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With Free-Love Guru Dead, India Commune Goes Mainstream

May 20, 1990|JOHN POMFRET | ASSOCIATED PRESS

POONA, India — Buffeted by the recent death of its god and a drop in donations, the commune of the late free-love guru Osho Rajneesh is trying to save itself by going mainstream.

Emphasis has shifted from mystical sex to meditation exercises. Primal screaming was banned after neighbors complained of the noise. Deals have been signed with prominent companies for distribution of videocassettes.

"We are mellowing," said Swami Tatahgat, an Indian board member of Rajneesh Foundation, the trust that controls the commune. "Before, we used to wear our rebelliousness on our sleeves."

It appears to be a kinder, gentler commune now than at Rajneeshpuram, Ore., where, according to commune residents and spokesmen for the Poona press office, members administered barbiturates and other drugs to rivals they considered "negative." Rajneesh called himself Bhagwan, or God, in those days.

No longer do disciples prance half-naked through the halls of the local five-star hotel, the Blue Diamond. The hotel recently welcomed them back, but only for meals.

The lush 11-acre campus, with its miniature waterfalls, outdoor Japanese restaurant and high-tech workout rooms, seems more like a summer camp for adults than a focus for worldwide revolution in consciousness.

All visitors are required to produce the results of an AIDS test no more than a month old. Westerners seen groping at one another's bodies on Poona's streets may get a dressing down by other followers.

Osho meditation is taught at the Tata Management School, a Poona business college. The commune has a contract with CBS/India to distribute videotapes of Rajneesh's lectures, and another with Pocket Books to publish his writings.

Day breaks at the Osho International Commune.

Disciples gather for a meditation session in Lao Tzu Hall, where the guru's ashes are housed in a small vault kept on his marble bed.

Pattering into the house, they pass through a marble room furnished only with a plush dental chair.

"This is where Osho had his teeth fixed," Swami Subhuti, a commune spokesman, intones reverently. He used to be Peter Waight, a newspaper reporter in London.

Inside the mausoleum, once Rajneesh's bedroom, disciples move close to the vault containing his ashes. "Never born, never died," reads the epitaph on black marble.

A stocky guard flicks a remote-control switch. Lights in an ornate glass chandelier dim. A chime rings and meditation begins.

Osho Rajneesh, the mesmerizing guru of quick-fix enlightenment, died Jan. 19. At the height of his popularity, the 58-year-old former teacher of Sanskrit amassed 500,000 followers, 87 Rolls-Royces, diamond-studded watches, and gowns fashioned from gold thread.

Rajneesh started his movement in India in the late 1960s, preaching a blend of Eastern mysticism, free love and pop psychology. Among his 650 works are such titles as "Take It Easy" (Volumes I and II) and "Ya-Hoo."

He changed his name numerous times, adopting Bhagwan, Zorba the Buddha and finally Osho, "the one the heavens shower with flowers."

In the early 1980s, Rajneesh moved his band of red-robed followers to a 64,229-acre ranch in the hills of central Oregon.

Rancho Rajneesh disbanded after the master was kicked out of the United States in 1985 for immigration fraud, and the American movement degenerated into a miasma of poisonings and costly court cases.

Ma Anand Sheela, Rajneesh's former chief aide, was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for arson, attempted murder and masterminding a food-poisoning outbreak that made 750 townspeople ill. Other aides avoided prosecution by cooperating with police.

Rajneesh advocated breaking with all social conventions through meditation, as he defined it.

Through meditation, he said, his followers could destroy the family, the church and the state, structures he said were destroying humanity.

He developed or synthesized several techniques, including one in which followers jump up and down, yelling "Hoo, hoo, hoo!"

Unlike gurus who demand that disciples reject worldly goods, Rajneesh encouraged his followers to revel in sensual pleasures, including sex, drugs and good food.

"Only by this way will you ever rise above them," he said in one of his famous discourses, which he peppered with bathroom humor and intriguing riddles.

Those who succeeded in meditation, the guru said, would attain "Buddhahood," or enlightenment; they would be able to live in the world unaffected by its changes.

"What Osho taught is that the next jump for humanity is not changing the shape of your nose or face, but changing the shape of your inner space," said Swami Amrito, a British doctor who was with Rajneesh when he died.

Rajneesh returned to India in 1986, and problems followed the movement home.

After his death, the Indian press speculated that Rajneesh was murdered or died of AIDS. His followers denied the claims and accused the United States of poisoning their god while he was in jail.

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