Outside the Limits of the Human Imagination
What the new documentary “Wild, Wild Country” doesn’t capture about the magnetism and evil of the Rajneesh cult
Some small excerpts here:
In one of my earliest pieces, “Bhagwan’s Hypnotic Spell,” I recounted that counselors and researchers in the field of mind control and cults believed that Rajneesh was a master of various techniques of inducing altered states of consciousness, techniques that they said he and his assistants used to bind followers to him and his organization. Josh Baran, who ran a support organization in Berkeley called Sorting It Out for people who had left spiritual groups, was my first source on this subject. Baran told me he had learned that Rajneesh and his assistants were extremely skilled in a wide range of techniques for manipulating and controlling people, many of which derived from Eastern religions:
He is quite fluent in various altered states of consciousness, much more than other cult leaders I know of. His techniques include chanting, meditation, Sufi dancing, staring into lights for extended periods of time, and powerful music, all of which induce altered states of mind. What went on at his ashram in Pune was literally a smorgasbord of altered states of mind.
Hilly Zeitlin, a clinical social worker who was co-director of Options for Personal Transition in Berkeley, an organization dealing with cult involvement and related religious issues, said that Rajneesh had made a study of techniques of hypnotic induction used by cults, and told me that he believed Rajneesh to be a “one of the best hypnotists I have ever encountered. The way he uses language, his tone of voice, the way he sequences ideas ... all are essentially hypnotic.” He went on to say that “the art of hypnosis is the art of being vague, while pretending you are being profound,” an art that he thought Rajneesh practiced masterfully in his lectures to his disciples in Pune. “Rajneesh,“ he added, “can be even vaguer now by not saying anything at all.” Rajneesh had taken a “vow of silence” when he left India for the United States. “Now you can project onto him whatever you want to believe.”
Kathleen McLaughlin, an associate professor of religious studies at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, was at the University of Pune from 1977 to 1978 and went to hear Rajneesh lecture at his ashram on several occasions. She told me: “His use of language is wonderful. He is a hypnotic and beautiful speaker who is profoundly psychically connected to his audience. We have an immature understanding of spirituality in the West,” she contended, “and since we don’t believe in psychic phenomena, we are very vulnerable to them. In India it is understood that anybody who meditates can develop psychic powers—the notion is commonly held that there are such powers and that you can develop them if you want to.” McLaughlin said that Western, academically-trained intellectuals are “especially vulnerable to this because they have been trained to use their heads, but not their emotions, and these techniques bypass rational thought.”
Zeitlin asserted that the entire social system of the Rajneesh organization functioned to create hypnotic suggestibility in its members.
Zeitlin asserted that the entire social ystem of the Rajneesh organization functioned to create hypnotic suggestibility in its members. “There is an intense effort to break down normal ways by which people measure themselves, under the guise of going beyond or transcending the ego,” he said, “and all of this is done in hypnotically binding way. They overload the circuits of the conscious mind and then present you with the alternative of ‘inner consciousness.’ Meanwhile, dependence on the group has developed.” Zeitlin told me that he had found in his interviews with ex-Rajneehsees that they were “extremely psychologically regressed” and that their capacity to relate to others and articulate their feelings was “drastically reduced.”
“These techniques, by themselves, are not bad,” asserted Baran. “They are only bad when they are used to control and enfeeble people.” The problem was that Rajneesh and his assistants were using these techniques “to get people to become followers.”
As reported by Krishna Deva, the ex-mayor of Rajneeshpuram who turned state’s evidence, Rajneesh was comparing himself to Hitler toward the end, stating that Hitler had been similarly misunderstood when he sought to create a “new man” (something Rajneesh also claimed to be doing). Rajneesh, like Asahara, had a medical facility in which deadly substances of various kinds were stockpiled, and were in instances actually deployed.
n a 1978 issue of the German magazine Stern, a woman named Eva Renzi recounted her experiences in a Rajneesh encounter group. “In the room were eighteen people,” her account begins,
I only knew Jan, a fifty-year-old Dutchman. The leader sat down, after he had closed the thick sound-proofed door. Suddenly a woman hurled herself at another and screamed at her, “You make me sick. You are a vampire. I want to scratch your face, you filthy thing.” She beat her ... . Meanwhile two women and a young man had got up. The young man threw himself on a girl of about eighteen, and boxed her on the ears with the words: “You are a caricature of a Madonna. You think you’re better than us, don’t you. You are the worst person here.” And then, pointing at me, he said, “Together with you, you bitch. You’ve got it coming to you, too.” The girl’s nose was running with blood. She tried desperately to protect herself against the blows. Then the leader took charge: “You probably think that you have control over things. You have not even got control over yourself. You are under total control here.”
Renzi was assigned by the group leaders to spend the night with the Dutchman Jan. However, after eating dinner she went quickly to sleep. “Next day, I appeared for the group punctually,” she wrote.
I said a friendly “good morning,” and icy silence answered me. I sat down. The leader asked what had happened in the previous 24 hours. Then Jan sprang up, pulled me up, and began uninhibitedly beating me. “You whore,” he shouted, “you have humiliated me, you cursed woman, I’ll kill you.” I was horrified. My nose began to bleed. I shouted: “This is your problem, if your masculine pride is hurt.” He beat me further. He tore my blouse and threw me on the floor. Like someone possessed he sat on me, beat me with his fists on my head, choked my neck, and shouted: “Say the truth, you piece of filth.”
“What truth? Are you out of your mind, are you hypnotized?” I shouted. Suddenly he left me ... . I got up trembling, trying to stop my bleeding nose. “Is this a center for developing a crazy masculinity?” I asked. I thought the craziness had passed, and would go. Then first of all a man dived on me. “Exactly that,” he said. “What did you think we’re doing here?” Then two women grabbed me, and then the whole group.
“What happened next was like an evil dream,” Renzi continues. “‘Fight with us, you coward. Will you play holy in here, you whore?’ someone said. I fled from one corner to another. They punched, scratched, and kicked me, and pulled my hair. They tore my blouse and pants off my body. I was stark naked, and they were so surrendered to their madness, that I was filled with death-anxiety. My one thought: to stay conscious. I screamed: ‘Let me go. I want to get out of here.’ At a signal from the leader they let me go.”
Renzi concluded her account for the German public of her experience of Rajneesh group therapy techniques by saying: “This craziness garnished with sadism, this fanaticism with world-beating claims, had I not already heard it somewhere before?”