By Suma Varughese
Eleven years after he passed away, the rebel Osho’s popularity continues to grow. But what is his enduring contribution and what will be the fate of his legacy, with the Pune Commune trying to transcend him and some prominent followers breaking away?
In the next 50-100 years, Nanda is confident, the world will be full of Oshoites and Osho’s teachings will be followed in toto. This is because with technological advancement, living will progressively become mundane and monotonous, mere fiddling around with plastic buttons. This will prove to be suicidal for human race, and so, make way for a new era.
Nanda doesn’t agree that the recent controversial developments at the Osho Commune in Pune will have much negative impact: ”There are many like me who have loved Osho, and feel connected to him. Wherever they are, Osho is.” He adds poetically: ”No matter how or where you slice a piece of misri (crystal sugar), what you get is still misri.”
”The western mind,” he continues, ”cannot comprehend the guru phenomenon. In India, for thousands of years, yogis have worked on themselves for salvation through the guru-shishya (master-disciple) tradition.” He is, of course, alluding to the rumored existence of a foreign cabal trying to control Osho’s legacy. He adds: ”who wants control? Those who are not powerful.”
Osho’s work, Nanda points out, continues outside the Pune Commune too. There are communes in Dharamsala, Kathmandu, Piparia…Osho Dham has recently come up on 15 acres of land near Najafgarh in Delhi, India. Camps are held, sanyas initiation given as before. Nanda has just returned from a three-day camp at Pithoragarh in Uttaranchal, India that was led by Swami Narendra Bodhisattva and attended by 80-90 people,of whom 28 took sannyasdiksha, initiation
And what a joyride that was! In his 59 odd years Osho Rajneesh packed in a lot of living and teaching. Born Rajneesh Chandra Mohan Jain into a cloth merchant’s family in Jabalpur, India, in 1931, he claimed to have attained enlightenment at the age of 21.
By 1964, Rajneesh was holding discourses and meditation camps all over the country. In 1966 he chucked his job as professor of philosophy at the University of Jabalpur. In 1970 he initiated his first disciples into sannyas(monkhood) and moved to a flat in Mumbai, India.
The flow of disciples had become a flood by 1974. He had his first brush with notoriety when a series of lectures titled From Sex to Superconsciousness scandalized the Indian public and earned him the sobriquet ‘Sex Guru’. Soon, he established the Shree Rajneesh Ashram in Koregaon Park, an upmarket suburb of Pune, India. The ashram became a thriving center of New Age activity as his western disciples, many of them accomplished psychotherapists and artists, included many western therapies to the eastern meditation techniques created by Osho.
One of Osho’s unique contributions, most agree, has been the creation of a whole menu of ‘active meditations’ oriented to the modern man who is far too restless to subside into meditation at the drop of a breath. These meditations are cathartic, involving vigorous action such as jumping up and down, dancing or shaking before relaxing into silence and stillness. With over a hundred therapies on tap, Westerners came in droves to what was touted as the largest personal growth center in the world. Time magazine estimated that between 1974 and 1978, 50,000 people had visited the Pune ashram.
Notoriety continued to surround Rajneesh, thanks largely to his propagation of tantra as a way to the sublime. Tantra workshops required participants to strip and sniff at the armpits and genitals of a member of the opposite sex. Conscious sexual intercourse with the intention of moving beyond the hold of sex was also recommended and doubtless embraced enthusiastically. Pune residents were outraged by the uninhibited behavior of the sannyasins and petitioned for his removal.
In 1981, Rajneesh and his ‘neo sannyasins‘ (monks or initiates) as they were referred to, left for the USA. There they set up acommune called Rajneeshpuram in a 64,000-acre ranch in Oregon. Soon, there was chaos as Rajneesh, by then called Bhagwan, went into silence, giving charge of the commune to his secretary, Ma Anand Sheela. Sheela, by all accounts, ran the commune like an autocrat. She wrote a book, Rajneeshism, in which she attempted to distil his teaching into a creed and even to establish a three-tier ecclesiastical hierarchy consisting of acharyas, arihantas and siddhas. In 1985, Sheela and her colleagues fled the USA, following which they were accused of attempted poisoning and embezzling $55 million.
A month later Rajneesh was arrested by the US government on several charges including the arrangement of sham marriages among the sannyasins to subvert American immigration laws. He was asked to leave the country. Looking for a place to set up base, he approached and was rejected by 21 countries. Eventually, he returned to Pune. In 1989, he changed his name to ‘Osho’, which stands for ‘oceanic’. On January 19, 1990, Osho passed away, allegedly due to the radiation poisoning administered to him while in the US prison.
Osho’s seen it all. Love, hate, trust, suspicion, fame, infamy, adoration, allegation. Rather than the tranquil middle road embraced by most sages, his life has been a rollercoaster ride of monumental proportions. As he remarked jauntily: ‘It has never happened in history that the whole world should be against one man.’ (Rajneesh: The Newspaper, 1986, 1:1, 9)
Why? Why was he so controversial a figure? Why were opinions about him so sharply polarized? Was he a saint or was he a sinner?
Osho does not fall into any easy category. Unlike a Ramana Maharshi or a Pandurang Shastri Athawale, he is not consistently good. Like Lord Krishna, whom he analyzes brilliantly, he defies labels. There can be no mistaking the profundity of his message, which is really classic Advaita, which holds that the creator and creation are one. ‘Dissolve yourself as a separate entity. Become part of the cosmic whole,’ he urges his followers. Or again: ‘Once you are established in your being, you are established in the whole because your being is part of the whole.’
There can also be no denying the depth of his understanding, or his eloquence. His books (collections of his talks) are testimony to his brilliant and fecund mind as he discourses with riveting insight on the whole range of masters from Jesus to Lao Tzu to the Buddha, Mahavira, Krishna, Shankaracharya.
Yet there is an irrepressible streak in him, a mischievous imp, which often egged him to make statements that could lead to misunderstanding. From Sex to Superconsciousness is really a marvelous plea for the need to confront sex and all the feelings that it arouses rather than resorting to the centuries-old habit of repression—a valuable message in this post-Freudian age where we have seen the damage caused to the psyche by the suppression of natural instincts.
Osho says in From Sex to Superconsciousness: ‘Sex is man’s most vibrant energy, but it should not be an end unto itself. Sex should lead man to his soul. The goal is from lust to light.’ However, in conveying this message he denounces religion and other spiritual masters for not doing so: ‘Sages and seers have degraded sex for thousands of years,’ he says at one point. Perhaps his penchant for putting people in the wrong was partially responsible for the negative reactions he drew.
Wouldn’t it have been wiser to distinguish between the need to confront one’s attitude to sex and the decision to give way to it as he recommended. Tantra is a dangerous route, strictly for the strongest-minded, and it’s a moot point if it could ever lend itself to mass use. There is little doubt that much of the sexual action was misused, generating attendant emotional and mental disturbance.
He was also given to grandiloquence. In the article The Narcissistic Guru, published in Osho Rajneesh and his Disciples (Motilal Banarsidass), Ronald O’ Clarke quotes him as saying: ‘Jesus can be found again easily… But to find a man like me—who has traveled thousands of ways, in thousands of lives, and has gathered the fragrance of millions of flowers like a honeybee—is difficult.’
Undoubtedly Osho was brash, given to dismissing all religions and masters, and maybe foolhardy in his zeal to take on the world. Yet, we cannot forget the number of people he has influenced for the better and the awareness he has created of the spirit in man.
Says Arun Wakhlu, Managing Director of Pragati Learning Systems in Pune: ‘Osho was bull’s-eye, unadulterated wisdom. He was the purest and whole form of spirituality. Others had some parts missing. But Osho showed you the sky of freedom, pure being, without judgement.’ He adds: ‘I had begun to see glimpses of the big picture before I met him, but he put it together for me.’
Ma Amrit Sadhana, editor of Osho Timesand one of the five-member management team that oversees the running of Osho Commune today, says: ‘Through Osho I gained a silent heart, contentment and ordinariness. It is so beautiful to be ordinary, just being yourself like the trees and the birds.’
Swami Chaitanya Bharti, who was part of the first group to take sannyas from Osho, and who has been running his own meditation camps: ‘You cannot compare him. He was both a Vivekananda and a Ramakrishna, capable not only of being enlightened but of making others enlightened as well. Also, he broke the taboo on sex. That required great courage. And he made spirituality non-serious. He supported joyousness, to live in the wholeness of life, not to reject anything but to do everything in consciousness. His love was so intense that he magnetized people the way Krishna did.’
Says Sahil Surti, a Pune-based artist and long-time Osho lover: ‘Osho was the greatest master of all time. He was the complete master. The others have one path to enlightenment but he had innumerable paths.’ Arun Wakhlu agrees: ‘He was an explosion of pathways—tantra, bhakti (devotion), jnana(knowledge), zen, whatever.’
He was also a supreme integrator, bringing together the East and the West, spirituality and materialism, science and spirituality, the old and the new, in an over-arching vision of giving rise to the new man, a new humanity.
In Osho’s own words: ‘I have been using one expression and that is ‘Zorba the Buddha’. The body has to be enjoyed as much as your soul. Matter has its own beauty, its own power just as consciousness has its own world, its own silence, its own peace, its own ecstasy. And between the two is the area of the mind—something of matter and something of the spirit. The poet is just in the middle, between the materialist and the spiritualist; his poetry touches both extremes. I would like all three points—the two extremes and the middle—to become one unity.
‘At the root, mind is consciousness. If you stop making dual divisions choosing this against that, liking this, disliking that, if you drop out of these divisions, the mind again becomes a mirror, a pure consciousness.’ This concept of universal acceptance is attractive to the New Ager, who no longer has to make the worrisome choice between the jacuzzi and the meditation mat.
So how will posterity judge such a man? Perhaps there is not one Osho but many. Each sees the Osho of his reflection. Some see a sage, others not. And who can say that those who see the sage are not better off? There is much that is good and great in Osho. Why not make the best of him and ignore what isn’t? As he said: ‘Just look for the beautiful; forget the ugly.’
In any case, Osho appears to be enjoying resurgence. Says Ma Amrit Sadhana: ‘His popularity has expanded worldwide since his death. More of his books are sold and there are more publishers like Penguin and Full Circle that publish his works.’
She attributes his increasing popularity to his contemporary approach. ‘Others tried to carry past ideas and belief systems to this century. Osho says there is a divide between the past and present because of the dawn of the technological age. He was all for the new man. He didn’t favour renunciation that is so much a part of the traditional approach. He believed that poverty was not spiritual. If you were rich within yourself you were rich in everything.’
The publicity department of the Commune says that in 1996, 2.5 million Osho books and tapes were sold worldwide. They also claim that the number of visitors to the Commune has increased by 50 per cent in the last two years, but give no figures to back their claim.
In Osho Rajneesh and His Disciples, Roger Housden hazards a guess on the reason for this new receptivity. ‘Now that he is dead, people are free to use his teachings as they wish without the stigma attached to them in the 1980s and without the need to belong to a group. You just buy the courses you want at the Commune, watch a video of Osho at your leisure, and get on with your life.’
The Commune too appears to be shedding the Osho baggage by reinventing itself as a spiritual spa, a center for a wide range of therapies and transformational tools rather than an exclusive Osho ashram.
Observes Dr Rajan Bhonsle, an erstwhile bureau chief, Mumbai for Osho Times: ‘They have put aside the bhakti marg (path of devotion) which used to be so prominent. Many of his portraits have been removed and his chair that used to be kept on the dais during the White Robe Brotherhood meetings is absent. Osho is no longer described as a person but as an energy, a consciousness.’
This move appears to have antagonized many Indian followers, says Bhonsle, though the Commune claims that there has been an increase in its members by 112 per cent over the last three years. This apparently is also the reason behind the much-publicized departure of senior Osho Commune members, Swami Chaitanya Keerti and Ma Yog Neelam recently, alleging the concentration of power in a small cabal in New York.
Controversy obviously has not died with Osho, but here at the Commune, it’s spirituality as usual, or rather, as unusual. No ashram I have ever seen quite prepares me for this futuristic fantasy. My first glimpse of it sets the tone. Huge black gates show up on either side of the road, with maroon-robed doorkeepers seated in front of them. Maroon-robed men and women, mainly foreigners, are streaming in and out of the gates.
Verdant greenery bursts out from above the walls and I am overwhelmed by a sense of the surreal. Black is everywhere, from the pyramid-like buildings, to the furniture and even the tableware. The effect, particularly in conjunction with the use of technology, is thoroughly modern—a perfect milieu for Osho’s new man. The aesthetics of the place are stunning—the black more than offset by the greenery everywhere and the maroon robes of the sannyasins.
Incidentally, maroon robes are mandatory and I find myself soon doffing my street clothes and slipping into one. The effect is of release, like slipping into nightwear after a hard day’s work. But wearing nightwear (or its equivalent) in the presence of perfect strangers seems as if a societal restraint has been shed. I understand now why an AIDS test is deemed necessary. Today, the Commune no longer holds workshops calling for undressing and free love is not encouraged, but this is still a place where sex is not exactly kept in the closet. Some young sannyasins float around in sexy robes. And unlike other ashrams, there is no gender segregation, not even in the shower rooms. A shower curtain shields one, but even so I was unprepared for a raucous male voice belting out a song from the next closet as I gingerly washed myself.
Apart from the international crowd, what is striking is the air of vibrant activity. The Buddha Hall, a huge tent-like structure is the center of all the meditations, of which several are scheduled every day.
The day begins at six in the morning with dynamic meditation, Osho’s most popular gift to the world. Consisting of five stages, the participant goes from rapid and chaotic breathing to yelling, screaming and shouting in the second, jumping up and down and shouting ‘hoo’ in the third, freezing in any position in the fourth, and finally to a slow dance of celebration. I didn’t participate in this one, but over the next two days, I attended the no-dimensions meditation, kundalini meditation and pranic-chakra meditation. All three called for activity of some sort, whirling in the first, shaking and dancing in the second and chanting in the third. The culmination in each case is about 15 minutes of silence.
Whirling and dancing in public challenged my inhibitions and it took some time for the self-consciousness to wear off. But at the fag end of the dance, a small wisp of movement uncurled from within and demanded expression. I had become the dance. Indians, mostly inhibited, can benefit tremendously from active meditations.
Apart from the meditations, the Osho Multivarsity offers a number of therapies and courses through its nine platforms—the Osho School of Centering, Osho School of Creative Arts, Osho International Academy of Healing Arts, Osho School of Zen Martial Arts, Osho Meditation Academy, Osho School of Mysticism, Osho Academy of Zen Sports and Fitness, Osho Institute of Tibetan Pulsing Healing and the Osho Center for Transformation.
Osho has designed three therapies, the most popular of which is the Mystic Rose, a three-week course, in which the participant laughs for three hours a day the first week, cries for the same period the next week and sinks into silence the third week.
The Commune also has a ‘work as meditation’ program where participants can sign up for three to six months and are compensated with free accommodation. But they have to pay for food. Talking of which, the Commune has three international quality open-air cafes serving delicious food. Walking into one the first day, my eyes widened at the sight of the croissants and pastries laid out. One buys the food through vouchers. Money is not exchanged (to prevent disease, one is told) and one has to exchange cash for vouchers, further creating the impression of being in a foreign land.
I look around me. Although it is the fag end of summer, off-season in India for most westerners, the white marble walkways are studded with maroon robes. People saunter along, teacup in hand, or sit on the walkways watching the world go by. One Japanese girl is looking meditatively into a small lotus pond named after Jiddu Krishnamurti. Another young girl is dancing exuberantly while watering the walkway near Buddha Hall. A man is inquiring tenderly after the sprained ankle of one of the sannyasins. There are good vibes in the air. People seem happy and at peace here, a place where they can recharge their batteries and explore a spiritual possibility or two. Spiritual spa or otherwise, it’s serving a useful purpose and who’s to quarrel with that?
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