The Cult – Vaibhav Gandhi

I just finished watching the Netflix documentary “Wild Wild Country” that is on Rajneesh’s commune built in Oregon, USA and the entire story around it. And I did not want the documentary to end… I was in tears for some inexplicable reasons… wanting the speakers at the end to just keep talking…

I was shaken at so many levels… so many things I could relate to… so many things I felt sad about… so many of my beliefs about human behaviour got reinforced…

It is a story about how a community (Rajneeshes) that was different in its culture had gone ahead with an amazing enterprise to create a town (Rajneeshpuram) in middle of no where (Antelope, Oregon, USA)… and a small, very conservative set of people (50 natives of that town) around that middle of nowhere, felt threatened and forced an uncomfortable US government to go on a hunt behind this community… of how the matters escalated with neither parties wanting to understand the others concerns and make adjustments to live harmoniously… of how fuelled by money and belief of superiority, this new community acted arrogantly without educating its neighbours of its intents and philosophies… It is a story that shows that groups of people can either be very constructive or destructive… purposeful and effective & bigoted and blinded… Of how our basic instincts work… of not being able to accept differences… of how when there is some sense of superiority, we lose empathy and need for harmony… of how having a common purpose can make people come together – be it to create something or wanting to destroy it…

Its a story of how the new commune was built and led by a lady (Maa Anand Sheela) who came from a small unassuming town in India, from a community that is known for its docility… a story of her guts and power… of her being completely possessed and driven with that purpose, doing everything she could (burning county offices, launching biochemical attacks, attempting to overrun county elections, arming sanyasin’s with rifles, buying out a town and much more)… literally just to ensure that her commune survives… unapologetically… and when she felt that her identity – that purpose would be taken away from her, she fought for it (attempting a murder) and eventually left it all… and yet still believes she had the right goals, with no regret for her acts but just sadness of having had her purpose of life taken away from her… It is a story that exemplifies the reality of what singularity with a purpose in life can do… all Rajneesh disciples were looking for some faith and attachment… some acceptance and belonging in the commune… but for Maa Anand Sheela, her life was for the commune… there was no duality… and how that oneness with the purpose gave her the drive to do things – blinding her to morality… the same mind set of a terrorist… or a martyr…

Its a story of how an Indian guru (Bhagwan, Rajneesh, Osho) who had a tremendous mind, delivering brilliant knowledge… who could inspire the best of talents, wow them, give them a satisfaction they craved for… used them only for his own safety and comforts… And discarded them when they could not deliver… The mere fact that so many talented and accomplished people felt enamoured by Rajneesh, is a proof enough of his capabilities and knowledge… And his actions of leaving the Pune ashram initially for personal safety, dropping Maa Laxmi as his personal secretary when Maa Anand Sheela showed more promise of a new commune… of dropping Maa Anand Sheela when Maa Prem Hasya showed more wealth power… of running away from the commune leaving disciples behind to face US law enforcement agencies… are all witness to his level of selfishness… It is a reflection of a sad reality that knowledge & power and character & morality are never to be confused to go together… and that people are mesmerized and enthralled by knowledge and power… and for that character and morality are ignored even when it comes to those people’s own survival…

It is a story of how people with differing talents came together united by a purpose and created something extra ordinary (from building roads, sewers, lakes, farms, firing ranges, police force, bio medical labs, homes… everything)… How the Rajneeshes had all come there wanting and waiting to get possessed… And then let the goodness or badness flow out of them…

And about how when one of them (Maa Shanti Bhadra) after being detached from the purpose, in a hindsight realized the gravity of the acts she had committed earlier (murder attempts) and the impacts of it on other important things in her life (family) – aspects that she had ignored or not cared / thought of or were blinded by her obsession of the commune before…

Of how there can be people (Swami Prem Niren) who can remain practical, pragmatic in use of their talents for that purpose to the best of their ability and not be blinded in passion…

It is a story that shows how all human rules and laws are flexible and where there is a will, humans will find a way to work around them – the way the Rajneeshes did… And that it is equally true that when the powers who legislate those laws (the government), want to break them, use them, manipulate them with sheer power and autocracy – there is no recourse to rationality, judiciary or confrontation… That the best solution is to influence those powers with the power they understand… And in a democracy it is the support of the masses – which is won by creating a favourable perception… Not by threats and arrogance… Sadly the Rajneeshes and Maa Anand Sheela faltered here…

It is a story that has brought back many memories… because I too was a part of a community that gave purpose to many people, including me for a decade my youth… a higher calling… and I have moved away from it now… I have seen up close versions of Maa Anand Sheela, Maa Shanti Bhadra, Maa Prem Hasya… and have found myself a lot like Swami Prem Niren… I have met conservative people like the people of Antelope…

It reinforced my belief that we all seek purpose… a purpose that can define us… our self worth… our basis… our image… our existence… and the stronger we relate to our purpose, the more driven we become…

The purpose could be our family… Our community… Our religion… our country… An environmental cause… Anything… All we need is an identification with a purpose and acceptance of our place in it… We are all creatures seeking belonging at some level… Seeking to be known as something externally…

We can all have differing opinions about the validity and utility of ones purpose… the morality of the purpose is subjective… but the power it provides is independent of it… purpose not only fuels our abilities, it magically creates new ones which we or anyone would not have expected… it channels our energies like a magnifying glass focusing the sun rays on a piece of paper… And its such an amazing source of delight… the pleasures of insanity from a single minded pursuit of our purpose is a trance like bliss… a high that no other intoxication can give…

I make no judgement on the morality of the acts of Maa Anand Sheela… for she acted for preservation of her community that was mortally threatened… But I do feel sad and angry at the narrow mindedness of the people of Antelope and the high handedness with which Maa Anand Sheela & Rajneeshes conducted themselves… I felt so connected to the catastrophe that something unique was lost because of this stupid mind sets…

I feel depressed with the fact that knowledge and power do not guarantee character and morality… and that people value the former more than the latter…

When the documentary was ending and all the characters were brooding on their experience of the whole thing… I was hoping that at least one of the people of Antelope shows a little regret that they could have tried to understand the commune better… that one of the Rajneeshes might just express that they could have maybe, just maybe, tried working on improving their image in the community rather than just bull dozing their existence as a right… I yearned that Maa Anand Sheela continue speaking forever of how beautiful an experiment that commune was in terms of human spirit and enterprise… and I was in tears with Swami Prem Niren, sharing the pain that it was all lost because of the stupidity of the same humanity!

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