I left the Osho ashram to protect my children from its community life

  • Jeanette Krohn lived in several communes in the 70s and 80s as a disciple of the Indian guru Osho.
  • Parents were considered underclass members; achieving enlightenment was more important than raising children, she says.
  • Here is his story told to Erica Garza.

I grew up in 1950s Australia near the caves, streams and wild gum forest outside of Sydney. It was my magical playground, instilling a devotion to nature from an early age. My father had served in World War II, witnessing atrocities that made me crave something different from the mainstream.

In 1973 I found my community in Nimbin, a hippie enclave in New South Wales and the site of the Aquarius Festival, Australia’s answer to Woodstock.

Dancing with artists, fighting for rainforests and raising two children, I came across tapes of the Osho Indian Guru, and was hypnotized. Wanting to know more, I left my baby with his father and traveled to India with my new partner and my daughter to live in his ashram.

I joined the ashram because I thought it would help me know myself better and understand my place in the world; I left because I realized that this path to self-realization required me to distance myself from other aspects of my life, including my career and my children.

Being a mother put me at a disadvantage to live in the ashram

Osho was an Indian mystic. He began recruiting supporters in India, then moved to the United States, where he moved to Oregon in 1981.

Osho blended Eastern mysticism and Western thought in the ashram. There was a lot to like in the international community besides being close to him. I felt like I was in the company of like souls. We wanted to retreat into ourselves instead of engaging in environmental sinking or war. To sit in silence with 10,000 people in the ashram was profound.

Sannyasins, also known as disciples, worked in everything from administration to cleaning. They included doctors, therapists, artists, musicians and merchants. We could afford to be there because many of us came from wealthy backgrounds and were well educated. Also, India was cheap for us foreigners.

Unlike most sannyasins, I was a mother, and this was considered unfortunate by Osho and his sannyasins, who believed that children should be raised away from their parents.

I have known girls as young as 14 who were sterilized at the ashram hospital.

When I found out I was pregnant with my third child, I was encouraged by one of the ashram doctors to have an abortion, but decided to ask Osho for his blessing. Instead of answering, he sent three women around him to reprimand me.

Feeling like an outcast and missing my son, I decided to return to Australia to live in a commune of sannyasin, where we have renounced the comfort of materialism. Like other established sannyasin communes around the world, this one had an appointed leader who received directions and requests for money from the ashram in India.

Women were mostly in charge, as Osho considered herself a feminist. But his feminism discouraged pregnancy because he believed that children prevented their parents from fully developing their consciousness. He also believed that most religions encouraged herding to gain dominance over other religions and did not want sannyasins to think they were part of a religion.

I moved to an ashram in Australia, but things haven’t changed

In the Australian commune, most people worked outside to earn money and poured it into the coffers. Some, like me, worked at the ashram.

All jobs were supposed to be considered equal, but because I was still considered an underclass member with a new baby, they made me chief toilet cleaner.

All the money we made was sent to build Rajneeshpuram, a new town in Oregon which later became the site of the the biggest bioterrorist attack on American soil. Osho, who at the time passed Rajneeshruled this commune, which attracted people From all over the world.

Both in the Australian commune and at the ashram, sannyasins were concerned with their enlightenment and seemed willing to give up basic kindness or ethics to achieve it, including sexual abuse and physical harm. Some people were content to entrust their responsibilities to the collective, particularly in terms of childcare.

Many children were troubled and neglected. A woman, who had given her twin daughters up for adoption, approached me as I held my new baby and shouted hateful words at us. Another woman threw away all of my daughter’s clothes because they were the wrong color; the sannyasins only wore the colors of the sunrise.

When leaders offered to move all the children away from their parents to a farm in Western Australia, we left for good. The commune was no place for children or parents trying to raise them.

Coming home was not easy. My old friends were skeptical about my cult membership. I have only three lasting friends among the sannyasins, including my husband of 35 years now.

It wasn’t perfect, but I’m grateful to have had the freedom and the opportunity to know myself. I am grateful that my children are well and know how to love and that I always do my part in fighting and defending nature.

Joan D. Boling