Eastern Religion in the West - Part 8

Rajneesh (Osho, Bhagwan) (1931 - 1990) arrived in West: 1981

The self titled Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who near the end of his career renamed himself Osho was born Chandra Mohan Jain on 11th December, 1931 in central India and died on 19th January, 1990 in Poonah (Pune), India. He was probably the most infamous "guru" of the modern age because of his controversial teachings and shrewd use of the media. He did far more good for the general public who were amused and titillated by him than for his followers. Of course his followers will not agree. It's difficult to accept you were an ignorant stooge of the most absurd and evil guru of modern times while you thought you were on the cutting edge of spiritual evolution. As his story is so well known I will only briefly mention its highlights. A good discussion of his career is available here and an article about Rajneshpuram here.

His early life is now shrouded in myth but it seems he was a clever, rebellious boy who graduated from college in 1955 and took an MA in philosophy. He became a teacher and assistant professor in philosophy at Jabalpur University. In 1960 he began publicly lecturing on controversial issues attacking various sacred cows of Indian society. At this time he was living with his cousin Kranti but his career took off when he attracted his first "devotee", Lakshmi Thakarsi Kuruwa, a celibate, married civil servant. She became his receptionist, secretary and "business manager" until deposed by Sheela many years after. By 1966 he was a fulltime professional lecturer and in 1970 he declared himself Bhagwan ("God", "The Blessed One") and claimed that he had attained enlightenment 17 years before.

Over the next decade he attracted more Western followers and lost most of his Indian followers. He replaced his long time lover and cousin with an English woman, Christine Woolf (see picture left). His teachings centered around an eclectic mix of Eastern religion and techniques gleaned from the delusional "Personal Growth" movement which was the source of many of his new followers. His encouragement of promiscuous sexuality and public, cathartic, violent, erotic encounter groups was intensely disapproved of by prudish Indian society. His form of "dynamic meditation" was nearly the opposite of what is usually taught. He had a strong even "hypnotic" influence over many people who came to him in curiosity and though the number of his followers never matched the amount of publicity he received his ashram at Poonah grew until by 1981 there were up to 6,000 Westerners there every day.

[Drive By at Rajneeshpuram]

In May, 1981 he secretly left India and flew to the US and by July had bought a large ranch in Oregon and commenced creating a large "commune" despite this being against zoning laws. There his indivualistic, independent freethinking orange people quickly morphed into obedient drudges who toed the party line or else. Controversy and legal actions escalated until September, 1983 when Rajneesh announced that the commune leaders had fled after committing numerous crimes over an extended period. Then in late October, Rajneesh was arrested trying to flee the country after being charged with numerous immigration crimes, spent a week in gaol and finally plea bargained his way into exile from the USA. After finding he was persona non grata all over the world he eventually returned to India where with a new name, Osho, and a much reduced number of followers, he remained until he died in 1990. A well-documented article published in the Oregonian on those years is available here.


Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897 - 1981) became known in West: 1981

Nisargadatta Maharaj was from the spiritual lineage of the Navanathas. He was affectionately known as the "Beedhi Baba" as he was a chain-smoker who died of cancer of the throat. Satsangs at his home were hazy with tobacco smoke.

He was born in Bombay in 1897, and was brought up on a farm in Kandalgaon, a village south of Bombay. He was deeply interested in religious and philosophical matters. After the death of his father, he moved to Bombay in 1918, and in 1924 married Sumatibai, they had a son and three daughters.

He began work as an office clerk but he soon went out on his own and started a small business and in a few years he owned several small shops. In 1933, due to a friend's urging, he approached the great Saint, Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj, and was initiated by him. After the death of his Guru in 1936, he abandoned his family and businesses and took to the life of a wandering monk. On his way to the Himalayas to find a cave, he met a brother disciple who convinced him that a life of dispassion in action would be more spiritually fruitful. Only eight months on the road isn't enough to make a guru famous in India but on the way home, bingo! He realized that "nothing was wrong anymore." There was only one small shop remaining in business - enough to support his family.

In his own words, "When I met my Guru, he told me, 'You are not what you take yourself to be. Find out what you are. Watch the sense I AM, find your real Self…' I did as he told me. All my spare time I would spend looking at myself in silence…and what a difference it made, and how soon! It took me only three years to realize my true nature." His message to us was simple and direct with no propounding of scriptures or doctrines. "You are the Self here and now! Stop imagining yourself to be something else. Let go your attachment to the unreal."

[Yoga Journal] [I Am That] He built himself a mezzanine floor as a place for meditation and satsang. In the 1940s his mother, wife and a daughter died and in 1951 after a vision from his Master he began to initiate disciples. His Western career was based on the book "I Am That" which is a series of questions and answers as translated by Maurice Frydman (a remarkable Jew from a Polish ghetto) who spent a lot of time with Nisargadatta and in India. A section of this was published in the Yoga Journal of October 1981 along with numerous vulgar advertisements displaying some of the many ways Americans sell religion. This set him on a pedestal of non-dual Advaita Guruship matched only by Ramana Maharshi. From 1978 to 1981 during his sickness unto death from throat cancer, his talks were tape recorded, transcribed and edited and published under the titles of "Seeds of Consciousness" and "Prior to Consciousness."