Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh's (Osho's) movement

The early years

Rajneesh was born Rajneesh Chandra Mohan in Kuchwada, Madhya Pradesh, India in 1931 in a Jain family. According to Shunyo (1992, p.217) an intimate female disciple, Bhagwan was a strong-willed boy, an independent spirit wanting to experience things himself. From the relatively innocent actions of an unruly boy challenging parents, neighbours, teachers at school, Rajneesh was labeled later on a menace to society, consequently an entire political apparatus in many countries was involved in the affair. Rajneesh himself has said:
" As far back as I can remember, I loved only one game - to argue. So very few grown-up people could stand me" (cited by Appleton, 1987, p.15).

The rebelliousness and the game of arguing developed later on into a full philosophical concept. The desire for primary experiences will graduate later on into a full religious concept, original in its approach to synthesized a wide spectrum of ideas from many religious traditions of the world.

In spite of all the problems he had at school with various teachers, he was a brilliant student. After obtaining his Master of Arts in Philosophy, Rajneesh spent ten years teaching philosophy at the University of Jabalpur in India, also traveling throughout India giving public lectures and challenging the religious leaders of all kinds.
" I found it was foolish wasting time in the university teaching twenty students when I can teach 50,000 people in one single meeting. From the university, I moved to the universe" says Rajneesh about himself leaving the university job (cited by Appleton, 1987, p.21).

Bombay and Poona 1970-1981

His mission became apparent when Rejneesh settled in Bombey and more disciples were coming from the Western countries. It is mainly from Westerners that his teachings started to make headlines and be noticed outside India.
" From the moment I first met Bhagwan, I had the distinct feeling that I had finally met my real Father and Teacher, and my search had now ended" says Milne (1986, p.45), Bhagwan's former bodyguard.
Most of the people who have listened to Rajneesh's talks find him well articulated, able to construct a good argument, possessor of great knowledge and very charismatic. These qualities did attract many people with a good education, some have left jobs and families to come and listen to such an unusual speaker.

The group around Rajneesh grew, a new location was found in Poona where thousand of disciples from the West have come to experience the alternative lifestyle. In his teachings, Rejneesh addressed almost every aspect of the development of human consciousness (Shunyo, 1992, p.217). He use to say: "I am the beginning of a totally new religious consciousness" (cited by Shunyo, 1992, p.217), a clear sign that he belongs to no tradition. Bernard Levin (in The London Times, April 8, 1980) after visiting the ashram enumerates a wide range of therapeutic techniques used in Poona to expand the consciousness like: "Massage, Reflexology, Alexander technique, Acupuncture, Rolfing, Postural Integration, Hypnosis, Counseling, Rebirthing, Dynamic Meditation"
(cited by Appleton, 1987, p.31). Same author labels the Poona experiment as an "amazing spiritual supermarket" (ibid.). Fully qualified psychologists and medical practitioners were amongst those involved in these techniques.

This is how Marcel Meier who took part in a therapy group describes his experience at Poona in the Panorama Magazine, Oct. 13, 1978:
" About 20 different methods, including gestalt, encounter therapy, bio-energy, screaming and hypnosis therapy, psychodrama, Eastern techniques such as Zen meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, and Buddhist and Hindi meditation techniques, are used to make the participant aware of the reality of everything except his ego, his personality. The group therapy made the strongest impression. In psychological circles, Poona has become known as the most important 'growth center' in the world" (cited by Appleton, 1987, p.32).

However there were various degrees of therapy groups, some known as "advanced" were indeed violent. In Rejneesh's teachings, the purpose was to gain awareness of own blocks and inhibitions (Milne, 1986, p.141). This was a quite extreme kind of therapy. One of the visitors was Richard Price, co-founder of Esalen Institute, involved in research on human potential and growth. He was shocked by the violence at an encounter group session disclaiming any similarity between his organization and Rajneesh Foundation (ibid.).

It was in Poona where Rajneesh has encouraged in his teachings the practice of the sexual freedom labeled by the media too often as sexual promiscuity. Milne (1986, pp.134ff) as one of the inner circle, was much involved himself in all aspects of sexual freedom. The people in the ashram were encouraged to frequent changes of partner. It was the time when in the Western media appeared sensational reports about the Poona phenomenon.
" It is no exaggeration to say that we had a feast of fucking, the likes of which had probably not been seen since the days of Roman bacchanalia. Never had people's carnal needs been so well catered for. Yet it was all done with an atmosphere of care, love and friendship that made it quite exceptional." says Milne (ibid.).
The free love and total loss of sexual inhibition in Poona made Rajneesh be labeled by media as "Guru of the Vagina". The name Bhagwan which in the Indian tradition is equivalent to God was reinterpreted as "Master of the Vagina" as "Bhaga" in Sanskrit can signify happiness, beauty, love as well as the female organ.

America 1981-1985

Opposition grew beyond proportions in India when decision was made by Rajneesh for the Commune to move to America. It was found a new place, known as Big Muddy Ranch near Antelope (in Oregon state), an ordinary country town where "nothing" really happens, but since the coming of the Commune, things have changed beyond imagination. On arriving in USA, Rajneesh said: "I am the Messiah America has waiting for." (cited by Milne, 1986, p.192).

It has to be observed here the enthusiasm of the devotees to construct a unique place they believe to have spiritual value. It was for many as the start of the American dream to build a new town named Rajneeshpuram (i.e. the city of Rajneesh), a kind of 'sacred city', announced to be "America's first enlightened city" (Martin, 1992, p.356). The devotees have created an oasis of productive land, grew various vegetables and had cattle. In spite of great physical work, it was all truly a labour of love (Harrison, 1990, p.151).

It was here where his secretary Ma Anand Sheela (Sheela Silverman) an Indian woman, became very powerful, practically she was running the new organization Rajneesh International now a multi-million dollar corporation. Sheela was later on under FBI investigations. Most of us can ask questions like: "How could Rajneesh allowed things to develop to such a degree to attract the breaking of the laws by members of the commune especially people with a high position within the organization like Sheela?" or "To what degree the people around Rajneesh have assimilated his teachings based on spiritual values supposed to go beyond the moral values of any other people?" Here is to point it out that Rajneesh regarded himself as enlightened. It was in USA where Rajneesh and his secretary Ma Anand Sheela started to live a luxurious existence having a fleet of Rolls Royces while the followers lived in deprivation. (Jordan, 1996, p.111). Rajneesh thrives on the controversy he has created, the commune continues to attract many followers of all ages.

By now Rajneesh perceives himself as a Saviour publishing his vision of worldwide impending disasters thus:
" The period of this crisis will be between 1984 and 1999. During this period there will be every kind of destruction on earth including natural catastrophes and man manufactured auto-suicidal efforts. In other words there will be floods which have never been known since the time of Noah, along with earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and everything else that is possible through nature ... There will be wars which are bound to end in nuclear explosions, hence no ordinary Noah's arks are going to save humanity. Rajneeshism is creating a Noah's ark of consciousness, remaining centered exactly in the middle of the cyclone. ... Tokyo, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Bombay, etc. - all these cities are going to disappear and the holocaust is going to be confined to certain places. It is going to be global so no escape will be possible. You can only escape within and that's what I teach." (cited by Martin, 1992, pp.357ff).

Although 1999 is the last year of the period of the 'crisis', it is unlikely the millenarian prediction to become true. The idea of a new race saved in an ark of consciousness in which humanity can take refuge, seem to be very attractive to Rajneesh's Sannyasins (followers or those who renounce) when it can be seen the instability and unpredictability on the world's scene.

The American experience for the commune encountered great opposition. First of all it has to be said that the way the commune was functioning it didn't become isolated from the rest of society, but did challenge the society with new forms of organizing. As the Appleton (1987, p.41) put it: "Bhagwan's vision doesn't fit the traditional spiritual teaching of Indian holy men. He doesn't preach renunciation, celibacy, discipline or asceticism. His message is that the meditator must learn to live in the midst of the world and all its materialism, learning the art of non-attachment. 'Mediation in the marketplace' is how his disciples describe his approach to mediation. "
This kind of approach to apply spiritual ideas to address the societal issues has triggered great opposition from the establishment, soon the experiment at Rajneeshpuram involved heavily the government institutions and ultimately the top politics. On various charges and after paying a heavy fine Rajneesh was forced to leave USA although without conviction.

A Worldwide Danger

From this point on the Rajneesh's story takes indeed a dramatic turn. Most of the media labeled him as dangerous. The governments of various countries joined hands not to allow him to stay in their countries, although as a person Rajneesh had no criminal convictions in those countries. It is the case of countries like Greece, Switzerland, Sweden, England, Ireland, Canada, Antigua, Bermuda, Holland, Germany, Italy, Uruguay, Jamaica, Spain, Portugal, etc. In his speeches Bhagwan has advocated drastic solutions to the problems of humanity, through nonviolent means and a creation of new power basis and new order (Appleton, 1987, pp.77ff).

Here we are at the core of the issue to say that Rajneesh was not allowed in those countries because of his ideas to challenging the social coherence of the country. Rajneesh's ideas were 'too much' for the establishment to find a better solution than trying to keep him at a distance. There was a wide spread belief that Rajneesh's philosophy was too anarchistic, although he did not intend to bring disorder but a new kind of order. It was in Uruguay that the world conspiracy (lead by USA) against a man because of his ideas, was uncovered. Here it has to be seen what the influence and pressure from 'the big brother' like USA means. Things went so far to blackmail even the head of state, president Sanguinetti to give up for money the principle of freedom of speech and ideas animating this young democracy (Appleton, 1987, pp.74ff).


Rejneesh as leader of a NRM has certainly an impact in this century. Not only was he a charismatic person able to attract a large following, but was rapidly moving towards creating societal disintegration, challenging the root values of societies. No wonder that it was the institutions that Bhagwan attacked like USA government, the Vatican, the KGB and other governments institutions which wanted to get rid of him (ibid., p.78).

There were many setbacks in the Rajneesh's movement, but his approach to a wide range of human issues was original and deeply inspiring. There was power play in his entourage, controversies and drastic methods to create the 'new man' the 'superman', other philosophers (see Aurobindo, Nietsche, etc.) dreamed about. Overall Rajneesh brought a new hope to many people to create (as they have tried in Poona or Rajneeshpuram) that utopia which looked unthinkable by most of us.

To summarize his teachings Rajneesh said:
" My message is not a doctrine, not a philosophy. My message is a certain alchemy, a science of transformation, so only those who are willing to die as they are and be born again into something so new that they cannot even imagine it right now ... only those few courageous people will be ready to listen, because listening is going to be risky." (cited by Shunyo, 1992, p.218).
The legacy of his ideas will not be easy to disappear. Here we have a case in which a charismatic leader having an original philosophy dared to challenge what few of religious leaders have done. We wonder if we were able as humanity to understand fully his message, both from inside and outside the movement. Certainly, as history has shown so far, the radical ideas are those which produce a quantum leap for humanity. Jesus was also in the situation to be persecuted for his radical ideas in Judaism.
Although Rajneesh has spoken for many people, his philosophy was as he put it "for the courageous ones"; it take courage for everyone to defy the establishment of any form as long as the laws do protect these forms. His forced leaving of USA was typical of what the laws can do. The investigations about the constructions at Rajneeshpuram, the legal visa of Rajneesh, the refusal of the status as religious leader for Rajneesh, these issues look trivial indeed when we think that there was tremendous enthusiasm to build a community based on original ideas and the people who worked for were free at any time to leave the project. Based on the authors cited above (including Bhagwan), I conclude that in spite of all odds and setbacks, Rajneesh as a religious leader was a unique personality committed to the end to experiment and start new endeavors for humankind, ideas which will not die with the man who courageously brought them. His teachings were inspiring and fulfilling at personal level for many people, but failed to deliver a real sustainable social model, either because they were unrealistic or his ideas were not expressed at a right historical moment for humanity. Only history will be able to judge the value of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh's teachings.

· Sue Appleton, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh the Most dangerous man since Jesus Christ, Germany: The Rebel Publishing House, 1987.
· Shirley Harrison, Cults, The Battle for God, Bromley: Christopher Helm (Publishers) Ltd., 1990.
· Michael Jordan, Cults, Prophecies, Practices and Personalities, Sydney: The Book Company International, 1996.
· Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1992.
· Hugh Milne, Bhagwan The God That Failed, London: Caliban Books, 1986.
· Ma Prem Shunyo, Diamond Days with Osho The New Diamond Sutra, Poona: The Rebel Publishing House, 1992.

Copyright © 2000 and subsequent years by Octavian Sarbatoare (Australia)

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