Update, September 25th, 2012 — I’m turning off comments on this particular post. The only people posting here are people asking to for admission to the Ashram. Which is all well and good, but, eh, misses the point.
Editor’s note: Been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been hunkered down in my apartment doing freelance animation work. Got any animation you need done? While good for the bank account, it’s not typically the best for stories. …That said:
I was in the city of Pune this weekend. (pronounced poo-nay) It’s about 75 miles east-southeast from Mumbai. While I ended up being mobbed and given fresh fruit by a group of friendly young guys with porn on their cellphones who wanted me to go drinking with them (pictured below), I started off visiting an (in)famous sex commune.
Osho Ashram: Sex Commune? Cult?
Note to those here from a Google search about the Osho International Mediation Resort in Pune: I have done very nominal research about this whole thing. I’ve never attended. I don’t know what I’m talking about. I am blatantly spreading rumors that I have not personally confirmed. I am biased against things that I perceive to be culty. If you’re inclined to get pissed off by someone talking trash that hasn’t taken the time to really do their homework, you may as well move on. I’m not here to argue with you.
I had heard about the Osho Ashram before. It’s one of those things people mention when you talk about traveling to India. I’d heard it was a sex commune under the guise of a meditation resort. Free love, tantra gurus, boink your meditation partner while the teacher watches, the like. …Which one might initially feel skeptical about until one hears that an HIV/AIDS test is required to enter the commune and take part in the various groups offered. Right. Apparently it’s trying to get past this reputation and has changed it’s name to “Osho International Meditation Resort”
I was in Pune where Osho International is located and was aware of the ashram’s reputation, but I hadn’t yet connected that it was the very same place that I was sitting near at a coffee shop.
Evidence of proximity to an ashram was abundant and of the “foreigners wandering in maroon robes” variety. I felt immediate disdain for the people walking around in their stupid maroon robes. They walked around looking culty and calm and meditative and pissing me off just by being there. In fact, there seemed to be a general concentration of spacey tourists where I was and I didn’t like it. I’m not used to seeing tourists where I live in Bombay in the first place. Occasional Germans with shorts and high socks and sandals are one thing, but these guys are a farce.
“Oh, come on. Look at this guy with his bald head and his damned maroon robe,” I say as he commits the sin of crossing the street. “He looks ridiculous.”
What’s up with the hate, Nathan?
Why the hating, you ask, dear reader? Am I being very un-dude right now? Is there a point to my unprovoked animosity for people that just came to a meditation resort? “Live and let live, man.”
I’d typically agree with you, but it’s how I felt. At the time I was annoyed. After reading more about the place and it’s now-deceased leader online as I write this, I feel hostility towards the whole thing. I hate cults.
Though mostly non-judgmental, I’m at least weary of spirituality and gurus and religion and wisdom traditions. (And bears! Oh my!) I’m also initially weary of other tourists even though I am one, too. Especially tourists wearing culty maroon sex commune robes and purporting spiritual self-exploration and revelation through fornication whilst paying lots of money for a perfectly packaged, use-it-on-your-one-week-of-vacation-time week at the meditation resort. Why you gotta pay big bucks to meditate? I don’t buy it.
I don’t know. Perhaps their inherent awkwardness upsets me because I subconsciously see them as a possible reflection of how I look as I travel around the world. Maybe I’m worried my reaction to them is the same way locals react to me? I don’t really think so, but I can’t be sure. At least I try not to crank the silly attire up to eleven, for, ahem, God’s sake. Either way; take these characters and throw them in phony meditative get-ups and I start thinking and talking shit.
Throw a bunch of “it’s a cult!” accusations found on the internet while writing a blog entry and I get actively pissed off. These things can mess with people’s lives in a very destructive and alienating way. To put it eloquently: fuck ‘em.
Quit rambling, Shipley. What happened?
I digress. So I was there. I had an afternoon to explore Pune. I figured why not go see the commune?
I did and the campus is beautiful. A very relaxing place on a very relaxing street, surrounded by trees and grass and water and Buddhas that are all very relaxing. I managed to get into the twice-daily tour which consisted of watching a 30 minute video and a single file, in-total-silence walk around a small part of the campus.
Before the tour started, I was leafing through a three-ring binder of frequently asked questions about the resort. Somewhere near the end was the question, “Why do I need to take an HIV/AIDS test to enter the resort?”
“Aha!” went my mind, “This is the place people were talking about! The sex ashram! I’m in the lion’s oh-so-sexy den right now!”
I was excited. I called a friend. “This is the sex ashram! The one!” I took a new interest in my observation. They sat us down for the video in a group of about thirty people. Osho Representative Man who was speaking with us gave a 2 minute intro before the video. He listed Tao, Sufi, and Tantra as some of the meditation techniques we could learn. I was the only one of the tour group hungrily scribbling down notes in my vertical flip-open Moleskine.
The Promotional Video
Awash with skepticism and excitement, I jotted away. The video is entitled The Silent Explosion, which inevitably caused chuckles in the Beavis & Butthead portion of my brain.
A bored-sounding voiceover gave me an overview of India explaining that it is more than a country; it is full of invisible vibrating energy fields. Specifically:
[India] is not only a nation, a country, a mere piece of land. It is something more. It is a metaphor. A poetry. Something invisible, but very tangible. It is vibrating with certain energy fields which no other country can claim. It is strange because it has renounced everything for a single search: the search for the truth. India is the only land in the whole world which has devoted all of it’s talents in a concentrated effort to see the truth and to be the truth.
You don’t say.
At Osho Ashram, all of the wisdom traditions are made accessible. One-hour meditations “silence the mind.” Also at Osho Ashram, every transition between clips in the video is a soothing dissolve. Aaaand star wipe! Star wipe! Why have hamburger when have filet mignon?
Shots of huge rooms of people spinning and shaking fade by. They show the 90-foot tall black pyramid on the compound. The show the “multiversity” and a board with some class names. “The Fragrance of the Master” and “The Art of Touch” are my chosen favorites.
A lawyer lady gives a passionate testimonial. So does Darin Judkins and Leeroy from London. Leeroy explains the rush of energy he had that precluded him from talking for an hour. The woman sitting next to me in the tour group smiles knowingly and nods her head in silent approval showing her understanding of and camaraderie with Leeroy.
I can’t remember exactly who gave the last testimonial, but I was promised that I, too, might see the jewel at the bottom of the pond. I could change myself, my quality of life, and open new dimensions. Testimonial person “didn’t know the meaning of joy” before Osho. That’s open-your-wallets cult talk, people.
A strong start, Osho.
A walk through the brain-washing fields.
Next we were divided up into two groups. I got the old Indian guy as my tour group leader. People didn’t pay much attention to him as he explained that we would walk in a single-file line and were to remain completely silent during the trip.
In we went. It was remarkably peaceful — especially compared to the aural and visual onslaught that is Mumbai. The maroon robers moved about the campus. Some sat. Some chatted. I found them less annoying when they were confined to their compound. We moved at a snail-pace which was only slowed more by one of the many times the old Indian guy had to turn around to hush the group.
Because almost no one was listening when he told the group we were to walk in a single-file line, we moved more like a shuffle-stepping amoeba. In vain, old Indian guy tried to rectify this. He would silently hold his arms outstretched at his sides and then bring them together in front of him repeatedly. He looked kind of like a bird flapping the wrong way. People weren’t sure what to make of it.
The campus was spotless and beautiful. We didn’t really get to see much, though. No class observation or anything like that. The coup de grâce was the big black pyramid with shallow pools in front of it. It was big, it was black, and it was a pyramid.
I would have liked to watch a class or talk to some people, but that wasn’t in the cards. Probably need an AIDS test first anyway before I go that far.
All in all…
Osho Ashram was interesting to see but it’s actually more interesting to read about online. Understandably, they’re not going to put the juicy or controversial stuff in front of the potential clients, save a couple mentions that we could study tantra.
Obviously not my speed or style. I’m sure there are plenty of innocent people there just enjoying their vacation. Fair enough, but I still don’t trust it. Try not to drink the Kool-Aid, people.
The rest of them can go chill with Rev’ Moon and L. Ron. Fuckers.
My New Friends, The Fruit Sellers
Giving cigarettes away seems to be a decent enough way to make friends with randoms the world over. Or at least break the ice. Smoker’s camaraderie or some such Band of (Cancer) Brothers crap.
After a couple hours of walking around in Pune post-Osho and eliciting the usual stares, I’d sat down on a side street near a bunch of motorcycles in the shade in relative obscurity from the street, hoisted the Marlboro flag, and was passing time.
It started with a little kid coming over curiously. Upon me saying hello, he skedaddled back to the two young guys selling fruit and reported a white guy sighting. They all looked and I smiled and waved. Eventually curiosity took over and a couple of the fruit seller guys came over to me. I gave one a cigarette. Then, over the course of 30 minutes, a small crowd formed.
They kept offering me fruit and I kept offering them cigarettes. (Way to be healthy, America. Wah.) Their English was minimal and my Hindi is limited to “hello,” “no problem,” “okay,” “cool,” and “stop.” However, as things tend to go in these situations, communication happened anyway. There were a thousand questions. It was great.
All of the typical “getting to know you” questions ensued. Then they pointed at the two darkest-skinned guys of the group and yelled/asked out “Negro? Negro?” One guy threw in an “Obama” for good measure. I think I was being asked if the two Indian dudes looked like black guys. They didn’t. I said no.
They began prompting me to repeat things they said, which were undoubtedly swear words based on the howls of delight they elicited. Fun.
The Porn Comes Out
The guy they referred to as “The Agent” (pictured right) got his cellphone out and started trying to direct my attention to his porn clips. The first one featured a black guy and a white girl. “American?” he asked.
“I — uh — maybe?” came my reply, “It doesn’t seem like they’re really talking very much.”
Seeing my attention quickly waning, he switched to the next dirty clip — which, despite some creative angles, had decidedly lower production value. All things considered, of course.
“Indian.” This time he wasn’t asking, he was saying. This was apparently Indian porn, though it was hard to tell on the cell phone-sized screen.
“Are you sure?” I ask pensively, “How do you know?”
He pauses the clip and expertly fast-forwards to a close-up of the woman’s face as she’s demonstrating the intricacies of the Kama Sutra. Sure enough, there’s the bindi on her forehead. “You see?”
“Yup. Indian,” I confirm.
Conclusion? Young guys are pretty much the same everywhere.
Eat the grapes, thank the people.
They asked if I wanted to go have a drink with them, but unfortunately I had a bus to catch. Sorry, guys.
Chai was brought as were the little Indian cigarettes called bidis, which they wanted me to try. There’s one in my hand in this picture. Then came the grapes. The grapes didn’t look very good. They were dirty and a lot of them were bruised, soft, or partially bug-eaten. At home I’d toss them, but I’d be damned if I was going to get uppity over more potential stomach bugs and not graciously eat the grapes I’d been given. The hell with being hoity-toity — these guys were damned nice.
That’s the thing about India. People tend to share and gift a lot more generously here than they do at home. It’s a very “what’s mine is yours” attitude. An Indian friend told me, “Europeans have money but they aren’t rich.” While I’m pretty sure this was prompted during a conversation about food, I think it applies here, too.