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, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Tags:
Issue: