First-Hand: People didn't just come looking for orgies: Two British women, once in the Rajneeshis, face a US murder plot trial. Elizabeth Puttick recalls her days with the sect

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IN the Seventies, India was the place to go. I went in 1977 and visited Shree Rajneesh Ashram in Poona. I had been looking for some sort of community in which I could live and work and liked what was happening at the ashram. It was a high energy place and very cosmopolitan. The 2,000 people there were mostly highly-educated middle-class, the average age was early to mid-thirties.

I became a sannyasin, a disciple of Bagwhan Shree Rajneesh, that same year, at the age of 24. There was a little ceremony. I sat in front of Bagwhan, who was later known as Osho, and he gave me a mala - a jacket of beads, with his photograph in it. Then he put his thumb on my forehead to stimulate my third eye which is known as the centre of spiritual awakening. He also gave me a new name - Ma Deva Bhadra, which means Divine Grace. He gave me a little talk about the meaning of my name and a few pointers for my spiritual growth and that was it. It was possible to become a sannyasin by post but there was rather less atmosphere and ritual - you just wrote off sending a photograph of yourself to Osho and your new name would come back in the post.

For me the movement was a holistic vision of life - everything being together instead of compartmentalised where you go off and do your job, then go home to your family and have your friends and lovers here and there. There was a whole range of work from cleaning and cooking to handyman work, administration, arts and crafts. I worked in the publications department, publishing Osho's books.

When you became a sannyasin you had to wear orange clothes. I found it quite difficult - I used to wear black and blue, and orange is not a colour that particularly suits me. Osho gave several explanations as to what the purpose of this rather dramatic colour was. Sometimes he would say, 'I love this colour and therefore I like to see you in it' or he would say, 'I hate this colour and so it's to make you suffer.'

Osho was very charismatic with huge eyes that seemed to look right into you. He was beautiful, very elegant and well-groomed. He had been a professor of philosophy. He was pro-sexuality. We were living through the sexual revolution and most young people were into sex and at the same time wanting to get into spirituality and meditation. Traditionally there tends to be this idea that if you dedicate yourself to a religion then you give up sex, but Osho was saying you could have both and this was very attractive. That said, I don't think people just came to India looking for orgies, because at that time they could have found them in London or California or wherever.

Osho took cold baths and lived in an air-conditioned room which was kept at a very low temperature. My husband used to look after his water supply and he said the room was always absolutely freezing, like being in a fridge. It was completely bare except a bed and a chair. Despite all his Rolls-Royces he lived in very austere conditions. He would sit in his room all day and read and just come out in the morning and evenings. His food was specially prepared, the same simple vegetables every day with no spices - he was very un-Indian in that way.

Every day before work I would go to a discourse in the meditation hall. Before we went into Osho's presence we had to be sniffed to make sure there was no smell of shampoo or anything on us because Osho was allergic to scents. Looking back it was silly but at the time it seemed very rational.

In the meditation hall we sat on cushions on the floor and Osho sat on a podium and talked about the world's religions and mystical traditions. The point was not to listen to his words as at a lecture but to meditate and thus be very receptive. Osho was very polished and articulate, but funny as well. He would ad lib with no notes for an hour-and-a-half or two hours each morning.

In the ashram there were rules about no drugs and alcohol. Although Osho never came out with a hard and fast statement, he discouraged people from having children, and some people even got sterilised. When the Aids epidemic broke out in '84, strict regulations about sex came in. You had to wear condoms and rubber gloves to make love. Condoms would be considered the obvious thing nowadays, but at the time it was considered bizarre. I think rubber gloves would still be considered bizarre.

In 1981 I had moved to Medina, the commune in Suffolk. With the founding of the Rajneeshpuram community in Oregon that year, I noticed a creeping authoritarianism that I didn't like. Directives would come through from America, and there was a lot of pressure on people to give whatever money they could to the movement. In Oregon the movement was incurring hostility from the local community and the American government. There was widespread bugging and phone tapping in Rajneeshpuram as the people in power became paranoid and tried to keep control by making sure they knew exactly what was going on. In 1985 I left the movement with my husband.

Interview: Rosanna Greenstreet

Dr Elizabeth Puttick is the co-editor of 'Women as Teachers and Disciples In Traditional and New Religions'

(Photograph omitted)

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