Nude encounter gets to the heart of the matter
Ed. Note: Mt. Airy resident Bruce Kravetz, 70, is a professional photographer, adverturer and world traveler who had journeyed by himself to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, Kanya, Tanzania, Indonesia and countless other countries. He owned Pacific Rim, an import/export business in Manayunk, from 1992 to 2006, and he would travel around the world buying crafts to sell in his store. During one five-month stay in India, he had an intense experience with a cult run by a charismatic leader named Rajneesh. Here is the second half of that story. (The first half ran last week.):
Encounter groups were popular in the U.S. during the time I was in India. I had never had that experience, but that was soon to change. We started out just sitting around; most of us seemed a bit awkward and shy, but we loosened up as time went by. Almost forgot to tell you – since we were shedding all our bad karma, we shed all our clothes as well (getting interesting already) and we just began. I thought that if we were to get anything out of it we had to say what was on our minds. We would become clear (another catchword).
For all I knew, these shenanigans might work. (I have a few cubbyholes in my brain that could use some Drano. I won’t go into any psychobabble about myself. If you really want to know what’s inside my head, take this article to your local shrink; then let me know what he says.)
O.K., I thought, here goes. I spoke my mind and said it seemed to me there was a certain behavioral norm in an encounter group, and I proceeded to point out those who obviously had been in groups before and those who had not. So this young man spoke up and said what was on his mind and started yelling and swearing at me and banging on the wall, (he was so pissed at me). He actually broke his wrist, and the next day he came in with a cast.
There was another group member, a woman talking about a time she was raped, and the group leader said that in order to get rid of this “Block,” she needed to reenact the rape. I was curious as to how far this was going and glad it stopped before it got out of hand. So the leader asked the woman, “Is there anyone here you would like to make love to?” and she looked around and picked me.
So he looked at me as if to say, “Bruce, you’re on.” So I went into the middle of the group with her and started to kiss. I just stopped and said I would not go further and that I considered this kind of thing a private matter. The group looked disappointed.
In another encounter-type group, we were supposed to hit pillows to “vent” (another catchword) our anger, usually at parents who did us wrong. After one such venting, the leader went around the group and asked each person how he felt, and the usual comments were that they were treated in such-and-such a way, and, blah, blah, they now “felt better.” He then came to me, and I said I was not that angry and had only vented so as not to be different from the group. He called me a liar. My acting must have been good, though I was not a genuine venter.
At the end of each encounter group, we went to see the Rajneesh, the cult leader. The first time I had nothing to say to him and just asked to see his watch, which was reported to have cost $50,000 – a diamond-studded Bulova. I’d never held or seen such an expensive watch.
I caught hell for that because now the watch was no longer “pure,” and it had to go through a purifying process. The second encounter group was the last time I saw the man face to face. I said to him that from all outward experiences I was a “sanyasi” (follower) but not on the inside, and I took the chain from around my neck and handed it to him.
He asked when I was coming back. After we got back to a place where we could talk, some of the group members cried at my leaving. Others said that it was bad karma, and bad things would happen to me. There was a bit of pressure because I liked many of those I met, but my reasons for being there were less than honorable. There were lots of good folks involved; it’s just that the screwy ones really stood out.
I got a lot of valuable insights, some of which just reaffirmed what I had already thought, but one instance happened that gave me much to think about and analyze, and it also helped me understand Rajneesh himself.
About halfway through this ashram trip, I became friendly with two young women (who were friends) and just a few years out of high school. They were waiting tables in Amsterdam to save money to travel, and somehow they ended up in India. They were looking for answers to questions about the meaning of life and other unfathomables.
Well, every once in a while I become a sidewalk philosopher extraordinaire. To get to the point, they were asking me questions that I had already figured out, as most adults have, and I may have even looked the part with my full beard and gray hair. They started calling me a guru, and one even said I was like a God.
Here is the kick in the ass; for a few moments I really believed them. For about 15 minutes my ego soared because I actually believed those two women. It did not take me long to come to my senses, but that experience was a real wake-up call that taught me a great lesson about how the mind can be influenced by just a few people. That experience was worth the whole trip.
The encounter groups, as far as I could tell, had no redeeming value. In all my travels, I have never seen anything that even closely resembles the supernatural.
After all that traveling I took my BMW motorcycle across the U.S. and settled in Santa Cruz, California for an interesting 10 years, before living in Australia and eventually Mt. Airy in Philadelphia.
I’m wondering if we would have the likes of Rajneesh and Jim Jones if philosophy were mainstream. Could you imagine something that would make philosophy exciting? Obviously our high schools and colleges have not.
You can contact Bruce Kravetz, as long as you are not a guru leader of a cult, at email@example.com