A synthesis between humanistic-transpersonal psychotherapy and meditation

Healing & Meditation

Excerpt from Chapter IX, titled Therapy Groups in the East, of Vikrant Sentis’ book, From Esalen to Pune.

encounter group

Only those who risk going too far, can possibly discover how far one can go”
– TS Eliot

Before going to Pune, many therapists had the impression that Osho was at least a master therapist; that his work represented the next step in the evolution of psychotherapy. He seemed to have a deep understanding about humanistic psychology, the familial and social factors that produced disturbed individuals, and the therapeutic elements – intuition, understanding, regression, catharsis, awareness, humour, intimacy, and community – that could alleviate suffering.

In Pune, he combined these approaches with meditation with the goal of creating the largest therapeutic community and growth centre in the world 1. Somehow, humanistic therapies – despite being the latest evolution of Western thought – had not produced a deep sense of satisfaction. If they had achieved something, it was to make it clear that changing ideas in the mind did not produce a feeling of totality and satisfaction.

With Osho, therapists realized that the problem was the mind itself 2, the tendency of this mechanism to constantly intellectualize experience and therefore create distance. The mind, as a fundamental human survival mechanism, had the tendency to dualize existence into irreconcilable opposites, creating the feeling of finding ourselves living in a universe made up of “good and bad” experiences, where it was necessary to choose “the good ones” to survive. According to Osho, there was no event that in itself was “bad,” beyond the appreciation that the mind could make of the event, according to the context where it occurred. This constant tendency to divide the world of experience meant that humans lived with a constant sense of existential danger. Therefore, most of the individual’s psychological resources were geared towards survival, leaving little energy for the process of actualization and growth.

However, Osho saw an important role for humanistic therapy within a larger context: the transformation of consciousness, enlightenment. In this context he proposed expanding therapeutic processes including methods and insights from meditation practices. 3

At the beginning of 1975, after living for several months back in London, Divya returned to settle permanently in India with her master. Around this same time, Prince Welf von Hannover and his wife Wibke came to be initiated as disciples after graduating from the ZIST Growth Centre in Germany and having led some workshops in that country. He received the name Vimalkirti and she, Turiya. They both joined the ashram as residents. Vimalkirti served as a Guard of Osho’s room and Turiya, after spending some time in the mala shop, worked as an assistant of Teertha in the newly inaugurated Encounter Group of the ashram.

As Osho worked with more and more Westerners, he began to give assignments to small groups of people, mainly people who lived together in the same house. He suggested that they get together at night and give each other space to express rage, or give themselves permission to play crazy. Maria Gemma Kortenhorst, who had a hard time “letting go,” was assigned nightly homework to talk like a baby. Later he assigned her a “mom” and a “dad” to hang out with every night and talk to them like a baby.

In August 1975, Osho suggested to Divya to start a Primal Therapy group at the ashram as a way to complement his meditative work. Divya had never heard of a Primal group, except the ones Janov had set after the initial three-week period of isolation. So, she had to create a group process from scratch, trying not to feel guilty that she was betraying her former teacher. Janov was adamant about the prohibition to change or modify anything regarding the process, and even more, someone could only call him or herself a Primal Therapy Therapist if they remained under his supervision. The chosen place was an old English mansion that belonged to a British friend of Divya, in what is now the South Court Hotel on the corner up the road from the ashram. After a dinner with cookies and tea, they convinced her to lend them the largest room for the group. 4

This was the first therapeutic growth group with psychotherapeutic characteristics implemented in the ashram in India and perhaps in the East. Two weeks later it was followed by the Encounter Group led by Teertha himself, founder of Quaesitor. Then came Intensive Enlightenment, an intensive three-day process based on the work of Ramana Maharshi and designed by Charles Berner, intended to move participants beyond their rational mind by making them ponder the question, “Who am I?” for 12 hours a day. This group was assigned to Maria Gemma Kortenhorst (Arup).

Like the rest of the ashram therapists, Arup thought her days leading therapy groups were over, and she was unhappy with the idea of leading groups again. “When I came back from a short visit to the West I had a meeting with Osho and he said, ‘Well, we have Primal and Encounter. The time has come for Intensive Enlightenment to start, too.’ He said, ‘Okay Arup, so start three times a month.’ ‘I couldn’t believe it, and I didn’t want to.’” 5

Arup wrote a letter to Osho asking him for ways to intensify the process. Osho answered her personally, commenting on her letter paragraph by paragraph, making annotations in the margins. “Follow the same,” “push them as much as you can,” “follow the original cycle …” and many other recommendations. The price, however, was that two or three times he told her, “You leave everything to me and just become a medium, a channel.” 5

Initially, most of the groups occurred in six or seven different locations in the suburb of Koregaon Park; at some rented locations, at friends’ homes, and even at the famed Blue Diamond Hotel.

Once a Groups Department was created at the ashram, it developed rapidly. It did not take long to start the construction of new therapy rooms and underground chambers where the most cathartic groups could be done without disturbing the neighbours. Eventually, the Osho community became the largest growth centre in the world, offering the most variety of group processes and individual sessions developed by the humanistic psychology and Human Potential movement, creating a synthesis between humanistic-transpersonal psychotherapy and meditation.

group interaction

Primal Pune style

The Primal Therapy group lasted 14 days, and it was carried out in isolation, with a frequency of once a month. In it, participants had the opportunity to connect with repressed emotional pain, relive the family dramas of their childhood, and try to satisfactorily resolve unfinished situations.

The group proposed a synthesis between Janov’s work and Osho’s vision of the development of human potential, integrating meditative aspects into therapeutic work. However, the initial emphasis was on emotional release. Osho suggested that his Western disciples should go through intense periods of cathartic therapy as a way to explore and clear the mind of the baggage of repressed feelings before entering a personal process of meditation and dis-identification of the contents of these repressions.

Primal Therapy was considered one of the most effective ways to deal with repressed emotional pain. The idea was not to spend “years” in therapy to socially readjust the individual and alleviate their anguish, but to use it as an instrument for transforming consciousness. A “clearing” of the weeds to prepare the land to receive the seeds of meditation.

A few months after the implementation of the first Primal Therapy groups, the individual sessions began. These were personally recommended by Osho to the ashram’s visitors and residents.

Little by little the emphasis of the Primal work began to move from psychodynamic material to free energetic expression, allowing Divya to function as a “channel” for whatever it was that wanted to happen during a session, rather than provoking and pushing the defences of her clients. Over time, the work acquired subtlety and depth, where awareness and dis-identifying from the drama itself became the main focus. It was no longer only important to relive the emotional repressed pain that resulted from our childhood needs being unsatisfied, but also to decondition the way our organism related to the symbolic satisfaction of those unresolved needs, here and now. Not only catharsis, but also emotional deprogramming, a deprogramming that included the ideological, religious, and behavioural conditioning that we inherited from our parents and from our relationship with our family nucleus.

Asked about her work in an interview in October 1978, Divya described the Primal Therapy of the ashram“… as a way to discover your energies through going deep into your emotions and feelings, deeply towards the energy release and then become that form of energy. It is a way to discover your inner being, your emotions, and your body. It is a discovery of the world of illusions, of how emotions colour your perception of reality. It is not just intellectual understanding. Primal takes you towards the irrational, towards the pure feeling; it is the total experience of nothingness… The child is the foundation of surrender – that vulnerability, that fragility of which Osho speaks so often – it is the foundation stone, the primal basis of surrender to everything.” 6

Related articles

1) J. Gordon, The Golden Guru, The Stephen Greene Press
2) M. Sarito, Osho Multiversity, Rebel Publishing House
3) V. Sentis, Beyond the Limit of Experience, DeKalb: Leps Press
4) Garimo, “Thirty Years of Osho Multiversity”, Osho Times, Vol 1, # 6
5) Osho, Zorba the Buddha, Rajneesh Foundation
6) Osho, Hallelujah, Rajneesh Foundation


Vikrant A. Sentis is a psychotherapist, author of several books, speaker and the founder of the Centro Experiencial y Somatic Emotional Processing in Chile. centroexperiencial.com

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