His name is synonymous with meditation and New Age catchphrases like "totality," "awareness," and "conscious living." Osho -- once known as Bhagwan Rajneesh -- is probably the most famous guru the modern world has known, and his teachings a compelling upgrade on the work and spiritual systems of countless mystics who came before. A philosopher and academic, Osho was groundbreaking, sensational, hugely popular, and -- for politicians and religious leaders -- a massive headache. He drew thousands of followers to communes around the world, and managed to raise hackles everywhere he went, infuriating the American government (he was arrested in the U.S., and allegedly poisoned while in prison) and getting himself barred from a long list of countries. Even now, 20 years after his death, his legacy causes suspicion among many Pune residents and naysayers everywhere.
Whatever you might have heard, the very best of Osho's teachings on enlightened living and meditation continue to inspire thousands who come to the Osho International Meditation Resort each year, most of them looking to reconnect with themselves or find motivation for their quest towards leading a more meaningful life. The resort is the same commune -- now much expanded and elegantly prettified -- that grew around Osho in the 1970s when he gave almost daily discourses in Hindi and English covering his insights into all the major spiritual paths, including yoga, Zen, Taoism, tantra, and Sufism, and talking in detail about Gautama Buddha, Jesus, Laotzu, and other important mystics. In the early 1980s, he developed a degenerative back disease and traveled to the U.S. in anticipation of surgery. He ended up on a ranch in Oregon where a devotional community that became known as Rajneeshpuram (the largest spiritual community ever started in the U.S.) grew around him and quickly attracted suspicion from all quarters; Osho's arrest, imprisonment, and deportation followed -- all under varyingly mysterious circumstances -- after he was charged with immigration fraud and tax evasion. Following several years spent traveling the world in search of asylum, and being denied visas, entry, or support in a string of countries, many of them under political pressure from Reagan's government, Osho finally returned to his Pune ashram in 1987. For the next 3 years he developed some of his most innovative meditation techniques and initiated the compulsory evening darshan known as the Evening Meeting of the Osho White Robe Brotherhood -- to this day, the "meeting" is the culmination of all daily meditations and workshops held at the resort. In 1989, he gave up his name in favor of Osho, and a few months later, in January 1990, died from complications believed to have arisen from being poisoned while in prison in the U.S.
The commune that Osho left behind may have changed somewhat and adapted with the times to some extent, but the focus here is still overwhelmingly on meditation. According to Osho, meditation is the only path to enlightenment and is essential if you are to "become the Buddha that you already are" -- the resort strives to be a place where you can work on achieving just that. While at the resort (don't come here expecting to find an ashram -- aside from a few rules regarding dress, general decorum, and attitude, there's nothing of the monastic lifestyle that you might associate with ashram life -- and there's a huge pool, relaxation facilities, cafes, and health club), you're encouraged (but certainly not compelled) to attend as many meditation sessions as you can cram into a day. Each session is markedly different from the next, so you get to experience a range of personal insights. From well-known approaches such as Tibetan humming, silent sitting, and meditative breathing, to Osho's own techniques that include dancing ("there is nothing more miraculous for meditation than dancing," he said), gibberish, "letting go," and the grueling, invigorating "dynamic meditation" held every day at 6am -- one of the triumphs of the resort is that you have a chance to discover methods that work for you.
On top of the timetabled regime of meditations, there are talks and lectures, and you can sign up for one of the programs at the Multiversity, where seriously "alternative" courses, designed to pave the way to a smoother existence (without the strictures of the social world), are offered at extra cost. Taught by practitioners from a range of disciplines and backgrounds (and from all over the world), these workshops may sound ethereal -- with titles such as "Dehypnosis, Self-hypnosis and Meditation" or "The Beauty of Darkness" -- but they're mostly practical and, at the very least, will help you see the world from a different perspective. You can also go in for various healing treatments, therapies, and massages, or reiki.
All this happens in a very relaxing, soothing environment -- the campus of modern buildings spreads around a variety of gorgeous gardens with rock pools, waterfalls, and gleaming courtyards, while various pyramidal structures (including the massive Osho Auditorium, where most meditations take place) lend a real sense of dignified otherworldliness to the place. A small boutique, Osho Galleria, sells robes (plain maroon ones are worn throughout the day, while white ones are worn for the main evening meditation; Rs 480 each), meditation chairs, mats, eye-masks, and other meditation paraphernalia, and there's a bookstore packed with Osho readings. Whatever you do, don't miss at least one meditation session in the sensationally beautiful mirrored Chuang Tzu Auditorium, the meditation room in the house where Osho lived -- as you traipse in for your meditation (wearing white socks to protect the untreated marble floors), you pass thousands of books that fill Osho's private library, and file into an exquisite, mirrored room that seems like something out of a futuristic sci-fi movie. There's also a very smart guesthouse (right next to the main auditorium) -- your best accommodation choice if you're serious about your time here.
Declaring him to be one of "1,000 Makers of the Twentieth Century," the U.K.'s Sunday Times wrote that Osho's "teachings are uncompromisingly radical, antirational, and capricious. They invite the individual to free him- or herself from all the social conditioning: The only commitment is to be open and honest, to enjoy life, love oneself." Indeed, any time spent at the resort will clue you in to Osho's crusade against social conditioning. A basic tenet of Osho's philosophy is that social norms, regulations, strictures, and rules need to be broken down completely and that an entirely new way of life needs to be forged -- the resort is about "deprogramming" and old hands here will tell you that it is we who carry the "asylum" of the socialized world around with us. These are unsettling concepts if you're in any way nervous about looking beyond the conventional, but there's really nothing much to fear, and there are no unreasonable demands placed on anyone who attends. If nothing else, you're likely to have a good time, meet interesting people from all walks of life, and discover at least a hint of inner peace.
By all accounts, if you speak to some of the devotees who work at the resort and who knew him before he left his body, Osho thrived on controversy and went out of his way to challenge convention -- worth knowing if you're expecting to find religion, or some goodie-two-shoes, happy clappy hippie colony (although some devotees do tend to smile a lot, hug one another, and break into spontaneous dancing). It'd also be worth your while to read some of Osho's discourses before committing to time at the resort -- he delivers compelling evidence of his desire to change the very essence of human thinking. At every turn he encouraged humanity to become more human -- a profound challenge, but one that we all have a stake in. At this Meditation Resort, you may just have an opportunity to face that challenge. It might well be the start of a personal revolution.
Note: During the quieter summer and monsoon months, the resort runs a 2- night, 3-day "Amazing Weekends" package (Rs 14,600 double, including accommodation, meals, robes, HIV test, and your daily meditation pass) -- it's an excellent deal, and great value if your time is limited or you need to test the waters before committing to a longer stay. However, it's worth noting that 2 days is really just enough time to find your feet -- if you want to experience a profound shift, you'd do well to make a longer commitment.