The Legal Structure of the Osho Movement

This page is part of the historical background relating to "What Is an Osho?", a slick, sannyas-paradigm-shifting policy paper written by Amrito and circulated in 1998. A deconstruction of Amrito's paper is presented on this site, introduced here. A large subset of the background addresses various aspects of OIF's claimed right to control Osho's legacy, particularly regarding the legal muscle of copyright and trademark. This page covers the (lack of) legal structure in Osho's communes. It is sourced from Osho Friends International. For more legal pages, see OFI or Legal Main Page.

What is the legal structure of the Osho movement?

Nobody is my follower. Nobody is going to be my successor. Each sannyasin is my representative. When I am dead, you all—individually—will have to represent me to the world. There is not going to be any pope. There is not going to be any shankaracharya. Each sannyasin, in his own capacity, has to represent me.

This has never happened—but it is going to happen! You are all my successors.

When I am dead, that simply means I have left this body and entered all the bodies of my people.

will be within you.

I will be part of you.
~ from From Death to Deathlessness, Ch 25


The simple answer to the question about the organization of the Osho movement is that there is no legal structure. Osho has always been adamant that all sannyasins and all centers are completely independent. The people around Osho have been a “movement” or group only in the sense that we all love Him and are personally and spiritually connected to Him. The connection has always been directly between Osho and individuals. Sannyasins and other lovers of Osho have always been a group of individuals engaged in their own individual understanding of religiousness. There has never been any legal connection, organization, or authority over others involved.

Osho meditation centers, communes and institutes are independent and are not legally or financially connected.

Individuals or groups of individuals have to set up centers, institutes, and so on to spread Osho's work. They have formed their own organizations and structures as they chose, No one from outside their groups has ever had a legal right to control them. While Osho was in the body He gave suggestions and answered questions, but never exercised any form of legal control over any Centres.

I want my people to be individuals living in freedom. If they love me it is out of their freedom, not out of fear, not out of desire, not out of some longing for achievement. The old disciple was surrendering himself because he wanted to be enlightened. The master was being used as a means. I don't allow myself to be used as a means. That is ugly.
~ from The Invitation, ch 19


In order for OIF Zürich to own a trademark for the exclusive use of Osho now, it has to pretend that what Osho said is not true. It has to try to create an illusion of control of all people doing Osho’s work, a centralized organization, a hierarchy that controls those on a lower level. In effect, OIF Zürich has to claim all the essential qualities of a religion, the qualities that made the idea of religion so abhorrent to Osho.

Osho distinguishes between religion and religiousness. For Him a religion is all the things a trademark holder in this situation would have to be: an organization, hierarchy, dictator of correctness and purity, interpreter of religious teachings, and so on. A trademark holder of “Osho” by the very definition of a trademark as a guarantee of “quality” would have to be exactly the kind of hierarchy Osho repeatedly asked that we never create around His work.

I am against the whole idea of hierarchy. And that's my vision of a new commune. In the new commune there is going to be nobody higher and nobody lower. In this ashram, there is nobody higher, nobody lower.
~ from The Dhammapada: The Way of the Buddha, Vol-3, ch 6

My commune is an organism rather than an organization.

We are intelligent people:

There is no need for anybody else to tell you what to do, how to do.

Your intelligence is your responsibility.

Nobody is going to force any responsibility on you. But I know why the question arises -- because you have been trained from your very childhood.
~ from From Misery to Enlightenment, Ch 29

I am fighting against any kind of institutionalization, organization. I want a totally different thing. I call it organism, not organization.

~ from The Last Testament, Vol 2, Ch 19

One of the groups that Osho criticized the most harshly is priests. Priests presume to stand in a hierarchy above others; they interpret Truth for others; they decide what spiritual approach or teaching is correct or pure. If OIF Zürich really were a trademark holder, the board of OIF Zürich would function exactly as priests, evaluating the activity of the centers, the goods and services produced. They would decide if the goods and services matched their ideas about the purity of Osho’s vision.

For example, if OIF Zürich , were to voice its opinion that only meditation, not devotional practices, are consistent with Osho’s teachings. If OIF Zürich really were the trademark holder for Osho and the centers really were its licensees, then OIF Zürich could prohibit any center from using any devotional techniques or even from using Osho’s quotes on devotion.

If OIF Zürich really were the trademark holder it could decide what celebrations the centers could hold and how the celebrations have to be conducted. For example, they could forbid any celebrations of Osho the person, such as Osho’s birthday, Never Born Never Died day, and so on. It could forbid the use of Osho photos in centers or during celebrations and dictate the kind of music that could be used.

For those of you who are saying to yourselves right now, “But they (OIF Zürich) would never do that. I trust them,” keep in mind, first, that OIF Zürich claims to already be doing this. The second thing to consider is that we are all mortal, but trademarks last forever, as long as they are used. Any of us might die at any minute. All the current members of the OIF Zürich Board will be gone or getting past it in the next 10–30 years, so this isn’t about individuals. This is about structures, the structures that will continue into the future long beyond our lifetimes. Do we want to support the creation of a structure of control through trademarks that is essentially a religion, even if it isn’t called that? Do we want to help impose a control on Osho’s work He specifically asked us never to impose?

Osho was always aware of the dangers to individuals and the dangers to Truth posed by organizations, hierarchies, religions, priesthoods, arbiters of purity. Advocates of trademarks claim that trademarks would protect Osho’s work, but the opposite is true. Nothing presents such a risk to Osho’s work as centralized control. Osho, in His wisdom, was well aware of this and consistently spoke against control.

If Osho’s teachings are subject to centralized control now, they will be subject to that control when the people who actually knew Him are all dead. If the teachings are subject to control they can be edited, interpreted, changed, or completely suppressed and destroyed. Whoever took control as the trademark holder could wipe Osho out as an inconvenient teller of Truth. Is it any wonder Osho always spoke so strongly against this kind of centralization?

One of the (many) great things about Osho’s work is that He never taught just one technique, one approach, one way. His teachings have always been an umbrella of essential truth that can encompass all kinds of approaches and techniques that appeal to a wide variety of individuals. The centers Osho asked people to found were never homogenized versions of McMeditation franchises. The centers Osho asked people to found arose from the hearts of individuals. They had the spirit and flavor of individuals and local groups of individuals. They were varied and alive. They reflected the variety in Osho’s whole approach. Osho spoke of a caravanserai, and you could hear the music and see the colorful clothes and joyful dancing people in His description. This is a caravanserai of individuality, and individuality can never be franchised.

Common sense tells us that this flavor of individuality can only be preserved if the centers that wish to remain as free and independent as Osho asked them to be. And Osho’s work can only be safe in future generations if it lives up to its essential nature: a wildfire of truth burning out of the control of the ego/mind.

I am not telling you to be missionaries, I want you to be the mission. Missionaries have only carried borrowed knowledge. I want you to be the mission in the sense that you will be spreading your own experience. You will be radiating your own buddhahood. A wildfire has to be created around the globe, of consciousness.

This is the only hope for humanity, the only hope for the universe, to have this small planet so alive, so beautiful, so lovely."
~ from The Buddha: The Emptiness of the Heart, Ch 3


Will some people misrepresent and distort Osho’s teachings? Well, sure. That’s going to happen no matter what we do. There’s no way to prevent it. It’s the nature of the human mind to define and revise. Quite a few people think OIF Zürich is already doing this by publishing all kinds of compilations of Osho’s discourses. Shortly before He left His body Osho specifically asked that no more compilations be done, but they continue to appear.

Osho’s solution to misrepresentation and distortion was to archive His original material; to make sure that original archives of books, electronic files, and audio/video recordings are available in the future. Osho was well aware that there are great disputes about what Buddha really said, what Jesus really said, and so on. He wanted to be the first Master to provide archives so that people can always go back to the original to check on authenticity.

If there is centralized control of Osho’s work, this archived material could end up in a locked archive like the Vatican’s, if it survived at all. If Osho’s work burns as a wildfire of truth through the hearts of individuals (and the Internet), there will always be archives available to those who want to know, because individual renegades will make sure archives are available. The best protection for Osho’s work is to keep it free and uncontrollable. OIF Zürich can create archives, and so can others. We can all work together to set up archives, while making sure no one has the power to destroy them.

Osho repeatedly pointed out that His work was not His, but simply truth. No control of the people doing work in His name was necessary or desired. In fact, control was to be avoided at all costs. All centers were to be free of outside control forever.

Even with His copyrights, Osho was easy. Yes, people quoted Him out of context, but He said the truth of his teachings would shine through for those ready to hear it.

Osho was not afraid of the future. He didn’t seek the constriction of control and power over others out of fear. Osho said it has never happened that individuals were all successors to a Master, but that it will happen this time. Will we make it happen? This is our choice: to allow the space for centers and individuals who choose to follow Osho’s guidance and remain independent, or to try and force control of Osho’s work on His people against their wishes. Some people, including those in OIF Zürich , seem to think that Osho’s idea of thousands of successors is a stupid idea, that an organization with centralized control and the OIF Zürich board (or president of the board) as the de facto successor to Osho is a much better one. Some of us trust that Osho knew what He was talking about.

OIF seems to feel that all that Osho said about not wanting an organization, hierarchy, control of centers was untrue. Apparently, Osho was just joking, or maybe lying to His people. OIF Zürich claims that it and other foundations have strictly controlled all of Osho’s work and the activities of the centers for many years. Not only that, according to OIF, Osho knew about and approved of that control:

Prior to the death of Osho, OIF Zürich was controlling the content of …sessions, workshops, retreats, seminars, groups, courses and trainings in the teachings of Osho…
[And:]
Osho looked on favorably and did not object as OIF Zürich made “open and notorious use” of OSHO marks in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, demonstrating that Osho himself recognized that OIF Zürich is the legal owner of the Osho marks.
(Applicant/Respondent Osho International Foundation’s Motion for Summary Judgment)

Does OIF Zürich have any competent evidence that Osho knew or approved of this? No. How could they? The story of control is fictional; it never really happened. Contrary of OIF Zürich’s assertions, an Osho Times article shows that Osho actually asked all the centers to use Osho in their center names in 1989. This indicates that Osho knew that He, not OIF Zürich , was deciding how the name Osho was to be used. By asking all the centers to use Osho at the same time and not assigning rights in the name to anyone, Osho made it clear that He did not want Osho to be a trademark controlled by only one legal entity. If the name was used by all the centers in the world simultaneously, it could never be a trademark for any one person or entity.

The articles listed below describe the legal associations among various groups and individual as they really were and are and what OIF claims they were and are in its revised version of reality. Anyone dealing with OIF Zürich needs to be aware of OIF Zürich’s claims and what’s wrong with those claims. Some people, particularly some new to Osho, have been misled into thinking that someone has actual legal authority over the way centers and individuals choose to do Osho’s work. The following articles demonstrate why that isn’t true unless the centers choose to give them that control.

Again, because this issue raises strong feelings and gives rise to conflict, there’s no reason for anyone to take Osho Friends word for this. Get all the information and legal documents, consult your own legal advisor, read Osho, and then decide what to do. The wrong decision can have devastating legal effects on your center or your business; so please, be aware.