How Did The Rajneeshees Go From Love to Violence?

Wild, Wild Country: How Did The Rajneeshees Go From Loving Community to Ruthless Cult?

The Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers move to Antelope, Oregon and soon became a national sensation of a threatening, violent interaction with the native Oregonians.


Recently, I watched the Netflix documentary "Wild, Wild Country", which covered the cult of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and the community he built in Oregon. It started out as a community of people following the Sannyasin Hindu religion under the guidance of Bhagwan but soon developed into power-hungry people who wanted to take over the Oregon, the country, and the world. It got me thinking: how does this happen?

Now, if we look at Bhagwan's history, we can see that he was inevitably going to develop into the malicious cult leaders we all know, such as Jim Jones and Charles Manson. After he experienced an "intense spiritual awakening" at age 21, he began referring to himself in extraordinary ways, calling himself "the messiah America has been waiting for". It is quite obvious what a dangerous character he is, yet he still racked up thousands of followers who moved with him to Oregon and more that were devoted all over the world.

Bhagwan taught dynamic meditation and was a proponent of free love and capitalism. He wanted to bring a new level of consciousness to the Western world, and as all his followers began practicing his spiritual techniques and following his philosophy. They were happy, carefree, and entirely devoted to Bhagwan.

When the Rajneeshees moved to America, I don't think it was entirely a cult level following. More like a community of people who believe and practice the same religion. They had a vision of a self-sustaining, ideal utopia and sought to create that in the valleys of Oregon. The natives of Antelope, Oregon were not accepting of the Rajneesh way of life from the start. They viewed the group as intruders looking to take Antelope from them, which is not how it started. They believed they were evil, without actually knowing anything about the religion and their way of life.

Although Bhagwan was always a dangerous figure to be so devoted to, I believe the people of Wasco County, Oregon pushed the Rajneeshees to reach the violent status they eventually did. The town tried to push them out, and because Bhagwan's primary secretary was Ma Anand Sheela, who was very resilient and did not quit, they began buying buildings in Antelope and converting them to Rajneeshee businesses. This is where Sheela and Bhagwan became extremely power-hungry, and they were willing to do anything to get it.

In 1983, the Hotel Rajneesh in Portland was bombed, pushing the Rajneeshees further into cult territory. Of course, the community wanted to be able to defend themselves, so they bought a huge collections of automatic weapons and, taking it too far, had shooters practicing day and night. They wanted to be intimidating to the surrounding population since they initially were so unwelcome to the point of violence.

As time went on, Sheela and Bhagwan become very overbearing. Sheela was a controversial political figure and made it clear the Rajneeshees were trying to take over the county, especially when they successfully voted to change the name of Antelope to Rajneeshpuram. At this point in time, the Rajneeshees can be considered a dangerous cult that is a threat to the population, causing law enforcement to officially step in.

Up until the deportation of Bhagwan and the end of the Oregonian sect of Rajneesh, the high-ranking members of the group committed multiple crimes, including poisoning, immigration fraud, and attempted murder. They became so entranced by Bhagwan and legitimately did everything he asked for and more. It was no longer about the spirituality and making the world a better place; it was about power and influence.

Only a handful of their followers truly knew where it was going. Up until the end, I think Sheela thought she was doing what was best for Bhagwan, even if it wasn't the best morally. She thought the sacrifice was worth it, and pairing that with her fiery personality, it was all taken too far.

I think the Rajneesh movement could have done great things for America if it was not taken to the point it was taken to. Maybe, if the surrounding community was more accepting and allowed them to live as they pleased, they might have been able to peacefully coexist. Or maybe, Bhagwan and Sheela would have always been obsessed with expanding their influence and control. We'll certainly never know.

Bhagwan and how followers did a litany of terrible things, but the same cannot be said about the Sannaysin religion. Being open-minded when it comes to spirituality and different ways of life is important, but also being aware of what a person or group's true intention is just as essential.

Popular Right Now

Stop Discourging Future Teachers

One day, you'll be thankful for us.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?" It seems like this is the question we heard from the time we were able to talk. Our answers started out as whatever movie or action figure was popular that year. I personally was going to be Cinderella and shoot spider webs out of my wrists at the same time. The next phase was spent choosing something that we read about in a book or saw in movies. We were aspiring to be actors, skydivers, and astronauts.

After we realized NASA may not necessarily be interested in every eager 10-year-old, we went through the unknown stage. This chapter of life can last a year or for some, forever. I personally did not have a long “unknown" stage. I knew I was going to be a teacher, more specifically I knew I wanted to do elementary or special education. I come from a family of educators, so it was no surprise that at all the Thanksgiving and Christmas functions I had actually figured it out. The excitement of knowing what to do with the rest of my life quickly grew and then began to dwindle just as fast.


"Well, looks like you'll be broke all your life."

“That's a lot of paperwork."

“If I could go back and do it again, I wouldn't choose this."

These are just a few replies I have received. The unfortunate part is that many of those responses were from teachers themselves. I get it, you want to warn and prepare us for the road we are about to go down. I understand the stress it can take because I have been around it. The countless hours of grading, preparing, shopping for the classroom, etc. all takes time. I can understand how it would get tiresome and seem redundant. The feeling a teacher has when the principal schedules yet another faculty meeting to talk an hour on what could've been stated in an email… the frustration they experience when a few students seem uncontrollable… the days they feel inadequate and unseen… the sadness they feel when they realize the student with no supplies comes from a broken home… I think it is safe to say that most teachers are some of the toughest, most compassionate and hardworking people in this world.

Someone has to be brave enough to sacrifice their time with their families to spend time with yours. They have to be willing to provide for the kids that go without and have a passion to spread knowledge to those who will one day be leading this country. This is the reason I encourage others to stop telling us not to go for it.

Stop saying we won't make money because we know. Stop saying we will regret it, because if we are making a difference, then we won't. Stop telling us we are wasting our time, when one day we will be touching hearts.

Tell us to be great, and then wish us good luck. Tell us that our passion to help and guide kids will not go unnoticed. Tell us that we are bold for trying, but do not tell us to change our minds.

Teachers light the path for doctors, police officers, firefighters, politicians, nurses, etc. Teachers are pillars of society. I think I speak for most of us when I say that we seek to change a life or two, so encourage us or sit back and watch us go for it anyways.

Cover Image Credit: Kathryn Huffman

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

14 Honest College Things The Class Of 2023 Needs To Know ~Before~ Fall Semester

Sit down, be humble.


To The Class of 2023,

Before you start your college career, please know:

1. Nobody...and I mean nobody gives a shit about your AP Calculus scores.


" I got a 5 in Calc AB AND BC, a 5 in AP Literature, awh but I only got a 4 in AP Chem"

2. THE SAME GOES FOR YOUR SAT/ACT SCORES + nobody will know what you're talking about because they changed the test like 10 times since.


3. College 8 AMs are not the same as your 0 period orchestra class in 12th grade.


4. You're going to get rejected from a lot of clubs and that does not make you a failure.


5. If you do get into your clubs, make sure not to overwhelm or overcommit yourself.

visual representation of what it looks like when you join too many clubs


6. It's OK to realize that you don't want to be pre-med or you want to change majors.


7. There will ALWAYS ALWAYS be someone who's doing better than you at something but that doesn't mean you're behind.


8. "I'm a freshman but sophomore standin-" No, you don't have to clarify that, you'll sound like an asshole.


9. You may get your first ever B-, C+ or even D OR EVEN A W in your life. College is meant to teach you how to cope with failure.


10. Go beyond your comfort zone. Join a theatre club if you're afraid of public speaking. Join an animal rescue club if you're afraid of animals. College is learning more about yourself.


11. Scholarships do exist. APPLY APPLY APPLY.


12. Don't try to brag about all the stuff you did in high school, you'll just sound like a weenie hut jr. scout


13. Understand and be sensitive to the fact that everybody around you has a different experience and story of getting to university.


14. You're going to be exposed to people with different opinions and views, don't fight them. Instead, try to explain your perspective and listen to their reasoning as well.


Related Content

Facebook Comments