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The life and spiritual cause of Osho: A piercing critique

This article was first published in the issue “Cults and Gurus” in Tribe, our digital magazine. We profiled four other gurus. You can read Tribe now on Android or iPhone.

Osho was a charismatic and insightful individual who was born named Chandra Mohan Jain in 1931 in Kuchwada. He changed his name to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in the early 1970s while consolidating himself as a prominent spiritual teacher.

He decided to renounce the name Rajneesh and adopt his name as the Japanese word Osho, meaning ocean, close to his death and after decades of persecution and the disastrous end of his adventures in the US.

Osho proclaimed himself enlightened in 1953 at the age of 21 after sitting under a maulshree tree in Jabalpur. Since then, he claimed to devote his every breath to the spiritual awakening of humankind.

His studies are comprehensive. He published more than 600 books, explaining his philosophy with beautiful rhetoric, poetry, and sense of humor and offering his view on the most known philosophies and religions in the world.

Osho taught people that they each had an inner Buddha that could respond to the cruelties and suffering of the cosmos with perfect love and objectivity and freed of ego and illusion. This inner Buddha is the source of wisdom that exists inside every human being. According to Osho, if you stop chasing answers outside, set your mind free, and look inside of you, you’ll find your inner Buddha and become your own master.

Despite the beautiful rhetoric, his disciples implemented a mala, a devotional necklace with a photo of Osho rather than their inner Buddha, as a symbol of humility and devotion to their master.

According to Osho, we’re born enlightened. However, we must stop pursuing it to find our enlightenment. “You cannot pursue what you already have,” Osho said.

Yet he gathered thousands of disciples who spent their best years and much money to learn Rajneesh’s enlightenment techniques.

To be fair, Osho’s techniques were quite innovative. His ashrams shared cutting-edge studies of many sorts of holistic therapies.

Osho developed a new concept of meditation, much less static than the traditional techniques of his age. His meditations, which involved movement, dance, yelling, and sex, helped thousands of people break through self-repression, reconnecting them with their vitality and sexuality as a fruit of their social conditioning.

Osho’s methods were liberating. Entering the guru’s ashram was a journey back to aspects of one’s beings they had repressed for their whole lives for many.

Further, his self-development techniques, often spiced with orgies, marijuana, and LSD, were far less monotonous than embracing celibacy in a Buddhist monastery or listening to the choir of the dominical Presbyterian service.

According to Osho, sexual orgasms are a form of meditation and a path for cosmic connection and enlightenment.

“Two things happen in orgasm: one is, mind stops the constant yakkety yak – it becomes for a moment no-mind; and second, time stops. That single moment of orgasmic joy is so immense and so fulfilling that it is equal to eternity.”

During the 1980s, when the causes of AIDS were understood, Osho immediately required that everybody should be tested before entering his ashram. He also demanded his disciples to use condoms. In the beginning, condoms were not recognized as an effective method for prevention. Osho was ridiculed for this attitude which later proved to be truthful advice.

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As a figure who also helped shape the New Age movement, Osho promoted living in the present. He criticized mainstream religion as being repressive and guilt-based and encouraged people to fully accept themselves through meditative and spiritual practices to escape the snares of social conditioning.

Osho understood early that the more controversial and shocking his discourses were, the more spotlight he could attract. That’s how he adopted regular attacks on mainstream religions in his speech as part of his strategy to bring enlightenment to the world.

He described India’s national hero, Gandhi, as a masochist who worshipped poverty, and Madre Teresa of Calcutta as a deceiver and charlatan. None of the Eastern or Western religions escaped his criticism.

Unfortunately, Osho’s sharp criticism of religious and political establishments earned him thousands of disciples and powerful enemies.

In the late 1970s, land-use approval for his ashram was denied, and India’s government stopped issuing visas for foreigners intending to visit the guru.

Desai’s government canceled the ashram’s tax-exempt status with a retrospective effect to make Osho’s life worse, resulting in a claim estimated at 5 million dollars.

An attempt against his life, inflicted by a Hindu fundamentalist in 1980, gave him the final motivation to leave old and authoritarian India towards the young, democratic, and wealthy America.

Osho had a meteoric career in America. He soon acquired ad 64-acre ranch in the countryside of a small town called Antelope in Wasco County, Oregon. He settled in his new community, the Rajneeshpuram.

Osho soon became popular among Hollywood celebrities and open-minded millionaires in pursuit of enlightenment.

Of course, such noble work like bringing light to the world should be compensated.

Osho allowed himself some indulgences to prove that spirituality and wealth can coexist in harmony. He owned a collection of 93 Rolls-Royce and a few dozen diamond-encrusted Rolexes.

Unfortunately, Osho’s neighbors in Wasco County were fervorous Christians, deeply attached to their conservative ways. Osho and his disciples had many strengths, but diplomacy wasn’t one of them.

The tension between the well-behaved and God-fearing countryside white Christians and the free-sex spiritual community of the Rajneeshpuram developed into a cold war, which resonated like a nuclear bomb in the mountains of Oregon, loud enough to be heard in Washington.

Perhaps Osho wanted to enjoy the best of America, meditating and partying with his disciples. Maybe it would have ended better for him if he settled his community in Topango or the hippie outskirts of San Francisco.

However, his brave neighbors from Wasco were determined to eradicate Osho’s blasphemies from their Christian county at every cost. They used all the resources at their disposal, from armed threats and bomb attacks to administrative and court processes.

How would you deal with the pressure of several court proceedings and administrative processes demanding the eradication of your community and the bulldozing of your buildings?

Would you trust the judges, politicians, and administrative officers of your Christian county to respect and protect your rights?

Well, Rajneeshpuram was an ingenious and creative community. They soon realized that if they wanted to protect their rights, they would have to earn political power. The US democracy was never a fair game, but Osho raised it to a new level.

First, they outnumbered their neighbors from Antelope and took political control of the town easily.

Under Osho’s disciples’ government, Antelope had its name changed to Rajneesh. Its city park was transformed into a nude bath area, and free sex on the streets was allowed as an authentic expression of love. At the municipal school, the teachers were replaced by Osho’s disciples, wearing their red robes and malas.

Yet, the cherry on the cake was the new town’s police force, made of Osho’s most loyal disciples. All were well-armed and trained at the expense of the government and ready to protect the new order.

The success of this political incursion raised strong reactions in Oregon. Organized protests and court processes intensified. But Osho’s new order was ready to take America. Envisioning the upcoming county elections, Osho’s disciples collected around 3,000 homeless from several cities and brought them to Rajneeshpuram.

The new residents received love, home, food, beer, and haloperidol, a potent sedative administered without their consent to keep them in a calm state of peace and love. They were treated with dignity, and Osho received self-respect in return. The only thing they were asked for was to vote.

With the 3,000 extra voters, Osho’s community would have taken Wasco County if Oregon state didn’t allow the new residents to vote in a turnout that would have made ex-president Trump jealous.

These 3,000 men and women suddenly became useless to the cause. What do you do with 3,000 homeless people recently installed in your compound who ended up serving for nothing? It’s no big deal. Osho’s army forced them inside vans and dropped them in the streets of nearby towns to ensure their safety.

Maybe it was an unfortunate coincidence misinterpreted by the people, media, and state office attorney, but the whole Antelope town was poisoned with Salmonella after Osho’s defeat. Maybe it’s also a coincidence that some of Osho’s most fierce enemies were gifted with poisoned chocolates months later.

However, the many accusations are enough to create a solid case and bring the guru to court, from attempted murder to organizing fake marriages between disciples to evading US immigration laws.

Before being convicted, Bhagwan settled a deal with the federal court agreeing to leave the US. His visa was denied in 21 countries, thanks to Washington, for which he had to return home to India.

Back in India, he, unfortunately, died at the young age of 58. His defeat in America, the treason of some of his most loyal disciples, and his addiction to valium and nitrous oxide all negatively impacted his health. Tragically, his life was taken before the world became enlightened.

A judgmental and narrow-minded individual may think of sex and drugs as the opposite of spirituality and condemn Osho and his disciples. However, this same person would probably never question the violence of political regimes and the damaging effects of alcohol, tobacco, and pharmacy drugs allowed by the system.

Osho was a rebel, standing by his rights and inciting his disciples to do the same. Should he be blamed for this? Unfortunately, in the heat of battle, we tend to stick to Machiavelli’s “the cause justifies the means” and act as a devil in the name of a spiritual cause.

Osho exposed the world to the farce of American democracy. It all happened during the 1980s when the US was fully engaged in the anti-hippie campaign, which eradicated Rajneeshpuram and many other revolutionary communities intending to find an alternative way to live in America. You can call America the “land of freedom.” However, if you don’t play according to their conservative rules and principles, you may end up as Osho did or worse.

Osho’s teachings still appeal to millions of people today, and his insights are undoubtedly valuable. His spiritual center in Puno, India, is still alive, as are many other centers created by his disciples.

We shouldn’t discredit Osho’s wisdom because of his wrongs. On the other hand, we shouldn’t discredit his wrongs because of his wisdom. Perhaps he was a remarkable but fallible man; he is someone we can learn from if we leave our devotion aside and study with a critical perspective.

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