Just Like That | Notes on Osho's mixed legacy and a turbulent India-Pak history - Hindustan Times

Just Like That | Notes on Osho's mixed legacy and a turbulent India-Pak history

Apr 16, 2023 11:26 AM IST

On Osho's journey from unconventional philosophy to controversy. And Satinder Lambah's account of the stormy history between India and Pakistan


Osho (HT Photo); Satinder Lambah's book, In Pursuit of Peace. PREMIUM
Osho (HT Photo); Satinder Lambah's book, In Pursuit of Peace.

Can one be famous without being controversial? The case of Osho comes to my mind. In my view, Osho, also known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who rose to international fame in the 1970s and 1980s, was a truly original thinker who built upon the remarkable legacy of Indian philosophy and metaphysics like few others in his time. His teachings and philosophy, which he called "Rajneeshism," were a unique blend of Eastern spirituality and Western individualism, and he attracted a large following of devotees who were drawn to his charismatic persona and unconventional approach to spirituality.

Born in India in 1931, Osho became interested in spirituality and meditation at a young age. He studied philosophy at the University of Jabalpur and later earned a degree in philosophy from the University of Sagar. In the 1960s, he began teaching meditation and yoga in Mumbai and quickly gained a reputation as a charismatic and unconventional teacher.

In the 1970s, Osho established an ashram in Pune, India, which became the centre of his spiritual movement. The ashram attracted thousands of followers from around the world, and Osho's teachings were disseminated through a vast array of books, videos, and audio recordings.

Osho's philosophy emphasised the importance of individual freedom and self-expression, and he encouraged his followers to reject traditional religious and social norms. He believed that meditation was the key to achieving enlightenment and that sexuality was a natural expression of human freedom and creativity. Photographs and videos of half-dressed men and women dancing in ecstasy in his ashram in Pune, became the subject of much curiosity, attraction, and censure.

Osho's teachings were controversial because he was fearlessly unconventional. To him, what mattered was the “emptying” of the ceaselessly agitated mind, and he didn't care how this was achieved, since in that emptiness lay redemption in the form of true meditation and communion with the absolute. His personal lifestyle mirrored this unconventionality, given his penchant for expensive clothing, luxury cars, and the attractive women who surrounded him, which his critics saw as contradictory to his message of spiritual enlightenment and renunciation.

Osho also faced legal troubles during his time in India, including accusations of tax evasion, and involvement in a bioterrorism attack in the United States in 1984, where he had set up a large “religious” commune in Oregon in 1981. Soon enough, he felt foul of the local people and of the law, was arrested, deported to India in 1987, and died soon thereafter in 1990.

The irony is that Osho, who believed so passionately in following one's individual path on the journey to personal moksha, became himself a victim of the organisational machinations of the very institutional framework he set up. The dirty and dangerous politics of his ashram, of which he was both a perpetrator and a prisoner, has been chronicled now on the popular Netflix series, and other platforms, where his foremost follower and aide, Ma Anand Sheela, became his chief critic and enemy.

It is not easy to be isolated from the milieu of which you are a part. Osho, unaware of how similar his own future would be, illustrated this through a story which he narrated in the 1970s in a lecture in Mumbai.

'There was a Sufi saint Hijira. An angel appeared in his dream and told him that he should save as much water from the well, because the next morning all the water in the world was going to be poisoned, and all those who drank it would become mad. So the whole night the fakir saved as much water as possible. And then the phenomenon really happened: Everyone became mad. Only the fakir knew he was not mad, but the whole city talked as though he had gone mad. One morning they came to get hold of him. Either he would be treated as if he was ill, or he would have to go to prison. Then the fakir said: 'Give me one moment more. I shall heal myself'. He ran to the common well, drank the water, and became "all right". Now the whole city was happy; now he was not mad. Really he had gone mad, but he was not considered so because he was part and parcel of a common world'.

Osho, the philosopher who wanted to travel alone, drank too much water from the poisoned well of the politics of his own ashram, and alas, went 'mad'. But the legacy of his original thinking is path-breaking and cannot be erased.

Satinder Lambah's book

Satinder Lambah—universally known to his friends as “Satti”, was one of India’s finest diplomats, and apart from being High Commissioner to Pakistan, was also India’s Ambassador in Germany and Russia. Post-retirement, he became Special Envoy for back-channel talks with Pakistan during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s tenure for a decade. No other Indian diplomat was so equipped to provide an insider’s account of the turbulent history between India and Pakistan, and how close the two countries had come at one time to reaching a peace agreement.

It is absolutely engrossing book. Unfortunately, Satti passed away just before its publication. The book launch was organised by his wife, Nina, and was a huge success. The panel for the discussion included former High Commissioners to Pakistan, Sharat Sabharwal, TCA Raghavan and G Parthasarathy, as also former foreign secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon. The moderator was the well-known strategic thinker, C Raja Mohan. The hall at the Hotel Lalit in New Delhi was overflowing, since apart from the diplomatic fraternity, Satti and Nina were a very popular couple. It is such a pity that he died before his book was launched.

Pavan K Varma is author, diplomat, and former Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha).

Just Like That is a weekly column where Varma shares nuggets from the world of history, culture, literature, and personal reminiscences with HT Premium readers

The views expressed are personal

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