Osho, spirituality and the politics of national identity: Examining intersecting discourses
The charismatic New Age mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (1931-1990), otherwise known as Osho, was a highly popular and prolific spiritual figure in the 20th century who counted thousands of individuals, both in India and around the world, as his followers. Born and educated in India, Osho offered his followers an iconoclastic spiritual philosophy that sought to liberate individuals from the shackles of mind and morality. His avowed emphasis on multiplicity, pluralism, anti-authoritarianism, and lack of institutional structure might suggest that his spiritual discourse stands in opposition to the discourse of Hindu nationalism, which stresses singular conformity to a religious ideal. However, I argue that even while emphasizing the apolitical, non-ethical, and transcendental nature of spirituality, Osho’s brand of spiritual discourse surreptitiously incorporates a Neo-Vedāntic worldview. This Neo-Vedāntic understanding always prefigures his commentaries on diverse South Asian texts and traditions. Through an analysis of the genealogy of modern spiritual movements in India, as well as a close reading of some of Osho’s own work, I will argue that Osho betrays his own claim of offering a truly neutral, emancipatory, and universal spirituality by demonstrably employing an epistemological framework conditioned by modern conceptions of Vedānta, and in so doing, effectively helps to consolidate Hindu nationalist discourse.