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UPDATE: New info as of April 2011

Investigative reporter Les Zaitz of The Portland Oregonian has just published a five-part package on the unknown stories from Rajneeshpuram. Through his Web site (the Rajneesh story's home page is here) you can access source documents, court transcripts and audio recordings of interviews with people who were there.

the bhagwan speaks

This 4-minute video is one of dozens of videotapes of the Bhagwan's discourses available through YouTube. In this one, he makes the case that "anyone who gives you a belief system is your enemy."


The Osho International Foundation's Web TV page has a selection of 34 video discourses. More can be found on YouTube.

Bhagwah biography

On www.otoons.de (yes, a German site; the Bhagwan has always been relatively popular there) you will find a detailed and sympathetic biography of the Bhagwan.

From a former admirer

At www.rajneesh. info, Christopher Calder, who first met the Bhagwan in 1970 and was for many years a follower, tells his story.

But what about Sheela?

Just a few years ago, Portland alt-weekly Willamette Week caught up with Sheela Birnstiel, formerly known as Ma Anand Sheela. She's running nursing homes in Switzerland. Interestingly enough, given Sheela's obsession with the dangers of AIDS and predictions that much of the world would die from it, her last husband, Urs Birnstiel, died of AIDS, which she said he contracted "after their separation."

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Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Rajneesh blend of spiritualism, grabs for power left a bad taste

Group's leaders planned massive biological attack to depress voter turnout, facilitate a takeover of Wasco County

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This video, titled "The Rise and Fall of Rajneeshpuram," is an exceptionally
well done documentary by Justin Weiler, produced in association with
Daniel Miller and the University of Oregon School of Journalism and
Communication. It's 9 minutes long.

In the late summer of 1984, things looked pretty good for the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers.

Homeless people from all over the nation had been invited to Rajneeshpuram for the “Share-a-Home program.” Thousands were brought in, swelling Rajneeshpuram to 7,000 or so – a substantial slice of a county with just 12,000 voters or so on the rolls. The Bhagwan called this an act of charity; critics charged he was trying to pack voters into Wasco County in order to take the place over.

State of Oregon: Not so fast

Then Secretary of State Norma Paulus changed everything by stopping all voter registration in Wasco County. She assigned a fleet of lawyers to interview each would-be voter and determine that the person actually intended to live in the county. Essentially, she was calling the Bhagwan’s bluff. Oregonians would now see whether Share-a-Home was a high-minded act of social conscience, or a disingenuous and cynical grab for power.

Rajneeshpuram dumps homeless

Roughly three weeks later, the answer came by the busload to downtown Madras as Rajneeshpuram spat out the remaining homeless people.

The Bhagwan and his number-two, Ma Anand Sheela, had promised them bus tickets back to the cities they came from, but that wasn’t what they delivered — they just hauled them to Madras, The Dalles or Bend, and booted them out on the streets. The Salvation Army ended up spending more than $100,000 taking care of them and helping them get home.

Rest of Oregon pitches in

Oregonians dug deep to help with the crisis, too. In Portland, disc jockeys at the radio stations KGON and later KZOO made a parody version of the 1962 Tommy Roe classic “Sheila.”

The Bhagwan's mugshot from his booking.
The Bhagwan's mugshot from
his booking.

Called “Shut Up Sheela,” it was released on the B side of a 45-rpm record (on the A side: “Rajneesh Dangerfield”) as a single, and proceeds of the sale went to benefit the homeless. It goes, in part, “Sweet little Sheela, Ma Anand Sheela, you’re the Bhagwan’s right-hand gal/ Big-mouthed Sheela, Ma Anand Sheela, you should take a silence vow./Shut up Sheela, on the news we see ya, saying words you should not say/She’s a red disaster, that is why we ask her to dry up and blow away./ Me and Sheela go for a ride, oh oh oh oh feelin’ funny inside./Then little Sheela screams in my ear, ow! ow! ow! ow! Shut up Sheela dear.” It was really quite funny, and captured the mood of most Oregonians on the subject.

Biggest biological-warfare attack in U.S. history

About the same time, someone connected to Rajneeshpuram

Ma Anand Sheela's mugshot from her booking
Ma Anand Sheela's mugshot
from her booking.

spritzed salad bars in The Dalles with cultured salmonella bacteria, apparently in an attempt to depress voter turnout in an election. About 750 people got sick. This rumored (later proven) bioterror act put the stink of criminality on the group, and even more sannyasins left, and contributions continued to plummet. The Bhagwan’s fleet of Rolls-Royces, now up to 93, stopped expanding.

Sept. 11-style attack threatened

Then, in 1985, Ma Anand Sheela and several other leaders suddenly fled to Europe, and the Bhagwan announced that she and her cohorts had tried to poison himself, his physician, the Jefferson County district attorney and the municipal water system at The Dalles. He also made a claim that seemed utterly ludicrous at the time, but is somewhat chilling today: He alleged that she planned to crash a plane full of dynamite into the courthouse in The Dalles.

From her new home in Germany, Sheela was firing back with everything she had — blaming it all on the Bhagwan.

Bhagwan flees; Rajneeshpuram collapses

But it was just about that time that the criminal charges came through — immigration fraud, burglary, racketeering, arson and attempted murder (from the salmonella outbreak). The Bhagwan drew a 10-year sentence, suspended if he left the country — which he did, vowing never to return. Sheela drew a 20-year prison sentence and was fined a half million dollars.

Bhagwan, now Osho, dies

The Bhagwan, after changing his name to Osho, died in 1990 of a sudden heart attack, at age 58, leaving behind more than 650 books – transcriptions of his lectures and discourses – which have since been translated into more than four dozen languages. His stock as a guru has never been higher, and hundreds of thousands of people come to his “Osho International Meditation Resort” every year.

In Oregon, though, his name is still mud – after all these years.

(Sources: Gulick, Bill. “A Roadside History of Oregon.” Bozeman, MT: Mountain Press, 1991; Graham, Rachel. “Osho? Oh no!,” Willamette Week, 2/2/00; Hillman, Robert. “Osho-Bhagwan, The Movie,” 1978)


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