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The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

Another movement with origins in India was led by Mohan Chandra Rajneesh, a former academic. He left the university and joined a less formal trend in learning. He become an itinerant lecturer, traveling about India in a small, old car, and he attached himself to the recent rise in attention given to gurus. In 1970 he changed his name to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh – Bhagwan being a title that some in India believed should apply only to God. He dressed in casual and comfortable but striking white robes, and sandals. He sat with a Buddha-like stillness, a slight smile, his large eyes giving him an appearance of curiosity, kindness and serenity. A booklet on his behalf described him as seeking to abolish poverty, to make humans more god-like and to show that religion was within rather than outside of people.

Rajneesh advocated freedom from guilt concerning sexuality. He followed the ancient Tantrist tradition in India that united sexuality with spiritual enlightenment. He became known as the sex guru. He lectured that there was nothing immoral about having sex with whomever one wished. Do not be ascetic, he urged. Do not deny yourself. Enjoy! Be natural. Follow your feelings. Discover yourself. Renounce your worldly cares and responsibilities. Sexuality and much else, he claimed, should be void of demand. He led his followers in meditation – widely believed to be a necessary part of guru-ship.

Adding to a small group of fellow Indians that had gathered around him were men and women from Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Japan and the United States. A few were from Italy and France. They were likely to be professionals or from a family whose breadwinner was a professional. Among those migrating to India to join the Bhagwan Rajneesh was at least one doctor and psychiatrist. The legal profession – lawyers – was also represented. A few of the men who came had criminal pasts but more than enough money for airfare to India. People from Muslim societies were under-represented.

Women who joined the group outnumbered the men, their sexual aggressiveness leaving many men overwhelmed. By mid-1975 Westerners outnumbered the Indians in Rajneesh's ashram – a word meaning spiritual hermitage or monastery. With their number, an end came to the easy days of card playing, lime-water sipping and lotus eating. There was not yet AIDS or herpes to worry about, but the spread of gonorrhea became a minor problem, as did scabies. There was overcrowding, a problem of order and delegation of authority and followers coming up with money to pay for their upkeep – matters that challenged their serene disposition.

Rajneesh had attracted a variety of women of wealth, and he had two white Rolls Royce automobiles. Rajneesh was not spending money on his followers; his followers had to support themselves. One of his followers had an income from selling his photographs. Others made money using their professional skills. Some others got into the drug trade, mysteriously aided by Rajneesh's knowledge of when was an opportune time for transactions and movements. Some of the women made money selling their bodies at the better hotels in nearby Mumbai. And soon the Taj Mahal Hotel, wishing to maintain good appearances, banned all women known to be from Rajneesh's ashram.

Rajneesh sought favorable publicity, and he was most concerned in selecting which photographs of himself should be used. He gave special attention to celebrities who wished to visit his ashram. Werner Erhart dropped by briefly, and when Erhart failed to praise Rajneesh following his visit, Rajneesh turned against him, describing Erhart as a shallow man, more interested in money than in spiritual matters.

For Rajneesh, fame had a price. Some Hindus were annoyed with him for discrediting Hinduism. His ashram was firebombed. Worst of all, he was investigated for nonpayment of taxes, a debt said to be around five million dollars. Rajneesh decided that it was time to expand his movement and move to the United States. In 1981 he and his closest followers sneaked out of India on an airliner, leaving numerous unpaid bills to publishers and others. And the main body of his followers were obliged to follow him to the United States as best they could.

Bhagwan Rajneesh, was by now also being called the Enlightened One. He ran into more problems. His choice of location was a 120 square-mile piece of land in the high desert of eastern Oregon, where he came into conflict with zoning laws. This was to be his home base. Meanwhile, he had establishments in Laguna Beach, California, and in Britain, Switzerland and Germany, including various successful nightclubs in Europe and bank accounts in Switzerland and other places. His followers are said to have numbered over 20,000, and his assets in 1983 have been estimated at $30.8 million. At his dusty Oregon commune, Rajneesh was enjoying his fleet of white Rolls Royce limousines.

By 1985, with the AIDS crisis his Oregon commune warned against sexual liaisons. Kissing was suspect as a transmitter of the HIV virus and this was also restricted. Another worry for Rajneesh was US government agents looking for possible violations of the law. Rajneesh's staff complained that they were being persecuted, while Rajneesh posed as the unconcerned master, above it all and utterly fulfilled. His visitor's visa expired. He was now in the United States illegally. And in 1986 he was charged with and pleaded guilty to several counts of having arranged sham marriages for the purpose of followers acquiring US residency. Also he was charged with two counts of lying to officials. He was fined $400,000, given a suspended sentence of ten-years and ordered to leave the United States.

Rajneesh's personal secretary, Sheela, had fled with 45 million dollars to Switzerland, and then to Germany, where she was arrested. She and others were convicted of conspiring to commit murder, something arising from the commune's fight with local authorities in Oregon. Rajneesh's commune in Oregon dissolved. He tried to locate in some other country, but now his reputation was such that no country other than his homeland, India, would allow him to stay. He returned to India and paid the taxes that he was supposed to pay back in 1981.

Rajneesh stayed in the wisdom business, holding forth as a guru and guiding his audiences in meditation. He had claimed that humanity's inner world would change the outer world. But the outer world had its effect upon Rajneesh. He dropped his title of Bhagwan and is reported by followers to have said "Enough is enough; the joke is over."

In 1990, in his sixties, he died. But his movement lived on, taking the name Osho, a new name given to Rajneesh and associated with oceanic experience, a movement that remained concerned with both sexual liberty and spirituality.

Copyright © 2006-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.