God Is Not Great
- Richard Dawkins on this book:
- "If you are a religious apologist invited to debate with Christopher Hitchens, decline."
- The editor has added this book to the Wiki, because of his high regard of Christopher Hitchens; the general standing of this book; the 3 pages it contains on Osho; and the blatant errors and untruths those three pages contain.
- Christopher Hitchens
God Is Not Great
How Religion Poisons Everything
Chapter Fourteen - There Is No “Eastern” Solution
(all of the text on Osho, i.e. the first part of this chapter)
- The crisis of organized religion in the West, and the numberless ways in which religious morality has actually managed to fall well below the human average, has always led some anxious “seekers” to pursue a softer solution east of Suez. Indeed, I once joined these potential adepts and acolytes, donning orange garb and attending the ashram of a celebrated guru in Poona (or Pune), in the lovely hills above Bombay. I adopted this sannyas mode (1) in order to help make a documentary film for the BBC, so you may well question my objectivity if you wish, but the BBC at that time did have a standard of fairness and my mandate was to absorb as much as I could. (One of these days, having in the course of my life been an Anglican, educated at a Methodist school, converted by marriage to Greek Orthodoxy, recognized as an incarnation by the followers of Sai Baba, and remarried by a rabbi, I shall be able to try and update William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience.)
- The guru in question was named Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh. “Bhagwan” simply means god or godly, and “Sri” means holy. He was a man with huge soulful eyes and a bewitching smile, and a natural if somewhat dirty sense of humor. His sibilant voice, usually deployed through a low-volume microphone at early-morning dharshan, possessed a faintly hypnotic quality. This was of some use in alleviating the equally hypnotic platitudinousness of his discourses. Perhaps you have read Anthony Powell’s tremendous twelve-volume novel sequence A Dance to the Music of Time. In it, a mysterious seer named Dr. Trelawney keeps his group of enlightened followers together in spite of various inevitable difficulties. These initiates can recognize each other not by the individuality of their garb but by an exchange of avowals. On meeting, the first must intone, “The essence of the all is the godhead of the true.” The proper response to this is, “The vision of visions heals the blindness of sight.” Thus is the spiritual handshake effected. I heard nothing at the Bhagwan’s knee (one had to sit cross-legged) that was any more profound than that. There was more emphasis on love, in its eternal sense, than in Dr. Trelawney’s circle, and certainly there was more emphasis on sex, in its immediate sense. But on the whole, the instruction was innocuous. Or it would have been, if not for a sign at the entrance to the Bhagwan’s preaching-tent. This little sign never failed to irritate me. It read : “Shoes and minds must be left at the gate.” There was a pile of shoes and sandals next to it, and in my transcendent condition I could almost picture a heap of abandoned and empty mentalities to round out this literally mindless little motto. I even attempted a brief parody of a Zen koan: “What is the reflection of a mind discarded ?”
- For the blissed-out visitor or tourist, the ashram presented the outward aspect of a fine spiritual resort, where one could burble about the beyond in an exotic and luxurious setting. But within its holy precincts, as I soon discovered, there was a more sinister principle at work. Many damaged and distraught personalities came to Poona seeking advice and counsel. Several of them were well-off (the clients or pilgrims included a distant member of the British royal family) and were at first urged — as with so many faiths— to part with all their material possessions. Proof of the efficacy of this advice could be seen in the fleet of Rolls-Royce motorcars maintained by the Bhagwan and deemed to be the largest such collection in the world (1). After this relatively brisk fleecing, initiates were transferred into “group” sessions where the really nasty business began.
- Wolfgang Dobrowolny’s film Ashram, shot in secret by a former devotee and adapted for my documentary, shows the “playful” term Kundalini in a fresh light. In a representative scene, a young woman is stripped naked and surrounded by men who bark at her, drawing attention to all her physical and psychic shortcomings, until she is abject with tears and apologies. At this point, she is hugged and embraced and comforted, and told that she now has “a family.” Sobbing with masochistic relief, she humbly enters the tribe. (It was not absolutely clear what she had to do in order to be given her clothes back, but I did hear some believable and ugly testimony on this point.) In other sessions involving men, things were rough enough for bones to be broken and lives lost: the German princeling of the House of Windsor was never seen again, and his body was briskly cremated without the tedium of an autopsy.
- I had been told in respectful and awed tones that “the Bhagwan’s body has some allergies,” and not long after my sojourn he 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, but his acolytes received some kind of message to reconvene in the small town of Antelope, Oregon, in the early months of 1983. And this they did, though now less committed to the pacific and laid-back style. The local inhabitants were disconcerted to find an armed compound being erected in their neighborhood, with unsmiling orange-garbed security forces. An attempt to create “space” for the new ashram was apparently made. In a bizarre episode, food-poisoning matter was found to have been spread over the produce in an Antelope supermarket. Eventually the commune broke up and dispersed amid serial recriminations, and I have occasionally run into empty-eyed refugees from the Bhagwan’s long and misleading tuition. (He himself has been reincarnated as “Osho,” in whose honor a glossy but stupid magazine was being produced until a few years ago. Possibly a remnant of his following still survives.) I would say that the people of Antelope, Oregon, missed being as famous as Jonestown by a fairly narrow margin.
- El sueño de la razón produce monstruos. “The sleep of reason,” it has been well said, “brings forth monsters.” The immortal Francisco Goya gave us an etching with this title in his series Los Caprichos, 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. The search for nirvana, and the dissolution of the intellect, goes on. And whenever it is tried, it produces a Kool-Aid effect in the real world.
(end of quote)
(1) Earlier, Hitchens made statements about the "largest private collection of Rolls Royces" and about "posing as an acolyte" in Letters to a Young Contrarian (2001), ch.3.
The flaws of this chapter have been spelled out by Jack Allanach, who was the press-officer in the Ashram at the time of Hitchens' visit. Shortly after the publication of God Is Not Great, he has written a letter to Hitchens, with copies to the book’s publisher and OIF:
Letter by Jack Allanach
- Jack Allanach
- 29 Blaxland Road
- Wentworth Falls NSW 2782 Australia
- May 31, 2007
- Christopher Hitchens
- c/o TWELVE
- Hachette Book Group USA
- 237 Park Avenue
- New York, NY 10169
- Christopher Hitchens:
- I am writting in relation to a particular chapter in your book God is not Great, the chapter entitled There Is No ‘Eastern’ Solution. I wish to point out, more to your publisher than to you, who should be aware of the fabrications and fallacies it contains, of how dishonest this chapter truly is.
- Let’s get right down to it.
- You say you donned “orange garb” to attend the ashram of a “celebrated guru” Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh “in order to help make a documentary film for the BBC“ which, you also say, “did have a standard of fairness and my mandate was to absorb as much as I could.”
- I was in the press office with my colleague Vadan when one of the receptionists ushered you in. You informed us the BBC’s Tony Isaacs, whom I had met, had asked you to script a show on us for The World About Us. You certainly weren’t wearing orange.
- For the next hour or so, Vadan and I filled you in on ashram activities. By morning tea time, I noticed one of your hands was shaking. I asked if there was something I could get for you.
- “I have a little confession to make,” you said. “This is the first time in ten years I haven‘t downed a fifth of scotch by this time. What I really need is a drink.”
- “Apart from the bar at the Blue Diamond Hotel,” I said, “I doubt if you’ll find a bottle of scotch for miles.”
- “Some in my room,” you muttered. “So if you chaps don’t mind, I‘ll toddle off now and come back tomorrow.” You held up the literature we’d given you. “Enough homework to keep me busy until then.”
- The next day we waited for you, but you didn’t show. The following day either. By the third afternoon it was apparent you weren’t coming back at all. So much for absorbing as much as you could.
- Secondly, you say we were urged “to part with all material possessions,” and that this money went to purchasing a “fleet of Rolls-Royce motorcars.” Absolute fabrication. How deeply you delved into the Pune commune is clear from this single statement. Where was the fleet housed on that overcrowded six acres? The only time there was a Rolls-Royce on that property was at the very end of our first stay in Pune when, following an assassination attempt by a Hindu fundamentalist, we imported a metal detector and an ancient bullet-proof Rolls. The fleet came a lot later, in America.
- Next, you talk about the film by Wolfgang Dobrowolny –or Veet Artho as we knew him– that was shot in “secret.“ More invention on your part. Laxmi, Osho’s secretary and the Foundation’s managing trustee, fell for Veet Artho’s sweet talk and, despite repeated and vociferous warnings from me and others that it would come back to haunt us, gave him permission to shoot footage of an encounter group in which physical expression was allowed – an initiative of encounter group leader Teertha which Osho immediately instructed be dropped as soon as someone got hurt.
- Laxmi’s mandate was, as she put it, that “word (of Osho’s availability in Pune) must reach all the corners of the world,“ and in her naivety (she’d never been outside India) she thought people would see how liberating it was to free themselves from repressed emotions and traumas and flock to Pune. It came as a shock to her to learn that the majority of people back in the 1970s, when faced with a reflux of suppressed emotion or childhood pain chose, rather than dealing with it, to have another fag and pour another couple of stiff drinks.
- By the way, Dobrowolny never owned the rights to the film. They were retained by the Foundation, and the BBC’s use of the footage was illegal.
- I also found your insinuation extremely offensive that a “German princeling of the House of Windsor” met a shady end as a result of participating in a therapy group. Vimalkirti – as we knew him – collapsed suddenly one morning, doing his daily martial arts exercise routine on his own, from an aneurysm in the brain – hereditary I gather. He was taken immediately to an intensive care facility at Jehangir Nursing Home in Pune where he died, without recovering consciousness, a few days later. There was nothing suspicious, as you imply. Imagine how his wife, who is still involved with our worldwide community, and his daughter will feel when/if they read what you’ve written. Shame on you.
- Finally, I find it odd that of all the supporters of organized religions on the vast Indian spiritual scene, you pick the one man who consistently criticized the religions for the damage they have done – through promoting blind belief, blind faith and generating blind fear – down the ages. Osho’s attacks on Mother Teresa of Calcutta (is that where you got the idea for your book?) and her boss, whom he called “The Polack Pope” are well documented. His series of talks in America so often focused on the dangers of Christian fundamentalism that today they seem prophetic. Among the last series of talks he gave in public, two titles come to mind – Christianity, the Greatest Poison and Zen, the Antidote to All Poisons – as well as a series illustrating where Nietzsche and other atheists missed the boat, God is Dead: Now Zen is the Only Living Truth.
- To illustrate your premise that “there is no Eastern solution,” why pick a mystic who, his entire life, through discourses and books, tried to alert mankind to the fact, as you say, that “religion poisons everything.” And why pick one who left his body in 1990? Did he have that big an impact on you, or was it because you couldn’t be bothered updating the “research” – and I use the term facetiously – you pretend to have conducted 30 years ago?
- In closing, permit me a footnote. After your completely unprofessional behaviour and lack of integrity in Pune all those years ago I often wondered whether I would have a chance one day to tell the truth about your visit and to expose the shallowness of the effort you put into the documentary for the BBC.
- Whether anyone else but you and your publisher read this letter, I am pleased that, at long last, I’ve had an opportunity to say what really happened. It’s comforting to know that even after 30 years, chickens still come home to roost.
- Jack Allanach/Krishna Prem
- cc: Jonathan Karp, Publisher and Editor-in Chief, TWELVE
- cc: Osho International Foundation, Bahnhofstr. 52, 8001 Zurich, Switzerland
- cc: Osho International, 80 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10011