Zendiks Down on the Farm
Whether criticizing the "Deathkulture" or cleansing the environment, they always arouse curiosity
By Joshua Hallford
May 1992; pages 30-33
"All the average American cares about is having a good life for friends and family. We're no different."
"What we're doing at Zendik Farm can be done in larger communities, schools, towns, even entire countries," says Arol Wulf, common-law wife of Wulf Zendik, the farm's 72-year-old resident guru, who takes his name from the Sanskrit word meaning outlaw or heretic. Wulf developed a philosophy in 1969 to provide an alternative living environment for artists and musicians.
"Wulf's got a line I love: 'Revere the human spirit,'" says Arol, formerly known as Carol, an actress who moved from New York to California, where she met Wulf. "Certain people come into the group with ways of seeing things from different perspectives."
Not until the birth of their daughter, Fawn, fifteen years ago, did Wulf and Arol realize they needed to preserve Earth for future generations.
The 15-year-old Zendik Farm moved to Texas from California in January 1991, when seven members drove here to prepare the new farm for the remainder of the group, which arrived in May. The farm is located in Bastrop County, downstream from Austin along the Colorado River.
With 35 full-time residents, whose backgrounds include car thieves, drug addicts, alcoholics, artists and wealthy suburban kids, there are also children who were born into the communal culture. Most converts left depressing existences in mainstream society.
The most common reason cited for joining Zendik Farm is disenchantment with society, usually accompanied by heavy drug and/or alcohol use. Many Zendiks cite craving acceptance, which they were unable to find in mainstream society.
"We were all misfits out there," says 20-year-old Nevic, "but in here, we're a family."
Research indicates that societal alienation and attraction to a particular philosophy are major characteristics of communes. Wulf Zendik and Arol Wulf radiate charisma, say Zendik adherents, which is subsequently absorbed by the group. Members usually change their names, adopting the last name, "Zendik," and changing their first name in an attempt to leave their former "square" selves behind.
"People have joined us and then backed out," says Law, who works at carpentry and construction. "Most of them don't keep in touch because they feel guilty. They know we're doing something good, and what they're going back to is bullshit."
These defectors return to mainstream society, dubbed the "Deathkulture." The Deathkulture, according to the Zendiks, is plagued by the ills of capitalism, politics, greed, dishonesty, suicide and hatred.
To illustrate his disenchantment, Byron, a newcomer to the farm, gripes: "They tell you to flush the toilet, but they don't tell you in school where it all goes. It goes out into the ocean, and then you go swim in the ocean and you're swimming in your own shit. Don't they see the insanity?"
Alternatively, in order to prevent environmental pollution, Zendik waste is all composted in an outhouse and used as crop fertilizer for horse and cattle grazing. Eight of the ten horses are for riding; two draft horses assist planting. The cattle are owned by neighboring farmers, who rent the Zendiks' land for grazing.
Reusable household wastes, such as eggshells and orange peels, are composted into fertilizer for a small garden near the main house.
The main structure on the farm is purple: a 94-year-old wood home, adorned on the second-floor balcony with two flags carrying the Zendik logo: the Hopi wheel of life formed by crossed Zs. Scrawled on either side of the balcony are the words "Zendik Arts," and in front are two rose gardens bordered by a wooden fence.
Inside are three bedrooms, with up to eight bunks per room, a music recording studio, a meeting room, where all meals are eaten, and the kitchen.
The farm is still not self-sufficient; however, the Zendiks hope to be completely independent within two years. Currently, only organic food is purchased. A typical dinner consists of organically raised catfish, rice, cabbage and carrots. Other meals include tofu; eggs and barley for breakfast; lentil stew with garbanzo beans and potatoes with salad for lunch; and millet with cheese and cabbage for dinner.
Their diet, which serves meat once every three days, helps to cleanse the system, they explain.
A new plan involves eating according to three individual body dietary types, including T-types, controlled by the thyroid gland; the A-types, controlled by the adrenal gland; and the P-types, controlled by the pituitary gland. There are also strict vegetarians on the farm; however, all meat except fish is organically raised, along with goats and chickens.
Peacocks, donkeys and nearly 30 mixed-breed dogs round out the animal population.
The Zendiks' dining room is lined with plywood couches and lacks a table. The members eat on their laps out of a hodgepodge of dishes, substituting stainless steel bowls for plates, honey jars for glasses, and toilet paper for napkins.
To further cleanse the system, the Zendiks use neither drugs nor alcohol.
When originally formed in California, drugs were used on the farm. In fact, the Zendiks grew and sold marijuana. Its use was so accepted that Sundays and Wednesdays were reserved for smoking grass. "It got to where no one wanted to do their work - everyone just sat around waiting to get their hits," says Lore, a 12-year resident, who was an artist.
This practice was discontinued in 1988, when members realized that even with organic, poison-free diets, they continued to get sick. "The stuff that gets you stoned is a toxin," says Lore.
Zendik ideology centers on preserving the environment, which they believe will be permanently destroyed in just 15 years under current rising waste levels. The farm, along with Worldwatch Institute founder, Lester Brown, and environmental activist Jeremy Rifkin, is working to organize a Green Continental Congress, aimed at amending the U.S. Constitution with an Ecological Bill of Rights.
Daily communal life also differs on other levels.
There are two showers: one indoor, one outdoor; two sinks: one in the kitchen and one in the indoor bathroom; and one flushing toilet on the farm. There is also a composting outhouse, with receptacles for solid and liquid human wastes.
There is little privacy; bedrooms are shared with up to seven residents and their respective dogs. There is little television watching, even though they produce their own public access TV show.
Zendik farm life is not totally isolated, however. They rent movies for Saturday night. Austin is visited regularly to shop, take dancing lessons, and occasionally, to go clubbing on Sixth Street. They play cards, tell jokes, listen to their portable CDs and ride bicycles.
Each day begins at 7:00 a.m. followed by a worklist meeting at 7:30, when daily chores and activities are outlined for all members. Worklist segues into "interpersonal," a time for sharing concerns, airing complaints, and discussing who, if anyone, had sex the previous day and with whom.
Sex on Zendik Farm is a very open topic among members. "We're going for the truth of the situation. Relationships are discussed openly with everyone," says Shey, a dedicated member who often acts as a liaison between sexual partners. "There's homosexuality, heterosexuality, nonsexuality, monogamy and multiple partners - whatever works for the individuals involved."
"Some members experience sex for the first time at Zendik Farm," says Lore. "But it's not like two kids fooling around in the backseat of a car. The entire concept rests upon the premise of openness and honesty."
"We try to get past all that stuff about flirting and going for a walk, when all someone really wants to do is sleep with someone else," says Shey. "Then we discuss it. If someone wants to make it with someone, they'll tell me and I'll ask the other person. We then discuss what happened or why someone doesn't want to make it with that person."
There may be one-night stands, but "you're sleeping with a friend and by discussing it, we eliminate gossiping," says Lore. "If you're willing to say something behind someone's back, you must be willing to say it to their face."
"We all respect who we are," says Nevic. "There aren't many conflicts, because we're all interested in giving our lives to a higher goal. That helps us to get over our petty differences."
Zendik philosophy is reinforced in regular classes. After reading author Ayn Rand's praise of competitive capitalism, Nom, the class leader, refuted the idea of free will. "If everyone is allowed to do as they please, nothing will get done for the benefit of the community."
Education of the farm children is accomplished at home, but accredited by a state licensing agency. The five children under 18 are taught, often in a one-on-one situation, by older members.
In addition to the standard five senses of vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell, the Zendiks believe in the psychic realm as a sixth sense. Members give each other "treats," enabling one person to input messages in another's subconscious.
Treats involve the practice of meditrance, a type of silent chanting meditation while a partner talks to the person's subconscious directly. Meditrance involves clearing the mind to concentrate on specific goals. By occupying the conscious mind with chanting, the subconscious is free to receive information without rational thought interfering.
Treats and meditation rituals allow for improving self image by bringing negative thoughts and insecurities to a conscious level. "It is a psychic ability to bring to us things that we need," says Law. "Simply being able to manifest what you need. When I want something just to want it, I don't get it. But when I need something, I always get it."
"What you consciously think you want isn't necessarily needs," says Nez, whose full name is Kidnez, or Zendik spelled backward. "These vibrations from the mind meet with others and they attract." Denying the allegation that treats may be viewed as brainwashing techniques, Nez says, "Wulf developed the philosophy, but the whole group has worked it out through revision and change. The group defines the philosophy. Without the group, it would be just a philosophy, another Bible."
Wulf's philosophies provide the framework for what the Zendiks maintain is the first truly holistic society, linking its believers with one another and the universe around them. The Zendiks chant: "Ie-EME," which refers to, "I Equal EleMental Energy." The word "mental" is capitalized to emphasize cognitive involvement.
An integral aspect to Zendik survival lies in the sale of their magazine, Zendik Farm, and tapes of their music, played by the Zendik Farm Band. Published quarterly, the "mag," as it is called, is sold in book stores, health-food stores and by the Zendiks. They regularly sell along Guadalupe Street, Sixth Street, and outside the Erwin Center at concerts.
Zendiks continually travel, selling the mag and tapes. The upcoming issue will be distributed nationally and should be available at 7-11 convenience stores. Proceeds raised from donations and sales are used to cover all of the farm's expenses, including the production costs of their TV show, "Zendik Farm," which airs on access channels locally and nationally.
At a recent Austin Community Television awards show, "Zendik Farm" received three awards for technical skill.
The content of the show is largely "raps," or talks given by Wulf, Arol, and other members extolling the virtues of Zendik philosophy and chastising society for its Deathkulture evils. Criticized for their harsh, doomsday predictions, Zendiks are now toning down their presentations, but the message remains the same: "we are killing ourselves and the world. Suicide ranks with cancer as the leading cause of death of Americans."
Does a magazine printed by 35 people really have the capability to change 4 billion? "If your mind can put you in a better place, it's your obligation to do something about it," says Arol. "We're interested in living straight. Living in the moment - the now. I don't know if I'm optimistic, but I'm hopeful."
Living on the fringes of civilization, the Zendiks believe in proselytizing their convictions. "Like Wulf said," stresses Arol, "'Revere the human spirit.' If we can get that free, we've got it."