Godmen and the Law: Osho

When it comes to religious beliefs, Indians are remarkably credulous. Many smart people have understood this well and have transformed themselves into Godmen. They often gain a huge following which seems inexplicable to persons who are agnostic by nature.

However, the long arm of the law has eventually called out many of these Godmen and exposed the reality behind their flowing robes. There is a running thread of irony in the lives of many Godmen – they lived a life of opulence while their followers poured money into their coffers and lived simply. 

In this series, we look at some charges raised, and the current status of the legal proceedings against some prominent Godmen. We begin with Osho.

Godmen often turn out to be unbelievably ungodly. In India, the wheels of justice often grind agonizingly slowly but eventually, the long arm of the law does catch up with their misdeeds. This is the brief story of the controversial Acharya Rajneesh aka Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh, aka Osho Rajneesh, aka Osho.


Osho was one of the earliest known Indian Mystics, guru and spiritual teacher. Acharya Rajneesh, aka Bhagwan (which literally means God) Shri Rajneesh, aka Osho Rajneesh, aka Osho was a lecturer of philosophy at University of Jabalpur in 1958. As Acharya Rajneesh, he first began his spiritual journey in Mumbai in 1970. He then was known to be a strong supporter of Capitalism. The heady mix of his piercing eyes, somnolent voice, meditation techniques, pungent comments in his speeches on absurdities in common conservative religious and societal beliefs, and in particular, open advocacy of spiritual liberation and a hedonistic life with few restrictions on sex made him a controversial figure in India and earned him several followers from across the globe and from India – including high-profile followers like Vinod Khanna, Mahesh Bhatt and Parveen Babi, and the title of “Sex Guru” from the Indian press. He was seen by some as a charismatic speaker, some others saw him as an original thinker. He undoubtedly was a profligate over-the-top spender. He once owned 93 Rolls Royces. A bumper sticker that was popular among his followers was “Jesus Saves. Moses Invests. Bhagwan Spends”. This points to the strange truth – in spite of the several run-ins with the authorities in India and in the US, the movement was a hugely successful money-making machine. 

He moved to Pune in 1974 where he built an ashram, but regularly met with hurdles because of the tension between his movement and the then ultra-conservative PM, Morarji Desai. He therefore relocated to rural Oregon in the US in 1981 and set up an ashram in a vast 64,229-acres ranch, now a city christened Rajneeshpuram, but his movement had running fights with residents and local authorities of the county. There were serious allegations that his followers were involved in heinous crimes, including attempted murder, terrorism and chemical warfare. The last was in 1984, when Rajneesh’s followers conducted a bio-terror attack, poisoning salads with salmonella at local restaurants and shops, poisoning 751 people - all in order to rig the local election allowing the Rajneeshees to gain political power in the city and county. Ma Anand Sheela, personal secretary to Rajneesh, pleaded guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault in another case. Osho was finally deported from the United States after a plea bargain. After being denied entry by 21 other countries, Osho returned to his Pune ashram in 1987. He died there in 1990. His teachings live on through more than 650 books in over 60 languages published by his Ashram’s publishing house. He is arguably more well-known after his death than he ever was when alive. His Pune ashram survives as a meditation centre.


Rajesh Haldipur
Rajesh Haldipur

Founder, Law Gyani

Rajesh is a qualified CA & CWA. He has served as a Director of PricewaterhouseCoopers, a Director of a large urban co-operative bank and Dean of a B-School over the years. He has taught Finance for over 20 years & trained participants from several Companies and B-Schools. He is an educator and a learner (he believes both are inextricably intertwined), and a knowledge product developer. Law Gyani, which he has founded to help Law Students with their exam preparations, and to understand nuances of the law.


A qualified lawyer enrolled with Bombay High Court, Nayan is an enthusiastic reader, mostly of Indian Mythology and World History. Also a binge watcher and enjoys travelling to new places.


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