In 1981, the guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh moved to the farm community of Antelope, OR, with his followers and began constructing Rajneeshpuram, an idyllic community based on Rajneesh’s teachings that mixed Eastern and Western philosophies. The documentary Wild Wild Country tells the story of the Bhagwan cult in Oregon, but there are still many details that it doesn’t manage to cover. You may know this group as the cult that poisoned salad bars, but they were much more dangerous than the 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack.
While the Rajneeshees weren’t subject to many of the extreme cult recruitment techniques of their peers, they seemed to undergo a severe amount of brainwashing, for lack of a better term. Citizens of Rajneeshpuram followed their guru blindly, and that meant doing everything his right hand, Ma Anand Sheela told them to, which included assassination attempts and domestic terror. Step into the world of Shree Rajneesh and experience a world of community, free love, and domestic terror.
No One Knew What Was Happening When Rajneesh Showed Up
Before the guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh moved his people from India to the Oregon property known as "Big Muddy Ranch" in 1981, the area was a sleepy community of about 50 people. There was a school house, post office, church, and a general store.
Aside from that, there was a lot of farm land, and ranchers living quiet lives. One rancher in Wild Wild Country saysthe people lived there because they could enjoy a "certain degree of being alone."
When Rajneesh showed up in 1981, no one in Antelope could wrap their heads around what was happening. The ranchers noted at the time there were building supplies being carried in "by the truck load" which gave them pause, but when they heard the Bhagwan wanted to build a a city of "50,000 in the dessert" they became suspicious.
Ma Anand Sheela Is Believed To Have Been The Brains Behind The Operation
Prior to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh moving his group to Oregon, he seemed happy to host visitors to his ashram where they would meditate for hours on end, but many investigators believe he was spurred to make a move to America by Ma Anand Sheela, otherwise known as Sheela Silverman.
She began her career with the Bhagwan as his personal secretary after she was introduced to him by her parents. While working for the Bhagwan, she rose through the hierarchy of the Rajhneesh and became known as his "lieutenant." By the time the group had moved to Oregon, she was believed to be the person who ran the operation. While Bhagwan was more interested in collecting Rolls Royce's and jewelry, Sheela seemed like the person who was trying to grow the collective.
The Bhagwan Was Meant To Be The Next Buddha
The Bhagwan got a lot of press thanks to the Wild Wild Country documentary, but he was largely a forgotten figure after he went down while trying to escape the country. Before all of that mess, he was a very popular guru in India; Sheela, his second in command, claims Bhagwan was supposed to be the next Buddha and that he was more popular than most rock stars.
Before coming to America, Bhagwan worked specifically in India and Australia, where he set up meditation centers and published books on his teachings which blended Eastern and Western principals - a first for philosophical and religious groups at the time. According to Sheela in Wild Wild Country the Bhagwan's initial plan was to create an international commune where people across the world could come to "mediate and create an energy field."
Many Members Of The Ranch Are Still On The Bhagwan's Side
Something that's obvious from the onset of Wild Wild Country is how many followers of the Bhagwan still believe the guru was a good person, despite all signs that suggest the opposite. Philip Toelkes, a lawyer who lived on the commune in Oregon, says many of the guru's followers felt like they went through war together, and he insists the citizens of the commune weren't easily lead astray; they were "doctors, lawyers, city planners."
Many of the guru's former followers gush throughout the documentary about having been a part of a grand experiment, and they believe the ashram would still be going if they hadn't faced extreme racism from the people of Oregon.
It's easy to call this kind of belief "brainwashing," but throughout the documentary you get the idea that the followers of the guru do not want to think they wasted their lives following a guy who didn't care about them one way or the other.