A meditation expert, “Osho,” and sex guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s presence radiates in “Wild Wild Country.”
Sex parties, wild dancing, red-clad followers, and a questionable salmonella outbreak are just scratching the surface of Netflix’s latest docuseries. To explain what to expect before diving into the show, we have prepared the following guide on its enigmatic subject.
So what is “Wild Wild Country”?
The story focuses on the controversial uprising of the Rajneeshpuram community in Antelope, Oregon and the man who inspired it all: Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. You may know him better as Osho, Bhagwan, or simply Rajneesh.
The series is helmed by Chapman and Maclain Way (directors of another acclaimed Netflix original doc, “The Battered Bastards of Baseball”) and executive-produced by Mark and Jay Duplass.
Well, who is Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh?
The guru, whose birth name was Chandra Mohan Jain, was the spiritual leader of the Rajneesh movement, or the sannyasins, as his followers were called. He got his start in India during the ’60s and ’70s, when he traveled and spoke out against socialism, Mahatma Gandhi, and orthodox religion. He began amassing worldwide followers thanks to his more lenient views on sexuality and relationships, his penchant for wild dancing, and his unique “transformational tools” of meditation that he brought to those looking for enlightenment. Before long he was referred to by some as a god…albeit one who defended Hitler and took all of his followers’ money.
But what is the series actually about?
Covering Rajneesh’s entire life would require a bigger investment than the six episodes offered here. Instead the docuseries digs deep into the guru’s life during the ’80s, when he and his followers departed from India and took up residence on a ranch in the small retirement community of Antelope, Oregon. The plan was to host 10,000 followers there, with lofty goals of eventually reaching 50,000 residents (at its height, the movement was said to have attracted roughly 500,000 sannyasins). Unfortunately for them, Antelope locals were none too pleased to have what they deemed to be a sex cult living in their community, and a constitutional battle eventually escalated into a full-on war involving guns, a bio-terror attack, and numerous other threats.
How did these people wind up in Oregon?
When it became clear that Rajneesh’s ashram in India was too small for the hordes of people seeking enlightenment in his presence, the guru began dreaming up a self-governing city in which his disciples could carry out his vision and be free of other religious and societal constraints. India was no longer the place to do that, given the controversy the sannyasins were causing in the country, but the interpretive laws in the United States made it the perfect location for an uprising of the status quo.
Why should I care about what a cult leader did in 1980s Oregon?
This docuseries isn’t just about the uprising of a questionable cult; it’s as much about politics, the interpretation of the Constitution, the lengths some people will go to for power, and how human beings can completely change their morals for a higher cause. Rajneesh and his penchant for lavish, shiny things (e.g. a collection of more than 90 Rolls-Royces) are used mostly as a launching pad for these discussions.
How did he amass so many followers?
At first the guru was selective about who he wanted to surround himself with, opting for people who were really into changing their lives and who weren’t just there to “entertain their minds.” In that vein he attracted college-educated young professionals into his inner circle, and his popularity increased from there as more and more people donned the signature red-colored clothes of the Rajneeshees.
Do people still subscribe to this guy’s teachings today?
Before his death, Rajneesh appointed certain individuals to keep his teachings alive. And so visitors can still access the Osho Meditation Resort in Pune, India, where Rajneesh built his first ashram.
What kind of voice does he have in this series?
Rajneesh died in 1990, which means he has no present-day perspective to offer. This lack of modern context actually works in the series’ favor and lends to the intrigue.
To weave together this strange story, the filmmakers relied on a variety of archival footage, interviews with Antelope locals who were affected and fought against the cult, and interviews with prominent sannyasins. This includes an extensive interview with Ma Anand Sheela, Rajneesh’s personal secretary–turned–President of Rajneesh Foundation International.
Wait, who is this Sheela person?
As Rajneesh’s right-hand woman, Sheela was largely responsible for spreading the guru’s wishes to those living in the commune (which she also managed), as well as to the naysayers outside of the community. Sheela first met Rajneesh when she was just a teenager, and went on to do anything she could to protect him and his legacy over the years — including orchestrating a bio-terror attack and plotting murder. It was she who found the space in Oregon, and it was Sheela who represented the guru in the media. However, when it became apparent that her beloved leader had fallen deep into drugs, she was forced to sever ties with him and she was eventually replaced.
Where can I watch “Wild Wild Country” again?
All six episodes are currently streaming on Netflix.