"Rajneesh" Chandra Mohan Jain (रजनीश चन्द्र मोहन जैन) (December 11, 1931 – January 19, 1990), also known as Acharya Rajneesh from the 1960s onwards, calling himself Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh during the 1970s and 1980s and taking the name Osho in 1989, was an Indian mystic and spiritual teacher.
A professor of philosophy, he travelled throughout India in the 1960s as a public speaker, raising controversy by speaking against socialism, Mahatma Gandhi and institutionalised religion. He advocated a more open attitude towards sexuality, a stance that earned him the sobriquet "sex guru" in the Indian and later the international press. In 1970, he settled for a while in Mumbai (Bombay). He began initiating disciples (known as neo-sannyasins) and took on the role of a spiritual teacher. In his discourses, he reinterpreted writings of religious traditions, mystics and philosophers from around the world. Moving to Pune (Poona) in 1974, he established an ashram that attracted increasing numbers of Westerners. The ashram offered therapies derived from the Human Potential Movement to its Western audience and made news in India and abroad, chiefly because of its permissive climate and Osho's provocative lectures. The movement eventually ran into a host of problems with the Indian government.
In 1981, faced with bad health, along with mounting tension, criticism and possible punitive action by Indian authorities, Osho relocated to the United States, and his followers established an intentional community, later known as Rajneeshpuram, in the state of Oregon. Within a year, the leadership of the commune became embroiled in a conflict with local residents, primarily over land use, which was marked by bitter hostility on both sides. In this period Osho attracted notoriety for his large collection of Rolls-Royce motorcars. The Oregon commune collapsed in 1985, when Osho revealed that the leadership had committed a number of serious crimes, including a bioterror attack on the citizens of The Dalles. Shortly after, Osho was arrested and charged with immigration violations. He left the United States in accordance with a plea bargain. Following a somewhat enforced world tour during which twenty-one countries denied him entry, Osho returned to Pune, where he died in 1990. His ashram is today known as the Osho International Meditation Resort.
Osho's syncretic teachings emphasise the importance of meditation, awareness, love, celebration, creativity and humour – qualities that in his view are suppressed by adherence to static belief systems, religious tradition and socialisation. His teachings have had a notable impact on Western New Age thought, and their popularity has increased markedly since his death.
In his school years, he was a rebellious, but gifted student, and acquired a reputation as a formidable debater. As a youth, Osho became an atheist; he took an interest in hypnosis and was briefly associated with socialism and two Indian independence movements: the Indian National Army and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
In 1951, aged nineteen, Osho began his studies at Hitkarini College in Jabalpur. After acute conflicts with an instructor, the principal asked him to leave the college, and he transferred to D. N. Jain College, also in Jabalpur. He began speaking in public, initially at the annual Sarva Dharma Sammelan held at Jabalpur, organised by the Taranpanthi Jain community into which he was born, participating there from 1951 to 1968. He resisted his parents' pressure to get married.
Osho later said he became spiritually enlightened on 21 March 1953, when he was 21 years old. He said he dropped all effort and hope. After what he describes as an intense seven-day process he says he went out at night to the Bhanvartal garden in Jabalpur, where he sat under a tree:
The moment I entered the garden everything became luminous, it was all over the place – the benediction, the blessedness. I could see the trees for the first time – their green, their life, their very sap running. The whole garden was asleep, the trees were asleep. But I could see the whole garden alive, even the small grass leaves were so beautiful.
I looked around. One tree was tremendously luminous – the maulshree tree. It attracted me, it pulled me towards itself. I had not chosen it, god himself has chosen it. I went to the tree, I sat under the tree. As I sat there things started settling. The whole universe became a benediction.
He completed his B.A. in philosophy at D. N. Jain College in 1955 and joined the University of Sagar, where he earned his M.A. in philosophy in 1957 (with distinction). He immediately secured a teaching post at Raipur Sanskrit college, but soon became controversial enough for the Vice Chancellor to ask him to seek a transfer, as he considered him a danger to his students' morality, character and religion. From 1958, he taught philosophy as a lecturer at Jabalpur University, being promoted to professor in 1960. A popular lecturer with a "golden tongue" in Hindi, he was acknowledged by his peers as an exceptionally intelligent man who had been able to overcome the deficiencies of his early small-town education.
In parallel to his university job, he travelled throughout India, giving lectures critical of socialism and Gandhi, under the name Acharya Rajneesh (Acharya means teacher or professor; Rajneesh was a nickname he had acquired in childhood). Socialism and Gandhi, he said, both perpetuated poverty rather than rejecting it. To escape its poverty and backwardness, India needed capitalism, science, modern technology and birth control. He also criticised orthodox Hinduism, arguing that Brahminic religion was sterile, and condemning all political and religious systems as hypocritical. Such statements made him controversial, but also brought him a great deal of attention.
Soon, he gained a loyal following that included a number of wealthy merchants and businessmen. These sought individual consultations from him about their spiritual development and daily life, in return for donations – a commonplace arrangement in India, where people seek guidance from learned or holy individuals the way people elsewhere might consult a psychologist or counsellor. The rapid growth of his practice, however, was somewhat out of the ordinary, suggesting that he had an uncommon talent as a spiritual therapist. From 1962, he began to lead 3- to 10-day meditation camps, and the first meditation centres (Jivan Jagruti Kendras) started to emerge around his teaching, then known as the Life Awakening Movement (Jivan Jagruti Andolan). After a speaking tour in 1966, he resigned from his teaching post.
In a 1968 lecture series, later published under the title From Sex to Superconsciousness, he scandalised Hindu leaders by calling for freer acceptance of sex. His advocacy of sexual freedom caused public disapproval in India, and he became known as the "sex guru" in the press. When he was invited in 1969 – despite the misgivings of some Hindu leaders – to speak at the Second World Hindu Conference, he used the occasion to raise controversy again. In his speech, 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, incensing the shankaracharya of Puri, who tried in vain to have his lecture stopped.
At a public meditation event in spring 1970 Osho presented his Dynamic Meditation method for the first time. At the end of June 1970, Osho left Jabalpur for Mumbai. On September 26, 1970 he initiated his first group of disciples or sannyasins at an outdoor meditation camp, one of the large gatherings where he lectured and guided group meditations. His concept of neo-sannyas entailed assuming a new name and wearing the traditional orange dress of ascetic Hindu holy men, including a mala (beaded necklace) carrying a locket with his picture. However, his sannyasins were expected to follow a celebratory, rather than ascetic lifestyle. They would be free, creatively responding to the present situation, as comfortable with being loving as with being alone. He himself was not to be worshipped, but was rather like a catalytic agent, "a sun encouraging the flower to open, but in a very delicate way".
He had by then acquired a secretary, 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 National Congress Party during the struggle for Indian independence, with close ties to Gandhi, Nehru and Morarji Desai. She raised the money that enabled Osho to stop his travels and settle down.
In December 1970, Osho thus moved to Woodlands Apartments in Mumbai, where he gave lectures and received visitors, among them the first Western visitors. He now travelled very rarely, and stopped speaking at open public meetings. In 1971, he adopted the title Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Shree means Sir or Mister; the Sanskrit title Bhagwan means "blessed one", indicating a human being in whom the divine is no longer hidden, but apparent.
The hot, humid climate of Mumbai appeared to have proved detrimental to Osho's health; he had developed diabetes, asthma and numerous allergies. So, in 1974, on the 21st anniversary of his enlightenment, he and his group moved from the Mumbai apartment to a property in Koregaon Park, Pune, which was purchased with the help of Catherine Venizelos (Ma Yoga Mukta), a Greek shipping heiress. Osho taught at the Pune ashram from 1974 to 1981. The two adjoining houses and six acres of land became the nucleus of an ashram, and those two buildings are still at the heart of the present-day Osho International Meditation Resort. This space allowed for the regular audio recording of his discourses and, later, video recording and printing for worldwide distribution, which enabled him to reach far larger audiences internationally. The number of Western visitors increased sharply, leading to constant expansion. The ashram soon featured an arts-and-crafts centre that turned out clothing, jewelry, ceramics and organic cosmetics and put on performances of theatre, music and mime. Following the arrival of several therapists from the Human Potential Movement in the early seventies, the ashram began from 1975 to complement its meditation offerings with a growing number of therapy groups. These became a major source of income for the ashram.
A typical day in the ashram began at 6:00 a.m. with Dynamic Meditation. At 8:00 a.m., Osho gave a 60 to 90-minute spontaneous lecture in the ashram's "Buddha Hall" auditorium, either commenting on literature from a religious tradition, or answering questions sent in by visitors and disciples. Until 1981, lecture series held in Hindi alternated with series held in English. During the day, various meditations and therapies took place, whose intensity was ascribed to the spiritual energy of Osho's "buddhafield". Evenings were for darshans, where Osho engaged in personal conversation with small numbers of individual disciples or visitors and gave sannyas. Sannyasins came for darshan when departing or returning to the ashram, or if they had an issue that they wanted to discuss with Osho.
To decide which therapies to participate in, visitors either consulted Osho or made selections according to their own preferences. Some of the early therapy groups in the ashram, such as the Encounter group, were experimental and very controversial, allowing a degree of physical violence as well as sexual encounters between participants. Conflicting reports of injuries sustained in encounter group sessions began to appear in the press. Violence in the therapy groups eventually ended in January 1979, when the ashram issued a press release stating that violence "had fulfilled its function within the overall context of the ashram as an evolving spiritual commune." Besides the controversy around the therapies, allegations of drug use amongst sannyasins began to mar the ashram's image. Some Western sannyasins were financing their extended stays in India through prostitution and drug running; some were caught and ended up in prison. A few sannyasins later claimed that, while Osho was not directly involved, they discussed such plans and activities with him in darshan, and he gave his blessing.
The Pune ashram was, by all accounts, an exciting and intense place to be, with an emotionally charged, madhouse-carnival atmosphere. Many observers noted that Osho's lecture style changed in the late seventies, becoming intellectually less focused and featuring an increasing number of jokes intended to shock or amuse his audience.
By the latter half of the 1970s it had become clear that the property in Pune was too small to contain the rapid growth of the ashram and Osho asked that somewhere larger be found. Sannyasins from around India started looking for property that could be purchased and used for a larger ashram and alternatives were found, including one in Gujarat, in the province of Kutch, and two more in India's mountainous north. Nothing came of many of the ideas, although a castle at Saswad, in the hills above Pune, was purchased and work started on a community there. Plans for a large utopian commune in India were never implemented, as mounting tensions between the ashram and the conservative Hindu government led by Morarji Desai resulted in an impasse. Land use approval was denied and, more importantly, the government stopped issuing visas to foreign visitors who indicated the ashram as their main destination in India. In addition, Desai's government cancelled the tax-exempt status of the ashram, resulting in a claim of current and back taxes estimated at $5 million. Conflicts with various Indian religious leaders added to the situation – by 1980, the ashram had become so controversial that Indira Gandhi, despite a previous association between Osho and the National Congress Party dating back to his early speeches made in the sixties, was unwilling to intercede for it after her return to power. During one of Osho's discourses in May 1980, an attempt on his life was made by a young Hindu fundamentalist.
By 1981, Osho's ashram hosted 30,000 visitors per year. In stark contrast to the period up to 1970, when his following was overwhelmingly Indian, daily discourse audiences were at this time composed predominantly of Europeans and Americans. On 10 April 1981, having discoursed daily for nearly 15 years, Osho entered a three-and-a-half-year period of self-imposed public silence, and satsangs – silent sitting and music, with readings from spiritual works such as Khalil Gibran's The Prophet or the Isha Upanishad – took the place of his discourses. Around the same time, Ma Anand Sheela (Sheela Silverman) replaced Ma Yoga Laxmi as Osho's secretary.
On 1 June 1981, Osho travelled to the United States on a tourist visa, for medical purposes; he reportedly had a prolapsed disc which had already been treated by several doctors, including James Cyriax, a leading orthopedic surgeon flown into India from London. The move seems to have been instigated by Sheela, who claimed Osho might have died if he had stayed in India and would find the medical assistance he required in America in the event that he needed emergency surgery.
Sheela had apparently been urging Osho to move to America for some time, and had discussed a new commune in the United States with him as early as late 1980. Laxmi told Frances FitzGerald, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who wrote a study of Osho's years in America for The New Yorker magazine, that she blamed herself for the move to America; she had been unable to find a suitable property in India, and thus, when the medical emergency arose, the initiative had passed to Sheela.
Other authors have attributed the move to mounting tension, criticism and possible punitive action by the Indian authorities, which may have created an impetus for Osho to relocate to the U. S. The U.S. authorities believed that Osho had a preconceived intent to remain in the United States. He never sought outside medical assistance while in America, and the INS would later contend that false statements had been made on his visa application. Osho spent several months in Montclair, New Jersey.
On 13 June 1981, Sheela's husband bought, for US$5.75 million, a ranch located across two Oregon counties (Wasco and Jefferson), previously known as "The Big Muddy Ranch". The following month, work began on setting up the so-called Rancho Rajneesh commune; Osho moved there in late August. The initial reactions of the host community ranged from hostility to tolerance, depending on the observer's distance from the ranch. Within a year of arriving, Osho's followers had become embroiled in a series of legal battles with their neighbours, the principal conflict relating to land use. The commune leadership was uncompromising and behaved impatiently in dealing with the locals. They were also insistent upon having demands met, and engaged in implicitly threatening and directly confrontational behaviour. The repeated changes in their stated plans looked like conscious deception, whether it was or not. In May of 1982, the residents of Rancho Rajneesh voted to incorporate the city of Rajneeshpuram on the ranch. The conflict with local residents escalated, with increasingly bitter hostility on both sides, and over the following years, the commune was subject to constant and coordinated pressures from various coalitions of Oregon residents.
Osho resided at Rajneeshpuram, living in a purpose-built trailer complex with an indoor swimming pool and other amenities. He achieved notoriety for the large number of Rolls-Royce luxury cars that his followers bought for his use, eventually numbering 93 vehicles. As part of his withdrawal from public life, Osho had given Ma Anand Sheela limited power of attorney in 1981, and removed the limits in 1982. In 1983, Sheela announced that he would henceforth speak only with her. He would later claim that she kept him in ignorance. Many sannyasins expressed doubts about whether Sheela truly represented Osho. An increasing number of dissidents left Rajneeshpuram, citing disagreements with Sheela's autocratic leadership style.
The following years saw an increased emphasis on Osho's prediction that the conventional world would destroy itself by nuclear war or other disasters sometime in the 1990s. Osho had said as early as 1964 that "the third and last war is now on the way", and had commented in the intervening years on the need to create a "new humanity" to avoid global suicide. By the early 1980s, this had become the basis for a new exclusivism, with 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". These warnings contributed to an increased sense of urgency in getting the Oregon commune established. In 1984, Sheela announced that Osho had predicted the death of two-thirds of humanity from AIDS. As a precaution, sannyasins were required to wear rubber gloves and condoms while making love and to refrain from kissing. The measures were widely seen as an extreme overreaction; AIDS was not considered a heterosexual disease at the time, and the use of condoms was not yet widely recommended for AIDS prevention.
Osho ended his period of public silence in October 1984, announcing that it was time for him to "speak his own truths." In July 1985, he resumed his daily public discourses in the commune's purpose-built, two-acre meditation hall. According to statements he made to the press, he did so against Sheela's wishes.
On 16 September 1985, Sheela and her entire management team having suddenly left the commune for Europe a few days prior, Osho held a press conference in which he labelled Sheela and her associates a "gang of fascists." He accused them of having committed a number of serious crimes, most of these dating back to 1984, and invited the authorities to investigate. The alleged crimes, which he stated had been committed without his knowledge or consent, included the attempted murder of his personal physician, poisonings of public officials, wiretapping and bugging within the commune and within his own home, and a bioterror attack on the citizens of The Dalles, Oregon, using salmonella. The subsequent investigation by the U.S. authorities confirmed these accusations and resulted in the conviction of Sheela and several of her lieutenants. The salmonella attack was noted as the first confirmed instance of chemical or biological terrorism to have occurred in the United States.
Osho claimed that because he was in silence and isolation, meeting only with Sheela, he was unaware of the crimes committed by the Rajneeshpuram leadership until Sheela and her "gang" left, and sannyasins came forward to inform him. A number of commentators have stated that in their view Sheela was being used as a convenient scapegoat. Others have pointed to the fact that although Sheela had bugged Osho's living quarters and made her tapes available to the U.S. authorities as part of her own plea bargain, no evidence has ever come to light that Osho had any part in her crimes.
On 23 October 1985, a federal grand jury issued a thirty-five-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 Osho's lawyer. Negotiations to allow Osho to surrender to authorities in Portland if a warrant were issued failed. Tension peaked amid rumours of a National Guard takeover, a planned violent arrest of Osho and fears of shooting. On 28 October 1985, Osho, his personal physician and a small number of sannyasins accompanying them were arrested without a warrant aboard a rented Learjet at a North Carolina airstrip; the group were en route to Bermuda ($58,000 in cash and 35 watches and bracelets worth $1 million were also found on the aircraft). Osho had by all accounts been neither informed of the impending arrest nor of the reasons for the journey. Osho's imprisonment and transfer across the country took the form of a public spectacle – he was displayed in chains, held first in North Carolina, then Oklahoma, and finally in Portland. Officials took the full ten days legally available to them to transfer him from North Carolina to Portland for arraignment. After initially pleading not guilty to all charges and being released on bail, Osho, on the advice of his lawyers, entered an "Alford plea" – through which a suspect does not admit guilt, but does concede there is enough evidence to convict him – to one count of having concealed his intent to remain permanently in the U.S. at the time he applied for his visa extension, and one count of conspiracy to have followers stay in the country illegally by having them enter into sham marriages. Under the deal his lawyers made with the United States Attorney's office, he was given a 10-year suspended sentence and placed on five years' probation; in addition, he agreed to pay $400,000 in fines and prosecution costs, to leave the United States and not to return for at least five years without the permission of the United States Attorney General.
During his residence in Rajneeshpuram, Osho dictated three books while undergoing dental treatment under the influence of nitrous oxide (laughing gas): Glimpses of a Golden Childhood, Notes of a Madman, and Books I Have Loved. Following her departure from Rajneeshpuram, Sheela claimed in media interviews that Osho took sixty milligrams of Valium each day and was addicted to nitrous oxide. Osho denied these charges when questioned about them by journalists.
After leaving the United States, Osho began a somewhat enforced world tour, speaking in Nepal, Crete and Uruguay, among others. Being refused entry visas by twenty-one different countries, he returned to India in July 1986, and in January 1987, to his old ashram in Pune, India. He resumed discoursing there, although with interruptions due to intermittent ill health. Publishing efforts and therapy courses quickly resumed as well, though now in less controversial style, and the ashram experienced a renewed period of expansion. It now presented itself as a "Multiversity", a place where therapy was to function as a bridge to meditation. Osho devised a number of new meditation techniques, among them the "Mystic Rose" method, and, after a gap of more than ten years, began to lead meditations personally again. Among his followers, the previous preference for communal living styles receded, most of them preferring to live ordinary and independent lives in society. The former red or orange dress code for sannyasins, which had been optional for some time, was finally abandoned in 1987.
In November 1987, Osho expressed his belief that his deteriorating health was the result of some form of poison administered to him by the U.S. authorities during the twelve days he was held without bail in various U.S. prisons. His doctors hypothesised that he had been poisoned by radiation and thallium, and that he must have slept on his right side on a deliberately irradiated mattress, since his symptoms were concentrated on the right side of his body. This allegation, as disseminated by Osho's one-time attorney, Philip J. Toelkes (Swami Prem Niren), was dismissed outright by U.S. attorney Charles H. Hunter, who stated: "It's a total and complete fiction and you have to consider the source ... the man has no credibility." Indeed, Toelkes conceded that there was no evidence to support the claim. A less sinister explanation is that Osho, who had been a diabetic for many years, may have suffered from a series of systemic breakdowns in the final stages of his chronic disease, perhaps exacerbated by the stress he had experienced.
From early 1988, his discourses focused exclusively on Zen. In late December 1988, he said he no longer wished to be referred to as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and in February 1989 took the name Osho. His health continued to weaken; he delivered his last public discourse in April 1989, and from then on only sat in silence with his followers. On January 19, 1990 Osho died, aged 58, with heart failure being the publicly reported cause. His ashes were placed in his newly built bedroom in one of the main buildings (LaoTsu House) at the Pune ashram. The epitaph reads, "OSHO. Never Born, Never Died. Only Visited this Planet Earth between Dec 11 1931 – Jan 19 1990."
While Osho's teachings met with strong rejection in his home country during his lifetime, there has been a sea change in Indian public opinion since Osho's death. As early as 1991, an influential Indian newspaper counted Osho, among figures such as 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". Since then, his teachings have progressively become part of the cultural mainstream of India and Nepal, perhaps in part because of his status as a figure who had a large Western following.
Osho is one of only two authors whose entire works have been placed in the Library of India's National Parliament in New Delhi (the other is Mahatma Gandhi). Excerpts and quotes from his works appear regularly in the Times of India and many other Indian newspapers. Prominent admirers include the Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, and the noted Indian novelist and journalist, Khushwant Singh. The Osho disciple Vinod Khanna, who worked as Osho's gardener in Rajneeshpuram, served as 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 of them are renderings of his taped discourses. His books are available in 55 different languages and have entered best-seller lists in such varied countries as Italy and South Korea.
After almost two decades of controversy and a decade of accommodation, Osho's movement has established itself in the international market of new religions. His followers have redefined his contributions, reframing central elements of his teaching so as to make them appear less controversial to outsiders. Societies in North America and Western Europe have met them half-way, becoming more accommodating to spiritual topics such as yoga and meditation. His followers run stress management seminars for corporate clients such as IBM and BMW, making between $15 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 one's self and uniting the desires of body and mind in a beautiful resort environment. According to press reports, it attracts some 200,000 people from all over the world each year; prominent visitors have included politicians, media personalities and the Dalai Lama. HIV/AIDS is still a concern for the Osho movement, and AIDS tests are mandatory for those wishing to enter the resort.
Osho's teachings were not static but changed in emphasis over time. His lectures were not presented in a dry, academic setting, but interspersed with jokes, and delivered with an oratory that many found spellbinding. He revelled in paradox and inconsistency, making it difficult to present more than a flavour of his work. Osho was very well read; conversant with all the Eastern religious traditions, he also drew on a great number of Western influences in his teaching.
Osho's view of man as a machine, condemned to the helpless acting out of unconscious, neurotic patterns, reflects the thought of Gurdjieff and Freud. His vision of the "new man" who transcends the constraints of convention is reminiscent of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil. His views on sexual liberation bear comparison to the thought of D. H. Lawrence. And while his contemporary Jiddu Krishnamurti did not approve of Osho, there are clear similarities between their respective teachings.
Osho taught that people are potential Buddhas, with the capacity for enlightenment. According to him, every human being is capable of experiencing unconditional love and of responding rather than reacting to life – he said: "You are truth. You are love. You are bliss. You are freedom." He suggested that it is possible to experience innate divinity and to be conscious of "who we really are", even though our egos usually prevent us from enjoying this experience: "When the ego is gone, the whole individuality arises in its crystal purity." The problem, he said, is how to bypass the ego so that our innate being can flower; how to move from the periphery to the centre.
Osho views the mind first and foremost as a mechanism for survival, replicating behavioural strategies that have proved successful in the past. When the mind appeals to the past, he says, human beings lose the ability to embrace the present. He believed that individuals may find themselves continually repressing their emotions, shutting themselves off from joyful experiences that arise naturally when the present moment is embraced: "The mind has no inherent capacity for joy. ... It only thinks about joy." The result, he states, is that repression can unconsciously disturb the individual and contribute to the development of various insecurities or neuroses, thus hindering the act of living with a joyous, authentic awareness. In the case of sexual repression, for example, Osho believed that when an individual denies the existence of latent sexual desires that the process of repression may lead to the re-emergence of desires, but in other guises, and in a manner that may prove disruptive to one's life. He believed that the result of such repression is a society that is obsessed with sex. Instead of repressing, Osho argues, people should accept themselves unconditionally: "We have been repressing anger, greed, sex ... And that's why every human being is stinking. ... Let it become manure, ... and you will have great flowers blossoming in you." This solution could not be intellectually understood, as the mind would only assimilate it as one more piece of baggage: instead, what was needed was meditation.
According to Osho, meditation is not just a practice, but a state of awareness that can be maintained in every moment. He used Western psychotherapy as a means of preparing for meditation – a way to become aware of one's mental and emotional hang-ups – and also introduced his own, "Active Meditation" techniques, characterised by alternating stages of physical activity and silence. In all, he suggested over a hundred meditation techniques.
The most famous of these remains his first, known today as OSHO Dynamic Meditation. This method has been described as a kind of microcosm of Osho's outlook. It comprises five stages that are accompanied by music (except for stage 4). In the first, the person engages in ten minutes of rapid breathing through the nose. The second ten minutes are for catharsis: "[L]et whatever is happening happen. ... Laugh, shout, scream, jump, shake – whatever you feel to do, do it!" For the next ten minutes, the person jumps up and down with their arms raised, shouting Hoo! each time they land on the flats of their feet. In the fourth, silent stage, the person freezes, remaining completely motionless for fifteen minutes, and witnessing everything that is happening to them. The last stage of the meditation consists of fifteen minutes of dancing and celebration.
There are other active meditation techniques, like OSHO Kundalini Meditation and OSHO Nadabrahma Meditation, which are less animated, although they also include physical activity of one sort or another. His final formal technique is called OSHO Mystic Rose, comprising three hours of laughing every day for the first week, three hours of weeping each day for the second, with the third week for silent meditation. The result of these processes is said to be the experience of "witnessing", enabling the "jump into awareness".
Osho believed such cathartic methods were necessary, since it was very difficult for people of today to just sit and be in meditation. Once the methods had provided a glimpse of meditation, people would be able to use other methods without difficulty.
Another key ingredient of his teaching is his own presence as a master: "A Master shares his being with you, not his philosophy. ... He never does anything to the disciple." He delighted in being paradoxical and engaging in behaviour that seemed entirely at odds with traditional images of enlightened individuals. All such behaviour, however capricious and difficult to accept, was explained as "a technique for transformation" to push people "beyond the mind." The initiation he offered his followers 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." Ultimately though, Osho even deconstructed his own authority. He emphasised that anything and everything could become an opportunity for meditation.
Osho said that he was "the rich man's guru" and taught that material poverty was not a genuine spiritual value. He had himself photographed wearing sumptuous clothing and hand-made watches, and while in Oregon drove a different Rolls-Royce each day – his followers reportedly wanted to buy him 365 of them, one for each day of the year. Publicity shots of the Rolls-Royces (93 in the end) were sent to the press. As a conscious display of wealth, they reflected both Osho's embrace of the material world and his desire to provoke American sensibilities, much as he had enjoyed offending Indian sensibilities earlier.
Osho hoped to create "a new man" combining the spirituality of Gautama Buddha with the zest for life embodied by Zorba the Greek in the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis: "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." This new man, "Zorba the Buddha", should reject neither science nor spirituality, but embrace them both. He should be "all for matter, and all for spirit." Osho believed humanity to be threatened with extinction due to over-population, impending nuclear holocaust, and diseases such as AIDS, and thought that 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, or religions. In this respect, Osho has much in common with other counter-culture gurus, and perhaps even certain postmodern and deconstructional thinkers. His term the "new man" applied to men and women equally, whose roles he saw as complementary; indeed, most of his movement's leadership positions were held by women.
In his early days as Acharya Rajneesh, a correspondent once asked Osho for his "Ten Commandments". In his letter of reply, Osho noted that it was a difficult matter, because he was against any kind of commandment, but "just for fun" agreed to set out the following:
- Never obey anyone's command unless it is coming from within you also.
- 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.
He underlined numbers 3, 7, 9 and 10. The ideas expressed in these Commandments have remained a constant leitmotif in his movement.
In the course of his life, Osho spoke on all the major spiritual traditions, including Hassidism, Tantrism, Taoism, Christianity, Buddhism, the teachings of a variety of Eastern and Western mystics, and on sacred scriptures such as the Upanishads and the Guru Granth Sahib. But the topic that predominated, and on which he came to focus exclusively towards the end of his life, was Zen.
If Osho's teachings seemed mad, playful or simply absurd, this was no doubt intentional: as an explicitly "self-deconstructing" or "self-parodying" guru, his teaching as a whole was said to be nothing more than a "game" or a joke. His early lectures were famous for their humour and their refusal to take anything seriously. His message of sexual, emotional, spiritual, and institutional liberation, as well as his contrariness, ensured that his life was surrounded by conjecture, rumour, and controversy.
Osho was notorious all his life, becoming known as the "sex guru" in India, and as the "Rolls-Royce guru" in the United States. He is generally considered one of the most controversial spiritual leaders to have emerged from India in the twentieth century. Surrounded by scandals and accusations, he continued to attract crowds and retained a large number of disciples to the end of his life and beyond.
Osho attacked traditional concepts of nationalism, expressed undisguised contempt for politicians and poked fun at leading figures of various religions. Religious leaders in turn found his arrogance unbearable. His ideas on sex, marriage, family and relationships contradicted traditional views of these matters and aroused a great deal of anger and opposition around the world. According to the Indian sociologist Uday Mehta, his 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.
Khushwant Singh, eminent author, historian and former editor of the Times of India, has described him as "the most original thinker that India has produced: the most erudite, the most clearheaded and the most innovative". In his view, Osho was a "free-thinking agnostic" who had the ability to explain the most abstract concepts in simple language, illustrated with witty anecdotes, who mocked gods, prophets, scriptures and religious practices and gave a totally new dimension to religion. Osho's commentary on the Sikh scripture known as Japuji was hailed as the best available by Giani Zail Singh, the former President of India.
The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk has called Osho a "Wittgenstein of religions", ranking him as 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. The American poet and Rumi translator Coleman Barks likened reading Osho's discourses to the "taste of fresh springwater. The American author Tom Robbins, while stressing that he was not a disciple, expressed his conviction, based on reading Osho's books, that he was the 20th century's greatest spiritual teacher, and probably also one of the most maligned figures in history, given the amount of vicious propaganda and slanted reports published about him.
During the early 1980s, a number of commentators in the popular press were dismissive of Osho. The Australian critic and cynic Clive James scornfully referred to him as "Bagwash", likening the experience of listening to one of his discourses to sitting in a laundrette and watching "your underwear revolve soggily for hours while exuding grey suds. The Bagwash talks the way that looks." James finished by saying that Osho was just a "rebarbative dingbat who manipulates the manipulatable". Responding to an enthusiastic review of Osho's talks by Bernard Levin in The Times, Dominik Wujastyk, also writing in The Times, similarly expressed his opinion that the talk he heard while visiting the Pune ashram was of a very low standard, wearyingly repetitive and often factually wrong, and stated that he felt disturbed by the personality cult surrounding Osho.
A number of commentators have remarked upon Osho's charisma. Comparing Osho with Gurdjieff, Anthony Storr wrote that Osho was "personally extremely impressive", noting 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 hearing Osho speak, they "fell in love with him." Susan J. Palmer noted that even critics attested to the power of his presence. James S. Gordon, a psychiatrist and researcher, recalls inexplicably finding himself laughing like a child, hugging strangers and having tears of gratitude in his eyes after a single glance by Osho from within his passing Rolls-Royce. Frances FitzGerald concluded upon listening to Osho in person that he was a brilliant lecturer and expressed surprise at his talent as a comedian, which had not been apparent from reading his books, as well as the hypnotic quality of his talks, which had a profound effect on his audience. Hugh Milne, an ex-follower, remembering his first meeting with Osho, writes of his feeling that there was far more than words passing 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.
Hugh B. Urban, Assistant Professor of Religion and Comparative Studies at Ohio State University, noted that Osho appeared to fit with Max Weber’s classical image of the charismatic figure, being held to possess "an extraordinary supernatural power or 'grace', which was essentially irrational and affective". Moreover, Osho corresponded to Weber's pure charismatic type in rejecting all rational laws and institutions and claiming to subvert all hierarchical authority, even though the promise of absolute freedom inherent in this eventually resulted in new and more powerful forms of bureaucratic organisation and institutional control within the sannyasin community.
Some 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, such as a grandiose sense of self-importance and uniqueness; a preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success; a need for constant attention and admiration; a set of characteristic responses to threats to self-esteem; disturbances in interpersonal relationships; a preoccupation with grooming combined with frequent resorting to prevarication or outright lying; and a lack of empathy. Drawing on Osho's reminiscences of his childhood in his book Glimpses of a Golden Childhood, he suggested that Osho suffered from a fundamental lack of parental discipline, due to his growing up in the care of overindulgent grandparents. Osho's self-avowed Buddha status, he concluded, was part of a delusional system associated with his narcissistic personality disorder; a condition of ego-inflation rather than egolessness.
In questioning how the total corpus of Osho's work might be summarised, Bob Mullan, a sociologist from the University of East Anglia, stated 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." He also acknowledged that Osho's range and imagination were second to none, and that many of his statements were quite insightful and moving, perhaps even profound at times, but what remained was essentially "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 drop the ego, along with fear and guilt.
Writing in 1996, Hugh B. Urban similarly found Osho's teaching neither original nor especially profound, noting that most of its content had been borrowed from various Eastern and Western philosophies. What he found most original about Osho was his keen commercial instinct or "marketing strategy", by which he was able to adapt his teachings to meet the changing desires of his audience, a theme also picked up on by Gita Mehta in her book Karma Cola: Marketing the Mystic East. In 2005, Urban observed that Osho had undergone a "remarkable apotheosis" after his return to India, and especially in the years since his death, going on to describe him as a powerful illustration of 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 the body and sexuality characteristic of late capitalist consumer culture, Osho had apparently been able to create a spiritual path that was remarkably in tune with the socio-economic conditions of his time.