Friday, February 2, 2007

Being An Anthropologist/Tourist in Osho Land

Having travelled so far and having heard of the Pune (Poona) Osho Center for so many years, I felt compelled to take the leap and join (for a short while). The very first indicator I had that my desires and curiosities might not be a perfect fit was when I was being processed for membership and the center volunteer looked under the computer's pull down menu for my occupation...under A's there were occupations like Astrologer and Acupuncturist...but no such thing as an Anthropologist. We scrolled all the way down to see if there might be a Sexologist (on the way passing Massage Therapist and Palm Reader)...finally I settled on "Scientist."

Processing included an HIV test...when I commented that there are many many others STDs that might also deserve testing, I received no response. Ultimately, I came to realize that rules and considerations at the Meditation Resort reflect the concerns of Bhagwan Rajneesh when he was alive. (He's now been dead for 17 years.) One day he decided everyone should wear maroon...and that all other colors would be distracting. So maroon it has been. And as soon as I was processed I was immediately escorted to an on-site shop to purchase a maroon dress.

So what did I do? Everything to absorb this world as much as I could in two days. I participated in every meditation from the 6 AM morning one to the special white robed evening one, danced a lot, participated in an introductory workshop, and chatted up as many people as I could. Many had been coming for upwards of 30 years. Their lives (and often their careers) revolved around Rajneesh's teachings. Some had travelled in India. Many simply fly to Mumbai (Bombay) and take a bus/train straight to Pune. For them the meditation resort could be anywhere. Some of the Taiwanese visitors told me they were spending two weeks at the Osho meditation resort followed by two weeks in Goa, India's swanky beach-resort.

So why is it in India? Well, Bhagwan was deported from the US (Rajneesh Puram, Oregon) in the late 80s and the only country that would take him was his motherland, India. While he was never well-received as a guru to India's poor, his message resonated exceedingly well to the rich and disaffected youth of the Western world. Today the resort attracts old-timers (now in their 50s and 60s) as well as young seekers from places including England, Australia, Brazil, China, Israel, Russia and Japan. While English is the lingua-franca of the resort...many attendees are hard-pressed to carry on much English conversation (though I tried). Mostly they dance, engage in meditation (which involves a variety of energy release processes including hyperventilating through the nose, jumping up and down, yelling and screaming, and sitting in pin-drop silence).

My conversations with the fluent English speakers invariably led to queries of "what are you here for?" When I'd reply, "to learn about what's going on here," it was clearly not enough. While it had been fine for me to be a tourist/anthropologist during the rest of my visit to India, my "what's going on" questions were generally not welcome. I was gently instructed to get involved. E.g. get some counseling, some personal instruction, or perhaps wear a 'silence' button. When I'd retort I don't have anything that's troubling me and that I'm having a good time talking to as many people as I can, they'd just smile, advising that I'd need to plan to stay a lot longer to receive any personal benefits.

I was especially curious about the white-robed evening meditation. Back in 1987, Bhagwan proclaimed that for the evening it would be necessary for everyone to wear only white. ...not cream-color...just pure white. The theater of 1,000 meditators from all over the world wearing white in the marble floored, pyramid shaped meditation auditorium excited me. I had to attend. And by the time I'd decided I needed to do this, the center robe-shop was closed. I spent the next hour trying to chat up various women who seemed to be about my size, hoping they might have a robe to lend me. Unfortunately there were no robes to spare. ...and so I headed out to Pune's street vendors and asked if one of them would rent me a robe for 50 rupees. They wouldn't. So finally I bought a potato-sack-like-gown for 200 rupees. I rushed back to the center just as the gates were closing and scurried in. The guard advised me that the main auditorium was already closed and that I'd have to go to a smaller room where people who could not maintain pin-drop silence were meditating. (All of these people had coughs and colds).
I danced around for a minute or two and felt none of the energy I was seeking....I was determined to get myself into the big auditorim. I rushed to the front entry way and told the guard that I'd travelled from half way around the earth to attend and could she please get me in. She agreed, advising me to pack up my valuables in a small bag (my day pack was too big). As I was extracting my cell phone and camera, she pounced on me and told me it was too late--that I had taken too long to gather my stuff and that the auditorium was now absolutely closed and that I'd have to go back to the coughers and sneazers. There was no budging her. I just stared into her rule-driven eyes and said "I want to respect your process." Back with the coughers and sneazers, I joined in with all the coughing I could (still having a cold, I did just fine). At one point they began to play a videotape of Bhagwan on a small TV (in the auditorium the tape plays on a projection TV) and everyone listened attentively. I couldn't believe a deadman draws such an audience every night...but then again Jesus Christ, while never videotaped, nonetheless compels even larger audiences.

The moment the process ended I rushed out and witnessed the throngs of white-robed meditators leave the pyramid-shaped auditorium. I filled myself up with their procession.
Afterwards, a huge dance-party filled the main plaza. Lots of wonderfully sexy dancing with people from all over.

And the next day I managed to resell my shmata white robe to a young Israeli who had just arrived. And when I came back to my hotel to pack up, the hotel manager asked if I wanted to change out of the red robe before heading to the train station. He knew very well, I'd been an anthropologist/tourist....