Simon Dunster (formerly, Swami Rakkas) discusses his experience of Sannyas and how his views on Osho have changed.
(N.B: Apologies for flaws in presentation, causes unknown).
I was attracted to Osho in the early 80s and together with two brothers, at varying times, became sannyasins. At some point later in the same decade I gave up my name and continued my seeking elsewhere. Over the years I have never lost my affection for Osho, but time and experience revealed to me the limitations of the teacher and the teaching.
The impetus behind this writing was to look back at the reasons for my getting involved, to explore why I left and to make observations on the man, and his lasting effect.
The very first book of his I read was ‘The Mustard Seed’, on the writings of St. Thomas. I was enthralled by the new angle on Jesus that his words evoked. Not only was his grasp of the gospel fascinating, what he appeared to offer was a perception of the human condition and a direct understanding of my own mind, like no one ever had. As I read further books, so too I found in his words still more recognition of my needs, deepest thoughts and longings.
Remember I was a young man, still in my late 20s, someone still learning about life, work, women, relationships, and very much confused and still naive. The therapy and the meditations seemed to offer ways in which I could resolve largely childhood issues, and behind it all was this still distant and impossibly wise bearded man of the East.
In addition, as scary as it was, Sannyas provided a home of sorts. I was part of a wider movement of young people, with a new purpose. My brother joined the commune and said he would never be back, and later we had the promise of a new world at the Ranch in America. I wore red clothes, marking me out as special, even if it was also challenging in the real world.
As importantly, the romance of the Man himself was deeply attractive. His beautiful face, his eyes, his hypnotic way of speaking, his gestures, his hands, his incredible clothes, all produced an almost mythical, mystical feeling in me. I’d never have admitted it, but his presence was hypnotic. He laughed, told funny stories and his personality was warm, positive and hopeful. Moreover, he promised a new way of life, and unlike other teachers, both the man and the teaching were accessible. He didn’t have a cold or distant temperament, or the ascetic quality of Buddhism. He didn’t convey his teaching in the dry manner of a Krishnamurti or the esoteric style of some other eastern teachers. Osho’s response was to focus on the beauty of life, on our need to discover the wonder of existence and to celebrate.
Such a focus was deeply attractive to those of us coming out of the dark, drab years after the war.
Like many born in the 50s my childhood was relatively sparse and unloving. My parents were divorced, I had no father figure, but was brought up by a single mother. My schooling was somewhat Victorian, and my teachers largely distant. There was no loving, kindly, all-knowing parental figure to guide me.
Looking back, many sannyasins had similar backgrounds and therefore had similar reasons for seeking out the likes of a father figure like Osho.
Of course I didn’t really recognise this motivation. It was largely unconscious and even if others had differing backgrounds to me, gradually over time, it became clear that many of those interested in him were similarly projecting unfulfilled notions onto Osho.
Take the commune itself as an example.The very idea of a commune itself is a deeply misplaced idea in the modern age, it comes from a spiritual or religious notion that was always a fantastical, romantic vision which was never going to work. Over thousands of years humanity has tried and tested various communal ways of living, each failing due to the effects of our own barbarism and individualism.
The commune idea demonstrated a naivety in Osho himself and it fed our own longing for a misplaced family, in a Buddhafield, with a father figure at its helm. Yet it is one we sannyasins fell for in large numbers.
Later still, when Osho returned to India, the advent of the White Brotherhood idea with its celebratory exclamations of “Osho!” as he entered the auditorium, exemplify this deep longing for connection from both Osho and his disciples. If we’d seen this in a Christian church we would be horrified but amidst Sannyas it became the norm.
The deepest truth is to see this, not just as “mistakes” by Osho but that it arises out of our own personal desire for connection, wholeness or unity. All spiritual teachers are dependent on their own self knowledge and on those of their students. Osho believed in these things and therefore so did we. Master and disciple, linked by each other’s ignorance, each awaiting for a solution; usually through outer circumstances to provide them with a new alternative.
Indeed, as the Ranch collapsed many people were so deeply upset by the experience they rejected Osho altogether, upset that their leader was now fallible and amazed and disturbed that this enlightened man hadn’t been able to keep it all together. Whilst others reasoned that the whole episode was a clever “device” or learning opportunity. Both responses, whether positive or negative about the man, express a continued obsession with Osho, the father figure.
His beautiful clothes, the poetic form of speaking, the eyes, the dancing, happy guru is ultimately displaying a romantic facade. In addition, the all-knowing Master confers an idea that is both idealistic, romantic and false. Even today many sannyasins find it difficult to marry their idealistic notions or fantasies about the man with the fact that he acted and made statements that were or have turned out to be quite definitely misplaced or wrong. How could he not see the problems building at the Ranch? How could he allow Sheela so much power? And what about his prophecies? That AIDS would wipe out millions?
Many defend his statements or his actions as “ devices” or means by which his disciples might learn. It’s a clever ruse where we can maintain our own need to see him as omnipresent or omnipotent. To see him any differently is to die to this notion, and also to free oneself from the position as student or disciple.
One of the truest adages of various wisdom teachings is to “Kill the Buddha”. To kill him is to see him for who he truly is, which by definition is to discover one’s own nature.
This is the process of learning to untangle the ideas we have grown up with, to rid ourselves of our childish ways, to see through our romantic, idealistic ideas. It’s a painful process, because it truly is the means by which we free ourselves from putting others, like Osho, on a pedestal. We have to take full responsibility for our lives, we have to see through our own mistakes and most importantly the mistakes of our fathers, mothers, peers, teachers, masters and all. We have to rid ourselves of the authority figures we ourselves have created.
Sadly, Osho was largely not generous to anyone who left him, or to other teachers. In effect, it was ‘his way or the highway’ and over the years many people did move on, for the reasons I hope I have explored.
Many, like me, are grateful but no longer in awe of him. To see his faults and be objective about his teaching doesn’t take anything away, except our misplaced projections and our romantic notions.