Interview with Veeresh in April 2003
The Attraction of Communities
Pavita: What is so attractive about communities?
Veeresh: I like communes. They are very exciting places to live. People come to a community because they are looking for relationships. Or, they have a relationship that they want to drop and they want to find another one. But it's all about relationships.
What makes a good community?
It depends on whether you're living in a community that's asleep, or in one that is alive and awake- where people want to look at themselves. There are communes where nobody ever looks at anything; it's more like a retirement place! Everybody has their own sleeping space; nobody imposes on anyone or says anything to each other. I don't like living that way. I like living together with lots of interaction. It's far more exciting.
The original idea of 'community' meant 'common unities'- people with a common purpose, common values, and living in unity. I don't see very many communes today having these qualities of bonding, interacting, and being willing to change things. I think that's what makes the Humaniversity very exciting-there's always some change going on. We don't end up with people asleep; everybody is looking into themselves every day. That makes it a very rich place.
The values of the commune are very important. I think regarding each other as friends and living as a family are most important. Because that's what everybody needs. I think the family concept that we have is beautiful. When you have a problem, it's not just your problem, it's also the family's problem and it's everybody's responsibility to help you to deal with it. That's beautiful.
To live in a commune with self awareness and awareness of others, is demanding and at the same time, it's very reassuring. Each person knows that they don't have to be emotionally blocked for months; they don't have to digest feelings that they don't want to have: they can share them with friends.
The Challenge of Communities
What is the biggest challenge for people living in a community?
To look at who you are. In a relationship, you have only one person looking at you. In a commune, everyone's looking at you, whatever you do, and that's quite challenging. It's very difficult to bullshit yourself then. The commune is like a mirror.
To be aware is quite a challenge. To want to look every time at your reactions and what's behind them- for instance, what's behind your fear, and what's behind your anger. To go beyond reaction is really difficult. That's very confronting. That's scary.
To be in a commune with a large group of people is a big challenge. Most people are not even committed to themselves, so it's also very difficult to be committed to a group: group identity, group values, and core values. When I talk about core values, I mean awareness, responsibility and living from your heart... being loveable.
When you ask people: 'Do you want to grow? Do you want to change?' most people will say 'Yes'. But deep down not many people really want to change. It is more comfortable to remain in a routine...some reliable repetitive behavior. It's easier to fall asleep and not look. Many prefer to remain isolated and closed rather than be open to a group.
Communities and Therapeutic Communities
Does a community by itself create this challenge or is it the therapeutic community that provides the environment for growth. I'm thinking about Osho and his communes in Pune and in Oregon? How were they different?
The original concept of a therapeutic community was a self- help program in which you need everybody to help you. It was a helping community, a healing community.
In the New York community where I was, they said the goal was to become 'comfortable' with your self. That's very mild. They didn't say the goal was 'to become conscious' or 'to be at peace with yourself'. The goals were more like getting a job, getting married, having a bank account, and being comfortable in your life. They were practical goals for going back into society, becoming a useful member of society and contributing, rather than ripping off society.
However, to tell addicts that they can just sit and accept everything and meditate on things was not the right approach for them. You needed to demonstrate that practical changes were essential in their lives otherwise the next mistake could be too costly- it could end their lives. They had to change their life. Changes were more based on practical action.
Osho was quite like a therapeutic community director! He had this fresh dynamic way of looking at people and He could confront you so that you'd have to look at yourself. That's quite an art: to show people who they are and then to help them to change. He would do that. He could be very strong, very gentle, and very mean. He could expel people and show total acceptance. He was ready to use everything to help people, and that's what therapeutic community directors do. He was 'tops' in my thinking. You could not predict Him at all, you couldn't! You would just have to agree when He would come up with His viewpoint... His confrontation... there was nothing very much to argue about!
Osho's communes and therapeutic communities were very different in their approaches but you could find similar elements in both. The end result was the same: self awareness and self acceptance."
Leadership and Individuality
Osho was a strong leader. You are a strong leader. Does a commune need a strong leader or can it work without one?
It's a challenge living in a commune; it's a challenge to be a leader of a commune. The secret I've learnt over the years is to be a 'communal leader'. I like that description. The key is this: if you want people to be lovable, you have to be loveable yourself; you can't just talk the talk and not walk the walk. This fact has always been there over the years.
I am a loveable person. I like who I am and I love what I do. I love turning people on and that makes me successful. I like my feelings, I like being enlightened (for people who need that), I like being a leader, and I like being a friend. All these qualities make me an incredible communal leader. I can see things including all the mistakes I've made. In my maturity today, I can say, 'We'll move this way' and everybody will agree because they know its going to work. My job in life is to be myself and I enjoy being myself very much- that's quite a job you know! (laughter).
You need a very strong leader. Imagine a commune where there is no leader, where there's democratic voting... that's very advanced but somebody will always emerge as the leader. That's important. It's important so that people can act out their authority trips and work through them.
Osho was perfect for creating transference issues. He was a good daddy, a mean daddy, objective, subjective, and opinionated. He was strong, soft, understanding, and tyrannical. He showed all kinds of leadership...every position possible!
How do you create the balance between a strong clear vision and direction on one hand, and encouraging everybody to go for their individuality?
Yes, it's quite an art to do that! I say to everyone, 'This is the framework I want for the commune, and at the same time, you have the right to create within this framework'.
I've never seen this as a boring place because I've always left it open to anybody who wants to contribute something exciting. For instance, you like bioenergetics; I like bioenergetics too- so let's do it. That's always been my attitude. Keep the place happening. Our commune can make you feel rich because it supports you to create anything you want.
I'm an amazing leader. If somebody says to me, 'I have a really a good idea', and I can really believe in it, then I support them. I'm not stuck on it having to happen my way. That calls for a very mature person."
Do you think the framework of the community can be a limit, and that people at some point need to expand beyond the framework?
I don't think the framework is the problem, because the framework is just a basic agreement in which you communicate what you're doing or wanting to do. Most of it is simply a commitment to communicate: your needs, your doubts, what's going wrong, and what you want. Otherwise, you can work independently and become lost. It means that if you're fucked up, I expect you to tell the family about it, and then we can do something about it: that's a framework. Frameworks involve coming together, so that we can work things out together.
In my mind, frameworks are not barriers. If you want to do something totally creative I expect you to inform the family so that we can support you to do it. If there's anything in your life that's stopping you from doing what you want to do inside the community, then it's within the framework. We want you to communicate what that is, so that you can do it.
The Secret of Success
This commune has kept going all these years, while many other communes closed down. What is the secret?
Since we began, we've had over a thousand people living here and many thousands of people have participated in our groups, programs, or trainings. The main reason for our success has to be, what's going on inside the commune: the staff and the leadership. We are involved with each other. We are connected, honest, sharing, loving, and friends...that's the main thing. If necessary, the whole community is ready to be there for another member who needs help.
People come and they see the way we are, our life style and our way of being, how we spend time caring for each other. They see us functioning as a group of friends.
How we care about each other extends to the whole environment: the houses we have, how we choose to live, and the way we keep trying to improve everything. We try to make it into a beautiful place where you can come and say 'Wow this looks nice!'
We set our standards high so that people will just like being here and want to spend time with us- being trained, becoming therapists, or finding the right relationship. While they are here, they'll see the way we live and the way we interact.
Basically, the way we are with each other and the way we live here is the training. People see that we teach by our example. It's a very special energy that we have here. That's why people come.