In the early eighties I came into contact with disciples and books of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (later called 'Osho') and decided some time later to take 'sannyas' as well, that is, to become a follower of Rajneesh. In the Dutch vernacular at the time they said that I 'joined the Bhagwan'.
What follows is a ten-year immersion into the chaotic merry-go-round of sannyas culture and ditto subcultures with its therapy groups, communes, meditations, ecstasy trips, pushed trips to Oregon, paranoia, intimidating leaders and emotional blackmail. The tricks of the trade. But also with silence, connection, fantastic parties, lots of exuberant and happy energy. I came into contact with Zen, Sufism, shamanism, t'ai-chi, tantra, rebirthing, bioenergetics, dehypnotherapy, and so on, in short, with all the branches of alternative spirituality and humanistic psychology. I believe half and half in karma, reincarnation, chakras and chanelling.
I have done it all and after those ten years, years of other adventures on the 'spiritual path' have followed. It took a long time before I could shake off all that stuff and realise what I had been doing and appreciating what happened. It has taken a long time before I could really stand on my own two feet, feel good about myself and no longer wonder what some idiot could tell me about the answers to life's ultimate questions.
So what are the lessons I have learnt from the adventure with Rajneesh?
At least I have remembered what I don't want, what is not ok for me. To put someone above me as (all)knowing guru or leader is not ok for me. Neither is living in communes. Thank you very much. And of course I also enjoyed this spiritual fair, all the energy and the wonderful people I met, including my current partner!
The most important lesson, however, is that running away from what is going on here and now, looking for a (future and permanent) way out, is a very bad (and very expensive!) idea.
And that lesson I only learned much later, after first having been busy with the Australian 'Master of the West' (seriously!) Barry Long and after that with a whole series of satsang-teachers, both in person, as well as via dozens of books and countless videos, but that is perhaps material for another message...
I still don't dare say that the sannyas movement was a sect, because after all we were free to go wherever we wanted, but still I can say that many of us, including myself, behaved in a sectarian way. Because we had seen the light (especially 'we' who followed the approach of Veeresh, because our kind of sannyasins were clearly 'better' sannyasins than those others, the 'weaklings' of the 'official' communes). I have thought this way myself and I am sure, many with me. And still I have to be careful not to fall into that trap again, because as an ex-sannyasin I can feel much superior to all those stupid, naive believers...
In fact, I never really felt at ease with the whole culture of sannyas: the songs, the folklore, the beliefs, the paranoia, but on the other hand, I also wanted to belong and so I participated in a lot of that nonsense. I still know the songs by heart... I never accepted the excesses though, for instance the cult around pieces of marble floor from his stay in the ashram that are (still!) sold as relics. Really ridiculous, just like the meetings in white clothing of the 'White Robe Brotherhood'. And people do not die, but 'leave their bodies'... Really? There is no talk of 'God', but 'Existence' really means the same thing. And so on. In this sense, there is little difference between the sannyas happening and other religious communities... And the abuse of power by centre leaders and therapists is not unique to the sannyas movement either...
Nor do I dare say that Bhagwan/Osho was a fraud, although I have my doubts about his role in the events in Oregon and also about his use of nitrous oxide, but especially with regard to his trance-inducing lectures. The message in this video sounds pretty OK (to me, anyway), but the method is that of the hypnotist: the slow, lingering voice, the long stretches at the end of the words, unblinking eyes, the movements of the hands. They easily put you in a kind of pleasant trance. Very well done!
But far more important, dangerous and penetrating (to me anyway) is the idea of 'Enlightenment' as a permanent state. A state that (maybe!) can be reached in the future after sufficient effort. I and many tens of thousands with me have long believed (and many still believe) that Bhagwan was continuously in that state as an 'Enlightened Master' and that his so-called mastery could help us to get there too. I now know that this is nonsense. Every experience passes. Permanence of anything is an illusion. There is no point in pursuing the illusion of permanent enlightenment.
I prefer to ask myself now what is going on here and now. What do I know here and now for sure? Why is there the need to run away from what is here and now? What makes me search?
And Bhagwan probably had an awakening experience, but was otherwise just a human being like you and me, no more, no less. An ordinary person, but one with an exceptional charisma, enormous readership, a more than excellent insight into human nature and a healthy 'fuck-you' towards conventional religion and politics. But, in my opinion, also with a gigantic ego that needed to be fed continuously by as many worshippers as possible.
It is still difficult for me to see Rajneesh as an ordinary person and not as an Exalted figure on a pedestal, so strong has been the hypnosis and indoctrination. In that respect, I also blame him for doing absolutely nothing to dissuade followers from adoration and worship, quite the contrary. I get nauseous when I hear sannyasins in raptures shouting 'Oshooooo'. Really not healthy, I find.
Zen, by the way, has an excellent answer to that: "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him "... Not an incitement to murder of course, but a pointer to realise that no human being is capable of teaching you the most important things in life: "who or what am I, what is this life, what happens when I die?". When you can accept this, then the dependence on the therapist, on the guru, who also turns out to be just a human being who suffers, just like you and me, stops.
By the way, it was not all bullshit. That is the genius of it. There is a lot of truth in what the man said. It's the way he said it, and it's the shrugging off of any responsibility for what happened to the followers. And at the same time, it gave us freedom - even if the trance made it difficult to be critical and to make different choices...
And another thing: would I have learned these lessons if I had not been a sannyasin? I don't think so. And so I'm also quite grateful...
But of course: enough is enough.
"The key feature of a hypnotic trance is its invisibility to the entranced mind."