Oh no, it's Osho: a villain speaks from beyond the grave

The Baltic Times/February 06, 2008

Riga - It is hard to walk into a bookstore in Riga without seeing Osho's name. Prominent displays featuring his books abound - offering customers a little bit of Far East spiritualism in hard cover or paperback.

A quick glance through the bookshelves in most Latvian's homes will reveal why the stores have him on display - the man sells. His works have become the most popular self-help books around.

When The Baltic Times got in touch with the major bookstores operating in Latvia, there was no hesitation. Everyone knew who he was and was quick to discuss his growing popularity.

"Last year he started to publish his books in Latvian, now there are quite many titles and they are some of the bestsellers. We now have six titles available in Latvian," said

Laura Briviba, head of the imported books division at Janis Roze, one of the biggest book stores in Riga.

Valters un Rapa, Riga's other major book store, is also seeing Osho fly off the shelves. The sales manager there said the store sold more than 67 copies of one of his books in just one month. The store currently sells five different titles by Osho.

What's more, many Latvians are starting to change their lives based on Osho's works. The Baltic Times spoke with one avid Osho fan who said the works are changing both the way he acts and the way he thinks about life. For the purposes of privacy, this article will refer to him simply as A.

A.'s face lit up when he spoke about Osho, pointing to how he sees aspects of the book's teachings in everyday life, and how the books are changing his view of the world.

"After reading the book, I quit smoking. I now see things differently; I try to be in harmony with myself, not with others. I must be honest with myself, and why should I care what other people think?" A. said.

Osho may have helped convince A. to give up smoking, but behind his name lies a long list of dark secrets.

The Dark Side

All is not as it appears with Osho. His real name - at least up until he changed it a year before his death - was Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. He has been dead for more than 15 years.

In the 80s, Rajneesh was a cult leader living in Oregon in the north-western United States - a self-proclaimed "rich-mans guru." The new books which are released in his name are printed versions of recorded speeches he gave to his cult decades ago.

The cult bought a 65,000 acre commune near Antelope, Oregon, for about 6 million dollars. Cult supporters, who soon outnumbered Antelope's local inhabitants, renamed the town 'Rajneeshpuram' in honor of their leader. The borders of the plot were patrolled by AK-47 wielding guards.

At the time, media reports accused the cult of holding massive drug induced orgies. It was well-known that Rajneesh used drugs, particularly valium and nitrous oxide for chronic pain brought on by long-standing health problems, though he publicly denied that he was physically addicted to the substances. On numerous occations, Rajneesh would publicly brag about the hundreds of women he had slept with, earning him the title of "sex-guru" in the media.

Reports indicate that he had somewhere around 90 top quality Rolls Royce cars, all bought with money "donated" by his dedicated, and often quite rich, devotees. The cult members reportedly wanted to eventually buy him 365, one for every day of the year.

But Rajneesh's life wasn't all about fraud and unsafe sexual practices. He had far more nefarious things up his sleeve for the small Oregon town.

Things get much, much worse.

In 1984, a massive outbreak of salmonella poisoning swept through the county in which Rajneesh's cult was located. The Center for Disease Control traced the poisoning, which affected 751 people but thankfully killed none, to 10 different salad bars throughout the county, according to the U.S. News and World Report on Health.

Though they initially blamed the local restaurants of mishandling the food, overwhelming evidence soon convinced the authorities that the poisonings were deliberately carried out by Rajneesh's cult in a misguided effort to take control of the county.

It is suspected to be the first case of large-scale biological terrorism in the United States.

Rajneesh blamed the poisonings, along with a host of other crimes of which he was accused, on Ma Anand Sheela, his personal secretary. Sheela eventually confessed to the terror attacks, along with the attempted murder of Rajneesh's personal doctor and a prominent Oregon judge.

Authorities failed to pin any of the attempted murder charges on the cult leader, however, and he was eventually charged with violating immigration laws. Rajneesh was made to pay a $400,000 fine, given a 10-year suspended sentence, placed on probation for five years and forced to leave the country - only able to return after five years and with special permission from the Supreme Court.

He moved back to India, changed his name to Osho, and opened a "meditation" center where he could continue to operate his cult. He died soon after.

His followers then took recording of his lectures, many of which were taped during his time as a cult leader in America, and transcribed them to build the publishing empire which is now taking hold of the minds of so many Latvian soul-searchers.


Though it may seem that such a man is far from qualified to write self-help books, A. didn't care much about the prophets troubled past.

"I don't care. I read his ideas, and they make me happy. It is the ideas that are important, not the person. Everybody makes mistakes, even the best people," he said.

Osho held a similar disdain for his own public image.

"I have been misunderstood perhaps more than anyone else ever, but it has not affected me, for the simple reason that there is no desire to be understood. I am not going to waste my sleep because millions of people are misunderstanding me," Osho said in one of his many recorded speeches.

Those misunderstandings, however, have left a large number of his former disciples feeling disillutioned and abused. Some have even begun to publicly speak out against their former leader.

"The issue is very straightforward: What is more important - truth or feeling good? I am writing about Osho because his lies and his deceit caused an enormous amount of pain for a lot of beautiful people. Most of these beautiful people have no idea that a sophisticated fraud was carried out on them and blame themselves for their deteriorating mental and physical health. Many of my Hindu sannyasin friends have great trouble sustaining this illusory happy fog [which they gained from Osho] and are taking more and more desperate measures to continue feeling good," former disciple Christopher Schelle wrote in a 2006 posting on rebelliousspirit.com, a Web site devoted to Osho's teachings.

One of Osho's most outspoken critics today is Christopher Calder, formerly one of the cult leaders most enthusiastic followers.

"Ask yourself what did Rajneesh want and get? The answer is millions of dollars, absolute power, a harem of women, and a daily supply of drugs. Rajneesh used myths of the occult and his natural ability to influence people to achieve the same goals [as a Mafia boss]. He could look you directly in the eye and lie without flinching, and that helped him become a financially successful guru," he wrote in a 2004 article available on his Web site.

It is difficult to reconcile many of Osho's words with his actions. It is hard to imagine that the horrible life he led and the atrocious crimes that were committed in his name don't cast a shadow of doubt across the whole of his teachings.

"Pleasure is a sort of oblivion, a kind of forgetfulness. Pain is remembrance, you cannot forget pain," the cult leader told his followers. Odd words coming from a man who caused so many people so much pain.

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