A view on Niren’s recently released book, subtitled, A Legal History of the US Government Persecution of a Minority Religious Community, Oregon 1981-1986.
Niren’s response to USA v. Osho book review – A letter from Osho’s chief attorney, Niren (Philip Toelkes) (June 9, 2021).
“The book presents incontrovertible documentation and the applicable law proving the US Government’s illegal program to get Osho out of the US and destroy his Community in Central Oregon. It proves that the federal government misused the immigration laws, that the State of Oregon misused the constitutional requirement of the separation of Church and State and the RICO statutes, and that an Oregon land use “watchdog” group misused the Oregon land use laws. All in a pervasive atmosphere of bias and hostility.”
The above is the introduction on the website where the 273-page book can be ordered. Buyers also gain access to an archive of over 1700 supporting documents.
While this is technically a book review, we are not talking about a book in any conventional sense of the term. Rather, this long-awaited publication is basically an assortment of legal arguments for and against, one after another in a seemingly endless series. In short, to paraphrase Ram Dass (Be Here Now), more box than book. Thus the readership is more likely to be (future) historians, law students, political activists and others interested in problems relating to the hostility to, and marginalization of ethnic and religious minorities.
Unfortunately, not for the general public. Especially for those who already think they know what happened from scandal-soaked television ‘documentaries’ and ‘true accounts’.
To put it mildly, all this is rather disappointing because we are hugely predisposed to read and recommend it. To us, it supports, amplifies and in many instances, clarifies what we have more than suspected in real time – since the 1980’s when the heat was on from wherever one looked – and known for certain since Max Brecher’s excellent A Passage to America. (First written in 1989 and published in 1993 and updated in 2014.)
Namely, that there were concerted and occasionally on the same page conspiracies at all levels of government against Osho and our Oregon commune – the size of San Francisco. That is, broad agreement on the goals – ‘getting the job done’ – but not the specifics of who was to do what, when and how. Thus not just, as the title suggests, the ‘US Government’, but local and state governments as well.
It was a combination of stalking and stalling. Ongoing, open-ended investigations into ‘crimes’ suspected, hoped for and openly rumoured about – they have to be there somewhere, if only we can find and prove them – rather than those committed and reported. What’s known in legal parlance as ‘selective prosecution’.
In addition to that targeting, there was foot dragging. Repeatedly failing to finalise matters that, for almost anyone else, would have been rubber stamping routine. Such as Osho’s applications for ‘religious leader’ status and granting him permanent residence.
The animosity was palpable, potent and in many instances personal as well as institutional. This is now so firmly established that for those with eyes to see, ears to hear and ready and able to attend to facts and well-structured arguments instead of innuendo and smear, this perspective should be upgraded from theory to history. The way it was.
This is something Niren also demonstrates. He presents in clear and compelling legal terms – it sounds like a contradiction in terms – various government arguments against Osho et al. and sannyasin lawyers for. And for those not qualified to follow all the technical ins and outs, the government’s side seems decidedly grasping at straws.
There were so many culprits on the government side that it appears impossible to keep track of them all. Among the top was senior senator from Oregon, Mark Hatfield. Niren exposes his two-faced letters to constituents and others on the topic. Another, but nowhere near the top, was Tom Casey of the Portland INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services). He was heavily steeped in anti-cult scare propaganda and was going to determine what did and didn’t fit into those categories. And Osho and his people definitely didn’t.
What’s interesting though, is that Casey continued bullishly on the case even after Osho had been deported. We wonder who put him in charge of that (considering the ongoing global harassment of Osho during the World Tour) but the thread was not picked up by Niren.
There’s so much more that could be said about this undertaking, its successes and failures. But not here. Instead, we will step back and provide some overview on its reason. Towards the end of 1987, Osho appointed Niren his ambassador to the United States and tasked him with clearing his name there.
On his website, Niren describes himself as ‘Osho’s personal attorney from 1981 to 1990’. In December 1987 (Om Mani Padme Hum, Ch 12) Osho put it somewhat differently. He called him his ‘chief attorney’. Surely Osho wasn’t being specific enough. There were a lot of other attorneys working for him around the world. And in India, where for all things legal – such as last wills and testaments – an American attorney would be an irrelevant and unqualified fish out of water and all his input and involvement there would be null and void. Perhaps even illegal. Thus, we assume that Osho meant his chief attorney still on the job in the United States.
It is puzzling to hear that he was ‘Osho’s personal attorney from 1981 to 1990’. 1981 was a year of transition for the international sannyas movement and Niren personally. It was the year he took sannyas. So one must wonder how, and if, he so suddenly shot to the top. What could he do better than everyone else? Further, was he really Osho’s ‘personal attorney’ back then? Was there such a post?
For most sannyasins in Oregon, Niren came into the spotlight after Sheela’s departure. It was a traumatic time for everyone and more so for him. He was, after all, on the front lines of near-constant negotiations, with determined government officials smelling blood. He was also one of four defence attorneys present in the Charlotte, North Carolina bail hearings after Osho’s spectacular – and illegal – airport arrest.
In case our readers have forgotten, illegal because there were no arrest warrants. Not that night at the airport, October 28, and not three days later in court. Why weren’t there any arrest warrants? That is more than decisively handled in the previously mentioned A Passage to America.
Over the years, Osho has repeatedly talked about the illegality of his arrest. One particular mention is scorchingly relevant here (The Zen Manifesto: Freedom From One’s Self, Ch 9. April 8, 1989).
And I wondered at my own attorneys, because when they started asking for bail in the court… One of my attorneys was a sannyasin. I told him, ‘You are starting from the wrong point. First you should ask on what grounds we have been arrested. You don’t have any arrest warrant, and the paper you have does not have any of the names of the people you are arresting. The question of bail does not arise.’
But the sannyasin was a young attorney [Niren was 40 at the time], and he had called the best attorneys he knew…. He told me, ‘We will do everything. You simply be silent, because any word from you may cause trouble. Right now, they don’t have any evidence against you.’
I still think it was wrong of my attorneys to start by asking for bail. The first question should have been, ‘Why have these people been arrested?’ The people who arrested me should have been punished. The question about bail should not have arisen. But they started from a wrong question, and discussed bail.
The what-if questions must have occurred to Niren many times over the decades. If not, they should have and we must ask them here. What would have happened if the defence attorneys had followed Osho’s simple advice? Would that have been successful in the Charlotte court and led to his immediate release and spectacularly turning the tables on the perpetrators of the illegal arrest and those who had ordered it? And would that have changed all that followed in the disastrous aftermath? Given the intense prejudice and pressure in the heated, not-to-say hysterical air at the time, there’s no way of saying. Still, those questions are worth considering.
There are many more questions that have occurred to us while writing this review. But we’ll have to settle for just one more. Is this the project Osho had in mind when he appointed Niren his ambassador to the United States and tasked him with clearing his name?
USA v. Osho: A Legal History of the US Government Persecution of a Minority Religious Community, Oregon 1981-1986
by Philip Toelkes (Swami Prem Niren)
Available as downloadable e-book and paperback via domestic and international shipping
The Archive and Key Documents are available on the website without any purchase.
Order from bsrinusdocs.com
The Osho News Team
- Niren’s response to USA v. Osho book review – A letter from Osho’s chief attorney, Niren (Philip Toelkes).
- The long-awaited documentation of USA v. Osho – A Legal History of the US Government Persecution of a Minority Religious Community, Oregon 1981-1986, written by Prem Niren (Philip Toelkes)
- Zen in chains – Nirbija remembers that 35 years ago Osho was arrested in the USA (2020)
- Zen in chains – Epilogue – Nirbija updates his earlier article and adds his personal opinion about the events
- A Passage to America – Review by Bhagawati of Max Brecher’s revised and updated book (2013), available at maxbrechersbookstobuy.com