There are a few times that I write the word “You” in this post. I am not referring to You, the reader, I am using it to refer to someone in general terms. It’s easier for me to write you than, they or oneself. Now that I cleared that up, I can continue.
Back in the eighties, I vaguely remember hearing stories about the Indian guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his commune living in Oregon. The news stories always showed him riding in a Rolls-Royce. Back then I wasn’t interested in spirituality, religion or gurus, I was a single mother working two jobs. I had no time for much contemplating life’s mysteries.
When I saw Netflix was showing a documentary about the Rajneeshpuram commune, I was interested. Six hours are too long for me to sit in one place so I watched it over a week. There’s a lot going on in each episode so watching it over the course of a few days gave me time to digest what I saw. I admit I jumped to conclusions watching the first episode. For one thing, I thought Bhaqwan’s personal secretary, Ma Anand Sheela was living in exile in Switzerland. She is one of the many members who are interviewed during the show. It wasn’t until close to the end that I found out she was not a fugitive. I won’t go into more detail because I don’t want to spoil the show if you choose to watch.
I will give my insight after thinking about what I saw. To begin with, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was a respected guru living in India and had hundreds of followers. The core teaching of his “religion” (Actually, he was against all religions and didn’t like people calling his teachings a religion) was life is supposed to be fun. There is no hell or heaven or endless dogma that many mainstream religions require their belivers to live by. Free love (sex) is a good thing and nothing to be ashamed of. He believed it was possible to live in a world where people lived together in harmony. His followers did practice daily meditation and wore orange/pink colored clothing. To an outsider who didn’t have exposure to different cultures this might seem strange or even threatening.
The problems for the Rajneeshees started when they left India and bought a huge property, formerly a 60,000 acre ranch down the road from the small (white, conservative Christian) retirement community (population forty) in Antelope, Oregon. From the start, the Rajneeshees came under scrutiny because of their clothes and appearance. Lets face it, they did look like Hippies from the sixties and those of us old enough to remember the sixties, know how the conservatives felt about them.
I will admit some members like Ma Anand Sheela and her devoted assistants did some things that were questionable and downright criminal, but I doubt any of the things that happened, would have happened if their neighbors had not decided to intimidate the Rajneeshees first. Fear and ignorance makes people do crazy things. Most people prefer to let their imaginations run wild and depend on rumor and gossip to get their information instead of finding out for themselves who someone, or a group like the Rajneeshees really are. Open dialogue will take you a long way; that and a willingness to have an open mind that not everyone lives their lives the way you do.
One of the ways the Antelope townspeople tried to get rid of the commune was to get the law involved. The land they bought was zoned for ranching and farming, not for a city to be built. (I don’t know if the person who bought the land was aware of this when he or she signed the papers). The Rajneeshees built their small city and legally incorporated it before being told by government officials they had to tear the structures down. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be pissed off about that. I know I’d be pretty steamed. You might even want to use their laws against them in order to stay on your land. (If you watch the documentary, you’ll find out what I mean).
The Rajneesh commune is long gone. The property was sold to some wealthy guy who turned it into a camp for young adults. A Conservative Christian camp. There are lots of structures on this vast property including, a go-cart raceway and swimming pools. No ranching or farming going on there. This got me to thinking. How was this guy allowed to have a religious camp and bypass the zoning laws? Why were the people in Antelope okay with this religious group and scared of the members of the Rajneesh commune? Is it because the Christians dress in “normal” American clothes? Is it because they are the “accepted” religion of pretty much all of the United States? Is it because these young people appear to conform to the mores of American society? I say appear because you and I know we all behave differently in public than we do behind closed doors, especially teenagers. You cannot subdue the free spirit that lives in all of us for very long. Our wild side eventually comes out, we just pretend it doesn’t.
If you watched the documentary, share your thoughts in the comments. I’m interested to hear what you think.