Old Rajneesh Commune Lightens Up in Afterlife

The New York Times, Dec. 10, 2002
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/
By AMY WALDMAN

PUNE, India — Participants in the Osho Commune International wear maroon most of the time, because that is what Osho wanted. For evening meditation they wear white, because Osho wanted it that way.

They takes AIDS tests before entering the commune, because Osho said they should. The buildings in the commune are black, with blue film on the windows — yes, Osho wanted that, too.

But these days almost nowhere in the commune that bears his name are there pictures of the late Osho himself.

Would Osho have wanted that?

Osho, better known to many Americans as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, was a diminutive Indian self-help guru who attracted thousands of followers in the 1970′s and 1980′s with talk about sex as a path to superconsciousness.

He and his followers set up a commune in Oregon, taking over the town of Antelope, where he acquired 93 Rolls-Royces and news columns of controversy before he was arrested and deported for immigration violations in 1985.

He returned here, his early base, and revived his commune, with acolytes catering to his every whim. In 1990 he “left his body,” as his followers say, dying of a mysterious illness at age 58.

He also left behind an empire centered on his 7,000 hours of audiotapes; books, now in 47 languages; meditations; and the 40-acre commune in this balmy industrial city about 100 miles from Bombay.

Ever since, a power struggle has swirled among his devotees, many of whom Osho formed into a 21-member Inner Circle before he died. These days the five disciples who managed to win control — a Canadian, a Briton, two Germans, an Indian — and a few add-ons have undertaken the de-Oshoization of the Osho commune.

Hundreds of his pictures have been taken down. The Osho Times rarely features Osho’s face. Those who want to be sannyasins, or initiates, no longer have to wear a string of beads with Osho’s picture around their necks.

The thinking is that for young people who knew little of Osho, having his picture everywhere — and it was everywhere, from the entrance to the swimming pool — was a big turnoff.

“Someone comes in and there are like 1,000 pictures of this dead guy, and they’re like ‘Whoa, get me out of here,’ ” said D’arcy O’Byrne, a lawyer known as Swami Yogendra, who is part of the management team. He wore maroon suede Helmut Lang shoes with his maroon robe.

Osho Commune International is, in fact, no longer a commune; it is the Osho Meditation Resort, with increasing emphasis on resort. Amid the lush greenery and waterfalls, there are tennis courts where noncompetitive Zennis is played, a giant swimming pool with maroon bikinis on sale, a sauna and a cybercafe.

It still draws young Westerners eager to relax, fix a relationship, or find one, or figure out how to free themselves of attachments. But Osho has also become popular among young Indians.

“In India, Osho has become a cocktail party name,” said Sanjay Bharthi, 34, a freelance graphic designer who described the Osho lifestyle as “so aesthetic, so juicy, so modern, and at the same time so peaceful.”

Not peaceful enough, perhaps. The resort focus, the rising prices and the disappearance of Osho’s image have displeased a group of mostly Indian followers who have left the commune to set up their own operation in Delhi, Osho World, which includes an art gallery and Web site.

“The focus has shifted from spirituality to it being like a club,” said Swami Chaitanya Keerti, the commune’s former spokesman. “It’s a long-term plan to systematically kill the spirit of Osho from within.”

The latest battle has been over Buddha Hall, the tented marble platform where Osho led meditations. The commune’s leaders have constructed a new, air-conditioned meditation hall — an 18,000-square-foot black pyramid with a black marble floor and state-of-the art sound system, but no Osho picture. When it opened in early November, they began dismantling Buddha Hall.

The dissidents baying at the commune gate, since they are no longer allowed inside, were furious.

“You can create the seventh wonder of the world, the Taj Mahal, and that place will not have Osho’s energy, and that of 10,000 people meditating with him,” Swami Keerti, who wears a gold Osho ring, said of the hall’s historic importance.

As if assembling a legal dossier, those in control have scoured the master’s words to prove that the new look is exactly what he would have wanted. He embraced change. He hated religion and all its trappings, and the concept of gurus, although he did not mind being treated like one when he was alive.

The two camps are also arguing over who owns the master’s words. Swami Keerti argued that Osho’s meditations were never meant to be trademarked, as the group is trying to do. Mr. O’Byrne, the lawyer on the management committee, disagreed. “Osho was very, very legalistic,” he said.

Asked why he thought Swami Keerti was so angry, Mr. O’Byrne replied, “I think it’s because he’s not meditating.”

In truth, Osho is still around. His library of about 100,000 volumes is intact, as is the air-conditioned enclosed walkway built for him to enjoy a junglelike garden without being bothered by the heat.

His ashes are there too, beneath a plaque reading “Never Born, Never Died, Only Visited This Planet,” in a cavernous round room with Italian marble, Spanish mirrors and a German chandelier.

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