When I first heard about Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who ran a cult of wacky followers so enamored with him that they turned over their life savings to him, and even gave him a fleet Rolls Royces, I laughed out loud. This was back in the 1980s. There may be a sucker born every minute, I remember thinking, but this dude’s bunch of dupes were clearly off the charts.
The Bhagwan preached a line guaranteed to attract people with strange issues about sex. He basically (according to the documentary I saw circa 1988) told them to run around and have it as much as possible. “Peace and love, love and peace, and go to it and do it,” or whatever, in the backyard of his ashram, of course, seemed to be the Bhagwan’s primary message, directed at those fully grown cases of arrested development still in need of playing a real-life game of Follow-the-Leader. You can imagine what kind of flakes would buy into lines like this, especially during the height of the AIDS crisis in the 80s, but plenty of them not only bought it, they threw money at this Bhagwan over it.
This was better than the fictional movie THE STING. The con artists in THE STING had to go to elaborate lengths to trick a crook out of his money; this Bhagwan character was able to just sit back, spew silliness, and collect all the money that was offered to him, and we’re talking millions.
Well, that’s what happened in a nutshell, but the full story is a lot more complicated. Netflix has produced a phenomenal mini-series, WILD WILD COUNTRY, about the Bhagwan, his lethal “secretary,” Sheela, and the havoc they created when they moved to Antelope, Oregon, and created their own “utopia” there. It’s crazy enough that the Bhagwan’s followers show up wearing necklaces with his picture on them around their necks, kind of like the way North Koreans aren’t legally allowed out of the house without pins of Kim Jung Il and Kim Jung Un on their lapels. It’s worse that they “have to” wear sickly shades of maroon red or rust orange clothing from head to toe, the red of the “root chakra” (that, for the uninitiated, means the area of your butt) and the orange of the “sex chakra” (right above the butt). When walking down the street they all look like they were tipped out of an overturned fruit cart. (I may never buy a red or orange garment ever again.) It’s even stranger, and much sicker, when you get to watch what passes for their “sexual therapy sessions.” These are people who belong in a locked ward.
But what’s the ultimate limit is the way these zonked-looking cult members go from preaching peace, love, and boom-boom in the backyard to gun-toting, harassing, poisoning killers in a legal “battle” of their own creation against the people of Oregon…organized by the Bhagwan’s tiny little photogenic secretary, Sheela. Suffice it to say, the non-cult-member locals compare her to Adolf Hitler. She was like a crime boss, even asking people to kill in the name of the Bhagwan…
Whoa, boy! “Peace and love,” my root chakra!
You’ll laugh out loud at this series, which has to be seen to be believed, at least until Sheela pushes the envelope, it takes a lethal turn, and is no longer so funny.
Pay particular attention to the bizarre affect of the former cult members who are interviewed. They’re still over-the-moon about the Bhagwan, now dead, or perhaps, given the sexual slant of his message, it’s more likely they’re over the moon about the thought of the Bhagwan’s moon.
Kudos to the people of Antelope, Oregon, for taking a stand against the madness these psychos brought to their town.
WILD WILD COUNTRY is definitely disturbing, yet very entertaining. Enjoy!
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