Financial Chronicle’s Michael Gonsalves spent two days inside the secretive Osho Commune in Pune where the godman once stayed to bring a story of devotion, intrigue and a death shrouded in mystery, Published on mydigitalfc.com on July 1, 2018.
Osho, the guru of free sex with a near-hypnotic control over his followers, who offered the guiding light for open relationships and happiness, died 28 years ago. Long live Osho.
The godman lives on in the hearts of thousands of devotees even after his death – Osho left his body, they will tell you – at Osho Commune International located in the upmarket, plush property at Koregaon Park in Pune. The maroon-robed devotees, searching for nirvana the Osho way, are no longer milling around. Their numbers are fewer than when the godman held his discourses on these grounds. But, his spirit appears to be all around, in the vast spaces, under the drooping trees and around the hall room. At least that is what his followers believe. These are, after all, the headquarters of the Osho cult.
A visit to Osho’s HQ
Amrit Sadhana, the Indian official spokesperson and member of the Inner Circle which controls the Osho International Meditation Resort and Dhyanesh Bharti, in-charge of the security, welcomed me in the morning at the gate. I saw a sprinkling of joyous maroon-robed devotees. About 10-15 of them, young men and women, were dancing, swaying to the music being played out by a DJ at the now open spacious Buddha Grove, which was earlier a covered Buddha Hall, where Osho once lectured every evening to over a couple of thousand followers, mostly foreigners, seeking nirvana. I had attended a couple of his lectures back in the 80s at the height of his popularity.
A few sannyasins sipped coffee and some were engaged discovering each [other] over at the Osho Multiversity, nearby, which looked deserted. This was once headed by talented Swami Satya Vedant, Indian-American scholar as its Chancellor with a PhD degree.
Walking by Osho House, called Chuang Tzu Auditorium, led by Sadhana, I could neither visit his residence nor his samadhi inside. Osho gave his first lectures here after arriving in Pune on March 21, 1974. At that time the Commune was called Shree Rajneesh Ashram. The controversial hypnotist guru and mystic was known first as Acharya Rajneesh, then Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and finally Osho, as disciples of Zen Masters called them by that name to convey reverence.
A lone vintage Rolls Royce limousine has been parked at the entrance of his house, while a fleet of them have been sold out, some over 25 years ago. Osho was obsessed with expensive cars and watches. He had an eye-popping fleet of 97 Rolls Royces at Rajneeshpuram ranch in Oregon, US, which grabbed headlines in the US media and the world over. He would be driven routinely in one of these Rolls Royces dressed like a prince with attractive shining robes and diamond-studded cap from his residence in the Pune Commune to the Buddha Hall, a few meters away. A royal chair awaited him for the daily evening discourse to his devotees, at that time mostly affluent foreigners seeking nirvana. He had come a long way – from life in a Jain family in Kuchwada village in Madhya Pradesh, which named him Chandra Mohan.
As I walked around, I saw through glass windows about 20 sannyasins engaged in meditation at the Osho House. The adjacent beautiful swimming pool was soothing. A lone woman, a sannyasin, swam with her eyes open like a mermaid without making any sound while a foreign male sannyasin faced the crystal blue waters eyes closed, perhaps lost in thoughts about Osho.
Round the corner, a majestic peacock, its feathers spread out in all its glory, greeted me and Sadhana as it stood still, as if in a trance. Another bird, on a tall tree with swaying leafy branches, made a loud singing sound, and as I turned back to spot it, lo and behold, it was another big, beautiful peacock dancing on the top green branch. “How many peacocks are there?” I asked Sadhana. “There are a few and they breed here,” she replied, saying whenever they dance with their multi-coloured feathers up, sannyasins, who spot them, gather round and enjoy the heavenly scene. “There is perfect harmony here,” Sadhana joked.
The other side of the Osho property has a massive 3,000 seater pyramidal Osho Auditorium for the Osho Evening Meeting, the main meditation of the day. Adjacent to that is a massive swimming pool and about 65 residences which are no less than five-star grade for the seekers. While the single occupancy costs about Rs 3,540 per night, the double occupancy is tagged at about Rs 4,130 per night inclusive of 18 per cent taxes. In one of the beautiful buildings, there are over 50 original paintings of Osho on display, which are meant to “soothe one’s mind and soul.”
Seeing is believing
Sadhana said things had evolved at the Osho International Meditation Resort. In a way, it was no longer the same that I had seen several years ago. “Seeing is believing,” she said, and invited me to join the new group visiting the commune the next day and experience the here and now philosophy of Osho. I agreed.
The next day, I was welcomed among a group of seven freshers, including a foreign couple, all donning maroon robes. Making an identity card cost Rs 100 and the maroon robe Rs 1,100. The registration fee for one day for Indians is Rs 920, for three days Rs 2,350, while for foreigners it is Rs 1,900 and Rs 4,850 respectively.
Maroon robes are worn for all meditations between 6 am and 5.15 pm. White robes are worn for the Osho evening meeting and only during that time. After 9 pm there is no particular dress code. The mandatory AIDS negative test has now been waived here since the central government banned it pan India in May 2017 to prevent discrimination against people.
We, the freshers, were led into a beautiful air-conditioned room and an Osho teacher explained succinctly and guided us into the basic daily meditation courses carried out on the premises. More than an hour into various courses such as Osho Dynamic Meditation, Kundalini Meditation, Gibberish, Freeze, Go In, Let-Go, Coming Back and then Celebration, which is dancing any which way, the group seemed rejuvenated and fresh.
The main thing was to be witnessing, watching, observation – awareness in Osho parlance. It is like standing by the road and watching the traffic go by. That is witnessing. It is like throwing out all the traffic going on deep within and becoming still and silent. That is witnessing. These meditations are all guided with the recorded actual audio voice of the master Osho.
“This is Osho’s way of cleansing the mind, soul and body and emptying out everything inside and remaining conscious and aware and relaxed to know the beauty and grace of every moment,” the young bespectacled teacher explained.
“I have read about Osho. But I wanted to experience Osho and therefore, since I came for some work in Pune, I have taken one day off to be here,” Narendra Singh, 30, from Jhalawar in Rajasthan, who was part of my group said in Hindi over a cup of tea at Osho Multiversity. Then he walked over to attend another meditation session.
Sadhana, about 65 years old from Nagpur, who has a house in Pune, met Osho in 1971 in Pune. “He was giving a public lecture at an open space at Sanghvi Tiffin Factory at Shivajinagar, where about a few thousand people had gathered,” she said. She just started crying and her heart went out for him, Sadhana recounted. She joined full-time 22 years ago in 1987 when she was given public relations (PR) and publishing work along with an international team.
While fresh visitors are few and far between on a daily basis, decent Osho followers do gather together for major festivals around the year. A German Oshoite who assists as a volunteer said this is neither the time nor the season for crowds. “But they will come in August when we have the festivals here,” the devotee in her 50s, who visits Osho International regularly, said. “This place attracts people from all over the world because you can see, feel Osho’s presence, his spirit is here in the campus everywhere,” she laughed even as I joined in her loud laughter. For Osho, laughter liberates and makes one light.
The commune is not as vibrant as it was before. For example, unlike in the past when pretty foreign disciples primarily manned the entrance gates and other locations, it is the hired Indian staff doing the job now.
The first clash
The disbanding of the Osho Commune began soon after the death of Osho in 1990. The first clash was not between the Westerners and Indian followers but within the Western group itself as Swami Anand Jayesh, about 70, the all powerful, Canadian-born chairman of Osho International Foundation, Zurich and his deputy Swami Prem Amrito, in his early 70s, a British doctor, Osho’s personal physician, sought full control of the Osho empire.
Unknown to the five Indian bigwigs in the Osho empire, Ma Yoga Neelam, Swami Anand Tathagat, Swami Satya Vedant, Swami Jayantibhai and Ma Zareen, who were members of the Inner Circle, differences between the ‘coterie’ and the ‘Hollywood group’ reached boiling point. The Inner Circle comprised about 20 members that controlled the Osho empire. The ‘Hollywood group’ was led by Ma Prem Hasya, a wealthy Hollywood producer and wife of Albert S. Ruddy, producer of The Godfather. In the very first year after Osho’s death, Ma Prem Hasya and some key members of the Inner Circle got up one day and went back to the US.
“Thereafter, drastic changes started emerging at the commune. Western and Indian sannyasins were told that they would no longer be supported by the commune with free food passes and accommodation,” said Abhay Vaidya, a Pune-based veteran journalist. His 272-page damning book Who Killed Osho? on the goings-on in the Osho cult was published last year.
Sannyasin publishers, who were publishing Osho’s discourses and running small Osho Centres across India and the world, were being harassed with demands for royalty for the first time. Unknown to most sannyasins, the strategy to transform the commune into a resort had begun and for this to be successful, it was necessary to get rid of the large number of commune residents which at the time were between 600 and 800. About a month after Osho’s death, the commune started asking sannyasins to leave. They were given three to six months time to leave.
Citing guidance from Osho, the top management comprising Swami Jayesh, the secretive and elusive boss who never interacts with the media, Swami Amrito and Ma Deva Anando, about 70, Osho’s legal secretary and his caretaker at the time of his death, ordered that since Osho had left his body, all residents should take care of themselves. By 1994, the entire Hollywood set had left the Pune commune and re-settled at Sedona, Arizona, where they established the Osho Academy. Many Osho veterans recount that this was the same Hollywood group, young men and women, who had left their families, jobs and careers and stuck with Osho through thick and thin. Over the years they had served Osho selflessly, worked in the commune in various capacities and turned it into a beautiful place, during three phases of Osho’s journey: Poona I (1974-1981), the 64,000-acre ranch turned into orange Rajneeshpuram, Oregon, USA (July 1981-December 1985) and Poona-II (1987-1990). They were the ones who had recorded and transcribed Osho’s words into hundreds of books, produced hundreds of audio and video recordings, conducted meditation camps after learning the techniques from Osho and ran the commune efficiently.
Swami Chaitanya Keerti, who was assigned the media and publication work directly by Osho in 1987 and went on to be a popular official spokesperson with the media and in-charge of press publicity in India for 13 years, said that he left with a heavy heart in 2000. He felt that the boss, Swami Jayesh, was uncomfortable with the older sanyasins who had been close to Osho in the earlier years and had been in the commune for many years. The older sannyasins could question Swami Jayesh any time and tell him that the new policies and initiatives he was introducing were not in keeping with Osho’s vision. This seemed to have bothered Swami Jayesh, who resorted to creating a situation whereby these sannyasins either left on their own or were compelled to leave. In 1999 Swami Keerti discovered that he was being sidelined and that the commune had set up its publishing headquarters in New York, headed by Klaus Steeg. Keerti was told that all his press notes and all decisions related to media relations would have to be cleared by New York. Till Osho was alive, Keerti had full freedom to do his media work and had emerged successful despite hostility from the media and society when Osho had returned with his sannyasins from the US, first to Mumbai in July 1986 and then to the Pune Commune in January 1987.
Swami Keerti is a veteran, took sannyas in September 1971, when Osho started giving lectures and initiating people into sannyas while living in A-1 Apartment at the 26-storey Woodland building at Peddar Road, Mumbai.
Meanwhile, Ma Yoga Neelam, who was Osho’s last secretary and in-charge of his personal staff then in Pune, and Swami Anand Tathagat, commune in-charge, were also told by Swami Satya Vedant on instructions from the top management that they were no longer welcome in the commune. Finally, even Vedant was also eased out.
Despite this and other controversies, however, the commune continues to thrive, according to the management. Over the last few years, Osho International Foundation, Zurich, has been licensing books by Osho in increasing numbers to international publishers. These are available in 60 languages.
Top selling books
Books by Osho are top-selling in the area of spirituality, with an audience spanning across generations. “Large and small publishing houses publish works by Osho, including Penguin Random House, New York, Spain and Germany and India. He is a bestseller at Mondadori, Italy and Planeta, Brazil,” Sadhana said.
The effort to keep the Osho cult alive has almost never lost steam. When he died in 1990, the Osho International Foundation worked with 16 small publishers in 12 languages. By 2000, this had grown to 200 major publishers in 60 languages with a total of 2,760 titles. These include Penguin Random House, Spain which alone crossed the two million mark for total copies of his works sold. In India alone, including English, Hindi and other regional language – including Tamil which has close to 300 titles available – there are currently more than 1,000 publishing contracts. Osho International Foundation has signed on average one publishing agreement per day, including weekends, which is a whopping 300-400 contracts per year.
Osho’s books stay in print for a long time. His first book published internationally in 1975, The Book of Secrets, a 1,200-page introduction into meditation – based on the 112 methods originally presented in the ancient text, Vigyan Bhairav Tantra – is still a bestseller amongst his books, available in more and more languages.
Osho had a very wide and forward-looking understanding of the importance of technology and the media. “While someone like Bill Gates basically missed the importance of the developing Internet, Osho had already been speaking in the 1960s about the small computers everyone will be holding in their hands, connecting them to a network of computers and changing our lives,” the management said.
The original recordings of his talks are today available as audiobooks on Audible, iTunes, Kobo and Amazon. A section of smaller video excerpts from his talks recorded on video have been viewed over 70 million times on Osho International’s YouTube channel. There have been over one million views since the release of the recent Netflix series, Wild Wild Country.
“There are more than 1,000 volunteer contributors, translating these talks into more than 60 languages,” Sadhana said, adding that the size of Osho’s work is of such proportions that not even the largest publishers can make even a fraction of his works available,” Sadhana said.
According to Sadhana, India has seen a wave of a new and younger generation who embrace Osho’s insights and vision, making him the most published author in the country. “No other author has more books in print in India than Osho,” she claimed.
Columnist: Michael Gonsalves