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Link to Web site for Wicked Portland: The Wild and Lusty Underworld of a Frontier Seaport Town z

UPDATE: New info as of April 2011

Investigative reporter Les Zaitz of The Portland Oregonian has just published a five-part package on the unknown stories from Rajneeshpuram. Through his Web site (the Rajneesh story's home page is here) you can access source documents, court transcripts and audio recordings of interviews with people who were there.

video: "Join the dance!"

This three-minute official promotional video for Rajneeshpuram is fascinating. The people seem to do nothing but beam toothy smiles, dance and hug each other.

more about sheela:

The Oregon Historical Society has an excellent biography page on Ma Anand Sheela, including a fabulous picture of her with a new Rolls-Royce.

Studying the movement:

Academic "Rajneesh watchers" Susan Palmer and Arvind Sharma wrote this book in 1993; you can preview it at Google Books, here.

Where's antelope?

Antelope is roughly in the middle of a triangle drawn from The Dalles to Madras to Fossil. This Google map will show its location in better detail

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Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Rajneeshpuram: Oregon’s “red scare,” with lots of Rolls-Royces

Bhagwan's assistant, Ma Anand Sheela, set the tone for the commune's relations with the rest of Oregon — and that tone was not a friendly one. Soon the “Rajneeshies” were planning a political takeover ...

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The Bhagwan drives by a group of disciples during Rajneeshpuram era. Photo from Akash Asvin Arjun's blog.
The Bhagwan drives through Rajneeshpuram in one of his
Rolls-Royces. This image is from the blog of Akash Asvin Arjun,
a freelance tutor, Vedic astrology consultant, planetary
gemology advisor, new-age guru and freelance media
consultant based in Britain. It's from a blog posting titled "Cult
Gurus of New-Age."

Downloadable audio file (MP3)

One of the strangest episodes in Oregon history took place just a few dozen years ago, when an East Indian guru bought a patch of the Central Oregon high desert country. Many of us remember the saga of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh vividly.

"The Rolls-Royce Guru"

Although the Bhagwan said he was not a spiritual leader or founder of a cult, he did apply for tax-exempt religious-group status for his organization. He wasn’t big on poverty — and when  followers started buying him Rolls-Royce automobiles, he was happy to accept. By the end of his ride, he had at least 90 of them. While he’d been known in India as “the sex guru,” he quickly became known in his new home as “the Rolls-Royce guru.”

A short honeymoon

Central Oregon is a place where people tend to mind their own business, so one would expect the locals to react to a group of mystics buying one of the local ranches with not much more than a chuckle and a shake of the head. And that’s how it was, at first. But as you may recall, the “honeymoon” for the sannyasins was very short. It ended virtually the instant the Baghwan’s designated spokeswoman and No. 2, Ma Anand Sheela, started talking to the media.

How not to make friends

A tent city erected for the annual Rajneesh festival in 1983, shot by Samvado Gunnar Kossatz
A photo by Samvado Gunnar Kossatz (© Samvado) of the tent
city erected for the annual Rajneesh festival in 1983.
Samvado has many more images from the 1983 festival here.

Sheela considered Oregon locals to be a bunch of ignorant, small-minded rednecks, and never missed a chance to share that view. It also didn’t help matters when the Baghwan started staging road shows each day, driving one Rolls or another 70 miles from the ranch, accompanied by security Jeeps full of armed guards and buses of devotees, to get an ice cream soda (a strange menu selection for a diabetic man) in Madras. He would enjoy the soda in the car while the red-clad multitudes danced around the Rolls, celebrating the guru’s snack in the noisy style of Westerners acting out their stereotypes of Eastern mysticism.

The invasion and conquest of Antelope

Meanwhile, the newcomers were having trouble getting variances approved to build a big city on land zoned for exclusive farm use. So they bought a building in Antelope, moved a bunch of followers into it, and ran four of them for City Council. In desperation, the locals tried to disincorporate, but the “red people” were now voting members of the town, and there was only so much resistance the town’s 43 other registered voters could put up.

The "Rajneeshies" won the election handily, and thus was begun what later became known locally as the "invasion and occupation" of the town. The new City Council promptly renamed the town "Rajneesh" and made clothing optional in the city park. Then, of course, they got busy approving the variances they needed for property that was in the city limits.

Having tasted the cup of power, the commune now set its sights on bigger game. First, they incorporated their commune as a genuine municipality. Then they started trying to pack followers into the commune, so that they might have a greater impact on Wasco County elections.

Hearty welcome to all homeless folks (who can vote)

To do this, Rajneesh leaders threw open the gates to the nation’s homeless, paying bus fare for anyone who wanted to come to Rajneeshpuram for the “Share-a-Home program.” Free food, shelter and clothing — it was a compelling idea for anyone shivering under a railroad bridge in February in Seattle, Oakland, Boston or wherever.

However, to be eligible the homeless people had to be adults. Homeless families were not brought in.

Bhagwan predicting apocalypse

Meanwhile, the Bhagwan’s teachings had lurched wildly into weirdness, lending some actual credibility to his later claims that his voice had been co-opted by Sheela. Now he was predicting global thermonuclear holocaust by the mid-1990s and urging his followers to dig deep bunkers so they could survive it. By this time Sheela had his power of attorney as well.

Sheela taking more control

And, on the surface, it looked like she was managing it very well. By the end of 1984, despite the resentment and open enmity of almost everyone, the Baghwan’s followers seemed poised to take over Wasco County and build the shining Sannyasin city the bearded one had always talked and dreamed about.

But it was not to be. Two years later, the Baghwan was in exile, Sheela was in prison, Antelope was back in the hands of its citizens – and law enforcement officers were breathing a sigh of relief.

(Sources: Gulick, Bill. “A Roadside History of Oregon.” Bozeman, MT: Mountain Press, 1991; McCormack, Win. “The Rajneesh Story,” Great Moments in Oregon History: A Collection of Articles from Oregon Magazine. Portland: New Oregon, 1987; www.osho.com)


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