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Love, Innocence and Conspiracy in Osho's Eighties Communes

I was a ‘full commune member' between 1982 and 1986, that’s why somehow I feel a trace of guilt about this period in the history of sannyas in which so much seemed to go wrong. There were in fact world-wide only about 2,000 ‘full’ commune members, though there were at that time scores of thousands of sannyasins in almost every major country of the world. Many, many, of these non-commune sannyasins however, to their credit always felt the Ranch experiment and it's offshoots in various countries, including the UK Medina commune was flawed. Whether this was a view derived, as was said at the time from “resistance”, or based on some gut instinct that all was not well, the fact of the matter was they were right!

To become a “full” commune member meant that literally everything around one’s life was taken care of, including flights to Oregon, all food, all laundry, all accommodation, all everything! You did not have any private cash, but then one never needed it. If there was a material need it was usually met. We all wore an issued locket ID with our malas so we were immediately recognised by other sannyasins as having (supposedly) some special quality of surrender and potentiality of personal growth!! That in itself was an unusual life experience!

But make no mistake, and here some commentators do, life for us was often very beautiful. This was a very loving commune, sometimes one felt ecstatic for no reason at all - and after 16 hours of what some people would call work (but which I would rather call play) a day. Something did resonate in the communes, but not because of, but in spite of, the organisation. I myself put it down to the Buddhafield effect, just the act of living within the magnetic field of an enlightened Master. In addition, though I know it has been called the “German” defence, ninety-five per cent of the full commune members were totally in the dark about the madness of Sheela’s regime until it was almost over.

You may ask how people became full commune members. Well it was a mixture, but many through a remarkable sense of devotion to Osho, and a minority, like me, by a twist of fate or circumstance. Whatever, those who gained what seems to be this badge of distinction at the time were basically almost all able, willing, and totally loyal to the organisation they served. Furthermore in a way they were all tried and tested. One became a full commune member after what might be a long period of appraisal by the titular heads of the main communes, to see whether one got sick, whether one had resilience, and whether one could work obediently in a loving and conscientious way - and showed an absolute willingness to work, as the phrase went at the time, "where it was needed". One's work could be changed at a moment's notice, and oddly enough this was freeing for the ego because no-one got attached to a particular role or kudos.

On the other hand this latter obedience was the reason for Sheela’s easy aggrandisement of power. Of course there were some who “left the commune”, and they too in hindsight might be praised. They saw things they felt did not jell, or were somehow “mad”, and hitched the road to Antelope or Newmarket and headed out. They were however relatively few in number until September,1985 when people left in droves when Sheela's crimes were disclosed.

I have often felt there was and is a partial collective responsibility by us ‘full commune members’ for what happened, but it is very rarely stated. After all Sheela and her immediate cohorts could not have done what she did without the iron control and obedience she exacted in the name of surrender from her crack legion of 2,000, the full commune members. But as I say, sad though it is, very little was known by us at the time of Sheela and her cohort’s madnesses, and their paranoid ways.

I knew people personally at the time who were part of the 18 members of Sheela’s inner circle. I cannot work out what they were were thinking about in the meeting Sheela called for them in Jesus Grove, her office complex on the Ranch, in May, 1985. Even now I don’t know how at that meeting they could have conspired to murder Oregon state officials and worst, at least a couple of fellow sannyasins. Were they all by this time on medicinal upper and downer drugs, were they all totally unable to cope with the power they shouldered - were they all “out of their heads?” To allow themselves to be caught up in Sheela’s psychosis seems very strange for at least two I knew, who were straight from the English middle class? Though I think it unlikely, were they told by Sheela, (falsely) that Osho had authorised this taking of human life, and this was a final test of their surrender??? And even if they were, or were not, wasn’t that the time to say, enough is enough??

Unhappily I have never seen anything written that makes any sense from any of them about this meeting, except Shantibadra’s clear admission of guilt and taking of responsibility in last month's Court Case. If any of them are reading this they should really come clean for posterity’s sake and speak their truth, and not be in denial. None of us will live forever.

(Next month I’ll write about the “Last Days” at Jesus Grove. How the thing fell apart, how the feeling of being in a revolutionary and dangerous situation overtook commune members like myself when the tyrant “ran away”. How this personal experience has reflected what I have read about much bigger ‘fall of tyrant’ situations, like the Russian Revolution and the last days of the Third Reich. Was Osho offering us a micro experience of fascism and its aftermath? For that was what it was, or was such a life experience just a simple twist of fate?)