Turbulent History Marked Guru’s Stay in United States With AM-Rajneesh
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Although Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh preached a gospel of love and peace, his four-year stay in the United States was marked by turmoil ranging from alleged murder plots by his disciples to confrontations with non-believers.
In recent months, his disciples have endured the abrupt departure of top commune leaders, a massive investigation into the guru’s allegations that the leaders plotted poisonings and other crimes, and finally, Rajneesh’s arrest in what federal authorities claimed was a bid to flee the United States to avoid immigration charges.
Earlier, however, he also drew the ire of residents for his advocacy of free love, the takeover of a town in central Oregon, and his busing in of thousands of transients from across the country.
Rajneesh flew out of Oregon on Thursday after pleading guilty to immigration-fraud charges and agreeing to leave the country to avoid a prison sentence.
The 53-year-old man who calls himself the ″guru of the rich″ claims a worldwide following of 500,000 people.
Known for his teachings on free sex in the 1970s, he attracted a following of Americans and Europeans to his commune in Poona, India, where his movement became entangled in a morass of legal problems.
Rajneesh arrived in the United States in June 1981, flying from India to New York, reportedly to undergo surgery for back problems.
His disciple-doctors later decided he didn’t need the surgery after all, and he flew on to the 64,000-acre ranch purchased as the home for his new commune.
He filed an application for permanent residency as a religious teacher in November 1981.
The following year Rajneeshpuram, populated almost exclusively by Rajneeshees, was incorporated as a city on part of the ranch.
Disciples also moved into Antelope, a nearby town of 40 people, eventually holding all its elected offices and changing its name to City of Rajneesh. The Antelope name was restored this month at Rajneesh’s suggestion in an effort to make peace with Oregonians.
In 1984, Rajneeshees recruited thousands of ″street people″ from around the nation in a program viewed by many Oregonians as a move to win political control over Wasco County. Rajneeshee leaders denied that allegation.
After state and county officials ordered eligibility hearings for all new voter registration applicants in Wasco County, the Rajneeshees and their transient guests boycotted the November election.
Rajneesh teaches that meditation is a means to enlightenment. He backed away from his sexual freedom teachings, predicting that acquired immune deficiency syndrome will kill two-thirds of the world’s population. He now advises disciples to be celibate or sexually involved with only one partner.
On the weekend of Sept. 14, the commune was rocked by the announcement that about a dozen comune officials, led by the guru’s former secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, left Rajneeshpuram abruptly.
The guru immediately responded with allegations that triggered the investigation by federal, state and local officials.
A Wasco County grand jury, which still is investigating the case, has indicted Sheela and two other former commune leaders on charges they tried to kill Rajneesh’s doctor by injecting him with poison.
A federal grand jury is scheduled to convene next week in Portland to investigate the guru’s allegation that Sheela and her lieutenants installed an elaborate electronic eavesdropping system at the commune.
Authorities investigating Rajneesh’s allegations against Sheela’s group say followers had a ″hit list″ that included Oregon Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer and U.S. Attorney Charles Turner of Portland.
Rajneesh also accused Sheela and her ″gang″ of poisoning Jefferson County District Attorney Michael Sullivan, who was gravely ill in 1983, and of trying to poison others, including himself.
He charged that the group also plotted to poison the water supply of The Dalles, population 11,000 and the seat of Wasco County, contaminated restaurants in The Dalles with salmonella bacteria that sickened 700 people in 1984, and set a fire hat caused major damage to the Wasco County Planning Office last January.
Rajneesh alleged Sheela and her loyalists skimmed $55 million from the commune before decamping to Europe. Commune leaders say the money apparently was taken from incoming European donations.
Sheela has denied any wrongdoing and has been quoted as saying she left Rajneeshpuram because Rajneesh’s demands for jewelry and Rolls-Royces were depleting the commune’s money supply.
After Sheela’s departure, Rajneesh quickly began dismantling her projects. He renounced the religion of Rajneeshism, which he said was Sheela’s creation, and some 5,000 copies of the ″Book of Rajneeshism″ were burned in the commune’s crematorium.
The guru told followers they could stop wearing their red-hued clothing and lockets containing his photograph. He told them he wasn’t their leader, just their friend.
The federal immigration investigation, which was launched in 1981 after Rajneesh’s arrive in the United States, culminated in the 35-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in October.
Rajneesh was arrested in North Carolina last month in what federal authorities said was an attempt to flee the country to avoid the immigration charges. He said he would fight the charges, then move his commune out of the United States.
He and seven disciples were charged with arranging sham marriages so foreign disciples could remain in the United States. Rajneesh also was charged with lying to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service about his intent to stay permanently in this country.
On Thursday, however, Rajneesh changed his plea to guilty on two of the charges, and agreed to pay a $400,000 fine and leave the country.
Swami Dhyan John, president of the Rajneesh Investment Corp., has said that disciples would sell the assets of Rajneeshpuram and follow their guru if he asked them to.
Commune officials say neither Sheela’s departure nor Rajneesh’s arrest caused any financial problems or mass defections from Rajneeshpuram.
Not all of Rajneesh’s legal battles are over, however.
The sect still faces a lawsuit filed by Frohnmayer challenging Rajneeshpuram’ s incorporation on grounds it violates constitutional guarantees of church-state separation.
A land-use watchdog group maintains in another lawsuit that the city was built illegally on land zoned for agriculture.
Rajneesh’s followers have filed a counter action accusing various state and county officials of conspiring to drive them out of Oregon.