Comes Naturally #88 (September 24, 1999):
The 'Sex Guru': A Sordid [and Not-So-Sordid] Tale

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September 24, 1999
Copyright © 1999 David Steinberg



There once was a guy from India named Rajneesh. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, more precisely. If you're old enough, you may remember him. He had quite a following in the U.S. for a while there, back in the early 80s.

Rajneesh came to the U.S. in 1981 from his ashram in Poona, India, and brought with him a distinctly Western-accessible version of the ancient Indian discipline of sexual spirituality known as Tantra. According to Rajneesh, sex -- when properly honored, embraced and understood -- could become a profoundly spiritual aspect of being alive, a vital pathway leading to personal growth, the development of a more deeply satisfying and meaningful way of being alive, and, ultimately, even to transcendental enlightenment.

The media called him the Sex Guru. His more devoted followers (sanyassins) made a practice of wearing orange clothing, wrapping themselves in the color that represented the warmth of the sun. The media called these people Rajneeshis, or just the Orange People. After several years of astonishing growth, popularity, and media attention, several thousand of them emigrated, along with Rajneesh himself, to a very large (65,000-acre), very expensive ($6,000,000) spread of land outside a very small town by the name of Antelope in very rural Eastern Oregon. There they built a Mecca for both the faithful and the curious -- an elaborate complex of residences, hotels, meeting rooms, spas, and shops that they named Rajneeshpuram (City of Rajneesh).

Spurred by everything from a genuine interest in spiritual sexuality to a lurid attempt to partake in the limitless sex promised in media reports, people flocked to Rajneeshpuram from all over the world. Before long, even without counting the tens of thousands of visitors who came and went, there were more Rajneesh people living in Antelope than Good Old Boys and, when election time came around, the sanyassins rather audaciously took over the Antelope City Council. Among other changes, they renamed the town Rajneeshpuram.

The old-timers of Antelope were for the most part hostile to their strange new oversexed neighbors. Despite almost militaristic attention to safe sex at a time when the rest of the world thought that AIDS were people who helped teachers in school, tales filtered out from Big Muddy Ranch claiming everything from rampant sexually transmitted disease to sexual exploitation and molestation to arms and legs broken during overly exuberant workshops on emotional expression. Stories of more all-American flaws began to emerge as well: organizational higher-ups packing pistols for a combination of self-protection and power display; alleged embezzlement and mismanagement of huge amounts of money. When the local Planning Board threatened to stop construction of buildings being erected at the complex without permits, its offices were mysteriously firebombed. A Rajneesh aide was charged with murder and assault.

The locals appealed to Oregon state authorities who began to lean heavily on the unconventional citizens of Rajneeshpuram. Eventually the sanyassins gave in, exchanging their Oregon resort for a more modest and less contested base of operations in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1986, Rajneesh was arrested on charges related to misstatements on his and other people's immigration papers. Unable to maintain his dietary regimen in prison, his always uncertain physical health began to fail. Ultimately, he pleaded guilty to two of the charges and agreed to leave the U.S. in return for immediate release from jail. He returned to Poona where his health again declined. He died there on January 19, 1990 at the age of 58.

* * * * *


I was never part of the Rajneesh clan. I never wore orange or attended any of Rajneesh's workshops. And yet this man who became such a bizarre cultural phenomenon radically affected my life, my sexual perspective, and my ability to understand and appreciate who I really was when it came to sexual matters.

It was a minor event, hardly noteworthy -- a slim book sitting on a table at a friend's house in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where my then-wife and I were visiting while driving cross-country. "Tantra, Spirituality & Sex" said the delicate letters that were dwarfed by a compelling picture of a bearded man with quiet, intense eyes and a subtle, playful smile. It was 1976, five years before Rajneesh was to hit the shores of the American Dream. Hardly anyone in the U.S., least of all me, had ever heard of the Tantric teacher from Poona. I doubt if I had even heard of Tantra. I was 33 years old, a California counterculturalist, married for nine years, father of a five-year-old son, confused, curious, and relatively ignorant about my sexual feelings. I began to leaf through the book, vaguely put off by its question-and-answer, humble-student-to-master format. "Bhagwan, please explain" the person identified only as "Questioner" began.

I'm not the guru-following type, certainly not a cult joiner. The idea of seeking wisdom from some self-ordained Master is patently offensive to me. And yet there was something about this Rajneesh person that held my attention, that spoke to a part of me that had not been spoken to before.

"The lover and the beloved can be in a deep sexual embrace, just relaxing into each other with no hurry to ejaculate, with no hurry to end the affair. They can just relax into each other. And if this relaxation is total, they will both feel more life. They both will enrich each other."

"Relax into sex, rather than excite into sex? What a novel idea, but also not so novel. There was also a familiarity to this idea of expanding, rather than contracting, in sex. And the more I read, the more strangely familiar this weird book's perspective felt."

"While making love to a woman, you are really making love to Existence itself. The woman is just a door; the man is just a door. Really, it happens that the whole of Existence becomes the other -- your beloved, your lover. One can remain in constant communion with the Existence. And you can do it in other dimensions also. Walking in the morning, you can do it. Looking at the moon you can do it. You can be in a sex act with the whole universe once you know how it happens."

Reading this was like a slap in the face. I had written something similar in my journal only weeks before. About how sex, for me, involves something larger than just feeling good, something larger even than just expressing love for your partner. And also something about how there was a taste of this sexual/erotic feeling that permeated all things, not just the sex act itself. I had thought that it was only me who felt this way.

"One who is interested in life and consciousness will automatically become interested in sex because sex is the source of life, of love, of all this is happening in the world of consciousness. So if a seeker is not interested in sex, he is not a seeker at all. He may be a philosopher, but he is not a seeker. And philosophy is, more or less, nonsense -- thinking about things which are of no use."

"If you know only one woman, sooner or later your attraction for that woman will wither away, but your attraction for women will remain.... If a man moves amidst women -- many women -- he will not only be beyond one: he will go beyond the opposite sex. The very knowledge of many women will help him to transcend. And this is right, but dangerous, because it gives you license. That is the problem with Tantra."

"The unreal personality is always against enjoying anything. It is always for sacrificing things, sacrificing yourself for others. But I tell you, unless you can enjoy yourself you cannot help anyone to enjoy. Unless you are overflowing with your own bliss, you are a danger to society, because a person who sacrifices always becomes a sadist."

By now I was seriously captivated. The idea that my fascination with sex was more than just an obsessive urge to get laid, that my frustrations with monogamy and with sexual limitation in general came from sensing that sex held the possibility for some kind of larger self-discovery, resonated in me like a church bell. It was like getting glasses for the first time: suddenly everything that had seemed fuzzy, vague and obscure jumped into sharp focus.

Clearly, the sex Rajneesh was talking about was quite a different kettle of fish from the sex being brandished in popular magazines, on tv, and in the movies -- pornographic and otherwise. It was a different kind of sex, even, from the countercultural sexual liberation that had the whole country tied in a huge sociological, political, and generational knot in 1976.

"Positions are irrelevant. The real thing is the attitude -- not the position of the body, but the position of the mind."

"Shaking is just wonderful because when you shake in the sex act the energy starts flowing all over the body. Every cell of the body is involved then. Every cell becomes alive because very cell is a sex cell."

"You can call the Tantra orgasm a valley orgasm. In it you are not coming to the peak of excitement, but to the very deepest valley of relaxation."

All my life, I had felt like a sexual oddball. Whether I was talking with other men, or with women, I felt vaguely like a creature from another planet. What other people seemed concerned about in sex -- whether it was what most pleased them or what most worried them -- was familiar but somehow beside the point to me.

Of course I thought this meant there was something wrong with me. At the very least, I was careful to keep my feelings about sex being a place to explore something that went well beyond sex itself pretty much to myself. I tried to push my sexual feelings to be more like everyone else's. My sexual feelings always pushed back, ultimately proving to be stronger than my attempts at rational, normalizing control. The bottom line was that unable to repudiate my sexual feelings and unable to embrace them, I was at war with myself -- a war that was tormenting me much more than I knew or admitted. My life, my marriage, and my sense of self were all being heavily damaged by something that I dismissed as a personality glitch.

As I read Rajneesh's 87-page book from cover to cover I was exhilarated to discover that I was not alone in my deepest sexual yearnings, not just a sexual weirdo misfit. There was in Tantra a 4000-year-old tradition of mixing sex, consciousness, and spirituality, a tradition whose sexual sensibility was very much in line with my own unconscious bodily sexual intuition. The thrill of core confirmation, of being released from a deep sense of sexual isolation, was overwhelming.

"All the religions are against sex, afraid of it, because it is such a great energy. Once you are in it you are no more, and then the current will take you anywhere; that is why the fear."

"You can touch someone without touching; it is not difficult. We are already doing it. You shake hands with someone without touching him -- because to touch you have to come to the hand, you have to move to the hand. You have to become your fingers and your palm as if you, your soul, has come to the hand. Only then can you touch."

"Of necessity, every morality creates hypocrisy. Morality gives you the ideal and you are not the ideal. Then you start feeling that you are wrong and that this wrongness is natural. You cannot transform it; that is not so easy. You can only suppress it.... So your reality goes on moving downward into the unconscious and your unreality becomes your conscious. You are divided, and the more you try to pretend, the greater will be the gap."

"Because women are not achieving orgasm, they become anti-sex. They are not willing to go into sex easily. They have to be bribed. Why should they be ready if they never achieve any deep bliss through it? Rather, they feel after it that the man has been using them. They feel like a thing which has been used and then discarded."

Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

I didn't have a plethora of lurid media images of Rajneesh running through my mind. I didn't know the social drama and cataclysm that would develop around the financial successes and spiritual failings of Rajneeshpuram. I only knew that this strange Indian guy was saying all sorts of different things about sex that, one after another, rang true to me, touching and articulating places in me where I had always felt misunderstood and alone or where I had been confused because I could not be clear about what I was feeling.

It would take a long time before I fully realized how deeply this sense of personal sexual isolation had prevented me from understanding and embracing my richest sexual feelings, and years beyond that for me to see how much personal and sexual fulfillment could come from reorganizing my life to allow those parts of myself to mature and develop.

"Sex and death... are basic and deeply related. They are so deeply related that even upon entering sex you enter a certain death. The ego has disappeared, time has disappeared, your individuality has disappeared, and you are dying. If you can know that sex is a subtle death, death can become a great sexual orgasm."

"Approach the sex act as if you are approaching the temple of the Divine. That is why [Tantrics] pictured the sex act on their holy temples. Approach the sex act as if it is prayer, as if it is meditation. Feel the holiness of it."

As I said, I'm not the cult-joining type. Neither am I the ethereal sort to walk away from messy passion in the name of spiritual serenity. I did not throw down my life, my wife, my son, and move into the local Rajneesh commune. But I did read a couple more of Rajneesh's books, spend three weeks experiencing his unique form of Chaotic Meditation, and begin to develop real respect and appreciation for the part of me that celebrates sex as something more than a pleasurable experience -- sex as a life path around which it is possible to develop a full sense of self, purpose, relationship, and meaning.

* * * * *


Don't miss gay radical sex photographer Mark I. Chester's new exhibition, "Bad Boys on Parade: Portraits on the Verge of the Millennium," which is being shown for one weekend only at his studio, 1229 Folsom Street, San Francisco.

Opening reception for the show is Friday, September 24, 8 pm-1 am., complete with erotic readings and performances scattered through the evening. (If you come at the right time, you'll hear me read the story of when my sex toy bag set off the metal detector at Seattle airport.) "Bad Boys on Parade" will also be open for viewing Saturday, September 25, 1-6 p.m. and Sunday, September 26, noon-6 pm. Donations are encouraged.

Chester has been documenting San Francisco's radical, gay sexual underground for the last twenty years -- a time that has seen that culture swing from the flamboyant to the fearful, and recently back in the direction of sexual openness and experimentation.

"San Francisco has cycled from sexual excess to devastation and loss, to spiritual exploration and sexual healing, and back to sexual excess," says Chester. "The current spirit," he notes, "is different from the spirit of twenty years ago, but it's still excess -- activities that are risky and way out on the edge. As a community, we've gotten past the time of loss and shame and lost sexual energy. AIDS is now just a reality of life. People accept it and have come back into sexual exploration. A whole new generation of men has returned to where we were, collectively, twenty years ago. The sex scene, instead of being hidden underground, has literally exploded."

"Bad Boys on Parade," which Chester describes as "much more alive, outrageous, rambunctious, and exhibitionistic" than his other recent shows, reflects both the spirit of unbounded sexual expansion and the more subtle dynamics of radical personal and interpersonal sexual exploration that Chester has always masterfully captured in his photographs. These are portraits of men (and occasional women) in the process of discovering something exciting -- or disturbing, or both -- about who they are, what they desire, and how they most want to express themselves sexually, all under the watchful and perceptive eye of Chester's camera.

A preview of photographs from "Bad Boys on Parade" is available online at For additional information, call 415-621-6294.

[This column was originally published in Spectator Magazine (see Three books by David Steinberg -- "Photo Sex," "Erotic by Nature: A Celebration of Life, of Love, and of Our Wonderful Bodies," and "The Erotic Impulse: Honoring the Sensual Self," are available from David by mail order at If you would like to receive Comes Naturally columns, and other writing by David Steinberg, regularly via email, send your name and email address to David at Columns are sent as blind carbon copies, meaning that no one will have access to your name or email address.]

David Steinberg
P.O. Box 2992
Santa Cruz, CA 95063
(831) 426-7082
(831) 425-8825 (FAX)

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