Price of inner peace splits guru disciples

THE GREAT guru himself might have approved of the dispute, although that is unlikely. Bhagwan Shree Rajnesh - better known as "Osho" - was, after all, no stranger to controversy. As one of the most popular and flamboyant of the south Asian religious leaders, who brought their mix of pop philosophy and Indian mysticism to the world's spiritually starved masses of the Seventies, he was quite at home in the struggle between the forces of commercialism and the path to true wisdom.

Osho died nine years ago after establishing his eclectic brand of hippy- dippy irrationalism, sexual therapy and ancient learning across the globe. Now his successors, if recent press reports are to be believed, have fallen to squabbling about how to further his teachings. At stake is the future of an organisation with offices in more than 80 countries, 750 "centres of meditation" and over 2 million paid-up devotees.

The centre of the Osho Commune International is in the industrial southern Indian city of Pune. Every week, at one of India's biggest ashrams, hundreds of sanyasis sign on, and pay for, "a wide variety of personal growth courses". Days begin with "Dynamic Meditation" at 6am, and end with "the evening gathering of the entire community for the Meeting of the White Robe Brotherhood - a celebration of high-energy dancing and silent-sitting meditation", according to the commune's promotional literature.

However, it is the concept of "Buddha the Zorba" - Osho's teaching on the conflict of God and Mammon - that is proving divisive. Osho believed that spirituality and profit were not necessarily mutually exclusive. Given his taste for luxury cars, and the fraud charge brought against him by authorities in America, this may not seem surprising, yet it has provoked fierce controversy.

The resignation of Ma Yoga Neelam, one of Osho's closest associates, from the Inner Circle - the 21-member group he appointed to run the commune after his death - has brought the dispute into the open. Swami Chaitanya Keerti, says that Neelam, a housewife who joined the Osho commune during its temporary translocation to Oregon in the early Eighties, has resigned her executive posts to concentrate on "inward meditation". But among the disciples rumours are rife that she left amid a dispute over plans to rename the complex at Pune a "resort" after building more luxurious facilities, to up the price of the thousands of books and videos promoting the guru's message, and to increase the price of food at the complex.

There are also dark stories of power struggles with the Inner Circle's reclusive chairman, Swami Jayesh. He is accused of being dictatorial and distant. Again this is denied by Swami Chaitanya Keerti. "Swami Jayesh is rarely here so how can he be dictatorial?" Keerti said yesterday.

And there are other clouds appearing in the commune's sky. Old allegations of drug-dealing and sexual orgies are being levelled at the devotees.

But business is still good. The "mystic rose" course is as popular as ever, and Osho's books on the achievement of enlightenment through free sex are more widely read than ever before. A record number of sanyasis are flocking to Pune. And, as they settle down for some serious spirituality, few of them appear to worry about any argument over the real message of Buddha the Zorba.