The story of Osho Tapoban is beyond fascinating. I’d heard a few people talk about a meditation center set in the hills near Kathmandu, and when I began to dig just a little deeper, an insane story enveloped me. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, later known as Osho, was an extremely controversial spiritual guru who gained fame in the 1970’s and 1980’s. You can find several documentaries on him including Wild Wild Country on Netflix. It would be impossible for me to explain the entire story in this blog, but the drama surrounding this guru is crazier than most movies.
Osho attempted to establish a commune in America. Since his followers were required to wear maroon from head to toe, it was quickly considered a cult and the entire country turned on them. The tiny commune took over an entire town in Oregon and even incorporated its own city at one point. Later, some of his followers and his spokesperson faced legal troubles as there were rumors of alleged poisonings (of an entire town), immigration fraud, wire tapping, and attempted murder of a politician as well as people within the commune. Osho left the U.S., renounced his title of Bhagwan (meaning god), and continued his meditative teachings and philosophies in peace. He’s been considered both a renowned guru and a menace to society.
While all of this might turn someone off to the teachings of Osho, I wanted to know how he’d gotten around 50,000 followers (allegedly) at one point in time. Not to mention, many people in Nepal follow his advice and meditation methods. The cult accusations had cooled off, but his followers were still required to wear maroon and white to his retreats. I wanted to see for myself what it was all about, so I dove into the land of Osho Tapoban a little nervous about what I might find.
Arriving at Osho Tapoban
As we arrive at Osho Tapoban, a storm hits. Rain pounds down hard and gusts of wind move through the forested hills nearby creating a howling sound. A man stands on a balcony wearing a maroon robe. He waves his scarf violently in the air, watching the wind rip it back and forth. I can’t help but wonder if the rain is an omen.
Registration at Osho Tapoban
Having done a meditation retreat in the past (you can read about my time meditating in Thailand), I expected to sign in and possibly hand over my electronics. I was a bit surprised when I didn’t need to hand in anything I had with me. It wasn’t a silent retreat and there was no detox from technology. In fact, there was WiFi available across the entire grounds. I was handed paperwork to fill out including a waiver that stated they weren’t responsible for any results that occurred after the meditation was complete. I had to notify them if I was an addict, on any drugs, or if I’d brought any drugs with me. I also had to notify them if I was comfortable being videotaped. I was not.
Since maroon and white robes are mandatory during your stay, I was forced to spend some money in the shop located on the premise. I managed to rustle up a maroon shirt and leggings at home, but I lacked a head to toe white outfit. Therefore, I bought a long white sun dress for $20. A bit steep in price if you ask me.
Osho Tapoban Accommodations
We were given a room in the “foreigners” building located down the hill. Foreigners pay $25 per person per night including three meals. At my last retreat, we’d slept on cement beds with wood pillows. The idea was to let go of luxury. At Osho Tapoban, luxury isn’t the enemy. So, we were shown to a beautiful newly renovated room with soft mattresses, cozy comforters, and a beautiful bathroom with hot water. Did I mention my last retreat involved buckets of cold rainwater for showers? The contrast here was uncanny. Osho is famous for his teachings which tell you not to deny yourself of things, but to embrace them. One can have luxury without being attached to it.
“…Possess things, but don’t be possessed by them. Have things – that’s not a problem. I am not for renunciation. Enjoy everything that life gives, but always remain free.” – Osho
There are signs everywhere requesting silence in the dining hall. Next to the signs are Osho quotes about eating. They state that one should eat food and be present. That way you feel satisfied. Being quiet during meals helps one to appreciate what they are eating. Suddenly, a bunch of people wearing maroon come in talking and chatting and the room grows loud. The buffet of food smells amazing. My last retreat didn’t allow you to eat after 12pm. Here, you’re allotted three meals a day without fear of being hungry by bedtime.
“If your body says eat three times a day, perfectly good. If it says eat one time a day, perfectly good. Start learning how to listen to your body, because it is your body. You are in it; you have to respect it, and you have to trust it.” – Osho
We get in line and pick up our plates. There’s only five people in front of us, and then a man grabs a plate and cuts the line. He doesn’t say anything, he just barges in. I try to let it go, but he clearly works here or maybe he’s a volunteer. We’ve barely moved forward in the line and another person jumps in front of us. Again, someone who works there. Doesn’t this place teach mindfulness? How could someone at a meditation retreat be so unaware of their surroundings and so impatient? It seemed there was a pecking order here, and those who were favored by the guru had special privileges. Clearly, letting go of ego wasn’t one of the teachings.
Meditation 3rd Session 3:30pm – 4:30pm
We head to the meditation center, wearing our maroon get-up. When it’s time to begin, everyone is seated and music sounds from the speakers. It’s like a mix of singing bowls and wind chimes set to an interestingly modern beat. We’re instructed to sit up straight in our meditation posture. We breathe in through the nose and hum as we breathe out. This lasts for a half hour. When the song changes, we share our energy by facing our palm up and moving them in a circle as if we’re pushing the energy away with what I’d like to think is the world’s slowest hand gestures. In seven minutes, we’re meant to do one circle. I do four. Then the song changes and we reverse our hands and the direction of the circle to bring energy towards ourselves. My muscles ache as they move excruciatingly slow.
Despite my immediate objections to Osho Tapoban, I have to admit I really enjoy this meditation. Wearing matching robes really effected the way I saw this place. I wasn’t able to shake the immediate feeling of being in a cult. But, if I had shown up in my own clothing, I would have been more open-minded. I loved doing a meditation that involved music and movement. Sitting silently for hours has never been easy for me.
Afternoon Tea 4:30pm – 5:00pm
Meditation is followed by a much-needed tea break. I have milk tea which tastes like sweet ginger. It’s really comforting. People smile at us, and we begin to talk to a lovely girl from Belarus. She’s very friendly and has been here before. She’s the first person to talk to us and ends up being the only one we interact with in 24 hours.
Kundalini Meditation 5:30pm – 6:30pm
Kundalini meditation is broken into four 15 minute stages. Stage one is where you shake… violently. Except I’m not very good at it, so I shake mildly. Just as I’m telling myself, “Don’t worry, no one’s watching you. Everyone’s eyes are closed. This is a judgement free zone.” the instructor begins to speak. I open my eyes and he’s right in front of me. “You’re doing it wrong.” I wince a little on the inside. “Don’t just shake your hands. Start from your feet and shake your body.” I try harder, but it honestly hurts my knees to bounce up and down. There’s trance music playing loudly, and I try to sync my bouncing with it unsuccessfully. This stage is meant to get out any anger, stress, or aggression you’ve built up.
The music changes and stage two begins. Now we’re supposed to dance. Whatever we feel from the music, we should express. I have to admit, it’s kind of fun. My eyes are closed, and it’s like I’m at a trance party. I don’t feel self-conscious during this part, and it’s easy to just let go. This stage is meant to loosen you up, and it works really well.
“To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty, you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it, a little more dance to it.” –
After dancing, we do a seated meditation to slow music and then we do savasana silently. Overall, I really enjoy the meditation. I have a hard time focusing in the second half, but I love the variety it offers. I definitely need to practice shaking violently more before I’ll feel comfortable with that part, but it pushed me out of my comfort zone just enough.
Dinner 6:30pm – 7:30pm
Dinner is served. The retreat only serves vegetarian food, but it’s delicious. They have about 6 different dishes and all of them taste amazing. This time, one person asks if they can go ahead of me because they are running late. Running late to what I’m not sure, but they were polite enough to ask this time.
Evening Satsang Celebration 8:00pm – 9:30pm
For the evening celebration, it’s mandatory to wear all white. Men walk in with floor length gowns. Suraj looks a bit like a sheik. The women wear long white dresses. I can’t help but feel a little like I’m going to a witch séance. When we get there, we watch one of Osho’s discourses. He talks about being mindful but also being unattached. He tells people to throw out logic because it won’t get you anywhere. That we have to unlearn what we’ve been taught. Here’s the thing, he has a beautiful way with words. His sentences sound poetic, and it’s so easy to sit there smiling and nodding because he’s captivating. But, being apprehensive, I can’t help but think through every word he says. It turns out he contradicts himself in his own argument. I’m not really buying it.
After the video, things get really uncomfortable for me. The lights are turned on and music is played. Now, it’s time to dance. This time, everyone’s eyes are open. People take turns holding a tray with offerings and a candle. They dance in front of a seat Osho once sat in. The music is cheesy, and I feel super awkward. At the end of the song, I stop moving, but everyone else in the room throws up their hands and yells “OSHOOOO.” Their hands stay up during the silence that lingers after the song ends, and they wait patiently until the next song begins. The dancing restarts, this time to a Chinese song. It ends and “OSHOOOO” is yelled out in unison.
By the third song, the music gets a little better, so I start to dance. Then, I realize that a man in the corner is filming us. I immediately tense up and feel self-conscious. I don’t want to be in a video for a place that I’m only visiting for the first time. I signed a waiver saying I didn’t want to be taped. I try to move out-of-the-way, but no matter where I am, it seems I’m in the middle of the lens. I feel like I’m the only person in a room full of 100 people.
After a period that feels like eternity, the dancing stops and a discourse is played over the speaker. I’m so distracted that I don’t even know what Osho is saying. When I tune in, I realize that his followers laugh loudly at his jokes before he’s even made them. They must know the tapes by heart. They laugh so loud that I miss the punch line every time. The resident guru is present, and his disciples are running around putting pillows under his feet and covering him with blankets to make sure he’s happy. It’s odd to me how people cater to him. It’s also clear that he has favorites. The tape playing Osho’s voice ends and we meditate silently. I can’t wait to go to bed.
“When you are self-conscious you are in trouble. When you are self-conscious you are really showing symptoms that you don’t know who you are. Your very self-consciousness indicates that you have not come home yet.” – Osho
Morning Tea 6:30am – 7:30am
It seems most people skip morning tea. I don’t blame them. One of the things I really like about Osho Tapoban is that you can go to the sessions you want and skip the ones you don’t. It’s not as strict as a vipassana. However, if you go for a course, they expect you to do the full routine.
Dynamic Meditation 7:00am – 8:00am
Dynamic meditation is one of the controversial parts of Osho’s teachings. Therefore, it made me a little nervous. There are five stages to this style of meditation including rapid breathing, catharsis, jumping, ceasing movement, dancing, and savasana. All stages are done with eyes closed and with some crazy hypnotic trance music playing.
For me, rapid breathing was a lot like shaking violently in Kundalini mediation. I had a hard time getting the rhythm, and I couldn’t breathe as hard as the others in the room. I was instructed to hold my hands up near my ears with my fingers spread apart, and to pull my elbows in and out as I breathed heavily through my nose creating a pulsating effect. I was grateful I didn’t pass out.
Stage two is what I was afraid of. Catharsis. In this stage you can do whatever you want. You can scream, shout, laugh, cry. It’s a bit primitive and anomalistic. This is your chance to release whatever emotions you’ve been holding back. It seemed everyone else in the room was angry. Like really pissed off. About 50 people were screaming, and I mean screaming. I don’t think I’ve ever tried screaming as loud as I can before, but it’s easy when everyone else is doing it. Catharsis lasts about 10 minutes, and honestly, I wasn’t that angry. I’ve never been a super angry person, but I do get sad a lot so maybe my catharsis was crying. That’s what I usually hold back. Not laughter, not screams, but tears. Crying was a little easier for me, but after a few minutes my tears ceased.
Next was jumping. This wasn’t very intuitive to me. I really had to focus. Each time you land, you yell “Hoo!” While it wasn’t difficult, some people in the room did five or six jumps in the time I did one. But I was happy with my pace. When the music stops, everyone freezes and holds their position. We’re told to acknowledge our thoughts. We aren’t to judge them or try to stop them. Just witness them. Be separate from them.
The last stage is dancing. The music is relaxed and not intense. Mostly I just sway back and forth. Each stage seems to last a few minutes too long, and I can’t help but get a bit bored. After the dancing we lay down in savasana.
I don’t mind Dynamic meditation. I thought I would hate it or feel awkward. I did a little, but mostly because it was my first time. The only thing is, I can’t imagine doing it every day. I just don’t feel like I’m so angry or sad that I would need to do catharsis every morning.
“Life begins where fear ends.” – Osho
Pranayam & Yogasan 8:15am – 9:15am
Seeing the word yoga on the schedule was a huge relief. My whole body hurt from meditating. Between sitting up straight, shaking violently, and jumping up and down, I felt like I entered a military boot camp. Everything was sore, and I needed a good stretch. To my dismay, this turned out to be about 45 minutes of yoga breathing and only 10-15 minutes of stretching. Still, it was interesting to learn the breathing techniques which most western yoga instructors gloss over in a matter of seconds.
“My meditation is simple. It does not require any complex practices. It is simple. It is singing. It is dancing. It is sitting silently”
Breakfast 9:30am -10:30am
Breakfast turned out to be lunch. I’m not sure why, but we received a bigger meal, so I wasn’t complaining. Again, the food was really good.
Meditation 2nd Session 11:30am – 1:00pm
We decided to leave after breakfast because we had to be back to Kathmandu. I was hoping we could do all the meditations, but we ended up missing this one both days. On the way out, we ran into one of the other meditators who was on her way to a “special meditation” which “wasn’t for everyone” and “was really really challenging.” Again, I had the feeling that everyone here wanted to be one of the guru’s favorites. It made me a little happy to be leaving. I’ve never thought of meditation as a competition, and I’d like to keep it that way.
Pros of Osho Tapoban
The Setting – Osho Tapoban is located in the Nagarjun Forest just outside of Kathmandu. It’s so peaceful and lovely. They’ve done an amazing job with gardening and landscaping.
The Food – The food here is delicious. It felt healthy and wasn’t too spicy. Mealtime was a highlight for me.
Flexibility – I loved that if you go (outside of the set courses), you can pick and choose what meditations you go to. Obviously, you shouldn’t skip everything, but if something isn’t for you, that’s okay.
No Silence – Being able to talk was amazing. My last retreat was silent so this was a relief.
Accommodations – Comfy beds, clean rooms, and hot showers! That’s a rarity at meditation retreats in Asia. This was such a nice surprise. Our room was a suite, and it even had a small kitchen for people who stay long term.
Variety – There was a large variety of methods being practiced. This was one of the best parts for me. I didn’t have to sit still and be silent. Meditating involved movement and sometimes screaming.
Nondenominational – There is no one religion associated with these practices. In most retreats there’s a heavy emphasis on Buddhism. Here, there’s a little more Hinduism and Buddhism since it’s in Nepal, but I noticed a photo of Jesus next to Lord Shiva and Lord Buddha.
Cons of Osho Tapoban
Gurus – This might not be a con to a lot of people, but I’m not big on the whole worshipping people thing. It’s always felt unnatural to me. Seeing people bow to a chair that a man sat in once or running after the current guru and putting pillows under his feet was strange to me. I feel that a real guru wouldn’t have an ego or want special treatment.
Exclusivity – I mentioned it a few times above, but there were several times where I noticed exclusivity in the center. It seemed certain people who were there received special treatment. I don’t mind this so much because they’ve devoted their lives to the place. What rubbed me the wrong was how they seemed a little arrogant about it.
The Cult Vibe – Being forced to wear the same colors was strange, and it felt unnecessary. In the documentary Wild Wild Country, there’s a clip where Osho tells people they no longer have to wear maroon and not to worship him as a god anymore. So, why is this still being practiced? Also, yelling “OSHOOOO” after songs was way outside my comfort zone. These small things made me feel like I was in a cult.
At the end of the day, I actually enjoyed my time at Osho Tapoban. I would like to go back, but knowing what I know now, I would skip the Evening Satsang Celebration. It just wasn’t for me. I’d rather read Osho’s books or watch YouTube videos in the comfort of my own room. I would likely skip the Dynamic meditation as well. I really enjoyed Kundalini meditation and didn’t feel like I needed both. That would still leave me with a full day of meditating between breakfast and dinner. Next time, I think I’ll go back for a few days. If you’re able to look past the matching clothes (which I’ll admit is kind of difficult), I think you’ll find that Osho Tapoban is just like any other meditation center. Although, maybe it’s a little more fun.
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Michelle Della Giovanna
Writer at Full Time Explorer
I’m just your average New Yorker who quit her job in the fashion industry to explore the world. Come find out what it’s like to trade in five-inch heels for squat toilets.