Pune may be a microcosm of India: traditional and modern all at the same time. And it seems well represented vis-a-vis the things that bring foreigners to India or put India on the map: technology and spirituality. Aside from being a major tech center with gleaming new office buildings going up around town, Pune is also famous as the home base of the Osho International Meditation Resort. It is a VERY big deal in Pune.
Osho (the name apparently comes from the soothing sound of “ocean” as noted by Henry James) was one of the big guns of Indian meditation and became quite the guru for Westerners. Osho did something right: at one point he had more than 90 Rolls-Royces.
Now I’m not much about meditation. In fact that is a gross understatement. So I walked in a skeptic but when in Pune you really have no choice but to see what all the hubbub is about. I paid about $30 and then still had to buy a maroon robe which is required whenever you are in the expansive leafy, well groomed grounds of the ashram. (Maroon swimwear is required for poolside activities.) Around town you see people walking around in maroon robes which seems – ok, I’ll say it – a bit cultish.
People say that the ashram has changed and become much more of a commercial enterprise over the years, particularly since Osho’s death. I don’t know what it was like before but the new mantra seems to be, “And that is available for purchase in the Galleria.” Special socks, silence buttons, robes, required white robes for the evening session, elaborate maroon frocks and of course a plethora of Osho books and audio lessons available in a dozen languages.
I did the standard orientation session which seemed to involve an inordinate amount of dancing. It turns out that no matter your nationality (and there were probably 20 countries represented in my session of about 50 people), very few people buy into just letting loose and dancing in front of strangers early in the morning. Of course we were supposed to get beyond those societal constructs – we even put on real Halloween masks to symbolize how we needed to strip off what society has made us and become who we are really supposed to be; Osho would call that our inner Buddha. A bit cliche, yes.
I had very little success on the inner Buddha front, although I did play along and do the deep breathing, grunting, and jumping around in place. To be fair I didn’t really feel comfortable with the meditation via cathartic yelling or talking in gibberish. I think you have to warm up to that; there are people who are doing three-month stays at the ashram so I’d guess you grow more comfortable with it all.
I did an afternoon session where I learned that sitting in place on a cold marble floor for an hour is a lot harder than it sounds. It was 15 minutes each of: humming and then palms up and palms down hand circles and then quiet repose. In the back of my mind I’m thinking it’s basically “wax-on, wax-off” from The Karate Kid, but I bit my tongue when the facilitator was explaining it.
Well, I’m pretty sure I’m not a better meditator now – although I’m quite sure that I wasn’t supposed to be humming “Hey Jude” – but I did at least walk out thinking that forcing yourself to sit and think once in a while is probably not such a bad thing in a life that’s always on the go. And if you can get people to pay you to sit at your place and think, all the better. You gotta admire the ashram’s business plan.