Rajneeshpuram, Ore. — The top lieutenant of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and several other women leaders of Rajneeshee’s movement have quit in a major power struggle within the religion, church officials said Monday.
Ma Anand Sheela, 35, the guru’s personal secretary and president of the Rajneeshee Foundation, left the guru’s central Oregon retreat by plane during the weekend with other top leaders of the religion.
“The whole thing has been a tremendous shock,” said Ma Anand Rosalie of the Rajneeshpuram press office. “At the same time a cleansing process has gone on here.”
She said Rajneesh would explain what she called “the scandal” at an evening news conference (10 p.m. EDT).
“Bhagwan will speak a lot on power and the extent to which people will go to maintain their power. It’s the story of a power struggle in a religious group,” she said.
Rosalie said the upheaval was apparently triggered by the Bhagwan’s discovery that his top eschelon had not been keeping their activities.
“Because Sheela was the only one who spoke to the Bhagwan and the only one to speak for him, all that anyone knew is what went through Sheela. Everything went through Sheela,” she said. “From now on we will be able to talk directly to him.”
Rajneesh, 53, who is often called the guru of free love because he advocates sexual promiscuity, lives with about 3,000 followers on a former cattle ranch he purchased in central Oregon about 160 miles east of Portland. His followers provide him with 93 Rolls Royces and a fleet of private cars.
He began giving daily discourses to his followers, including a stern warning about the spread of the disease AIDS. He instructed his followers to use condoms and rubber gloves while making love and asked all Rajneehees to undergo tests to detect acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
During his silent period, the guru communicated through Sheela, 35, who became his closest advisor in 1981. As president of the Rajneesh Foundation International, she directed the worldwide operation of the religion.
It was Sheela, known for her sharp tongue and frequent use of obscenities, who arranged for Rajneesh’s move to Oregon from India in 1980. She found and purchased the 60,000 acre Big Muddy Ranch in central Oregon which became Rajneeshpuram.
It was also Sheela who had most of the confrontations with local residents and Oregon authorities over the founding of the commune, and the importation of thousands of transients into Oregon last year in an effort to control local elections.
The state is currently suing to discorporate the city on grounds it violates the separation of church and state.
Leaving with Sheela was Ma Yoga Vidya, director of Rajneesh’s international communes; Ma And Su, president of the Rajneeshee Investment Corp.; Ma Anand Puja, head of the Rajneesh Medical Corporation; and Ma Prem Homa, municipal court judge.
Also gone was Rajneeshpuram Mayor Khrishna Dava, one of the top male leaders of the religion and one of the original planners of Rajneeshpuram.
Ma Prem Hasya, a longtime member of the sect with a background in show. Business was named to replace Sheela as head of the foundation.
When people join the Rajneeshee movement, they are given new Indian names by Rajneesh.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer said the departure of Sheela wouldn’t affect the state’s efforts to abolish the city.
“We still believe the community violates the constitution,” said Marla Rae. “If it doesn’t, how does the Bhagwan have the authority to kick out the mayor.”