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Guru's dying words: 'I am leaving this tortured body'

By HARRY DAVID

PUNE, India -- Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, self-proclaimed 'rich man's guru' who was kicked out of the United States after setting up a controversial commune in Oregon, died of a heart attack Friday at age 58.

The guru, who had been calling himself Osho in recent years, died at 5:30 p.m., according to followers at his commune in Pune, 750 miles southwest of New Delhi. His body was cremated five hours later.

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Dr. Gokul Gokani, the guru's personal physician, said the cause of death was massive coronory thrombosis, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Followers of the advocate of free love and wealth sobbed when the death was announced to 5,000 disciples at the guru's sprawling commune.

Commune spokesman Swami Amrito read a message he said Rajneesh prepared for his followers soon before his death.

'I am leaving this tortured body because it has become hell for me,' it said. 'My presence would now be greater here. Don't cry for me. My presence will be always with you.'

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His followers broke into songs and chanted, 'Osho, Osho, Rajneesh, Rajneesh,' one commune resident said.

Four disciples carried the black velvet-draped body on a Hindu-style bamboo bier into a commune auditorium, where more than 5,000 followers, most of them foreigners, joined the procession to a riverbank crematorium.

The guru's brothers and 70-year-old mother, Amrit Saraswati, were at his bedside when he died, followers said.

The guru was born Shree Rajneesh Chandra Mohan on Dec. 11, 1931, in a small village in central India, the eldest of seven brothers and five sisters. He was a philosophy teacher and nearing 40 when he established a meditation center known as an ashram 75 miles southeast of Bombay.

Rajneesh had moved to the United States in 1981, preaching a mix of enlightenment, opulence, capitalism and free love that shocked neighbors in the rural Oregon community of Antelope, where disciples helped him establish a city called Rajneeshpuram on a local ranch.

His paradise fell apart in 1985 amid charges his top aide was trying to rule the commune and murder him. In 1985, the frail, bearded bhagwan -- or 'blessed one' -- was ordered out of the United States for immigration violations.

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In Oregon, Antelope Mayor Jean Opray, said she was not disappointed by news of Rajneesh's death. 'If he were here I'd be elated,' she said. 'There isn't anytime I would wish anyone dead, but I sure wished him gone a lot.'

Tom Fisher of Lake Oswego, Ore., also known as Swami Vibhavan, said 200 Rajneesh disciples in Oregon regularly meditate at the Osho Healing and Meditation Center in the posh suburb of Lake Oswego. Many had gathered Friday to meditate and watch the sun rise after hearing of the guru's death.

After leaving the United States, Rajneesh became an international pariah, rejected in Asia, Europe, South America and the Caribbean. He finally returning to Bombay in July 1986 and resettled in Pune.

The Indian guru changed his name in 1988 from Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh to Gautam the Buddha, claiming he was the reincarnation of Buddhism founder Siddhartha, also known as Gautam, who died in the 6th century B.C.

Growing criticism prompted him to change his name five days later to Zorba the Buddha, but he soon was forced to abandoned that as well. He finally settled on the name Osho, or 'enlightened one.'

Rajneesh, who wore a diamond-studded watch, taught his followers to reach enlightenment through meditation and examination of the inner self. But he said money also helped.

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'All of the religions are looking after the poor,' he once said. 'At least leave me alone to look after the rich. I am the rich man's guru.'

Apart from his anti-drug stance, Rajneesh's philosophy often sounded like a recycling of hippie slogans of the late 1960s mixed with Eastern mysticism. He praised capitalism and sex but preached against family structures, nationalism and society.

'I believe that sex is everybody's birthright,' he said in a 1985 interview. 'It is fun. There is nothing serious about it. No orgies are happening here but I'm not prohibiting them. It is up to the people. If they feel like having an orgy -- so far so good.'

He scoffed at conventional religions. 'There is no god so how can I consider myself a god? God is the greatest lie invented by man,' he said.

'We are trying to deprogram the whole world. I have my people around the world trying to deprogram every country, every religion, from all the conditions that have been forced upon them.'

Despite preaching the joys of sex, the guru fostered a fanatical fear of AIDS, warning followers to wear condoms and rubber gloves while making love.

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The bachelor guru attracted spiritual drifters from Europe and the United States -- dropouts and former hippies, teachers, lawyers, housewives and diplomats. Many were wealthy. Among the faithful was the grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, Prince of Hanover, who died in 1981 while exercising.

Another convert was Shannon Ryan, whose father, Rep. Leo J. Ryan, D-Calif., was killed in 1978 while investigating the Jonestown cult of the Rev. Jim Jones in Guyana. That cult ended with the suicide or murder of 900 people.

At its height, Rajneesh's 6-acre compound in Pune was jammed with 6,000 devotees.

Rajneesh, who had never left India, initially cited a need for medical treatment when he moved to the United States. Others said he was spurred by increasing hostility from Indian authorities, a dispute over taxes and mysterious explosions at his temple in Pune.

Rajneesh stayed temporarily in Montclair, N.J., while followers opened a meditation center in Denver. They also began building Rajneeshpuram -- 'City of Rajneesh' -- on the 60,000-acre Big Muddy Ranch 160 miles east of Portland and 19 miles outside Antelope.

Purchased for $5.75 million, the ranch mushroomed into a town of pre-fab buildings, trailers, A-frame houses and tents. It was home for 3,500 followers and housed up to 15,000 disciples during summer festivals, boasting an airport, hotel, shopping mall and meditation college.

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The white-bearded guru frequently drove through it in one of his fleet of 93 Rolls-Royce sedans, waving to the faithful who lined his route.

When longtime Antelope residents voiced opposition to the growing Rajneesh following, commune leaders moved to take control of Antelope itself, easily overwhelming voters under Oregon's liberal residency laws.

Rajneeshees gained control of the Antelope council and changed the town's name to Rajneesh.

State lawyers challenged the cult, saying Rajneeshpuram's government violated the constitutional separation of church and state. Officials also resented the commune's tactic of busing thousands of homeless people to the commune before the 1984 election so ensure the Rajneesh candidates would win.

In the end, the Oregon commune virtually self-destructed, its internal rifts becoming public in 1985. In September Rajneesh accused his top aide, Sheela, of attempting to poison commune leaders and turning Rajneeshpuram into a 'concentration camp.'

A month later, Rajneesh and seven disciples were indicted on charges of immigration fraud. On Oct. 28, federal agents arrested the guru in Charlotte, N.C., charging he was attempting to flee by private jet to Bermuda to avoid prosecution.

Rajneesh pleaded guilty to conspiracy to evade immigration laws, paid a $400,000 fine, and was ordered out of the country for at least five years. Sheela later was arrested and Rajneeshpuram's new leaders sold off most commune assets, including a hotel in Portland.

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Rajneesh followers soon dispersed and relieved neighbors restored their town's name of Antelope.

After the guru's hurried departure from the United States, he vainly sought sanctuary in Nepal, the Mediterranean island of Crete, London, Antigua, Uruguay, Brazil and Jamaica before returning to India with 4 tons of baggage -- including air conditioners, furniture and refrigerators.

Rajneesh re-emerged in 1987 at his Pune compound. Authorities allowed him to stay with a promise his 3,000 disciples would refrain from 'obscene behavior' and provocative speeches in public.

One Mercedes replaced his fleet of Rolls-Royces. Devotees no longer were restricted to wearing orange robes and beaded necklaces. In deference to Indian morality, they were dissuaded from public displays of affection.

'I believe that sex is everybody's birthright,' he said in a 1985 interview at the commune. 'It is fun. There is nothing serious about it. No orgies are happening here but I'm not prohibiting them. It is up to the people. If they feel like having an orgy -- so far so good.'

He scoffed at conventional religions, saying 'There is no god so how can I consider myself a god? God is the greatest lie invented by man.'

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Oregon residents never were comfortable with the Rajneesh followers. The state once filed suit challenging the incorporation of the guru's town, Rajneeshpuram, on grounds it violated the constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state. Officials also resented the busing of thousands of homeless street people to the commune a few weeks before the 1984 election so ensure the Rajneesh candidates would win.

After the guru's hurried departure from the United States, he moved briefly back to India and neighboring Nepal and then sought refuge on the Mediterranean island of Crete in February 1986. Greek authorities deported him two weeks later and he flew to London, where he was refused entry.

He unsuccessfully sought refuge in Antigua, Uruguay, Brazil and Jamaica before ending up back in India with 4 tons of baggage, including air conditioners, furniture and mini-refrigerators.

Rajneesh re-emerged at his compound near Bombay in 1987. Authorities allowed him to stay with a promise his 3,000 disciples would refrain from 'obscene behavior' and provocative speeches in public.

One Mercedes replaced the Oregon fleet of Rolls-Royces. Devotees no longer were restricted to wearing the orange robes and beaded necklaces. In deference to Indian morality, they were dissuaded from public displays of affection. Some controversial programs were dropped.

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'They are certainly better behaved now because we have demanded they follow rules and regulations,' said a senior police official.

Ma Prem Sunshine, an American, said disciples had matured since Oregon.

'The same people are coming back, but they are now more refined and that reflects in our behavior,' said Sunshine, who resided in a 19-bedroom Pune mansion with swimming pool and servants. 'Also, people are coming with more money and they are more interested in living comfortably.'

City merchants reported sales almost doubled after the commune returned.

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