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|Born||Chandra Mohan Jain|
11 December 1931
Kuchwada, Bhopal State, British Raj
(now Madhya Pradesh, India)
|Died||19 January 1990 (aged 58)|
Pune, Maharashtra, India
|Education||University of Sagar|
|Known for||Spirituality, Mysticism|
|Notable work(s)||Over 600 books, several thousand audio and video discourses|
|Movement||Jivan Jagriti Andolan; Neo-sannyas|
|Born||Chandra Mohan Jain|
11 December 1931
Kuchwada, Bhopal State, British Raj
(now Madhya Pradesh, India)
|Died||19 January 1990 (aged 58)|
Pune, Maharashtra, India
|Education||University of Sagar|
|Known for||Spirituality, Mysticism|
|Notable work(s)||Over 600 books, several thousand audio and video discourses|
|Movement||Jivan Jagriti Andolan; Neo-sannyas|
Chandra Mohan Jain (11 December 1931 – 19 January 1990), also known as Acharya Rajneesh from the 1960s onwards, as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh ( pronunciation (help·info)) during the 1970s and 1980s, and as Osho ( pronunciation (help·info);) from 1989, was an Indian mystic, guru and spiritual teacher. His international following has continued beyond his death.
A professor of philosophy, he travelled throughout India during the 1960s as a public speaker. His outspoken criticism of politicians and the political mind, Mahatma Gandhi and institutionalised religion made him controversial. He advocated a more open attitude towards sexuality, a stance which earned him the sobriquet of "sex guru" in the Indian and (later) international press. In 1970 Rajneesh settled for a time in Bombay, initiating disciples (known as neo-sannyasins) and assuming the role of spiritual teacher. In his discourses he reinterpreted the writings of religious traditions, mystics and philosophers from around the world. Moving to Pune in 1974, he established an ashram which attracted a growing number of Westerners. The ashram offered therapies derived from the Human Potential Movement to its Western audience and made news in India and abroad because of its permissive climate and Rajneesh's provocative lectures. By the late 1970s, tensions were mounting with the Indian government and the surrounding society.
In mid-1981, Rajneesh relocated to the United States, where his followers established an intentional community (later known as Rajneeshpuram) near Antelope, Oregon south of The Dalles, Oregon. Almost immediately, the commune's leadership became embroiled in conflicts with local residents (primarily over land use), which were marked by hostility on both sides. The large number of Rolls-Royce cars purchased for Rajneesh's use by his followers also attracted criticism. The Oregon commune collapsed in 1985 when Rajneesh revealed that the commune leadership had committed a number of serious crimes, including a bioterror attack (food contamination) on the citizens of The Dalles. He was arrested shortly afterwards, and charged with immigration violations. Rajneesh was deported from the United States in accordance with a plea bargain. Twenty-one countries denied him entry, causing Rajneesh to travel the world before returning to Pune, where he died in 1990.
Rajneesh's ashram in Pune is today known as the Osho International Meditation Resort. His syncretic teachings emphasise the importance of meditation, awareness, love, celebration, courage, creativity and humour: qualities which he viewed as suppressed by adherence to static belief systems, religious tradition and socialisation. Rajneesh's teachings have had a notable influence on Western spirituality, as well as New Age thought. Their popularity has increased since his death.
Rajneesh was born Chandra Mohan Jain (the eldest of eleven children of a cloth merchant and his wife) at his maternal grandparents' house in Kuchwada, a small Indian village in the Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh State. His parents, Babulal and Saraswati Jain (Taranpanthi Jains), let him live with his maternal grandparents until he was seven years old. By Rajneesh's account, this was a major influence on his development; his grandmother gave him unbridled freedom and imposed no education on him. When he was seven his grandfather died, and Chandra went to Gadarwara to live with his parents. Rajneesh was profoundly affected by his grandfather's death and the death of his childhood girlfriend (his cousin Shashi) from typhoid when he was 15. His preoccupation with death lasted through much of his youth. He was a gifted though rebellious school student, and acquired a reputation as a formidable debater. Rajneesh became an anti-theist, was interested in hypnosis, and was briefly associated with socialism.
In 1951, aged nineteen, Rajneesh began his studies at Hitkarini College in Jabalpur. Asked to leave after conflicts with an instructor, he transferred to D. N. Jain College in Jabalpur. Disruptively argumentative, he was not required to attend classes at D. N. Jain College (except for examinations); he used his free time to work as an assistant editor for a local newspaper. He began speaking in public at the annual Sarva Dharma Sammelan (meeting of all faiths) at Jabalpur, organised by the Teranpanthi Jain community into which he was born. He participated there from 1951 to 1968. He resisted parental pressure to marry. Rajneesh later said he became spiritually enlightened on 21 March 1953, at age 21, in a mystical experience while sitting under a tree in the Bhanvartal Garden in Jabalpur.
After completing his B.A. in philosophy at D. N. Jain College in 1955, he joined the University of Sagar, where in 1957 he earned his M.A. with distinction in philosophy. He secured a teaching post at Raipur Sanskrit College; however, the vice-chancellor soon asked him to seek a transfer since he considered him a danger to his students' morality, character and religion.
Beginning in 1958 he lectured in philosophy at Jabalpur University, and was promoted to professor in 1960. A popular lecturer, he was acknowledged by his peers as an exceptionally intelligent man who had overcome the deficiencies of a small-town education.
Concurrent with his university job, Rajneesh traveled throughout India under the name Acharya Rajneesh (Acharya means teacher, or professor; Rajneesh was a nickname he acquired in childhood), presenting lectures critical of socialism and Gandhi. He said socialism would only socialise poverty, and described Gandhi as a masochist reactionary who worshipped poverty. What India needed to prosper were capitalism, science, technology and birth control. He criticised orthodox Indian religions as dead, filled with empty ritual and oppressing their followers with fears of damnation and promises of blessings. Such statements made him controversial, but gained him a loyal following which included wealthy merchants and businessmen. They arranged individual consultations about their spiritual development and daily life in return for donations (a common arrangement in India), and his practice grew rapidly. In 1962, he began to lead three- to ten-day meditation camps; the first meditation centres (Jivan Jagruti Kendra) emerged around his teaching, then known as the Life Awakening Movement (Jivan Jagruti Andolan). After a controversial speaking tour in 1966, he resigned from his teaching post.
After calling for a greater acceptance of sex in a 1968 lecture series (later published as From Sex to Superconsciousness), Rajneesh was dubbed "the sex guru" by the Indian press. His talks scandalised Hindu leaders.
When invited (despite the misgivings of some Hindu leaders) to speak at the Second World Hindu Conference in 1969, he said that "any religion which considers life meaningless and full of misery, and teaches the hatred of life, is not a true religion. Religion is an art that shows how to enjoy life". He characterised priests as being motivated by self-interest, provoking the shankaracharya of Puri to attempt (in vain) to have his lecture stopped.
At a public meditation event in spring 1970, Rajneesh presented his Dynamic Meditation method for the first time. He left Jabalpur for Bombay at the end of June. On 26 September 1970, he initiated his first group of disciples (or neo-sannyasins). Becoming a disciple meant assuming a new name and wearing the traditional orange dress of ascetic Hindu holy men, as well as a mala (beaded necklace) holding a locket with his picture. However, his sannyasins were encouraged to follow a celebratory (rather than ascetic) lifestyle. He was not to be worshipped but seen as a catalytic agent, "a sun encouraging the flower to open".
Rajneesh had acquired a secretary, Laxmi Thakarsi Kuruwa, who (as his first disciple) had taken the name Ma Yoga Laxmi. Laxmi was the daughter of one of his early followers, a wealthy Jain who had been a key supporter of the Congress Party during the struggle for Indian independence, and who had close ties to Gandhi, Nehru and Morarji Desai. Laxmi raised the money which enabled Rajneesh to stop traveling and settle down. In December 1970 he moved to the Woodlands Apartments in Bombay, where he gave lectures and received visitors (among them his first Westerners). He traveled rarely, no longer speaking at open public meetings.
In 1971, he adopted the title "Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh". Shree is a polite form of address, roughly equivalent to the English "sir"; Bhagwan means "Blessed One", used in Indian tradition as a term of respect for a human being in whom the divine is apparent.
The humid Bombay weather was detrimental to Rajneesh's health; he developed diabetes, asthma and a number of allergies. In 1974, on the 21st anniversary of his experience in Jabalpur, he moved to a property in Koregaon Park, Pune, which was purchased with the help of Ma Yoga Mukta (Catherine Venizelos, a Greek shipping heiress). Rajneesh taught at the Pune ashram from 1974 to 1981. The two adjoining houses and 6 acres (2.4 ha) of land became the center of what is now the Osho International Meditation Resort. It facilitated audio and (later) video recording and printing of his discourses for worldwide distribution, enabling him to reach a larger audience. The number of Western visitors increased. The ashram soon featured an arts-and-crafts centre, which produced clothes, jewellery, ceramics and organic cosmetics and hosted theatre, music and mime performances. In 1975, after the arrival of therapists from the Human Potential Movement, the ashram began to complement its meditations with group therapy (which became a major source of income).
The Pune ashram was an intense place with a charged, carnival atmosphere. The day began at 6:00 am, with Dynamic Meditation. At 8am Rajneesh gave a 60- to 90-minute lecture in the ashram's Buddha Hall auditorium, commenting on religious writings or answering questions from visitors and disciples. Until 1981, lecture series in Hindi alternated with series in English. During the day, meditation and therapy took place; their intensity was ascribed to the energy of Rajneesh's "buddhafield". In evening darshans, Rajneesh conversed with individual disciples and visitors, and initiated disciples (sannyas). Sannyasins came for darshan when leaving, returning, or when they had anything they wanted to discuss.
To decide which therapies to participate in, visitors consulted Rajneesh or made selections according to their own preferences. Some early therapy groups in the ashram (including an encounter group) were experimental, allowing physical aggression and sexual encounters between participants. Conflicting reports of injuries sustained in encounter-group sessions began to appear in the press.
Dick Price, a prominent Human Potential Movement therapist and co-founder of the Esalen Institute, found that the groups encouraged participants to "be violent" rather than "play at being violent" (the norm in U.S. encounter groups); he criticised them for making "the worst mistakes of some inexperienced Esalen group leaders". Price is alleged to have left the Pune ashram with a broken arm, after eight hours locked in a room with participants armed with wooden weapons. Bernard Gunther (Price's Esalen colleague) fared better in Pune and wrote a book, Dying for Enlightenment, with photographs and descriptions of the meditation and therapy groups. Violence in the therapy groups ended in January 1979, when the ashram issued a press release saying that violence "had fulfilled its function within the overall context of the ashram as an evolving spiritual commune".
Sannyasins who "graduated" from months of meditation and therapy could apply to work in the ashram, in an environment that was consciously modelled on the community led by George Gurdjieff in 1930s France. Features copied from Gurdjieff were hard, unpaid work and supervisors chosen for their abrasive personalities, both designed to provoke opportunities for self-observation and transcendence. Many disciples stayed for years. In addition to the controversy surrounding the therapies, allegations of drug use amongst sannyasins began to mar the ashram's image; some Western sannyasins financed extended stays in India with prostitution and drug-running. Several later said that while Rajneesh was not directly involved, they discussed their plans with him in darshan and he approved.
By the late 1970s the Pune ashram had become too small, and Rajneesh asked that somewhere larger be found. Sannyasins throughout India began looking for properties; those found included one in the province of Kutch in Gujarat and two more in India's mountainous north. The plan to move was never implemented, since mounting tensions between the ashram and the Janata Party government of Morarji Desai resulted in an impasse. Land-use approval was denied, and the government stopped issuing visas to foreign visitors who indicated the ashram as their chief destination. Desai's government also retroactively cancelled the tax-exempt status of the ashram, resulting in a tax claim estimated at $5 million. Conflicts with other Indian religious leaders aggravated the situation.
By 1980 the ashram was so controversial that Indira Gandhi, despite an association between Rajneesh and the Indian Congress Party dating to the 1960s, was unwilling to intercede after her return to power. In May 1980 an assassination attempt was made during one of Rajneesh's discourses by Vilas Tupe, a young Hindu fundamentalist. Tupe claims that he attacked Rajneesh because he believed him to be a CIA agent.
By 1981, Rajneesh's ashram hosted 30,000 visitors per year, and daily discourse audiences were predominantly European and American. Many observers noted that Rajneesh's lecture style changed during the late 1970s, becoming less focused intellectually and featuring an increasing number of ethnic or dirty jokes intended to shock (or amuse) his audience. On 10 April 1981, having discoursed daily for nearly 15 years, Rajneesh entered a three-and-a-half-year period of self-imposed public silence; satsangs—silent sitting, with music and readings from spiritual works such as Khalil Gibran's The Prophet or the Isha Upanishad—replaced discourses. Around the same time, Ma Anand Sheela (Sheela Silverman) replaced Ma Yoga Laxmi as Rajneesh's secretary.
In 1981, increased tension in the Pune ashram, criticism of its activities, and threatened punitive action by Indian authorities resulted in Sheela and Rajneesh deciding to move the operation to the United States. According to Susan J. Palmer, the move "appears to have been a unilateral decision on the part of Sheela." Gordon notes that Sheela and Osho discussed establishing a commune in the U.S. in late 1980, although he did not travel there until June 1, 1981.
Osho travelled to the United States on a tourist visa (ostensibly for medical reasons), and spent several months at a Rajneeshee retreat center at Kip's Castle in Montclair, New Jersey. He had recently been diagnosed with a prolapsed disc and treated by several doctors, including James Cyriax (a St. Thomas' Hospital musculoskeletal physician and expert on epidural injections, who was flown in from London). Osho's previous secretary, Laxmi, told Frances FitzGerald that "she had failed to find a property in India adequate to [Osho's] needs, and thus, when the medical emergency came, the initiative had passed to Sheela". A public statement by Sheela indicated that Rajneesh was in grave danger if he remained in India, but would receive appropriate medical treatment in the U.S. if he required surgery. Despite the allegedly serious nature of his condition, Rajneesh never sought outside medical treatment during his time in the United States, leading the Immigration and Naturalization Service to believe that he had a preconceived intention to remain there. Rajneesh in 1984 pleaded guilty to immigration fraud, including making false statements on his initial visa application.[nb 1][nb 2][nb 3]
On 13 June 1981 Sheela's husband, Swami Prem Chinmaya (Marc Harris Silverman), bought the Big Muddy Ranch, a 64,229-acre (25,990 ha) ranch near Antelope, Oregon, for $5.75 million. The ranch spanned two Oregon counties: Wasco and Jefferson. The ranch was renamed "Rancho Rajneesh", and Osho moved there on 29 August. Initial local reaction ranged from tolerance to hostility, varying with the resident's proximity to the ranch. Within a year a series of legal battles had begun, primarily over land use. In May 1982, the residents of Rancho Rajneesh voted to incorporate it as the city of Rajneeshpuram. Conflict with neighbours became increasingly bitter, and over the following years, the commune was subject to pressure from a number of groups. The commune leaders' stance was uncompromising, confrontational and impatient; their behaviour was intimidating, and repeated changes in the commune's stated plans were seen as attempts at deception. In 1984, the commune imported thousands of homeless people from U.S. cities in an unsuccessful attempt to register them to vote in an upcoming county election. When this was challenged, the people were released in surrounding towns for Oregon State to return them to their home cities at state expense.
From April 1981 to November 1984, Osho was "in silence", not speaking publicly or giving discourses. During that time, videos of his discourses were played to audiences instead. His time was largely spent in seclusion; he communicated only with a few key disciples, including Ma Anand Sheela and his caretaker girlfriend Ma Yoga Vivek (Christine Woolf). Osho lived in a trailer next to a covered swimming pool and other amenities. He saw most of the residents as they stood by the side of the road during his slow, daily drives. Rajneesh was notorious for the many Rolls-Royces bought for his use, eventually totalling 93 vehicles; this made him the largest single owner of Rolls-Royces in the world at that time. His followers planned to expand his collection to 365: a Rolls-Royce for every day of the year.
In 1981, Osho gave Sheela his limited power of attorney, removing the limits the following year. In 1983, Sheela announced that he would henceforth speak only with her; Osho later said that she kept him in ignorance. Many sannyasins expressed doubts about whether Sheela properly represented Osho, and many dissidents left Rajneeshpuram in protest of its autocratic leadership.
The many resident sannyasins without U.S. citizenship experienced visa difficulties, which some tried to overcome by marriages of convenience. Commune administrators tried to resolve Osho's own immigration issues by declaring him the head of a religion, Rajneeshism. In November 1981, Osho applied for resident status as a religious worker, but his application was refused on the grounds that he could not lead a religion while unwell and in silence. This decision was later overturned due to procedural violations; permission for Osho to stay as a religious leader was granted in 1984.
During the Oregon years, Osho emphasized his prediction that the world might be destroyed by nuclear war (or other disaster) during the 1990s. He said as early as 1964 that "the third and last war is now on the way", frequently speaking about the need to create a "new humanity" to avoid global suicide. This now became the basis for a new exclusivism. A 1983 article in the Rajneesh Foundation newsletter announcing that "Rajneeshism is creating a Noah's Ark of consciousness ... I say to you that except this there is no other way" increased the sense of urgency to build the Oregon commune. In March 1984, Sheela announced that Rajneesh predicted the death of two-thirds of humanity from AIDS. Sannyasins were required to wear rubber gloves and condoms if they had sex, and to refrain from kissing—measures represented in the press as an overreaction, since condoms were not commonly recommended for AIDS prevention at that time.
During his time in Rajneeshpuram, Osho dictated three books under the influence of nitrous oxide administered by his dentist: Glimpses of a Golden Childhood, Notes of a Madman and Books I Have Loved. Sheela later said that Osho took sixty milligrams of Valium each day and was addicted to nitrous oxide, but he denied these allegations when questioned by journalists.
After the Rajneeshiis' efforts to incorporate and develop the ranch as a new city were unsuccessful, the Rajneeshiis' attempted to take over the tiny city of Antelope, Oregon (2010 population 45). On September 18, 1984, Antelope's charter was amended by a vote of 57 to 22 to change the name of the city to Rajneesh. In November, Rajneesh, who had originally pleaded innocent to charges of immigration fraud, changed his plea to guilty and was allowed to leave the United States under the terms of a plea bargain.
On November 6, 1985, the remaining residents, both original and Rajneeshee, voted 34 to 0 to restore the original name, which was never changed by the Postal Service but had been changed and was subsequently restored by the United States Board on Geographic Names.
Osho coached Sheela in using media coverage to her advantage; during his period of public silence, he said privately that Sheela spoke on his behalf. He supported her in disputes about her behaviour with the commune leadership, but in spring 1984 (as tension amongst the inner circle peaked) a private meeting was convened with Sheela and his house staff. According to testimony from Swami Devageet (Charles Harvey Newman), she was admonished before the others. Osho declared that his house—not hers—was the centre of the commune. He is also said to have warned that anyone close to him would be a target for Sheela.
On 30 October 1984, Osho ended his period of public silence, announcing that it was time to "speak his own truths." In July 1985 he resumed daily public discourses (against Sheela's wishes, according to statements he made to the press). On 16 September 1985, two days after Sheela and her management team had left the commune for Europe, Osho held a press conference in which he described Sheela and her associates a "gang of fascists". He accused them of a number of serious crimes (most dating back to 1984), and invited authorities to investigate.
The alleged crimes (which Osho said were committed without his knowledge or consent) included the attempted murder of his physician, poisonings of public officials, wiretapping and bugging in the commune and his home, and a bioterror attack on citizens of The Dalles, Oregon (using salmonella) to influence county elections. While his allegations were initially greeted with scepticism by outside observers, subsequent investigation by U.S. authorities confirmed the accusations. Sheela and several associates pleaded guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault. On 30 September 1985, Osho denied that he was a religious teacher; his disciples burned 5,000 copies of the Book of Rajneeshism, a 78-page compilation of his teachings which defined Rajneeshism as "a religionless religion". He said he ordered the book-burning to rid the sect of the last traces of Sheela's influence; her robes were also "added to the bonfire".
The salmonella attack was the first confirmed instance of chemical (or biological) terrorism in the United States. Osho said that because he was in silence and isolation (meeting only with Sheela), he was unaware of crimes committed by the Rajneeshpuram leadership, until Sheela and her "gang" left and sannyasins came forward to inform him. A number of commentators have said that in their view, Sheela was used as a scapegoat. Others have noted that although Sheela bugged Osho's living quarters and made the tapes available to U.S. authorities as part of her plea bargain, no evidence has come to light that Osho had any part in her crimes. However, Gordon (1987) reports that Charles Turner, David Frohnmayer and other law enforcement officials (who saw affidavits never released publicly and listened to hundreds of hours of tape recordings) implied to him that Osho was guilty of more crimes than those for which he was prosecuted. Frohnmayer asserted that Osho's philosophy was not "disapproving of poisoning", and felt that Osho and Sheela were "genuinely evil".
According to court testimony by Ma Ava (Ava Avalos), a prominent disciple, Sheela played associates a tape-recording of a meeting she had with Osho about the "need to kill people" to strengthen wavering sannyasin resolve to participate in her plots:
"She came back to the meeting and ... began to play the tape. It was a little hard to hear what he was saying ... And the gist of Bhagwan's response, yes, it was going to be necessary to kill people to stay in Oregon. And that actually killing people wasn't such a bad thing. And actually Hitler was a great man, although he could not say that publicly because nobody would understand that. Hitler had great vision."
Sheela initiated attempts to murder Osho's personal caretaker and girlfriend, Ma Yoga Vivek, and his physician Swami Devaraj (George Meredith) because she felt they were a threat to Osho. She had secretly recorded a conversation between Devaraj and Osho "in which the doctor agreed to obtain drugs the guru wanted to ensure a peaceful death if he decided to take his own life".
On 23 October 1985, a federal grand jury issued a 35-count indictment charging Osho and several other disciples with conspiracy to evade immigration laws. The indictment was returned in camera, but word was leaked to Rajneesh's lawyer. Negotiations to allow Osho to surrender to authorities in Portland if a warrant was issued failed. Rumours of a National Guard takeover and the planned violent arrest of Osho led to tension and the fear of violence. On the strength of Sheela's tape recordings, authorities later stated their belief that there was a plan for sannyasin women and children to form a human shield if authorities tried to arrest Osho at the commune. On 28 October 1985, Rajneesh and a small number of sannyasins accompanying him were arrested aboard a rented Learjet at a North Carolina airstrip; according to federal authorities, the group was en route to Bermuda to avoid prosecution. Fifty-eight thousand dollars in cash and thirty-five watches and bracelets (worth $1 million) were found on the aircraft. Osho had, by all accounts, not been informed of the impending arrest or the reason for the journey.
Osho's imprisonment and transfer across the country became a public spectacle. He was shown in chains and held in North Carolina, Oklahoma and Portland. Officials took the full ten days legally available to transfer him from North Carolina to Portland for arraignment. After initially pleading not guilty to all charges and being released on bail, on the advice of his lawyers Osho entered an Alford plea (a type of guilty plea in which a suspect does not admit guilt, but concedes there is enough evidence to convict him) to one count of concealed intent to remain permanently in the U.S. at the time of his original visa application in 1981 and one count of conspiracy to have sannyasins enter into sham marriages to acquire U.S. residency.
Under the deal his lawyers made with the U.S. Attorney's office, he was given a 10-year suspended sentence, five years' probation and a $400,000 penalty in fines and prosecution costs. Osho agreed to leave the United States, not returning for at least five years without permission from the United States Attorney General.
After leaving the U.S., Rajneesh returned to India, after numerous countries refused him entry. He landed in Delhi on 17 November 1985. He was given a hero's welcome by his Indian disciples and denounced the United States, saying the world must "put the monster America in its place" and "either America must be hushed up or America will be the end of the world". He stayed for six weeks in Himachal Pradesh. When non-Indians in his party had their visas revoked, he moved on to Kathmandu, Nepal and a few weeks later to Crete. Arrested after a few days by the Greek Intelligence Service (KYP), he flew to Geneva, Stockholm and London Heathrow Airport; however, in each case he was refused entry. When Canada refused him permission to land, his plane returned to Shannon airport in Ireland to refuel. He was allowed to stay for two weeks at a hotel in Limerick, on the condition that he did not go out or give talks. Osho had been granted a Uruguayan identity card, a one-year provisional residency and the possibility of permanent residency so the party set out, stopping at Madrid (where the plane was surrounded by the Guardia Civil). He was allowed to spend one night in Dakar before continuing to Recife and Montevideo. In Uruguay the group moved into a house in Punta del Este; Osho began speaking publicly until 19 June, when he was "invited to leave" for no official reason. A two-week visa was arranged for Jamaica, but upon his arrival in Kingston the police gave his group 12 hours to leave. Refuelling in Gander and Madrid, Osho returned to Bombay on 30 July 1986.
On 4 January 1987 Rajneesh returned to the ashram in Pune, where he held evening discourses daily as his health permitted. Publishing and therapy resumed; the ashram expanded into a "Multiversity", in which therapy was a bridge to meditation. Rajneesh devised new "meditation therapy" methods (such as the "Mystic Rose"), and began to lead meditations in his discourses after more than ten years. His Western disciples formed no large communes, preferring independent living. Red and orange dress and the mala were largely abandoned (they had been optional since 1985). The wearing of maroon robes in the ashram was reintroduced in summer 1989, with white robes worn for evening meditation and black robes with white sashes worn by group leaders.
In November 1987, Rajneesh expressed a belief that his deteriorating health (nausea, fatigue, pain in his extremities and low resistance to infection) was due to poisoning by U.S. authorities when he was in prison. His doctors and his former attorney, Philip J. Toelkes (Swami Prem Niren), hypothesised radiation and thallium poisoning (from a contaminated mattress, since his symptoms were on the right side of his body) but presented no evidence. U.S. attorney Charles H. Hunter described this as a "complete fiction"; others suggested the symptoms were caused by HIV infection, diabetes or chronic stress.
From early 1988, Osho's discourses focused exclusively on Zen. In late December, he said he no longer wished to be referred to as "Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh"; in February 1989 he took the name "Osho Rajneesh", which he shortened to "Osho" in September. His health continued to weaken. He delivered his last public discourse in April 1989, from then on sitting in silence with his followers. Shortly before his death, Osho suggested that one or more audience members at evening meetings (now referred to as the Osho White Robe Brotherhood) were subjecting him to a form of evil magic. A search for the perpetrators was undertaken, but none could be found.
Osho died at 5 p.m. on 19 January 1990 at age 58, reportedly of heart failure. His ashes were placed in his newly built bedroom in Lao Tzu House at the Pune ashram. His epitaph reads "OSHO Never Born, Never Died. Only Visited this Planet Earth between Dec 11 1931 – Jan 19 1990."
Osho's teachings, delivered through his discourses, were not presented in an academic setting but interspersed with jokes and delivered with a rhetoric that many found spellbinding. Their emphasis was not static, but changed over time; Osho revelled in paradox and contradiction, making his work difficult to summarise. He delighted in engaging in behaviour seemingly at odds with the traditional image of an enlightened individual; his early lectures, in particular, were known for their humour and their refusal to take anything seriously. This behaviour, capricious and difficult to accept, was explained as "a technique for transformation" to push people "beyond the mind."
He spoke on major spiritual traditions (including Jainism, Hinduism, Hassidism, Tantrism, Taoism, Christianity and Buddhism), on a variety of Eastern and Western mystics and on sacred scriptures such as the Upanishads and the Guru Granth Sahib. Sociologist Lewis F. Carter saw his ideas as rooted in Hindu advaita, in which the human experiences of separateness, duality and temporality are seen as a dance (or play) of cosmic consciousness in which everything is sacred, has absolute worth and is an end in itself. While his contemporary, Jiddu Krishnamurti, did not approve of Osho there are clear similarities between their respective teachings.
Osho also drew on a wide range of Western ideas. His view of the unity of opposites recalls Heraclitus, while his description of man as a machine, condemned to the helpless acting-out of unconscious, neurotic patterns, has much in common with Freud and Gurdjieff. Osho's vision of the "new man", transcending the constraints of convention, is reminiscent of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil; his views on sexual liberation bear comparison to D. H. Lawrence, and his "dynamic" meditations owe a debt to Wilhelm Reich.
According to Osho, every human being is a Buddha with the capacity for enlightenment, capable of unconditional love and of responding (rather than reacting) to life—although the ego usually prevents this, identifying with social conditioning and creating false needs and conflicts and an illusory sense of identity which is a barrier to dreams. Otherwise man's innate being can flower, moving from the periphery to the centre.
Osho viewed the mind as a mechanism for survival, replicating behavioural strategies which have proven successful in the past. The mind's appeal to the past deprives humans of the ability to live authentically in the present, causing them to repress genuine emotions and shut themselves off from joyful experiences arising naturally when embracing the present moment: "The mind has no inherent capacity for joy ... It only thinks about joy." The result is that people poison themselves with neuroses, jealousies and insecurities. He argued that psychological repression (often advocated by religious leaders) makes suppressed feelings re-emerge in another guise, and sexual repression results in societies obsessed with sex. Instead of suppressing, people should trust and accept themselves unconditionally. This should not merely be understood intellectually, since the mind can only assimilate it as one more piece of information; meditation is also needed.
Osho presented meditation not only as a practice but as a state of awareness to be maintained in every moment, a total awareness awakening the individual from the sleep of mechanical responses conditioned by beliefs and expectations. He employed Western psychotherapy in the preparatory stages of meditation to create an awareness of mental and emotional patterns.
Osho suggested a total of more than 112 meditation techniques. His "active meditation" techniques are characterized by stages of physical activity leading to silence. The best-known of these is Dynamic Meditation, which has been described as a microcosm of his outlook. Performed with closed (or blindfolded) eyes, it comprises five stages (four of which are accompanied by music). First, the meditator engages in ten minutes of rapid breathing through the nose. The second ten minutes are for catharsis: "Let whatever is happening happen ... Laugh, shout, scream, jump, shake—whatever you feel to do, do it!" Next, for ten minutes one jumps up and down with arms raised, shouting "hoo" with each landing. In the fourth (silent) stage the meditator stops moving, remaining motionless for fifteen minutes while seeing everything that is happening. The last stage of the meditation consists of fifteen minutes of dancing and celebration.
Osho developed other active-meditation techniques (such as the Kundalini "shaking" meditation and the Nadabrahma "humming" meditation) which are less animated, although they also include physical activity. His later meditative therapies required sessions for several days; Mystic Rose comprised three hours of laughing every day for a week, three hours of weeping each day for a second week and a third week with three hours of silent meditation. These processes of "witnessing" enable a "jump into awareness". Osho believed such cathartic methods were necessary, since it was difficult for modern people to just sit and enter meditation. Once the methods had provided a glimpse of meditation, people would be able to use other methods without difficulty.
Another key ingredient was Rajneesh's presence as a master: "A Master shares his being with you, not his philosophy ... He never does anything to the disciple." The initiation he offered was another such device: "... if your being can communicate with me, it becomes a communion ... It is the highest form of communication possible: a transmission without words. Our beings merge. This is possible only if you become a disciple." As a "self-parodying" guru Rajneesh deconstructed his authority, declaring his teaching to be nothing more than a "game" or a joke. He emphasised that anything and everything could become an opportunity for meditation.
Rajneesh saw his "neo-sannyas" as a new form of spiritual discipline, or one that had existed but been forgotten. He felt that the traditional Hindu sannyas had turned into a system of social renunciation and imitation. Rajneesh emphasised inner freedom and responsibility to oneself, demanding not superficial behavioral changes, but a deeper, inner transformation. Desires were to be accepted and surpassed, rather than denied. Once this inner flowering had taken place, appetites such as that for sex would be left behind.
Rajneesh called himself "the rich man's guru", and said that poverty was not a genuine spiritual value. In his words: "I would like the whole world to live so luxuriously that people start becoming bored with luxury. And the whole earth is capable for the first time to be so luxurious that you don't feel any material need. All material needs are fulfilled. Then what you are going to do? There is nothing else than meditation." He was photographed wearing sumptuous clothing and hand-made watches and, in Oregon, drove a different Rolls-Royce each day (his followers reportedly wanted to buy him 365, one for each day of the year). Publicity shots of the Rolls-Royces were provided to the press; they might have reflected his advocacy of wealth and his desire to provoke American sensibilities (as he had enjoyed offending Indian sensibilities earlier).
Rajneesh aimed to create a "new man", combining the spirituality of Gautama Buddha with the zest for life embodied by Nikos Kazantzakis' Zorba the Greek: "He should be as accurate and objective as a scientist ... as sensitive, as full of heart, as a poet ... [and as] rooted deep down in his being as the mystic." His term "new man" applied to men and women, whose roles he saw as complementary; indeed, most of his movement's leadership positions were held by women. This new man, "Zorba the Buddha", should embrace both science and spirituality. Osho believed humanity was threatened with extinction due to over-population, an impending nuclear holocaust and disease (such as AIDS), and thought many of society's ills could be remedied by scientific means. The new man would no longer be trapped in institutions such as family, marriage, political ideologies, and religions. In this respect, Rajneesh is similar to other counterculture gurus and (perhaps) certain postmodern and deconstructional thinkers.
During his early days as Acharya Rajneesh, a correspondent asked Rajneesh for his "ten commandments". He noted that it was a difficult matter because he was against any kind of commandment, but "just for fun" listed the following:
- Never obey anyone's command unless it is coming from within you.
- There is no God other than life itself.
- Truth is within you, do not search for it elsewhere.
- Love is prayer.
- To become a nothingness is the door to truth. Nothingness itself is the means, the goal and attainment.
- Life is now and here.
- Live wakefully.
- Do not swim—float.
- Die each moment so that you can be new each moment.
- Do not search. That which is, is. Stop and see.
Rajneesh favoured euthanasia for children with a broad variety of birth defects, such as blindness, deafness, and dumbness: "if a child is born deaf, dumb, and we cannot do anything, and the parents are willing, the child should be put to eternal sleep." He maintained that people at risk of conceiving children with birth defects "don't have that permission from existence" to "take the risk of burdening the earth with a crippled, blind child".
Rajneesh claimed that Jews "are guilty people, and their guilt is very great" because they crucified Jesus; out of this guilt, they are "always in search of their Adolf Hitlers, someone who can kill them". He asserted that only when Jews "reclaim Jesus", "they will be healthy and whole, and then there will be no need for Adolf Hitlers".
In criticizing historical teachers of pacifism who have encouraged people to: "Just accept the situation in which you are," Rajneesh has stated that "living in poverty is far more dangerous, far more suffering than dying in a beautifully, scientifically managed gas chamber in Germany", and claimed that "Hitler’s violence was far more peaceful" than (for example) the violence which erupted in India after independence from the British Crown; Hitler "killed people in the most up-to-date gas chambers, where you don’t take much time. Thousands of people can be put in a gas chamber, and just a switch is pressed ... Within a second, you evaporate. The chimneys of the factory start taking you, the smoke – you can call it holy smoke – and this seems to be a direct way towards God."
During the years before his move to the United States, Rajneesh supported and encouraged homosexual sannyasins: "No condemnation, no judgement, no evaluation. If you are a homosexual, so what?! Enjoy it! God has made you that way." However, during the early to mid-1980s he arrived at a more judgemental assessment of homosexuality and suggested that homosexuals should be isolated: "homosexuals, because they were perverted, created the disease AIDS." "They can live in their own world, in their own way, and be happy, but they should not be allowed to move in the wider society, spreading all kinds of dangerous viruses." When asked by gay sannyasins to explain his new view of homosexuality, he replied "As a homosexual, you are not even a human being ... You have fallen from dignity." He never changed or retracted these public pronouncements.
While Rajneesh's teachings were rejected in his home country during his lifetime, there has been a change in Indian public opinion since his death. In 1991 an influential Indian newspaper counted Osho, Gautama Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi among the ten people who had most changed India's destiny; in Osho's case, by "liberating the minds of future generations from the shackles of religiosity and conformism". Osho has received more acclaim in his homeland since his death than he did when he was alive. In The Indian Express, columnist Tanweer Alam wrote "The late Rajneesh was a fine interpreter of social absurdities that destroyed human happiness". At a 2006 celebration marking the 75th anniversary of Osho's birth, Indian singer Wasifuddin Dagar said that his teachings are "more pertinent in the current milieu than they were ever before". In Nepal in January 2008 there were 60 Osho Meditation Centres, with nearly 45,000 initiated disciples. Osho's works have been placed in the Library of India's National Parliament in New Delhi. Prominent figures such as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sikh writer Khushwant Singh have expressed their admiration for Osho. The Bollywood actor and Osho disciple Vinod Khanna, who worked as Rajneesh's gardener in Rajneeshpuram, was India's Minister of State for External Affairs from 2003 to 2004. Over 650 books are credited to Osho, expressing his views on all facets of human existence; virtually all are transcriptions of his taped discourses. His books are available in 55 languages, and have entered bestseller lists in Italy and South Korea.
After nearly two decades of controversy and a decade of accommodation, Osho's movement has established itself in the market of new religions. His followers have redefined his contributions, reframing central elements of his teaching to make them less controversial to outsiders. Societies in North America and Western Europe have become more accommodating of spiritual topics such as yoga and meditation. The Osho International Foundation (OIF) runs stress management seminars for corporate clients such as IBM and BMW, with a revenue reported in 2000 between $15 million and $45 million annually in the U.S.
Osho's ashram in Pune has become the Osho International Meditation Resort, one of India's main tourist attractions. Describing itself as the Esalen of the East, it teaches a variety of spiritual techniques from a broad range of traditions and promotes itself as a spiritual oasis, a "sacred space" for discovering oneself and uniting the desires of body and mind in a resort environment. According to press reports, it attracts about 200,000 people from around the world each year; visitors have included politicians, media personalities and the Dalai Lama. Before entering the resort, an HIV test is required; HIV-positive visitors are not allowed in. In 2011, a national seminar on Osho's teachings was inaugurated at the Department of Philosophy of the Mankunwarbai College for Women in Jabalpur. Funded by the Bhopal office of the University Grants Commission, the seminar focused on Osho's "Zorba the Buddha" teaching and sought to reconcile spirituality with a materialist, objective approach.
Osho is generally considered one of the most controversial spiritual leaders to have emerged from India during the 20th century. His message of sexual, emotional, spiritual and institutional liberation and the pleasure he derived in causing offence ensured that his life was surrounded by controversy. Osho was known as the "sex guru" in India and the "Rolls-Royce guru" in the United States. He attacked the concept of nationalism, was contemptuous of politicians and poked fun at the leading figures of a number of religions (who, in turn, disliked his arrogance). Osho's ideas on sex, marriage, family and relationships contradicted traditional views, arousing anger and opposition around the world. His movement was feared and despised as a cult; he lived "in ostentation and offensive opulence", while his followers (most of whom had severed ties with outside friends and family and donated all—or most—of their money and possessions to the commune) might live at a "subsistence level".
Describing how the body of Rajneesh's work might be summarised, sociologist Bob Mullan from the University of East Anglia said in 1983: "It certainly is eclectic, a borrowing of truths, half-truths and occasional misrepresentations from the great traditions. It is also often bland, inaccurate, spurious and extremely contradictory". While acknowledging that Rajneesh's range and imagination were second to none and many of his statements were insightful and moving (perhaps even profound at times), what remained was "a potpourri of counter-culturalist and post-counter-culturalist ideas" focusing on love and freedom, the need to live for the moment, the importance of self, the feeling of "being okay", the mysteriousness of life, the fun ethic, the individual's responsibility for their own destiny and the need to lose the ego, fear and guilt.
Uday Mehta, appraising Osho's teachings (particularly errors in his interpretation of Zen, Mahayana Buddhism and how they relate to the proto-materialist nature of Tantric philosophy), suggests "It is not surprising to find that Rajneesh could get away with several gross contradictions and inconsistencies in his teachings. This was possible for the simple reason that an average Indian (or for that matter even western) listener knows so little about religious scriptures or various schools of thought that it hardly requires much effort to exploit his ignorance and gullibility". According to Mehta, Osho's appeal to his Western disciples was based on his social experiments (which established a philosophical connection between the Eastern guru tradition and the Western growth movement).
In 1996 Hugh B. Urban (Assistant Professor of Religion and Comparative Studies at Ohio State University), like Mullan, found Osho's teaching neither original nor especially profound and noted that most of its content had been drawn from a number of Eastern and Western philosophies. What he found most original about Osho was his keen instinct for marketing strategy, in which he adapted his teachings to meet the changing desires of his audience (a theme also raised by Gita Mehta in her book, Karma Cola: Marketing the Mystic East). In 2005 Urban observed that Osho underwent a "remarkable apotheosis" after his return to India (especially since his death), describing him as illustrating what F. Max Müller over a century ago called "that world-wide circle through which, like an electric current, Oriental thought could run to the West and Western thought return to the East". By negating the dichotomy between spiritual and material desires and reflecting the preoccupation with sexuality and the body characteristic of late capitalist consumer culture, Osho created a spiritual path in tune with the socio-economic conditions of his time.
In his 1999 Exploring New Religions, George Chryssides described Osho as primarily a Buddhist teacher who promoted an independent "Beat Zen". He called descriptions of Osho's teachings as a "potpourri" of various religious teachings unfortunate, because Osho was "no amateur philosopher"; drawing attention to Osho's academic background, he said: "Whether or not one accepts his teachings, he was no charlatan when it came to expounding the ideas of others". Chryssides viewed the unsystematic, contradictory and outrageous aspects of Osho's teachings as part of the nature of Zen, reflecting the fact that spiritual teaching seeks to induce a different kind of change in an audience than do philosophic lectures (which aim to improve intellectual understanding).
Peter B. Clarke, in the Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements (2006), noted that Osho has come to be "seen as an important teacher within India itself" and is "increasingly recognised as a major spiritual teacher of the twentieth century, at the forefront of the current 'world-accepting' trend of spirituality based on self-development". Clarke said that the style of therapy Osho devised, with its liberal attitude towards sexuality as a sacred part of life, influenced other therapy practitioners and New Age groups. In his view, the main motivation of seekers joining the movement was "neither therapy nor sex, but the prospect of becoming enlightened, in the classical Buddhist sense". While few achieved their aim, most current and former members felt they had made progress in self-actualisation (as defined by American psychologist Abraham Maslow) and the human-potential movement.
A number of commentators have noted Osho's charisma. Comparing him with Gurdjieff, Anthony Storr wrote that Osho was "personally extremely impressive" and that "many of those who visited him for the first time felt that their most intimate feelings were instantly understood, that they were accepted and unequivocally welcomed rather than judged. [Osho] seemed to radiate energy and to awaken hidden possibilities in those who came into contact with him". Many sannyasins have stated that upon hearing Osho speak, they "fell in love with him". Susan J. Palmer noted that even his critics attested to the power of his presence. Psychiatrist and researcher James S. Gordon recalls inexplicably finding himself laughing like a child, hugging strangers and having tears of gratitude in his eyes after a glance from Osho in his passing Rolls-Royce. Frances FitzGerald concluded after listening to Osho in person that he was a brilliant lecturer; she was surprised by his comedic talent (not apparent in his books) and the hypnotic quality of his talks, which had a profound effect on his audience. Hugh Milne (Swami Shivamurti), an ex-devotee who between 1973 and 1982 worked closely with Rajneesh as leader of his Pune Ashram Guard and his personal bodyguard, noted that their first meeting left him with a sense that more than words had passed between them: "There is no invasion of privacy, no alarm, but it is as if his soul is slowly slipping inside mine, and in a split second transferring vital information." Milne also observed another facet of Osho's charismatic ability: he was "a brilliant manipulator of the unquestioning disciple".
Hugh B. Urban noted that Osho appeared to fit Max Weber’s classic image of the charismatic figure, seen to possess "an extraordinary supernatural power or 'grace', which was essentially irrational and affective". Osho corresponded to Weber's charismatic type in rejecting rational laws and institutions and claiming to subvert all hierarchical authority, although Urban notes that this promise of absolute freedom actually resulted in bureaucratic organisation and institutional control in larger communes.
Scholars have suggested that Osho, like other charismatic leaders, may have had a narcissistic personality. In his paper The Narcissistic Guru: A Profile of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Ronald O. Clarke (Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at Oregon State University) argued that Osho exhibited all the typical features of narcissistic personality disorder: a grandiose sense of self-importance and uniqueness, preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, the need for constant attention and admiration, a set of characteristic responses to threats to self-esteem, disturbances in interpersonal relationships, preoccupation with personal grooming, frequent prevarication (or outright lying) and a lack of empathy. Drawing on Osho's childhood memories in Glimpses of a Golden Childhood, he suggested that Osho experienced a lack of parental discipline due to his upbringing by overindulgent grandparents. Osho's self-proclaimed Buddha status, he concluded, was part of a delusional system associated with his narcissistic personality disorder (ego-inflation rather than egolessness).
There are differing views of Osho's qualities as a thinker and speaker. Khushwant Singh, author, historian and former editor of the Hindustan Times, has described him as "the most original thinker that India has produced: the most erudite, the most clearheaded and the most innovative". He saw Osho as a "free-thinking agnostic" who could explain abstract concepts in simple language (illustrated with witty anecdotes), who mocked gods, prophets, scriptures and religious practices and who gave a new dimension to religion. The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, who became a disciple of Rajneesh during the late 1970s, has called him a "Wittgenstein of religions" and ranks him one of the greatest figures of the 20th century; in his view, Osho had performed a radical deconstruction of the word games played by the world's religions.
During the early 1980s, a number of commentators in the popular press were dismissive of Rajneesh. Australian critic Clive James called him "Bagwash", comparing listening to one of his discourses to sitting in a laundrette and watching "your tattered underwear revolve soggily for hours while exuding grey suds. The Bagwash talks the way that looks". James concluded by saying that Rajneesh, although a "fairly benign example of his type," was a "rebarbative dingbat who manipulates the manipulable into manipulating one another". Responding to an enthusiastic review of one of Osho's talks by Bernard Levin in The Times, Dominik Wujastyk (also in The Times) expressed his opinion that the talk he heard when visiting the Pune ashram was of a very low standard, wearyingly repetitive and often factually wrong; he was disturbed by the personality cult surrounding Osho.
In the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in January 1990, American author Tom Robbins wrote that Osho's books convinced him that Osho was the 20th century's "greatest spiritual teacher". Robbins (stressing that he was not a disciple) continued that he had "read enough vicious propaganda and slanted reports to suspect that he was one of the most maligned figures in history." Osho's commentary on Guru Nanak's hymn "Japji Sahib" was hailed as the best available by former president of India Giani Zail Singh. In 2011, author Farrukh Dhondy called Osho "the cleverest intellectual confidence trickster that India has produced. His output of the 'interpretation' of Indian texts is specifically slanted towards a generation of disillusioned westerners who wanted (and perhaps still want) to 'have their cake, eat it' [and] claim at the same time that cake-eating is the highest virtue according to ancient-fused-with-scientific wisdom".
On the sayings of Jesus:
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On the Baul mystics:
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(reprinted as Yoga, the Science of the Soul)
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