Re: Royal Way/Jacumba/Ranch/Michael Gottlieb
Date: October 31, 2013 11:41PM
Sometimes we wanted the adults to notice our absence - and our prowess. On those afternoons, on the way back to the Kids' Ilut with our birch sticks in hand, the carefully cultivated plants ill the Main House flower beds proved targets too difficult to resist. We would look at each other and, without saying a word, strip a flowery bush bare with a few quick slashes.
One evening Sujan brought it up at the school announcements. The evening bell rang, and we gathered in the Kids' Hut playroom. 'Someone,' he said sternly, 'has knocked all the blossoms off the hibiscus.'
I bit my lip to stop myself from laughing.
Summer ended. One by one the swallows and house martins swooped out from under the eaves and flew away. Early that autumn there was a spate of sudden showers; thick, warm, heavy rain spattered the forests. The rain brought out every colour of green you had ever seen. Dark rivers of water ran down treetrunks, like tears.
In October a team of sannyasins decided to dig a new lake where the old lake had been, down at the bottom of the lawn. They staked out the shape of the lake with pegs and wooden cords, and dug down into the clay - I remember being surprised at how grey and wet the sides of the hole were. Then they lined the hole with a great plastic sheet. Someone ran a hose through the window ,II" I all the way from the Main House to the lake. Someone else put a water pipe right by where the lake was, so they rolled up a long hose, and ran a shorter hose from there. The kids gathlered to watch the lake fill, but after half an hour there was hardly ('V.11 a puddle. We talked about what would happen if we stood on the hose - would the Main House swell up and explode in a shower of water? - then we got bored and went away. That night at lilt Omar Khayyam bar someone took bets about how long the hi" would take to fill. The highest guess was three days.
The Medina gardeners wanted to get some exotic ducks ,., float around on the lake; it turned out another sannyas commune had a bunch of standard green and brown ducks, so they had I" settle for those. Later that week the ducks were shipped in, alld as the water rose they floated around in the hole. Even with ;111 the rain, the lake took seven days and nights to fill.
That winter at Medina we felt ripples of another kind. After the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, investigating alleged arranged marriages at the Ranch, told her she would have to leave the USA , Bhagwan's original secretary and first disciple, Laxmi, was evicted from the new Oregon headquarters. For fif teen years she'd been his most devoted sannyasin; she left the commune with just two bags and her gold Rolex watch. Laxmi moved from state to state, changing her name frequently to keep ahead of sannyasin spies and the INS. Her former assistant, Sheela, stepped into Laxmi's place as Bhagwan's secretary. Soon afterwards the hubbub in Omar Khayyam rose again, after Bhagwan's bodyguard Shivamurti was also excommunicated. In response to Sheela's condemnation, he published a series of exposes about the corruption of power in Bhagwan's inner circle. He claimed that Bhagwan wandered about his apartment so high on nitrous oxide that, while muttering that truth could not be expressed in words, he would brace himself against the wall and foul his own plushly carpeted hallways. Shivamurti also a scandalous story he claimed was common knowledge in the inner circle: Bhagwan used only the missionary position and came quickly. Sheela wrote open letters in the Rajneesh advising sannyasins to close their hearts to Laxmi and _ their egos, no longer fed by Bhagwan, wanted to everything they had all worked for. My mother and her discounted Shivamurti's allegations. Then in December, in an NBC television interview in Los Angeles , Sheela was asked about Bhagwan's alleged anti-Semitism. She smiled sweetly and said: 'How do you get four Germans and five hundred Jews into a Volkswagen? Simple. Two Germans in the front, two Germans III hack, and five hundred Jews in the ashtray.' When they heard about this, my mother and her friends were shocked; then they put it down to a publicity stunt. On that level, at least, Sheela seemed to be succeeding.
Even on the other side of the Atlantic, at Medina , it was apparent to us _ the kids as well as the adults - that the world at large had begun to use the term 'Bhagwan' as shorthand for 'flamboyant religious conman'. One of the kids clipped a ' Bloom County ' ( comic strip from a newspaper, in which Opus is briefly entranced by the idea of taking sannyas. The clipping circulated in the Kids' Ilut dormitories. (Opus: 'Say, brother ... uh, how about refreshing me on this Rajneesh business .. .' Sannyasin: 'Well, Rajneesh is the truth, and the truth is the light, which is life. Life's truth light. And happiness. Which is wearing red pajamas and blowing kisses toward the Bhagwan's 72 Gold Rolls-Royces.' Opus: 'Whoa! By golly ... that does make a lot of sense.')
On 23 December, two weeks after Sheela's outrageous remark on NBC, the US Immigration and Naturalization Service denied Hhagwan's petition for a permanent US resident's visa. They listed four reasons: his poor health would interfere with his religious work; religious leaders were not silent; applicants must have been working as religious teachers for twO years prior to the application,
The front lawn was always littered with mole holes. Chinmaya, the bobble-hatted Medina head gardener, kept us up to date on their battles to rid the lawn of moles. Very early on, he told us, the Medina gardeners swapped their natural holistic mole repellent for rat poison. When the poison didn't work, they finally installed a series of lethal-looking machines in the holes - designed, so we thought, to zap the moles whenever they came up for air. Nonetheless, the moles kept coming. We imagined them underground, living together like we did. We played our games directly above their own communal homes.
Often, on warm afternoons, we would pause in a game of football on the front lawn to watch the adults come out to do their group-dynamic exercises in the sun. The groups looked fun. The adults would climb onto each other's shoulders in a pyramid, then roar like lions before all falling off. They would form a ring and hold a mock-bullfight. They would stand stockstill, without moving, for hours.
At certain times of the year, at lunchtimes and in the evenings, we saw people from the Satori groups wandering around with IN SILENCE badges pinned to their maroon breasts. We called it 'Satori Season'. We'd follow them around, badger them, pull faces - anything to get them to talk.
At times, when we'd sneaked in to grab cushions, or crawled between the trees round the back of the group rooms and raised ourselves up on tiptoes to peek through the windows, we'd seen what happened in the group-rooms themselves. Everyone was fully clothed. People would sometimes be dancing, sometimes flailing and screaming. Occasionally a Ma or Swami would be crying and beating a cushion with snot and drool and tears dripping down their face. More often, the group leader would be talking quietly, gazing into the eyes of a man or woman who would be quietly sobbing.
One morning Sharna called us all into the Main Hall for a surprise. Sixty adults from one of the groups filed in opposite. He told us that this group needed an exercise in surrender, and we were each going to get two slaves for the morning. He said that until noon our slaves would have to do everything we commanded. We cheered and filed across the room to pick out the ones we liked. First, I made my two carry me on their shoulders to the sweetshop and buy me the most expensive biscuits. Then we walked out onto the front lawn; Majid and I held jousting matches using our slaves as mounts. Just before twelve the obvious thought came to us both at exactly the same time. We turned to our slaves and demanded they give us their wallets. The slaves couldn't say anything - they were still wearing their IN SILENCE badges. But they looked at each other, tapped their watches as if it were already noon, and ran away.
After the usual information that evening in the announcements _ Disco keep-fit had moved to eight-thirty in the meditation room _ Sharna asked Rupda to come up to the front. We'd seen her earlier, playing on the swings with her slaves; we'd scoffed at her naivety. She hadn't got her slaves to buy her anything. Now Sharna praised her. Apparently, the only order she had given was for her slaves to enjoy themselves. Majid and I looked at each other and mimed sticking our fingers down our throats.
To us kids, the regular Medina celebrations looked just the same as the groupS, except that the groups took place in Hadiqua'aand the celebrations took place in the Main Hall; we were allowed to push our way through these crazy celebration crowds. We got a much closer look. People would roll their eyes, sing, kneel, or curl up on the floor, smiling with their eyes closed. Everyone got as blissed-out as possible. Sometimes tears streamed down their faces. Dancing meant waving your head in a figure-of-eight, arms raised, malas flailing out at chest-height, about ready to take the eye out of any kid pushing past through the crowd. I knew that kind of dancing; we all did. We groaned and rolled our eyes whenever we saw someone waving in this manner. Later that year when we were first allowed to have our own discos - no over eighteens allowed - we put hand-lettered signs of our own on the door: 'NO SPIRITUAL DANCING'. Anyone who raised their arms too high above their heads was swiftly given the boot.
There were annual bashes, too, which were always advertised with crazy curlicued cartoons in the glossy Medina brochures:
Hallowe'en, Bhagwan's Birthday, Guru Purnima Day, New Year's Eve, May Day Bal1. (These adverts were so slick that the only time Bhagwan's secretary Sheela visited Medina , she told the assembled throng that our brochures were 'too much like Vogue magazine and not right for Bhagwan's message at al1.') On these annual occasions some of the adults would hold a fancydress cabaret on a carpet rolled out in the Main Hall: men with handkerchiefs tied on their heads, women with glittery feather boas wrapped around their malas, kicking their legs out to music-hall classics: 'MyoId man said follow the van ... ' and 'Oh I do like to be beside the seaside'.
To us, the celebrations all looked the same - a confusion of maroon, heat, balloons, red velvet, make-up, and crowds. The hall would become packed full of sweaty people. Hundreds of adults danced, sang, boogied, disco-danced, got on down to a sannyasin band. At these annual celebrations, a hundred or so visitors mingled with the residents. To separate us from the visitors the commune kids got special beads for our malas: red showed we were residents; orange that we were allowed up after eleven. (About once a week, when my mala broke, I would try to persuade the adult who restrung it to slip one of these orange beads on this time, because I was now old enough; they never believed me.) If you were young - six years old, say, going on seven - what you did was stand on the Main Hall stairs for a minute, looking down on the crowd to get your bearings, then plunge into the crowd. You raised your forearms on either side of your face to guard against the flailing malas. You would push your way through on tiptoes - craning for a glimpse of another kid or, even better, your mother somewhere through a gap in the lTowd.
The music in these crowds was always Bhagwan music, the old Sufi songs followed by new standards written by sannyasin musicians. The Bhagwan music was so much a part of it all: sung at music groups, celebrations, birthdays, meditations, cabarets, in Ashram buildings and commune hallways, in the kitchens, dormitories; out on the lawn late at night, before fireworks lit up the sky. So much so that, even though the kids rarely joined in the singing, I still remember the melodies and the words - 'Only you ... '; 'In your grace, Bhagwan '; 'Looking inside ... Looking inside ... I wake up to you I wake up to your love ... ' In the early days the songs were folksy, but later, as the 1980s progressed, they all began to sound more and more like the Pointer Sisters. Everywhere these songs were sung, sannyasins swayed to the music. Their hands caressed the air; their heads rolled in the familiar loop; their malas swung out into a rattling figure-of-eight. When the music stopped, as we sometimes managed to stay awake to see, everyone stood around with their eyes closed, still slowly swaying, or collapsed on the floor not caring who they layover or against.
In these celebrations, sometimes a group of visitors lined up to take sannyas. Swamis and Mas would line the stairs; we kids would sit and peer down through gaps in the banisters. The hall was packed with dancing, leaping maroon, frenetic drums, arms flailing, malas tucked into shirts or over one arm to avoid possible injury. Everyone sang along to a Bhagwan song: 'Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! There is a paradise on earth!'
By the side of the stairs in the main hall, moon-faced Adheera who I always thought looked like a wise old orang-utan - would hang a mala around the lowered neck of a new sannyasin, place her thumb on the person's forehead, and smile a blissful smile. When neither Poonam nor Adheera was available, my mother
That summer, as the Third Annual World Celebration approached, a rumour spread through sannyasin communes worldwide. If there was not 100 per cent emotional positivity this year, Bhagwan might 'drop his body' in July during the Master's Day festival in Oregon . Bhagwan had always said his death was to be the biggest sannyasin celebration yet; no disciple would want to miss the greatest event of his lifetime. Bookings for the celebration quadrupled.
From the Rajneesh Times:
Message to all sannyasins, friends and lovers of Bhagwan.
It is very important to make your travel arrangements to Rajneeshpuram for the Third Annual World Celebration immediately, as Master's Day, 6 July, coincides with the Olympic Games in Los Angeles and with the 4 July weekend (a US national holi day). Many flights are already fully booked. Also, get your vis;I:; early and be sure to let us know if you encounter any pro/lll'll!.",
We were gathered together in the Kids' Hut and were told that this year we were to have a special treat to be flown out to Rajneeshpuram, the sannyasin city where Bhagwan now lived, for a ten-day holiday paid for by the commune. We were thrilled. I quickly made it clear to the other kids that Oregon was near California , where I had been before, as my unparalleled 'Centipede' breakdance moves proved.
All the Medina kids flew out together (most of our parents had flown out the week before). We stopped over in Minneapolis-St Paul, 'The Twin Cities', a name which left me with confused images of apples and cathedrals and people joined at the hip. The whole airport felt cool, like the air from an open refrigerator. The older girls kept whistling the chorus to 'We're the Kids in America (whoah-oh)'. The younger children held hands as we waited to board the flight. The second plane landed in Seattle , Washington . We made the drive to Portland , Oregon , in a white-painted Rajneeshpuram minibus, two birds wheeling against a maroon sun painted on either side. The evening was dark and cool. I remember the air blowing in through the open quarter-light window. We may have stopped off at the Rajneesh Hotel in Antelope, the nearest town to Rajneeshpuram: I remember a stop at a bus shelter, the crunching of gravel. I awoke again when we reached the long bumpy road at the edge of the Ranch. Out the window I could see huts with men wearing sunglasses, who waved us through. Then we were there, at the Ranch, and I was somewhere, asleep.
The next morning all of the Medina kids were gathered together in an L-shaped room in Sheela's own residence, inside Jesus Grove - one of the most exclusive areas of the Ranch. The floor was covered in Oriental rugs, the patterns dark red and maroon. In between the rugs you could see patches of the rush matting that also ran around the edge of the room. We were sitting on the cushions that were already laid out across the floor. Some of the Medina adults were lined up against the wall behind us. III front of us, perched high on the arm of a sofa lined up against thl' long window, in a red jean-jacket and red velour trousers, her legs crossed but not quite reaching the ground, was Sheela. By the way we had all been ushered in we could tell she was important; I'd never seen her before. All I knew was her name. Sheela rolled up her sleeves, played with the silver bangles that ran up each arm to the elbow, and smiled prettily, waiting for us to be quiet.
Behind Sheela, through long windows that made up one wall of the room, huge hills were visible against the bright blue of the sky. The hills looked to me like the round tips of distant, dusty mountains. I was wondering how big this place really was, whether those clouds over there by the hills were still over the Ranch, or the sea, or California , or England . I thought they must be really far away, much farther than anyone might think. Then Sheela spoke. The first thing we should know, she said, was that we weren't going back to England in ten days' time. In fact, Medina was no longer to be our home.
We sat upright in shock.
Sheela explained. We were to remain here in the Ranch, to learn about meditation and worship from sannyasins who lived closer to Bhagwan. We would be here for as long as it took; it might be three months, it might be forever. Every adult would be allocated a tent or an A-frame. Children would be assigned carers who would watch over them at their worship each day.
I couldn't believe the power she seemed to have over us. She could decide all of our destinies at a stroke, with no thought for what we wanted. I hated her. Then I remembered my father, John, and my eyes filled up with tears.
Earlier in the year John had visited Medina . Back then we had made a plan for this summer: after the ten days of the Third Annual World Celebration, John would drive up here to pick rnc up; together, we would go on a camping trip down the west coast of America . I was to stay with him a while, then go back [() Medina .
What now? Would he be allowed to come? Would I be allowed to go? Kneeling on a red patterned rug, I burst into tears. One of the adults, a Woman with long black hair, asked what Was the matter. I told her my father Was coming to meet me. Would I still be able to go away with him? Should I call my dad and ask him not to come? I burst into tears again. The woman rubbed my head and hugged me. She suggested I ask Sheela myself.
I looked over towards the wicker chair. Sheela was still curled up inside it, talking to one of the women. The woman bent Over and whispered something. Sheela laughed, throwing her head back and rattling her bangles some more. No, I said, I can't speak to her. The black-haired woman pulled me to my feet and pushed me towards the chair. Breathing erratically, blinking back the tears, I stood in front of Sheela. She looked down, toyed with her bangles, and asked me what it was I wanted to say. Was I allowed to leave to visit my father? I asked her. Sheela looked around the room, then back at me. Sheela nodded. Yes, I could go, she said; however, while I was here, I was to worship along with the other kids. Until my father arrived, nothing would be different for me. I nodded eagerly. Sheela looked back up to the other woman. I could see she Was finished with me, so I walked back over to all the other kids and tried to wipe my face with my sleeve.
That Summer Sheela had a series of meetings with groups of sannyasins from around the world to tell them how best to spread Bhagwan's message. After the celebration, she let some sannyasins go back to their OWn Countries. In some of these meetings her bright red denim jacket was parted to reveal a .357 Magnum strapped to her waist.
Because they were less likely to abuse their power, and because they had been suffering for centuries and he wanted to compensate, Bhagwan put women in charge of his communes. The big-shot sannyasins were all Women: the Big Mammas. Back in the Ashram Main Office in India these matriarchs, the practical heart of the administration, laid down the law on moral, emotional, and spiritual issues. They were more down to earth than Bhagwan. They listened to the problem at hand. Then they said, 'OK. Now put it aside. Be meditative, be detached, and carryon with your work.'
The Mammas were absolutely dedicated to Bhagwan. They audibly capitalized their 'h's whenever they referred to 'Him'. They aped his mannerisms; they adopted his vocabulary; they pressed their palms together in greeting; they littered their conversation with Bhagwan's favourite words, like 'good' and 'beautiful'. Good meant varyingly 'hello', 'goodbye', 'welcome', 'we are finished here'. 'Beautiful' could mean anything. When people went a little too crazy at the Ashram, they were sometimes shipped off to a local asylum for tranquillizers and rest care. When they recovered and came back, someone would say, 'That is beautiful.' When they didn't recover, they were drugged and propped up on the seat of a plane back home. Someone would say, "That is beautiful.'
Until 1981 anyone who wanted to see Bhagwan first had to talk to Laxmi, the Indian woman who had been Bhagwan's first disciple, and had soon become his personal secretary. She always referred to herself in the third person. 'He told Laxmi to wear saffron,' she said once, 'and buy a special mala, and so Laxmi hecame his number one sannyasin. Just like that.' Laxmi said that when she met Bhagwan it had been love at first sight. She called him 'a fierce and powerful speaker, a courageous warrior, a lion'. She loved Bhagwan's message, and was convinced it would spread like an orange fire across the world. In 1977 she announced that by 1987 half of Red China would take sannyas. She was the daughter of an affluent Jain businessman, a ( Congress party supporter with close ties to Gandhi, Nehru, and Morarji Desai; when she met Bhagwan she had been the secretary of the All-India Women's Congress. Her political power and family connections had been essential in keeping the Ashram running.
Sheela, Laxmi's assistant, was a small, bright-eyed Indian woman, a powerhouse who never seemed to stop. (Laxmi and Bhagwan nicknamed her 'The Atom Bomb'.) Sheela had taken sannyas in 1972 and moved to the Ashram in 1975. She started working in the kitchen, but within a year she had formed the Ashram's bank (began when she sat on the Krishna House steps with a green tin box full of foreign currency). Sheela was soon Laxmi's second in command. As Laxmi spent more and more time travelling India , searching for a good location for the new Buddhafield, Sheela began to make more and more executive decisions. In 1981 Sheela took over as Bhagwan's right-hand woman. She immediately began to send some sannyasins away and 'blacklisted' others, giving them only menial jobs and restricting their access to the outside world. At the age of seventeen Sheela had travelled to study in New Jersey ; two years later she had married a US citizen. Her strong connections with the USA made her keen for Bhagwan to relocate to America . Laxmi wasn't around to argue.
'If someone is not next to you, it is as if they do not exist,' Bhagwan once said. He had no trouble with Sheela's rise to power. By the time they left for America , Sheela was Bhagwan's 'representative'; even Laxmi needed Sheela's permission to speak with Bhagwan.