From Bhagwan to Osho: What's in a name?

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From Bhagwan to Osho: The story presents a flow of Osho's words during the period of his big name-change from Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh to Osho, from Dec 1988 to Feb 1989. That presentation gets particularly detailed after he has dropped "Bhagwan", so as to demonstrate a pattern in his words and how they relate to the events of that time. The pattern is this: At a time when he has no clear name -- a big deal for publishing and PR purposes -- he comments again and again on this word "Osho", which he has rarely done before, and makes this word "Osho" out to be a wonderful term to convey respect and love for a master. Well! What can he be pointing to?

The synchronicity of Osho's words on the use of "Osho" as a term of respect and love in Japanese Zen and his actual adoption of the name "should" be enough to explain the origin and meaning of his name but less than a year later, a different explanation began to appear and before long became widely accepted. This competing explanation needs to be addressed and debunked. Why this is important will become apparent.

The William James Version

The alternative explanation is that the word / name "Osho" derives from William James' word "oceanic". This word was not coined by James but his usage of it is said to have been original, and in fact it aligns / resonates well with Osho's vision. Osho has cited and commented (very positively) on James' usage at least eleven times, as found by using the search terms "James" and "oceanic" in the CD-ROM. This pattern of persistent positive commentary thus makes the "Oceanic-Osho" connection at least plausible.

But there are a few things lacking or out of alignment in this theory which make it rather less attractive when considered closely and cumulatively:

First, timing: Only one of Osho's eleven occasions of commenting on James and "oceanic" occurs in this critical time period, Dec 1988 to Feb 1989. Nine of the other times were earlier in the Pune Two era and there was one in 1972's That Art Thou. None came after the change.

Second, not once anywhere does he publicly draw a connection himself between "oceanic" and "Osho". This connection is not to be found in his public words, period. He may have made it privately, with his secretaries or the Inner Circle or whomever, but not publicly.

Third, explanations of the derivation of "Osho" have been printed in many of Osho's books published after Feb 1989, variously in the flap text, the colophon page, a separate page opposite the title page, wherever, and they evolve over time. A complete and detailed presentation of this progression can be found at From Bhagwan to Osho: Publications table, and a partial presentation below. Here, we will just note that the several versions of the Japanese Zen master explanations more in tune with Osho's words appeared well before the William James version (WJV, not to be confused with KJV, the King James version of the Bible).

Fourth, the commune newspaper of the time, Rajneesh Times International (as "official" as it gets), reported their version of the Japanese Zen master derivation ten months before any published WJV appeared anywhere.

Fifth, the earliest "insider" book to come out after Osho left his body was Shunyo's Diamond Days with Osho. She says: "On January 7th, 1989, the name Bhagwan dropped and He became simply Shree Rajneesh. It was later that year in September that He dropped the name Rajneesh. He was now without a name. We asked that we might call Him Osho. Osho is not a name, it is a common form of address used in Japan for a Zen master". This is on p171 of the first Rebel edition of her book, believed to have been published in 1992. Shunyo is as much an insider as anyone and thus her complete non-mention of William James and "oceanic" is important.

Sixth, in the time after his name became Osho, all the old books remaining to be sold under his old name had stickers put inside to explain his new name. As with the explanations printed in the books, not all stickers go with the WJV. It is simply not the only story.

One non-WJV sticker says:

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh is now known simply as Osho.
"Osho" is a term derived from ancient Japanese, and was first used by Eka, to address his master, Bodhidharma.
"O" means "with great respect, love and gratitude" as well as "synchronicity" and "harmony." "Sho" means "multidimensional expansion of consciousness" and "existence showering from all directions."

It can be seen at From Bhagwan to Osho: Publications table that this is very similar to the non-WJV explanations printed in many of the books published after Osho changed his name.

The William James stickers say:

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh is now known simply as Osho.
Osho has explained that His name is derived from William James' word "oceanic" which means dissolving into the ocean. Oceanic describes the experience, He says, but what about the experiencer? For that we use the word "Osho". Later, He came to find out that "Osho" has also been used historically in the Far East, meaning "The Blessed One, on Whom the Sky Showers Flowers."

There are a couple of major problems with the story on this sticker:
1. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that Osho has nowhere ever explained publicly that his name derives from "oceanic". The assertion cannot be justified by his published words. So if he did "explain" this derivation, it could only have been privately to "insiders", and it was not mentioned by Shunyo, who surely would have been among those in the know.
2. "Later he came to find out"? Really? Was that supposed private "Oceanic-Osho explanation" prior to all his talks in the name-change period that we have seen? This does not seem plausible at all. Osho's words in early 1989 show clearly that he knew very well that "Osho" has been used historically in the Far East. And in fact, he talks about that historic use of "Osho" a number of times before that period as well, as far back as Jun 1988. Relevant text from those occasions is presented at "From Bhagwan to Osho: Prequel to Osho's name change". So when you get down to it, the abundance of time-stamped evidence shows that this "Later he came to find out" has no basis in factual truth.

In fact, the falseness of this "Later he came to find out" is demonstrated beautifully in a small section of an "official" biography of Osho found in the CD-ROM. It reads:

January-February 1989: He stops using the name "Bhagwan," retaining only the name Rajneesh. However, His disciples ask to call Him 'Osho' and He accepts this form of address."

There follows, more or less word-for-word, the text of the WJV sticker above. The juxtaposition of "His disciples ask to call him Osho" with the WJV is a major slip in "the story", apparently trying to "marry" the WJV to the previous explanation published in the Rajneesh Times, wherein sannyasins had first individually asked and then collectively decided to call him Osho, all in its natural context of Osho's Zen discourses.

It apparently was not understood by those who arranged this shotgun marriage that for sannyasins to "ask" to call him Osho, there must already have been some collective understanding about what "Osho" means, and where would this collective understanding have come from? Even if Osho had somehow, somewhere "explained" about William James and "oceanic", it was not publicly, so it is simply not possible that sannyasins could have collectively had any other idea than the Japanese Zen usage as a basis for asking. And the "Later he came to find out" is, seen in this context, icing on the cake of this bogus story.

The question must therefore be asked ... Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to change the story of Osho's name. So much trouble, and going in a very different direction from Osho's public words ... It must be something big. What could that be?

It ain't a Rose

One word: Trademark.

The explanation that fits best at this point for these changes is that the authorities in Pune wanted to establish the word / name "Osho" as a trademark, so they could have some control over who used the name and how. This control became a matter of some contention among different groups of sannyasins, in whom Osho had inspired a deep love of freedom.

Such a trademark would have difficulty getting legal status if it were a traditional term of respect, honour and love in a significant culture like Japan's, especially as the Pune Resort wanted to promote Osho's Zen side rather than his Bhakti side, and Osho spoke only on Zen in his last year of talks. So, better to have another story, William James' "Oceanic". In that story, "Osho" is Osho's entirely original creation, and only "Later, He came to find out that 'Osho' has also been used historically in the Far East".

Otherwise, how do you trademark something like that? Osho even supplies an example which might illustrate how difficult that might be: Twice among the examples of his commenting on "Osho", he compares the term to "Reverend", which is sometimes used as a translation of the Japanese "Osho". Imagine a teacher changing his name to "Reverend" and then trying to trademark that name. Trademark authorities will not easily grant such a trademark.

And in fact, "Reverend" is a more apt translation of "Osho" than you might gather just from Osho's words. "Osho" is used far more widely in Japan even today as a term of address or title for various kinds and levels of Zen monks, priests and teachers, which would make it even harder to trademark. Wikipedia's article on its usage in Japan turns up some fascinating information on the subject, not least of which is tracing its etymology back through China to India, where one of its hypothesized ancestors was, astoundingly, Acharya! Trademark that!

The Widespreadness of the WJV

One more important matter to address is how widespread the belief in the WJV is. It is enshrined in bios of Osho everywhere, from Osho World to to Is there a possibility that its widespreadness makes it more likely to be true? Certainly that has to be considered, but we know what Osho says about widespread beliefs, so the arguments against it have to be considered on their merits. The WJV has so many problems that its position as the majority belief is just plain not enough to establish its reality. We cannot just vote for what is real and expect that to decide anything.

And we might find that its monolithic appearance is more illusory than it first appears. Most of the sites that adhere to the WJV do so not in their own words but simply via little more than a copy-paste of the WJV sticker or the version. And sometimes it's even a bad copy-paste, whereby some words are misspelled. Perhaps they are typos based on the sticker rather than a true computer copy-paste. Whatever. The point is that the process is for the most part fairly mechanical, by all appearances unexamined. "From Bhagwan to Osho: Website survey" looks at many sites' presentations / explanations in detail to explore this aspect of the WJV illusion.

More on Timing

One last loose end here is the timing of the change from the version based on Osho's public words to the WJV. And there are multiple strands weaving together to create the timing picture, having to do with the explanations given in the books, the stickers, Rajneesh Times and other sources, such as Shunyo's book. Research is incomplete as of this writing but so far ....

Osho took this name some eleven months before he left his body, shortly after his public riffing on the name. With explanations printed in books, the pattern is clear, at least among those whose month of publication is known. Among those books, there are none published prior to Jun 1989. From Jun 1989 through Jan 1990, the explanations are all variations of the Japanese master origin. From Feb 1990 on, with smoke still rising from the ghats, they are all the WJV.

With the stickers inserted in already-published books, comparing them to acquisition dates to try to determine a change-over date there will be somewhat more difficult, often depending on hard-to-verify memories. As of this writing, no clear pattern has emerged.

Rajneesh Times is abundantly clear at first about the Japanese origin of "Osho" but less so about any change. In the Apr 1 1989 issue, the Japanese master version (JMV) appears, complete with a story of a meeting of 10,000 buddhas giving an emphatic "Yes!" to the new name. In Oct 1989, RTI got out of the way and became Osho Times International. The first issue of OTI reported the facticity of his name change (from Osho Rajneesh to Osho), and that he was re-appearing after five months of absence, but after that, nothing regarding his name until after the printed name change explanations in books changed from JMV to WJV.

One could say that OTI offered the WJV as an explanation just once in 1990 but that would be an exaggeration, and an over-simplification of a strange situation. It did appear as a small part of one point in an article written by Sw Prem Amrito but even that was not in all copies of the article. Two "editions" or versions of that issue have been found but only one has the WJV. Other differences exist between the two versions of the article and there are huge differences between the two whole versions of that issue. As of Oct 2016, this has not yet been explained adequately but see The Strange Case of OTI Vol 3 No. 06 (Mar 16, 1990) for such details as the wiki can offer. See also From Bhagwan to Osho: Publications table for a detailed report on every issue of 1989.

Then there is Shunyo's book. Though it was not published until 1992ish, its Japanese master explanation survived. There may be any number of reasons for this, which we are not likely to be able to confirm any time soon. Among the possibilities are:
1. That text was written earlier and neglected, not noticed, and slipped through.
2. Shunyo intended it to slip through, to represent something.
3. It was published in that way with the full knowledge of those who wanted to promote the WJV, for whatever reasons.
4. Your idea here.

So far, the solidest data on when the story changed, from the books, suggest that the change was made more or less immediately after Osho left his body. It looks like the story couldn't very well be changed as long as he was still physically there, by all accounts still very interested in and attentive to publishing details, but the people who changed it wasted no time thereafter. The apparent timing of the change suggests strongly that those who made the change preferred to wait until Osho could not call them on it. Parallel to the books and corroborating their timing are the stories from RTI/OTI, the commune's newspaper. The weirdness of the two versions of the Mar 16 1990 issue does not detract from the solidity of the data on the timing of the change but rather adds a dimension of intrigue which has yet to be fully understood and which may say something about intention.

The reasons and motivation for the change are a matter of speculation, but the trademark business fits well and must be the leading candidate. One mystery we might ponder within ourselves is that we seem collectively to have come to believe in this WJV, though there are no facts whatsoever nor heart resonance (juice) to support it. Why were alarm bells not set off when it was introduced?

One possibility is that those introductions were not very high profile. It can be observed that the two highest profile books published in 1990-91, The Dhammapada and Vigyan Bhairav Tantra, did not offer any explanations of Osho's name. Thus, one possible reason for the OTI's two versions in Mar 1990 might have been not wanting to have too high a profile for this significant change: either the release of the WJV in this high-profile way might have been deemed an error and another edition printed, or the two different versions were created for different readerships.

Eight years or so down the line in 1998 we have a entrant in the "historical record" dept that tries to establish a firmer place for the WJV, called "What is an Osho?", written by the same Amrito. 1998 is perhaps deemed distant enough for the re-writing of history that is the WJV to be floated out in a higher-profile way. But, like the CD-ROM bio entry, it places the supposed creation of "Osho" as deriving from William James' word "oceanic" precisely in the time frame when Osho has dropped "Bhagwan" and is commenting in his talks on the usage of "Osho" in the Japanese Zen tradition. This claimed timing thus precisely invalidates Osho's consistent public words on the subject and is thereby one of the most damning pieces of evidence against the WJV, while making it abundantly clear that "Later, He came to find out that 'Osho' has also been used historically in the Far East" is pure fabrication.

Known Book Publication Data with Explanations

Discourse dates, where applicable Book title Author's name as Publication date Explanation type and where found
compilation Words From a Man of No Words Shree Rajneesh 1989 -- 03 None
compilation More Gold Nuggets Osho Rajneesh 1989 -- 06 #B. Flap text
87-12-07 to 88-01-17 Om Mani Padme Hum Osho Rajneesh 1989 -- 08 #A1. Flap text
88-02-26 to 88-03-18 Om Shantih Shantih Shantih Osho Rajneesh 1989 -- 08 #A1. Flap text
88-08-02 to 88-08-11 The Miracle Osho Rajneesh 1989 -- 09 #B. Flap text
88-08-12 to 88-08-28 Turning In Osho Rajneesh 1989 -- 09 #B. Flap text
88-08-16 to 88-08-25 The Original Man Osho Rajneesh 1989 -- 09 #B. Flap text
88-08-29 to 88-09-07 The Language of Existence Osho Rajneesh 1989 -- 09 #B. Flap text
88-09-08 to 88-09-15 The Buddha: The Emptiness of the Heart Osho Rajneesh 1989 -- 09 #B. Flap text
88-12-26 to 89-01-07 No Mind: The Flowers of Eternity Osho Rajneesh 1989 -- 09 #A2. At end of text, before books list. See also the book's texts, introduction, cover and flap texts.
88-01-17 to 88-02-25 Hari Om Tat Sat Osho Rajneesh 1989 -- 10 #B. Flap text
89-01-22 to 89-01-29 Christianity and Zen ... Osho Rajneesh 1989 -- 12 #B. Flap text.
86-01-15 to 86-02-13 The Sword and the Lotus Osho Rajneesh 1989 -- 12 #B. Separate page, next to title page
87-06-01 to 87-06-18 The Rebel OSHO 1990 -- 01 #C. On colophon page
85-08-02 to 85-09-14 From Death to Deathlessness OSHO 1990 -- 02 #D. Separate page, next to title page
89-01-13 to 89-01-16 One Seed Makes the Whole Earth Green OSHO 1990 -- 05 #D. Flap text
89-02-06 to 89-02-12 God Is Dead, Now Zen Is ... OSHO 1990 -- 05 #D. Separate page, next to title page
89-02-13 to 89-02-19 I Celebrate Myself ... OSHO 1990 -- 05 #D. Flap text
89-01-08 to 89-01-12 Zen: The Mystery and the Poetry ... OSHO 1990 -- 07 #D. Separate page, next to title page
n/a Dimensions Beyond the Known OSHO 1990 -- 08 #D. Flap text
n/a The Great Secret OSHO 1990 -- 09 #D. Flap text
compilation Rebellion, Revolution & Religiousness (New Falcon Publications) OSHO 1990 -- 11 #D. At the end of the book, ch. About the author
n/a I Am the Gate OSHO 1990 -- 12 #D. Flap text
compilation The New Child OSHO 1991 -- 05 #D. On colophon page
In "Explanation type" above, A1, A2, B and C are all variations of the Japanese master explanation, and D is the WJV.
See the complete From Bhagwan to Osho : Publications table for more info regarding how Osho's name is represented in his books.
see also
Osho's names
From Bhagwan to Osho: The story
From Bhagwan to Osho: Prequel to Osho's name change
From Bhagwan to Osho: Publications table
From Bhagwan to Osho: What's in a name?
From Bhagwan to Osho: Website survey