No matter what happens, the embattled Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh says, he plans to remain in Oregon and expects his controversial commune here to flourish.
The guru startled his 5,000 followers here this month when he announced the end of Rajneeshism, declared that he is not a god and presided over a ceremony at which all copies of his book of Rajneeshism were burned.
"Now there is no religion, so there is no question of mixing church and state . There is no church, no holy book, no catechism, no priest, no congregation, no baptism . . . . It is a mystic commune . . . of people who are individuals searching and seeking," he said in a recent interview.
"It is a way of being religious but not a religion. I am a friend, a guide, a philosopher," said Bhagwan, as he is known to his estimated 500,000 followers worldwide. He has made clear to them in the past that he does not believe in a god and that he is not a god, only "enlightened."
Dressed in a green robe, a pale blue and gray hat and wearing a chunky gold bracelet-style watch, Bhagwan, 53, said he plans to remain on his 64,000-acre Big Muddy Ranch in Oregon despite problems encountered by the group.
The peace and serenity of this sunlit mountain valley was shattered last month by the abrupt departure of nearly 20 of the commune's top leaders amid charges of criminal activity.
The remaining followers have had plenty of company, as nearly 60 federal, state and local law enforcement officers, armed with search warrants, combed the commune seeking evidence involving illegal drugs, alleged murder attempts, poisonings, arson, bombing plots and an elaborate electronic eavesdropping system.
More than 100 persons were subpoenaed to appear before local, state and federal grand juries, and many cardboard boxes marked "evidence" were carried away. A county grand jury began hearings last week.
Bhagwan, investigated by several federal and state agencies since he moved his group here from Poona, India, four years ago, has been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury.
He said he is willing to cooperate but does not want authorities to harass innocent followers. "If any innocent follower is harassed, all over the world American embassies will be harassed by my followers ," he said.
Many followers, who said they came here to seek wisdom, said they will stay but are exhausted by the turmoil.
"The commune is going to remain here," Bhagwan said. "America may vanish, but . . . I'm going to stay here, and I'm going to fight these politicians. I've always enjoyed fighting because to fight for truth is such a joy."
Bhagwan blames many of the current problems on Ma Anand Sheela, his former top aide. Born Sheela Ambalal Patel in 1949 in Baroda, India, she came to the United States to attend college in 1967, married an American, Marc Silverman, and became a U.S. resident.
The Silvermans moved to India in 1973 to study with Bhagwan. By the time Sheela and the group moved to the United States in 1981, Silverman had died of Hodgkin's disease.
Bhagwan said that during a period of self-imposed silence, which he ended a year ago, Sheela "started thinking of herself as the successor, the chief priestess . . . . It is a human trait. Everybody lusts for power, but not everybody has the opportunity. It's human frailty, nothing to be bothered about."
Sheela, who left the commune in mid-September, went to Europe with a dozen other commune officials implicated in the allegations. In magazine interviews in Germany, she denied wrongdoing and said she left because Bhagwan had become more interested in acquiring new jewelry and adding to his collection of more than 90 Rolls Royces than in his spiritual teachings.
Bhagwan has since distributed the heavy, jewel-encrusted watches, contributed by followers around the world, to high-level Rajneeshees, who wear them around the commune. Because he has sat in all of the Rolls Royces, they are considered sacred, and followers refuse to use them.
Among charges under investigation by authorities are:
* Bugging -- Bhagwan has said, and state police Lt. Dean Renfrew confirmed, that an elaborate electronic eavesdropping system was found at the ranch. Commune officials said bugging devices were found in Bhagwan's bedroom, throughout the hotel occupied by visitors, journalists and police officials, and in many of the commune homes.
Bhagwan said Sheela had the system installed with help from Swami Anand Julian, a British electronics wizard and former follower who was among about a dozen who left with Sheela.
For 3 1/2 years, ending about a year ago, Bhagwan spent most of his time in silent meditation, cut off from everyone but Sheela, his physician and his caretaker.
He said he is concerned that she will alter eavesdropping tapes to make it appear that he approved alleged criminal activity. Sheela has denied involvement in the bugging, and investigators have made no comments about who was responsible.
* Drugs -- Bhagwan charged that Sheela used the tranquilizer Haldol to control about 3,000 homeless persons, including some from the Washington, D.C., area, who were brought to the ranch last fall in time to vote in local elections. He said she was aided by Ma Anand Puja, a Filipino nurse who formerly ran the Rajneeshee medical services and left with Sheela.
Sheela, who has denied that charge, said commune members had been under the influence of the drug Ecstasy, subsequently banned by the federal government. Bhagwan retorted that he and his followers are in continual "ecstasy" without drugs.
* Embezzlement -- Bhagwan charged that Sheela put $43 million in a Swiss bank account in her name and that the money represented contributions from European Rajneeshees that never reached the commune.
Sheela responded in an interview with the West German magazine Stern that "the brain trust of Rajneeshpuram left with me . . . . there are not many left on the ranch who can read balance sheets . . . . We didn't take a penny out of any Rajneesh corporations."
* Poisoning -- Bhagwan charged that Sheela and others made several poisoning attempts, against targets including Swami Devaraj, Bhagwan's personal physician, and Jefferson County District Attorney Michael Sullivan. Both have been seriously ill, requiring hospitalization.
An affidavit filed in the case said Sullivan clearly showed symptoms of poisoning and did not suffer from pneumonia as was diagnosed two years ago.
Bhagwan said during his interview that Sheela poisoned several restaurant salad bars, causing a salmonella outbreak early this year in The Dalles, the nearest sizable town. At the time of the outbreak, Rep. James H. Weaver (D-Ore.) charged that the Rajneeshees might be responsible.
Bhagwan also said Sheela tried unsuccessfully last fall to poison The Dalles' "whole water supply so, on Election Day, people will be so sick they will not be able to vote. And she will have these 3,000 zombies the homeless , and she will take over the county."
Rajneeshee officials say security was then tightened in The Dalles because of rumors that the Rajneeshees might poison the water. The Rajneeshees eventually boycotted the Wasco County election.
In Sheela's absence, many Rajneeshees have offered bits of information about various alleged plots. After she and others left the commune Sept. 14, a secret room was found beneath her quarters, with a hidden tunnel leading outside the fenced compound that houses the Rajneeshee leadership.
Rajneesh officials said they found secret laboratories, apparently operated by nurse Puja, where poisons were tested on mice.
Investigators said they are considering whether to offer certain Rajneeshees immunity from prosecution, citing difficulty in determining whether allegations are true and ascertaining responsibility.
The Internal Revenue Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service are also investigating the commune.