Like most of America this weekend, I binge-watched Netflix’s Wild Wild Country from beginning to end, hypnotized by the malignant power of the Rajneesh in the ’80s. I don’t want to spoil the documentary for anyone who hasn’t finished, but it’s impossible to talk about the documentary without noting Sheela’s – um… batshit insane? – tendencies as the spokesperson for the Rajneesh.
After watching Netflix’s Wild Wild Country, I had the same question a lot of people had about the cult: How did the Rajneesh get their money to move into a 60,000-acre ranch near the Oregon town of Antelope and build out a city of devoted followers? How does a self-sufficient sex commune pay for the Osho’s fleet of private planes and Rolls Royces, along with a massive private militia? Private donations like any religion? A massive trust fund? The money-trail was noticeably absent from the Duplass Brothers documentary.
This article does a pretty good job answering those lingering questions. They were basically a massive multinational corporation selling the product of “spiritual healing”, with meditation centers and communes all over the world. And Bhagwan was all about it, noting to an INS officer in 1982 that he was all about chasing the almighty dollar as a part of enhancing lives with spiritual growth: “All the religions have commanded and praised poverty, and I condemn all those religions. Because of their praise of poverty, poverty has persisted in the world. I don’t condemn wealth. Wealth is a perfect means which can enhance people in every way… So I am a materialist spiritualist.”
In short: Free love and making money the ole fashioned ‘Merican way.
More or less, the Rajneesh generated it’s revenue the same way any global brand would generate it’s revenue. Two years ago the Indian magazine The Wire published a deep-dive about the business of Bhagwan and the Rajneesh. Here’s the key two paragraphs answering my questions about how theRajneesh made money:
In a remarkably short time, a great deal of money began to ﬂow into and through the Oregon commune. Some of this came from sannyasins, including many who were willing to sell their possessions to support the ranch (such as one who recalls selling his Porsche for $20,000 to donate to the cause). A great deal of revenue also came from the many courses offered at the ranch, which ranged from the “Rajneesh Fresh Beginning Course” ($2,500) and “Rajneesh Movement Therapy” ($2,100) to the “Rajneesh DeHypnotherapy Basic Course” ($5,500) and “Rajneesh Rebalancing Course” ($7,500). And finally, a huge amount of money ﬂowed in during the annual World Festival, which began in the summer of 1982. Admission for the seven-day festival was $509 for a place in a four-person tent or $1,804 for a room in the hotel, while the cost of the therapy groups, food and drink in the restaurant, and souvenirs, was extra. During the 1984 festival, the 15,000 people attending spent over $10 million. Overall, between 1981 and 1985, an estimated $130 million poured into the ranch. As Hugh Milne recalls, “Bhagwan said that in the new commune we would grow money on trees… Bhagwan was quite open about the fact that the primary object was to make money.”
Yet as a charismatic multinational corporation, the operations of the Rajneesh movement were by no means limited to the United States. On the contrary, the Oregon community was very much interrelated with and dependent upon a vast global network of Rajneesh centers. These included not only meditation centers and spiritual institutions but also seemingly “secular” enterprises, such as discotheques and restaurants. In all, some twenty corporations were created worldwide with twenty-eight bank accounts, including twelve in Switzerland.
Go read the article in full over at India’s The Wire… It’s the perfect follow-up to watching Wild Wild Country on Netflix.
As you can see in the interview with Sheela above, there were other predominate theories about the finances of the Rajneesh in ’80s, however. Some speculated that it was a massive prostitution ring, with people selling themselves . Sheela didn’t like that theory very much, as you can see above.
“…Good luck to you and your PIMPS!”
Sheela always going straight for the jugular.