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Utsava Meditation Center Laguna Beach

History of Utsava Meditation Center in Laguna Beach, California
By Sw Dhyan Sagari and Ma Veet Gyano (Guy and Gitte Lamunyon)

The property located at 20062 Laguna Canyon Road in Laguna Beach, California has been a Church of Religious Science, Utsava Meditation Center, Church of Rajneeshism and currently is a private school for children. The property occupies several acres with a beautiful stream running thru the middle. A large main building includes a meeting hall, offices and a one bedroom home attached. Adjacent to the one bedroom home is a single garage with a caretakers quarters (studio) attached. Also on the property are a two bedroom home and a three bedroom home. More recently two mobile trailers were added to facilitate the growth of the private school there now. A visit to this property stimulates an experience of blissful happiness and peacefulness.

The church was been developed by Dr. Henry Gerhardt, a Religious Science Minister who had studied religion for 50 years at the time of his retirement including The Science of Mind (Ernest Holmes), eastern philosophy and the works of mystic George Gurdjieff. As told by him, one day a young man visited the church and showed Dr Gerhardt an OSHO book, THE MUSTARD SEED. Gerhardt was very impressed with the book and scheduled a trip to Poona before he even finished the book.

Dr. Gerhardt took sannyas during his Poona visit and returned Swami Bodhimitra. Upon his return as in orange robes with a new beard and delivering a new message many of the church members abandoned the church while others took sannyas and visited the Poona Ashram. OSHO also gave Bodhimitra a name for a new meditation center in Laguna Beach during his darshan, Utsava. “Utsava means celebration, and that is the keynote. Religions have been teaching people to renounce: I teach people to rejoice . . . So this is my message for your friends. Your group has to become more and more celebrating, and you will be surprised how celebration on its own accord becomes prayer.”

Within two years of taking sannyas, Bodhimitra retired from the church with Sw. Prem Avinash and Ma. Prem Punita as replacement ministers. Bodhimitra had meet Avinash and Punita on a visitation to a Religious Science church in Washington state. Upon his passing, OSHO declared Bodhimirta had been enlightened since the day he became a sannyasin. He was cremated in the crematorium at the ranch and his ashes were placed in the Nirvana Grove at Rajneeshpuram along with the remains of OSHOs father and Sw. Vimalkirti (Prince Welk Ernst of Hanover).

When OSHO left India, Utsava became a major center with visiting workshops and groups from Poona including Music Group, Sufi Dancing, therapy groups by Teertha, Rajen, Somendra, Santosh and others. During this period the former members of the church launched a lawsuit to regain the property. Fortunately, Sw Prem Niren, who was to become OSHO’s personal attorney and final mayor of Rajneeshpuram, was doing meditations at Utsava and volunteered to assist in the defense of the Utsava property.

The authors were personally involved in the 14 million dollar lawsuit by the former members. The church was reorganized with a new Directors and Sw. Ananda Nirup (actor from LA) as Chairman. Author Sagari was also appointed as a member of the new Board of Directors and Sw. Prem Abitabh as minister

Niren was able to defeat the lawsuit of the former members of the church and the Utsava Meditation center flourished with daily meditations, videos, workshops, retreat programs and vegetarian meals. Many sannyasins traveled back and forth between Utsava and the ranch. For a brief period of time Utsava was known as the Church of Rajneeshism (until Sheila left the ranch and OSHO banished Rajneeshism). Amitabh conducted weekly celebration groups for sannyasins until his resignation. Some time before the breakup of the ranch, Amitabh announced his frustrations with events at the ranch, “It’s not coming from Bhagwan.”

When OSHO left the USA, Utsava was overwhelmed with sannyasins coming from the ranch seeking support. By this time Nirup had left his body and author Sagari was the Director of Utsava. Buddhafield Transport yellow busses could be seen parked in Laguna Beach parking lots. An auction of items from the ranch drew bidders from all over. Included in the auction were the gold pieces from OSHOs chair, textiles for his robes, sunglasses worn by him and china, tea services and other household items which had been left behind.

Therapist Santosh arrived with other sannyasins from the ranch and began conducting workshops at Utsava. Long before the end of the ranch, Santosh had begun developing an independent following of people who had taken his groups in the past by developing a newsletter and providing information about his future groups. He had good success with his workshops and Santosh soon demanded to sublease the Utsava property or take his groups, workshops and following elsewhere (which he ultimately did anyway).

After several months the property was sold to pay indebtedness at the ranch. The purchaser was Annaliese Schimmelphenning as a new campus for her German style childrens schools. Santosh took his groups and following to develop a new school in San Jose, California. The new owner of the property, Annaniese, permitted Utsava to rent the main hall for activities during remodeling. When the Utsava property was no longer available, local sannyas activities continued in what became known at The West Street House, a rental in south Laguna on West Street occupied by several local sannyasins. Shortly another sannyasin center was developed in Yorba Linda by Ma Archan and her husband Sw. Anupam; both previous participants at Utsava. Nature abhors a vacuum!

More information about the Utsava/Church of Religious Science lawsuit can be found in the “Rajneesh Chronicles” (author Win McCormack). OSHO talks about Bodhimitra, Utsava and the church conflict in the book, “Beyond Psychology.” An article about the auction at Utsava was published in the LA Times, “Rajneesh Remnants Will Go To High Bidders (FEB.28, 1986).

If you are near Laguna Beach stop at 20062 Laguna Canyon Road where the peace, love and joy can still be felt (at the junction of Laguna Canyon Road and El Toro Road).

AUTHORS NOTE: When OSHO began his silent period we were planning a trip to India to take sannyas. A video message to the west at that time ended with OSHO looking directly into the camera and saying, “Come now, I may not be here long.” We immediately wrote for sannyas not understanding the message and received our malas from Avinash and Punita at Utsava. We were able to take many of the Poona groups at Utsava and went to many celebrations at the ranch beginning with the First Annual World Celebration. Because we had made generous contributions to the ranch we were given up front seats in the third row for the Masters Day Darshan during the First Annual World Celebration. This was to only time OSHO invited sannyasins on the stage and was a HUGE ENERGY EVENT for us. We were planning to move to the ranch at the time it all came apart. We are now in Sedona, Arizona enjoying frequent meetings with the buddhafield here. Sagari may be contacted by email to: Glamunyon@aol.com