Monday, April 30, 2018

Lessons from Wild Wild Country

There's been some buzz on the Internet about the new Netflix documentary Wild Wild Country. The series documents the conflict between the followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, later known as Osho, and the residents of Antelope, Oregon. Antelope is a small town twenty miles from the site where the Rajneeshis attempted to build a city called Rajneeshpuram based on the teachings of their guru.

The series makes it clear that there was all sorts of bullshit on both sides of the conflict. The people of Antelope come off as a bunch of intolerant hicks who hated on the Rajneeshis before they even interacted with them basically because they were "weird" and - gasp - liked having sex. I find it hard to believe that if the Rajneeshis were a bunch of Christians there would have been anywhere near the level of conflict that eventually took place.

The Rajneeshis, on the other hand, made elaborate claims about how enormous their new city was going to be. They promoted estimates of fifty thousand people, when the community at its height was more like maybe ten. In response to those exaggerated projections, the people of Antelope freaked. They put through legal motions to block the formation of Rajneeshpuram, which meant that the Rajneeshis had to relocate their official offices to the nearest community - Antelope. So the tiny town was overrun with Rajneeshis conducting the business of the movement.

Some Rajneeshis started buying property in Antelope to be closer to the group's administrative offices, which stoked fears that they were "taking over" the community. That fueled more conflict and more resentment, and everything escalated from there. It's easy to suggest that if the people of Antelope had just left the Rajneeshis alone they would have built all of their infrastructure in Rajneeshpuram and likely would have left Antelope alone.

As Aleister Crowley commented in Magick Without Tears, ninety percent of "Do what thou wilt" can pretty much be summed up as "mind your own business." Both sides could have used that principle to better effect.

But I was pretty surprised to see the main problem with the Rajneeshi movement writ large early in the series. The documentary features extensive interviews with many of the principal players, including Ma Anand Sheela who served time in prison for organizing the attempted murder of a federal prosecutor and a bioterror attack on a nearby town that sickened hundreds of people. As I see it, the entire problem boils down to one singular issue.

Ma Anand Sheela was not a spiritual practitioner.

Read that again if you didn't get it the first time. Ma Anand Sheela, the personal secretary and representative of Rajneesh, who was essentially in charge of the day-to-day operation of the entire group, did not practice. She says in her interview that she never meditated because it was "never her cup of tea." But meditation was the central spiritual practice of the entire Rajneeshi movement.

This is a huge problem in many new religious movements, including occult groups. For a person who is a non-practitioner, or even an unserious practitioner, the only reason to join one of these movements or orders is because you want power and status and are not a remarkable enough person to obtain it in the "real world." This is why these groups appeal to
malignant narcissists and others with personality disorders, which is often on display in various conflicts between occult groups - especially online.

To highlight this point even more, check out this article, which makes a number of good points about narcissists in the Pagan community. These points are relevant to ceremonial magick groups and alternative spiritual movements like the Rajneeshis as well.

New religious movements generally lack resources and are happy to accept anyone who is willing to take on hard and/or unpleasant work, or have good organizational skills. As the movements get bigger, a curious thing starts to happen. Sometimes the worst practitioners, not the best practitioners, wind up running things. The best practitioners are often busy doing their spiritual work, and are perfectly willing to hand off "mundane" tasks to others - but those others, particularly those of a narcissistic bent, can often parley that into ostensibly being in charge.

And this is an enormous mistake. Just ask the victims of the bioterror attack arranged by the de facto leader of a religious sect that was in theory based on love and compassion. It is clear from the interview with Ma Anand Sheela that she is entirely devoid of both. "People get sick all the time," was her response when the interviewer asked if she felt any remorse for orchestrating the attack that sickened more than seven hundred people.

People who are obsessed with status in new religious and/or occult groups are precisely the people who should never be allowed anywhere near the levers of power - such as it is, since most of these groups are quite small compared to mainstream religions. Narcissists are tricky and often can sound reasonable. They throw around statements like "I did magick for X number of years before I realized I didn't need to do it." How many times have you heard that particular steaming pile of nonsense online?

Folks, you're never done, no matter how far you think you've gotten. If you stop practicing, you regress. That's just the way it works. If somebody tells you they're done, watch out. The worst is when you stop practicing and decide that it's totally okay for you to do so because you're so much better than the people in your organization who actually have to do spiritual work. Let me tell you from personal experience, in occult groups the absolute worst people are not garden variety non-practitioners who might still be feeling out the system, but experienced and smug non-practitioners.

Sheela's involvement must have either been about her personal feelings, her desire for power, or both. She was "personally devoted" to Rajneesh and claims she was willing to do anything for him. But she didn't actually practice any of his teachings, and the only beliefs she seems to espouse are related to what a "great man" he was. So she was devoted to him and her status in the movement. There really are not a lot of possible motivations left for joining a religious movement when you don't practice the system that it teaches.

As I've written previously, when properly implemented a religion is a system that, when practiced, should lead to spiritual experiences. The practice is key to obtaining results. Without those results, we don't progress towards illumination or really any other goal.

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