[This article, unusual for a "personal article" in that it is not about the author at all (unless you want to get metaphysical) appeared in the first issue of Osho Pulse, when we hadn't much idea of who the readers might be or how familiar with Osho and his work. In fact, we even had a glossary of terms we thought might be unfamiliar and need explaining, mercifully not included here. The bio is included for historical interest and... who knows who is going to stumble across this 'zine?]

The Real Osho

a short biography

by Sw Deva Sarlo

ith apologies to Lao Tzu (who probably doesn't really mind), the Osho that can be described is not the real Osho. Okay, but what to do? Leave a blank page? Shrinking not from this challenge, I offer the following collection of history and impression:

Osho was born Rajneesh Chandra Mohan in 1931 in Kuchwada, a small village in India. He is currently in a state of disembodiment, or death, having left his body in l990. From an early age he questioned everything, a process which became more and more intense until the age of 21, when he became enlightened, or arrived at the ultimate consciousness/self-knowing he says is the birthright of us all.

He completed his university degree and took a post teaching philosophy, actually getting paid for his favourite outward activities, expounding and questioning. Over the years, his lecturing became more of a traveling affair, to the point where he would criss-cross India many times a year. He acquired a notoriety as a speaker with outrageous views on everything and atttracted enormous crowds.

Seeing, however, that those who came only to hear his words were not being transformed, he changed his tack and started working with an intimate group of disciples, who practiced his meditations and were willing to experiment with their lives. When he settled in Bombay seekers from around the world started arriving. He had been preparing for them for years by devouring up to ten books a day: literature, religion, philosophy and psychology, whatever it took to speak the language of these seekers.

It wasn't long before this group needed much more space, so he moved to the leafy and wealthy enclave of Koregaon Park, 100 miles away in Poona. Big-name therapists from all over the world came, along with thousands and thousands of other seekers of all kinds. This was the therapy era; the "Shree Rajneesh Ashram" became known as the biggest and most intense growth facility on the planet and "Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh" was at the centre of it.

At its peak, he pulled the rug out from everybody's feet by suddenly moving to America to conduct his biggest experiment, Rajneeshpuram, a city built from scratch in the Oregon desert. He called his communes an experiment to provoke God. Rajneeshpuram was called, depending whose "side" you were on, an affront to Oregon's land-use laws, an ecological model years ahead of its time, a fascist concentration camp, a four-year therapy group to help us learn to deal creatively with authoritarian structures by recognizing dominance/ submission patterns in ourselves. And much, much more. Hundreds of millions of dollars and as many people-hours were invested in this city-experiment and then…

He pulled the rug again, flying off the Ranch as rumours of his arrest and a National Guard buildup were making a Waco-style bloodbath imminent. He was arrested anyway, sans bloodbath, 3000 miles away in North Carolina, and held for ten days without bail, including several days incommunicado during which, he said later, he was poisoned with thallium, a heavy metal with an insidious long-term toxicity, like mercury or lead. All this for alleged immigration offenses. He had pushed a few buttons.

Back in India after a successful world tour – where success is measured by the number of countries (21) that closed their doors to him because of America pressure – he revived the Poona ashram. His repeated pulling of the rug had scattered and disorganized his disciples, alienating more than a few, but within two years the Poona commune had tripled its original size, was as vibrant as ever and bursting with seekers who understood that a Zen master's shocks are to help them wake up.

Osho's last great rug event was the fairly ordinary one – in that everyone does it eventually – of leaving the body. He gave no explicit warning that this was coming, but signs were abundant in his last year. He changed his name several times – giving his publishers more than a few grey hairs – dropping the "Bhagwan" that had offended Indians for so long, and finally settling on the simple "Osho." He stopped speaking publicly, ending his last discourse with "The last word of Buddha was, ‘Sammasati.' Remember that you are a buddha – sammasati." In his last five months he introduced and led a new nightly meditation/ celebration/energy event with everybody wearing white robes.

He left the body in a very ordinary way shortly after his 58th birthday. What was not ordinary was the tremendous celebration that followed, with thousands of disciples dancing and singing as never before, while his body was in the meditation hall, while it was being burned, and when his ashes were brought back to the commune.

This set the stage for the continuation of his movement. More people than ever are coming to Poona, feeling his presence still there, especially in the nightly White Robe celebration. The commune's size has again doubled, now including five marble pyramids, a twelve-acre Zen park and a magnificent swimming pool, along with its multitude of therapy, creativity, work and meditation programs. Central to all the programs and processes is meditation, but not necessarily as something formal or stylized. The very vibe or ambience of the place encourages peering into one's inner nature, discovering one's inner truth, no matter what the activity. Dancing, painting, primal screaming, eating, working, sitting, talking, 1001 other things are all excuses and opportunities to look inside. In fact this can happen anywhere, but a buddhafield – an energy field created around an enlightened mystic – is a more supportive environment. With considerable justification, the Poona commune calls itself the largest spiritual health club in the world.

The key is Osho's presence, still tangible, and his unique approach to the growth/ consciousness game. Leaving no religious gasbag unpunctured, he makes sure that we approach the game with as few preconceptions as possible. And the most stubborn preconceptions are those inculcated by groups: nation, religion, class, race, gender, whatever. It is the individual, Osho says, that is real, not some artificial social construct – not even the commune that has formed around him. This approach allows for the diversity of processes available in his tent, and the refreshing absence of stultifying ideology. There is no worship of poverty or seriousness or consistency or tradition, no elevation of men over women, none of the encumbrances of business-as-usual religion.

It may seem evasive to say what Osho is not, but to me it feels better than to try to define him by saying – what? That he stands for freedom? Yeah, sure, but we have so many preconceptions about freedom cluttering our minds, it's better not to start down that path. His whole life, he has tried to destroy the expectations and belief structures we hold as a result of our conditioning. I should at least not add to that.

It is not easy to convey anything of significance about Osho – or anyone, for that matter – with mere biographical factoids. But the richness and diversity of his approach should be apparent in the other articles in this paper, for in their own individual ways, they are also "the real Osho." Of course, for the really real Osho, there is only first-hand experience.

more by this author

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