Running from a troubled childhood and the confines of a life governed by societal conformity and institutional religion drove Graham – now known by his spiritual name ‘Gyan’ meaning wise – Ordish to run away from home at the age of 16 and set up camp in a cave in the English countryside. The ensuing years were spent taking all kinds of drugs and travelling through every county in England, squatting, picking fruit, doing odd jobs and setting up food kitchens along the way at the famous small free music festivals of the seventies. Some time in his twenties, on finding the teachings of the controversial guru – also described as cult leader – Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, later known as Osho, Gyan’s search finally came to a standstill. Today living as a guest on a 70-acre woodland estate in Ballydehob in an old converted German firetruck, where he practices the ‘active meditation’ techniques developed by Osho, Gyan, 69, shares with Mary O’Brien why, despite the controversy surrounding the Indian guru, he is still a loyal follower.
Considered one of the most controversial spiritual leaders to have emerged from India in the twentieth century, Osho was a vocal critic of mainstream religions and political ideologies. Famous for his contentious teachings around sexual, emotional, spiritual, and institutional liberation, as well as his intense charisma and humour, today his books are available in more than 60 languages and the Osho International Foundation (OIF) runs stress management seminars for corporate clients.
Many of you will have seen the Netflix documentary series ‘Wild Wild Country’ about Osho and his orange-clad followers or neo-sannyasins who built a utopian city in the Oregon desert. Although he never lived in this closed community that initiated a national scandal in the States, Gyan did visit briefly with his partner and young children in the early eighties. While he didn’t see much of the leader apart from his Rolls-Royce ‘drive-by’ ceremony, he says it was important for him “just to be in Osho’s presence”.
According to the teachings of Osho every human being has the capacity for enlightenment and, even though his own behaviour and refusal to take anything seriously was at odds with traditional images of enlightened individuals, this was explained as “a technique for transformation” to push people “beyond the mind”. The most famous of his active meditation techniques ‘dynamic meditation’ is still being practiced today. It consists of a series of fast intense breathing, cathartic movements and sounds – just letting it all out – followed by silence and is described as “a way to break old, ingrained patterns in the body-mind that keep one imprisoned in the past”.
There was lots of this type of meditation and ecstatic dance practiced at the ranch, with Osho up on stage encouraging his followers to let it all out.
“If you want to see a cult, you’ll see a cult,” says Gyan, who watched the documentary with a friend. “My belief now is that it was the people around Osho and their behaviour and egos that created the problems.
“He taught that people should accept themselves unconditionally,” continues Gyan.
Gyan’s first introduction to his spiritual leader happened in his early 20s when he was living in a caravan trying to wean himself off hallucinogenics. A friend arrived dressed in the orange garb of Osho, leaving a photograph and one of his books behind. Gyan, like so many other of Osho’s followers, shares how he simply “just fell in love” with the charismatic Indian guru.
Soon afterwards, Gyan met his partner Barbara and, after becoming pregnant with their firstborn and coming into a small amount of money, the couple moved from the caravan into a rundown house surrounded by an abandoned strip mine between Darby and Nottingham.
After their first child was born, Barbara was offered the opportunity to drive a mini-cab in London, a city she was well-acquainted with, so the couple relocated to a squat there where Gyan became a stay-at-home dad. “It was unheard of back then but I loved it,” he shares. They were also approved as foster parents – in the squat. It’s estimated that somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 people reclaimed and squatted in empty rundown dwellings, many of which were due to be demolished, in London in the 1970s.
By the time their second daughter was born in 1980, Gyan was working as a driving instructor. When their youngest child was 18 months, the couple decided to combine a visit to Barbara’s sister in Northern Canada with a trip to Osho’s ranch in Wasco County, Oregon. “We drove 13,000 miles in 11 weeks to get there,” shares Gyan, remembering how they had to shed their orange sannyasin garb in order to get across the border. The materialistic experience – Osho was famed for his ownership of 93 Rolls Royce’s – caused Gyan’s devotion in Osho to waver and turned Barbara completely away from the movement. “In the intervening years, I almost sat on the fence,” shares Gyan, who says he cried at the memories the Netflix documentary stirred in him more recently. “Back then I knew I still loved Osho but I didn’t understand what was happening. The egos surrounding him caused everything to collapse.”
In the years that followed, Gyan and Barbara separated and after a brief sojourn working in Countryside Management and becoming involved with environment action groups, Gyan became something of a guru himself, for a long time welcoming people and their questions at his home in York, where he shared his learnings gleaned along his spiritual path.
Osho’s tenth commandment teaches ‘Do not search. That which is, is. Stop and see.’.
“If you’re truthful to yourself, your path will appear,” shares Gyan. Today Gyan prefers isolation, his path leading him to the countryside of West Cork.
“It’s so easy to miss yourself this lifetime,” he says. “I am who I am.”