Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Bring on the crazy wisdom


That is bansuri - Indian flute - master Hariprasad Chaurasia (b.1938) in the photo. As well as being a leading figure in the the Hindustani classical tradition Hariprasad Chaurasia played in the reformed Shakti line-up led by jazz/rock guitarist John McLaughlin, and has also recorded with Jan Garbarek and Zakir Hussain for ECM.

Hariprasad Chaurasia is one of a number of prominent figures who a reader identifies as devotees of the controversial Indian godman Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh - also known as Osho - in a comment on a recent post. The others in the list are prime ministers of India Sri Chandra Shekhar (1990 to 1991) and Manmohan Singh (2004-2014), Indian President Gyani Zail Singh (1982-1987), celebrated poet of the Punjabi language Amrita Pritam, anti-establishment novelist Khushwant Singh, santoor master Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, and eminent Indian classical dancers Sonal Mansing and Mallika Sarabha.

In his comment reader Chaitanya Keerti is not at all critical of the tone of my article. In it I tried to be objective, however I am aware that it repeats, not without justification, the stereotype of Osho as the 'sex guru' who owned 93 Rolls Royces. Yet the list of Osho devotees includes a number of eminent and highly intelligent people, some of who are vociferous in their advocacy of the godman.

For instance an Osho website quotes former prime minister Manmohan Singh - the only Indian prime minister to be returned for a second term of office - as describing Rajneesh as "A great mystic, a great philosopher…. In his own way Osho captured the essence of ancient wisdom, related it to contemporary needs, tempered it with the modern times and became a powerful messenger of eternal Indian thought and Indian wisdom”. The same website and also the Friends of Tibet: India quote the Dalai Lama as declaring that “Osho is an enlightened master who is working with all possibilities to help humanity overcome a difficult phase in developing consciousness”. Yet a Google search for the term "Osho cult" returns 462,000 results.

There is no right and wrong in the Osho debate. Because both the 'for' and 'against' groups are right. There is convincing evidence of the unsavoury side of the Osho movement. In 1984 members of the Osho commune in Oregon staged the largest bioterrorism attack in US history in - topical resonances here - an attempt to swing an election, and in 1985 Ananda Sheela - Osho's personal secretary - pleaded guilty to attempted murder and assault.

But there is also no doubt about the power of Osho's teachings; even if under close scrutiny they emerge as tasty morsels picked from Buddhism, Sufism and Gurdjieff's Fourth Way, spiced up with some sexy disciple bait. Osho took perennial wisdom and cleverly repackaged it as crazy wisdom for the late-20th century. When I look at the sorry mess that politics in Europe and the US are currently in, I can't help thinking that a little Osho-style crazy wisdom would not go amiss. I have absolutely no intention of becoming an Osho neo-sannya. But I think our information rich but wisdom poor society can learn something from this kind of Osho craziness:

The West has created instant coffee, but the West does not know how to sip it. Enlightenment is nothing but the right meditative way of drinking coffee.
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