Seeking Spirituality in Tapoban

Features Issue 187 Oct, 2017

The forest where a rishi (sage) undertakes tapasya (meditation) is called tapoban (ban: forest).
Such a simple statement. Thus, so beautiful in the context of this increasingly complex world of today. Do you also want to follow the path of the sages? Want to experience serenity and balance in your inner world? Bet you do! Really, who doesn’t, with so much stress and pressure of everyday life nowadays, even for the most ordinary of humankind.
And, that’s what I sought one fine weekend—a nice and pleasant day—a way to satisfy my hankering for spiritual respite. I drove across town, and halfway around the dusty Ring Roadbefore climbing via the Balaju bypass up a winding road with little traffic, a dense forest on one side accompanying me all the way to what must surely be one of the most ideally located spiritual retreats in the world—Osho Tapoban.

The Disciple and his Tapoban
You, of course, know that ‘Osho’ is the signature title of the most controversial, and I daresay, the most intellectual, spiritual guru of the modern era, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. He has millions of followers around the world, even if all might not be sanyasins (as his disciples are known as). Among these millions, Swami Acharya Anand Arun, OshoTapoban’s founder and guru, is one of only 108 sanyasins designated by the Bhagwan to propagate his teachings, and one of only 21 Acharyas to be initiated by the Master himself. This, I came to know at my meeting with the Swami, a short description of  whom has to include the words: smiling pleasant face, white haired and white bearded, extremely polite, humble mannered, and in robust good health.
He tells me that he is constantly traveling all over the country, and throughout the world, even though he is in his seventies now, to give discourses and to initiate new sanyasins into the fold. “I think, by now, I must have given diksha (initiation) to about 80,000 sanyasins,” he murmurs softly. “Around 30,000 of them are foreigners.” The center, he adds, has 87 branches throughout the country. 
It’s a beautiful densely wooded hilly spread of a hundred ropanis or so—Osho Tapoban—and all that walking up and down many stairs to reach various facilities of the resort (yes, actually it is a resort: spiritual resort, retreat-resort, call it what you will) is as much guaranteed to enhance your physical health as are the day-long, week-long, month-long, months-long, and longer, meditation programs sure to make you into more of a Bodhisatva (seeker on the path to enlightenment).
Here are a few compelling reasons for Osho Tapoban’s fame as one of the most uplifting spiritual resorts in the world: the forest is dense, the air is exhilarating, yet, it is only five kilometers from ‘as far away from such serenity as described above’ bustling Balaju (20-minutes from Thamel, the tourist hub of the capital); one can get lost in the fantastic natural environs full of nature’s bounty (even, a mountain stream that will compel your reflective side to the fore,and a mind-soothing waterfall); monkeys and other animals (our cousins on view all the time. Others? Shy creatures.); a large variety of birds (many with plumage so rich as to inspire the most skeptical soul, and many with such songs as to lift the most flagging spirit). I espied a pair of stunningly beautiful birds, small, and of such deep red color, perched on the top of a bare tree, and truly, they were the loveliest birds I have ever had the pleasure of laying eyes on.  

Celebratory Saturdays and Ma Yogini
As for other life, Saturdays are when the resort is most inhabited by the two-legged kind (one may assume, of different levels on the spiritual scale of evolvement). Saturdays are when it’s ‘open house’ for all, and the Sujata Kitchen, run by resident sanaysins themselves, is pretty busy, especially at lunchtime. Only vegetarian food, but just listen to what Li Junhui Lee, a petite sanyasin from China, who is here on her second ‘twenty-days- maybe-more’ visit—and who lets out a tinkling trickle of heartfelt laughter at the corniest line—has to say about the resort’s offerings: “To be honest, I find the food here to be much better than anywhere else in Kathmandu. So healthy, so hygienic, and so tasty!” 
I wouldn’t be surprised if locals living near the resort make it a point to have this delicious lunchtime fare every Saturday. Well, after tasting for myself (kind courtesy of Swami Anand Arun, who insisted), I must say that I certainly would have; the delicately balanced flavors of the various curries—paneer (or, was it tofu?), cauliflower and potato, and gourd—lingering on my tongue for a long time afterwards; the steaming white rice and perfectly cooked daal providing a warm and satisfying feeling inside and out. There was curd, too, which I passed on, because I didn’t want the aforesaid flavors to disappear (now you know it’s a real gourmet who’s writing all this). 
My tour around the spectacular resort was guided by the young and bearded Swami Atmo Neerav, a close assistant of the Acharya, and accompanying us was also Ma Yogini, the Acharya’s wife. She, by the sheerest act of coincidence, happened to be someone I had known during my college years in Darjeeling. Amazing! I hadn’t met her for at least the last thirty years or so, but she recognized me anyway. She disclosed that she had spent seven months at the Rajneesh Ashram in Pune after finishing her higher studies in Mumbai, and become a sanyasin thenceforth. She is one person’s story I would be interested to read, so I’ll be on the lookout for ‘The Book of Yogini—Yogi Arun Swami’s Yogini’, written by Ma Yogini herself. Keeping in mind her Osho-rich experience, both in Pune and Kathmandu, I remarked to her, “I guess Osho will be worshipped as a god in the future,” to which she replied without hesitation, “He’s already a god!” 
True, in a way, for how does one define a god anyway? So many different types already, why not some more, that’s what I think. And, Osho Rajneesh certainly is far above the rest of general humankind. A superior being, no doubt. A veritable fountain of deep and wide ranging knowledge. Many more books have been written by him than anybody else, it is claimed, and his numerous discourses are legend. Intensely insightful, keenly analytical, and uniquely novel, with interludes of really funny and original jokes—all presented with absolute conviction and great finesse. Rightly, a Master!
He left his earthly body in 1990, but his teachings remain as fresh and invigorating as ever, and the many meditations he devised to free one from ego and reach higher planes of existence are practiced by innumerable followers and sanyasins in all four corners of the world every day. A great many spiritual retreats dedicated to Osho are, naturally, where most of the teachings take place, with venerated teachers like Swami Anand Arun carrying the joyous torch of existential wisdom and blissful life to be passed down to hundreds of thousands of seekers, sparking the fire of eternal quest in their restless hearts. And, no seeker could ask for a better retreat than Osho Tapoban to explore, discover, and fulfil their yearning for spiritual bliss. 

Sanyasins on the Spiritual Path 
The expansive resort has quite a few concrete buildings, along with some cottages, one of which is Swami Anand Arun’s residence. Apparently, some two hundred and twenty people can be accommodated on the premises, and according to the Swami, there are about 70 permanent resident sanyasins. I met two of them on entering the resort, Ma Shantam Salila and Swami Nirajan, a young Nepali married couple. The latter works for a television channel, while the former is an actress and model, with about fourteen films to her credit. Since this is interesting, let me divulge her name: Sovita Simkhada, and her last film, she told me, was ‘Kasam’. The couple also have a television program production company called Newsbank, and you guessed it, they make more than a few spiritual programs. “You can watch our program, Om Nepal, on YouTube,” says Swami Nirajan, who has been a sanyasin for the last ten years now.
As for his better half, she discloses, “I come from a family of sanyasins, so I have been one since a child. My father has a center in Dhading where he imparts Osho’s teachings.” According to this interesting duo, the number of sanyasins with permanent residence at the resort is growing every year. Do they live here all the time? “No, but we come here frequently, especially on weekends,” answers the beautiful Ma Salila. Wow! I think, who could ask for a better weekend getaway! But then, not everyone is so lucky. At the same time, it has to be admitted that one does have to have some fervor in the spiritual to be so attached to the resort. 
A fervor that they, like all the other sanyasins I met, appeared to have in plenty. “Spending time here in the lovely natural environs is of course uplifting,” says Swami Nirajan. “What’s more, meditation, I have discovered, makes you stress-free and more intelligent, thus improving your working life.” A little while later, and some flights of stairs down, I meet Ma Kavita, an American from California. I namaste her, and she namastes back. She looks pretty spaced out, and her initial remark makes it clear why. “I have just finished meditating,” she says. So, you can imagine, it’s a bit of a struggle to get her to warm up to me. This is her second visit to Osho Tapoban, and she loves it here, and no, please don’t take my photograph, she says. Softening up somewhat, she states that Tapoban is a “loving place where you are given plenty of space, and everybody shares their love.” She adds “I attend two to three meditations every day.”
Similarly spaced out is a largish group of men and women in the large circular hall some way above, but it’s spacing out of a different kind. There’s a pulsating beat throbbing through the speakers, and the group is in the throes of ecstatic dance. They dance without inhibition, and they dance for an hour or so. Dancing is an important part of Osho’s mediation techniques, particularly Dynamic Meditation. There are more than a hundred kinds of meditation, according to Ma Yogini, who invites me to join her as she enters the throng of dancers.

Meditation is the Key
All sanaysins wear a maroon robe during the day, and a white one in the evening, when they have a satsang, also known as ‘Celebration’, when disciples gather to listen to the Swami’s discourse. “There are usually about 500 people at the Saturday satsangs,” says Swami Neerav. “It is something that has been continued since the last 27 years,” adds Swami Anand Arun. Actually, the resort has six different sessions of meditation throughout the day, along with an hour of yoga. Also, in addition to 7-day transformation retreats, a 21-day Intensive Transformation Meditation Retreat is held every month of the year (except in October and November), while the 21-day Mystic Rose Therapy is held during November. And, here’s something that should interest all you busy folks out there—you can avail of a two-night meditation camp that starts on Friday mornings and ends on Sunday mornings. 
Some significant days of the year call for special programs, and so you have Osho’s Enlightenment Day and Tapoban Establishment Day on March 21, Osho Mahapari nirvana Divas on January 19, Guru Purnima Celebration on the full moon of July, Osho Birthday Celebration on December 11, and so on. It’s great that celebrations and meditations can be held throughout the resort, so fitting are the surroundings, nonetheless, the splendid Osho Samadhi is a favorite meditation site for the sanyasins.
Osho Tapoban is a pretty self-sufficient place, with many of its needs being fulfilled by local producers around the resort. And, besides the more mundane necessities, it also has its own publication house. “We publish Osho books,” says Swami Anand Arun, “and from what I’ve come to realize, there must be a million and more readers in Nepal!” It’s really a fascinating thought, that so many are inspired by the Master’s teachings. The Swami, too, has written a couple of books, including his latest, ‘Lone Seeker, Many Masters’. 
As for seekers from over the seven seas, they come from over 80 countries (including Eastern Europe: a growing number), and 75% are repeat visitors who come directly to the resort from the airport. “Many stay here for the duration of their visa period,” says the Swami. What about other visitors, the non-sanyasins, I ask? “Well, after coming here, almost all of them become sanyasins!” he says with a gentle smile. Swami Neerav adds an interesting point, “Since the Osho Rajneesh Ashram in Pune, India, has become quite expensive now, Osho Tapoban is gaining increased popularity in the region.”
This is a welcome development, because among the many different aspects of tourism, spiritual tourism, too, can play a significant role. And, naturally, where else 
is spiritual pursuit more likely to be fulfilled than in the 
land of the mighty Himalaya, where rishis since ancient times have come to seek solace for the soul through meditation and prayer?