Wednesday, May 2, 2018

"Wild Wild Country": Bhagwan Rajneesh, Sheela, and the Surfeit of Heat

I just watched the popular Netflix miniseries "Wild Wild Country" about the Bhagwan Rajneesh, aka Osho. It tells the whacky, harrowing story of his ill-fated commune in the wilds of central Oregon. If you haven't seen the series, the following won't be interesting for you (even if you vaguely recall the news story from the 80s). It's well worth watching, though. Lots to chew on.

A few thoughts:

1. A discordant, "modern"-seeming group drops out of nowhere into a place where people have long lived and enjoyed a cohesive culture, upsetting everything. The new arrivals are outraged when the locals - to whom they assume superiority - react poorly. If this doesn't spur analogies to the European settlers in America, to the recent history of Jews in what's now Israel (and similar rapid migrations), and to urban gentrification, then you're missing everything. It's interesting to note how inconsistently the Left and the Right have viewed different examples of this sort of thing. You yourself surely do, as well. It's worth spending time reframing things after watching this series. Both sides in these situations have valid perspectives, and the series does a primo job of walking the razor's edge, offering the reasonable and sympathetic - though irreconcilable - viewpoint of each group.

2. This will sound outrageous, but only because you're a creature of this time: Sheela is a hero. I don't mean I like her, or approve of her. I think she was a monster. But we have always defined "heros" as those with an unwavering backbone; who stand up to opposition and never back down; who staunchly and relentlessly follow their code and protect their mission and their charges come what may. Staunch certainty and moral rigidity, for the entire history of our species, was our moral non pareil. And that's badly overdue for an update, as I've previously written. We're changing. But by every previous human measure, Sheela was a hero. If she doesn't seem so now, it's because we've undergone a foundational shift.

I certainly don't approve of her conduct, but there is undeniable internal logic, a code that was staunchly followed, and she performed near-miracles in building that place and preserving it even as long as she did. It's odd that Bhagwan and his followers failed to properly appreciate the full measure of her accomplishment, and stranger still that so few viewers did. What she did was miraculous, and she behaved the only way someone can behave when charged with a monumental task...and having given it literally everything they've got.

3. Spiritual practice produces both coolness and heat. There are layers of fervidness and of calm; of zeal and of silence; of Shakti and Shiva. And everyone goes too far in one or the other. It's inevitable. Sheela admitted she wasn't "into" meditation, so she missed the coolness. And she's naturally hot-headed, due to her high energy and intelligence. Plus, her guru skewed very strongly toward hopping up followers on spiritual heat. As a perfect storm of extreme heat,  her behavior was unsurprising. Such an extreme imbalance produces both genius and excess, and Sheela's a poster child for both. Many wonder how she could be trusted to care for sick people these days, but service to others is an alternative means of cultivating coolness. It's calmed her down some. It was the right move.

4. As for the scenes of followers writhing around in a state of buzz and ecstasy, that's real. A "hot" approach to spirituality can effect that result. Contrast with the cooler approach of, say, a mountainside Zen monastery, with monks placidly meditating. Again, everyone goes too far in one way or the other. But know this: it's real. It's not just a bunch of kooks working themselves into a state. Bhagwan/Osho was a Tantric master, and such heat is highly contagious. That's precisely what creates and fuels the guru/disciple codependency - humans easily grow addicted to such heady buzz - and Bhagwan, like most gurus, exploited this. That's why many tantrics practice quietly away from other people, resisting the temptation to indulge latent megalomaniacal, egotistical impulses.

5. The series didn't delve into his philosophy, but, while the Bhagwan was undeniably one of the villains of the 20th century, it cannot be denied that his work brimmed with fabulous beauty and brilliance. He wasn't just some cute bearded dude with apocalyptic eyes. He seems to have let go just enough to Know Things, but not enough to release his worldly persona. Spirituality shows you that it's All Perfect As-Is. Some people glimpse the perfection, and, oddly, feel an urge to recolor a thing or two. To add, for example, a few Rolls Royces to the picture. A little glimpsing can be dangerous.

It's the Rod Blagojevich maneuver - "I've got this thing, and it's fucking golden," applied to the fruits of renunciation. Let go, let God, cash in, grab on.

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