Who poisoned Osho

Bhagwan devotees : Red socks

It could be a private bank, some of which are in the posh London Mayfair. The brass plate with the inscription "Osho International" at least indicates a discreet wealth, as does the cool aesthetic on the first floor - whitewashed walls, minimalist furniture. In fact, a lot of money is made here, like in the banks before the crisis, but Osho International's trade secret is different. It's about the longing for a better life - and this longing is crisis-proof and forever. At Osho International, books with titles such as “Courage: Live Wild and Dangerously” are stored on high shelves. They appear in 58 languages ​​and have a print run of six figures. The author of the bestsellers is called Osho, he is the consensus guru in the world of salable spirituality.

What many who read his books do not know: Osho, who died in 1990, was once called Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and became world famous as a controversial sect leader. In Poona, India, he founded a place of free love and total therapy in the seventies, tens of thousands, including many Germans, made pilgrimages there, including the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk and the reporter Jörg Andrees Elten. The Bhagwan disciples, called sannyasins, wore the mala - a chain with the image of their master - around their necks. The fact that they dressed exclusively in orange or red, the colors of the sunrise, was a sign, as they wanted to create the New Man in Poona, free from Western performance thinking and encrusted structures. Women in particular found freedom in Poona that they otherwise did not have, they lived out their sexuality and took on important positions in the sect. But like in a movie theater where the reel is swapped, the self-discovery trip turned into a horror film: In the eighties, Bhagwan moved to a ranch in Oregon. Under the direction of his secretary Sheela, it mutated into a fascist labor camp and in the end even became the starting point for an attempted mass poisoning.

People have to leave the past behind and live fully in the here and now, said Bhagwan and renamed himself Osho shortly before his death. In London, the employees of Osho International are currently working on deleting the name Bhagwan, with which such an eventful story is associated, from the tapes with speeches by the guru.

But what is left of Bhagwan then? In the past, people dressed in red were often in the majority at parties, and in many cities they ran restaurants and discos. Today you have to look for the former sannyasins and to do this we are going on a trip to London, Cologne and Switzerland. We meet a man who grew up in the sect as a child and suffered from it for a long time, as well as the former head of the largest Bhagwan commune in Germany, and Sheela, the alleged poisoner and culprit behind the decline. What the three have in common despite their different roles: Bhagwan cannot be erased from her life as easily as two syllables from a tape track.

It all started with a tape, says Tim Guest. He's sitting in a street café in London, it's not far to Osho International, but he wouldn't go there. "I'm through with Bhagwan, Osho or whatever you call him," says Guest, lighting a cigarette. It is the first of many that the 34-year-old will hold between his thin fingers this morning as he talks about his childhood under the sign of Bhagwan. In 1979, when Guest was just under four, his mother Anne Geraghty heard a cassette of Bhagwan's speeches, after which she wept for four nights, and when the tears had subsided, she informed the son that her name was now Ma Prem Vismaya and went to Poona with him . Bhagwan had founded a meditation center there six years earlier. When Tim Guest arrived, the ashram already had a sauna, ceramic studio and PR office. The whole Indian subcontinent was then a spiritual bazaar for Western seekers of meaning, and Bhagwan, a former philosophy professor, was their favorite guru. Where else was there a spiritual master who preached sex and quoted Sartre? Especially for disappointed K-group members, crushed by the trench warfare in the left camp, Poona became a home. They had not been able to reinvent politics; now they at least wanted to renew themselves, and with the same radicalism with which they had previously tackled the political situation. The therapies in Poona, a four-hour train ride from Bombay, today's Mumbai, were like an emotional spin cycle in the washing machine. Some rooms had padded walls because aggression was not taboo, sannyasins were walking around with crying faces, around their necks a sign saying “Isolation”, and the therapist Teertha corrected group participants who explained themselves as awkward: “Papperlapapp, what you really want is to fuck. ”For sex one should go to a temple, Bhagwan had said - and it was the answer for everyone in search of a sin-free religion.

So also for Anne Geraghty. When she got divorced when she was in her early twenties, her strict Catholic parents disowned her. “She found a new outlet for her religious passion with Bhagwan,” says Guest. And he? Guest tells how he chased monkeys for hours in Poona, undisturbed by adults. But sometimes freedom is just a synonym for longing and loneliness: As a boy, Guest had a rock-hard bread next to his bed, baked it himself and hollowed it out inside to hide Lego men in it, because nobody was allowed to own anything. Guest did not have any siblings, his mother had herself sterilized, children, said the guru, disturbed the enlightenment.

Now, on this morning in London, the phone is bothering me, it's about a meditation appointment, Guest pulls another cigarette out of his red shirt. Has there still been an imprint? If anything, he says, the desire to counteract it. He has a permanent address and is also married. “I had to learn how to stay.” Poona was only the first stop on his spiritual journey: in 1984 he flew to Oregon with his mother.

There, in a valley that had been used as a setting for John Wayne films, Bhagwan's secretary Sheela Silverman had bought the Big Muddy Ranch. Sheela explained that it was to become the eighth wonder of the world, and so the disciples toiled to make this variant of the American dream come true. Within a short time they had set up an ice cream parlor, post office and landing pad for the Air Rajneesh planes, on whose board muffins were served in cardboard boxes with a laughing Bhagwan on them.

There is only speculation about what drove the sannyasins to conservative Oregon, where the locals were hostile to them. Bhagwan had officially entered for a disc treatment. In fact, many say the control-mad Sheela wanted to isolate the guru, and America, the country where she studied, was just right for her. In any case, Oregon pushed for the isolation of the sect, the hostility from the outside set paranoia in motion inside. Like a pendulum swinging in the other direction, an experiment in freedom became a totalitarian system.

The disciples worked 12 hours a day on the ranch, even during the lunch break they were reminded of the right attitude. "The more you get involved in the work, the more you get absorbed in me," Bhagwan was quoted on a note in the canteen. Tim Guest hardly saw his mother anymore. She got up at six in the morning and then stood at the sink until seven in the evening, scrubbing the large pans in which the canteen food was prepared. The only interruption was the lunch break, during which Bhagwan, who had entered a period of silence, drove over the ranch, which was now called Rajneeshpuram, in one of his more than 90 Rolls Royces. His disciples threw flowers, after which they were driven back to work by the Peace Force, the private police force equipped with revolvers. Bhagwan, who wore simple white robes in Poona, looked more and more like a Christmas tree with his glittering robes, Sheela adorned herself with titles. Bodhisattva Ma Anand Sheela, M.M., D.Phil.M., D.Litt. was on her letterhead, and in the room where she received visitors was a map with pins - they indicated the Bhagwan centers around the world.

Anne Geraghty was also called to this room after breaking into tears at work. She is stuck in her ego, said Sheela. In order for her to learn to be a good sannyasin, she had to go to the Cologne Commune. “There,” says Guest, “in an apartment with 20 children, whom I didn't understand, I fell silent.” He found a place behind 50 mattresses, if he squeezed through there he could be alone and read. His mother was often forcibly alone, and Ramateertha, the community leader, says Guest, forbade her to eat with the other Englishmen - perhaps because Sheela had told him to discipline the new girl. "Cologne was the landfill for all rebels," says Guest. He still remembers Ramateertha's long beard. "There was this sannyasin rule: the longer the beard, the more important the man."

The hair is curling on the back of his neck, little is missing from the football mat, but the beard is off. Ramateertha sits on Venloer Straße in Cologne-Ehrenfeld, a few corners further a travel agency offers trips to Thailand, here at the Osho UTA Institute you travel to yourself: the encounter with the inner child is available for 70 euros, the five-person package Inner-man-inner-woman for 320 euros, and seminar participants exchange warm hugs on the terrace during the break.

It's hard to imagine that a little boy once holed up behind mattresses here. Even from Ramateertha - real name Robert Doetsch - you don't hear anything frightening at first, on the contrary. When he talks about how he founded the commune to which this house belonged, he switches from one chair to the other, as if the old enthusiasm doesn't let him sit still. In 1976 he went to Poona, "there had been rumors that Bhagwan was going to die, and I thought: Shit, you have to look at him, and when I saw him, I just thought: What a man." After six Weeks Bhagwan sent him back to Cologne with the order to open a center. The two apartments turned into 30, and around 400 sannyasins moved in. “You could only see people dressed in red everywhere on the streets,” says Ramateertha. Today only the carpet in his office is red, and Ramateertha's voice is astonished when he talks about the past. They had a “caring”, a kind of care, so everyone who came home from work at the Bhagwan disco got an egg fried.

If one believes critics, the municipalities - there were around 280 worldwide in 1984 - should primarily finance the guru's increasingly lavish lifestyle. In fact, they were capitalist model companies, Cologne leading the way: Here, sannyasins ran a furniture store, a wine shop and two discos.

Ramateertha admits that the atmosphere changed at some point. One night, his shift in the disco was over, he found the door to the kitchen locked - no more eggs, an instruction from Sheela, which he is still indignant about today: "That was part of the caring!" Sheela felt more and more interfered, demanded money and brought into line. Nevertheless, Ramateertha does not want the municipality to be considered adapted. “We fought,” he says. The only success story he tells shows how vanishingly small the victories were: After all, says Ramateertha, there were bread rolls for breakfast in Cologne right up to the end. Everywhere else Sheela replaced them with bread for reasons of cost. The Cologne disciples only took their fate into their own hands in 1986, when Bhagwan was arrested. In an unprecedented act of democracy, they voted on the future of the commune and resolved to dissolve it. After that, it was Weiberfastnacht, they went to celebrate Carnival together.

The community continues to work to this day - the Osho UTA Institute is part of the Lotus Association, the board is Ramateertha, the Osho''s Place restaurant in the same building is run by a former disciple, and sannyasins are owned by three medical practices nearby. How things could come to this in the eighties, Ramateertha has an explanation that exonerates Bhagwan. He says he never understood how this could happen with the Nazis - until his master showed him. The guru, who after the escalation in Oregon, called for more personal responsibility and got rid of red clothing, had in mind nothing other than “a gigantic lesson” about the emergence of fascist structures. And for that the power-hungry Sheela was his instrument: “We were all Sheela. We were all Hitler. We all have the same despot in us. "

Outside, meadows fold up and down, goats graze between mountain and valley, inside an old woman with a pink stuffed animal runs around plaintively. "Come here if you want to cuddle," Sheela says to her and opens her arms. Sheela has been running a dormitory for people like the woman who now clings to her in the Swiss idyll near Basel since 1990. Anyone who lives here is old or mentally ill, Sheela lives among them, the door to her room is open even at night. The other day she was with the residents of Egypt, and all these people who are suicidal, wear a catheter, need all-round care, were lying in the sun like other tourists. "Love is the basis of my work", says Sheela, this information has to suffice for now. When the patients are asleep, there is time for more, maybe for questions about the end in Oregon and the role Sheela played in it.

“Worse than Watergate,” headlined the sect's own newspaper at the time. In 1984, 751 people were poisoned with salmonella near the ranch. The incident was cleared up a year later by Bhagwan himself: He accused Sheela of wiretapping him and stealing $ 55 million, of having carried out an attempted murder on a judge and of being responsible for the salmonella poisoning - apparently a trial run because Sheela was planning to incapacitate the anti-sannyasin citizens of Oregon in the upcoming elections. In a brilliant showdown, police officers stormed the ranch, found bugs in ashtrays, telephones and in Bhagwan's room, and found a room with salmonella cultures under Sheela's house.

Sheela pleaded guilty when she was arrested and was given 20 years for the attempted murder alone, but to the surprise of many was released after almost two and a half years for good conduct. Bhagwan had to pay $ 400,000 and leave America for his alleged medical entry, among other things. He returned to Poona and many disciples followed him. Sheela became an enemy, and a local radio station produced a song called "Shut up, Sheela".

On this evening in Switzerland, one wishes Sheela would talk, but she, when the threads come together, refuses to untangle the tangle of questions. She was just the scapegoat for Bhagwan's growing greed, she says, otherwise she sits cross-legged on the sofa and is unwillingly silent, and when the questions don't end, she reaches for the fly swatter. “My truth is that I'm innocent,” she says, banging against the wall next to the visitor's head and picking a dead fly off the sofa with satisfaction. "Otherwise there is no rest tonight."

The past must also rest, only later does it come back to life in conversation, in a different context, which may make it easier for Sheela to express herself. It's about Cora, her dog, she is lying on a sheet in front of the bed, Sheela is crouching next to her - an image of peace that Sheela attaches special importance to based on Cora's past life. She used to sneak up on people from behind, snatch at them and then pretend innocent. Now she lets Sheela caress her. “How good it turned out. Nobody would have believed that. "

A board game is depicted on a Sannyasin newsletter from the eighties. "Tree planted for Bhagwan: 60 fields forward", it says and "Made your own thing: put it out once". Why were people who actually wanted to break out ready to subordinate themselves to such an extent? “Every age has the sect it deserves,” says Gunther Klosinski, psychiatrist and author of the book “Why Bhagwan?”. Today people are narcissists, and Scientology appropriately promises that anyone can become an Einstein. "Back in the Cold War there was a need for a global community." The therapies did the rest to bind the disciples. Joining Bhagwan was going beyond your limits - having sex with strangers, fighting, collapsing crying. "Figuratively speaking, the disciples' bellies were cut open," says Klosinski. "But they haven't been sewn up again."

While many people still suffer from the consequences today, others are practicing forgetting.The Big Muddy Ranch belongs to a Christian youth organization, there are now climbing walls in the meditation house, he doesn't like to talk about the past of the ranch, says the manager. The ashram in Poona is called Resort and has a swimming pool and tennis court like a good hotel. And in London, Osho International just signed a new deal for an Osho book. It's about dealing with crises.

According to the research, in August 2009 Tim Guest died unexpectedly of a heart attack.

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