What if he wasn't who he said he was?
What if his enlightenment was not real?
What if he was a con man of the worst order,
a spiritual predator and manipulator
interested only in amassing power
over tens of thousands of well-meaning people?
"Fearless means trusting your instincts and clarity of thought. Once you have made up your mind, don't be scared of what if."
– Ravi Shastri
It was February of 2021...
I was living in Northern California with my wife, in the foothills of the Sierras. I was having real troubles in my marriage. I just couldn’t trust. I couldn’t tolerate intimacy, and couldn’t trust that my wife wasn’t trying to control me, manipulate me, or take something from me. I couldn’t stop the feelings that everyone close to me had clandestine motives to use and eventually betray me.
Our marriage was falling apart. One morning, on a Zoom call, a therapist said to me what I had heard dozens of times: “You were brainwashed.” Although at that time I didn’t understand what exactly brainwashing was, I vehemently believed that this was not what happened to us around Rajneesh/Osho. I was just as powerfully positive that although people had been suggesting that it was a cult, it was no such thing.
I believed as Rajneesh had taught, that he was a “Master of Masters” and that it was our incredible fortune to have the opportunity to be around him and to surrender to him.
That through total and complete surrender, we would have the possibility of a level of spiritual enlightenment available only to a few chosen people on the planet. And I believed that despite the corruption and crimes that had been uncovered in his communities, he was a man of such heightened consciousness that only a very few people could even understand him.
But that February afternoon, under a deep blue sky and brisk winter wind blowing oak leaves around our yard, I heard the word inside my mind. “Brainwashed”. I’d already examined this - hundreds of times.
It wasn’t true. I wasn’t brainwashed. I was one of the lucky few who not only surrendered my life to him but was blessed with a closeness with him that few others had.
Over the next few days, an alarming thought entered my mind. “What if it was true? What if I had been conned?”
It had been 43 years since I became Rajneesh’s disciple. It was ludicrous to think that anyone could have the power to deceive me along with tens of thousands of others, even decades after their death. How could anyone have that power?
But…. what if?
In one obliterating moment, the consideration that this might, in fact, be a possibility, opened a crack in my psyche that in an instant opened an enormous chasm in my mind and heart. I was split open. And I knew what the answer was. Suddenly, horribly, terrifyingly, I knew.
My world fell apart immediately. Then who am I? Who have I been all my life? If I have not been a close devotee of a perfect master, then what?
I’ve spent the last 18 months asking this question. I have read, studied, researched, spoken to, and listened to hundreds of people who have had similar experiences. I’ve educated myself to understand such things as induced trance states, hypnotic trance, malignant narcissism, coercion, hyperarousal, mystical experiences, and ecstatic states that are stimulated intentionally. I’ve learned about trauma and brain chemistry.
I have discovered, much to my amazement, that I was in a cult. A very corrupt and abusive one at that.
The shock nearly killed me. I was not able to leave the house for months, not even able to get dressed and carry on normal activities. I started having PTSD flashbacks and uncontrollable panic episodes. I found myself bolting into the woods at night, running barefoot as fast as I could to get away, hiding in ravines, and covering myself with sticks and leaves so no one could find me. I experienced sheer terror, over and over again. I was reliving experiences of being trapped, controlled, used, lied to, and betrayed.
I remembered the times Rajneesh had called me to his room for his sexual pleasure.
During those years, I’d been confused about it. I thought it must be a tantric, sacred transmission from master to disciple. But he never asked me anything - he only instructed me on what I should do. I was his devotee, he was my master. I did what he told me to.
It was freezing cold in his room, and I was naked. Sometimes he had me kneel in front of him on the stone floor while he sat in his comfortable chair, fully clothed. He asked me to masturbate and bring myself to orgasm while he wrapped his hand around my neck and throat. He put his hand in my mouth and his fingers down my throat to where I would gag. But somehow, I did not gag. I wondered what he had deposited inside of me; if maybe it was a drug because I hallucinated all night afterward.
Sometimes he had me take his penis into my mouth and stimulate him until he ejaculated. Sometimes he put himself between my legs, barely entering me, as he had a hard time controlling himself sexually. Rajneesh had chosen me to be a medium in his energy darshans and one of his “therapist” group leaders, and I thought he must be working on my energy so that I could be a better vessel for his energy to flow through to the others.
For decades I have been haunted by these memories.
Without the framework of “Bhagwan is a great enlightened master” in my mind, I re-looked at everything I could remember about the details of what occurred in his bedroom and bathroom. It was not any sacred transmission. My connection with him was not sacred nor special.
My soul had been betrayed. My heart and soul, my love for the divine in life, and my openhearted celebration of life had been used and abused.