BHAGWAN SHREE RAJNEESH (OSHO)
Ma Anand Sheela and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, 1973
The extremist therapy ashram created at Poona (Pune) by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (1931-1990) is one of the most controversial episodes in Indian guru history. The extension in Oregon, during the 1980s, involved a commune that became notorious for aggressive behaviour on the part of an elite. The chief ministrant of the commune was Ma Anand Sheela, whose devotion to the guru was accompanied by an agenda that spiralled out of control. After Rajneesh was deported and returned to India, he changed his name to Osho. This article favours critical coverage.
1. Misleading Teachings
2. Early Years
3. Rajneesh and Wilhelm Reich
4. Reckless Therapy Ashram at Poona
5. Rajneeshpuram and Nitrous Oxide
6. Testimony of a Bodyguard
7. Sheela and Rajneeshi Terrorism
8. Collapse of the Oregon Commune
1. Misleading Teachings
Enthusiasts of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (1931-90) often stress that he has over 600 books in his name. This factor is believed by followers to prove his status as a great mystic or philosopher. Those books were not written works, but edited by his followers from discourses, lectures, and interviews. Many of the books derive from the guru's prolific discourses of the 1974-81 phase at the controversial Poona (Pune) ashram.
One of the most popular Rajneesh books was The Hidden Harmony: Discourses on the Fragments of Heraclitus (1976). This comprises talks dating to 1974. Freestyle parallels are made with Buddha, Jesus, and the legendary Lao-Tse. Another well known work of the Poona guru is The Mustard Seed: Discourses on the Sayings of Jesus Taken from the Gospel According to Thomas (1978). Partisans said that they found this treatment helpful because Rajneesh bypassed theological issues.
The Rajneesh books are useless for the history of various mystical traditions referred to, e.g., Zen, Sufism, Taoism. The format often resembles a "new age" commentary, including such favoured slogans as "Love yourself." The ability of people to love themselves is not in dispute; however, the exhortation is not praiseworthy. The deceptions that can arise from self-love are so extensive that no proficient psychologist or conscientious citizen is exempt from cautionary scruple in this respect.
Numerous errors have been found in the Rajneesh output. Dr. Timothy Conway (1) sampled the interviews found in The Last Testament: Interviews with the World Press (Rajneesh Foundation, 1986, and online extensions). He concluded that Rajneesh was "woefully uninformed" about many of his topics (The Enigmatic Bhagwan). For instance, Rajneesh stated that no Buddhists had been in India for two and a half thousand years. The erroneous judgment here was that the Buddhists had to escape from India because the Hindus were killing them. The actual history of Indian Buddhism was very different. Diverse schools of Buddhism were active in India for fifteen centuries; there were many complexities lost upon superficial reporting.
Rajneesh presented Gautama Buddha as the cause of India's poverty. The guru accused Buddha's teaching of causing poverty, sickness, and death for the people influenced by him (The Last Testament Vol. 1, chapter 22). Conway points out that India was wealthy for many centuries after the rise of Buddhism. The Buddhist monasteries became centres of mercantile activity. Many other details also disprove the Rajneesh version of religious and social events.
A very controversial matter accompanies another error. Rajneesh stated that "Hitler killed one million Jews." Conway appropriately emphasises that the real figure was approximately six million. The same critic links the misleading statement of Rajneesh with "his noted anti-Semitism, revealed in private slurs to close insiders and to his [neo]sannyasins and the public in his endless telling of racist jokes."The guru gave a notorious lecture in Poona, in which he asserted that the Jews had given Hitler "no choice" but to exterminate them (the source here is critic C. Calder).
Rajneesh made such contentious assertions as: "Those who are poor are themselves responsible for their poverty" (The Last Testament Vol. 1, chapter 24). The meaning is that people believe in useless religious ideologies which make them poor. A favoured theme of Rajneesh was that his own teaching is liberating. This matter invites attention.
The "sex guru" said, on numerous occasions, that monogamous marriage is unnatural. Instead, he advocated unrestricted promiscuity from the age of fourteen. The scope for disagreement is very substantial.
This hedonistic guru was eager to deny the value of monasteries and celibacy. Restraint was taboo in his teaching. Rajneesh even claimed that homosexuality was started by monasteries teaching celibacy. Conway responds that homosexuality was rampant in fifth century BCE Greece, nearly a millenium prior to the rise of Christian monasteries. We find in "Rajneesh Tantra" a form of deficient argument which seeks to associate pet dislikes with rival teachings, and to worst the latter by a process of conflation. This is disastrous for any historical reckoning.
Conway accuses Rajneesh of telling "insidious lies about himself and his movement." For example, the guru repeatedly boasted to the press, from 1985 onwards, that one million neo-sannyasins were devoted to him. According to his secretary Ma Anand Sheela, the real number worldwide of those initiated followers was no more than thirty thousand.
A drawback evident in some books by Rajneesh is the incorporation of lewd or "dirty" jokes in the guru's discourses, including both the scatological and rapist variety. These jokes he evidently considered to be suitable fare for his promiscuous Western devotees. It is on record that he found some of those jokes in Playboy magazine, which is not the best guide to healthy living.
The content in three of his later works was reportedly delivered under the influence of nitrous oxide. The familiarity of Rajneesh with that gas drug, during the 1980s, is a subject of debate. This period includes the phase of his 1988-89 celebration of Zen, his discourses on that subject being extended into over twenty volumes by an enthusiastic publisher. Rajneesh tended to present Zen as the most advanced of the meditation traditions. However, he chose to overlook the rigorously monastic aspect of both Chinese and Japanese Zen (chan). Rajneesh was not concerned with history; he ignored the Zen self-discipline involved. "Be loving towards yourself" was preferred. His followers considered him to be a Zen expert, a Zen master of the ultimate degree.
Ex-devotee Christopher Calder was early involved in the output of Rajneesh books. He says that most of the guru's best material came from other authors. Plagiarism was only part of the problem. Rajneesh "often pretended to have a first-hand knowledge of facts he obtained second-hand, and he taught many things that he knew were false just to gain attention and expand his guru business" (Calder, Ridiculous Teachings).
Analysis of the "guru business" is surely pressing. If over 600 books is proof of profundity, as partisans say, then the lifestyle of the author is surely relevant. Further, analysis of phraseology found in the books is also appropriate. For instance, we find: "Learn the art of let-go." Letting-go was in great esteem amongst the guru's following of neo-sannyasins, who ignored moral rules in their varied escapades.
Rajneesh teachings frequently appear in a beguilingly simple format. "You don't need to learn anything. It is a simple unlearning process." Such maxims can all too easily facilitate misinformation and worse.
One of the favoured Rajneesh (Osho) emphases (found on the internet also) is: "My whole teaching is simply this: whatsoever you are, accept it so totally that nothing is left to be achieved, and you will become a white cloud." Critics describe such allurements as an exercise in self-deception, whatever the poetry attached.
Another well known quote is: "Just living in this moment, moment to moment, is an experiencing of a high peaked state." Here we find the incorporation of an influential present-centredness doctrine, along with the "peak experiences" promoted by the Human Potential Movement. These themes were very popular when Rajneesh began to cater for Western followers during the 1970s. He adapted many trendy new age catchphrases to his version of "Tantra."
The notion of "living in the moment" is strongly associated with humanistic psychology, featuring in commercial therapy of that questionable vogue. This concept also gained fame via the psychedelic outpourings of Richard Alpert, alias Baba Ram Dass. This American hippy went to India with a supply of LSD tablets, subsequently changing his image to that of a pseudo-Hindu. His book Be Here Now (1971) was the gospel of "living in this moment," a variation upon the earlier "Now" of Krishnamurti. This banal theme of the "moment" enabled Alpert to become a Yoga teacher and a bestselling author. His book was so popular that thirty-five reprints, by 1994, were stated to have achieved 895,000 copies. This book (an unintentional parody of Hinduism) was full of fashionable slogans from the ex-academic of Harvard. "I am a doctor... a student... a drop-out.... all the same game."
The "now" game was played by many new age writers and workshop entrepreneurs, including Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. In 1975, at his Poona ashram, Rajneesh joined forces with the Human Potential Movement. Many "workshop" businessmen were then promoting superficial clichés like "be here now." The uncritical clients and sensationalists loved themselves even more via such enticements. "Spiritual development" was another cliché.
2. Early Years
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was born to Jain parents in the village of Kuchwada, Madhya Pradesh (in Central India). The son of a cloth merchant, he was named Chandra Mohan Jain. He gained the nickname of Rajneesh, which he subsequently favoured above his name of birth. His family were Jains of the Taranpanthi sect. Young Rajneesh transpired to be a freethinker, rebelling at religious concepts and taboos. He reputedly became an atheist, investigated socialism, and even dabbled in hypnosis. In 1957, Rajneesh gained an M. A. degree in philosophy at Saugor University. In later years, he claimed to have experienced an "enlightenment" in 1953. Some critics regard this claim in terms of a hindsight attribution serving to enhance his career as a guru.
He became a lecturer in philosophy, teaching for nearly a decade at Raipur and Japalpur. One source affirms that he never became a full professor; Rajneesh gained the reputation of a Romeo at Jabalpur. His outlook proved controversial. A critic of Hindu religion, he advocated a sexually permissive society. After a lecture tour that was deemed audacious, in 1966 Jabalpur University insisted that he resign from his academic role. Amongst other matters, Rajneesh became infamous as a critic of Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948). Three years later, on the centenary of Gandhi's birth, he caused an outrage by asserting that Gandhi's sexual abstinence was a form of perversion.
Rajneesh had already commenced his career as a spiritual teacher or acharya, attracting the attention of wealthy upper class Indians. Acharya Rajneesh lectured at "meditation camps" and other venues. He gave his first address to a Western audience in 1969. Some say that from then on, he was a rival of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who had gained celebrity in the West. The innovation of Transcendental Meditation proved very lucrative. In effective competition, Rajneesh advocated what he called Dynamic Meditation.
In 1970, the acharya settled at Bombay (Mumbai), where he gave regular public lectures to large audiences. A system of ticket fees was in operation. Rajneesh continued the role of religious critic, inveighing against orthodox beliefs. He was not merely attacking ritualism, but all religious conventions. Repression must be eliminated, he urged. His emphasis on sexuality was so acute that he became known as the "sex guru."
During the Bombay phase, Rajneesh dispensed a programme of Dynamic Meditation. This comprised five daily sessions lasting for an hour at a time. A stated objective was to "exhaust" clients. The novelty on offer was not contemplative. The prescriptions here included energetic body movements, hyperventilation (breathwork), and cathartic abandonment. Nudity was also encouraged. Many Westerners became clients, even though Rajneesh described the basic procedure in terms of "going totally mad."
In 1971, Rajneesh assumed the elevated Hindu title of Bhagwan (Lord, Venerated One). Shree is a more general term of respect. His antipathy for Mahatma Gandhi remained acute. Rajneesh placed Gandhi on the level of fascist Adolf Hitler in a relativistic scenario of torture. He described Gandhi as a self-torturer, and Hitler as a torturer of others. Rajneesh stated: "Gandhi had the Jaina [ascetic] characteristic very much developed in him." Hitler was here equated with Islam. Both were described by Rajneesh as great saints. These idiosyncratic references were included in a book on Zen published in 1980 (cited in Conway, Enigmatic Bhagwan), part of the confusing Rajneesh corpus of discourses edited by his followers (section 1 above). The fascist associations of Rajneesh were ambivalent, but persistent. Rajneesh actually stated that to him, Adolf Hitler was less dangerous and less violent than Mahatma Gandhi. (2)
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Ma Yoga Vivek
Rajneesh did not wish to emulate the fasting privations of Gandhi, who lived in rustic simplicity. Instead, he preferred to cultivate his career as the "sex guru." He was definitely not a celibate like the traditional Jain and Hindu ascetics whom he detested. Reports of his behaviour attest a disposition to free love. "Close early Western disciples... and others heard from young women of having their breasts groped and vaginas fondled by the Bhagwan, before Rajneesh graduated to having full intercourse with some of them during 'private darshans' " (Conway, Enigmatic Bhagwan). The young Indian woman Kranti lost out in these activities to the more desirable British partner Christine Wolff (Woolf), alias Ma Yoga Vivek.
According to British ex-devotee Christopher Calder, Rajneesh "had sex with hundreds of young women half his age" (Ridiculous Teachings). This 1970s activity related to converts of Dynamic Meditation.The Calder accusation was apparently based upon the guru's subsequent boast to the American media that he had sexual relations "with hundreds of women." Of course, Rajneesh had a known tendency to exaggeration; it is, nevertheless, easy to believe that his encounters were fairly numerous.
In 1970, Rajneesh commenced to initiate admirers as "sannyasins," in the context of his Neo-Sannyas International Movement. The word sannyas means renunciation; however, Rajneesh inverted the traditional meaning. Rajneeshi neo-sannyasins have been described as anti-renunciates. These people acquired new Indian names, bead necklaces, and ochre (later red) robes. Many Indians were amongst the recruits, but increasingly, Rajneesh catered for Westerners. During the 1970s, many thousands of Americans, Germans, and other foreigners became neo-sannyasin clients for Dynamic Meditation, neo-Reichian therapy, and free love. Hindus generally disowned the Neo-Sannyas activity as a promiscuous aberration.
One of the very earliest neo-sannyasins was Christopher Calder, who first met Rajneesh in 1970. He was given the new name of Swami Krishna Christ by the guru. Such exotic names conferred a sense of special identity. Calder became disillusioned after several years. Much later, he contributed two online articles that are radically informative and very critical of his former guru.
Calder poses the question: "What did Rajneesh want and get?" He adds: "The answer is millions of dollars, absolute power, a harem of women, and a daily supply of drugs." Rajneesh is reported to have experienced a brief experimentation with LSD, though in the long term he was "inhaling enough nitrous oxide to inflate a dirigible" (Calder, Ridiculous Teachings).
3. Rajneesh and Wilhelm Reich
Rajneesh, Wilhelm Reich
Rajneesh was often mistakenly believed by Westerners to represent Hinduism. (3) He was not a Hindu, and nor a traditional Jain, but instead an entrepreneur who favoured Reichian therapy and related vogues of the Western commercial "new age." Reichian theory (of Wilhelm Reich) has been identified as underlying many of the idiosyncratic therapies promoted by Rajneesh during the 1970s at his Poona ashram (Carter 1990:41, 84, 112-14). Rajneesh insisted that repression of sexual energy is the cause of most individual problems. His career served to disprove this Reichian fallacy.
Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) was an Austrian psychoanalyst who initially worked in the clinic of Sigmund Freud (d.1939). In 1928 he joined the Communist party and was in friction with the Nazis, whom he erroneously identified with mysticism. He wrote The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933). As a left wing psychoanalyst, he established sex-counselling clinics in Berlin and other cities. He believed that the answer to every problem was an increase of sexuality. Reich was obsessed with the theme of repressed sexual behaviour. He aimed at freeing proletarian youth from restrictions, and campaigned for abortion and contraceptives. His book The Sexual Revolution (1936) decoded to a promotion of sexual permissiveness that disturbed the psychoanalytic community, who rejected Reich.
In his adult life, Reich wrote diaries including reminiscences of his earlier years. Reich reports that he had almost daily sexual intercourse with a servant from the age of eleven. He also described his regular visits to brothels from the age of fifteen. The creation of bad habits is no remedy for human existence.
At the beginning of World War Two, Reich moved to America, where he was rejected by the medical authorities. He invented his eccentric "orgone energy accumulator," a curiosity which became fashionable in America during the 1940s and 1950s. His invention was supposed to assist ability for orgasm; his argument was that this bestowal achieved mental health. Bohemians believed him. Reich profited from the sales and leasing of his orgone box or cubicle. Converts to his doctrine sat in this contraption desiring to escape conformity, which according to Reich, spread fascism. His influence led to nude cocktail parties of the wealthy, and accompanying orgies.
Reich claimed that his orgone box was of scientific and medical relevance; he even asserted that his invention could cure cancer. In 1954, a court of law ruled that Reich should stop sales of his orgone accumulator, the conclusion being that he was profiting from fraudulent claims. By this time, he believed that the world was under attack from UFOs. He invented a "cloudbuster," designed to influence the weather. This new device was sufficiently adaptable to become an "orgone gun," for use against alien invasions. Reich claimed to shoot down several UFOs while engaged in a fantasised interplanetary battle in Arizona. Less dramatically, he broke the injunction on sales of his accumulator, being sentenced to two years in jail, where he died of a heart attack after eight months.
His career and orgone box aroused extensive new age fantasies. Reich's orgasm doctrine gained converts like Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac. The sexual revolution became big business. Counterculture of the 1960s produced the ubiqitous belief that "sex will save you," disproven too many times to be credited. Part of this ongoing deceit was achieved by alternative therapy, a commercial affliction assimilable to drugs and existentialism. Janov's "primal scream therapy" was one extravagant resort of an impoverished clientele with more money than insight or commonsense.
Reich put into daily practice his belief that emotions should not be restrained. He became notorious for a doctrinaire attitude and a furious temper, losing many supporters on this account. "To ask for 'proof' was to invite the dogmatic wrath of the sexual revolutionary who claimed that complete orgasm reduced aggression and other social evils." (4) In the pursuit of achieving the desired full orgasm, Reich advocated "total surrender to the flow of the moment." (5) This form of present-centredness was favoured by American and European "new age" therapy in the 1970s. The ideas of Reich were promoted by trends like Gestalt therapy, Bioenergetics, and Primal therapy. The so-called Human Potential Movement was disabled by such drawbacks. Communes acknowledged Reich as a major inspiration. Casual sex and four letter words were encouraged by the proclaimed freedom from "repression."
The orgasm revolutionary was adamant that religion exercises a repressive role. Reich bracketed mysticism with fascism. He elevated the subject of fertility cults and cult prostitution, believing that these were the consequence of an enlightened matriarchal culture. His version of archaic and supposedly "materialist" religions was markedly deficient, and likewise his interpretation of Jesus. Reich failed to come to terms with historical research, instead seeking support for his sex theories via reductionist arguments. He believed that religions like Hinduism and Buddhism were useless distractions from sensuality. (6)
The close similarity of Rajneesh anti-repression themes with those of Reich is striking. There was not always an exact convergence. The Indian guru lacked an orgone box and "cloudbuster." Rajneesh taught a version of Tantra unknown to Reich. In some respects however, Rajneesh acted as a 1970s successor to Wilhelm Reich. Rajneesh catered so much for affluent Western tastes that his guru business closely resembled the "sex will save you" opportunism.
4. Reckless Therapy Ashram at Poona
The confused Western reception of Rajneesh emphases can be sampled in such works as Encyclopaedia Britannica, stating: "Rajneesh became well known for his progressive approach to sexuality, which contrasted with the renunciation of sex advocated by many other Indian teachers"(accessed 25/06/2019).That was certainly not the view of many Indian critics, for whom Rajneeshi promiscuity was not progressive, but instead an aberration causing sexually transmitted diseases. In contrast, the Western "new age" tended to welcome free love and casual sex.
This sexuality issue is strongly associated with the 1970s Poona (Pune) ashram innovated by Rajneesh, where "dynamic meditation" blended easily with Western alternative therapy. The Reichian appetite of Rajneesh encouraged pseudo-therapeutic approaches found in the Esalen and related commercial directories. His new ashram gained a mixed repute as "Esalen of the East."
In 1975, Rajneesh launched an extensive therapy programme at his new Poona ashram, located in Koregaon Park, with four acres of land adjoining. The site was known as Shree Rajneesh Ashram. A commune developed here. A big business drive occurred in collaboration with numerous Western alternative therapists. These entrepreneurs (associated with the human potential movement) wanted a situation where they were free to experiment with forms of lucrative therapy considered dangerous by medical authorities in the West. Rajneesh supplied the setting; both parties pooled the inflow of enthusiastic recruits.(7)
Rajneesh increased the fees for attending his morning discourses at Poona. According to a prominent Indian devotee, Ma Anand Sheela, the guru tried to deter Indians by changing his language of communication from Hindi to English (although talks in Hindi continued). The Western influx were now deemed a far more lucrative prospect. Westerners did not resist therapy, and were so often enthusiastic about that distraction. The guru added kundalini lore, and claimed proficiency in this subject. His attention was believed to activate the fabled chakras.
Rajneesh and the art of emotional arousal
Rajneesh was gratified at the economic success of his therapy project. In addition, he had by now incorporated production industries in his overall business activity. Intellectuality was zero-rated as an encumbrance. The glorified "moment" and "letting go" were all that really counted. His discourses sold well, and so did the therapies; the Poona discourses were adapted into numerous books, which were also financially successful. Those discourses provided his freestyle version of traditions like Yoga, Tantra, Sufism, Zen, and Taoism.
Feminists of that period were susceptible recruits to Rajneesh therapy via the "merchandising of orgasm," a phrase employed in some sources to describe the nature of events. Rape victims in therapy sessions were easily overlooked. The "moment" was so unpredictable. "Four letter words were much in vogue, and one type of neo-Reichian therapy he [Rajneesh] patronised involved an incitement to this form of diction, accompanied by nudity and violent expression" (Shepherd 2004:60). Rajneesh claimed to be an exemplar of non-violence. His rivals like Mahatma Gandhi were supposedly savages in their self-restraint.
The Dirty Speech Movement gained strength in America. Rajneesh was similarly enthusiastic about the use of four letter words. He was also a patron of the Esalen Institute (in Big Sur, California), the source of so much "new age" lore sold in expensive "workshops." Rajneesh was basically a business rival of TM (Transcendental Meditation) and Esalen. However, he grasped that Big Sur was a major commercial prospect offering an array of activities. He was therefore an inviting host to the format. His booming Poona ashram became known as the "Esalen of the East." The Western Esalen had created the "human potential movement," sustained by the multitude of "workshops" promoting alternative therapy and sensational pursuits.
One of those attracted to the Poona ashram was Richard Price (1930-85), an alternative therapist and the co-founder of Esalen. Price was accustomed to a gamut of alternative salesmanship ranging from Gurdjieff workshops to shamanism and Gestalt therapy. Like other therapies, the emerging NeoReichian Gestalt promised self-development and wholeness, vanquishing the feared repressions. The Esalen version of "encounters" was generally mild. In contrast, Price found that Rajneesh "therapy" was extremely dangerous. "He discovered that the Rajneesh version of the encounter group encouraged clients to be very violent, to the extent that old women were hit in the face by young men. Price himself is said to have suffered a broken arm while being locked up for an hour in a room with eight people armed with wooden weapons.... Price reported seeing eighteen fights in the therapy sessions within only two days, and that was before he stopped counting them" (Shepherd 2004:60-1).
Rajneesh taught that sexuality and aggression were primary emotions to be released in his workshops. The clients became addicted to those emotions. In general, he encouraged emotional displays. The guru seemed to favour responses resembling those of fans at a rock concert. There were drawbacks, however. "The Rajneesh cult advertised the 'bliss' said to be found in their therapies and dynamic meditations; yet they frequently administered pills, injections, and tranquillisers to those who became unmanageable" (ibid:61). The local hospital in Poona was accustomed to Rajneeshi victims.
Despite all the "therapy," Rajneesh himself developed allergies, said to have been caused by the humid weather in Bombay. He was asthmatic from an early age. So-called Dynamic Meditation could not prevent the need for medical attention. He also suffered from diabetes, eczema, and severe back pain caused by a disc problem. Calder reports that Rajneesh was "constantly sick and frail from the time I first met him in 1970." The guru's health had already been impaired during the 1960s. The cause is here specified in terms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (Calder, Lost Truth).
The Poona ashram of Rajneesh was an insult to traditional Hindu ideals of discipline and self-control. A favoured activity was group sex. Some neo-sannyasins are reported to have contracted more than ninety different sexual contacts every month. The prevalent habits caused sexually transmitted diseases. Over eighty per cent of the commune residents are reported to have contracted such diseases by the 1980s.
A stimulus to disease came in the form of lewd jokes frequently expressed by Rajneesh. Rapist episodes were considered very funny; the audience were expected to laugh. Many distasteful jokes of this kind appeared in the discourse books of Rajneesh, which supposedly proved his knowledge and ability in traditions like Hinduism, Sufism, Zen, and Taoism. The reaction of critics was to deem his sordid idiom an index to debauchery and indulgence.
A Western publisher who at first promoted Rajneesh books was Sheldon Press of Britain. They had been led to believe that the guru's discourses were charming dispensations of timeless wisdom, in a manner suited to Christianity and comparative religion. When Sheldon afterwards learned more about what happened at the Poona ashram, they dropped their sponsorship (Shepherd 2004:62-3). That publisher had evidently been influenced by fashionable new age writers in the West who referred with approval to the bohemian guru. (8)
The excessive emphases upon non-restraint passed to the children of commune members. Sexual intercourse amongst children was reported. There were instances like that of a six year old girl who offered her abilities in oral sex to adult males (Franklin 1992:108). The account of neo-sannyasin Jane Stork reports that her children were sexually abused while she lived at the commune (she became a resident in 1978; see Stork, Breaking the Spell, 2009).
This was a situation in which adult males could copulate with girls only ten years old. The permissive Rajneesh often declared that the family was a repressive factor, and accordingly had to go. He apparently did everything he could to break up families, a trend which assisted the commune focus upon himself as the dominant priority.
Rajneesh invented [at Poona] a programme of 'dehypnotherapy' intended to free his followers of all prior constraints of their native culture, a process involving acute exposure to his relativistic philosophy which endorsed opposites as being simultanously true. (Shepherd 2004:61)
One of the influences upon Rajneesh was the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, whose fictional work Thus Spake Zarathustra was popular amongst his Western followers. The Nietzschean idea of the "superman," ascending by his selfish will to power, was surely demonstrated by Rajneesh.
Some of his extant discourses exhibit a preoccupation with the philosophy of Nietzsche and the sexual liberation expressed by D. H. Lawrence, with a fashionable assimilation of Gurdjieff and humanistic psychology also in evidence. This hybrid fare reflected his opportunistic policy of tailoring teachings to market demands. (Shepherd 2004:62)
A German camera crew filmed the violence and nudity of the late 1970s Rajneesh encounter groups. The footage was preserved in the documentary entitled Ashram (1980). This movie confirmed the reports of "therapy" excess. Because of Indian disapproval, in 1979 Rajneesh curtailed some of the excesses, including fighting.
That cosmetic gesture did not affect the ashram income. Circa 1980 the Poona ashram was host to about 55 therapy groups, each with about forty participants who paid at least a hundred dollars per head (and sometimes much more). Another assessment specifies 1,000 to 2,000 clients a week. There was a greater influx of visitors at major events. A charge of five rupees accompanied attendance of the guru's lectures. Donations were frequently received. The Poona ashram reputedly enjoyed a total income of eighty million dollars during these boom years. In 1980, the Rajneesh Foundation had 1.2 million dollars in four banks. Rajneesh sometimes used the word Tantra to describe all this activity. The subject of Tantra does not accurately come under the umbrella of therapy.
A recent book by Ma Anand Sheela confirms that the exorbitant fees charged for group therapies in Poona caused many female neo-sannyasins to work as prostitutes (see Don't Kill Him, 2012). This livelihood was fully compatible with the prevalent commune license. The compromised women opted for a role as strippers in places like Soho and San Francisco (Strelley 1987:140, and cited by Conway, Enigmatic Bhagwan). This activity was evidently regarded by Rajneesh as a source of funding for Tantra.
The sex guru became well known for his advocacy of Tantra. Ex-devotee Calder says that in a lecture, Rajneesh defended the legendary "Tantric practice of parents having sex with their own children." A strong accusation is that the guru "used the myths of Tantra to rationalise all of his dishonest and illegal behaviour, as well as his own exorbitant drug use" (Calder, Ridiculous Teachings). Rajneesh employed the well known phrase "lefthanded Tantra," which can elsewhere signify deviation, though today the distinction is lost in the craze for sex tantra. At Poona, "one of the groups Rajneesh sold to students was the 'Tantra' group, which was basically just male and female disciples having sex with each other" (Calder, Lost Truth).
The more recent "tantric workshop" practitioner Margot Anand has claimed an affiliation with Rajneesh; she reputedly visited the Poona ashram and there learned/taught Tantra, before moving on to America and Europe. The popular sex tantra became evident in her books like Sexual Ecstasy: The Art of Orgasm (2000). This trend has received some criticism, extending to a Findhorn Foundation episode. (9)
Many of the neo-sannyasins were drug-users. Several of them were arrested while attempting to smuggle drugs into Europe (McCormack 2010:11). MDMA (Ecstasy) and cannabis were favoured commodities. In 1979, a group of neo-sannyasins packed 50 kilograms of marijuana into the frame and fittings of a bus bound for Europe. Not only drugs, but also gold and money, were smuggled. Rajneesh is reported to have expressed approval of his "sannyasins" financing their Indian sojourns (and Poona ashram expenses) via drug dealing and prostitution. The ongoing traffic in drugs was attended by overpowering justifications. A Rajneeshi arrested for drug smuggling asserted:
The disciples of God [Rajneesh] cannot be made to submit to any of the laws established for ordinary human beings. To attain our goal, everything is permitted. (McCormack, 2010, back cover)
Rajneesh secretly departed from Poona in June 1981, en route to America. He was evading payment of income tax equivalent to at least four million dollars, not being eligible for charity status. One commentator refers to an informant divulging that a warrant for the guru's arrest was imminent, on the basis of incitement to religious rioting (Milne 1986:182-3, 187ff.). The expansionist plans of Rajneesh in Poona, together with his controversial agenda, had aroused local resentment amongst Hindus. The pretext for his departure was a need for emergency medical treatment, a rationale rejected by close analysts. A larger property was desired to cope with the number of commune inmates. (10)
5. Rajneeshpuram and Nitrous Oxide
In 1981, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh moved from Poona (Pune) to New Jersey. Devotees said that his trip to America was merely a brief visit for medical treatment. However, the theme of his required back surgery now changed. He did not go to any hospital for examination; he was clearly not in need of surgery. When the guru left the aeroplane, he asserted: "I am the Messiah America has been waiting for" (Milne 1986:192).
Staying at a Rajneeshi mansion (known as the Castle) in Montclair, the guru now alienated one of his close devotees, namely Maria Grazia Mori. This Italian was also known by the name of Deeksha. She was horrified at his display of avaricious tendencies and other drawbacks; she concluded that Rajneesh was not enlightened. Deeksha was disillusioned, for instance, to find that Rajneesh talked for hours about his desire to purchase Rolls Royce cars. He also wanted expensive hats, wristwatches, and jewellery.
Deeksha discovered that Rajneesh ingested a lot of valium and was frequently almost incoherent. She relayed that "his adulation of Hitler was disgusting" (Conway, Enigmatic Bhagwan; Franklin 1992:323-4). This woman ceased her allegiance to Rajneesh that same year. She was formerly a leading fundraiser in his cause. Rajneesh afterwards accused Deeksha of being "illiterate," a symptom of his typical disdain for dissidents. At an earlier period, he had praised Deeksha as a "zen master."
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh driving a Rolls at Rajneeshpuram, Sheela alongside
The guru moved on to Oregon, where an expensive 64,000 acre ranch was purchased to accomodate the swelling commune. This property became known as Rancho Rajneesh, and also Rajneeshpuram (denoting a projected city). Here Rajneesh demonstrated his opulent lifestyle via the expensive Rolls Royce automobiles that he regularly acquired. The fleet was estimated to be worth 7 million dollars when the number of 74 was reached. The total number in his collection eventually exceeded ninety. Rajneesh was evidently partial to the status and publicity attached. He now became known as the "Rolls Royce guru."
Rajneesh later claimed that the cars were presents from people all over the world, and that he had given them to the commune, so he was not their owner. This version has been repudiated as misleading. The cars were purchased, at his insistent and continual request, by the commune management. Les Zaitz (journalist for The Oregonian) reported that the Rolls Royce cars of Rajneesh were "mired up to their axles in debt." The guru was facilely stating in Oregon: "We have never faced any economic need, otherwise my Rolls Royces will not [keep] on growing" (Conway, Enigmatic Bhagwan). His refusal to confront reality colours his varied explanations and accusations of 1985, a crucial year for the commune."After bankrupting the commune, he claimed that the automobiles were owned by the commune, not by him" (Calder, cited in Conway, Enigmatic Bhagwan). Rajneesh was the only person allowed to drive the cars.
In the face of commune debt, Rajneesh was also keen to collect scores of Rolex luxury wristwatches, of the high status type studded with diamonds. This feat he achieved via spending donation money. He is reported to have continually demanded a (four) million dollar wristwatch from the commune management (different figures are given). The guru appears to have regarded the commune funds as his own investment facility.
The supporters of Rajneesh proved ingenious in their apologism for his collecting traits. One proposition has been that, via his Rolls Royce acquisitions, he intended "to make a joke out of American consumerism." This theory, deriving from an American novelist, was championed by an academic who thinks Rajneesh "was challenging our conditioning about spirituality and materialism." An alternative is to accept the guru's discernible conditioning to assets; he wanted to own the largest fleet of luxury cars in the world.(11)
Rajneesh did not discourse at the Oregon ranch, but withdrew into a private lifestyle of "public silence" (which had commenced in India). This was not a literal silence; he continued to talk in his private life. He now lived in a guarded compound, having little contact with his followers at large. He did not participate in the manual work incumbent upon the commune members. Rajneesh never did any work. He slept 9-10 hours a day, and spent three hours daily in his luxury bathroom (the workers had equipped him with more than one of these amenities). The only time that most of the other residents saw him was during his daily drive in an impressive Rolls Royce. He liked to drive, but could prove erratic at the wheel.
Rajneesh driving his Rolls Royce past the commune inmates
On most days, Rajneesh watched videos. His followers were often obliged to labour twelve hours a day in the cold, while the guru used "his private heated indoor [swimming] pool and watched countless movies on his big screen projection television, all the while enjoying his daily supply of drugs" (Calder, Lost Truth).
Several witnesses are said to have reported that Rajneesh used nitrous oxide ("laughing gas") for recreational purposes to "get high" (and not merely to relieve his asthma). This pain-relieving gas is used in dental surgery; nitrous oxide can also induce euphoria and mild hallucinations. Continued use can amount to drug addiction. Rajneesh inhaled nitrous oxide (N2O) mixed with pure oxygen. His inhalation (through combined tubes) occurred twice daily according to a credible testimony (of Ma Anand Sheela). Rajneesh had also become dependent upon the anxiety drug valium (diazepam). Even on the lowest estimate of 60 milligrams daily intake, he exceeded the maximum recommended dosage by 50 per cent.
Ex-devotee Christopher Calder relays: "A number of disciples have claimed that Rajneesh was so intoxicated at his Oregon ranch that he sometimes urinated in the halls of his own home." The reference is to nitrous oxide, not alcohol. Another accusation is: "His massive intake of valium caused paranoia and greatly reduced reasoning skills" (Calder, Lost Truth).
The same writer suggested that Rajneesh was earlier taking large doses of valium at Poona. Calder describes the guru as a drug addict. In contrast, neo-sannyasins customarily referred to "dental sessions." In this modified scenario, Rajneesh only inhaled nitrous oxide in sessions of clinical dentistry. This "othodox" version is strongly associated with the guru's dentist, an English devotee known by the neo-sannyasin name of Swami Devageet. In 2007, Calder informed:
Devageet is a crazy person. Years ago he denied to me emphatically that Rajneesh used N2O except for dental surgery, and then a few months later he publicly admitted on a Osho web forum that he gave Rajneesh N2O for months on end, and that Rajneesh used the drug because it 'increased his activity.' No one dictates books while having dental surgery, and no dental surgery lasts for months.... Osho's drug use was documented by the FBI.... The debate about Osho's drug use is over, except for the most insane followers. Rajneesh was a drug addict, and I have received letters from dozens of [neo]sannyasins who were at the [Oregon] ranch and in Poona who confirm this proven fact.... Many people at Poona [phase two, late 1980s] saw the nitrous oxide canisters piled up at Rajneesh's bungalow, and they knew what it was for. He was not having dentistry done every day. Osho admitted his N2O use and talked about it openly. The FBI had records of how much N2O was delivered to the [Oregon] ranch. The valium was smuggled in from Mexico.... All of Rajneesh's drug use was exposed by the FBI, local Oregon law enforcement, and published in newspapers around the country. People clearly saw the nitrous oxide spigots installed by his bedside [at the Oregon ranch]. When you get to the point that you have nitrous oxide spigots custom installed by your bed, you are a very serious nitrous oxide addict, not just a casual user (cited in Conway,Enigmatic Bhagwan).(12)
The lengthy published account of Ma Anand Sheela, for long obscured until 2012, confirms the drug problem. She says that, in Oregon, the commune doctor (Devaraj) had created "fifteen fictitious medical files" for the purpose of prescribing, ordering, and storing the drugs for Rajneesh. Additional patients were being invoked to satisfy his demands. The maverick medic and neo-sannyasin Swami Devaraj (George Meredith) had apparently set a very high daily dosage of 240 mg of valium (a sedative). This contrasts with the earlier report that Rajneesh daily ingested 60 mg (Storr 1996:59). By these standards, "living in the moment" was a substantial complication.
The situation was even more incongruous in that the guru (as reported by commune manager Sheela) routinely received a combination of two drugs. In addition to valium, the spurious medical files enabled him to ingest large quantities of meprobamate (a sedative that became a general medical issue in view of serious side effects). The guru's extensive drug problem was highlighted by his resort to nitrous oxide, "for two hours every morning and afternoon" according to Sheela.
For critics, another anomaly is that devotees like Devaraj were elevated to the level of "enlightened" persons by Rajneesh (during the Oregon phase). The guru's reasons for this move have been differently presented (Sheela supplying an unflattering version). The supposedly enlightened hierarchy were influential in screening the factor of drug addiction. However, we know from Calder that Rajneesh himself was honest on this point during informal conversations.
Devageet stated (in 1998) that, during the early years at Rajneeshpuram, the guru dictated three books in "dental sessions" under the influence of nitrous oxide. These books were not published until September 1985, at a time when the disapproving Sheela departed from the commune. The guru's use of nitrous oxide dated back to 1978, during the Poona ashram phase. The evidence has been assessed in terms of his intermittent usage of the gas two or three times a day at that early period. See Osho in the Dental Chair.It is very difficult to believe that all this use of N2O was merely dental in nature.
6. Testimony of a Bodyguard
Hugh Milne and his book
Hugh Milne (born 1948) was a British devotee of Rajneesh during the years 1973-82. His very disillusioned report appeared in the book Bhagwan: The God that Failed (1986). Milne became the guru's bodyguard, driver, photographer, and personal mannequin. (13)
Milne (alias Swami Shivamurti) emphasises that the major attraction for many Westerners was the guru's teaching of "spiritual sexuality." This boils down to: "We were encouraged to have as much sex as we could, with many different partners" (Milne 1986:20). The seduced participants had formerly heard that many years of arduous application were necessary for enlightenment. Whereas Rajneesh conveniently maintained that enlightenment "could happen instantly." In 1973, Rajneesh was already notorious as the "sex guru." Many of his lectures reflected a preoccupation with sexuality. "He became an arch advocate of the female orgasm, and he talked at great length about the clitoris, its function, and how it should be stimulated" (ibid:55). This guru "violently disapproved" of marriage, and instead advocated abortion and sterilisation (ibid:142-3).
Milne soon found that Rajneesh began to sleep with his girlfriend. The BBC report adds that the guru sent the young osteopath to work on a farm 400 miles away, in one of the hottest regions of India. The perspiring Milne later returned to Poona, where his activities included a brief affair with Ma Anand Sheela in the very permissive ashram environment.
The book by Milne reveals Rajneesh as a blatantly assertive publicist. The sex guru liked to lecture in front of a large banner, about 20 feet long, which declared: "Surrender to me, and I will transform you. That is my promise - Rajneesh" (Milne 1986:68). Milne believed the guru for nearly ten years. The culminating disappointment included a memorable factor: "Extreme physical hardships were something Bhagwan seemed to specialise in arranging for his disciples, while he lived in sumptuous luxury. I and many others suffered severe malnutrition, continuous and varied tropical diseases, and total exhaustion resulting from putting in a backbreaking hundred-hour week" (ibid:21).
Milne tried to ignore reports that Rajneesh had an ability to hypnotise; the guru was said to have been exerting this influence for many years (ibid:94). Eventually, Milne concluded that these criticisms were justified. He credits the guru with hypnotic powers, but not in a flattering context.
The major role model for Rajneesh is here said to have been G. I. Gurdjieff, a favoured icon of the 1970s after his discovery by the hippy generation in America. Milne informs that Rajneesh "liked the way Gurdjieff had rebelled against authority" (in one of his well known discourse books, Rajneesh says that his methods were different from those of Gurdjieff, and that he was not in favour of alcohol). Milne observes that Gurdjieff did not endanger the lives of his pupils, in contrast to Rajneesh (ibid:100). Some books of Rajneesh certainly do reflect a Gurdjieff influence. Serious analysts of these two entities have concluded that the convergences are not as deep as Rajneesh imagined. A rather basic difference lay in the manual ability of Gurdjieff, contrasting with the virtually spastic avoidance of physical labour on the part of Rajneesh.
A disconcerted Milne found that the guru was partial to gifts like expensive brandy, chocolates, and a large piece of Chinese jade for his new cufflinks. Of course, brandy was favoured by Gurdjieff. Milne charts the collecting trend of Rajneesh as starting with fancy pens and gold wristwatches, then moving on to elaborate cufflinks and status automobiles.
The cupidity of the guru is resented in retrospect by the ex-devotee. Rajneesh was eager to extract charges from all visitors to his Poona ashram during the 1970s. His fundraisers acquired large donations. He purchased many expensive diamond-encrusted pens, not simple fountain pens, which he disliked. By 1980, Rajneesh had acquired two Rolls Royces, "an unheard-of luxury in this land of poverty" (ibid:155). The guru had no scruple about the many millions of poor in India. He preferred to emphasise that "the way to transcendence lay through surfeit and overindulgence" (ibid:157). Critics have strongly objected to such neo-Tantric teachings. Where is the proof of transcendence?
Milne confirms that reports of "broken bones, violence, and outbursts of wild hysteria" at the Poona ashram were not exaggerated. The commentator describes the dubious events in terms of "tantric sessions," which is evidently how Rajneesh regarded them. The ashram was anxious to avoid police attention, nevertheless supplying many patients to the local hospital. That institution made adroit references to tantric injuries in such terms as "falling up the steps on the way to the ashram" (Milne 1986:42).
The ex-bodyguard complains that Rajneesh encouraged exaggerations when these showed him in a favourable light. One of the fluent autobiographies refers to 20,000 visitors arriving for Celebration Day in 1977. Milne was in charge of the seating arrangements for that event, and soberly states: "I know for certain that the numbers did not exceed three thousand" (ibid:144).
The guru became anxious to protect himself. Milne was closely involved at the commencement of the security system in Poona. This was basic by comparison with the American sequel in Oregon, when Rajneeshi guards were equipped with submachine guns. Consideration for devotees was not such a priority. While still at Poona, the guru's well known relationship with Ma Yoga Vivek (Christine Wolff) "was less close than it had once been." Milne adds that a boast of Rajneesh was true: he had made life hell for her (ibid:165).
Rajneesh catered for wealthy Indians and affluent middle class Westerners. Donations were a priority. "Bhagwan said on many occasions that he hated and despised poverty." He preferred Mercedes cars. One of the wealthy Indian devotees was Ma Anand Sheela, who gained fame in America. Milne records how a mere cleaner at the Oregon commune was caught playing a music cassette in Sheela's expensive Mercedes car. Sheela was annoyed and shouted at the underling. The next day, she angrily reported this incident to Rajneesh. The guru said that he would explain a few things about "the art of manipulating people," as Milne expressed the matter. "Never deal with such things yourself, Sheela. Delegate and isolate" (ibid:201). This potentially questionable advice assisted the notorious "inner circle" of Sheela at Rajneeshpuram, a place where the art of manipulation was exercised to the detriment of victims.
At the Oregon ranch, Sheela and others went to Rajneesh for a "special work session." The guru divulged that three things were crucial to "enable him to stay in his body." The three crucial things were (a) a thousand more neo-sannyasins were needed at the Oregon ranch (b) a forest should be planted at the ranch (c) he required more automobiles. "Every week I will be needing more [cars]" (Milne 1986:229).
There was something else he needed as well. Milne was invited to photograph one of the guru's "dental sessions" at the Oregon ranch. The cameraman was puzzled at the assignment, not understanding what was involved. He found the guru sitting in a dentist's chair with two tubes stuck up his nostrils. One tube transmitted oxygen, and the other nitrogen; these tubes were held in place by a specially handmade clip. Milne then knew that Rajneesh was "taking nitrous oxide as a consciousness-altering drug." The tag of "dental sessions" was purely associative, the nitrous oxide gas being used by dentists for clinical purposes. Milne relates that he himself had received a large dose of this gas in a genuine dental session; he was accordingly aware that nitrous oxide could "induce a euphoric, trancelike and almost out-of-the-body effect" (ibid:230-2).
The background to the Rajneesh gas drug is revealed. The guru had found, after a real dental session, that the gas relieved his asthma. He had thereafter regularly resorted to nitrous oxide (N2O). Milne writes that this addiction had apparently been occurring about six months before his reported encounter, and in "daily one or two hour sessions" (more recent data has revealed that the guru was already using the gas at the Poona ashram, from 1978 onwards). Milne watched as Rajneesh started to talk under the influence of the gas. His speech became "increasingly slurred and slow." There is also such a problem as gas poisoning.
The photos taken by Milne were apparently intended for inclusion in a Rajneesh book later published as Notes of a Madman (1985). This document consists solely of talks by Rajneesh at nitrous oxide sessions. The psychedelic context is obvious enough. The guru is said to have validated psychedelic drugs in such statements as: "Using chemistry I want to see if it is possible to see the heights seen by Buddha, Jesus, Lao Tzu... I think that it is." This disclosure reveals a great deal about the missing dimensions to his supposed "enlightenment." In the same book, Rajneesh also indulged in pro-psychedelic patter about the repression of drugs being an evil, and how "people can come to know themselves" through drugs.
The guru was said to be observing "public silence" at the Oregon commune. What did this actually mean? The dissident Milne relates that, in Oregon, Rajneesh watched his video screen for hours on end. Milne witnessed the guru's driving accidents (at the wheel of a Rolls). The "messiah America has been waiting for" now collected speeding tickets. Neo-sannyasins were flying to Portland or San Francisco "almost every day" to purchase new video movies for Rajneesh; this activity was in itself "an enormously costly indulgence" (Milne 1986:255). The guru regularly commanded Sheela (the commune manager) to acquire money and to buy new Rolls Royces for him.
7. Sheela and Rajneeshi Terrorism
The Oregon commune (Rajneeshpuram) relied upon an enthusiastic work force consisting of numerous young converts. Inmates generally donated most of their money to the commune. Much hard work was in process; the construction project (and organic gardening) was impressive. However, some dissimulation became evident. A giant meditation hall was initially described as a greenhouse. The commune plan to create a city proved unwelcome to local outsiders and officials; the difficulty was one of establishing a legal basis for land use.
Ma Anand Sheela on television
The work force deferred to an increasingly dictatorial management led by Sheela (Patel) Silverman (born 1949). This Indian woman had married a wealthy American; she became an affluent neo-sannyasin in 1972, being given the new name of Ma Anand Sheela. She had since become the secretary of Rajneesh, and now acted as second-in-command, more specifically as commune manager. Sheela controlled the commune funds, and had purchased the ranch. The eventual size of the commune was approximately 2,000-3,000 members (although some reports give higher figures, even to 7,000). The workers created an airstrip, a large reservoir, and a sewage plant. The accomodation included trailers; a multi-bus transport system was devised.
Rajneeshpuram (identified with Wasco County) became a municipality, and was thus able to create a security force (or "peace force"), one that received training from the State of Oregon (McCann 2006:153). The Peace Force accumulated "an armory of .357 Magnum revolvers, semiautomatic Uzi carbines and Galil assault rifles, along with a few more exotic items such as tear gas grenades and barricade-penetrating shells for police riot guns." The commune leaders continually tried to buy fully automatic weapons. An argument was that the guru and the commune had to be defended from outside threats.
Friction with the local population caused the Rajneeshi mood to become militant. In 1982, Sheela took over the neighbouring village of Antelope, instructing about sixty Rajneeshis to reside there. Antelope was eventually renamed Rajneesh. In 1982 also, the Rajneesh Institute for Therapy was established. Sheela gained a reputation for frequently insulting opponents. She was prone to abusive speech. This may be viewed as one consequence of Rajneesh "therapy."Eventually, on a television show (Nightline) a few years later, she expressed loud obscenities, to such an extent that she was taken off the air.
The annexation of Antelope aroused much indignation. Attempts were made to challenge the legality of the commune as a municipality.Public reaction to the commune intensified; the issue reached the national media in 1983. The opposition was represented by a sticker often seen on car bumpers in eastern Oregon (Davisson, Rise and Fall of Rajneeshpuram). "Better Dead than Red" was the message, providing no adequate gauge to the nature of events. In July 1983, three bombs exploded at a Rajneeshi hotel in Portland. This event has received differing interpretations.
In 1983, the commune Academy of Rajneeshism published the Book ofRajneeshism. A new religion was clearly in prospect. In this enthusiasm, Rajneesh was identified as a new Buddha. In 1984, Rajneeshism was proclaimed to be the first, only, and last religion.
Fundraising was a priority. Ex-devotees informed that Rajneesh, Sheela, and others, constantly used a variety of methods to obtain donations. Fundraisers linked donations to the issue of "personal surrender and devotion to the master." A basic implication for the would-be donor was that, if they were surrendering (and giving a donation), then liberation and enlightenment were in the offing. In addition to these suggestive overtures, there were more explicit approaches, "liberally laced with cognac and promises of private darshans [meetings] with the guru himself." The "public silence" of Rajneesh, at this period, made the promise of accessibility more tantalising.
Sheela and her colleagues at the Oregon ranch were constantly seeking donations from wealthy European neo-sannyasins. Australia was another target of the persuasion. One of the Americans experiencing the donation process was neo-sannyasin Debra Olson of California. She gained interviews with the adroit Rajneesh, who eventually said that it was time for her to surrender and move to the ranch. Olson afterwards cried hysterically when she signed away her house and handed over to the fundraisers her 20,000 dollar diamond bracelet. She was told: "Drop the mind, drop the ego, and drop all the material possessions, and you will be free and close to enlightenment." Soon after, the disillusioned donor became an ex-devotee in 1983.
In collaboration with the retiring Rajneesh, a decision was made by the commune leaders to influence the Wasco County Court via an election. In September 1984, the commune management arranged an influx of three thousand indigents or "street people" from urban areas throughout America. This innovated population were intended to increase the voting strength of the commune, to gain success in local and county elections. The plan backfired; many of the indigents were petty criminals or had serious mental problems. Sheela and her medical assistant Diane Onang exerted control by having a tranquilliser (haldol) put into kegs of beer consumed by the visitors. Many of these exploited people tried to get bus tickets to return to their distant home regions. They were instead conveniently dumped in Oregon towns, causing local discontent. The cost to Oregon taxpayers was 100,000 dollars in bus fares needed to return the strangers to their cities of origin.
The potent tranquilliser called haloperidol (tradename haldol) was favoured by Sheela. A large supply of this substance was stockpiled by the formidable Onang, intended for use in "therapeutic emergencies." This drug was also administered to commune dissidents who wished to leave. Dissidents found that potatoes and beer were laced with this drug; one of the victims apparently died as a consequence of excessive sedation (Storr 1996:60-1). According to Milne, mind-altering drugs were also dispensed, both to dissidents and donors. Shortly before fundraising interviews, MDMA (Ecstasy) was furtively added to the drinks given to wealthy neo-sannyasins (Milne 1986:290).
An extensive dissident problem is signified by "intermittent poisonings of scores if not hundreds of Rajneesh [neo-]sannyasins from the late 1970s" until 1985 (Conway, Enigmatic Bhagwan). At Rajneeshpuram, some of these dissidents were expelled, and others wished to leave. Serious problems were encountered in protesting against Rajneeshism and the oppressive regime. Enforced isolation could result. Many dissidents are reported to have sneaked out incognito, or escaped by hiding in the back of outgoing trucks. They feared reprisals. The British devotee (and bodyguard) Hugh Milne departed in 1982. He reports that Rajneesh told those who were about to leave that "they would have no peace" (Milne 1986:19). According to Calder, the guru demanded that dissidents should ask his permission to leave. If they escaped by stealth, Rajneesh "dramatically threatened suicide" (Calder, Lost Truth).
Rajneesh therapy failed to heal. Sheela's attacking verbal style resulted in many lawsuits filed for defamation. The commune security force are reported to have harassed local resident outsiders, causing stress-related disorders. Sheela's militancy resulted in arson; three of her emissaries set fire to the county planning office. The therapist front even considered flying a bomb-laden aeroplane into the county courthouse. That plan fortunately did not materialise, unlike the situation in which a Rajneeshi terrorist placed a large quantity of haldol into drinking water at the State Library in Salem. This action numbed victims who attended a conference disliked by the commune management.
In August 1984, three Wasco County commissioners, including William Hulse and Ray Matthew, gained entry into the commune. They were asked to continue their inspection in a Rajneeshi vehicle. In a mood of discourtesy, Sheela told them: "Snakes should sit in the back seat." When they returned to their own car, a tyre was flat. While they waited for a repair, someone brought them water to drink. The visitors gratefully drank what was offered, and drove back to The Dalles. Hulse became violently ill, and was in hospital for two days. Matthew also became ill. The third commissioner did not get sick; suspiciously, this man was sympathetic to the Rajneeshis.County Judge Hulse declared his belief that the Rajneeshis were responsible. The commisioners had been served water contaminated with salmonella (Carter 1990:202). The episode was reported by Congressman James Weaver.
The commune did not admit this crime of poisoning until the following year (the Rajneeshi mayor David Knapp implicated Onang as being responsible). The cause of poisoning was apparently the annoyance of Rajneesh with the restrictive attitude of Wasco County officialdom (Zaitz, The Untold Story Part 3, 2011). That same year of 1984, Sheela began to appear for interviews wearing a lethal Magnum handgun.
Sheela and her associates had their own private laboratory, the means by which they mounted a bioterrorist attack at ten salad bars in The Dalles, a town in Wasco County. They deployed salmonella bacteria. Over seven hundred people became ill. This event (September 1984) caused a widespread wave of shock. The objective was to reduce opposition voting strength in The Dalles by making people sick. The commune terrorists also experimented with a typhoid virus for use against nearby towns. They had learned from Rajneesh a relativistic code that did not recognise any ethical right and wrong. Rajneeshism had to be the winner, no matter what method was used.
The Rajneeshi informer David Knapp stated that Sheela had talked with Rajneesh about the bioterrorist plot. Sheela relayed how the guru had commented that it was best not to hurt people, but if a few died, then not to worry.
An additionally sinister detail is that Diane Onang (Ma Anand Puja), director of the Rajneesh Medical Corporation, attempted to make the AIDS virus into a germ weapon at her "biological warfare" lab (McCormack 2010:5). This prospect was apparently envisaged for both dissidents and outsider enemies. The Rajneeshi drug-dealing and prostitution activities seem tame by comparison (ibid:153ff., 192ff.).
Sheela in her neo-sannyasin robe; Diane Onang and Sheela
Sheela received repeated medication to withstand the stress of this inverted therapy situation. Her private nurse was none other than the disconcerting Diane Onang, who supplied Sheela with valium, morphine, and other drugs. Onang was not a qualified doctor, but a registered nurse; she certainly knew how to use a syringe, and evidently felt at home in her danger laboratory. This experimenter was "feared by many cult members because of her tyrannical and intimidating behaviour." (14) However, she is reported to have been less vocal than many of her colleagues, tending to a terse form of communication.
Sheela secured the loyalty of close colleagues by granting them such amenities as private rooms and cars. In contrast, the generality of commune inmates had no luxuries; they shared accomodation, while using bicycles and commune buses moving about the ranch.
In 1984, Sheela announced that three neo-sannyasins had died of AIDS. These persons were not named. Sheela suggested to Rajneesh that condoms and rubber gloves should be introduced to offset the virus danger. The guru approved. Some directives were given to inhibit sexual freedom amongst the commune inmates. Ex-devotee Hugh Milne observes a discrepancy. Sexual activity at the Poona ashram had been proclaimed as divine by the "sex guru" (Milne 1986:283). Rajneesh had so notably assisted the virus amongst his following.
In November 1984, after over three years of "public silence," Rajneesh began speaking again to small groups invited to his dwelling, known as Lao Tzu House. Sheela's compound was called Jesus Grove, often a hive of activity. The guru's compound was heavily protected by a substantial fence complete with guard towers. A simplistic partisan interpretation is that Sheela was attempting to control the lifestyle of an innocent mystic who was entirely removed from her afflicting schemes. The situation was rather more complex than some versions were willing to admit.
In February 1984, a branch of the commune security team increased protection for the guru. A 24-hour schedule was intended to offset any possible danger posed by outsider threats to Rajneesh. His life was believed to be in jeopardy.Rajneesh had always been concerned about the protection of his person.
The commune mayor David Knapp was one of the first men assigned to the security force ("peace force") which at first comprised 38 members, but eventually swelled to approximately 100 in 1984 (certain other estimates say about 150). Knapp referred to an intensive training in weapons. He later reported a plan that, if any helicopter attempted to land in the compound of Rajneesh, then the resort would be armour-piercing bullets fired from a .308 rifle. The security force was potentially dangerous, as Knapp himself emphasised in his testimony to the FBI. The Congressman James Weaver reported that his concern was aroused when the commune mayor asserted on television: "If we are forced to, we will take over Oregon."
Rajneesh and Sheela arranged for bugging and wiretapping equipment to be installed throughout the commune (Milne 1986:288). Dissidents had to be located. In 1984, the ranch had eleven watchtowers with gunmen, plus a series of checkpoints to ensure that no unwanted visitor could enter and no dissident inmate could escape.
In 1984, Sheela disagreed with a wealthy group of devotees from Hollywood. The issue was gifts for the guru. More specifically, Sheela opposed Hasya, a woman intending to purchase for Rajneesh a Calista wristwatch for the sum of 2.5 to 3 million dollars. Hasya said that she could not say no to the guru, who had evidently requested the luxury item. Sheela "responded by telling her that it was important to learn to say no to Bhagwan" (FBI testimony of David Knapp, PDF, p. 21). There was a sequel meeting the next evening, an audience with Rajneesh who had been told of the disagreement. The guru now emphasised that his former secretaries, who had said no to his requests, were dispensed with. He was chiding Sheela, who was "only able to associate with his disciples during his drive-bys," meaning in the Rolls. Rajneesh stated that "he would have to find his own sources who would provide for his enjoyment."
This episode, on FBI files, indicates to what extent Rajneesh was dominant within the commune. His whims and desires had to be satisfied, or else. Sheela was his prominent satellite, but evidently considered dispensable, a deputy who could be marginalised if the need arose. Sheela reacted to this episode. She is reported to have been infuriated by the Hollywood group of neo-sannyasins who had disregarded her advice. She had apparently warned that expensive gifts were a danger to the guru, perhaps because she knew how he constantly asked her for Rolls Royce cars. Rajneesh had started with a target of 35 luxury cars, but his demands proved insatiable. This means that if Sheela had stopped supplying him with cars, she would have been persona non grata.
According to the report of Ava Avalos, a division existed within the commune hierarchy, but not between Sheela and Rajneesh. The rift involved Sheela and Onang versus personal attendants of the guru, especially Swami Devaraj, a British neo-sannyasin and medic whose real name was George Meredith. This friction went back to earlier years at the Poona ashram, where Onang had coveted the role of Devaraj as the guru's personal physician. Onang is reported to have questioned everything this man did. In the spring of 1984, Sheela planned to remove Devaraj from his privileged role at Lao Tzu House. Onang then poisoned him with pills, though not fatally. Another target of dislike was Vivek (Christine Wolff), the guru's caretaker and close companion. Sheela and Vivek had apparently become enemies quite early on at the Poona ashram.
The Avalos report has a strong complement in the Knapp document, both of these being FBI files. Knapp relates how Sheela told him the reason why Devaraj had become the guru's personal doctor: Devaraj had been the boyfriend of Vivek at the Poona ashram. Sheela said that he was an incompetent doctor. Knapp evidently agreed with her; he told the FBI that "if anyone at the commune required competent medical attention they would definitely not go to Devaraj" (Knapp, PDF, p. 21). The commune mayor here described Devaraj as one of the general practitioners who had worked in the Poona clinic. This medic married the wealthy Hasya in early 1984, a union which Knapp described as being for the purpose of allowing Devaraj to remain in America.
In the spring of 1984, Sheela learned more about Devaraj and Devageet. The latter, the guru's dentist, is briefly mentioned by Knapp in the context of supplying Rajneesh with nitrous oxide gas. Sheela was concerned that both of these assistants were not consulting her about treatment of the guru. They were adjusting his vitamin D level. Sheela referred to Devageet as an "English butcher," a reference to dental operations which she considered unnecessary.
Sheela monitored the guru's compound by installing hidden microphones and recording equipment. The room of Rajneesh was bugged. This reflected the rift between Sheela and the guru's selected "insiders" like Swami Devaraj. During this period, Rajneesh provided lists of supposedly "enlightened" neo-sannyasins. Sheela and her elite management colleagues were not included in the honours. There was an episode reported in which Sheela suppressed one of the guru's discourses that indicated a drawback in her organisational structure. The list of enlightened followers was later given a critical assessment by Sheela.She said that the guru was trying to evoke donations for his Rolls Royce cars, a ploy in which he was successful. We find here the spectacle of two "inner circles" in opposition, with Rajneesh lending an aura of immortality to his personal staff.
According to Milne, it is difficult to ascertain whether Sheela was the puppet of Rajneesh, or vice versa. This source mentions the ex-devotee Deeksha (Maria Grazia Mori), who described the elite relationship in terms of a "mutual manipulation." Milne adds that this is probably the best description for what occurred in Oregon (Milne 1986:308). Another reflection of the ex-bodyguard is significant. Rajneesh asserted that Sheela had effectively ended the life of her first husband (Marc Silverman) by removing his oxygen mask. "What he did not admit was that he had told her to do it" (ibid:295). (15) One should remember the more general advice of Rajneesh: "Delegate and isolate" (section 6 above).
Another British neo-sannyasin was Swami Devageet (Charles Newman), who acted as the guru's dentist. His testimony of 1985 is a partisan document. He says that Rajneesh was aware of Sheela's jealousy, which the guru described as "the price of intimacy with me [Rajneesh]." Sheela was sitting next to the guru at the time of this disclosure. Rajneesh told her that the reason why she was so angry with Devageet was because "he is not frightened of you." This event occurred in mid-1984, at a time when Rajneesh provided the sansads or lists of enlightened neo-sannyasins. Devaraj was included in the privileged scheme. (16)
One female dissident, formerly a neo-sannyasin, filed a lawsuit against the commune to remedy a substantial unpaid loan (about half a million dollars) for acquisition of Rolls Royce cars. Sheela described the loan as a donation. During the court proceedings in 1985, Sheela sent a team of neo-sannyasins to poison the woman (Helen Byron, alias Ma Idam Shunyo). This plan failed, the dissident being awarded 1.7 million dollars by a jury. Sheela "seethed when she learned the verdict" (Zaitz, The Untold Story Part 4: Rajneeshee leaders see enemies everywhere, 2011). The commune was in debt, and could not afford the legal costs.
Sheela was supported by an administrative group of women within the commune, including the Oriental Diane Onang (Ma Anand Puja) and the Australian Jane Stork (alias Ma Shanti Bhadra). This "inner circle" devised a murder plot to eliminate the Oregon attorney Charles Turner. In 1985, Turner was appointed to investigate immigration fraud at the commune. Sheela feared that this event could lead to the deportation of Rajneesh. In May 1985, she opted for recourse to murder. Oregon officials were trying to declare Rajneeshpuram an illegal city; the situation now looked grim to commune lawyers. The entire legal staff of the commune are reported to have visited the guru's compound at this time, informing him that their case was a losing matter. Rajneesh told them to continue (Zaitz, Part 4, 2011).
The assassin group purchased illegal guns and silencers at the instruction of Sheela. The plan to kill Turner failed because Sheela became distracted by internal politics. She made certain commune inmates a target of further murder plots. According to the detailed report of Ava Avalos, Sheela was jealous of Vivek's proximity to Rajneesh, and also the influence she exerted upon him. Sheela convinced her colleagues that Vivek was conspiring with Swami Devaraj to murder the guru. This meant that both of the alleged conspirators must be eliminated instead.
The FBI file on David Knapp discloses further complexity. In 1984, Rajneesh expelled Vivek (Christine Wolff) from the commune, sending her back to England. She had apparently tried to commit suicide on at least two occasions in Oregon. She was not now the intimate companion desired by the guru. He finally allowed Vivek to return, but also told Sheela that he wished Vivek could do the job in hand correctly. There was obviously some criticism in operation here. Sheela interpreted this negative reflection to mean that the guru was endorsing her decision to kill Vivek (Knapp, PDF, p. 35).
In 1985, Sheela discovered that a large quantity of drugs was "being shipped to Lao Tzu," meaning the guru's home. Knapp testified that these drugs were ordered by Devaraj. Knapp mentions a letter to Rajneesh written by the commune pharmacist Madhunad; that letter expressed concern at the volume of narcotics. The prescriptions were written for people residing at Lao Tzu who had no health problems whatever. The drugs are described as being "very strong drugs" and "mostly barbiturates, tranquillisers and pain killers" (Knapp, PDF, p. 25). Sheela concluded that the drug situation was another reason to eliminate Devaraj, who was presenting legal problems for the Rajneesh Medical Corporation. Many years later, she stated that the diverse drug prescriptions were all for Rajneesh, in a context of fabricated files arranged by the compliant medic (Don't Kill Him, 2012).
In support of her strategy, Sheela provided a tape-recorded conversation between Devaraj and Rajneesh, in which the medic agreed to obtain drugs desired by the guru in an emergency situation (apparently one of ensuring a peaceful death if Rajneesh decided to commit suicide). Rajneesh should surely be considered responsible for his own drug intake (section 5 above). One may conclude that Sheela wanted a guru without drugs, whereas Devaraj apparently prescribed for a guru who constantly demanded drugs, perhaps in much the same way that he requested automobiles and Rolex valuables.
Partisan interpretations are at a disadvantage in attempting to make Rajneesh look guiltless. The court testimony of Rajneeshi conspirator Ava Avalos (Ma Anand Ava) is revealing, reflecting a participant stance in commune events. She relays that in May 1985, Sheela planned to create a "hit team" of assassins. At this period, Sheela would visit Rajneesh at his home every morning and evening, asking him about what he wanted to be done in the commune. When some of her colleagues faltered in the plans for murder, Sheela went to the guru for assistance in hardening the resolve of hesitant conspirators. The response of Rajneesh was tape-recorded. He conveyed that "it was going to be necessary to kill people to stay in Oregon. And actually Hitler was a great man, although he [Rajneesh] could not say that publicly because nobody would understand that. Hitler had great vision."
This document was known as the Hitler tape. Les Zaitz clarifies that, although the tape quality was poor, the commune elite "heard Rajneesh say that if 10,000 had to die to save one enlightened master, so be it" (Zaitz, 2011 update of The Oregonian reports, The Untold Story Part 5, Utopian dreams collapse). In other words, Sheela was endorsed to the hilt. The fascist auspices are indisputable.
Certain more general statements of Rajneesh are not impressive. For instance: "Right and wrong have never been my consideration. What I happen to like is right" (cited in Clarke 1999:70). More specific to the American situation is his statement to a newspaper reporter in 1985, when the Oregon commune was starting to fall apart: "Our people [Rajneeshi neo-sannyasins] can also hijack American planes if worst comes to worst" (ibid:64).
According to Knapp, in early June 1985, Sheela was visiting Rajneesh on a nightly basis. However, she had gradually become "fed up with seeing Bhagwan" (Knapp, PDF, p. 6). This frustration is not explained. One aggravation was apparently that the guru told her to travel to India and find a place for him to live in the Himalayas. She complied, being accompanied by Knapp and another. After about three days, and after agitated phone calls from Sheela, Rajneesh told the party to return from Delhi in view of political danger in India. Yet Sheela now (June 1985) became very negative about living at the commune. She resorted to drugs, mainly valium and other tranquillisers. Intravenous fluids are also mentioned by Knapp. This was part of the situation in which Sheela became intent upon murder within the commune, as distinct from without.
Her devotee reasoning had opted to persecute Devaraj, whose food and beverage were continually contaminated, making him ill. Jane Stork was delegated to kill Devaraj, using a syringe filled with adrenaline. This grim assignment was carried out in July 1985. The victim was hospitalised, but survived.
The situation is not appealing. Sheela's health had been undermined to the point of obsession with murder. The mental health of the guru is much in question, mired by drug prescriptions. The unfortunate "caretaker" Vivek had become a suicidal in the atmosphere of guruvic demands and setbacks, and was furthermore a target on the management hit list. The commune mayor David Knapp was drawn into much of the discrepant activity, eventually fleeing in the wake of Sheela, and ultimately surrendering to the FBI (not to the guru).
Full details of the dramas in 1985 took some time to surface. The terrorists did not merely plan to kill Turner, but also the State Attorney General (Dave Frohnmayer) and a Wasco County Commissioner (James Comini). Reporter Les Zaitz was also a target, because his newspaper The Oregonian investigated the commune and became a primary source of information. A total of nine persons were reported to be on the commune hit list. In June 1985, Diane Onang (Ma Anand Puja) tried to kill Comini in his hospital bed at Portland. She had been experimenting with high-potency potassium and adrenaline; Onang went to the hospital room of Comini, assuming that she could inject the poison into his intravenous tube. Fortunately for the intended victim, this tube facility transpired to be missing (Avalos report to the FBI; Zaitz, Part One, 2011).
8. Collapse of the Oregon Commune
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