Rajneesh, Osho

views updated


RAJNEESH, OSHO (1931–1990), controversial spiritual leader. Born to Jain parents in the small town of Kuchwara in central India, Rajneesh's original name was Chandra Mohan; he changed it to Osho toward the end of his life, referring to "oceanic experience," a term used by William James. He became a professor of philosophy early in life and claimed to have attained enlightenment on 21 March 1953. He regarded himself as a follower of no particular religion. Initially he delivered lectures in Mumbai (Bombay), but then moved to Pune in 1974, where he established an ashram at Koregaon Park. Many European and American disciples were attracted by him. His message of sexual liberation was praised by them but criticized by conservative Indians. In 1981 he left India for the United States for medical treatment. He then also transplanted his ashram, and his devotees acquired Big Muddy Ranch at Antelope, Oregon. Rajneesh settled there, and the place became known as Rajneeshpuram. He now remained silent for most of the time; most of the talking was done for him by his ardent disciple Sheela Silverman, who predicted in 1983 that the world would be destroyed sometime between 1988 and 1999. Her autocratic behavior annoyed the neighbors of Rajneeshpuram, and the numerous complaints finally drove him to resettle in North Carolina in 1986. He was imprisoned there, charged with transgression of the immigration laws. His sentence was suspended on the condition that he leave the United States. In 1987 he returned to India, once more settling in Pune, where he died in 1990.

Rajneesh was a controversial figure throughout his public life. His disciples led frugal lives, giving him all their money, but he and his secretaries lived in luxury. The twenty-seven Rolls-Royces donated to him by rich followers were only the most visible signs of his luxurious lifestyle. Most of his disciples came from Western countries, and he catered to their spiritual needs. Western thought and religion no longer helped them to overcome feelings of emptiness and frustration, so they turned to this self-confident guru, who told them how to conduct their lives.

Dietmar Rothermund


Aveling, Harry, ed. Osho Rajneesh and His Disciples: Some Western Perceptions. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1999.

Carter, Lewis F. Charisma and Control in Rajneeshpuram: The Role of Shared Values in the Creation of a Community. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Prasad, Ram Chandra. Rajneesh, the Mystic of Feeling: A Study in Rajneesh's Religion of Experience. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1978.

Strelley, Kate. The Ultimate Game: The Rise and Fall of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.