SN thought this was a better contribution from Subhuti than hithertoo. This definitely did not come through in the Netflix series, but it is an important ingredient to the history of those times which deserves exposure. And which makes full use of the public confessions of the Sheela group members when testifyng to the FBI, and using that to try and get lighter sentences by accusing others, etc.
Really, one shouldn’t laugh about such things. But, having a slightly warped sense of humour, and having written several plays myself, I can’t help thinking it would make a wonderful black comedy.
The stage for this theatrical drama has already been set by the recent Netflix documentary “Wild Wild Country”, which tells the story of how we built the Ranch in Oregon and the conflict it created with, well, just about everybody, including local ranchers, county officals, state politicians…even with the nation’s leaders in Washington DC.
Watching the Netflix series, I was reminded how, after leaving the Ranch, I tried to find out exactly what had happened.
My snoopy, journalistic nature demanded answers.
The task wasn’t too difficult. A detailed investigation of the American Government’s efforts to deport Osho and shut down our Oregon commune was soon published by author Max Brecher in his book “A Passage to America”.
On the other side of the fence, the deeds done in the name of protecting Osho were available in testimony delivered to the FBI by Ranch residents who’d been involved in illegal activities and who had decided to confess all, in exchange for plea bargains.
Their testimony was made available to the public.
It was reading these confessions that had conjured up visions, in my mind, of theatrical black humour.
Because, even though the scenario was fraught with peril, and the conspirators serious in their intent, it is really a tale of almost comical ineptitude.
So many things went wrong that I started to wonder whether, deep down in their hearts, any of these conspirators wanted to succeed in their criminal endeavors.
First, a little background:
According to testimony given by Ava Avalos, a young Hispanic American who made an immunity agreement with federal prosecutors, trouble began on the Ranch when Sheela, Osho’s secretary, became convinced that the mystic’s personal staff were a danger to his health.
In particular, she targeted his English doctor, Devaraj, and was determined to replace him by another doctor of her choice.
Obligingly, Sheela’s trusted assistant, a nurse called Puja, slipped a large dose of laxative into the poor fellow’s coffee and, once he had been admitted as a patient to the medical centre, continued to add generous doses of laxatives to his meals.
However, even though the doctor was incapacitated, the plan failed. Throughout the mystic’s time on the Oregon Ranch, Osho resisted all attempts by Sheela to replace his personal staff, including his doctor, dentist, caretaker and others.
This was a source of continuous frustration for his secretary, who was never able to crack, or penetrate, this inner circle.
But Sheela’s critics also experienced frustration. In spite of repeated advice from a variety of people – sannyasins and non-sannyasins alike – Osho steadfastly refused to replace Sheela as his secretary.
Meanwhile, outside the Ranch, a range war was starting to heat up. One obstacle was Dan Durow, Wasco County’s planner, who was refusing to grant Ranch construction permits. His office was targeted.
A hit team broken at night, scattered Durow’s files all over the floor, lit a fire and legged it back to the Ranch.
Next day, answering questions from journalists, Durow reported that files pertaining to Rajneeshpuram – the name given to our city – had been kept elsewhere and were undamaged.
Another bizarre scheme to destroy Durow’s office required Rajneesh pilots, flying old, twin-propeller DC3s, to crash a plane into the building, parachuting out at the last moment.
The pilots regarded the scheme not only as ridiculous but most probably suicidal for themselves. They refused.
Around the same time, a wealthy woman who had loaned Sheela a substantial amount of money, began a court action in Portland, Oregon, to get it back. According to Avalos, a hit team was dispatched to her hotel with the intention of “bumping her off”.
But the team was unable to discover her room number, was spotted by hotel security staff and forced to beat a hasty retreat.
The Oregonian newspaper, which had followed the Rajneesh story from the very beginning, announced it was going to publish a 21-part investigative series about Osho, Sheela and the Ranch.
So, a hit team was sent to destroy the newspaper’s computers.
Avalos describes the building of a special machine, nicknamed “Thumper” that allegedly had the power to fry any computer within range.
But there was a problem: the machine was so big and heavy it was almost impossible to transport and conceal.
Instead, a team of female “cleaners”, complete with uniforms and cleaning equipment, was sent into The Oregonian’s office to locate the computers.
But their uniforms were different from the company employees who had the cleaning contract. This was spotted and, once more, a quick retreat was needed.
As the conflict intensified, a bomb-making team began work on the Ranch. Chemicals were purchased, but it soon became apparent that the project posed far more danger to the people trying to make the bombs than any intended target. It was abandoned.
Meanwhile, Osho’s doctor had again been made ill and was admitted to the Ranch’s medical centre, with the intention, this time, of permanently removing him from the scene.
A hit team arrived at the centre, assuming the doctor had been sedated and would therefore be an easy target. When they looked in his room, however, he was wide awake. The plot was postponed.
A county commissioner called Ted Comini, who opposed Ranch development, was also targeted. When the hit team found out that Comini was in hospital in Portland, for an ear operation, they dressed up as nurses and went to his hospital room with the intention of injecting unknown substances into the IV drip, attached to his arm.
There was only one problem: Comini hadn’t been fitted with an IV drip.
The plan was dropped.
Osho’s caretaker, Vivek, was also marked for disposal. Armed with a master key, the hit squad slipped through the fence surrounding Osho’s compound and approach her door in the dead of night…only to find the key didn’t work.
Vivek had prudently changed the lock.
According to Avalos, during this time, Sheela told the team that “Bhagwan was not to know what was going on” and were to lie if questioned by him.
Meanwhile, in a special laboratory known as “the Chinese laundry”, Sheela’s companion, Puja, was cooking up a variety of chemical cocktails intended to “bump people off”. In fact, although some people did become ill through these toxic substances – adrenaline and potassium seemed to be her favourites – nothing ever worked the way it should. Everyone survived.
An attempt to influence the Wasco County elections in November 1984 by lacing local salad bars with salmonella did succeed in making 700 people sick. But this was only a “rehearsal”, held before election day. For some reason, on election day itself, no attempt was made.
Presumably, someone had figured out that making so many people ill would incapacitate favourable voters as well as negative voters..
A scheme to eliminate Charles Turner, US Attorney for Oregon, was elaborately planned but never carried out.
The list of unsuccessful projects goes on, with many twists and turns, getting odder as time passed.
For example, one man who’d been instrumental in bugging a large number of rooms on the Ranch, was more than a little surprised, when using his bathroom one evening, to observe tell-tale signs that someone had placed a listening device in the wall of his room. The bugger had been bugged!
Reading all this testimony made me grateful I’d never been asked to do anything criminal, in the name of protecting Osho and his community.
Fortunately, I was considered far too unreliable. I was even purged from my job on The Rajneesh Times newspaper and sent to drive trucks, which, by the way, I dearly loved.
An old acquaintance of mine, Swami Rajesh, affectionately known on the Ranch as “White Boy”, wrote a fascinating book about his experiences during this time called “The Day We Got Guns”, which was published after he died from emphysema at the age of 61 – he’d always been a heavy smoker.
In his book, Rajesh described his adventures as a spook, working for Sheela, thoroughly enjoying his undercover surveillance work on and off the Ranch.
With raw honesty, he also described the endgame, when his illegal activities were exposed and he faced imprisonment.
But the most touching moments were his conversations with FBI agents and his own family members, when he confessed everything and yet still, through it all, valued his spiritual connection with Osho.
He could not defend what he did in Osho’s name, but never lost that basic link.
At the end of his book, Rajesh described how, three years after the Ranch ended, he visited Pune to see Osho, who’d returned to his old ashram after his World Tour:
“On arriving, I write Osho a letter. I confess that I’d been involved in criminal acts at the ranch, and that I’d betrayed everyone, including myself, by not exposing the corruption I witnessed behind the scenes. I admit that despite my ugly actions, I had a great time.
“Osho writes back, in his divinely detached way, that he’s happy I enjoyed it.”
White Boy’s situation, and my own, reminded me of Alan Watts, a well-known Zen teacher in the 1960s, who once observed that, on the spiritual journey, during the process of losing one’s ego:
“The consequences may not be behaviour along the lines of conventional morality.”
Eloquently said! In other words, one’s own self-identity as a “good person” may go down the tube.
Reading Rajesh’s story and remembering this quote from Watts, I understood why I had been so interested in discovering what had happened.
I’d been trying to squeeze my understanding of events at the Oregon Ranch into the wrong box. I’d been struggling to find an explanation that would satisfy my own ideas about conventional morality.
Only one problem with that: it didn’t work. Not with Osho.
“Who knows why he let it happen?” Rajesh had mused in his book. “You can never second guess a master.”
To me, it was like a koan, which, after leaving the Ranch, I’d bring out and chew on, usually around three o’clock in the morning, when I couldn’t sleep.
It bothered me for several years: a koan that seemed to have no answer but wouldn’t go away.
But I was wrong. This particular koan did have an answer. It came to me in the autumn of 1987, when I returned to Pune and saw Osho after a two-year gap.
I was sitting in Chuang Tzu Auditorium, waiting for him to come out and give his evening discourse.
Osho walked in. Instantly and involuntarily, for the first time in two years, I found myself sinking into a deep state of inner silence and peace.
My mind stopped and meditation began.
Journey’s end? Well, not exactly. Not for this pilgrim. But it was the end of a two-year wrestling match inside my mind.
The koan had been answered, as all koans should, by a taste of No Mind.”