Rajneesh, Bhagwan Sri
(1931–1990) guru who taught a syncretic path to enlightenment
   Sri Bhagwan Rajneesh was a controversial guru whose syncretic teachings and antinomian phi-losophy attracted a wide following in India and the United States. Legal problems eventually led to expulsion from the United States.
   Born Rajneesh Chandra Mohan on December 11, 1931, in Kuchwara, a small village in central India, Rajneesh was the eldest of 12 children. His parents, Swami Devateerth Bharti and Ma Amrit Saraswati, practiced JAINISM, and Rajneesh remained a strict vegetarian throughout his life in consonance with Jain teachings. Interested since childhood in philosophical questions and the matter of death, he developed critical skills and studied philosophy at Jabalrur University. After receiving a master’s degree in philosophy he taught for several years at Madhya State University.
   In 1966, Rajneesh received enlightenment and began to travel throughout India instructing students and gaining a following. From 1969 to 1974 he taught at Mount ABU in Rajasthan. In 1974 he opened the Rajneesh Ashram in Poona. Here many Americans and other Western devo-tees attended his satsangs (gatherings) and lived in residence. Some have estimated that 50,000 sought enlightenment with him in Poona. In 1981, he fled Poona because of tax evasion charges and opened an ASHRAM on the 65,000-acre Big Muddy Ranch near Antelope, Oregon, in the United States, which he named Rajneesh-puram. Trouble dogged the ashram, including charges of poisoning, arms stockpiling, and antinomian sexual practices among top aides, although not by Rajneesh himself. The ashram was closed and Rajneesh sought sanctuary in North Carolina but was arrested there for visa violations. He was given a suspended sentence and a fine on condition that he leave the United States. He returned to Poona, where his health continued to fail. Here he abandoned the name of Rajneesh and adopted Osho, a name derived from the expression oceanic experience coined by William James. He died in Poona on January 19, 1990.
   Rajneesh was well versed in the scriptures and teachings of many world religions. He created a syncretic spiritual path that combined elements of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism, Chris-tianity, Greek philosophy, humanistic psychology, and modern forms of therapy and meditation. Basically he taught the non-dualism of ADVAITA Hinduism, believing that all reality is one in essence. Consistently with advaita, he taught that souls experience REINCARNATION until they receive enlightenment and the realization of the God that is within each person.
   He was known as the “sex guru” because he espoused open sex and freedom from inhibitions. He initiated his disciplines into “neo-sannyas” that did not require the total renunciation of tra-ditional Hindu sannyas. Men were given the title Swami and women were called Ma. He favored dismantling the nuclear family and wanted it replaced with alternate forms of community and methods of child care. Prior to 1985, disciples wore red robes and a mala (necklace) of 108 beads with a picture of Rajneesh attached.
   The movement at its peak claimed about 200,000 members and 600 centers around the world. It was targeted by anticult groups as an evil organization bent on mind control. Before his death, Osho appointed a group of 21 individuals to administer the meditation resort in Poona and the organization. They now operate 20 meditation centers worldwide and publish the On Line Osho Times newsletter. The current organization, Osho International, sponsors a number of Web sites and local communities.
   Further reading: James S. Gordon, The Golden Guru (Lexington, Mass.: Stephen Green Press, 1987); Osho, Autobiography of a Spiritually Incorrect Mystic (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000); ———, Meditation: The First and Last Freedom (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997); Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh, Words Like Fire (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1976).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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