a town that was busy in the past but is now empty
or nearly empty because the activities that kept
people there have stopped
Chandra Mohan Jain was born December 11, 1931 in India. He later became known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. In the 1960’s he traveled throughout India as a public speaker sharing his philosophies and criticizing orthodox religions. Bhagwan encouraged meditation, mindfulness, celebration, courage, and humor. His teachings on having an open attitude of sexuality is what caused him the most controversy during his life.
In the early 1970’s Bhagwan and his followers, which were called neo-sannyasins, settled in Pune, Maharashtra, India. The neo-sannyasins built an ashram for Bhagwan, which is similar to a monastery, where his followers could learn his teachings. By the late ’70s the ashram was in debt to the Indian government for back taxes of over $5 million.
And this is where Oregon comes in.
Bhagwan became interested in the United States and sent his people to create a new ashram. His right hand woman, Ma Anand Sheela, purchased land in Oregon near the small town of Antelope with the money they had saved on their taxes.
The Big Muddy Ranch in central Oregon became Rancho Rajneesh, and was later incorporated as the city of Rajneeshpuram. The commune was an enormous 64,229 acres. Rajneeshpuram had a 160-room hotel, a 2 acre meeting hall, shopping malls, restaurants, laundromats, city police, and even an airport. For being a spiritual leader Bhagwan sure had a taste for the finer things; like 85 Rolex watches and 93 Rolls Royce.
Rajneeshpuram was a bustling city and its resident were the only ones happy about it. The following years were filled with legal battles between the Rajneesh and local farmers and Oregon government. Most conflicts were due to illegal land use by the commune and the commune’s unwillingness to compromise.
After the Rajneeshees established Bhagwan as a religious leader in the United States, he began a vow of silence and Sheela became his voice. Eventually Sheela started using her own voice to gain local political power. At her direction some members of the commune moved into the nearest town, Antelope. In time they managed to get themselves voted onto the city council and they changed the name of Antelope to Rajneesh.
Flexing their political muscles gave the Rajneesh even more bad press. Rumors that the commune was nothing more than a sex cult with rampant drug use irritated everyone…except for those having the sex most likely. Gossip was that even Bhagwan had his own drug problem of a lot of Valium and inhaling nitrous-oxide for fun.
In the summers of 1983 and 1984 Rajneeshpuram held World Celebration Festivals. During the festivals there were up to 15,000 neo-sannyasins visiting rural central Oregon. The Rajneeshees were spreading through Wasco and Jefferson counties like a bright red STD.
In October of 1984 neo-sannyasins, following the orders of Ma Anand Sheela, poisoned multiple salad bars at restaurants in The Dalles, Oregon with Salmonella. The purpose? It was a practice run for election day in November. The goal was to keep the citizens of The Dalles home sick so they couldn’t vote, which would give the Rajneeshees even more political power. No one died during the attack, but the 750 people that got food poisoning probably wished they had. The incident is considered the first bioterrorism attack in the United States. It is still questioned as to whether Bhagwan was the mastermind behind the bioterrorism or if Sheela planned it on her own.
By 1985 Rajneeshpuram was falling apart. Bhagwan began insisting that he was not a religious leader and ordered his neo-sannyasins to burn all his teachings and books. In October of ‘85 a grand jury indicted Rajneesh and several of his disciples with conspiracy to evade immigration laws. His lawyers, which were of course neo-sannyasins, made a deal with the US Attorney’s office. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was given a 10 year suspended sentence, 5 years of probation and a $400,000 fine – and the agreement that he leave the United States.
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh left Oregon and went back to India. He changed his name to Osho and continued his spiritual teachings to new and old neo-sannyasins. Osho died January 19, 1990 in Pune, India of natural causes. His philosophies and teachings are still available, and you can still join his cult if you like. Just visit https://www.osho.com/
By 1987 Rajneeshpuram was empty of the followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. The state of Oregon took ownership of the town for past due taxes and fines, and then sold it to Dennis Washington. Washington attempted to run a ranch for profit (The Washington Family Ranch), and when that failed he tried to sell the land back to Oregon to be used as a state park. Oregon said oh, hells no!
In 1996 The Washington Family Ranch donated the land to Young Life, a Christian youth organization. Since 1999 they have held various youth summer camps, festivals, and retreats.
The city of Rajneeshpuram is so ghost town that it isn’t a town anymore…just a church camp where people congregate to hear the word of Jesus, a man who hung out with people of open sexuality and shared his philosophies and beliefs of prayer (meditation and mindfulness), church (celebration), and standing up for your fellow man (courage); plus he liked to brag about his 3-day hide and seek championship (humor).