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Wild Wild Coun­try is this year’s Net­flix must-watch doco series that has ev­ery­one talk­ing about the late guru Osho. Anke Richter went to Pune in In­dia where the craze started – and found the ashram had be­come a slickly oiled “cashram”.

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The mo­tor rick­shaw stops at a po­lice check­point in a leafy, quiet street. I get off in front of a mas­sive black wall with a se­cu­rity gate. While I put my bags on the belt, I feel cu­ri­ous and alert. I am en­ter­ing the Osho In­ter­na­tional Med­i­ta­tion Cen­tre (OIMR) in Pune. Am I go­ing to dive deeper into my soul – or into a cult?

I grew up in Cologne, Ger­many, which was the Euro­pean cen­tre of the Ra­jneesh move­ment – hun­dreds of its cit­i­zens dressed in the cult’s trade­mark orange and red for more than a decade. Bhag­wan Shree Ra­jneesh, who later called him­self Osho, was the most fa­mous and in­flu­en­tial guru of the 1970s and 80s: a charis­matic In­dian in­tel­lec­tual who at­tracted thou­sands of West­ern­ers, pre­dom­i­nantly young women, to wor­ship at his feet. They gave up their names, their learned ways of think­ing and their re­la­tion­ships to be with him. Cel­e­bra­tion, self­knowl­edge and tran­scen­den­tal sex were at the core of this new spir­i­tu­al­ity, which came to look he­do­nis­tic, if not bla­tantly cap­i­tal­ist. Osho had 93 Rolls-Royces which he pa­raded in front of his cheer­ing dis­ci­ples. Was he a con­man, a se­ducer – or a saviour with a pow­er­ful mes­sage of rad­i­cal awak­en­ing?

In my late teens I of­ten spent nights at the squeaky clean “Zorba the Bud­dha” dis­cotheque in Cologne, which was owned by the Ra­jneesh. But oth­er­wise I had lit­tle to do with the many san­nyasins, as the Bhag­wan fol­low­ers called them­selves. It’s not as if they seemed des­per­ate to con­vert peo­ple. They were friendly but aloof – with an air of shiny hap­pi­ness, free­dom and fi­nan­cial suc­cess. Most of the money from their many busi­nesses went straight to Pune, In­dia, where Bhag­wan’s ashram was based and ev­ery­one sup­pos­edly lived in a drug-free state of ec­stasy. Am I now hop­ing to reach that high, three decades later?

Of course, times have changed. As the many view­ers of the Net­flix series Wild, Wild Coun­try are aware, the move­ment moved from In­dia to the United States where it im­ploded in the mid-80s in crim­i­nal scan­dals in­volv­ing at­tempted mur­ders within the move­ment and al­leged poi­son­ing of the lo­cal towns­peo­ple. It then rein­vented it­self and dis­persed. But it still ex­ists and I want to ex­plore the legacy of this con­tro­ver­sial mys­tic at its ori­gin, at the for­mer ashram that at­tracted thou­sands, in­clud­ing a few New Zealan­ders. Half of the Euro­peans there were Ger­mans, some stay­ing for months, some for years.

“Life be­gins where fear ends,” is one of Osho’s count­less quotes. His talks – spo­ken freely for hours, with­out any notes – are pub­lished in hun­dreds of books. De­spite his for­mer fights with In­dian au­thor­i­ties, in death he is now fully re­ha­bil­i­tated as a spir­i­tual mas­ter; many celebri­ties – from Lady Gaga to Kourt­ney Kar­dashian – are re­port­edly fans. Some pop­u­lar al­ter­na­tive self-help tools from ec­static dance to the “con­scious sex­u­al­ity” of neo-tantra stem from Osho’s for­mer ashram in Kore­gaon Park, the rich­est part of the busy, noisy city of Pune, about three hours by car south­east of Mumbai. I have booked my­self in for the week-long “Liv­ing In” pro­gramme.

FIRST DAY: RIGOR

Ev­ery­thing seems quiet, clean and empty. There’s a lot of shiny cool black around me – very zen. Wa­ter trick­les down one of the im­pos­ing mar­ble walls. Tall trees of­fer shad­owy rest­ing places along the park-like com­pound. I can­not spot a pic­ture of the bearded sage with dark eyes and sig­na­ture vel­vet cap any­where. Ev­ery­one on this side of the wall, apart from the lo­cal clean­ing and ser­vice staff, is dressed in long ma­roon robes, in­clud­ing the In­dian vis­i­tors who only pay half price to en­ter. I am es­corted to the re­sort shop where I have to buy my own gown, plus a white one that looks like a nightie for the evening talk.

I also have to get coupons for my meals and a se­cu­rity ID pass. The for­mal­i­ties take for­ever. They are not forc­ing vis­i­tors to take an HIV test any more be­cause the In­dian gov­ern­ment con­sid­ers this as dis­crim­i­na­tion. But there’s a re­quired pep talk only for the In­dian men. It ba­si­cally tells them not to treat Western women in the re­sort like prey. Which does make sense in terms of gen­der and cul­ture clash, but has been called “racist” on Trip Ad­vi­sor.

The “Mul­tiver­sity” is the fac­ulty that of­fers all sorts of ther­apy cour­ses. On the screens hang­ing out­side I click my way through this es­o­teric su­per­mar­ket, from as­trol­ogy via fam­ily con­stel­la­tion to re­birthing. “Mys­tic Rose“is 21 days long: The first week you only laugh, the sec­ond week you only cry, and in the third week you are com­pletely silent. It takes hours be­fore our group of new ar­rivals has gone over all the in­tro­duc­tions and

pa­per­work. We now know not to sneeze or cough in the med­i­ta­tion hall or we will be thrown out. There is a strict code of hy­giene ev­ery­where. Photos are not al­lowed. It’s a lot of “ver­boten”, even for a Ger­man.

My sin­gle room in the guest house has the steril­ity of a brand new pri­vate hos­pi­tal. Back in the day, the Ra­jneesh at­tracted ru­mours in­volv­ing group naked pile-ons and cou­ples hav­ing sex in pub­lic, but noth­ing here says “sex cult”. So far I have not even seen any long hugs or hand hold­ing. There are no ham­mocks or cud­dle zones, not even sun loungers around the pool – for which I have to buy ma­roon togs and pay ev­ery time I want to use it. Only the laun­dry ser­vice is free.

The gym has a state-of-the-art sauna that is sep­a­rated for men and women. If the loose im­age of the wild old days is at­tract­ing some of the In­dian men here, then they must be dis­ap­pointed. They are also not wel­come at any of the tantra cour­ses – which have be­come rarer these days.

EVENING MEET­ING

6.40 pm, not a minute later, is the time when I have to ar­rive dressed in my long white robe at the Osho au­di­to­rium – or I can stay in my room in­stead. No wan­der­ing around the grounds ei­ther. I can feel cabin fever com­ing on.

It’s straight out of a sci-fi movie when one nightie wearer af­ter the other floats up the black stone stairs in the dusk to the gi­gan­tic pyra­mid-shaped au­di­to­rium. First we are pat­ted down by se­cu­rity. There was a bomb at­tack in 2010 just around the cor­ner, at the pop­u­lar “Ger­man bak­ery”, fre­quented by san­nyasins.

The zen tem­ple is cool and dimly lit – like a UFO that has picked up us earth­lings. It gets more sur­real. The up­beat jazzy dance mu­sic stops play­ing, ev­ery­one raises their arms and shouts: “Osho!” This re­peats a few times. Cult alert! The mas­ter him­self ap­pears on a large screen and speaks to us from a video record­ing for 40 min­utes, sharp and so­phis­ti­cated with a very dis­tinct ac­cent. One thing he says sticks: “If you force it, you can­not en­joy it. If you en­joy it, you don’t have to force it.” It could be this week’s motto for me.

Osho al­ways ends with jokes. Ev­ery­one in the hall is cack­ling. Apart from some­one who is be­ing sent out­side be­cause he coughed. The guy es­cort­ing him to the door is tall with strik­ing snow-white hair – un­mis­tak­ably Am­rito, com­monly named Dr John An­drews, Osho’s for­mer per­sonal physi­cian. The bearded English­man in his 70s is some­thing of a grey em­i­nence in this fief­dom. It was he who Osho’s in­fa­mous sec­re­tary plot­ted to kill back at the ranch in Ore­gon, to get him out of Osho’s way – all part of the larger-than-life cult and crime tale that’s had world­wide Net­flix au­di­ence’s trans­fixed for more than six sur­real hours.

SEC­OND DAY: TRANCE

“Dy­namic med­i­ta­tion“– one of the pil­lars of Osho’s work – starts at 6am in the au­di­to­rium: puff­ing while jump­ing, cathar­tic scream­ing, si­lence and then danc­ing in 15-minute in­ter­vals. You can buy the ma­roon blind­folds for it at the shop. Then there’s yoga out­side, done in long robes. I am feel­ing more and more re­bel­lious among all this stream­lined self­im­prove­ment and do a few quick laps in the pool, with­out pay­ing for it.

The “Zen­nis“(ten­nis com­bined with med­i­ta­tion) court is empty, the large canteen closed. A tiny glass of wine costs around NZ$12. Ab­sti­nence will come easy at this price. En­light­en­ment might take longer.

“The old party spirit has gone,” says a grey-haired Swiss san­nyasin with miss­ing teeth sit­ting in the smok­ers’ cor­ner. It’s just not what it used to be, he says, no more com­mune life but com­merce in­stead. He used to cook and work in the gar­dens 30 years ago, or sit at Osho’s feet while mon­keys were rac­ing over the tin roofs. It was ex­cit­ing, ful­fill­ing. Now he’s look­ing af­ter the on­line shop­ping web­site and spend­ing his days in the air-con­di­tioned of­fice of the OIMR head­quar­ters – hop­ing to meet some equally nos­tal­gic friends. Work with­out pay, even though the OIMR is part of a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar im­perium these days? He shrugs his

It gets more sur­real. The up­beat jazzy dance mu­sic stops play­ing, ev­ery­one raises their arms and shouts: “Osho!”

shoul­ders, smiles eva­sively and rolls him­self an­other cig­a­rette. There’s no place for crit­i­cal ques­tions.

The first ther­apy that I get as part of my Liv­ing In pro­gramme sounds harm­less: “Breath­ing.” I fol­low the ther­a­pist in a black zen suit with white sash down into the cat­a­combs: a win­dow­less cel­lar room with padded walls. Im­ages from the for­mer en­counter ther­apy groups that took place down here pop up. In those ex­plo­sive and con­fronta­tional weeks, the par­tic­i­pants let off steam in the most phys­i­cal ways. Some ses­sions ended in or­gies, oth­ers with bro­ken bones. I won­der what pain and mon­strosi­ties these walls have seen.

What they see for the next hour is me, ly­ing on the floor, breath­ing my­self into a trance­like state and then scream­ing be­cause the ther­a­pist is press­ing heav­ily on acu­pres­sure points on my body to re­lease my emo­tional block­ages. It’s bru­tal but does the job. Once the tor­ture is over I feel light and joy­ful, wan­der­ing through the zen gar­den, mar­vel­ling at pea­cocks and red dragon flies. The spir­i­tual hol­i­day re­sort in Ab­sur­dis­tan which I have se­cretly called “An­i­mal Farm“has sud­denly be­come beau­ti­ful. I feel more free and peace­ful. Some­thing is work­ing.

My state of peace and free­dom is over pretty quickly that evening once I’m back in­side the au­di­to­rium. Be­cause it’s so cool in there I have put on a light grey silk dress un­der my white robe. Not quite sub­tle enough. One of the guards taps on my shoul­der: he wants me to go out­side and take off the dress. The grey colour is “dis­tract­ing“. At least he doesn’t hit me with a zen stick.

THIRD DAY: NAU­SEA

I meet an­other rebel. A young Bri­tish lad with a di­a­mond stud in his nose who wanted to go for the Freudian Pri­mal ther­apy is not al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate be­cause his dad is of In­dian ori­gin. “Osho said that it takes three gen­er­a­tions be­fore Asians can get rid of the so­cial con­di­tion­ing around their par­ents,” he says. He is dis­ap­pointed and heads to the out­doors disco dance that is just start­ing. In­stead of stay­ing for an­other week he might now get stoned in Goa in­stead.

Ev­ery day be­fore lunch, a DJ plays – any­thing from cheesy Bol­ly­wood pop to 80s disco. Osho said that if you have to de­cide be­tween cel­e­bra­tion and med­i­ta­tion, you should go for cel­e­bra­tion. We jump and twitch around in the “Bud­dha Grove”. This week is fi­nally start­ing to be fun. No one seems fa­natic. More like gen­tle, seek­ing.

A small old man with a sun hat is twirling in front of me on the dance floor like a dervish. This tech­nique is called “Sufi Whirling” and of­fered as a med­i­ta­tion this af­ter­noon. I join in. Af­ter five min­utes of whirling I feel an ec­static high. This works: Fi­nally, I can let go of my mind! Af­ter 15 min­utes I feel dizzy. Then nau­seous. Af­ter half an hour I al­most col­lapse. My first bout of sick­ness in In­dia doesn’t come from food poi­son­ing but from whirling. I skip the evening talk be­cause I can hardly move.

FOURTH DAY: TREA­SON

In my next ther­apy ses­sion, I learn how to make my legs shake while ly­ing on my back to re­lease old trauma. It’s one of the many ef­fec­tive body and mind treat­ments which san­nyasins of­fer all around the world. I get a bit closer to the demi-god’s work by do­ing this than, say, brows­ing through the re­sort book­shop.

There’s a note in my room to come to the “Liv­ing In” of­fice. Which rule did I break? Did some­one spot me do­ing my se­cret laps in the pool? Do I have to swap my yel­low day-pack for a ma­roon one? False alarm: a Ja­panese vol­un­teer just wants to give me an­other in­tro­duc­tion to the many med­i­ta­tions on of­fer.

I go for the clas­sic “sit­ting med­i­ta­tion” in Osho’s for­mer res­i­dence, the Lao Tzu house. It’s half mu­seum, half mau­soleum, with one of the mas­ter’s beige Roll­sRoyces dis­played at the en­trance. We have to put on white socks as to not dam­age the fine mar­ble floor in­side. I walk through his for­mer li­brary filled with thou­sands of books from Carlos Cas­taneda to Carl Jung. The next room has mir­ror walls – and Osho’s den­tist chair on dis­play. The sanc­tu­ary where we med­i­tate is a tem­ple hall in gold and white mar­ble, all pomp, magic and glory of a by­gone era with a mir­rored plat­form that holds the guru’s ashes. The shrine has an in­scrip­tion: “Never born, Never died. Only vis­ited this Planet Earth.”

Osho died on Jan­uary 19, 1990, at the young age of 58 – ac­cord­ing to his loyal be­liev­ers be­cause of a se­cret creep­ing poi­son from his time in a US prison. The death cer­tifi­cate stated a car­diac ar­rest. Osho was hastily cre­mated and didn’t leave any last records or in­struc­tions in writ­ing. Twenty-three years later a false will ap­peared that is still in the In­dian courts. Last year, a jour­nal­ist from Pune in­ves­ti­gated the con­tra­dic­tions and mys­ter­ies around the rapid pass­ing of the spir­i­tual leader, stat­ing that they point to­wards sui­cide or eu­thana­sia. I con­tact the au­thor of Who Killed Osho? and or­der his book, feel­ing like a traitor when Am­rito, the doc­tor, crosses my path on my way to the café later. The book places him un­der sus­pi­cion.

FIFTH DAY: PROFIT

Osho only spent one night in his pala­tial tem­ple, says the tai-chi teacher, Raj. He’s 64 years old, Cana­dian, and was a lawyer in his ear­lier life un­der the name D’Arcy O’Byrne. He also be­lieves in the con­spir­acy the­ory that Osho was poi­soned in Amer­ica. We are meet­ing for a coffee out­side the Mul­tiver­sity. Raj – bald head, broad body, con­stant Bud­dha smile – be­longs to the “In­ner Cir­cle” of the Osho im­perium. He, his brother and Am­rito run things in Pune. Which he plays down with a laugh.

The ag­gres­sion cli­maxed in a mass bi­o­log­i­cal poi­son­ing at­tack and plots for mur­der – mas­ter­minded by Ma Anand Sheela.

His team has just won a long trade­mark case at the Euro­pean Court for the OIF, the Osho In­ter­na­tional Foun­da­tion in Switzer­land. “Brand Osho” is now pro­tected, from ev­ery med­i­ta­tion on YouTube to the green boxes of tis­sues in the padded cells. There have been years of con­flict over these le­gal busi­ness is­sues – rifts be­tween dis­grun­tled san­nyasin fac­tions from Europe to Delhi who feel they have as much right to his legacy and have been pushed over by the man­age­ment in Pune. They ac­cuse the OIF of be­ing money hun­gry and dic­ta­to­rial. The keep­ers of the holy grail, on the other hand, see them­selves as purists who se­cure Osho’s teach­ings.

Does Raj miss the old times? “No, please,” he laughs. “Ab­so­lutely not! But it was a beau­ti­ful ex­per­i­ment.” Osho him­self didn’t want to have an ashram any more be­cause that’s the start of a re­li­gion. “From the out­side, it looks like a cult. But when you walk in, this is like the anti-cult.” The com­mune in Ore­gon failed, so now they have a re­sort. Sim­ple as that. “It was all Osho’s vi­sion.”

Dur­ing Osho’s life time – or as Raj and his peo­ple say: “When Osho was in his body” – they sold about 100,000 of his books ev­ery year. Now they sell 3.5 mil­lion. Young Hol­ly­wood hip­sters, in­clud­ing Will Smith’s chil­dren, have been spot­ted with Osho books. “Most peo­ple don’t care what hap­pened in 1984 – they were not even born then!”

At that point Osho – who was still Bhag­wan then – had left In­dia for Amer­ica. His fol­low­ers built Ra­jneesh­pu­ram, a flour­ish­ing city in the desert of Ore­gon. The ag­gres­sion be­tween the over­whelmed lo­cals and the equally para­noid “red peo­ple” cli­maxed in heavy ar­moury, a mass bi­o­log­i­cal poi­son­ing at­tack and plots for mur­der – all mas­ter­minded by Osho’s for­mer sec­re­tary and spokesper­son Ma Anand Sheela. The “Goeb­bles to the guru” went to jail. When Osho tried to flee, he was ar­rested for visa vi­o­la­tions, held in prison and fi­nally made it back to Pune af­ter an odyssey around the world in his pri­vate jet.

Raj is not so soft spo­ken any more, but still smil­ing. He tells me I am the only one who has ever asked such ques­tions about the past, try­ing to find dirt. He sums up an­other Osho quote: “I am point­ing to the Moon – and you are look­ing at my fin­ger!“

We are in­ter­rupted by a new ar­rival, an el­e­gant older lady with a large ma­roon sun hat and ex­pen­sive jew­els – “one of the rich­est women in Brazil”. She dis­ap­pears to­wards one of the lux­ury suites. Those can be leased for a life­time, with your own whirlpool in the bed­room.

SIXTH DAY: IN­SPI­RA­TION

Friday night is for “tak­ing san­nyas“– a bap­tism cer­e­mony for those who are plan­ning to live their life with Osho. You can now choose your In­dian name your­self. The new­bies sit on cush­ions on the dance floor, sprin­kled by colour­ful laser lights. The house band plays cheesy tunes, Osho speaks from a record­ing, ev­ery­one gets emo­tional, then they dance.

A stun­ning Ger­man woman who is sit­ting next to me and is a ther­a­pist back home shakes her head in comic dis­be­lief: this is only a poor copy of the ini­ti­a­tion they used to have, she says. But she still vis­its Pune for a re­treat ev­ery year: “To cel­e­brate life, to go in­wards and to be in­spired all over again by Osho.” She can see the Moon. I am still look­ing at the fin­ger.

SEV­ENTH DAY: LAUGH­TER

This morn­ing I am not yelling out my re­pressed anger any more when it we do the emo­tional re­lease part in the “Dy­namic Med­i­ta­tion”. In­stead I am silly and gig­gly. My last ses­sion for the week is a “bliss mas­sage” from head to toe which leaves me al­most lev­i­tat­ing. I have made peace by now with wear­ing a long gown but not with hav­ing to pay for us­ing the pool.

At mid­day I am danc­ing hap­pily in the sun­shine. I don’t skip the evening talk, and in­stead of shout­ing “Osho!” in a cho­rus when the mu­sic stops, I just shout my own name. Such fun. Ei­ther the lewd jokes of the mas­ter are im­prov­ing or my mood is – in ei­ther case, I’m laugh­ing more.

EIGHTH DAY: RE­LAX­ATION

Check out. My re­sort ID pass ex­pires at 9am. Three min­utes later I re­alise that I have left my yoga mat on the in­side and now have dif­fi­cul­ties retriev­ing it. Stern looks pass for a farewell. I am crav­ing a ham­mock on a trop­i­cal beach. I’m not sure yet what I took away from this place. But I like my new ma­roon bikini.

There’s a note to come to the of­fice. Which rule did I break? Did some­one spot me do­ing my se­cret laps in the pool?

Osho with his for­mer sec­re­tary Ma Anand Sheela. Be­low left: in later years Sheela be­came cor­rupt and de­mand­ing.

Anke Richter in her reg­u­la­tion garb. Photos in­side are for­bid­den.

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