Discovering Gurus in Pune: Osho and Yogananda
I decided to visit Pune as I had heard good things about this city from locals I had met around India. I ended up staying at the only hostel in town, Backpacker Panda. This hostel was in the most expensive neighborhood in Pune, and subsequently it was the most expensive hostel I stayed at, where I paid 649 Rs. a night for a room ($10.13). Nearby were trendy restaurants and such, which I enjoyed exploring for the few days I was there.
The first day I explored around the area on foot. Within walking distance was the infamous Osho International Meditation Resort (sounds fancy!). Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, aka Osho, is a guru who became popular in the public eye in the 60s, primarily for two things:
- Advocating sex. He felt that people were sexually repressed, and that he couldn’t help them on the path to enlightenment without them getting sex out of their system first. You can guess, many of his followers liked this message.
- He opened a meditation center in Oregon, USA. He lived in Oregon, USA for a while, and he had amassed many followers, many of them wealthy. This resulted him in owning about ~90 Rolls Royces. Seriously. Apparently he would have taken any car, but he had found the seats of Rolls Royces to be most comfortable (I read this sentence in one of his books). His followers sought to buy him 365 Rolls Royces, one for each day of the year, but unfortunately that dream was never achieved. He wasn’t shy about calling himself the “rich man’s guru”.
- His meditation center in Oregon collapsed in 1985, after the first bio-terror attack committed in the U.S. It’s a long story with a lot of drama, and if you’re interested you can read about it on Wikipedia here.
Osho passed away around 1990, but he continues to have many followers, and his resort in Pune remains popular to this day. I visited the front of the ashram, and asked for a tour (I heard it’s really nice inside). I was told that they don’t do tours, I would have to pay to register, get a HIV test, buy maroon robes (everyone is required to wear maroon robe inside), and then buy some sort of package for the meditation classes. I think it would have cost me about $100 for two days (excluding accommodation), which isn’t that much money if you’re coming from the West for a two-week vacation at the resort, but a lot when you’re backpacking. I decided that I wasn’t that curious, and I moved my focus to visiting a retreat an hour outside of Pune.
I walked around to the Osho Gardens, which is free and open to the public. It’s a beautiful garden, and I meditated there on multiple occasions. It seems Osho’s gift of sexual liberation is at work here as well, as its a popular make-out spot. It was a bit surprising to see young Indian couples french-kissing in public, as I haven’t seen this anywhere else in the five months I’ve been in India. That’s quite a feat!
Ananda Yoga Retreat
Outside of Pune is a self-realization center called Ananda Yoga Retreat. I was attracted to the desire for some quiet and nature. I signed up for 4 days, for 1200 Rs. a day with meals included ($18.73).
Since the center was in a secluded area far from the city, a driver from the center came to pick me up. The van had a picture of Parahamsa Yogananda on it.
I sat in the van with Gopal. Within ten minutes, I was answering the usual questions, like where I’m from, marital status, etc. When I told him that I’m 34 and still single, his eyes lit up. And for the first time, somebody had a positive reaction to my being 34 and single!
“This is very good! You should dedicate yourself to the path, and not have any distractions. Think about marriage later in life! You will then find a woman like you, and it will be a very spiritual union!”
He was so enthusiastic, I didn’t know how to tell him, “I’m just looking for a few days of peace, I’m not here to commit to a path.”
During the two hour ride, Gopal told me about how he had been working for the Yogananda ashrams for 14 years. He was dedicated to the mission of serving God, and he had detached from the needs of money and material possessions. He has a family, but he doesn’t live with them, as he’s always at the center. He does support his wife and kids, but he saves no money for himself. At one point he stopped the van on the side of the road, to show me videos of how he feeds 200 people in his village every year. Gopal is very dedicated, and his positive energy was very inspiring to experience.
After two hours, we finally arrived to the retreat center. I was happy to see all the greenery, breathe the clean air, and enjoy the seclusion from the city.
The rooms were very nice and comfortable. My roommate was a young college kid, who was here to learn meditation. He was quite reserved, so we never talked much.
There was an Indian family staying here — a mom with her two kids. They were staying at the center for month. The children added a lot of energy to the place.
I spent the days meditating, reading, and enjoying hikes out in nature with the children. Here’s a video of my experience there:
Over the next two days, I learned that Parahamsa Yogananda was the first yoga teacher to go to the West in 1920, and traveled across U.S. cities on his spiritual campaign. He sought a united world, with the efficiency of the West, and the spirituality of India. He taught Kriya Yoga, as a route to God.
Yogananda also stressed the importance of spiritual communities. I watched a documentary about one of these communities he created back home, in California! Located near the Sierras is a community of people living in harmony at Ananda Village. Below is a short video about one of the residents describing life there.
I learned that many celebrities have read and praised Yogananda’s book, “Autobiography of a Yogi”. Ravi Shankar, The Beatles, Russel Simmons, are a few names that have read this book. At Steve Jobs’ funeral, all attendees were given a gift box. Inside the gift box was a copy of this book. Needless to say, I’ll be reading his popular book “Autobiography of a Yogi” to learn more.