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Shanti Sena Hipstory

by Barry “Plunker” Adams

[edited for typographical clarity by Butterfly Bill]



Every once in awhile I see an interpretation of the words “Shanti Sena”, as being “peace army”. I want to re-state something I have written and said hundreds of times over the years, particularly in the HipStory of the Gatherings, in my book, Where Have All the Flower Children Gone, etc.

After Vortex I in 1970, folks who wore the Rainbow “colors” and were wanting to be “peacemakers” were called the Tactical Love Force. Then because “we” didn’t like the name “force”, it being too aggressive, “we” took up the name and started using the name “Shanti Sena”, which is words that come from Hindu – Shanti meaning “peace” and the word Sena, for “scene”, i.e. hippie language for a cool scene.

(It is my understanding that Gandhi or someone used the concept “sena” to mean “army”, and somewhere this got attached to the Shanti Sena of the Gatherings. No one thought of Gandhi’s “army”,”sena”, in 1970, which if I were translating I would have translated as “peace people” from the Hindu. I can’t imagine Gandhi expressing the concept of what he was doing as being an “army” on the move. English translations tend toward more aggressive translations.)

So Shanti Sena meant/means “Peace Scenes”, and “we” started using it first at the Eugene Renaissance Faires and on the streets of Eugene, Oregon, outa “Rainbow House” where volunteers became Shanti Sena, i.e. a form of “security ways”, the idea being in an assembly of folks, if a not-cool scene starts happening, that folks – anyone, someone, everyone – will stand up out of the folks in the community, commune, crash pad, festival, gathering, volunteers and try to “cool the scene”.

Amongst the “carnies” they use the words “Hey, Rube!”, and folks come running to help knowing that this is a way of calling for help.

Anyone/everyone is Shanti Sena if they choose to step up when help is needed, and ideally, if everyone understands this, then the scene remains cool.

Many early folks in the Gatherings were/are military veterans and the last thing we had any interest in is/was being part of an “army”.

(There was a poster of a picture taken on Haight Street in November 1966, in front of the Print Mint poster shop, of some “hippies” underneath the picture on the poster. It said, “Join the Army!” – the Army of the People – so this might have contributed to the cross-translation.)

Shanti Sena is not some particular people. It is a signal for folks needing help, and anyone who answers a call for help becomes Shanti Sena. If you work Front Gate, you become Front Gate, etc.

Over the years people attached to the name, i.e. became or called themselves “Shanti Sena” meaning volunteers who will help, and “outside” people, like the feds who want very much to have some organized group to deal with, want Shanti Sena to be ONLY certain people. But all folks who volunteer become Shanti Sena.

By the way, “Rainbow Family” has never placed anyone under arrest or taken them out of the Gathering. The way it works is an individual makes a “citizens arrest” and a person gets escorted to outside “authority” if there is an actual crime and actual victim.

Over the years, less than 50 persons have been escorted in this way to either jail or to a mental institution, out of millions who have gathered throughout all the years in all the world – an amazing record statistically.

Hopefully, if such happens there is a clear charge, clear victim, and clear evidence. “Supporting the victim” is an important part.

Over the years, it has been a generally held agreement or “consensus” that a circle of folks will sit with “victim” and “victimizer” and try to work things out internally within the “commune” of the Gathering, and after this process, i.e. a Shanti Sena circle, then other processes come into play.

Sometimes, in some instances, before Shanti Sena process has a chance to come into play, there have been scenes where victims call outside authority directly.

Though folks hear of or even are part of actions called “shanti sena”, where people act like vigilantes and become more of a “mob mentality”, these incidents do not reflect Shanti Sena, which is a different concept.

Some folks volunteer for Shanti Sena as one of their main focus activities at gatherings, and some folks have become experienced at “working” Shanti Sena styles, and sometimes this helps in situations.

But a cool, level head with a strong heart and a peace vibration is the hallmark of someone who is realizing Shanti Sena in its ideal process.

If a person “loses it” and gets “off the wall”, then that person is not acting in the best form of Shanti Sena. Other folks ideally step up and help to “cool the scene”, to be Shanti Sena, and the actual activity that helps to “cool the scene” is the Shanti Sena action, i.e. truly a peace scene.

There is no ideally worked out Shanti Sena. Like everything else in a Gathering, it is an ongoing learning process.

This original definition may not help or be listened to or even understood, but for those of us who left the military and took up seeking another path, i.e. Gathering, and recognize all people to be “family” and equal, etc. – the word “army” conjures up a distorted image.

The concept that there are certain people who are “shanti sena” also negates the concept, and if there is a group called “shanti sena”, from this aspect comes misinterpretations by others.

At a meeting held in Wisdom, MT last year [2000], one of the folks who came out from the Gathering to speak up for the Gathering mentioned the Shanti Sena in terms of gatherings being self-sufficient in dealing with problems.

Incident Commander Bill Fox of the Forest Service Incident Management Team then stood up and said, in a very derisive tone as a “put-down”, “The Rainbow’s sheriff of the shanti sena was arrested in Arizona 1998 at the Gathering for heroin possession” – just like there was an organized group called “shanti sena”, and that it had a real live sheriff.

For years Dusty Rainbow called himself “Sheriff” and acted liked a Rainbow “sheriff”, part show, part comedy, part fantasy, part wearing on his sleeve his dedication to the Family. Dusty loved acting out in this way.

And yes, Dusty had a “problem” with some drugs, and yes, he did get out of a rig in Arizona, walk up to federal Special Agents and say, “Hi, I am Sheriff Dusty Rainbow of the Shanti Sena”, in his normal gathering mode – enjoying himself, wanting to help keep things cool – and the fed spotted a pipe with marijuana resin in his coat pocket and they arrested Dusty on the spot for having a “kit” with him.

In some ways Dusty carried his problem to the Gathering. However, Dusty loved the Family, loved the Gatherings, and loved doing what he considered sacred service – acting out like he was a Rainbow sheriff – and it was alright with me. He WAS being peaceful and cool, and I liked and loved him besides, and I did what I could to help him gain strength to overcome his problems just like he had done with me. We was brothers, still are, and like most folks, Dusty warn’t perfect. He was a “good heart”, and Fox was making his statement about Dusty only shortly after his death caused by his problems.

Dusty came Home where he knew folks cared about him and would help him deal with his problems, where he wouldn’t be condemned because he had problems, where his brothers and sisters loved him for being him. And Dusty came Home, even when he was with problems and did his best for the family and for the Gatherings – not perfect, but wanting to share.

But Fox and the feds think there is a group, “shanti sena”, and some peoples who come to the Gathering think there is a group, “shanti sena”, and some folks in the Gathering even believe there is some secret “army” or official “army” called “the shanti sena”, but it ain’t a group, and it ain’t an army – just folks acting out care and concern for others.

On Wheeler’s Ranch in California, the call was “Gedabah!” at times. At Gatherings the call becomes “Babylon” or “6-up, guns in church” – “alerts” of one kind or another – and folks become alerted and concerned and watch out and look out for one another.

Shanti Sena is a signal that concerned, aware people oughta tune-in and relate to some situations.

And some folks do, and in only very few instances is it only experienced Shanti Sena volunteers who are on the scene.

As long as someone will answer the call of disturbance, stand up, and help to cool the scene, then the Shanti Sena concept is realized and enjoyed.

If not, and Shanti Sena becomes some certain peoples within the Gathering or Family, then this becomes not neighborhoods watching out for neighbors, but “cops on the beat”.

To me, Gatherings can only work out iffn each and every person realizes he or she is Shanti Sena, and Council, and shitter diggers, and seed encampment people, and scouts and clean-up/restoration people, and cooks and water bearers.

Experience is gained in all these aspects through working at it.

To me, the solution for all Gathering problems is simple.

If every person tunes into the entire Gathering and takes a turn at the functional spaces, i.e. Front Gate, working parking, etc., then every person learns what working Front Gate is about – and Shanti Sena – and in this way learns how to communicate with all facets of the Gathering.

If a person works through all these various positions/concepts, and experiences the whole of a Gathering from scouting to clean-up, works in a kitchen, in supply, with water, etc., then that person becomes, more or less, one of the few thousand folks who have similarly experienced Gathering in a full way.

Doing Full Gathering experience in this way is to me one of the greatest rides ever on Planet Earth, and I encourage each and every person to do the Full Ride sometime, from scouting to clean-up, and to work around, volunteer in all the various spaces and places. It is a wonderful, enjoyable way to gather at a Gathering.

And when you hear someone call for help or Shanti Sena, “It is you they are talking to now” (Bob Marley)

For those who can hear, listen and keep the scene cool, when everybody else is losing their heads and you are keeping your cool – you are Shanti Sena.

There are workshops at Gatherings about Shanti Sena and Shanti Sena processes. Folks experienced in keeping scenes cool share what they know for new folks learning Gathering ways. It is a good thing to tune in to, plus you meet folks who understand the concept: “Everybody is Shanti Sena”.


  Barry, Plunker, Montana