<- The Good, the Banned, and the Ugly

When Osho was alive, I experienced an overwhelming feeling of engagement and openness from the heart that was shared by thousands. There were certain core values that for years worked to create the magic in our community.

Now, I feel that those of us who lived with Him are losing the opportunity to share this part of His magic with the new and young who visit Pune. This is the story of how I see we are losing this opportunity. This is the story of my bannings.

In 1971, when there was no organization to speak of around Acharya Rajneesh (Osho), there weren’t really any issues of how we should act in public, or guidelines on who could open a meditation centre, or sell books, or represent the Master’s work.

Sometimes the front office would send word to us in the West that we didn’t have “permission” to do this or that. I’d make copies of these letters and send them to Osho with “PERSONAL” marked on the envelope and explain what we were doing. He would always tell me to go on with my work and to continue spreading His message the way I was doing. He said, “Never worry about what others say, even if it is from my own organization.”

Since then working with His organization has became more and more of a challenge. Thirty-three years and several front offices later, I feel that an ubiquitous ideology of repression has developed in Pune that has turned Osho’s great community, with its thousands of participants, into just a shadow of what it once was, with far fewer people. In the past ten years alone many of His brightest and most talented people have left, were banned, or could no longer find even the most basic support for their therapeutic groups or artistic trainings. Only ten years ago there were several thousand friends in Pune, dancing, jamming, and creating amazing art works, while the world’s best therapists clamoured to offer their workshops in our sangha. The likes of Hari Prasad and Zakir Hussein would freely offer their hearts and talent to the “Friends of Osho” programme. Now, it looks to me like the commune doesn’t even come close to what it was back then. These peak moments happen no more, and very few ask why.

The topic of banning sannyasins from the commune has been talked about in hushed tones for years but has rarely made it to print. For many sannyasins there’s a perception that even talking about it might be enough to get banned; the shadow of the whip is very effective. It has broken down the social trust between sannyasins and has been contributing to what I feel is the demise of the community in Pune.

I personally believe there are some good reasons for banning people – for certain behaviors. Since ’78, when I started producing some of the larger sannyasin events, I have had to kick out a few participants. At times there was stealing, sometimes a few guys were pestering the women and girls, or harassing my staff or me. I’d try to have a word with them, but if they were still acting out and disturbing the scene I’d usually ask them to leave. However, I think that kicking people out for arbitrary reasons or because of what they do in the privacy of their home, is wrong, callous, and ultimately stupid.

I have been banned twice by the “Resort,” but the reasons that were given were fabricated. Often the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. The stories that they told about me had the potential of largely cutting me off from the spiritual family that I had been part of since I was a teenager. Some argue that “they did it for my own good” to “get me out of the nest.” There are many ways to help friends expand and leave situations that no longer serve their greater good, but spreading false rumors about them doesn’t feel, to me, like an intelligent or loving way.

In the winter of 1998 I organized what many referred to as the most loving and healing event they had participated in, outside the commune. I’d arrived in Pune a few months before and had been hearing about dozens of kids who had been banned and were just floating around Pune, mostly hanging out at the German Bakery. I asked my friend Veeresh to join me for an evening of sharing with these kids. Preparing for the evening, I invited representatives from the commune’s security office to come. I wanted the kids to hear about the difficulties the commune had in dealing with local residents and the police, and the reasons why they had been banned.

Harideva + Mega: Blue Diamond Hotel Poona 1975

During our four-hour program we had had over 300 friends come and go, and I felt we got through to most of them. We let them know that they were still loved, and that we respected them even if they had been banned. Nobody from the commune came, but we all felt that the evening was a great success anyway.

Some weeks before, Sarjano had gotten up at the beginning of White Robe in Buddha Hall and expressed his feelings about Neelam no longer being in the Inner Circle and the front office, and about the running of the commune in general. A week after, he went to the Indian newspapers and stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy with the story that foreigners were running the ashram, plus many other explosive topics. This started a whole series of very disruptive events, involving the local police and the local press. I felt that Sarjano had made a mess for himself, and was stirring up even more of a mess for all of us. He eventually was banned from the commune. I saw that Sarjano was starting to get severely isolated, and this was causing him to go into an emotional tailspin. I arranged a meeting with Veeresh and Sarjano, and the three of us sat together and talked for over two hours. Many tears were shed that afternoon, but Veeresh and I felt we had finally gotten through to him – felt his pain and also his love for Osho. It felt like the negative cycle had been broken. I thought our efforts would be appreciated by the Inner Circle, whose bridge to talk to Sarjano had broken down weeks before.

By the summer of 1999 I had spent over $30,000 promoting the Osho 2000 festival for the commune in Pune. I had been working alongside Global Connections on the event since the winter of ’98, and I had felt there was always enthusiasm and excitement about the vision we shared for the event. Twenty of us went ahead with the planning during the following months, while assurances of support from Global Connections kept our spirits up.

We had already started putting the teams together for the pre-festival events when I was called into Jayesh’s office. Present at the meeting were Amrito and Yogendra, me, and Vinit, who I had asked to accompany me as a witness. After a few apparently cordial minutes they got to the point and started threatening me with lawsuits. “If you don’t sign over the ownership of the festival domain name to us we will sue you in New York with our $400/hour lawyers. You will lose the court case, and we will never allow you to ever visit or work in any Osho center for the rest of your life.” Vinit and I left Jayesh’s office not believing what we had just witnessed, but determined not to be intimidated by such threats. Eventually the commune lawyers backed off when it became clear that besides creating bad vibes within the sannyasin family they would also lose the case.

In January 2000, after the festival had happened, my staff and I, along with two of Veeresh’s best friends and his son, were all called into the Welcome Center and informed that we’d been banned. The rest of the group was banned for one year, and I was banned for three. The reasons given were that we had “sided with Sarjano,” that I was working with the banned kids “against the commune,” and that we were “doing drugs.” “Doing drugs” is all one needs to say about anybody in Pune to get them kicked out. It creates an instant stigma, tantamount to being called a terrorist today in America. No, there had been no drugs, but the verdict had been delivered.

After this I felt there was nothing left for me to do in Pune, so I headed down to Goa to digest what had happened. I spent the next week feeling an immense amount of anger. I felt so betrayed. I was angry that my efforts to heal the rift between Sarjano and the commune, as well as my work with the banned teenagers, had been deliberately distorted. I was angry with my friend Veeresh, who seemed to be playing it safe and distancing himself from me. I was angry that I no longer had access to the commune that I had helped create. I felt raped at being threatened by Jayesh, Amrito and Yogendra’s New York lawyers. And I was angry that the people who had banned me were mostly the same people who had expressed doubt and negativity when Osho asked me to organize His last festival.

Then the sadness came. For the following weeks there was nothing but tears upon tears. This looked like the loss of my emotional and spiritual family. The thought of never being allowed to come back into Buddha Hall or White Robe, or simply to hang out with friends at the pool, let alone at any Osho center around the world, was just too much. I was turning 48, and my involvement in the commune had been a major part of my life since I had left the Tibetan monastery at 19. It was being ended by a small group of people who thought I was a threat that needed to be removed. At that point the famous Groucho Marx quip took on a new meaning; “I wouldn’t join any club that would have me as a member.”

Slowly, just as the monsoon rains diminish and give way to clear skies, my sadness departed and the tears dried, leaving a very new man with apparently no future. Two weeks later I was on the main stage at one of Israel’s largest rock festivals, leading a meditation with 50,000 screaming young kids. Over the next two years I founded and directed one of the main therapy and meditation centers in Tel Aviv. I appeared regularly on TV, and my work was featured on the Israeli Discovery Channel. Since then I have been delightfully surprised that my life has continued to be full. With our first Goa Gathering of the Tribes festival last January I felt a renewed belief that things can change for the better, even though I was banned again from the commune for an indefinite period after the gathering.

I feel that the practice of banning has been killing the spirit of Osho’s sannyasin family, that it is wrong, and that it needs to be stopped – now. We have so much to share with the world as a community. Picking senseless battles with each other only hurts our greater work of getting Osho’s love and wisdom out there.

I believe that if the present policies of the Inner Circle do not change and become more tolerant, more inclusive and empathetic to the needs of Osho’s extended family, then the commune will lose His spirit and may eventually close. However, it will certainly not be the end of Osho’s work. Many communes, gatherings, and festivals will continue to shine as beacons for all of the misfits, unless we too commit the same blunders as have happened in Pune.

All of us are the inheritors and mediums of Osho’s vision, with all our foibles, faults, and brilliance. For those who feel to revive the Osho sangha, talking about the issue of “tribal trust” is a good first step, but much more is needed. Real change only happens when people risk speaking up. People have to take back their personal power and stop believing that others are the holders of Osho’s dream. At the end of the day, it’s not a small interest group, issuing dictates, that creates the sangha but a caring and loving community. We can decide to personally mature, so that we no longer need others to tell us how to celebrate.

On your deathbed will you be thinking to yourself about how safely you played at life and regretting how you clung to holy cow dung, or will you be thinking about your gutsiness and how much you dared to love?

Harideva’s website is at www.lovebaba.com, e-mail: haridevaosho@hotmail.com