We are emerging bleary-eyed in the aftermath of Wild Wild Country. Wow! I doubt the filmmakers had any idea of the volume of discussion their documentary would engender. Whether or not the fallout is enriching remains to be seen. But, if nothing else, this re-telling of the sannyasin story has brought into focus many unresolved threads that criss-cross the globe, enveloping not only those who were there at the coalface but many who have since been drawn to Osho, together with curious others who are moved to explore the phenomenon of the Oregon commune and the legacy of the man who gave birth to it.
At the heart of the discussions are three stand-out questions: How did the Rajneeshpuram experiment come to such an end? Who (if anyone) should bear responsibility? Should spiritual teachers who claim ‘awakening’ or ‘enlightenment’ be viewed differently from those of us who make no such claims?
When you distill the range of responses to these questions it seems clear there are mainly two discrete camps. In one constellation are those who are protective of Osho and his legacy; in the other category are those who regard his perceived behaviour as less than sacrosanct.
Plenty has been said on these and related questions. I would now like to focus upon another topic – our ability to handle conflict or disagreement and how we can avoid hardening our hearts towards each other, especially when our identity or allegiance is challenged.
We only have to look around us see the problems that arise when people hold very different opinions about a particular issue – whether these relate to political ideologies, religious orientation or the multitude of contentious subjects that fall within the human sphere. We easily get stuck. Stuck with our opinions, our beliefs, our worldviews. We attempt to argue our case as best we can. We often find it difficult to take in the other person’s point of view. Ultimately, this can lead to withdrawal, estrangement, hostility, and/or aggression – between individuals, families, countries, and societies. Rarely is mutual understanding enhanced. Rarely do friendships deepen. Rarely do we find ways to negotiate our differences while at the same time remaining open to altering our positions.
As a family lawyer I was never comfortable playing the advocate. When dealing with distressed couples who had broken up, I could always see there were at least two sides to the story. Boxing these people into separate corners, where they had to mount a case against the other and elevate their own worthiness struck me as a highly unsatisfactory and limited way to resolve the angst. With a great sense of relief I migrated to the world of mediation. In this realm I could hold a space where emotions ran rampant and I could endeavour to build practical bridges between the contesting parties. It was extremely satisfying to find that some folk would respond – they would come to understand their point of view was not necessarily totally right and the other’s totally wrong. They may have stopped loving one another but in softening their positions they would find a way to ease the pain of separation and move on in their lives. Sometimes, after many hours and sessions, it would warm my heart to see not only practical bridges emerging but also psychological shift which would change the entire gestalt between the participants. You never knew if it would last – but it would surely be a mile and a half better than spending a fortune on lawyers!
I think of this now as I read the plethora of polarised opinions in sannyasin and ex-sannyasin circles. It is as if those who are still feel an unshakable affinity with Osho have assembled on one side of an orange curtain. While some may have private concerns, they are prepared to give their Master the benefit of the doubt, while others in that group are unwavering in their belief that even if Osho orchestrated the whole enchilada, it served a higher purpose. Who are we – the non-enlightened ones – to question his vision or methods?
Outside the orange curtain are the rest of us. A diverse mob – spread along a spectrum ranging from the bitter and betrayed at one end - to the mildly confused - and through to those who are grateful for their experience but no longer identify as 'sannyasins' .
And then, I suppose, there is a third category – those who show no interest in this current discourse or do not find it relevant to their present lives. These people feel they have moved on and have concluded it’s pointless to resurrect the past.
As I have made it clear in previous articles, I cannot see that the past is so easily forgotten or ignored. It lurks behind – and usually informs – the present.
Which brings me to how we were then – and how we are now. I agree with those who maintain that each of us needs to take responsibility for our individual journeys (whether or not we have a spiritual interest). While we are young, conditioned by our upbringing and seeking to find our way, it is understandable we may look for answers outside of ourselves. Consciously or otherwise, we search for guides or mentors who we can trust and whose perceived wisdom exceeds our own. If we are moved to search for a source of inspiration outside the realm of political figures, business leaders, religious icons, sporting idols and media personalities, we may stumble upon spiritual teachers or teachings that appear to answer all our questions and open us to possibilities which we have never imagined.
Most of us were in the twenty to forty year-old bracket when Osho came into our lives. Technically, we were adults. Most of us cognitively mature and functional in society – yet many, if not the vast majority, psychologically and spiritually mere babes-in-arms.
That was our sannyasin past – rich, meaningful, fulfilling – and innocent, at least for a significant period.
Fast-forward to the present. We have doubled or tripled in age, those of us lucky enough to still be here. Our Master is long gone and can no longer speak for himself. He has left a tangible legacy in terms of an ashram in Poona, various centres around the world, a vast written and spoken heritage, available in books and on film. What about us – we who were or remain so devoted? Are we still earnestly seeking to transform ourselves? Are we still fixated on the carrot of ‘enlightenment?’ Do we still aspire towards ruthless self–honesty and openness?
We will have our individual interpretations of and answers to these questions. For me, they lead to further questions, the most fundamental being the one I raised back in January: What have we learnt?
Again, though I tend to drift into using the royal ‘we’, I can only speak for myself. My answer, in part, relates to the relationship I now have with any teacher or teaching. It is a relationship, I hope, that comes with discernment. And when I talk about discernment I am not talking about cynicism or keeping my distance. It is about plunging in with an open heart; responding in the moment to whatever calls – and simultaneously remaining attuned to an inner guide – a guide that does not preclude devotion but one that informs my response and directs my behaviour.
In less airy-fairy language, we could call this guide a bullshit detector.
Yes, life around Osho was indeed a mystery school. Much is made of this by present-day devotees who are forever quoting his words or falling back on the premise that none of us can know what he really meant or intended. These conclusions do not satisfy me. And it is clear they do not satisfy many others who have walked through the same fires, and thirty or forty years later have arrived at a somewhat different understanding of the modern guru-disciple relationship.
‘Truth is not afraid of questions’, as Paramahansa Yogananda puts it so sweetly and neatly in The Autobiography of a Yogi.
If we accept this statement, how does it apply to the various constellations to which I have referred earlier?
On one side of the orange curtain, many questions are raised about Osho’s behaviour and intentions. Clearly, he is not around in his body to answer. Let us suppose for a moment that he was. Let us suppose he gave a morning discourse and an evening darshan – just like in the good old days. Would anyone be brave enough to put forward their doubts, let alone pursue a line of questioning that reflects the concerns that many have now expressed? If past patterns were to be replicated, it is unlikely such challenges would be tolerated.
Of course, this is hypothetical. Osho is no longer with us. We have to figure it out for ourselves. If we occupy a position inside the tent – on the other side of the orange curtain – we are probably impervious to the criticisms and concerns that I and others have articulated. Or if we are not impervious, we are still reluctant to align ourselves with anything that reflects poorly on the Master we revered. I know folk who are caught in this dilemma. It’s a hard choice. Gratitude runs deep and one does not want to turn away from its source. Better to put up with the twinges of discomfort and maintain solidarity with one’s flock.
All of this can adversely affect friendships and intimate relationships that were once strong and joyous. We can become uncertain or apprehensive about sharing with those with whom we were once open and confiding. We silently collude in ‘no-go zones’ and avoid ticklish conversations. We compartmentalise what were once spontaneous and laughter-filled connections. Or we retreat into rejection or iron-clad judgments. Do we not? And if we do, are we willing to change where an invitation is offered?
Opening the Curtain
Keeping in mind human propensity to make a mess of situations where people hold diametrically opposed views, is it possible – or indeed desirable – to work towards reconciliation and heartfelt re-connection between the orange and ex-orange diasporas? I do not know whether it is possible but I strongly believe it is worthwhile to try. Indeed, many of us are trying. We do not want to see the essence of what drove us to seek out Osho in the first place manifest in estrangement and division. We want our own behaviour to align with this end. If we are to be the ‘new man’ and the ‘new woman’, we need to stand up and be counted, moment to moment. Anything less, I would argue, is a betrayal of Osho’s true legacy.
My wife wags her finger and warns me against lecturing. She also infers I may be pissing into a strong gale. (My words not hers.) I’m a utopian optimist. Connected-ness is fine but doesn’t alienation have a place? We have to accept some folk will never be on the same page. Get used to it! Well, there is an impulse to argue with her – before we both laugh and roll our eyes. Disagreement? What disagreement?
Half-jokingly, I have suggested to friends what is needed is akin to South Africa’s ‘truth and reconciliation’ process. Many of you will remember the widespread apprehension when apartheid ended. A blood-bath was on the cards. It didn’t happen – and that had much to do with some brave leadership which ushered in a process where stories were told publicly by all sides – and rather than retribution, a form of reconciliation emerged. Of course, it was not perfect but it was way better than the other anticipated option.
Unlike the situation I’ve just described, those of us with a sannyasin history are scattered throughout the planet. Despite our cyber-connectivity, our tents are often far apart. The recent Facebook dialogues have brought to the surface voices that were suppressed or unheard for years. But it should not stop there. Let us reach within and see what we are capable of. Curtains have a dual function. They can be drawn shut to darken a room. Or they can be pulled aside to let in the light.