Excerpt from Deva Abhiyana’s recently released book, ‘The Long Reach of the Dharma’. “I needed peace of mind – and 30 years – to understand the lessons of Rajneeshpuram. So here I move into uncharted territory, by reporting things that were not always my direct experience.”
Power is dangerous without meditation. Any kind of power is bound to become destructive if there is no meditation involved in it. Lord Acton’s famous statement is basically true, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, because power means energy; but what is one going to do with energy if one has not the understanding to use it rightly, if one has not the perspective to see clearly where to go, what to do, what not to do? Then power gives a certain kind of intoxication.The unconscious person becomes even more unconscious, the mad person becomes even more mad.
Osho, The Old Pond…Plop, Ch. 11
I’ve done a lot of soul-searching before writing the next chapters. I needed peace of mind – and 30 years – to understand the lessons of Rajneeshpuram. So here I move into uncharted territory, by reporting things that were not always my direct experience. In the mishmash of rumors, gossip, yellow journalism, and sworn testimony, it’s impossible to say what really went down. Were people telling the truth or just saving their own hides? Were they even remembering correctly…am I remembering correctly? I endeavor to paint a complex picture, of how it was to discover the shadowed underbelly of our commune. It’s not unlike married friends of mine, who I projected were a conscious and happy couple…until their divorce, when all the hidden tensions, resentments, grudges and other sordid ugliness of their time together, came pouring out like projectile vomiting.
How many of the allegations actually happened? After pouring through hours of grand jury testimony and exposés from The Oregonian newspaper, I conclude some is circumstantial and unproven…and yet, much is certainly plausible. I thought the Ranch was about building a utopian commune, a model for the whole planet. It turned out to be more of an experiment in seeing if we could be in synchronicity with the master while he was in silence; did we have enough collective awareness to wield power creatively, without Big Daddy making all the decisions?
Like so many utopian societies of the past, it started out as heaven, and ended up as hell. Most of us were blissfully unaware of the crimes committed; like an ostrich, I hid my head in the sand, refusing to see what I didn’t want to know. I put aside any critical thinking, and lived joyously like a child with no responsibilities. But there was always an underlying threat of being expelled.
I assumed that Osho was supporting Sheela’s actions. In fact, she often said that the “order comes from the chief ” to convince someone to do something against their conscience. I thought this was yet another device from the master. Now, Osho and those close to him have made it clear that many, if not most, of those orders did not come from him.
Until I started writing this memoir in 2014, I thought I had dealt with all the emotional waves of anger, confusion, fear, regrets and sadness that rose up more than three decades ago, when the commune imploded. I was wrong.
Many of us knew some of the shenanigans, but only the culprits knew them all. The women leaders became increasingly shrill, arrogant and prone to anger, and misuses of their power were evident daily, but I never imagined they were capable of doing what they apparently did.
Several friends left the Ranch, usually in the middle of the night. Many of those who had been with Osho longer than me – who were “closer” to him in my mind’s hierarchal structure – had turned bitter and disillusioned. Shiva, aka Hugh Milne, was Osho’s bodyguard and photographer in India. On the Ranch, he was a shit-truck driver, pumping out septic systems.
It was not a very glamorous job for an osteopathic doctor! One late afternoon in November 1982, he gave me a ride to dinner, and told me he was leaving that night. He had taken enough shit (pardon the pun) from the Ranch hierarchy, and was in an incredibly dark mood. I chalked it up to his ego – being no longer an important man around town, as he was in Poona. Shiva was the first person I knew who was officially banned. Osho centers around the world were told not to allow him and other renegades to work or even stay with them; they became essentially “non-persons.” I understand now that this is typical cult behavior against people who leave the fold. I was to experience being “shunned” myself in a few years’ time. Shiva went on to write a highly derogatory book: Bhagwan: The God that Failed. Ironically, Shiva chose a beautiful picture of Osho for the front cover. That book would be catalytic during my ‘dark night of the soul’ in a few years’ time.
I met my favorite Poona group leader Somendra, as he arrived on the Ranch. Somendra led the Leela group, where I had my first experience of being completely taken over by cosmic energy beyond the mind’s comprehension. Somendra was on his way for a private meeting with Osho. I hugged him, and his body shook like a leaf in my arms. He left after that brief meeting, expelled I heard later.
I send a BIG apology out to all the people who had the courage to leave; I judged you all as not being true disciples, who let your egos get the better of you. It’s the same way I used to judge friends who had children! As the actress Leah Remini said in 2016 after leaving Scientology: “As time goes on, you start to lose touch with the real world. The mindset becomes ‘us against them.’ The decision to leave is you are giving up everything you have ever known and everything you have worked for your whole life.” How apropos to my Ranch experience. Until recently, I looked down on all the saps who became Moonies, Scientologists and other cult devotees. I was with a real master! Now I’m not so smug.
In the last two years of Rajneeshpuram’s existence, things really heated up between government officials and us ‘Rajneeshees’, as the press called us.The legality of our city was being tested in court by the Oregon Attorney General, who alleged that we were in violation of the separation of church and state. The county officials were challenging us on Oregon’s strict land-use laws. The Feds got directly involved too: the INS was investigating Osho’s immigration status and the IRS Sheela’s personal income taxes.
Without my knowledge, the women and the few men running the Ranch, propelled by the outside pressure and the increasingly paranoid Sheela, plotted assassinations, poisonings and more. Some really harebrained stunts were conceived: Sabotaging the computers at The Oregonian newspaper HQ, and crashing an airplane into the Wasco County Planning Department, just to destroy some records. (Luckily Veetrag, the South African pilot they tried to coerce had the guts to refuse. He was banished to Germany for his intransigence.) When that plan failed, the offices were set on fire on January 14, 1985. And it was all justified; after all, we were the ‘chosen few’, far superior to redneck Oregonians.
We received a lot of hate mail from the first moment people realized a non-Christian religious group had bought the Big Muddy Ranch. We pissed off and terrified a lot of locals, receiving death threats by phone and mail, coyote carcasses pinned on our border, city signs plugged with buckshot, and armed men lined the county road when Osho drove by. In response, we started a Rajneesh Security team, and many of us ‘mid-level’ commune members were drafted. A few were hand-selected to get firearms training. I was ashamed at the time to admit it, but I was jealous of those who got to carry an Uzi; in my eyes, there was a manly status in packing a loaded semi-automatic. I wasn’t ready to see my deep inferiority complex, even though I had read Maslow in college. I am so grateful now that I wasn’t picked to shoot; I could have been easily manipulated to act in ways I would deeply regret later.
It’s one thing to have a peace force with police academy graduates protecting our city. But now we had an even larger private security detail, displaying their guns every chance they got. The firearms were a show of strength, to show the many people who threatened us with violence that we could meet them on their terms. After all, that’s the American way. I winced at the sight of my fellow disciples posturing next to Osho, stern looks with Uzis held high. I accepted the necessity of their presence to protect the master. But it marked the beginning of the end of our innocence.
I have to ask myself: How were we different from the Irish Republican Army – or ISIL/ISIS for that matter – who risk or sacrifice their life for some greater noble good? Whether it’s nirvana or heaven with 77 virgins, does it matter? I would have done it for the dream of living joyously with my extended red family, even if it meant knocking off a few bad guys. In our defense, most of the Ranch residents had no idea at the time of the crimes being committed; that’s a big difference from most terrorist groups. Like most political and religious groups, we were good people yearning to improve the world and raise our consciousness, but shockingly unaware of our own shadow sides.
We had a bulletin board at Magdalena cafeteria, with the latest newspaper articles about us, and other news of interest.There was an article about Da Free John aka Da Love Ananda (among his other names). It talked about lawsuits involving false imprisonment, brainwashing, sexual abuse, assault and involuntary servitude. I found myself nodding, and thinking: “I thought he was a false guru.” Then it dawned on me: That’s the same things the media says about us!
What did I do as part of the Rajneesh security team? Mainly sit for long hours, day and night in little kiosks at various points along the county road, taking down license plate numbers and numbers of passengers, and relaying them by walkie-talkie to the next post. We tracked everyone along the county roads.
I sometimes solo-manned a security post at our truck farm on the Radha (aka John Day) River, which was the western border of our property. We kept our beehives there, and I had access to a large supply of bee propolis. I knew how good it is for the immune system; I was chewing and swallowing a wad of the waxy stuff when my throat started to swell up. I was going into anaphylactic shock and I was alone! I quickly radioed the dispatcher for help before collapsing onto the floor. I woke up in the medical center, feeling woozy but no worse for wear. Haven’t eaten propolis again to this day.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the esoteric. I spent a long night at the Buddha Grove security guard post with Arjuna – the operatic soothsayer I had gifted with Osho’s towel years before. He talked that night about seeing ghostly figures around the guard post, and only at this particular post. I didn’t see any eerie transfigurations, but I always felt kind of creepy walking around our hut to keep awake or take a pee. Arjuna wrote Osho about his experience and received (as I remember it) this message:
What you are sensing are the bodiless beings who had been with a master when they were alive, but could not attain awakening. They are attracted to the Buddhafield of a living master, but because they have no physical body, they cannot come into our city. [This particular guard post was right on the Rajneeshpuram city limits.] Have compassion for them.
A short time later, Osho talked publicly about dying near an awakened one:
A sannyasin dying within a twenty-ﬁve mile radius will become enlightened. And this is not something new. It has been known in the East for thousands of years. Gautam Buddha had said exactly the same. He said within twelve cosas radius, any bikkhu that is his sannyasin dying will become enlightened. […] The enlightened person alone has an energy ﬁeld of ﬁve miles; but if he has a commune around him then there is at least a twenty-ﬁve-mile radius ready to wake any sannyasin dying within it. Why it works there is no way to say. It is just […] a scientiﬁc law.
The Last Testament, Vol. 1, Ch. 25.
Osho also said if we have hundreds of thousands living around an awakened one, then perhaps the Buddhafield could encompass the whole earth!
As we met resistance, we bent and broke the rules, lied and obfuscated with state and county officials. We weren’t going to let bone-headed laws and lawyers get in our way. For the last ten years, I have been involved in men’s work, where we value accountability and integrity above all else. How could I have compromised my integrity so deeply? Probably every ex-cult member deals with the same feelings. In India, Osho had talked a lot about trust, but I misunderstood. After Sheela and her criminal gang left, he was asked:
“Beloved master, how can trust and doubt go together?”
There is no diﬃculty. Just trust in doubt.
The Last Testament, Vol. 2, Ch. 27
Well I didn’t trust my doubt, even though all around was reason enough to question where the commune was heading. Sheela would call commune meetings where she acted increasingly deranged, threatening anyone with expulsion if they didn’t toe the party line, and violence upon the heads of our Oregonian neighbors. Not the best way to get what you want in the USA, unless you are Mafioso, and even they have more finesse! Sheela claims Osho constantly prodded her to be more mean and forceful, but I heard that Osho told her only to be firm, assertive, and just outrageous enough to call attention to our community. Anyway, she chose to act the way she did; sometimes it looked like she enjoyed it, other times it clearly stressed her out.
One of my hardest lessons in this Hero’s journey has been to recognize and own my arrogance, thinking I’m better than others. As I witnessed J. Krishnamurti say so many years before: “You people who call yourselves sannyasins – you think you have it made, you have your guru, you have your Ashram, but I tell you: You are no different than anyone else.” Finally, his words ring true.
We built a paradise, a city we thought would be, in Whitman’s words: “invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth.” But we hadn’t taken into account our hidden lust for power, holier-than-thou attitude, unconscious paranoia and childish obedience, nor the hostility of Central Oregonians in Christian America confronted with people who look and act differently, who laugh and dance and – dare I say – look sexy! All these forces were getting ready to burst our dream. The bosses carried our collective shadow side, and some of them went to jail for it.
American-born Abhiyana came to Pune in 1976 and lived for years in Osho’s communes in India and the USA. A Doctor of Oriental Medicine, he is author of ‘Osho Divine Healing: A SpiritMindBody Workbook’. Together with his partner Madhu and daughter Sharadevi, he now lives and practices acupuncture in Sedona, Arizona. Sedona-Acupuncture.com