibly hot, not wanting to be a random in a crowd, not wanting ugly sounds to come out of my mouth. Selflessness was one of Buddha's biggest teachings, which Osho coopted into his own teachings because Osho had good taste in truths. But he was a rebel who wanted to create his own path and new, untested paths can lead nowhere or they can lead to something great. Osho's last words when he died were "I leave you my dream." The sannyasins at the resort are living that dream 30 years later.