Rajneesh was one of the most controversial spiritual masters that India has seen in the last century. He is Bhagwan (God) for his followers, “Osho, Never Born, Never Died; Only Visited This Planet Earth between December 11, 1931 to January 19, 1990” says his samadhi stone. However, his critics think that he created a vicious cult around himself, which would slowly wither away, now that he is gone. Khushwant Singh, a Princeton-educated famous Indian journalist, at one time said that the best way to deal with Rajneesh was to ignore him. But he also said that Rajneesh was “the most original thinker that India has produced: the most erudite, the most clear-headed, and the most innovative.” Tom Robbins, an American novelist, represents probably the majority of people who have bothered to read and think about what Rajneesh stood for. He wrote in the Seattle Post Intelligencer: I am not, nor have I ever been, a disciple of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, but I’ve read enough of his brilliant books to be convinced that he was the greatest spiritual teacher of the twentieth century – and I’ve read enough vicious propaganda and slanted reports to suspect that he was one of the most maligned figures in history (cited in Brecher, 1993, p. 396).
Born on December 11, 1931, in Kuchwada village, Madhya Pradesh, Rajneesh was the first of the eleven children of a merchant father and a traditional housewife. His siblings were born over 27 years, which was not that unusual for India at that time. He grew up in Gadarwara, a small town of 20,000 people, with his mother’s parents. Little is reported about his early childhood, schooling, or spiritual inclination. He was a professor of philosophy at the University of Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, and again not much is reported about his academic achievements or his role as a traditional professor. According to some sources, he did hang out by himself as a teenager and pursued a spiritual practice. He suffered the loss of a friend, a girl named Shashi, whom he particularly liked, and who, he said years later, returned to him as a disciple. This English woman, Christine Woolf, later became Ma Yoga Vivek. He attained enlightenment on March 21, 1952, at the age of 21 (Brecher, 1993). Interestingly, in everything that I had read about Rajneesh , there has never been a mention made about his enlightenment.
Rajneesh started by lecturing about Mahavir, the Jain prophet, in the business circles of India, which grew in popularity over the years. He continued to appreciate Mahavir and Buddha as spiritual masters in his later years. He probably received more public attention through the media by criticizing Mahatma Gandhi, by calling him a politician, and also criticizing his practice of celibacy. These were the early years of Rajneesh’s fame, and he went from being simply Shree Rajneesh (Shree is an honorific like Mister in English) to Acharya (spiritual master) Rajneesh.
Books on various topics by him appeared at bookstores all over India. Rajneesh shocked the Indian populace by linking sex to super consciousness in 1968. He became an instant star following his declaration that sex was not to be repressed, and through it people could get into samadhi, the highest state of being in yoga. However, he was not direct in responding if he himself went into samadhi through sex. In fact, in one of his published lectures he suggested that one could bring any experience from his or her past lives, implying that his knowledge and experience about sex to samadhi came that way. I think it would be impossible to be a guru in India where brahmacarya or celibacy is a minimum requirement to be a spiritual person and a guru. It is no surprise that the Maharishi used the title of balbramhacari (i.e., celibate from childhood) for a long time, until he took the title of Maharishi. Another guru, Balyogeshwar, who enjoyed a huge following in the 1970s, quickly lost it when he married his American secretary, which clearly shows that spiritual gurus are valued for their celibacy in India.
It should be noted that householders are also found to be gurus, but often in their senior years. In 1969, Rajneesh prescribed a new method of meditation to his disciples called Dynamic Meditation. This was a four-step process. First, a practitioner would involve in vigorous breathing for 15 minutes. Next, he or she would scream, cry, laugh, or jump up and down leading to a catharsis. After these two steps, the practitioner would contemplate on the question: Who Am I? This was to be done by keeping the fingers of the two hands interlocked and then by pushing the palms hard against each other. The final step was to be quiet and prayerful. I think this was a method of mediation that Rajneesh invented, since he did not give credit to any- body or any other source, unlike the Maharishi, who gave credit to his own guru for inventing Transcendental Meditation.
In 1971, Rajneesh decided to call himself Bhagwan Rajneesh, which was an important juncture in his life, since he chose not to be the Bertrand Russell of India, an Acarya, a teacher, and opted to start a new way of life, a cult. He started initiating his disciples. Following the initiation, the disciples wore saffron-colored robes or clothes, hung a mala with Rajneesh’s picture in a locket, and went by a new name swami or ma such and such. Traditionally, sannyasis (monks) take a new name to erase their personal history, wear saffron to let the world know that they have renounced the world, live on whatever they get by begging, and take a vow of brahmacarya or celibacy. Bhagwan Rajneesh’s new sannyas (or monkhood) differed from the tradition on all four counts.
The Rajneeshees, as are his disciples often called, did not take the new name to erase personal history, continued to live where they did, and do what they did before getting initiation. They did wear the saffron color, but not to practice self-abnegation or for denying good clothes. They could wear expensive clothes, leather shoes, watches, jewelry, etc., which are all prohibited for the traditional Indian monks. They did not renounce the world or support themselves by begging in the streets. They also did not take the vow of celibacy. In fact, many of them indulged in indiscriminate sex and many got divorced and remarried. Of course, one could achieve samadhi through sex, according to the Bhagwan, and so celibacy did not fit with the new way of life he proposed for his disciples. His ashram in Pune was visited by about 25,000 people every year during 1974–1978, and about 40,000 annually thereafter. He made international news during the late 1960s and through the 1970s and made a big impact on the youth in Europe. Interestingly, unlike other Indian gurus, he was one person who never went on a lecture tour abroad. All his disciples came to visit him in Pune. He took a vow of silence on April 11, 1981. He was 50 years old.
He left India for the USA in May 1981 and called India a dying civilization. He praised the USA for its openness and thriving modern culture and proclaimed that USA would be the spiritual leader of the world in the future. He changed his mind in less than 18 months. Rajneesh was arrested for fraud in the USA on October 28, 1985, and following a plea bargain he was allowed to leave the USA without serving time. He was denied visa by 20 countries all over the world, and he returned to India in 1986. While in India, he took the title of Osho, and his journey from Shree Rajneesh, to Acarya Rajneesh, to Bhagwan Rajneesh, to Osho ended on January 19, 1990, at his Pune ashram. It may be too early to say how Rajneesh’s innovations in spirituality will weather the time, but to be fair about him we must concede that he did start a new way of life, gave a technique of meditation, and a theory that sex could lead to super consciousness.
He also revived the tradition of open criticism by indulging in the criticism of saints and ideas from all religions, which could be attributed to the modern Western influence on him. It is quite plausible that Rajneesh’s ideas on sex and meditation emerged from his interaction with his Western disciples or from reading about free sex in the Western countries. His model of dynamic yoga could have resulted from his desire to allow his Western disciples to express their emotion through dancing to Western tunes, or jumping, crying, and so forth. In his publications, a clear imprint of con- temporary mass media could be seen in that his books had glossy covers and were generally packaged well. The titles of his books were also catchy, what would be labeled “sexy” in the United States, and were selected with a view to position them successfully in the market place.
His ownership of 100 Rolls Royces and diamond studded cap earned him the limelight of television and the wrath of Ted Koppel on NightLine, a popular television (American Broadcast Corporation, or ABC) show in the United States. Thus, it is quite clear that Rajneesh’s philosophy emerged from the ancient culture of India, but his expressions were shaped by the contemporary Indian and international cultures, i.e., by the global zeitgeist. It is quite unlikely that a guru such as him could have emerged in the past, when India was not open to the world. This further supports that culture has a role in shaping innovation and creativity, and that there is a reciprocal relationship between geniuses and zeitgeist in that the zeitgeist shapes geniuses, and geniuses in turn shape the zeitgeist.