Zorba The Buddha

Author – Osho (Rajneesh)
Genre – Philosophy

One of the most intriguing books I have ever come across, that lays down the core of Osho’s philosophy.

Zorba was a pleasure loving Greek man – enjoying good food, dance, women, fun… He lived the epicurean life, always in today, very less worried about future or any other problems. Enjoying every moment.
Gautam Buddha is the polar opposite, living a life of meditation, reflection and introspection. Seeking the ultimate truth, enunciating the Golden Path, cautioning us against desire, and trying to uplift humanity.
The former symbolizes zest and life, while the latter epitomises serenity and enlightenment.

But are they really opposites? Osho forcefully emphasises that they are just two sides of the same coin: unless we have lived the Zorba life, we can never really become a Buddha! Physical desires are natural, they are part of what makes us humans. There is no use in fighting them. If we try to suppress them, the temptation will only increase and we would live a troubled, repressed life, which is hardly the recipe to become a Buddha. In glorifying Buddha, we ignore his formative years as the Royal Prince Gautam: His father, in trying to charm him into the material life, gave him all pleasures one could ask for: 3 palaces for each season, the best of food and luxury, beautiful girls chosen from across the kingdom, all sick and old people banished from his sight etc. He lived this life till he was 29 and only then, after years of living the Zorba way, started to find it hollow. Even the best of times were no longer keeping him satisfied. As an intelligent man, he starts realizing the utter futility of it all. There was a yearning to know if this was all life had to offer. And then, when he sees death, sickness and old age, he decides to seek the ultimate truth. Leaves the comfort of the palace, meditates for 6 years and finally achieves enlightenment.

Osho asks whether Buddha could have achieved all this without first living the Zorba life? One has to personally experience, grow tired, and crave for the larger meaning. As Herman Hesse also remarked in his Nobel prize winning book (Siddhartha): None of Buddha’s followers, following the same golden path for thousands of years, have become a Buddha. Unless you have fully lived, how can you renounce life?

Osho goes one step further – saying Buddha, while enlightened, is incomplete. He is wise but is dry, there is no fun in him. Similarly, Zorba is incomplete too, because he lacks the vision, the sense of purpose of a Buddha. Hence, Osho puts up his idea of the perfect man: Zorba The Buddha. Enjoying this world, while not losing sight of the larger reality. Someone like Krishna, with his luxurious kingdom and 36000 wives, but also with the awareness to propound The Gita. Be in the world but not of the world. One integrated person – unsplit, whole, with the body of Zorba and the soul of Buddha.

Beyond this, Osho also talks of love (can possessiveness be called love?), independence, jealousy, beauty of silence, God and religion.

Osho takes a shot at various religions, which have a vested interest to keep us incomplete and conflicted. Hence, making all natural desires sinful, to repress, to reject, to deny many parts of our natural being. And then, when we have the obvious temptations, making us feel guilty everyday, and leading us to confession. Otherwise why would we go to a church or temple? To make God big, we end up making humans small. And the same things we try to sacrifice in life, our priests promise us in heaven (In many religions, heaven is portrayed as some kind of a Playboy Club, which can only be the creation of a starved mind on earth). Ergo, Osho’s advice not to be an escapist.

These ideas are bold, perhaps too avant garde. No wonder, Osho was villanified in his times, declared undesirable in various countries. Swami or scoundrel, you cannot call him a hypocrite. He openly lived the life he preached: 99 personal Rolls Royce, Rolex watches, surrounded by beautiful women. And, in the same commune, holding deep meditation lectures every morning exploring the nature and purpose of life.

There are also things about the book which could be better: It is a collection of daily lectures, so can get repetitive. His team could have done better editing. Also, there is a chapter on his former follower who became his biggest critic (Sheila, who claims she was also his lover). Osho is vitriolic, acidic when talking about her, choosing the worst profanities to describe her. I would have expected more grace and a bigger heart from a swami.
[Last year, I spent few days in his Pune commune but hardly found it transformative. The meditation is converted to dancing and music meditation and there are daily sermons (now using Osho’s videos) but otherwise rather commercialized. Perhaps it had more energy in his life-time]

Why should you read the book: This book requires immense courage and clarity of thought and is not for everyone. An immature reader can easily take the wrong message (Osho is very convincing and ‘leads you on’ the direction he wants) and come out corrupted. Osho, like Freud, tends to overemphasize the importance of sexual gratification (His other book is titled From Sex To Superconsciousness!). Read it only when you are ready and hopefully with a guide to discuss it with – “eat, drink and be merry” is still not the end of life! While the overall concept is appealing (the yin and the yang), the truth probably lies in balance.