PUNE, India — Twilight is falling. More than 3,000 barefoot, mostly Western and 30-something followers of Osho Rajneesh have padded into a lofty tent christened "Buddha Hall" to again hear the master's words.
The guru's white armchair, complete with a cushion to ease his chronic back pain, is reverently borne in and placed on a marble platform. A screen lowers to the amplified twang of a sitar. The projector lights up and purrs.
Ten feet high, there reappears the wispy-bearded countenance of the iconoclast who once called himself the Baghwan (God), shocked much of the world by owning no fewer than 93 Rolls-Royces and lashed out at organized religion. (Christianity, he said, is "the deadliest poison.")
"The worshiper is the worshiped, you don't have to worship anyone else," Rajneesh proclaims from the screen, his bulging, guppy-like eyes shaded by aviator sunglasses. "Existence is irrational. The moment you ask why, you have missed the point."
Sitting on the marble floor in their pristine white robes, the disciples reflect silently on the evening's sermon. As the session ends and their playfully smiling teacher vanishes, they rise and joyously and deafeningly shout "Osho!"
The outrageously provocative, Zen-inspired thinker--born Mohan Chandra Rajneesh and dubbed the "sex guru" by a scandalized press--seems to be enjoying the last laugh in death.
Nine years ago, with the commune his followers founded in Oregon convulsed by a power struggle, he was arrested on immigration fraud charges in the United States and expelled.
On Jan. 19, 1990, at age 58, the man known to his latter-day followers as Osho died here of massive coronary thrombosis, or "left the body," as disciples say.
Strewn with petals, Osho's corpse was carried to a riverside pyre from the religious teaching center, or ashram, that he founded 20 years ago in this inland city southeast of Bombay and incinerated that very evening.
But thanks to magnetic tape, inspired marketing and the spiritual hunger and curiosity of thousands of Westerners, the guru lives on--though another power struggle may be on, this time for mastery of his legacy.
Still, the ashram, Osho Commune International, has become, in its own words, "the biggest spiritual health club in the world," doubling in size in three years and attracting more pilgrims and enlightenment- and sun-starved holiday makers than ever.
"This is a unique place, a buddhafield," proclaims a notice at the gate, where guards, Osho's hirsute brother among them, verify that visitors have passed a mandatory AIDS test and bought a daily pass that costs about 66 cents.
Once inside the fenced-in oasis of 31 acres, the paying guest can meditate, take a class in Zen archery or get a massage at a "Multiversity"--or just play a set of what is jocularly called "Zennis."
Many who seek succor in Rajneesh's eclectic blend of Asian mysticism and Western pop psychology and materialism find contentment and enrichment--and confirmation that Osho was much more than a spiritual con artist.
For the last 3 1/2 years, ruddy-faced Burt Eggan, 62, a former Manhattan Beach stockbroker and restaurateur, has lived in a one-bedroom servant's house in Pune.
A dropout from the high-pressure world of finance, Eggan is one of the scores who perform volunteer work at the ashram, checking off visitor's meal cards, selling them towels and booking tennis courts.
"I was a fairly neurotic alcoholic suburban businessman," said the man now known as Swami Anand Burt, clad in the ankle-length maroon robe of an Osho disciple. "Beneath the exterior, I was desperate."
He read one of Rajneesh's books and left his wife and two children to follow his guru.
Summarizing the thoughts of a man whose transcribed teachings fill an entire commune bookstore and have sold a purported 15 million volumes worldwide is not easy. Perhaps the kernel is Osho's notion that the perfect human being combines the earthy zest of Zorba the Greek and the transcendental spirituality of Buddha.
"A Buddha that cannot dance is not much of a Buddha," he once sniffed.
Osho called himself a guru for the rich, for people who already have a fast car but are seeking inner wealth. He held that poverty was a consequence of humanity's idiocy. He spoke of Hitler and Gandhi as being violent men.
He told tasteless jokes about Nancy Reagan in his sermons and said meditation and sex were both valid techniques to penetrate the inner self.
He counseled followers to wear latex gloves during foreplay and appears to have been obsessed about the risk of AIDS.
Osho, the eldest son of a central Indian cloth merchant, enraged many at home and in the West because there had never been anyone who more brashly proclaimed his belief in both the divine and the crassly material.