An Indian spiritual teacher who had followers from around the world, Acharya Rajneesh was born Chandra Mohan Jain on December 11, 1931 in a village in Madhya Pradesh’s Raisen district. Variously known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Osho and Bhagwan, he died on January 19, 1990 in Pune.
The eldest of 11 children of Babulal and Saraswati Jain, Rajneesh was raised by his maternal grandparents till he was seven years old. At school be became known for his debating skills. He studied at two colleges in Jabalpur but reportedly had differences with his teachers and instructors and stopped attending lectures.
He also worked part time in a newspaper as an assistant editor and started speaking at annual religious gatherings at Jabalpur. After securing his Bachelor’s degree in philosophy from D.N. Jain College he studied for an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Sagar and obtained the degree in 1957.
The following year he started lecturing in philosophy at Jabalpur University, and became a professor in 1960. He developed a reputation of being a charismatic and intelligent teacher.
He also started travelling across the country and gave lectures in favour of capitalism and modern science, criticising the orthodoxy in Indian religions.
He started meditation camps in 1962 and his popularity and following, especially among the rich business community, increased. In 1966 he left his teaching job and begins to address gatherings of thousands of people in maidans in major cities.
His public statements on the need for greater acceptance of sex and critical views on Hinduism ignited a lot of controversy in late 1960s. In 1970 Rajneesh left for Mumbai where he initiated his first disciples who assumed new names and wore orange robes.
Among his prominent early disciples was Laxmi Thakarsi Kuruwa who came from a wealthy family and assumed the name of Ma Yoga Laxmi. She was also his personal secretary. Towards the end of 1970 the first Westerners started visiting him in Mumbai. He cut down on public appearances and began to be called Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
In 1974 he shifted to Pune’s Koregaon Park in land bought with the help of one of his foreign disciples that was converted to an ashram. Rajneesh stayed and taught here till 1981. The ashram became a major centre of meditation, later expanding into a performance, theatre and merchandise centre.
Members of the Human Potential Movement joined the ashram shortly after it was established, leading to holding of group and other therapies at the centre.
In his discourses, which attracted thousands of followers from across the world, Rajneesh had an interesting take on everything from sex to spirituality. About meditation, for instance, he said: “When you are not doing anything at all — bodily, mentally, on no level — when all activity has ceased and you simply are, just being, that’s what meditation is. You cannot do it, you cannot practise it; you have only to understand it. Whenever you can find time for just being, drop all doing. Thinking is also doing, concentration is also doing, contemplation is also doing.”
Critiquing the way children are raised in society, he said: “The young child is free of fear; children are born without any fear. If the society can help and support them to remain without fear, can help them to climb the trees and the mountains, and swim the oceans and the rivers, if the society can help them in every possible way to become adventurers, adventurers of the unknown, and if the society can create a great enquiry instead of giving them dead beliefs, then the children will turn into great lovers, lovers of life and that is true religion. There is no higher religion than love.”
In the early 1980s he spent around four years in the United States. His time there ended on a controversial note after he was indicted on dozens of counts in Oregon in October 1985 including making false statements on his visa plea. He eventually agreed to pay $400,000 as fine and was deported from America.
After staying in various parts of the world and India for limited periods Rajneesh returned to his Pune ashram in 1987 and continued teaching there. He died on January 19, 1990. Though the exact causes of his death were not clear, some reports indicated that he suffered from heart failure.
According to an obituary in The New York Times Rajneesh “was known for his sumptuous style of living and for his eclectic doctrines, including free love and Eastern religious tenets”.
Speaking about death Osho had once said: “Die — you will have to die. But die gracefully…I am not saying die like a very controlled man. No, I’m saying die gracefully, beautifully, as if a friend is coming, knocks at your door, and you are happy. And you embrace the friend and invite him in…If you can love death you become deathless.”
Also on this day:
1929 — K. Subrahmanyam, strategic affairs analyst and Indian civil servant, was born
1935 — Soumitra Chatterjee, iconic Bengali film and stage actor, was born