He wants to plant a new city with a strange religion in Oregon.

To the cluster of small towns in north central Oregon bearing names like Mitchell, Fossil, Antelope and Horse Heaven, there has been added another with a name from India: Rajneeshpuram.

Meaning “essence of Rajneesh,” Rajneeshpuram is the new home for Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, 50, and 300 of his followers. If the state of Oregon allows Rajneeshpuram to incorporate as a city, Oregonians may find themselves hosts to the new “world center of enlightenment,” Rajneesh-style.

Rajneesh’s religion does not have a name, although one former sannyasin (disciple) says it resembles Buddhism the most. It is a mixture of Eastern mysticism, American “if-it-feels-good-do-it” philosophy, and holistic medicine. Rajneesh, who began attracting large followings in 1974, drew thousands of followers at a time to his hermitage from Poona, India, for his morning lectures.

“He is one of the most remarkable orators I have ever heard,” wrote London Times columnist Bernard Levin, who visited Poona in 1980. Rajneesh also impressed enough seekers after truth—most of them from the West—so that he claims 250,000 followers worldwide today, a U.S. following of 3,000 to 3,500, and centers in cities all over the world.

He left Poona suddenly in May 1981, on a flight bound for New York. He went to a Rajneesh center in Montclair, New Jersey, and then, to the surprise of farmers and ranchers who live in sparsely populated central Oregon, moved to a 64,229-acre spread about 200 miles from Portland, bought by the Rajneesh Foundation for $6 million.

There amid the rolling hills of Oregon’s sagebrush country, Rajneesh drew a corps of professionals: doctors, lawyers, city planners, agriculture experts, and skilled tradespeople from various countries to create a farming cooperative. It was to include grain crops, truck farming, dairy cattle, chickens, fruit orchards, forestry, herbs, bees, milk and cheese production, aquaculture, and vineyards.

Only select sannyasin are allowed to settle in Rajneesh’s paradise. The settlement will eventually house up to 2,000 sannyasin, commune officials say, once enough mobile homes are brought in for housing and the group becomes self-sufficient.

Many of the sannyasin are in their thirties and are at Rajneeshpuram because they have tried everything else, such as the institutional church, and found it wanting. And they don’t miss the secular pleasures, either. “Most of us have lived in the world successfully, and we’ve done all those things,” says one. Instead, they put in 10-and-a-half-hour workdays seven days a week. They say they do not tire or fight with each other, because of Rajneesh’s “energy,” which permeates the place.

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Only a select few ever see the guru, who has taken a vow of silence and isolated himself in a guest house, except for daily drives through the countryside in his Rolls Royce. Rajneeshpuram’s arid, desert climate has benefited the guru considerably, say sannyasin, adding that health problems were what brought him to the U.S.

Many of Rajneesh’s followers say that meeting him led them to experience God. One follower, Swami Prem Madhukar, who says he is still a Methodist minister, states that his bishop gave him his blessing. “He saw it as adding to my spirituality,” says Madhukar. “I see no conflict between where I am now and what the church has promulgated. This is an extension of my ministry.”

Fellow sannyasin Ma Prem Samadhi, who says she was (and is) a charismatic Catholic, said, “Jesus was my first master, but Bhagwan is a living master. My master is inside myself. Bhagwan is an outer expression of [it].…”

“We are focused here in our love for Bhagwan,” says Madhukar. “I had a longing inside that wasn’t being fulfilled. Bhagwan is an extension of Christ.”

Rajneesh himself does not ignore Christ but does have an unorthodox view of him. The guru’s apocryphal books on the sayings of Jesus and the Gospel of Thomas parallel his way to enlightenment with Christian techniques. Last fall, the Rajneesh Foundation placed ads in Newsweek and Time displaying a picture of the guru and a quote such as, “Jesus is available to all; Jesus is for those who are ready to transform themselves; Jesus is an art of inner transformation, of rebirth.”

These gentle words are a far cry from Rajneesh’s other methods of realizing inner transformation. Opponents say his encounter-group workshops in Poona were known for their violence and sex. His style of enlightenment starts with meditation and includes Sufi dancing, Gestalt, re-birthing, Rolfing, hypnosis, psychodrama, Samadhi tanks and other consciousness-raising techniques.

Rajneesh’s theology also lacks sexual restraints and a conception of sin. “The worst sin is going against your own nature,” Madhukar quotes Rajneesh as saying. As for sex: “it’s up to the individual what he does,” says Ma Prem Veena, a British sannyasin. “The usual taboos don’t exist. There are no rules against anything.”

Not all seekers after truth have accepted Rajneesh’s version. Ex-sannyasin John Ephland, who is now a seminary student in the San Francisco Bay area, says that Rajneesh appeals to educated people who contribute large sums of money to the Rajneesh Foundation and, out of desperation for the truth, willingly don the required red or orange clothes, a mala (beaded necklace with a picture of Rajneesh, and take on a Sanskrit name to find enlightenment

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“Bhagwan believes all guilt is learned and there’s no such things as sin,” says Ephland, who threw his mala into an incinerator and became a Christian. “Enlightenment is a delusion which tries to shortcut the pain and growth we’ll experience all our lives.”

Another ex-sannyasin, Eckart Floether, who was a West German journalist before traveling to Poona in 1979 to seek enlightenment from Rajneesh, claims people were injured, raped, and suffered emotional problems in Rajneesh’s encounter groups. While staying in contact with sannyasin, he monitors Rajneesh’s movements.

“[Sannyasin] are a perfect model of mind control,” says Eckart, who also became a Christian. “Rajneesh is a spiritual Hitler, a highly developed demonic figure. His ultimate goal is to create the mindless man, because the mindless man can reach enlightenment.

“His strategy in Oregon is to wait until the city [is incorporated]. He’ll not do anything until then. Then he’ll create a closed shop; 50,000 recruits will move to Oregon, and Rajneesh will experiment with people to see how enlightenment is reached.”

There are others who object to Rajneesh and his followers, but not on religious grounds. Local townspeople say the proposed city, which is on the May 18 ballot for incorporation, will increase traffic, drive up land values, and decrease water supplies. One Thousand Friends of Oregon, a land-use activist group, appealed a Wasco County Commission decision that allowed Rajneeshpuram’s incorporation to be on the May ballot. The appeal lost. They say the proposed city is on farm land, a situation that runs counter to Oregon’s strict land-use laws. An Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission decision on the matter is possible this month.

The inhabitants of Rajneeshpuram are sure they are in Oregon to stay. Unless the Oregon conservation commission upholds One Thousand Friends’ appeal, Rajneeshpuram will easily be voted into incorporation, since Oregon law provides that only persons directly affected by incorporation (i.e. those living within the proposed city’s boundaries) can vote on the matter. They have hired one of the state’s best land-use lawyers to defend them in court and they are working hard to bolster their public image. They willingly give tours to visitors and are buying their supplies in-state, which is a boon to Oregon’s depressed timber economy.

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According to the Berkeley, California-based Spiritual Counterfeits Project (SCP), Rajneesh is “one of the most influential gurus of the near future.” SCP, a Christian organization that researches and exposes cults, maintains that the search for truth inside oneself is central to his teachings.

This was apparent on a visit to the commune. Rajneesh’s followers would agree that Jesus is one self-realized person among many and that Rajneesh has reached the same spiritual level as Jesus. This philosophy removes Christ as the only Son of God, elevates other “enlightened masters” to his plane, and makes it possible for the followers of Rajneesh to say they have two masters: Jesus and Rajneesh.


Religious Periodicals May Face Yet Another Round Of Postage Rate Increases

January postal hikes shook the budgets of religious periodicals (CT, Feb. 5, p. 68). Representatives of the religious press are now receiving a disheartening signal from Washington: a further hike nearly half again beyond the damaging January increase is possible late this year.

The January increase was called “serious, even devastating” by James Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Press Association. John Stapert, postal liaison for the Evangelical Press Association, estimated that up to 10 percent of all religious publications would fold from the pressure of the rate jump.

In essence, the January hike eliminated the final steps in a 16-step system that was gradually to cut subsidies for mailings of nonprofit organizations (which include most religious publications). The increase went from step 11 to step 16, with step 16 originally scheduled to be reached in 1987.

Some publishers may have relaxed, thinking additional hikes would not come for years at least. But even with the increased January rates, nonprofits are still not paying as much as profit-making publications. The nonprofits pay only the cost of handling the mailed literature. Profit publications also pay for the Postal Service’s overhead. But under President Reagan’s budget proposal for fiscal 1983, so would nonprofit periodicals. That would boost them to full rates (the same as profit-making periodicals) starting next October, the beginning of fiscal 1983. For a 32-page biweekly, it would be about a 15 percent hike,” said Stapert. “For a monthly 64-page paper on glossy stock, it would be about 45 percent.”

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Stapert said representatives of religious press associations will probably be invited to testify on the budget proposals this spring or summer. The Evangelical Press Association, meeting at its annual convention in May, plans a workshop to help members battle further hikes. The Associated Church Press is planning similar discussion at its convention later this month.

Reagan Wants Parents To Be Told When Teens Get Contraceptives

The Reagan administration wants to require that parents be told when a teen-age child receives prescription contraceptives. The proposal is causing a clash by opposing groups, which use the same argument: both say they have the teen-ager’s health uppermost in mind.

The regulation would require that federally funded agencies notify parents within 10 days after a child under age 18 is given prescription contraceptives. The proposed rule contains restricted loopholes, designed to disallow notification of parents only when child abuse or incest is suspected.

George Ryan, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists “testified in Congress against the provision. He said it is only a “smoke screen” for the provision’s real purpose, to “turn back the clock” on sexual attitudes. “The idea that we’re all going to have a Robert Young, ‘Father Knows Best’ kind of family is just not reality.” He warned that many girls would become pregnant unnecessarily because of the measure.

Among strong supporters of the provision is Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who believes counseling children without parental involvement is “empty and futile.” She says family concern has cut back marijuana usage in high schools, and asserts, “This same mobilization of the family support network is also possible in the area of sexual activity among children. Moral discourse should be fostered between generations which affirms that good sexual relationships are built on the human values of love, commitment, and family—and yes, even marriage, though this idea may seem remote and old-fashioned.”

Opponents of the provision, which was announced by Secretary Richard Schweiker of the Department of Health and Human Services, said it would scare sexually active teen-agers away from the government-provided contraceptives, but that the teen-agers would remain sexually active.

Groups voicing opposition included the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., the YWCA, Girls Clubs of America, the National Urban League, and the Union of American Hebrew Congregátions.

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Schweiker argued that contraceptive devices can have harmful side effects and that children should have the counsel of parents about using them. “In every other area of their childrens’ lives, parents are involved and held responsible. Parents must give written permission before a child can go on a school trip and must explain when a child is absent from class for even one day. It is paradoxical that when it comes to prescribing drugs and devices with potentially serious health consequences, federal policy has not recognized parental involvement and responsibility.”

The Department of Health and Human Services reports heavy mail on the proposal, but no count has been taken to suggest the public’s position.

The proposed regulation, which can be put into effect without congressional approval, is not connected with the law that Congress recently passed (CT, March 19, p. 41), establishing programs emphasizing abstinence from premarital sex.


Harold J. Ockenga is filling the Percy B. Crawford Chair of Religion at the King’s College (Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.) this spring. Ockenga will present a series of lectures on unchanging truth as it applies to culture, moral values, and methods of gospel communication.

Clyde Cook, president of O.C. Ministries, has been chosen as Biola University’s seventh president. Cook will begin at Biola (La Mirada, Calif.) in July. He has served on the Biola board of trustees since 1978. Cook is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary (Pasadena, Calif.) and Talbot Theological Seminary (La Mirada).

Arlo D. Duba, director of admissions at Princeton Theological Seminary, will be dean of Dubuque (Iowa) Theological Seminary beginning July 1.

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