Bhagwan – Between Philosophy and Capitalism

Media Watch

A documentary about Osho shown on German TV ZDF on December 12, 2016.

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Video on ZDF website: Bhagwan – Zwischen Philosophie und Kapitalismus – available until December 12, 2017


Narrator: Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh: an Indian, a professor of philosophy, a guru. From the mid-seventies onwards, thousands of young Germans make the pilgrimage to see him in his ashram in Poona, India. The post-war generation is on a search for meaning and many believe they find their salvation with Bhagwan.

Shreyas: Bhagwan? Oh… Bhagwan, I simply like him; in fact I love him; he is my master!

Narrator: The charismatic guru magnetises people and his teachings are formative for many, also for Barbara Rütting [well-known German actress and author]. In 1995, five years after Bhagwan’s death, she visited his ashram in Pune. Once there, she was finally able to liberate herself from her old behaviour patterns.

Barbara Rütting: Well, what fascinated me was this courage, this boldness; just that catchphrase – Lukewarm is not enough; you have to boil, only then can you evaporate!’ – somehow this matched my temperament!

Narrator: Only those who have switched off their mind, who have destroyed their ego, can really find themselves – so Bhagwan’s teaching. Hundreds of thousands, mostly intellectuals, saw this as a great challenge and became orange-robed sannyasins – Bhagwan disciples on the quest for a new ‘I’.

Sundro: My time with Bhagwan really brought me great serenity. Until that time I had taken myself and everything else connected with success and career very seriously – titles, etc. Because I was quite young at the time I was there, I was able to put those ideas out of my mind early on.

Narrator: Toward the end of the 60’s, the young charismatic professor of philosophy gathered the first disciples around him – at first mostly Indians. He provoked and propagated lust for life and free love but also capitalism, and gathered more and more western followers, despite obvious contradictions.

Bhagwan: It is not an economical movement, but a religious one. I am not saying that we can change a poor country into a rich one, but we can make a poor man rich. However, this has nothing to do with money, wealth is for me not about external wealth, it is not material. If we understand religiousness to mean inner contentment, a life full of happiness and peace, then we can make a poor man wealthy.

Narrator: Bhagwan himself would also become rich; in 1974 he founds his ashram, his meditation center in Pune. The entry fee is about 3 euros, the daily discourses more than double that and a therapy group cost up to 100 euros.1 Without money, no ecstasy. Whoever wants to meet him has to be perfume-free: Bhagwan suffers from allergies. His disciples are not bothered about any whims of their master.

Ma Hari Chetana: For me, everyone here is capable – as long as he has the courage – to explore what his truth is, to do what he wants, and to go beyond his boundaries, whatever they might be. Should you want to sleep with lots of different people here, you can do that too.

Swami NN: I have realised that in the west we just don’t reflect about ourselves at all, we have no clarity about ourselves. We are orientated to the outside.

Narrator: Until the early eighties, thousands of Europeans flock to swinging Poona – for love, for meditation and for therapy. Only a few find accommodation and work at the ashram itself, the majority searches for cheap rooms in town, or, for lack of money, even for less. Meanwhile, in Germany, the alarm bells are ringing; Bhagwan is regarded a dangerous guru.

Parson Friedrich Wilhelm Haak: I believe the movement is dangerous in the sense that every movement is dangerous when it makes people mindless and so have control over them. The master mind comes into play who rules everything, and in the end one is simply being ruled, one’s life is no longer one’s own.

Narrator: 1981 sees a provisional end of the road for Poona; the sannyasins return to Germany. Bhagwan takes off to the United States because of tax liabilities. For his disciples, this is very obviously no problem.

Swami NN: I would say that Bhagwan is always here – you can’t say ‘without Bhagwan’ because for me its all the same whether he’s here or somewhere else. He is somehow within me.

TV journalist: How long were you there?

Swami NN: Three years…

TV journalist: With family?

Swami NN: She [points to his daughter] was born there.

Narrator: As soon as they get back to Germany, sannyasins start to set up communes and meditation centres and immediately find new enthusiastic followers.

Shreyas: For me, my life has completely changed since I have been living here. When I used to live ‘outside’, I always had the feeling that something was missing, a certain ‘essence’ was missing; some love or happiness, I never really knew what it was, and I came here and felt this is the right place where I want to be. Everything that I do here – working, loving, hanging out, eating, dancing, cuddling, sex – I can do almost everything with joy, everything is fun. This is what you learn here – that life is fun!

Narrator: Not only fun in life but also yoga and eastern meditations come to Germany with the sannyasins, always under the watchful eye of the enlightened one. And while during the 80’s sannyasins in Germany are busy finding their feet again, Bhagwan is creating a new, second community in Oregon. There he is again, the master. On a daily basis he can be seen doing the honours in one of his many Rolls Royces, known as drive-by. And that must be sufficient for his disciple for years – Bhagwan is in a ‘silent phase’.

Sundro: That was one of the most beautiful experiences for me on the Ranch, when one day his Rolls broke down not 50 meters away from where I was standing on the street; Bhagwan got out and everyone was celebrating around him, and he just stood there with us all enjoying just being there with him, until he left again and we all went back to the lake for a swim!

Narrator: The time in Oregon is a time for parties and festivals, but also a time of corruption caused by his management. In 1984 Bhagwan decides to speak to his disciples again; a charlatan?

Barbara Rütting: He was, of course, a clown; he made jokes, he contradicted himself, he was like a Shakespearean jester, holding up the mirror to society so that it also sees its ugly grimace.

Narrator: In 1985 Bhagwan finally cuts his losses – publically and symbolically he lets his books go up in flames2, and this too accompanied with cheers by his disciples. They keep on laughing even when he declares an end to his ‘religion’.

Bhagwan: For the first time, in the whole history of mankind, a religion has died!

Narrator: In the same year, Bhagwan is deported from the USA, his followers in tears. After a long odyssey, he returns to Poona; in 1990 he dies, aged 59 as a highly controversial individual – but of whom, still today, many of his disciples say, ”He has done me a world of good!”

With thanks to Dhiren for the translation

Notes by Dhiren:
1) These figures are exaggerated and inaccurate
2) In fact, after Sheela left the Ranch Bhagwan asked for all the books she had produced about the so-called ‘Rajneeshism’ to be burned at the crematorium. His own books were of course never burned!

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