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 which got 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 was 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, but 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, and 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 which 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 who taught 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 of Rajneesh books was the incorporation of lewd or "dirty" jokes in the guru's discourses, and 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, though he chose to overlook the rigorously monastic aspect of both Chinese and Japanese Zen (chan). He was not concerned with history, and ignored the 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" (as he called it).
The notion of "living in the moment" is strongly associated with humanistic psychology, and featured 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, and subsequently changed his image to that of a pseudo-Hindu. His book Be Here Now (1971) was the gospel of "living in this moment," and 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, who included Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. In 1975 he joined forces with the Human Potential Movement at his Poona ashram, and at a time when many "workshop" businessmen promoted 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 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, but 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 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, and gained the reputation of a Romeo at Jabalpur. His outlook proved controversial. He advocated a sexually permissive society, and criticised Hindu religion. After a lecture tour that was deemed audacious, in 1966 Jabalpur University insisted that he resign from his academic role. Amongst other matters, he 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 such celebrity in the West. The innovation of Transcendental Meditation proved very lucrative, and Rajneesh was evidently keen to enter the competition, creating 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. Instead, energetic body movements, hyperventilation (breathwork), and cathartic abandonment were the prescriptions. 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 that "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 that were edited by his followers (). 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)
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, but he 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 was often mistakenly believed by Westerners to represent Hinduism. (3) He was not a Hindu, and nor a traditional Jain, but instead became 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, pp. 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 that included reminiscences of his earlier life. 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, and he 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 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, and was 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, and lost 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," and he taught a version of Tantra unknown to Reich. Yet in some respects, Rajneesh acted as a 1970s successor to Wilhelm Reich. There were due losses in context for psychology. 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, which states: "Rajneesh became well known for his progressive approach to sexuality, which contrasted with the renunciation of sex advocated by many other Indian teachers."
This misleading comment refers to the 1970s Poona (Pune) ashram innovated by Rajneesh, where "dynamic meditation" blended easily with alternative therapy of the Western "new age." The Reichian appetite of Rajneesh encouraged pseudo-therapeutic approaches found in the Esalen and related commercial directories. The Encyclopaedia Britannica inappropriately refers to this mishap as "a program of New Age healing."
In 1975, Rajneesh launched an extensive therapy programme at his new Poona ashram, which was located in Koregaon Park, and had 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 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, p. 60). Of course, 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, and Rajneesh was similarly enthusiastic about the use of four letter words. He was also a patron of the Esalen Institute (in Big Sur, California), which had set the model for 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 related pursuits.
One of those attracted to the Poona ashram was Richard Price (1930-85), an alternative therapist and the co-founder of Esalen. He 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, pp. 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., p. 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." His health had already been impaired during the 1960s, and 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, and 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 think that the guru's discourses were charming dispensations of timeless wisdom, in a manner suited to Christianity and comparative religion. When they afterwards learned more about what happened at the Poona ashram, they dropped their sponsorship (Shepherd, 2004, pp. 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, and there were instances like that of a six year old girl who offered her abilities in oral sex to adult males (Franklin, 1992, p. 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 which involved acute exposure to his relativistic philosophy which endorsed opposites as being simultanously true" (Shepherd, 2004, p. 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, p. 62).
A German camera crew filmed the violence and nudity of the late 1970s Rajneesh encounter groups. The footage was preserved in the documentary called Ashram (1980). This movie confirmed the reports of "therapy" excess. In 1979, and because of Indian disapproval, 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 the time of 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, p. 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, and extending to a Findhorn Foundation episode. (9)
Many of the neo-sannyasins were drug-users, and several of them were arrested while attempting to smuggle drugs into Europe (McCormack, 2010, p. 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 that:
"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. Further, 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, pp. 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, p. 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. She 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, pp. 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. Yet at an earlier period, he had praised Deeksha as a "zen master."
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. He 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." Yet the guru was stating in Oregon that "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 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 derives from an American novelist, but 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 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, and had 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.
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; it can also induce euphoria and mild hallucinations. Continued use can amount to drug addiction. Rajneesh inhaled nitrous oxide (N20) 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 informs: "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 that "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. Yet 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 N20 except for dental surgery, and then a few months later he publicly admitted on a Osho web forum that he gave Rajneesh N20 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 N20 use and talked about it openly. The FBI had records of how much N20 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, p. 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 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 N20 was merely dental in nature.
6. Testimony of a Bodyguard
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) He was formerly a successful osteopath earning a high income.
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, p. 20). The seduced participants had formerly heard that many years of arduous application were necessary for enlightenment, but 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" (p. 55). This guru "violently disapproved" of marriage, and instead advocated abortion and sterilisation (pp. 142-3).
Rajneesh was a blatantly assertive publicist. He 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" (p. 68). Milne believed him for nearly ten years. The culminating disappointment included the factor that: "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" (p. 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 (p. 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 (p. 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" (p. 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" (p. 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, and patronised 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" (p. 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" (p. 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 (p. 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" (p. 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.
Later on 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]" (p. 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, and so he was aware that nitrous oxide could "induce a euphoric, trancelike and almost out-of-the-body effect" (pp. 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 (N20). 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 his talks 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 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 sat in front of 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" (p. 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, and the construction project (and organic gardening) was impressive. Yet there was some dissimulation about intentions. 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.
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, and was 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, p. 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, and 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, and to such an extent that she was taken off the air.
The Antelope annexation aroused much indignation. Attempts were made to challenge the legality of the commune as a municipality. Public reaction to the commune intensified, and 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, which was 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 of Rajneeshism. 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." The 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 who experienced 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 that were consumed by the visitors. Many of these exploited people tried to get bus tickets to return to their distant home regions, but they were conveniently dumped in Oregon towns, causing local discontent. The cost to Oregon taxpayers was 100,000 dollars in bus fares that were 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, and one of them apparently died as a consequence of excessive sedation (Storr, 1996, pp. 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, p. 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, p. 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. They had been served water contaminated with salmonella (Carter, 1990, p. 202). The episode was reported by Congressman James Weaver. The commune did not admit this crime 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 that 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, p. 5). This prospect was apparently envisaged for both dissidents and outsider enemies. The Rajneeshi drug-dealing and prostitution activities seem tame by comparison (ibid., pp. 153ff., 192ff.).
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, and used 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, in that sexual activity at the Poona ashram had been proclaimed as divine by the "sex guru" (Milne, 1986, p. 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 have been 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, and 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. It is evident that the security force was potentially dangerous, as Knapp himself emphasised in his testimony to the FBI. The Congressman James Weaver reported in an address 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, p. 288). Dissidents had to be located. In 1984, the ranch had eleven watchtowers with gunmen, and 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, and concerning gifts for the guru. More specifically, Sheela was opposed to 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, and one 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 of those 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, and that he was successful in this ploy. Certainly, we find here the spectacle of two "inner circles" in opposition, with Rajneesh lending an air 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 that elite relationship in terms of a "mutual manipulation." Milne adds that this is probably the best description for what occurred in Oregon (Milne, 1986, p. 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., p. 295). (15) One should remember his more general advice: "Delegate and isolate" ().
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 was "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 said that the loan had been 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, and the dissident was 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 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, and in May 1985 opted for recourse to murder. Oregon officials were trying to declare Rajneeshpuram an illegal city, and the situation 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). It was surely Rajneesh who should be considered responsible for his own drug intake (). 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, and from a participant stance. 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, and ask 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, p. 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., p. 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
The murder plots miscarried. In June 1985, the attempt to kill Ma Yoga Vivek (Christine Wolff) involved an ether-soaked rag and a dire injection of potassium and adrenaline provided by Onang. The two female neo-sannyasins delegated with this task (one of them Ma Anand Ava) found they had the wrong key to unlock a door leading to the victim.
The attempted murder of Devaraj in July was an event involving evasion. The needle was carefully buried. When the victim said he believed Jane Stork had injected him, onlookers believed that he was crazy. Stork (Ma Shanti Bhadra) offput suspicion by saying to the victim: "If you are going to act like that, I'm going to leave."
Rajneesh himself ordered Stork to be drugged and questioned, as it was not known (except to Sheela's circle) who had injected Devaraj. The guru sent Vivek to the management to relay his dire solution, and even suggested that Stork "be beaten in order to arrive at the truth" (Knapp testimony, PDF, p. 33). The drastic procedure of drugging in order to obtain information had earlier occurred at the commune. (17) Sheela acted as though she was taking heed of the guru's severe response, and thus intending to check the allegation that Stork had injected Devaraj. Later that same day, Devaraj was taken to hospital, and Sheela apparently sent two other assassins after him in the hope of ensuring fatality. He survived.
Shortly afterwards, Stork refused to kill the attorney Charles Turner. Some of Sheela's colleagues were becoming anxious about the continual insistence upon murder. The murder plots then stopped. Political and economic events had now reached a crisis. For some weeks, Sheela had feared that she and Rajneesh would be arrested. The official opposition was now expected to produce major legal indictments in October (Carter, 1990, pp. 229ff.). In September 1985, Sheela told her colleagues that the commune was close to collapse. She, Diane Onang, and others fled to Europe. Sheela took with her a dangerous set of hypodermic needles, but she was now a dissident, and had left Rajneesh, whom she considered an impossible leader in his drugged condition. The details were obscure (and sometimes confused) for many years.
After her departure, Sheela appeared on the television show 60 Minutes, and stated that the Rajneesh religion was a confidence trick. She notably maintained that Rajneesh directed every criminal act she had performed (Morantz, Escape from Rajneeshpuram). According to Sheela's later published account (Don't Kill Him, 2012), she fled to Europe after resigning from the guru's service. She was aware of his drug problem, and also that Rajneesh was indifferent to questions about this matter, which he evaded. His insatiable demands for more automobiles and expensive wristwatches were deemed "madness" by Sheela and other neo-sannyasin officials. She says that the guru's subsequent accusations against her were false, and relays that his reactions to followers who left him were always severe.
By this time, Rajneesh owned several million dollars worth of Rolex wristwatches alone, but he was never content and always desired more valuables. The European branches of the movement provided a crucial economic support, but the guru's expenditure was ruinous and bankrupted the commune.
Very soon after Sheela departed, Rajneesh blamed all the commune problems on her. He called a press conference to declare a new management. His subsequent disclosures accused the defectors of poisoning Devaraj, bugging his home, drugging street people, embezzling over 50 million dollars, and other crimes. "They would even have poisoned me," he added. Rajneesh invited the FBI to investigate, knowing that they would find the extensive bugging and wiretapping system which he now attributed to Sheela. "A joint federal-state task force of investigators moved to Rajneeshpuram" (Carter, 1990, p. 230).
Rajneesh and his advisors were evidently concerned to counter the public view of the commune, which was that of an aggressive armed colony who would fight to protect their guru. There were rumours that the government was going to send in the National Guard. Armoured personnel carriers were soon sighted in the surrounding hills by late September. But only the FBI and the Oregon State Police entered the commune.
In press conferences, Rajneesh took a strongly defensive angle, and prudently repudiated the "Rajneeshism" which had been promoted since 1983. He tried to create a sense of relief within the commune that an oppressive regime, represented by Sheela, had now gone. He encouraged his followers to burn many copies of the controversial Book of Rajneeshism, which he disowned. That book could not have been published two years earlier without his permission. He denied Sheela's allegation of drug use. The FBI did not believe him on this issue, apparently accessing evidence to the contrary, and quite apart from the three books published at that time which Rajneesh had dictated under the influence of nitrous oxide. However, the FBI were not trying to indict him for drugs; they were concerned with other matters.
Rajneesh claimed innocence, and denied any part in wrongdoing. Yet a month before Sheela moved to Europe, he had made a public declaration that: "I told her [Sheela] to go out and cut as many heads as possible" (Calder, Lost Truth).
"While Bhagwan stated he was unaware of the crimes until Sheela and her gang left, other [neo]sannyasins claim Bhagwan was behind everything and blamed her [Sheela] only as revenge for leaving and further to exonerate himself if plots were discovered" (Morantz, Escape from Rajneeshpuram).
Sheela's book informs that the guru's long-term partner and caretaker Vivek (Christine Wolff) now used morphine and a strong narcotic (sodium pentothal). This victim of depression also resorted to MDMA (Ecstasy), which Rajneesh approved, despite the dangers. Vivek had formerly attempted suicide many times via sleeping pills. Close contact with Rajneesh had not worked to her advantage.
The FBI found the laboratory of Onang, but only the testimony of conspirators revealed the bioterrorist plot, and also the varied murder plots which had occurred in the subterranean intrigue. As more evidence was discovered, Rajneesh was compromised to close scrutiny. The FBI were in possession of his tape-recorded conversations, but these had been illegally recorded, and so could not be used against him in a court of law. These tapes are reported to have been very revealing of his participation in many illegal activities of the commune.
Interviews with commune residents confirmed the extent of marriages arranged to avoid immigration restrictions. Many neo-sannyasins had come to America from Poona. This was the immediate matter which concerned the FBI, who were unprepared for other revelations. For instance, one of Sheela's former assistants gave a lengthy testimony which caused some astonishment. This informer was Ma Anand Ava (Ava Avalos), who had participated in bioterrorism and other escapades. Avalos was a Californian, and a Rajneeshi since 1979. She made a statement in October at the Portland office of the FBI; the contents were not generally assimilated.
At a more diluted level, by late October, evidence had been assembled for a legal indictment (on 35 counts) of Rajneesh and seven accomplices, on charges of conspiring to evade immigration laws. Rajneesh was charged with 34 counts of making false statements to federal officials.
On October 28th, 1985, Rajneesh was arrested when he fled from the commune in a rented aeroplane with a few neo-sannyasins (all the rest of them did not even know he had departed). This arrest occurred at an airstrip in North Carolina. He had salvaged some wristwatches worth about a million dollars, together with over 50,000 dollars in cash. This was all that remained of his therapy empire. He was transported in handcuffs across the country to Portland, Oregon. He was briefly jailed, pleaded not guilty to all charges, and was then released on bail.
His lawyers advised him to extend an Alford plea to two counts against him, including that of conspiracy in arranging for neo-sannyasins to contract false marriages for the purpose of acquiring residency in America. The subsequent legal arrangement involved a lenient ten year suspended sentence and a fine of 400,000 dollars. The guru agreed to leave America, which he did in November, taking a flight to Delhi. Arriving back in India, he accused America of being a "monster" and in need of being "hushed up." His partisans perpetuated the myth of how Sheela had ruined the commune, leaving the innocent guru a prey to the evil US government.
One of the drawbacks for facile interpretation is an FBI document which details the testimony of the ex-mayor of Rajneeshpuram. David Berry Knapp was an American neo-sannyasin who acquired the name of Swami Krishna Deva. He was one of those personnel who fled from the commune at the time of Sheela's departure. Later, when Rajneesh was arrested, Knapp knew that it was all over. The very next day, he appeared at the Portland office of the FBI. During the following week, he was interviewed, divulging his knowledge of criminal activity at Rajneeshpuram. His lengthy statement was summarised, and today can be found on the internet. This document reveals the staggering degree of duplicity and intrigue within the commune, and Rajneesh does not emerge unscathed.
Knapp became alarmed at the signs of a cover-up within the commune during late September and early October 1985, and during the FBI investigation. The commune inmates who had fled were accused of crimes, and those who remained (including Rajneesh) were immaculately crime-free. A story circulated that the "secret room" constructed under Sheela's home was intended for her personal use and not the guru's. Knapp stated that this was a falsehood; the secret room was intended for Rajneesh in an emergency or a raid by government authorities. Knapp also received news that the drugs purchased for Lao Tzu House were now said to have been sent to Diane Onang and not Devaraj (Knapp, PDF, p. 37). Someone was altering the facts; Onang had nothing to do with this problem.
The testimony of Knapp relays that, at the time of the news conferences shortly after Sheela's departure, "Bhagwan was aware of all the crimes, not because he discovered them after the departure of the group [Sheela's group], but because Sheela kept him advised of what was going on all along" (Knapp, PDF, p. 38).
In other words, the guru did not innocently discover the diverse commune crimes, but already knew of them in detail. We know from the same testimony that Sheela was seeing the guru every evening; if she held a particular idea in her mind, this would afterwards change to the one given her by Rajneesh. His influence was paramount. Knapp believed that the guru knew about all the criminal and suspect episodes, except perhaps the attempted murder of Devaraj and the bugging of his room. (18)
Critics have analysed a television appearance of Rajneesh at the time of his period in jail. According to Calder, he "gave evasive and dishonest answers to all of Ted Koppel's questions" on Nightline. Rajneesh "claimed that he was not responsible for any of the crimes committed at the commune because he was 'in silence.' " This idea of silence actually took root in some directions as a literal fact, whereas Rajneesh only stopped giving public lectures for the period denoted. His vocal chords remained very active. "He had never stopped talking to Ma Anand Sheela and other close disciples" (Calder, cited in Conway, Enigmatic Bhagwan).
The Rajneesh partisans continue to say that there is no solid evidence linking the guru to any of the crimes in Oregon. Others say that this factor is not a crucial determinant for more general conclusions. The data involved in the career of Rajneesh remains a priority for anyone seriously interested in what can go wrong amongst "intentional" and "spiritual" communities.
Sheela was arrested in Germany at the same time as Rajneesh, and afterwards extradited to Oregon. She was awarded three twenty year jail sentences, on charges of the attempted murder of Devaraj and an immigration fraud involving more than 400 sham marriages. The poisoning of Judge Hulse was another legal point, and likewise the 1984 bioterrorist episode. She was released in 1988 on account of good behaviour in a California jail. Her close accomplice Diane Onang was a similar case. The State of Oregon intended to charge Sheela and Onang with further crimes, but were caught off guard by the lenient early release; the two women left for Europe before any further complication (Morantz, Escape).
The legal process did not at first identify all the problems and crimes occurring within the Oregon commune. The legal process was extended over many years, and in more than one country. Prosecution of the conspirators in murder plots (concerning outsiders like Turner) did not commence until 1990, and even then, the details uncovered were still only partial. Ava Avalos had gained immunity from prosecution on the basis of her assistance in testifying. Her reports revealed the drastic nature of the "hit" strategy.
David Berry Knapp had given a detailed testimony. He made a guilty plea agreement, and in 1986 received a sentence of two years in jail. He pleaded guilty to filing a false petition with the US immigration authorities, and entering into a sham marriage. Avalos and Knapp both testified in the later court case of 1995, when two further Rajneeshi conspirators were sentenced to five years in jail. These two former commune officials were Sally Anne Croft (Ma Prem Savita) and Susan Hagan (Ma Anand Su). Other neo-sannyasins followed Avalos and Knapp in giving testimony to criminal conduct (i.e., attempted murder, arson, immigration fraud, and related matters).
Meanwhile, Jane Stork was jailed for nearly three years for the attempted murder of Devaraj. In the prologue to her subsequent book Breaking the Spell, Stork writes that it was not until she found herself locked in prison that "the extent of my self-deception slowly began to dawn on me." This was a different theme to the "self-development" of alternative therapy. Stork afterwards moved to Germany before the FBI uncovered the plot to assassinate Charles Turner; she was indicted by a federal jury in 1990 for her part in the Turner assassination plot. After many years, she returned to America to face criminal charges. She was effectively pardoned by an Oregon judge due to her mood of contrition at being the delegated assassin of Turner. In 2006, she was sentenced to a lenient five years probation.
Meanwhile, the Rajneeshis of the commune surrendered their control of nearby Antelope in late 1985. The inmates of that village declared themselves to be hostages "free at last." Most of them were older people. In contrast, the average commune age at Rajneeshpuram is said to have been about thirty or less.
After Rajneesh was deported, the Oregon commune ground to a halt. The Rajneeshi corporations were bankrupt. Yet at first the remaining neo-sannyasins resolved to continue the commune. This transpired to be totally impractical. The bills mounted. Only now did it become obvious to the generality of inmates that Rajneeshpuram was not the self-supporting community they had imagined. The commune "depended on massive infusions of gifts, levies on the declining [Rajneesh] world centers, and the therapies and festivals centered around Bhagwan" (Carter, 1990, p. 239).
About a thousand sobered neo-sannyasins departed within two months. Only about two hundred residents remained to manage the liquidation sales. A wealthy Texas car dealer purchased the prestigious Rolls Royce fleet. The ranch was eventually sold in 1988. Many disillusioned neo-sannyasins dropped their allegiance to the sect at this period. However, thousands remained worldwide as followers of the therapy guru, some of these being alternative therapists.
Sexually transmitted diseases were one of the drawbacks at Rajneeshpuram. An unrecognised problem was disclosed by the investigation of a sociologist: observers had more knowledge of the commune history and publications than most of the neo-sannyasins. In many cases, the recruits were only familiar with one book of Rajneesh (Carter, 1990, p. 29).
After leaving America in 1985, Rajneesh was refused entry to over twenty countries because of his controversial reputation and ongoing belligerence. In January 1987 he returned to his ashram in Poona (Pune), where he stayed for the last few years of his life, subject to precautionary stipulations. Generous donations from converts continued. He resumed business as a guru, while wearing exotic robes and flashy jewellery.
The publishing of Rajneesh books continued in quantity. The guru gave evening discourses, despite his health problems. The Poona ashram was now advertised as a "multiversity." Therapy was declared to be the route to meditation. Rajneesh introduced new methods of "meditation therapy" to assist his projection.
Shortly after his return to Poona, Rajneesh gave a series of lectures on Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra. He now claimed that, of all the Western thinkers, Nietzsche was the closest to Gautama Buddha. "The basic point common to both was their attack on slave religion" (Sam, 1997, p. 210). This equation was aligning Nietzsche's attack on Christianity with Buddha's critique of the Vedic priesthood. The argument took no account of the fact that Nietzsche was a very non-democratic thinker who elevated the "superman" in a questionable context divorced from ethical considerations. It is more pressing to conclude that Rajneesh was similar to Nietzsche in a number of respects. Neither of these rebels resemble what is known of the ancient Gautama.
The well known aversion of Rajneesh to Christianity became pronounced at this time. One of his new lectures was entitled Christianity: The Deadliest Poison. Whereas Zen Buddhism was presented by the guru in terms of being the antidote to all poisons. The preoccupation with poison emerged in another theme requiring attention here.
In November 1987, Rajneesh proffered a new explanation for his poor health. His physical condition exhibited fatigue, sickness, pains, and low resistance to infection. Rajneesh now came to believe that Christians in the American government had poisoned him in 1985, while he was in jail. This belief was precipitated by a theory of his doctors that he had been afflicted with thallium poisoning and exposed to radiation during his brief phase spent in American jails. No evidence could be presented.
According to a candid account by a Rajneesh partisan, the guru was influenced by a medic attending him. "Dr. Amrito feels I was poisoned," said Rajneesh (Amrito was the new name of Devaraj, who had attended the guru in Oregon, and survived Sheela's murder plot). In the resultant speculation, the partisan commentator saw a choice between fluorocarbon and thallium as the cause of poisoning. He implies that the guru was not certain of what had actually happened, and adds that the story of poisoning "sounds disturbingly like a novel" (Sam, 1997, pp. 203ff.).
A contradiction to the theory that Christians poisoned Rajneesh is provided by an argument that Ma Anand Sheela poisoned the guru by slowly feeding thallium to a cow whose milk was reserved for him (Sam, 1997, p. 230, and citing Franklin, 1992). This version strikes many readers as rather unlikely; Sheela and her colleagues were sufficiently skilled in the use of drugs and poisons to be more direct in their tactics.
An American lawyer (Charles Hunter) described the allegation of poisoning by the US government as a complete fiction. Partisans of Rajneesh have treated the poison theory as evidence of Christian wrongdoing. Other commentators suggested that the guru's poor health was caused by stress, diabetes, or even HIV infection.
Ex-devotee Christopher Calder repudiated the allegation as being "entirely fictional and contradicted by undeniable fact." Calder concludes that negative health symptoms of Rajneesh were caused by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and aggravated by nitrous oxide poisoning and heavy use of valium. More specifically, "the symptoms which may have led Rajneesh's doctors to suspect poisoning are common symptoms of dysautonomia caused by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome" (Calder, Lost Truth).
The nitrous oxide apparently relieved the severe exhaustion from which Rajneesh suffered. A very feasible verdict is that the guru succumbed to addiction as a result. His excessive resort to valium, well over the conservative medical dosage, amounted to a serious health problem. Calder stresses that valium addicts often think the CIA, or other supposedly evil agents, are plotting against them. The same writer emphasises that the guru incited to murder in his political emphases. Rajneesh publicly called for the assassination of Mikhail Gorbachev, because that politician was steering Russia into a Western capitalism instead of Rajneesh communism (Calder, Lost Truth). It is not difficult to believe that the murder plots at Rajneeshpuram derived from the same agitating source.
Ths guru reportedly maintained his reliance upon nitrous oxide. "He could not resist flaunting his taste for nitrous oxide" (Sam, 1997, p. 199). The same writer comments: "A lot of other [neo-]sannyasins were still well into the drug culture," with an evident preference for Ecstasy (MDMA). Ex-devotee Calder last visited the Poona ashram in 1988, and informs that Rajneesh was "suffering from drug and illness induced dementia."
Rajneesh was still gaining many young recruits from Germany. According to Calder, this was partly because of his pro-Hitler comments as relayed in the influential magazine Der Spiegel. A mood of fascist nationalism is here detected. "The ashram was literally like a loud convention of German Brownshirts (storm troopers) by that point." Moreover, "Rajneesh said that he wanted his [neo]sannyasins 'to take over the world' and that he had studied Hitler to gain insight into how to accomplish the task.... Such remarks were proof to me that his drug use had destroyed the quality of his mind" (Calder, Lost Truth). (19)
In 1988, the discourses of Rajneesh were preoccupied with Zen. However, these reflections have been considered heavily coloured by his own views. Rajneesh now adopted the name of Gautama the Buddha, then Zorba the Buddha, and finally Osho. The word osho is a Buddhist title for a temple priest in Japan, and also associated with Zen teachers. The guru had apparently mentioned the word in this context, but also associated the same word with a healing quality, and relating to the "oceanic experience" emphasised by psychologist William James. The linguistic impression conveyed is osho=osheanic, although Rajneesh implied that osho signifies the experiencer of the oceanic. Less equivocally, the ashram staff declared that the new name of Osho derived from a Japanese term. The pseudo-Buddhist tags strongly suggest that Rajneesh was trying to change his tarnished image, so closely tied to the title "Bhagwan." That Hindu title was significantly dropped.
One of the partisan annalists expressed the conclusion that, during 1989, the guru was resorting to an increasing amount of nitrous oxide. The ashram staff described his gas intake in terms of "dental sessions." This was a convenient but disputed reference; critics maintain that little or no dentistry was involved. The home of Osho Rajneesh had the distinctive feature of "a deluxe dentist's chair in a room walled entirely in mirror" (Sam, 1997, p. 233). This was the setting for his inhalations of the euphoric gas. The decor has been said to reflect a psychedelic ambience, not a clinical one.
Osho exhibited his drug tendency in other ways also. During one of the Zen discourses, he digressed to a markedly psychedelic topic, namely "LSD number two." Osho Rajneesh here declared:
"I am against all prohibition. My own understanding is that if LSD can give some glimpse of samadhi, then all its bad after-effects should be removed, because it is a chemical and it is in our hands.... Rather than prohibiting the drugs, what is needed is to produce drugs which lead people to samadhi, which give an indication: if a chemical drug can be such a blessing, what will the real thing be? It [the chemical drug] is just a dew drop in comparison with the real oceanic feeling, the oceanic ecstasy" (The Language of Existence, 1988, pp. 27ff.).
This digression from Zen invites comment. Osho was at least acknowledging here the difference between a synthetic substitute and the real samadhi (deep consciousness). There is no proof that hallucinogenic LSD can give a glimpse of samadhi. The removal of bad side-effects in LSD is equivalent to fantasy. Perhaps even more to the point, Osho was apparently addicted to a gas substitute for the oceanic ecstasy.
In his last months, Rajneesh is said to have argued with his doctors to ignore their medical ethics and give him even more nitrous oxide. Calder remarks: "In a final bizarre act, Osho ordered his dentists to remove most of his teeth for no legitimate medical reason." The neo-sannyasin dentist Swami Devageet later reported his resistance to this instruction; he quarrelled with the guru over the extractions. To bypass this reluctance, Rajneesh obtained the assistance of another dentist.
Shortly before Osho's death, his long-term living partner Ma Yoga Vivek (Christine Wolff) is said to have committed suicide with an overdose of sleeping tablets. Her despair was apparently created by the guru's "mental decline and collapse" (Calder, Lost Truth). Calder indicates that Rajneesh was by now insane. According to Ma Anand Sheela, Vivek had been living on drugs like MDMA. Maria Grazia Mori reports that she saw the guru beat Vivek in the 1970s (Conway, Enigmatic Bhagwan), and such an experience cannot have been easy for a partner to bear. Sam reports that Vivek was found dead in a Bombay hotel room. There was a story of drug overdose, but nobody seemed to know any further details. Sam suggests that Vivek may have died at the ashram, in which case the staff "hushed it up." The same writer says "she seems to have been in a state of great inner pain," and adds that "living with him [Rajneesh] must have been intolerable" (Sam, 1997, pp. 234, 236).
The failing health of Rajneesh caused him to stop giving discourses in April 1989. He died in January 1990. The official cause of death was heart failure. His followers continued to spread the misleading belief that he was poisoned by the US government in 1985. (20)
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
(1) The internet article by Conway is lengthy and informative. He tries to be lenient in some of his phraseology, although "my heavy leaning onto the critical side is to balance out the gushing praise of Osho to be found all over the internet, and on the covers for his books, videos and other merchandise prominently on display in countless venues worldwide." Amongst the many subjects that he mentions, Dr. Conway refers to his own theory of a potent "energy field" that can be exerted by both scoundrels and genuine saints. This subject relates to a hypnotic ability. The same subject has been expressed in different formats, and not always by partisans of spirituality. No consensus of view has yet been reached. For another instance, see The Issue of Hypnotism.
(2) Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, The Wisdom of the Sands Vol. 1 (Poona: Rajneesh Foundation, 1980), p. 46. The reference was cited in my first book, where the critical context was expressed in terms of "commercial guruism" (Psychology in Science, 1983, p. 51).
(3) Even a sociology professor was misled by Rajneesh relativism into suggesting that Advaita Vedanta was at least partially responsible for the guru's subversion of social norms (Carter, 1990, pp. 2-4). According to Rajneesh, society repressed most Westerners, and therefore social restraints had to be relinquished. He urged that ideas of good and evil were artificial and illusory. There is no resemblance to the disciplined celibacy promoted by Indian followers of Advaita; the attendant doctrine of maya (illusion) is not intended by Vedanta in a libertine context. Rajneesh can be described as a neo-Reichian inverted Tantric who catered for an audience influenced by hippy attitudes and the human potential movement.
(4) Shepherd, Minds and Sociocultures Vol. 1: Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions (1995), p. 54, and observing that Reich tended to vent his anger and frustration on those closest to him, including his third wife, who left him in the 1950s. "It would be difficult to find anyone more repressive of counter-views than Wilhelm Reich" (ibid.). Cf. the glowing portrayal in W. E. Mann and E. Hoffman, Wilhelm Reich: The Man who Dreamed of Tomorrow (Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1980).
(5) Shepherd, op. cit., p. 54. For a lengthy analysis of Reich and his ideas, see Christopher Turner, Adventures in the Orgasmatron: Wilhelm Reich and the Invention of Sex (London: Fourth Estate, 2011). Turner describes the "orgone energy accumulator" as "a wooden cupboard about the size of a telephone booth, lined with metal and insulated with steel wool" (ibid., p. 5). Reich persuaded the physicist Albert Einstein to investigate the orgone box; Einstein did actually test the invention, and refuted the claims of Reich. Einstein was too alert to be misled by Reich, but the latter's converts were heedless of cautions.
(6) Strongly influenced by Wilhelm Reich was Fritz Perls (1893-1970), the founder of Gestalt therapy. Perls was an associate of Reich in Vienna. In Gestalt therapy, everything depended on the now, not in analysing the past; this convenience was confused with a "self-realisation" for clients. Conflicts and traumas were believed to be re-experienced in the here and now as part of the proclaimed holistic personal integration. Perls became a therapy guru at the Esalen Institute during the 1960s. He was notorious as a womaniser. One of his partners had cause to regret the liaison when the neo-Reichian adept mocked her threats of suicide during one of his brutal Gestalt workshops at Esalen. She afterwards shot herself dead, although Perls reputedly showed scant sign of regret. Another female victim of personal integration drowned herself at Esalen after being "savagely jeered" by Perls, on an occasion when she threatened suicide in one of his "workshops" (Shepherd, op. cit., pp. 62-3). A more famous and advantaged student of Perls at Esalen was Richard Price, a Gestalt practitioner and "new age" celebrity. Rajneesh is by no means unrelated to such Esalen figureheads.
(7) Rajneesh supporters have idealised the innovation of Rajneesh "Tantra" in boosting the 1970s ashram economy via the invitation to "growth groups." One argument is that "these experiments, blending western humanistic psychotherapies with eastern mysticism, became the base for further developments in humanistic-transpersonal psychologies; this became the most important psycho-spiritual experiment in countercultural psychology since the establishment of [the] Esalen Institute in California." Dr. Anthony Thompson finds proof of his contention in the arrival at Poona of numerous countercultural entities (or humanistic psychotherapists). The list starts with: "Will Schutz, the creator of Encounter Groups; Bernard Gunther, bestselling author and creator of Esalen Massage and developer of Sensory Awareness; Richard Price, disciple of Fritz Perls, [and] co-founder of Esalen Institute" (Christopher Calder, the man who lies about Osho). There follows a substantial list of more visiting therapists/humanistic psychologists, plus the statement "among hundreds of others." The inventory of therapy greats is not beyond criticism, however, and whether or not they all chose to stay in the Rajneesh Poona ashram. Some citizen critics early arrived at the conclusion that Esalen and the alternative therapy boom was a massive impediment to understanding of subjects supposedly encompassed by the presumed expertise. This activity afforded a major excuse for new age academics and other entrepreneurs to exploit the gullible public. It was often (but not always) the wealthy clients whom they sidetracked, especially at the Rajneesh ashram, where affluence was a priority for admission. The Western "transpersonal" pretence to a knowledge of "spiritual" matters was and is objectionable. An Esalen rival to Rajneesh was Stanislav Grof, who lured many victims into MDMA experiences, and against the pervasive backdrop of his LSD "psychotherapy." At the Esalen Institute, Grof also commenced Holotropic Breathwork, or hyperventilation, which is no more convincing an achievement than Dynamic Meditation. Grof was the Scholar-in-Residence at Esalen. The history of religions was in abeyance, whatever the proceeds in "transpersonal transformation." See further Shepherd, Pointed Observations (2005), pp. 6ff., 125-6, and observing: "MDMA was advertised by the Rajneeshi and other New Age groupings as a spiritual drug" (p. 125).
(8) E.g., Peter Russell, who referred to the claim of Rajneesh that the Western mind is too active for meditation (The Awakening Earth, London: Routledge, 1982, p. 149). In which case, the profits extracted from Dynamic Meditation were a compensating factor. A few pages later, Russell urged in a context of approval the possibility of chemicals being discovered that are capable of evoking the same brain states equated with "the shift of identity to the pure Self" (ibid., p. 154). This related to the fashionable "psychotechnology," and also the "miraculous powers for all" theme associated with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The Rajneeshis certainly believed in the action of drugs like MDMA in their synthetic shift of identity. Russell was formerly associated with the promotion of Transcendental Meditation.
(9) The Findhorn Foundation, located in the far north of Scotland, advertised a commercial workshop programme infuenced in many respects by the Esalen Institute. Like Rajneesh, the Findhorn Foundation was an extension of the so-called human potential movement. A number of Rajneeshis are known to have favoured residence at or near the Findhorn Foundation, and over the years, the literature of this organisation advertised Rajneeshi events and favourably reviewed some of the guru's books. A dissident complained of Rajneesh promotions, and wrote in a letter dated 1993: "Rajneesh, for instance (who vigorously sponsored Reichian therapy), advocated that children should watch their parents having sexual intercourse and should also experiment for themselves. This cost him many devotees who could stomach everything but that, and who likewise resisted the many compulsory abortions. This is the prime reason I protested against the [Findhorn] Foundation's consistent promotion of Rajneesh's books and cassettes, which are sold within the Foundation" (Stephen J. Castro, Hypocrisy and Dissent within the Findhorn Foundation, Forres: New Media, 1996, pp. 222-3). Such ethically-based complaints of the dissident were ignored by the Findhorn Foundation management, who resorted to a ruse that screened out the dissident from participation in their programmes. See further Kate Thomas and the Findhorn Foundation, and Findhorn Foundation workshops. Lack of ethical considerations in the Western "new age" is a close relative of Rajneesh tactics.
(10) The commune could not be successfully accommodated in the limited grounds of the Poona ashram (variously described as comprising four and six acres). An overflow of neo-sannyasins lived in local hotels and other places. Rajneesh and his management planned to move the colony elsewhere in India, but such prospects were not achieved. In Poona, there were local feelings of resentment against the extremist ashram. Poona officials objected to numerous huts erected illegally. Neo-sannyasins resorted to arson, but blamed enemies for their actions. A Hindu fundamentalist threw a knife at the guru during a lecture he gave in 1980, but this event has received different interpretations. At this period, Rajneesh acquired his first two Rolls Royce automobiles, one of these being equipped with gun ports and tear gas ejectors. The police intensified investigations into charges of drug-smuggling. The Indian government did not view Rajneesh benignly. It is evident that Rajneesh and his colleagues wanted to move to America, with the anticipation of expanding the commune in more advantageous conditions. In 1982, the Poona police informed American consular officials that the number of drug dealers in Poona had dramatically decreased after the departure of the Rajneesh commune.
(11) The American novelist was Tom Robbins. The commentary is in Thompson, Christopher Calder, the man who lies about Osho. In this pro-Rajneesh web article, the author remarks: "It was a show with a fleet of cars; his intention was to say something else." The theory is urged that the same consideration applies to the watches acquired by Rajneesh. The contention is also made that most of these horological objects "were made of quartz not diamonds... but the idea was that they would look like diamonds." These wristwatches have been variously described as ladies' watches, Rolex, and quartz. Most spectators were not connoisseurs, unlike the guru. Rajneesh was never interested in bottom of the range, but only the best, as with his choice of cars and diamond-studded pens. It is very unlikely that he opted for quartz substitutes to the Rolex high status range. The guru can be seen wearing mens' quality wristwatches in some photos. The FBI document of David Knapp reports that a wealthy devotee in America wished to buy the guru a Calista wristwatch for 2.5 to 3 million dollars. This was because Rajneesh pressed her to do so. At Poona in 1988, the guru complained in a lecture about the American police having "stolen his collection of jewel encrusted ladies' watches" (Calder, cited in Conway, Enigmatic Bhagwan). Calder saw the videotaped lecture, and reports that Rajneesh was "ranting emotionally, and factually incorrectly" on this topic. The guru was not saying something else; his intention was complaint, and "childishly irrational." The complaint evidently referred to the occasion in 1985 when Rajneesh was arrested in an aeroplane, and his luggage found to contain a handgun and "a box of expensive jewel encrusted watches." Such items are status symbols; that is primarily what they say, apart from telling the time and showing calendrical dials.
(12) Some partisans of Rajneesh interpreted the nitrous oxide or N20 spigots in terms of therapeutic oxygen for the guru's asthma. Conway has observed that Calder and other "very close disciples... have a completely different story" (Enigmatic Bhagwan). In the opposing camp, one partisan cited the misleading report of Swami Devageet, who pinned the gas use down to "dental treatment sessions" administered by himself. See Anthony Thompson, Christopher Calder, the man who lies about Osho (2007). Calder revealed in more detail what the evasive Devageet said. See also Devageet et al, Tooth Truth: Memoirs of a Dental Triumvirate (Viha Connection, 2001). The apologist version of "dental sessions" was also penetrated by affiliates of the Osho movement, e.g., Swami Anand Parmartha, who soon after referred to a growing controversy about the guru's regular use of N20 from 1978, and ostensibly whenever Rajneesh had a private dental facility. The complaint is mentioned that the guru's doctor (Devaraj, alias Amrito) and dentist (Devageet) demonstrated a lack of professional etiquette in humouring the health hazard of multiple exposure to N20. "Several commentators seem to feel that Osho's death could be as easily explained by nitrous oxide poisoning, as thallium poisoning" (Osho in the Dental Chair). Parmartha stressed that Rajneesh underwent three periods of N20 usage, meaning Poona One, Oregan Ranch, and Poona Two. It is furthermore evident that the guru was sometimes having "dental sessions" two or three times a day even in Poona One. This habit "must have had a very deleterious effect on his overall health in a body already weakened by diabetes" (Sequel Osho Dental). The same writer clearly believed there is considerable scope for rejection of the "orthodox Osho movement" theory that the guru was poisoned by thallium (a theory favoured by the elite party of neo-sannyasins associated with Devageet). Parmartha reflects that Rajneesh "might well have inhaled more than any other known nitrous oxide user over the three periods." He also made the significant comment that "posterity is entitled to the plain truth about all of this." The same Rajneeshi editor in Sannyas News wrote: “We also all must own up to the fact that Osho took nitrous oxide over many years” (Parmatha, 06/12/2009). The relevant article is entitled What did Osho die from? This may be described as basic reading on the subject. Parmatha here says: “I have seen many deny this hallucinogenic aspect of Osho’s life altogether.” The same editor comments that the denial is contradicted by three articles appearing in 2001, and composed by dentists attending Rajneesh. Parmatha suggests that some Osho partisans did not wish to acknowledge this guru’s use of laughing gas after 1985. “I can only assume this is done because they feel it subtracts from their view that the main cause of Osho’s death was poisoning by the US government, not Osho’s own use of nitrous oxide.” Another affiliate, the irrepressible Sam (an atypical devotee moving at a tangent to orthodoxy), observed that N20 sessions continued during the guru's last years in Poona, and according to Viha Connection accounts (2001) from the guru's dental team, in "gargantuan quantities." Sam linked this factor to the guru's digression from Zen lectures in his now well known 1988 aside "on the desirability of producing a more highly evolved psychedelic which he called LSD 2" (Sam, Osho and Psychedelics). That aside has been hijacked by the non-Osho psychedelic movement visible on the web. Dr. Thompson repudiated the non-partisan account by Oregon Congressman Jim (James) Weaver, an eyewitness of abandoned Rajneeshpuram, and one who saw "nitrogen oxide spigots by his (Rajneesh's) bedside." Thompson insists that Weaver's report "is obviously not reliable," the basis for this judgment being a dating error concerning the departures of Sheela and Rajneesh, which are conflated. An error does not necessarily negate an entire report. Thompson prefers to describe Rajneesh as "a known asthma sufferer" requiring an oxygen spigot. Thompson calls the Calder version "second-hand information," but dismisses Weaver's firsthand report. Still relevant also is Weaver's address The Town that was Poisoned, where he reliably describes the concern with food poisoning at The Dalles, and also narrates what happened when three Wasco County commissioners gained access to Rajneeshpuram in 1984. Coming from yet another direction, Dr. Timothy Conway is in clear disagreement with Thompson, and notes the latter's tendency to exonerate Rajneesh by blaming Sheela (Enigmatic Bhagwan).
(13) Milne's book gained opposition from Rajneesh partisans, especially from Anthony Thompson, Christopher Calder, the man who lies about Osho (2007). This web article stated that Milne was not the personal bodyguard of Rajneesh, but of his secretary Ma Yoga Laxmi. Thompson asserted that Milne (Shivamurti) was merely guarding the darshan sessions when the guru spoke to his disciples. Thompson conceded that Milne had "a special position in Poona One," but reported that Milne afterwards had to drive a bulldozer at the Oregon ranch on the orders of Sheela. In 2007, ex-devotee Christopher Calder responded to this version of events by informing: "Being Rajneesh's guard at his most vulnerable time of day, during darshan when he met the public, makes Milne [Shivamurti] his personal guard. Shivamurti was responsible for all of the guards, and he devised the security plan that protected Rajneesh day and night. No one person could be on call to guard Rajneesh 24 hours a day. Milne was the head guard." Calder himself had performed guard duty in Poona. This confirmation was reported by Conway towards the end of his long internet article Enigmatic Bhagwan. Calder also informed that, with the exception of the secretary Laxmi and Ma Yoga Vivek, Milne "probably spent more time in close physical proximity to Rajneesh than anyone in Rajneesh's adult lifetime." Calder stated that he could verify many of the details in Milne's book, and commented that the Milne data was "largely corroborated" by Satya Bharti Franklin's book Promise of Paradise (1992). The situation of Milne driving a bulldozer is typical of what happened to some dissidents at the Oregon ranch in the early 1980s.
(14) McCann, 2006, p. 154, and informing that Onang came from the Philippines and joined the Rajneeshi commune in 1979. She was given the nickname of "Dr. Mengele," signifying the infamous Nazi doctor who conducted hideous experiments in Nazi concentration camps. Onang "was suspected of having poisoned Sheela's first husband" (ibid., p. 155), although the total context of that episode extends to Sheela and Rajneesh. See note 15 below.
(15) This report tends to be confirmed by the FBI testimony of David Knapp. Marc Silverman (Swami Chinmaya) died in 1980 at the Krishna House in Poona. He was allegedly dying of cancer or Hodgkins Disease. In 1985, Sheela told Knapp that she had injected Marc with an instrument given to her by Diane Onang. After the injection, the invalid died. This "mercy killing" of her husband had been discussed with Rajneesh, who was apparently in approval, although nothing explicit is said on this point (Knapp, PDF, p. 4).
(16) Devageet gave a testimony to the Wasco County Grand Jury in October 1985. He became a neo-sannyasin in 1976. He describes Rajneesh as "a chronic asthmatic." Devageet emphasises that Sheela did not like him (Devageet). According to the dentist, she was skilled in "a mental undermining process." Devageet describes incidents of harassment, including the episode in 1984 when Devaraj and others were poisoned soon after Rajneesh had declared them to be enlightened. The bizarre events narrated in this testimony include the incident, dating to early 1984 or earlier, when Devageet visited Jesus Grove and saw Sheela in her bedroom vomiting and "obviously very drugged," near a nitrous oxide machine. The testimony says that Diane Onang was then administering nitrous oxide (N20) to the commune manager. This was two years after Hugh Milne had seen Rajneesh inhale N20 for recreation. In later years, Devageet partially disclosed the guru's involvement with nitrous oxide. The articles of Devageet and his dental assistants appeared in 2001 in Viha Connection, a neo-sannyasin newsletter. Rajneesh dictated three books under the influence of the N20 gas during the early years of his residence in Oregon. Those books were published in 1985, during the same month when Sheela fled the commune. See also Swami Devageet, Osho: The First Buddha in the Dental Chair (Sammasati, 2013).
(17) The case of Felton Walker is here relevant. In 1984, he was one of the homeless men brought to the commune from urban areas. He was afterwards thought to be planning to kidnap Rajneesh. Diane Onang put him to sleep with an injection, and someone administered a dose of sodium pentothal, the so-called "truth serum." Sheela and six other commune leaders were forceful attendants in this situation. They continually slapped Walker, to keep him awake and to endure questioning about the plot of which he was suspected. This episode continued for hours, to no avail. Walker was kept sedated for two more days before being ejected from Rajneeshpuram (Zaitz, The Untold Story Part 3, 2011 update). Some suspect that Rajneesh may have been involved in the decision-making.
(18) David Knapp became a neo-sannyasin in 1978, and afterwards a leading spokesman for the Oregon commune because he was familiar with municipality law. It was he who suggested that Rajneeshpuram should become an incorporated city. He became a city official or "mayor" in August 1982. Sheela requested him to marry a woman named Aruna, in order to bring her and her children to America. Knapp then married Aruna, but told the FBI that this marriage was a sham. He stated that the close relationship between Sheela and Rajneesh at the Oregon ranch involved a meeting between them every evening. He said that "the relationship was such that everything Sheela said came from Bhagwan" (FBI testimony, PDF p. 4). Knapp informed that he "was personally aware of instances when Sheela went to see Rajneesh with one idea and returned, after conversing with Bhagwan, with a different idea and that was the idea which would be adopted" (p. 4). Such data is in strong contradiction to devotee contentions about Rajneesh being a passive victim of Sheela's plots, and a complete outsider to those schemes. The informant recounts that Rajneesh was totally supportive of a forged document intended to show that he was the adopted son of an American citizen (pp. 7-8). Knapp also said that Rajneesh strongly participated in the press release intended to remedy the problem of street indigents brought to the commune in 1984 to influence an election. The guru "drafted the final press release" (p. 10). This read like a form of bargaining with the authorities, including resolution of his immigration status.
(19) The major pro-Osho critic of Calder took exception to the latter's mention of Rajneesh (Osho) as saying: "I have fallen in love with this man," meaning Adolf Hitler. Dr. Anthony Thompson prefaced his criticism with the emphasis that it is nonsense to pick a few statements from Osho's 8,500+ hours of talks and evaluate on that basis. This contention was accompanied by the statement: "Osho himself never denied being contradictory, on a [the] contrary he glorified it.... Out of a whole chapter reference a quote means nothing" (Calder, the man who lies about Osho). Critics feel that such reflections render useless any resort to the Osho corpus. Thompson finds a close similarity to the Calder quote in an interview relayed in Der Spiegel and dating to 1985. Rajneesh here said to two German journalists: "I love the man (Hitler); he was crazy." This was a joke to see their reactions, urges Thompson. The response was a look of shock. The guru afterwards said that he considered Hitler to be "completely immoral and a murderer," but also compared him with Gandhi, disadvantageously for the latter. So the meaning here is, says Dr. Thompson: "to show how immoral Mahatma Gandhi was, in his [Osho's] view, for being against technology in a poor country like India and preaching celibacy and self-torture." Such invidious contextual analysis may have the opposite effect to what is intended. Dr. Thompson also provides Osho quotes on Hitler and Gandhi found in two discourse books, one on Zen and the other on Taoism. Both of these citations reveal the typical tendency of Rajneesh to conflate Gandhi with Hitler and to the extent that "both men have many things in common." Rajneesh even says: "Both were great saints!" Further: "Both tortured; whom they tortured is not of that much significance." Osho sophistry is not only offensive, but a serious reflection upon supporters of the "Hitler-Gandhi" relativism. It is of tragic significance that Hitler facilitated the tortures inflicted upon Jews by Josef Mengele, one of the most hideous sadists known in history. It is of contrasting and substantial significance that Gandhi's self-discipline was one means of overthrowing the British Empire, whose pride was long overdue for a rebuff.
(20) A strong influence in this respect was the short book entitled Was Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh Poisoned by Ronald Reagan's America? (Cologne: Rebel Publishing, 1988). This was written before the guru's death by his secretary Sue Appleton, and was closely associated with the Poona ashram. The conclusion has been expressed that Osho Rajneesh must have had a hand in this published suggestion (Sam, 1997, pp. 230-1).
The Rajneesh literature is a minefield for the unwary, and includes some very misleading books. There are many partisan or apologist works, e.g., Vasant Joshi, The Awakened One (1982) and Joshi, Osho: The Luminous Rebel - Story of a Maverick Mystic (2010). Joshi is also known as Swami Satya Vedant, the name bestowed upon him by Rajneesh when he became a neo-sannyasin. Reservations also apply to certain works of a different complexion. For instance, The Golden Guru (1987) by James S. Gordon has received strong critique, e.g., the 2002 letter from E. Patrick Curry appearing in the Washington Post. A partisan work, but containing some independent reflections, is Sam, Life of Osho (London: Sannyas, 1997); the author here was Chris Gray (Paritosh), a Rajneeshi from 1975; his book was "suppressed by the official Osho movement" informs Timothy Conway. Critics regard as questionable the Autobiography of a Spiritually Incorrect Mystic (New York, 2001), an edited work representing Rajneesh. A brief but very critical treatment is Ronald O. Clarke, The Narcissistic Guru: A Profile of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (1988). An Emeritus Professor here examines the prolific claims of the subject, and associates him with a narcissistic personality disorder. Despite his aberrations, "Rajneesh claims possession of absolute and total spiritual truth." The quote comes from page 59 of the reprint in Harry Aveling, ed., Osho Rajneesh and his Disciples: Some Western Perceptions (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1999), chapter 4 (55-89). A relevant account is Ma Anand Sheela, Don't Kill Him: The story of my life with Bhagwan Rajneesh (New Delhi: Prakash, 2012). This version of events has much critical detail, and also a residual devoteeism; both the Poona ashram and the Oregon commune are covered. My own critical view was expressed in Some Philosophical Critiques and Appraisals (2004), pp. 58-74.
Some other varied works can be listed as follows:
Carter, Lewis F., Charisma and Control in Rajneeshpuram (Cambridge University Press, 1990).
Franklin, Satya Bharti, The Promise of Paradise: A Woman's Intimate Story of the Perils of Life with Rajneesh (Barrytown: Station Hill Press, 1992).
Guest, Tim, My Life in Orange: Growing Up with the Guru (Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, 2004).
McCann, Joseph T., Terrorism on American Soil (Boulder, Colorado: Sentient Publications, 2006).
McCormack, Win, ed., The Rajneesh Chronicles (1987; second edn, Portland, Oregon: Tin House Books, 2010).
Milne, Hugh, Bhagwan: The God That Failed (London: Caliban, 1986).
Stork, Jane, Breaking the Spell: My Life as a Rajneeshee and the Long Journey Back to Freedom (Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2009).
Storr, Anthony, Feet of Clay: A Study of Gurus (London: Harper Collins, 1996).
Strelley, Kate, The Ultimate Game: The Rise and Fall of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (London: Harper Collins, 1987).
Concerning internet sources (linked above) by named authors. The detailed FBI testimonies of David Berry Knapp and Ava Avalos are very relevant. A partisan version, misleading on some points, is Sven Davisson, The Rise and Fall of Rajneeshpuram, exhibiting the familiar tendency to separate Rajneesh from Sheela in order to justify the former. Timothy Conway's lengthy critical treatment of Rajneesh (The Enigmatic Bhagwan) has much detail and an extensive bibliography. Christopher Calder's Osho, Bhagwan Rajneesh, and the Lost Truth is strong critique, but includes the anomalous assertion that Rajneesh represents "madness and superconsciousness living together." The present writer does not credit the subject with superconsciousness. A critique of Calder by a Rajneesh partisan is Anthony Thompson, The Man who Lies About Osho. Journalist Les Zaitz supplies important data about Rajneeshpuram at Rajneeshees in Oregon: The Untold Story. This consists of a substantial 1985 series, and a 5 part update of 2011. The article by Paul Morantz comes from an American lawyer who supplies critical detail about the Oregon commune. Morantz has specialised in the prosecution of dangerous organisations, including Scientology and Synanon. See Morantz, Escape: My Lifelong War Against Cults (Los Angeles: Figueron, 2012). The article "Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh" in Encyclopaedia Britannica was written by John Gordon Melton, an American scholar noted for a lenient attitude to "cults," and who in 1995 was initially deceived by the extremist Japanese sect Aum Shinrikyo. Melton and others were invited to Japan by that sect, who provided insufficient information. Melton and his colleagues complained that the precautionary tactics of the Japanese police were unmerited; the visitors defended the sect. Aum Shinrikyo transpired to be extremely dangerous. Melton revised his assessment when confronted with more data. Superficial coverage of religious sects/cults so often overlooks crucial detail. Partisan accounts cannot always be trusted. Some critical information can be found at cult education/Rajneesh.
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