Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh: Enlightenment was lure for many of his followers

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The Oregonian/April 14, 2011

The appeal of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh isn't easy to explain.

He had no doctrine. He promoted religiousness while disdaining formalized religion.

Oregonians were baffled by the thousands flocking to his eastern Oregon commune for spiritual sustenance.

These were not uneducated masses seeking escape from poverty or oppression. Studies of his sect in Oregon showed a high percentage of well-educated sannyasins. Many were professionals: engineers, lawyers, doctors, physicists.

"What I am teaching is religiousness, a quality," Rajneesh once explained. "Religion is a dead dogma, fixed principles, frozen fossils. What I am teaching to you is a living, flowing religiousness -- an experience like love."

Rajneesh believed each person could become enlightened, as he had at age 21. That, Rajneesh said, required shedding the shackles of modern life, both physically and psychologically. Each person could become their own deity, their own version of Jesus or Buddha.

That path coursed through group therapies, meditations and Rajneesh's daily lectures. He blended Eastern mysticism with Western psychology.

For sannyasins, Rajneesh's lectures pointed the way to a more satisfying life, what some referred to as the "utopian ideal." The message was particularly potent among those who concluded there had to be a better life than one filled with tragedies, stresses and conflicts.

Not all stayed. Some left, believing he was a manipulator, a narcissist. They believed in the message, not the man.

Sociologists and religious scholars outside the movement still debate its merits. Some judge Rajneesh one of the great spiritual leaders of the world. Others consider him a charlatan, with a message so changeable as to be meaningless.

Sannyasin groups still operate in several U.S. cities and many countries. What is considered the leading organization remains based in India, still offering therapies and publishing in book form transcriptions of Rajneesh's lectures.

Six million volumes have been sold.

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