Osho - a cynic amidst believers, a human amidst ‘gods’.
If you’ve watched Wild Wild Country, the stunning documentary on Osho’s sojourn to USA - you have no doubt seen clips of Osho speaking. (And if you haven’t, fair warning: spoilers ahead!) Osho wasn’t the first Indian guru to win followers in the West. There were others too.
Mahesh Yogi counted The Beatles as his disciples, Sathya Sai Baba had millions of devotees around the world. The two Krishnamurtis - Jiddu and UG - also boasted legions of faithful followers worldwide. However, none of them have been as radical, as controversial, and (some would say) as ‘different’ as ‘Bhagwan’ Rajneesh, who later took on the name Osho - Japanese word for ‘master’.
But what was it about Osho that drew millions of devotees? In a land that sees spiritual gurus by the dozens, what made Osho’s philosophy so appealing to disenchanted youngsters around the world?
Debating has been a Hindu tradition for hundreds of years. In fact, there are ancient texts that specify the importance, and exact way in which to conduct a debate. Unlike most gurus whose past is unknown, and they suddenly ‘arrive’ on the scene - Osho studied Philosophy, was a professor in Philosophy, and was conversant with philosophical treatises from around the world. He borrowed heavily from Zenism, as well as from ancient Indian texts. But there was one crucial differentiator - Osho could speak in English. This got him thousands of devotees from the West.
And yet, after decades – how do Osho’s teachings hold up?
An analysis of Osho’s teachings throw up two remarkable qualities – he was radical for the time he lived in. As an orator and performer, he ticked all the boxes of Max Weber’s definition of a ‘charismatic leader’.
But scratch the surface, and you’ll find that all Osho’s teachings held gigantic contradictions – mostly by Osho himself. Nearly every aspect of Osho’s teachings hold paradoxes that are clear to the naked eye.
One of his 90 Rolls Royces. Image source: canacopegdi.com
Attitude towards faith
If Osho’s teachings on life were close to Zen, his attitude towards money leaned towards Ayn Rand’s Objectivism – he was the first to cater to the rich and hedonistic. Osho claimed to be a rich man’s guru, while washing his hands off any need for wealth on a personal level.
And yet, Osho’s personal fleet consisted of 90 Rolls Royces. His commune earned millions of dollars and there were no social missions undertaken by him. His ashram in Pune was accused of tax fraud.
While he seemed to love riches, his attitude towards the poor is shockingly petty. He claimed that the poor could not ‘understand him’. He also advocated extreme measures of population control – going so far as to say that ‘parents of children who were born with defects should put them to eternal sleep’. Three decades after his glory days, Osho’s words seem petty, if anything.
By sex your body is born; not you. Image source: Pinterest
It is ironic that India - the home to Kamasutra - has become so prudish when it comes to sex. With the rate at which our population is increasing, people are clearly having lots of it! And this was the 70s - Osho’s followers were mostly disenchanted youth at the precipice of the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-war movement, and the Hippie movement. It was natural for them to flock to a guru who treated sex not as a dirty word, but as something to be embraced as natural.
However, like most of Osho’s teachings – digging deeper reveals skeletons. Wild Wild Country reveals shocking footage of followers beating each other up. Of orgies blurring lines of consent, and forced sterilization. Reports from the ashram talk of ‘free love’, which is another way of saying ‘no protection’.
Even more shocking are Osho’s comments on homosexuality. For someone who claims to be enlightened, he calls homosexuality a ‘disease’. In that sense, he is not very different from your typical conservative politician.
Most Indian gurus preach secularism and peace, but dig deeper and you’ll find that their teachings are based in a ‘religious moral superiority’. Through their discourses and writings, they subtly promote the superiority of their faith.
Osho was the opposite. He took on every single religion - talking about the futility of sticking to a borrowed set of principles. If religions were MNCs, Osho was a start-up that was challenging age-old rules.
Here again Osho’s utopia – Rajneeshpuram – displayed classic signs of a religion. Followers were asked to wear maroon robes along with beads, with Osho’s photo on them. They were called ‘sanyaasins’, and the cult went on to exert power like any other organized religion – mass poisoning, wire-tapping, guns and guards.
As a humorist and standup comedian, the most fascinating aspect of Osho was his ‘performance’. Apart from splattering his speeches with jokes, Osho follows all the rules that a standup comedian adheres to on stage.
He speaks slowly, gives pauses, delivers the punchline, stays in the moment, and then adds tags! In fact, look at any of his videos, and you’ll see he never blinks in any of them. Even though he’s sitting on a chair, he uses his hands in slow, measured movements - the kind of physical brevity that standup comedy demands.
Most great humorists are known for their stance on subjects. Whether it is George Carlin or Mark Twain – their opinions shaped their personality. Osho on the other hand revels in contradiction. There are also moments when he uses street jokes, jokes about women and character for easy laughs. In comedian-lingo, these are called hacks, and universally frowned upon.
There’s a video where he rips apart a follower for 25 minutes, garnishing the rant with a few street jokes that target women and their character.
Really was a 'Wild Wild Country'
The documentary Wild Wild Country does an excellent job at highlighting these paradoxes. In fact the show is not so much about Osho, as it is about Maa Anand Sheela - the woman who single handedly led to the goliathic rise of Osho’s followers, and thenbrought it all crashing down, only to redeem Osho in the end by pleading guilty to all the charges framed against her.
Like all great documentaries, Wild Wild Country raises a number of ‘what ifs’.
What if Maa Anand Sheela had not resorted to the large-scale crimes that she did?
What if Osho was actually aware and let things slip past his notice? What if he was nothing more than a delusional megalomaniac?
What if there is actually no alternative to religion after all? That as humans we have become addicted to religion, that any alternative gives us withdrawal symptoms?
Rajneeshpuram, a utopian or dystopian city? Image source: oregonlive.com.
Perhaps we live in the age of governments, and no religion today is greater than governments. The documentary portrays a fantastic picture of the ‘fear of the other’ - a phenomenon that is magnified in the times we live in today. It is a battle between the old and the new - between government and religion, between natives and outsiders, between morality and immorality. It is perhaps befitting that the case filed against Osho was that of ‘State vs. Church’.
We might be known as the exporter of IT in modern times, and spices in the past. But one of India’s greatest exports is spirituality. And there have been many a trader of Indian spirituality - and they have all been accused of a number of crimes - from criminal intimidation to touching young boys. But none of them commanded a frantic followership, or were as much of an enigma - as Osho.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Hriday Ranjan
Cover photo credit: cultnews101.com