Contemporary religious movements and also established faiths must remain flexible in terms of organizational structures, stewardship, and doctrines, in order to sustain membership and maintain a favorable position within their host societies (Stark 1996a). If a group deviates too fundamentally from its original leader's visions, however, it may fail by becoming something entirely different through fundamental change or merger with a different faith (Wilson 1985). The path to success involves flexibility around a central core of history, doctrine, and organizational leadership.
Every major faith in the United States has experienced transitions that reflect shifting demographics, changing social environments, and also internal organizational struggles and constraints (B.Johnson 1992, and Finke and Stark 1992). This general process of internal change is particularly visible among controversial new religious movements that are attempting to sustain their unique identities without antagonizing the wider society surrounding them. Some groups, such as the Family (Children of God), Scientology, or the Rajneesh movement, have been lightning rods for controversy, almost perishing in the wake of conflict with the wider society (Bainbridge 2000; Hall et al. 2000).
The Rajneesh movement experienced two tumultuous periods of internal power struggles coupled with external attacks. The first major controversy developed in India, and it paved the way for a second conflict in the United States, which many outsiders believed would destroy the movement (Goldman 1999). Over the past decade, especially after Osho Rajneesh's death, the movement has been involved in a delicate rebalancing, which has facilitated worldwide retention and recruitment of about six to eight thousand committed followers (known as sannyasins) and fellow travelers, as well as a far larger group of circulating affiliates and clients, whose allegiances are to Osho as well as to different, complementary spiritual paths.
After almost two decades of controversy and a subsequent decade of accommodation, the movement has positioned itself within the vital marketplace of novel religions. Most movement insiders and younger spiritual seekers no longer perceive the Friends of Osho as spiritual lightning rods. Devotees have redefined their leader's contributions and reframed the movement's central doctrines to make them less controversial to outsiders. In addition to movement shifts, the host societies in the United States, Western Europe, and India have become more accommodating to American-influenced yoga, meditation, and diverse spiritual texts (Dinan 2002). Just as the Osho movement has changed, the grounding context has
risen up to meet them and a host of similar religious movements.
Leaders in the Pune headquarters and regional centers downplay the Oregon experience of the 1980s, which is still considered as a defining moment by many scholars and by Americans who remember the media blitz concerning criminal activities at the short-lived communal city, Rajneeshpuram. The movement continues, and much of the remaining controversy involves
historical memory rather than present experience. This chapter will consider the history and philosophy of the Rajneesh movement beginning in India in the 1970s through the current phase. This serves as background for examining the ways in which the movement stabilized after Osho changed his name from Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, retreated into the background, and finally left his body (died) in 1990. In his last years, Osho encouraged an Inner Circle of twenty-one rotating members to spread his ideas and develop a governance structure. After his death in 1990, there were splits and divisions within the movement, but Osho's reframed teachings drew people together, the World Wide Web permitted communication to continue, and the flagship center in Pune attracted thousands of clients who have helped fund the movement.
Currently, some younger sannyasins advocate depersonalizing the movement and allowing Osho's teachings to overshadow his old charismatic identity. They question the viability of the Osho movement leadership in Koregaon Park, and suggest a more general movement that supports human freedom (Sannyas' News November 9, 2002). Others, most often longtime members, resist. This latest challenge dramatically illustrates how leaders in the Osho Rajneesh movement generated survival tactics and encouraged the formation of local, semiautonomous groups, allowing them to overcome lingering high levels of tension with host societies, the death of their founder, and current internal challenges to the Osho movement itself.During each phase of its development, the Osho movement redefined itself, moving from an initial period of inclusivity to exclusivity in the mid- 1970s and 1980s, and back to inclusivity in the twenty-first century.
Prior to 1970, followers were permitted, if not encouraged, to explore and sustain spiritual allegiances to other spiritual traditions along with Osho, in an inclusive movement. However, as Rajneesh assumed the role of enlightened spiritual master, sannyasins were increasingly required to renounce other paths and personal ties. After his death, the movement grew more inclusive, suggesting Osho's meditative discipline could be amplified by connections with other faiths.
The movement's most controversial years were those when exclusive commitment was required. Official narrative now downplays the events in Oregon, which almost destroyed the group. In addition, there is increasing emphasis on Osho's statements about creating noninstitutionalized spirituality: "Those who have been in communion with me will have learned
one thing absolutely, categorically: that life cannot be confined into institutions" (Osho  2001: 236).
Osho Rajneesh and His Movement(s)
Many of Osho's sannyasins characterized him as a mercurial mixture of madman, savior, charlatan, and saint (Franklin 1992). His various biographies and autobiographical assertions can support any of these characterizations, yet there is surprisingly widespread agreement about the
basic outlines of Osho's own story.
He was born to a Jain family in Kuchawada, India, in 1931 and named Mohan Chandra Rajneesh. Jainism is an independent Indian faith closely related to Buddhism. Thus, Rajneesh was raised outside the dominant Hindu paradigm, in a tradition that synthesized different philosophies much as his own would, three decades later.
Rajneesh received an M.A. in philosophy from Saugar University and immediately took a job at Raipur Sanskrit College (Sanskrit Mahavidyalaya). His lectures created so much controversy that Rajneesh transferred to another university the next year, and then received a promotion to
professor in 1960. When college was not in session, he traveled around India lecturing about politics, sexuality, and also spirituality. He was a perceptive, captivating lecturer who soon gained a loyal following that included a number of wealthy merchants and businessmen. These clients gave Rajneesh donations for individual consultations about their spiritual development and daily life. These were commonplace, for throughout India people seek guidance from learned or holy individuals in the same way as Americans might consult a psychologist or pastoral counselor, and Rajneesh's private practice was not unusual in itself (Mehta 1979). The rapid growth of his clientele, however, was somewhat out of the ordinary, suggesting that he was an unusually talented spiritual therapist.
By 1964, a group of wealthy backers had set up an educational trust to support Rajneesh and the occasional rural meditation retreats he led. Like many professionals whose client base grows quickly, Rajneesh acquired a business manager around this time. She was Laxmi, an upper-class,
politically well-connected woman, who became his first personal secretary and organizational chief.
Rajneesh's early career reflected his individual charismatic attributes of intelligence, emotional appeal, and ability to communicate directly to individuals, even when they were part of a large audience (Weber  1968). He was highly energetic, with an alluring emotional volatility that
attracted both seekers in India and a small but growing number of Europeans and North Americans (B. Johnson 1992).
At the request of university officials, Rajneesh resigned his post at the University of Jabalpur in 1966 and started to use the name Acharya Rajneesh, denoting his primary role as a spiritual teacher. He supported himself by lecturing, offering meditation camps, and individually counseling affluent Indian clients. Rajneesh critiqued established politics and religions, and advocated more open, liberated sexuality. Building from the work of the Western philosopher Gurdjieff, he also developed active meditation exercises that facilitated individuals' ability to observe their own physical, mental, and emotional processes. Word of mouth and occasional
published references to his gifts brought Westerners to the Mt. Abu meditation camps that Acharya Rajneesh directed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1971, I Am the Gate was the first of Rajneesh's many books to be published in English. Visitors from the West sought out Rajneesh in the airy Bombay apartment he acquired late in 1969. He sent a number of these
first guests back home to start an international network of meditation centers.
In 1971, as his following grew and diversified, Rajneesh exchanged the title of Acharya, which means teacher, for the more expansive, Bhagwan, signifying enlightened or awakened one. For the first time, Rajneesh acknowledged that he had experienced the profound nothingness of true
satori constituting enlightenment almost twenty years earlier, on March 21, 1953. As the movement grew in the early 1970s, an official organizational structure emerged (Carter 1990: 70).
Devotees received new names, often those of revered Hindu gods and goddesses, signifying their psychological and spiritual rebirth through taking sannyas (vow of renunciation), opening themselves to Bhagwan, and renouncing their pasts. Around this time in Bombay, Bhagwan also asked all of his followers to wear saffron orange clothing, a traditional color of holy men in India. The names and clothes that signified instant holiness, coupled with Rajneesh's free-wheeling political and sexual philosophy, deeply offended the local population while enchanting Westerners, who began to outnumber the Indians visiting Rajneesh. The tension with Indian host society grew as Rajneesh began to cultivate a formal movement. His reputation as a radical academic, his philosophy, and the privileged Westerners flaunting Indian conventions all combined to generate tension with the surrounding culture. That tension, however, functioned to help define the movement for its members and to generate internal solidarity (Erikson 1966).
In 1974, Bhagwan relocated his headquarters to Pune (previously known as Poona), one hundred miles southeast of Bombay. With considerableWestern backing and additional financial support from long-time Indian devotees, Bhagwan moved to a six-acre enclave and acquired adjoining real estate in Koregaon Park, an elite Pune suburb. Over the next five years, the Shree Rajneesh Ashram grew to include a meditation hall where Bhagwan could lecture to several thousand people, a smaller auditorium, facilities for a multitude of human potential therapy groups, a medical clinic, cottage industries, restaurants, shops, classrooms, and housing for sannyasins who
lived year round at the ashram. The movement was clearly stratified, with affluent and talented sannyasins receiving the most access to Bhagwan. At this point, Rajneesh enhanced his charisma by adopting the long, flowing beard associated with Indian holy men. His clothing was white, differentiating him from all others in the ashram (B. Johnson 1992).
As the movement grew, he could no longer have regular daily contact with most sannyasins, but he became present everywhere in the ashram through ubiquitous photographs and rumors of occasional, almost random, encounters with rank-and-file sannyasins. In addition, his evening darshans (audiences), at which Rajneesh answered sannyasins' written questions, provided a symbolic closeness, as did his habit of presenting important visitors and departing sannyasins with gifts of small wooden boxes or clothing that symbolized his continuing presence in their lives (Goldman 1999).
Well-known Western presses such as Harper and Row translated and published some of Bhagwan's discourses. At the movement's peak around 1976, close to thirty thousand Westerners visited the Shree Rajneesh Ashram yearly, and the worldwide movement included more than twenty-five thousand sannyasins (Milne 1987: 23; Carter 1990: 59–60).
After 1976 or 1977, however, recruitment stagnated and many sannyasins left the movement. There was greater competition in the American spiritual and self-actualization marketplaces, Western economies were constricting, and some influential figures in the human potential movement, like Richard Price of Esalen Institute, publicly denounced violence in the Rajneesh
therapy groups (Anderson 1983: 299– 302).
There were also political difficulties in India that stemmed from Bhagwan's public lectures against the powerful Janata party. Bhagwan talked to his devotees about the Buddhafield, a spiritual community built around him and his teachings, but none of the regional governments in India was willing to permit the commune. In Pune, sannyasins spread rumors of death threats to
Bhagwan by members of various Indian sects, accompanied by terrifying descriptions of his growing emotional stress and his declining health. There were also reports of violent incidents between sannyasins and Indian opponents of the Shree Rajneesh Ashram.
The Indian government investigated allegations of Rajneesh-sanctioned prostitution, international drug trafficking, gold smuggling, money laundering, and tax evasion. Sannyasins have always denied most of these charges, but the criminal investigations created many difficulties for the movement and its leaders. The first period of extreme controversy, 1976 to
1980, created an impetus for Rajneesh to relocate to the United States. In June of 1981, the founder and his inner circle flew to New Jersey. The Shree Rajneesh Ashram began to shut down, except for a small remaining crew of resident caretakers.
The flight from India represented an attempt to deal with increasing external pressures, as the host society confronted Rajneesh's hostility to traditional rules and values. This confrontation with convention reflected the tensions that are commonly associated with spontaneous, innovative charismatic leadership (Wilson 1987). Rajneesh could have minimized friction and risked losing some of his charismatic appeal. Or he could have held his ground in India and faced painful sanctions against him and his sannyasins. Instead he fled in order to rebuild his movement in North America, where large numbers of sannyasins resided.
On July 10, 1981, Bhagwan's representatives purchased the 64,229-acre Big Muddy Ranch in central Oregon for $5.9 million, and they started building the Buddhafield at Rajneeshpuram. Rumor had it that the decision to move to Oregon reflected the relatively inexpensive price of the ranch and his new personal secretary's misplaced assumption that all of Oregon was peopled by tolerant liberals who smoked marijuana and left their neighbors alone. Wasco County proved to be far less laid-back than she had expected. During the next four years, the ranch became the site of considerable accomplishment and also considerable intrigue and crime. Debates still rage within and outside the movement about who did what to whom and why. One of the central questions is whether or not Bhagwan knew about a whole array of plots and criminal activities on the part of his personal secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, at Rancho Rajneesh.
The Big Muddy had been zoned as restricted farmland, and until the community disbanded, there were public charges made by environmental groups such as 1,000 Friends of Oregon, as well as civil lawsuits, government investigations, and fines levied for land use and building code violations. The Oregon attorney general, David Frohnmayer, challenged the incorporation of Rajneeshpuram itself as an unconstitutional merger of church and state. In December 1985, after Rancho Rajneesh was already up for sale, the Federal District Court enjoined Rajneeshpuram (the City of Rajneesh) from exercising governmental power because there was no effective church-state separation. Along with land use and legal questions, there were also disputes about who was using the land. The federal Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) closely investigated Rajneesh's immigration status from the very beginning. Rajneesh's formal visa application stated his intention to seek American medical treatment, requiring a stay of less than a year. He later requested extensions of his visa because of his work as a religious teacher. After legal disputes with Rajneesh attorneys, INS rescinded its earlier deportation order (Carter 1990: 161–165). Nevertheless, federal agencies continued to investigate sannyasins who were foreign nationals and had recently married U.S. citizens (Carter 1990: 150–152).
State and local elections also generated tension with outsiders. Shortly after sannyasins purchased the Big Muddy, they began buying real estate in the tiny hamlet of Antelope, the town closest to Rajneeshpuram. By the spring of 1982, the forty or so longtime residents feared that they would be overrun by sannyasins unless they voted to disincorporate. The disincorporation election failed because of new Rajneesh voters, whose representatives soon controlled both Antelope's city council and its school board. The townspeople's varied battles against the newcomers, who eventually changed Antelope to City of Rajneesh, drew widespread public attention and generated a number of lawsuits. More national attention turned toward central Oregon in the autumn of 1984, when Rajneesh's personal secretary, Sheela Silverman, and her inner circle developed a plan to bus in several thousand homeless individuals, mostly men, recruited in cities across the United States. They were to be rehabilitated in the Buddhafield and, not coincidentally, they could also vote in the November election in which sannyasins were candidates for seats on the Wasco County Commission. Massive negative publicity, state monitoring of voter registration, and legal opposition doomed the plan. At the last minute Sheela instructed everyone at Rajneeshpuram to boycott the polls.
By the end of 1984, almost all of the homeless visitors had left. Before the election, however, information about the conflict and impending debacle spurred Bhagwan to abandon his vow of silence and begin speaking to a small group, the Chosen Few. Although control of Rajneeshpuram shifted, state and federal officials continued investigations of Sheela, her entourage, other sannyasins, and Rajneesh himself. The following year, a handful of influential sannyasins who had been there since the Pune days defected and began to talk with authorities. On September 14, 1985, Ma Anand Sheela and members of her inner circle fled Rajneeshpuram for Europe. Rajneesh accused them of a wide variety of crimes against sannyasins, the public, and the state of Oregon. The crimes included mass salmonella poisoning of 750 individuals in almost a dozen restaurant salad bars located in the county seat of the Dalles. This was the largest known incident of germ warfare in the United States, and Sheela had designed it as a test run for a more
massive effort that could temporarily incapacitate large numbers of anti-Rajneesh voters on the upcoming election day (Carter 1990: 224–226).
This was the apex of the second wave of tension, which continues to characterize the movement for many outsiders. Rajneesh accused his former personal secretary and her circle with drugging sannyasins, wiretapping, arson, and embezzlement of Rajneesh movement funds. In the wake of FBI investigations of these allegations, dozens of sannyasins received subpoenas to testify before the county grand jury, and Rajneesh himself was served on October 6, 1985. There were also rumors that warrants were being prepared for his arrest. Less than two weeks later, federal agents in Charlotte, North Carolina, captured Rajneesh, when two Lear jets carrying him and a handful of sannyasins stopped to refuel in route to Bermuda. He was taken from North Carolina to Oklahoma and back to Oregon, where his attorneys posted bond so he could return to Rajneeshpuram. Rajneesh left the United States less than two weeks later, after filing no contest pleas to two counts of immigration fraud and paying fines and prosecution costs of $400,000 (McCormack 1985: 116).
This marked the most negative moment of Rajneesh's career within his movement. It could have led to the disintegration of the movement or the displacement of Rajneesh as its leader. Instead, most sannyasins blamed Rajneesh's former personal secretary for the misguided and exploitative policies that doomed Rajneeshpuram, and threatened Rajneesh and his movement's existence. Bhagwan and his new staff traveled all over the world seeking asylum, and met rejection from a number of countries. Eventually, his representatives bargained with the Indian government and resettled in Pune. A number of longtime sannyasins began to return to the Shree Rajneesh Ashram, renamed Osho Commune International, and now recently renamed Osho Meditation Resort. They quietly refurbished each building and cultivated the magnificent Zen gardens. Pune was once again Bhagwan's home, and it was a destination resort for spiritual therapy, meditation, and personal growth.
In 1989, Rajneesh decided that Bhagwan was no longer an appropriate title for him because too many people understood it to mean God. He tried out the name Buddha, and met with resounding negative feedback from outsiders. Then he changed to Shree Rajneesh. He finally settled on Osho, a name that varied sources have explained differently. The Friends of Osho trace the derivation to William James's word oceanic, which implies dissolving into the whole of human existence-in other words, being at one with everything there is. They note that Osho also carries the meaning of "The Blessed One on Whom the Sky Showers Flowers" (Osho Commune International Press Release 1991). Others write that Osho comes from the Japanese language, implying great gratitude and respect for one who expands consciousness (Palmer and Sharma 1993: 53–54). Like almost everything else about Osho Rajneesh, his name itself created initial controversy. It could be interpreted broadly to mean a revered teacher of meditation (Palmer and Sharma 1993: 54).
The movement continued after Osho died on January 19, 1990, as sannyasins heeded his message that his spirit was with them, and he had merely left his body. A dozen years later the ashram/commune/resort in Koregaon Park still throbs with music, new meditations, a mystery school, and personal growth groups. Although the Indian government has renamed Poona as Pune in order to delegitimate colonial history, the city is much as it was twenty years ago, when the ashram was at its peak and Bhagwan lectured daily.
Osho left twenty-one members of his Inner Circle in charge of the organization, and several of them have emerged as leaders. The small, international movement keeps attracting affluent seekers from the Americas, Europe, Japan, Australia, and, most recently, Israel. Some are drawn to the Pune Ashram, while others affiliate through local centers in a number of locations, including Sedona, Arizona, and Byron Bay, Australia. Sannyasins keep in touch by means of their sophisticated electronic network of group and individual home pages on the World Wide Web. Through their visits to Pune, personal contacts, and small active Osho centers, and a number of spin-off groups and personal growth institutes, sannyasins, old and recent, continue the work of transforming themselves and creating a new consciousness that synthesizes spirituality and material pleasure.
Since 1974 in Pune, almost every word Osho uttered had been faithfully recorded and published or filmed. He was fond of asserting that there were 108 beads on the malas (necklaces) that his devotees wore to suspend their lockets with his photograph, and there were likewise 108 paths to travel toward enlightenment. In almost five hundred books, which were transcriptions of his lectures, initiation talks, and pithy sayings, almost every major religious and philosophical tradition received Osho's attention. He lectured about Buddhism, Christianity, Hasidism, Sufism, the Upanishads, Yoga, and Zen, as well as Marx, Freud, and Henry Ford. These traditions were not always well understood by sannyasins or seekers, but they melded together in an interesting, palatable spiritual stew dominated by Zen Buddhism. Bhagwan asserted that the many internal contradictions and paradoxes in his philosophy were essential to an individual's spiritual development.
People could choose to accept or reject any part of his philosophical discourses. In the 1970s and 1980s it was up to individuals, so long as they remained connected to Bhagwan and accepted him as the ultimate master. Currently, there is greater emphasis on consistent meditation and less on
an explicit master/disciple relationship. Despite changes, elaborations, and advocacy of individual choice, the two most important themes in Osho's philosophy remain surprisingly clear and consistent. They are first, surrender of individual ego and second, integration of the individual's
material and spiritual selves.
A recent Web site displayed Osho's ten commandments, which he wrote when he was Archayra Rajneesh in 1970 (www.otoons.com/osho/10.htm
1. Never obey anyone's command unless it is coming from within you also.