Attempts to enforce sexual participation at the Pune ashram did not always stop at psychological pressure. Sometimes it allegedly extended to use of violence.
“Sex is just the beginning, not the end,” professes Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who first achieved notoriety in India in the late sixties and early seventies when he began publicly advocating that his disciples practice free love. But what end does Rajneesh have in mind for his disciples when he incites them to sexual promiscuity?
According to some commentators on the subject, the real end Rajneesh seeks for his disciples in this area is most likely the loss of their ability to form stable love relationships; such relationships might jeopardise his psychological hegemony over their lives. Rajneesh’s much vaunted ideology of sexual liberation—besides being a calculated ploy to attract followers—is a major component, if not the moor component, of his particular cult’s system of psychosocial control, say the commentators.
“All cults control sex, in one way or another,” asserts Margaret Singer, a highly respected expert on mind control. “Either they prohibit it completely, or they enforce participation in it. Either way, what the cult leader is attempting to do is to prevent pair bonding and to stop couples from leaving because they love each other more than they love the group. The leader who enforces participation achieves a much greater degree of subjugation of his followers’ wills, because he takes actual control of this most intimate area of a person’s life.”
Ex-disciples of Rajneesh allege that the tendency of his cult is definitely to enforce sexual participation. Ex-disciple Roselyn Smith, who went through six months of therapy groups at Rajneesh’s ashram in Pune (Poona), India, from 1980 to 1981, says that coercive psychological pressure was applied at the ashram—especially on women—to enforce participation in sexually promiscuous behavior and in the ashram’s notorious group-sex orgies.
“The lingo at the ashram was ‘say yes’ and ‘say yes to life,” Smith says. “One guy made an approach to me and I wasn’t the least bit interested, but I felt guilty for refusing him because I felt I wasn’t ‘saying yes’ to life.” Smith says that women who refused to participate in ashram sex orgies were castigated by group leaders for being “selfish,” “frigid,” and “rejecting.”
Allegedly, attempts to enforce sexual participation at the Pune ashram did not always stop at psychological pressure, but sometimes extended to the use of violence. Ex-disciple Eckart Floether reports witnessing the rape of a female sannyasin by two men during an encounter group called “samarpan” (surrender). When he tried to intervene, he says, the group leader prevented him from doing so, explaining afterward: “She needed to be raped.” Ex-follower David Boadella reports an incident in which a woman fled an ashram encounter group after being raped and had to undergo months of counseling outside the ashram in order to overcome the resulting psychological trauma. The infamous film Ashram, made by ex-disciple Wolfgang Dobrowolny, shows an attempted gang rape during an ashram encounter group.
According to Boadella, sannyasins in Pune were also tacitly, if not explicitly, encouraged to participate in prostitution as a means of earning their livelihoods. Boadella says the activity was known at the ashram as “getting sweets.” The chief inspector of the Pune police was quoted by an English national newspaper, the Daily Star, in June 1981 as saying: “Prostitution by the [Rajneesh] cult’s girl disciples reached disgraceful proportions. It became epidemic.”
Not surprisingly, venereal diseases, particularly gonorrhea and herpes, were also reportedly epidemic at the Pune ashram. Ex-disciple Smith says that there were “tremendous gonorrhea epidemics” at the ashram while she was there and tells of one man who infected some ten female disciples with the disease in the course of a weeklong Tantra group.
Probably due to this experience, medical authorities at Rajneeshpuram reportedly screen new arrivals very carefully for sexual diseases. Ex-disciple Susan Harfouche, who was at the ranch in the summer of 1982, says that the names of new arrivals who had been medically approved for promiscuous sex were posted on a bulletin board in the outer chamber of the commune’s dining hall where sannyasins gathered after dinner to choose their bed partners for the night. Nowadays, new arrivals reportedly are required to wear a single orange bead on their mala necklaces until they have passed the commune’s stringent venereal disease tests.
Ex disciples Smith and Harfouche say that they did not witness any sex orgies while they were at Rajneeshpuram. “They are much more careful at the ranch,” says Smith. “They told us they had to be careful about journalists penetrating the groups and that we couldn’t do some of the things that were done at Pune.” Smith and Harfouche also note that the commune’s grueling work schedule of twelve hours a day, seven days a week, did not leave much time or energy for hours long orgies.
Smith and Harfouche both believe, however, that an unspoken policy of discouraging committed relationships was definitely in effect at Rajneeshpuram when they were there, on behalf of the guru who once called the institution of the family “the most hindering phenomenon for all human progress, a symbol of all that is ugly.” Smith argues that the ranch’s extremely crowded living conditions themselves work to discourage intimacy. “How can you be intimate with someone if there are two other couples in your bedroom?” she asks. “It’s much easier to have depersonalized sex and then never see the person again.” Harfouche claims that if a man and a woman gave signs of forming an ongoing relationship, commune authorities would give them assignments in different parts of the ranch or at different times of day in order to keep them apart.
“This depersonalization of sex and frustration of intimate relationships is simply designed to heighten the feeling of a personal relationship with Bhagwan,” sums up Adrian Greek, a Portland cult expert. But the most telling description of the emotional end result of Rajneesh-style sexuality may have been given by Ma Satya Bharti in her 1981 book, Drunk on the Divine. Bharti describes the emotional aftereffects of an ashram orgy on a female disciple as follows: “She felt herself losing control of her body, losing control of her mind. She was disappearing, vanishing into thin air. Then there was nothingness, emptiness.”
Excerpted with permission of Hachette India from The Rajneesh Chronicles: The True Story of the Cult that Unleashed the First Act of Bioterrorism on US Soil by Win McCormack.