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Rajneeshpuram

OPB | Nov. 19, 2012 8 p.m. | Updated: Aug. 26, 2013 12:41 p.m.

Bhagwan in Crowd

Bhagwan in Crowd

Courtesy of Oregon Historical Society

In 1981, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, a spiritual leader from India, and thousands of his disciples moved to Wasco and Jefferson Counties. On what had been the Big Muddy Ranch, the “sannyasins” set out to build a new city, a utopian community in the desert — Rajneeshpuram.

Thousands of people from around the world gathered here to celebrate life. They worked hard and transformed the landscape. And more than a few hoped to spend the rest of their days at this place. But by 1986, they were gone.

“If you live in the country you kinda like the country to remain the way it is.” (Bernie Smith, former Wasco County District Attorney)

Many of the Rajneeshees came from overseas, and most from urban backgrounds. They were vegetarians, now living among ranch people and small-town retirees in central Oregon cattle country. The two cultures were foreign to each other, and ultimately they would clash.

“I think there were a lot of masters and maybe doctor’s degrees out there. It didn’t mean they had any horse sense. They were pretty illogical about a lot of things.” (Margaret Hill, former Mayor of nearby Antelope, Oregon)

As the Rajneeshee planners began to slog their way through the rules and regulations of local government, problems arose. As the new people encountered the slow-grinding wheels of bureaucracy - the building codes and zoning restrictions and other land-use regulations — the sannyasins’ patience grew thin. Confrontation and rude behavior followed.

The Rajneeshees took over the town of Antelope. Their leadership declared the local people to be bigoted and threatening. And Bhagwan’s open disdain for Christianity did not play well in the new conservative, Christian environment.

“At some point people stopped talking, and they just started screaming. Nothing is going to get done in that environment, and nothing got done.” (Milt Ritter, former news videographer)

In the span of four-and-a-half years, Bhagwan’s people invested more than 50 million dollars in Rancho Rajneesh. They made substantial improvements to the land,.  Many found real joy in being close to their spiritual master and part of the Rajneeshpuram community.  But they ultimately would walk away from it all.

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.”

Resources

 

Books

Kirk Braun, Rajneeshpuram: The Unwelcome Society

Max Brecher, A Passage to America
    e-book: http://maxbrechersbookstobuy.com/, 1993, revised and updated 2013

Devananda Day, Revise Priorities Ahead! Life on a Spiritual Path

 

Articles

A Reporter at Large: Rajneeshpuram I, Rajneeshpuram II, by Frances Fitzgerald

The New Yorker, Sept. 22, 1986; Sept. 29, 1986

Utopia and Bureaucracy: The Fall of Rajneeshpuram, by Carl Abbott

Oregon Pacific Historical Review, 1990

Averting Apocalypse at Rajneeshpuram by Marion S. Goldman

Department of Sociology, 1291 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403

Second-Chance Family by Marion S. Goldman

Oregon Humanities magazine, Summer 2011

 

Web sites

Oregon Historical Society

Special Collections, University of Oregon Libraries

Osho International, publishing headquarters for Osho’s work

Rajneeshpuram wikipedia sites

Rise and Fall of Rajneeshpuram — A film by Justin Weiler

OregonLive: Rajneeshees in Oregon

 

Broadcast Date: November 19, 2012

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