(For a bit more background on the Rajneeshees, Carl Abbott wrote the Oregon Encyclopedia entry "Rajneeshees.")
I don't quite know what to think about Rajneeshpuram . . .
One of the most fascinating dynamics of people's views and experiences of Rajneeshpuram that I haven't yet reconciled in my own mind is characterized by comparing two statements from the Oregonian piece. First, in response to the question "Did Rajneesh believe in anything?" McCormack says:
- Oh no, no, no. He actually didn't hide the fact that for him it was all a joke; that was part of his message. He said at one point, "This is my circus, and I enjoy it."
- He did. I actually saw it afterwards. I went on a tour of the place. I saw his nitrous oxide machine. It was right next to his bed.
In response to these charges, Bhagawati writes "To imply that a religious group was responsible for the crimes of a few is so like the people who hate Moslems, Catholics, Protestants, because they dislike the actions of a few," and follows this with a defense of some of McCormack's claims and a call for religious tolerance in general.
I'd like to put aside for the moment extremist anti-Rajneesh sentiment of whatever kind to focus on what to me are the more interesting questions:
First, the Rajneeshee leadership did commit crimes. Bhagawati asks us not to tarnish the entire community with these crimes. However, where are outside observers such as myself supposed to draw the line of complicity? The leadership existed to gather and keep together the community, provide for infrastructure, provide for spiritual guidance, etc. The community supported the leadership by giving money, time, energy, etc. I'm not sure how Rajneeshpuram's governance was structured, specifically regarding the levels of input that community members had on the leadership -- how open & democratic was the community?
If community members were unaware of the crimes at the time, in part because of an unrepresentative governance structure, then they could hardly have objected to the actions & crimes of the leadership, and could not justifiably be associated with the crimes. This would be modified somewhat if the community members voluntarily gave up their agency in a less-than-democratic system in exchange for Rajneesh's guidance and oversight from the leadership; I would not consider claims of voluntarily giving up agency an absolution for some level of complicity in the crimes of the leadership (see, for example, the Hannah Arendt's thoughts on the "banality of evil" and the so-called "Nuremburg defense").
If the community members later became aware of the crimes, whether or not they gave up their agency in getting involved in the community, I would expect that they would admit to some level of complicity in having supported a leadership that was committing crimes. I've heard at least one former Rajneeshpuram member claim that the Rajneesh didn't know that Sheila and the others were committing crimes; that's all well and good, if it's true or not. However, I, as a white American, can admit to the egregious moral outrage of slavery that my forebears (direct and otherwise) were responsible for. As a member of the American community, I'm less fully self- and culturally-aware if I don't admit to the outrages of slavery, slaughter of Native Americans, wars of imperialism, etc. I'm not saying that there are not great benefits that I enjoy as an American, and I'm not suggesting that there were not some amazing and positive elements of Rajneeshpuram, but I do expect some form of this kind of awareness and honesty from the Rajneeshees.
Second: I've heard this from the former Rajneeshpuram member I referred to above, and it's alluded to in both McCormack & Bhagawati's responses, but I have a hard time understanding how someone who claims to be so thoroughly enlightened could have owned so many Rolls Royce cars and could have surrounded himself with such criminals. I consider both to be extremely morally suspect, which undermines my ability to have respect for his actions.
What I mean by "morally suspect" here is that the money wasted on those cars could have (should have, I would argue) gone to alleviating poverty, educating those in need, providing goods and services to children and families, building infrastructure in under-served areas, setting up grant and scholarship programs, etc., etc. Instead, the supposedly "enlightened" Rajneesh wasted the money on the most base and reprehensible kind of conspicuous consumerism. Also, if the Rajneesh were so "enlightened," how did he not know that the hearts and minds of some of his key lieutenants were so warped?
These contradictions simply don't make sense to me -- I do not understand how an "enlightened" person could act this way. OshoLover entreats us to look at McCormack's face as an example of someone who is "poisoning others minds and keeping them away from a gem like Osho [Rajneesh]" (an unnecessary and ad hominem attack, by the way). I would counter this with the example of the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama is not driving around in 96 Rolls Royce cars, nor surrounding himself with criminals. When I hear people defend the Rajneesh, I'm reminded of the lesson of Kurt Vonnegut's Mother Night: One must be careful about how one portrays one's self in the world, because, eventually, one may very well become that portrayal through-and-through.
If Rajneeshpuram community members individually had a great time, this doesn't exonerate their leadership, and that, in turn, taints the entire movement to some degree, appeals to religious and cultural tolerance notwithstanding. For example, not every Catholic priest is a pedophile, but because the Catholic leadership from the Pope on down enabled the kind of secrecy and anti-democratic hierarchy that fostered pedophilia through the fundamental structure of their system, the institution of Catholicism is, in fact, tarnished (whether or not Catholics want to hear this doesn't make it any less true); similarly, not every American made the decision to wage illegal and unnecessary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, but all of us Americans are tainted to some degree by these actions, whether we like it or not.
If Rajneeshpuram community members individually had a great time, but gave up their agency to be involved in the community, this also doesn't excuse them from some complicity in the crimes of the leadership.
In conclusion, I'll leave you with a thought experiment. I want to turn around Bhagawati's call for religious tolerance around: Just because a given individual does not perpetuate the worst aspects of her or his belief system does not exonerate that person from these aspects of the belief system. Belief systems are not inherent, they are learned. Many people aren't aware that they beliefs they hold are contingent on history and culture, and to varying degrees on choice. This lack of awareness doesn't make it any less true, however. If a person associates themselves with a given belief system, they must be ready to take the positive parts of that system with the negative parts of that system; otherwise, they're not fully conscious.