“Wild, Wild Country,” a Documentary about Spiritual Guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and His Followers: My Opinions, Personal Experiences and Reactions

Wild, Wild Country, a Documentary about Spiritual Guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and His Followers: My Opinions, Personal Experiences and Reactions

There are many similarities between “traditional” or “organized” religions around the world and all their sects and cults. The valuation of these distinctions depends entirely on the describer’s perspective, the point in history they existed, who is doing the defining, what the underlying politics and economics are for such definitions, what fears already lie in wait, and what the circumstances surrounding the group’s existence were/are.


image from https://triangulations.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/cults-vs-religions/

Watch Jesus Christ Superstar or Godspell to see the cult of Jesus in effect, with songs and dances. Study the modern-day equivalents, such as the disasters that occurred when the USA government went against Waco‘s (around David Koresh) or Ruby Ridge‘s cults, or the suicide cult of Jim Jones and The People’s Temple, or Charles Manson and the murders he inspired, to see modern-day versions of the Jesus cult’s influences. Visit any Mormon polygamy family or group to see Joseph Smith‘s influence morphed into a cult. On and on.

There are many intentional religious communities, such as the Mormons, the Shakers, the Essenes, that would be (or are) considered cults. There are other groups of individuals that decided to live together in communes, communities, even towns or cities, whose organizations were eventually legitimized politically and socially, such as Puritans, Quakers, Twin Oaks, Findhorn and others.

Many first came to the USA from other countries to escape religious persecution. In their countries of origin, they were undoubtedly banned and were definitely considered dangerous criminals, heretics and illegal, which motivated or forced their unethical occupation of these lands. Even if these people had been exiled to the “New World” as recently freed or still-incarcerated prisoners, they soon formed or joined “colonies” that, after a bloody revolutionary war to declare independence, became “states” or “commonwealths.” When does incorporating legitimize a cult?

“History is written by the victors,” proclaimed Winston Churchill, the former Prime Minister of Great Britain (when it was still the heart of a formidable United Kingdom)…. He should know. Nothing we hear or read regarding controversial historical events can ever be exactly what it seems.

Howard Zinn‘s A People’s History of The United States proves repeatedly and painfully how many lies are told by the “winners” to justify and glorify their victories. The actual stories of the invaders and thieves who came to the Western Hemisphere’s continents and islands and subsequently raped, pillaged, enslaved, lied, kidnapped, burned down and stole their ways across and all around these lands—which were already occupied—was recast to frame these criminals and slave-owners and those who benefited from/were related to them as “explorers,” “Pilgrims,” “colonists,” “settlers,” “Pioneers,” “plantation owners,” “farmers,” etc.

We want the divine to be visible on earth. We want a Messiah. We want to belong and be inspired. These are human desires.

Watching the six episodes of Wild, Wild Country, I was flooded with memories, emotions, thoughts and observations due to my own connections to these and similar people and groups. In this post, I reveal my own herstory and also share my opinions, observations and emotions stimulated by my viewing of this documentary about the Rajneeshees.

Wherever you are reading this, please post your own experiences, comments, insights here, or find the post’s comments section on my site on or after April 5, 2018: http://www.sallyember.com/blog


My herstory, with full disclosures:

—By the definitions, checklists and assessments offered as to what constitutes a “cult” (listed and quoted at the end of this post), I have been a member of, somewhat involved in, or around leaders/members of about twenty of these so-called “cults” in my life already. A few were great, start to finish/currently. Others started out all right and turned bad. Several started out weird and became familiar and helpful. There were many that exist(ed) somewhere in between these poles of experience.
—I have had personal friends, acquaintances and known several community members who were very involved with and were staunch supporters/members of the Rajneeshees Oregon community (featured in this documentary), although none of them lived there for very long or had only visited. I called them “Orange People” and treated them with varying degrees of indulgence, disrespect, acceptance, interest, derision, bewilderment, curiousity.
—I was born into the edges of one “traditional religious” cult that my brother and his family are all happily members of—Modern Orthodox Judaism—but I’m sure they would object to having their portion of Judaism classified as a cult, even though it meets most of the criteria.
—In addition to Rajneeshees`, I have known well/had reconnections with more than 100 roommates, friends, family members, colleagues and acquaintances involved in cults and cult-like groups since 1972.

Here are the key groups I have been connected to over these decades:

  • The self-proclaimed Reverend Sun Yung Moon‘s Unification Church‘s (followers known as “Moonies”) bought and took over the University of Bridgeport (UB) in Connecticut in the late 1970s.
    I earned a Bachelors degree right before their takeover and was friends with a professor there who stayed through the takeover and after they departed. He did not become a Moonie, but during their administration, he became a Dean, then Provost, before retiring a few years ago.
    I became ashamed to have earned my B.A. from the place that became known as “Moonie U.,” always hastily adding after being forced to admit I had graduated from UB that I had left before the Moonies had come.

    The Cultiversity of Bridgeport
    article at https://theness.com/index.php/the-cultiversity-of-bridgeport/

  • I joined the teaching staff of a small but vibrant parent cooperative, private elementary educational institution, The Learning Tree School, that was nested within a larger community in southeastern Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. The staff and parents had created some living situations that included at least three multi-member households.
    I joined one that had a single parent, her daughter and her partner (brother of one of my co-teachers), a VISTA (AmeriCorps, now) volunteer for the school, myself, and a man who knew many of these people and needed a place to live who would become one of my life partners (see below).
    I first learned about many things that became central to my life while part of this community: Finnish saunas (VERY hot, with steam on wood stovetops in outdoor buildings, and always done while naked and with the cold /ice water interludes), massage, chiropractic care, The Ovulation Method of fertility awareness, medicinal herbs and organic gardening, vegetarianism, macrobiotics, Re-Evaluation Counseling (RC; see below), communal households and collective living (which I lived in/organized from 1977 – 2005), “open” relationships/non-monogamy, positive classroom discipline, collaborative/consensus decision-making, arts in education, “free” school philosophies, child-centered classrooms and so much more.
    The aforementioned male addition to our collective household and I started a relationship that continued for almost twenty years. He is the father of my only child, a Mevlevi Sufi (see below), and still a good friend.
    But, interestingly, as a somewhat traditional teacher and person going into this teaching position and community, I remained an outsider. They decided that I was too “strict” when I objected to the other teachers’ lack of supervision of the children during icy recess afternoons or at the beachfront (our school occupied the former boathouse of a mostly inactive convent in Tiverton, Rhode Island), and not “loose” enough with the students (I didn’t like it when they got u[ and left in the middle of a lesson and called them back inside). We parted ways after only one year.

  • Followers of Prem Rawat, known as “The Maharishi,” (followers known as “Premies”) included my first-year college roommate, my former brother-out-law and his wife, several of their friends and a housemate’s sister. Although I participated in a few satsangs (Hindu-esque rituals, listening to audio or watching video of the teacher, chanting, singing, incense), this was not at all appealing to me.
  • I know three types of Sufis:
    1) those who started The Abode of the Message—one of the places my partner and I considered living—an “Eco-Sufi Village,” in Lebanon, New York, which spun off into Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, a “New Age” educational conference center in Rhinebeck, New York, and now, five other locations all still operating today. Both centers’ leaders follow(ed) the now-late Pir Vilayat Khan, and, later, his successor, Vilayat Inayat Khan but Omega welcomes all traditions, hosting many other leaders and educators.
    We weren’t drawn to The Abode community when we visited, so I didn’t return until I attended a week-long educational seminar at Omega in Rhinebeck about twenty years later. Great place! Just not for me;


    image of indoor meeting space, Omega Institute, Rhinebeck, NY

    2) those who are considered Mevlevi, often Turkish, who follow the teachings of the late poet, Rumi (Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi). I knew/know many of these Sufis, including their now-deposed (due to a sex scandal) leader, Kabir [Ed] Helminski, in southwestern New Hampshire and southeastern Vermont (because my son’s father is a follower).
    My son’s father became a world-renowned master among the specialized Sufi Dancers known as Whirling Dervishes. He has traveled all over the world to whirl, starting in the mid-1980s, including at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
    Despite attending numerous Sufi family events and Semas, I never felt drawn to this path, either;
    and,
    3) students/followers of Sufi Sam Lewis (also known as Murshid Samuel Lewis and Sufi Ahmed Murad Chisti), who helped invent a type of spiritual dances that were done in circles with partners and groups, in spirals and other patterns, which he called “Sufi Dancing.”
    My son’s father had lived at and known Sam at the Lama Foundation in New Mexico before Sam’s death in 1971. I first encountered and participated in Sufi dancing at Another Place Conference Center in 1978 (see below).
    Sufi dancing has spread throughout the USA and Canada and the world. In several USA places on both coasts and in New Mexico for over thirty years, I learned a lot of these dances and songs, some in English, some in Arabic. I love them because they were easy to learn and the dancing/singing quickly infused us dancers with sweet messages of love, hope, peace, joy and community camaraderie.
    But, group arts activity is not a path and nothing about it appealed to me besides the Sufi dancing.


    image from https://triangulations.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/cults-vs-religions/

  • I was friends with and knew personally several leaders/founders of the Contact Improvisation Dance groups and Dance/Movement Therapy that inspired “Dance Free” (in Cambridge, MA), “Dance New England,” dance camps, “Dance Spree” at Keene State College in New Hampshire, and the Counseling Psychology/Dance Movement Therapy Masters’ degree program at Antioch New England Graduate School in Keene, New Hampshire.
    I have had several housemates and good friends who taught at and/or attended Antioch New England’s various graduate programs, including this one, and the DMT/CP program is the one from which my daughter-in-law graduated in 2016.
    But, since I hurt my leg severely in high school and suffered greatly from nerve pain for about twenty years, vigorous dancing was not my path, either.

  • MSIA (Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness) founded by John-Roger, “The Mystical Traveler” (a close associate of Arianna Huffington), had many other well-known followers/adherents. Jack Canfield of Chicken Soup for the Soul was an early leader.
    One of my sisters was very involved with this in the late 1970s. After she graduated college, she and her partner (later, husband) moved to Los Angeles, California, and that’s where she met up with these people. She decided to earn a master’s degree in counseling from their questionable and uncertified Koh-I-Nor University in Los Angeles. She worked for and was friends with Jack Canfield and his second wife for a year or so, then started having children and didn’t go back.
    My sister’s involvement scared more than appealed to me. I was glad when she left the group.

  • Re-Evaluation Counseling (RC), founded by Harvey Jackins, was created from what Harvey stole from the work, philosophies and techniques of Gestalt/Fritz Perls, Psychodrama/J.L. Moreno, L. Ron Hubbard/Scientology/Dianetics, and Alcoholics Anonymous/”Bill,” and the Big Book. Harvey and a few other “peer counselors” began to “train”and recruit participants and local, regional and global leaders (“Reference Persons”) through free introductory workshops, then pushing members into increasingly expensive beginning and required classes, that become more elite (and costly). The sequences of more “advanced” classes (like EST, Esalen, and many other groups/conference centers, what they offer gets pricey; see below) keep the organization funded. RC is a “peer counseling” technique which became the foundation of an international movement of anti-oppression, especially social, political, personal growth and activism, which I greatly appreciated and learned about intensively. Based in Seattle, Washington, the organization continues to this day and still sells information through Rational Island Publishers. A lot of the anti-oppression, anti-isms movements’ language, concepts, techniques and workshop leadership sprung from RC roots.



    images from https://www.rc.org/

    After Harvey‘s death in 1999, his son, Tim Jackins, took it over as the newly selected “International Liberation Reference Person.” RC leaders started multiple magazines/newsletters and used their increasing political savvy and leadership influence to help/staff many of the most significant civil rights and improvement movements of the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and the new millenium (environment, feminism/sexism, ableism, racism, sexual abuse memory recovery, ageism, peace and social justice, to name a few) that are still having an impact and still active worldwide.
    I started with RC in 1980 despite having had bad experiences with it in The Learning Tree School community (some co-counselors did not maintain confidentiality, e.g.; see above), then left it in 1984 to join and become a leader of CCI. I credit my ability to deal effectively and with courage when my own and others’ emotions arise, my raised consciousness (now called being “woke”) regarding all types of internalized and external oppression, my first understanding of the “isms,” social and political systems, leadership, group dynamics, catharsis (known as discharge, here) and much more to my experiences in RC and CCI.
    I met some great people who became lifelong friends, colleagues, inspirations and mentors for me through these organizations. I am eternally grateful that these organizations existed and were accessible to me in my early adult and new parent years. My first teachers and co-counselors earned my gratitude forever: Bonnie Insull, the late Jaye Alper, Anna Aasgard, Diane Balser, Katie Schwerin, Emmy Ianello, Sydney Amara Morris, Bill Whyte, Zea Moore, Jeremy Youst, Mario Cossa, Pamela Lerman, Susan Link, Beth Pearson, Thom Herman, and David Eisenberg.
    But, the rigidity turned me off, so I turned to CCI (see below).

  • Co-Counseling International (CCI) was a spin-off/rip-off of RC that formed in 1973 when a few disgruntled leaders and practitioners of RC didn’t want to follow the “blue pages” (stolen from Alcoholics Anonymous‘ “Big Book,” these were originally printed on blue paper; these list the guidelines/rules for social conduct for AA groups that Harvey adapted for RC groups), particularly rebelling against the strictly enforced rules that forbid socializing/befriending and having sex with people whom co-counseling participants knew only through RC as leaders or co-counselors. CCI-ers also wanted more respect for and inclusion of the “spiritual” component than Harvey and his co-leaders seemed to value or would permit. Adding the spiritual component and escaping the rigidity of RC appealed to me, so I switched alliances in 1983.
    I rose quickly in the local ranks, leading/teaching classes and workshops, weekend conferences and other events. However, there was too much irresponsible and non-monogamous sex going on among co-counselors, especially at weekend workshop events, even for me (who was in “open” relationships for more than half my adult life), For example, there were many public displays of kissing and fondling, seemingly required at the end of some weekend conferences in a kind of good-bye dance line set-up, that made me very uncomfortable. I usually declined to participate in these “group gropes,” but, as a co-leader, I wish I had tried to stop them completely.
    I stayed about three years with CCI, but left CCI once I started going to traditional therapy in 1986 (after the Choy/cult experiences—see below—destroyed my main friendships and co-teaching partnerships within CCI).

  • Some Sikhs were those who followed Yogi Bhajan and Kirpal Singh and his successors. Some started and ran the Golden Temple of Conscious Cookery restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
    One of these Sikhs was a 3-year roommate (1987-1989) and friend of mine in New Hampshire.
    Being a complete vegan did not appeal to me, nor did that eating plan work for my body. I didn’t like the worshipping a human teacher aspects much. Plus, the turbans were a big turn-off.

  • The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee, founded and led by Stephen and Ina May Gaskin, inspired/wrote Spiritual Midwifery. The Farm was one intentional community that my partner and I considered living in and visited in 1978. But, while we were visiting, they were experiencing a hepatitis outbreak: big turn-off.


    Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin of The Farm

    We knew several couples who had lived there but who had left and moved to New Hampshire and Massachusetts in the late 1970s (two couples had been in a “four-marriage,” which meant each of them had fathered a child with the other’s wife, but that child was raised as in ignorance until adulthood, believing him/herself to have been the child of the originally married couple). One of the families that we knew well (because my partner had been college friends with the mom) had had one of their children’s birth stories featured in the midwifery book.
    Because of The Farm‘s great information dissemination, we had access to one of the best books on home births, a great cookbook for home cooking for vegetarians (especially how to cook beans, tips on using pressure cookers, recipes for making everything from scratch), pamphlets on making/using tofu (The Farm community was instrumental in popularizing the use of soy in many forms). I became an excellent vegetarian cook, we had a home birth for our son, and we had several friends who were lay midwives (three midwives attended our son’s home birth).


    My son, his father and I, he in a Native American-style, homemade (by two of our midwives) cradleboard, May, 1980, Stoddard, New Hampshire

    I am very grateful to the Gaskins and their followers for all they have contributed to my and many others’ lives.

  • I knew a lot of “Mukties,” followers of Muktananda—born Krishna Rai— who was the founder of Siddha Yoga and popularized the spiritual residential centers known as “ashrams” in the USA.
    Students of Muktananda and his successors were leaders/members of several groups I was affiliated with, including Another Place Conference Center, Spring Hill Community, Opening the Heart, and Robert Gass and the Wings of Song band/chorus in the late 1970s and early 1980s (I am listed as “Sallie Fleischman,” a chorus member, on the second album, Many Blessings, released in 1980; I performed with the band from 1978 – 1980). We also had two Siddha Yoga practitioners for housemates. I also knew some Buddhist sangha members who were Siddha Yoga practitioners/leaders (known as “Swamis”) who had lived at the main ashram in New York state.
    But, other than the chanting and singing kirtan (Hindu sacred music), I was never drawn to visit an ashram or practice in this path.

  • Mettanokit (a Wampanoag—Native American—language name given to several communal households that were part of an intentional community in southwestern New Hampshire that my partner and I moved from Massachusetts to be a part of, attracted by this flyer:


    Mettanokit flyer, circa 1978

    This community was started by Native American activist and author, Medicine Story (Francis Story Talbot, Manitonquat, who has written extensively on his philosophies ad done a lot of work in the world related to these concepts), and his then-wife, Emmy Ianello, and several others. I lived in collective households with some of these members (Story, Emmy, Toqueem [child], Katie, Bill, Mia [child], Charlie, Aaron [child], Christopher and I were in the first group household, in Sharon, New Hampshire, 1978-79) in some combination for three years (and there were several home births in these households, including ours; see above).
    Although the community splintered and some moved to form other households—in Massachusetts, Another Place Conference Center (where many had lived prior to this; see above and below) who then bought and ran it for years, in other parts of New Hampshire, and some scattered—I became lifelong friends with the family who founded and still run Badger Balm, Bill Whyte, Katie Schwerin, and their daughters, Emily Schwerin-Whyte and Rebecca Hamilton, and Katie‘s daughter, Neumia Mason Burroughs.
    Joining this community was the reason I landed in New Hampshire, and these connections formed the foundation for my adult life, parenting and community for over twenty years. I am very grateful to have known and been a part of this venture at its inception.

  • Wiccans: I was close friends with several practicing witches whose beliefs were sometimes labeled “Wiccan,” “Pagan,” and “Womancraft.” I attended a workshop with USA’s most famous modern witch, activist and author, Starhawk, and visited and did rituals with several covens and Goddess groups that practiced “White Magic” in the 1980s.
    I learned to read Tarot cards, scry (see visions in crystal balls), do healings with placing crystals on people’s bodies and faces, cast a circle (create a safe/sacred space for rituals) and use the tools of Wicca. I had several crystals, crystal balls and my own athame (ritual dagger) as well as specific types of candles and incense.
    I learned a lot and enjoyed some of the rituals and gatherings, but when my closest friends who were committed practitioners of the Craft moved away, my interest dwindled.

  • Shamanism: (the Michael Harner-/Brant Secunda-inspired types). I knew a few who had studied with these leaders who brought the techniques back to New Hampshire.
    I attended some drumming/shamanic dreaming/vision circles in the 1980s.
    But, I had more interest in one of the drummers than the path, and when our friendship blew up (see Choy experience, below), my interests in Shamanism and drumming vision quests ended as well.

  • Robert Bly followers/drum circle men permeated several communities I was part of in southwestern New Hampshire and northern California.
    As a woman, this was not for me.

  • Radical feminism: I am still an adherent.
    I belonged to several feminist groups over the years, including the Rising Sun Feminist Health Alliance, which had founding members who were in the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (the authors of Our Bodies/Ourselves) as its leaders. I was also briefly on the Board of New Hampshire-NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League). I also visited and/or belonged to vision groups, study groups, Grandmothers’ groups, Goddess groups, several women’s choruses, women’s groups, lesbian-bisexual women’s groups, LGBT groups, and feminist activist organizations in five states (some of which overlapped with Wicca, above).
    I attended a weekend workshop at Rowe Conference Center in Rowe, Massachusetts, in 1990, led by ex-communicated, feminist, former two-time presidential candidate, public speaker and author, Sonia Johnson. Sonia kissed any participant who wanted to kiss her at the closing circle ceremony. I did not volunteer.


    image from Citizens’ Party

    Because of my having attended a panel of the authors of Women’s Ways of Knowing and a workshop with Carol Gilligan and some of her co-authors and researchers of In A Different Voice in the 1980s, I decided to return to school to earn my masters’ and doctoral degrees in the early 1990s. I briefly belonged to the AWP (Association of Women in Psychology) feminist professional organization during that time.
    I have been a feminist since 1957, when I objected to traditional Reformed Jewish rituals and traditions that excluded or marginalized girls/women. I am still a feminist.

  • Eco-warriors and Peace Activists: I knew/was friends with some of the original recyclers, permaculturalists, organic farmers, people who started several food co-ops, a founder of Erewhon Natural Foods, founders/members of the New England Organic Farmers Association [NOFA], several environmental educators/faculty at Sargent Camp and Antioch/New England Graduate School in southwestern New Hampshire, and members of several similar groups I was loosely affiliated with for many years. Anti-war/Peace activism: included me and fellow high school students, starting in 1969 for the first Moratorium Day (anti Vietnam War national demonstration, for which I was suspended from school for wearing the black armband; 10/15/69), and continued for every war after that.
    I wish we prevailed more often.

  • Anti-nuclear power activists: I was a member of The Clamshell Alliance, which helped stop the building of the Seabrook, New Hampshire, nuclear power plant’s second tower, close down the Rowe, Massachusetts, aging plant, and stop the building of several others around the USA in the 1970s-1980s, particularly successful after the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, nuclear power plant meltdown/disaster.
    Again, I wish we prevailed more often.

  • I learned T.M. (Transcendental Meditation, as taught by the followers of the Beatles’ guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi), right after graduating high school in 1972, but I didn’t join the group. I practiced T.M. twice daily for over 20 years.
    I have had friends and acquaintances who went to live at the USA’s T.M. center in Iowa, attended Maharishi University there and lived at the center in India. Some became leaders in the T.M. movement.
    But, I was in my thirties before I realized that this was a Hindu-based meditation practice, since I had stayed out of the groups (and was glad I had). I did the practice, which turned out to be a component of shamatha meditation (calm abiding) in Buddhism, but not the Hindu path.

  • Scientology briefly grabbed my brother’s attention in 1970, but he didn’t continue pursuing it after high school. In 2013, I met some colleagues who had been more involved in that and its spin-off, Dianetics, but who had also left by the time I worked with them.
    Neither of these appealed to me at all.

  • I was in, around, friends with, sent my child to daycare/preschool and school at/with several intentional communities in southwestern New Hampshire between 1978 – 1998, including Rudolf Steiner/Waldorf Schools/Anthroposophism groups (which I did not join, myself, but many friends became Waldorf teachers). I was the accompanist for the Monadnock Waldorf School‘s (MWS) Eurythmy program in 1987-88, before our son became a student there. Our son attended MWS from 1988-1994 (3rd – 8th grades), and we were active parents. I helped with drama productions, sex/health education, conflict resolution, craft fairs and childcare.
    I appreciated MWS‘ existence in our community, and most of my friends sent their kids to this and other Waldorf schools. But, I always felt like an outsider/dissenter to Anthroposophism because I never bought in completely. The Christian components, especially in the MWS school/community, were excessive and oppressive to me, as a Jewish Buddhist. I was relieved to be “done” with MWS when our son graduated.

  • In 1983, I first met author, channeler/clairvoyant, public speaker and workshop leader, Caroline Myss [pronounced “Carolyn Mace”] when she agreed to meet with me and my friend/colleague, Mario Cossa, to discuss the lost city of Atlantis for two children’s /youth plays we were writing. We became very good friends from then on, seeing each other almost weekly until she left New Hampshire to return to Chicago in 1992.


    Caroline Myss, from her website

    I also met and became friendly with the other founders and staff at Stillpoint Publishing, where she and Meredith Young (author of Agartha: Journey to the Stars) wrote and worked and two other friends of mine soon worked. I coordinated a workshop for Caroline to lead that took place at Another Place Conference Center (see above) in the fall of 1985 on the topic of her second book, Sacred Contracts and Your Archetypes, and I am mentioned in the forewords of three of her books.
    It was from Caroline and Meredith that I first learned about and became interested in “channeling,” so I was ripe to meet with and study with Lisa Leghorn in the early spring of 1985 (see below).

  • I have happily been a member and practitioner, myself, of another cult-like group (according to many definitions), Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhists, as led by the late His Eminence Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche. I spent about fifteen years co-leading and living in/participating in several of Chagdud Gonpa‘s meditation groups/centers (since 1988–first meetings/1996–joined up). First studying with Lama Lisa Leghorn/Lama Shenphen (see below), my then-partner and I helped start, lead, coordinate, sat on the boards of, and lived in several of these Gonpas (meditation centers/communities).
    I have done several “long” retreats—up to eleven weeks, all in silence—and many that lasted two – three weeks or a long weekend. I attended three 10-day Drubchens and several Drubchods (closed or open retreats with music, chanting, dancing and other rituals that lasted 24 hours a day), weekly or daily meditation sessions (pujas), and even trained to be and functioned as the leader (umzei) for these weekly sessions at several centers. I spent ten years exchanging English language tutoring for Tibetan language tutoring with a Tibetan man I met through one of these centers who became a good friend. I learned to read and write in Tibetan, but not to speak much and was never fluent.
    After philosophical differences among its leaders/Lamas caused schisms (between 2007 – 2009), I “spun-off” with Rinpoche‘s successor, who was already my main/”root” Lama, Lama Padma Drimed Norbu ([Al]Wyn Fischel; see below). He left Chagdud Gonpa‘s main center, Rigdzin Ling in Junction City (northern California, near Redding), in 2009 and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area of California, where I already had been living for about seven years.


    Lama Drimed (Wyn Fischel), my teacher

    I returned to Missouri in August, 2014, after the accident that caused a TBI for me in the spring of 2014; up until then, I met with Lama Drimed about once every few months for most of those years. Since I moved, I only returned to California once, in 2016, when I did get to meet with him. Otherwise, we email and have phone calls periodically and I still consider him to be my spiritual teacher. There are a few Buddhist groups here in St. Louis that I have visited, attended some events and kind of affiliated with, but none is the exact same kind of Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhism as mine, although three are very close “cousins.” I’ve gotten used to being a solo practitioner, though, at this point (spring, 2018).


    image from http://www.vijayatemple.orgA Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist class, similar to the ones I attended for many years

    I practice meditation in the Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist tradition daily and throughout the day, formally and informally, to date (April, 2018), and plan to continue through my death and into other lifetimes.

  • I have always really wanted to be a part of a healthy intentional community, but NOT a cult. I knew the editors/founders of Communities Magazine, Paul Freundlich and his then-partner, in 1978.
    I knew and visited dozens of people who lived at variously located small- and large-group intentional community experiments, always searching for the “right” one for me.
    I was part of a group that tried to get a co-housing community started in 1990-91, but we disintegrated.
    I still long to live in that kind of setting and wish I could find the right community.

There are many more cult-like groups and people affiliated with them that I’ve known, but I’m stopping, here, since these are the main ones, including the story, below.


My Worst Cult-like Experience, with the Same Two Leaders as my Best

Some local teachers, Lisa Leghorn, with whom I was already studying, and, later, Wyn Fischel (who later were briefly married to each other), were pivotal influences in my life, beginning in 1985. They brought me into meeting and studying Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism with H.E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche because they each became Buddhist teachers/Lamas; see above), which saved and enhanced my life and spiritual development, unlike anything I have ever known before or since (and, by now, you can see I’ve “known” a lot of “paths”).

Lisa and, secondarily, Wyn were the connections that led me to meet with and join what became a briefly formed cult. This group centered around a Filipino faith healer known as Choy who lived in Baguio City, the Philippines. [NOTE: I can’t remember his real name. A Google search didn’t turn up any mention of him by his nickname. The only photos I have are personal, casual or posed group shots.]

This part of my cult experiences story started for me in March of 1985.
I had seen some flyers and ads and then heard from several friends about a “Psychic and Spiritual Development” teacher from Hillsborough, New Hampshire, Lisa Leghorn, who was going to speak and teach in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Lisa apparently offered private psychic readings by “Channeling” her “Spirit Guides” (this was very big in the 1980s). She taught classes in giving readings as well as how to dowse, use crystals for healing and focusing our energies, and learn to “awaken our psychic potentials. The flyers said that Lisa was going to give an introductory lecture and start a series of weekly classes in April of 1985. Since I had been seeing/hearing about it multiple times, it seemed significant and I was interested. I brought about a dozen people with me to this first meeting/lecture, a meeting that turned out to be momentous for many of us.

For Lisa, the story started when, in the fall of 1984, she had first met this Filipino faith healer, “Choy,” because a friend of hers had invited him to teach a workshop in northern New Hampshire which Lisa had attended. It was around that same time that Lisa started dating Wyn Fischel.

Lisa taught her Peterborough classes for about a year; Wyn started attending ours and her other one, in Hillsborough, then teaching his own classes himself in Keene, which several of my friends attended, in the summer of 1985. Lisa and Wyn then invited all their students to meet Choy when he came back to New Hampshire to lead another weekend workshop in September, 1985.

During Lisa‘s weekly psychic and personal development classes (which I attended from April, 1985, to March, 1986) and Choy‘s workshop, I discovered that I had strong and accurate clairvoyant medical and psychological diagnosis skills, similar to those of Caroline Myss (who was a close friend of mine for several years, while she and I both lived in New Hampshire; see above). In these class, I learned about chakras, energy fields, ley lines, light bodies, “layers of the field” of our auras and auras in general, NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), polarity, past lives and regression, dream interpretations, and much more.


image from http://theawakenedstate.tumblr.com/post/72106305704/auras

These were all topics that interested me a lot, so I soaked in all in and returned for more, signing up for advanced classes, weekend workshops, and eventually, the trip to the Philippines (see below).

Lisa arranged for a group of us to go study with Choy in Baguio City, but we had to wait because of political unrest in the Philippines. While waiting for Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos to be deposed and flee and Corazon Aquino to be elected President, a dozen of us led by Lisa prepared through evenings, weekends, long weekends, and even a one-week retreat, under Lisa‘s tutelage, with weekend seminars and more classes during the late fall and winter of 1985-86. When it was safe, we went with Lisa and Wyn to study with Choy. Everyone stayed for one month; eight stayed longer; four of us stayed for two months.

After we had all returned, Lisa and Wyn (now married) hosted Choy Choy at Wyn‘s property (which had two buildings, a house and a studio/classroom) for Choy to do healings/see patients and teach weekly classes, which occurred three or four times each week through early September of 1986. The classes included a mix of esoteric/mystical Catholicism, shamanism, psychic/personal development and “New Age” components. I became somewhat of a “senior student” due to my quickly developing skills and knowledge of the local community. I and others brought many friends and family members to Choy‘s groups/classes or to see him as a patient. We sometimes had over 100 people coming visiting Wyn‘s Temple, NH, property per week, for about twelve weeks.

Near the end of that time, however, Lisa and Wyn, then those close to them, began to hear disturbing reports from patients and students: Choy was somewhat of a healing fraud. Turned out that he had told some patients that their conditions were “cured,” but these patients had come back, irate, waving CAT scans showing that their cancers had spread, for example. Worse, we found out that Choy had been sexually abusing some of his patients and my fellow students.

While I and others were first learning of the extent of Choy‘s horrendous behaviors and lies, it turned out that Lisa and Wyn were not so new to this information. They had known about some of the “lesser” sexual improprieties since the first impropriety, back in Baguio City. Then, for months, they had hidden that and other complaints from the rest of us, allowing Choy to stay while their silence protected and enabled Choy to continue and to escalate his abuses.

The ways that these lies were exposed imploded my community. In the aftermath, my credibility and trust between me and some of my friends were destroyed, since some of them believed—I was so close to Lisa and Wyn, how could I not have known what they knew?—that I had known more and sooner than I had. I completely understood their skepticism and mistrust; I was feeling that about Lisa and Wyn, myself, and I was furious with and felt horribly betrayed by Choy. These betrayals and abuses of trust devastated several key friendships and CCI (see above) co-teaching relationships for me and damaged my friendships with and trust for Lisa and Wyn for years.

The group-think that developed around Choy and the related events were, by far, the most cult-like of my personal experiences, and the worst. Some of my relationships never recovered because I was not believed or forgiven.

Even more difficult, Lisa and Wyn left soon after this all blew up. They said they had to go looking for a true spiritual teacher and community. They left me, and with them gone, I got all the blame and was the recipient of everyone’s hurt feelings for months after they left. This caused me great stress and sent me into traditional therapy (see above).

One good part: since I had already learned a lot and seemingly had a lot of clairvoyant and counseling/teaching skills, and as one of the most successful and senior students, many asked me to take over/help them out, and I was very willing and able to do that. Not everything Choy had done or taught was fraudulent, at least, not for me and many others.

That is often the case with cults: things with the leader/group start out good or even great, or everything is a mix of good/bad, until it all goes sour. I was traumatized and grieving, but through therapy, I began to heal.

I agreed to continue seeing clients, doing the counseling/hands-on healings/diagnoses, first in New Hampshire at my own home, then at offices I borrowed and eventually rented in Cambridge/Watertown, Massachusetts, once a week. I also started teaching classes that were very similar to Lisa‘s, which I had liked a lot and learned so much from that I wanted to share all that with others. I worked in this field for about two years.

In 1988, after two of my sponsors, who had also been clients and friends, were brutally murdered while on vacation, I stopped abruptly—out of overwhelming grief and guilt—because I had had no premonition of their being in danger. This tragedy and my powerlessness to prevent or protect them from it, as well as my increasing realization that these “classes” and “counseling” were not empowering, but rather, making my clients dependent on me, destroyed what had remained of my faith, motivation and confidence. So, I quit it all.

Meanwhile, in the summer of 1987, Lisa and Wyn returned briefly to New Hampshire to pack up and sell their homes. Their search had succeeded: they had discovered Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism as taught by H.E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche (see above), and his sangha (spiritual communities) had met with their approval. They had started studying with him right away and then decided to move to California to join his sangha. They helped to create the main center in Junction City, which was bought, up and running by early 1988.

Their decision to leave New Hampshire was not completely understandable, and I was devastated, furious, sad and bewildered. How could they do this? Another Asian male teacher? Really? I was derisive and disgusted.

Wyn did try to teach me some of what they had been learning (“The Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind”) before they left, even though I was less than receptive. This short “conversation,” which we had while he was hanging laundry outside to dry, was my first Buddhist teaching from him.

We did not part on great terms, but we stayed in touch (mostly, Lisa and I did, then Wyn and I). First Lisa was my Buddhist teacher, starting in Colorado in 1996, continuing in New York City and Boston when she and Rinpoche came to teach and give empowerments and Refuge. Lama Lisa was our guiding lama when I lived at and helped coordinate Buddhist centers in the Chagdud Gonpa Foundation network, one in Maine (1998-99) and two in Arizona/New Mexico (1999-2001).

While I was finishing my doctoral degree and then working full time, 1996-1998, I meditated daily to complete the Preliminary Practices (ngondro) and other accumulations of 100,000 mantras, utilizing visualization and other meditation techniques that qualified me to attend the first-year Dzogchen (“Great Perfection”) retreat with Lama Drimed as its leader. That is the way that Wyn became my “root” Buddhist Lama.


Lama Drimed and I, 1999, at Rigdzin Ling, Junction City, CA

This part of our journey took almost 15 years (see above). THAT is some strong karma, eh?


However, first, I felt very alienated from Buddhism for many years, even though I had met Rinpoche and his wife, Jane (who became Chagdud Khadro when he ordained her as a Lama) when Rinpoche and Jane came to Hew Hampshire at the invitation of my best friend (who had been involved with Lisa, Wyn, Choy, the Philippines, etc., then gone to study with Rinpoche at Lisa‘s request) in 1988.

Missing them and wanting to see what they had created and where they were living, I had even gone out to Rigdzin Ling (see above) to visit Lisa and Wyn, see their new Center/Gonpa, and to attend a 10-day Bodhisattva Peace Training that Lisa had insisted I go to, in the winter of 1989. But, it “didn’t take.” I wasn’t moved to start practicing.

I continued to see Lisa when she came to the East Coast with Rinpoche, as his attendant and translator (he had terrible English that few could understand) almost every year. During one visit, I half-jokingly told Lisa I wouldn’t start studying Buddhism until SHE started teaching it. In 1995, Rinpoche ordained Wyn as Lama Padma Drimed Norbu (Lama Drimed), whom he also made his “lineage heir” (an unheard-of move, since Rinpoche already had an adult son who was a Lama whom he bypassed for this honor) along with another senior student, Lama Tsering. Rinpoche was one of the first to ordain Western women (starting with Lama Inge Sandvoss) and continued to ordain Westerners until his death in 2002.


image from http://theind.com/article-permalink-1428.html of Rinpoche and Lisa, circa 1994

In 1996, Lisa was ordained by Rinpoche. She became Lama Lisa, then Lama Shenphen Drolma, and started teaching. I kept my word.

For more about this journey, see my two-part series, published online in 2015 in Buddhist Door, “A Reluctant Buddhist: How it Took Me Eight Years to Start Practicing in This Life,” Part I and Part II.


So, watching this documentary, Wild, Wild Country, about Rajneesh and all that, was a little like watching my own and others’ lives. Some of the Orange people/Rajneeshees were close friends, housemates, co-counseling partners, community acquaintances and others whom I had known and understood very well (see above). I had already read some books about this group, but there were a lot of facts and footage that shocked me during my viewing.

The Rajneesh meditation community started out so sweetly, with so much love, hope, utopian visions and plans, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in India and then many other countries, before they started the community/city in Oregon, USA.


image from documentary/Netflix; Ma Anand Sheela and Rajneesh, early years, in Poona, India

But, watching this documentary and remembering the friends and others I knew who had been involved with Rajneeshees made me feel so much sadness, anger, ad compassion. I was hurting for those—like the people I knew personally—who had been innocent followers and believers but who had been horribly betrayed, led astray, influenced unduly to do atrocious things or didn’t even know about them.

Some of what they set out to accomplish, some of the good they wanted to do in the region and world, did occur. But, so much damage was also done.

Watch, and do more research. Then, do more, if you want. Decide for yourselves. Here are my observations, reactions and options. See what you think…


Episodes 1 & 2, late 1970s – early 1980s:
—The promise, the joy, spiritual path and personal growth work, music and dance that infused the gatherings and parties. Recruitment, voluntary joining, friends and family members joining together made this lifestyle seems to appealing to many around the world.
—There were interviews, videos and photographs that showed so many people’s involvement being touted as “the best thing that ever happened to them.”
—They built an amazing, somewhat utopian-seeming city in a very short amount of time and housed and fed thousands. They lived without crime and seemingly in harmony for a few years while the numbers of those who followed Rajneesh exploded worldwide.

Episodes 3 & 4, 1983 – 1984:
Depicting all the ways in which it all goes to shit.
—Rajneeshpuram sent buses and advocates to many cities in the USA in the summer of 1984 to recruit homeless people into its community. They welcomed all of these formerly abandoned people (mostly males) and gave them a lot that they had been missing: security, housing, food, work, friends, respect. But, they did this in order to get these new residents to register to vote so the Sannyasin could take over government by choosing the leaders of Oregon.
—Wasco County, Oregon, refused to allow these newly legitimate residents to register to vote in the November, 1984, election, which shows how crazy the politicians and leaders of Oregon had become.


Rajneeshpuram, 1985, Welcome sign

Bhagwan was instructing Sheela; she did not act on her own or from her own ideas, solely.
—One of these new residents, a formerly homeless man who was mentally ill and violent, attacked and almost strangled Sheela to death. He was quickly removed from the community completely.
Sheelaand other leaders of Rajneeshpuram then made the decision to secretly (without the knowledge or consent of the affected community members) put Haldol (a strong anti-psychotic and sedative) into the homeless residents’ drinks (beers, mostly), which shows how crazy Rajneeshpuram leaders had become.
Ma Anand Sheela and other leaders soon evicted most of the “street” people/homeless people, only keeping those who could/would follow the rules. Sannyasins left the violent, mentally ill Rajneeshpuram rejects in nearby Oregon towns and cities, mostly Portland, showing automatic weapons to those who tried to stop these drop offs.
—Law enforcement came to “inspect” Rajneeshpuram. They were met with roads that were blocked by sannyasin vehicles and “road closure” signs. Officers’ cars went off-road and attempted to enter some buildings, but weren’t allowed in (“We can’t find the keys”), so they left. They missed seeing the labs in which bio-terrorism weapons were being developed.
Sheela planned and sannyasin carried out attacks, which included bio-terrorism (putting salmonella into the food of several salad bars in Portland) prior to the election in order to keep legitimate voters from voting in the November election. 750 people became ill in The Dalles from food poisoning. Many had to be hospitalized.
Sheela and other leaders continued to exhort the sannyasin into even more heinous acts (more threats to Oregonians, violence, including murders). Some sannyasin rebelled/refused or left; some followed her edicts and acted as her “soldiers.” They had disguises, safe houses, weapons, plans for assassinations and other crimes (including bombings) to be carried out against politicians and USA lawyers/leaders.
—Oregonians succeeded in outmaneuvering and thereby, outvoting the sannyasins, some of whom then refused to vote. So, their political take-over plan failed.
—Conflicts escalated after the election, with Sheela‘s making comparisons between Oregon’s leaders and citizens to Nazis and Hitler occurring frequently.
—Oregon set up a “hotline” for people to report possible crimes and dangers, statewide.
—Sannyasins committed arson in Wasco.
—Poisoned chocolates from Rajneeshpuram were delivered to Oregonian activists.
—Sannyasins poisoned water of USA attorneys and other Oregon leaders.
Ma Anan Hasya (a part of the so-called “The Hollywood Crowd”) became one of Rajneeshees‘s spokespeople and fundraisers and married Bhagwan’s doctor. Hasya helped sannyasins to buy mansions in Los Angeles and throwing huge parties to recruit members and donors. Huge amounts started to be spent to give Rajneeshees Rolls Royces, jewelry, property, and money. These gifts gave them access to Bhagwan, without Sheela.
—Divisions arose surrounding Bhagwan, with the starting of new corporations and leaders, creating jealousies, anger, and even more craziness among sannysins and leaders, between the LA and Oregon communities.
Bhagwan began using and became addicted to mind-altering drugs, His talks became less coherent. He became more paranoid, predicting chaos and dystopian futures. Talks began about building underground compounds, etc., to survive the apocalypse.
Sheela tried to get Bhagwan off the drugs, tried to rein him, to keep the police away. He refused her help and advice.
Sheela became more paranoid, distraught, isolated and dispirited, according to followers, in which many more factions/ divisions arose.

Episodes 5 & 6, 1984 – 1990 – 2018: Discovered, caught, arrested, imprisoned, freed, sold, disbanded, resurging, continuing
Sheela and her soldiers had electronically eavesdropped on Bhagwan‘s home and meeting rooms, every phone call, and every building in Rajneeshpuram, for years.
Bhagwan and his doctor were recorded discussing how to inject drugs to kill people, that they had ordered the drugs and buried them in Bhagwan‘s garden and began to build a crematorium.
Sheela believed Bhagwan and his doctor were planning Bhagwan’s death. Sheela asked who would kill the doctor to prevent this?
—One sannyasin volunteered, gathered the injection and syringe, planned and carried out this doctor’s attempted murder during the summer festival of 1985, believing she was saving Bhagwan, but only after that (in September, 1985) did she and Sheela and about 18 others loyal to Sheela leave Rajneeshpuram, fleeing their crimes and leaving a leadership vacuum.
—The USA government became even more intent on destroying/removing Rajneesh and Rajneeshpuram. Immigration, the IRS, zoning and other departments, including the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (the ATF, famous for blowing up many other communities in the USA), and the FBI conducted investigations.
—Investigative journalists helped provide the necessary clues and evidence which brought about the demise of the plans, leaders and the city of Rajneeshpuram. The FBI and other departments within the USA and Oregon government law enforcement groups uncovered crimes going back to their time in Poona, India (money-laundering, immigration fraud, theft, tax evasion, weapons charges, financial crimes of other kinds).
Rajneesh (sometimes called “Osho“) and the followers who didn’t flee with or feel loyal Sheela threw her “under the bus,” blaming Sheela and her alone for every bad thing the community members had done. They publicly burned her robes, called her horrible names, stated that she had written one of “his” books and burned those, and vilified Sheela.
—It was soon discovered that Bhagwan had actually ordered Sheela to do most of the illegal and unethical things she and some others had done. Bhagwan’s claims of innocence and ignorance were false.
—Public speaking, media appearances and newspaper interviews with accusations by Sheela and Bhagwan, each making claims against the other, continued for months.
—It always comes down to money. Sheela‘s posing naked for magazine spreads was one of her “exile” activities meant to earn/raise money.
—The former mayor of Rajneeshpuram, KD, had left and secretly made a deal with the Federal government. He pled guilty to some crimes to avoid other charges and got some immunity as well as placement in Witness Protection by testifying against both Sheela and Bhagwan and 5 others involved in planning/plotting the poisonings, wiretapping/eavesdropping, immigration fraud, financial misdeeds and murder attempts.
—The presence of multiple firearms, explosives and other weapons on each side made violence seem inevitable if authorities had tried to enter Rajneeshpuram.
—Ten followers who still lived in Rajneeshpuram were supposed to be arrested there along with Bhagwan but Bhagwan and they had fled using their own Lear jets, heading to Bermuda where they would not have been extraditable. But, both planes had to refuel. The FAA discovered their plans and arrested them when the planes landed to refuel while still in the USA (Charlotte, North Carolina). They had $50K, a lot of jewelry, his “throne,” and personal belongings.
Sheela and 2 others were arrested and extradited from Germany to the USA on the same day as Bhagwan was arrested in the USA.
Sheela pled guilty to all charges. She paid fines, did some prison time, then was deported after her release.
—Although Bhagwan had been allowed in 1984 to remain in the USA as a “religious teacher/leader,” he was found, arrested and brought up on on criminal charges in 1985.
—Many considered Bhagwan to have been a political prisoner, religiously persecuted and unfairly prosecuted and sentenced.


Rajneesh arrested in 1985. Image from http://www.oregonlive.com

—While under arrest, Bhagwan was brought to several prisons, strip-searched repeatedly, put into cells with dangerous criminals, and paraded before the media while “being returned to Oregon.” They had him on buses, planes, cars for almost three weeks, succeeding in forcing him to “surrender.”
Bhagwan and his attorneys made a plea deal instead of going on trial, even though the case against him was very weak. He probably would have won, but they settled because they believed the USA government would never have stopped going after him and his health wasn’t good enough for a protracted trial or legal fight.
—In November, 1985, Bhagwan agreed to be permanently deported back to India rather than go on trial or serve more prison time in the USA. His departure was filmed and his followers were very sad to see him go, but some followed him to India later.
—Sannyasin began to leave Oregon soon after Bhagwan‘s departure.
—The city/ranch was shut down, then sold. Some of later became a Christian summer camp and retreat center.
Bhagwan was only 58 when he died, in 1990, of heart disease…or, was he murdered by his physician and looted by this doctor and his “inner circle,” as Sheela and others claim?
—There are still Rajneesh individuals and groups of followers, new and original, worldwide: devotees, readers, meditators who learn(ed) about and do the practices Osho and his leaders promulgate(d), with the Osho Foundation and many other ways to earn/collect money continuing, to date, 2018.
Bhagwan was powerful and leading groups for not even 20 years; only about 4 of those years was he active and in the USA. Yet, Bhagwan/Rajneesh/Osho attracted, gathered and still has hundreds of thousands of followers/believers, some who have remained loyal to him and his “vision” for over thirty years.


Part of Rajneesh‘s (then called Osho) obituary, in 1990: “Baghwan [sic] Shree Rajneesh, the Indian guru who attracted thousands of followers at his Oregon commune in the early 1980’s before being deported from the United States, died yesterday of heart disease at his commune in Poona, in southern India, members of his entourage there told reporters. He was 58 years old.” from The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/1990/01/20/obituaries/baghwan-shree-rajneesh-indian-guru-dies-at-58.html


For more info on the film

An interesting article, written not long after the movie dropped on Netflix includes a video interview with the filmmakers:
“This Is The Part Of Wild, Wild Country That You Didn’t See,” by KAITLIN REILLY, from 3/29/18, link is below.
https://www.refinery29.com/2018/03/195090/wild-wild-country-life-of-sannyasin-rajneeshpuram?bucketed=true

My comment on this article was left on the article’s site and reprinted, here:

I was personally friends and housemates with several “orange people” who went back-and-forth between Southwestern New Hampshire (where we lived) and Oregon during Rajneeshpurim’s heydey. I knew them “before,” “during,” and “after.”

Seeing this documentary brought back some powerful memories and even more questions. Many of the people I knew had already decided not to continue as sannyasin (renunciates; members of this spiritual community) and stop following Bhagwan years prior to the collapse and prosecutions, but some had continued and may still, to this day, in some form, follow those meditation and therapeutic practices.

How many local groups have continued for these 30+ years and how they managed interests me.

It’s really sad, to me, that the purer motivations, missions and plans of the committed, dedicated members of this community were hijacked and destroyed by the powerful and pathological leaders in the group. The conflicts created by them with the town were not inevitable, since I know of several Buddhist communities who came and co-existed peacefully, even as they grew, with small towns in Oregon, California and Washington during and after this same time period.

In my view, and I think in the view of the filmmakers, this intense, creative, innovative and very spiritual community DID become a dangerous cult, but it did not start out that way and it didn’t have to become that. This transformation was very sad for all involved and affected.

Best to you all.


For further reading, learning, discussing:

{NOTE: I haven’t read these books so I can’t comment on or recommend them. For more info, you can find many other summaries and references via Google, Wikipedia, etc.]

Charisma and Control in Rajneeshpuram: A Community Without Shared Values
by Lewis F. Carter
His blurb for the book, on Goodreads (link, below):

The Rajneeshpuram religious community established in Oregon attracted national attention when the group leaders were arrested and subsequently deported. The spiritual leader of the internationally based sannyasin religious group, guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, founded Rajneeshpuram as a model of sannyasin community formation. The sannyasin deny the legitimacy of all human institutions, accepting neither any general code of conduct nor any shared system of beliefs. This book is a narrative account of the controversial methods of group formation and control practiced by the sannyasin and of the events that resulted in the violence between the settlement and the surrounding community that led to the group’s dissolution. Based on first-hand observation and interviews, the book describes the conditions of life in the settlement and the causes of conflicts both within the community and with outsiders. The author argues that the sannyasin method of group control, relying on confrontation among members, the threat of banishment, and charismatic authority, restricted the sannyasin in resolving conflicts with outsiders for whom these methods of control were ineffectual. The first treatment of the subject informed by sociological scholarship, this study provides unique insight into the importance of shared values in regulating group processes and relationships with other groups.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8625715-charisma-and-control-in-rajneeshpuram

The Rajneesh Chronicles: The True Story of the Cult that Unleashed the First Act of Bioterrorism on U.S. Soil, by Win McCormack
https://www.amazon.com/Rajneesh-Chronicles-Story-Unleashed-Bioterrorism/dp/098256919X
The book’s blurb:

The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers were involved in nefarious activities including prostitution, drug smuggling, sexual abuse of children, and murder conspiracy. The Rajneesh Chronicles explains this behavior–and why the cult that committed the first act of bioterrorism in the U.S. was trying to cultivate a live AIDS virus.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, widely known as the “sex guru,” fled India in 1981 and came to settle on a ranch in central Oregon, where he and his followers established the illegal city of Rajneeshpuram. In their effort to preserve the city, the Rajneeshees attempted during the 1984 election to take control of the Wasco County government by poisoning two county commissioners and over 700 potential voters in The Dalles, the county seat, with salmonella―the first act of bio-terrorism in U.S. history. Armed to the teeth with semiautomatic weapons, they threatened to defend the city to the death against any governmental intrusion, and hatched a plot to assassinate a U.S attorney. When the commune finally imploded and authorities arrived on the scene, they discovered that the Rajneesh nurse who had cultivated salmonella bacteria in the commune’s biological warfare laboratory was also trying to cultivate a live AIDS virus―–which deranged group leaders clearly hoped to unleash on the rest on the world.

The Rajneesh Chronicles is a collection of in-depth investigative and analytical articles published in Oregon Magazine covering the entire period from the time of the cult’s arrival in Oregon in mid-1981 to its dramatic disintegration at the end of 1985 (with an introductory chronology that extends the story up to the present). While most press treated the cult’s antics as a humorous sideshow typified by the Bhagwan’s dozens of Rolls-Royces, editor in chief Win McCormack and other of the magazine’s writers systematically exposed the full range of the Rajneeshees’ depraved behavior, including their involvement in prostitution and international drug smuggling, sexual exploitation of children, abuse of homeless people they imported into Rajneeshpuram to register as voters, and the use of brainwashing techniques bordering on torture. The tale of the Rajneesh has become an amorphous legend few inside or outside of Oregon actually understand. The Rajneesh Chronicles fully illuminates the shocking reality behind that legend.

[Books on Amazon written by other followers and journalists are listed below these titles.]

Don’t Kill Him!: The Story Of My Life With Bhagwan Rajneesh Paperback: A Memoir By Ma Anand Sheela, 2013
https://www.amazon.com/DonT-Kill-Him-Bhagwan-Rajneesh/dp/8172344449
Her book’s blurb:

As His personal secretary between 1981 and 1985, and the second-in-command of His organization, Ma Anand Sheela enjoyed an enviably close relationship with Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Bhagwan called upon her when He wanted to discuss personal issues, crucial administrative matters, run minor errands, and to even place an order for a new Rolls-Royce. Ma Sheela was His confidante, His closest aide, the person He trusted more than anyone else. She ruled the entire commune under His guidance… until differences crept up. What followed next, soon became part of Bhagwan‘s infamous history, as after years of loyal service, Ma Sheela resigned from her position, left the commune, and fled to Europe with fellow members. An infuriated Rajneesh wasted no time in accusing her of planning a bio-terror attack, conspiring to murder important public officials, and running away with fifty-five million dollars. Ma Sheela pled guilty to some of the charges in court and spent thirty-nine months in prison. Now, almost two decades later, Ma Sheela, still in love with Bhagwan and His teachings, finally tells her side of the story, claiming that the truth was very different, and sheds light on that part of Bhagwan‘s life which has so far been shrouded in a cover of secrecy and darkness.

—Many books written by Rajneesh himself are also still available online and in libraries.


Cult or Not a Cult?

from https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/06/the-seven-signs-youre-in-a-cult/361400/, we have this: “Several years ago, the founder of IHOP [International House of Prayer], Mike Bickle, created a list of seven ways to recognize the difference between a religious community and a cult. Written down, the signs seem clear.” (see below)

7 Ways to Recognize a Cult:
1. Opposing critical thinking
2. Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving
3. Emphasizing special doctrines outside scripture
4. Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders
5. Dishonoring the family unit
6. Crossing Biblical boundaries of behavior (versus sexual purity and personal ownership)
7. Separation from the Church

from https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/religion/2016/09/15/what-makes-cult-cult/90377532/, we have: “What is a cult? A cult is a group or movement held together by a shared commitment to a charismatic leader or ideology. It has a belief system that has the answers to all of life’s questions and offers a special solution to be gained only by following the leader’s rules. It requires a high level of commitment from at least some of the members.”

4 dimensions to a cultic group:
1) Charismatic leader
2) Transcendent belief system
3) Systems of control
4) Systems of influence

from http://andynaselli.com/sociological-characteristics-of-cults we have: “Sadly, some Christian groups share these characteristics to some degree.”

6 Sociological Signs of a Cult:
1) Authoritarian Leadership
2) Exclusivism
3) Isolationism
4) Opposition to Independent Thinking
5) Fear of Being “Disfellowshiped”
6) Threats of Satanic Attack

from http://www.csj.org/infoserv_cult101/checklis.htm, we have: “This checklist [has been] published in the [new] book, Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships, by Janja Lalich and Madeleine Tobias (Berkeley: Bay Tree Publishing, 2006). It was adapted from a checklist originally developed by Michael Langone.”

Checklist of Cultic Characteristics includes:
1) The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
2) Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
3) Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
4) The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry�or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
5) The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar�or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
6) The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
7) The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
8) The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
9) The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt iin order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
10) Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
11) The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
12) The group is preoccupied with making money.
13) Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
14) Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
15) The most loyal members (the �true believers�) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.

from https://aeon.co/essays/theres-no-sharp-distinction-between-cult-and-regular-religion, we have: “Often (just as with pornography), what we choose to see as a cult tells us as much about ourselves as about what we’re looking at….Groups that have approved, ‘orthodox’ beliefs are considered legitimate, while groups whose interpretation of a sacred text differs from established norms are delegitimised on that basis alone. Such definitions also depend on who is doing the defining.”
and
“There might not be Satanists lurking round every corner, lying in wait to kidnap children or sacrifice bunny rabbits to Satan, but the dangers of spiritual, emotional and sexual abuse in small-scale, unsupervised religious communities, particularly those isolated from the mainstream or dominant culture, is real enough.”
and
“Of course, the uncomfortable truth here is that even true church (large, established, tradition-claiming church) and cult aren’t so far apart – at least when it comes to counting up red flags. The presence of a charismatic leader? What was John Calvin? (Heck, what was Jesus Christ?) A tradition of secrecy around specialised texts or practices divulged only to select initiates? Just look at the practitioners of the Eleusinian mysteries in Ancient Greece, or contemporary mystics in a variety of spiritual traditions, from the Jewish Kabbalah to the Vajrayāna Buddhist tradition [happens to be mine]. Isolated living on a compound? Consider contemporary convents or monasteries. A financial obligation? Christianity, Judaism and Islam all promote regular tithing back into the religious community. A toxic relationship of abuse between spiritual leaders and their flock? The instances are too numerous and obvious to list.”
and
“…no amount of commonsense reasoning can amount to a legitimate deterrent [to a member of a cult]: the ultimate cosmic meaningfulness of one’s actions transcends any other potential need. And to be in a community of people who can help reinforce that truth, whose rituals and discourse and symbols help not only to strengthen a sense of meaningfulness but also to ground it in a sense of collective purpose, then that meaningfulness becomes more vital still: it sits at the core of what it is to be human.”
and, finally
“Cults don’t come out of nowhere; they fill a vacuum, for individuals and, as we’ve seen, for society at large.”

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Chagdud Khadro’s 2016 Summer Teaching Tour #Buddhism #Teachings

Chagdud Khadro

chagdud-khadro-2015-copy
is the American-born widow and former student of Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche who was ordained as a lama as well.

I have been with her many times for teachings with her as Rinpoche’s translator and with her as the teacher. For those who don’t know, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche passed in 2002, but he was my first empowering lama and my root lama’s, Padma Drimed Norbu (Lama Drimed)’s root teacher.

I first learned P’howa (the practice that includes transferring consciousness intentionally at and after the body dies or helping others do that, including those who are brain dead, already dead, or dying/dead animals) from Chagdud Khadro at a three-day event I organized for Chagdud Lhundrup Ling (A dharma center I helped start) in Maine in 1997: she was fabulous. I had the good fortune to attend several other teachings she gave or translated for Rinpoche or rituals she attended as a lama in New York, New Mexico and northern California between 1997 – 2007. I keenly appreciated her humor, knowledge, insight and compassion.

If you live near or can get to any of these events, these teachings and rituals are rare and precious. They are in the Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist tradition but made accessible to Westerners who speak English. Well worth your time if you’re already a practicing #Buddhist, a meditator or interested in #Tibetan #Vajrayana #Buddhism.

Spread the word! Donations requested; no one turned away for lack of funds.

Chagdud Khadro’s 2016 Summer Teaching Tour
#Buddhism #Teachings

P’howa Retreat
Reno, NV
July 9 – 10
More Information: http://goodnesssake.org/special_events/special_events.shtml#phowa

Looking into the Mirror of Death to Find Purpose in Life and Peace in Dying
La Jolla, CA
July 11
robertrosson2000 @ yahoo DOT com

Rigdzin Dupa Drubchod
in attendance at Ati Ling/PPI – Cazadero, CA
with Tulku Jigme Rinpoche (Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche’s son)
July 13 – 19
More Information : http://atiling.org/events/102-rigdzin-dupa-drubchod-2016

White Dakini Drubchen
in attendance at Tara Mandala – Pagosa Springs, CO
with Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche and Lama Tsultrim Allione
August 7 – 16
More Information: http://taramandala.org/program/white-dakini-drubchen-2/

Looking into the Mirror of Death to Find Purpose in Life and Peace in Dying
at Rangjung Yeshe Gomde – Cooperstown, NY
August 20 – 21
More Information: http://gomdecooperstown.org/august-20-21-chagdud-khadro/

Looking into the Mirror of Death to Find Purpose in Life and Peace in Dying
Syracuse, NY
August 22, 7 – 9 PM
More Information: http://chagdudgonpa.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Syracuse-Flier-Khadro-2016.pdf

Looking into the Mirror of Death to Find Purpose in Life and Peace in Dying
&
Emotions as Obstacles; Emotions as Wisdom
Chapel Hill, NC
August 27 – 28(times vary: check flyer)
More Information: http://chagdudgonpa.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Khadro-NC-FINAL.jpg
cindy.palay@ gmail DOT com


Chagdud Gonpa Foundation
341 Red Hill Rd
Junction City, CA 96048 USA
530.623.2714 ext 126

Why I #write utopian, #Buddhist-infused, #multiverse #scifi/rom #novels & why you should #read & share them.

Reposted from 10/30/13 and 2/5/15

Writers are often exhorted to write the books we want to read that seem not to exist, yet. I am following that advice with The Spanners Series, especially Volume I, This Changes Everything, which is now PERMAFREE, and also with subsequent volumes (Volume II, This Changes My Family and My Life Forever, released 6/9/14; look for Volumes III and IV in 2015).

I am an avid reader and have probably read hundreds of thousands of books in my 56 years of reading independently and quickly, sometimes devouring ten books a week. If I say books like mine—a series like The Spanners—don’t yet exist, I’m probably correct.

logoAuthorsDen
All buy links, reviews, interviews, readings and more: http://www.sallyember.com/Spanners Look right; scroll down.

Why am I writing #science-fiction/#romance, #Buddhist-infused, #multiverse/#multiple timelines #utopian #novels besides the reason already given? And, why should you read them? Because we live in a deteriorating, or degenerating Age, according to #Tibetan Buddhists (and probably many others I’m not bothering to research right now).

When I first hear this claim, I disbelieve it. Aren’t most things “improving” for humanity? Modern medicine, technology, transportation, knowledge of all types: in the 20th and 21st centuries, we are experiencing incontrovertible advances, mind-blowing progress, right? Plus, that POV is just such a downer!

Why would the Buddha’s followers propose and then Buddhist teachers and scholars maintain such a doom-and-gloom perspective on life? It’s not enough that Buddha focused his teachings on suffering and impermanence? Most Buddhists must be depressed: that’s what I thought.

I could understand why Tibetans, having been living under horrible oppression, genocide and cultural destruction under Chinese rule for decades, would be so pessimistic. But, we’re in the good ole’ USA: things are great here, right?

Not so much. I won’t go into the facts we all know now (even more than ever, thanks to Snodwen and Manning) about how screwed up the USA has been and still is, nor how terrible the economy is here and everywhere. I won’t provide the list. We all know too well the horrors of our modern life. Modern tragedies, however, are actually not even relevant to this discussion.

The “degenerating” part of our Age has little to do with actual external conditions. Our deterioration involves humans’ not being able to learn #dharma, not being able to find qualified and worthy Buddhist teachers, not being able to practice meditation well or at all. The Buddha’s teachings and Buddhists practitioners are what are degenerating, in what is called “The Third Age” or “The Latter Day of the Law.”

You can look this up. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Ages_of_Buddhism

My point is, dystopian futures abound. Most sci-fi writers, even those that include romance in their stories, write of increasingly worsening conditions on and around this planet and across the Universe. They pile on the violence, showing increasing discord, more political and social unrest, deaths and destructions even worse than we have now. We already have too much awfulness for me to want to read about even worse futures.

Enough, already: I believe we need some hope, ideas of how else things could go, whether or not I always believe they will take these turns. Since I can’t find this optimism in the daily news or libraries’ and bookstores’ fiction, I decide to create it. I need this in my personal life, for the USA, for the continent, the water, air and land: I am imagining routes for improvement for the planet and the entire universe.

When I #meditate, especially during a #retreat phase in which I was #contemplating lives of beings in the “God Realm,” it occured to me repeatedly that we live in opulence amid squalor, all over the planet. Beauty smack dab in the middle of ugliness, every day. #Yin and #yang. We do have to “take the good with the bad,” but do we have to emphasize the “bad”?

I do not.

In my novels, even when things are “bad,” there is more good than bad. Buddha teaches often that we have to discern between “good” and “bad” even as we know these are illusory. Many teachings expound on how there is NO “good” or “bad,” no “birth” and no “death,” no “coming” and no “going.”

While you puzzle over that, I’m going to continue my utopian illusions in The Spanners Series. In my current and future multiverses, beings, including humans, will have love, better conditions and dharma: they/we have it all!

Furthermore, I’m going to HOPE—even though we are instructed to meditate partly in order to relinquish all hope and all fear—that YOU read my books and enjoy them as much as I enjoy writing them.

Please let me know! Write your comments here on this and other posts, on excerpts from my novel, and whatever else occurs to you. Let’s converse!

Part II of “A Reluctant Buddhist” by Sally Ember, Ed.D., Appears 11/13/15 on The Buddhist Door

Part II of “A Reluctant Buddhist” by Sally Ember, Ed.D., Appears 11/13/15 on The Buddhist Door

Find out how…:
“…did I end up becoming a devoted, long-term student of Nyingma-lineage Tibetan Buddhism, studying, practicing, and completing my Ngöndro (foundation practices) in two-and-a-half years (“as if my hair were on fire”) while in full-time graduate school, working full time, and raising my son?

“…did I go from being unwilling even to enter the teaching venue or shrine room to being eager and willing to help start and/or expand and also, sometimes, live in and be a cook, coordinator, board member, bookkeeper, umze (chant leader), stupa mantra roller/packer, and more for not one, but three Dharma centers (in Maine, New Mexico, and California)?

“… did I transition from not even talking to Wyn for ten years to having him as Lama Drimed (Padma Drimed Norbu) become my root lama and main, then sole, Dzogchen meditation teacher and practice and retreat guide?

“…did I come to learn Tibetan well enough to be able to read, write, speak, and translate?”

http://www.buddhistdoor.net/features/a-reluctant-buddhist-how-it-took-me-eight-years-to-start-practicing-in-this-life-part-ii


Missed Part I? Find it from September 4, 2015, at Buddhist Door
http://www.buddhistdoor.net/features/a-reluctant-buddhist-how-it-took-me-eight-years-to-start-practicing-in-this-life

Wise Teacher, Wise Student: Tibetan Approaches to a Healthy Relationship – Book Review by Sally Ember, Ed.D., featured on The Buddhist Door website

Wise Teacher, Wise Student: Tibetan Approaches to a Healthy Relationship – Book Review by Sally Ember, Ed.D., featured on The Buddhist Door website

Thanks to Frances McDonald and others at The Buddhist Door for this opportunity to be a reviewer for your site! As a long-time student of #meditation (since 1972) and a #Buddhism student since 1996 in the #Tibetan #Vajrayana tradition, I was pleased to review this book.

Anyone interested in knowing more about how to choose a spiritual teacher or mentor and all the varying types of these there can be, how to be in a better relationship with one or more than one teacher, how and why to end that relationship, and what its pitfalls might be, and so much more, would benefit greatly from reading this book and keeping it around to refer to frequently.

Please read this review and support The Buddhist Door!

Berzin book cover

http://www.buddhistdoor.net/features/wise-teacher-wise-student-tibetan-approaches-healthy-relationship-book-review

#Buddhism and Intimate #Relationships: What’s the Deal?

#Buddhism and Intimate #Relationships: What’s the Deal?

staying in love
image from http://indulgy.com

I went on an online hunt for the latest in advice, opinions, experiences and perspectives on this topic, intimate relationships and/or #love, from a #Buddhist perspective, restricting myself to postings from the last twelve months.

NOTE: Buddhists use this definition of “love”: the wish for the one you love to be happy. So, if you love someone, you will do everything you are capable of to help that person achieve temporary and long-lasting happiness—regardless of what loving that person requires of you—unselfishly, unstintingly, the way a parent would strive for a child.

Dalai Lama Love is wanting others to be happy
image from http://peacelovepotager.blogspot.com

Here are what I found and some of my comments and questions about how to be a Buddhist in close relationships.

Next? Your comments!


From the Buddhism Stack Exchange (“a question and answer site for people practicing or interested in Buddhist philosophy, teaching, and practice. It’s built and run by you as part of the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites. With your help, we’re working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about Buddhist philosophy, teaching, and practice”), which has a page on Buddhism, marked Beta, with the subtitle from September 2, 2015: “Do buddhists fall in love?”
http://buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/11266/do-buddhists-fall-in-love

This site provides a lot of info on the various subdivisions of Buddhism, including Theravada, Mahayana and Zen, and Vajrayana. Since I practice Tibetan Vajrayana Nyingma Buddhism, I focused on the responses that seem to be from the Vajrayana point of view.

Several responses were posted, but my favorites are these two, excerpted below.

One writer, Andrei Volkov (“Non-sectarian practitioner in the tradition of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, heavily influenced by Korean Zazen and studies of Pali Canon. Dedicated to serious practice since 1995, and independent of others with regard to the Buddha’s message since 2012”), posted his response to the question posed (with a lot of explanatory material from the questioner that accompanied this question), “Do buddhists fall in love?”

In Vajrayana schools…emotions, including romantic love, are considered a form of energy that can be put to use… Vajrayana would still appreciate the inherent fakeness of love, the mechanical nature of which comes from a match of partners’ stereotypes and preconceptions.

[E]ven if a Vajrayana practitioner could play with the fire both in context of its ego-melting properties as well as for pleasure, they would not take it one-sidedly as an untrained run-of-the-mill person would do….Vajrayana view includes both sacred and illusory aspects of love. In Vajrayana we are trained to see things from all the sides at the same time. Love is both sacred and a giant trick, as far as Vajrayana is concerned.

The predominant Buddhist sentiment here is that being disappointed/disenchanted (= “sober”) is a …healthier state than the state of intoxication by an object of mind. While Vajrayana is 100% aligned with this most fundamental of Buddhist principles, we do allow ourselves to get drunk, both metaphorically with love, and occasionally even literally—–while staying fully accountable for the consequences—–a trait of the universal adult.

I also appreciated this perspective, posted by “Buddho” (gave no bio info):

Modern neuroscience is catching up with Buddhism in this department it appears. Scientists have found romantic love activates the same addictive parts of the brain as cocaine….

…Buddhism likens romantic love to an addiction, an attachment, and a danger.

…However, love…can also be about selflessness, … sacrifice and … self improvement…. This is the raison d’être for the Vajrayana school of romance as a valid path to enlightenment….


Another point of view comes from Bkikshuni Thupten Chödron, teacher, author and Abbess. Ani [Buddhist honorific for a nun] Chödron is a Western white woman who was one of the first to take Buddhist nun’s vows. http://thubtenchodron.org/biography/

Ani Chödron posted a marriage ceremony prayer that she asks the partners say to each other and to their friends and family, which I excerpt, below:
http://thubtenchodron.org/1995/06/wedding-readings-dharma/

…We aspire to make our spiritual path the core of our life together. We will help each other on the path to enlightenment, watering the seeds of love, compassion, generosity, ethics, patience, joyous effort, concentration and wisdom in each other. As we age and undergo the various ups and downs of cyclic existence, we aspire to transform them into the path of love, compassion, joy and equanimity.

…We recognize that external conditions in life will not always be smooth, and that internally, our own minds and emotions sometimes get stuck in negative ways of thinking. When this happens, we aspire to see all these circumstances as a challenge to help us grow, to open our hearts, to accept ourselves, others and life itself; and to generate compassion for all others who are also unhappy or suffering at that moment. We aspire to avoid becoming narrow, closed or opinionated, and will help each other see all the various sides of a situation and to bring acceptance, flexibility and equanimity to it.

…We aspire to remember the disadvantages of ignorance, anger and clinging attachment and to apply Dharma antidotes when these arise in our minds and to help each other do so, also.

…Day to day, as we progress along the path, we aspire to be patient with ourselves and others, knowing that change comes slowly and gradually…

I have attended a few Buddhist wedding ceremonies and heard about others. They usually include a portion of the vows that ends with “until impermanence intervenes” instead of the more traditional and secular “until death do we part.”


I’ve also heard and read Buddhist teachings that indicate one great reason to be in intimate relationships, whether platonic or sexual: when we are in relationship, we see our own minds better and face our challenges daily with ourselves.

I can attest to the experiences I have had with this exact situation from times I have been on individual, silent retreats: as long as I do not interact with anyone (no eye contact, no conversations, no communication of any kind) and, better yet, don’t even encounter anyone else in a significant way, I believe that I am doing “great” with my practice. I am so patient, so generous, so kind, so loving, so compassionate, so able to rejoice in others’ successes and happiness, so calm and so earnest about wanting to alleviate suffering for all beings. Oh, yes. Ahhhh.

On retreat, I am practically a saint….until I am thwarted or confronted with someone’s saying or doing something I don’t want or preventing me from getting what I do want.

Could be that someone puts their shoes where I usually put mine. Sometimes, I have to wait longer than usual for a meal. Perhaps someone stands where I want to stand, preventing me from seeing something I want to see. Maybe someone “takes” “my” parking space.

parkingspot
image from http://www.smilesforall.com

Provoked by the smallest of infractions or distractions, my ordinary mind and all its selfishness, attachment, pride, jealousy, anger and ignorance rear all their heads at once. There go my delusions of equanimity and of Bodhisattva grandeur: shattered!

The only “realization” I can honestly claim to have is this: I am so far from liberated, I can’t even read the sign for “enlightenment, this way —>.”

It seems to be true that the main spiritual advantage to being in an intimate relationship is that we get our spiritual comeuppance every day, many times a day, and can harbor no such illusions about our proximity to “enlightenment.” When we are engaged in intense, personal relationships with others and paying attention to our own minds, whether that occurs with colleagues, a lover/partner or with friends, our tasks are to be grateful for the challenges, to be glad of the opportunities to grow and improve.

Buddhist teachings exhort us to continue focusing our criticisms on ourselves and our generosity on our partners. We learn to see every interpersonal encounter as a chance to “look in the mirror” and see ourselves better rather than “look out the window” and point at or blame others for our confusions, hurts and complaints. We consider our sangha, the other members of our spiritual community, to be our “guide,” which means they show us the nature of our minds merely by being in our lives.

Lao Tsu knowing others knowing ourselves

This does not mean we shouldn’t remove ourselves from an abusive relationship or ignore people who harm us or others. That is a misconstruction of these instructions. Buddhism also doesn’t encourage “co-dependency” while inspiring unselfishness: fine lines, always.

We simply try to maintain our focus on our own minds when we are feeling angry, resentful, proud, jealous, or afraid. We are attempting to see clearly the nature of our emotions as empty—having no substance—and to discover the source of our own suffering as ignorance, on the path to becoming more patient and spontaneously compassionate toward others.

CONCLUSIONS

If we aren’t interacting in any serious way with others, if we have no “skin in the game,” if all our relationships are superficial, short-term, and insignificant, we won’t be inspired to improve ourselves because, as I believe about myself when I’m alone on retreat, we’ll mistakenly conclude that we are “just fine the way we are.”

Are you in any relationships in which you are “all in,” allowing yourself to be completely vulnerable, exposed, authentic? Or, do you hold yourself back, keep some in reserve, never fully commit or reveal yourself? Only by immersing ourselves in an intense human relationship of some kind can we fully learn to understand our own minds and emotions honestly.

Why hold back? None of us lives all that long….

I am not in a close relationship with a lover right now, but I wish I were. I am in close contact with family members and a few friends, but none of those relationships brings the challenges right to my heart/mind that a lover does. Maybe some day, again…

Trouble is, I am very picky and I have a lot of experience, so I am not inclined to be in a relationship just to be in one. Not now.

My personal ads (when I ran them) did not get many relevant “hits.” Could be because these are my criteria and descriptions: “Serious meditators, only. People my age (61) or thereabouts, only. Kind, intelligent, humorous, interesting people only. No drinkers or smokers. One or no pets. No kids at home.”

I’m willing to be with either a woman or man, which opens up the field considerably, but my chosen categories otherwise make my acceptable potentials (and those who might find me appealing) very small. Also, I’m a Buddhist who was raised Jewish, a feminist and a radical, politically. Unless the other person is, also, or has experience with people similar to me, they probably won’t understand or respect me properly, nor I, them.

Then, add in these facts and you’ll see the pool shrinks into one that holds almost zero candidates: I don’t like to shop except for food that we’ll eat, and I prefer organic and food farmers’ markets, when possible. I don’t wear make-up or perfume or dress up readily. I don’t shave. I don’t wear bras. I’m honest. I’m somewhat psychic. I’m short, but people tell me I’m intimidating even when I don’t say a word. I’m a writer, a blogger, and a talk show host who likes to spend a lot of time alone to accomplish these things. I swim a lot, but I can’t hike (bad leg and back). I don’t have much money (yet). I eschew most sports, don’t like gambling, am not pleased with or want to go to most movies.

I get up at 3 AM and go to bed at about 8 PM, although, with naps, I can push the bedtime back a bit. I’m extremely intelligent and highly educated (doctorate), and I’m not as patient as I ought to be with potential partners who are not well-educated, don’t read much, and/or don’t know how to express themselves and/or don’t talk much. I’m very funny and I appreciate humor, but not if it’s disrespectful or implies derogatory opinions of groups or individuals.

I don’t like most movies or TV programs and won’t watch them. I fall asleep at classical concerts (although I like some of that music) and detest opera. I don’t want to attend most plays or public performances, but there are some I really would like to see.

I’m also not a “Barbie doll.” Therefore, I don’t want to be with someone whose main criteria for a lover start with or center on appearance and “fitness.” I appreciate certain physical qualities, but those aren’t my “screen” and I am not interested in people who screen that way.

I want friendship and interest first, love to have a chance and time to evolve, and for sex to occur as we get to know each other, not as the way to get to know each other. I haven’t had sex for over five years. I can wait.

You see the problems, yes?

subset almost nil
image from http://www.cs.uni.edu

If there is anyone at all left in my subset, what are the odds that this person is alive and living within 15 – 20 miles of me in St. Louis, Missouri USA, right now, AND that I would meet up with him/her by chance and s/he would recognize me and I, him/her?

Let me know when you find such a person(s).

The truth is, because I have had dozens of relationships in my life, from those lasting one-night to twenty+ years, and I have an adult child I am close to and love dearly, as I do his partner, and I have many friends around the country and connections around the world, and relational experiences from dozens of years of living collectively, working closely with and living with people, I have the grounds for being choosy. I’d rather be “alone” than be in a relationship that isn’t healthy or spiritually nourishing.


Love isn’t easy. Love doesn’t always offer fun and sex. Love doesn’t usually include roses or violins.

Is love worthwhile? How should a practicing Buddhist (or anyone conscious) best engage in close relationships?

You tell me. http://www.sallyember.com/blog

Bisexual, Female, Western and Buddhist: There are a lot more of us than you might think!

Bisexual, Female, Western and Buddhist: There are a lot more of us than you might think!, by Sally Ember, Ed.D.: written in response to Black, Bisexual, and Buddhist: Zenju Earthlyn Manuel is not afraid to embrace who she is. by Kimberly Winston, August 05, 2015
http://www.tricycle.com/blog/black-bisexual-and-buddhist

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel relates that she “often sees surprise in the faces of the students as she is introduced.” She believes this is due to the fact that “she doesn’t look like many of them expect. She isn’t Asian. She isn’t a man. And she isn’t white.”

ZenjuPic4
Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, photo from TRICYCLE article in online Buddhist magazine, http://www.tricycle.com/blog/black-bisexual-and-buddhist

She recently published: The Way of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality, and Gender, known here as “her second book of dharma, or Buddhist teachings, published in February by Wisdom Publications. In it, Manuel, who follows the Zen tradition, calls on Buddhists not to ignore those ways they may be different, whether it’s because of their color, gender, or sexual orientation.”

She and others call this idea a “‘multiplicity of oneness’—–[which] is somewhat controversial within Buddhism, where the teachings have tended to focus on moving beyond the physical to find the spiritual. But Manuel and a handful of other Western Buddhists—–including a number of African-American teachers–—are embracing the idea as crucial to enlightenment, a state free from anxiety that is the ultimate goal of Buddhism.”

Manuel and I have a lot in common, so I felt moved to respond to this article about her and her teaching, her writing and her spiritual life. I resonate with some aspects; others are quite different for me.

Manuel is 62; I am about to be 61. That means we are contemporaries who are natives of the same country.

She reports that she “has had a multiplicity of lives, all of which inform her work.” My C.V.—my academic and total resume—is over seven pages long. I have also moved over thirty times, having lived in states on both coasts, the midwest and the southwest of the USA. These varied aspects of my professional and personal lives must constitute a “multiplicity,” don’t you think?

Her personal history includes “violence, poverty and prejudice,” which my life contains, also. Heavier on the violence and prejudice than the poverty, for me, but all were there.

Manuel states that she has “been an activist since the tumultuous 1970s”; I started being a vocal, active feminist activist while still in grade school, moved into anti-war and anti-nuclear power activism, continued with feminism and got into reproductive rights activism and other issues as well. I started earlier by about 10 years, but then we both kept on keeping on.

Manuel says that she “has also known fear and rejection because she is bisexual,” but I mostly do not have that experience, perhaps because I didn’t “come out” publicly as bisexual until the 1990s, when it seemed almost no one cared anymore and I was a confident adult with a supportive community and family. I did lose a female friend in college in the early 1970s when I clumsily invited her to be my lover, but usually I did not experience either rejection or fear due to my sexual orientation. Not everyone I approached agreed to be my lover, but their rejections had nothing to do with my being attracted to both genders. So, our lives diverged there significantly.

She “was raised a Christian but discovered Buddhism in 1988,” whereas I was raised Jewish and discovered Buddhist in the early 1980s. However, I had already been meditating in the Transcendental Meditation (T.M.) tradition since 1972. Similar, but not the same, here.

Mostly, though, we share significant components of our cultural, personal and historical location and background. The major difference is that she is Black and I am White/Anglo. Our other intersecting social identities create affinities that few other commonalities could, especially since our experiences led us both to become immersed seriously and deeply in Buddhist practice.

Appallingly, however, she had the misfortune to have had a couple of Zen teachers who “suggested if she ‘dropped the labels’ of ‘African-American,’ of ‘bisexual,’ of ‘woman,’ she would ‘be liberated.’ That is ridiculous and has nothing to do with authentic Buddhism. I’m sorry she had those teachers or allowed them to affect her. Obviously, by trying to accomplish this (the impossible), she was not “liberated.” Furthermore, these attempts did not ease her suffering; in fact, she reported that she became more unhappy.

Eventually, she discovered on her own what Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism (my tradition) has always taught: embrace everything, cling to nothing. While bushwhacking her own path through Zen traditions that were not friendly to her, she arrived at, in her words: “’complete tenderness’—–the experience of walking through her pain, knowing it, living with it, but not being controlled by it—–by confronting her suffering caused by her upbringing and identity as an African-American bisexual woman.”

I challenge this idea, though, that her suffering was “caused” by her identities at that point. I would conclude instead that her suffering was exacerbated early in her Zen journey by the ignorance and arrogance of those Zen teachers who misdirected her, then aggravated by her willingness to follow their misdirections for too long. It isn’t who she was that was the problem; it’s he ways a few teachers positioned who she was with respect to her spiritual path that caused her pain.

Despite being misled by some teachers, Manuel continued within Zen all the way to becoming ordained as a Zen Priest, when she was “given the name ‘Zenju,’ which means ‘complete tenderness.’” She now leads a small, all-female sangha that meets where she lives, in Oakland, California (near San Francisco), many of whom are also identifying as women of color.

I’m glad she found a way through all that, but it was so unnecessary. There are many USA-based Zen sanghas, some right near her that I am personally aware of, in which she would not have had those experiences. We could say it was her karma to have had those encounters, and we’d be correct, since everything we experience is always due to our karma.

But, it is not inherent to the nature of Zen or Buddhism to treat students in those ways. I need to emphasize this truth, since it appears from this Tricycle article and perhaps her book (I haven’t read it, so I’m not sure) that it is inevitable that students of backgrounds similar to hers will encounter prejudice and extreme difficulties due to their social identities everywhere they go in Buddhist communities. Simply not true.

I have observed, though, that too many Buddhist communities in the USA and Canada are populated by a disproportionate number of middle- and upper-class Whites/Anglos in comparison to the number of participants from other ethnicities and class backgrounds. I’m glad to say that these imbalances have been recognized by most leaders and other members: many sanghas are doing extensive outreach to rectify them.

I don’t know if Manuel’s Oakland Zen sitting group is deliberately all women or intentionally mostly women of color; perhaps it is open to everyone, but her being who she is, as the teacher, attracted more practitioners similar to her. That does happen, that spiritual teachers attract students who see themselves as similar to their teachers.

The only similarity that actually matters, though, is that we are all human and we all need to train our minds, develop more compassionate hearts, and liberate ourselves from delusions that cause suffering. Therefore, I believe deliberately segregating ourselves by gender, class, background or any other social identity is a mistake when it comes to creating and maintaining spiritual community. I know there are specific occasions when such segregation can be useful or necessary, but mostly, let’s not.

Clearly, the Buddhist path works well for Manuel and she believes it can work well for other women of color, bisexual or not. In that, we agree.

The Buddha supposedly taught over 84,000 types of meditation so that each individual who wants to practice will be able to find a path that works. In a large enough community with sufficient numbers of paths and teachers, I’m sure that is possible: everyone who wants to learn to meditate in the Buddhist tradition could do so.

Northern California, USA, is such a locale, with dozens or even hundreds of Buddhist teachers and sangha options scattered throughout the rural, suburban and urban areas, each slightly or very different from the other. I used to live there and I miss it a lot.

St. Louis, Missouri, USA, is not such a locale. It is not bereft entirely of Buddhists or Buddhist communities, but there is none in my exact tradition. I find that I am not so interested in attending the groups that are dissimilar. I enjoy meditating on my own just fine. I do miss my sangha and those important, guiding interactions, but not enough to join some other group, yet.

Meanwhile, this female, bisexual Buddhist who was raised Jewish and is White/Anglo is meditating and attempting to liberate in this lifetime alongside or including, but not despite, my social identities. I am lucky to have occasional conversations with my spiritual teacher, Lama Padma Drimed Norbu, by telephone, and regular contact with geographically distant sangha members via SKYPE, social media and email.

May all beings benefit. I wish you all the best in your practices.

Buddha thinking creates happiness