"God Is Not Great" is not great
This is not an alternate critique (referring to Jack Allanach's critique on the God Is Not Great article page) but a further one, for the sake of thoroughness. It is likely that he saw all these points as well, but did not mention them so as to keep his letter brief and readable.
In general, it might be said that while anti-religious crusaders of Hitchens' ilk may have many worthwhile points to make, they are in their own ways as blinkered as religionists, because theirs is still an ideology, a belief system that is in effect unexamined. It is easy to find flaws in religious ideologies, but the examination that is required to rule out the validity of all spirituality is of oneself, not of others' belief structures. And the basic mistake Hitchens has made here is conflating Osho's individually tailored, highly inconsistent messages with organized religions. Thus, as Allanach points out, Hitchens has not even scratched the surface enough to see that Osho should be considered the most atheist-friendly religious leader just about anywhere, but his own ideology prevents him from noticing.
And in particular ... Some of these points will be small and niggling but, for the sake of thoroughness, so be it.
|anxious “seekers”||Note the condescending general attitude, as if all religion, organized and otherwise, is by definition contemptible, not even worth considering.|
|One of these days, [blah blah superficial personal religious history], I shall be able to try and update William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience.||As if his religious history is vast enough to touch the feet of William James' masterful survey. In fact, James did far more than catalog the types of organized religion. As his title implies, he is interested in people's interiorities, their experiences, not their religious labels. Hitchens is not interested in that at all, and that, more than anything, disqualifies him from commenting on anything deeper than ideologies.|
|“Bhagwan” simply means god or godly, and “Sri” means holy.||It's true that "Bhagwan" can mean what he says, but of course it has many other shades and nuances of meaning, while "Sri" is even more wide-ranging, with his characterization verging on erroneous. In a religious context, it means roughly "Lord", but it is also so widely used for ordinary men that it is hardly more than a respectful "Mr".|
|early-morning dharshan||The function known as darshan -- note spelling -- in Osho's ashram was in the evenings, not mornings. Mornings were when Osho's discourse happened. Yet more just plain shoddy research.|
|the Bhagwan [...] the Bhagwan||This usage, "the Bhagwan", may be intentional, either as parody or vaguely derisive, but may also be rather more unconscious and superficial. In that sannyasins never used this phrase, and it derived from media usage beginning in the ranch era, its usage here is at least suspect, another clue that Hitchens did not delve deeply.|
|This little sign never failed to irritate me. It read : “Shoes and minds must be left at the gate.”||He goes on to make light of the idea of leaving one's mind at the gate. This is his right and, in all fairness, he exercises his right with some aplomb, but the idea of going beyond mind is, well, beyond foreign to him. He has not even heard the rumour. More on going beyond mind below.|
Interestingly, in the same year of Hitchens' visit, The Times journalist Bernard Levin had visited the ashram. He published his observations in April 1980, and the Times article of April 9 contains a remarkably intelligent analysis about just this "minds must be left at the gate".
|well-off clients or pilgrims were at first urged — as with so many faiths— to part with all their material possessions ... fleet of Rolls-Royces ... brisk fleecing||Allanach has dealt with this canard, calling the whole package "absolute fabrication". Which it was, but he went on to focus mainly on the most ridiculous part of it, the Rolls-Royces, leaving the "fleecing" and "all their material possessions" relatively unaddressed, again, in the interest of brevity. This part deserves some scrutiny as well. While "urging" for donations did occur on some occasions, it was never "at first", and never "all their material possessions". The last was especially ridiculous, given that living in the world was and is a prominent part of Osho's message, not renunciation, as in "Zorba the Buddha".|
|Wolfgang Dobrowolny’s film Ashram [... therapy groups ...] bones broken and lives lost: the German princeling of the House of Windsor was never seen again.||Allanach has dealt forthrightly with Hitchens' totally off-the-wall insinuation that Vimalkirti, the "princeling" alluded to, died as a result of one of Osho's therapy groups. Hitchens could have asked anyone who was there, but his goal was not the truth. In fact, Vimalkirti was not a newcomer when he died but a long-time ashram resident.
Unfortunately though, Allanach has been less than forthright about Teertha's Encounter group in general. He can be forgiven, as his aim was not to expound on such things in the limited space (and attention span) available, but it will be good in this exercise to clarify Osho's reasons for allowing "physical expression", ie sex and violence. They are mainly twofold:
First, catharsis is, in and of itself, is a good and useful thing in the spiritual journey, particularly early in it. To throw off one's psychic rubbish can remove some of the roadblocks to an expansion of consciousness, which may otherwise be stymied by unexamined unconscious biases and tendencies.
Second, the spiritual journey is basically one of dis-covering one's "real" self. Ramana Maharshi's "Who Am I?" is the quintessential modern expression of that. And Osho's Encounter group and those like it are modern, Western tools for doing just that. They are risky tools, they are "out there" in terms of the lengths to which Osho is prepared to go to get us to look under our psychic rocks. What squirms out from under those rocks is often not pretty and most of us will have an aversion to even look there, never mind engage with it and process it so that we can proceed unencumbered. See the section on Therapy groups below for more on all this.
Hitchens does not consider for a moment there might be legitimate purposes for these groups, preferring to take the sensationalist position that all expressions of sex and violence are just fodder for a sneering condemnation, throwing in his completely unfounded "German princeling" innuendo for good measure.
|[Osho] fled the ashram and then apparently decided that he had no further use for his earthly frame. What happened to the Rolls-Royce collection I never found out, [...] reconvene in the small town of Antelope, Oregon, in the early months of 1983.||Among the sneering "facts" Hitchens presents, this lot is among the most garbled and, well, just plain delirious: |
1. He did not decide he had no further use for his earthly frame, he simply went into public silence for a while, in order to enable the multiple possibilities for the lessons at the Ranch that were to unfold.
|The local inhabitants were disconcerted to find an armed compound being erected in their neighborhood, with unsmiling orange-garbed security forces.||The "armed compound" of course did not come first. First came the "better dead than red" bumper stickers, the images of Osho in the crosshair sights of a rifle, the bombing of the Hotel Rajneesh in Portland and so on.|
|In a bizarre episode, food-poisoning matter was found to have been spread over the produce in an Antelope supermarket. [...] Antelope, Oregon, missed being as famous as Jonestown by a fairly narrow margin.||Granted, the salmonella incident was more than bizarre, and those responsible deserved to be prosecuted. It was not in an Antelope supermarket though, but in salad bars in The Dalles. FWIW, the investigation of this crime originally concluded that the salmonella poisonings were accidental, the results of sloppy food handling, and the case rested quietly in that conclusion until Osho himself re-opened it by suggesting that Ranch folks were responsible. |
And as to "famous as Jonestown", the comparison is not apt, as sannyasins have not only not been so self-destructive, but have been encouraged at every turn by Osho to be life-affirmative. What Antelope missed being as famous as by a fairly narrow margin was not Jonestown but Waco TX, where 82 people were killed by agents of the US government while trapped in their "armed compound".
|"The sleep of reason," it has been well said, "brings forth monsters." The immortal Francisco Goya gave us an etching [...] where a man in defenseless slumber is hag-ridden by bats, owls, and other haunters of the darkness.
But an extraordinary number of people appear to believe that the mind, and the reasoning faculty — the only thing that divides us from our animal relatives — is something to be distrusted and even, as far as possible, dulled.
|This is a continuation of his irritation with "Shoes and minds must be left at the gate". The impression is that this is a sincere concern of his, so despite his resorting to subtly manipulative hooks like the misogynist "hag-ridden" and the sideways invocation, once more, of Jonestown ("Kool-Aid"), it can be addressed with some appreciation of his position. |
The main thing is that he does not seem to have the slightest inkling of the possibility of something above the mind, so for him, to put aside the mind, even temporarily, is both repugnant and terrifying. "No-mind" = below the mind, more or less by definition. This in spite of the example of Osho himself, who clearly still has a prodigious mind, and uses it when it suits his purposes, but is not a prisoner of it.
It will be useful to look more thoroughly at the second reason given above for allowing "physical expression" in groups as a tool for self-exploration.
"Tools" refers to both methodologies and the group leader's abilities to channel usefully what comes up. Teertha's was not the only therapy group in the Pune One ashram which allowed physical expression. There were at least four others. One, Tantra, was concerned only with processing one's sexual issues and didn't allow violence, while the other three had both.
It will also be good to understand some of the dynamics of these two ingredients, sex and violence, or the tendency to manifest physical expression of either which exists in nearly all of us. The main thing is that both are powerful natural tendencies but our various cultures have tended to repress them both, preferring for one reason or another non-expression and denial over all but the most limited and formulaic expression. Without getting too complicated, the net result of our socialization as children has been not merely to suppress expression but pretend even to ourselves that these tendencies don't exist. Thus is a gap created in our awareness of ourselves and who we are.
This missing material in our perception of ourselves is a serious oversight, reinforced hard by parents, priests, teachers, politicians, police and in the end also peers, making it very difficult to see past imposed social norms. Thus, the object of these therapy groups which permitted physical expression, in different ways and to different degrees according to the group leaders' abilities and training, was to provide ways to look at these formidable barriers to self-understanding, in a relatively safe situation. These groups were known widely and jocularly as "fucking and fighting groups".
Yes, bones did get broken on occasion, and eyes blackened, but by no means in every such group, and never anything remotely life-threatening, never mind an actual death. Teertha's group, Encounter, was known to be the "heaviest". Its reputation alone guaranteed a heightened alertness for those participating, akin to driving well over the speed limit, or walking alone in a forest where a predator might show up at any moment. But even in his group, a broken bone was fairly uncommon, happening perhaps two or three times a year.
These groups collectively were more widespread than Allanach let on and clearly were not cancelled the moment someone got hurt. But the violence aspect was eventually ended. In 1980, Osho declared, not in a discourse but via his secretaries, that the permitted expression of violence in groups had "served its purpose" and could thenceforth be replaced by subtler means, and that sexual expression and exploration would still be allowed but restricted to the Encounter and Tantra groups.
There were many types of groups in Pune One, which were continually being modified, cancelled, replaced by new ones, etc. The "heaviest" therapy groups, discussed above, were at one end of a spectrum of therapy groups, but therapy was not the only aim in many of the others. There were "energy" groups which explored ways of raising people's energy, creativity groups, play groups, meditation groups, lighter therapy groups and so on. See Groups for more on groups in general, and a more complete exploration of the various kinds of groups and specific groups.