THURSDAY: Hanging Garden Ashram


Copyright is held by the author.

I FOUND myself lying naked belly face down on the master’s bed, while the guru’s hand hovered over my buttocks. How did I end up in this ridiculous position? I was tormented by the thought that he might touch me. What kind of guru needs to see me naked, I wondered. Surely if he was all-powerful and all-seeing, he could see through my clothes? Why did he ask me to undress? But his soothing voice kept telling me to relax. “In order to raise the kundalini, one must first overcome fear. You must let go of your fear, Diksha, just let it go. I will not harm you, just trust, trust,” he said in his soothing guru voice.

“Diksha!” I couldn’t get used to my new name. How can I let go of fear when the one I fear is telling me to not fear? How do I know this guy isn’t a pervert? “But if he really is a guru, who am I to judge?” countered another voice. “What if he can read my mind and knows that I just called him a pervert? What if he’s reading my mind right now? What if he decides to jump on me?”

I had been escorted to his private chambers by his private secretary and number one devotee, Ma Ananda Lakshma, who was obviously one of his most ardent admirers. She told me how lucky I was to be getting a private audience with the great master. I had worn my best green saree in deference to the Indian tradition. I entered his chamber gracefully but humbly, bowing before the master until I was fully prostrate before him. I knew this was the way to show reverence to a holy man in India. Then, absurdly, I found myself kissing his feet. He urged me to rise up.

The moment I looked into his kind face I was struck by his radiant countenance. He was an utterly beautiful man. His eyes glowed with mischievous laughter, he had magnificent, long curly locks of black hair and a slightly greying beard to match. He was dressed in the cleanest (were they starched?) white robes I’d ever seen, and had an unusual but pleasant fragrance. He wore an expensive gold watch (which I thought odd, since gurus were not supposed to have possessions).

He said, “Come, come closer my child.” As I snuggled closer to his lap he cupped my face in his hands, raised it up to him and asked, “What is your name?”

I answered, “My name is Ann.”

The guru smiled. He was silent for some time, then slowly said, “Very nice name. Ann. Yes, Ann, you are an angel. But why do you come here to see me?”

“I’m not sure. Really. I guess I was having trouble with the chaotic meditation, and some chelas said I should come to see you.” He had incredibly soft hands that felt and even smelled like baby powder. I couldn’t help but notice how gentle his touch was — both fatherly and loving. And oh, his eyes communicated such joy. “I have done the chaotic meditation for about a week, but nothing happens. I thought maybe with your blessings . . .” I couldn’t look him in the eyes any more. Suddenly I felt weak, powerless and completely in his presence.

Rajneesh asked me to stand up. “Turn around, child,” he coaxed. “That is a verrry beautiful saree you are wearing. And you are a verrry beautiful girl,” he noted with approving eyes. “But,” he continued, “the colour is wrong. When you become Sannyasin you must wear saffron. It is the colour of the renunciant.”

He paused for a moment, then gazed deeply into my eyes. I felt intoxicated from the power of his gaze. What was it about his eyes? “Do you wish to become a Sannyasin?” he asked.

I knew Sannyasin meant renunciant: one who gives up all of life’s pleasures for the greater satisfaction of spiritual attainment, like becoming a monk. I hesitated a moment as I wasn’t really sure. Then his hypnotic gaze melted my resistance, and I knelt before him again and eagerly answered, “Oh, yes!”

The guru smiled and it seemed like the sun breaking through an overly cloudy day. “I will call you Diksha. Ma Ananda Diksha. Diksha means Initiation. Ma Ananda Diksha is ‘Initiation into Bliss.’” He placed a string of prayer beads over my head, laid his baby-soft hands gently on my head and said, “I will initiate you into bliss. I am sure you are making the right decision. The path of the Sannyasin is not always easy, however. You must endure several tests.” He paused a moment to look at me, to emphasize that I must pass certain tests. “Do you understand?” He gazed lovingly and longingly at me and said, “You will take off your saree now.”

What? I could not believe my ears. Take off the saree? He must be kidding. What should I do? I could not say no. This was an impossible situation. The great master had asked, or rather, commanded me. Perhaps this was one of the tests. I knew that one was not supposed to doubt or judge a guru. But what if he’s just a dirty old man who wanted to see me naked? How could I know? Didn’t I catch a teeny glint of desire in his fatherly gaze? Why did I always get these messages confused? I was tormented as these thoughts raced through my head. You’re not supposed to doubt the guru, but I didn’t budge.

“Do not be afraid my child. I will not hurt you,” he said.

As if in a hypnotic state I began to remove my saree, intensely aware of his eyes. Obviously nervous, I asked gingerly, “My underthings as well?”

“Oh yes!” he responded.

Now I was totally naked and sure that he was salivating and devouring me with his eyes, but it was too late. He had me in his power now, and I was hooked. My natural defences did not kick in because I had a weird disassociation complex. An invisible disability that I discovered only much later.

I was at war with myself again. Perhaps he was not lustful; perhaps just my ego was thinking that. Perhaps I needed to learn to trust. Certainly his look communicated nothing but pure love. Most people would say go on instinct, but my instinct wasn’t working. In spite of his obvious lust, I felt that he was sincere and in control, restrained and a gentleman. Believe it or not, I trusted that his love was really for my spiritual growth and that he would not hurt me. Maybe my kundalini was a bit low. Admittedly I was a little uptight sexually. I’d never really felt comfortable with sex, being so young and pretty new to it all.

The guru beckoned me to lie down on his bed. Odd that the only two pieces of furniture in his private chamber were his high-backed leather swivel chair and this enormous bed. Why had I not noticed this before? Like someone hypnotized, I moved toward the bed and obediently followed his instructions.

He asked me to lie on my tummy, and this I did without question. He placed his hand gently over my buttocks. I could sense his hand was there, although it seemed he did not actually touch me. For the longest time he was silent, with his hand hovering over my backside. Terrified, I wondered what he was doing. What if he wanted to screw me? He must be some kind of pervert. Why wasn’t he doing anything? Why was he just stand there tormenting me?

The guru sensed my fear and was very gentle. But when he touched my spine and told me in soothing tones that he would raise my kundalini, I thought, “Kundalini, my foot! This guy’s just tripping on having a naked girl in his bed.” Immediately I felt guilty for having such thoughts and doubting his intent. His touch, I decided, communicated nothing sexual. He did not caress my buttocks or approach me in any way that could be construed as sexual. Maybe he really was trying to raise my kundalini. Maybe the guru was able to rise above nudity and sexual attraction.

“Please try to relax, Diksha,” he coaxed. “You are very nervous. This makes it difficult to raise the kundalini.” For a good 10 minutes or so I lay like this, my thoughts racing back and forth between doubting and trusting him, and wondering what he was going to do next.

Finally he gave up on the kundalini business and asked me to turn onto my back. “Raise your knees and keep your eyes closed,” he told me. “You must now imagine that you are making love with your lover. Just pretend that he is here with you in this room and you are making wild passionate love with him.” This I simply could not do. First, I was not that experienced. And second, I was not an exhibitionist. I had been a virgin until the age of 17. Now at 18 I had had little sexual experience. I was still quite shy, and it was beyond my capacity to imagine making love with someone while someone else was watching. Still, I wanted to please the guru and tried to imagine what he told me. He then asked me to “go through the motions,” to physically enact making love, but I found this request absurd and embarrassing. I just could not do it.

After several minutes of coaxing me, the guru gave up. Rajneesh realized that I was just too uptight. He told me I could dress, and at this I breathed an enormous sigh of relief.

After I dressed he asked me to come by his chair. He offered me an egg-shaped polished stone object, which he told me was a “Shiva lingam.” I knew from my reading that a lingam was a phallic object — a sacred fertility symbol. He cupped it in his two hands and rolled his eyes upward in ecstatic joy as if it were something truly precious, and told me I must learn to “love it.” He kissed the egg, and exclaimed over and over again that I must “love it. Worship it!” He handed the stone lingam to me and told me that I must also practice the exercise on my bed. Twice a day I must practice imaginary lovemaking. And most of all, he told me, I must learn to love the penis. Confused, I thanked him weakly for the gift and left. I did not bow down or kiss his feet this time.

The whole experience had been disturbing and confusing. As I left his private chamber I encountered a young English girl, obviously a chela (devotee) dressed in saffron. She asked me eagerly, “So, how was it? How was your meeting with Bhagwan?” I didn’t know how to answer her. Had Rajneesh asked this girl, a pretty young thing, to undress too? I wondered if he treated all his female devotees this way, or only me. I was tempted to ask the girl, then thought better of it. I could see how her eyes had the glazed look of someone in love or maybe of a drug addict or religious fanatic. I didn’t want to spoil her dream.

“Isn’t Bhagwan wonderful?” the girl asked me.

I said: “Yeah, wonderful,” and walked out in disgust.

  1. Ann,
    What a dreadful experience. Sometimes I wonder how any of us survived to adulthood.

  2. You have filled the balloon to bursting, but then it just deflates — nothing happens. When you take the reader up the mountain you can’t just stop and come back down — you have to take us to the peak. I don’t think that happened here maybe. I’m not reading it properly. After the fantastic build up I was a little disappointed. What a great build up anyways. Kudos to that.

  3. The character was uncharacteristically cynical for someone searching for ‘enlightenment’. Maybe its her strength, but if she’s that strong I doubt she’d go so far as to seek a guru to guide her in life. Also there was no climax to this story. It just faded.

  4. This story is an excerpt from Ann’s memoir, told the way it happened without “sexing it up” as the English say, to sell as sensational bare-all confession for the yellow press. Whereas “The Hanging Garden” as Ann writes it has flaws as fiction, we should perhaps place this chapter in its context as non fiction before we rush to judgement.

    Ann Becoy self-published her memoirs without the help of a professional editor in part to get this troubling episode in her life off her chest and out in the open. This excerpt gives us only a glimpse of what that life was like for her, and for so many others, 40-some years ago when the world was a very different place.

  5. A memoir? There was no indication of it being one. I do not know Ann. I stand corrected with my criticism.

  6. Dan,

    My observations were in no way intended as a criticism of you. Nancy correctly posted “The Hanging Garden” as memoir at the end of the piece.

    I have met Ann and we have corresponded on another story, but I certainly don’t know her as an individual, except that she is a survivor and may regret some of the decisions she made 40 plus years ago. Don’t we all?!

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