Nandan reviews the book by Prof. Hugh B. Urban, subtitled ‘Sex, Spirituality and Capitalism in the Global Osho Movement’; published by University of California Press
Foremost, this book is a must. It is fascinating to read how the author outlines the developments of the Neo-Sannyas Movement in the three time periods Pune1, Rajneeshpuram and Pune 2. Without having to agree to all aspects of the author’s analysis, the writer’s vision of the established neoliberal capitalist world economy is certainly well laid out. It clearly shows how the Neo-Sannyas Movement, in particular the transnational Meditation Resort, show congruence. The following applies always: existing organizational structures – based on individual freedom itself – will easily show signs of authoritarianism, in which transparency in the decision-making structures is too little aimed for.
The book is smoothly written and accessible, without bias. Prof. Urban shows awe and respect for Osho. A point that could have been deepened is the unique fact that Osho was an Enlightened Master, in which the individual relationship between Master and disciple is central. This could have made readers who are not familiar with this phenomenon curious to read Osho’s books and may have lead them to a better understanding of the greatest spiritual adventure of the 20th century: Travelling with Osho.
In the Preface – Writing about Osho Rajneesh; or, the Art of Being Driven Nuts – Prof. Urban states that he is extremely grateful to Osho for his provocative, always fascinating, humorous and sometimes infuriating controversial legacy and his ‘consistent inconsistent’ message.
Introduction – Gurus, God-Men, and Globalization
What Osho brought into motion goes much, much further ahead than what Americans usually remember: “A guru from the 80s in Oregon with 93 Rolls Royces and a utopian commune, deported in 1985.” The author argues that Osho is not the first guru who focused on the West, and paints in particular the role played by Vivekananda in the late 19th century, and includes Prabhupada’s Hare Krishna Movement and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation. He discusses his understanding how Osho and his Neo-Sannyas Movement fit into neoliberal capitalism in terms of action and organisation.
Chapter 1 – India’s Most Dangerous Guru:
Rajneesh and India after Independence
Focus on Rajneesh and India after Independence, how India developed from a socialist-oriented country into a capitalist economy that Osho had already favoured early on. He describes Osho’s early years, his Enlightenment and professorship at the University of Jabalpur. Osho’s political preference corresponds, according to the author, with his basic tenet that freedom is above all else. Osho’s association with Gurdjieff comes up, his ‘religionless religion’ and the ‘birth’ of Bhagwan: a transnational Master with disciples from all over the world.
Chapter 2 – Beware of Socialism!
The “Anti-Gandhi” and Early Rajneesh community in the 1970’s
Osho’s anti-Gandhi remarks (his ideology and asceticism) and rejection of socialism are explained, as well as Osho’s criticism of the economic policies of the Indian government. The author argues that Osho is the first ‘capitalist’ guru in history, the “guru of the rich,” incidentally a statement made by Osho himself, as part of his ‘spiritual materialism’.
With the creation of Osho’s Dynamic and other active meditations the ‘religionless religion’ begins to take shape, followed by the emergence of a Buddhafield, especially after the opening of the ashram in 1974 in Pune. In addition, an experiment took place in the creation of an international commune. Furthermore it is also a step towards the development of a spiritual and international market, offering a wide range of various forms of therapy. The author elaborates how to interpret this in a neoliberal-capitalist sense.
Chapter 3 – From Sex to Superconsciousness:
Sexuality, Tantra, and Liberation in 1970s India
This chapter provides an overview of Osho’s views with regard to the theories of Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Reich, appreciating yet also criticising them because of the spiritual shortcomings in their work. The latter applies in particular to Freud; Osho made Reich posthumously a sannyasin. Links are established with the emerging counterculture in the sixties and seventies. The book from Sex to Superconsciousness is discussed with the impact and development of Tantra by Osho to the innovative Neo-Tantra and explains why Osho declares that clergy and politicians have pushed away joy and sensual physical pleasure on the earth, and thus made every man schizophrenic.
Given here is also an overview of how Osho treats certain topics (such as feminism), embedded in the broader context of the Indian and Western (American) culture. The author also dwells on Osho’s statement that the ashram is not a democracy. A central point remains the struggle how to realize the ideal of individual and sexual liberation and at the same time create a community with real individual freedom and without new forms of control. According to the author this is now a current quest in post Pune 2. See also Chapter 6.
Chapter 4 – The Messiah America Has Been Waiting For:
Rajneeshpuram in 1980s America
Discussion of the founding of Rajneeshpuram, along with the neoliberal-capital aspects of it, which exhibit similarities– certainly according to the writer – as to why Osho so much criticized the Reagan politics, and produces an interesting analysis of what both had in common. This section further provides insight into the corporate structure of the commune, painted against the background of the world capitalism developed in the late 20th century.
Descriptions follow how tensions grew among the local population and authorities and how Rajneeshees more and more felt being threatened, shows the attitude of the authorities to issue a residence permit for Osho and defining what exactly constitutes a religious leader being led to the creation of a ‘real’ religion, Rajneeshism. Prof. Urban asserts that Scientology struggled with the same problem at the time. Naturally, the emergence of AIDS is discussed, and how Osho responded to that problem.
Chapter 5 – Osho : The Apotheosis of a Fallen Guru in 1990s India
This chapter analyzes the amazing rebirth of Pune 2, the upgrading of the minimalistic functioning ashram in the eighties to a five-star Meditation Resort. Also here factors are discussed which define more and more neo-liberalism and global capitalism, with its privatization concept as an ideal, promoted by Reagan and Thatcher. Creating a luxury Meditation Resort fits into this development, as shown in the last 25 years.
Chapter 6 – OSHO®?
The Struggle over Osho’s Legacy in the Twenty-First Century
The many issues concerning the copyrights of Osho’s legacy and claiming the name Osho as a trademark are discussed here, but within the broader context of these issues in the world of Internet and Facebook. The latter organization automatically chooses the side of the person claiming to be the copyright holder; according to Prof. Urban, in the 21st century a more balanced approach to this type of problem should be developed.
Also shown is the “state of affairs” concerning the split in the sannyas world (Delhi versus Pune), existing controversies over the proposed sale of certain plots of the Resort and the sudden emergence of a [alleged] Last Will by Osho. Altogether a fascinating analysis, from which it becomes clear to the reader how many legal issues are taking place right now and how often this defines the atmosphere in discussions among sannyasins.
Conclusion – The Spiritual Logic of Late Capitalism
The author shows the influence that Osho had and has on the broad movement known as New Age in all its facets. But should consumer capitalism in this area be a development that should be welcomed? And, according to the writer, is Osho’s Zorba the Buddha concept and spiritual materialism here not partly to blame? And is his Neo-Tantra truly understood by all those hundreds of Tantra groups that have emerged? Finally, the author again rethinks several aspects linked to copyright and trademark, and the coming developments in the 21st century on matters of ‘intellectual property’.
So far only few publications on the Neo-Sannyas Movement written from an academic angle have been published and they are mentioned in the book. Let us hope that the academic world increasingly realizes that a huge job is waiting here!
Review by Anand Nandan
Hugh B. Urban is a professor of religious studies and South Asian studies in the Department of Comparative Studies at Ohio State University. He is primarily interested in Tantra and in the complex interactions between Tantra and new religious currents in America and Europe. He is the author of seven books, including Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics and Power in the Study of Religions (2003), Magia Sexualis: Sex, Magic and Liberation in Modern Western Esotericism (2005), and The Power of Tantra: Religion, Sexuality and the Politics of South Asian Studies (2010).