By Sharan Saikumar Aug. 26, 2016
Osho said, "Many people will come, and our work will expand incredibly beyond our ideas.” Little did he know that his ashram would fade into oblivion, or even worse become a spa.
Long ago, before Amrita turned into a wispy, grey-haired woman, who eventually lost her teeth to a lifelong heroin habit, she arrived in Pune in the winter of 1978 as a young, unhappy woman. As soon as she entered Koregaon Park, she saw red-robed people walking toward a massive gate, like aliens returning to their mother ship. She had no idea who Osho was.
Amrita was at a loose end in her life. Single, unemployed and on a slow spiral into the world of addiction, she signed up and donned the red robes. Inside, a new world opened up – an open-air, tropical paradise with swaying palms, waterbodies, and flowering gardens, where other red robes moved around unhurriedly, chatting on lawns or hugging one another lingeringly.
Amrita checked into a hovel near the ashram. Every morning, before entering the ashram, she was sniffed at the Lao Tsu Gate (Osho didn’t tolerate smells of any kind) and strangers would hug her without reason. Osho, who she later came to know was India’s controversial “sex guru”, would sit on a throne with his mostly white disciples at his feet.
It was weird at first, and the meditations in the Buddha Grove were unlike anything she’d ever experienced before. They were encouraged to scream and dance, and blow air out of their noses like a herd of very pissed-off bulls. But the evening meeting that Osho presided over, would send her into a hypnotic trance – he spoke about love, sexuality, and everything in between. Osho understood dance, he understood the connection it made between the mind and the body.
For the few months that she lived there, Amrita stayed away from the needle. She also stayed away from the sex. All around her, tanned, loose-limbed sanyasis were engaging in the act that Osho equated to meditation, the climax of which was an organismic nirvana. There was also the much maligned but little understood tantra, open to a select group of his disciples. Everyone had a different version of what went on at the tantra therapy sessions – rumours ranged from genital sniffing to forced sex. But they were also told that it was for people who are ready to receive higher-order instruction.
The techniques of tantra were based on the Vigyan Bhairav Tantra, the holy text, in which Shiva answers Parvati’s questions on consciousness with 112 meditation techniques, each involving all five senses of the body. Sexual and non-sexual contact is a manifestation of those techniques.
The evening meetings that Osho presided over sent his disciples into a hypnotic trance – he spoke about love, sexuality, and everything in between. Courtesy: Illustrated Weekly
The evening meetings that Osho presided over sent his disciples into a hypnotic trance – he spoke about love, sexuality, and everything in between.
Courtesy: Illustrated Weekly
Amrita never took the tantra therapy. She ran out of money and left the ashram around the time the Osho narrative started unravelling.
In 1981, a couple of years after she left, Osho too left his Pune ashram convinced he deserved a bigger world stage. His right-hand woman, the soon to be notorious Ma Anand Sheela, got working at spinning his new empire out of thin air. In under two months, a 64,229-acre city in the arid mountains of Oregon came into being and the legend of the “superstar alien of Oregon” was born.
The goings on inside the walled city far away in America – dubbed Rajneeshpuram – reached her and the rest of India through Pritish Nandy’s iconic story in the Illustrated Weekly in 1985.
In a four-page colour spread with photos of nightclubs, silk-clad sanyasins totting Uzis and assault rifles, and a power-crazed Osho in a Rudolph Valentino headband burning the floor of the nightclub at 3 am, Nandy’s report captured the off-the-charts craziness of this $50-million city built on raging persecution, paranoia, and extreme indulgence.
The Rajneeshpuram experiment ended in a catastrophic failure, when Osho and his crew were arrested on the charge of attempted homicide, after which he landed back in India. He drew his last breath at his beloved Pune ashram in 1990.
By this time, Amrita’s heroin-blitzed brain had forgotten all about that brief period of hope in the ashram. Her descent into drugs was complete.
Thirty-five years after Ma Amrita had left the ashram, I planned my visit. Only by now it had transformed into “Osho Meditation Resort and Spa”, renamed in 1991 by the new management.
“The hottest place for a cool winter” yelled a headline in their newsletter that went on to offer services such as a spa, Jacuzzi, and tennis courts for a relaxed weekend. It didn’t sound like Amrita’s version of an ashram, nor did it echo Nandy’s lunatic asylum vibe. It sounded a lot like a five-star hotel.
I checked in one Saturday morning and donned my red robes, much like Amrita had all those years ago. But while her meditations unfolded in the Buddha Grove to organic drumbeats, mine were in a stripped-down mechanised room with recorded voices booming out of the speaker. While she ate simple vegetarian lunches in the canteen, I sipped expensive cappuccinos in Buddha The Zorba. While she sat at Osho’s feet, listening to his extended discourses, I hardly heard the name Osho. And while she danced in the rain, I swam in the lagoon-shaped pool in an overpriced red swimsuit.
Amrita had left the ashram with a renewed promise to clean up her act (a hope that would fizzle out the minute she took the bus out of Pune). I left restored and relaxed, but no more enlightened about life than I would have been after a day at the Taj Holiday resort. The only thing we had in common was that we were both sniffed at the Lao Tzu Gate.
My orientation group had two boys from Delhi, whose eyes were popping out at all the white skin around and waiting eagerly (as I confess, I was too) to hear the word “sex”. It never came. The patented meditations were administered through pre-approved guides, and veering off the prescribed dialogue was not encouraged. Like the word “sex”, the word “tantra” never came up either.
Old-timers like Tathaghat, who were once part of the 21 hand-selected group of Osho’s disciples, snorted in derision at the tennis court avatar of the commune. “They’ve removed everything that made it Osho – they’ve taken down his portraits and even denied existence of his samadhi. Even his books have been heavily edited – The Book of Wisdom has magically lost 2,00,000 words,” he told me.
Osho, it seemed, had been scrubbed out from his own ashram with industrial strength Lizol, retaining only his money-spinning name.
Pritish Nandy’s report captured the off-the-charts craziness of Rajneeshpuram, a $50-million city built on raging persecution, paranoia, and extreme indulgence. Courtesy: Illustrated Weekly
Pritish Nandy’s report captured the off-the-charts craziness of Rajneeshpuram, a $50-million city built on raging persecution, paranoia, and extreme indulgence.
Courtesy: Illustrated Weekly
For the millennial today and the generations that come after, Osho will show up in Google as some guy who runs a resort in Pune.
They will never know the scholar of comparative religion, the intellect that created more than 650 works on truth, life, sex, and consciousness, that are translated into 55 languages or the man Khushwant Singh once called the “propounder of new ideas on existence, the most erudite of the world’s religious philosophers”. They will never know that for a lost generation like that of Amrita’s, he was, at one time, a glimmer of hope, of redemption.
But January 19, 1990, the day Osho left his body, would go on to fascinate us more than any of his spiritual philosophies. It would be taken apart, minute by minute, to be probed for accusations of murder, divided camps, forged wills, and greed.
Osho passed on blissfully unaware of the tainted legacy of his death and the descent of his life’s work into a spa resort. He is believed to have said, “Never speak of me in the past tense. Many people will come, interest will grow, and our work will expand incredibly beyond our ideas.”
It does appear, 26 years later, that Osho may have been accidentally prophetic.