Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Cult of the Enigmatic Bhagwan

Folly is a more dangerous enemy to the good than evil. One can protest against evil; it can be unmasked and, if need be, prevented by force. Evil always carries the seeds of its own destruction, as it makes people, at the least, uncomfortable. Against folly we have no defense. Neither protests nor force can touch it; reasoning is no use; facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved—indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied; in fact, he can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make him aggressive. A fool must therefore be treated more cautiously than a scoundrel; we shall never again try to convince a fool by reason, for it is both useless and dangerous. —Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a Christian fellow who was arrested and executed for conspiring to assassinate Adolf Hitler; he wrote the foregoing while in prison)
…in the beginning, all religions are obscure, tiny, deviant cult movements. —Eugene V. Gallagher
     As a teenager living in the Pacific Northwest of America, I would occasionally see news reports about the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and about Rajneeshpuram, a large ashram established by his followers in northeastern Oregon. The news reports tended to be rather sensationalistic, and to be less than sympathetic to the Bhagwan. One image that has stayed with me is of Rajneesh getting out of one of his many Rolls-Royces accompanied by two bodyguards dressed like Secret Service agents, with dark suits and dark glasses, and armed with Uzi assault weapons. I also remember once seeing Ma Anand Sheela, the Bhagwan's second in command and effective dictatrix of the ashram, on a TV talk show called the Phil Donahue Show; I remember that Sheela was saying over and over again, in a strong Indian accent, "You're full of shit! You're full of shit!" Her crude language was coming out faster than the show's censors could push the beep button. So later, considering these predominantly negative images of Rajneesh and his organization, when I heard that Sheela had been arrested for attempted murder, that the Bhagwan himself had been run out of the country on criminal charges, and that Rajneeshpuram had essentially collapsed, I was not surprised. I would guess that most people in America who know nothing more about Rajneesh than what they saw about him on TV and in the newspapers, if they think of him at all, would put him in the same category as Shoko Asahara of Japan, and maybe even in the same category as guys like Charlie Manson.
     On the other hand, after I lost interest in watching television news, I happened to read two books by Rajneesh, and was surprised at the apparent insight and good sense in them. So ever since then I have been unsure of what to think of the man. Was he nothing but a clever fraud and crook, was he an enlightened being (as he allegedly claimed to have become at the age of 21, while still a college student, and as his followers definitely claimed him to be), was he somewhere in between, or was he somehow a combination of all of the above? Whatever he was, he evidently was a rascal.
     Recently, out of curiosity, I read the Wikipedia article on "Rajneesh" with the idea that it might help me to come to a less vague conception of Osho, as he began calling himself less than a year before he died in 1990. The article was surprisingly sympathetic; and although it freely admitted to the Rolls-Royces, Ma Sheela's crimes, and the criminal charges leveled against the Bhagwan, it also indulged in a fair amount of praise for the man; so that it seemed to me that much of the article must have been written by one or more of his followers. Consequently, in order to find more critical information about him, with maybe some juicy details about the more scandalous aspects of his existence, I did a Google search with the words "Rajneesh Uzi Rolls-Royce," to see what would come up. I found two articles that looked promising: "Escape from Rajneeshpuram" by Paul Morantz, and "The Rise and Fall of Rajneeshpuram" by Sven Davisson.
     Appropriately, I suppose, the two articles represent two very different perspectives, the former being emphatically anti-Rajneesh and written by the author of a book entitled Escape: My Life Long War Against Cults, and the latter being even more sympathetic than the Wikipedia article.
     Strangely, although Mr. Morantz is a professional author as well as a successful lawyer (apparently specializing in anti-cult litigation), his article is written in substandard English and contains some odd factual errors, such as calling The Dalles, Oregon (the nearest sizable city to Rajneeshpuram) "Dulle," and referring to the main Portland, Oregon newspaper The Oregonian as "The Oregon." Also, either he was a main contributing author to the Wikipedia articles on Rajneesh and Sheela, which I consider unlikely, or else the authors of those articles were unwittingly co-authors of Morantz's article, as large chunks of it are almost identical to the corresponding parts in the Wiki, and even the progression of ideas is the same—although of course Mr. Morantz emphasized the negative aspects of the story. He evidently was in agreement with Oregon attorney general David Frohnmayer, who very soon after the arrival of Rajneesh in Oregon considered him to be "genuinely evil." In the article he compares Rajneesh/Osho more than once to Charles Manson. To be fair, though, at least he took issue with the common belief that Ma Sheela's infection of restaurant salad bars with salmonella bacteria (in an attempt to sicken county residents sufficiently to reduce voter turnout at an upcoming election) was the first case of "bio-terrorism" in America, since two centuries previously the American military had deliberately infected American Indian tribes with smallpox in order to eradicate them. But that's a completely different story. 
     The article by Sven Davisson is particularly interesting because, although it's primarily about Rajneesh and Rajneeshpuram, as one would guess from the title, the second half of it also investigates the phenomenon of American xenophobia, i.e. mainstream America's negativity toward what is viewed as "deviant." But before discussing that issue I suppose I should give some biographical/historical details of the case. The xenophobic persecution aspects will arise as the story unfolds.
     Chandra Mohan/Rajneesh/Osho was born to a Jain family in British India in 1931. As a youth he was considered a brilliant student, although so argumentative with his teachers as to be a troublemaker; he was expelled from at least one college before taking his degree (with distinction) in Philosophy and becoming a college professor himself. By all accounts he was an extraordinarily intelligent scholar.
     He was also a very popular and thought-provoking orator; and he began making lecture tours around India. At around this time, in the 1960's, he began calling himself Acharya Rajneesh. Soon he was conducting short meditation retreats and training disciples. He dropped out of academia and began his career as a full-time spiritual guide. 
     From the beginning Rajneesh seemed to delight in flouting convention and challenging points of view to the point of offending and outraging people. India favored socialism in those days and venerated Mahatma Gandhi as a national hero and saint, so Rajneesh bashed socialism, claiming that all it socialized was poverty, and called Gandhi a masochist who worshipped destitution. Rajneesh had a thorough appreciation of wealth and luxury even after his alleged enlightenment, and believed that it was better to have one's realization after becoming sated and bored with worldliness. The trouble is, of course, that some people just never get enough of it. But still, he considered it superior to poverty.
     Gradually more and more Westerners came to him; and largely because of his acceptance and integration of spirituality AND worldliness, he became more and more popular with them. Eventually one of his Western disciples, Ma Yoga Mukta, a wealthy Greek lady, bought him six acres of land in the city of Pune, where he established an ashram. The place became like an Indian Esalen, with a multitude of techniques being taught and practiced, including psychoanalysis, as Rajneesh considered it to be very helpful, in some cases almost necessary, for Westerners before they would be able observe their own mental processes and to settle down into clear, peaceful meditation. He also devised "active meditations" for Westerners for the same reason: physical activity, including jumping up and down and yelling, helped mentally hyperactive Westerners to "get it out of their system" sufficiently to sit down and experience some stillness and peace of mind. This phase of "Rajneeshism" included a fair amount of experimentation, including controversial experiments with sexuality and, temporarily, also aggression as spiritual practices. It was shortly before starting the ashram in Pune that he began calling himself Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
     I consider it to be to his credit that for many years he gave an hour- to hour-and-a-half-long Dharma talk every morning, plus interviews in the evenings. His talks ranged all over the spiritual map, referring to various religious and philosophical systems, and during the 70's began including more sheer entertainment, including off-color jokes. In addition to being a guru, Rajneesh also was an entertainer, with considerable comedic talent. For me, giving a brief talk, maybe fifteen minutes long, every morning for two weeks (while I was in Bali) was seriously stretching my capacity for coming up with something to say; so Rajneesh's ability to edify and satisfy crowds with hour-long spiritual talks every single morning for years really impresses me.
     But his talks, as well as the carnival atmosphere of his ashram, quickly became unpopular with the Indian government. In addition to criticizing socialism, Gandhi, and orthodox Hinduism, he also criticized Indian politics and politicians. Plus there were allegations that some of his foreign disciples were funding their stay in India with drug-running and prostitution—not at Rajneesh's orders, but with his knowledge. So the government took measures to be rid of him, mainly by not issuing visas to foreigners designating the Pune ashram as their main destination in India and by retroactively canceling the place's tax-exempt status, suddenly causing the Rajneesh organization to owe the approximate equivalent of five million dollars to the Indian revenue service.
     Shortly after this, Rajneesh came to America with a tourist visa, for ostensibly medical reasons. He had a very bad back. Evidence suggests that he personally was not intending to stay permanently in America, but that his secretary Ma Anand Sheela unilaterally began looking for a permanent settlement after arrival. At any rate, she or her husband bought the "Big Muddy" Ranch in northeastern Oregon, 64,229 acres (more than 100 square miles) of desert land, considered so worthless as to be able to support only nine head of cattle. After a brief stay in New Jersey, the group moved to Oregon and started setting up an ashram.
     Practically upon arrival the group began triggering hostility from the locals. (Even Morantz admits to the immediate hostility, although he seems to approve of it.) It is true that Rajneesh delighted in challenging points of view to the point of offending people's rigid sensibilities, which may be one reason why he collected Rolls-Royces and top-of-the-line wristwatches and had guards toting Uzis, but the very presence of a bearded foreigner with lots of long-haired followers wearing bright orange robes was more than enough to offend the sensibilities of the inhabitants of rural eastern Oregon. According to what I've read, the state attorney general David Frohnmayer immediately disapproved of Rajneesh, before he had yet half a chance to do anything wrong, and began looking for ways to wreck the ashram, as did an organization called "1000 Friends of Oregon," a supposedly environmental group founded, coincidentally, by the attorney general's brother. Furthermore, the editor of the main state newspaper, The Oregonian, had a personal axe to grind against "cults," since he and his wife had formerly been involved in one which had somehow inspired his wife to have an abortion, so that, according to Paul Morantz, he was obsessively determined to expose the "malignancy" of Rajneeshpuram. The Rajneesh people began their enterprise with a spirit of friendliness toward the incumbent population, and even the subsequently notorious Ma Sheela tried smilingly at first to charm the locals at public meetings and so on. The ashram population was very careful in the beginning about obeying all laws and land ordinances which, according to Davisson's article, "infuriated" the Friends of Oregon and the folks at the attorney general's office.
     The 1000 Friends soon initiated lawsuits against the ashram over land use issues. It was declared that the sannyasins could not engage in commercial business, like selling books, on the ashram property; so the Oregon State Land Use Commission advised them to set up any commercial business in the nearby town of Antelope, which is what they did. Antelope at that time was a ghost town with a population of less than 50 people, so it didn't take many sannyasins to form a democratic majority there. When three seats on the town council came up for election, the Rajneesh people won them easily, causing the other three already on the council to resign in protest, being unwilling to sit in the same room with orange-robed, long-haired weirdos. The sannyasins "took over" the local school board also more or less by default. The board had attempted to keep out the weirdos by gerrymandering the school district to exclude the ashram; but they rendered these proceedings invalid by inadvertently causing some of their own homes to be outside the new boundaries, thereby rendering themselves unqualified to be board members. These democratic, more or less de fault occurrences, caused originally by harassment by the 1000 Friends of Oregon and the advice of the Land Use Commission, were seen as a kind of hostile takeover, a coup d'état, by the locals, and by the national media. Davisson also states,
The truth is that the commune suffered an unremitting and coordinated harassment from the local, state and federal government. This coupled with the tide of resentment and distrust in the local communities created a situation of extreme pressure on Rajneeshpuram and its residents. Sheela’s tactics and combativeness rose in direct proportion to the pressure exerted on the commune from outside. Her reactions, increasingly ludicrous, were generally the result of new attacks from authorities.
Which of course leads to a discussion of the notorious crimes of Ma Sheela.
     During most of his stay in America Rajneesh was mostly silent, not giving public Dharma talks as he used to do in India. Management of the ashram was in the hands of Sheela, who in addition to being a rather abrasive person anyhow, was apparently corrupted by the power she wielded, and also exasperated to the point of declaring all-out war against her devoted antagonists. (Although I seriously doubt that I would ever poison anyone, I can relate to some degree to that last point: my personality also is of a kind that if I meet with antagonism, especially if it seems totally unnecessary or unjust, it causes me to "stick to my guns" more and more vehemently, until I may find myself practically in a state of total war. This mainly happens against rodents and insects instead of people, however.) She eventually went off the deep end and became like a minor league Caligula. In all attempted fairness to the Bhagwan, it was he who publicly denounced her. She was not suspected by the police of poisoning restaurant salad bars or attempting to poison certain key members of the opposition until Rajneesh made the public accusation and advised the FBI to conduct investigations, which they did. 
     Meanwhile, the federal government, mainly in the form of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) had been striving for years to come up with anything they could against Rajneesh. The best they could manage was charges of immigration fraud: making untrue statements on his original visa application, especially with regard to his purpose and intended length of stay, and also arranging bogus "marriages of convenience" between foreign disciples and American disciples to allow the former to stay long-term in Oregon. The government began making arrangements for the arrest of the Bhagwan.
     Rajneesh's immigration lawyer Peter Schey attempted to make arrangements to the effect that if Rajneesh was to be arrested he could simply go and peacefully turn himself in to the authorities—yet, strangely, these offers were rejected. US district attorney Robert Turner, who was organizing the arrest, was intent upon "storming the bastille," and had already arranged for 15 armored military vehicles and well over a thousand armed law enforcement officers and National Guardsmen to essentially invade Rajneeshpuram in a surprise raid, much in the same way the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas were handled several years later. It was as though the authorities intended deliberately to cause a scene of violence, as they assumed (probably rightly) that the Bhagwan's disciples would not stand idly by while their revered and beloved guru was manhandled and dragged away in shackles, and also (wrongly, as it turned out) that the ashram members had been stockpiling weapons. At least one government official later testified under oath that Turner had no intention of allowing Rajneesh to surrender himself peacefully. He was planning on gunfire and "mass arrests," presumably with plenty of sensationalistic media coverage.
     Fortunately, however, the Bhagwan forestalled the battle by taking off with some disciples in a rented Learjet. He was arrested in North Carolina, allegedly without a valid arrest warrant, and didn't put up a fight. The feds played it up as well as they could, and he was shown in chains on the national news.

     Instead of putting him in prison for five years for immigration fraud, Rajneesh was simply deported. This began a kind of odyssey for him, as no country wanted him. According to Wikipedia,
He stayed for six weeks in Himachal Pradesh. When non-Indians in his party had their visas revoked, he moved on to Kathmandu, Nepal and a few weeks later to Crete. Arrested after a few days by the Greek Intelligence Service (KYP), he flew to Geneva, Stockholm and London Heathrow Airport; however, in each case he was refused entry. When Canada refused him permission to land, his plane returned to Shannon airport in Ireland to refuel. He was allowed to stay for two weeks at a hotel in Limerick, on the condition that he did not go out or give talks. Osho had been granted a Uruguayan identity card, a one-year provisional residency and the possibility of permanent residency so the party set out, stopping at Madrid (where the plane was surrounded by the Guardia Civil). He was allowed to spend one night in Dakar before continuing to Recife and Montevideo. In Uruguay the group moved into a house in Punta del Este; Osho began speaking publicly until 19 June, when he was "invited to leave" for no official reason. A two-week visa was arranged for Jamaica, but upon his arrival in Kingston the police gave his group 12 hours to leave. Refueling in Gander and Madrid, Osho returned to Mumbai on 30 July 1986.
Rajneesh and his followers were of the opinion that the grand unwelcome of his "world tour" was the result of covert diplomatic pressure from the Reagan administration, which is not entirely lacking in plausibility. Eventually he returned to his ashram in Pune, where he received a hero's welcome, and where he lived quietly, with failing health, until he died in January of 1990, at the age of 58.
     In July of 1986 a monument was erected outside the Wasco County Courthouse (the home county of Rajneeshpuram ashram), which says, "Dedicated to all who steadfastly and unwaveringly opposed the attempts of the Rajneesh followers to take political control of Wasco County: 1981-1985." Below this inscription is a quote from Edmund Burke: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." The implication, obviously, is that the sannyasins of Rajneeshpuram were evil, and the people who relentlessly harassed them were good. Well, Ma Anand Sheela and a few of her co-conspirators may have been evil. The case of the Bhagwan is not nearly so clear. And I would imagine that the overwhelming majority of orange-robed weirdos living at the ashram were sincerely trying to live a spiritual life, and striving not for mere convenience, pleasure, or stress reduction, but for enlightenment—probably very unlike virtually all of the people who were against them. The attitude of the opposition reminds me of the red-necked, anti-hippie yokels in the "cult" movie Easy Rider (a movie well worth seeing, by the way). 
     Ironically, Osho Rajneesh is now widely revered in India. According to Paul Morantz, certain Indian scholars have listed Osho among the ranks of Gotama Buddha and that masochist Gandhi as one of the most influential Indians of all time. One Indian newspaper placed him on a list of the most important Indians of the twentieth century. A former editor of the Hindustan Times described Osho as "the most original thinker that India has produced: the most erudite, the most clearheaded and the most innovative." The Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and former president Giani Zail Singh, both Sikhs, publicly praised him. Osho's complete works have been placed in a special section of the library of India's National Parliament, an honor shared with only one other person—Gandhi. Now in Nepal alone there are reportedly 60 Osho centers with 45,000 initiated disciples. His books have been translated into no fewer than 55 languages, and have been on best-seller lists in Italy and South Korea. In 2002 the government of Germany was held by its Federal Constitutional Court to have defamed the Osho Movement by referring to it as a "destructive cult" with no factual basis. And in 1990 the American author Tom Robbins wrote that he was convinced, even though he personally was not a disciple, that Osho was the 20th century's "greatest spiritual teacher," and also "one of the most maligned figures in history." Oshoism is literally becoming a mass religion. Times, they are a-changing.
     Nevertheless, the xenophobic hostility that initially inspired the persecution of Rajneeshpuram, from the local level all the way up to the administration of Ronald Reagan, is still alive and well in America. I've been exposed to it recently on a rather small scale: A totally harmless Burmese Buddhist organization in Fremont, California has been attempting to establish a Buddhist meditation center on the outskirts of a small town in central California, but hostility from certain members of the city council, based on an alienated "us vs. them" attitude, has indefinitely halted progress on the center, and it may never be completed. I experienced it personally on an even smaller scale in Bellingham, Washington, which is more poignant for me because much of it came from people considering themselves to be Theravada Buddhists, even calling themselves "Sangha." I was unwelcome upon arrival in Bellingham by many members of the local Vipassana group, with some of the senior members apparently being in a mild state of alarm at my potential threat to the status quo (including their own positions as teachers of the group), and with seemingly as much suspicion and disdain as anything resembling acceptance or respect from the group at large. I assume part of this is simply a result of my outlandish appearance in a non-Buddhist country. I would guess that "cult members" in America have it about 50% easier if they just wear ordinary American lay clothing, and have ordinary lay hair. Weird robes and shaved or long hair may put provincials on their guard immediately, regardless of the philosophies they profess. (Also, I'm somewhat unpredictable; and the unpredictable can be menacing.)
     But what exactly is a "cult," anyway? One definition given by The New Oxford American Dictionary is "a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister." Well, as one of the quotes at the top of this article suggests, all spiritual movements, both valid and invalid, start out that way. It is safe to assume that Ammachi of India, "the hugging saint," is viewed by many out there to be a dangerous cult leader. For that matter, Jesus of Nazareth was seen as a cult leader and menace to society by orthodox Jews during the reign of Tiberius Caesar, and likely by some devout Roman Pagans also. In recent decades "cult" has increasingly become seen as a derogatory word along the lines of "nigger" or "fag," a primary purpose of which being to dehumanize its object, thereby justifying hostility toward it. Sociologists have begun avoiding the term.
     Some authors have stated the opinion that most "cult leaders" or unconventional spiritual leaders claiming to have special knowledge or attainment are psychopaths, that is, frauds who deliberately deceive and manipulate their followers. Some such cases seem relatively straightforward, like Shoko Asahara in Japan. I have a friend who I'd like to think was never actually a member of Aum Shinrikyo, but who endorsed Asahara as the real deal (up until the sarin nerve gas incident), and who had some of Aum Shinrikyo's literature, which out of curiosity I read. It struck me as an uninspired, clumsy hash of various religious traditions, including ancient Greek and Egyptian, plus some of Shoko's own mediocre poetry; and there seemed to be a large amount of just plain money-grubbing also, like selling at high prices some cheap-looking "Egyptian" amulets with special aromas and chants to release their full power, etc. Also, I consider someone like Daniel Ingram, who advertises on page one of his website, "I am an Arahant," to be a very fishy case. I can't help but suppose that Arahants don't go around announcing "I am an Arahant." I doubt that even the Buddha did that, even though he is reported to have done it repeatedly in the ancient texts.
     On the other hand, there are some spiritual teachers who are clearly rascals, yet who I consider to be genuine adepts. Neem Karoli Baba is my favorite example of a possibly enlightened rascal: He allegedly supervised a drug smuggling operation carried out by Western hippie disciples (although all the profits were given to charity), he occasionally fondled female disciples, he yelled and threw things, and he was notorious for telling lies. To a person with a completely mundane conception of spirituality, or maybe a traditionalist who follows a system emphasizing the essentiality of morality, such behavior would automatically disqualify him from any high attainment. But the man clearly was extremely highly advanced, a kind of walking miracle. I consider Paul Lowe also to be very highly advanced, possibly enlightened even, despite the fact that, when he was younger at least, he wore his sexuality on his sleeve, and conducted meditation retreats that also functioned as orgies. I read that at one long retreat the rule was that, if you had any uncertainty as to whether you should have sex with another retreatant, you should go ahead and do it. Only if you were sure that you shouldn't, then you shouldn't. For a few years just about every time I heard about him he had a different female disciple as his consort. Yet to me anyway, the wisdom of what he teaches is profound and unmistakable. And then there's J. Krishnamurti, who not only allegedly had a secret affair with his secretary's wife, but wore a toupee! What enlightened being would wear a toupee! I ask you. But even so, he seems to have had some genuine attainment, and he spoke of realization with authority, as from experience, and not as the scribes.
     So I don't think that a saint and a sage are necessarily the same person. A saint is a genius of virtue, and a sage is a genius of wisdom; and it seems possible that one may have one without the other. Traditional Theravada insists that one cannot have purity of mind without purity of moral conduct; but still, I am not so sure anymore. 
     Setting aside full enlightenment for a moment, it is obvious that higher consciousness in and of itself does not imply greater morality. An obvious example is the comparison of a monkey and a sheep. A monkey is at a higher level of consciousness than a sheep, but a monkey is also much naughtier than a sheep. We primates are naughty. Or consider Māra, the Buddhist devil. Tradition asserts that he lives not in hell, but in the highest deva realm. He is an advanced god, with tremendous psychic powers, yet he is a bad guy, too.
     So, what all this rambling amounts to is that I'm still not sure about Osho the Bhagwan Rajneesh. The articles I read about him didn't clear up very much about his spiritual status, although it did enlighten me with regard to the persecution of his ashram in Oregon, with full ideological support of the persecutors by very biased, sensationalistic mass media. Those who know of Osho only from news reports, etc., would have almost no option but to consider him nothing but a clever and maybe malevolent crook, which is pretty much the attitude I acquired toward him as a teenager.
     It is true that his second in command was an attempted murderer who had an ego a mile wide and who cussed like a sailor; but that could possibly be explained by the fact that Rajneesh deliberately adopted a method of George Gurdjieff, namely placing abrasive, difficult people in key positions of the organization, for the sake of continually challenging the patience and acceptance of the spiritual community. Rajneesh, again, delighted in challenging people's preferences and beliefs. This may also help to explain the Rolls-Royces and Uzis in the West. I can relate to this to some degree; it seems to me also that only by prodding people out of their comfort zone, especially their comfort zone of belief, can one really teach wisdom. If one leaves one's comfort zone out of inspiration and enthusiasm, then so much the better, but for most it is bound to be unpleasant. Unpleasant, but practically necessary.
     Almost certainly Rajneesh was a rascal. In addition to allegedly fudging on his visa application, he evidently wasn't celibate, and there are rumors that he got first pick of all the pretty sannyasins. I've also heard a rumor that he smoked dope with some of his disciples. He reportedly dictated three of his published books while under the effects of nitrous oxide. But I very much doubt that, as the monument at the Wasco County Courthouse implies, and as the Oregon attorney general fervently asserted, Osho was evil.
     With regard to his claims to being enlightened, if he made the claims while knowing he really wan't enlightened, then that of itself would be sufficient to qualify him as a deliberate fraud. On the other hand, it is not absolutely inconceivable that he actually was enlightened. Or, what may be more likely, he may have simply overestimated his own attainment. Or maybe he was being only quasi dishonest, since he taught that everyone is a Buddha anyway—so claiming himself to be one wouldn't be as extreme as it was interpreted by many of his followers. Shri Aurobindo may be a similar case, as he also was a brilliant intellectual, he also publicly disapproved of Gandhi, and he also claimed to have attained Nirvana—in his case, though, he declared Nirvana to be an inferior state, and that he wasn't satisfied with it. Shri Aurobindo's spiritual system supposedly begins with Nirvana. Hmmm. 
     Here is the Wikipedia article's account of one aspect of Osho's teaching:
According to Osho, every human being is a Buddha with the capacity for enlightenment, capable of unconditional love and of responding (rather than reacting) to life—although the ego usually prevents this, identifying with social conditioning and creating false needs and conflicts and an illusory sense of identity…
That strikes me as having some wisdom, especially the part about the ego creating false needs and conflicts. Even if Osho was simply recycling the teachings of others, as he is occasionally accused of doing, he chose what to recycle with a fair amount of insight. Back in the 60's, when he still called himself Acharya Rajneesh, someone asked him what were his "ten commandments," and after saying that he didn't approve of commandments, "just for fun" he wrote down the following:

     1. Never obey anyone's command unless it is coming from within you.
     2. There is no God other than life itself.
     3. Truth is within you, do not search for it elsewhere.
     4. Love is prayer.
     5. To become a nothingness is the door to truth. Nothingness itself is the means, the goal and attainment.
     6. Life is now and here.
     7. Live wakefully.
     8. Do not swim—float.
     9. Die each moment so that you can be new each moment.
     10. Do not search. That which is, is. Stop and see.

He underlined numbers 3, 7, 9, and 10 as most important. I cannot help but see some wisdom in this also.
     Then on top of all this, Osho also allegedly had a Howard Hughes-like phobia of germs and disease which would be hard to reconcile with genuine enlightenment. But who knows! I find myself in a strange world, where every possibility may be equally true. Maybe he was a deliberate fraud, and was a fully enlightened being, and was everything in between besides. In an infinite universe, anything that possibly can happen, does happen, and anything that is conceivable, is possible.
     In conclusion, if I had to make a guess one way or the other, I'd guess that the Bhagwan was just a very intelligent man who had charisma, piercing eyes, and a gift for oratory, and who also had a well above average intuitive appreciation for Dharma, and who capitalized on all this to become a controversial, unconventional, and unacceptably thought-provoking teacher…and a rascal. It's only a guess, though. 
     a crook brought to justice,
or a radical spiritual teacher persecuted for his unconventionality,
or neither, or maybe both?


Wikipedia articles on "Rajneesh," "Ma Anand Sheela," and "Cult"

"Escape from Rajneeshpuram," by Paul Morantz, at

"The Rise and Fall of Rajneeshpuram," by Sven Davisson, at


  1. Dear Bhante,

    If someone wanted to be unconventional and challenge the status quo, then how about living an ascetic dhutanga monk lifestyle in luxurious America? That would be challenging!

    Just because someone can say profound things means nothing if that person doesn't LIVE what he preaches.

  2. Dear Bhante,

    I believe that being celibate monk and choosing lifelong poverty in America would be radical and unconventional that would be a good hint for being Enlightened. IMHO.

    With metta,