Mike McPhate, San Francisco Chronicle: As a softly lit classroom of fellow devotees of the late Indian mystic Osho try to enliven their sex centers — whirling to the music of Madonna, howling like macaques and blowing hysterically through their nostrils, Prem Dita sits alone in her maroon robe at a nearby vegetarian cafe. “If you are at a higher level, it’s boring,” Dita says of the class as she nibbles at a croissant.
Like the whirling devotees, Dita, a long-faced, graying German woman who says her birth name is Weintraub, came to this city in western India in search of bliss.
That was 26 years ago, back when Osho was giving 50-cent sermons to flocks of hippies, who built a colony of bamboo huts to be near him, and she’s never left, she says.
Three years later — in 1981 — Osho, the slender, white-bearded son of a cloth merchant who is better known to Americans by his previous name, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, went to Oregon with thousands of followers hoping to build a New Age utopia. He returned to Pune in 1987.
But Dita never left Pune, an industrial center 100 miles east of Bombay. With no family in Germany, she has nothing to return to. The city of the Bhagwan’s resting place is her home now.
More than a decade after the mystic’s death in 1990, the commune that houses his ashes has been reincarnated as the luxurious Osho Meditation Resort, complete with tennis courts, lagoon-style swimming pool, high-speed Internet cafe and cappuccino bar that serves vodka in the evenings…
The old days were “really fantastic,” says Dita, who refuses to enter the new complex. “It’s terrible now. It’s like a Holiday Inn.”
Dispute over Osho’s legacy
The preaching grounds in Pune where Osho offered a mish-mash of pop psychology and ancient Indian wisdom have become the site of a fierce dispute over his legacy.
The battle is being waged between a group of mainly foreign disciples in control of the resort, and an Indian-led faction that feels the guru’s memory is being cheapened.
“Those who were prominent practitioners don’t even visit the ashram anymore,” says S.E. Bhelke, a philosophy professor at Pune University and an admirer of the late guru. Greed, he says, is the problem.
Behind the commune’s makeover are five Osho disciples — a Canadian, a Briton, two Germans and an Indian — who in the years after his death, seized control of the Inner Circle, the secretive group the guru entrusted with continuing his work.
In addition to the property, they control a multimillion-dollar trove of Osho’s assets, including 7,000 hours of recorded lectures, which have been published in more than 600 books in 53 languages.
The renaming of the commune as a resort, the doubling of entrance fees and the razing of one of Osho’s lecture halls have particularly upset the old-time Indian devotees.
An influential faction broke away from the commune four years ago in protest. Denouncing what they saw as the commercialization of the mystic’s legacy by foreign opportunists, they set up a rival camp called Osho World in New Delhi, with its own meditation hall, gallery and magazine.
“The (Pune) commune has become a club for the select few,” says defector Chaitanya Keerti, one of the guru’s original disciples and the editor of the Osho World magazine. “The emphasis now is on entertainment, relaxation, Jacuzzi, sauna.”
The resort, which draws 200,000 visitors a year, is lovely. After 12 days of muggy monsoon rain, the unpaved roads, where beggars have been relegated away from the park gates, have turned into an excrement-scented muck, but the grounds remain a sparkling oasis.
The 40-acre campus undulates with jasmine-scented bamboo groves, peacocks, silky waterfalls and wide white marble paths.
In expression of their harmony, all the guests, known as beloveds, wear robes that cost $3 on the street or $7 at the “nonprofit” Osho boutique — maroon in the daytime and white in the evening.
On a recent morning, several sat in silent, yogic poses by a brook. Others checked e-mail behind the Internet cafe’s blue-tinted windows or sipped white wine by the pool. One Indian woman twirled like a ballerina, her eyes shut in bliss, along the marble floor of Buddha Grove.
“There’s just some gorgeous things about Osho,” said Ananda Das, Sanskrit for “seeker of bliss,” sipping Earl Grey tea by the resort’s black marble pyramid complex. “He’s wild, you know? He is an invitation to grow in consciousness.”
Guests work for meditations
Das, a gray-bearded house painter from Australia who used to be named Russell Gardner, said he lives partly on an inheritance. He was participating in the resort’s Work as Meditation program, in which guests work 42 hours per week for the privilege of attending meditations.
“Meditation is a luxury,” said Das, dismissing the suggestion that Osho followers should reach out to the poor. “Buddha had this big, compassionate heart,” he said. “I’m not so compassionate. I’m interested in me personally.”
Most beloveds are harried foreigners; Americans make up the largest group. In Osho’s day, disciples came for months and years, but resort-goers now do short stays like the popular Wellness Weekend Getaway — $120 for two nights at the posh, on-site guesthouse — a steep rate in a country known among backpackers for its dirt-cheap prices.
“The demographics here are so high,” said park administrator Yogendra, or “the god of yoga,” a Canadian lawyer whose name used to be D’Arcy O’Byrne. “They have Ph.D.s, double Ph.D.s, law degrees. So many doctors, so many psychologists, psychiatrists are here.
“They have everything in the world that is supposed to make them happy. And they’re not happy.”
The meat and potatoes of the resort are the meditations. A new menu — Craniosacral Balancing, Primal Deconditioning, Secret of the Golden Flower — is offered every day.
But many of the beloveds, whose average age is 32, appear to come for the revelry: There are bikini parties by the pool, costume parties, lunchtime disco parties, as well as nightly parties at the cappuccino bar. The preferred soundtrack is techno.
Men from Bombay, having heard the tales of tantric orgies and drug-induced raves at the commune, are known to arrive with high hopes. The resort staff warns all new guests, who must clear an HIV test before being admitted, that they must respect female beloveds’ right not to be hugged and that Western women sometimes prefer to dance alone.
The festive atmosphere is inspired by Osho himself, who acquired notoriety for his radical views on sex. Dubbed the “sex guru” in the Indian press, he preached that monogamy is foolhardy, marriage is a prison for women, and young boys and girls should explore each other’s bodies.
Critics say that resort leaders, who have taken down nearly all of the hundreds of portraits of Osho that once decorated the property, have gone too far, substituting entertainment for spiritual quest.
The Indian faction has aroused a patriotic backlash in the country, drawing wide support for their cause among the Indian press.
While many Indians originally rejected Osho’s eccentric ideas on sex, he is today considered a national treasure, with admirers including India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sikh writer Khushwant Singh.
Indians oppose copyrights
The Indians have loudly criticized the Westerners for seeking copyrights with the U.S. Library of Congress on Osho’s name, words and even meditations, opening up corporate offices in New York and Zurich to monitor violations.
“I could understand Americans trying to grab patent rights over basmati rice and neem products — where they mercifully failed — but how can anyone patent thought and meditation?” Singh wrote in the Chandigarh paper the Tribune, describing the attempt as “preposterous.”
Defector Keerti calls the foreigners’ actions evil.
“When they come to this country, they are tourists,” he says. “The whole of India resents them.”
Resort administrator Yogendra, whose elusive older brother, Jayesh, is said to be the most powerful member of the Inner Circle, said seeking copyrights in the United States, where they are more strictly enforced, is just common sense. “Those people from India,” he said, “don’t really understand copyrights.”
Yogendra, 50, who has a lilting voice and a shaved scalp, suggests that the Indian critics just aren’t meditating enough.
“You know the press likes to talk about the trademarks and the copyrights and all the problems,” he says from his cool resort office, “but really, the fundamental, underlying thing, everybody will tell you, is it’s about meditation.
“It’s like this place is the manifestation of Osho’s vision,” he adds. “It’s just heaven.”