From 1981 to 1985 Oregon, where I live, was graced (if that's the right term) by the arrival of an Indian guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, whose followers founded a community in central Oregon: Rajneeshpuram.
Last night my wife and I watched a recording of Oregon Public Broadcasting's hour long documentary of how the Rajnesshees rose and fell, "Rajneeshpuram." The full program can be watched online. I recommend it to anyone interested in the goods and bads of cults.
That clearly is what Rajneeshpuram was, a cult.
However, it's unclear to what extent the guru, who later changed his name to Osho, was involved with the sleazy stuff that happened. The documentary shows Bhagwan as quite detached from the running of the commune, which he left to Ma Anand Sheela -- a charming but dangerous Indian woman.
Aside from all that, along with other nasty behavior, I guess you could say she was "spiritual." Whatever that means. Sheela was devoted to her guru. And also devoted to herself and her band of women who ran Rajneeshpuram.
I'd forgotten about a lot of the goings-on that were shown in the documentary. It's well worth watching. You have to see the video footage of what went on at Rajneeshpuram to believe what happened before Sheela went to jail and Bhagwan left the United States as part of a plea bargain.
During the time Rajneeshpuram was being built into a thriving community of up to 7,000 people (starting from a virtually deserted 64,000 acre ranch), I recall seeing red-clad devotees around Salem and Portland.
They seemed normal enough. Yet in the documentary you see these acolytes of Bhagwan/Osho actively participating in some decidedly weird behavior. The Rajneeshees took over the nearby town, Antelope, by force of numbers. They they ran the town, including the school, like the religious cult that they were.
Having been a member of an Indian guru-centered group myself from 1971 to 2005 (Radha Soami Satsang Beas), I could easily identify with some of the Rajneeshee's behaviors and attitudes. Bhagwan owned several dozen Rolls-Royces, which he liked to drive himself.
The documentary shows Bhagwan slowly driving by long lines of red-clad devotees, their faces beaming with adoration, hands clasped together in the traditional Indian greeting. Bhagwan would take both hands off the wheel and return the gesture -- an action that shocked a local resident who encountered the guru in one of his Rolls-Royces on a public road, waved at him, and got the no-hands driving move in response.
Excessive guru devotion makes people behave in strange ways. I can testify to that, having been one of those people. However, my guru only drove around in normal cars, though disciples would line up for his "darshan" (sight of him) in just the same way Rajneeshees did.
A few years ago my daughter gave me one of Bhagwan/Osho's books. It was about fearlessness. I read some of it. I liked it. The guru's philosophy is pretty appealing. However, it's difficult not to judge Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh by what happened at the community where he lived while all the crimes and political shenanigans were going on.
That said, I kept thinking while watching "Rajneeshpuram," Gosh, I wish the community was still in existence -- in the wonderful form that could have been.
Rajneeshpuram seemingly started off weird in a good way. People came from all over the world to be part of a unique way of living. Some sold their possessions and donated them to the cause, wishing to join a community founded on love, devotion, service, and spirituality.
Nothing wrong with that.
And especially there was nothing wrong with the excellent vegetarian food served at Rajneeshpuram. I would have loved to be able to visit Rajneeshpuram in its hey-day (something I never did). The documentary shows several restaurants at the town center that looked highly tempting to my vegetarian taste buds. Organic gardening and a dam transformed the central Oregon high desert into a oasis of sorts.
Some Rajneeshpuram-related videos apart from the documentary can be seen here. There's four minutes of a Bhagwan talk at the bottom of the page. He definitely had the Indian guru thing down. Bhagwan's sense of humor is appealing, but his cluelessness about the shady political manipulations isn't.