Osho, born Chandra Mohan Jain (Hindi: चन्द्र मोहन जैन) (11 December 1931 – 19 January 1990), also known as Acharya Rajneesh from the 1960s onwards, calling himself Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh during the 1970s and 1980s and taking the name Osho in 1989, was an Indian mystic and spiritual teacher who garnered an international following. His syncretic teachings emphasise the importance of meditation, awareness, love, celebration, creativity and humour – qualities that he viewed as being suppressed by adherence to static belief systems, religious tradition and socialisation. His teachings have had a notable impact on Western New Age thought, and their popularity has increased markedly since his death.
Osho was a professor of philosophy and travelled throughout India in the 1960s as a public speaker. His views against socialism, Mahatma Gandhi, and institutionalised religion were controversial. He also advocated a more open attitude towards sexuality, a stance that earned him the sobriquet “sex guru” in the Indian and later the international press. In 1970 he settled for a while in Mumbai. He began initiating disciples (known as neo-sannyasins) and took on the role of a spiritual teacher. In his discourses, he reinterpreted writings of religious traditions, mystics and philosophers from around the world. Moving to Pune in 1974, he established an ashram that attracted increasing numbers of Westerners. The ashram offered therapies derived from the Human Potential Movement to its Western audience and made news in India and abroad, chiefly because of its permissive climate and Osho‘s provocative lectures. By the end of the 1970s, there were mounting tensions with the Indian government and the surrounding society.
In 1981, Osho relocated to the United States and his followers established an intentional community, later known as Rajneeshpuram, in the state of Oregon. Within a year the leadership of the commune became embroiled in a conflict with local residents, primarily over land use, which was marked by hostility on both sides. Osho‘s large collection of Rolls-Royce automobiles was also notorious. The Oregon commune collapsed in 1985 when Osho revealed that the commune leadership had committed a number of serious crimes, including a bioterror attack (food contamination) on the citizens of The Dalles. Osho was arrested shortly afterwards and charged with immigration violations. He was deported from the United States in accordance with a plea bargain. Twenty-one countries denied him entry, causing Osho to travel the world before returning to Pune, where he died in 1990. His ashram is today known as the Osho International Meditation Resort.
Osho‘s teachings were delivered through his discourses. These were not presented in an academic setting, but were interspersed with jokes, and delivered with an oratory that many found spellbinding. The emphasis of his teaching was not static but changed over time: Osho revelled in paradox and contradiction, making his work difficult to summarise.
Osho spoke on all the major spiritual traditions, including Jainism, Hinduism, Hassidism, Tantrism, Taoism, Christianity, Buddhism, the teachings of a variety of Eastern and Western mystics, and on sacred scriptures such as the Upanishads and the Guru Granth Sahib. His thought was rooted in Hindu advaita, which considers all reality as being of a single divine essence. In this worldview, the human experiences of separateness, duality and temporality are held to be a kind of dance or play of cosmic consciousness; everything within this playful existence is sacred, has absolute worth, and is an end in itself. Besides Eastern religious traditions, Osho also drew on a wide and eclectic range of Western influences in his teaching.
The influence of Heraclitus is traceable in Osho‘s view of the unity of opposites. The influence of Freud and Gurdjieff is traceable in Osho‘s view of man as a machine, condemned to the helpless acting out of unconscious, neurotic patterns. His vision of the “new man” who transcends the constraints of convention is reminiscent of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. His views on sexual liberation bear comparison to the thought of D. H. Lawrence. And while his contemporary Jiddu Krishnamurti did not approve of Osho, there are clear similarities between their respective teachings.
Ego and the mind
Osho taught that every human being is a potential Buddha, with the capacity for enlightenment. According to him, everyone is capable of experiencing unconditional love and of responding rather than reacting to life, but he suggested that a person’s ego usually prevents them from enjoying this experience. The ego, in Osho‘s teaching, represents the social conditioning and constraints a person has accumulated since birth, creating false needs that are in conflict with the real self. The problem, he said, is how to bypass the ego so that man’s innate being can flower; how to move from the periphery to the centre.
Osho views the mind first and foremost as a mechanism for survival, replicating behavioural strategies that have proved successful in the past. But the mind’s appeal to the past, he says, deprives human beings of the ability to live authentically in the present. He argued that individuals are continually repressing their genuine emotions, shutting themselves off from joyful experiences that arise naturally when embracing the present moment: “The mind has no inherent capacity for joy. … It only thinks about joy.” The result, he said, is that people poison themselves with all manner of neuroses, jealousies and insecurities. In the case of sexual feelings, for example, Osho believed that repression only makes these feelings re-emerge in another guise, and that the end result was a society obsessed with sex. Instead of suppressing, he argued, people should trust and accept themselves unconditionally. This solution could not be intellectually understood, as the mind would only assimilate it as one more piece of information: instead, what was needed was meditation.
Osho’s “Ten Commandments”
In his early days as Acharya Rajneesh, a correspondent once asked Osho for his “Ten Commandments”. In his letter of reply, Osho noted that it was a difficult matter, because he was against any kind of commandment, but “just for fun” agreed to set out the following: