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India Today, March 22, 1999
March 22, 1999

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War Over Peace

A debilitating power struggle between key disciples at the Pune ashram threatens the godman's spiritual and material legacy.

By Sheela Raval

The Osho Ashram at PuneControversy may well have been his middle name. Godman Osho went out of his way to court attention. Now his disciples have decided to follow suit. But even Osho may have been dismayed at how things are turning out.

Nine years after he died, a debilitating power struggle has broken out among key disciples at the Osho Commune International in Pune that threatens Osho's spiritual and material legacy. Last month, the battle which had been simmering for a while came out into the open with the resignation of the influential Ma Yoga Neelam from the Inner Circle -- the 21-member group the godman appointed to oversee his vast empire. Neelam also relinquished her key post as head of Osho's India operations.


The ashram is becoming increasingly commercialised.

There is no transparency in working. Swami Jayesh too autocratic.

Neelam was pressurised into resigning.

We combine spirituality with commerce (Osho's Buddha the Zorba concept).

Democracy was not Osho's style. He preferred secrecy.

Neelam's exit was normal and for personal reasons.

While Neelam played down her resignation saying "I want time to myself and am still exploring new ways to participate in commune activities", her supporters have a different story to tell. The commune grapevine, which has clogged the e-mail network with grim messages, insists her decision to quit was triggered by two causes: the Inner Circle's resentment of her power within the ashram and her growing disenchantment with the increasing commercialisation of ashram activities. They also charge the Inner Circle's chairman, the Canadian Swami Jayesh, with vesting all powers with himself and being intolerant of dissent.

Attacking the Inner Circle and Jayesh isn't new for Oshoites. But there's a lot at stake here. Oshoites are active in 80 countries with over 750 meditation centres, all on prime real estate (the Pune centre, for instance, is spread over 31 acres in affluent Koregaon Park). A major source of revenue are the books and cassettes produced at Pune which are sold at cost to other ashrams for retail. Donations as well as the earnings from meditation and therapy courses run into lakhs of rupees, if not crores. The centres are autonomous organisations, dependent on Pune only for spiritual guidance (in terms of initiation of sanyasis, meditation techniques and courses).

Since these are managed by private trusts, it's difficult to put a figure to the wealth generated by Osho-related activities (insiders estimate the Pune commune's earnings alone at over Rs 200 crore a year). But most disciples agree that whoever controls the Inner Circle holds sway over Osho's empire as well.

Much of the recent feuding is over the management and control of the Pune commune and the host of spiritual activities that it spawns. Already, disciples believe that Osho's guidance is being reinterpreted to suit the Inner Circle's convenience. For instance, Osho's idea of Buddha the Zorba (combining spiritualism with commerce) is being translated as the Osho Resort, where meditation will rub shoulders with club facilities. Two new buildings with plush facilities are under construction at the Pune resort -- Osho Mahakashyapa and Osho Dharamsala -- which are expected to be completed by December. Once these buildings are ready, the Pune ashram is likely to be renamed the Osho Resort for Meditation. "Osho believed in the richness of the inner and outer world," says Ma Zareen, who has been initiating an average 1,500 members every month to the commune since 1989. "He wanted this to be a club for meditation with all luxurious facilities. It is the Indian conditioning which has not been able to accept that."

Several disciples also find it difficult to accept that the ashram is leaning more toward business than spirituality. For instance, Osho's instructions were that food and books be sold at cost price. The Inner Circle now plans to charge royalty for the books it sells to the various centres and in the past two years, food prices at the commune have skyrocketed. Swami Sarjano, who has been associated with the commune kitchen for several years, says that there is a 450 per cent markup on food items. "The real devotees are being replaced by people looking for a quick spiritual fix. The place is losing its spiritual heart and soul," he says.

And the Indian voice in the ashram is steadily becoming marginalised, charge some sanyasis, with Neelam's ouster being the most recent example. Although right from the beginning Indians formed only a minority in the Inner Circle -- just five out of 21 -- Neelam's clout was indisputable. The housewife-turned-Osho confidante shot into prominence when she accompanied Osho from the US to India in 1986 and has since then played a key role in the affairs of the commune.

Right now damage control is a priority for the Inner Circle. The intensely private Jayesh -- who prefers to stay in a suite at Mumbai's Oberoi hotel while in India -- rushed to Pune after Neelam's resignation to assess the situation. Repeated attempts by india today to speak with Jayesh were unsuccessful. All commune spokesman Swami Chaitanya Keerti had to say on the issue was: "Neelam's exit is normal and for personal reasons. She is still an integral part of the commune." Neelam also denies any hint of a power struggle between her and Jayesh: "There are differences of opinion, naturally."

The protestors won't be easily silenced. Key issues remain to be resolved: transparency and the commune's commercial leanings. Several disciples allege that the Inner Circle has become omnipotent. Its workings are secret and only decisions are communicated to the commune members. Jayantibhai, 80, a former member of the Inner Circle, explains the penchant for privacy. "Democracy was never Osho's style. He specifically instructed all members that the inner workings of the committee were to remain secret."

Where do the Oshoites go from here? Already, local authorities are taking advantage of the brouhaha to air their grievances. The Pune Municipal Corporation has issued notices against illegal construction on the ashram grounds. Old rumours of orgies, wild raves and drug peddling are doing the round again, whipping up public sentiment against the commune. Clearly, Osho's legacy is unlikely to rest in the peace it seeks.




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