Rajneesh, Bhagwan (1931–1990), Religious Leader

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Rajneesh, Bhagwan
(1931–1990), religious leader.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was leader of a high-profile religious group, popularly known as the "Rajneeshies," that drew considerable public attention in the late 1980s during a struggle between the group and local authorities over the operation of its commune, or "ashram," in the Pacific Northwest.

Rajneesh's idiosyncratic teachings melded components of Hinduism with those of the major world religions as well as classical Greek philosophy, the human potential movement, and Western psychotherapy. He was best known for his instruction on achieving enlightenment through sex with multiple partners. Because of this emphasis and his lavish lifestyle, including ownership of numerous Rolls-Royces, he became a media caricature of the guru as rake and supersalesman.

Born Rajneesh Chandra Mohan in the town of Kuchwara in central India, Rajneesh launched his career as a guru in 1966 after leaving his position as a philosophy professor at the University of Jabalpur. He set up an ashram in Bombay, later moving to Poona. From the outset Rajneesh's clientele consisted mainly of Americans, reported to number as many as fifty thousand.

In 1981 Rajneesh immigrated with some of his followers to a sixty-five-thousand-acre ranch near Antelope, Oregon, and named it Rajneeshpuram. Immediately his followers found themselves in serious conflict with their rural and small-town neighbors. Some ugly incidents, including the salmonella poisoning of local restaurant patrons and the firebombing of the office of city officials, were blamed, perhaps wrongly, on the Rajneesh organization. In 1995 two of Rajneesh's lieutenants were convicted of conspiracy to murder an attorney who had fought to close down Rajneeshpuram.

Rajneesh returned to India in 1986 and changed his name to Osho, an allusion to what William James had called the "oceanic experience," or mystical ecstasy. Rajneesh died in 1990 at Poona.

See alsoAshram; Communes; Ecstasy; Guru; Hinduism.


Gordon, James S. The Golden Guru:The Strange Journeyof Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. 1987.

Carl A. Raschke