The Name of the Story is the Story of a Name

Letters / Opinions Osho TM & ©

Sarlo writes about research and findings in regard to the transition from Bhagwan to Osho.



Beloved friends,

Recently, my placid pursuit of gathering and sifting / editing Osho-related info over at Sannyas Wiki lurched into a new reality when i came across some jarring material concerning Osho’s name, and the “conventional sannyas wisdom” about it. To flesh out the wiki’s bare-bones story of how his name changed from Bhagwan to Osho, i was looking at what he says about it in The CD-ROM, the stupendous database of all his English books published as of the early 90s. I went through No Mind, where he drops “Bhagwan”, hosts the wandering spirit of Gautam Buddha, and plays with a new name just about every day, and detailed all the delightful twists and turns of that. Then it was time for “Osho”. I had known he speaks on “Osho” a fair bit in that period (Jan – Feb 1989) but was unprepared for how compelling is the pattern his words weave. Again and again in that short period, in one Zen anecdote after another, Osho explains:

Osho is a very beautiful word. It should be added to every language. Just the sound is beautiful in the first place: Osho. It shows respect, it shows love, it shows gratitude. It is not just a dry word like “Reverend.” It is a very loving and friendly word, almost having the sense of “The Beloved.”


Osho is really a great word of deep gratitude, love and honor […] Osho is very close and intimate, a very loving address, full of honor and gratitude.

And all this in the context of having dropped “Bhagwan”. What else can he be indicating? Sannyasins got it at the time of course but something happened between that now and this now … After being immersed in this Japanese Zen usage, i was startled when i came to the “official” version of the story of his name’s origin and meaning:

“Osho has explained that His name is derived from William James’ word ‘oceanic’ which means dissolving into the ocean. Oceanic describes the experience, He says, but what about the experiencer? For that we use the word ‘Osho’. Later, He came to find out that ‘Osho’ has also been used historically in the Far East, meaning ‘The Blessed One, on Whom the Sky Showers Flowers’.”

William James? Oceanic? “Later”? What is this? And when exactly did he “explain” this? Yes, he has said many times how much he loves William James’ word but nowhere does he connect “oceanic” with “Osho”, much less explain it. In fact, i had encountered this before and just sort of shrugged it off with the magic word, “Whatever”. Now, with this stark contrast in my face, the cognitive dissonance was unavoidable. My master’s words about his own name were swept off into a corner and replaced by this unworthy and untrue “Osho lite”, overriding even an earlier and equally official explanation signed by his secretary Hasya, one more in harmony with his commentaries on the Japanese Zen masters. When and why was that first official explanation changed?

At the same time as i was looking in the CD-ROM, unbeknownst to me, my fellow Wiki player Sw Anand Sugit had been looking in the hard copy of all these same books and listening to the audios, researching the same story from his angle. He amassed a mountain of information regarding how Osho was addressed when and what was said about it. He found that up through Jan 1990, published explanations of his name were all the Japanese Zen master version (JZMV). From Feb 1990 on, they are all, possibly with a few exceptions, the William James version (WJV). Thus, the WJV was introduced almost immediately after Osho left his body, with, in Sugit’s words, “smoke still rising from the ghats”.

It is not difficult to imagine that the perpetrators of the WJV waited until Osho could not call them on it. And then it was done in a low-profile way, just new explanations printed in new books and stickers inserted in old books. No WJV ever found its way into Osho Times, unlike the JZMV, which appeared as an editorial in the Apr 1 1989 issue (then known as Rajneesh Times). That it was done so quickly after Osho left his body was bold, since many there would have aligned with the JZMV but perhaps people had more important things to do, like process their grief reactions. After a short while, all explanations just disappeared, leaving the WJV to become “truth” surreptitiously and insidiously, until…

In 1998 an article / thought piece appeared written by Sw Prem Amrito and sent to all the Osho centers of the day, called ‘What Is an Osho?’ Among other things, Amrito’s piece gave, possibly for the first time, a time frame for the genesis of the WJV, exactly in the time when Osho had dropped “Bhagwan” and was commenting in his talks on the usage of “Osho” in the Japanese Zen tradition. Amrito wrote:

“And finally [ie after dropping ‘Bhagwan’] he announced he was dropping all his names, he would be nameless. The publications department, responsible for publishing Osho’s books, already close to apoplexy trying to redesign the book covers with every name change, finally gave up.

“After lots of complaints from people who desperately wanted him to have at least some name, he agreed to Osho, from a word created by William James, ‘oceanic.’ But only if we all agreed.”

Does any of this really matter? What harm does it do? Well, it’s not the truth. And it’s not Osho. Whether it matters might also be addressed by considering why it might have been done. Someone went to a lot of trouble to change the story of Osho’s new name. So much trouble, and going in a very different direction from Osho’s public words. Explanations printed in books were changed, as were stickers inserted in old unsold books with Bhagwan as author. Why? One fairly simple and straightforward possibility is that folks running the org wanted to trademark Osho’s name and would have an easier time without the old traditional Japanese usage, especially as “Osho” in current Japanese usage is a sort of generic term of address for a Zen priest, monk or teacher. Or whatever, your favourite theory here. All this stuff is explored in detail in the wiki, at What’s in a Name?, with tons of supporting data (Osho’s words, tables of book info, etc) linked from there.

The process of putting that all together has been a wonder-filled and satisfying blend of synchronicity, individual initiative and harmonious collaboration. One of us gets an idea and runs with it, the others feel it out and add to this or that aspect while tempering individual ‘excesses’. Wiki owner Sw Anand Rudra gets huge credit for building it over the years and keeping a steady hand on the tiller as we put together all we have gathered and his tech know-how makes it as accessible as possible. The story would not be complete without a little personal resonance, so existence has supplied it, leaving no ‘i’ undotted… I have not been much of a rebel in my life, letting impersonal ‘abuses’ go mostly unchallenged. My one big sannyas rebel moment was twenty years ago when i approached commune authorities about what i saw as a slide into organized religion, in the use of cap H’s for Osho, ie when referring to him as Him, He, His, etc, as in the William James ‘explanation’ above from that era. Cap H’s did not originate then of course but without Osho physically there to oversee their use, it was almost intolerable to me after all he says about organized religion.

Yes, it can be a perfectly good personal expression of love and respect, but it cannot be appropriate for the sangha as a whole. So i wrote a letter to various notables and got fired from Osho Times for my trouble, though to be fair, my job performance had not been that great, so whatever. After i had done my couple months of sulking and skulking, that rejection became an opportunity, in the form of a great job in the Research Library topped by a Workers’ Mystic Rose group. It was my good fortune in the end to see and accept that this is what religous orgs do (duh?), and in that seeing and accepting, Grace brought me to a peak of bliss that lasted almost forever and though it slowly subsided as it must, an undercurrent of it remains, as if a default has been reset. And the cap H’s eventually disappeared. (Other things disappeared as well whose departure was not so welcome, but such is the balance of existence, perhaps crossing its ‘t’s.)

The sangha blessed me with tremendous gifts in that earlier time, even though i and its authority figures were in opposition in some ways. Now more diffuse, functioning through small collectives on the net, the sangha has brought me again to a similar place of opposition. But the most interesting and mysterious aspect of this opposition may concern not authority issues but the collective collusion of sannyasins everywhere. I found that sannyasin websites near-universally have bought into this WJV. Aside from a very few sannyasin sites, only “outside”, mostly academic researchers even mention the JZMV, noting it as a minority view. How has the WJV taken over so completely? The process of myth formation, turning misinformation into collective truth, may be a strong one. Perhaps this WJV is another large-scale gift / device from Osho, courtesy of Pune authorities, to help us experience this collective tendency, just as we processed power issues at the Ranch.


All relevant links to be found in From Bhagwan to Osho

SarloDeva Sarlo grew up in Canada, where Osho found him in a cabin in the woods in 1977. Taking sannyas the following year, he worked as a guard in Pune 1, as a cleaner and in the carpet crew at the Ranch, and Osho Times in Pune 3. Currently a freelance nobody on Vancouver Island. Songs in the Key of Osho

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