Days of Negativity at Pune Resort dissolved in a Buddhafield Hug

I took my journalism class to India this past spring to cover the role of religion in the recent election. I’d done similar trips before, but this time I wanted the students to have more than a fleeting encounter with the religion they were covering.

During a previous trip to India the class had visited one of Delhi’s temples,  where the synesthetic overload of traditional Hindu worship (yonis and lingams, flowers, sugary prasad, gongs and incense) had left a group of cerebral journalism students with no choice but simply to be.

On this trip, I wanted students to experience something like that before they started reporting. And for myself? I wanted a break, a chance to rest after a difficult year. My younger brother’s unexpected death had emptied me out, and desperate to fill the hole, I’d taken on too much work. A weekend retreat at an Indian ashram was my go-to fantasy, my hope for healing.

I had chosen the Osho Resort for our three-day immersion because it was located near Mumbai and Westerner-friendly. In fact, it had developed an East-West hybridity that extended from Americans in key leadership roles to a spiritual eclecticism with room for Jesus, New Age and Zen. So after flying 20-plus hours from Los Angeles to Mumbai and driving another eight hours to Pune, I’d dropped half of the students at the rural Ananda retreat,  and alighted at Osho with the rest.

The Osho International Meditation Resort is an urban oasis: an integrated mix of dark, sleek geometric buildings and greenery. The eating patio opens onto a huge swimming pool landscaped to resemble a small lake. The lush environs promise harmony, peace and tranquility.

Unfortunately none of that was available on arrival. Coralling and cajoling students, even grownup ones, requires energy and the last bits of mine were drained before I “lost” the group at the Mumbai airport. After the nearly day-long flight, we still had a four-hour bus ride ahead of us. When we finally found each other, boarded the bus and found boxed breakfasts of chicken salad sandwiches, I relaxed a bit. That was premature. The bus driver went in circles, clocking eight hours to travel 95 miles. Arriving at Osho, my only goal was sleep. But the registrar at the Welcome Center had other plans. First check-in, then blood tests to insure we did not have AIDS, a lengthy registration and payment.

Although Osho’s guesthouse and “multiversity” accept credit cards, the registrar requires cash for the resort’s day passes, food and other amenities. Discovering that I lacked the rupees to cover the class’ costs, a serene blonde volunteer taxied me to an off-campus cash machine. Each time the ATM refused my request, my adrenaline surged. I knew Citibank could be unreliable, but why was a peace-and-love retreat tormenting me? Returning empty-handed, I vented loudly in the crowded check-in area. Eager to calm my rising and very public ire, the registrar allowed us to check in and told me to come back in the morning.

But before we could go to our rooms, we were taken to the Galleria, Osho’s one stop shop for toiletries, souvenirs and mandated resort wear—long maroon robes for daytime activities and white ones for the evening meeting. Tetchy from hunger, lack of sleep and recalcitrant ATMs, I grabbed whatever the salesclerk handed me barely registering that my students were modeling different styles. Two hours into my stay, I was not feeling the love.

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 12.56.12 PMI

By way of background the Master of this place,  Osho, the man, died in 1989. But by the 1990s, his mix-and-match style reflected Western tastes—it was spiritual but not religious (Osho called it a “religionless religion”), wildly eclectic, zealously materialistic and focused on individual well-being. Basic classes were open to all who paid a modest daily fee and key was the early morning “dynamic meditation,” an hour mash-up of heavy breathing, screaming, jumping and dancing.

The multiversity offered then, as it still does,  a wide range of spiritual, mystical, New Age and therapeutic teachings and practices. During our stay, guests could experience centering, energy balancing, massage, astrology, breathing, hypnosis, counseling, neo-Reichian bodywork and workshops on laughing and crying, seeking the feminine, primal feelings and family dynamics. Classes were an hour but courses could take weeks or months. Prices were consistent with similar offerings in New York or Los Angeles.

But I was unaware of either the multiversity’s curricula or its cost when I began my own journey of self-exploration. I was intent on paying my bill, attending orientation and returning my white robe for a perkier, more flattering style. The next morning, rupees in hand, I went to the Welcome Center. I had five minutes before our orientation session so when the registrar asked me to wait, I explained that I needed to get to my students. But he demurred, joining a tanned and tangle-haired young couple sitting at a computer. The three proceeded to navigate the check-in procedure.

I counted to ten, which only increased my agitation: now I’d lost another ten seconds. Orientation would start without me. Desperate, I marched to where the registrar sat with the tousled couple and spoke crisply and clearly, “I need to pay now.” The registrar looked surprised, the couple was startled and the rest of the room went silent. Oshoites do not speak loudly. They speak softly, and address each other as “friend.” No ego and no anger. My loud assertions violated a basic code of the center: rather than transcending my base self, I was wallowing in it.

From what I could see, Osho’s clientele were well-heeled seekers from across the globe. During the weekend, there were (mostly young) men and women from France, Italy, Germany, Russian, Israel, the U.S., Japan, Argentina and India. Some, like us, were there for a short stay, but others came to study at the multiversity for a week or even several months. Still others worked at the resort, supplying volunteer labor in exchange for courses.

Seekers came to Osho to satisfy their spiritual needs. Most wanted to find their best self. My need, I realized as I yelled at the registrar, was to channel my worst. I was already angry—why did my brother die, why must I work so hard, why wasn’t my husband sorrier to see me go—and primed to snap. Now something about Osho—its spiritual preciousness, regimented excess, brazen capitalism—threw me over the edge. I couldn’t just register, I had fill out forms, take an AIDS test, and rustle up cash. I couldn’t set my own schedule. I had to buy special clothes, eat at mandated times and attend an orientation.

I screamed at the Welcome Center and the registrar left the couple to take care of me. I screamed at the Orientation Center, and the staffers asked what I needed, I screamed at the woman sent to calm me down, and she promised help soon. Why was I feeling so much anger? I was jetlagged, check. I felt hassled, check. My brother was still dead, check.

But there was more. I was angry because Osho wasn’t living up to my fantasy. I expected paradise but landed at Wal-mart. Spirituality was packaged, experience was monetized, and consumers were expected to be docile. Idiosyncratic imperatives –rules on how to spoon food on plates, appropriate body odors, prohibitions on coughing and sneezing—were mandated. As a “guest” at Osho, I was expected to pay up and shut up.

I’m not naïve. Religious institutions and spiritual movements need money. I’ve paid for High Holiday tickets, passed the plate at church, and dropped bills into the basket at yoga class. But Osho’s opacity and its denial of the obvious (robes and shampoos, wine and brownies, books and videos were all moneymakers) bothered me.

My fuming was worthless. Orientation still started 45 minutes late. My students and I, packed into a classroom with 20 other guests, were led through a set of meditation exercises. We danced, spun, hummed, and took deep primal breaths. We looked like kindergarteners and felt like idiots. Pushed by the trainer, a white-haired Dutch woman, to shed the “I” that judges, we put on blindfolds to ease our freedom. Jumping and shouting “Hoo, Hoo,” we became other to ourselves. When I could see again, I realized that one student was missing and several others looked stunned.

Later at lunch, I stayed away from the members of the class. I didn’t want to join their chorus of complaints (crazy exercises, crazier rules), but neither could I defend what we’d seen, heard and done. It was easier to enjoy the food, stare at rich people and then take off for the Galleria. I’d schlepped the white robe, folded in its plastic bag, all morning. Finally I could exchange it for a nicer style. The clerk, an older American woman, told me that was impossible. The transaction was in the computer, there were no exchanges, and the rules had to be followed. I countered her every argument with my one of my own. I was tired and she had forced this on me. I didn’t like it. I hated it. I hadn’t even taken it out of the packaging.

Our exchange grew so heated that her co-worker, an Indian with the fierce bearing of Yogananda, joined us. He too, recited the rules, explaining the impossibility of my request.

But I was in a frenzy. I shook with the righteous fury of an innocent trapped by a capitalist cult masquerading as a “meditation resort.” “You say you are my friends,” I cried. “But this is not how a friend behaves.” The Indian gave me a long, hard look, “You are not a good person,” he hissed. Then he gave me the robe I wanted.

I told myself I’d beat the system. Not only did I have the robe I wanted but I’d pierced an Oshoite’s calm. It felt like a victory, albeit with a spiky edge.

I spent the next few hours in classes. I signed up for a psychic healing session at the multiversity. A waif-like Spanish woman led me to an attic aerie filled with small, colored bottles. I lay down on her table, closed my eyes, and she moved her hands above my body, sighing and making soft clicking sounds. I waited for a mysterious shift in my consciousness but I felt nothing. It would take several sessions to unblock my energy, she said. Would I like to come back tomorrow?

Now, months later, I’m unsure about why what happened next. On my way back to my dorm, I felt compelled to visit the Galleria. Finding Yogananda, I apologized for screaming at him. He must have assumed that I was on the path to my true authentic self because he smiled and asked if he could hug me. When he did, something broke inside me.

My grief and anger, loneliness and regrets remained. So did my frustration with Osho’s neoliberal haven. But none of it mattered now so much.

My brother was dead, but so was the fever dream of spiritual escape that had landed me in Pune. I had not found enlightenment, but I was awake.

Diana Winston

This entry was posted in Discussion. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Days of Negativity at Pune Resort dissolved in a Buddhafield Hug

  1. Lokesh says:

    Diana declares, ‘ I had not found enlightenment, but I was awake.’
    That could mean anything, especially coming from Diana.

  2. Kavita says:

    During my short time of worship at the Welcome Centre, I remember few such cases who would have such resistance but after a couple of days, when they left they would mostly be quite accepting and some times even take sannyas!

  3. frank says:

    When I arrived in Poona back in the day, I got off the bus from Belgaum, where I had been evicted from a hotel at midnight with no refund by two burly guys called Mohammed, and then spent 8 hours standing with my neck bent in a jam-packed nightbus that in the comfort stakes was possibly one step up from the black hole of Calcutta, and which, like Diana, made sure that I stayed awake.

    On arrival, I walked from the bus station right across town in bare feet in the hot season sun, taking abuse from various locals who had had more than enough of my ilk.

    I remember Shantam saying, too, that he had to run the gauntlet of Hindus looking to disembowel Sikhs in the wake of the Indira Gandhi murder, to get to Pune.

    Getting uptight about an ATM machine?
    These wrapped-in-cotton-wool, lily-livered milksop Tata-sumo know-it-all spiritual seekers suffering from infobesity these days don`t know they`re born!!

    Love,

    Swami Anand Disgruntled Yorkshireman.

    • kusum says:

      When one is tired & encounters the new situations without preparations or knowledge it is very human to have mini panic attack. Especially it is normal in some women, even in normal day-to-day situations.

      Most of these can be handled with love & laughter. But don’t try to hug a stranger as it can scare or anger the other in normal world.

    • madhu dagmar frantzen says:

      Hi Everybody on SN and Frank in particular,

      You can find the original text (which is here at SN, April 2017, edited and part of shortened article) of Diana Winston in RD (Religion Dispatches, USC/University of Southern California), edited under the title: ‘Rage against the New Age Machine: Three Days at the Osho International Meditation Resort’, edited, December 29, 2014.

      You can also find a lot of youtube stances of the author as a facilitator of ´Mindful teachings´ in a network and other associations worldwide, and quite amazing (and very) different ´outlooks´ re stances of the facilitator as Mindfulness-Meditation-Teacher and author (journalist).

      The author had been inaugurated temporarily as a Buddhist nun in Burma for about a year or so, before finding her way to a social political journalist´s career as well as a career as a Mindfulness Meditation operating Teacher in workshops and longer professional seminars.

      It may have been a lucky coincidence (for me) to discover some manipulation according to some thread UK/SN topics. Like this one. And I ´d like to share that.

      The original text (of the 2014 article) is a quite honest review of some dishonest (prejudgmental) visit to a place of Meditation, to intentionally gather fuel for De-honouring and looking for proofs.

      So – in that way, that can happen everywhere, any time, etc.

      And yes, Frank, you, subscribing here with “Disgruntled Yorkshireman” three days ago or so, you are not the only one who is “disgruntled”, but we may have different reasons for these ´moods of disgruntlement…?

      Madhu

      • frank says:

        Mindfuckness teachers like Diana preach like she does in her videos: “We have the possibility to be mindful in all situations bla bla bla…” – then they go and throw wobblers at ATM machines, throw their toys out of the pram when they don`t get what they want and still carry on trying to convince others how much mindfulness has done for them.
        It`s fucking bollocks. Or just sales.

        Bunch of end-gaining control freaks.
        (End gaining:the tendency to keep our mind and actions focused on an end result whilst losing sight of, and frequently at the expense of, the means-whereby ie the present).

        “The reason that you
        want to be better is the reason
        why you aren`t.”

        • kusum says:

          Mindfulness is another word for awareness.Almost all the religions’ main teaching is awareness. In my experience, all the life’s puzzles can be solved by being aware. It is like waking up. It is very simple really.

          • frank says:

            Kusum,you say:
            “Mindfulness is another word for awareness.”

            Imo,that is not accurate.
            The relation of awareness to mindfulness is something akin to the relation of Zen meditation to Samurai training.
            Samurai training is based on aspects of zen meditation but modified by a specific set of aims, which are centered on the achievement of increased martial prowess, more effective fighting skills.
            Likewise, mindfulness is awareness directed to specific aims – taking control of life, getting rid of unwanted emotions, treatment of addictions and getting better results at work (even if that work is disembowelling the enemy, as in army training, where it is also used) and so on.
            In this, it has some success, granted, but that does not make it synonymous with awareness or simple meditation.

            Mindfulness is not as playful as simple meditation or awareness.
            Mindfulness is aimed at getting the benefits from the get-go.
            Mindfulness has been devised, like a martial art,to go somewhere and get something done. Simple meditation or awareness and meditation, like play, are their own reward – and if you get the benefits – it`s a bonus.

            It might sound like a subtle doctrinal difference to some, but some careful enquiry can reveal a massive distinction.

            • Tan says:

              I totally agree, Frank boy! And I agree that the difference is enormous!

              Have you thought about starting your own guruhood? With your talent you can grow richer…:)

              • frank says:

                Tan.
                If existence pushes me out of a tree, sucks me down a vortex , widescreens my third-eye, knocks me into a no-mind sinkhole or press-gangs me into an enlightenment lineage, I promise to give you a call with my bank account details!

            • kusum says:

              Yes, Frank. Mindfulness which is similar to Vipassana meditation is taught in army, schools, hospitals, corporations etc. for better results. It is based on awareness of breath, awareness of thoughts, feelings, actions etc.

            • madhu dagmar frantzen says:

              Having been ´outdoors´ today, Frank, having met a lot ´of mindfulness operating´ people in the city realms, taking care of a cultural Munich ´event´, to read your this morning´s contribution (9.38 am), coming back home, really made my day I can say!

              And yes, “careful enquiry can reveal a massive distinction.”
              As it is so true, what you point at:
              “Likewise, mindfulness is awareness directed to specific aims – taking control of life, getting rid of unwanted emotions…”

              And all else you state here, I subscribe to, yet experience here that the bunch of people one could once really meet on the same wavelenghts of understanding gets thinner and thinner, at least here in this city where cults like the Scientology Church (and similar) seem to successfully undermine in a kind of military stance (´control freaks´, as you named it recently) – undermine some understanding about meditation, perverting such, to fulfil their aims.

              Thanks for your contribution, to differentiate, Frank.

              Madhu

  4. shantam prem says:

    Just came from Pune last evening.

    Presence of Resort is like Cockroach in the sweat shop, almost non-existent in the bubbling, expanding city.

    Few times I passed through Resort main road, thought to make at least one photo but then felt why to humiliate the past by clicking lost cause?

    • Prem says:

      Well said.

      Better go to Tiruvannamalai, where one can feel not only Ramana Maharshi’s energy, but also the energy of many mystics who, over thousands of years, charged the mountain with energy.

      This is the reason why Ramana felt so drawn to the mountain. It is an energy portal that was created by many mystics.

      And while you are at it…drop all the sannyas ideas and conditioning, and experience a new, fresh mystic who, in my opinion, has something of the energy that Osho had.

      He has the same craziness in the eyes.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMsaBi5A77E

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQdVXaLdgzI

      Leave old to the old.

      You can still meditate with Osho’s picture, he always comes when you call him.

      But this person is fresh, and new, and we need to also be fresh and new.

  5. sw. veet (francesco) says:

    Once I was meditating on Annamalai’s hills…I did not meet fresh and new buddhas to kill…I haven’t with me even a picture of the Master of the Masters, to burn it…Beautiful and ecologically spiritual.

    Ciao,

    VF

  6. shantam prem says:

    In India there is a new juice brand called ‘Paper Boat’.
    I wonder, is it created by Osho Resorts or over-excited sannyasins?
    It is expensive too. So I did not try.

    • Kavita says:

      One never knows, it’s possible that Osho Resorts could have invested in its company, anyways I heard there are more Indian visitors these days.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paper_Boat

      Since few years Indians love to splurge their money on expensive stuff & adventures!

      Btw, their chilli gauva tastes fab with lotsa ice, my mother’s favourite these days, she calls it ‘sqwadish’!