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Osho and Psychedelics

(Editor's note: This article may prove controversial to some. However those close around Osho, in particular Devageet and his dental team, have already published several magazine articles in 2001 (in the respected Viha Connection) on this subject, and some feel that rather than detracting from Osho the whole man, it may lend him an added authenticity. We attach a response box at the end and encourage readers to comment)

What was really going on with Osho and psychedelics? Was he addicted to nitrous oxide – and, if so, is its daily use compatible with enlightenment? Or was the nitrous oxide a quasi-Gurdjieffian device? Was he deliberately sabotaging any future public relations image of himself? Or, on the contrary, was he suggesting psychedelics could prove a valuable tool for large-scale awakening? Or was this aspect of his leela a mixture of all of these?
One of the most striking features of the whole controversy is that we only know Osho took nitrous oxide because he publicised the fact himself. The first expose of Osho's apparent addiction was by the disaffected disciple Hugh Milne in his book Bhagwan: the God that Failed. There Milne tells how he was invited to photograph one of Osho's 'dental sessions' at the Ranch. Mystified he turned up to find Osho sitting in a dentist's chair with two tubes, one of oxygen and one of nitrogen, stuck up his nose, sort of lecturing (v. Milne, Bhagwan: the God that Failed, pp. 230-232). Horrified he took his pics and fled from the trailer. In his book he makes out that this was some guilty secret he, Milne, had uncovered– brushing over the fact the only reason he knew about it was because Osho had gone out of his way to tell him.
Apparently Milne's photos were for use in a book Osho was just about to bring out, Notes of a Madman (1985). This consists exclusively of transcripts of a series of nitrous oxide sessions, and during the first of these Osho gives an unequivocal thumbs-up to psychedelic drugs: "Using chemistry I want to see if it is possible to see the heights seen by Buddha, Jesus, Lao Tzu... I think that it is." (Notes of a Madman, page 5). Also he gives his account of why psychedelics are repressed: "Politicians [...] are so against drugs because people can come to know themselves, and when people come to know themselves politicians lose their power over them, and they love their power" (Ibid. p. 15). Had Notes of a Madman come out with the pictures of Osho with the tubes stuck up his nose it would have been one of the most deliberately shocking 'spiritual' books ever published.
Why was he doing this? Was it something– like Gurdjieff's boozing, perhaps – designed to sabotage unconscious 'worship'? A sort of counterpart to the Rolls Royces (if you could handle the Rollers you couldn't take the drugs; if you were okay with the drugs you'd be floored by the sea of naff cars)? Surely there was an element of this in it... but the psychedelic drug taking didn't stop with the Ranch.
Nitrous oxide sessions continued throughout his last years in Poona. Indeed if accounts are to be believed (there's a back issue of Viha Connection giving a clutch of accounts from the, er, dental team) in gargantuan quantities... though again these accounts have an unnerving quality of somehow having been okayed by Osho himself. Indeed, right at the end of his life, during one of the Zen lectures he went into a lengthy aside on the desirability of producing a more highly evolved psychedelic which he called LSD 2:
"I am against all prohibition. My own understanding is that if LSD can give some glimpse of samadhi, then all its bad after-effects should be removed, because it is a chemical and it is in our hands. Those bad after effects are the problem. They should be removed and an LSD number two should be made – clean, taken in complete awareness that it is going to give you only a glimpse... Rather than prohibiting the drugs, what is needed is to produce drugs which lead people to samadhi, which give an indication: if a chemical drug can be such a blessing, what will the real thing be? It is just a dewdrop in comparison with the real oceanic feeling, the oceanic ecstasy." (v. The Language of Existence, pp. 27-33, Aug/Sept 1988.)
Put like this we have something very different from a furtive and seedy 'addiction.' In fact underpinning Indian religion in general is a far more positive attitude towards psychedelics than anything Western culture would lead us to expect. Not only towards soma, the legendary psychoactive drink to which so many hymns in the Vedas are dedicated, and not only in the Tantras, but even more strikingly in the person of one of the central figures of the Hindu pantheon... Shiva. The puranas, the popular lives of the Indian gods, all stress Shiva's partiality to hashish, and one of the central features of his worship remains ingestion of high doses of charas in the ritual chillum. Line Osho up in this context and things suddenly look very different. More especially since, of all the figures in world religion, it is Shiva whom Osho most closely ressembles. Same fascination with meditation... same taste for solitude, for semi-outcaste status and for freezing cold... same orange-clad, delinquent followers. Same stress on the key role played by negation. Same rows with the missus...


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