Bodhena visits Osho Moulshree near Bhopal
In 1952, a young student at D. N. Jain College in Jabalpur by the name of Rajneesh Chandra Mohan Jain was invited to participate in a debating contest sponsored by Saugar University, about 150 km northwest of Jabalpur. While there, he used to climb a Mahua tree at night and meditate up there. He felt that this would lessen the gravitational pull of the earth and thus help deepen his meditation.
One night he got so lost in meditation that he did not notice when his body fell down from the tree. And, some time later, to his surprise, while still seemingly sitting up in the tree, he saw his own body lying on the ground, an experience then totally new to him.
This out-of-body experience later became known as the 'Second Satori' (as per The Sound of Running Water), and the tree as the 'Satori Tree', or, among the local population, as 'Rajneesh Teakry'.
While today it is commonly known what became of the temporary occupant of the tree, only few people know what happened to the tree itself that had hosted the event. So, here is the story.
Fast forward to 2005. The Satori Tree had long since died and fallen over, and what remained of the trunk was deteriorating on the ground. Saugar was now named Sagar, and the university had been moved to a new site. The location of the tree was now within the campus of an academy of the armed police.
The Chief of Police, however, knew about the tree, and he felt something should be done about it. The fact that he was about to get transferred and that he was also getting close to retirement age put some urgency to it, and he decided that the remains of the tree should be gifted to a sannyasin community so that it could be preserved.
The original plan had been to give the tree to Osho Tirth, the center in Kuchwada, Osho's birthplace, which was closely connected to the Osho Sakshin center in Tokyo. Representatives of the center had visited Sagar in July 2005 and expressed their interest to take the tree to Japan. Kiran, the wife of the Chief of Police, subsequently visited Kuchwada, but the state of affairs there made her change her mind.
Instead, it was decided to give the tree to the Osho Sambodhi center in Bhopal, where Kiran's brother, Prem Madhur, was (and still is) an active member of the sannyasin community. Then, Osho Sambodhi was operating from a small farmhouse on the outskirts of town, owned by Dhyan Pulak and Atmo Ishana.
And so it came that a short time afterwards, in the middle of the night and off the record, a big police jeep drove up at Osho Sambodhi. Of course, the neighbors were wondering – “What are the police doing there at this time?”, but relaxed when they saw that there was no trouble, and that only a few big chunks of wood were delivered.
A few months later the members of the sannyasin community in Bhopal decided to pool their resources and buy a small piece of land for an outlying center that would be suitable for retreats, meditation camps or short visits, far away from the noise and pollution of Bhopal. The existing center was to be closed down.
The search focused on a stretch of the Narmada, one of the five holy rivers of India, that runs approximately east to west through southern Madhya Pradesh. The site was to be as far downriver as possible from the industries and the urban sprawl of Jabalpur, but well before the next larger city, Hoshangabad. It took Pulak and his friends a few months, involving many trips to the prospective area and talking to the local people there, before they found a suitable property, about 20 km northeast of Hoshangabad, and about 70 km southeast of Bhopal.
The property was purchased, and named 'Osho Moulshree', to honor the moulshree (also: maulshree) tree at Bhanvartal Garden in Jabalpur underneath which Osho attained enlightenment. It is approximately 7 acres (2.8 hectares) in size, and, in the shape of a long, rectangular field, stretches along about 400 meters right atop the northwestern bank of the Narmada. The field is seamed with trees, and the steep bank of the river is densly overgrown with trees and bushes, which gives a secluded feeling to the place.
The land is legally owned by a trust and dedicated to spiritual growth. The trustees are eight sannyasins from Bhopal who contributed to the purchase. Chairman of the trust is Pulak, who also is the mastermind behind the activities there. He used to be a microbiologist and has worked for companies like Godrej, Parle and Britannia, and has also taught at two colleges in Bhopal. Around 2000 he dropped out, and now spends part of his time conducting groups ('Who is in', Tai Chi) or meditation camps on the Indian center circuit.
Osho Moulshree isn't easily accessible, which might just be appropriate for a retreat center. The road ends in the small village of Jhanpur, and the last 500 meters have to be hiked in. No problem in the dry season, but you'll need rubber boots during the monsoon, if the passage is possible at all.
At present, the facilities consist of a kitchen/dining hall of about 600 square feet that doubles as a dormitory when needed, and of a meditation hall of about 450 square feet, underneath which there are three guest rooms with attached bathrooms. There is also a smaller building for farm uses, and a multipurpose building of about 400 square feet is under construction. Pulak has many plans for further development, but at the moment funds are scarce.
In recent years several dozen fruit trees have been planted: banana, lemon and guava. The guava trees are already bearing fruit – hey, guavas fresh from the tree, what a treat! There are three smaller fields which are used for the cultivation of rice, and a kitchen garden for vegetables. The main field is contracted out to a local farmer.
The special attraction of course are the remains of the Satori Tree that have been brought down from Bhopal. They consist of three larger pieces, between 120 and 180 cm in length, with a thickness of 30 cm or more, and are kept in a sheltered place. Two smaller pieces are gracing the meditation hall. The wood has been treated by a carpenter to prevent further rot.
And the Narmada is making its presence felt. It is said that there are a few places left in India where the 'original vibration' is still intact, one of them being the Narmada. Pulak mentioned that in the Puranas, ancient scriptures dating back to times before the Mahabharata, he found a reference to this particular spot as a holy place, as well as to nearby sites that have been used by the ancient rishis.
During the dry season, the river appears to be quite calm and benign, but the monsoon rains cause the water level to rise six or seven meters, at peak times up to ten meters. Parts of the property are flooded, the water sometimes reaches all the way up to the foundations of the kitchen, and for a time the place becomes virtually an island.
For the connoisseurs among you, some recipes:
Potato chips, Indian village style
Cut potatoes into very thin slices, and sun dry them. (They can be stored for a long time.) Before consumption, heat them in a pan with a bit of oil, and add spices. Dee-licious!
Bati (Donuts à la Rajasthan)
Make small balls out of dough, about an inch in diameter. Bake them over the coals of a cowpatty fire. Very satisfying!
In late 2012, I stayed at Osho Moulshree for a whole, wonder-ful month, and it appeares that I have found there what I had been searching for for a long time – a quiet place in India. There is a magical silence that envelopes the place and that seemes to be almost tangible. The only sounds are from far away and have their origin in the agricultural use of the land, or occasionally a distant motor vehicle can be heard. (The only notable exception are tractors used on occasion on the neighboring fields for plowing or harvesting the crop, and more often than not the guys working those tractors are blasting Hindi film music to entertain themselves.)
At night the concert of the crickes is frequently punctuated by the wails of a pack of jackals nearby, and on holy days the ram-ram-chants of the babas in nearby villages can be heard until the late hours, sometimes from two or three directions at once. I especially enjoyed going to sleep by the hooting of an owl in a tree near my room.
The commune at Osho Moulshree consists of whoever is there at the moment, nobody is living there full-time. Pulak is regularly off to conduct his groups (or camps, as they say in India), Ishana spends part of her time in Bhopal, and even Ram, a young man hired to take care of the technical aspects of life there (and who is doing a marvellous job of it) goes home to his nearby village come sunset.
But whichever social constellation was there, I was always treated to a fare of wholesome and delicious Indian home cooking, three times a day, plus morning chai at seven, and 'high chai' at five. Every few days the commune would go through a change, with visitors from Bhopal and as far away as Delhi or Orissa coming or going. Even a few sannyasins from European countries have found their way here in recent times, and a few years ago a ma from Kazakhstan has been here to do a 30 day silence retreat.
In rural India it is not possible to put up a no-trespassing-sign and fence in your property to ensure privacy, so often local people would visit, for different reasons of their own, and we were provided with a pure and unadulterated taste of Indian country life. There were workers from nearby fields that came to replenish their drinking water at our well. Herdswomen with their goats would pass through (and they sure knew where our guava trees were). On weekends, young girls in their Sunday best would take a stroll from Jhanpur to admire our place, or village boys dropped by for a dip in the river. Every few days an old, wizened guy who could not remember his age would show up on his rounds through the neighborhood, sit down with us, and tell long stories about how things were elsewhere, and for good measure throw in an episode from the Mahabharata. (He seemed to take a special liking to this here ferengi swami, and on one occasion he even touched my feet!)
My favorite activity of the day was that after morning chai I'd climb a few meters down the river bank and sit there among the trees, watching the sun rise slowly higher above the opposite bank. The Narmada is very wide there, up to 800 meters, moving very slowly, and is more resembling a lake. The water is as clean as it gets in India, and full of fish, so a host of water birds of all shapes and sizes can be observed doing their thing. Kingfishers, cranes, egrets, ducks, storks and more, and occasionally a flock of migratory birds cruises by en route to destinations further south. Just being there by the river, I've seldom felt more at peace with myself and my surroundings. I often had to tear myself away for my first vipassana sitting … or I'd be late for breakfast!
There wasn't really much going on at Osho Moulshree. No TV or radio, no newspapers or internet. And certainly no zennis, pool or cappuchino bar. Yet, each day was rich and full of small surprises, and passed incredibly fast. Yes, with all its grandeur and simplicity, nature is still the best entertainer, provided you can be there with it.
Inevitably, at some point my time there was up, and I packed my bags and went back to the 'other' India with its noise, haste and confusion, and a few days later to the physical and psychological frigidity of Germany. But Osho Moulshree is still there in my memory, that small, unspoiled piece of paradise on the banks of the great Narmada. And it is there for everybody who dares to make the journey.
If you are interested in visiting, please contact Pulak (bhushana.bhaskar (at) yahoo.com). He will arrange to pick you up at Bhopal or Hoshangabad. Excursions to Kuchwada, Gadarwara, Jabalpur or Khajuraho can also be organized. The best time for a visit is from October to March. After that it gets very hot, and then very wet.
Text by Bodhena, based on interviews with Pulak
Source for the first two paragraphs: Joshi (Swami Satya Vedant), The Awakened One, Harper & Row: New York, 1982, pp. 55-56
Photos by Zorba Buddha
Detail of area map by RV Verlag, Berlin
Historical photo of the Satori Tree from The Awakened One, op. cit.