Pune’s Osho Commune is embroiled in controversy since the past few days regarding its petition in the Charity Commissioner’s office in Mumbai to “gift’’ a part of its property to an obscure trust. Is it just a property deal or an attempt to shut shop?
When the Osho International Foundation, which runs the internationally-acclaimed Osho Commune in Pune applied last week to the Charity Commissioner’s office in Mumbai, for permission to “gift’’ its 6,600 sq ft prime property in Lane No 1 of Koregaon Park, Pune, it was more than just a magnanimous property deal. At stake is the Osho legacy and the spiritual heritage belonging to the nation, as it represents the life & times and the colossal philosophical work of one of the greatest—though controversial— spiritual mystiques of the 20th century, Osho, earlier known as Acharya Rajneesh.
What’s scandalous is that, while prominent Osho Management team member Ma Sadhana admitted that another part of the property has been recently mortgaged to facilitate running the commune (is it broke?), suddenly you have the management wanting to “gift” another part of its property and that too to an obscure ‘Darshan Trust’ which does not seem to have official credibility. The natural question is: Why such magnanimity?
While the suspicion that the Osho Commune, run by three foreigners, steered by Swami Jayesh alias Michael O Byrne, erstwhile real-estate agent of Edmonton, US—(the other two being Swami Amrito alias George Meredith, Osho’s personal physician and Swami Yogendra alias Darcy O’ Byrne)—who has re-christened the commune as the ‘Osho International Meditation Resort’ with a stark commercial flavour a few years after Osho died in 1990, might be ultimately sold off and the commune shifted somewhere outside the country, has some bearing, though very speculative at this stage.
The Osho Commune management has deliberately undertaken various measures since the past few years to convert this Ashram meant for spiritual seekers who flocked here from around the world, into a luxurious resort by eliminating the Master’s presence in the form of photographs, which otherwise studded the Commune. What was shocking was that Osho’s ‘Samadhi’ was replaced by what is now called as ‘Osho Chuang Tzu’. At that time, former Osho spokesperson Swami Chaitanya Keerti who walked out of the Commune in early 2000, had stated that, “many of us are suspicious of the resort’s motives in discarding the term ‘Samadhi’. I think this is a long-term strategy to break the emotional link we sanyasins have with Osho’s Samadhi and sell or lease Pune property in the future. The prime properties of this Commune do not belong to the handful of inner-circle members, but to all the Osho followers from all over India and the world, who have made contributions when Osho was alive.” Is Keerti’s prophecy coming true now?
The Commune management also audaciously demolished the legendary ‘Buddha Hall’ where Osho gave most of his world-famous spiritual discourses, bedecked in royal robes and seated on an equally royal & luxuriant chair. During the days when he was ailing, he arrived from his room just 500 meters away in a Rolls-Royce. The huge mosquito net that covered the Buddha Hall was said to be the largest, fit enough to enter the Guinness Book of World Records. When that was dismantled a few years back, Keerti had stated it was an “outrage to Osho’s memory and the death of a spiritual heritage place of the country”. That was another act of reducing Osho’s legacy into nothingness. Was that also a part of a strategy to facilitate future sale of property?
The Commune—particularly after the construction of the one lakh square foot Osho Meditation Resort built opposite the main gate, represents what you can call the ‘five-star’ culture. It has transformed into a five-star resort by jacking up entry fees and food prices, and discouraging Indian sanyasins from patronising it by way of humiliation, banning ‘seva’ (voluntary work to run various departments of the Commune and instead appointing an international professional housekeeping company by paying several lakhs per month) and banning those who speak against the highhandedness of the Commune administration.
For example, the entry fees for one day are Rs480 for Indians and Rs960 for Westerners. This is beside the food which would on average cost Rs500 per person for two meals. Thus, even Westerners find it exorbitant to go there—this is confirmed by the assessment that visitors have dipped by nearly 80 percent. Swami Prem Geet (Yogesh Thakkar), one of the two petitioners who have filed an objection in the Charity Commissioner’s office in Mumbai against the Osho Commune’s representation, and because of whom the issue surfaced in the public arena, states, “Until a couple of years back, round 1,000 foreigners would visit the Commune in the peak period of December to February. Last year, there were around 200-odd only. They don’t want visitors anymore—they have sinister plans and have therefore also transferred registration of the trusts from Pune’s Charity Commissioner’s office to Mumbai. However, we got a whiff that they wanted to give away part of the spiritual heritage of the Commune and so we rushed to Mumbai and filed our objection in good time.” Details of the objection petition as well as the Commune’s application before the Charity Commissioner, Mumbai, are available at www.oshowork.org
The Osho International Foundation (OIF) also tried to make the word ‘Osho’ as its trademark. However, it lost the case in 2009 in the US, against a complaint filed by ‘Osho Friends International’ in 1999 steered by Keerti. The Trademark and Trial Appeal Board in the US where the case was filed concluded, “The term ‘Osho’ is generic for the meditations devised by the mystic Osho and the meditation and religious movement arising from there. As a result, defendant OIF cannot foreclose others from utilising the term OSHO to describe their own goods and services based upon such meditations and movements.”
After the German Bakery blast in 2010, the tourists’ tour through the Osho Commune has been stopped for security reasons as it has come under the radar of terrorists, and rightly so. Only, this has become another reason for curbs on people visiting it.
When Moneylife contacted Ma Sadhana, she brushed off the issue of gifting away part of the property, thus—“It is a storm in a teacup. We are all happy here, alive and kicking. We have no problems. There is no petition filed with the Charity Commissioner.”
Pune’s Osho Commune is a national heritage as Osho has an international following, the like not seen for any other Indian spiritual master. While his philosophy of ‘Sex to super-consciousness’ had come under bitter criticism when he propagated it in the early 1970s, today his books, audio & video cassettes are widely sold in practically every country. He has brought about a unique spiritual innovation that has been accepted beyond India.
It is time that leading followers of Osho who walked away from the Commune and started their own centres in different parts of the country and were erstwhile faces of the Commune like Ma Yoga Neelam (Osho’s secretary), Swami Tathagat (Osho Commune’s administration-in-charge), Swami Satya Vedant (former chancellor, Osho Multi-Varsity) and Swami Chaitanya Keerti come forward to launch a mass campaign against any demolition or alleged closure of the Osho Commune. They need to give strong support to Swami Premgeet (Yogesh Thakkar) and Swami Prem Anadi (Kishor Raval) who are presently opposing the Commune’s recent move in the Charity Commissioner’s office in Mumbai.
Simultaneously, it is time the state and Central governments suo motu come forward to preserve this national heritage.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at [email protected]).
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