Question: Acharya Ji, what do you think of Osho?
Acharya Prashant: In the spiritual dimension, the last century was exceptionally rich with the presence of some towering beings. As the womb of religion, it was natural that most of them emanated from the East: Raman Maharishi, J.Krishnamurti, Osho, Nisargadatta, and many others. Also, there were a significant number of Western teachers who brought Zen to US and Europe.
While a spiritual master deals with the ineffable, the formless, and leaves his audience with nothing but silence, each teacher has his own distinct style and methods. Maharishi would strike all into silence with his single-pointed emphasis on the mind as the only appearance, and the Self as the only Reality. Krishnamurti attacked dogma and methods and restored the glory of the individual quest for Truth. Nisargadatta would be pithy and dismiss all problems as the nonsense of the mind. Millions benefited from the touch of these masters. A world reeling under the violence of wars, and disillusioned by the subsequent rebuilding and consumerism, was shown a different way of living. The impact of these masters was felt in all areas of human activity: religion, arts, culture, politics, even science, and technology. The Beat generation, the counterculture, the back-to-nature movements, yoga, the mainstreaming of oriental texts, the rejection of blatant materialistic values as part of the democratic discourse, the acceptance in the economics of human development as something distinct and far beyond economic growth, the dignified rise in the West of Zen as a ‘philosophy of mind’ rather than a religion – the effects were, and are being, felt in every area. Spirituality, as very different from the refractory beliefs of religion, was attempted to be given its due place. Today religion might be on the decline and atheism might be on the rise, but it is popular and worthy to be called spiritual. It is in vogue for scientists to wax eloquent on the convergence between science and spirituality, between phenomenon and consciousness. Today’s movements against climate change, against war, against religious intolerance, movements for a more egalitarian world, for rights of all kinds of minorities, for animal rights, for veganism, for sustainable development, for denuclearization and demilitarisation, all find their support, if not their roots, in some way from the spiritual movements of the last century and beyond.
In such times, in the middle of a constellation of resplendent stars on the spiritual sky, Osho sparkled bright, probably even the brightest. As already said, each of the teachers had his peculiar characteristics; and Osho’s defining characteristic was courage. He was a man of deep intellect, prolifically well-read, a genius in devising new methods of meditation, yet above all his other qualities, his courage is his hallmark.
Born in a middle-class family in a small city in the deprivation and resourcelessness of pre-independence India, he built himself up all on his own. Books would be his companions. Even as a teenager, he would travel across cities, to various libraries, various sources, to look for books and knowledge. Soon enough, he got into a teaching position at a local university. His heart was in reading the message of the mystical and taking the message to all. He started with his speaking tours while still in his 20s. Traveling extensively across the country, convincing people to listen to him, managing time and resources even while holding on to a teaching job, he would meet thousands almost every month – in colleges, universities, temples, meditation camps, seminars – anywhere where they could be met. And all this was in the India of 60s – no internet, no easy reservations, little connectivity even by telephone, pathetic means of transport and communication, and a lot of illiteracy and religious rigidity. At one point, he says, he would find it difficult to sleep on a normal bed, because he had grown used to sleep amid the rocking of railway coach berths.
His first book was published while he was in the mid-30s. It was an astute exposition of Tantra and its methods. There were others who had written on Tantra before, but Osho’s book was different – it was not a theoretical treatise on Tantra; it was a reading of the human consciousness, the ill-effects of suppression, and the possibility of freedom from suppression. He named it – ‘From sex to superconsciousness’. The name itself was disruptive. People flocked to it even as their moralistic minds dreaded to expose the cover page. Osho’s detractors have called this a smart marketing gimmick, but even if it is a gimmick, it takes guts and faith for a new author to try it.
With popularity and followership coming to him, he left his teaching job and moved to Bombay. Another courageous decision: spiritual masters were known to move to Rishikesh and Puri, not to the commercial center of Bombay. His understanding of his spiritual mission was non-conventional. He promised that the spiritual pursuit becomes very difficult for those who are struggling to make two ends meet. Parallelly, he realized that his movement was at a nascent stage, and needed support and contributions from those who were strongly placed, if it were able to support the needy and everybody at a later stage. He looked out for those who were free from the hassles of basic living, who had the time and the resources to come to him and contribute to his work. He rented an apartment in a multistory where he would deliver his talks and meet visitors. He had a charming personality, a knack for maintaining contacts, and people would be attracted to him. To the rich, he said, spirituality is not about renunciation, but it is about remaining untouched by worldly stuff while remaining in the middle of the world. The rich had heard enough talks on giving up, non-attachment, dispassion and the like, but to have a Guru who said that they could comfortably live in the middle of their possessions and yet reap spiritual fruits, was new. The rich donated generously to him. Osho has been criticised as the ‘rich man’s Guru’, and it has been said that he used the insecurities and ignorance of the rich to fund and expand his mission, and the allegation might have more than an iota of truth in it. But the fact remains that he dared to breach into new territory, with new methods, a new lexicon, and a new mindset. He talked with abandon, demolished idols and ideals unabashedly, and gave a contemporary interpretation to the age-old teachings of the scriptures. His interpretations can be doubted, his earnestness and diligence cannot be.
The increasing number of visitors, especially international ones, necessitated that he move to more spacious precincts. He shifted to what came to be known as his Ashram in Pune. It was the 70s. The Hippies and the Beatles, moksha, and marijuana. The trend of Bombay greatly intensified and branched out in Pune. People from all over the world start coming to him attracted by his charismatic personality, his books, his fresh interpretations of saints’ words and religious scriptures, and the stories of the success of his methods. People who experienced ‘transformation’ would go back and send more visitors. Osho was not afraid to look at the dark and hidden basements of the human mind. Sex, in particular, was not at all a taboo to him. He recklessly defied what he saw as decadent and debilitating codes of morality. It has been charged that he owed a lot of his popularity and press not to the innocent devotion of the seeker for liberation, but to the perverted attraction of the consumer for titillation. This surely is factual. But is there any other way to attract a mind steeped in materialism and conditioned in consumerism? Once people came to him for whatever reasons attracted them, it is undeniable that a majority of them benefited. He used whatever methods he had at his disposal. He tried hard, just a little too hard maybe.
He realized that the cause of human suffering is that the mind is enslaved and gripped by influences and that influences are maintained and reinforced by bastions of authority. He attacked all centers of authority – political in the form of Prime Ministers and politicians, religious in the form of priests, Popes, and Gurus, social in the form of the family, economic in the form of the marketplace – his attacks were no holds barred, brash and disdainful. He turned the humble joke into a method of demolition, a weapon of mass destruction. His jokes spiced up his talks and no one was exempt from their irreverent punch. Not the authorities of this world, and not even the gods.
The world reacted, predictably enough, in good measure. Counterpunches and blows were quick and hard. The Indian government started raising difficulties for his Ashram to function and for foreigners to visit him. Added to this was the fact that dedicated audiences were prepared to lay out resources for him in the west. Osho migrated to the US – Oregon. The next few years were to be the most exciting and contentious part of his life. On one side, the commune that was established was a grand and historically unique experiment of its own kind. It opened up a new possibility in the field of human relationship and living and gained a lot of respect, recognition, and power as well. On the other side, Osho was accused of immigration fraud, did not speak for three years while the commune kept taking shape, was loathed for taking on a lavish persona, amassing wealth, and exhibiting his fleet of expensive cars, and ultimately his coterie was charged with a bio-terror attack on the population neighboring the commune with the intention of manipulating the results of a local election. It ended all too soon and too insubstantially. Osho, as head of the commune, was jailed for a brief period and expelled from the US. He tried to set up base elsewhere, but no country wanted to court trouble in his form. He had to return to Pune, where he started keeping unwell, and after four years of return, he expired.
Especially the last part of Osho’s story is often thought of as showing him in a dim light. It is narrated as the fall of an idol. I do not take it that way. There are many who read the scriptures, there are many who claim to understand them, and there are many who claim to work for the emancipation of mankind. But what is the ultimate test of one’s understanding, and the intensity of compassion arising from that understanding? The ultimate test is action – the extent to which one is willing to immerse himself in action for the sake of his deepest convictions. One looks at a picture of an Osho in his 50s wearing his trademark extravagant gown in the commune – his ritzy cap, his swanky wristwatch, his opulent chair, and then one remembers the simple monk sitting on the floor in his Bombay flat, wearing just a white dhoti. The face of the monk is shining with the light of the Self. There is a rich simplicity. Why then did this monk, with all his understanding, make a clown of himself, standing atop a Rolls Royce, waving to cheering fans like a rockstar? The answer to this question is the reason why in the beginning of this article I called Osho as probably the brightest star in the spiritual constellation of the last century.
All masters work for the upliftment and liberation of the world. But all retain their personality to some extent at least. All hold to at least some part of their personal self. They might be working for the people, at least the last remnants of their individuality are still present. These remnants are there in the forms of ideals they won’t compromise on, personality traits they won’t allow to change, and several other ‘non-negotiables’. For Osho, however, nothing of himself ultimately remained a non-negotiable. He gave himself up totally. He was a master of methods, and he turned his own being, self, and personality, into a method for the delivery of the timeless teachings. This is difficult, very difficult: to not to retain even a modicum of the self, to become absolutely a tool of the Truth. For years altogether, he kept speaking on Buddha, Mahavira, Jesus, LaoTsu, Upanishads, Sufis. He kept himself behind all the other big names. A smaller man would have said, “When I have rich content of my own, why should I speak on others? Till date, no enlightened master has spoken on another enlightened master”. In his later years, he made it clear that he had been delivering his own understanding whenever he spoke on Jesus or others, and the name did not matter as long as the teachings were being delivered. The selflessness this requires would be appreciated only by those who have ever had content of their own to speak.
Similarly, it is easy to act the renunciate, sapient master, in the traditional mould – the serious and silent master who personifies dispassion and detachment. Crowds love and respect this form of the master. But to wear and act like a rock star, to throw jokes laden with raw sexual humor, to demonstrate one’s riches, is to actually risk everything that a ‘spiritual master’ stands for. People do not recognize the depth of renunciation, and hence the depth of compassion, involved in giving up a hard-earned saintly image – an image that hundreds of aspiring Gurus would be willing to die for. He was willing to be called a fraudster, he was willing to be misunderstood and abused, but he was not willing to leave any stone unturned to attract everybody’s attention. If not out of love, he ensured that people took note of him out of hatred and disgust. He ensured that he spoke abhorrent words, and did stuff that would be detested and cursed. He was prepared to be hated, but he was not prepared to leave the people as they are. He could not be indifferent. He cared. To let your own image, personality – everything – be destroyed, and work only for the other, while knowing fully well that you will just get curses, misunderstanding, and ingratitude in return – is that not what we call selfless Love?
There are at least two other important examples that demonstrate a courage that can stem only from love. The first is about women. Women, since the beginning of time, have more or less been outcasts from the spiritual domain. Religions of Buddha, Mahavira, Jesus, Vedas, Quran – we know how few women saints have been there down the ages, we know how women have been barred from holding religious positions and even entry into religious orders, we know how, with a few exceptions, religions have been male-centric. Osho had the insight to see how this was not only unjust but also stupid, and he not only challenged but actually inverted this order within his system. In his commune, most of the important positions were held by women. It is another matter that many of these women were part of the reason why the commune broke down and why Osho had to be jailed. When asked whether he felt betrayed and hurt by his female disciples, he manfully said, “wounded, but not hurt”. And it is another matter that the world said that a place where women find so much prominence cannot be a serious spiritual place. When love is bigger than the need for self-preservation, then you get the courage to take wounds.
The second example pertains to a couple of his sobriquets – ‘Bhagwan’ in particular. The entire point of spirituality is to recognize oneself as nothing but the Self. To call oneself as anything other than Self is an illusion, perversion, and spiritual heresy. All the effort of the teacher is to bring the student to a point where he can forget all other identities, and remember that he is nothing but the One Self Alone. This is best captured in the simple purport of the Vedantic utterance “Aham Brahmasmi”. So, the student must necessarily say, “I am the Self”. But the world burns up when somebody declares this grand statement. The ego survives only in littleness and boundaries and gets deeply scared when confronted with the roar of the immense Self. The world starts shivering when someone – a Rishi, a Mansoor, an Osho – declares “I am That”. And it is well known that whenever someone will declare his real nature, his immensity, and godliness, the world will react with envy, disbelief, and violence. So, people desist from declaring even when they know. Who wants to get in trouble with idiots who anyway won’t understand? But some people do want. They are too full of love to leave the stupid world to its fate and too courageous to be daunted by the repercussions of their announcement. They say, “I am That, and you too are That, and the two of us are not different at all. Through me, you too will realize your Bhagavata”. They pay the price, and they have enough to pay and still be full.
Osho’s several hundred books and audio and video recordings are invaluable. He spoke on more names than most other masters would have heard the mystics of. If somebody is worth reading, chances are that Osho would have spoken on him. In fact, till recently, if you would search the internet for Paltudas, or Gareebdas, or Sahajobai, or Tilopa, or Bayazid, or TaHui, and several others, you will find that the biggest commentaries on many of them come from Osho. In fact, in some of the cases, there are no links on the internet about these mystics, except the links of Osho’s talks. Such is the uniqueness of the man’s contribution. He is a gateway to the entire spiritual world across millennia. He is not the self-concerned master who would tell his student to not to go anywhere else, and not to read anyone else. When you go to Osho, he holds your hand and takes you to every worthy master that ever has been. Such is his self-assuredness and love.
He was a strong, fit man till late into his 40s. He would swim, he would travel, he led dynamic meditation sessions, and his face had an agelessness about it. If you look at his pictures of that time, you cannot miss his strong shoulders and arms, and well carved out torso. And then he went to the US, and returned, and died at the age of 58 – sick of various ailments. People rumored that the sex-guru had to die of HIV; his followers clamored that he died of radiation that the US Police gave him. It does not matter what the details and facts are. A man of flesh and blood is bound to commit actions that will fall on either side of morality. In India, even avatars are shown as fallible. Even gods are shown to be susceptible to greed, envy, fear, and other weaknesses. To expect perfection is to just keep counting the shortcomings. To expect perfection is to miss the divinity present in the other, and to miss it in oneself. I would rather look at what he has given to the world, and its a lot that he has given, it’s a lot that the world must be grateful for. His deep insights, his books, his recordings, his methods of meditation – let us just say ‘Thank you’.
– Based on Acharya Prashant’s interactions on various e-media.
Dated: 14th May,’15
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