PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) — It’s a wild, unbelievable chapter of Oregon history: the saga of the Rajneesh and their utopian city. But now, nearly 35 years later, the fascination surrounding the Bhagwan continues.
A rare Rajneesh reunion of sorts took place Thursday night in Portland at a special panel discussion.
Familiar faces from the popular Netflix documentary, “Wild Wild Country”, were in attendance. The event was held by the Oregon Historical Society and the U.S. District Court of Oregon Historical Society.
“It was the all-compelling, fascinating, frightening and scary part of Oregon history. By 1983, it got so darn big that we had to act. It was a criminal enterprise,” said former prosecutor Robert Weaver, who helped investigate the criminal activity unfolding within the Rajneesh community.
Weaver, along with several former attorneys and the right-hand man of the Bhagwan himself, spoke with the panel discussion in Portland.
“The commune was a way to live in peace, live in harmony. I used to be the Osho’s personal attorney and I was mayor of Rajneeshpuram,” said Niren Toelkes.
Toelkes, who still uses his Rajneeshee name, lived on the ranch in the 1980s. He said he attended the Portland discussion to represent the man behind it all: the Bhagwan, who was also known as Osho.
“His presence was a powerful energy for transformation. Before Osho died, he asked me to clear his name in America,” said Toelkes.
The Rajneesh commune eventually collapsed, but the fascination behind it is still very much alive.
“Spiritual mystics who are powerful tend to be rejected and killed when they’re alive, then adopted later. His teachings are very powerful, and people are very interested,” said Toelkes.
That interest was on full display Thursday night with people packing the pews at the First Congregational Church in Portland.
“It could have ended a lot different. We have may never captured the Bhagwan. I sometimes shudder when I think about the possible outcomes,” said Weaver.
“It ended because the United States government decided to drive him out of the country and did so, both on the state and federal level,” said Toelkes.
No matter how you slice it, the world of the Rajneesh, their city, beliefs and the man they followed will keep people talking for years to come.
To this day, tens of thousands of people still practice the Rajneesh culture. In fact, there’s an active meditation center in Seattle. The organizer lived on the ranch for four years.
The Bhagwan eventually pleaded guilty in Portland to immigration fraud before he was deported back to India, where he reportedly died of heart failure at only 58 years old.
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