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Trouble has been brewing in this Pune paradise ever since Osho, aka Bhagwan Rajneesh, left his body—as his devotees like to put it—about two decades ago. However, of late the split in the ranks has become unbridgeable, battlelines clearly drawn and court cases getting more bitter and complicated by the day. In the eye of the long-blowing storm are the three foreigner administrators or trustees—Swami Jayesh (Michael O’Byrne) and Swami Yogendra (Darcy O’Byrne) from Canada and Swami Amrito (George Meredith from the UK)—who Osho’s ex-secretary Ma Neelam once reportedly referred to as the “three dictators”.
They began by changing the commune’s name to Osho International Meditation Resort but the other alterations have been more wide-ranging and have piqued other disciples. “They want to change everything...it’s throw out the old,” says long-time Osho disciple and ex-Osho spokesperson Swami Chaitanya Keerti. “They are ruining the movement,” says artist and follower Jaya Dixit Nag Peralta. Over the years, the opposition to the ‘dictators’ has been growing and they, in turn, have reacted by banning many of the antagonistic Osho followers from the ashram. “Anyone who questions them is labelled anti-Osho and banned from the ashram premises,” says a follower. Many, like Swami Keerti, have left the commune to work independently. Now social network sites are emerging as the platforms to air grievances.
The latest point of conflict is the allegation of misappropriation of funds—that the trustees have been clandestinely transferring funds from the trust to themselves. They have allegedly been transferring benefits of the Osho trust directly in their own favour as directors and shareholders of a company called Osho Multimedia and Resorts Pvt Ltd. “As a result, the trust is being deprived of income and benefits. For example, any income accrued from visitors staying at the Osho Guest House (held by the trust) gets directly siphoned off to Osho Multimedia and Resorts Pvt Ltd,” alleges Yogesh Thakkar aka Swami Premgeet. He, amongst others, is demanding that a proper inquiry be initiated by the authorities and the administrators prosecuted for said criminal offences, and the trust’s money retrieved with interest. “According to the Bombay Public Trust Act, the trustees can’t directly transfer any benefits for personal favour...the trustees can’t be the beneficiaries,” he says. Thakkar’s stand is categorical: that the public charitable trust established by Osho is gradually getting turned into a private limited company.
Earlier this year, he initiated another legal battle against the trustees. There have been allegations that parts of the Osho ashram land (6,600 sq ft, worth Rs 50 crore) in Koregaon Park were surreptitiously disposed of and transferred to outsiders through gifts by the Osho International Foundation. The transfer had allegedly been made to a little known, obscure ‘Darshan Trust’, registered in Delhi and controlled by Mukesh Sarda, a trustee of the Osho International Foundation. A writ petition was filed, challenging the arbitrary order passed by the charity commissioner, Mumbai, on the grounds that “the gift” was not “clean and thoughtful”. Subsequently, the Bombay HC issued notices to the charity commissioner and the trustees of Osho International Foundation and Darshan Trust. So is this an attempt to shut down the ashram by selling it piece-meal? (Since the case is sub judice, the trustees expressed their inability to respond to Outlook’s queries on this and the other allegations against them.)
Over the years, the trustees have also moved a chunk of the Osho archives, documents, recordings etc, abroad.
Now for some history. The first inkling of trouble started soon after Osho’s death in 1990, when Osho International Foundation (OIF), Zurich, tried to register the trademarks of Osho and his meditations in the US. Based upon its claim to trademarks and copyright ownership, OIF even launched legal action against Osho Dhyan Mandir, Delhi, in an effort to prevent them from using the word, ‘Osho’ in the domain name, oshoworld.com. The verdict, however, went in Osho Dhyan Mandir’s favour. Also, later the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) ruled that Osho and his works cannot be trademarked. As Swami Chaitanya Keerti puts it, “Meditation is a gift of the Eastern mystics. It can’t be a trademark.”
But these malpractices apart, Osho followers are also upset that the sanctity of the samadhi is no longer being maintained, that Osho’s objectives are getting compromised in the new, ruling commercialism. As Ma Neelam put it, the commune is being turned into a corporation. “Osho’s pictures are being removed. They don’t believe in ‘samadhi’. It’s not even called an ashram now, but a luxurious meditation resort,” says Peralta. “The place where the ashes are kept is universally called samadhi. They are now calling it Osho Chuang Tzu,” says Swami Keerti. Over the years, the administrators are said to have shifted a chunk of Osho’s archives—documents, paintings, photos, audio/video recordings and personal belongings—outside India.
The entry fee to the ashram has gone up 15-20 per cent to Rs 480 for Indians and Rs 980 for foreigners (which detractors claim as reason for the sharp drop in visitor numbers). In the peak season, November-February, the ashram used to attract 1,200-1,500 visitors a day, now its reportedly down to 150. “The Multiversity School of Meditation is on the verge of being shut down with only 10 per cent of the programmes going on as compared to five years back,” says Thakkar.
The traditional celebrations have also been stopped. Osho’s birthday, enlightenment and nirvana are no longer marked. “The new message is that everyday is a celebration,” says a follower sarcastically. So instead of observing Guru Poornima, Bollywoodisation is the new mantra. Dancing to Sheela Ki Jawani and Bollywood karaoke nights were the highlights of a recent monsoon festival. Again, another indication that the ashram, as we have known it, will eventually shut shop? Will it shift to another country? Devotees predict the worst, they say it’s not just Osho’s legacy but India’s heritage and philosophy that are at stake.