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Rolls-Royce Guru Who Set Up Commune in Oregon Dead at 58

January 19, 1990 GMT

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the Rolls-Royce guru who turned a central Oregon town into a tumultuous commune of free love, hedonism, and murder plots before being deported, died Friday at age 58.

Rajneesh, who claimed 500,000 followers worldwide, suffered heart failure, according to a spokesman at Rajneesh’s commune in Poona.

Disciples celebrated his spirit’s release with songs and dance, then carted the body to a riverside funeral pyre where it was cremated in the traditional Hindu manner.

Since December 1988, Rajneesh had used the name Osho Rajneesh, but in the United States he was known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. He used the Hindu honorific of ″Bhagwan″ meaning ″god″ that Rajneesh adopted after he began lecturing on meditation in India in the 1960s. ″Osho″ is a Buddhist term that means ″on whom the heavens shower flowers.″

In 1981, Rajneesh brought his teachings of free sex and materialism to the scrubby hills near Antelope, Ore., drawing thousands of slavish disciples whose reward was the guru’s daily ″drive-by″ in one of his 93 Rolls-Royces - many painted psychedelic colors, and some decorated with peacocks and lacy curtains.

To nearby residents, the commune known as Rajneeshpuram was a monstrous intrusion.

″I don’t think I ever wish anybody dead, but I wished many times that he would go back where he belongs,″ said Jean Opray, the former mayor of Antelope.

Rajneesh also enraged people in Poona, where he settled after being expelled from the United States in 1985 as part of a plea bargain agreement on immigration fraud charges.

A militant young Hindu tried to stab Rajneesh with a long knife in Poona in 1980, but the case was dropped when Rajneesh refused to testify in court.

″Thank God he is dead. He was a living nuisance,″ said Hrushikesh Mulganokar, a retired air force chief who lives near Rajneesh’s commune in Koregaon Park, a fashionable residential district of the city.

″We are extremely relieved that our problems have passed away,″ said Buchan Das, a secretary of the Koregaon Park Residents’ Association.

″We had no personal antipathy towards Rajneesh. We hated what his presence did to us,″ she said, referring to the open shows of public affection by commune couples.

With his long gray beard and hypnotic brown eyes, Rajneesh peddled enlightenment and preached that sex is fun, materialism is good, and Jesus was a madman. He claimed to be the world’s greatest lover.

Rajneesh’s mission was to create a new man, ″Zorba the Buddha,″ who would be a synthesis of Eastern mysticism and Western pop culture.

″Explode 3/8 Go totally mad ... Jump up and down shouting the mantra ’Hoo 3/8 Hoo 3/8 Hoo 3/8 ... Each time you land, on the flats of your feet, let the sound hammer deep into the sex center,″ Rajneesh said in ″The Orange Book,″ his cult’s bible.

In 1984, he changed his views on free sex and told his disciples to become celebate or stay with one sexual partner. He proclaimed that AIDS would kill two-thirds of the world’s population.

″He was both a charlatan and a very evil person,″ said Vic Atiyeh, who was Oregon’s governor during the years the guru was there. ″Evil in the sense of the kind of people he gathered around him and what he allowed them to do, and his own personal arrogance. He was above everything.″

U.S. Attorney Charles Turner, who prosecuted Rajneesh on immigration fraud charges, said: ″The legacy of crime that this man left here is unparalleled in American jurisprudence.″

Rajneesh, the eldest of a cloth merchant’s 13 children, established his first commune in Poona in 1974. In 1981, he flew to the United States where he was to undergo back surgery. The operation was never performed, and later that year Rajneesh bought the Big Muddy Ranch about 120 miles east of Portland.

The commune covered 64,000 acres and was home to 4,000 red-clad followers who toiled 12-hour days to feed Rajneesh’s dream of a model community and his penchant for expensive cars and jewels. The crowd swelled to 15,000 during summer festivals.

Rajneeshpuram was incorporated as a city on part of the commune in 1982. Disciples also moved into Antelope, a town of 40 people, eventually holding all its elected offices and changing its name to City of Rajneesh. The name was changed back to Antelope in 1985 at Rajneesh’s suggestion, as a way to make peace with the angry Oregonians.

Rajneesh allowed his gun-wielding personal secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, to wield dictatorial control over the commune, but Sheela and several of her top aides fled Rajneeshpuram suddenly in 1985, accusing Rajneesh of caring more about his wealth than his disciples.

Rajneesh responded with allegations that led to a federal investigation and charges the commune had planned to take over the county.

He and Sheela were arrested in 1985, Rajneesh as he allegedly tried to flee to Bermuda.

He pleaded guilty to two counts of immigration fraud, stemming from charges he arranged sham marriages to keep his foreign disciples in the United States illegally. As part of a plea bargain, Rajneesh was deported from the United States.

Several countries refused to let him enter, and he eventually returned to India in November 1985, denouncing the United States as a ″monster″ that should be ″hushed up forever.″

The Oregon commune, which included orchards, a vineyard, a 65-acre vegetable farm, two lakes stocked with fish, and an airport with a 4,500-foot paved runway, is now deserted. An insurance company foreclosed on the property but never found a buyer.

Nearly all the Rolls-Royces were sold, many to a car dealer in Texas. Most were repainted.

Sheela pleaded guilty to a variety of charges, including plotting to kill Rajneesh’s physician with a poison-filled syringe, and orchestrating a food- poisoning outbreak that sickened more than 750 people in The Dalles, the county seat, as part of a plot to take control of the county.

Several other of the guru’s followers were found guilty of various crimes, including the man who served as Rajneeshpuram’s mayor, David Berry Knapp, known as Swami Krishna Deva.

A spokesman, Swami Chaitanya Kirti, said Rajneesh had greeted followers at his commune Wednesday but did not appear Thursday because of ″pain on the left side of his chest.″

Followers greeted his demise Friday as a liberation of the soul, and celebrations began as soon as the news of his death was conveyed. Another spokesman, Swami Prabhod, said there were about 10,000 followers, mostly Western, at the commune when Rajneesh died.

Music could be heard in the background as he spoke over the telephone from Poona, about 750 miles southwest of New Delhi.

His body was kept in the Buddha Hall, covered by roses, for about one hour before disciples carried it to the banks of the River Mulamuthu, a half-mile away, for cremation.