"To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty." Isn't it a nice quote? Well, apparently for its creator, the famous Osho, creativity meant murder attempts and life's beauty would only be enhanced through control and terror.
Would you ever buy a book by Charles Manson, Jim Jones, or David Koresh? You might, if you’re interested in delving into the minds of the most infamous cult leaders of the century. But would you get a planner, a bookmark, a t-shirt, a notebook, a phone case, or any other product with one of their phrases on it? This would be crossing the line, right? Well, most people around the world have done it at least once in their lives, and moreover, they take these quotes as universal truths to enlighten themselves. Yes, you’ve probably heard of him: his name was Osho, and he was one of the most prolific and successful spiritual gurus of the last few decades. His books have been translated into more than sixty languages and published by more than 200 houses all over the world. However, many people ignore that this incredibly popular man lead the biggest bioterrorist attack in the US.
So, who was Osho, and why is he still so read after the attack? Like many cult leaders, Osho (full name Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) was a very smart man with the great ability to know how to reach people. In the sixties, he worked as a philosophy professor at several universities in India. However, he felt that none of the philosophical movements and currents back then didn’t really talk to him directly nor offered him something to cling to. So, he soon started shaping his very own precepts and spreading them among his acquaintances. It didn’t take much for these ideals of free love through meditation to reach a vast number of followers (many of them very wealthy people) who helped him build his very own ashram in Mumbai.
Though his directory was growing rapidly, the list of his detractors was increasing as well. One of them was India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who decided to start an official investigation after accusations of drug trafficking, gold smuggling, money laundering, and tax evasion started to pile up with Rajneesh’s name linked to them. This was when one of his most loyal followers and confidant Ma Anand Sheela suggested a new destination for an ashram free of accusations and controversy. After a lot of research, Antelope, a town in Oregon, was settled as their new promised land.
By 1981, under Sheela’s orders, the Rajneeshpuram ashram started its relocation to this small town with a population of 50 people. Imagine how much money Rajneesh’s spiritual movement had that, in just a couple of months, they managed to remodel and make an old ranch livable. Not to mention that they built a giant dam, an airport, a meditation center with a capacity for 10,000 people, and an electricity station for the whole property. Soon, thousands started to move to the new ranch, creating a lot of tension with the locals.
Members of the ashram practiced a "free love" lifestyle that included free sex, open marriages, and other concepts that clashed with the Christian locals. To add up to the problem, in 1982, many Rajneeshees decided to vote en masse in Antelope to get a majority in the local office. One of their first actions was naming the town after their beloved guru. Naturally, the townspeople decided to take their problem to a legal stance and started looking for ways to get rid of these invaders. It all got worse when Sheela (under Rajneesh’s orders) asked for permission for a new building, and the permission was denied. He knew that if he wanted the power to do as he liked, he needed to take over politics in Wasco County, but there was a problem. No matter how many they were, they represented only 10% of Wasco's population. Let the terror begin.
In 1984, local elections were going to be held in the state. If they wanted to win the seat they wanted, they had to resort to fast and effective methods, so they got creative. They came up with plans like a plane crash, poisoning the water supply, and even killing prominent politicians in the region. In the end, they went with two equally horrible ideas. The first one was the one we mentioned before: a biological attack to incapacitate voters. They achieved this by contaminating ten of the most popular restaurants in the area with salmonella. 751 people were taken to the emergency room, but no one died. Still, it’s considered the biggest bioterror attack in the history of the US (much bigger than the anthrax scare).
Their second plan was to increase the number of voters for their cause. How? They toured neighboring cities to get homeless people to vote for their representatives in exchange for food, clothes, and shelter. It’s estimated that more than 2,500 were bussed to the Rajneeshpuram. In some accounts, it’s even said that they resorted to mental torture to make them compliant followers. Moreover, it’s said that among the horrors these people endured, there was sedation and constant harassment. However, their plan was foiled when local residents started noticing the wave of newcomers to the ranch. So, the Secretary of State implemented an emergency process in which voters had to physically register and attend an eligibility hearing.
Long story short, they failed in their attempt and Rajneesh was accused of many crimes, including tax-evasion. After an assassination attempt on his personal doctor (thought to have been planned by Sheela and a faction of the commune), the latter fled to Germany, leaving Rajneesh to face the charges by himself. He was arrested in 1985 and taken to the Oregon Prison. Not that long after, Sheela was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison, though she only served some months and was released for good behavior. As for Rajneesh, he paid a fine and was deported to India, where he continued gathering a lot of followers as if nothing had happened. He even attempted to go on a world tour to spread his teachings and all those motivational quotes our aunts love to share, but he was denied entrance to 13 different countries.
Beaten, he continued working with his philosophy for some years until he died in 1990. It was during that period that he decided to change his name to Osho, allegedly a word that represented respect and love for a master (not surprising). Apparently, he wanted to renew himself and bring something fresh to his philosophy and precepts. Sure, it had nothing to do with the fact that he had just been deported after all the horrors his commune made under his command. Still, Osho's spirituality grew to the point that today it's still a massive industry that still follows some of its original cult-like techniques. How did people forget about such a huge incident? I really don’t know. Maybe it’s true that we forget about everything the moment we hear nice words.
Here are other cults and sects that terrorized society: