Freedom Is Your Nature: The Miracle of Leningrad

Remembering Here&Now

Manik relates the almost unbelievable story of Niskriya’s documentary about Osho and the Russian pop star, Valery Leontiev. Right at the very end of the Soviet era, this was broadcast across the nation over three consecutive nights, to widespread amazement.

This tale was originally published in the German Osho Times, in September 2004. For security reasons, names of people involved have been omitted.

Niskriya with entourage

Ever since I first came up with the idea of the Berlin Osho Film Festival, I’ve been asking myself how on earth I could have committed myself to such an arduous undertaking: to compile a definitive archive of all the films ever made about Osho. My answer is not quite straightforward. Essentially, the Film Festival was the end product of a passion that sparked quite by accident when I was in the Pune ashram so many years ago.

One morning, I was browsing the shelves in the ashram bookshop when a book fell into my hands which brought a powerful new impulse into my life. This was A Tongue Tip Taste of Tao, one of those large-format darshan diaries with Osho’s very personal messages to new sannyasins, spoken while presenting them with a new name and placing a mala around their necks. It wasn’t the text that made such on impression on me then. What had captivated me was the almost palpable love with which the book had been designed.

Just like you might have yourself done in a personal photo album, at the end of each chapter there were small, hand-coloured photos with beautiful meditative motifs – a dewy rosebud in the early morning sun, for example. I felt deeply touched: it was as if I were holding a work of art in my hands, a composition whose value far exceeded its purchasing price. It felt like discovering a Picasso at the flea market.

That same day I packed my first parcel to send home: it was almost bursting with Osho’s books. Many more would follow, as I worked my way through the entire stock. Soon, I had acquired the nickname, Certified Oshologist. I didn’t mind – it simply spurred me on. I resolved to take it as my mission to collect and preserve each and every book by Osho. For me, it felt like such a nourishing thing to do.

Many years later, life again took me to a place where I could employ my passion creatively. By now my time in Pune was over and I had landed up in Berlin, which was where I met Niskriya, someone with an enthusiasm comparable to mine. He had worked as Osho’s cameraman in Pune [and before that on his world tour, ed.], devoting his entire energy to documenting Osho’s message with his camera as perfectly as possible.

Niskriya’s perfectionism was frequently the subject of Osho’s playful teasing during discourses. He would point out that his own well-being took second place to Niskriya’s commitment to the cinematographical ideal: for example, before discourse he once secretly turned down the air-conditioner next to Osho’s chair so that the noise would not disturb the recording. No matter that Osho might be over-warm; the main thing was the recording was good… [To be fair, it was also true, as Osho duly gave credit, that Niskriya always took care that the stage lights were never too bright for Osho’s eyes. ed.]

On countless nights, after our work was done, we stayed up late chatting about this and that; when he told me how many films had been made about Osho in the past which were now lost or had sunk without trace, I felt my old passion strike up again. I realised that there were surely treasures to be found, maybe stashed away in some basement or other. If no-one else would do it, then this was surely the job for me! So that’s how I started to systematically collect all the film material about Osho that was available. (

Manik at the time of writing the article

There was one film in particular that fired my imagination. This, as I was to discover, would surpass anything else in quality and scope. Niskriya himself had produced this documentary in 1991; it would be broadcast on what was then the Soviet State Television, under the most thrilling of circumstances.

The film had lain buried in his archives for 13 years without ever being reshown. I spent many weeks urging Niskriya to track it down, hunting through his extensive storage facilities until it was successfully unearthed. The film is titled Freedom Is Your Nature, and here is the story I would like to tell you:

1991 was the year when a process that had been developing slowly over the past six years came to a sudden, dramatic climax.

Mikhail Gorbachev was not only the Soviet Union’s youngest ever head of state, but he was quite unlike the grey despots who had hitherto occupied this position. He was truly a man who altered the course of world history.

The reforms he introduced fell like fertile seeds on a country whose population had been enslaved for nearly 70 years by an arrogant and inhuman clique of functionaries. Although initially intended to consolidate and perpetuate the Soviet system, these increasingly took on a momentum of their own, eventually sweeping away not just the system but the state itself. As would shortly become apparent, in 1991 the Soviet empire was already on its last legs.

With astonishing rapidity, many of the structures of state that had once seemed so solid and immoveable simply disintegrated. Suddenly, things became possible that had hitherto been inconceivable. Even today, this is hard to comprehend. Communists turned into capitalists and state-owned enterprises became the property of private individuals. The head of the KGB became a guarantor of democracy and 70 million people from the Baltic to the Pacific watched, over three successive evenings, a promotional film about Osho on prime time television!

Freedom Is Your Nature is the most professional, longest and most comprehensive documentary ever made about Osho [except for the later documentary series, Wild Wild Country, that was shown on Netflix in spring 2018, ed.]. And this happened, as things so often do in Osho’s energy field, not by intentional design, but rather just by chance. It happened almost by itself…

Valery Leontiev
Valery Leontiev (photo from his press kit on

In May 1989, a famous Russian rock singer, Valery Leontiev, was again on tour in India. Like all pop stars he gave lots of interviews, most of which contained nothing much of substance. But in this case there was a difference: Valery Leontiev declared himself to be on a spiritual quest, having come to India in the hope of finding an enlightened master who might change his life. Unfortunately, that person had yet to show up.

At that time, Osho was still speaking every evening in Buddha Hall, and those sannyasins who had picked up on Valery’s interview knew precisely what he should do: simply drop by the Pune ashram and his problem would be solved!

This solution, however, might have passed the popstar and his entourage by, had not a couple of Russian sannyasins currently in Pune taken the matter into their own hands. Valery Leontiev was currently in Mumbai, so they called his hotel and told him that the man he was looking for was living in Pune, at Koregaon Park 17. As it turned out, there was already a concert scheduled for Pune. And so, just a few days later, Leontiev arrived in front of the ashram’s main gate with his band and an accompanying Russian television crew.

Since, in keeping with Soviet ‘tradition’, their cameras had already fallen apart in Mumbai, Niskriya offered to save the day by filming Leontiev’s visit to the ashram, together with his concert in Pune, using his own equipment. The film team duly received their footage and Niskriya put his own copy in the archives. And that might have been the end of the story – but now the story starts for real!

“For a long time I’d had a strong desire to make a documentary that could introduce Osho to a wider audience, an audience that had not heard of him before. Everything that existed at the time was limited in its scope because it was more or less produced by sannyasins for sannyasins,” Niskriya told me.

Without a hook or specific inspiration, work on this project had not progressed beyond an aimless compilation of archive material. No one in their wildest dreams would have thought of producing something for the Soviet State Television – at least, not until Valery Leontiev showed up at the ashram!

Niskriya was struck by sudden inspiration: “I am now going to produce a film about Osho for the Russian television – this is the door opener. It says Valery Leontiev on the cover, but inside it’s about Osho.” Finally, the project had a vision. Work continued on Osho’s regular discourses during the day, but the nights were devoted to planning, editing, assembling and discarding the new material.

The timing was perfect: Osho had just completed the discourse series, Communism and Zen Fire, Zen Wind, in which he had spoken about communism, Gorbachev and the decline of the Soviet Union. With the clarity and insight of an enlightened being, he had pinpointed many opportunities and risks inherent in communism’s collapse in a way nobody else had perceived before.

Several times in his discourses, Osho offered wise counsel to Mikhail Gorbachev. Now the film project offered the possibility of delivering Osho’s message direct to the addressee. Support came from all sides, with Osho himself giving specific instructions to allow Niskriya to do “my work”.

By the summer of 1991, two years in from the project’s start, all but a few final touches separated the film from completion. At this point, there was a sudden feeling of unease. “Something urged me to fly to Russia without delay,” said Niskriya. Popping the unfinished film into his backpack, he took the very next flight to Moscow.

At first it was a litany of disappointments…

“Moscow was exceedingly conservative and difficult; no one wanted to see my film, still less to broadcast it.” But there was, we happened to learn, another possibility: one more national broadcaster, which was considered very open-minded and progressive, but was based in Leningrad [soon to be renamed St. Petersburg, ed.]. This would be our very last chance, because in those days there were only three nationwide stations.

Next morning, Niskriya and a few friends took the train to Leningrad. It turned out that the programme director was indeed interested; he would love to take the film, but doubted if he could afford the fees for a Western production. Well, that wasn’t such a problem. A deal was quickly agreed, by which the film was sold at a snip, in return for the promise of the best possible prime-time broadcasting slot. They undertook to show the series [of 60 minutes each, ed.] on three consecutive evenings, at 9:15pm over the Christmas break – 24, 25 and 26 December 1991.

There were still a few weeks left before the broadcast, just enough time to make ready the still unfinished, hastily-packed film, using the broadcaster’s own studios.

“Only after the show, when we left the TV station, did we realise what had happened. We had been working in such a frenzy and could hardly believe that it had happened. Because until the very last second before it was broadcast I had expected the announcer to come up with some ‘technical difficulty’ and show another film. The tension was almost unbearable.

“For the few days before broadcasting our film, the station had been showing daily trailers – as one does. Precisely at this time US President Bush (Sr.) arrived in Moscow for a state visit. There was a real danger that someone from his entourage might have recognised Osho as the man whom, just five years earlier, they had attempted to silence at all costs. One phone call to the broadcaster would have been enough: – ‘Do you actually know who that man is you are showing on TV?’ – and then the whole deal would be off.

“But all our fears proved unfounded.” continues Niskriya.

“At 9:15pm on 24th December 1991, the TV announcer introduced the documentary with a long speech: ‘Today we would like to show you a film about a man who has already published 500 books in 32 languages, who has founded a commune and has taught a kind of love that gives freedom to people. Perhaps some of our viewers will find the film a little strange, but we would like to ask you not to make a hasty judgement. Let this film have an effect on you; it can change your view of reality.’

“It was hard to believe: had the announcer already become a sannyasin in this short time? Does the film really have that kind of power? It struck like a bombshell – to say the least.

“After the first episode I could hardly get to sleep and the next morning the tension was so strong that I simply had to do something. So, I went out on the streets of Leningrad with my camera and started interviewing people. The response was overwhelming: every market woman and taxi driver suddenly knew about Osho.” In total, nearly 70 million Soviet citizens would watch at least one of the three programmes.

For Part 3, on the evening of 26th December, Niskriya had included, as a crowning finale, Osho’s message to President Gorbachev and his comprehensive analysis of the opportunities offered by the collapse of communism.

Then something happened which no one had expected. Quite out of the blue, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned from office as Soviet President and as Commander in Chief of the armed forces, and the Russian parliament voted to dissolve the Soviet Union. A new era in world history had commenced.

But even on this historic day, the film was broadcast as scheduled…

The impact of this ‘Miracle of Leningrad’ became apparent over the following week. Already after the first broadcast, the sales of Osho’s books in Russian had picked up significantly, but now all bookshops were overrun by eager customers and within two days the entire stock had sold out.

Those hard-up Russian sannyasin publishers, who shortly before had been about to pulp 30,000 unsold copies to save on storage costs, were able to sell their entire stock to a national chain of bookshops within one week of the broadcast. They were now thinking about creating several new editions.

The secretary at the publishing house was completely overwhelmed; every five minutes, someone would call with an order for 5000 copies at a time. The proceeds from the sale of the film were also directed towards book production. A newly-planned book, the Russian version of The Mustard Seed, was already fully financed through advance orders before it was even translated.

Parallel to the Russian broadcast, Niskriya also produced a version in German, with the title Freiheit ist Deine Natur (Freedom Is Your Nature). To this day, no German broadcaster has been willing to show it.

Niskriya subsequently moved on to new projects, the tapes ended languishing in the archives, all but forgotten – until I started badgering Niskriya about it, a full 13 years later. And so this is how I was able – at last – to make it available to a new audience, within the framework of the Osho Film Festival.

The political map has changed enormously in the intervening time, but Osho’s insights remain as urgent as ever. This is particularly evident in the messages he addressed to Mikhail Gorbachev in Buddha Hall in February 1989, during the discourse series Communism and Zen Fire, Zen Wind, which were compiled in the film as one statement.

First published in the German Osho Times – Translation by Punya with edits by Hafiz Ladell – thanks go to Nirbija for connecting with Niskriya and Manik and for choosing the discourse excerpt

The English version of the documentary, Freedom is Your Nature (not in best quality), can be ordered from Osho Viha in the USA.

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Manik Reuters, founder of Osho Film Festival (, is now working as a psychotherapeutic health practitioner, spiritual therapist and workshop facilitator (

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