The self titled Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who near the end of his career renamed himself Osho was born Chandra Mohan Jain on 11th December, 1931 in central India and died on 19th January, 1990 in Poonah (Pune), India. He was probably the most infamous "guru" of the modern age because of his controversial teachings and shrewd use of the media. As his story is so well known I will only briefly mention its highlights.
His early life is now shrouded in myth but it seems he was a clever, rebellious boy who graduated from college in 1955 and took an MA in philosophy. He became a teacher and assistant professor in philosophy at Jabalpur Universtiy. In 1960 he began publicly lecturing on controversial issues attacking various sacred cows of Indian society. At this time he was living with his cousin Kranti but his career took off when he attracted his first "devotee", Lakshmi Thakarsi Kuruwa, a celibate, married civil servant. She became his receptionist, secretary and "business manager" until deposed by Sheela many years after. By 1966 he was a fulltime professional lecturer and in 1970 he declared himself Bhagwan ("God", "The Blessed One") and claimed that he had attained enlightenment 17 years before.
Over the next decade he attracted more Western followers and lost most of his Indian followers. He replaced his long time lover and cousin with an English woman, Christine Woolf (see picture left). His teachings centered around an eclectic mix of Eastern religion and techniques gleaned from the oxymoronic "Personal Growth" movement which was the source of many of his new followers. His encouragement of promiscuous sexuality and public, cathartic, violent, erotic encounter groups was intensely disapproved of by prudish Indian society. His form of "dynamic meditation" was nearly the opposite of what is usually taught. He had a strong even "hypnotic" influence over many people who came to him in curiosity and though the number of his followers never matched the amount of publicity he received his ashram at Poonah grew until by 1981 there were up to 6,000 Westerners there every day.
In May, 1981 he secretly left India and flew to the US and by July had bought a large ranch in Oregon and commenced creating a large "commune" despite this being against zoning laws. Controversy and legal actions escalated until September, 1983 when Rajneesh announced that the commune leaders had fled after committing numerous crimes over an extended period. Then in late October, Rajneesh was arrested trying to flee the country after being charged with numerous immigration crimes, spent a week in gaol and finally plea bargained his way into exile from the USA. After finding he was persona non grata all over the world he eventually returned to India where with a new name, Osho, and a much reduced number of followers, he remained until he died in 1990.
Early in his career, Rajneesh had much personal contact with his followers, this diminished as time passed and as his close followers claimed his health became very bad. He suffered from diabetes, allergies (especially to strong scents which required people to pass a sniffing test), eczema, asthma and back pain, none of his followers seemed to perceive that many of his illnesses were psycho-somatic. After his move to Oregon his contact with his followers was almost completely cut-off and the easy life they lived in the India was replaced by seven days a week work. For some, this was a great improvement over the aimless lives they had been living and they felt better for it. In India Rajneesh spent much his day reading, claiming to read 15 or twenty books a day. In the USA he spent much his time watching movies but by this time he was nearly constantly under the influence of tranquillisers, quaaludes and other drugs. New followers were far fewer in Oregon and there was a marked drop in numbers and financial support.
Controversial activities included drug smuggling and prostitution, immigration crimes, bussing in thousands of homeless to try and win a local election and evicting them when this proved impractical, buying scores of Rolls-Royces, creating and arming a private milita, taking over a local town against the wishes of the residents, poisoning politicians and local officials and constantly building at the commune though this was strictly illegal.
The study of Rajneesh's career is particularly valuable because it went through the major stages of cult development in such a short time, it was studied so intensively and because it's notoriety was so high that many of his followers have been able to publish their reminiscences thereby revealing the inner workings of the cult and the beliefs and emotions of its members in far greater detail than is normally available. In most guru led spiritual cults, including the Sannyasins of Rajneesh, the information made available to the public is closely controlled but the early collapse of Rajneesh's organisations amid numerous criminal allegations and convictions has allowed the inner workings to be exposed in public.
The followers claimed they were experiencing enlightenment and truth while lying to and deceiving even their closest relatives about activities within the group and while indulging in selfish, mean spirited actions within the closely knit group of followers. Their main interest was getting as close to Rajneesh as they could for as long and often as they could. They believed he was fully enlightened and that his actions could not be judged by ordinary standards, they interpreted whatever he said and did as best they could within this guideline which allowed him extraordinary latitude.
They claimed that they lived freely and openly from emotion and intuition but in reality were strictly hierarchical and obeyed all orders if they believed they came from Rajneesh even marrying & divorcing at his whim. No matter how unhappy and disillusioned they were with events within the commune, especially in Oregon, they maintained the facade of happiness and bliss, they did and said whatever there were told no matter what reservations they had. They could not openly question any directive no matter how bizaare without demonstrating their "negativity" and lack of spiritual progress and therefore undergoing punishment or eviction. They quite often even forgot what they had been recorded as saying a short time before if this disagreed with the current group propaganda.
Among the more interesting points illuminated by his followers' rememberances is the difficulty even severely disillusioned devotees (not only of Rajneesh) have of letting go of their attachment to their days of blissful conversion and the honeymoon period when they first meet their guru and become a devotee. They cannot perceive this period except in the golden glow of romantic reminiscence, they invariably try to rationalise their initiation as occurring while Rajneesh still had the power or was still enlightened. They cannot accept that they were only foolish, naive and immature or that Rajneesh won them over without having to be a superman or God. This provides a very powerful reinforcement to remain within a cult even when one is experiencing great doubts and dissatisfaction - the rememberance of past ecstatic periods is a powerful incentive to remain within the cult group and it's mindset. Even during these periods when a person is unhappy and uncertain then proselytising for the guru, preaching, sharing, giving satsang, whatever the group's jargon might call it, can be a powerful ecstatic experience especially when given from a stream of consciousness rather than a planned speech. This is usually integrated into the cult's beliefs as a positive reinforcement of the guru's potency.
There are "official" Osho home pages on the Internet and in late 1998 there was even a humorous press story doing the rounds of Osho followers creating a "dynamic meditation" for people spending too much time before their computers.
Due to his controversial, paradoxical teachings I have no doubt that Rajneesh will be remembered for a long time, will have a small following chanting "Hoo Hoo" and will fill the niche role of rascal guru currently occupied by Gurdjieff.
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