It’s alleged he was involved in, or aware of, everything from tax evasion, immigration fraud, prostitution, drug-running, drug use, and he worked his followers to the bone. In India, he was known as the ‘sex guru’, and in the States as the ‘rolls-royce guru’, owning more than 90 at one time.
It’s clear that all selves are manifestations of just ONE REALITY, ONE SELF, ONE AWARENESS. Some of these selves or persons beautifully display a garden radiant with wholesome virtues…. While other selves, through some kind of Divine whimsy, display lovely flowers mixed in with lots of weeds! Yet everyone is, at heart, quite innocent, utterly Divine. What an amazing dream, this wild, wacky, woeful yet wonderful life….
In the late 1980s, India’s so-called “Bhagwan” or “Blessed One” Rajneesh (née Rajneesh Mohan Chandra Jain, 1931-1990), back once again at his old ashram in Poona, India, tried to make himself and his religious movement more marketable to suit his longstanding global ambitions for this “first true religion,” all other religious movements having been “false,” “sick,” “failures” in his view. His attempts followed a few years of very negative publicity after a nightmarish time of crime and hardship in the USA (not a personal nightmare or hardship for Rajneesh, but certainly for many other persons, as we shall see). And so, concerned about his image in the eyes of his people and the general public, Rajneesh briefly preferred to call himself “Zorba the Budddha” and then in October 1989, three months before his death, he adopted a “healing,” Zen-sounding name, “Osho.”
The strategy has worked: today very few people who visit Osho centers, read or hear Osho’s words, and practice his heavily cathartic meditation methods know much if anything about his problematic earlier life as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Indeed, it seems that a relatively small but growing number of people actually, seriously view Osho as “India’s greatest spiritual master since the Buddha,” as his organizers like to extol or hype him, which is quite a grandiose claim in the spiritual marketplace. Yet a number of us see Rajneesh/Osho quite differently…. Frankly, while he was a very intriguing and in some ways quite helpful figure within the Divine dream, because of his very serious personal shortcomings and flawed way of teaching, I just don’t think Osho warrants mention in the same breath as evidently far more authentic spiritual masters including Gautama the Buddha, Jesus, Antony of Egypt, Atisha, Kobo Daishi, Milarepa, Jnaneshvar, Rumi, Chinul, Dogen, Bankei, Hakuin, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Moshe Cordovero, the Baal Shem Tov, Seraphim of Sarov (et al.), and widely visited and well documented figures of the modern era like Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna, Narayana Guru, Hazrat Babajan, Shirdi Sai Baba, Meher Baba, Shaikh al-Alawi, Padre Pio, Swami Gnanananda, Bhagavan Nityananda, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Anandamayi Ma, Anasuya Devi, Hsu Yun, Hsuan Hua, Taungpulu Sayadaw, Ajahn Chah, Songchol Kun Sunim, Daehaeng Kun Sunim, Dhilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and many other luminaries.
(A really thorough examination of all the crimes committed by a group of over 30 Rajneesh insiders, starting with his chief-of-staff Sheela whom he empowered to help run his religion from 1981 to 1985, along with many other unsavory details about the Rajneesh movement from the 1970s onward, is The Oregonian newspaper’s voluminous 20-part series in mid-1985 by Les Zaitz et al., “For Love & Money,” and their 7-part followup in Dec. 1985, “On the Road Again,” plus their updated 5-part series in April 2011, “Rajneeshees in Oregon—The Untold Story,” all articles archived at www.oregonlive.com/rajneesh/.)
About this man Rajneesh/Osho there was a lot of laughter, loquacity, occasional eloquence, some real insight, and an immensely potent and hypnotic energy. But sadly, there was also a lot of lunacy, immense dysfunction, and astonishing selfishness, pettiness, megalomania, callousness and corruption. He was/is remarkably interesting as a sensual ecstatic, intuitive mystic, unlicensed psychotherapist of en masse primal scream-cry-laugh “dynamic meditation” therapy, rebellious social-political-religious provocateur, successful self-promoter, cosmic joker, and relentless iconoclast who simultaneously lured his emotionally-dependent followers into making a big icon out of himself. Though numerous Rajneeshees will claim, using vague or dubious criteria, that their guru was “fully enlightened” (Rajneesh certainly claimed this for himself) and that he enlightened them, too, with his counsels and his “special energy,” the bulk evidence indicates that Rajneesh/Osho left a mixed or even tragic legacy.
This legacy involved…
–very misleading or imbalanced teachings as well as quite helpful wisdom,
–some really bad advice along with genuinely good counsels,
–a slew of lies about himself and his movement,
–dozens of glaring errors in his discussions of world religions and other subjects,
–personal role-modeling of voracious materialist greed and conniving ambition for fame and power,
–narcissistic ego-inflation along with authoritarian power-plays and lack of empathy,
–intellectual dishonesty and petty oneupsmanship tactics,
–a hypocritical inability to live what he preached (e.g., telling everyone to “go beyond the mind” while talking for tens of thousands of hours from a heavily opinionated and error-prone mind; preaching that the enlightened one lives in tension-free ease viewing life as a play while he himself frequently used laughing gas/nitrous oxide and valium to the point of incoherence, said some of his closest people),
–a penchant by Rajneesh and his appointed leaders for deceitful spinning or rationalizing nearly every time they were confronted on anything of importance,
–heavy solicitations and numerous scams by his appointed leaders to fleece his followers and their families of as much of their money and possessions as possible (especially from 1980 onward),
–crushing work-loads for exploited disciples (routinely 15-18 hours, 7 days a week), at the Oregon ranch in USA from 1981-5,
–a commune at Poona, India and then one in Oregon often buzzing with ecstatic excitement and groovy sensuality but also debauched by wanton sex (and countless venereal diseases),
–a several-year period of violence at Poona and branch-communes worldwide (resulting in bruises, blood, even broken bones and rapes) until it was banned by the Rajneesh Foundation in 1979,
–and diverse criminal activity from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s in both India and Oregon.
The crimes, as recounted by former disciples, included drug running, swindling and prostitution by many ashramites to pay for their lengthy stays in India or funnel money to the commune; extensive immigration fraud and tax fraud conducted by Rajneesh and Foundation leaders in India and then the USA; currency and gold smuggling when they moved to the USA in 1981; a slew of frivolous lawsuits launched to harass and intimidate local Oregon citizens from 1982-1985; failing to pay many of their loans in the USA; arson (one incident in India to defraud an insurance company, another arson attack in USA to destroy county records), racketeering, burglary, assault, conspiracy and illegal electronic surveillance (the largest such wiretapping-bugging operation ever uncovered); criminal bioterrorism sickenings of some 750 Oregonians and attempted assassinations of select outsiders and insiders in 1984-1985 by some of Rajneesh’s top circle of people, led by his authorized lieutenant, Ma Sheela; and intermittent poisonings of scores if not hundreds of Rajneesh sannyasins from the late 1970s until Sheela and her “Dr. Mengele” Ma Puja left in 1985. In all, just assessing the illegal activity in the USA from 1981-1985 (not to mention earlier crimes in India), 32 Rajneeshees were charged with crimes in Oregon; 23 pleaded guilty; 2 were convicted at trial; 4 still remain fugitives; 8 served prison time.
The Rajneesh legacy also includes…
–deliberately divided and broken families,
–serial noncommittal relationships,
–sham marriages to defy immigration laws,
–mass abortions and sterilizations of women (many suffering from surgical complications) and vasectomies for men all ordered by the guru,
–a few thousand very neglected children,
–and, for too many periods of time, neglect by Rajneesh of the spiritual welfare and bodily-emotional-financial welfare of tens of thousands of young adults and older disciples who had given to this mesmerizing little man so much of their lives—their souls, minds, energy, money and years of labor.The majority of these disciples never or only rarely complained, having been brainwashed to regard all the manipulation, neglect and/or abuse as a “test,” a “game,” a “big joke” by the Bhagwan and his elites.
May his soul and all souls be in supreme peace and clarity in the One Divine Self!
I heartfully apologize in advance to those faithful followers of Rajneesh/Osho for spending so much time at this webpage focusing on the dark “shadow” aspect of the clearly “two-faced” Rajneesh, largely leaving out my appreciation for his brighter, lighter side. My heavy leaning onto the critical side is to balance out the gushing praise of Osho to be found all over the Internet and on the covers for his books, videos and other merchandise prominently on display in countless venues worldwide.
Most disciples of Osho Rajneesh who want to talk about both sides of the man find him a beautiful enigma, as well as a huge blessing in their life. I do not wish to discount or minimize that. At the very least he got multitudes of people to vigorously breathe, move, dance, laugh, cry, sing, feel, drop inhibitions, carefully witness the bodymind, meditate, work hard and give great thanks to the Divine Existence! While many of these persons will openly admit as true most of the serious flaws and foibles pointed out by his critics who’ve dared to speak publicly (such critics—including ex-Rajneeshee disciples Hugh Milne, Satya Bharti Franklin, Deeksha/Maria Grazia Mori, James Gordon, Julian Lee, Kate Strelley, and Christopher Calder—are quoted at some length at this webpage), the faithful disciples nevertheless gloss over or rationalize away the problematic aspects as being “irrelevant” or some kind of Gurdjieff-style “testing of disciples’ egolessness.” They still prefer to express tremendous gratitude and appreciation for all that they learned and received from Rajneesh over their months or years with this “gifted” and “remarkable” man, as several of his devotees have described him in their emails to me, a few of which i will reproduce later at this webpage.
Many of these disciples and fans of Osho Rajneesh further wonder why anyone should be at all interested to critique the unwholesome and unsavory aspects of the long-deceased “Bhagwan,” when the only thing really important in life, so they say, is “living from freedom in the moment” and “living from the heart, not the head.” For the record, while Rajneesh himself very often made this artificial and misleading distinction, he is also on record as more wisely saying: “My way has been described as that of the heart, but it is not true. The heart will give you all kinds of imaginings, hallucinations, illusions, sweet dreams—but it cannot give you the truth. The truth is behind both [head and heart]; it is your consciousness, which is neither head nor heart.” (Quoted in P.T. Mistlberger, Three Dangerous Magi: Osho, Gurdjieff, Crowley, p. 346)
Former disciple Christopher Schnelle, in a long post on March 3, 2006 for the generally pro-Rajneesh forum rebelliousspirit.com, has written, in part, “What is more important – truth or feeling good?… I am writing about Osho because his lies and his deceit caused an enormous amount of pain for a lot of beautiful people. Most of these beautiful people have no idea that a sophisticated fraud was perpetrated on them and blame themselves for their deteriorating mental and physical health. Many of my [Rajneeshee neo-]sannyasin friends have great trouble sustaining this illusory happy fog and are taking more and more desperate measures to continue feeling good.” (The entirety of Schnelle’s post is quoted in a later section here.)
At the same forum, Christopher Calder, Rajneesh’s second Western disciple in the early 1970s, wrote on Oct. 19, 2005 and Aug. 18, 2007, “The Web is full of phony Osho propaganda sites that simply ignore all the scandals and the history of the cult. Most of the tell-all books are out of print and hard to find…. Will the next big cult use germ warfare as the Osho cult did, chemical warfare as the Aum Shinrikyo cult did? Or perhaps the next religious cult will graduate to nuclear warfare? Who knows? If human beings never learn that blind and unquestioning obedience to one ‘perfect Master’ or leader is dangerous and anti-evolutionary, then we will only have more disasters. […] I am not saying Rajneesh was a complete fraud in the sense that he had nothing to offer. I just draw a clear line between what was good about him and where he went wrong, so that others in the future will not make the same tragic mistakes.”
Calder has also written: “Ask yourself this question. What does the average Mafia crime boss or corrupt dictator want most? The answer is millions of dollars, absolute power, a harem of women, and a daily supply of booze or drugs. Now ask yourself what did Rajneesh want and get? The answer is millions of dollars, absolute power, a harem of women, and a daily supply of drugs. Rajneesh used myths of the occult and his natural ability to influence people to achieve the same goals. He could look you directly in the eye and lie without flinching, and that helped him become a financially successful guru.”
PLEASE NOTE: Taking off from Calder’s remark, I would like to add a crucial observation…. Even more than the notable Mafia bosses, dictators and their ilk, who often exude a formidable, palpable animal magnetism, Rajneesh / Osho was known by his sannyasins to be surrounded by an extremely potent and influential energy field that could put people into temporary altered states of consciousness (ASCs) and even deep trances. But Rajneesh is certainly not alone in this. My M.A. thesis in graduate school back in 1983 focused on the cross-cultural, widespread set of phenomena associated with figures from religious history East and West, ancient and contemporary, who are felt to be the source of this unusual energy that gets variously called Shaktipat by the Hindu Tantrikas (bestowal of the Divine Shakti energy), the Charismata Power of the Spirit by Christians (from Jesus and early followers to medieval monasteries to modern-era Pentecostal and Charismatic circles), the Baraka or Berekah blessing force around many Muslim Sufi and Jewish mystics, the Wang empowerments around certain Tibetan Buddhist lamas, the Ch’i or Ki energy around meditation masters and martial artists of China and Japan, the Mana energy around Polynesian shamans and called by various names around other shamans and shamanesses in indigenous tribes found worldwide.
What also became clear to me in my extensive research back then and over the years since then is that such potent, palpable energy or vital force can come through scoundrels as well as saints and sages. It’s for this reason, for example, that early and later Christian leaders ranging from St. Paul to St. John of the Cross were very, very cautious before labeling such energy a clear, pure manifestation of God. Jesus’ criterion, “By their fruits you shall know them” became paramount, and in many cases Christian sages were carefully watching and feeling with their own charismatic power of “discerning spirits” to determine if the source of the dazzling energy in themselves or others was Divine or demonic or somewhere in between. The same kind of careful spiritual discernment regarding unusual potent energies and miracles and other manifestations has occurred among the wisest spiritual leaders of our sacred traditions, from the ancient time of the Upanishad’s sages and the Buddha to the present time. It’s well known to the true sages that powerful but ultimately confused, constricted discarnate entities regarded as “demons” or “titans” (Skt.: asura, rakshasa, etc.) can create such electric energies through human beings as a way of then “feeding” on the aroused emotions and psychic states of the hordes of people who surround the human channel. That’s why many Zen masters often warned their students to simply regard all unusual states and energies as makyo, distracting “diabolical phenomena,” and instead wake up to the Open, Infinite Awareness, the formless “Big Self” or pristine “Buddha-Nature.”
In concluding this point: Just because a charismatic figure is felt to be a powerhouse of energy creating altered states of consciousness in people does NOT mean the figure should be viewed as a perfected spiritual master or venerated as “Divine,” except in the larger spiritual view that all phenomena and beings and worlds are manifestations of the formless, infinite-eternal Divine. Not to be capable of wisely distinguishing “powers and principalities” is to be vulnerable to delusions and pitfalls.
In the case of Rajneesh, therefore, we can surely affirm that he was somehow a source or a channel, especially from the mid-1960s until some time in the 1970s (after which it’s hard to determine whether it was Rajneesh or the group-energy of thousands of people responsible), for a very powerful Shaktipat energy that created dramatic effects in numerous persons around him. But what was the long-term effect of all this energy? Yes, there was evidently and undeniably a lot of good! But there were also a lot of “not-so-good” consequences dark and painful. So, to reiterate Jesus’ statement: “By their fruits you shall know them.”
Now, for an alternate, “bigger picture” context, in a hopefully-clarifying threefold model I have presented elsewhere (click here to read more extensively), we can say it is 1) Absolutely true that “nothing is really happening,” that all manifestation is “dream-like” and ultimately “empty” because there is only God, only Absolute Being-Awareness-Bliss, the One Alone, the all-transcending and unmanifest Spirit. 2) A step down from this strictly nondual “Absolute-truth level” (paramarthika-satya) of the ONE Alone to the “blessed many” is what we might call the “psychic-soul” truth-level in which “whatever happens in the manifest worlds is perfect,” because all souls are sooner or later coming Home to perfect virtue and Divine awakening from soul-hood into Spirit, so that there’s fundamentally nothing “wrong” or “problematic.” 3) Finally, more pragmatically and usefully, there is the mundane, “conventional-truth level” (vyavaharika-satya) involving the play of opposites, crucially including justice-injustice, true-false, good-evil, appropriate-inappropriate, skillful-unskillful. All three of these levels (Absolute truth, psychic-soul truth, and mundane conventional truth) are simultaneously true within this overall Nondual (Advaita) Reality. One level is Absolutely True, the other two levels are “relatively true” or “experientially true” within the play of the many.
Losing the capacity to distinguish these three levels is a mark of great folly, not enlightened wisdom. And so, for instance, to excuse or overlook injustices occurring in the Rajneesh movement or elsewhere on this planet because “whatever happens is perfect” or because “this is all a dream, there’s only God” is a tragic confusing of levels, and makes a mockery of the courageous work of all those who have ever endeavored to bring truth in place of lies, healing in place of harm, justice in place of injustice.
Hence, at this long webpage, various voices will be heard speaking intelligently and yes, critically, of someone who maintained for many years that he was the “fully enlightened One” (and, for a limited time, “the only enlightened One”), before he himself said it was all a role, an act, a “big joke.” This webpage exists for the sake of truth and accountability, setting the record straight, and also as a big cautionary for all those sincere persons who might currently or in the future be seduced by similar charismatically glamorous preachers and hucksters posing as the Enlightened One.
Real spirituality, real freedom and real heart-love is invaluably precious, sublime, wholesome and holy, not at all mediocre or muddled as so many have made it and exploited it for personal gain.
Rajneesh stated numerous times to the world media in the mid 1980s that he wanted people to either love him or hate him—even the hatred, he said, would be a useful energy that would ultimately bring people to Rajneesh. In my own case, I certainly don’t hate Rajneesh. I love him like a brother, albeit a wayward brother in his very flawed personal expressions. Verily “his” real Self, “my” real Self, and “your” real Self is just THIS ONE SELF, the I AM THAT AM, Unborn Being, Open Awareness, Infinite Shapeless Formless Aliveness that delights in playing as all these shapes and forms. What a spectacular Divine play! Rajneesh is one very quirky expression of this play.
I first read a few of Rajneesh’s earliest little books and a quite favorable biography (The Awakened One, by Vasant Joshi) from 1978-1982 while in graduate school and in India for several months in 1980-1 researching psychological and spiritual traditions and meeting authentic sages, saints and adepts. In the early 1980s I also saw a short film of excerpts from one of Rajneesh’s talks, and was able to see first-hand his hypnotically slow, coy, seductive, and provocative manner of speech and body language, with his strange way of hissing like a snake the “s” sounds at the end of many of his words, and often widening his eyes into an intimidating glare. I wasn’t very impressed with Rajneesh, especially compared to some of the really tremendous spiritual adepts of past and present whom i had read about or met in person (see the rest of this website). I did enjoy Rajneesh’s wild sense of wacky humor, often hilarious!—though author Tim Guest (who grew up in several dysfunctional Rajneesh communes) says that Rajneesh cribbed many of his best jokes from Playboy magazine, and too many of his jokes, alas, were ugly slurs on ethnic and racial groups or just tiresome “juvenile scatological humor,” as journalist Rohit Arya has assessed it, such as Rajneesh’s long comedic essay on the “magical” word “F*ck,” and his concluding, quite silly and likely sarcastic admonition that one should wake up each morning and say “F*ck you” five times (the entire routine from 1984, read by Rajneesh from a script, is viewable at www.youtube.com/watch?v=6D7rWLzloOI&feature=related).
In the very interesting book, Life of Osho (1997), by “Sam” (the late Paritosh/Chris Gray), which is suppressed by the official Osho movement because it’s by far the most candid of the pro-Osho books, “Sam” claims that Rajneesh’s crude, nasty joke-telling dates from around 1980 and continued into the late 1980s. Sam/Paritosh neatly rationalizes it as being Rajneesh’s way of destroying his own image in the eyes of followers so that they would not keep him on a pedestal. “Osho started to play the part of charlatan. This was the time he started to tell whole slews of dirty jokes in the lecture. Osho had always used jokes in discourse, both as a means of making a point and as a rhetorical trick to inject a momentary burst of energy. But by the end of old Poona [the first ashram] he had sannyasins researching them for him, and he no longer made any attempt to ‘tell’ them; he just read out whole batches of them…. They were frequently quite filthy – racist, sexist, and unfunny… When you think how famous Osho was becoming, how people were crossing half-way round the world to hear him speak on ‘spiritual’ life, this barrage of diabolically unfunny dirty jokes was becoming something more than an oratorical device. The whole performance was bordering on Dada [i.e., surreal]…. In retrospect you can see that Osho was already trying to undermine his own Church – to undermine the reflex of worship on which it was built. ‘Will you make a religion out of my jokes?’ he asked, in one of his lectures from early 1981. The answer, of course, was a resounding yes; – and the dirty jokes were to be no more than the first of a whole series of ‘devices’ on which he embarked, and which were designed to sabotage any attempt to make him spiritually – or socially – acceptable.” (p. 121)
This is all nicely rationalized by “Sam”/Paritosh, but the fuller truth is that Rajneesh/Osho, while undercutting himself on occasion, also found various ways (as we shall learn) to keep himself up on that pedestal as the “enlightened master,” well above his kow-towing followers in spiritual status.
Rajneesh often seemed to be like a naughty little boy running wild in the theater of universal consciousness, “indulging his beingness,” as great sage Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj might put it. That’s why neither myself nor any savvy spiritual friends or mentors took Rajneesh seriously in the late 1970s into the 1980s, and none of us felt any draw to go see him or his followers at either Poona in India or Rancho Rajneesh in Oregon.
When I started reading his works in the late 1970s, I appreciated the occasional good spiritual insight or well-turned phrase in Rajneesh’s brash and eclectic teachings on awareness, witnessing, dis-identification, self-inquiry, inconclusiveness, and spontaneous action without the doer-sense.
Yet such teachings were clearly influenced in most of the essential points and even the specific vocabulary and phrasing by the talks and writings of Indian sage J. Krishnamurti (1895-1986), the ancient Taoist and Zen masters, and other sages whose books Rajneesh had read, including popularizers like Alan Watts and the very curious character G.I. Gurdjieff (c.1872-1949). In Sam/Paritosh’s Life of Osho, he finds extensive similarities in the situational approaches used by Rajneesh and the Greek-Armenian mystic and trickster figure Gurdjieff. (Christopher Calder finds Rajneesh compares unfavorably to Gurdjieff due to his far heavier amount of self-indulgence and narcissism.) Rajneesh bogusly insisted to one interviewer, “Nobody has been an influence on me—neither a teacher, nor a professor, nor a saint, a religious leader, a political leader.” (The Last Testament, vol. 1, ch. 23) Yet elsewhere he admitted to an interviewer, “I am immensely connected with the Gurdjieffian system of thought.” (Ibid., vol. 2, ch. 28) Not just ideas, but Gurdjieff’s practice of “testing the disciple,” no matter how rudely or harshly, was a major element in Rajneesh’s approach to fellow human beings. On other occasions he openly admitted his great love for the teachings of Taoist sages Lao-tzu, Chuang-tzu and various Zen masters and poets like Basho. He would never fully admit the influence of Jiddu Krishnamurti, but evidence of that influence is available in abundance from Rajneesh’s early preaching career.
Because Rajneesh, except when explicitly commenting on a text, rarely credited his sources, many of his disciples then and now think this was Rajneesh/Osho’s “great wisdom” expressing so eloquently about “choiceless awareness,” “freedom from the known,” “the wisdom of insecurity,” “living and flowing in the now,” “just being nobody, not becoming anybody,” etc., when in fact he was simply borrowing or pilfering other people’s phrases and passing them off as his own thoughts. (By the way, those first three phrases, oft-used in early Rajneesh talks, come straight from J. Krishnamurti.)
But there were, alas, even more colossal problems with many of the teachings and personality characteristics of this so-called “spiritual master” or “God-man,” as many thought him to be. (Rajneesh in 1985 clearly disavowed the “God-man” title.) Just on the level of the teachings, it is clear that Rajneesh, who admitted that his favorite activity in childhood and adolescence was “to argue” (he once won an all-India debate contest), often delighted in expressing an unconventional viewpoint, regardless of whether it was truly enlightening. Rajneesh is lauded by followers and fans for his “brilliance” and “originality,” but to questions on diverse topics he often responded just in a cleverly contrarian and quirky manner that is far more sophistry than sophia/wisdom.
When, in Summer 1985, he was grilled over three months of nightly interviews with different members of the local and foreign media as to what he was teaching and promoting, Rajneesh often stated that his goal was to help his people get free of all religious, nationalist, and other narrow programming, throw away the past, and, through inquiry and witnessing, to doubt everything until they had arrived at the basic truth of unconditioned consciousness and awakeness. And that this could then be lived through a life of work-as-worship, creating, dancing, singing, platonic love, sexuality, and simple meditation on existence and gratitude for existence. It’s a lovely vision, even though Rajneesh often surrounded this simple basic ideal with a lot of demented diatribe.
Much of what Rajneesh promoted over the decades was an unrestrained, uninhibited “feel-good spirituality,” heavily oriented to what I have elsewhere categorized as the “Sensual Ecstatic” temperament in a schema of 12 temperaments. This sensual ecstatic orientation and the fulfillment of various desires is still quite evident at the re-named Osho Meditation Resort in Poona, India, which enjoys a reputation of being the most sensual “party commune” in all India, maybe in the entire world.
But does this path of fulfilling desires truly liberate one from the grossest and subtlest forms of attachment, aversion, and delusion? Many of his disciples still faithful to him in spirit will argue “YES!” Many of the rest of us beg to differ. The illustrious, venerable sage, Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) of Tiruvannamalai, South India, made it clear over the years to different questioners that trying to reach desirelessness by indulging desires (even if witnessing the desires during the process) is like trying to put out a fire by pouring kerosene onto it. Ramana, Nisargadatta, the Buddha, and many other authentic sages and texts have warned that indulging desires and other tendencies like anger, violence, etc., only etches a deeper groove of unwholesome samskara habit-patterns or tendencies in the deep psyche. This is not the way of genuine freedom, but further enmeshment in the problematic attachments and aversions which fuel the delusion of a separate self and drive the unconscious rounds of rebirth (samsara) in the Divine dream-play of life.
To his credit, I surmise from certain things Rajneesh said that he himself, in clearer moments, knew that people must let go their attachments to be truly free, truly awake, which is why he often puts such a strong emphasis on witnessing whatever state is arising. And yet, and yet… Because he so often also spoke of desirable persons and sensual experiences as object-like entities to be enjoyed by “the new man,” it seems he was also repeatedly and insidiously seducing his listeners right back into the limited dream of “pleasure me with goodies.”
Rajneesh/Osho wasn’t constrained to only express what I term the “sensual ecstatic temperament.” He occasionally taught India’s ancient sagely way of nondual (advaita) realization through the traditional approach of deconstructive wisdom, radical witnessing and thorough self-inquiry based on top of his dubious psychotherapy of relentless catharsis or release of “layers of repression.” So, at least in his emphasis on nonduality, he was certainly also of the “intuitive mystic” temperament, as I have outlined it in that 12-fold schema.
Unfortunately, it’s evidently the case, at least toward the end of his teaching career in the late 1980s, Osho fell headlong into an extreme form of the Buddha’s “no self” teaching (all-too-common among many “sophisticated” Buddhists who’ve never thoroughly studied the Buddha’s own teaching), which denies any functional individuality, morality, law of karma and its rebirth consequences. The Buddha himself, the world’s greatest ancient sage of deconstructive wisdom, always upheld sila or virtuous morality (it’s the basic part of the Buddha’s “triple training” also including meditative samadhi and prajna wisdom). And the Buddha adamantly warned that this extreme “no self” position such as taught by Rajneesh and others is none other than the heresy of nihilism (the polar opposite of the “eternalism” heresy, the belief in the permanent, eternal existence of an entity-like “soul”). The Buddha’s “Middle Way” teaching is far subtler than either nihilism or eternalism. The fact that Rajneesh/Osho often did not usefully distinguish (as did the Buddha, Nagarjuna, Sankara, Ramana Maharshi, and other consummate sages) between an Absolute Truth-level teaching and a conventional or pragmatic level of instruction does not speak well for the supposed spiritual or intellectual “brilliance” that Osho’s followers claim for him.
There’s something else quite noticeable about Rajneesh in contrast to the truly impressive sages of our era and the past. He’s always presuming that he is spiritually awake and everyone else is spiritually asleep (except some of his neo-sannyasins). One can find countless examples of this arrogant hubris in his talks and interviews. And he allowed disciples to likewise print outlandishly over-blown praise of himself. For instance, back in 1970 Rajneesh disciple Swami Yoga Chinmaya (Kriyananda), who helped Rajneesh teach classes for rich Indian businessman at various meditation camps, extolled Rajneesh in the following inflated words, which in retrospect look ridiculously bogus: “Acharya Rajneesh is an Enlightened One, who has become one with Infinity, the Totality. He is NOT, but the Infinity breathes through him. He is not a person but the Divinity personified. Transcendental Truth shines every moment through him…. He is not living in Cosmic Consciousness, but has become the Cosmic Consciousness itself…. He lives beyond Cosmos, beyond Being—in No-Being, in No-thingness, in Great Void—Nirvana.” (“Acharya Rajneesh: A Glimpse,” preface to Acharya Rajneesh, Flight of the Alone to the Alone, Bombay, 1970)
Even though by 1985 Rajneesh was publicly denying all such claims and projections about himself, calling himself just “an ordinary man,” he nevertheless still maintained that he was “awake” and “you are not awake, you are asleep.” And to committed disciples like his caretaker-girlfriend Vivek (who once asked him point blank at darshan about this), he still insisted he was their “master,” not just their “fellow traveler.” Perhaps Rajneesh was publicly talking to the press in this new, “humbler” vein because the truth had gotten out about his big attachments to expensive toys, his drug usage, his earlier sexual misconduct with female disciples, his depression (we hear that he was contemplating suicide at several points in the early 1980s), his poor choice of Sheela as authoritarian head of his new religion of “godliness not god,” and his inability to muster up the energy to properly lead his huge flock of followers.
It seems that Rajneesh exploited this oneupsmanship stance of being “the Awake One” to whom everyone should “surrender” as a license to say and do whatever he wanted, because whatever he said or did could then be rationalized as a “shock to wake you up,” as he often said (e.g., in many of those interviews with the world media in Summer 1985, as recorded in The Last Testament). All of his foibles, his outrageously bigoted or childish public statements, his personal fascination with collecting Rolls Royces and fancy clothes, pens, watches and jewelry—the entire load of malarkey could all be rationalized as the Great Awakened One’s way of “shocking you into awakeness out of your longstanding sleep.”
Authentic sages, however, don’t spend so much time focusing on everyone else’s “unawake” sleep condition and then presuming to have the license to awaken you. No, true sages quite lovingly and magnanimously see that YOU are already none other than the One Self in Your True Identity, Your Real Nature, prior to the rising-passing bodymindego identity. In other words, the generous basic assumption of authentic sages is that YOU (the Supra-personal YOU) are actually “always already Awake” as the Self-same Open Awareness. “I am Awareness, You are Awareness, there is just this One Awareness.”
But for Rajneesh, the chronic presumption was “I am awake, you are asleep,” and that “you have a really big layer of repression and conditioning that you must work on for several hours each day by performing my dynamic meditations and witnessing.” This is a Gurdjieffian model, and, as noted, Rajneesh admitted that his approach was strongly related to Gurdjieff’s work. I really do like it when Rajneesh speaks often of the need for clearing out old, limiting programming from the personal consciousness, and that he is not going to try to re-program you with anything, but rather leave you to be inspired and motivated and energized by Existence Itself.
However, the authentically nondual, sagely traditions declare that, whereas the liberation of the personal consciousness is indeed all about freedom from unwholesome, defining, binding samskara tendencies of attachment-aversion-delusion, the deepest, timeless Truth (an Absolute-level teaching) is “YOU ARE THE SUPRA-PERSONAL REALITY, the Unborn, Changeless, Absolute Being-Awareness-Bliss. YOU are NOT the bodymindego and its old conditioning.” To clarify further: a sage certainly sees the need for the personal consciousness to be purified, refined, liberated and awakened, but all of that is part of the phenomenal dream-life, the play of manifestation… YOU, the real YOU, the Supra-personal or prior-to-personal, unmanifest Reality are ever-pure, ever-free, ever-awake OPEN AWARENESS, ORIGINAL ISNESS, BOUNDLESS, SHAPELESS, FORMLESS ALIVENESS. There’s nothing fundamentally “wrong” with WHO YOU REALLY ARE.
But Rajneesh had not mastered the art of spiritual instruction whereby he could speak on both the level of Absolute Truth (paramarthika satya) and the conventional level (vyavaharika satya). And so he dupes a lot of people in his talks with the one-sided chronic presumption that they are asleep and he is the Awake One, the Blessed One, the incomparable “Bhagwan.” This is a oneupsmanship tactic, and it puts people in a deferential “kow-tow” relationship to him. It’s that presumption that Rajneesh was awake and enlightened and that just about everyone else on the planet was NOT which led multitudes of people to give up so much of their time, energy and money to serve him and and be used by him to further grow his movement.
Along this line, Rajneesh’s claim that he was not going to “re-program” you with new conditioning after he had “unprogrammed” you turns out to have been a false claim given the massive devotional focus on the person of the “perfectly enlightened Bhagwan” and the need to “surrender” to him that was reinforced by himself and by his elites in the Rajneesh communes at every turn.
The staunch defenders of Rajneesh play a nasty game of trying to accuse any of the “Bhagwan’s” critics of suffering from “Ego.” They rationalize, like their teacher, that whatever Rajneesh did was “to provoke you,” in the same manner as a Gurdjieff “mystery school.” But there’s a huge presumption of “entitlement” here on Rajneesh’s part. As the old quip goes, “who died and made him God??” By what right does Rajneesh get to “provoke” everyone whenever and however he wants but he and his elite sannyasins are NEVER to be provoked by anyone else?
Rajneesh sannyasins always insist that “Rajneesh was fully enlightened,” therefore he can do whatever he wishes and it’s automatically “enlightened behavior.” But such chronic rationalizing badly “begs the question,” two major questions, actually: 1) Was Rajneesh really “fully enlightened” and demonstrating a real enlightenment in his interactions with others? and 2) Does supposed “enlightenment” give anyone the right to lure in, exploit and mistreat followers, or have those followers mistreat other persons? The latter (twofold) question can definitely be answered “No” by any reasonable person of sound ethics. And the authentic spiritual traditions would fully agree.
On the question of Rajneesh’s own alleged “enlightenment” and personal example, it has been documented by some of his close former disciples that this dear soul Rajneesh/Osho suffered from all kinds of attachment, aversion and delusion. And so by the Buddha’s own definitions of enlightenment—e.g., his “7 enlightenment factors” and his progressive model of freedom from the ten fetters (Rajneesh seems stuck on several of these fetters, such as sensual desire, ill will, passion for form, conceit, and certain kinds of insidiously subtle ignorance), and other models of enlightenment established in several Buddhist, Vedanta, Tantra and Taoist traditions, NO, Rajneesh was NOT enlightened.
We’ll briefly look at the testimony of just one important figure here: a seriously disillusioned Italian disciple, Deeksha/Maria Grazia Mori. She ran the posh restaurant and then also the main canteen at Poona One in the mid-to-late 1970s, and next to Laxmi was Rajneesh’s top fundraiser and certainly his top moneymaker at the ashram; Deeksha/Mori was second or third highest “power broker,” after Laxmi and then Sheela. Rajneesh publicly praised her in no uncertain terms at Poona, at least on one occasion calling her an incredible “Zen master” (Kate Strelley, The Ultimate Game, p. 259), given Deeksha’s unusual capacity to catalyze immense change and creativity in people around her, taking better care of many Rajneesh sannyasins than the ashram did, but also testing people’s reactivity and their equanimity. (E.g., once Deeksha deliberately ripped Kate Strelley’s dress right up the seam, then immediately took her arm-in-arm to go buy Kate an extensive, expensive new wardrobe.) In June 1981 after Rajneesh came to the USA, Deeksha/Maria finally had twice-daily close contact with him and served as his personal shopper. For the first time she directly experienced his voracious materialist demands—for Rolls Royces, expensive hats, clothing, watches and jewelry, as well as witnessing his other deluded tendencies like cruelty and manipulation. She left a few months later, shortly after the move to Oregon: “I realized that he was a jerk. I realized that he was not enlightened,” as she told reporters for The Oregonian (part 6 of 20-part series, July 1985).
Around 1986, Deeksha’s friend and fellow former sannyasin Satya Bharti Franklin, chief editor and ghostwriter for Rajneesh in the early years of Bombay and Poona, heard much more sordid revelations from Deeksha/Maria: “Her years with Bhagwan (whom she now pointedly referred to as ‘Rajneesh’) had been a mistake…. In three hours of impassioned conversation, she told me countless anecdotes about drug deals, bribes, and hit lists of [Rajneesh] sannyasins who were to be ‘taken care of’ if they ever defected. ‘We can’t do what he wants!’ she’d protest vehemently to Sheela after their daily meetings with Bhagwan in New Jersey [at the castle near Montclair, where he first settled in the USA in June 1981 before heading to the Oregon ranch-commune in late August]. ‘Don’t worry,’ Sheela would laugh back, unperturbed. ‘We’ll claim we were brainwashed if we’re caught. They won’t be able to touch us. I’ll have proof that he was behind everything,’ showing Deeksha the recording devices she hid on herself whenever she was with Bhagwan. For all his professed love of Jewish people, Deeksha confided to me bitterly, Bhagwan was virulently anti-Semitic. ‘Jews are so ugly,’ he’d remark after private conferences with rich Jewish sannyasins at the castle [in New Jersey]…. ‘Such ugly noses Jews have.’… ‘His adulation of Hitler was disgusting,’ Deeksha insisted. ‘He used to boast to Sheela and me that he’d succeed where Hitler failed.’ ‘He wants to take over the world…. He’d swallow valiums and quaaludes by the handful, close his eyes and babble away to himself about how the world would be at his feet soon. Presidents and prime ministers would come to him. He’d be the power behind them…. He used to say the same thing in India. That Tibetans would come to him; the whole of China; Europe would be at his feet; Christians, Muslims, Jews…. The man’s a megalomaniac.’ The Bhagwan whom Deeksha saw in daily intimate encounters at the end of Poona and in New Jersey was coarse, avaricious, cruel and demanding. He wasn’t the Master she’d fallen in love with [in the early 1970s]. She’d witnessed him beating [his longtime female companion] Vivek…. ‘He’s an impotent, dirty old man,’ she [Deeksha] insisted, claiming she’d been one of many women he’d had sex with in Bombay [in the early 1970s]. ‘A voyeur,’ allegedly ordering various ma’s [female disciples] to make love to Vivek while he watched. ‘Ask Kavi [Franklin’s pseudonym for a member of Rajneesh’s private household at Poona and one of his chosen “mediums”] if you don’t believe me.’… Despite my resistance to Deeksha’s words, they had the unmistakable ring of authenticity.” (Satya Bharti Franklin, The Promise of Paradise: A Woman’s Intimate Story of the Perils of Life with Rajneesh, 1992, pp. 323-4)
Further testimony from Deeksha comes from other sources, combined in Uday Mehta’s Modern Godmen in India (p. 121): “Rajneesh was becoming increasingly violent, coercive and deceitful. She [Deeksha] admitted that, even in Pune, Rajneesh encouraged and permitted ‘everything,’ including prostitution and even drug dealing, as long as it brought him money. Deeksha claimed she had seen Rajneesh beat Ma Vivek badly. She also knew that the ashram hierarchy had instigated the [arson] fires at the [Poona ashram’s Rajneesh book] warehouse and clinic…. In the US, she was horrified by the glimpses of her guru during her twice daily private meetings with Rajneesh. She saw his real face, and found it frightening and dangerous. Often, she said, ‘he was high on valium and incoherent. At times he seemed to be praising Hitler, whom he called a “genius,” and Goebbels, whom he declared the “greatest practitioner of mass persuasion.”‘ When he was lucid, reportedly, he taught her and Sheela to maneuver [manipulate] people, to create ‘buffers, little Sheelas, little Deekshas.’ She felt that they were being tied more closely to him by knowledge of criminal activity. Despite this disillusionment, Deeksha continued [for a short time] to stay at the [Oregon] ranch. The decision to drop the guru and the commune was quite difficult and equally painful as she had invested over ten precious years of her life and donated large sums of her money to Rajneesh and his commune. All her friends were there, even her mother was a sannyasin. In Pune [until June 1981 when Rajneesh left] she had hoped that things would be ‘better’ in Oregon and perhaps she might be of help in improving the situation. Within a short time, Deeksha realized that Rajneesh was ‘bored’ with helping people to live the spiritual life. She felt things would never change…. She felt it was time for her to leave. Sheela warned her on her departure, ‘Remember that if you create trouble, I can take care of you [harm you] in twenty-four hours.’ After she left, rumors reached her that she was accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from Sheela’s Swiss bank accounts [which was untrue]. In her distress, she had gone to J. Krishnamurti for help. Krishnamurti, it seems, told her that ‘what he (Rajneesh) is doing to people in the name of spirituality is criminal—you have made a great mistake in giving him [your] power for twelve years, but understand this: No man has power except the power his followers give him. That is why he needs people around him all the time, and the more the better.'”
I do not wish to stigmatize Rajneesh, who is, I will tirelessly repeat, a manifestation of the One Divine Self, as all persons are. But when one-sided, grandiose claims are incessantly advanced that Rajneesh/Osho is the “Enlightened One,” “the Blessed One,” when he himself and his followers audaciously call him a “second Buddha,” when one of these followers even deceitfully published in the 1970s a bogus account of the XVIth Karmapa of Tibetan Buddhism extolling Rajneesh as a second Buddha (see below), and so forth, we need to point out what is obvious to many former close disciples and any neutral observers of the recorded facts and stories about the man: his supposed “enlightenment” is quite suspect. Many more facts presented at this long webpage should set the record straight and expose the gargantuan presumptions of Rajneesh and his avid promoters from the 1960s down to the present day.
On the bogus allegation that Tibet’s illustrious XVIth Karmapa acknowledged Rajneesh as some kind of great “Buddha,” listen to the entire story as reported by P.T. Mistlberger in his generally pro-Osho book, The Three Dangerous Magi: Osho, Gurdjieff, Crowley (2010, pp. 433-4):
“Inevitably his [Rajneesh’s] stature was at times overblown. A good example was a strange legend that began circulating in the 1970s that Osho [Rajneesh] had been recognized by the 16th Karmapa of Tibet, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924-1981). A disciple of Osho’s, Swami Govind Siddharth, claimed to have had a private audience with the Karmapa (who is head of the Karma Kagyu sect [descended from Milarepa, Marpa, Naropa and Tilopa in the 12th to 13th centuries] and roughly second in overall stature to the Dalai Lama in Tibetan spiritual hierarchy). According to Swami Siddharth, the Karmapa had recognized Osho [Rajneesh] from his photo in Siddharth’s locket as being ‘the greatest incarnation in India since the Buddha and a living Buddha,’ adding that ‘Osho speaks for the Akashic records also, the records of events and words recorded on the astral planes.’ It sounds dubious—Tibetan Buddhism does not recognize teerminology like ‘astral plane’ or ‘akashic records’—these terms are Theosophical and Hindu terms. A close disciple of the 16th Karmapa, Lama Ole Nydahl [his earliest and longtime Western emissary], commented on Swami Siddharth’s claim: ‘Disciples of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh… had just published a book with a few humble claims [—ironic use by Nydahl] that were new to us: that Karmapa had pronounced him the greatest Bodhisattva of all time, the man to bring Buddhist tantra to the West. Karmapa, who did not even know him [Rajneesh], was as diplomatic as possible [in denying that Karmapa had made such claims], but the guru’s disciples [i.e., Rajneesh’s disciples] were not very pleased with his [Karmapa’s] reply. Once again I could only shake my head at the enormous naiveté of people in spiritual matters. It is shocking how readily they give up both discrimination and common sense.’” (Lama Ole Nydahl, Riding the Tiger: Twenty Years on the Road: The Risks and Joys of Bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the West, Nevada City, CA: Blue Dolphin Publ., 1992, p. 127. Rajneesh sannyasin Siddharth’s fabricated account of the alleged message from the Karmapa is to be found at www.sannyasnews.com/Articles/Lama%20Karmapa.html.)
SUMMING UP THUS FAR:
My distinct impression, based on all the evidence I have examined both pro and con (and there is always the possibility that i and other critics could be wrong on certain things!), is that Rajneesh was another shooting star in the spiritual firmament, one of those strange fallen yogis who attain periods of a certain kind of “enlightened freedom.” Such persons become a source or maybe a “channel” for unusual and palpable energies, which lead mesmerized disciples to think they are in the presence of Divinity. But then sooner or later the supposed “Divine energy” diminishes, goes away or turns sour, and such figures become imbalanced and egocentrically full of themselves—narcissistic, proud megalomaniacs, and/or disturbed by one or more other mental-emotional-psychic pathologies about which the Sacred Traditions have always cautioned. Numerous such “fallen” figures abound in the annals of literature.
Much further into this webpage, I will let others report more fully on Rajneesh’s multiple pathologies, e.g., Chris Calder and Ronald Clarke utilizing diagnostic criteria from the mental health field to diagnose him as a narcissist, also suffering from a Napoleonic complex, as Calder maintains. Though, for the record, some of Rajneesh’s faithful disciples, also trained in the mental health professions, deny that Rajneesh ever deserved to be characterized by these diagnoses. Swami Anand Parmartha, for one, wrote to me saying, in part, “I also am fully trained in the conventional mental health field, and as qualified as C. Calder to comment…. I do not share his views at all.” (Email on March 17, 2012)
Before we get to that section, I’ll share numerous further concerns about Rajneesh’s “quirks,” to put it mildly, and then we’ll move through a critical biographical account of his life, his “enlightenment” experience, his relationships and his activities…
May we all be simply awake to our Original Awakeness as the one Divine Reality!
While wading through those extensive Rajneesh interviews with the media from Summer 1985 (compiled in book form as The Last Testament: Interviews with the World Press, 1986), I was struck by a “meta-communication” tactic that he regularly deploys to put himself above these journalists, somewhat akin to that other oneupsmanship tactic of his that I discussed earlier: his arrogant attitude consisting of I’m awake, you’re asleep, therefore I get to say and do anything to shock you into awakeness. The tactic I want to briefly analyze here is this: Rajneesh repeatedly elevates himself above the implicit “fair play” rules of language by frequently saying, when confronted by a journalist on some outrageous statement he’s made, that he’s “not serious” and “always joking” and that he “has no responsibility for anything.”
This is a very nifty though very naughty strategy whereby Rajneesh appropriates for himself an exalted, special realm “above the law” of meaningful discourse. He thereby frees himself from the human conventions of decency, taking license to say (and do) whatever he wants without accountability, beyond reproach. Because if any journalist tries to call him on his extensive bullsh*t, he can always fall back on the rationalizing defense, “I was only joking,” or “I’m not serious.” If this is so, why then should anything he says be taken seriously? Why are any of his talks printed into all those hundreds of books and making tons of money for the Rajneesh/Osho corporations over the decades?
Rajneesh’s way of using or abusing language was, I submit, a naked “power grab,” another way of giving himself power over others. You see, if any of his rank-and-file commune members tried to communicate this way in their everyday work tasks, business dealings and more meaningful social interactions, the entire commune would rapidly break down in dysfunction. If humans don’t mean what they say, if their “word” doesn’t count for anything (and Rajneesh overtly boasted “I am not a man of my word”), then how can we trust one another to be reliable on anything? So even though Rajneesh often tried to insist that he was not on an elite pedestal, that he was “not special,” his selfish appropriation for himself of an elite and irresponsible realm of unique language-use insures that he always gets to be treated specially, beyond reproach. Well, we can reproach him for that. Rajneesh has outrageously said that if he were in Palestine 2000 years ago he would have crucified Jesus at the outset of his ministry…. Being a far less severe person, if I had been at Rajneeshpuram nightly in Summer 1985 with Rajneesh and the visiting journalists, I would have simply liked to blow a referee’s whistle each time he pulled this oneupsmanship stunt and penalize him for his “fouls.” The punishment? Take away and give to poor communities one of his 93 Rolls Royces every time he spoke like this. Within a month, they’d all be gone.
One of the most unsavory elements I recall from my early reading (back in 1980) of Rajneesh’s teachings is not just his massive and unacknowledged borrowing of the ideas of other sages (chiefly Krishnamurti, Gurdjieff and the Taoist and Zen masters), and his sophistry for sophistry’s sake, but his penchant for severely criticizing and dismissing the ideas of great sages like Gautama Buddha, Jesus and Sankara (founder of Advaita Vedanta tradition), while in the process completely misrepresenting the teachings of the Buddha, Jesus, Sankara and others. I thought this was extremely dishonest and corrupt, especially given that Rajneesh had been an academic earlier in life, a philosophy instructor at the collegiate level in India. He should have known better. It’s immoral and base to misrepresent to your students the subtle views of illustrious figures and then to criticize these misrepresented views, thereby elevating yourself to a higher status than the persons criticized. In his talks and dictated writings, Rajneesh often utilizes this dishonest trick, lying in various ways to insure that his followers would see him as spiritually superior to every other figure who had ever appeared in religious history. It’s just another sly tactic whereby Rajneesh gets to be seen by followers as very special, someone to whom you should defer as above you in status.
Rajneesh’s early talks (reproduced in the earliest Indian books and booklets) and later talks are filled not just with some very useful wisdom and occasional brilliance (yes, there’s some really good stuff one can find there!), but also unfortunately laced with gross historical inaccuracies, bungled definitions of key terms from India’s sacred traditions, ridiculously, childishly broad-sweeping and inaccurate generalizations about religion, society and human nature. I’ll go into more of this at some length in a moment.
But here let’s observe that strange Rajneesh mix of self-effacing, feigned “humility” (“I am just an ordinary man who happens to be awake”) with self-inflated boasting. For instance, as Rajneesh in the late 1960s shifted from being merely a provocative preacher and workshop leader on psychology, politics and religion and moved into a more overtly spiritual role as de facto “Guru” to hordes of “disciples,” he needed to legitimize that role with a claim to being “Enlightened.” And so he began to tell certain individuals that he had attained complete ego-death and Enlightenment after meditating in his room and then under a tree on March 21, 1953, though he somehow “kept it a secret” for at least a decade afterward. He only publicly announced it in 1971 after he had begun calling himself and/or letting others call him “Bhagwan” or “Blessed One.” And he sometimes claimed that only one Enlightened Master exists at any particular time, and that, of course, he is “the One” for our era (Hugh Milne, Bhagwan: The God That Failed, 1986). When Rajneesh first arrived in the USA in 1981, descending from the plane he declared (as recalled by former disciple Milne), “I am the Messiah America has been waiting for.” In August 1985, to a Dutch journalist who remarked (perhaps facetiously), “You are a very wise man,” Rajneesh replied, “Of course. The wisest who has walked on this earth.” (The Last Testament, vol. 1, ch. 24) He also often boasted: “I am the beginning of a totally new religious consciousness” (e.g., Ma Prem Shunyo, Diamond Days with Osho, 1992, p.217). Here’s another typically self-obsessed, self-aggrandizing claim: “I am the beginning of a new man, absolutely discontinuous with the past. I have nothing to do with Jesus, Moses, Abraham, Krishna, Buddha. To me they are all dead and of no use for the future new man. In fact they are the barriers for the new man to be born. I am fighting against all those fellows.” (The Last Testament, vol. 1, ch. 4) On August 11, 1985 he boasted: “I am the only alternative in the whole world against all the religions and against all the politicians. Against all nations and against all races [i.e., narrow identifications] I am the only alternative. I stand for the simple human being—I don’t want him to be German… African… American or Russian, I don’t want him to be Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, Mohammedan. All these are meaningless. History is full of all this nonsense, and because of this, man has stopped growing thousands of years before. I want man to be completely clean of the past, so he can become available totally to the present and to the future…. I am taking over the world. There is no other way for humanity to survive.” (Ibid. vol. 1, ch. 25) In Oct. 1984 one of his own publications, the Rajneesh Times, quoted him: “Ours is the only religion, first [true] religion in the history of the world. All the others are just premature experiments which have failed. And we are not going to fail. For the simple reason because we don’t have any belief that can be proved untrue. We don’t have any dogma that can be criticized.” …Except of course, the dogma that Rajneesh was fully enlightened, that his “new, true religion” will genuinely liberate you, that all previous religions were sick, false failures. And so on with other pompous statements.
From his earliest years of public preaching, Rajneesh often spoke grandiosely about how he was doing various kinds of “special work” with disciples’ bodies, minds, cakras or energy fields, a big lure to bring in even more disciples and let him do whatever he wanted with their bodies and psyches. There were multiple ways this “license to manipulate you” was reinforced in the disciples’ psyches as a form of brainwashing. For example, in the big lecture space at Poona, India, where he talked daily from 1974 to early 1981, a huge 20-foot-long banner behind him proclaimed: “Surrender to me, and I will transform you. That is my promise – Rajneesh.” (Milne, p. 68) Just how much transformation occurred is debatable. We do know that in key ways Rajneesh took advantage of and exploited his followers thrugh the social power of his self-elevated status. Not just continually taking the focus of their attention so that his narcissistic needs for recognition could be fulfilled. And not just their “slave labor” so that his mission could expand exponentially on their unpaid hard work. He also wanted voluptuous, young female bodies… He crossed a big line in becoming sexually active with his women followers. He bragged to the media in Summer 1985, “I have had sex with hundreds of women.” Almost all of them were disciples, thus Rajneesh violated an ancient unwritten ethical code for spiritual guides, an explicit taboo for anyone in the modern era’s helping professions. And Rajneesh claimed that only his poor health kept him from having even more sex. What’s more, he trumpeted that he was “the world’s greatest lover,” a lying boast evidently disputed by some of his intimate female disciples. Hugh Milne, Rajneesh’s chief bodyguard, driver and osteopath, in his tell-all book, Bhagwan: The God that Failed (1986), recalls: “Though Bhagwan placed so much emphasis on the physical side of sex, he was by all accounts hardly the world’s greatest lover himself. Like so many who set themselves up as sexologists, his own sex life left much to be desired. Many of the women Bhagwan slept with [note the implication of a considerable number of such women] told me that far from practising what he preached and making sex last for an hour or more, it was often all over in a couple of minutes. Most of his sexual pleasure seemed to lie in foreplay and voyeurism rather than in active performance. He also had couples make love in front of him, a definite case of voyeurism.” (p. 118) Recall the account of Deeksha/Maria Mori, for one, confirming this recollection by Milne. Though a few Rajneesh fans have insisted to me that he was “above sex” or “mainly celibate,” we have the testimony of numerous disciples and Rajneesh himself saying otherwise. In The Last Testament, Rajneesh is distinctly quoted as saying in Summer 1985: “I have never been a celibate. If people believe so, that is their foolishness. I have always loved women – and perhaps more women than anybody else. You can see my beard: it has become grey so quickly because I have lived so intensely that I have compressed almost two hundred years into fifty.” (Vol. 1, ch. 27) “Right now I am celibate, but if my health gets better I am not going to be celibate. I have never been celibate.[…] I am sick. I don’t have any energy to make love to a woman and do all the gymnastics, no. I have enough energy to talk to my people, to talk to you. If I get healthy again, I promise you, I will not be celibate.” (Vol.1, ch. 5) “When I said that I am not celibate because I am not unnatural, a few sannyasins were shocked. They started writing letters to me, and I informed them that they cannot have any expectations about me. I can do anything I want. We don’t have any contract that I will follow your expectations or you will follow mine.” (Vol. 1, ch. 19) The word from some sources is that Rajneesh did not engage in sex with any women in the last years of his life, i.e., from sometime before these 1985 revelations up to his death in 1990. But from his own lips we hear that he had been sexually active with lots of women and women disciples evidently from the 1960s up to at least the mid or late 1970s. Hugh Milne tells of the “special nightly darshans” for numerous young women, “about which so much was rumoured, and which were euphemistically known as ‘energy sharing.’ Bhagwan would have one woman with him until midnight, then have four hours’ sleep, after which another woman would come to him.” (Milne, p. 84) So either Rajneesh was far more carnal than most of his disciples thought or else he was lying about his many sexual exploits. And if he was a liar (and we know that he lied about other things, see below), then why trust Rajneesh on anything? But on this issue of his extensive sexual activity (adept or not) it seems he was not lying, as Milne and Maria Mori and others have gone on record to state from their own experience and/or the testimony of their direct personal contacts.
We’ll look beyond Rajneesh’s boasts about his sex-life to examine further his inflated sense of superiority as a religious leader, and his pathological need to denigrate all other paths. What is one to do with many passages from Rajneesh like the following typical excess of self-serving hyperbole, sweeping generalizations and distorted history, delivered during the height of his fame? “I say to you: forget God and forget the kingdom of God. I give you here and now. I say celebrate, because this life is a gift of existence to you…. I want it to be emphasized that this is the only religion. All those of the past were sick, pathological. They have made the whole world sick, and they are still doing it. They call it ‘service to humanity.’ Only the retarded and utterly mediocre people can believe in God.” The obvious implied conclusion: Why believe in the transcendent-immanent God, the formless, changeless Divine One, the Source of all the worlds… when you can instead believe in Rajneesh/Osho as the highest good and supreme font of all wisdom?
Rajneesh especially hated the religion of Christianity. Many times he called Jesus a “crackpot,” someone who “was trying to save the world but couldn’t even save himself.” Earlier in Rajneesh’s teaching career he occasionally implied that Jesus was an enlightened being, albeit not as enlightened as himself. But Rajneesh’s admiring stance was a scam, for he subsequently revealed that those positive things he said about Jesus were only to lure in Christian followers among the Westerners: “I wanted to catch hold of Christians, and I got them! I have my devices—I may be a madman but I have my methodology.” [Q: “Do the ends justify the means?”] A: “Yes. […] I have to do my business, too. I have every right. So, how to get customers? I had to plan devices. And the natural way was—the simpler way—that anything that is wrong in Jesus, throw it [blame it] on his disciples. And anything that can be seen as good, can be polished, given a more contemporary ring, bring it above and give the credit to Jesus. […] Now I have got my people—from all sources I have caught them, from Buddhists, from Hindus, from Christians, from Jews. From every land, from every country, from every race, I have caught hold of those who can now listen to me directly, and I don’t need any Jesus, any Buddha, any Mohammed to stand between me and my disciples. So I am kicking them out.” (The Last Testament, Vol. 1, ch. 21)
Elsewhere Rajneesh could be heard saying things like, “Reverend Jim Jones and his people [of the Guyana mass-murder tragedy in 1978] are really the logical conclusion of Jesus and the Christian theology,” an idea he expressed several times to the media in Summer 1985 (See The Last Testament vols. 1 & 2, passim). Given that numerous persons in Rajneesh’s commune in India and then in Oregon VERY NEARLY DIED from one or more poisonings through the years culminating in many events in 1984-5, poisonings committed by his own chief of staff Sheela and her confederates, what are we to conclude given the logic he expresses here about Jim Jones, Jesus and Christianity?
Rajneesh was a savage and very one-sided critic of Christianity, especially from 1985 onward, and really piling it on in his last lecture series in 1989, calling it “poison” and many other epithets. I’ve deeply studied the early and later history of Christianity, along with other religions old and new, and I could easily tell you of the many serious sins of institutionalized “Churchianity,” as i could also point out serious shortcomings that have manifested within other religious traditions and institutions. But Rajneesh errs badly when he insists that Christianity has always only been about “transcendence” and is hateful of the body. He seems to be completely unaware of the wider, subtler meaning of the “Incarnation” doctrine and immanentist theology espoused in early Christianity, which served as antidote to other-worldly heresies like Manichaeism and certain schools of Gnosticism. The reason that multitudes of people flocked to the early churches of the Jesus movement was because of the courageous and extensive serving of the bodies as well as the hearts and souls of the poor, the needy, the sick, the orphaned and the widowed (the Rajneeshee movement compares very unfavorably along this line). This tender loving concern for people’s welfare in this world and the next is a very “immanent,” not just “transcendent” focus by the Jesus-loving Jews and later generations of what became known as “Christians.” Moreover, Rajneesh is completely unaware of the beautiful Christian theologies harmonizing the immanent and transcendent Divine Reality as found in the teachings of John Scottus Eriugena, St. Francis of Assisi, the Beguine women, Meister Eckhart, St. John of the Cross, and many others.
While critiquing Rajneesh’s view of Jesus and Christianity, let me adduce some more evidence of Rajneesh’s self-serving ignorance, which will serve as a good example of his tendency to misrepresent illustrious figures so that he can look better by comparison. So, for example, Rajneesh often quite wrongly states that Jesus claimed he was the “only son of God.” Rajneesh apparently failed to include any books of New Testament scholarship in the 150,000 books he boasts of having read, because scholars have been quite clear since the late 1800s (Albert Schweitzer, et al.), and certainly since the renewed wave of N.T. scholarship from the 1950s onward, that Jesus never ever said such a thing about himself, it was an idea invented by later Christians and put into the creeds.
Rajneesh also was ignorant in not knowing or not wanting to acknowledge the proper context of a statement attributed by the gospels of Mark (15:34) and Matthew (27:46) to Jesus on the cross: “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?”—which, if Jesus indeed said it at all, was a quote from the opening verse of Psalm 22 in the Hebrew Bible. This psalm subsequently soars in an exultant tone full of praise and thanksgiving to God. Instead, Rajneesh often misleadingly used this line to argue that Jesus, like the rest of the spiritually unenlightened hordes, “did not know about God, [did] not know about what happens after death. Naturally, you start believing in somebody who pretends to know. Neither your popes know about it; nor Jesus Christ knew about it. Even on the cross, he shouted toward the sky: ‘God have You forsaken me?’ He was a [mere] believer [not a true knower]—just illiterate, uneducated. And the people who were following him were also of the same grade, third rate.” “Jesus on the cross was waiting for the help to come, and finally got disappointed and shouted, ‘Father, have you forsaken me?’ A great doubt must have arisen in him, a great question. Nothing is happening, and he was believing all these years that God would come to save him, his only begotten son. Nobody came. Jesus Christ must have died in utter disillusionment. I don’t have any illusion. I cannot be disillusioned.” (The Last Testament, vol. 1, ch. 1)
Elsewhere during interviews with reporters in Summer 1985, Rajneesh ranted: “Not a single thing has come out of Jesus which has helped humanity in any way.” (Ibid.) “He was just a carpenter’s son. Maybe he knew something about wood, but about God he knew nothing.” (Vol. 1, ch. 25) Q: “Do you feel that Jesus was enlightened?” A: “No.” Q: “Why not?” A: “For the simple reason that he was talking nonsense. No enlightened person can talk such nonsense, that ‘I am the only begotten son of God.'” [But Jesus never said this.] (Ibid., vol. 4, ch. 21, Dec. 1, 1985) “His whole life—and it was not a long life, only thirty-three years—is full of incidences in which he proves himself arrogant, aggressive, violent, egoistic. And if his followers turn out to be the same on a larger scale, he is responsible for all that. No sane person can say, ‘I am the only begotten son of God.’ [Again, Jesus never said this!] […] He is a crackpot. And that’s what Jews thought of Jesus. In fact they never crucified a messiah; they crucified only a crackpot. [The Jews did not crucify Jesus, the Romans did—another Rajneesh gaffe.] And Christians have proved perfectly well that Jews were right to crucify this man, retroactively. The two thousand years of Christianity give evidence that that man was worth crucifixion. Jews were right: that man was dangerous. He was himself insane and he was creating insanity in other people. […] He should have been crucified three years before. Because he started teaching only when he was thirty. If I would have been there, I would have suggested crucify him right now.” (Ibid., vol. 2, ch. 3)
Rajneeshees like to think that their “Bhagwan” was such a great intellectual and that he knew so much about the world’s religions. However, I have come upon one glaring factual error after another in Rajneesh’s talks and interviews, like the aforementioned ignorant statements about Jesus, and so I have to conclude that he was woefully uninformed about many of his topics and would have done far better to keep his mouth shut rather than spew erroneous opinions masquerading as facts.
His followers, going on Rajneesh’s own boasts, dubiously claim that he had read 150,000 or more books from the 1940s to 1981 (when his vision became poor) with his masterful “speed reading” and alleged “photographic memory” capacities. Frankly, I wish he had instead slowly, carefully read just about 200 books, starting with some basic fine books on the world’s religions such as by Professors Huston Smith and Ninian Smart to have a much more accurate understanding of these religions. And the same goes with his reading on psychology, philosophy, politics, world history and other topics. (On Rajneesh’s love-affair with collecting books, see Pierre Evald, “Osho Lao Tzu Library: The Reading, Library and Publishing of India’s Greatest Bookman,” www.pierreevald.dk/osho.php.) By the way, Rajneesh’s first secretary Laxmi, closer to him than anyone for years, said that Rajneesh read only thirty books a month while at Bombay, whereas other disciples seem to think he was reading 30 books a week or even per day, hence the evidently grossly inflated idea that he had read 150,000 books in 40 years, when the real number was likely only one-tenth that amount if we use Laxmi’s figure. Even then, it seems that Rajneesh often spent more time illustrating the inside front page of his books than he actually spent reading them.
Just perusing The Last Testament interviews between Rajneesh and world media in Summer-Fall 1985 (including some of his own Rajneeshee media personnel), I encountered so many falsehoods and lies, that I began noting down some of them. I’ve already included a few of Rajneesh’s egregious errors concerning Jesus. The following whoppers on other topics are just a very small, partial list, and don’t include the rest of this entire book of interviews or thousands of other Rajneesh talks, some of which I examined decades ago and likewise found to contain lots of glaring errors. Furthermore, I daresay any objective reader going through The Last Testament book of media interviews will come to the same conclusion as this reader: Rajneesh comes across in these interviews as much more often than not a ridiculously insincere, proudly ignorant, heavily contentious, raging contrarian and bombastic blowhard. In his lengthy nasty rants and rigidly adversarial diatribes (usually quite devoid of any nuance or empathy), he sounds like an authoritarian strongman. And in his obsessions of being persecuted and delusions of grandeur, he sounds like someone on the verge of full-blown paranoiac schizophrenia. (The Last Testament, volumes 1 & 2, can be read online at oshosearch.net/Convert/Articles_Osho/The_Last_Testament_Volume_1/Osho-The-Last-Testament-Volume-1-00000001.html and oshosearch.net/Convert/Articles_Osho/The_Last_Testament_Volume_2/Osho-The-Last-Testament-Volume-2-00000001.html. Part 4 of the 6-volume collection, most of which has never been published, is also available online as of Sept. 2011; this Part 4 contains interviews with the press in India and elsewhere after Rajneesh’s deportation out of the USA.)
Let’s just examine several of the many blunders and errors in the thinking of this supposed “prodigiously great mind” that claimed to have read over 150,000 books (sic) by 1981….
So, for instance, Rajneesh erred badly in saying, “For twenty-five centuries there have been no Buddhists [in India]. They had to escape because Hindus were killing them.” (Vol. 1, ch. 1) Which is of course completely false on two counts. The Buddhists were heavily persecuted by Muslims, not Hindus, and the Muslim persecution occurred from the 11th century CE onward, not 2,500 years ago.
Rajneesh also ludicrously stated: “Buddha has given 33,000 rules of conduct.” (Vol. 1, ch. 21) In fact, the Patimokkha in the Pali Canon for Theravada Buddhists presents a set of 227 rules for vowed mendicants, many of them technical variations on a theme. The Buddha always insisted on observing the spirit of the rules, not becoming obsessive about them. The Buddha commonly taught just 5 rules of conduct: abstaining from harming living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication. Come to think of it, these would have been very quite useful for Rajneesh and the dozens of criminally-behaving disciples to follow.
Rajneesh also fumbles badly when, in his simplistic distinction about the Buddha representing spirituality and Zorba representing materialism, he goes on to blame India’s modern-era poverty on the Buddha (and other ancient Indian spiritual masters), an opinion not at all supported by historical facts. “The spiritual masters in the East have been emphasizing only one thing: that the world in which you live is only a dream. […] That’s why the East is poor. Gautam Buddha is responsible for it. Because Gautam Buddha and the people like him in other religions emphasized only the other world, this world was neglected, ignored. […] If I had been there at Buddha’s time, I would have predicted that what he was teaching would result in poverty, sickness and death to the same people who were influenced by him.” (Vol. 1, ch. 22)
Rajneesh, “the world’s greatest reader,” apparently didn’t read any books about the history of his own motherland, because India was, relative to other regions of the world, exceptionally wealthy and flourishing for many centuries after the rise of Buddhism as an influential force within society. It was the invading fanatic Muslim hordes from Mahmud of Ghazni onward (1100 CE) and then especially the Mughals from the 1500s onward followed mercilessly by the British and other Europeans from the 1700s on who stole so much of India’s wealth for themselves, disfranchised and punitively taxed her multitudes of inhabitants, and made India one of the poorest per capita nations of the modern era. Historian John Keay and others have pointed out that, in the centuries before and after Christ, Buddhism promoted trade and manufacturing and Buddhist monasteries served as caravanererais for the merchant and artisan classes. “Not only did Buddhist doctrine encourage the investment of resources which would otherwise be wasted on [Vedic and Puranic Hindu] sacrifices, it also denied caste taboos on food and travel which made trade so hazardous for the orthodox. Monastic establishments thus became foci of inland trade.” (India: A History, p. 127) Keay and other historians have noted that by the Gupta era (4th-6th cent. CE) India was the greatest, most prosperous civilization in the world. By the time of the Muslim invasions of the 10th-11th centuries onward, India’s science, wealth and robust economy were widely discussed and envied throughout the West, which is why the Muslims wanted to invade and plunder. Even then, India was still wealthy by the time of the European opportunistic mercantile and military incursions. So Rajneesh is quite wrong that “the Buddha is responsible for India’s poverty.” And the same holds for the rest of East Asia influenced by the Buddha and Buddhism.
Rajneesh also bogusly declared: “Patanjali is five thousand years old.” (Vol. 2, ch. 25) Wrong! Virtually all scholars of any worth will say that Patanjali’s pithy text Yoga Sutra was composed sometime between 200 BCE and 200 CE, or around 2,000 years ago, not 5,000 years ago. Rajneesh also numerous times over the years mentioned that India’s Vedas and Vedanta texts go back “5,000 years,” or even “10,000 years,” when in fact scholarship clearly shows that the oldest oral text, the Rg Veda of the Aryan pastoralist tribes, is no more than about 3,500 years at the very earliest, and the Vedanta texts (the oldest Upanishads) not more than 2,800-3,000 years old.
Rajneesh always claimed to be a man of scientific approach, yet on Aug. 29, 1985 he made a huge gaffe in stating: “These two words ‘here now’ contain the whole existence and after Albert Einstein there are not even two words. It is one reality [spacetime], space and time are four dimensions of the same reality. Time has three dimensions, space has one dimension, here has one dimension, now has three dimensions.” Oooops!—that’s quite backwards—basic physics describes three dimensions of space and one dimension of time. The fact that he states his idea in two different ways shows that this was not just a momentary mental lapse. I surmise that Rajneesh thinks “time has three dimensions” because there is past, present and future. But that does not make time three-dimensional. Space as we conventionally experience it is three-dimensional (the three axes are forward-backward, left-right, up-down), but time is one-dimensional, i.e., it flows forward, rendering “the future” into the fleeting present then turning it into the past. It would be one thing if Rajneesh was an uneducated peasant before he became a religious leader, but in fact he was in academia teaching philosophy for 9 years, and claims to have been “the world’s greatest reader,” and yet he bungles this really basic idea in physics known to any high-school science student.
He erroneously said on numerous occasions that “Hitler killed one million Jews,” when it should be SIX million Jews. This fairly standard figure has been known since as early as 1945 (when Rajneesh was in his 13th year), coming from none other than senior SS official Adolf Eichmann. Almost all documented estimates since then by Holocaust scholars put the number of Jewish deaths under the Nazis to be between 5.6 million and 6.2 million, with most estimates clustering at over 5.9 million. And many scholars think that is a conservative number. So how is it that Rajneesh keeps using the figure “one million Jews”? Maybe it has a lot to do with his noted anti-Semitism, revealed in private slurs to close insiders and to his sannyasins and the public in his endless telling of racist jokes. When Sheela was once asked by NBC tv reporters about racist comments Rajneesh had made about Jews, she replied with a hideous “joke” (probably one of Rajneesh’s) about the holocaust: “How do you get 4 Germans and 500 Jews in a Volkswagen? Simple; two Germans in the front, two Germans in the back, and 500 Jews in the ashtray.”
Rajneesh ridiculously and callously said about the world’s multitudes of poor persons (and repeated the same idea numerous times), “Those who are poor are themselves responsible for their poverty. They have believed in idiotic religious ideologies which have made them remain poor [by not allowing abortion and contraceptives].” Q: “And you don’t want to help them?” Rajneesh: “They have to suffer whatsoever they have done.” (Vol. 1, ch. 24) It is quite evident from many of these tiresome rants that Rajneesh was ignorant concerning the well-documented deliberate economic exploitation of poor developing nations by the rich, powerful nations and transnational corporations via their institutions like the IMF, World Bank, other banks and “aid” agencies and via socio-political injustices (e.g., covert CIA imposition of Western-friendly dictators)—all of which are clearly the primary causes for most of the terrible poverty in the world the past 60 years. Rajneesh also ignores the well-documented fact that most agrarian families in the Third World bear lots of children to serve as extra hands to bring in larger harvests, though this quickly becomes a liability during times of famine (famines often caused by USA dumping of heavily subsidized “socialist” grain in these same regions). Rajneesh is also terribly ignorant of how Third World families often have more babies just to insure that some will actually survive into adulthood, given that several million children die tragically each year due to the preventable diseases typhoid, cholera and dysentery from lack of potable water sources. At least a few times (as quoted in The Last Testament), Rajneesh, an advocate of euthanasia (assisted suicide or mercy-killing), goes too far in stating that Third World governments should do the destitute masses a favor by finding a gentle, painless way to put them to permanent sleep in a “good death” to get them out of their misery. But why not speak out about the real roots of the injustices wrought on the poorer nations’ peoples, instead of blaming the poor? Rajneesh, to his credit, often railed against the obscenely inflated military budgets of the USA, the Soviets, India and China as a cause of world-poverty, but this is as far as he went in his superficial analysis, one that he repeated tiresomely over and over (like many rants on other topics) to different journalists.
Rajneesh misrepresented science in claiming that eugenics and test-tube babies would improve the human race: “It is better to give the birth of the child to a test tube, where we can choose the best semen, the best egg from the woman,” breeding especially for intelligence and good health. Rajneesh also dubiously declared it is a “proven fact” that children are better off being raised in a commune by numerous adults than in a nuclear family by parents. “Family is one of the most criminal institutions in history, because it gives the child a very limited area of growth.” “It is the family which creates tremendous problems in the children’s minds. It gives them all their sickness, all their superstitions, all their stupid ideas, theologies, religion, political parties. It enforces on the child. The child has to be freed from the family. If you want a new man… then the family is an ugly institution, its time is over. It should be replaced by the commune. And then it is very easy: the commune takes care of all the children. There will be the father, the mother. They can meet the child, the child can come to them. But basically it is the responsibility of the commune to take care of the children. The children will have many uncles and many aunts, and they will have more opportunity for human contact with different types of people. They will be immensely enriched. Our children are very impoverished. They know only one man, one woman, and they know the constant quarrel between the two. The woman is nagging the husband, the husband is beating the woman. […] That’s why no son can ever forgive his father, and no daughter can ever forgive her mother. They destroyed their lives. It is absolutely a psychologically proved phenomenon.” But, contrary to Rajneesh’s typical sweeping anti-family generalizations, this is NOT an “absolutely… psychologically proved phenomenon.” In fact, the majority of developmental psychologists argue for the importance of a stable nuclear family unit in a child’s formation of a functional identity. Reading the late Tim Guest’s harrowing and very sad tale of growing up a lost, neglected child in a series of Rajneesh communes from 1980 to 1985, from his fifth to tenth year, clearly exposes how untrue and unwise are many of Rajneesh’s statements about child-rearing (see My Life in Orange, 2004).
Rajneesh said on numerous occasions that monogamous marriage is unnatural for the human being, “I am in favor of dissolving the very institution of marriage. That is the ugliest institution that has happened to man.” He said that married men and women should therefore go out and feel free to have lovers whenever they want, ignoring scientific evidence for the benefits of altruistic pair-bonding among humans and in nature as discovered by anthropology and socio-biology. “Q: Is marital fidelity worth anything? A: Nothing—just nothing. Q: You don’t think it might be good for some, not good for others? A: No. The very word ‘fidelity’ is ugly, dirty.” (Vol. 1, ch. 30) Along this line, he was for early unrestricted, promiscuous teen sex among boys and girls from age 14 onward, along with frank sexual education, sterilization and/or free birth control and STD protection, as the “healthiest” course for their development. In sum, against a considerable body of evidence from the social sciences, he was adamantly anti-marriage and anti-longterm relationships, favoring serial sexual liasons whenever anyone felt the urge to do so. No wonder theer were so many broken relationships among his followers.
He very often and quite wrongly claimed that homosexuality was started by religious monasteries that insisted on celibacy, ignoring the fact that, for instance, there was rampant homosexuality in 5th century BCE Greece 900 years before the rise of Christian monasteries. So, for instance, Rajneesh said, “Homosexuality is a religious disease. It has been born in the monasteries of all the religions, so if anybody is responsible it is Jesus, it is Buddha, it is Confucius and that kind of people—the whole lot is responsible, because they all insisted on celibacy. And to make celibacy possible, they separated monks and nuns and they created the ground for lesbianism and homosexuality. And the pope should be immediately imprisoned, the shankaracharya of India should be immediately imprisoned, because they are still propagating celibacy, they are still creating homosexuals.” (Vol. 2, ch. 26) He often incorrectly said that homosexuality doesn’t occur among animals in nature, ignorant of evidence to the contrary. Rajneesh also several times ignorantly argued that homosexuals should be “converted” into heterosexuals to escape their “perversion.” He was ignorant of later scientific studies showing some differences in brain structures between hetero- and homo-sexuals. Rajneesh erroneously declared numerous times that homosexuality was the source and cause of AIDS. About AIDS he also held numerous erroneous beliefs, presenting them as proven facts: “AIDS [has] no cure. The person is sure to die within two years. The person can contaminate not only by sexual intercourse, but by kissing. If his saliva comes in contact to you, you can get it.” False. And I report all this as an exclusively heterosexual male concerned about Rajneesh’s quite evident homophobia.
I could go on and on with this litany of Rajneesh blunders….
Rajneesh not only spewed ignorance on myriad topics under the sun. He also told insidious lies about himself and his movement. I’ve already quoted a few of these untruths, such as his line, “Nobody has been an influence on me,” when in fact his ideas right down to the verbatim phrasing have been plainly influenced by J.Krishnamurti, G.I. Gurdjieff and others.
Again, the following will not be an exhaustive list, but just the tip of a big iceberg….
He often lied about how his movement started, implying that it was all very organic and spontaneous: “I started on the way alone. People started coming to me and it became a vast caravan which is now spread all over the world. And people are still coming. I have not made it, it has happened. It was not a planned thing, not something considered.” (The Last Testament, Vol. 1, ch. 23) “I have functioned from this innocence continuously. I am not a man who plans. I trust existence so much that planning means distrust. I know the existence has helped me up to this moment, and I have never done anything.” (Vol. 2, ch. 1) “If everybody is awakened, there will be no planning and there will be no need for planning. People will spontaneously function. For example, I have never planned my life.” (Vol. 2, ch. 2) But such statements in his case are plainly not true. As we shall learn in our biography section on him, Rajneesh was a calculating publicity hound and actually hired a team of publicists and they planned, plotted, schemed and organized from early in his preaching career to get more and more publicity for him, more and more public recognition, and thereby a much bigger following. He was also addicted to having hundreds of glamorous photographs taken of himself to promote his mystique. (See Milne, Bhagwan: The God that Failed, p. 56: “To foster his own reputation in those days, Bhagwan had an enormous number of carefully lit studio photographs taken of himself. These were dramatically staged and lit to give an appearance of spirituality and religious awe.”) And he explicitly ordered his sannyasins to do a lot of outreach work to bring in hordes of new followers, especially rich ones. Early Western disciple Satya Bharti Franklin, to cite just one case, documents Rajneesh’s demands on her in 1972 to “bring many of the rich people you know to me” and “go back [to the USA], start a center. You have much work to do for me in America…. Many people will have to be introduced to me.” (The Promise of Paradise, pp. 54, 57)
He said numerous times during his media interviews with the world press in July-September 1985 that his movement was doing no harm in Oregon, when in fact poisonings of local citizens and officials had clearly been conducted over the prior year by Sheela and her people, and several assassination plots were hatched by them, all of which Rajneesh later openly admitted in his September 16 press conference for the world media soon after Sheela and cohorts left the commune. And according to several insiders, Rajneesh knew that criminal activity was going on for months before his media interviews. On one occasion he falsely claimed, “We are nonviolent. We don’t want to do any harm to anybody,” yet he also went on to say, “but we are not Gandhians, that if you do harm to us, we will give you the other cheek. We are not Christians.” (Vol. 1, ch. 27) These are very strange words when it was some of his own elite followers harming others: committing individual and mass poisonings, plotting further terrorist actions, and carefully planning several assassinations, not to mention numerous frivolous lawsuits that the Rajneeshees launched to harass local Oregonians. And Rajneesh evidently knew about most of these actions. In what is truly one of the most remarkable exposures of Rajneesh’s callousness about all of this harmful activity in his name, The Oregonian reports in Part 5 of their 2011 series the contents of a 1985 voice-recording of Rajneesh by Sheela during one of their private conversations: “She went to the guru for help stiffening the resolve of those [Rajneeshees] participating [in plotting and enacting the criminal activities]. She returned with a tape of her conversation. Although the quality was poor, the commune insiders heard Rajneesh say that if 10,000 had to die to save one enlightened master, so be it.” This account was paralleled in roughly the same words as remembered by two other disciples, Ava Avalos and David Knapp, during their testimony to a grand jury and to the FBI, as we shall hear in the biography section on Rajneesh.
Rajneesh repeatedly boasted to the press from August 1985 onward that one million neo-sannyasins were devoted to him (including about 200,000 underground in the USSR), when the real number worldwide was no more than 30,000 sannyasins at its peak, said his secretary Sheela after she left the movement, and no more than 100,000 in the opinion of top fund-raiser Sushila. And the combined evidence from local sources at the biggest Rajneesh centers, documented rather extensively later at this webpage, clearly suggests that the total number was much closer to 30,000 than to 100,000.
He said that his sannyasins were free to leave the Oregon commune at any time and that they would be loved and respected. Then why were many of them, as reported to journalists, having to sneak out of the commune in the back of trucks or incognito? And/or going into hiding when they left, afraid of reprisals? Two of Rajneesh’s several closest insiders left in the early 1980s, the aforementioned Italian disciple Maria Grazia Mori/Deeksha and Britisher Hugh Milne/Shivamurti. Milne has written about Rajneesh’s parting words for those who left Rajneesh back in Poona or in Oregon, “Bhagwan said things like ‘Wherever you go, I shall haunt you.’ He informed disciples who were about to leave that henceforward they would have no peace.” (p. 19) Which sounds more like a threat than a blessing. Both Deeksha and Shivamurti were scorned by the Rajneeshees for leaving in 1981 and 1982, respectively, and later talking to The Oregonian reporters in 1985. Rajneesh himself then “showed his immense love” for these two prominent former disciples by scathingly denigrating them to a global journalist as “retarded” and lacking the “intelligence” to understand him; “they could not understand a single word of mine,” “their minds are not more than thirteen years of age.” Mori, his top money-maker and fund-raiser, and whom Rajneesh had often publicly spoken of in glowing terms at Poona, was now said by him to be “illiterate,” and of Milne, a highly successful osteopath in England before he came to Rajneesh: “what intelligence he has got? If it took him ten years sitting by my side […] to discover that I am a dishonest man… then do you think I have to answer anything?… Unconsciously they must be hoping that some expectations will be fulfilled by me, and I don’t fulfill anybody’s expectations.” (The Last Testament, vol. 1, ch. 25) So much for the nonjudgmental love emanating from the Bhagwan’s “boundless Buddhafield.”
Rajneesh often maintained the conceit and deceit of the narrow-minded, parochial, authoritarian cult leader who draws a sharp boundary between “all-good” insiders and “all-bad” outsiders. All of his people—the ones who stay with him, anyway—are “good,” “exceptionally intelligent,” “spiritually mature,” “my people have no greed, no [selfish] motive,” “my people are free and unprogrammed,” “my people represent humanity’s future.” But anyone who leaves him or who is an outsider uninterested in joining his movement is then slandered by Rajneesh as being “unconscious,” “unintelligent,” “retarded,” “sick,” and so on ad nauseam. Reading through the dozens of Rajneesh interviews with members of the press in Summer-Fall 1985, one is struck again and again by the incredulity in these reporters’ comments and questions over how Rajneesh whitewashes, exalts and gloats over “my people,” “my one million [sic] sannyasins” as everything good and noble, loving and harmless, while xenophobically painting everyone outside his throng as inferior, stupid, inept, unevolved, immature, blind, and of course “unawake” and “unenlightened.” What Freud identified as identification and projection, two of the several “defense mechanisms against anxiety,” appear to be heavily at work here in the petty psyche of Rajneesh.
He said that his commune was egalitarian and non-hierarchical: “There is nobody higher, nobody lower; there is no hierarchy.” When in fact there were clearcut hierarchical chains of command and the elites like Sheela and her gang and Rajneesh’s own circle of caretakers had far better working conditions, living conditions and various other privileges and powers compared to the vast majority of the commune members who lived in ongoing fear about being demoted or exiled or excommunicated. Likewise at the smaller Rajneesh branch-communes around the world, there definitely existed a pecking order of power and privilege.
Rajneesh deceitfully said, “I had never come here [to the USA in June 1981] with the intention to stay” (Vol. 1, ch. 23) when in fact he and Sheela had deliberately planned for his “new commune” to be moved from Poona and re-located to the USA, since he couldn’t grow his land-holdings in India and the government was hounding the ashram on tax-evasion and other matters. Rajneesh had to lie about his stay in the USA because he and his followers had flagrantly violated America’s immigration laws.
He said several times that his Rancho Rajneesh commune in Oregon was not in financial trouble and that they were utterly self-sufficient and thriving. For instance, a reporter in 1985 asked “if the commune is in financial trouble….” “No, there is no trouble.” (Vol. 2, ch. 29) Which was completely false, for they were in heavy debt by that point in time. Likewise, Rajneesh stated: “We have never faced any economic need, otherwise my Rolls Royces will not [keep] on growing.” But he was wrong—the Rolls Royces were “mired up to their axles in debt,” as Les Zaitz of The Oregonian reported.
Many, many more lies could be documented if one had the time and inclination to slog deeper into the mass of Rajneesh’s recorded verbiage.
Another typical Rajneesh behavior in many of his talks and interviews was to start throwing nasty epithets like “retarded,” “stupid,” “insane,” or “sick” at someone or some group whose views he didn’t like, while he was trying to advance his own idea and using the scapegoated person or persons to unfavorably contrast with his own trumpeted position. But his own position would in fact change over time, even morphing into what he had earlier criticized so venomously. This has led to some rather ridiculous juxtapositions noticeable to anyone who was paying attention over the years. As just one of many possible examples of this silliness, which i ran across while reviewing some old talks, he judged J. Krishnamurti and the Theosophy movement which spawned him a real “failure,” “dead,” “meaningless,” because, in Rajneesh’s view, J.K. “denied surrender” and instead promoted the terrible idea of being “an individual” (which, in J.K.’s actual connotations for that term, meant someone who had realized the “undivided” wholeness). But in 1985 while Rajneesh was in Oregon defending his followers to the world media, he often declared that his disciples were superior to those followers of other teachers and religions because, well you guessed it, “they are true individuals!”
On other occasions, Rajneesh’s psychopathology was on display when, for instance, he called both Gandhi and Hitler “violent torturers” in his ludicrously clumsy attempt to present the larger truth that we need not ever be too hard or self-mortifying toward our own bodymind: “To torture oneself or to torture others, both are diseases—the very idea to torture. Somebody is an Adolf Hitler, he tortures others; somebody is a Mahatma Gandhi, he tortures himself. Both are in the same boat—maybe standing back to back, but standing in the same boat. Adolf Hitler’s joy is in torturing others, Mahatma Gandhi’s joy is in torturing himself, but both are violent. The logic is the same—their joy depends on torture. Their direction is different, but the direction is not the question, their mind has the same attitude: torture.” (Tao: The Pathless Path, 1977) “Both were great saints. The only difference was that Mahatma Gandhi had the Jaina characteristic very much developed in him… so he tortured himself. Adolf Hitler had the Mohammedan characteristic developed in him: he tortured others, he didn’t torture himself. But both tortured. Whom they tortured is not of that much significance.” (Zen: Zest, Zip, Zap and Zing, 1980)
I submit that anyone who can ignore the different motivations and historical impacts of Gandhi’s and Hitler’s actions (Gandhi’s nonviolent campaigns to enact social justice; and Hitler’s killing of six million Jews and millions of other “undesireable” persons) just to make these glib statements, let alone sometimes express great admiration for Hitler in other public and private talks, has serious mental problems.
Rajneesh’s fans will say that “he was only being provocative in saying these things.” Which is a big rationalization—and guess who taught them to make endless rationalizations like this?
There was much, much more dysfunction to Rajneesh’s personality and behavior, as pointed out by numerous former close disciples and other observers. And certainly, too, some very positive, interesting phenomena characterized the man and his ministry. (Alas, as the reader has surely noticed, this webpage must lean in an imbalanced way toward being so critical of the problematic aspects of Rajneesh’s views and actions simply because there is such a dearth of healthy criticism on the Internet and instead so much whitewashing of his image and rationalizing of his behavior.)
We’ll start from the beginning…. Born on December 11, 1931, as the eldest of 11 children to a Jain couple in Kuchwada, Madhya Pradesh, central India, he was given to his maternal grandparents from an early age so they could have the pleasure of a youngster in their life. We then see Rajneesh Mohan Chandra Jain’s dysfunction beginning in childhood, with a very smart but headstrong, rebellious, contentious personality, which soon turned into a talent for debate: “As far back as I can remember, I loved only one game—to argue. So very few grown-up people could stand me.” (Sue Appleton, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh: The Most Dangerous Man Since Jesus Christ, 1987, p. 15) Later in life Rajneesh often shared that he liked to say things that would disturb and shock people for the sake of “waking them up,” etc., and this tendency seems to have started with his argumentative nature in childhood. One very poignant incident in particular might have provoked this contentiousness: at age 7, his maternal grandfather died with his head in the boy’s lap as they traveled along slowly in a bullock cart on a long journey to the nearest doctor. The passing profoundly effected Mohan Rajneesh, provoking a fierce determination to find the deathless Reality beyond conventional human experience and thought.
Besides arguing and debating, clearly his favorite activity in his youth was voracious reading. Rajneesh had taught himself English in his early teens so he could read Western works. He claims to have read nearly all the books at the library of Gadarwara (the town where his parents lived and to which he moved after the death of his grandfather), and he began to buy his own collection. To say he was an avid book collector understates the obsession—by 1981 he says he had amassed 150,000 books. He would often read all night before taking a swim in the nearby river. It was from the sandy banks of that river that Rajneesh had earlier, before he began the obsessive collection of books, collected countless river rocks and pebbles, filling his room to overflowing with them. We thus see in his childhood another problematic attachment or samskara tendency: the clearly obsessive urge to collect things, starting with stones and books, later in life trying to collect as many people around him as disciples, and from them, in turn, collecting more books, expensive pens, hats/caps, robes, towels, luxury watches, and Rolls Royces. In Summer of 1985 when he was speaking to the foreign press, it’s clear he wanted to collect nations and have the entire world at his feet as his possession.
Rajneesh started elementary school a few years after the norm, and so was usually the oldest child in classes, which might have led to that obvious superiority complex that marks so much of his public speaking. Because he argued with his teachers so often, from elementary school to college, he was often thrown out of classes and so also likely developed an outsider complex, as well. And he rejected the activities of his peers: “I never played with any children. I never could find any way to communicate with the children of my own age. To me, they looked stupid, doing all kinds of idiotic things. I never joined any football team, volleyball team, hockey team; of course, they all thought me crazy. And as far as I was concerned, as I grew I started looking at the whole world as crazy.” (The Last Testament, Vol. 1, ch. 20)
In his late teens, he ran many miles a day and meditated in a little temple built up about 20 feet above the sandy riverbank. He often liked to defy death or injury by walking along the temple ledge, sometimes goading his terrified buddies to do the same. (Likewise in later decades as a spiritual taskmaster, Rajneesh would, says former disciple Hugh Milne, “push people to their limits, limits which he himself can handle, but it’s not done with consideration or compassion.”)
After a stint with the youth branch of the Indian National Army during India’s struggle for Independence after World War II, during which time Rajneesh became a socialist and an atheist, he went on to college, earning B.A. and M.A. degrees in Philosophy in 1955 and 1957, though he was expelled more than once, says Rajneesh, from his first college at Jabalpur because of that uncontrollable urge to debate everyone. More positively on the topic of his independence, we note that he strongly defied his parents in choosing for himself the subject of philosophy at college, just as he also firmly chose his own life-path by rejecting his parents’ agenda to get him married. (Rajneesh’s parents later became grateful students under their son and lived at his commune at Poona.)
It was only in 1971, when Rajneesh had adopted full-blown the role of Guru, that he retrospectively identified a new element for his Vita, namely, that he had actually achieved his complete spiritual death-rebirth “Enlightenment” back on March 21, 1953, evidently in his little room late one night, after several years of emotional torment and what he himself has termed a nervous breakdown.
Sam/Paritosh (Chris Gray), in Life of Osho, has assembled material on the terrible emotional-spiritual darkness that Rajneesh says he underwent before coming to this enlightenment. We quote this section at length:
[From Life of Osho, pp. 101-5:] What he later came to understand as “enlightenment” was not the product of any “religious” practice or way of life – in fact it took place quite outside any religious context at all. At the time he thought he was going mad… Osho only talked about this once, in an early set of Hindi lectures, translated as Dimensions Beyond The Known. As a teenager, he said, he had been plunged into an intense adolescent crisis. Nothing seemed worthwhile any more. Nothing made sense. He tried to explore meditation, he hung out with sadhus, but none of it helped. “I doubted everything” he said. “I could not accept anyone as my teacher… I did not find anyone whom I could call my master… I wanted to respect, but I could not. I could respect rivers, mountains and even stones, but not human beings.” [Dimensions Beyond The Known, p.148]
He read everything he could lay his hands on in his home town, then at 19 went to the big city, to Jabalpur, to study philosophy at the university. While he was a student there his confusion got worse and worse, until finally he had a complete nervous and mental breakdown. “It was all darkness” he said. “In every small matter there was doubt and nothing but doubt. Only questions and questions remained without any answer. In one respect I was as good as mad. I myself was afraid that anytime I might become mad. I was not able to sleep at night. Throughout the night and the day, questions and questions hovered around me. There was no answer to any question. I was in a deep sea, so to speak, without any boat or bank anywhere….” [Dimensions Beyond The Known, p.150]
“For one year” he said “it was almost impossible to know what was happening…. Just to keep myself alive was a very difficult thing, because all appetite disappeared. I could not talk to anybody. In every other sentence I would forget what I was saying.”
He had splitting headaches. He would run up to sixteen miles a day, “just to feel myself,” he said. Whole days were spent lying on the floor of his room counting from one up to one hundred and then back down again. [James Gordon, The Golden Guru, p.24]
“My condition was one of utter darkness. It was as if I had fallen into a deep dark well. In those days I had many times dreamed that I was falling and falling and going deeper into a bottomless well. And many times I awakened from a dream full of perspiration, sweating profusely, because the falling was endless without any ground or place anywhere to rest my feet. Except for darkness and falling, nothing else remained, but slowly I accepted even that condition…” [Dimensions Beyond The Known, p.151] At some point he finally gave up. This was his introduction to that state of ‘let-go’ which was to play such a key role in his later thinking; and from this moment, things started to happen very quickly. “The past was disappearing, as if it had never belonged to me, as if I had read about it somewhere, as if I had dreamed about it, as if it was somebody else’s story I have heard and somebody told it to me. I was becoming loose from my past, I was being uprooted from my history, I was losing my autobiography… Mind was disappearing… It was difficult to catch hold of it, it was rushing farther and farther away…” [The Book, vol.1, p.457]
One night shortly afterwards the process reached its climax. Osho fell asleep early in the evening, in the little, box-like student’s room where he was living. Abruptly he woke at midnight. “Suddenly it was there, the other reality, the separate reality, the really real, or whatsoever you want to call it – call it God, call it truth, call it Dhamma, call it Tao, or whatsoever you will. It was nameless. But it was there –so opaque, so transparent, and yet so solid one could have touched it. It was almost suffocating me in that room. It was too much and I was not yet capable of absorbing it.” [The Book, vol.1, p.458] He rushed out of the room and into the open air. He walked through the streets of Jabalpur until he came to a public garden. Finding it locked, he climbed over the railings and sat down under a tree he found there, a maulshree tree, to which he felt strongly drawn. There he spent the night, sitting in meditation, and whatever it was that he spent the rest of his life trying to communicate happened to him… settled, and stabilised. Trying to describe this twenty five years later it was still the negative aspects of the process he stressed. It was not that he found God, it was that he lost himself. God was what remained. “A sort of emptiness, a void, came about of its own accord. Many questions circled around and around. But because there was no answer, they dropped down from exhaustion, so to speak, and died. I did not get the answers, but the questions were destroyed…. All matters on which questions could be asked became non-existent. Previously, there was only asking and asking. Thereafter, nothing like questioning remained. Now I have neither any questions nor any answers.” [Dimensions, p.151]
Here’s another quote from Rajneesh about what he claimed to have experienced 20 years earlier on that night in March 1953. If it indeed happened as he described, it’s definitely a beautiful mystical experience! Many of us, including this author in his mid-teens in early 1971, have undergone quite similar, radical, life-changing release of the old self and opening to a vaster, subtler, richer Life-Energy-Spirit.
But critics, even including longtime former close disciples, suspect that later on Rajneesh wasn’t able to consistently live from this kind of open Awareness or vast Self as he became more interested instead in fostering a cult of being “the enlightened one.” It’s also clear from the following account that, as Zen masters would say, the 21-year-old Rajneesh experienced a potent period of breakthrough enlightenment called “kensho” or “satori,” but he was by no stretch of the imagination now fully, firmly established in anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, supreme, unexcelled, irreversible Awakeness—free of problematic attachments and aversions. Subsequent events over the years make this only too clear—and a disillusioned, depressed Osho late in life appears to have admitted it.
Just before 21st March, 1953, seven days before, I stopped working on myself. A moment comes when you see the whole futility of effort. You have done all that you can do and nothing is happening. You have done all that is humanly possible. Then what else can you do? In sheer helplessness one drops all search. And the day the search stopped, the day I was not seeking for something, the day I was not expecting something to happen, it started happening. A new energy arose – out of nowhere. It was not coming from any source. It was coming from nowhere and everywhere. It was in the trees and in the rocks and the sky and the sun and the air – it was everywhere. And I was seeking so hard, and I was thinking it is very far away. And it was so near and so close. Near about twelve [midnight] my eyes suddenly opened – I had not opened them. The sleep was broken by something else. I felt a great presence around me in the room. It was a very small room. I felt a throbbing life all around me, a great vibration – almost like a hurricane, a great storm of light, joy, ecstasy. I was drowning in it. It was so tremendously real that everything became unreal. The walls of the room became unreal, the house became unreal, my own body became unreal. Everything was unreal because now there was for the first time reality. The whole day was strange, stunning, and it was a shattering experience. The past was disappearing, as if it had never belonged to me, as if I had read about it somewhere, as if I had dreamed about it, as if it was somebody else’s story I have heard and somebody told it to me. I was becoming loose from my past, I was being uprooted from my history, I was losing my autobiography. I was becoming a non-being, what Buddha calls anatta. Boundaries were disappearing, distinctions were disappearing. (From: The Discipline of Transcendence, 1978)
Obviously this was only a temporary state, because Mohan Rajneesh’s sense of himself (quite a grandiose sense of himself) and a world of boundaries and distinctions eventually returned in major fashion. But along the way a period of intense sleep and zoned-out mindless trance characterized his life for two to three years. Based on the evidence that follows, I suspect that sages like Ramana Maharshi and his spiritual son Annamalai Swami would call what Rajneesh went through a laya state of tamoguna, the “quality of inertia-dullness” (tamas). This is not the clarity of Atma-Bodha or Awareness-Awakeness as the Self of all selves, the Source-Host for the body-mind-world, but rather a literally thoughtless, mindless state of non-functionality.
Sam’s Life of Osho (pp. 109-110) does a good job of filling in the details of what (little) happened in the next few years after his “Enlightenment”:
What did he do? For a long time… he literally did nothing at all. He stayed on as a student at Jabalpur university, but just lay on his bed all day long. “I slept during the night, morning and afternoon continually. Whenever there was a chance to sleep I did not miss it.” [Dimensions Beyond The Known, pp.166-7] He never cleaned his room, or bothered about food or chores. When he woke up he would just go on lying there, staring blankly at the ceiling. This is all from the same account in Dimensions Beyond The Known: “In those days I used to go on lying upon the cot, vacantly watching the ceiling above…. I did this without any effort, because while lying down on a cot what else is there to do? If the sleep was over, I would just go on looking at the ceiling without even blinking the eyes. Why even blink the eyes? It is also a type of doing. It is also a part of activity. I just went on lying there. There was nothing to be done. If you remain lying down like that, just looking at the ceiling for an hour or two, you will find that your mind becomes clear like a cloudless sky – just thoughtless. If someone can make inactivity his achievement in life, he can experience thoughtlessness very naturally and easily.” [Dimensions Beyond The Known, pp.169-170] The most he got together was to turn up for some of his university lectures – sleeping through as many of those as he could, while he was about it. … His marathon let-go, which if I understand his account correctly lasted between two and three years, ended abruptly. Osho returned to normal daily life, and one of the first things he did was to set up that rhythm of [speed] reading a dozen or more books a day, with which he was to continue for more than twenty years…. This is the behaviour of someone who is calmly and systematically preparing for something they have decided to do.
With this burst of intellectual energy toward the end of his student days, Rajneesh finished school and then, beginning in 1957, he lectured for three years at Raipur Sanskrit College then for six years at Jabalpur University in India. Among other things, he defied Indian taboos and university policy by having his male and female students sit in mixed rather than segregated assemblies and he encouraged them to be open about their feelings towards each other. Rajneesh resigned his associate professorship in 1966 to further a lucrative ministry he had begun in 1960: a traveling provocative speaker, garrulous social critic and mesmerizing shaktipat-guru, going by the name Acharya (“Teacher”) Shree Rajneesh.
A revealing overview of how Rajneesh ambitiously worked to attain his initial stage of fame—using hypnosis, sensationalism and outrage, and assorted other promotional and publicity-seeking techniques—comes from a team of ace reporters for The Oregonian newspaper in Parts 2 and 3 of their in-depth 20-part series commencing June 30, 1985 (“For Love & Money: Rajneesh—An Oregonian Special Report,” by Les Zaitz, Jim Long & Scotta Callister, archived in full at www.oregonlive.com/rajneesh/index.ssf/rajneesh_story_archive.html). Here’s a lengthy set of excerpts from this report, mostly the work of lead author Les Zaitz, who was targeted for assassination by the Rajneeshee “dirty tricks” cabal in 1985 after this series came out:
[From Part 2:] “Rammoo Shrivastava, a newspaperman who had met Rajneesh in Jabalpur, said the guru was an impressive speaker but he practiced hypnosis—a common orator’s tool in India—and was not considered a spiritual authority in Jabalpur. ‘What Rajneesh teaches in yoga and in meditation is Kindergarten One class,’ he said. However, Shrivastava said Rajneesh became the darling of the relatively well-to-do Jaina community. Rajneesh’s parents were adherents of the Jaina religion, a sect with strict rules about asceticism. Shrivastava linked Rajneesh’s popularity to his teachings that rejected taboos and absolved guilt. ‘He knew what the rich people want,’ Shrivastava said. ‘They want to justify their guilty consciences, to justify their guilty acts.’
[Elsewhere, the reporters quote a former disciple: “Rajneesh gives you the opportunity to sin like you’ve never sinned before. Only he doesn’t call it sin,” ex-sannyasin John Ephland wrote in an article for the Spiritual Counterfeits Project of Berkeley, Calif. “The path to desirelessness is desire.”]
“Rajneesh also gained a Romeo’s reputation in Jabalpur. ‘That’s why his character was suspect—his activities, his movements among the girls,’ Shrivastava said.
“But Rajneesh’s other activities seemed calculated to advance his career as a lecturer. He took breaks and university leave to go on tour, building his reputation outside Jabalpur. Friends and family members said he traveled by rail or by car, often with supplies of written materials to distribute [and promote his own name]. […] Rajneesh traveled frequently to the big city—Bombay, a seaport of nearly 7 million people that lay 560 miles southwest of Jabalpur. [Easier here to amass the really big crowds.]
“Along the way, he recruited several Jaina businessmen to support his fledgling movement. They formed Jeevan Jagruti Kendra, the forerunner of the Rajneesh Foundation, in 1965 to finance the guru’s activities, freeing him from the need to collect academic paychecks. Rajneesh selected the trust’s name, which translates as ‘Life Awakening Center.’
“One of his early supporters in Bombay was Ishverlal N. Shah, who first heard the guru speak in 1963 and took the sannyasin name Ishver Samarpan in 1967. Rajneesh stayed with the Shah family on several occasions and eventually asked Samarpan to work in the movement. Today, Samarpan runs the Aum Rajneesh Meditation Centre, as well as his own exporting and construction businesses […]. Over the years, Samarpan bore witness to Rajneesh’s driven pace [full of ambition]. He recalled the guru’s lecturing as many as five times a day and then talking with students late into the night. ‘He would go to bed at one in the morning. He told my wife, “If anyone comes to inquire, please get me up,”‘ Samarpan said. Samarpan and others bought billboard space and newspaper ads to promote the guru.
“Rajneesh began speaking at meditation camps across the Indian countryside in 1964 and resigned from the university in 1966 [some say that the university fired him] to concentrate on his lecturing. Although he liked playing to crowded lecture halls and parks, he didn’t forgo smaller audiences. Friends said he addressed any local Rotary Club or other group that would have him.
“Rajneesh relished controversy, which brought larger crowds to hear him and attracted Indian news media attention. Himmatlal H. Joshi, an early follower who is not related to Rajneesh’s biographer, Vasant Joshi, said Rajneesh kept track of newspaper and magazine coverage—just as his press office does in Oregon today—and noted the play given a story or picture. ‘He knew how to pose for photographers,’ said [one editor].”
[From Part 3 of the article series:]
“Word spread through lecture tours and meditation camps, advertised on billboards and in local newspapers, and his following grew. On a 1967 trip to Baroda, a city of 467,000 that was 220 miles north of Bombay in the Western Indian state of Gujarat, Rajneesh attracted the attention of Chandrakant N. Patel, who later took the sannyasin name Chandrakant Bharti. Bharti, the owner of a handicraft shop and now operator of the Sanjay Rajneesh Meditation Center in Baroda, claimed credit for introducing ticket sales to Rajneesh lectures. He said that Rajneesh, concerned primarily with drawing large crowds, worried at first that the proposed one-rupee fee would scare off customers. Bharti reassured Rajneesh, however, saying, ‘This is my experiment in how to get money.’ The experiment succeeded, filling 1,000 seats. Soon, Rajneesh would be lecturing for two rupees a head in Bombay, then five rupees a head in Poona, Bharti recalled.”
And so we learn that Rajneesh became notable for his clearly narcissistic drive to be seen and heard by as many people as possible; his trendy, heavily cathartic meditation camps for rich, upper-class Indians; his attention-getting, over-generalizing diatribes against Gandhi, Mother Teresa, orthodox religion, convention, repression, socialism, etc.; and his saucy, racy talk about sexual openness, love, the need for “a new explosion in you, an explosion of joy,” “total freedom,” “the mysterious presence,” “dynamic meditation,” “the esoteric ‘Ashoka nine’ group working behind the scenes,” “my special way of working with you,” etc. His first major book, a Hindi work released in 1968, was provocatively titled Sambhog Se Samadhi Ki Aor, or, as it was translated in its English edition, From Sex to Superconsciousness—the word “Sex” deliberately intended to create notoriety and draw attention to himself. He confessed that he often liked to stir up controversy, “even if just for fun.”
Rajneesh may have earlier attained a certain fearless nonchalance much of the time, and this served him well whenever he would stir up the public with his outrageous statements. But this is not necessarily full enlightenment—many sociopaths also operate from an evident “fearlessness.” Rajneesh, as we shall see, was not desireless or in peaceful contentment, and still had lots of egoic attachments and colossally selfish ambitions.
Before proceeding further with his biography, I should pause to further consider the controversial “Dynamic Meditation” and other “chaotic” or “active” meditations that he put together for his followers. For instance, a day with Rajneesh started early in the morning with everyone gathering to perform the intense “Dynamic Meditation”, involving a heavy aerobic workout and even heavier arousal of the nervous system and subconscious mind: 10 minutes of aggressive, nonrhythmic, rapid and dissociative hyperventilationist bellows-breathing accompanied by vigorous movements; 10 minutes of Rajneesh’s recommended “going totally mad” cathartic emotional venting (crying, screaming, moaning, laughing, singing, etc.), accompanied by vigorous pumping, jumping, jerking, shaking movements; 10 minutes of loud shouting as deeply as possible of the old Sufi syllable “Hu! Hu! Hu!” (in the original version it was “Who am I? Who am I?”) while jumping up and down as vigorously as possible, “letting the sound hammer deep into the sex center,” as Rajneesh always urged; then flopping down and staying in complete stillness when the command is given, calmly and meditatively observing whatever can be observed in oneself for 15 minutes. (Near the end of this webpage former disciple Calder explains how, evidently by around 1974, Rajneesh had made some very unfortunate, dangerous changes to the Dynamic Meditation routine such as keeping the arms up in stages 3 & 4, which made it torturously uncomfortable and even medically precarious for persons with undiagnosed heart conditions.) Several other meditations which were invented, borrowed, or pieced-together from other traditions by Rajneesh likewise strongly emphasized vigorous initial movement—shaking, jumping, dancing, whirling—followed by a calm phase. By the mid-1970s, a faithful follower of Rajneesh would be cumulatively spending nearly an hour a day in such required states of hyper-arousal or intensive physical and emotional self-stimulation. (In the “Mystic Rose” meditation he created in the late 1980s, a person was to spend three hours daily for one entire week laughing, then one entire week crying for three hours daily before spending a week calmly witnessing the body-mind. His “No Mind” meditation invented around the same time involved ten minutes nightly in forcibly speaking gibberish while “going completely crazy” before a 20-minute witnessing period.)
An important question to be raised here is this: what are the long-term effects on a Rajneeshee sannyasin’s nervous system, hormonal system, and physical organs in having to perform such unnaturally aggressive manipulation of his/her organism (i.e., the shaking, jerking, and hyperventilating bellows-breathing) for such a substantial amount of time each day in these “chaotic” or “dynamic” meditations? The same could be asked about the sannyasin’s deep psyche and subtle energy field under the relentless daily emotional catharsis that Rajneesh demanded of his people. Critics of the various forms of “Primal Scream” therapy, for instance, have charged that, by so frequently engaging in and indulging one’s anger and hostility, one insidiously conditions oneself to become a really angry, hostile person. In other words, excessive and repeated catharsis of disturbed emotions will only tend to make one even more prone to suffering from those emotional complexes. Likewise, when Rajneesh in several of his daily meditations encourages people to “go totally crazy, completely mad” in the cathartic phase of the meditation, one wonders if he primarily succeeded in creating a lot of really crazy disciples? The extensive record over the years of Rajneeshee crime, violence, immorality, deceit and rampant display of Freudian defense mechanisms against anxiety (denial, rationalization, projection, identification, reaction formation, etc.) leads one to suspect that the guru who fancied himself the world’s greatest psychotherapist really did NOT know what he was doing to his trusting followers. Worth bearing in mind as we continue our tale of Rajneesh and his supposedly wonderful “new, true religion”….
In July 1970, Rajneesh crowded with his followers into first one then eventually another expensive Bombay apartment, the first one a 4th floor unit in the CCI building on Marine Drive, the second one in the Woodlands on Malabar Hill. He stopped touring, though he still conducted a ten-day meditation camp once every three months. He also instituted his cultus of anti-renunciate neo-sannyasins or “new renunciates.” It was in early Oct. 1970 that he began initiating a number of Indians as formal “sannyasin” disciples; within a few months he began to initiate a handful of Westerners, too, and then from 1972 onward dozens and later multitudes of them. He asked these formal disciples to dye their garb orange (later it would be red, maroon, and other “sunset colors”), gave them new Indian names, and also gave them mala bead-necklaces to wear, containing a locket with his image. He loftily stated: “The picture only appears to be mine. It is not. No picture of me is possible.” Rajneesh also gave out little boxes with his own nail and hair clippings, further promoting the cultic fascination over the idea that his energy field was vast, inclusive, and accessible to his initiates, i.e., suggesting that this was no “ordinary man,” but someone “very special.” He allowed his disciples to hype him as the supremely enlightened one, a veritable God-man. Recall again the report from Milne: “To foster his own reputation in those days, Bhagwan had an enormous number of carefully-lit studio photographs taken of himself. These were dramatically staged and lit to give an appearance of spirituality and religious awe.” (Milne, p. 56)
In May 1971, at new heights of self-promotion, the nearly 40-year-old Rajneesh ostentatiously re-titled himself Bhagwan, the “Blessed One.” Defenders say that some of his Indian disciples had begun to call him by this lofty title, but he quickly, gladly accepted it and officially pronounced it to draw in even more followers. By 1972, according to disciple Yoga Chinmaya, there were 3,800 of his sannyasins in India, with 134 outside India, including 56 from the USA, 16 each from Britain and Germany, 12 each from Italy and the Philippines, 8 in Canada, 4 in Kenya, 2 in Denmark and one each from France, Holland, Australia, Greece, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland (Neo-sannyas International: Visions and Activities, Life Awakening Movement Publications, Bombay 1972)
Besides seeing him at the big public talks in Bombay and vicinity and the well-attended 10-day camps at Mt. Abu and elsewhere, a growing little flood of visitors also poured into his first-floor suite of rooms (and sometimes the exterior beautiful gardens for bigger events) at Bombay’s Woodlands Apartment building on Peddar Road in the affluent Malabar Hill region, often disturbing the neighbors with their dancing, yelling and laughing. His secretary Laxmi informs us, “The busiest hours were eight to eleven in the morning and three in the afternoon to eleven in the night.”
Close early Western disciples Hugh Milne, Chris Calder, Satya Bharti Franklin and others heard from young women of having their breasts groped and vaginas fondled by the Bhagwan (Franklin experienced this herself, see p. 33 of The Promise of Paradise), before Rajneesh graduated to having full intercourse with some of them during “private darshans.” After being with one woman up until midnight, then sleeping for 4 hours, he would bring in another one at 4 a.m., says Milne. The women were urged to keep quiet about all this, but some later spoke out. Recall Milne’s and Maria Mori/Deeksha’s revelations, that Rajneesh was a big voyeur, asking attractive women to strip for him and having couples perform coitus for him under the guise that he was “healing their energy” (likely he was also trying to learn new sexual techniques for himself). Rajneesh engaged in such behavior at least up until the point of 1973, when he came into the most intimate relationship of his life, though it would become more distant in the mid 1980s and then end tragically. She was a petite and very shy young English lass, Christena Woolf (1949-1989), viewed by Rajneesh as the reincarnation of his childhood girlfriend Shashi, who had died when he was 17. In this life 18 years his junior (both were born on Dec. 11), Christena / Ma Yoga Vivek rapturously heard the guru lecture in Hindi to a huge crowd one night in 1971 in Bombay and was entranced and enchanted by him at a subsequent meditation camp at Mount Abu. (In 1978 she described the overwhelming experiences with her Bhagwan in a long interview for the ashram publication Sannyas News; archived at www.sannyasnews.com/Articles/vivek.html.) Vivek then became his closest companion, his caretaker and lover when Rajneesh invited her to live with him in his quarters two years later in 1973, tenderly helping turn around his worsening allergies and asthma attacks. She displaced Kranti, a young Indian woman who had been his previous close companion and evident lover (“the sharer of his bed all these years,” one disciple told Franklin) since Kranti joined Rajneesh on his early preaching trips to Bombay. The Oregonian, in Part 2 of their 20-part series in July 1985, states: “Reportedly his widowed cousin, [Kranti] trailed him like a shadow in those [early] days, friends recalled.” But now in the apartments in Bombay, Kranti couldn’t share Rajneesh with Vivek and so left, viewing the matter as “the end of a long love affair.”
Rajneesh wanted some farm communes built in India to accommodate his increasing number of followers, now including more and more Westerners, who were attracted by his “sex guru” image and to whom he clearly catered, surely dreaming of new marketshare in foreign lands (recall Satya Bharti Franklin’s quoting Rajneesh in the early 1970s telling her to “bring rich people to me” and “many people will have to be introduced to me”). Two rural projects were attempted, but neither came to fruition, after extensive efforts by some hard-working Indian and foreign followers. Milne/Shivamurti was involved in one of the projects, at Chandrapur, 425 miles east of Bombay. He told The Oregonian reporters of how the Rajneeshees got a skeptical reception. “The farm belonged to some rather distant relatives of Rajneesh, who were of course saying, ‘You’re following Mohan?” Milne recalled. “The one who really expressed his feelings said, ‘Mohan Rajneesh, he’s still doing this hypnosis?‘”
Rajneesh, Vivek, his all-accomplishing secretary Laxmi and company established an extremely counter-cultural and very lucrative psycho-spiritual growth center in the affluent Koregaon Park suburb in the northeast section of Poona/Pune, to where they moved in a grand procession the 75 miles southeast from Bombay on March 21, 1974, a day celebrating Rajneesh’s enlightenment (one of the three grand commemoration days around Rajneesh, the other two honoring his birthday on Dec. 11 and the traditional Hindu “Guru Purnima” day in July). This Shree Rajneesh Ashram, comprised of two big British Raj mansions and adjoining land and buildings, was bought with funds from the wealthy Greek shipping heiress Ma Yoga Mukta (Catherine Venizelos). It was soon crammed with hundreds and later up to several thousand paying residents and visitors—especially more and more affluent Europeans and Americans, to whom he obviously pandered. Their so-called “ashram” at Poona, which came to have new land-holdings and several new buildings, rapidly became more like a wild amusement park, a “madhouse-carnival” as one journalist called it, offering a gamut of gratifying, grotesque and sometimes terrifying experiences for the body and psyche. It wasn’t just the cathartic phases of the various chaotic or dynamic daily meditations that Rajneesh demanded of his disciples. If these nouveau “active meditation” sessions were all that occurred, the Poona commune would have still been a pretty tame place, despite all the unusual jumping, shaking, hollering, crying, moaning and acting out by its denizens during their daily catharsis periods.
But much open sexual exploration on the part of Rajneeshees also occurred, including group sex, partner swapping, and sex with and among children. Former Rajneeshee Catherine Jane Paul aka Jane Stork has revealed in her recent book Breaking the Spell (2009) that around 87% of residents had a sexually transmitted disease. Women who became pregnant were told by the Bhagwan to abort and sterilise, Stork says. She and her teenage daughter were both sterilised. “He used to speak so lovingly about children, yet behind the scenes everybody’s getting sterilised. There were no children born in the ashram.” Numerous women were physically damaged by botched abortions and sterilizations performed too-quickly by local quack doctors. Rajneesh also strongly recommended vasectomies for the men, one-fourth of whom obeyed. All for the sake of Rajneesh’s ideal of sexual freedom. “We had a feast of f*cking, the likes of which had probably not been seen since the days of Roman bacchanalia,” wrote Milne. Satya Bharti Franklin remembers, “The ashram was Peyton Place in burgundy: an x-rated movie.” (The Promise of Paradise, p. 127) There were disturbing cases of sex between adult males and female minors as young as 10, and sex among/between many of the pre-pubescent children, who were sexualized far too young in their impressionable lives. Franklin relates: “One six-year-old ashram girl delighted in grabbing men’s genitals through their robes. Another offered to suck the penis of every man she saw in the public showers.” (Ibid. p. 108) This behavior would continue later at Oregon, as well as at branch communes in Europe and elsewhere. Tim Guest recalls his brief time at Rancho Rajneesh in Oregon in summer of 1984 when he was a 9-year-old lad: “Many of the… kids lost their virginity; boys and girls, ten years old, eight years old,… with adults and other children. I remember some of the kids… arguing about who had f*cked whom, who would or wouldn’t f*ck them…. I kept away from these kids. […] The sannyasin determination to be open about sex meant it was part of our lives from the start.” (My Life in Orange: Growing Up with the Guru, pp. 198, 133)
Many former disciples have rued the misfortune of the children who grew up in this new anti-family society, where often you had 100 mother surrogates but were largely abandoned by the mother with whom you longed to bond. Tim Guest’s autobiographical account as one such child growing up lost and lonely in various Rajneesh communes (My Life in Orange) is particularly poignant and harrowing in this regard. But the attitude at Poona and later at Oregon was, So what? The Bhagwan had many times declared that the family was an obsolete, “ugly” social institution. Many former sannyasins now think that view is “Bullshit!” as Satya Bharti Franklin would write in 1992: “I’d listened to his litany on the subject for years. The nuclear family was repressive, dictatorial; the best thing that could happen to children was not to live with their parents. What unmitigated bullshit it was! The love and support I’d felt from my family in the last two weeks [after someone murdered her son in San Francisco] was more real than anything I’d experienced in Oregon [at Rancho Rajneesh] in five years…. I couldn’t believe I’d once expected Bhagwan to wake me up. He was living in a dream world himself….” (Franklin, pp. 338-9)
Stork, Franklin and others have written about how deliberate moves were made by Rajneesh and ashram leaders to fragment families and drive a wedge between husbands and wives, parents and children. This is an old trick used in dysfunctional cults to make sure that members are primarily focused on the guru, not one another, and so that people will not form deep bonds with each other that might take priority over the bond with the group leader. Many former Rajneesh sannyasins went on to experience rich lives of deep interpersonal connection with spouses, children and parents, combined with a genuinely deep spirituality, far more satisfying and reliable than the artificial, euphoric “highs” experienced on the roller coaster ride with Rajneesh. But many disciples couldn’t break the attachment. That’s why, at Poona in the 1970s, and later at the ranch in Oregon, many of them were willing to break the law to raise the significant sums to stay near Rajneesh. As the French magazine L’Express put it, “Utterly dependent, the disciples are ready to do anything to prevent the umbilical cord that ties them to the Master from being cut. Smuggling, swindling, prostitution: whatever is necessary.” (quoted by Win McCormack in Oregon Magazine/The Rajneesh Files, cited by Strelley, p. 227)
A new threshold of notoriety came in 1975-76 when Rajneesh sanctioned the institution of several dozen psychotherapy growth groups and encounter groups at the Poona center’s “University,” the first Indian guru to mix spirituality with psychotherapy groups. These became, along with selling of books and tapes, colossal money-makers for the Rajneesh ashram. Kate Strelley estimated the numbers for the period around 1980 (see The Ultimate Game, pp. 242-3): “At any one time, there were something like 55 ongoing groups, each with something like 40 participants, who were paying at the very least something like $100 per person.” The Rajneesh ashram had “no overhead for all this” and “was not even paying the group leaders.” Moreover, the number of groups would increase significantly when an extra 4,000 to 5,000 visitors came in for the big celebration days each year. The groups were run by a new power clique of assorted European and American therapists, most of them unlicensed, the “high priests” of Rajneeshism’s blend of avant garde spirituality and pop psychology, then and now nearly 40 years later. The chief therapists were Britishers Teertha / Paul Graham Lowe (thought to be the one who would succeed Rajneesh someday) and Somendra / Michael Barnett, both of whom had been with Rajneesh since 1972.
In the “advanced,” no-limits, high-risk groups, some of which were “marathons” 24 hours or even 48 hours long (with little or no food or sleep), there was massive experimentation not just with nudity, sensuality, sexuality and subtle energies, but also more dangerously with anger, physical violence (pushing, slapping, punching, fighting), kinky sex and sexual aggression to the point of including rapes, though the violence was finally, belatedly banned by the ashram leadership in January 1979, shortly after the Jonestown mass suicide tragedy. Rajneesh said that the violence “had fulfilled its function,” whatever that function might have been—certainly not to promote empathy, kindness, or compassion. Rajneesh dubiously stated, according to the ashram press release announcing the ban, “Psychotherapies were needed only because the thousands of people coming to his ashram from the West were not yet intelligent enough to heal their own psychological wounds.” Journalist Frances Fitzgerald commented, “Perhaps it was only fair for Rajneesh to blame his disciples when the therapists were laying all the responsibility on him.” Even after the ban on violence, the word-of-mouth buzz continued that Poona’s version of psychotherapy surpassed in intensity anything allowed at Esalen, est, Lifespring, Arica or elsewhere in the West, which made it a big draw for jaded persons worldwide seeking new thrills. And this was the supposedly supernal “Buddhafield” that Rajneesh had engendered for his “Divine” energies to radiate and enlighten the cosmos.
Sociologists and journalists like Frances Fitzgerald, author of a widely-read, lengthy 2-part series on the Rajneesh movement for The New Yorker (“A Reporter at Large: Rajneeshpuram, Parts 1 & 2,” Sept. 22/29, 1986), have endeavored to contextualize the Rajneeshee therapy groups within the variegated “human potential movement” of the late 1960s onward.
All of this activity was rationalized by Rajneesh himself as being “Tantra,” when in fact Rajneesh had never been initiated by any guru of any bonafide tantra traditions of India and made to undergo the requisite disciplines to see if he had in fact fully transcended self-obsessive egocentricity. In a brief 2010 article Charles Carreon coined the term TIDS, “Tantra-Induced Delusional Syndrome,” to describe the destructive exploitation that transpires under the bogus use of the term “tantra” by certain predatory cult leaders; see www.american-buddha.com/tids.htm. Therein he notes: “Once a sufficient critical mass of students adopts this belief, it sets in motion a whirlpool of self-reinforcing behavior that exerts the psychological gravitational force of a black hole, sucking in large numbers of vulnerable souls.”
Rajneesh’s other trick was adducing fabulous tales from the past (e.g., fictional teaching stories of really wild behavior invented centuries later about historical adepts like Tibet’s Tilopa and Marpa, and Ch’an/Zen masters Bodhidharma and Lin-chi) to claim that what he was doing was just part of a long, hallowed “Crazy Wisdom” tradition. Alternately, he seemed to think that what he was doing was justifiable as the kind of “experimental work” that Gurdjieff had conducted.
I call what Rajneesh was doing neither Tantra nor Crazy Wisdom, but unconscionable manipulating and unproven experimental meddling with spiritual aspirants’ vulnerable bodies, life-force, hearts and minds. No wonder that so many Rajneeshees of the time struck many of us as having noticeably dissipated, frazzled energy fields, their attention very attached to a superficial level of the senses and emotions… India’s old Upanishad wisdom that Absolute Spiritual Reality (Nirguna Brahman) is transcendent, formless and “subtler than the subtlest” was completely lost on them as they were put through the wringer day after day, month after month, following their guru’s dubious directions that this ordeal was the way to enlightenment. Reports from numerous former respected sannyasins such as Satya Bharti Franklin, Avibha Kate Strelley, et al., indicate that far too many Rajneesh sannyasins swung from euphoric highs descending down into dark, destructive patterns in their relationships, behaving in cruelly authoritarian, violent, fascist manner, not just at Poona during the heyday of the most extreme forms of therapy groups, but later in Oregon, and all along for many years at local branch-communes worldwide.
Meanwhile, a frail, asthma- and allergy-ridden Rajneesh daily and nightly talked and talked and talked, rambling on for hours at the daily morning lecture, in English one month and in Hindi the next month, and during the evening talks in English, on a wide range of topics, from the high-flown and happy to the pedantic, pedestrian, goofy, gossipy, bitter and bizarre. Followers slavishly turned the tape-recordings and “33 million words” into scores of money-making books. The English-language books became the ashram’s biggest money-maker and for that mercenary reason Rajneesh eventually began to lecture only in English, causing a number of non-English speaking Indians to leave the ashram. At the evening darshan discussions Rajneesh allowed questions, but usually replied by switching topics. Former disciple and therapy group leader Michael Barnett/Somendra recalls that the questions “would make you feel as if you were participating. In fact, nobody ever participated in Poona. There was only one person, really, in Poona.” More signs of narcissism and megalomania. Of course, Rajneesh himself said he often dodged questions to see if disciples could wait indefinitely with a “living question” for a “living answer.”
The Oregonian series furnishes another good synopsis of the power behind the Poona Rajneesh Ashram scene: “Aside from lectures and darshans, Rajneesh remained cloistered with a group of favored disciples in Lao Tzu House, a secluded building [a sprawling old British Raj mansion] at the [garden surrounded] back of the Koregaon Park compound. He rarely left the ashram. Yet Rajneesh remained the movement’s mastermind. ‘He knew as much as any head in an international corporation can know of everything that’s going on,’ recalled Milne, who as chief bodyguard was a member of Rajneesh’s inner circle. Former disciples said Rajneesh sent some disciples off to create or run satellite centers around the world and instructed others to conduct therapy groups. He chose the ashram’s department heads and occasionally pitted them against one another. Although he delegated office duties to Laxmi, he was known to countermand her decisions.” (Part 3, July 1985) It gets even more insidious than this, for he often used his secretary Laxmi and later her usurper/replacement Ma Sheela to mess with people’s psyches. Satya Bharti Franklin recalls, “he’d tell people one thing in darshan in Poona, then instruct Laxmi privately to arrange the opposite; she’d amused us for years with stories about his games. Pressing people’s buttons, she called it: a spiritual exercise. I still wasn’t ready [at the time] to see it as manipulation.” (Promise of Paradise, p. 316)
It is important to pause here and note that Rajneesh’s rise to fame in India in the late 1960s and 1970s was not just due to his big energy, authoritarian tactics, maverick style, personal appeal, easy philosophy, and the notoriety of the sexed up atmosphere at his hedonist commune, but also largely due to his early team of publicity hounds and the organizational efforts and social connections of his first secretary and first among his neo-sannyasin disciples, Ma Yoga Laxmi (Laxmi Thakarsi Kuruwa, 1933-95). Laxmi, a charismatic, austere woman who had met him in 1968, when she was in her mid-30s, experienced some profound kundalini arousal and kriya experiences under his shaktipat energy (detailed in her short autobiography, The Journey of the Heart: A Story of a Disciple with a Living Master). The extremely well-connected daughter of a prominent wealthy businessman and close friend of many of the longtime ruling Congress Party leaders, she herself was a rising political figure in the mid-1960s. Without Ma Laxmi and her financial wealth and VIP connections, and those wealthy Bombay businessmen promoting Rajneesh as a new guru “commodity” with their publicity machine, it’s unlikely that Rajneesh, even with that powerfully mesmerizing personal energy and sensationalist approach to teaching, ever would have become quite so famous or powerful a magnet in luring so many people to this “new kind of religion.”
There’s another factor at work here bolstering the rapid rise of Rajneesh and his mixed-up teachings and grab-bag of psycho-spiritual techniques: the modern era’s widespread spiritual illiteracy and emotional neediness and alienation that could easily be exploited by someone as sharp as Rajneesh. Sociologist Uday Mehta points out: “It is not surprising to find that Rajneesh could get away with several gross contradictions and inconsistencies in his teachings [e.g., trying to transcend desire by indulging it; trying to combine the Zen teaching of our pristine Void-nature with western depth psychotherapies’ emphasis on thick layers of repressed subconscious material]. This was possible for the simple reason that an average Indian (or for that matter even western) listener, knows so little about religious scriptures or various schools of thought, that it hardly requires much effort to exploit his ignorance and gullibility. Rajneesh in this respect is not the only one. Most of the [pseudo] godmen in this as well as other countries have managed to thrive by taking advantage of the innocence of their average followers and playing upon their psychological needs of dependence, and the emotional insecurity and sense of alienation, frustration and anxieties, all of which are becoming so widespread in modern society.” (Modern Godmen in India, p. 151)
Back to our narrative: from 1976 to 1981, in the market for a much bigger spread, Rajneesh “drummed up the fervor with utopian visions of a ‘new commune’ where sannyasins could live in harmony with nature. ‘New commune’ became a buzz phrase.” (The Oregonian, Part 3) The Rajneesh Foundation became even more hungry for funds and forced many now-penniless sannyasins to go back to their families and ask for money. Two separate relocation schemes were hatched: one to a farm in Kutch, in northwest Gujarat; the other to a desert fortress in the mountains at Saswad, 21 miles south of Poona in Maharashtra. Both projects were eventually aborted, after much contentious hassling between the Foundation headed by Laxmi and the outside officials and local people. Former disciples like Milne recall extensive infighting among Rajneeshees over these projects, too. As with the re-location attempts earlier in the decade, many disciples who had been conscripted into very difficult, back-breaking working conditions in mercilessly hot environments saw all their work go to naught. In fact, the Saswad fortress was where Laxmi and her assistant (later her usurper) Sheela exiled “trouble-making” sannyasins from the Poona ashram, i.e., anyone who raised any questions or in any way threatened the egos of the office elites.
Rajneesh was finding new ways to enjoy himself. In 1978 he instituted the “mediums,” twelve women picked to be channels for his special shaktipat energy or “grace” to flow out more fully to the community and the world. Rajneesh insisted all the women had to have ample breasts though he added three leaner women. “He also had Vivek instruct the mediums not to wear anything under their darshan robes at night, allegedly putting his hands under their gowns when the lights went out” (Satya Bharti Franklin, p. 131) Photos from that era and a segment of the 1980 documentary film “Ashram” by Wolfgang Dobrowolny show the “mediums” dancing around him in passionate ecstasy during the nightly, restricted-group “energy darshans.” As the “Ashram” film shows, Rajneesh would sometimes get up from his chair to forcibly drive his fingers into the “third eye” ajna cakra forehead area of a disciple (or simultaneously two disciples) for extended periods of vigorous rubbing, evidently to raise their kundalini energy or create some kind of experiential state for them. So much of the Rajneesh religion was about creating unusual states and then inwardly witnessing these states.
On May 22, 1980, during the morning lecture, a conservative young Hindu stood up and threw a knife toward Rajneesh, ostensibly trying to kill him. The whole event was bogus, staged. In her revelatory book The Ultimate Game (1987), Kate Strelley/Avibha, privy to many secrets in her elite position working directly with the top ashram office personnel, reports the truth of what happened: “Bhagwan remained seated calmly through the incident…. Actually, his ability to sit without flinching through a potentially fatal attack came from the fact that he knew it was a set-up. The guy was paid to do it. He was beaten by the Ashram guards only to convince the Poona police that this was the real thing. The incident served to increase fear for Bhagwan’s safety and devotion to him.” (p. 215)
From March 24, 1981 for a full five weeks, the “Bhagwan” stopped seeing anyone publicly beyond his elite private circle. On April 10 it was announced that he had taken a vow of silence and would no longer speak, “the ultimate stage of his work.” He appeared for the first time in his new, speechless mode on May 1, 1981 to 6,000 disciples, for a one hour silent darshan, featuring occasional chanting, readings and music by the disciples. And that’s how he appeared to them for the next month. He had done something similar back on June 11-20 of the prior year, 1979, when asthma attacks prevented his being able to speak. (In Summer 1985, with his first large-group talks and press interviews after a 4-year silence toward anyone outside his closest circle, Rajneesh declared several times to the press: “I have been silent as a device to get rid of all those people who were hanging around me because of my words. Their approach to me was intellectual, of the head, and my work is concerned with the heart.”)
And then, with no advance warning to the ashramites who had surrendered their lives and dissolved most or all of their assets to come live under his supposed “caring love and compassion” (usually at his behest to leave everything and stay at Poona), Rajneesh with a chosen entourage of 15 disciples suddenly fled India, flying to New York on June 1, 1981, to evade paying millions of dollars in taxes and to escape persecution from Morarji Desai’s conservative Janata Party and flak from Poona’s offended residents. (On the tax issue, the Indian government could find no evidence that the Rajneesh Ashram was doing any charitable work for any outside community, and so was not eligible for special tax breaks accorded to charitable organizations.) A few thousand disciples were left in the lurch… most didn’t learn until a few months later that their guru was going to re-locate the ashram to an incipient new commune, Rajneeshpuram, in central Oregon, USA.
In our narrative, we shouldn’t leave India without mentioning a corrupt housing scam that was pulled on many sannyasins by ashram elites. As Kate Strelley explains, hundreds of European and East Asian sannyasins had been suckered by all of Rajneesh’s “new commune” talk to purchase a future dorm-space for US$10,000, a shared cottage for $25,000, or a small bungalow for $50,000 in the still non-existent “new commune,” which everyone had assumed would be in India. “Because the Rajneesh Ashram was a ‘nonprofit’ organization, and because people trusted that they were dealing with Bhagwan, the money that changed hands was listed as a ‘donation.’… No one dreamed back then that it would be established in a country they couldn’t live in [the USA, because of visa restrictions].” (The Ultimate Game, pp. 234-5) The housing scam was exactly the kind of corrupt situation that Rajneesh and his organizational heads so often threw back in people’s faces: this was a “test” of your spiritual state, your “detachment” and “disidentification” and whether you were “sufficiently surrendered to Bhagwan.” Thus, as Strelley often points out in her insightful analysis of Rajneesh Ashram group dynamics, the ashram always found a way to turn sannyasins back onto themselves, exacerbate their self-doubt and shame, and keep them in a deferential, disempowered state. And if you dared to stand up and speak out even mildly about an injustice or an abuse, you would be demoted, punished, and/or exiled altogether, your precious mala and access to the ashram and Bhagwan taken away. Strelley notes that most people coming to the ashram did so to escape the corruption of the conventional world; little did they realize they would find such corruption here.
Coming to the USA in 1981 on the dubious pretext of needing emergency medical treatment (official agencies were told that Rajneesh was on the verge of death unless he got help), a suddenly very healthy Rajneesh spent June, July and August at the luxurious “Rajneesh Castle” near the Chidvilas Rajneesh center of Montclair, New Jersey, created by his new secretary, the married Indian woman Anand Sheela (Sheela Silverman; née Sheela Ambalal Patel, b.1949). Sheela had replaced Laxmi in the last year at Poona while Laxmi was mainly elsewhere in India looking for land for the “new commune.” The Rashneesh castle was a 30-room, Rhineland-style affair at 22 Crestmont Road on 15 acres atop a hill overlooking the town of Montclair. Remember that we have a window onto the great “Bhagwan” at this time from Deeksha/Maria Grazia Mori, a member of the closest inner circle around him, until she left the movement in late 1981 and went into hiding. The Oregonian reports (Part 6 and Part 13, July 1985): “In Montclair, Rajneesh dealt with Mori daily as Sheela and others searched the United States for a potential commune site. He sent Mori on shopping trips to New York to buy hats, watches and material for clothes, and he talked at length about the Rolls-Royces he wanted to add to his collection. […] Rajneesh told her exactly what [cars] he wanted. ‘One Rolls-Royce, green with interior blue. One blue with interior gray. And the gold, with a diamond in the ashtray,’ Mori said. ‘He would talk hours how he wanted the Rolls-Royces.’ […] Mori grew increasingly disillusioned. ‘This is the greatest shock of my life, because then I realized that he was a jerk,’ Mori said. ‘I realized that he was not enlightened.’” And recall Mori’s much more serious allegations of anti-Semitism, cruelty and coarseness, etc., given to her friend Satya Bharti Franklin and other journalists, as cited earlier at this webpage.
Rajneesh continued his public silence until he finally broke it with talks to small invited groups in October 1984 and then large-group talks commencing in July 1985. In the meantime, there was so much that happened on which he should have been publicly speaking to explain what in the world was going on with his “religionless religion”….
In late August 1981 Rajneesh moved out west to the 64,000-acre Big Muddy Ranch procured for nearly $6 million by Ma Sheela in high-desert terrain mainly in Oregon’s Wasco County, 160 miles by slow-going road southeast of Portland. He initially hated the site: far too dry, not enough greenery. But that soon changed as his worker bees frenetically labored around the clock to plant lush gardens and lawns with imported peacocks along with costly 30-foot-high trees brought in to surround Rajneesh’s new private compound, complete with an indoor Olympic-size swimming pool and not one but two luxurious bathrooms which occupied him for 3 hours daily. Here he resided with his chosen few beloveds in even more insular style than at Poona, while elsewhere on the property a few hundred red-clad sannyasins toiled long and hard, joined by two thousand more in 1982-3. Most of them were Americans and Europeans; very few Indians from the Poona ashram could afford to fly to the USA. Until the entire experiment fell apart amidst terrible scandals in early Autumn 1985, “Rancho Rajneesh” seemed so promising. The commune came to include the newly built Rajneeshpuram city and the aggressively taken-over tiny hamlet of Antelope (re-named “Rajneesh”), which was 18 miles up a steep, winding road as the gateway to Rajneeshpuram. Both places came to be spied upon and watched over by menacing-looking Rajneeshee guards. The Rajneeshee “love-in” eventually turned into a nightmare, especially in the three-year period after the INS finally denied him permanent residency status in Dec. 1982. As The Oregonian summarily noted: “The Rajneeshees were taken to court repeatedly for creating an illegal city, violating land-use laws, failing to repay loans and, finally, for plotting murders and [committing] arson. In the end, the commune collapsed in bankruptcy and members scattered throughout the world.”
During these years, the group certainly made remarkable strides at the commune with all that free “slave labor” by hundreds, then thousands of Rajneeshees faithfully working 12-18 hours, 7 days a week, even during extreme heat and extreme cold. (Work was euphemistically renamed “worship.”) They developed an admirable small-town infrastructure and beautiful landscaping on the dusty, dilapidated old ranch, even if most of that development flagrantly violated Oregon’s rural zoning land-use laws. Though the Rajneeshees clearly broke the law in a pre-meditated way, their argument that they improved certain sections of the land certainly holds merit, because the group’s best minds went to work on how to create an environmentally sustainable human habitat using optimally eco-friendly technologies, just as, for instance, they had grown their vegetables hydroponically back at the Poona ashram and created special water filtration systems. Now along the John Day River and adjacent canyons and hills they created an impressive state-of-the-art reservoir, sewage system, 85-bus free public transport system, suburban style residential spaces, telecommunications center, 10-megawatt power substation, airstrip, 88,000 square-foot meeting hall, 3,000 acres of cleared farmland, verdant areas with gardens and extensive tree-plantings, dairy and poultry farms, a post office, school and meditation “university,” fire and police departments, shopping malls, visitors’ hotels, restaurants, and disco-bar, casino and other delights to cater to this most carnal of spiritual crowds. (A hotel, restaurant, and disco-bar were also created in Portland to help raise funds.)
For a time the Rancho Rajneesh commune appeared to be “the ultimate Me Generation boarding school,” “a year-round summer camp for young urban professionals… awash in the human-potential movement,” as journalist Frances FitzGerald extensively wrote about it, with its utopian idealism about “authenticity” and “spontaneity,” and a now much gentler, kinder group-therapy approach with lots of hugging, positive attitude and humor. Alas, under the ruthless power-hungry tendencies of Ma Sheela (with Rajneesh giving her complete authority), her formerly more friendly personality aspects almost completely supressed in the high-pressure situation at the Ranch, the commune became increasingly oppressive for the exploited rank-and-file sannyasin laborers. Patrolled by ever-more heavily armed paramilitia guards and two police forces, it obsessed with rigid authoritarian rules and regimentation, and compulsory financial contributions and assorted money-making schemes local and worldwide (giving the lie to the idea that Rajneeshpuram was organically self-sustaining). “The commune was transformed into something indeed resembling a repressive, fascistic, totalitarian theocracy” (E.P. Wijnants), “the closest thing to an Eastem Bloc experience in the United States” (Lewis Carter). By 1984-5 the commune had also become an embattled camp fighting a kind of “range war” with locals and the state of Oregon.
The ever more demented, criminally-behaving Sheela, her immediate underlings Savita (Sally-Anne Croft) and Vidya (Ann Phyllis McCarthy), and a few dozen other mainly female disciples selected by Sheela (and ignorantly lauded by Rajneesh as a benign matriarchy), all embroiled themselves in awful controversy, with open hostility and nastiness, multiple onerous lawsuits, and finally terrorist crimes and murder plots against local Oregonian residents and government officials who resisted the blatantly illegal development of the massive rural community. This included the worst mass bioterrorism incident in U.S. history—751 Oregonians sickened (according to the CDC) at ten restaurants in The Dalles from deliberate salmonella poisoning by Sheela’s cronies in September 1984 in order to steal a county election for the Rajneeshees by keeping non-Rajneeshee citizens from the voting booths. The salmonella attack, headed by Sheela’s chief bioweaponist, Filipina nurse Diane Onang / Anand Puja (a.k.a. “Dr. Mengele”), crippled the local economy and inflicted much financial pain as fear spread.
It’s also noteworthy that in October 1984, Rajneeshees bused in over 3,500 homeless persons, most of them black men, from across the country. Rajneesh and his elite deceitfully framed it as a “humane activity” when it was actually to pack the county voter rolls in favor of the Rajneeshees’ political aims. Furthermore, without their consent, Sheela’s gang secretly gave the homeless persons the heavy tranquilizer drug Haldol (spiking their beer and food with it) to better “manage” these persons, since they clearly outnumbered the 3,000 permanent and visiting (mostly Caucasian) sannyasins at the Ranch. One homeless man died from the Haldol drugging. Later, over a period of months, most of these hapless persons were unceremoniously dropped off at The Dalles without any money, many of them dumped in the dead of winter without their warm jackets. This cost Oregon taxpayers $100,000 to re-locate these persons back to their cities of origin. Rajneesh hailed the entire debacle as a “great experiment” and, as usual, never apologized for any distress caused to anyone (including his own rank-and-file sannyasins who had to spend countless hours caring for these traumatized homeless persons’ poor bodily hygiene). Instead Rajneesh, ever the narcissist, boasted that some of the homeless became his disciples.
The restaurant poisoning was just one element in a sordid Rajneeshee campaign of terror: Sheela and Puja and their troops had originally planned to poison the town’s water supply, and in the bioweapons lab the sociopathic Puja also experimented with creating a live AIDS virus and a typhoid virus for use against civilians in nearby towns. In 1985, Sheela’s “dirty tricks” squad within her inner circle of now 38 persons conspired to kill the U.S. Attorney for Oregon, Charles Turner, after he was appointed to head a federal grand jury investigation of the commune. It has only recently become known that they conspired to kill the State Attorney General (Dave Frohnmayer) and other officials. Also on the hit list was reporter Les Zaitz, whose newspaper The Oregonian became the periodical of record for investigating the activities of this cult gone mad.
That no one actually died from all of these assassination and bioterrorism incidents is, to my mind, the biggest Divine miracle in the history of the Rajneesh movement, in this case, God not working for the Rajneeshees, but against the cruel, callous plans of Sheela’s cabal while the guru either looked away or was strongly complicit by pressuring her to expand the commune and overcome all resistance.
I note in passing that Rajneesh had often boasted to the world press in Summer 1985 that the primarily female leadership of his commune was so “superior,” “compassionate,” “intelligent,” “reliable,” and “harmless” compared to the old patriarchies, and yet in retrospect we see that some two dozen of these women, the so-called “Big Moms,” led by chief ogress Sheela and sidekicks Savita and Vidya, acted like little demons.
Excerpts from an important article series published in April 2011 by The Oregonian, based in part on extensive evidence from Rajneeshee insiders not previously aired in their 20-part and 7-part series in 1985, sums up and sheds further light on some of the dark impulses of that time. The bulk of the following is from Part 1 of that series, I’ll add a few passages from Part 4 of the 2011 series:
“Hand-picked teams of Rajneeshees had executed the largest biological terrorism attack in U.S. history, poisoning at least 700 [closer to 750] people. They ran the largest illegal wiretapping operation ever uncovered. And their immigration fraud to harbor foreigners [via hundreds of phony marriages to American citizens] remains unrivaled in scope. The revelations brought criminal charges, defections, global manhunts and prison time.
“But there was much more.
“Long-secret government files obtained by The Oregonian, and fresh interviews with ex-Rajneeshees and others now willing to talk, yield chilling insight into what went on inside Rancho Rajneesh a quarter-century ago.
“It’s long been known they had marked Oregon’s chief federal prosecutor for murder, but now it’s clear the Rajneeshees also stalked the state attorney general [Dave Frohnmayer], lining him up for death.
“They contaminated salad bars at numerous restaurants, but The Oregonian’s examination reveals for the first time that they just as eagerly spread dangerous bacteria at a grocery store, a public building and a political rally.
[…] “They set fire to the county planning office. […] Sheela reasoned that Dan Durow [Wasco County planner] couldn’t act against the commune if his office was destroyed.” […]
“To strike at government authority, Rajneeshee leaders considered flying a bomb-laden plane into the county courthouse in The Dalles – 16 years before al-Qaida used planes as weapons.
“And power struggles within Rajneeshee leadership spawned plans to murder even some of their own. [As just one example:] The guru’s caretaker [his female companion Vivek] was to be killed in her bed, spared only by a simple mistake [they had the wrong key to her room].”
“[…] [By early 1984] alarm among Sheela and her elite [had] deepened. She secured their loyalty with privileges no one else in the commune had: private rooms, cars, special clothing. Together, they perceived ever-increasing threats from outside and from within. They feared their guru would be harmed by vigilantes or arrested by authorities in what they were sure would be an unlawful act. They feared losing their own special places in the sect. Their apocalyptic view wasn’t shared by ordinary sannyasins, who were focused on the daily work, meditation and devising a life intended to be a global model. They didn’t share in Sheela’s paranoia, and some were embarrassed by her public tirades. But most watched without protest. They knew Sheela and her executive staff quickly punished doubters and challengers. Rank and file could be moved without notice to a new home or job. One of the commune’s top lawyers crossed Sheela and soon found himself driving a bulldozer. The most-feared punishment was banishment. Complaining sannyasins were told they could—or must—leave the commune. To get there in the first place, however, worshippers typically sold all their possessions, donated most of their money to the commune and severed ties with outside families and friends. Most truly believed Rancho Rajneesh was their home for life. Where would they go if that was taken away?” (From: Les Zaitz, “Rajneeshees in Oregon—The Untold Story,” The Oregonian, April 14, 2011, Parts 1 & 4, www.oregonlive.com/rajneesh/)
On this topic of many disciples’ dependency on the communal group, one of the things that became clear to insiders and outsiders concerning life at Rajneeshpuram is that this supposedly “new religion” and “new society” was unjustly split between an elite tier of members who enjoyed a number of perks and privileges, including Sheela’s cabal on the one hand, the circle of persons around Rajneesh on the other hand, and then the rest of the “plebian” membership who were performing the backbreaking labor to build the commune and make it work. And the lines between the upper and lower tiers were fluid, all depending on the whims, moods and biases of Sheela operating from her fairly luxurious command center at Jesus Grove. She or her immediate underlings could include you in her club or demote you into serf-like status in an instant. From 1982 on, Sheela had actually excommunicated people from the movement altogether (like former therapy “high priest” Michael Barnett and many others) if they crossed her or disappointed her. This prospect of being banished terrified anyone who had given all their resources to the community and made them extremely emotionally dependent on the group. Moreover, Sheela surrounded herself with some Rajneeshees who, in a “Lord of the Flies” type scenario, quickly emulated her callous interpersonal style. Rajneesh’s dentist and inner-circle disciple Devageet recalls (in his 1985 grand jury testimony): “she was surrounded by people who reinforced everything she said and were there to make you feel insecure, insignificant, and wrong.” It was not just for those at Rancho Rajneesh that Sheela made life as edgy or downright miserable as possible. She had also closed down many satellite centers and promising communes like the Sangam Rajneesh Sannyas Ashram in the Provence Alps of southern France in 1982 (which several dozen sannyasins preferred to the dry, dusty environs of the Big Muddy Ranch in Oregon). These terminations of many branch centers were to insure that all donations be funneled directly to the Ranch and central Rajneesh organizations, not elsewhere.
Concerning the Rajneeshees’ troubled relations with outsiders, the evidence indicates that a number of Oregonians initially were very open to the communal experiment, seeing the newcomers as not too different from America’s tradition of pioneering religious cults like the Mormons or America’s early European settlers. Yet it’s also unfortunately true that a xenophobic portion of the local Christian populace and some covert federal government activity had exacerbated the paranoid mindset of Sheela and commune-leaders with an early and ongoing campaign of harassment and resistance to the development of Rajneeshpuram after it became clear the community was going to flagrantly defy zoning laws. However, as journalist Rohit Arya has written, Rajneesh’s disciples in Oregon “continued the obnoxious behaviors they had learnt in Pune when dealing with the locals and they got everybody’s unremitting hatred as a consequence. They were in the heart of the Bible-belt of America and they did everything they could to give offence.” Sheela and her crazed crew had been pressured by Rajneesh himself, in her daily meetings with Rajneesh, to clear the way for further development of Rancho Rajneesh by whatever means necessary. It was this pressure, say early sannyasin friends of Sheela, that drove her into criminal insanity, replacing her evident good qualities that had endeared her to those former friends in earlier good times.
The Oregonian reports in Part 5 of their 2011 series the contents of a 1985 voice recording of Rajneesh by Sheela of one of their private conversations: “She went to the guru for help stiffening the resolve of those [Rajneeshees] participating [in the criminal activities]. She returned with a tape of her conversation. Although the quality was poor, the commune insiders heard Rajneesh say that if 10,000 had to die to save one enlightened master, so be it.”
Gee—just how wonderfully enlightened is that sentiment? From a man who insisted years earlier that his entire life and teaching were all about “love and compassion”?
Lest anyone think this incident is fabricated by Sheela, former close disciple Ava Avalos recalled the incident, with an even more chilling twist to what Rajneesh said, in her testimony as a government witness in the 1995 criminal trial of two Rajneeshees, Savita (Sally Anne Croft), and Su (Susan Hagan) (pp. 707-8 of the official court transcript, viewable at www.documentcloud.org/documents/73907-ava-avalos-trial-testimony.html#document/p53/a14420): “Sheela would go and see Bhagwan every morning and every evening. In the evening she would talk with him and discuss ranch business and ask him what he would want done within the commune. And I guess because so many of the people that were close to her in that group [the “hit team” set up by Sheela] objected to the idea of killing people, she went to him and asked him what he thought about the need to kill people. [Q: And what did Bhagwan say?] Well, Sheela came back from the meeting. She had taken a tape recorder so she could play us the message. […] And the gist of Bhagwan’s response [was], yes, it was going to be necessary to kill people to stay in Oregon. And that actually killing people wasn’t such a bad thing. And actually Hitler was a great man, although he could not say that publicly because nobody would understand that. Hitler had great vision.”
How can anyone hear such testimony and still think that Rajneesh was “India’s greatest spiritual master since the Buddha”?
Sheela also decided to spy on fellow commune members (not just on outsiders and her own guru) through her penchant for bugging and wiretapping, and at one point even began to target for death certain inmates of Rancho Rajneesh. Finally, a lethal salad-poisoning of a dozen targeted sannyasins close to Rajneesh was nearly carried off one night in 1985, their lives spared only by an accidental mix-up and last-minute canceling of the diabolical plot by Sheela after at least one insider had broken down weeping and begging her to stop all the murder attempts.
Hearing of all this criminal behavior and harmful intentions, we can only marvel: So this was the “revolutionary new movement,” the “true religion” of the “unprogrammed, intelligent ones” in action, as practiced by Rajneesh and a few dozen persons among his top leadership, the staunchly faithful who followed for years their master’s frequent injunction to “abandon the tired old morality,” “live in the freedom of the moment,” and “forget God while practicing godliness.”
Meanwhile, what was Rajneesh doing during his four years at the ranch? Not much at all, certainly very little to monitor and insure the welfare of his followers who had surrendered their lives to him. Hiding out at his remote, heavily guarded compound with several close disciples, he still occasionally made time for selected insiders and certain others outside the circle, especially if the visitors were potential or actual big donors to the Rajneesh organization. He used to conduct evening darshans in India to chat with new sannyasins, arriving and departing older sannyasins, therapy group leaders, and office elites. But now he pretty much only saw about 15 persons including caretakers, housecleaners, cooks and doctors. By this point, certain longtime elites were initiating all newcomers into sannyas, either in person or by mail. Rajneesh mostly avoided both newcomers and veteran sannyasins until he finally broke his public silence in Oct. 1984 by starting to speak to small invited groups, the videos played nightly to the rest of the Rancho Rajneesh population. In July 1985, he began to speak to the press and to larger assemblies of his sannyasins—those, anyway, who could spare the time and energy from their 14-18 hour work-days to listen to him. When people wrote him letters asking for spiritual advice, it was Sheela and a few other disciples, not Rajneesh, who actually wrote the replies, based on quotes from published books of Rajneesh talks. Former office-insider Kate Strelley, in her book The Ultimate Game (pp. 134ff.), tells of the elaborate coding procedure to process these letters at Poona and then at the Ranch, so that people felt the answers were coming straight from “Bhagwan.” Rajneesh had other things to do…. Mainly he slept 9-10 or more hours a day, including a two-hour nap in the early afternoon until 2 p.m. He also spent 3 hours daily in his “temple,” his bathroom. And he swam a few times a week in his private indoor Olympic-size pool to relax a disk problem in his back, which also for some years had required a special chair at lectures and darshan.
Rajneesh gave the details of his daily routine in Summer 1985 to several different reporters, although it looks like he’s leaving a few things out. I’ll piece together passages from just two of these interviews, on July 25 and Aug. 9, 1985 (see The Last Testament, Vol. 1, chapters 18 and 23): “I’m an absolutely lazy man.[…] so I am a non-doer. In the morning I have to be awakened [by companion Vivek] otherwise I’m not going to wake up. At six o’clock they wake me up, and then I take one and a half hours in my bathroom relaxing in my bath. I love my bathroom the best; it is my temple. They have made for me really beautiful, gorgeous bathrooms. And not only one because I’m always for two of everything, not less than that, because if something goes wrong in one bathroom I’m not going to miss my bath. A second bathroom has to be constantly alert and ready. So for one and a half hours I enjoy in my bathroom. I have the best bubble baths. I’m allergic to perfumes, so I can take only herbal bubble baths. If you come to my bathroom you will be surprised to see what a treasure I have got there: the world’s best shampoos, hair conditioners, liquid soaps without perfume, all kinds. It is really difficult every day for me to choose…. It takes my almost five minutes to figure out what this combination will do. After my one and a half hours I take one glass of juice; that is my whole breakfast. And then I go for my morning talk, two and a half hours gossiping with my sannyasins. I don’t have any gospel, I have only gossips, and I laugh with them, enjoy with them. By eleven I’m back. Eleven is my time for my lunch, and has been for my whole life. I have never missed my lunch at eleven. At eleven-thirty [a.m.] I go to sleep. That, too, I have never missed…. Then at two o’clock I have to be awakened again. I go for a drive that I have always loved, and my sannyasins have made a beautiful road just for me…. Back at three o’clock, I rest just sitting in my chair. […] For one and a half hours, I am just sitting silently, doing nothing, and letting the grass grow [a reference to Zen master Basho’s haiku poem]. And it is growing. My grass is not green, it is red [the sannyasins]. And it is growing all around the world while I am simply sitting in my room, doing nothing. [Actually, the size of Rajneesh’s movement was in decline by this point; moreover, it turns out that many or most afternoons Rajneesh was watching Indian and western films on video, not just sitting in meditative absorption.]… Then again for one and a half hours, I am back in my bathroom for my evening shower. Then I have my supper, and from the supper I come directly here [to Jesus Grove] for the interviews. By nine, nine-fifteen, I will be back [at the private residence]. Then my personal secretary [Sheela or one of her underlings when she is off fundraising] has one or two hours—whatsoever she needs—for any advice for the commune around the world, any letters to be answered. Mostly, they do them themselves, unless they find something that needs my advice; then they bring it to me.” (ch. 23) [Q: “What exactly do you do in the bathroom for three hours a day?”] A: “I just enjoy sitting under the shower, lying down in my tub. I change from hot, extreme hot, to extreme cold, freezing water. That is immensely healthful to the body. One and a half hours is not long. It goes so fast because I enjoy it so much. So three hours go into the bathroom. Two hours, or two and a half hours in the morning, I talk to my disciples. Then in the night, two hours, just the way I am talking to you, I talk to some journalist, some author. So four or five hours I am talking [and as we have seen, a lot of this was largely repetitive diatribe “gossip” material he would spout on his usual topics, mostly non-spiritual rants]. Then I enjoy my food. I don’t like to talk even, because whatever I am doing, I want to do it totally. When I am eating, then I just want to eat and relish every bite to the fullest. So one hour or one and a half hours—because I take two meals, lunch and supper—and then I take, before I go to sleep in the night, my whole life I have taken some special sweets which are made only in Bengal, India. So in all, one and a half hours goes to my food. Two hours I sleep in the day. I have napped as long as I can remember, and I love to sleep because to me sleep is just meditation, as pure and as simple and as relaxing. And whatever time remains in the night, I go to bed at about ten or eleven, it depends on the interview. I wake up at six in the morning.”
It turns out that Rajneesh didn’t spend as much time in pure meditation in the afternoons as he suggests in the above statements, which make it sound like he was in thought-free samadhi for hours. No, he was usually watching videos. During his silent period from 1981-4, no longer able to easily read because of eye problems in 1981, Rajneesh sent several disciples on massive video-buying excursions. Milne writes (p. 255): “The videos had now become so important to him that the sannyasis whose job it was to keep him satisfied were flying to Portland or San Francisco almost every day to provide new movies—an enormously costly indulgence.” Thereafter Rajneesh devoted himself in the afternoons to viewing his films, repeatedly viewing “Patton,” “The Ten Commandments” and other favorites, especially favoring Indian cinematic productions. Trusted sannyasins who staffed the “Edison” electronic-eavesdropping unit at the Ranch and were tasked with monitoring the sounds coming from Rajneesh’s private quarters were, writes Tim Guest, “shocked at this glimpse into their guru’s private life. Bhagwan missed India [he said]; while the dream of a sannyasin city became a sump around him, he watched videos of Indian films through the afternoons. In the evenings he and Vivek argued. She shouted: ‘You don’t love me anymore, why don’t you love me? Why don’t you make love to me?’ The microphones picked up the sound of something thrown in the kitchen. He threw something back—a book, a shoe—and muttered: ‘Shut up, woman. I am trying to watch television. Always you are moaning.'” (My Life in Orange, p. 254).
On Rajneesh’s troubled relationship with Vivek, Milne observed (Bhagwan: The God That Failed, p. 166) that by the early 1980s “Bhagwan still had a special relationship with Vivek, but this was less close than it had once been. He used to boast that he made life the hell for her, and this was certainly true.” We have reports that Rajneesh was troubled by her increasingly severe bipolar manic-depression condition, and that he yelled at her and even badly beat Vivek on occasion (recall Maria Mori’s testimony). Former disciple David Knapp / Krishna Deva (“KD”), a psychotherapist who was selected to serve as mayor of Rajneeshpuram town, recalled to the FBI that “in 1984, Bhagwan expelled Vivek from the commune. Knapp said she was sent to England and later Bhagwan finally agreed to allow her to return to Rajneeshpuram…. Knapp also said that Vivek had apparently attempted to commit suicide on at least two occasions while at Rajneeshpuram.” And then, even more shocking, according to Knapp, “Bhagwan told Sheela that he wished Vivek could do the job right. Sheela interpreted this to mean that Bhagwan was really telling her that it was okay to kill Vivek.” (p. 35 of FBI summary statement of Knapp’s testimony; online at http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/73831/02-krishna-deva-fbi-statement.pdf)
Rajneesh was pondering death in other ways. It was evidently after watching a film on Nostradamus that in March 1984 Rajneesh “with great drama and precision [prophesied] that two-thirds of humanity would die of the disease AIDS by the year 2000” (Palmer and Sharma, 1993), which is why he commanded followers to wear condoms and plastic gloves when having sex. Among his other failed apocalyptic prophecies, Rajneesh in 1983 incorrectly foretold the coming of horrors culminating in nuclear holocaust and World War III by 1999.
Several close observers have declared that Rajneesh ingested a lot of nitrous oxide or laughing gas to get high, twice daily according to Sheela in interviews she granted the press in late 1985 (including Germany’s Stern magazine and the U.S. news program, “60 Minutes”). Sheela said he was daily taking 60 mg of the anti-anxiety drug Valium (Diazepam); the normal dosage level is 2-10 mg given 2-4 times daily, i.e., from 4 mg to 40 mg per day, so Rajneesh was taking amounts of Valium 50% above the maximum recommended dosage. Recall Deeksha/Maria Mori saying that back in New Jersey in 1981 Rajneesh was swallowing handfuls of valium and quaaludes, and was often almost incoherent in his speech, obviously under the influence of some kind of mind-altering drug. Former early disciple Christopher Calder thinks Rajneesh was taking big doses of valium as early as the late Poona One days, evidenced by incoherent, slurred speech and drugged-looking gaze. Yes, though Rajneesh had always preached that one should be courageous enough to face life without intoxicants and that the enlightened one lives in a state of complete “ease” free from all “tension,” enjoying life as a grand “play,” he himself was, on the basis of these accounts, quite dependent on heavy drug use as a way to feel good about his life. Later we’ll hear Calder discussing this controversial topic at some length, but here are just a few excerpts from some of his August 2007 emails to an Osho internet forum (rebelliousspirit.com/osho-webzine/103/sharing), where certain disciples vociferously protested the charge that Rajneesh used these drugs on more than just a very few “medicinal” occasions. Calder posts: “Osho’s drug use was documented by the FBI. […] The debate about Osho’s drug use is over, except for the most insane followers. Rajneesh was a drug addict, and I have received letters from dozens of sannyasins who were at the (Oregon) ranch and in Poona who confirm this proven fact. […] Devageet [Rajneesh’s dentist] years ago denied to me emphatically that Rajneesh used N2O [nitrous oxide] except for dental surgery, and then a few months later he publicly admitted on a Osho Web forum that he gave Rajneesh N2O for months on end, and that Rajneesh used the drug because it ‘increased his creativity.’ … Many people at Poona saw the nitrous oxide canisters piled up at Rajneesh’s bungalow, and they knew what it was for. He was not having dentistry done every day. Osho admitted his N2O use and talked about it openly. The FBI had records of how much N2O was delivered to the ranch. The Valium was smuggled in from Mexico. […] All of Rajneesh’s drug use was exposed by the FBI, local Oregon law enforcement, and published in newspapers around the country. People clearly saw the nitrous oxide spigots installed by his bedside. When you get to the point that you have nitrous oxide spigots custom installed by your bed, you are a very serious nitrous oxide addict, not just a casual user…. Ma Anand Sheela, Rajneesh’s personal secretary, publicly stated on the CBS news show 60 Minutes that Rajneesh took 60 milligrams of Valium every day. Hugh Milne, Rajneesh’s head bodyguard, confirmed Rajneesh’s heavy Valium use [as did Maria Mori], as did Swami Devageet [Rajneesh’s dentist].” (Devageet, according to one of my sources, no longer says this about the valium usage.)
As for his other recreational activities, Rajneesh enjoyed driving his infamous Rolls Royces around the Ranch and beyond. “Area ranchers and Antelope residents collected a repertoire of tales about the free-wheeling guru driving at high speeds and occasionally winding up in ditches.” (The Oregonian, Part 13, July 1985) The Oregonian reported Sheela’s public claim to the press in late 1985 that Rajneesh was like an insatiable child making incessant demands of her to expand his fleet of Rolls-Royces beyond the 93 he already had (he wanted one for every day of the year) and to procure other costly items. “He wanted to make it into the record books as the man with the most [Rolls Royces], and it was costing the financially shaky commune $200,000 a month [for these Rolls Royces were never “gifts” free and clear, as the Rajneeshees claimed].” He also kept demanding a certain $4 million diamond wristwatch, “telling her to divert funds from the commune’s needs if necessary.” (Part 4, April 2011) David Knapp corroborated the general truth of the latter part of Sheela’s statement in his testimony to the FBI; according to the FBI’s summary document, “Knapp recalled a meeting between Sheela and some of her people and three members of the ‘Hollywood’ group, including Hasya. ‘Sheela was opposed to Hasya purchasing [for Rajneesh] a Calista watch for 2.5 to 3 million dollars…. At the meeting Hasya told Sheela that she could not say no to Bhagwan. Sheela responded by telling her that it was important to learn to say no to Bhagwan. As a result of this meeting… there was a follow-up meeting the next evening at which all those present at the previous meeting [were there]. This meeting was an audience with Bhagwan. At that meeting, Bhagwan stated that his secretaries in the past who said no to him were let go. Knapp said that this indicated to him and Sheela that Bhagwan had been informed of the fact that on the previous meeting Sheela had told Hasya that she had to learn to say no to Bhagwan. Bhagwan went on to say that he would have to find his own sources who would provide for his enjoyment.”
(http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/73831/02-krishna-deva-fbi-statement.pdf, p. 21)
Tell all this to the impoverished thousands of Rajneeshees who labored on behalf of the guru to grow his class-free “utopian” commune, not to mention destitute people in great need all over the world….
One of my very pro-Rajneesh correspondents, Sandra Johansen, admits that a dear woman friend, a member of the “inner circle” around Rajneesh at Rajneeshpuram, thought that an “unenlightened” and very reclusive Rajneesh completely “lost it” during these four years in Oregon. Certainly he was unconscionably remiss in his role as “Bhagwan” and spiritual preceptor or “guru” by abandoning all pastoral care for his followers, instead allowing Sheela and her dirty-tricks squads to hijack the movement. For just over 3 years, until he began to give discourses once again, he was only available to the vast majority of his followers at Rajneeshpuram via silent drive-by blessings, granting the briefest sight of himself (“car-shan” darshan as some joked) while riding out from his enclosure in one of his Rolls Royces every day at 2 p.m., waving to his adoring throngs lined along the roadside, regardless of extreme weather conditions. Satya Bharti Franklin writes of a dictum from Sheela one day, based on a concern of Rajneesh, demanding that people look and act ecstatically happy along the roadside otherwise they were not to attend the drive-bys. As noted, Rajneesh finally began to publicly speak again to small invited groups in Oct. 1984, much more regularly to his sannyasins at large in Summer 1985. But he seems to have done very little to counter Ma Sheela’s policies, except to begin creating a cadre of supporters around him (“the Hollywood group”) as a rival power-base to Sheela’s group.
On September 14-15, 1985, many top officials in the Rajneesh organizations abruptly resigned, starting with Sheela. She and three of her minions suddenly left the commune for legal refuge in Europe; seven more top insiders defected the next day. On Sept. 16, Rajneesh held a press conference, accusing Sheela and her “fascist gang” (his own followers!) of stealing millions of dollars and attempting to murder him, his doctor, his dentist, his girlfriend Vivek, and some local politicians. He now publicly repudiated the “Rajneeshism” religion that he had led Sheela to formally institute in his name in 1981 (for tax-exemption purposes in the USA and to help him stay in the country under the “religious worker” category), and he ordered a communal burning of 5000 copies of the Book of Rajneeshism, the religion’s basic text, along with burning of Sheela’s robes. He even explicitly abdicated his own role as guru or master, for he had ridiculously insisted when he began to speak to the public two months earlier that he did not have “followers” or “disciples,” only “fellow travelers” and “friends.” Which raises the big question: why was he initiating them into discipleship all those years and urging them to surrender everything to him? He told everyone that they could stop wearning the red robes and mala necklaces. Some did, whereupon the ultra-narcissist Rajneesh expressed disappointment, and so most of the followers resumed wearing them. Rajneesh also asked the FBI to conduct an investigation into Sheela’s activities, but from spoken and written testimony it’s clear to former disciples David Knapp, Kate Strelley, et al., that Rajneesh and his people dissembled and lied in order to put all the blame on Sheela and her cabal. Sheela served with Ma Puja just a 2.5-year jail sentence from mid-1986 to Dec. 1988; for some years now she has been wanted on newer charges that have emerged from that era, but she has legal immunity living in Switzerland (where, as Sheela Birnstiel, widow of a Swiss sannyasin she hastily married for strategic purposes, since 1990 she has run two homes for the mentally and physically disabled).
Many observers think that Rajneesh’s public denigration of Sheela was mere “damage control,” and assert that he had approved of most of Sheela’s policies the entire time and was himself an accessory to the crimes and was thus scapegoating Sheela and her protégés, “the 38,” when he castigated them to the media. This assessment is contested by other, pro-Rajneesh observers and authors, who want to put all the blame on Sheela and her co-conspirators. Yet evidence to the FBI and revealed in print by The Oregonian in 1985 and newer evidence from over the years reported in 2011 suggests Rajneesh was far more complicit than previously thought, such as that secretly taped remark from Rajneesh: “if 10,000 had to die to save one enlightened master, then so be it.” And recall the confirming court testimony from Ava Avalos that he spoke of people having to be killed and then he went on to praise Hitler in that context. Here’s more evidence, from the FBI summary of the testimony received from David Knapp/Krishna Deva, in 1985: “Knapp said that Sheela told him and others that Bhagwan said on several occasions that ‘a master’s life is worth a million other lives.’ Bhagwan said, ‘Life is meaningless unless one is enlightened.’ His message was that if a million died to save one enlightened master it is okay. (p. 35) The FBI further learned from Knapp: “Knapp said that Sheela and Bhagwan had a close relationship. He described the relationship as one where Sheela saw Rajneesh every evening. Knapp said that the relationship was such that everything Sheela said came from Bhagwan. Whenever Sheela spoke, it was accepted by everyone that she spoke on behalf of Bhagwan. Knapp informed that he was personally aware of instances when Sheela went to see Rajneesh with one idea and returned, after conversing with Bhagwan, with a different idea and that was the idea which would be adopted. Knapp said he believed that Bhagwan was aware of everything which occurred at Rajneeshpuram, with the possible exception of the conspiracy to kill his personal physician, Devaraj, and the bugging of his personal room at Lao Tzu [house].” (pp. 4-5) “Knapp also said that regarding Bhagwan’s news conference which occurred immediately after Sheela and her group departed Rajneeshpuram [wherein Rajneesh briefly mentioned various crimes Sheela and her cohorts had committed], Bhagwan was aware of all the crimes, not because he discovered them after the departure of the group, but because Sheela kept him advised of what was going on all along.” (p. 38)
When Sheela appeared on the television news show “60 Minutes” after fleeing Rajneeshpuram in 1985, she asserted that Rajneesh was responsible for “exploiting people by using their human frailty and emotions.” She called the religion simply a confidence trick, and maintained that Bhagwan directed every criminal act she did. (Paul Morantz, “Escape from Rajneeshpuram,” www.paulmorantz.com/cult/escape-from-rajeneeshpuram/)
The Oregonian (Part 8 of 20-part series, July 1985) reports: “Asked in a [Fall] 1984 deposition if he relied on Sheela to take care of ‘all matters, mundane or temporal,’ Rajneesh replied, ‘Yes, and she is taking care of it perfectly,’” though it later emerged that Rajneesh already knew of harmful, manipulative power-tripping by Sheela from as early as May 1984, according to testimony given by his dentist, Devageet. On July 20, 1985 in a press conference with the world media (The Last Testament, vol. 1, ch. 3), Rajneesh replied to a reporter’s query about Sheela: “I have chosen her as my secretary because she has lived with me for many years, and I have seen not only her physical beauty, but also her spiritual beauty. I have seen her intelligence. I have seen that she can manage this whole commune of crazy people.” A reporter on Aug 11, 1985 asked him (Ibid., ch. 25): “Your personal assistant and secretary, Sheela, has made tremendous waves here and in Australia recently on television and press interviews and in those waves created, you’ve got some really bad press. […] Did Sheela act under your instructions or do you feel sometimes that she’s gone maybe sometimes too far?” “No. She never goes as far as I want. She gets hit [by me] every time she comes back home, that this is not enough.” In the same interview, Rajneesh asserted: “Because I have trained Sheela I can trust her, and she will remain in control.”
Note that these four remarks came during the two years when Sheela was later revealed to have been acting in wanton criminal fashion and Rajneesh was still meeting daily with her and hearing of her plans and evidently goading her to be more “successful” in growing the commune and resisting all outside interference from Oregon’s officials. The blurb on a 2009 book by a former cohort of Sheela’s sums it up well: “[At Rancho Rajneesh in the early 1980s,] he began promoting a siege mentality among his followers, ordering them to amass firearms. He encouraged his secretary Sheela to use drastic methods to take over local governments and to punish the local communities who objected to their ‘utopian’ city.”
Kate Strelley/Avibha, a disciple from 1975 until she left the Ranch in 1982, working in the elite office directly under Sheela from about 1977 on (remaining a long-distance consultant to Sheela as late as Summer 1985), in her tell-all book, Ultimate Game (1987), filled with all sorts of revelations, provides the following crucial insight about “the sort of correspondence that Sheela kept in her ‘S’ or ‘Sheela’ files…. The ‘S’ file would be used for Sheela’s notes recording things that had happened or comments on certain people and what they were up to. It also held all the typewritten notes that Sheela had taken in to Bhagwan. When she fled the Ranch in Oregon, she managed to take all these files with her, at least as far as anyone can determine. These records include all Bhagwan’s written directives to her—including some that show, contrary to his protestations that he knew nothing about what was going on, that he knew everything. In these notes she tells him clearly what’s happening, what they’re up to, and asks him specifically for direction. My guess is that these are [still in Sheela’s possession somewhere]. I’ve also heard that she has fourteen videotapes of her private sessions with him since at one point they stopped writing down everything.” (pp. 247-8) “Shortly after [Sheela’s flight from Rajneeshpuram to Germany in mid-Sept. 1985], Hasya [Rajneesh’s new secretary to replace Sheela] called me on Bhagwan’s behalf [to come back to the Ranch], and I went up there to try to help sort out the documents left in the office. On that visit I realized that Bhagwan was totally corrupt. He had set the whole thing up…. I said, ‘That’s it.’ I knew the game—their game—was still very much afoot. Through it all everybody was blaming Sheela, but I saw that it was Bhagwan at the center of things. If I ever had any doubts, I no longer did. He must have been the person who had contrived it all. The person who had been giving directions from the start.” (p. 376)
Catherine Jane Paul alias Jane Stork / Ma Shanti Bhadra, one of Sheela’s top aides, testified to journalist Richard Guilliatt (“It was a Time of Madness,” The Weekend Australian Magazine, June 17-18, 2006) that Rajneesh was far from being guiltless and that he himself “orchestrated many events in his detailed daily briefings.” Stork denounced Rajneesh as a con-man; the guru denigrated her and other female devotees associated with Sheela, placing all the blame upon them in order to clear his own name. Former Rajneeshpuram mayor David Knapp, according to the FBI, “became convinced that there was a cover up going on at Rajneeshpuram during the investigation by the Oregon State Police, Oregon State Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in late September and early October 1985. He based this opinion on the fact that [different sannyasins’ names were being either included or left out of certain accusations, which…] convinced him that the people who were present at Rajneeshpuram were to be protected [by Rajneesh and elite commune spokespersons] while all the ones who left were to be accused of crimes.” (op cit., p. 37)
For those who still want to exclusively point the finger at Sheela and cronies for master-minding all the crimes, the big question remains: why did Rajneesh ever pick the cold-hearted Sheela as his secretary and chief of staff in the USA, when by her own admission she was never interested in enlightenment, only in Rajneesh, and she never meditated nor did any of the therapy groups? Yes, she had connections in the USA and knew the culture, having lived there as a young woman. But why did he then train her in heavy-handed authoritarianism as virtually “Queen” of the realm, urge her to do whatever was necessary to further develop the Rajneeshpuram complex in the face of resistance from authorities, continue to let her have so much organizational power in the Rajneesh Foundation International, and on various occasions vigorously defend and support Sheela when reporters and then a sannyasin disciple tried to criticize her? Back in the Poona years he had remarked that she had a “thief mentality.” But in a long statement he made to disciples and to the press after her flight from Oregon in mid-September 1985, he basically said he gave her all that unchecked power because she was “99% good” and was a very down-to-earth, pragmatic person who could help him rapidly and efficiently grow his organization. Which is evidently why, for so long, Rajneesh allowed the ambitious ends to justify the miserable means. (For the text of Rajneesh’s lengthy accusation of Sheela but ultimate defense of her, see: www.oshoworld.com/biography/innercontent.asp?FileName=biography8/08-25-sheela.txt)
P.T. Mistlberger, in his interesting study of Rajneesh (and Gurdjieff and Aleister Crowley), thinks that Rajneesh picked Sheela because she represented, in cruder form, his own personality type of stubborn self-righteousness, bellicosity, and lack of civility. We quote Mistlberger at some length: In the aftermath of the revelation of the criminal activities enacted by her and her confederates… Osho’s main argument was that he was not responsible for the actions of others…. The fact remains that he appointed a woman with the character traits that she had to an extraordinarily sensitive and important position in his organization. Why? The only reasonable answer is that he did so unintentionally, and unwittingly, precisely because Sheela was, at the deepest level, too close to him for him to see who she really was, and what she was really capable of. By ‘close to him’ is not meant a real intimacy…. Rather she was, to a certain degree, a reflection of him in disposition… a close pattern-match with him on the level of certain character traits, perhaps most notably being a strong attachment to being right about things and a level of stubbornness connected to that, that goes far beyond being merely endearing…. Anyone who has ever listened to Osho talk about his past will, if they listen closely,… be struck by a few things. First and foremost is Osho’s tendency to portray conflicts between himself and others in such a light that always, without fail, demonstrate Osho’s righteousness. Time and again we hear stories of him encountering someone, ‘calling them’ on something, and they sooner or later admitting that Osho is right. He seems to have been the only man in history who never lost an argument, was never wrong, or was never put in his place by anyone. He always, without fail, is on the giving end of such encounters…. Osho seemed always to have been at war with something or someone…. I have personally been involved with several spiritual organizations and communities in addition to Osho’s and I can confidently state that sannyasins…, while they could be amongst the most passionate, alive, intelligent and affectionate—were often as well (especially in the 1980s) amongst the most abrasive and unfriendly. Osho valued authenticity very highly, and was contemptuous of ‘English civility’—in a word, niceness—probably more than anything. It has been argued that Osho’s community was not warmly welcomed by Oregonians in the early days (1981) of the commune. And while that is unquestionably true, what is less commonly mentioned is that the general demeanor of Osho’s disciples was often itself anything but warm and inviting. Some of that was an echo of Sheela’s character and leadership style, but some of it was also the natural outgrowth of Osho’s teachings on the importance of exalting the self above all else. Osho was fighting his whole life—through his college years (which included expulsions), with professors, with religious leaders, even with other avant-garde gurus. That he handpicked Sheela, also a pit-bull, for such a pivotal position, can hardly be surprising. Thus it stands to reason that he bears some degree of culpability in Sheela’s criminal acts, even if only indirectly, and even if only psychologically. She was his Devotee… a Moon reflecting the light of her Sun. His decision to retreat into silence for over three years and allow a young woman in her early thirties to assume command over such a vast and sprawling fellowship with millions of dollars to play with, could have only occurred if he saw in her some quality that reminded him enough of something within himself—even if he was ultimately unaware of her more destructive potentials. (P.T. Mistlberger, Three Dangerous Magi: Rajneesh, Gurdjieff, Crowley, pp. 291-3)
I recently ran into a quote from Rajneesh that makes all of this even more ludicrous. It’s from the Osho publication Theologia Mystica, which ostensibly should be Rajneesh/Osho discussing a 6th century treatise by a Christian mystical monk (Dionysius Areopagite). But Rajneesh, in typical fashion, felt compelled to ramble onto other topics to suit his colossal ego. On one such tangent, he started attacking Swami Vishnudevananda (a western missionary disciple of the famous Swami Shivananda of the Divine Life Society in Rishikesh) for allowing himself to be “deceived.” One cannot read the following scathing words without thinking that surely they must be turned right around and applied to Rajneesh himself if in fact he was NOT, as he claims, aware of what Sheela and her group of his disciples had been doing behind his back: “Somebody in Vishnu Devananda’s own organization has been deceiving him for years…. It is good that Vishnu Devananda has confessed that somebody in his own organization was deceiving him, but what does it show? It shows one thing: that Vishnu Devananda is a fool. If somebody in his own organization, his own disciple can deceive him, then what integrity has he got and what consciousness? He should drop being a Master, he should stop initiating people. He has lost all right to.”
By this very logic, Rajneesh’s integrity and degree of “consciousness” should likewise have been questioned in Fall 1985 and he should have “dropped being a Master and stopped initiating people” for having allowed Sheila and her people to deceive him, if in fact he was deceived at all. To reiterate, at least several former disciples charge that he was VERY involved in many of Sheela’s planned activities and may have been largely directing them.
On the bigger questions of how this complex cult craziness reached this far at all, not just with Sheela’s power-trips but also with Rajneesh himself as ambitious cult-leader surrounded by adoring multitudes of the deluded, whose psyches were imprinted and controlled to insure that they saw him as their bhagwan and master, it’s worth interjecting here some more lengthy analysis, this time from Satya Bharti Franklin. Recall that she was chief editor of Rajneesh talks in the early to mid 1970s, ghostwriter of some of his earliest English-language books, and author of two early books praising Rajneesh to the skies. But in her more sober, critical account released in 1992, The Promise of Paradise: A Woman’s Intimate Story of the Perils of Life with Rajneesh, Franklin candidly reflects on the man: “Was he immoral or merely amoral—indifferent to anything that happened as long as ‘his work’ benefitted?… Was he merely playing games for his own amusement all along? According to his own accounts, he was a mischievous rascal even as a child—rebellious and constantly courting danger. As soon as he got away with something, he became more outrageous…. He may well have figured that if a poor village kid could become a college professor, if he could travel all over India lecturing to large enthusiastic crowds, why couldn’t he become a guru? Most gurus were phonies. He was intelligent and perceptive; he could get away with it. He practically fell into the role: people were demanding it of him, begging to call themselves his disciples. Reading every book on pop psychology and religion that he could get his hands on, Bhagwan developed a repertory of powerful meditation techniques that opened people up to mystical experiences. What ‘60’s drop-outs used drugs to attain, Bhagwan created through hypnotic music, frenzied dancing, intense catharsis and finally, at the [Oregon] ranch, exhaustive physical activity. His most successful technique was Dynamic [Meditation], to which he quickly added a final stage of celebration, turning catharsis into meditation into rapture. People soon learned to associate their euphoric states with Bhagwan. In Poona therapy groups they were told to look at a picture of him and ‘surrender to it’ after they’d been through a particularly heavy emotional catharsis. What I’d chosen to think of as a helpful spiritual technique could easily be seen as deliberate imprinting. We were all advised to keep photos of Bhagwan beside our bed at night so he could ‘work’ on us in our sleep. ‘When you make love,’ he went on to say, ‘keep my picture nearby. I will be there with you,’ fostering a primal attachment to him even amongst sannyasins who’d never met him personally. Once he arrived in the States, Bhagwan seemed to up the ante and go one step further than he’d gone before. If he could be a guru in India… why couldn’t he be the richest man in the world in America…? Why stop there for that matter? He could rule the world some day…. During his years of silence and isolation in Oregon, sannyasins turned Bhagwan into an idol, an icon, a god—making him into Jesus Christ, the Buddha, the Wizard of Oz—pretending he knew what was happening, that he was running the show somehow…. He warned us, ‘You have to find your own path, your own way.’ Yet he also told us to surrender to him and accept him as our Master; everything he said he contradicted…. He talked about individuality, creativity, and freedom, while in practice something very different went on around him…. In a TV documentary on hypnotism produced by the CB, Bhagwan was compared to a stage hypnotist, the Marines, the Moonies and Jesuits. To change people’s fundamental belief system, the film postulated, all you have to do is change their environment and put them into one that you control. When their sense of identification is shaken, an authority figure steps in to tell them what to do, think, feel, and believe. ‘Surrender and I will transform you. This is my promise‘ [Rajneesh’s constant message, inscribed on the big banner in Buddha Hall]…. Bhagwan employed all the methodologies of the others. It was a comparison that was as chilling as it was irrefutable. (pp. 325-7)
Despite the surrender of all their money and possessions and the massive labors by the honestly hard-working sannyasins to create the long-heralded “utopia” at Rancho Rajneesh, their Bhagwan and his new top circle of helpmates really were not interested to stick around and stand up for it. Protecting the Bhagwan came first. A leaked tip in late Oct. 1985 that federal agents were going to arrest Rajneesh on immigration crimes led his rich new female secretary Prem Hasya to furtively and quickly get the guru, herself, some of the entourage, a stash of cash and over $1 million worth of Rajneesh’s jewelry (watches, bracelets) and designer sunglasses onto two chartered Lear jets with the intention of fleeing the USA for Bermuda. But in the wee hours of Oct. 28, they were intercepted at North Carolina changing planes and Rajneesh was taken away in handcuffs. Jailed for 12 days, Rajneesh was charged with one count of criminal conspiracy (RICO), lying about his intent to remain permanently in the U.S. when he first entered the country as a visitor on June 1, 1981. He was also charged with 34 counts of making false statements to federal officials (INS officers) in the process of committing immigration fraud through illegally helping to arrange phony marriages for favored foreign disciples. These were in fact the most benign of several serious charges against him. Authorities flew him in stages across country by a secret mail-plane: “He was hauled back to Portland in handcuffs, booked into jail like a common criminal. He ordered his lawyers to cut him a quick deal, and he was soon deported as a convicted felon, guilty of immigration crimes.” At the federal courthouse, he signed his plea bargain for two counts of immigration fraud and his $400,000 fine was paid. Given a 10 year suspended sentence, he was ordered to leave the USA and not return for a minimum of 5 years.
Rajneesh then directly flew with a small entourage back to India, arriving on Nov. 17, 1985. He stayed at luxurious accommodations in Delhi, then moved for a time to similar digs in Manali Valley in northern India, before going on in Dec. 1985 to a posh villa in Kathmandu, Nepal. He likely would have stayed here (there had been a plan since 1980 to locate the “new commune” here), but the Nepalese government denied visas for his attendants and visitors. Thus began what Rajneeshees misleadingly call his “World Tour” over the next several months, which actually saw 19 countries reject his request for legal residency and two more nations, Greece and Uruguay, forcibly deport the guru and his entourage. After Greek authorities, at the behest of Orthodox Christian bishops, ousted him from Crete (where he gave his first ever public talk in Europe, to reporters on Feb. 19, 1986), he was rejected by over a dozen European nations in early March. Uruguay extended an invitation, and so he stayed for three months, giving lots of talks until forced by U.S. pressure on the Uruguay government to leave in mid-June. A few more unsuccessful attempts to settle somewhere, first in Jamaica and then in Europe, culminated in a several week low-profile stay in a cottage in the woods outside Lisbon, Portugal. But he was “discovered” here, too, and so Rajneesh, wanting to resume his teaching work, finally returned to Bombay, India in late July, 1986. He claimed that the repeated rejections were a behind-the-scenes plot by the U.S. Reagan administration to embarrass him. But if you were an official in any one of these countries, given the sordid criminal record of Rajneesh and his followers in India and Oregon and his incessant anti-family, anti-religion, and anti-government rants to the media, would you want to let them set up camp in your country? No wonder he and his people were regarded by these governments as a “dangerous influence.”
Meanwhile, back in Oregon, as Rajneeshpuram in the USA rapidly collapsed in the Fall 1985 aftermath of Rajneesh’s expulsion, once again, a few thousand disciples were left in the lurch, just as faithful disciples had been left hapless when Rajneesh and his close companions had fled India for the USA on June 1, 1981. The great “utopia,” in financial ruin due to all the lavish spending the guru had desired, devoured whatever monies they thought they still had: “The Rajneesh Financial Services Trust in late November began turning away disciples who sought to withdraw money they had deposited with the Rajneesh Currency Card program. The cards, intended to promote a cash-free society, had permitted disciples to buy goods and services at ranch businesses by charging against their deposited funds. However, in the ranch’s closing days, cardholders were told they couldn’t use the cards even to buy ranch assets.” (From The Oregonian 7-part series, “On the Road Again,” Part 1, Dec. 30, 1985) Having already given to the Rajneesh cult so much of their own wealth and labor and their families’ wealth, now what little money they had left to their name was also vaporized by the corrupt leadership. Now mostly disillusioned, few disciples tried to join Rajneesh on his ill-fated “World Tour,” and not very many saved up the money to go see him in India when he returned there in Summer 1986.
On Rajneesh’s apparent abandonment of his self-sacrificing disciples, it’s worth pausing in our narrative to note an exchange between Rajneesh and Dieter Ludwig of Germany’s Quick Magazine, on Dec. 4, 1985, when Rajneesh was up with his small entourage of caretakers in beautiful Manali, India, soon after being ejected from the USA. Mr. Ludwig confronted Rajneesh with the following question: “Do you feel any kind of responsibility towards your sannyasins who have lived in your commune; invested money, sometimes their inheritance, and their working powers into the projects of the commune? Do you find any responsibility for guidance or otherwise for those now are confused and don’t quite know where they stand (inaudible)?” Remember that for many years sannyasins had seen the big 20-foot banner with Rajneesh’s clearcut message: “Surrender to me, and I will transform you. That is my promise.” A message that was plastered in many other places, such as on the back of many book covers. And there were other explicit messages by Rajneesh in lectures and in direct communications to a person during arriving or departing darshans that Rajneesh would “care for you.” But in this interview with Ludwig, in a long-winded “me-thinks-he-doth-protest-too-much” reply, Rajneesh declared something different to exonerate himself from any responsibility or accountability: “…The whole history has been dominated with the idea that you are responsible to somebody else. […] Jesus [says… ] ‘If you have faith in me, then I will save you.” […] My attitude is totally different. […] I have never guaranteed anybody that, ‘If you do this, then you will enter into paradise.’ I have never guaranteed anybody that, ‘If you do this, then the project is going to succeed.’ I have only said to my people, that ‘Whatever you do, do if you love to do it, if you enjoy to do it. And your enjoyment is your reward. There is no other reward beyond that. Whether the project fails or succeeds does not matter.’ So I never feel responsible for anybody, and I don’t make anybody else feel responsible for me. There are people who have given their whole inheritance. I have also given my whole life. Who is responsible? They are not responsible because I have given my whole life to them, and their money is not more valuable than my life. With my life I can find thousands of people like them. With their money they cannot find another me. [NOTICE THE COLOSSAL NARCISSISM HERE and the deceitful statement that Rajneesh has “given his whole life” with the implication he has given it to his multitudes of disciples, when in fact he spent most of his hours enjoying himself in seclusion or in the intimate company of a few beloveds.]… It was my joy. I loved it each moment of it. [OF COURSE HE DID—as a narcissist, Rajneesh gained massive ego-stroking attention from being the devotional object of his hordes of followers during his talks, darshans and drivebys.] And I will continue to give my life to my people, to the very last breath, without making anybody feel guilty that he is responsible. Same I expect from them. I had never asked anybody to give anything to the commune [NOT TRUE—he asked them to go home, start centers, bring rich people and other people to him; and Laxmi, Sheela, Deeksha, and Savita sure did a lot of high-pressure asking of people to give everything as an enactment of how ‘surrendered’ they were!]. If they had given their whole fortune, it was their decision, and they enjoyed the decision. Nobody was forcing, nobody was persuading [NOT TRUE, SEE ABOVE]. They loved it, and they were rewarded [HOW?]. So there is no question of responsibility. I don’t feel responsible for anybody. Neither anybody needs to feel responsible for me. Everybody is responsible for himself. This gives you freedom, and this makes you authentically individual. And my whole purpose is to make you absolutely individual [BY SURRENDERING TO RAJNEESH?] […] And this is my basic teaching, that your life should be authentically your own. So whatever you do, remember, you are responsible for it. Never dump your responsibility on somebody else. That is an ugly act. Only this way we can allow people to grow into their real, natural potentiality. So I am not responsible for anybody. I am only responsible for myself, and I am perfectly happy. And those who have understood me, whatever they have done, will feel absolutely happy for it.” (The Last Testament, vol. 4, ch. 25)
Would you buy a new car from a dealership that offered you NO warranty and NO promise of service of your vehicle in case anything goes wrong? In the case of someone coming to Rajneesh, you along with thousands of other persons were lured in by the grandiose claims issued by the Bhagwan and his publicists about his supreme spiritual state and his powers and what he would do to heal and enlighten you, and every day of your life with him you saw that big 20-foot-long banner-promise at the lecture hall, “Surrender to me and I will transform you….” Then, not just once, but twice, he and his elites ran away from you after you were overtly pressured by them to give over all your money, possessions, attention-energy, tens of thousands of hours of your time and free labor (12-18 hours a day). That is to say, after Rajneesh and his squad used you and exploited you as far as possible…. In the process, Rajneesh gets all of his narcissistic needs met by having you bow to him and worship him along with other disciples en masse; and also having you build, expand, and fund his communal cult which he can boast about to the media. And now, penniless and abandoned by the Bhagwan (after he abruptly leaves you at Poona One and then again at the Oregon ranch), he tells you that “you are responsible for it. Never dump your responsibility on somebody else. That is an ugly act.” But you know what’s really “ugly”? The deceitful scam that Rajneesh and his sycophant cronies pulled on everyone who kept faith in him. I call it reprehensible exploitation of fellow human beings in the name of “spiritual growth.” But if anyone complained or criticized Rajneesh or his cult cohorts, that person was instantly cut down with a remark such as, “you’re full of ego and have failed Bhagwan’s test. You’re stupid and unawake and don’t deserve to be a sannyasin.”
Returning to our narrative of Rajneesh’s life, we see that for him and his elite disciples, after Oregon and the “World Tour” debacles and frustrations, things worked out pretty well. On July 30, 1986 he landed with close associates in Bombay/Mumbai, where he dwelt for six months as the guest of an Indian sannyasin friend at his large estate in Juhu suburb, using the hall with a capacity of 200 persons as a base for giving daily talks and greeting returning disciples. The Indian government settled the old tax evasion charges for just $3 million (USD) by confiscating certain Rajneeshee assets, and on Jan. 4, 1987 Rajneesh returned with his entourage to his six acre ashram in Poona, something he had vowed never to do. Here in spruced-up, comfy quarters Rajneesh ruled a renewed, more subdued, little fiefdom as a shrunken number of old sannyasins outnumbered by new sannyasins made their way back to India again and expanded the ashram’s land holdings. The Bhagwan lectured twice daily, though his old illnesses and the toll of drug use led increasingly to cancellation of talks by 1988. Some observers think a bit of the life had gone out of Rajneesh in being denied the chance to fulfill his utopian dream anywhere else in the world, and now things were more strict at Poona. Uday Mehta relates how the concerned local residents and police had joined together to constrain activities at the Poona II ashram, in the form of “ten conditions,” otherwise Rajneesh and company would have to leave: “1) Daily discourses of only 2 hours and five meditations of one hour each. 2) Discourses to be open to police officers and men accompanying them. 3) The discourses must not be ‘provocative’ and against any other religion. 4) The number of foreigners residing in the ashram to be restricted to 100 and their names to be informed to the police, as and when asked. 5) The number of [non-residential] foreigners visiting the ashram not to exceed 1,000. 6) No member of the ashram or visitor to be allowed to carry fire arms. 7) Consumption of drugs and liquor prohibited on the ashram premises. 8) Smoking of cigarettes during the discourses to be banned. 9) Visitors and members of the ashram prohibited from indulging in any ‘obscene’ behavior in or outside the ashram. 10) Police officers to have the right to visit the ashram any time of the day and night.” Writes Mehta: “The fear of being pushed out of Pune took its toll of the Bhagwan, who became just a shadow of his old self.” (Modern Godmen in India, p. 126) When Rajneesh and the sannyasins soon defied a few of these, such as holding longer meditations and discourses, and bringing in more daily visitors than the 1,000 maximum, a big brouhaha ensued, with Rajneesh resisting police arrest in the middle of the night and causing a stir with the government, which allowed him to bend those particular rules.
On Nov. 6, 1987, in a public talk Rajneesh announced something new about his poor health: he claimed, all the way to his deathbed, that Christian fanatics in the U.S. government had stealthily poisoned him with thallium and exposed him to radiation while he was in jails in the USA. Former early disciple Christopher Caldwell hotly disputes this, in an article I have quoted in full much further below in this webpage. But here is a brief excerpt: “The rumor [started by Rajneesh and promoted by disciples] that Rajneesh was poisoned with thallium by operatives of the U.S. Government is entirely fictional and contradicted by undeniable fact. One of the obvious symptoms of thallium poisoning is dramatic hair loss within seven days of exposure. Rajneesh died with a full beard and no exceptional baldness other than ordinary male pattern baldness at the top of his head [which he’d had since his early adulthood]. Radiation poisoning, another fictional cause of his illness, also causes dramatic hair loss. The symptoms which may have led Rajneesh’s doctors to suspect poisoning are common symptoms of dysautonomia caused by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome [which, along with intense chemical sensitivity / autoimmune dysfunction, Calder believes Rajneesh suffered from much earlier in his life]. Those symptoms can include ataxia (uncoordinated movements), numbness, standing tachycardia (rapid heart rate upon standing), paresthesia (sensations of prickling and itching), nausea, and irritable bowel syndrome, which causes one to alternate between constipation and diarrhea. All of his negative physical and mental symptoms were severely compounded by his own self-induced nitrous oxide poisoning and heavy Valium use. The only proven cases of illegal poisoning related to Rajneesh were carried out by Rajneesh’s own sannyasins.”
Swami Anand Parmarth, a longtime faithful disciple of Rajneesh/Osho and member of the household around Rajneesh, has affirmed his Master’s longtime use of nitrous oxide (but doesn’t think it detracts from Osho’s enlightenment); in his article, “Osho in the Dental Chair” (at www.sannyasnews.org/sannyasnews/Articles/OshoDentalChair.html#Anchor-49575), Parmarth also states: “I do not think the evidence that Osho received thallium is very convincing, the symptoms do not really match those Osho was experiencing. The ‘official’ line is, and he himself seemed to believe, that he had been poisoned by thallium. However Osho seemed really quite well between late 1985 and 1987, in Greece, and was in fairly good shape in the Himalayas, the world tour, and in Bombay for almost two years. Any in-depth biographer has surely to note that Osho began complaining again of his symptoms in 1987, just when he would have been reunited with his dental chair. Osho’s ‘symptoms’ … during late 1980 and 1981, long before any claim that the US government had poisoned him, are also consistent with a degree of nitrous oxide poisoning.” But Parmarth is more likely to think that Rajneesh’s longstanding diabetes and his asthma, dating back to his early adulthood, could easily have been the main causes of his bodily demise.
It should be mentioned here, too, that pro-Osho author “Sam”/Paritosh, on the basis of allegations from Osho himself in Sept. 1985 and some of the disciples, thinks that Rajneesh’s crazed secretary Sheela and her evil sidekick Puja, who poisoned so many other people, may have sickened him by poisoning his milk-cow at Oregon. (See Life of Osho, pp. 229-31) But why should Rajneesh later publicly blame his own appointee Sheela when he could re-direct the blame to the Reagan administration and thereby play persecuted martyr to fullfill his longstanding paranoiac tendencies?
In the early Summer of 1988, Rajneesh introduced two strange new meditations. 1) The really intense Mystic Rose meditation entailed a full week of forced laughing for three hours daily, then a full week of forced crying for three hours daily, then a week of silent witnessing. 2) The hour-long No Mind meditation first stage is to close the eyes, let the body jump, recline, pace, sit, kick, or whatever and speak, sing, cry, shout, scream, or mumble complete gibberish: “allow yourself to express whatever needs to be expressed within you. Throw everything out, go totally mad. Go consciously crazy.” Second stage is sitting erect, still, silent, witnessing as from a distance all thoughts, etc. Third stage is lying down without any effort or control and continuing the witnessing. Sam/Paritosh in Life of Osho observes: “Most Osho meditations look completely crazy from the outside—but the No-Mind probably looks the maddest. Buddha Hall was like a huge lunatic asylum. Hundreds of people would be sitting on the floor, ranting and raving to themselves, crooning, clutching themselves or waving their arms about, while Osho sat there watching impassively. The Lord of Misrule.” (p. 217)
Most of the hours of Rajneesh’s days were spent lying in the double-curtained darkness of his room, his “cave” as he called it, with the air-conditioning turned down as usual to frigid temperatures. Rajneesh’s longstanding preference for cold temperatures may have had to do with an overheated kundalini condition with his vital energy.
His main helpmates at this point were members of the power bloc he had formed in the previous two years to rival Sheela and her gang. Living with him at Lao Tzu house, they included his doctor, Swami Amrito, formerly Devaraj (Dr. George Meredith), who, having thrice nearly died from Sheela’s gang’s poisonings in 1984-5, became the chief spokesperson at Poona II; a British woman, Ma Deva Anando (Susan Hafley), the Foundation’s legal secretary, Rajneesh’s favorite “medium” and his primary caretaker at this point, Anando having replaced Vivek; his cook Nirgun (Rosemary Hamilton); his editor, the Australian Maneesha James (with him since 1974, under the name “Juliet Forman” she later authored a trilogy of pro-Osho books for the Foundation); and the formidable Paris-born millionairess, Prem Hasya (Francoise Ruddy), from the so-called “Hollywood group” who were major players in the financing of the Oregon development and boosting its “snob appeal” to lure in other rich benefactors and disciples. (Then married to Dr. George, Hasya was formerly the wife of Al Ruddy; they produced “The Godfather,” a movie Rajneesh liked, and she was promising to make a film on Rajneesh.) Hasya had taken Sheela’s place as executive assistant to Rajneesh and was the one who arranged the attempt to sneak him out of the USA. Hasya had brought close to the guru one Anand Jayesh / Michael O’Byrne, a very rich young real estate mogul from Canada and then Phoenix, Arizona (where he was heavy into the Arica cult). Jayesh only came to the guru in Dec. 1984 but in less than a year became Rajneesh’s right-hand man. Jayesh would be selected by Rajneesh to head the Inner Circle and the Osho International Foundation in Poona after Rajneesh’s passing and, as we shall see, over the last 20 years Jayesh has functioned as the hidden power behind the empty throne of the continuing Osho commune.
In Dec. 1988 a series of heart attacks nearly killed Rajneesh. Around this time he declared that he should no longer be called “Bhagwan”: “I hate the word… I don’t want to be called Bhagwan again. Enough is enough. The joke is over.” He now claimed that he was actually hosting the Buddha’s “Maitreya consciousness”(another bad joke), hence he was henceforth to be known as “Rajneesh Gautaman the Buddha” (Star Telegram, Dec. 29, 1988). Of course Rajneesh announced this new title with the usual self-inflated hyperbole, talking about how J. Krishnamurti had decades earlier refused the Maitreya Buddha’s spirit, but now that supernal Maitreya consciousness was choosing Rajneesh as the enlightened instrument. Alas, just four days later Rajneesh claimed to have ejected the Buddha’s austere spirit and so he officially gave himself an old title, “Zorba the Buddha,” to honor his own sensual, pleasure-mongering tendencies. In Feb. 1989, he once again changed names, accepting “Osho” as his designation from his favorite medium, Ma Anando. In Sep. 1989 he officially shortened his name from “Osho Rajneesh” to simply “Osho,” and had all copyrights changed to this name. These rather self-obsessive re-namings were evidently at least in part intended for PR “image cleansing” purposes, to make the public forget his sordid past as Rajneesh, the guru of sex, money and violent elite followers.
On that name “Osho,” Anando recalled that Rajneesh had earlier said it was a title to refer to Japanese Zen masters. The ashram announced that “Osho” came from a Japanese term meaning “the whole man.” Osho said it was also “a healing sound” and derived from William James’ term “oceanic experience.” He remarked, “Oceanic describes the experience, but what about the experiencer? For that we use the word ‘Osho.'” Along that line, disciple Yoga Chinmaya stated: “An O in the beginning and end denotes two zeros (voids), and between two voids, ‘sh’ means be silent.”
In 1988, Rajneesh, now almost always dressed in fancy black robes and hats, flashing lots of jewelry (“dressed up like a Christmas tree,” quipped one author), began to primarily focus his talks on Zen and various Zen masters, when not raving about slave religion, world apocalypse, and the possibility of moving his commune to Russia. Fully 28 books were compiled out of these Zen talks, which contain a lot of useful wisdom yet also too often have more to do with Rajneesh’s own views than with Zen.
Sam/Paritosh in Life of Osho reports: “Osho gave his last lecture—the final talk in The Zen Manifesto—in April ’89, and after that he was never to speak in public again. For the monsoon months, while the storms raged over Poona, he never left Lao Tzu House. Reading between the lines I get the idea he was doing more and more alarming quantities of nitrous oxide—having more and more ‘dental sessions’ as they called it in the ashram. For Osho had his own dental ‘surgery’ in his house: a deluxe dentist’s chair in a room walled entirely in mirror; it must have been like sitting in a jewel, with everything reflected to infinity. His tripping room. Perhaps nitrous oxide was the only thing that kept the pain at bay. During one such session he became convinced that his death was very close; and said that henceforward he was coming to sit silently with everyone each night in Buddha Hall. This he did, and for those last months evening satsang was a regular feature at the ashram. Osho would sit in his chair and have the musicians play, louder and louder, wilder and wilder, more and more discordant; then abruptly signal for the music to stop. The ensuing silence would build up and up, until it was almost solid. Then he would have the musicians start to play again, beating out the tempo with his hands and slowly working up, like some demonic conductor, towards another crescendo… repeating the whole performance two or three times, and perhaps providing a final encapsulation of his Tantra: the royal road to silence lies through noise. For Osho could do no more. Walking at all was becoming increasingly difficult, and by the end of the year his doctor [Amrito] was looking after him full time. Only rarely did he see his secretary, and then for no more than ten minutes at a time. ‘I used to wake him up at 6.00 p.m.’ says [Ma Prem] Shunyo. ‘He took a shower, came to Buddha Hall, and then by 7.45 p.m. he was back in bed.’ (p.233-4)
In a strange twist to a strange life, in late 1989 Osho suggested that one or more audience members at the evening gatherings (now known as the White Robe Brotherhood, all ashramites donning a simple white robe) were, he claimed, afflicting him with some type of evil magic. Appointed disciples hunted at length but in vain to find the “culprit.”
Finally the end came: less than a year after taking his final name and nine months after his last discourse, the 58-year old Osho died from heart-failure at 5 p.m. on January 19, 1990, in the presence of Jayesh / O’Byrne and Amrito / Dr. George. They heard their guru’s fearless, even nonchalant final intentions for the community and then his last words. His transition beyond the pained body was heart-fully celebrated by some 10,000 beloved friends. Amrito tearfully delivered to everyone a lovely eulogy, which was followed that night by a procession of weeping, laughing, singing, dancing and meditating sannyasins coursing their way alongside the body of their master through Poona’s squalor to the riverside burning ghat for the cremation.
Rajneesh had occasionally expressed suicidal thoughts starting in the mid-1980s, in fact, one of his ways of manipulating followers was to declare that he would leave the body unless they made some new sacrifice or donation for his sake. But it seems the heartache finally was too much, and perhaps not just due to the physical heart-attacks or the purported “evil magic.” Just 40 days earlier, on Dec. 9, 1989, a few dozen Poona sannyasins conducted a hushed, secret nighttime cremation of the remains of his former close companion Vivek (Christena Woolf; late in life known as Ma Prem Nirvano). She had fallen from Rajneesh’s grace some years earlier due to mood swings apparently due to a bipolar manic-depression condition. By 1986 she had been replaced in her major role as Rajneesh’s personal caretaker by Ma Anando. That same year she left Rajneesh’s “World Tour” to go to Bombay with a new German boyfriend, though she later came back to live near Rajneesh for periods of time at Poona. Upon her death, Rajneesh and the commune stated that, suffering from hormonal-caused depression, she had committed suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills in a Bombay hotel several days before her 40th birthday and Osho’s 58th birthday. She was romantically involved with Jayesh at the time, and, at the behest of Rajneesh, also in the final week of her first-ever group-process at the commune, the Mystic Rose, having avoided these groups for many years and now hardly participating at all in the Mystic Rose. For someone with manic-depressive illness, the Mystic Rose process with its week of laughing three hours daily and then an intense week of crying (before the final week of witnessing) would be psychologically quite dangerous. But maybe a big part of the reason for Vivek’s ostensible suicide is that she was sick at heart over everything that had happened, so many disappointments, so many dreams dashed. Satya Bharti Franklin, a close friend of Vivek from the early years, reflected that Rajneesh’s “casual responses to her death made me more wary of him than ever. His only known comment on the suicide-death of a woman who’d been his loyal companion and disciple for over a decade and a half was that Vivek had always been manic-depressive…. It [the evident suicide] was obviously an awkward situation for Bhagwan to have to deal with [given how it might reflect on him and the psychotherapeutic efficacy of his commune], but a bit more compassion on his part seemed to be in order as far as I was concerned…. Unlike other ashram deaths over the years, no community-wide celebration took place on the occasion of Vivek ‘leaving her body.’ Within days it was as if it had never happened…. Vivek’s death disturbed me immeasurably. One more cover-up…. A lame justification (manic-depression) for an unfortunate event that might have opened up lines of inquiry into what the hell Bhagwan was up to, and why. I didn’t like it one bit.” (Promise of Paradise, pp. 345-6) (Note: on Vivek’s troubled last years, see the remarks of Anthony Thompson on Nov. 30, 2009 based on emails from key principals, and a thread of other comments on the subject at sannyasnews.org/now/archives/466.)
May the souls of Osho, Vivek and all others be in tremendous PEACE and in great LOVING HARMONY.
It is perhaps fitting to close this biography section with a sweet, lofty message uttered by Osho near his earthly life’s end, quite different in tone from some of the nihilism he was spouting the last few years on no-self and impersonal nothingness:
“If you have loved me, I will live with you forever. In your love, I will live. If you have loved me, my body will disappear but I cannot die for you… Even if I am gone I know you will search for me. Yes, I can trust you will hunt for me in every stone and flower, in every eye and star… And I can promise you one thing: if you hunt for me, you will find me—in every star and every eye—because if you have really loved a Master, you have moved into eternity with him. The relationship is not of time; it is timeless. There is going to be no death. My body will disappear, your body will disappear—that will not make any change. If the disappearance of the body makes any change, it simply shows that love had not happened. Love is something beyond the body. Bodies come and go, love remains. Love has eternity in it—timelessness, deathlessness.” (Osho, The Divine Melody #10)
The Ongoing Osho Scene
Rajneeshpuram was closed down by the U.S. authorities in Fall 1985 and eventually sold off in 1991 by the Rajneesh Foundation to a wealthy American, Dennis Washington, for an acceptable price ($4 million) to pay off the Rajneeshees’ creditors. In 1998, the ranch was deeded to a Christian group who turned it into a youth camp for Bible study, rather ironic, given Rajneesh’s loathing for Christianity. Meanwhile, the nearby hamlet of Antelope, Oregon was given back to its traumatized residents in late 1985. One Rajneeshee at the legal proceedings had the audacity to tell them to their face, “You still don’t get it, even after all this time! It’s just a joke. It’s all just been a big joke,” in the amoral, rationalizing and condescending tone typical of Rajneesh and his movement to abdicate all responsibility and accountability.
All but a few of Rajneesh’s Rolls Royces were sold off (most weren’t fully paid for anyway) to a Texas car dealer, and the remaining vehicles were sent to Rajneesh in India. One correspondent has informed me about the Rolls Royces (in June 2016): “My father was one of those who invested in them, and can state from first hand experience that the rolls-royces were owned by a separate trust fund. My father’s share in the fund got repaid in full, with a small profit, when the ranch in Oregon was closed.” This was the first time i’ve heard this kind of statement.
Far more abundant are the stories of big financial losses by devotees from whom millions of dollars were extracted as “donations” over the previous four years, extracted so relentlessly by Sheela, Sushila (Susan Wallach), Arup (Maria Gemma Kortenhorst), Maria Mori, and a few other top-dogs. In parts 16-17 of The Oregonian 20-part July 1985 series, many details and instances are adduced for such heavy-pressure extraction methods, giving the lie to Sheela’s longstanding claim, “We don’t solicit funds at all.” (The Oregonian Part 17 states: “Former sannyasins and others said that Sheela, Rajneesh and members of the Rajneeshee elite have used a variety of methods to separate wealthy sannyasins from their money, property and jewelry. ‘Under the guise of enlightenment, love and spirituality, they really have a scam to pull in people’s money,’ said Debra D. Olson, […] a sannyasin known as Amrit Debra until she left the movement in 1983. ‘To me, it’s like the ultimate karmic crime.’ At their most subtle, the fund-raisers link donations to personal surrender and devotion to the master. At the other end of the spectrum are the hard-sell sessions, liberally laced with cognac and promises of private darshans with the guru himself.“)
The USA and European movement thereafter had to take a much lower public profile, given all the bad press as more and more disturbing details about the dysfunctional cult came to light. Disillusioned former members were now “telling all” to U.S. law enforcement officers, reporters and journalists. Several revelatory books would be published over the next few years laying out far more details.
But back in India new developments led by Jayesh/O’Byrne and his team strongly revived the Osho “brand” and allowed Oshoites to come out more visibly.
Rajneesh’s Poona II ashram grew from 6 to 40 acres from 1986 to the late 1990s, and in the 1990s had become known as Osho Commune International, “the most Western and opulent of all ashrams in India,” as author Roger Housden saw it. After Rajneesh expressed growing concern over the global HIV/AIDS crisis, the open promiscuous sex and frequent nudity of Poona I was abandoned at Poona II in exchange for a somewhat more demure lifestyle, if you could ever call a Rajneeshee gathering “demure.” And that’s how it stayed after his passing, lest Poona II incur the wrath of local Indians as it had done from 1974-81.
Rajneesh/Osho’s residence before he dropped the body was a house on the ashram’s expanded grounds. This is where his remains were interred, and it was soon transformed into a stately white marble Samadhi [Rest] shrine, where many of the faithful have often come to meditate on his continuing presence. The following words were inscribed on his shrine: “Osho: Never born, Never died, Only visited this Planet Earth from Dec. 11, 1931 – Jan. 1990.”
A lot of new construction occurred in the 1990s… Big air-conditioned black marble pyramids for group meetings were built across the road from the original Poona ashram. A large, black-marble swimming pool was sunk. The old waste land in the middle of Koregaon Park was extravagantly converted into 12 acres of lush gardens. A New Age university campus arose to complement the luxury spa environs. With its combination of sensual partying and meditative introspection amidst such posh design, several journalists commented that the place far more resembled an American southwest New Age resort (along the lines of something one might find in Sedona, Palm Springs, or even Las Vegas) than it resembled either an Indian ashram or a 1960s-style rebel-hippie commune.
Though Osho pointedly remarked numerous times from at least 1985 onward that he would leave no successor, in the last year of his life, he did appoint a core of close disciples to take care of his work after he had left the body. The earlier-cited “Osho Biography” webpage explains: “Osho himself chose the 21 members of this inner circle who could contribute in the administrative work and who had different areas of expertise. This committee was to make decisions unanimously. Members of the inner circle were for life, only to be replaced after death by the remaining members. After a while, the required unanimity making quick action impossible according to some, a group of 6 people formed within the Inner Circle, called ‘The Præsidium,’ which, over time, became decisive in policy making; this led to struggles within the inner circle whereupon many members left.”
In fact, within about ten years the Inner Circle would no longer exist as such, only the Præsidium had decision-making power, thereby disfranchising unhappy former members of the Circle. This Præsidium, we have learned, was led by the aforementioned young Jayesh / Michael O’Byrne, along with (for some years until she left) Prem Hasya / Francoise Ruddy, his sometime lover, the one who personally introduced him to Rajneesh and brought him right inside the new circle of power in 1985 because of his business acumen. Canadian journalist Ric Dolphin, in a revelatory article on Jayesh/O’Byrne for the Feb. 1997 issue of Saturday Night magazine (archived at www.n0by.de/2/rst/jayesh.htm), based on conversation with D’Arcy O’Byrne, Michael’s younger brother, writes of the successful attempt to rehabilitate the Osho/Poona brand after the guru’s death. “Jayesh and Hasya acted as a sort of diplomatic front line, wining and dining Indian government officials, smoothing over visa difficulties for Western sannyasins, and touring the globe to raise cash and repair Rajneesh’s tattered reputation.” Jayesh and Hasya’s PR campaign worked wonderfully well to erase the memory of Rajneesh and put the now “hallowed” name Osho on the map.
Reporter Dolphin finds that Jayesh/O’Byrne, while wielding immense organizational power over the international Osho movement, is very reclusive, keeping a low profile in terms of the Poona II scene. Instead, when not out courting favor with VIPs and the international press on behalf of the movement, he has spent most of his time over the years luxuriating in an expensive suite at Bombay’s 5-star Oberoi hotel. (He narrowly missed three times being killed by the dreadful terrorist attack on that building on Nov. 26, 2008.) But Dolphin reports in 1997 what growth and financial success the reinvigorated Poona II community had achieved within just several years of Osho’s passing, thanks to the efforts of Jayesh and the rest of the Præsidium:
“The obsessively secretive, Marlboro-smoking [and liquor-drinking] O’Byrne has nurtured a phoenix. Aided by a team of middle-aged and mostly Western professionals, O’Byrne has built Osho Commune International into a multimillion-dollar organization. Poona II, as the commune is known, isn’t exactly what we think of as a commune. It looks like an Arizona resort, and even has a swimming pool and fitness facilities. Still, the thrust is enlightenment, Rajneesh style, which involves all sorts of meditations and therapies and New Age stuff at the ‘Multiversity’—Craniosacral Balancing, Primal Deconditioning, Psychic Massage—most of it for sale at very Western prices. During the November-to-March peak season, there are as many as 8,000 people on a given day at Poona II. They’re German and American and Japanese and they pay anywhere from forty dollars for a ninety-minute session to $5,000 for a three-month training course. The Multiversity’s per diem has been estimated at $80,000 by the London Independent, although the commune denies it. But if you believe the commune’s official annual attendance figure of 100,000, and the average-money-spent-on-commune sum of $1,300, the annual revenue taken in can be estimated at anywhere from $50 million to in excess of $100 million. Most of this seems to be gravy. The upkeep of the mortgage-free commune, I am told, is taken care of by the gate proceeds—80 cents a day for Indians, $1.60 for non-Indians—and no-one is paid except for the Indian labourers. (Indian labour costs about a dollar a day.) The commune itself is the worldwide spiritual headquarters for Osho Commune International. There are [said to be] 563 Osho Centers in sixty-four countries—including one in Vancouver and two in Montreal. The Osho Centers are autonomous and self-supporting. They pay Osho Commune International for the books (650 titles produced and translated into forty-two languages on site in Poona) and other materials such as audio tapes (3,000 hours in English, 3,000 hours in Hindi). The books and audio tapes, as well as 1,700 hours of video tapes, are also sold through various distributors around the world, including in the emerging markets of Russia and China.” (Ric Dolphin, “Michael O’Byrne,” Saturday Night, Feb. 1997)
Some of those numbers have grown since Dolphin wrote his long article back in 1997. Yet, as will be argued below, whereas sales and other revenues may have increased, it’s not at all clear that the Osho movement has nearly the number of members claimed, for this is something about which they’ve routinely lied in the past.
Sam/Paritosh’s Life of Osho, written around the same time as Dolphin’s article, likewise discusses the success of Poona II, though he lamented the transformation of the old rebel spirit of Poona I into something so slick, “a precocious version of the leisure industry”: “The formula has proved a winner. Every winter [Nov. to March, India’s mildest season] Koregaon Park is packed with far more people than were ever there when Osho was alive. In fact in terms of pure numbers, the ashram must be close to becoming the main tourist attraction in India. But what’s really going on there? Is this Osho’s vision of a contemporary religious university, somewhere to rival the Nalanda or Khajuraho of India’s past—or is it, in fact, a blatant sell-out? Oddly enough, it’s really difficult to tell. On the one hand, without the Poona ashram it’s difficult to think that sannyas as a movement would have survived at all. Not only has the ashram continued to pump out the books and tapes and videos, the groups and trainings, it has functioned as a central meeting place for sannyasins from all over the world. The sheer numbers of sannyasins and the variety of countries they are coming from is something you can only grasp in Poona…. What’s more, there’s a whole new generation of sannyasins. As he lay dying Osho had thrown his nets far wider than ever before. In an interview his last secretary stated ‘Osho said that he wanted the commune to be multi-dimensional, much more so than in Poona One where the focus was mainly on therapy.’ He said, “Have everything here – whatever people want, have it here.”‘ […] There’s no denying the fact that the ashram still works. It still does the same old thing. It sets you apart, and then it begins to mirror you. Somehow it highlights, even caricatures, your reactions. It makes you witness…. Well, that’s the positive side of it. But as you wander round Multiversity Plaza, with its pyramids and peacocks and electric waterfalls, there’s no mistaking the whiff of something rotten in the air. This is the successful cult; this is the streamlined religious corporation [with corporate backing from Coca-Cola, et al.]…. The set-up is basically fascistic.” (pp. 240-1)
Over time, the Osho Commune International would be increasingly transformed by Jayesh, Amrito, Anando and others on their Præsidium team (the “fascists,” as disfranchised outsiders saw them) into an aesthetically lovely but rather “de-Osho-ized” Osho Meditation Resort introspective luxury spa, run by their Zurich-based Osho International Foundation (OIF) (www.Osho.com) (the international publishing division of OIF is based in New York). Most of the formerly ubiquitous big Osho photos have been taken down.
A protest occurred within the Osho movement, having a lot to do with the cultural differences between Indians and the Præsidium’s almost exclusively non-Indian leadership. The former charged that foreigners had taken over Poona II via a coup. The faction represented mainly by Indian followers prominently included Swami Chaitanya Keerti, longtime editor of Osho Times magazine; and Ma Yoga Neelam, Rashneesh/Osho’s India secretary, one of his caretakers when he returned to Poona II, and also an original member of the 21-member Inner Circle. This faction grew more and more displeased with the Præsidium’s iconoclastic removing of hundreds of Osho images from the Poona grounds and from publications, and the increased Westernizing of the Poona site into a high-priced clubby resort atmosphere. The two factions were also divided over the role of the guru, the role of devotion vs. meditation, and the status of Rajneesh’s old Buddha lecture hall (Jayesh and co. demolished it to erect something else). Last but not least, the Indians were outraged by Jayesh’s “imperialist exploitation” from as early as 1992 in trying to trademark Osho’s name and gain control of all his books and art and access to his teachings and meditation techniques.
So the primarily-Indian contingent left to expand and promote their own less lucrative operation, Osho World, up at the old Delhi Rajneesh center, with numerous satellite centers, led by Swami Atul Anand and run by the Osho Friends International, or OFI (www.Oshoworld.com). Predictably this triggered lawsuits by Jayesh’s Osho International group. Relations between the two groups soured as, for instance, reported by Amy Waldman for the NY Times in Dec. 2002 and the Oshoite “SannyasNews” site in 2009 (www.sannyasnews.com/Pages/Jayesh.html) and as numerous other Osho internet chat-sites will attest. Legal battles ensued over who had the rights to the “Osho” name and profits from book/media sales and use of Osho’s many meditation techniques in the USA and elsewhere. Jayesh’s Osho International group held the upper hand for years, and at various points banned many Osho sannyasins, even Ma Neelam (who came to Rajneesh in 1969) and other longtime Indian disciples, from visiting their master’s Samadhi shrine at Poona.
Then a U.S. federal court ruling in July 2009 defeated Jayesh’s legal hold, at least in the USA, as Neelam triumphantly reported: “Osho’s name and his meditations are now free from the fetters of trademarks. After a ten year long battle between OIF (Osho International Foundation) Zurich led by Jayesh and OFI (Osho Friends International) led by Swami Atul Anand, Osho Friends International has won…. Now the trademarks of Osho and his meditations in the US finally stand as cancelled. […] Jayesh should take constructive steps to get all the Osho trademarks cancelled in other countries wherever he has applied. I am sure thousands of Osho lovers would welcome this momentous decision and be delighted to seeing Osho and his meditations now freely available all over the world. It is equally important to recognize that this would save enormous amount of energy, time and money that he has been wasting all along. The same can be used in doing such things as organizing more and more meditation events around the world, publishing more books, specially the unpublished ones which are not available in the market; making Osho’s name, his photographs, his words, his meditations as widely available as possible. That will be the positive way, the Osho way, of protecting the purity of Osho and his vision.”
Despite the years of feuding between the two groups, Jayesh’s highly profitable merchandizing machine has continued to churn out “Osho” products worldwide in diverse languages, many consumers not even realizing that the heavily whitewashed Osho books, DVDs, CDs, magazines, etc., feature the notorious cult-leader formerly known as Rajneesh. As Dennis McCafferty pointed out in a short piece for Salon.com, “Old Bhagwan, new bottles,” (Oct. 20, 1999), subtitled “A ‘new’ spiritual guru turns out to have a past that includes lavish spending, orgies and bacterial terrorism”: “To date, the published works of Osho have left readers with little clues as to his former identity. So consumers may not know that they’re actually plunking down their cash for rehashed ramblings from the late Rajneesh, the controversy-plagued spiritual leader kicked out of the United States after his legal woes heated up in the mid-1980s. […] In the current, uncorrected proofs of the three new St. Martin’s titles, for example, the brief ‘About the Author’ section makes no mention at all of Osho’s prior identity. […] The photos identify him only as Osho. […] Last year, the New York Times featured a puff piece on Osho International’s Lexington Avenue office digs, describing Osho as a now-deceased Indian mystic and making no reference to Rajneesh. A 1998 travel piece in Yoga Journal describing the Pune attraction as a ‘New Age Xanadu’ did connect Osho to the Rajneesh name, but blithely omitted mention of the salad bars or other unsavory details.”
And so it goes. The Indian government, hungry for tax revenues, now promotes the Osho Poona and Delhi sites as a magnet for tourist income. In the latter 1990s, the foreign press was warmly invited to Poona on junkets sponsored by Jayesh (putting his former expertise as a real estate developer to very good use). Predictably the press gushed all manner of praise and hoopla, as archived at the Osho International website (where the Rajneesh name has been sanitized out of existence and the former Osho Commune at Poona now known as the Osho Meditation Resort is being pushed as the ultimate or even “only” one of its kind):
“Some people call it the ‘Buddhafield’ of an enlightened master. Others say it’s the world’s largest spiritual single’s club. One thing is certain: the Osho Commune International—founded nearly 25 years ago by Osho is not your typical Indian ashram. A New Age Xanadu that attracts thousands of visitors every day, the commune is a self-contained personal growth conglomerate, offering an astonishing variety of classes and workshops in everything from organizational development to tantric sex. And if the courses don’t interest you, you can spend your days romping in the swimming pool, sauna, ‘Zennis’ courts, and bistro of the commune’s ‘Club Meditation'” (Yoga Journal, June 1998). “The Osho Commune, founded in 1974, claims to be the world’s largest growth center for meditation and spiritual growth. It attracts more than three percent of all foreign tourists to India—more than the Taj Mahal—and is the most widely visited destination in the country. In January , celebrations of the 7th anniversary of founder Osho’s death attracted record numbers of visitors. (Asia Magazine). “Osho Commune International is a kind of spiritual park—the world’s largest meditation commune. Every year thousands of people visit this luxurious commune…. A very comfortable paradise where you can stay a long time with low-budget hotels nearby and very good food in the Commune, with meditations free… The atmosphere is really like a fairy tale. A paradise where all your emotional, bodily and spiritual needs are met. I can advise everybody to visit for a few days and walk around that beautiful garden where everybody is friendly” (Elle, Holland). “They have constructed pyramids of marble and a pristine Zen garden. Thousand of men and women pour through the gate every day, from Europe, America, Australia, and Japan” (Wall Street Journal). “A vista of gurgling streams, curving paths, and quiet, shady corners ideal for meditating…. It may be the only community in India where the tap water is totally safe for foreigners to drink. The grounds are immaculate…” (Conde Nast Traveler).
It’s quite clear that the repackaging of the Poona Rajneesh commune into the Osho Meditation Resort has been a very successful venture. The “Virtual Tour” at their website (www.osho.com/Main.cfm?Area=Magazine&Language=English) shows a beautiful site, with lots of very happy, fun-loving, calm people (when not in the throes of the heavily cathartic daily morning Dynamic Meditation and other daily meditations involving an intensely cathartic, chaotic element) immensely enjoying their rather posh party-resort, whether in meditative solitude amidst the bamboo thickets or drinking, dancing and rocking out at the disco at night. Few who visit Poona’s OMR, unless they are psychically sensitive, will feel the grossly sensual, dark, creepy vibes this place once had during the latter 1970s, as numerous visitors then attested. (See, for instance, the heavily critical 1978 report for Yoga Journal by India-lover Paul Ramana Das Silbey, which i have reproduced at length later at this webpage.)
A revealing source of info for the OMR is the Osho International FAQs section (Frequently Asked Questions) at their website: www.osho.com/Main.cfm?Area=Magazine&Language=English. Among other things, the FAQs site tells us that a negative AIDS/HIV test is required for entrance—implying a lot of sexual activity still ongoing, that OMR “is an environment for adults; it does not have adequate facilities for children and minors,” that 50% of the visitors are there for the first time, that you will be required to don a maroon robe during the day and white during the evening meditation, that you can apply to take the vow of “sannyas” (the Osho version of “renunciation” to become a full-fledged Osho disciple), that foreigners are charged rather more than Indian nationals, that your overall costs as an international will be about “600-2,000 USD / 450-1,400 EUR a month for food and lodging, depending on your accommodation, plus eating out and shopping, and then whatever courses and workshops you attend at the Multiversity.”