By Sharan Saikumar Mar. 23, 2018
Had Rajneeshpuram been a successful experiment, would the “freaks” – the ones with radical ideas – have had a chance at being mainstream? Osho was an idea that had daunting potential before he went and armed himself to the teeth, finds the new documentary Wild Wild Country.
I remember, it was my grandfather who first introduced me to Osho. This favourite white-haired, soft-spoken relative of mine would be listening to Osho on his tape recorder on most mornings right after he finished with the Japji Sahib. Osho, he told me once, was a wise man before he went mad. History has come to comfortably accord Osho – the man who pursued spirituality through sex – the madman tag, as does the new Netflix docu-series Wild Wild Country. The six-part docu focuses on the part of Osho’s life at which even the staunchest “Rajneeshee” would look back and say – yeah, he lost it for a bit there. The docu focuses on the infamous Rajneeshpuram chapter in Osho’s story that has been more or less obliterated from his own history by his followers. Filed under “shocking scandal” in the media, this story has all the elements that justifies those two words: Greed, money, arms, poisonings, and… sex. Oh lots and lots of sex.
Rajneeshpuram made it ridiculously easy to remain part of the “scandal” file which is why we have a documentary in the first place. There is the fact that the members of the commune practiced wild group sex all night. There is the fact that the leader of their cult had a collection of 99 Rolls Royces. There is also the fact that a Gujarati lady of slight build almost single-handedly created this city in the middle of Oregon scrubland from a 64,000-acre muddy ranch.
But what Wild Wild Country doesn’t cover is the Rajneesh that came before Rajneeshpuram.
Things got horrifically ugly at Rajneeshpuram – drugs, embezzlement, wire-tapping, poisonings, and immigration frauds – before the Feds came in and shut the whole show down.
When this soft-spoken philosopher from Madhya Pradesh first came to Mumbai, his incessant chatter on sex is what got everyone’s attention. They didn’t care that he had revolutionary ideas on everything from love, death, living in the present, meditation, marriage to the soul, and dogma of religion that has filled up a library of books. They only picked sex from the line-up and made Tantra, the mystery-shrouded sex workshop, the hero of their hate. They didn’t care that the techniques of Tantra are based on the Vigyan Bhairav Tantra, a key text in Shaivism, in which Shiva answers Parvati’s questions on consciousness with 112 meditation techniques – each involving all five senses of the body that involved sexual and non-sexual contact as a manifestation of those techniques. They only cared about the sex, in all its physical and gory detail. The gorier the detail the better the headlines.
And so Osho made headlines all over the world. His communes flourished in several European and American countries and from the success, came the idea of creating this ambitious mothership, this homeland of peace-loving souls that would usher in a free-thinking world order.
It is sad, then, that they chose America.
Everything that the Americans held sacred – marriage, religion, morals – Osho dissed. Image Credit: Hipertextual
Everything that the Americans held sacred – marriage, religion, morals – Osho dissed.
Image Credit: Hipertextual
America, provincial and bigoted on a good day, went berserk on a bad one. The very existence of Rajneeshpuram offended their morality and they crusaded for its obliteration. Crusading just as hard on the other side was Ma Sheela, the wholly controversial and astoundingly shrewd personal secretary of Osho (one of the central narrators of Wild Wild Country) ruthlessly attacking the community of Oregon that was halting her progress and striking fear in the heart of America on the other. All before breakfast.
And boy, was America scared.
Everything that they held sacred – marriage, religion, morals – Osho dissed. He mocked their puritanical, provincial minds and ideas by shoving sex in their face. They couldn’t look away. They had to engage in this fight for their white values and fight they did. With everything they had.
The full force of their law enforcement, including the immigration and the FBI, landed on these naked people in the Oregon scrubland who dared to infiltrate their world and suggest a future that was wildly heathen. “Better dead than red,” was the slogan of the town but it might as well have been the ringing cry of America and they began walking around with threatening guns. The response of Ma Sheela was to arm Rajneeshpuram and begin training her sanyasins with AK-47s and hand grenades like the apocalypse was coming.
From there on, the experiment that began as a world commune, began frantically unravelling.
History will show that these brilliant and mad people are capable of great ideas but incapable of engineering their survival. Image Credit: Digg
History will show that these brilliant and mad people are capable of great ideas but incapable of engineering their survival.
Image Credit: Digg
Things got horrifically ugly at Rajneeshpuram – drugs, embezzlement, wire-tapping, poisonings, and immigration frauds – before the Feds came in and shut the whole show down. Ma Sheela, in her quest for survival, had destroyed the essence of the very thing she’d created and thousands of Rajneeshis, who had no idea about these shenanigans and who had left their lives behind for Osho, were left adrift.
In one of the interviews in the documentary, a long-time Rajneeshi and someone who’d been part of the foundation team that envisioned Rajneeshpuram talks aggrievedly about walking away from the garden, the houses, the lakes that they built and how each one in Rajneeshpuram had once lived with laughter and the appreciation of what an incredible gift it was to be alive: “It was an incredibly joyous city where real people lived real lives.”
Rajneeshpuram was hardly the first social experiment to build a new world order. The hippies (or freaks, as they liked to be called) have been doing that for generations. For years, these freaks have gathered around the idea of a world that was less capitalistic, less hung up on morality, with a more peaceful version of humanity. These freaks have always existed at the fringes of our civilisation because they were always the round pegs in the square holes, the truly mad ones.
But just think about it: Had Rajneeshpuram been a successful experiment, they might have been mainstreamed. Osho was an idea that had daunting potential, before he went and armed himself to the teeth.
This is what Wild Wild Country tells you without spelling it out. It leaves you with the enormous sense of what is possible when ordinary human beings come together and create a dream. Rajneeshpuram is a testament to the power of a leader and to the potential that humans beings have to change the world order. For a brief period, before it descended into anarchy, Osho and Rajneeshpuram showed us that potential. And then it became a freak show.
That is the problem with Osho and his legacy. History will show that these brilliant and mad people are capable of great ideas but incapable of engineering their survival.
Which is sad because God knows, we could all do with a little bit of madness.