Osho – Biography

Childhood and Adolescence

Osho was born Chandra Mohan Jain (Hindi: चन्द्र मोहन जैन) in Kuchwada, a small village in the Narsinghpur District of Madhya Pradesh state in India, as the eldest of eleven children of a cloth merchant. His parents, who were Taranpanthi Jains, sent him to live with his maternal grandparents until he was seven years old. By Osho’s own account, this was a major influence on his development, because his grandmother gave him the utmost freedom, leaving him carefree without an imposed education or restrictions.

At seven years old, his grandfather, whom he adored, died, and he went back to live with his parents. He was profoundly affected by his grandfather’s death, and again by the death of his childhood sweetheart and cousin Shashi from typhoid when he was 15, leading to an extraordinary preoccupation with death that lasted throughout much of his childhood and youth. In his school years, he was a rebellious, but gifted student, and acquired a reputation as a formidable debater. As a youth, Osho became an atheist; he took an interest in hypnosis and was briefly associated with socialism and two Indian independence movements: the Indian National Army and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

University Years and Public Speaker

In 1951, aged nineteen, Osho began his studies at Hitkarini College in Jabalpur. After acute conflicts with an instructor, the principal asked him to leave the college, and he transferred to D. N. Jain College, also in Jabalpur. He began speaking in public, initially at the annual Sarva Dharma Sammelan held at Jabalpur, organized by the Taranpanthi Jain community into which he was born, participating there from 1951 to 1968. He resisted his parents’ pressure to get married. Osho later said he became spiritually enlightened on 21 March 1953, when he was 21 years old. He said he dropped all effort and hope. After what he describes as an intense seven-day process he says he went out at night to the Bhanvartal garden in Jabalpur, where he sat under a tree:

“The moment I entered the garden everything became luminous, it was all over the place – the benediction, the blessedness. I could see the trees for the first time – their green, their life, their very sap running. The whole garden was asleep, the trees were asleep. But I could see the whole garden alive, even the small grass leaves were so beautiful. I looked around. One tree was tremendously luminous – the maulshree tree. It attracted me, it pulled me towards itself. I had not chosen it, God himself has chosen it. I went to the tree, I sat under the tree. As I sat there things started settling. The whole universe became a benediction.”

He completed his B.A. in philosophy at D. N. Jain College in 1955 and joined the University of Sagar, where he earned his M.A. in philosophy in 1957 (with distinction). He immediately secured a teaching post at Raipur Sanskrit college, but soon became controversial enough for the Vice Chancellor to ask him to seek a transfer, as he considered him a danger to his students’ morality, character and religion. From 1958, he taught philosophy as a lecturer at Jabalpur University, being promoted to professor in 1960. A popular lecturer with a “golden tongue” in Hindi, he was acknowledged by his peers as an exceptionally intelligent man who had been able to overcome the deficiencies of his early small-town education.

In parallel to his university job, he travelled throughout India, giving lectures critical of socialism and Gandhi, under the name Acharya Rajneesh (Acharya means teacher or professor; Rajneesh was a nickname he had acquired in childhood). Socialism, he said, was a dead loss that would only socialize poverty. Gandhi was a masochist and reactionary who worshiped poverty. To escape its backwardness, Osho said, India needed capitalism, science, modern technology and birth control. He criticized orthodox Indian religions as dead, filled with empty ritual, oppressing their followers with fears of damnation and the promise of blessings. Such statements made him controversial: they shocked and repelled many, but attracted others. He gained a loyal following that included a number of wealthy merchants and businessmen. These sought individual consultations from him about their spiritual development and daily life, in return for donations – a commonplace arrangement in India, where people seek guidance from learned or holy individuals the way people elsewhere might consult a psychologist or counselor. The rapid growth of his practice was somewhat out of the ordinary, suggesting that he had an uncommon talent as a spiritual therapist. From 1962, he began to lead 3- to 10-day meditation camps, and the first meditation centers (Jivan Jagruti Kendra) started to emerge around his teaching, then known as the Life Awakening Movement (Jivan Jagruti Andolan). After a speaking tour in 1966, he resigned from his teaching post.

In a 1968 lecture series, later published under the title From Sex to Superconsciousness, he scandalized Hindu leaders by calling for freer acceptance of sex. His advocacy of sexual freedom caused public disapproval in India, and he became known as the “sex guru” in the press. When he was invited in 1969 – despite the misgivings of some Hindu leaders – to speak at the Second World Hindu Conference, he used the occasion to raise controversy again. In his speech, he said that “any religion which considers life meaningless and full of misery, and teaches the hatred of life, is not a true religion. Religion is an art that shows how to enjoy life.” He characterized priests as being motivated by self-interest, incensing the shankaracharya of Puri, who tried in vain to have his lecture stopped.

The Ashram in Pune

The hot, humid climate of Mumbai appeared to have proved detrimental to Osho’s health; he had developed diabetes, asthma and numerous allergies. So, in 1974, on the 21st anniversary of his enlightenment, he and his group moved from the Mumbai apartment to a property in Koregaon Park, Pune, which was purchased with the help of Catherine Venizelos (Ma Yoga Mukta), a Greek shipping heiress. Osho taught at the Pune ashram from 1974 to 1981. The two adjoining houses and 6 acres (24,000 m2) of land became the nucleus of an ashram, and those two buildings are still at the heart of the present-day Osho International Meditation Resort. This space allowed for the regular audio recording of his discourses and, later, video recording and printing for worldwide distribution, which enabled him to reach far larger audiences internationally. The number of Western visitors increased sharply, leading to constant expansion. The ashram soon featured an arts-and-crafts center that turned out clothing, jewelry, ceramics and organic cosmetics and put on performances of theater, music and mime. Following the arrival of several therapists from the Human Potential Movement in the early seventies, the ashram began from 1975 to complement its meditation offerings with a growing number of therapy groups. These became a major source of income for the ashram.

The Pune ashram was, by all accounts, an exciting and intense place to be, with an emotionally charged, madhouse-carnival atmosphere. A typical day in the ashram began at 6:00 a.m. with Dynamic Meditation. At 8:00 a.m., Osho gave a 60 to 90-minute spontaneous lecture in the ashram’s “Buddha Hall” auditorium, either commenting on literature from a religious tradition, or answering questions sent in by visitors and disciples. Until 1981, lecture series held in Hindi alternated with series held in English. During the day, various meditations and therapies took place, whose intensity was ascribed to the spiritual energy of Osho’s “buddhafield”. Evenings were for darshans, where Osho engaged in personal conversation with small numbers of individual disciples or visitors and gave sannyas. Sannyasins came for darshan when departing or returning to the ashram, or if they had an issue that they wanted to discuss with Osho.

To decide which therapies to participate in, visitors either consulted Osho or made selections according to their own preferences. Some of the early therapy groups in the ashram, such as the Encounter group, were experimental and very controversial, allowing a degree of physical violence as well as sexual encounters between participants. Conflicting reports of injuries sustained in Encounter group sessions began to appear in the press. Richard Price, at the time a prominent Human Potential Movement therapist and co-founder of the Esalen institute, found that Osho’s version encouraged participants to be violent rather than play at being violent (the norm in Encounter groups conducted in the United States), and he criticized the therapies for featuring “… the worst mistakes of some inexperienced Esalen group leaders”. Price is alleged to have exited the Poona ashram with a broken arm following a period of eight hours locked in a room with participants who were armed with wooden weapons. Bernard Gunther, his Esalen colleague, fared better in Pune and wrote a book, Dying for Enlightenment, featuring photographs and lyrical descriptions celebrating the flavor of the meditations and therapy groups.

Violence in the therapy groups eventually ended in January 1979, when the ashram issued a press release stating that violence “had fulfilled its function within the overall context of the ashram as an evolving spiritual commune.” Besides the controversy around the therapies, allegations of drug use amongst sannyasins began to mar the ashram’s image. Some Western sannyasins were financing their extended stays in India through prostitution and drug running. A few of them later said that, while Osho was not directly involved, they discussed such plans and activities with him in darshan, and he gave his blessing.

By the latter half of the 1970s it had become clear that the property in Pune was too small to contain the rapid growth of the ashram and Osho asked that somewhere larger be found. Sannyasins from around India started looking for property that could be purchased and used for a larger ashram and alternatives were found, including one in Gujarat, in the province of Kutch, and two more in India’s mountainous north. Plans for a large utopian commune in India were never implemented, as mounting tensions between the ashram and the conservative Hindu government led by Morarji Desai resulted in an impasse. Land use approval was denied and, more importantly, the government stopped issuing visas to foreign visitors who indicated the ashram as their main destination in India. In addition, Desai’s government canceled the tax-exempt status of the ashram, resulting in a claim of current and back taxes estimated at $5 million. Conflicts with various Indian religious leaders added to the situation – by 1980, the ashram had become so controversial that Indira Gandhi, despite a previous association between Osho and the National Congress Party dating back to his early speeches made in the sixties, was unwilling to intercede for it after her return to power. During one of Osho’s discourses in May 1980, an attempt on his life was made by a young Hindu fundamentalist.

By 1981, Osho’s ashram hosted 30,000 visitors per year. In stark contrast to the period up to 1970, when his following was overwhelmingly Indian, daily discourse audiences were at this time composed predominantly of Europeans and Americans. Many observers noted that Osho’s lecture style changed in the late seventies, becoming intellectually less focused and featuring an increasing number of jokes intended to shock or amuse his audience. On 10 April 1981, having discoursed daily for nearly 15 years, Osho entered a three-and-a-half-year period of self-imposed public silence, and satsangs – silent sitting and music, with readings from spiritual works such as Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet or the Isha Upanishad – took the place of his discourses. Around the same time, Ma Anand Sheela (Sheela Silverman) replaced Ma Yoga Laxmi as Osho’s secretary.

Move to America

In the spring of 1981, Osho had been diagnosed with a prolapsed disc and had been treated by several doctors, including James Cyriax, a leading orthopedic surgeon from London. On 1 June, Osho travelled to the United States on a tourist visa, for medical purposes, and spent several months at Kip’s Castle in Montclair, New Jersey. According to Susan J. Palmer, “the move appears to have been a unilateral decision on the part of Sheela.” Sheela stated that Osho was in grave danger if he remained in India but would receive appropriate medical treatment in America if he were to require surgery. Osho’s previous secretary, Laxmi, reported to Frances FitzGerald that “she had failed to find a property in India adequate to [Osho’s] needs, and thus, when the medical emergency came, the initiative had passed to Sheela.”

Other commentators believe that mounting tension around the Pune ashram, increasing criticism of its activities and threatened punitive action by the Indian authorities, created the impetus for Osho to relocate operations to America. Gordon (1987) notes that Sheela and Osho had discussed the idea of establishing a new commune in the U.S. in late 1980, although he did not agree to travel there until May 1981. During his time in America Osho never sought outside medical treatment, leading the Immigration and Naturalization Service to believe that he had a preconceived intent to remain there. Osho later pleaded guilty to immigration fraud, including making false statements on his initial visa application.

Teachings

Osho’s thought was rooted in Hindu advaita, which considers all reality as being of a single divine essence. In this mystical ontology, the human experiences of separateness, duality and temporality are understood to be illusions produced by the mind. The dualistic and transient phenomena of the world are likened to a dance. Every happening is thought to be sacred and is considered to have absolute worth.

Osho’s discourses were interspersed with jokes and delivered with an oratory that many found captivating. His teachings changed in emphasis over time, employing paradoxes and contradiction which added to the difficulty of summarizing his work. Conversant with all the Eastern religious traditions, he also drew on a wide and eclectic range of Western influences in his teaching.

In the course of his life, Osho spoke on all the major spiritual traditions, including 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. But the topic that predominated, and on which he came to focus exclusively towards the end of his life, was Zen.

Osho believed humanity to be threatened with extinction due to over-population, impending nuclear holocaust, and diseases such as AIDS, and thought that many of society’s ills could be remedied by scientific means.

As an explicitly “self-deconstructing” or “self-parodying” guru, his teaching as a whole was said to be nothing more than a “game” or a joke. His early lectures were famous for their humor and their refusal to take anything seriously. His message of sexual, emotional, spiritual, and institutional liberation, as well as his contrariness, ensured that his life was surrounded by conjecture, rumor, and controversy.

Meditation

According to Osho, meditation is not just a practice, but a state of awareness that can be maintained in every moment. He taught that this total awareness awakens an individual from sleep and mechanical responses to stimuli, conditioned by beliefs and expectations. Osho employed Western psychotherapy as a means of preparing for meditation, and also introduced his own meditation techniques, which he referred to as “Active Meditations”. These meditation techniques are characterized by alternating stages of physical activity and silence. In all, he suggested over a hundred meditation techniques.

The most famous of these is his first, referred to as OSHO Dynamic Meditation. It comprises five stages that are accompanied by music (except for stage 4). In the first, the person engages in ten minutes of rapid breathing through the nose. The second ten minutes are for catharsis: “[L]et whatever is happening happen. … Laugh, shout, scream, jump, shake – whatever you feel to do, do it!” For the next ten minutes, the person jumps up and down with their arms raised, shouting Hoo! each time they land on the flats of their feet. In the fourth, silent stage, the person freezes, remaining completely motionless for fifteen minutes, and witnessing everything that is happening to them. The last stage of the meditation consists of fifteen minutes of dancing and celebration.

There are other “active meditation” techniques, like “OSHO Kundalini Meditation” and “OSHO Nadabrahma Meditation”, which are less animated, although they also include physical activity. His final formal technique is called “OSHO Mystic Rose”, comprising three hours of laughing every day for the first week, three hours of weeping each day for the second, with the third week for silent meditation. The result of these processes is said to be the experience of “witnessing”, enabling the “jump into awareness”. Osho believed such cathartic methods were necessary, since it was very difficult for people of today to just sit and be in meditation.

Another key ingredient of his teaching is his own presence as a master: “A Master shares his being with you, not his philosophy. … He never does anything to the disciple.” He delighted in being paradoxical and engaging in behavior that seemed entirely at odds with traditional images of enlightened individuals. All such behavior, however capricious and difficult to accept, was explained as “a technique for transformation” to push people “beyond the mind.” The initiation he offered his followers was another such device: “… if your being can communicate with me, it becomes a communion. … It is the highest form of communication possible: a transmission without words. Our beings merge. This is possible only if you become a disciple.” Ultimately though, Osho even deconstructed his own authority. He emphasized that anything and everything could become an opportunity for meditation.

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