Minisode 3 - Noah’s Ark
This is a Building Utopia podcast minisode. In Episode 7, we explored what Bhagwan was up to while living in public silence at the Big Muddy Ranch in Oregon: collecting Rolls-Royces, driving to Madras each day, keeping an eye on the news, and watching movies on a big screen in his room.
In this minisode, I want to tell you about another habit Bhagwan developed while living in isolation at Rajneeshpuram. A habit that transported him away from the ranch for a few hours each day, while he sat in the captain’s chair of “Noah’s Ark.”
When the floods came, Bhagwan found himself on the wrong side of the river. His secretary Sheela had insisted on placing his house up in the hills for his safety, separated from the rest of the ranch by a wide dry gulch. But a couple months after Bhagwan arrived in 1981, heavy winter rains turned that gulch into a violent river, powerful enough to wipe out the roads and bridges connecting Bhagwan to the rest of the world.
For days while the rain kept pouring, Bhagwan padded around his home, a compound of trailers and buildings they called Lao Tzu. He’d stare out the windows, aching, frustrated. No vehicles could get past the river — his daily drives were impossible. Nobody was coming to visit him. He was stranded up there, along with his long-time companion Vivek -- the willowy British sannyasin who was mesmerized by Bhagwan when she first saw him lecturing in Bombay. But now, as the days dragged by, as he developed a pain in his mouth, even Vivek was starting to drive him crazy.
He needed something to take his mind off it all.
Down in the valley, at Jesus Grove, the radio crackled with an urgent message for Sheela. It was Vivek up at Lao Tzu. Bhagwan wanted to see Sheela immediately.
The water’s too high, Sheela told Vivek over the radio. It’s impossible for me to get across the river. After an uneasy silence, Sheela continued with a joke: Even if I ride a horse there, it’ll take me two hours.
A couple hours later, Sheela’s horse reached Lao Tzu. As they crept along steep mountain passes, she’d been certain they would careen down the cliffs into the water far below. But the danger didn’t matter. Her Master was clearly in some crisis if he was demanding that his secretary put her life at risk to see him.
As she entered the home and dried off, Sheela heard a domestic battle in progress between Bhagwan and Vivek.
She’s tormenting me, Bhagwan told Sheela. Buy her a plane ticket and get her out of here immediately. I can’t tolerate her presence for one more second.
This was why Bhagwan had summoned her? To Sheela, it all seemed so… mundane. He kept grumbling about Vivek and his Rolls-Royces and his toothache. It confirmed what Sheela already knew: that even an enlightened man is still a man.
Sheela did what she could as Bhagwan’s personal secretary to keep him comfortable during the winter floods. But Bhagwan turned to another person for comfort during those long, dreary months. A visitor who was not under Sheela’s thumb, and who was willing and able to transport Bhagwan out of his triple-wide trailers and far from Oregon. As Sheela tells it, Bhagwan kept this visitor, and his activities, completely secret from her for years.
During the flood, Swami Devageet also received a call from Lao Tzu. Devageet was a middle-aged Brit who had been Bhagwan’s personal dentist since their days in the Poona ashram, when Vivek had taken a shine to him while they discussed electronic toothbrushes. Devageet was one of the few people allowed to touch his Master’s body, to stand just inches from his face and scrutinize and test and operate on him. It was a plum position, one that most sannyasins would envy.
And Devageet knew it.
Upon receiving the call from Lao Tzu, he made his way to his dental office at Rajneeshpuram. There he checked over his mechanical equipment and polished his tools one more time while the rain pounded on the roof. Devageet had ordered the latest in technology: an advanced x-ray machine, fiber-optic drills, a computerized root canal kit. He’d bought the dental cabinetry because he liked the name: “The Truth System.” The overhead light was called “The Light Fantastic.” It had all just sat there, unused, for weeks. Devageet’s private dental office was reserved for one man only.
Vivek popped her head through the doorway, smiling. “He’ll be here in 30 seconds.”
See, Bhagwan didn’t need to hop on a horse and cross raging waters — because he had ordered that a private dental exam room be built directly behind his living quarters at Lao Tzu.
Devageet, on the other hand, had been forced to tie a rope around his waist and struggle across the newly-formed river. Unlike Sheela, who was miffed at the danger Bhagwan had put her in — Devageet was delighted. He hadn’t worked on his master for months, not since he left India. He hadn’t been close to him, hadn’t touched him. In the meantime, he’d been directing traffic on the dusty roads around Rajneeshpuram, waiting for his Master’s call. He couldn’t wait to get Bhagwan in that seat.
Devageet proudly showed Bhagwan the new equipment and demonstrated what some of it could do. And, as he tells it in his memoir, he explained to Bhagwan a new addition to his dental repertoire, one that he believed would be completely safe and totally effective.
He pointed at the relative analgesia machine which pumped out nitrous oxide. Laughing gas. It relaxes you and helps ease pain during dental procedures, Devageet explained. But it doesn’t put you to sleep. You’ll just be in a state of deep relaxation.
Bhagwan responded, I’m always relaxed, but if you want to try out your little machine, that’s fine with me.
The procedure to relieve Bhagwan’s toothache went off without a hitch. But when Devageet moved to turn off the laughing gas — Bhagwan snapped to attention and stopped him.
Now, five minutes of laughing gas for me, he said. You did your work, and now it’s time for me to do my work.
Devageet was the dentist — but Bhagwan was his Master. They sat in silence for five minutes while the gas continued to flow. It’s the view from the top of the hills, Bhagwan said when he finally took off the mask. I’ve experienced it before in meditation, but never from gas.
Later that day, Devageet was called to Bhagwan’s room, where he sat near tall windows looking over the rain-soaked valley. The laughing gas had inspired Bhagwan with a new idea. They would return to the dental suite each day, and Devageet would give him nitrous oxide, and then he would write down everything Bhagwan said. Later, he was to turn his words into published books that could be shared with Bhagwan’s followers. Only those who were most in-tune to their Master would understand these private thoughts.
And they were to begin these sessions the very next day.
Each day, Bhagwan and his dentist and a couple other staff would convene in the little dental room, which Bhagwan dubbed “Noah’s Ark,” and Devageet would administer the gas. The dentist then became a notetaker, jotting down whatever Bhagwan said verbatim. Sometimes they’d do two sessions a day for more than two hours each.
From these daily sessions, which most likely happened in late 81 / early 82, three books were produced. If you try to imagine the words of a really smart person blathering on while high on laughing gas — that’s pretty much what you’ll find in these books. Bhagwan clearly forgets what he’s talking about at times and jumps from subject to subject with no discernible transition. And he spends a lot of time criticizing Devageet, accusing the dentist of giggling in a way that distracts him, calling him a fool, and questioning whether he’s supplying enough gas.
The first book he dictated was Notes of a Madman — a title that was inspired by Vivek, apparently, who muttered “Nobody’s going to read this book. It’s just the bloody notes of a madman.”
I gotta say, I agree with her. To give an example, the very first chapter, which is three pages long, spans the following topics: the way music roots Bhagwan to his body; his appreciation for Vivek; how Walt Whitman’s homosexual “perversion” prevented him from reaching greatness; a caution that nobody should try to cheat him since he is a cheat himself; how the hypnotic power of his eyes stopped a man from stabbing him on a train in India; and that German sannyasins come to him because he is the democratic dictator they’ve been looking for. His last words from that session are: “Wipe that tear from my eye. I have to pretend to be enlightened, and enlightened people are not supposed to cry.”
He produced two more books that were slightly more thematic, but still completely all over the place: Books I Have Loved, and Glimpses of a Golden Childhood. All dictated while sitting in his dentists chair and inhaling nitrous oxide. Years later, he admitted as much.
[BSR Audio] “From the dental chair, I have created three books! It must be absolutely unprecedented, because people are so afraid of the dental chair and the dentist. But I have enjoyed so much… I can experience whatever is happening, even under a high dose of laughing gas… It was a beautiful time, and many things that I would have never bothered to talk, I talked in the dental chair.”
In early 1982, Bhagwan’s former bodyguard Shiva received a call from Vivek, inviting him up to Lao Tzu to take some pictures. Shiva was a respected photographer who had taken many pictures of Bhagwan over the years. He was intrigued at Vivek’s request because she said it had something to do with dental work. Like almost everybody at the ranch, Shiva had no idea what Bhagwan was doing up at Lao Tzu, much less that he was high on nitrous oxide for hours each day.
Shiva entered the tiny room with his camera and found five people crammed around the dental chair where Bhagwan sat with clear tubes running up his nostrils. As the minutes passed, his speech slowed and became slurred. Nevertheless, somebody wrote down every word he said in a little book. Shiva was shocked — not just at the bizarre scene, but at how everybody there from Bhagwan’s inner circle seemed completely unaffected by what was going on. He later learned that Bhagwan had been taking nitrous oxide for months. His medical attendants had supposedly been ordering the gas from different suppliers to avoid raising suspicions.
To Shiva, the scene was pathetic. Here was this enlightened being who had been so vibrant, so present back in Poona — and now he was laying in a chair high on drugs, surrounded by sycophants who ate up his incoherent ramblings. Shiva wondered if Bhagwan had invited him as a sort of cry for help. Did he want his long-time protector to see how bleak his life had become? To show Shiva that he needed saving from this depressing situation?
But Shiva’s sympathy was mixed with disgust, especially when Bhagwan said, while under the influence of gas, “I am so relieved that I do not have to pretend to be enlightened anymore.”
It was the beginning of the end for Shiva. His steadfast belief in Bhagwan’s enlightenment was quickly being replaced by the sense that the old man was just a fraud.
It may not surprise you that dentists aren’t allowed to administer nitrous oxide to their patients just for fun. And Bhagwan didn’t have any pressing dental problems that required daily procedures. So the question is: did his dentist have any legitimate reason to give him daily doses of nitrous oxide? Did he actually do any dental work on Bhagwan during these sessions?
Devageet claims that he did work on Bhagwan during these sessions, redoing some prior dental work. When Bhagwan himself was questioned about it years later by a journalist who had heard allegations about nitrous oxide abuse, Bhagwan explained it this way:
[BSR Audio] “I use laughing gas when they are working on my teeth. That is once in six months or once in a year. Otherwise there is no question of using it.”
Well, we know he used it more frequently than that, at least in 1981 and 82, when everybody seems to agree that he used it every day to dictate those books. But maybe he’s telling the truth that he only received laughing gas in connection with dental work. In fact, some sannyasins have claimed that Devageet was overly aggressive in treating Bhagwan. Sheela claimed that he had performed unnecessary root canals, just to be close to his Master. Her opinion may have been validated by an independent doctor who examined Bhagwan while at Rajneeshpuram. The doctor told Shanti Bhadra, one of Sheela’s lieutenants, that Devageet had performed multiple unnecessary root canals that brought about blood poisoning. Both Sheela and the doctor called Devageet a “butcher.”
On the other end of the spectrum, it’s possible that Devageet just gave his Master nitrous oxide because he was commanded to, and there was not even a pretext of dental work. It’s hard to imagine any dental condition that would require daily procedures for months on end -- I mean, what would he even be doing? The people who hung around Lao Tzu were extremely loyal to their Master -- Devageet perhaps more than any of them. In his memoir, he describes Bhagwan like he’s a being from another universe -- barely making noise as he moved, laying there with a unnatural stillness, and with a mouth so youthful that Devageet called it a “dental paradox.” He felt euphoria after every session working on Bhagwan.
If the Master had said give me nitrous oxide every day — would his inner circle have refused him?
So how long did this go on? Devageet claims that Bhagwan’s regular use of nitrous oxide stopped with the completion of the last book, about four months after it started. But Sheela says it was still going on in 1984, which is supposedly when she first learned about it. And a Congressman who toured the abandoned Rajneeshpuram in 1986 said that he saw nitrous oxide spigots installed in the wall next to Bhagwan’s bed. If true, it would mean that Bhagwan likely accelerated his use of laughing gas after dictating the books.
There’s also a question of when it started. Devageet claims he introduced Bhagwan to nitrous oxide at Rajneeshpuram. But others have claimed that it started earlier, while they were still in India. I haven’t seen anything concrete to support that, although I do find it odd that Bhagwan was so interested in dentistry that he had a private room installed in his house as soon as he arrived at the ranch. Was he just super concerned about his teeth? Or was he already familiar with the highs of nitrous oxide, and looking for a way to have it readily available?
Regardless of how long he used it, Bhagwan’s daily use of laughing gas -- even for a period of months -- could have had a lasting impact on his health. There’s been a lot of research in the past few decades on nitrous oxide abuse — especially with the rise of teenage addiction to whippets — which are concentrated nitrous oxide.
The biggest complication from overuse of laughing gas is the inactivation of Vitamin B12. Those most likely to experience this effect are those receiving the gas in a poorly ventilated environment… and people who are already likely to have low B12 levels… like vegetarians. A lack of B12 can lead to dizziness, numbness in the limbs, weakness, and bowel or bladder problems. It can cause cognitive degeneration, memory loss, and dementia. In some patients, these symptoms are irreversible even with treatment. Nitrous oxide abuse can also compromise the immune system and make the recipient vulnerable to infections.
To be fair, Bhagwan wasn’t taking whippets — he was receiving nitrous oxide from high-tech equipment that supposedly ensured he received the right balance of gasses. But he took it for long stretches at a time. At the end of some sessions, you can see in the books that he would command Devageet to continue giving him gas. “Just ten minutes for me; I will tell you when to stop.” “Be kind to a poor man, and after five minutes you can stop.” “Just wait. It is so beautiful that I want to enjoy rather than say anything. To talk at this height is so difficult. No interruptions please…”
Bhagwan also told his dentist how much gas he should receive. This is clear in the books as well, and Shiva says he saw Bhagwan personally adjust the different levels of gas to get the balance that he wanted.
Bhagwan’s health did decline during his years in Oregon and beyond. Interestingly, in 1987 he claimed he had been poisoned while living in America and was now suffering for it. His symptoms included dizziness, tingling in his limbs, nausea, weight loss, and a severe ear infection. The culprit according to Bhagwan’s doctors was not the huge amounts of nitrous oxide he had inhaled… but rather the American government, which supposedly poisoned him with thallium in 1985.
We’ll never know whether his regular use of nitrous oxide had a long-term effect on Bhagwan’s mental abilities and his health. But as we watch events unfold at Rajneeshpuram, and question how involved he was in the day-to-day activities at the commune — we have to keep in mind Bhagwan’s trips to Noah’s Ark, where he would sit in his chair, and escape Lao Tzu and all the chaos around him, sailing away to witness the breathtaking view from the top of the hills.
Building Utopia is researched, written, narrated, and produced by me, Rusty King. If you’re enjoying the series and want to support the show — please write a 5-star review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you’re listening to this.
For more insights on Bhagwan and his followers, including photographs and source documents, check out our website, BuildingUtopiaPodcast.com.
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See you next time.