The new docuseries released by Netflix in 2018 is provocative, insightful, sad and terribly relevant even today.
The 6-part series is the story of an experiment gone wrong, corrupted by those who may have loved Bhagwan the most, and perhaps most nefariously the story of Sheela, Bhagwan’s personal secretary, who seems to be pulling all the strings.
The series does not delve very deeply into what Bhagwan was like before the move to the United States when Bhagwan’s followers set up shop in Antelope, Oregon. It left me wondering if it missed some of the more innocent times before the Ashram became an attraction.
I did not know that Christopher Hitchens had visited the Ashram in India and was highly critical of it. In 1981, Hitchens released a BBC documentary titled “The God that Fled.” Later, he devoted a chapter to “There is No Eastern Solution” in God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.
The documentary also doesn’t answer the questions, “Was it a cult? Was it a con game? Was it a religion? Was it a utopian experiment?” And probably the biggest question of all is how much did Bhagwan know about what Sheela was up to? Did he know that Sheela was committing criminal acts?
Sheela is an interesting character, both sympathetic and ruthless. She loved Bhagwan and saw her mission in life as protecting him at all costs and by any means necessary. The most telling statement she makes in the documentary (after apparently spearheading a plot to poison the residents of Antelope with salmonella) was after she was asked if she felt remorse for making so many people sick. She shrugs it off and says people get sick all the time, even though at least one person was near death and several were hospitalized. She is as cold as ice.
OSHO International, the organization that carries forward the work and legacy of Bhagwan/OSHO, has released the following statement:
Wild Wild Country, The Story Behind the Story of Rajneeshpuram
Apr 06, 2018, 08:30 ET
PUNE, India, April 6, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — “Wild Wild Country,” the recently released six-part Netflix docuseries, is capturing worldwide attention. It recounts the extraordinary story of a group of people, inspired by the vision of the mystic, Osho, creating an ecological oasis in the barren hills of the Oregon high desert.
These events trigger a political and criminal confrontation between a revolutionary vision of a new way of living versus the establishment. Unfortunately, In OSHO Internationals’ view, the docuseries fails to explore key details and so does not give a clear account of the real story behind the story.
Based on documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, it is clear to OSHO International that the government, from the highest levels on down, were determined to use whatever means possible to thwart Osho’s vision of a community based on conscious living. These include US Attorney Edwin Meese, both US Senators from Oregon, the governor of Oregon. All the named later admitted publicly that they had no evidence associating Osho with the crimes of Sheela Silverman, Osho’s personal secretary at the time.
The government’s attitude toward Osho is perhaps best captured by a statement, on the public record, by the District Director’s Chief INS Investigator, Thomas Casey, who stated that Osho will be “deported as an example to wetbacks and other cults.”
The attempt to create a model city in the Oregon high desert was blocked from the outset on the basis that it was “farmland” where “offices” were not legal.
Only after the community had been destroyed did the Oregon Supreme Court confirm what anybody could see with their own eyes: that the land was not in any sense “farmland.” The court confirmed that the land could only support “9 cows” and that the city’s original incorporation had been legal.
Denied even a telephone line, it was impossible for the community to grow. As the film describes, the residents of that community then bought property – that had long been for sale in Antelope, a tiny “ghost town” of 40 mainly retired residents 19 miles away – in order to have essential services. As the film shows, this was termed “the invasion” that was later used to justify ever-greater efforts to “get them out.” In response, Sheela Silverman set out on her personal road to perdition – bending and breaking laws as she saw fit in an attempt to defend the community.
A critical moment came when Sheela fell out with Osho and, as she said in the docuseries, “He lost it.” She decided only she knew how best to implement what she thought was Osho’s vision — which was the beginning of the end. When Osho became aware of Sheela’s criminal acts he immediately invited the FBI to investigate her crimes.
In the fall of ’85, the press was full of rumors, later confirmed by the Oregon Attorney General, that the National Guard and other levels of law enforcement were being mobilized. As the film describes, repeated attempts by Osho’s attorneys to cooperate with any warrant or allegations against him were rebuffed.
In OSHO International’s opinion, the risk of violence was defused at a stroke when Osho accepted the advice from those around him to leave. He flew out of Rajneeshpuram on the long journey across the country. His departure from Rajneeshpuram was a gift for the authorities who then claimed he was “fleeing.” OSHO International questions how Osho could be fleeing a non-existent arrest warrant, while filing flight plans with the FAA, and taking the longest possible route across the US when Canada was only 20 minutes away?
The attacks on Osho’s fragile health while the authorities were holding him required him to allow his lawyers to make an “Alford Plea” deal to leave the US, all the while maintaining his innocence of all charges.
Sheela was at the center of this criminal enterprise and received a 20-year prison sentence. She was released after only 39 months. A slap on the wrist compared with what OSHO International guesses would have been decades in prison for Osho had there been a trace of evidence linking him to Sheela’s crimes.
OSHO International’s summary of this story is that here was a non-white man from India, who wore a dress and an unusual hat, who drove a fleet of fancy foreign cars round a city named after him in Sanskrit, where everyone wore red, worked for no money but with only the love of a vision of a different world based on meditation, where there was no support for the family, private property or any religion, and where everyone was a vegetarian – right in the middle of conservative, Christian, cowboy country!