The Ahimsa Church, The Manifesto & Another Inspection
One day Cliff and Ramón rode over to Morning Star in the back of the community truck
along with a load of garbage on its way to the dump. Cliff had his guitar, and Ramón his
accordion strapped to his shoulders which he was allowing the bumps in the road to play
for him. Cliff, a livewire, nutty, vibrant but sometimes grouchy brother, was evolving
into a self-taught southpaw guitarist on a right-hand guitar. From his house in the Pine
Grove he fulfilled the role of a community watchdog, barking at newcomers he considered
LOU: "Cliff is a great musician, but afflicted with the same troubles Ramón and I
know about musicians. He once came to me and complained that my mere presence turned
everything into a teacher-pupil relationship. For example, when Ramón and Alan were
putting together Alan's house, he said, 'Lou, when you appear, people automatically begin
bending nails and acting in a peculiar manner. It's terrible, Lou, because that's what you
do every time you show up!'
"And I know this is a true fault of mine, because it's an allergic reaction to
ensemble performance of music. In other words, I've played in ensemble for so many years,
that unless it's done my way I don't play at all. And Cliff understands that and he
resents it, of course. Now I recently noticed he has put on glasses to be able to read
music, and so he'll understand my position because I've recently taken my glasses
Ramón visited Morning Star frequently during Chiranjiva's stay, caught up in the
excitement surrounding the guru. He took the opportunity to pick up some lumber out of the
ruins of the Lower House, a window frame from John Butler's room, a door Sandy King had
decorated. Sandy was nine and a half months pregnant, living with Don at the bottom of the
West Canyon. At last she went into labor and delivered a huge boy - over ten pounds. She
tore a little, but otherwise came through beautifully. The baby was another Open Land
beauty and they named him Rainbow Canyon King.
Similar to Lou, Bill Wheeler began spending a great deal of time in the courts. Aside
from the county's own show-cause actions, Jack O'Brien had sued to close the right-of-way
through his ranch. Bill and his attorney Corbin began to consider forming a corporation to
remove the burden of Ridge ownership from Bill's shoulders. The more the community grew
from a random collection of individuals into an integral tribe, the more pressing the need
to spread responsibility more evenly among the people. Financial contributions had begun
trickle in, and the decision about how to spend them needed to be shared. Also the
community needed some way to confront the establishment other than Bill's short-tempered
Corbin created a church structure which he named The Ahimsa Church from Gandhi's term
for non-violence. Some people objected to the name because they were unfamiliar with it.
Also an Ahimsa Church already existed somewhere else. But Corbin wanted to base his
arguments upon how harmless the Ridgefolk were in spite of their radical Open Land
concept, and thus should be left alone. So the name stuck, and the church was formed as a
legal California corporation with a board of trustees elected once a year. The elections
were classic New Age events because whoever wanted the job was the one who got it. There
was always someone around who would accept the presidency, while those who liked numbers
and money gravitated to the job of treasurer. Church activities waxed and waned according
to seasonal rhythms, but in every later crisis it proved a help in getting things
Within the articles of The Ahimsa Church was included a section entitled 'Keeping The
"This corporation exists for the worship of God, our Heavenly Father, and of the
earth, our Mother, through the practice and dissemination of the doctrine of harmlessness
to the earth and to one's fellow men. All directors and officers of this corporation are
charged with the duty of keeping the foregoing article of faith. Among the primary
functions of the corporation is the maintenance of the premises of the church as Open
Land. The board of directors shall make rules and regulations as it deems necessary or
desir-able for the maintenance of Open Land, following always the principle that all
brothers and sisters who will act so as to keep the land open have a home in the Ahimsa
Corbin then drew up a long and complicated deed with provisions that the land could
never be sold, exploited for profit, rented, borrowed or closed. In the event of the
failure of the church, the land would revert back to Bill or his heirs. This provision
prevented the land from being given to something like the Boy Scouts of America which by
California Law could have happened if the church folded without a provision for the
dispersal of its assets. Otherwise, the Ridge was now church land and common property for
as long as the Ahimsa Church maintained its existence.
Corbin then tried to get a tax exemption for the corporation. Other somewhat similar
groups had achieved a similar status, but when the Internal Revenue Service finally got
around to reviewing the application, their requirements suddenly became a great deal
tighter than before. They turned down the request, explaining that the Ridge resembled a
cooperative country club more than a charitable institution. Corbin wanted to appeal the
decision, but other more pressing matters intervened.
The Ahimsa Church received donations and paid for such expenses as cow feed, legal fees
and repairs to the community truck which had become the primary means of transportation in
and out of the ranch. Church members organized food conspiracies which bought food in bulk
at wholesale prices, hauled it back to the land and distributed it. Sacks of grain were
left in the Free Store in the barn, and people took what they needed. Also, the Church
started a dental fund which allowed some people to get their teeth fixed.
RAMON: "Ah, the Free Store, an institution so dear to Gina's heart. She moved it
item by item to the Mouse House, a dress here, a coat there, until finally out of
desperation I packed it all up and took it back to the barn. Then the whole process began
again as Gina, assuming her alternate identity 'Peachy Freestore,' burrowed happily in the
piles of clothing for hours."
Officers of the Ahimsa Church fronted for the people with the Welfare Department,
signed rent receipts and kept appointments. The last president of the Church, Snakepit
Eddie, used his position to resolve many problems. He had been born into a black
middle-class family in Oakland. During his twenties and after a failed marriage, he moved
to an isolated northern California county with a white womanfriend. Because he was one of
the few Blacks around, living in a mixed marriage and considered 'uppity,' the local
police made no secret of their hatred of him. He was involved in a number of scrapes, and
arrived at the Ridge in 1969, saxophone in hand, sporting a half-shaved head. He began to
build a rambling, multi-storied mansion on the side of Hoffie's Hill near an abandoned
well referred to as 'The Snake Pit' because of the numerous snakes coiled and draped in
its murky depths. His house broke every rule in the building code but was a masterpiece of
invention. For the next several years he holed up, working on his music which evolved into
a free-form, highly expressive, Miles Davis style. As an advocate of people's music, he
emphasized the creative, spontaneous side rather than the technical, and encouraged many
to make music who otherwise would not have done so.
At the end of September, the county gave the Ridge twenty-four hour notice of its
intention to conduct a three-day inspection. The following day was a busy one, everyone
scurrying about cleaning up the place. On the first inspection morning, many of the
inhabitants left to spend the day at the Russian River. A big busload of freaks had driven
in during the night and parked on top of Hoffie's Hill next to the cross, the ceremonial
gathering spot. The bus stood at the center of an explosion of belongings and sleeping
bodies. When Ramón went to warn them of the impending official visit, a drowsy arm handed
him a baggie of mescaline in response.
Thursday brought more officials. The community truck, just leaving, encountered them at
O'Brien's front gate. The Ridgefolk yelled at them, especially at one cop Sam
an ex-L.A. policeman who was disliked by everyone for his insensitive, up-tight
piggishness. This was one of the few times that the community as a group vented its
feelings against the county officials.
LOU: "I deeply resent the word 'pig' used in connection with peace officers. It
has been my experience since I lived at Morning Star that people who are called to the
office of law enforcement are really 'Kshatrya' or warrior caste. Morning Star Ranch has
become a gathering-place for warrior caste people. Of course we are all all-caste - we are
all priests, warriors, businessmen, artisans, servants and outcasts, but the emphasis in
those who have assembled here to free Mother Earth from exclusive ownership are primarily
warrior caste. And similar to other peace officers, Sam is warrior caste.
"The more I associate with peace officers from the Sonoma County Sheriff's office,
the more I respect the profession. Alas, the more I associate with attorneys and judges,
the lower my respect falls for those particular callings because they are like prostitutes
- people who render a service professionally which should be free. Now Sam is not a
particularly perceptive individual, but he has an idea of what is happening.
"There have been three officers on the Morning Star beat who understood what was
going on: John Nichols, Dan Miner and Bob Walker. And the job of a peace officer in our
time can test the soul of a man. I mean, if you receive a 5150 - a call to apprehend a
psychopath - let's say there's a nutty lady throwing oranges around in the Safeway - that
call may come at 9:45 when you've only been on the job forty-five minutes and your coffee
has hardly settled. You go to pick up the lady who is very nice except that she draws a
four-inch fingernail scratch down your face when you try to tell her to stop throwing
fruit around the store. Half an hour later you are called to a domestic argument where the
fellow greets you at the door with a shotgun. It's an argument in which you have no
possible interest except that he's already knocked two teeth out of his wife's mouth.
"Bob Walker has told me lamentingly that there should be some kind of psychologist
present at the office to whom an officer can go and say, 'Look, I've already had two
encounters which have rendered me unfit to continue my day's work. It won't be malingering
if I say I can't do any more.' If those two incidents happen before 10:30 in the morning,
you can figure out where you'll be by 4:30 that afternoon. You'll be psychotic. You'll be
unable to render services of peace to anybody. But nevertheless the sheriff's deputies
still do so, and my respect for the profession rises."
COYOTE: "We'd be walking around the land, tripping on acid, and just out of the
clear blue sky we'd see somebody we'd never seen before with a very, very dark-colored
aura. He'd try to be friendly, but at the same time he was being very cold to us, seeing
what kind of information he could get. So we'd just walk up to him and go, 'Hi, how are
you?' and when he opened his mouth to say something we'd shove acid in it. 'Here, man, you
need this. What's the matter with you? Why aren't you being cool?' And he'd say,
what's that? What are you doing?' And we'd say, 'Well, have a good trip,' and walk off
into the sunset. Whichever way the wind was blowing, that's the way we'd go. I think we
dosed something like seven pigs up there, seven people who we felt really needed it
because they gave off the vibes like they were there to see what we were up to."
BART: "The jailer, who Samuel got to know, told him they'd lost more undercover
agents to Open Land than to any other project - not physically but spiritually."
While the Manifesto was being prepared for the printer, many trips were made to San
Francisco. During one of them, Gina, Bill and Ramón stopped off to see Lou and Near at
the apartment where Chiranjiva was staying. The atmosphere was a bit strained, and Near
left with them on their return to the Ridge. What was going on?
LOU: "My whole life has been dedicated to the proposition that if anyone is told
to leave anywhere they have to follow me out. But Chiranjiva, to whom I have made a
spiritual surrender because he has a more evolved consciousness than my own, sensing that
I'm hung up on my discovery of Open Land - not my discovery, but I do formulate it more
frequently than others - anyway, Chiranjiva said to himself, 'I have to crash Lou loose
from this or he will be the land-access-to-which-is-denied-no-one doll for the rest of his
life! You wind him up and he says, "Land-access-to-which-is-denied-no-one,
land-access-to-which-is-denied-no-one!" But how shall I do it? I'll stage a little
scene, and then he'll have to give up!'
"So the scene began with Near popping two strawberry LSD tabs of 225 micrograms
each into Chiranjiva's mouth on the sly. And Chiranjiva, who had been dosed before, looked
at me and said, 'The same dumb joke! This is the fourth time they are giving me this!' He
was very angry and said, 'Near, get out!' And then he turned to me and said, 'Well, are
you going too?' I stayed, although needless to say there was extended domestic unrest in
my house for a while. We are all sincere aspirants being hastened to our heart's desire in
the most direct possible way."
When the Manifesto went to the printer, Ramón began writing down his religion at
Corbin's request. He finished it the day before Lou's birthday (October 10th) and tried it
out on Fruits'n Nuts Nancy and Old Ben. They liked it and were very encouraging. Entitled
Morning Star Faith, Thy Open Land Church (see Appendix B), it incorporated suggestions
from Alan, Bill and Lou among others. The next day, a group from the Ridge left for
Morning Star for Lou's birthday but missed him. Ramón forgot his accordion at the post
office and had to go back for it. The trip continued to the city where, after supper with
Gwen's brother Peter, they visited Chiranjiva. When he began his
what-a-drag-it-is-to-live-in-the-woods-like-animals harangue, Ramón became angry.
"But we are animals!" he insisted.
"Get out!" Chiranjiva yelled. "Get out!"
Gina and Ramón stood up to leave, trembling with emotion.
"Theatrical braggart!" Ramón shouted and left the room.
"God bless Morning Star!" Gina added, and slammed the front door. "God
bless the poor and the homeless!"
LOU: "Ramón of course hurt Chiranjiva deeply, and the reason - that was made
clear to me - is that just because I have found my guru doesn't mean that all of my
friends and co-workers must accept the same guru. That's absolutely preposterous. It must
be an action of the heart - a spontaneous outcropping of divine love.
"Chiranjiva has of course hurt me many times for my own benefit. I would say that
the wound from which I have yet to recover is when he took me aside one day and said,
'Your whole open land thing is nothing but a re-run of Vinova Bhave.' Vinova Bhave is the
disciple of Gandhi who is the originator of the Bhu-Dan (land gift) movement in India. I
have never recovered from that blow. Vinova has done great work, but the problem is that
he has never opened land like a lotus, but instead like a corporation. That is the Indian
hang-up. But Vinova is very high. Everybody in India loves Vinova-ji. But Open Land in the
United States is no re-run of anything. If you can find a precedent for this, I want to
see it. Now Chiranjiva knew all this, but he wanted to deflate my ego just a trifle and
took this path to do so."
RAMON: "I must confess that I was already somewhat annoyed at Chiranjiva before I
came into his presence that day. I had heard reports of his tantrums, of his referring to
Lou as 'that Jewish ape' and to Near as 'old cheesy cunt,' epithets that seemed somewhat
lacking in the love and gratitude you would think he would feel for the people who had
hauled him and his family out of a mud hut into what could only seem like an earthly
paradise in comparison. Later we became friendly again, although I saw little to emulate
among his circle of disciples and family. He seemed to run a sort of city dope recreation
LOU: "One of the delights of having a guru is known as bad-mouthing the guru,
which I am unable to do. I cannot to that. But I leave you to some of his goddesses who
can do it so much better than I. Then you'll see, and Chiranjiva will love it because
every time you say anything about him he says, 'It's me!'"
RAMON: "On October 21st, the county housewreckers arrived at Morning Star. By the
judge's order, the bulldozer growled across the meadow, tearing up the fragile topsoil and
knocking down a redwood by the front driveway. In two days all the existing structures
except for Lou's studio had disappeared into the wrecking machines. Goodbye Lower House,
goodbye Upper House, garage, goodbye dear old barn, Don and Sandy's platform, David and
Penny's treehouse, Pam and Larry's meadowboat. Three plum trees went with the Lower house.
New houses can be built in a few weeks, but trees take long years to establish themselves
and bear fruit. Killers! Desecraters!"
LOU: "During the first bulldozing, I freaked out only once. The bulldozers began
pushing down the Upper House. Near and I got into the car and left. When we came back, not
only was the house gone but they had torn down the garage too. That's when I really got
annoyed. I started yelling and cursing Zack Shaw, the building inspector, and one of the
men driving the bulldozer got scared but continued to do his job. The interesting thing
was that my studio was never touched, and it never was up to code. It was, however, within
300 feet of an operating toilet facility - the bath house - a facility that operated for
about four days before it was inundated with shit from all the offerings. Originally Chuck
Herrick told me I could have an operational shithouse for less than $300. Some fifteen
grand later, it was still not functioning. So that was a breech birth. The project of
erecting a code shithouse at Morning Star broke three men. When it finally was completed,
it operated for four days."
NEAR: "8:00 a.m. The loud clanging of the bulldozer bell awakened those still
sleeping at Morning Star. Two dump trucks with a crew of eight men had arrived. Some
brought along their teenage children along to watch the 'fun.' They had a map prepared by
the District Attorney pinpointing all the homes. Residents were told to grab what
possessions they could and split. Those with tipis ran to disassemble them and hide the
canvas and poles. Others grabbed their sleeping bags and hid them in the woods. Some
residents pleaded with the wrecking crews not to destroy their homes. The spokesman for
the wreckers gave the old line about only following orders, and stated that they intended
to do what they were getting paid for.
"I followed them around reading aloud from the Old Testament, naked as usual,
while they demolished the houses. They tried to ignore me, although some found me somewhat
distracting. An hour later, friends returned from a town trip with two watermelons. We
gathered and had a watermelon party, inviting the wrecking crew to join us. The crew
ignored the invitation. The party was held about twenty feet from the house they were
demolishing. We sang 'Hare Krishna' and other spiritual songs. A messenger left to inform
the Wheeler Ranch folk of the destruction. A few hours later, Bill and Crazy David showed
up with a movie camera and sound equipment. They took off all their clothes before
beginning to film and record. The camera noticeably upset the wreckers but they continued
with their work. By this time the police had arrived to protect the destruction crew.
"Friendly freaks pulled out guitars and flutes and started making music. Others
sang and danced, mostly naked. A few followed two wreckers down to David and Cathy's house
in a redwood grove near the brook. Since the bulldozer couldn't penetrate the grove, the
men carried wrecking bars. They called out for everyone to vacate the house before they
"'Go away! We're balling!' David yelled.
"A policeman was called, and David and Cathy were evicted from their house. Cathy
was eight months pregnant. She begged the men to leave her house alone, and then began to
cry. She stood there, crying, watching the demolition of the house where she had planned
to have her baby. All the houses were destroyed. The wreckers made a pile of the wood and
burned it. The remains of this fire smoldered and smoked for two months.
"There was no need for the bulldozer to return the next day. When 9
o'clock passed and we were sure they wouldn't be back, the sound of hammers and saws
started. People were beginning to build new homes. This time the structures were designed
so they could be disassembled quickly and hidden in the woods in case the wreckers
reappeared. The tipis were raised again, and the good life went on at Morning Star."