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Guru's Arrest Fails to Shake His Disciples

October 30, 1985|RUSSELL CHANDLER | Times Religion Writer

RAJNEESHPURAM, Ore. — Despite the surprise departure and arrest of the spiritual leader who drew them to this desert city-commune, followers of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh appeared Tuesday to be acting as if nothing earth-shattering had happened.

"Yes, he's gone," snapped one disciple who works in the commune cafeteria. "Now where's the potatoes? They need to get on the stove."

"Absolutely, we miss him," said another. "But it doesn't feel like a death or divorce.

"I don't think the commune feels betrayed or abandoned in any way," added Ma Prem Sunshine, a spokeswoman for the commune.

Rajneesh, 53, and six of his disciples were arrested early Monday in Charlotte, N.C., as authorities said they were trying to flee the country in two chartered Learjets.

The planes had taken off a few hours earlier from the airstrip adjoining the 1,500-member commune here.

In a federal indictment unsealed in Portland, Ore., on Monday, Rajneesh was charged with covering up "sham marriages" between his disciples in order to keep illegal aliens in the country.

Three other one-time followers of the guru, including his former personal secretary, were arrested Monday in West Germany on an Oregon indictment charging them with attempted murder of the guru's personal physician. They and others fled last month amid charges by Rajneesh that they had turned the commune into a "fascist concentration camp."

Meanwhile, in Charlotte on Tuesday, Rajneesh's personal secretary said the guru was "just taking a break from it all" when he left Oregon.

"We had heard rumors since June that an arrest was imminent, that invasions of the National Guard were happening, and our attorneys were attempting to find out the situation," Ma Prem Hasya, said at a news conference. "He was going to take a break from it all while our attorneys were working it out."

Hasya said Rajneesh had planned to rest with a friend in Charlotte.

After the initial shock and dismay over their leader's arrest, the disciples in Oregon appeared determined Tuesday to show unity in the face of turmoil.

"There's an incredible togetherness, and there is still a feeling of joy among the people," said one disciple, who asked that his name not be used. "I believe the commune will survive--and survive well."

Some disciples, like Rajneesh Police Chief Dhiresha, admitted that they had been "totally confused" over the guru's abrupt departure.

"This is a critical development, a turning point. . . . But I don't feel betrayed," she said.

Non-Rajneeshee residents of the town seemed pleased and relieved that Rajneesh had been arrested.

"We're delighted," said Frances Dickson, a long-time resident. "We waited a very long time for this."

Many residents resented the sudden influx of hundreds of the guru's followers to the 64,000-acre ranch purchased in 1981. The disciples, who wear red- and orange-hued clothing and espouse sexual freedom, challenged the local government, threatening to take control of Wasco County.

"I just hope justice will be served," Dickson said. "We felt all along that it (the commune) would crumble from the inside. They brought their own destruction upon themselves. They proceeded to insult everyone in Oregon.

"I feel they must be devastated. Their world has fallen apart."

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