Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh has finally come home, but the people here wish he hadn't and he himself isn't sure what to do next. "Planning means bondage," he says. For now, the Indian guru who made a fortune advocating sex and meditation to the rich of the West has taken over a set of luxury tourist cottages in this Himalayan "Valley of the Gods" for $10,000 a week.
He is still mad at the United States for arresting him on immigration-fraud charges and throwing him out, and he is still hissing that Ma Anand Sheela, his former chief of staff now jailed in West Germany, is a "man-hater" and a "bitch." He says his multimillion-dollar Oregon commune, Rajneeshpuram, is on the market, and that most of his 90 Rolls-Royces have been sold. His empire is crumbling. And yet, as he has most days since he says his enlightenment occurred while resting under a tree in March 1953, the guru is said to spend his time here alone in his suite in a state of silent bliss.
With Rajneesh is a small support staff of sannyasins, or disciples, in varying shades of red clothing, wearing pictures of him around their necks. His gardener is the ex-wife of a Greek shipping magnate. His personal doctor used to have a thriving London practice. One of his two cleaning ladies, who disinfects the room of the allergy-suffering guru twice a day, used to be a dental hygienist. His new chief of staff, Ma Prem Hasya, is the ex-wife of big-time Hollywood producer Al ("The Godfather") Ruddy. She left her 200 pairs of shoes in Beverly Hills eight years ago and never looked back.
She and the guru's high command are trying to buy land for him in India, 20 acres or so, for a big house with room for maybe 100 guests. No more communes, the guru says. The rest of the two dozen disciples here watch "Chinatown" on the VCR, take long afternoon naps and wonder what's happened to their friends routed from their promised land in Oregon.
Every morning the 54-year-old guru, wearing a technicolor gown that makes him look like something invented by Walt Disney, takes a walk along a mountain stream with his longtime caretaker and companion, Ma Yoga Vivek. Afterward, he sometimes gives an interview from his back porch as his disciples gather around, cross-legged on the ground. They love this because it is the only time they hear him speak.
On this particular morning, as the sun lights up the encircling mountains, Rajneesh calls Jesus Christ a "crackpot"; he then claims to have had more sexual partners than anyone in history, although he provides no details. He is also proud, he says, that in seven years of sex and therapy at his old commune in Poona, India, "there were only three broken bones."
"First, silent therapies were given," he recalls of the old days. "For those who could not succeed, more active therapies were given. If that was not enough, then people could beat their pillows, shout and scream, but not touch anybody. Rarely was there a person who still needed something more, who was not yet cleansed. For these people, there were therapies of physical violence. It was their individual choice. Yes, every once in a while there was a broken bone. And I asked these people, 'How do you feel about it?' and I was amazed. They said, 'Perhaps it was absolutely necessary for us. As my bone was broken, suddenly something in me which was violent disappeared.' "
He is dressed in a long, flowing robe, kelly green and royal blue, with shocking green socks, blue sandals and a knit cap to match. On his wrist is what a disciple said is an inexpensive fake of a Piaget diamond and sapphire watch. He speaks in slow, heavily accented English. His eyebrows are permanently arched, as if in a constant state of surprise. He looks deep into his questioner's eyes with a mesmerizing stare, the trademark that is said to have pulled in half a million converts from around the globe. But nothing cosmic occurs. The guru is tired.
"Who cares about money?" he says.
Ever since the 1960s, Indian gurus have found fertile territory among members of the American privileged class who couldn't find the right answers back home in Shaker Heights. In that sense, Rajneesh is hardly a new phenomenon on the mysticism scene. The only differences are that he worships materialism rather than asceticism, and that he talks more about sex than anyone else.
The guru's return has caused a sensation here. His arrest in the United States was front page news all over India, and now his impish grin is splashed on magazine covers from Calcutta to Bombay. He is "all glitter and glow like some paternal pop star," hyperventilated the leading news magazine, India Today, with "diamonds and sequins flashing in the strobes, and adoring women draped around his stockinged feet."
He has livened up the parties of New Delhi's winter season, where Indians debate whether he is a fraud or a marketing genius for putting over what they consider a lot of eastern hocus-pocus on the gullible West. Indians generally tolerate and even respect the country's masses of itinerant "holy" men as part of their broad-minded religious tradition, but not when they feed American stereotypes about the weirdness of India and embarrass them abroad. Still, some questioned why Rajneesh's hands and feet had to be shackled when he was arrested by American authorities.
When he arrived at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport in the early hours of Nov. 17, Rajneesh was met by the loving chants of 500 followers, many of them Indians, and a carpet of rose petals. He was driven to a nearby luxury hotel by a disciple who was once one of India's leading movie stars. In a 90-minute press conference at dawn, Rajneeh called his experience in the United States "hell," criticized America as "not a democracy" but a "hypocrisy," and said he was happy to spend the rest of his life in India, "my motherland."
Then he headed for his current hideaway, Span Resorts in the state of Himachal Pradesh's Kulu Valley, about 250 miles north of New Delhi. Full of legend as a valley of 100 temples and 1,000 gods, it was a natural place for the guru to lick his wounds. The local folk, mostly apple farmers, took little notice, but the valley's politicians and businessmen are complaining that this is the last thing the state's fledgling tourist industry needs.
"We do not approve of him," says Raj Krishen Gour, the state minister of tourism. "I don't want the impression carried around the world that Himachal Pradesh is a haven for these types. We are a very God-fearing people."
Pronouncement over, the minister leans forward and asks, "Did you see that watch of his?"
What fascinates people here is the intense hold Rajneesh has on his followers. "Free sex" has been the traditional explanation, but that doesn't make sense in the mid-1980s, particularly since many of his disciples have decided to get married. One clue is to look at the two dozen people he has with him in India. For the most part, they are young, cheerful and intelligent products of the western upper-middle class, probably no more self-absorbed than others of their generation who somewhere along the line simply got lost. For some it was a painful divorce, for others it was a vague sense of feeling disconnected from the world around them.
"Everything had a hollowness to it," says Swami Devaraj, Rajneesh's doctor, recalling his own days in medical school. "Nothing made sense."
What he and the others have found in Rajneesh is an odd combination of eastern mysticism and California pop psychology, slickly packaged in some 400 books with Delphic titles like "From Sex to Superconsciousness" and "The Goose Is Out." Rajneesh says there is no god and that his teachings are not a religion, although Bhagwan, his title, means "blessed one." He borrows freely from Buddha and Lao-tzu, and also from the traditions of Zen and Tantra, the religious discipline that views the sexual union as the path to oneness with the universe.
Clearly one of his most popular drawing cards is his crusade against guilt. "This is the first religion which does not reject anything from your life," he said in a lecture published in the first volume of the 753-page book he calls his "bible." "It accepts you totally, as you are."
At the center of his philosophy is the standard practice of meditation, or what he calls the "knack" of controlling the undisciplined computer of the brain. Most people, he says, spend their lives bombarded by thoughts of what happened to them yesterday or worrying about what will occur tomorrow. Therefore the mind rarely exists in the present. To change that, Rajneesh asks a person to "watch" his thoughts; that is, if you are angry, step back and in a detached way "look" at your anger. When you see it, Rajneesh says, it will disappear and no longer be an emotion at all.
After years of practice, he says, you will be able to watch all of your thoughts, so that one after another they will disappear, eventually leading to a blissful state of total thoughtlessness, or enlightenment. This is what Buddhists believe happened to the young Siddhartha Gautama while he was sitting under a bo tree in northern India in 500 B.C., and this is what Rajneesh claims happened to him 25 centuries later. "It is exactly the same," he says. "You disappear and the universe takes you over. I was for the first time totally relaxed. I became full of light inside, and that light has remained with me, every moment of my life."
Since most people don't know where to begin in meditation, Rajneesh says the best starting point is the most accessible period of thoughtlessness -- sexual orgasm. During sex, he asks his followers to try to "rise above" the orgasm, as if they are "witnessing" it, and to pretend there are four people in the bed, not two. Rajneesh has actually described enlightenment as a constant state of orgasm, but his disciples now think he said this to wake up some nonconverts in the back of the auditorium. Yet he does believe that sexual energy is the most powerful force in the body, and that other religions have been antihuman by repressing it into monogamy. Love comes and love goes, says Rajneesh, so why confine yourself to one person?
Rajneesh often makes the analogy that enlightenment, like orgasm, won't occur if you try too hard. So all of the sannyasins watching movies on the VCR up here in the Himalayas are careful to say that even though it might seem otherwise, they are not waiting around for enlightenment, but rather "just waiting around." This is a very important distinction.
So far, Rajneesh says only he has reached this state of thoughtlessness, but not long ago he threw the Oregon commune into an uproar when he announced that 21 sannyasins, unbeknownst to them, had become enlightened. Much preening ensued. The resentment and backbiting didn't die down until Rajneesh later announced it was all a joke.
The other crucial aspect of his teaching that sold particularly well in the West is what he calls his "philosophy of affluence." "I worship luxury," he has said. He sees spirituality and materialism as interconnected -- in other words, there is nothing contradictory about a holy man who has a fleet of Rolls-Royces. He likes to drive, he says; they're a sound investment and the seat design is good for his bad back. He says that only when a person's needs are met is the luxury of meditation possible, because "the highest quality consciousness" depends "on the best quality of food, clothing and housing." His religion is not for the poor, who are too busy simply surviving. He is proud, however, of his solution to end world poverty: birth control, euthanasia and a stop to the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Yet he asks his disciples to give up nothing.
"Yes, I teach you selfishness," he has said. "Service is a four-letter dirty word."
He claims he will always be misunderstood "because there are people like Jesus who said, 'Blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the kingdom of God.' This is a very cunning solace to the poor -- to wait for death as a reward . . . If blessed are the poor, then the rich should also be forced to be poor."
Ma Prem Hasya, the former Francoise Ruddy, is waiting before dinner in the drafty main lobby of the resort, bundled up against the cold in a me'lange of plum and maroon. The Rajneeshees used to be required to wear only bright crimson and orange, but over the years the guru's dress code has relaxed as the red has come to include shades of blue.
Chief of staff Hasya has added a Beverly Hills interpretation to the look. She is wearing pleated, well-cut purple corduroys with a calf-length maroon down jacket, a matching maroon scarf draped around her neck and a pair of expensive, low-heeled maroon leather boots. She no longer has her hair done once a week, instead wearing it pulled back from her face in a simple barrette. But she still holds her cigarette elegantly aloft between manicured nails in the same way she did over two decades of lunch with the girls in L.A.
She is 48, personable, attractive and tough. To the outside world she was a surprise choice to replace Sheela, but it is important to know she helped with the down payment on the Oregon ranch the commune bought in 1981 for $6 million. As president of the newly created Rajneesh Friends International, her job in the coming months is to help oversee the dismantling of the empire and to raise money for the massive debts. (Rajneesh's top executive in the United States told India Today that he estimates the total assets of the Oregon commune at anywhere from $30 million to $60 million, but that the debts, many of them legal fees, are running as high as $35 million.)
Hasya says she is frantic, but describes her years with Rajneesh as the happiest ever. "Life has an intensity and fullness now," she says. "However exciting and fast it used to be, I always suffered a sense of boredom. Bhagwan has shown me so many ways of discovering my inner depths."
Two years ago she married the guru's doctor, Devaraj, formerly George Meredith, a tall, shaggy-haired, strikingly handsome Englishman who is seven years her junior. Even though Rajneesh has called marriage "the death of love," it was her third wedding, her husband's fourth. "I wanted a sense of commitment," she says. "It was also a kind of laboratory, to see if two people can do it. So far, it's going beautifully."
She is the daughter of a Polish industrialist who died in a concentration camp during World War II. She herself is a concentration camp survivor who was not reunited with her French mother until she was 8. Her first marriage, to an American businessman, produced two children and the beginnings of her unhappiness. "I didn't know what was wrong with me that I didn't enjoy being a PTA mother," she says. "I was embarrassed to admit that I wasn't happy." The marriage was over in eight years.
Four years later she married Al Ruddy, one of the creators of the television series "Hogan's Heroes" and in her words "a bohemian" she admired for "putting down the establishment." But he joined its ranks two years later with the smash success of "The Godfather." "He began to believe his own publicity," she maintains. The marriage over, Hasya went with a tour group to India, feeling tormented by "the thought of dying without the answers." Once there she became entranced by one of Rajneesh's books, continued studying his teachings at an experimental UCLA extension course, fell in love with the instructor, then went with him back to India.
That relationship soured, too, but by 1978 the former Francoise Ruddy had sold the antiques and the house and had moved to the commune in Poona. "My friends really, truly freaked out," she says.
She claims the sexual activities of commune members have always been exaggerated and says that "I have had less sex in all my years with Bhagwan than I had in the one year before I met him." She says she and her husband are monogamous, but admits she thinks making love with Rajneesh would be "the ultimate meditative sexual experience."
Rajneesh was born Rajneesh Chandra Mohan, the son of a prosperous cloth merchant, in a village in the plains of central India. By his own account he was a spoiled, fun-loving boy. He went to school about 50 miles away in the town of Jabalpur, and it was in a garden there, at the age of 22, that he says he reached enlightenment. Indian newspapers have reported that the caretaker maintains he still remembers the young Rajneesh, who he says would spend hours under a tree, staring into space with mournful eyes.
By 1959 he was a university lecturer in philosophy who had digested and rejected the Bible, the Koran and the sacred Hindu texts, the Bhagavad-Gita and the Veda. He began to speak in public, and soon his message and hypnotic style attracted so many followers that he resigned from the university and traveled full time. In 1974 he founded his first commune in Poona, a city of about a million people southeast of Bombay.
India might have ignored him were it not for the photographers and commercial camera crews who were allowed to film the sexual orgies firsthand. The pictures shocked the Indians, who did not see what place group sex had in religion. His disciples maintain they weren't mass events but rather three or four people at a time. "Nobody was being raped," Rajneesh says today. "Nobody was forced against his or her will."
But by 1977, the government of former prime minister Morarji Desai had had enough. It began taxing the considerable assets of the commune (Rajneesh still reportedly faces $1.7 million in Indian tax suits) and by 1981, the guru had left for the United States, citing bad health.
It was at this point that Sheela, the Bombay-bred widow of an American sannyasin who had died of cancer, won out in a power struggle to run the empire. Described in the Indian press as "pistol-packing" and "sensuous," she was soon overseeing the transformation of the 62,000-acre Big Muddy Ranch into a small city in the barren hills of central Oregon.
When the citizens of the nearby town of Antelope complained, the Rajneeshees moved in, voted, took over the local government in a special election, and then created a new city called Rajneeshpuram that entitled them to levy taxes and receive federal and state revenue sharing funds. Swami Krishna Deva, the former David Knapp, became its first mayor.
In five years the commune came to house 5,000 people, most of them westerners, and included roads, shops, restaurants, an airstrip, a hotel, a disco and a beauty salon that was selling its herbal products nationwide. What particularly concerned local officials was the arsenal the commune was acquiring, including semiautomatic Uzi carbines, to supposedly defend itself against enemies and assassination attempts on Rajneesh. The money came from contributions, profits from Rajneeshee-owned businesses and publications and fees charged for courses at the commune's university. Rajneeshees say they spent 14-hour days on construction work that made the orgies in Poona distant memories.
They did, however, adhere to their guru's strict rules requiring condoms and rubber gloves during sex to prevent the spread of AIDS. "I never did get used to them," sighed one woman disciple here in India, referring to the rubber gloves.
It was during his time in Oregon that Rajneesh took a vow of silence for 3 1/2 years. His disciples only saw him when he waved from behind the wheel of the Rolls on one of his daily drives. Sheela was left to interpret his philosophy to the world. "I gave her all the power, and power corrupts," Rajneesh says now. He claims she was bitter when he finally opened his mouth again in October 1984.
"She had become a celebrity," he says, "and it is very difficult, almost impossible, to descend from celebrity to become just an ordinary sannyasin like everybody else. This was one of the most wounding things to her."
This September, life at Rajneeshpuram became increasingly curious when Sheela suddenly fled with her staff, prompting Rajneesh to accuse her of trying to poison his doctor, Devaraj, as well as Oregon government officials. On Oct. 28 Sheela was arrested by local authorities in West Germany on an attempted murder charge. American FBI agents observed the arrest. She remains in a West German jail facing possible extradition to the U.S. in connection with charges. The same day Rajneesh left the commune with a small band of disciples in a private jet, only to be arrested himself at a refueling stop in Charlotte, N.C. Authorities believed he had learned of an indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in Portland, Ore., a few days earlier and was trying to get to Bermuda.
He spent the next 17 days in jail, although he did take time out to tell CBS' "60 Minutes" that Sheela really wanted to get into his bed, but "I have made it a point never to make love to a secretary." Now he says this was another of his jokes, and that the real problem was that Sheela hated men. Sheela, not to be outdone by the master, called Rajneesh a "superfraud" who used drugs to hypnotize his audience.
On Nov. 14, Rajneesh pleaded guilty to two counts of the indictment, including charges he had arranged sham marriages so his foreign followers could settle at the commune. The remaining 33 counts were dropped. He was given a 10-year suspended prison sentence, fined $400,000 and ordered to leave the United States. Here in India, Rajneesh claims the guilty plea was "a lie" so he could settle things as quickly as possible.
"I am absolutely innocent," he says.
Every day the Kulu Valley gets colder and grayer. The resort management says that when the snow comes, the heat can go off for two weeks at a time. One of Rajneesh's cleaning ladies, a young Canadian woman, is having stomach problems from the spicy Indian food. Getting a phone call through to New Delhi can take as long as the 14-hour drive. No mail from Oregon has yet arrived.
Rajneesh's problems are far from over. He doesn't want to buy land where it's too hot and humid, which rules out most of the country. The Indian government isn't apt to look kindly on his tax problems, and his bad back and allergies have been bothering him.
But there's a bright spot: In a development that will surprise no one, Ma Prem Hasya, the former producer's wife, has been working on a screenplay. It's about a bearded guru and one of his disciples. "I've had so many calls from Hollywood," she says.