Words by Brittany Conrad
“If you don’t find the little loopholes in the law, it’s your loss” – Ma Anand Sheela, Secretary to Bhagwan.
Dealing with one of history’s great ‘what the fuck’ moments, Wild Wild Country, is Netflix’s latest binge worthy documentary series. The six-part tale sheds light on the early 80s little known Rajneesh Movement. Directed by brothers Chapman and Maclain Way, Wild Wild Country combines actual footage from the commune, in-depth interviews with ex Sannyasins, Ma Anand Sheela (The Bhagwan’s right hand secretary), and conversations with the townspeople aggravated by the arrival of the Rajneesh.
More than another cult profile, Wild Wild Country is also the story of a fight between the people of Wasco County, Oregon and the commune. Many of the Rajneesh practices were outlandish, provocative and weird as fuck. They were also highly skilled and educated people who hoped to form a utopian society that they sincerely believed in. What unfolds on-screen is at once alarming, stupefying, and downright interesting.
The Sannyasins followed the teachings of an Indian mystic, guru, and spiritual leader by the name of Rajneesh, Osho, or Bhagwan, who sold them a path that led away from conventional middle class life. Though this promise is alluring in itself to the disillusioned, Rajneesh’s intellectual appeal was based on a clever fusion of humanistic psychology and eastern mysticism. One of his principle teachings was “Dynamic Meditation” which incorporated jumping, shouting, dancing, and open group sex. Whatever he intended with the practice, the actual footage is wild.
Having moved from Pune, India, to a plot of land in Wasco County Oregon, the Rajneesh people began a commune that ultimately took over the surrounding region. Defended as a safety precaution, the Rajneesh began buying up property in nearby Antelope, which sparked a confrontation between the Sannyasins and the already established locals. Rigged elections, murder schemes, and a poisoned community ensued, but let’s back up a minute and take a look at some of the more obscure aspects to the entire thing.
There’s no doubt that if you put a room full of smart, bored, and disillusioned youth with access to money in a room with one power hungry and charismatic leader, organized chaos will ensue. Though way outside of my own experience, I too find the Rajneesh cult to be crazy interesting. After all, the man was able to gather nearly 8,000 people to come and live on his land, give him their money, and work for him. You’ve got to wonder what the fuck his Kool Aid was made of. Regardless, forget the poisoning, murder attempts, and notions of absolute power: the two elements below are the wildest parts of Wild Wild Country.
“The Hollywood Crowd”
Perhaps bored with his cult and following, Bhagwan began recruiting the rich from Los Angeles to his meditation centers. Then, having had his first taste of the high life, Bhagwan began to enjoy the high life. Having had no experience living so lavishly, he made no apologies for ignoring his cult and running off with his rich new homies. He left the cult in the hands of Sheela, his secretary, to run the joint while he fucked off.
The man who previously lived a simple life assembled a fleet of Rolls Royces and began sporting a diamond encrusted Rolex, valued at around a million dollars. Then he started throwing giant parties to meditate and collect money. Those at the commune who couldn’t buy his interest, were more or less left in the dust. Though amazingly they didn’t really begin to doubt him. Also notable that the Bhagwan became addicted to Valium and Nitrous Oxide during this time due to prescriptions written for him by one of his wealthy doctor-disciples. The man was living large.
“Share a Home” Movement and its subsequent failure
On a real note, this is the most savage part of the entire series. The Rajneesh Movement began traveling around the country recruiting homeless people by Greyhound Bus to join the commune. What?
These people were lured under the promise of returned self-respect to them, a true home, and two beers a day. The cult’s sinister motive was to register all of these people as voters within Wasco County so the Sannyasins would be able elect their own to the town’s board. The project ultimately backfired. It’s telling that once the cult-members got tired of chilling with the homeless, they added sedatives to their nightly beer, and eventually dropped them off in neighboring cities. So much for love and light.
Ultimately, Wild Wild Country shows how scary cults can be. Yes, cults are generally manipulative, smart, and evil. Yet for all their disquiet, cults are lavished with publicity, money, and some really loyal disciples. Even the Rajneesh still has people backing the movement today. Wild Wild Country is a disquieting recollection of a community disrupted by the misguided, sincere, and selfish alike. So, if the far out interests you, carve out a six hour window of time and let the binge roll.
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