Osho was brought up in the heart of rural India by his grandparents. He did not attend school until the age of seven.
His name was Rajneesh, and he went on to earn a Masters degree with first class honours, win the All-India debating trophy plus the gold medal for his graduating class, and be appointed a university professor of philosophy.
Along the way he managed to disturb and frustrate his family, his teachers and the society around him. He seems to have been born the quintessential rebel – not just a strong-willed boy with a non-conformist streak, but a boy dedicated to defying every established rule and every accepted form of behaviour devised by society, and questioning every accepted belief and conviction.
He was always embroiled in controversy. From the very beginning he refused to believe or accept anything he had not experienced for himself. That included his family’s religious beliefs, their expectations of how he should live his life, and the lessons taught him at school and university.
When he was seven his grandfather died, and he went to live for the first time with his parents in Gadawara. There he attended school for the first time – ‘dragged to jail’ as he later described it. At the school he quickly made a name for himself as an outspoken rebel. He obtained a copy of the Education Code and unhesitatingly took his teachers to the headmaster if he was punished for any offence not specifically mentioned in the code. ‘Where does it say I cannot look out of the window at the beauties of nature instead of at the dull, lifeless blackboard?’ he would ask. That he spent more time standing outside the classroom than inside, being punished for questioning the teacher or answering back, or causing some other kind of disturbance, testifies to his determination ‘to do everything that was not allowed’.
He questioned everything hypothetical. Even a child can see through Euclid’s definition that a line has length but no breadth, he told a teacher, challenging him to draw a line on the board without breadth, and a point without any length or breadth. The teacher told him to leave the classroom and go settle things with Euclid himself.
He led other students in protests against meaningless rules, such as the compulsory wearing of cloth caps (the requirement was abandoned), and against harsh disciplines – he lodged complaints for cruelty with the police. On his very first day at school, aged seven, he had a teacher dismissed who was punishing the young children by inserting pencils between their fingers and squeezing. He had gone immediately after school to the headmaster, then to the police commissioner, and finally to the president and the vice-president of the municipal corporation.
It was not just his actions, but his attitude that drove to distraction everyone who had to deal with him. For instance he never took punishment as a punishment, but rather as a reward. If told to run around the school seven times he would thank the teacher and run around it ten times, explaining that he had had no chance to do his exercise that morning and this was a great opportunity. If told to stand outside the classroom he would loudly extol the virtues of being in the fresh clean air with nature instead of in the dirty, stuffy classroom. When his teachers, in exasperation, threatened him with corporal punishment, he immediately threatened to go to the police station with a lawyer friend of his father (corporal punishment was banned in Indian schools).
One teacher tried fining him, writing his name in the Fines Register in the principal’s office. Osho immediately went and wrote in the teacher’s name with a doubled fine. When the principal asked him if he had gone mad, he replied that there was nothing in the rules to say a student couldn’t fine a teacher who was misbehaving. The teacher had misbehaved, he explained, by punishing his father, who would have to pay the fine, instead of the real wrongdoer, the son. ‘Why should my father be punished? He is not involved in this at all. Unless the teacher pays, I am not going to pay.’ Both fines remained unpaid.
He played truant frequently, forging notes from his parents. In his quest to discover everything he could about life, he explored the town and everything in and around it, spending long hours with wrestlers, snake charmers, circus performers, magicians, drunkards, musicians and wanderers of all kinds. Intrigued by death, for a time he attended all kinds of dying people, regardless of whether or not he knew them – a source of great embarrassment to his family, which kept strictly within Jaina social circles.
His family was pious and initially took the boy to religious meetings, but his disconcerting habit of asking simple but unanswerable questions, or challenging the visiting monks and holy men to prove their spiritual c!aims, disrupted the meetings. He asked one Jaina monk, who had been teaching not to believe anything without personal experience, how he knew there was an eternal hell, since if it was eternal he could not have visited it and come back to tell . Another time he asked, ‘Who created this beautiful universe?’ Jainas do not believe in God, so the monk replied, ‘No one.’ ‘Then if no one created it,’ said the boy, ‘how did it come to be?’
“As far back as I can remember, I loved only one game – to argue. So very few grown-up people could stand me. Understanding was out of the question.’
His parents stopped taking him to these meetings.
He visited religious fairs and attended holy festivals of all religions – Jaina, Hindu and Mohammedan. He spent hours conversing with holy men, learning meditation techniques and other secrets.
He was always questing and experimenting, particularly on himself. The small group of fearless boys who attempted to follow him often found themselves in deep water – literally. He led them in dives off an incredibly high railway bridge into the Shakkar River, and swam across it in waters raging and swollen by the monsoon rains (one of the boys was swept away and drowned on one of those swims). He experimented with being sucked down into whirlpools, discovering that if he allowed them to take him down instead of fighting them, he could simply slip out of their force at the bottom. At night his friends followed him on narrow paths which ran along the cliff-face high above the river – a ‘hair-raising experience’ as one friend later reported.
He loved to play humiliating tricks on teachers and townspeople he considered pompous, pious or hypocritical. A teacher who delivered a lofty lecture on the finer points of courage and fearlessness was quickly put to the test. Osho, who, during one of his truancies had persuaded a Mohammedan snake charmer to teach him the art of capturing snakes, brought a large snake to the school in a sack. To his immense delight, the teacher jumped onto the table and shouted for help when Osho displayed the snake in his classroom. ‘Great show of fearlessness,’ commented the boy.
Chroniclers, writing later from the safe distance of historical perspective, described him as ‘a gifted, spirited, independent-minded individual’ (Professor Paul Heelas in The Way of the Heart, Aquarian Press, 1986), and as ‘a boy of exceptional intellect and charisma’ (Ronald Conway in The Weekend Australian, February 14-15, 1981). Those who suffered him contemporaneously saw him differently. Relatives described him to reporters in later interviews as wilful, headstrong and naughty. Others outside the family circle described him somewhat less politely as immodest, brazen, discourteous, disrespectful, and even seditious. The end-of year remarks given by all his teachers, and particularly by his principal, condemned him ‘as much as was possible on a certificate’. He once told his principal, ‘This is not a character certificate, it is a character assassination.’
His father received the constant stream of complaints about him with resignation. He had learnt very early on that it was safest not to interfere in his son’s life. He had tried twice, when Osho first came to live with him after his grandfather died. The boy’s hair was long and unruly – he had never allowed his grandparents to cut it – and he wore a peculiar style of Punjabi clothing which he had admired and copied from a visiting singing troupe. With his long hair and unusual clothes, which were similar to those worn by a woman in his father’s district, people thought he was a girl. It didn’t bother him, but it embarrassed his father, particularly when customers asked, ‘Whose girl is that?’ as Osho passed through the shop on his way home. Offended and frustrated by the boy’s refusal to conform, his father finally cut his hair. Osho promptly went to an opium-smoking barber he had befriended (all his friends were unusual), and persuaded him to shave his head bald. The barber did so reluctantly, because a boy’s head was only shaved when his father died. The seven-year-old then exhibited his newly bald head all over town, and watched his father’s acute embarrassment as the inevitable inquiries and condolences began to flood into the shop. Later, when other members of the family tried to force him into more conventional attire by hiding his favourite Punjabi clothes, he simply walked out of the house and into the shop naked. His clothes were returned immediately.
Osho did not spare his family. On one occasion his father saw a man coming to the house he did not like and told Osho to tell him he was not at home. Osho opened the door and said, ‘My father said to tell you he wasn’t at home.’ When his family tried to make him go to the Jaina temple, he slipped out early and put some sweets on top of Mahavira’s statue. When he returned to the temple later with his parents, a rat was there, eating the sweets and urinating down Mahavira’s face. ‘What kind of a god is that, who can’t even save himself from a rat?’ he asked. The family soon gave up and left him to himself.
Growing up, he flirted with politics for a while, spending long hours in intense argument and discussion with friends. At school and at university he was famous as a debater, winning gold medals and the All-India debating title. He was always questioning, never content with the solutions to life provided by those in authority. He says that his interest in life then, as now, was ‘to know what is the ultimate’.
He was also a voracious reader – he devoured every book in the town library – many today still have only his name on their reader cards. When he was a university student, every second month he used his food allowance to buy books, almost starving himself. By the time he left the body, his personal library held over 100,000 books.
Osho went on to university college in Jabalpur. Actually he went to two colleges. He was asked to leave the first when his logics professor complained to the Vice-Chancellor that he could not teach because Osho would not stop asking questions. Admonished by the professor not to argue, Osho pointed out that this would defeat the whole purpose of being in a class on philosophy and logic. Exasperated, the professor, an old and respected man, gave the ultimatum that ‘either he leaves or I leave’. The Vice-Chancellor found Osho a place in another college, but his reputation had preceded him and a condition was made that he not attend the philosophy classes at the new college. Osho agreed happily.
He preferred to teach himself in the library, where he continued his voracious reading. He also continued to torture his professors. He noticed that few of them ever visited the library, and he proceeded to pepper them with questions about up-to-date material in their field. When he discovered one professor who would never admit that he did not know something, Osho trapped him by quoting in class a fictitious book, Principia Logica. When the professor replied that he had read the book, Osho exposed him to the Vice-Chancellor. ‘In college he did not spare a teacher who spoke an untruth, and he rebelled against tradition and shocked people by his unconventional mode of thinking,’ reported the New Delhi Patriot in a review of Osho’s life published in 1981. Despite antagonising his professors, in 1957 he gained a first-class M.A. in logic, philosophy and literature.
From an early age he had been fascinated by mystical spirituality. He sought out and questioned every priest and holy man he could find, regardless of their religion. He practised every meditation technique he could discover from ancient books, including all 112 techniques from Shiva’s 2000-year-old Vigyan Bhairav Tantra. He explored the yoga meditation techniques of Patanjali. He infamously spent a moonless night in a temple known for venomous snakes, allowing them to crawl over his body.