The Via Positiva and The Unfortunate Instincts
Osho was born in 1931 to a Jain family as Rajneesh Chandra Mohan in Kuchwara, a town in central India. He claims to have waited 800 years to find parents of sufficient purity for him to take human birth, having already sought enlightenment at the feet of many great Masters in previous lives. (Whatever the merits of this claim it is of interest to see that the parents of great Masters may be significant, for example both parents of Ramakrishna had a presentiment of his spiritual greatness, as did the mother of Krishnamurti, to say nothing of Mary mother of Jesus). As a child Osho was unruly and adventurous. His main early influence was his beloved grandfather, whose death was a terrible blow to the young child. Characteristic of the young Osho's temperament was his leadership of a gang of boys, inspiring them with daredevil acts such as diving from great heights into rivers and whirlpools, or from a bridge guarded by a policeman to prevent suicides. Osho was self-confident and sometimes aggressive, particularly if he thought that his rights had been ignored.
Despite a rather basic early schooling Osho studied philosophy at Jabalpur University, where he received his BA degree in 1955, and where he later taught. He also attended the University of Saugar and obtained an MA in 1957. He taught until the force of his spiritual illuminations led him to the life of spiritual Master. Osho claims that every seven years he went through a spiritual crisis, the first being on the loss of his grandfather, and the second at the age of fourteen when he felt, somewhat like Ramana, that he was going to die. Taking leave from school for a few days he found an almost deserted temple in the mountains and laid down, as if to die, or to be reborn in some as yet unknown way. Eventually a snake made its way over his body, and Osho thought that this would be the turning point : life or death. The snake passed on its way and the youth felt that a new life had been given him. His interest in all things spiritual continued and in 1953 at the age of twenty-one after seven days of intensive spiritual search he was enlightened under a tree in a local park.
Osho began an intensive teaching itinerary, commenting once that he had been his own 'John the Baptist' to prepare India for his later teachings. This period of exhausting travel ended when he settled firstly in Bombay and then in Koragaon Park in Pune (Poona), where an ashram was founded around him, and he acquired the honorifics 'Bhagwan' and 'Shree'. As Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh he taught to ever-increasing crowds of followers, initiating those who chose it into 'neo-sannyas', which involved the wearing of orange robes and a 'mala' or necklace bearing his picture, and the taking of an Indian name. Despite his provocative teachings he had a significant number of Indian followers, but the bulk of his disciples were Westerners.
Before long he had an international following with 'Rajneesh Centres' in many major cities around the world, where books and tapes were sold and visitors could participate in a number of the meditations he had devised, many of which included dancing or chaotic movement and breathing. Osho had little interest or patience in convention and was under pressure from the Indian government for tax irregularities. In 1981 he moved his commune to a large ranch bought for the ashram in Oregon USA, and proceeded to create an alternative society partially based on the Israeli kibbutz system. They turned the unproductive ranch into fertile farmland, combining an intense spiritual practice with long hours of manual labour. As the project grew the community wanted to incorporate their settlement as a city, a move that alarmed local residents, and hostilities grew between the two communities. The ashram leader, a woman called Ma Anand Sheela, was eventually accused of plotting to poison local residents, interfering with the democratic process and even of plotting to kill the district attorney. Osho (as he had become known in this period) had spent some years in silence, so it is debatable as to his role in the events that led to the collapse of the commune, but he was arrested and charged with falsely arranging marriages. While in prison Osho claims that he was poisoned by the authorities with thallium, and on his eventual deportation and return to India his health deteriorated. He died in 1990, at the age of 59, and in intense pain. The ashram claim that his early death was due to thallium poisoning, citing similarities with the mysterious death of a anti-nuclear civil rights campaigner who had been imprisoned in the same jail in the US as Osho.
Osho's teachings centred on awareness and a love of life. For many years he spoke for one and a half hours a day, and while he was in India he alternated on a monthly basis between the English and Hindi languages. The transcripts of his talks appear in almost five hundred volumes, which include book series on the great spiritual teachers of the world. His ten-volume translation and commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are typical of his early discourses, combining his own translation from the Sanskrit original with lengthy commentary, interspersed with jokes. The breadth of his reading was remarkable, perhaps only approached by Douglas Harding amongst the Masters presented here (as we saw Krishnamurti took no interest at all in the teachings of others, and is reputed to have read mainly detective novels). Osho's eclecticism gave him a universality of mind, but makes it hard to pin down his own teachings.
Awareness is a common theme however, in particular the 'double-edged arrow of awareness' that G.I.Gurdjieff taught (or 'double-barbed' as Douglas Harding called it, quite independently). Osho was greatly influenced by Gurdjieff in his approach to teaching, believing that the mind-feeling-body continuum benefited from 'shocks' that helped stimulate awareness and wake up the dormant spiritual side. These ideas were put into practice in a series of meditations that Osho devised, and in workshops or 'groups' that became the mainstay of practice for visitors to the ashram and centres round the world. Osho adopted many psychotherapeutic techniques that were in vogue in the seventies, and, in keeping with the doctrines of sexual liberation of that time, encouraged sexual experimentation as part of spiritual practice. He drew heavily on Hindu and Buddhist Tantric sources for guidance on the use of sex in the pursuit of transcendence, and it is for this that he is mainly infamous now. Few seemed to have noticed how often he spoke of transcending sex, implicit for example in the title one of his early books From Sex to Superconsciousness. His approach was to go through sex rather than suppress it, but his goal was nevertheless its transcendence.
Osho also emphasised the master/disciple relationship, which he saw as a kind of love affair. He thought it unlikely that an aspirant could gain enlightenment from his discourses in printed form (however insightful they may have been), often stressing that it was his presence, or the 'silence between the words' where the real work took place. This was a quite traditional view of the role of guru, in the East at least, but for many of his Western followers it may have been their first exposure to the idea.
His embrace of the breadth of life, in opposition to traditional views of renunciation, found a simple formula in his three 'M's --- Music, Mathematics, and Meditation, standing respectively for the arts, science/technology, and the spiritual. He felt that to neglect any one of these three areas was to become narrow or even one-dimensional, and in the modern era it was absurd to turn one's back on the delight and creativity of the arts, or the knowledge and living standards that science and technology could bring. Accordingly, life in the ashram involved the arts, the creation of beautiful buildings and gardens, and the use of modern technology where appropriate. For Osho, transcendence meant to embrace everything that life had to offer, rather than to shut down the senses and dull the mind.
Osho was an iconoclast. While Krishnamurti ignored Indian spiritual traditions (and all other spiritual traditions for that matter), and spoke out against the guru principle, he did not otherwise set out to destroy tradition. In contrast Osho was convinced that the ancient spiritual traditions of India (in particular) were in themselves an obstacle to spiritual progress. His main target was the concept of renunciation, which he saw as responsible not only for the material poverty of India, but for the serious, if not rather grim, face of religion. His vision of the spiritual life was that it should be light, joyous and full of humour, rather than serious, sorrowful and moralising. Although he had immense respect for Ramana Maharshi and Sri Ramakrishna, he saw their renunciative stance as part of a past that should be overthrown, and his chosen method was to take the ancient symbol of renunciation, the ochre robe, and turn it into a symbol of the 'new man'. His followers, called 'neo-sannyasins', were to retain the inner spiritual life of the renunciate, but embrace and celebrate every aspect of the physical life, including sex. His target was conventional Hindu society, and the orange-robed Westerners flaunting their sexual and material wealth achieved his purpose of shocking conservative Hindus. His own symbolic revolt against renunciation included the wearing of expensive clothes and watches, and the gradual accumulation of 92 Rolls-Royces.
The events in Oregon leading to the expulsion of the movement and Osho's death are considered by many to undermine or negate anything of value in Osho's teachings. A neutral and critical appraisal of Osho's legacy is long overdue, as most commentators seem to have drawn on a single book for negative material, The God Who Failed, by Hugh Milne. Such an appraisal will have to wait, but what is of importance here is the implication of Osho's experiment for via positiva.
Osho attempted a revolution in spiritual thinking, to integrate the spirituality of a Ramana or Ramakrishna, with a love of life. He called his ideal composite 'Zorba the Buddha' after a novel about a Greek man with an exuberant lifestyle. As such it is worthy of consideration, all the more because Osho also recognised the importance of the jnani / bhakti distinction. While Whitman is the great guru of via positiva, he has been largely ignored, and even Osho was not aware of his significance. Harding's via positiva is neutral about the world, which is there mainly to demonstrate our 'original face' or true nature. Krishnamurti saw the beauty of the natural world, perhaps mainly in an aesthetic sense, but Osho went much further in advocating a love of life in all its ramifications. The fact that his experiment 'failed' in the eyes of most commentators has left the world community of spiritual seekers wary of such an approach and more likely to succumb again to scepticism about life itself. This can be seen in the teachings of Andrew Cohen for example, whose emphasis on purity and moral values is a reaction to many of the teachers of the 1970s, who, like Osho, were experimenting with sexual openness and counter-culture ideas.
'Given that many of Osho's followers seemed to have learned from him only the least attractive of his qualities, noticeably a contempt for tradition and the democratic process, the disaster in Oregon was inevitable. The real loss is the devaluing of his teachings, which, as found in his books, audio tapes, or videos, are a treasure-trove of spiritual insight.'
Osho's via positiva is contradictory or paradoxical however. In Oregon he spent several years in complete silence, one of the marks of the renunciative life he so criticised. He also lived a very simple life, in a small room, ate a vegetarian diet, and had no legal title to any ashram property or possessions. Paradox was part of his teachings, and he did not encourage attempts to distil his often contradictory remarks spread over some 500 volumes into a coherent and concise system of thought. He liked to enter deeply into the teachings of whoever his discourses focused on, and said that his ability to become a conduit for their teachings inevitably meant that there would be contradictions. There were common themes however, one being that the inner transformation of the individual from a divided and fearful personality into an enlightened being grounded in awareness could be described as the transition from an experience of the world as a chaos to the vision of it as a cosmos. This is a valuable clue to the via positiva, that its hallmark is a perception of the manifest world as profoundly and beautifully ordered. In contrast most beginners on the spiritual path are drawn to explore religious teachings because they feel that life is a chaos.
There is no doubt however that Osho left chaos behind him. He was influenced by G.I.Gurdjieff in his teaching methods, which included techniques for deliberately creating confusion in the disciple's life and mind in order to allow a new and more spontaneous order to arise. What he failed to take from Gurdjieff however was an extreme selectivity of pupil, allowing instead individuals with a range of vulnerabilities and personal problems to be exposed to his methods, often through senior ashram members, who were not necessarily gifted teachers. The desire to reach a large number of people also permitted power-hungry individuals to take control of the community. Given that many of his followers only seemed to have learned from him the least attractive of his qualities, noticeably a contempt for tradition and the democratic process, the disaster in Oregon was inevitable. The real loss is the devaluing of his teachings, which, as found in his books, audio tapes, or videos, are a treasure-trove of spiritual insight.
Osho does not deserve to be dismissed. His discourses are instructive in the positive sense as his mistakes are in the negative sense. Any new spiritual community is capable of the errors of Oregon. This is closely related to the unfortunate instinct of seekers to latch onto the apocalyptic and paranoid components of a teaching, even when these comprise a very small part, as in Osho's case.
Osho? Oh No!
The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh's international popularity has soared since his death 10 years ago. But in Portland--a mecca for alternative spirituality--his memory still carries a lot of unwanted baggage.
by Rachel Graham (originally published February 2, 2000)
Common Ground's meeting room is filling up, and Viram is letting it all hang out. His mala, usually hidden beneath designer-label shirts, is out in the open. Tall, broad-shouldered, with short salt-and-pepper hair and a goatee, Viram has been a follower of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh since the mid-'80s. Tonight, he's the unofficial greeter at an event commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Bhagwan's death.
He hugs a couple of old friends, shakes hands with some new ones, and reminds stragglers to leave their shoes under the bench in the hall. Like most people here, Viram is cautious about sharing his sannyasin identity with outsiders. If his professional peers ever discovered he was a Bhagwan follower, Viram says, they'd have him "drawn and quartered." Gesturing to the string of polished wooden beads with a pendant of the Bhagwan around his neck and the growing crowd of people, he adds, "So, I keep it all sub rosa."
A glance at the bulletin board in any local coffee shop reveals a thriving market in Portland for tarot card readings, goddess workshops and shamanic counseling. Portlanders don't have a problem with alternative spirituality, they have a problem with the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. The Indian guru renamed himself Osho in 1989, but the new moniker didn't erase his old public image. Too many Oregonians remember the Rajneeshee excesses of the 1980s--the Bhagwan's collection of Rolls-Royces and expensive jewelry, his red-robed disciples' poisoning 750 residents of The Dalles with salmonella, and his venomous secretary Ma Anand Sheela's references to ranchers' kids as "retards."
So, while local interest in alternative spirituality and national interest in the Bhagwan have both increased over the past decade, the two trends have not overlapped. At ground zero of his American experiment, the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh remains persona non grata, says Ma Chit Tantra, director of the Portland Osho Information Center. "Around here, being a sannyasin is worse than being gay."
Hard numbers are difficult to come by in a community that insists it isn't one. Tantra says Portland has fewer sannyasins than Mill Valley, Calif., or Sedona, Ariz., but more than anywhere east of Denver. She estimates there are about 150 sannyasins statewide, split evenly between pre- and post-ranch recruits. Many have nothing to do with her center or other sannyasins. "I get e-mails all the time from people who say they love Osho, but they don't come to meditation," she says. "They're fine where they are."
Without a living leader to rally around and with Osho's books and tapes a mouse-click away, many followers meditate in the privacy of their living rooms and forgo the stigma of associating with other sannyasins. In Oregon, the Rajneesh movement has morphed from the notorious '80s commune with its strict dress code into a loose affiliation of individuals whose only identifying feature is their devotion to Osho and his teachings--a blend of Eastern mysticism, Western pop psychology and simple meditation techniques.
The failure of their Oregon experiment in communal living, says Sarito Carol Neiman, editorial director of Osho International, taught sannyasins "that as long as people look outside themselves for a savior they are going to miss the point." After the Antelope ranch debacle, personal responsibility became sannyasins' unofficial mantra and meditation their only daily requirement. Of the 30 people at the Common Ground meditation-celebration Viram recognized only a handful. "It's all about the meditations," he says. "The rest is just politics."
Judged by appearances, the Common Ground gathering could have been the audience for a Tracy Chapman concert at the Schnitz: overwhelmingly white and clad in jeans and sweaters, some trying to be hip, some trying to be liberal, and some digging the mellow music with a message. There were college students, businesswomen and retired men with pot bellies in patterned golf shirts. Viram's was the only mala in evidence, and only Ma Anand Arupo, who led the meditation, wore all red. Between the meditation, the sitar playing, and the Osho funeral video, attendees chatted about First Thursday and Portland's crappy weather.
The meditation itself consisted of 40 minutes of dancing, 20 minutes of lying down and another five minutes of dancing. It was like playtime for grown-ups, right down to the reminder to use the potty five minutes before the meditation started. At the end, as the music wound down, the dancers broke into broad grins and a few of them raised their arms in the air, palms up--as evangelical Christians often do in joyous praise.
Viram says that, as a Presbyterian deacon and Sunday school teacher in Salem, he used to beg Jesus for "joy, joy, joy." But neither Christian prayer nor transcendental meditation helped him cope with the stresses of life. "Who wants to come home after a stressful workday and deal with a mantra? Blah, blah, blah," he mimics with a pained look on his face. "It never got my mind off my business. But this is cathartic. It's helped me through some really difficult times."
Viram isn't alone in seeking something or someone to help him experience joy through life's rough patches. American gurus of general spirituality Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williamson praise Osho's meditation techniques. Osho's Web site, available in seven languages with three more forthcoming, receives 5,000 hits a day. St. Martin's Press has reissued Osho's all-time bestseller, From Sex to Superconsciousness ("Some people," Tantra pointed out, "are still out there looking for the perfect orgasm") and has started publishing a new Osho series, Insights for a New Way of Living.
Osho's general appeal, sannyasins say, is his ability to translate ancient religious traditions into contemporary, ecumenical and autonomous terms. "It's about individual spirituality," Sarito emphasizes, "not an organization, group, set of beliefs, or practices to learn." Whether or not they become sannyasins, people come to Osho, Tantra says, who are "into holistic movements, becoming vegetarian, and more into Eastern thought. They like that he doesn't come from Christianity but he's not quite Buddhist, which can seem a little rigid. It's for people who don't want to be conspicuous."
Oregon sannyasins, however, feel they have no choice in the matter. Along with Osho's transcendent wisdom, sannyasins were also left with the guru's bitter Oregon legacy. Voluble as Viram is, he would not give WW his real name nor was he willing to be photographed. Tantra, too, uses her legal name only in her professional life. "I would never tell people at work that I'm a Rajneeshee," she says. "I would never put up with that kind of discrimination."
Viram, who continues his meditations by himself in his living room, concedes that solo seeking can get lonely sometimes. He wishes for more "structure"and is thinking about renting the Odd Fellows Building on Sunday mornings so sannyasins can get together for regular weekly meditations. Something, he says, a little more like church.
~ Ma Anand Sheela now owns and runs two upscale nursing homes in Switzerland.
~ At the Osho Meditation Resort & Spa in Pune, India, some 200,000 visitors a year take classes in everything from primal deconditioning to "zennis" (tennis in which winning isn't the goal).
~ Osho never actually "wrote" a word. His books are transcribed from nearly 5,000 hours of his taped talks in English.
I Was Burned
Article by Miten, on being a Sannyas musician.
Published in the Viha Connection, Sept./Oct. 2001
By the time I came to Osho, playing music, for me, had become associated with pain, frustration, ambition, helplessness. I was damaged by my years in the music business. Record executives, publishers, managers and agents... everybody pushing and hustling. It’s a desperate business. All for money.
When I look back, I see a young man tired of playing a game he was never about to win....and ready for embrace a new set values. When I took sannyas, the first thing I did was to sell every guitar I owned. That was a great move! I moved into the Commune (Medina), and began my new life. I worked in the cleaning temple and later in the kitchen. I loved the simplicity. And most of all, I loved the Music Groups and Sannyas Celebrations on Saturday nights. These were magic times. I felt my love returning... my love for life, and my love for music. The joyous singing turned me on most.
I'd never experienced anything so powerful or as uplifting. I became hooked on Sufi Dance! I’m still grateful to Aneeta and Anubhava for introducing this meditation to us. It was a revelation to me, to look into the eyes of a stranger and sing the name of God, and have it simultaneously sung back to me. This was simple, honest, real...and ecstatic music!
And as the healing continued, I would pick up a guitar every now and then, strum a few chords and sing whatever came through.
One of the first songs that came through was Like Falling Leaves... another was Enough for Me...another was a joyful rocker called Love is the Fire...they were simple songs, innocent, and very direct. And because of their simplicity... and because they were borne out of the moment, (as opposed to ‘working on a song’ which is what I’d done in the past), they had a different quality. Innocence was intrinsic in the song, so they had the potential to transport the singer straight into the moment, whenever they were sung. They still do. It’s the gift returning to the giver.
One Saturday morning in Medina, Deva Peter (now Ashik) who led the Music Groups back then, came to me and said that he had to go to London that day and if he wasn't back in time, that I should take care of the Music Group that evening. I took a deep breath! I was scared, and excited. Somehow, I knew that he wasn’t coming back. And this was my initiation into playing music for Osho... an honour I cherish to this day.
I was given the opportunity to express the love and gratitude I felt, simply by doing what I loved best: to play music. That night, the band was hot, the chemistry between the musicians was sychronised, and we just sang and danced and danced and sang until we dropped! The whole commune was alive with joy and celebration. It was a magic night that is with me still.
From then on, I was ready to embrace music again. Well, the truth is, music embraced me - thanks to Osho's love and compassion. After this, the songs started to pour out.
Here is the root of my gratitude to Osho, that he had a vision... and most of all, the courage, to create a Buddhafield. A playground in which thousands could move, make mistakes, and learn... and move on... Where every ‘hit’ and every disappointment becomes an opportunity to learn... and all in an atmosphere of love.
All for love. This is a miracle to me. I need a community for transformation. I'll never forget the first time I played for him. It was in Chuang Tzu. The musicians were up front in those days, pretty close. He zapped me that day. I still don't know if it was my imagination... or whether he really did look into my eyes. I remember I was doing fine until he came out and started dancing. As he moved closer and closer towards the musicians, my heart started to burst open and I’m laughing and crying and trying to sing and play the guitar all at the same time.
When he looked into me, I just exploded. My left hand froze tight on the strings of my guitar... it just ceased to funtion, and my right hand was thrashing at my guitar at 100mph! I was aware of the music, I was aware of everyone going crazy all around me... but essentially, all I knew were his eyes and the roaring silence. When I came back, the music had stopped and Osho was already speaking! Fortunately my right hand must've stopped at the same time as the music, because I wasn't fired from playing! After that Darshan, I knew the healing was complete.
Playing for Osho when he was in his body is very different to playing for him now. I felt like a child back then... I was learning so much. It was my apprenticeship. Not only through the groups I was doing and the people I was meeting, but also, through the music I was playing:
- I was learning to trust myself...and pradoxically.
- I was also learning to surrender to the Divine.
- I was learning not to judge myself and my creativity.
- I was learning how to lead a band without feeling like a 'leader'.
- I was learning how to breathe and play music (and make love!) at the same time!
- I was learning about sensitivity.
I feel strong. I have the tools and I have the experience. And I can share Osho without effort. I’ve learnt to relax.... Thanks to all those nights in Buddha Hall, and all those Music Groups and Sannyas Celebrations, singing our hearts out.
Deva and I, we just sing it! When Osho says he has dissolved into his people, this is what I see. That whenever, and whatever we share through our creativity, there he is. It’s Osho coming through. I’ve often heard him say that the chair is empty.... And it seems to me, that what was coming through him, is the same divinity that expresses itself now, through our love and creativity. It’s the same force. And my responsibility is to share it through music. When I look around, it seems to me that the world is finally catching up with Osho.
His name is not so present as it once was, but his influence is everywhere. From raves to the satsang givers, from corporate business men learning how to hug... to all the New Age therapy. You can trace it all back to Osho’s vision. Many people who come to our concerts, are unaware that Deva and I are sannyasins. Many don't even know Osho. But once they fall into our space (which happens as soon as Premal sings!), they become very touched and over-flowing in gratitude. They call it Love, we call it ‘Osho’. It feels like many are thirsty now, to integrate joy, celebration, and meditation, into their lives... and well, this to me is perfect. Because a crowd of people singing together as one, is a crowd of people breathing together as one... and when that happens, synchronicity happens. And when a room full of people are in synchronicity, Osho happens!
For me, Love is just another name for Osho. Who he was as a person, and who he is as a spiritual entity, constantly ever-present, ever true, in our lives. When we look, he’s there!
A song just came to me as I write this, I never sang it so much, but, it seems appropriate to share it here.
Sing a joyful song,
Sing it out loud,
Let your heart be free,
Free as this passing cloud.
Sing your heart song,
Let your voice fill the air,
In the Here and Now,
We will find him there
He is here!
In the shadows of our lives,
He is here!
In the space between the lines,
He is here.
As we open up our eyes,
He is here.
- Pulse: Osho Biography
- Osho, The Mystic Of Laughter, from a Dutch Mystical Site.
- What Is An Osho? by Prem Amrito, MD (© Osho International Foundation 1998)
- Realization's Osho
- Some Remarks About Effort, by Osho
- Prem Joshua, a multi-instrumentalist and composer, awakened by Osho & the inner music
- Osho Happenings, events past and present