A few weeks have passed since I dipped my toes in the water and attempted to address some of the flotsam and jetsam that still bobs in the sannyasin ocean in the fretful wake of the demise of the Rajneeshpuram experiment more than 30 years ago.
Refreshing my salt-encrusted memory, flotsam represents debris not intentionally tossed from a vessel but which has wound up in the sea as a result of a shipwreck or accident. Conversely, jetsam describes debris deliberately thrown overboard by the crew of a ship in distress, usually to lighten the ship's load. I would like to say I chose this metaphor with great deliberation but the truth is it simply popped into my head after I returned from a refreshing dip in the sparkling waters of our local beach.
You probably get the drift. For many of us, ejection from the commune in late 1985 felt like a freak accident. How had it come to this, after all the years of creative toil and laughter and sweat and intensity? Certainly the script we had been handed in Poona did not countenance such an ending.
For others, it was as if we had been deliberately cut loose – chucked overboard, not so much to lighten the ship’s load, but to see whether we were capable of swimming on our own – or flying, if that imagery suits you better.
Whatever the case, there has been – and continues to be, a considerable wash-up. Conversation and correspondence are testament to this. In present day parlance, there has been much to ‘process’.
I have been heartened by the range and depth of responses to my article. About a third of my Facebook connections have a sannyasin background and I expected most of the interest would stem from those folk. That was true to some extent but a good many friends and relatives who do not share this past have since contacted me to say I opened a window into their understanding of what went on. Certainly, the blog entry ushered in some interesting and lively conversations.
As you might expect, there have been very few responses from those who might disagree with my assessment. With a couple of exceptions, most are silent. One correspondent maintains my commentary ‘would make everyone who didn't have the guts to be in the Osho commune have their hearts swell with satisfaction’. I take this to mean the people to whom he refers would rejoice in my critique (as it supports their hostile position). These people, in his eyes, lacked courage and by implication remained outsiders. Reading between the lines, this correspondent infers the ends justified the means, as he goes on to say there is no basis for comparison with what went on in Poona and Oregon with what happens in the wider world of ‘sex, fraud, legalized theft, rotten politicians and ….discrimination of all nature’.
While I have some sympathy for his analysis of the big, bad world I think it is myopic to exclude the Rajneesh episode from close scrutiny. You can still rejoice in how that immersion might have changed your life for the better but be clear-eyed about the pernicious elements. My wife – a perceptive reviewer of my scribblings – suggested the apparent dichotomy between ‘enlightenment’ and ‘shadow’ needs to be mentioned. At one point we may have assumed that a spiritual Master, having awakened to his or her true nature, would have had a light shone upon all aspects of their being – including the dark places that appear to reside in humans. Taking it a step further, an ‘en-lightened’ person would see clearly into their own shadow and not act from that place. Nowadays, many of us see ‘awakening’ as a work-in-progress – not as an end state resembling perfection. Greater discernment – which usually arrives well down the spiritual highway – enables us to recognise aspects of shadow in ourselves and others – including spiritual teachers. (And if we don’t see it in ourselves we sure as hell hope we have a true friend who will be prompt to oblige.)
Another correspondent is appreciative of my piece but states I have omitted one major element – namely that ‘Sheela lied to everybody, including Osho’. This stance goes to the heart of the never-ending argument about who was responsible and for what. I have not read in any detail the court documents the correspondent offers in support of his argument but I can’t imagine anyone would be surprised by the reference to ‘lies’. You don’t have to delve very deep into the written and spoken trail left by Osho, Sheela, and others to unearth a litany of untruth, deception, omission, and creative fabrication. For those of you who may have hoarded old copies of the Rajneesh Times, a quick perusal will uncover enough fake news to fill an auditorium.
Be that as it may, the underlying intention of my article was not to rake over coals but to present a personal perspective and pose some questions about what can be learnt.
Most of us who were there (at the coalface) are now various shades of grey. Whether or not wisdom goes hand-in-hand with the ageing process is moot. In fact, looking around, it’s hard to make a case that maturity and advancing years are necessarily in lockstep. And I’m talking about human behaviour at large, not only about those who have a proclaimed spiritual interest.
I guess the notion of behaviour is a fundamental ingredient in the basket of maturation. For me, theory and ideology follow in its wake. Human history, time and time again, has been swept along on the tide of ideology until it all ends in tears on a rocky shore. Charismatic teachers and leaders are powerful influencers of human behaviour, for better and for worse. They are also exemplars and Osho is no exception. Many of us who laughed at the absurdity of his multifaceted contradictions, acted out or excused far too much. While we often became more open and loving around one another and towards one another, we tended to push away anything that seemed to be at odds with our Great Dreaming. If there is anything to be learnt, it is that denial or avoidance of behaviours that strike an arrow at the core of our integrity will catch up with us, whether we are aware of it or not.
I tend to bang on about behaviour because of my own experience and what I have observed in others. Many of us have had a strong taste of Oneness (for want of a better word). We have had experiences that go beyond the usual identification as a body-mind organism. In our meditation we have rested in stillness. We have entertained blissful states. We know at a deeper level there is more on offer than a materially-oriented and conditioned life. And yet we live out our human lives as embodied entities and must embrace all this entails. Otherwise, our so-called spirituality may be a cop-out.
‘I’m an ordinary man’, said Osho. We smiled, as we gazed up at him, splendidly robed in his chair on the podium. If only. If only that ‘ordinariness’ had translated into his actions and attitudes. The wash-up may well have carried an altogether different flavour.
I can sense some of you squirming. ‘Ah, you’re missing the point. He knew what he was doing – trying to provoke us into a serious quest for transformation.’ Maybe. Just maybe. But if you turn your gaze and look at his legacy, nearly three decades after his death, you might surely wonder how much was achieved, both individually and collectively. Maybe I’m colour-blind but I don’t see a whole heap of evidence of the ‘new man’ or the ‘new woman’. Sure, there seem to have been transformations among some former disciples (particularly, it appears, where they have embraced other teachers and/or practices). Sure, there has been a proliferation of Osho–style group leaders running psycho-spiritual gatherings – and many are extremely adept in what they offer – but we can wonder whether their day-to-day behaviours are all that different from the population at large? And assuming most of us don’t fall into either of these elevated camps, we can still re-examine our lives and evaluate our debt (or otherwise) to Osho. I reckon most of us would be in credit, especially where the plunge into sannyas kick-started our journey. There is a place for gratitude here – not an easy place for some to find but one borne out of taking responsibility for our choices and of accepting that apparent obstacles, deviations and cul-de-sacs seem part of the fabric of every worthwhile path of discovery.
Which brings me back to the present. While we can ‘Be Here Now’ - what do we ‘Do Here Now’? Specifically, how do those with a spiritual interest – and the plethora of latter-day teachers – act towards themselves and others?
My contention, as you will have gathered, is that no amount of transformative experience or profound insight counts for much unless the person in the frame exhibits behaviours that are congruent with integrity and compassion. Otherwise we may get a cleverly-disguised power trip – an ego adventure that ultimately does not serve the person or his or her audience.
A few years ago I was invited to write an article for a sannyasin magazine. In the course of the article I wrote that I bumped into a well-known devotee with whom I had a short conversation. When I told her I had sat with a new teacher she looked at me in consternation. ‘You haven’t dropped sannyas, have you?’ The question caught me off guard. I later wrote that it felt as if I was talking to a nun from an established religious order, such was her conviction and apprehension.
Needless to say, the article did not see the light of day. One of the editors emailed back to tell me I should be ‘more meditative’.
Sadly, this form of censorship pervades the official sannyas scene. Nothing critical of Osho – at least to my knowledge – emanates from the ashram in Poona or from centres in other countries. Osho is revered, treated with kid gloves and the stories submitted by followers or former followers are tailored accordingly.
On an individual level, I know it’s possible to have a dialogue with people who are connected to these organisations but when it comes to making views public, there are exclusion zones. This is a pity because if Osho’s legacy is to stand for anything, the man himself could and should be the subject of robust debate.
There is something else that arises out of the group discourses on Facebook – an important consideration that is germane to the whole notion of building bridges and healing past trauma. I am talking about apologies. As we have seen here in Australia and elsewhere, the power of a heartfelt apology can be profound. Societies that show genuine remorse for past atrocities towards indigenous populations, abused children, and other groups affected by government actions and powerful interests, are showing the way towards healing and self-respect. Honesty – and the humility it often entails – can be one giant step on the road to reparation.
The same is true in spiritual circles. Osho is with us no more but most of those who were close to him and who carried out his wishes can still be found (although some don’t appear too anxious to show themselves). In my previous article I said that those who came too close to the sun tended to be the ones more severely burnt. This may in part explain their reticence to acknowledge their roles in the whole fandango. Some deflect responsibility onto others. Some minimise their involvement. Some remain mute. But rarely have I heard about commune leaders who have publicly acknowledged what they did or did not do, or offered any deeply-felt apology to those who they may have harmed or belittled.
If there are examples that contradict my understanding, I would be happy to hear of them.
By the way, as some of those with whom I have been intimate or in close friendship might testify, I am no paragon of virtue when it comes to past behaviour. Where possible, I’ve tried to make amends. And in the softening there is richness and a meeting place - a mutual readiness to embrace our essential connectedness.
As was once said to me: ‘Always act from your highest value’. I got it at the time – and just as quickly forgot it – but these were wise words and well worth remembering.
On this sultry summer’s day in Fremantle, I am transported back to music group in Poona and the incomparable voice of Anubhava:
There is so much magnificence………
Near the ocean…………..
Waves are coming in…………Waves are coming in……………..Waves are coming in………………..