those who were never involved with him or who have never read his books,
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh is conveniently grouped with the likes of the Reverend
Jim Jones or David Koresh. For some of his followers also, events at the
'Big Muddy' commune in Oregon led to a disillusionment and an acceptance
of comparisons with the Jonestown, Waco and Order of the Solar Temple
tragedies. However there must be thousands, like myself, who owe a debt
of gratitude to Rajneesh, and who should not remain silent when these
comparisons are raised. Zahra Aftab (Face to Faith 14th January
1995) objects to comparisons between the Hare Krishna and Rajneesh movements,
saying that the teachings and practices of the two groups are as different
as black and white. For her Rajneesh belongs to the Koresh category, and
the Krishnas do not.
She describes what are probably very real difficulties and prejudices
against the Hare Krishnas in this society, much of which arises from ignorance.
Yet it is ignorance on her part, probably from the same sources of disinformation
which work against the Krishnas, that led her to cite drug-influenced
"lust-ins" as the main-stay of the Rajneesh movement. In fact
drugs and alcohol were specifically prohibited in the ashram in Poona,
and even the smoking of ordinary cigarettes was only permitted in one
designated area. The Rajneesh movement was, like the Krishnas, vegetarian,
and in part also a devotional movement. Unlike the Krishnas, however,
Rajneesh did encourage a sexual freedom, which led to much criticism.
He did so for two reasons: it was part of an encouragement to search for
freedom in the widest sense, but more importantly it was part of his emphasis
on going beyond sex and human love. This was crucial to Rajneesh's
teachings: to seek divine love, a love that is without object, or, if
it has to have an object, one that is named 'God'.
Rajneesh gave something to me as a college-educated Westerner (and I can't
believe that I am alone in this): an understanding of what the expression
'the love of God' might even refer to. His much-criticised eclecticism
was also a guiding light to me: we live in an era where it is as important
to understand and empathise with the religious traditions of other cultures
as it is with one's own. Through him I have in fact a deep sympathy for
the Hare Krishnas, though it is only honest to point out that Rajneesh
was rather scathing of them. Rajneesh was the object of devotion for many
of his followers, as is Krishna to the Hare Krishnas, but Rajneesh was
a man, warts and all. Amongst his failings was undoubtedly a sort of arrogance
and naiveté that, imitated by some of his followers who lacked
his other qualities, led to the collapse in Oregon. The West's horror
of the devotional cult, fuelled by such rare but highly publicised disasters,
has led both to the dismissal of Rajneesh as the great teacher he undoubtedly
was, and to some of the problems facing the Hare Krishnas.
Rajneesh also faced criticism for his absurd collection of Rolls-Royces.
I am not defending this, but I can give an account of it at least: they
were part of his anti-renunciative stance. He was utterly against the
traditional renunciative aspect of Indian religion, as exemplified by
the Buddha, citing it as the reason for the quite unnecessary filth and
poverty of India. He reasoned that while renunciation had a role in a
feudal society, it was redundant in a technological age, and proposed
a new paradigm 'Zorba the Buddha' - a person both capable of enjoying
all that life had to offer (including participation in the creation of
wealth) and capable of the transcendence that was traditionally the exclusive
domain of the ascetic. The irony is that while Rajneesh went to great
lengths to promote the 'Zorba the Buddha' model of man, he was probably
far more successful as a Buddha than a Zorba. In contrast, his followers
may have tended more to the reverse, but the movement should not be dismissed
on those grounds.
While I do not deny that problems do arise with devotional movements (and
the recent accusations against Sogyal Rimpoche show that even Buddhist
groups are not exempt), is it not as foolish to reject them as it would
be to reject, say, the family on the grounds of potential child abuse?
I believe that the West as a whole needs to go in to a form of psychoanalysis
over this terrible embarrassment over the devotional. Terry Jones' current
television series on the Crusades, while both entertaining and informative,
is marked by a subterranean and squirming embarrassment over the love
for God, the kind of embarrassment that used to be reserved for sex. Perhaps
historical events like the Peasant's Crusade and the Inquisition are at
the root of our rejection of the devotional, and we do need some kind
of collective coming-to-terms with these traumas. After an 'ordinary'
love-affair that goes wrong we may seek the help of a therapist, so why
not in the case of a love-affair with God? Incidentally, I have long suspected
that the gulf between the West and the Islamic world is between those
who have in the large abandoned this love affair, and those for whom it
is in the large a daily reality.
It would be a mistake however to present Rajneesh as only a proponent
of devotion. He was just as comfortable with the non-devotional Buddhist-type
paths, and repeated over and over again that the aspirant needs to sort
out the right path for them, otherwise they were wasting their
time. If you are a non-devotional type born into a devotional religion
you are just as lost as a devotional type born into a non-devotional religion.
Zen for example is wonderful, but mainly irrelevant to a lover of God.
Hence Rajneesh's eclecticism: the seeker needs exposure to as many paths
as possible. Because of his eclecticism it is difficult to sum up his
teachings, in fact it seems a deliberate part of his method to avoid any
codification or summary. There are some five hundred volumes of his recorded
discourses and prior to his death Rajneesh began to emphasise that reading
them was to be the main access to his teachings once he was gone. While
alive he used to emphasise his presence, rather than his words, and often
used to say that religious movements are invalid immediately after the
death of the teacher. I cannot comment on the position of any official
Rajneesh movement, as I have no contact with them, but I do recommend
his books - they still speak to me at least. It is through his book on
Krishna, for example, that I have come to love Krishna and empathise with
the Hare Krishnas, and through other books an empathy has grown for many
other religions, including non-theistic ones.
Without wishing to offend lesbians, it seems now that the love of God
is truly 'the love that dare not speak its name' for the West. Zahra Aftab
is fortunate to find a community where her love of God can grow, but I
want to point out that anti-cult feelings directed towards the Krishnas
are just as mis-directed towards the Rajneesh following. It is also important
to recognise that a devotional path does not suit everyone, though a non-devotional
discipline like Zen is equally unsuited to a person with a suppressed
I would like to finish with a question: might it be possible for the West
to recover its buried devotionality, free from embarrassment, and without
recourse to various forms of fundamentalism?