Looking at a picture of a guru with a big beard who has millions of followers isn’t exactly a strange concept in a country like ours but as we all know there is much more to these gurus than what meets the eye and Netflix’s new series Wild Wild Country explores the same. This six-part docu-series takes the audience to the 1980s when Rajneesh’s followers built an entire city to live a utopian life. Rajneeshpuram as it was called then might have sounded like a good plan on paper but as the documentary unfolds, we find that this could serve as a cautionary tale.
So who was Rajneesh?
Rajneesh or Osho was a spiritual guru who gained popularity throughout the world because of his liberal ideas that attracted a lot of free-spirited, free-thinking individuals. The series talks about his idea of a New Man who is free of all evil and lives in harmony, in peace.
But this series isn’t about Rajneesh’s philosophy, in fact, it isn’t about Rajneesh as well. The star of this show is his second-in-command, his personal secretary Maa Anand Sheela, who ran the entire operation and was later convicted of the many crimes that were reportedly done under her watch.
Rajneesh’s followers, known as sanyasins or Rajneeshes, shifted to a 64,000 acre ranch in the outskirts of Oregon near a small town called Antelope. To the locals, these sanyasins were outsiders who destroyed the sanctity of the city forever. The locals saw them as a sex cult as naked sunbathing became a common sight. The nights were even more difficult as the Antelopians described them as “living in their bedroom” because of the loud noises they made.
Over a period of almost five years, starting from 1981, the city of Rajneeshpuram grabbed headlines for various reasons and this series presents some of the historical facts that have not yet been presented to the world yet.
1. Mass poisoning of over 750 people
After trying to take over the nearby town of Antelope by buying all the available properties, the Rajneeshees soon realised that to survive, they had to have representation in city’s council. And for that, they had to participate in the county elections. Given the opposition they were facing at the time, there was no way that the non-Rajneeshees would ever vote for the red-robe wearing cult members. To still mark their win, Maa Anand Sheela spearheaded a campaign where they started poisoning the salad bars and restaurants of Wasco county. The outbreak of salmonella led to the poisoning of 750 people as they got extremely sick.
The group allegedly tried to poison Wasco County commissioner Bill Hulse by offering him poisoned water. Even the sanyasins were not spared from this poisoning. Anyone who dared to cross paths with Sheela was on her radar. Sunny, one of the sanyasins, shares in the documentary that she once drank some coffee that made her “woozy”. When she connected the dots, it made her realise that because Sheela had seen her talking with Rajneesh, it was just jealousy that led to this poisoning.
The bio-terror attack was one of the charges against Sheela that led her to jail later.
2. Stockpiling of weapons
The bio-terror attack is quite a shocker but that’s not all. The peace-loving sanyasins had created quite an army for their “safety”. The residents of Antelope reveal in the series that they heard shots being fired at the range all day long signalling that the group had quite a lot of ammunition. At no point did the Rajneeshes declare the exact number of weapons they owned but the documentary implies that it was certainly more than the weapons owned by the state of Oregon.
One of the sanyasins, Jane Stork, describes that she went around different states buying weapons from different stores and handed them over to Sheela. These weapons were later found during the FBI raid at the city.
3. Rigging of the elections
Sheela tried to win the elections by poisoning the non-Rajneeshees but to score even more votes, she sent around buses to various states of the US. The street people from various states were gathered and brought back to Rajneeshpuram with the promise of free food, alcohol and shelter just so they could become registered voters and the election could be won.
At the time, she was quite blunt with the press and let her thoughts be crystal clear to the masses. When one of the street people revolted against Sheela, he was thrown out of the city and to prevent any more cases of such kind, the beer served to the street people was mixed with sedatives. Later, when the elections were over, Sheela started selecting people at random and threw them out of the city.
4. Assassination attempts
Sheela, along with her team, also tried to plan the assassination of some of the officials and the sanyasins. A murder attempt was made on Rajneesh’s doctor Deva Raj, but he survived. The team had also planned to murder the members of the Attorney General’s office. Deva Raj’s assassination plan was made because Sheela believed he would kill Rajneesh and convinced her team that the only way to stop that, was to kill Deva Raj.
5. The wiretapping
Sheela was also involved in the largest wiretapping incident until the 1980s after she bugged Osho’s house and many other houses at Rajneeshpuram. All the conversations Rajneesh had inside his house were recorded and analysed. These tapes were later found by the FBI and were in clear violation of the state laws. It is said that more than 10,000 tapes were found.
6. Immigration fraud
Rajneeshees were also accused of the largest immigration fraud and this was the charge under which even Osho was asked to leave the United States. Since a lot of his followers were non-US citizens and his religion did not believe in the institution of marriage, the Rajneeshees found a clever way to make the sanyasins stay in the country. They would pair up one US citizen with one foreigner, ask them to establish a life in another state, get married there and then return to Rajneeshpuram. This was in clear violation of the immigration laws. Though no number has been revealed in the documentary but it is said that this was the largest immigration fraud until that time.
With a lot of footage from the 1980s and interviews from Rajneesh’s followers, officials and residents of Antelope, this six-part series is engaging and presents a side of history that many of us have been oblivious to, until now. The documentary presents the points of view of both the parties and for the most part, it is left to the audience’s discretion to pick a side. Wild Wild Country is certainly one of the most engaging documentaries that Netflix has presented in recent times and the controversies it uncovers will surely make you want to know more about the times of Rajneeshpuram.