Zen in chains

Remembering Here&Now

Nirbija remembers that 35 years ago Osho was arrested in the USA.

Osho being escorted in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1985
Osho being escorted in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1985

The world will know him, but only a few people will realise what he actually is.

– The 16th Lama Karmapa to Govind Siddharth, Osho’s sannyasin, in 1972

How would you feel if your most beloved friend were taken into custody by armed federal agents? If you had read about the absurd politically-motivated allegations made against this innocent being in the newspapers, wouldn’t you be deeply troubled?

On October 28, 1985 Osho was  arrested at gunpoint in Charlotte, North Carolina without an arrest warrant and taken to a local prison. For us, his sannyasins and friends, that day was a painful awakening into an ice-cold nightmare. We felt helpless and unprepared. From all parts of the world sannyasins sent bouquets of flowers for Osho to the sheriff’s office. We staged public demonstrations, contacted the world press and asked writers, artists and the intelligentsia to sign petitions demanding his release.

There is an incident which is still imprinted in my heart which may be typical of many other similar actions taken around the globe in those painful days by Osho’s friends. In those days I lived in the Osho Commune in downtown Munich, Germany, working in press relations. The centre coordinators had managed to organize a telephone conversation around midnight with the district attorney in Portland. Four or five of us waited with pounding hearts. Finally we had him on the line. I was surprised he would talk to us and considered this an act of fairness. Ma V., who was English, pleaded with him: “Please release him. He is innocent.” When we heard his deep voice with a distinct American accent reply, “No, I have set my mind,” an even deeper sorrow filled my heart.

After Osho’s arrest, journalists phoned the commune and asked why he had been arrested. The sensational headlines and the allegations felt poisonous. I did a lousy job answering the journalists’ questions with my defensive answers. After years it became clear that I had unconsciously felt guilty and confused as if I had done something wrong. Had we not set out to peacefully live together and create a city with the ‘New Man’ being the role model for the future?

The bigger picture emerged slowly. Criminal activities of some residents of the commune’s administration had led to the arrest of Osho’s secretary Ma Anand Sheela in Germany. By association, the US prosecutors linked Osho to her investigation. His lawyers were aware of the probability of an imminent arrest. In a world press conference in Rajneeshpuram Osho had announced in true Bodhidharma fashion, “Arrest me today. And arrest me as a criminal, handcuffed, so the whole world can see that this government is not for the people, of the people, by the people. That this government is, behind a mask of democracy, as dictatorial, as fascist as it can be.” ¹

Osho disembarks prison planeIn his recently published book, In the Eye of the Hurricane, Devakant commented: ”Saying those words was the equivalent of giving a blank cheque to Ronald Reagan to pay for your own funeral.“  And so it happened – cowboy style, no court order needed!

In the twelve days that followed, Osho was secretly taken through six jails across the United States. He was unreachable even for his lawyers. That was unusual for a person who is only placed in pretrial detention.

Photos of his arrest showed him with handcuffs linked to a waist chain and leg chains.

Later he was dressed in rough khaki prison clothes. Political propaganda and lies need dramatic images. They were part of a skilfully orchestrated “character assassination” on the world stage. Its intent was to destroy the reputation of a rebellious individual and get rid of his undesired message. Some 85 years ago in Hitler’s Germany, smear campaigns and the incarceration of Jews and political opponents was a daily affair of that administration.

But the worldwide media coverage of his arrest may have also protected the life of this dancing Zen Master. My feeling is that millions of people who have been touched by reading his books were made aware of this life-threatening event. Their concern and love may have protected him in invisible ways.

Map of flights
Charlotte – Oklahoma City – Tucson – Long Beach – Sacramento – Seattle – Portland

On November 7, Osho was finally flown back from Oklahoma on a 2,500 mile prison flight to the Portland jail. It took 12 hours! After a court hearing the next day he was released on bail. The resident sannyasins of Rajneeshpuram lined up along the streets on that snowy winter night as his caretakers drove him home. A short video of his return was later shown to our commune. To me, the Master looked completely exhausted which clearly showed the traumatic treatment he had received in the six jails. Word spread that his lifespan may have been severely shortened.

Luckily, in the midst of this drama our commune sent me to Rajneeshpuram on a commune exchange! I arrived in the snow-covered hills of Oregon just days before Osho left the United States. It was my 6th visit. The whole inner climate of the community seemed to have changed. Yet there still was the familiar vibe of brotherhood, sisterhood and cooperation.

One of my jobs was to help prepare Osho’s discourse books for shipping. On a sunny day I took a lunch box from Magdalena kitchen and went for a hike towards Patanjali lake. The surrounding snow twinkled like stars, I was at home. I became silent naturally.

I was witness to my feet walking almost weightlessly in these red hiking boots I had picked up from the second-hand store at the Ranch. Was this not the best use of the land? With immense labour and creativity we had built a Buddhafield in the desert, a blueprint for a Zen Master and the thousands of his disciples living together. A place where one truly could come home to oneself.

The final trial in the Portland court was based on a deal between the US prosecutors and Osho’s lawyers. The top priority for Osho’s lawyers was to get him out of this witch hunt alive. No evidence of his alleged “crimes” was ever presented before a judge and the arrest warrant remained an unsigned blank document. On November 14, while maintaining his innocence, Osho had to accept two charges in court. He was fined nearly half a million dollars and had to leave the United States immediately. Later that night a bomb was even found in the court building! Three days later Osho landed in New Delhi and gave his first press conference since his arrest. He was then flown to Kulu Manali to the North Indian Himalayan Span Resort to rest and recover. From December 27 onward he again graced us with his discourses while still in Kulu; the first series was called ‘Light on the Path’.

Osho left Kulu Manali on January 2, 1986 and flew to Kathmandu in Nepal which is considered the first stop on his World Tour. From here he continued on February 15, flying to Greece, where he stayed on the island of Crete, only to be deported on March 6.  And the odyssey began…

In January 1987 Osho returned to Pune, India, after his World Tour, a revealing story about the state of humanity. 21 countries had denied him entry. Sannyasins from all over the world flocked again to the now  called Rajneeshdham Neo-Sannyas Commune in Pune.

In the summer of 1987 I was sitting with  thousands of us at his feet in the Gautam the Buddha Auditorium bathing in the precious moments and fragrance of his silence and love. A sense of urgency to be with him had grown in me. Now I understood how immensely lucky we all were to have him among us again. The humiliating treatment he received from the United States justice system could not destroy the spirit of a Zen Master.

However, in September Osho’s body started showing alarming signs of illness. He went into complete retreat for seven weeks while his doctors and medical specialists tried to heal an infection in his ear. Finally on November 6 he appeared to give a special discourse. In a must-hear lecture he made the shocking declaration that for seven weeks he had been fighting with death and only our love had kept him in his body. According to worldwide medical experts his symptoms were typical of slow poisoning. He declared that the poison could have been mixed with his food during the 12 days incarcerated in US jails. Though experts could no longer verify it in his blood samples, they suggested that four types of undetectable substances could produce effects (especially in the nervous system) which were similar to his symptoms. This legendary discourse is called Jesus Christ Crucified Again, This Time in Ronald Reagan’s America.

During Osho’s lifetime there was hope and inspiration that meditation and the quest for higher consciousness would spread like a wildfire across the planet. However, now it actually looks like new forms of war, rearmament, corruption and immense ecological destruction burn their path into the human flesh. Yet a small stream of seekers from many spiritual traditions still nourishes the treasures of silence, compassion and dedication to truth. Osho has sown the seeds of Zen in our hearts.

¹ Osho, From Bondage to Freedom, Ch 17, Q 1

Related discourse
Documentations of Osho’s arrest

Nirbija is a writer, facilitator of Osho’s meditations, and enjoys life in the countryside.

Comments are closed.