Written by Robin Pagnamenta, this article was published by the Sunday Times UK, on January 27, 2013.
He was India’s “sex guru”: a mystic with an international following whose permissive teachings and fleet of 93 Rolls-Royces courted controversy in the 1980s, before he was deported from the US over accusations of bioterrorism.
Osho died in 1990 and his followers are being split by a row over the future of his £14 million estate in India. There are accusations that a cabal of disciples appointed to run his organisation is trying to steal his legacy.
A lawsuit filed by rival followers of Osho, whose commune, or ashram, in the western Indian city of Poona still attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year — each of whom has to take an Aids test — will reach the High Court in Mumbai next month.
At the centre of the allegations are three men: George Meredith, a Briton who goes by the name Swami Amrito, and two Canadian brothers, Michael and Darcy O’Byrne. They are the sons of a Canadian Supreme Court judge and they use the aliases Swami Jayesh and Swami Yogendra.
The men formed part of an “inner circle” of 21 followers created by Osho to run the organisation a few months before his death in 1990. They have denied the accusations, which include siphoning off revenue into companies that they control. In a statement, Mr Meredith said: “It is the policy of the foundation never to comment on ongoing cases, as they are sub judice.”
In an interview with The Times a year ago, Michael O’Byrne said there was no truth to the claims that they planned to sell the ashram or turn it into a private company.
One follower, Yogesh Thakkar, has accused insiders of turning Osho’s charitable trust, which controls the ashram, land, 226 books and thousands of live recordings, into a private vehicle for their own personal enrichment. “They have turned it into a commercial machine,” he said. “Anyone who disagrees is immediately banned.”
Global sales of Osho books, magazines, CDs, DVDs and other materials, which are available in dozens of languages, are worth as much as £150 million a year, according to Mr Thakkar, who lived on the commune for 13 years. The land on which the commune sits in Koregaon Park, the richest enclave of Poona, is worth 1.5 billion rupees (£175 million).
Michael O’Byrne, who is a lawyer, turned the ashram into the Osho International Meditation resort, where foreigners pay 1,100 rupees per day (£13) to participate in meditation sessions, play Zen tennis, take saunas and swim in a giant pool, all wearing the obligatory maroon bathing suits.
Near by, beneath a giant black glass pyramid, hundreds of men and women dressed in maroon robes shake wildly to a series of strange, drip-like noises blasted at them at high volume.
Osho, whose followers include Lady Gaga, was born Chandra Mohan Jain in 1931, near Bhopal, central India. After living for a while in Mumbai, he set up his ashram in Poona in 1974 with money from a Greek shipping heiress, and went on to attract growing numbers of Westerners lured by his teachings of free expression and sexual openness. His provocative stance upset the Indian Government, amid claims that the Poona ashram was becoming a focus for drugs and prostitution, and that violence and group sex were becoming a regular feature of “therapy sessions”. In 1981 he moved to the US, where he established a new community in Oregon.
With many wealthy followers, including musicians and actors, Osho lived like royalty, but the commune collapsed in 1985 when he was arrested by the FBI and deported after it emerged that associates had committed serious crimes, including a bioterrorist attack using salmonella on the citizens of a local town.