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First Time through the Gateless Gate

The Mumbai suburban highway, much pockmarked by recent heavy floods, finally gives way and we emerge onto the shiny new Mumbai - Pune expressway..“the newest and best road in India” I am assured by my driver, and I can believe it. It’s a full-blown pay-toll motorway, with remarkably little traffic.

I am heading for “Osho International Meditation Resort”…for the first time, having known of it for decades and yet only in the last few years did I start meeting current and ex devotees of Osho and become curious enough to go.
I am feeling slightly apprehensive….will I make it through those gates? (I know of people who did the same thing and somehow just couldn’t …).

We get to Pune and in heavy traffic jams find our way to Koregaon Park. My driver gets lost. “I came here before but it was a long time ago…”
We are driving down the leafy lane that leads to the ashram itself, waterfalls, gates, red robed people ….my God here we are…….I’m self consciously standing with my shiny silver suitcase at the high tech, high design marble reception area. water tinkling everywhere, be-robed people behind the desk with cool looking computer screens. other newcomers looking like I feel. Bizarre aids test moment all over in a few minutes….you will need red robes from the shop over there…buy your spending vouchers here… credit card style thing for entry to the ashram….that’s xxx rupees, cash only, you are registered. All very military, but friendly.

I’m taken to the Osho Guest House across the road, in the grounds of the Ashram.
It’s extremely Zen (almost too much so), minimalist. clean lines, attentive staff in uniform, quiet. It is nearly empty as far as I can tell, or is everyone just being very quiet? It’s low season…late September. The rooms simple but quite high quality…no TV of course and no phone. but lots of AC..it’s freezing.

On the morning of the next day I join a mandatory introduction group for first timers, where we get a lightening tour plus a brief intro to some of the meditations that happen at the ashram. A big benefit of this is that I get to meet a peer group, and some of the people in the tour become my friends while I am there. I am grateful for this, as I can see how one could easily feel a bit lonely, especially if you don’t stay long.

I had originally intended to stay for 5 days but by day 3 it was apparent that to get a feel for the place I needed longer….so I booked out of the hotel and found a very nice room in an apartment rented to westerners 15 minutes walk away. Although it was very convenient to be in the hotel for the first days, I was nevertheless slightly relieved to be staying outside the bubble of the ashram.

It took a deep breath to get through those gates…the robes take some getting used to and some resistance…..I will not wear a uniform! I will not be subjected to an aids test! Don’t tell me what to do! But once I had decided to surrender to the uniform and the “rules” - none of which seem particularly offensive or daft - it is an easy place to be.

There is a pleasing lack of any pressure to be involved in anything, no pressure to take Sannyas or even be interested in Osho per se, as far as I can tell. The one exception is that if you take any of the courses (I did a breathing workshop) you are expected to attend Dynamic in the morning, Kundalini in the afternoon and White Robe in the evening.

They call it a resort and you can treat it as such, just behave yourself reasonably, follow the rules and wear the robe! They are even promoting a “wellness weekend” package with a glossy brochure.

I was pleasantly surprised that a lot of the people there…ones I met anyway…were not seasoned guru hoppers and not knowing much about Osho…many quite young…just curious and open minded and looking for something, a kind of innocence and freshness.

Koregaon Park (and Pune as a whole) I found to have a nice atmosphere, people are friendly. I had thought there might be a jaded feeling, as in many touristy parts of Asia, after so many years of exposure to multiple westerners, but that wasn’t my experience. I had some surprising encounters with all sorts from rickshaw drivers to internet shop owners to barbers. Has some of the good vibes of the Ashram washed off on the area? Or is it the other way round? There is also the currently much vaunted “Pune effect”. The newspapers have been touting Pune as “the most liveable city in India”, and even “the happiest city in India”. Apparently, in a poll of Indian city dwellers, Punites came top of the charts in claiming to be happy!

The Osho movement has inherited a reputation for sexiness…often disapproved of even now by non converts. I personally came up against it (the disapproval) several times from unexpected quarters before and after my visit. I have found myself being defensive about my motivations for going - and defending the ashram itself. My impression is that the ashram/resort has worked hard to become mainstream and reputable, particularly since Osho’s death presumably. The place and Osho himself now seem to be well regarded and considered fairly respectable in India. I don’t doubt that should sexual adventures be on your shopping list this would be available here, there seems to be plenty of single people around, but sex is not emphasised or encouraged overtly in the way some would have one believe.

The Ashram is immaculately beautiful and high quality. I did find some of the architecture somewhat bizarre… a lot of dark grey stone buildings and pyramids, but much greenery to cover them which helps. The expense and energy which must have gone into the creating of it is impressive, not least the Osho Teerth Park created out of two city blocks of what was apparently badly polluted wasteland, with a river running through it.

One of the more bizarre – to a newcomer – but also exceptional places is Osho’s Samadhi, situated in what appears to be his house complete with library, dental surgery, Rolls Royce, and other personal effects. In addition to that a “raw” marble floor which the stern overseers of the hall make sure you don’t touch with your body or clothes, and expel you if you cough or fidget. I went to meditate in there a couple of times, the atmosphere is peaceful, there is presence in there.

Overall it was a positive experience to be at the resort. The atmosphere is warm and stimulating, the place is well run, and while I did not find a teacher there (as far as I know!), the therapeutic work seems very strong and professional, and contrary to the somewhat negative, even abusive, impressions that are thrown around in some quarters, I found a certain innocence and straightforwardness about the place. It is, at the end of the day, exactly what it now claims to be - a “meditation resort.”

Matthew (Gibb)