Are you old enough to remember the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh?
Oregon Public Broadcasting, Nov. 21, 2012
In 1981 this spiritual leader from India spent $5.75 million on a remote piece of property in Oregon and invested millions more to build Rajneeshpuram as a spiritual retreat for thousands of his red-frocked followers.1
In news clips from the 1980s, Rajneeshees line the road for the Bhagwan’s daily drive-by in a vehicle from his fleet of more than 90 Rolls Royce automobiles. Rancho Rajneesh, as some called it, had its own newspaper, fire department, night club and mall.
The Rajneeshees clashed with locals over land use. The utopian desert commune collapsed after Rajneeshees were convicted of infecting four salad bars with salmonella in The Dalles, the Wasco county seat, in order to hamper voter turnout and swing an election. Other crimes included attempted murder, arson, election fraud and wiretapping. About 10 followers were imprisoned. The Bhagwan was deported for immigration violations.
751 people were poisoned in the 1984 bioterror attack. According to Wikipedia, “The incident was the first and single largest bioterrorist attack in United States history. The attack is one of only two confirmed terrorist uses of biological weapons to harm humans since 1945.”
The Rajneesh had hoped to incapacitate the voting population of the city so that their own candidates would win the local election.
The Rajneesh actually did gain political control of the nearby city of Antelope.
But by 1986 they were all gone.
Oregon Public Broadcasting, which produced the fascinating documentary shown above, says
Twenty-five sannyasins would be convicted of crimes: arson, wiretapping, immigration fraud, election fraud and attempted murder. Ten would serve time in prison.
At the end of it all, Wasco County Judge Bill Hulse predicted (correctly) that somebody would write a book about what had happened there: “The people who read that book,” he said, “will think it’s fiction.”
The East Oregonian reports that
Montana billionaire Dennis Washington bought the seized property for a cool $3.65 million as a destination resort, but ran into zoning problems. The Washington family donated the property to Young Life in 1996 and has continued support with additional donations.
Given Bhagwan’s open disdain for Christianity, it ironic that his former land now is home to the world’s largest Young Life camp — a Christian camp.
Speaking of irony, the paper also writes
When planners couldn’t decide what to do with the Bhagwan’s house, a 1997 range fire decided matters. A finger of the fire raced down the ridge and torched the residence, the only one of 300 Rajneeshpuram buildings to burn.
Born in 1931 as Chandra Mohan Jain, also known as Acharya Rajneesh, in the 1960s he changed his name to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and in 1989 to Osho. Though he died in 1990, he still has an international following.2
Want to know more? Rajneeshes in Oregon: The Untold Story, a special report by The Oregonian, is a great place to start. Includes FBI and police reports.
• Seeing a cult through a child’s eyes
• Rajneesh Foundation – The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power
- They used to be known as Rajneeshees or “Orange People,” because of the orange and later red, maroon and pink clothes they used from 1970 until 1985 ↩
- Wikipedia entry on Rajneesh ↩