Book Review - The Way of the Heart - Oranges and Lemmings

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1987, Volume 4, Number 1, pages 92-95. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - The Way of the Heart: The Rajneesh Movement. 

By Judith Thompson and Paul Heelas. The Aquarian Press. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire (U. K.). 139 pages. 5.99 (Sterling).

Oranges and Lemmings: The Story Behind Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. By Charles Wright. Greenhouse Publications, Richmond Victoria, Australia. 1985. 166 pages. $4.95 (Australian).

Reviewed By John Hochman, M. D. University of California, Los Angeles

The Way of the Heart is the third in a series of Aquarian Press paperbacks edited under the supervision of Peter B. Clarke, who is associated with Kings College, London, and identified as a lecturer at the 'Center for the New Religious Movements." Like its two predecessors, on the Rastafarians and the Hare Krishnas, this book has a cover with at least one glowing image of the leader of the group along with disciples who appeared to be deeply involved. Descriptions at the end of the two preceding volumes note that 'Rastafarians . . . deserve more sympathy than they get' and 'the Hare Krishna movement ... has brought personal, unselfish satisfaction and peace of mind to many thousands . . .' The descriptions alone would suggest that this is a series reminiscent of the Fodor travel guides, where seldom is heard a discouraging word about any country, hotel, or restaurant reviewed. Such is what I found in Way of the Heart. Of the photographic plates, more than half picture the Bhagwan in a beatific pose, "transferring energy to his disciples,' behind the wheel of one of his Rolls Royces, and even imprisoned on Crete. Several of the pictures show disciples grinning from ear to ear, one with a follower carrying a flat of seeds in Oregon.

While Way of the Heart does not come right out and state of Rajneeshism, as Candide's tutor Pangloss said about his own time, that 'This is the best of all possible worlds,' it comes rather close. This is achieved through uncritical acceptance of the group's various claims. For example, the book describes how the Bhagwan, made aware of several cases of AIDS among his Sannyasins (devotees), orders contraception for all. Rather than attempting to analyze the rampant promiscuity that led to the AIDS outbreak (which could, of course, be the tip of an iceberg), or noting that testing for the virus was not then available, or inquiring if anyone tried to learn the fate of the infected Sannyasins since the Oregon commune dispersed, the authors state only that the problem "has been addressed.' Rajneesh's prophecy that Rancho Rajneesh would be a haven in a world where two-thirds would die of AIDS did, however, serve to bond his disciples to their master with fear; the authors overlook this entirely. In the very next sentence Thompson and Heelas seem to forget Rajneesh's predictions that two billion earthlings will die as they relate how the cessation of child-bearing by Sannyasins addresses the 'problem of overpopulation.' One may think, perhaps, that this is a reflection of the authors' decision simply to reflect Rajneeshee views faithfully, without interjecting their own. They immediately go on to say, however, that 'it seems incontestable that Sannyasins are generally a peace-loving people.' In view of the numerous accounts in print and on videotape of how the group ceaselessly intimidated Oregonians, one can only conclude that Thompson and Heelas could be public relations consultants for Rajneesh and his band.

Attempts to defend the Rajneeshees inevitably run into problems, but Way of the Heart overcomes these by adopting the group's own strategy: it creates scapegoats. The naniing of a Gang of Four, as in China after the death of Mao, was not necessary; a Gang of One seems to suffice: Ma Anand Sheela. The side- armed, foul-mouthed media dragonlady of the group during the early 1980s presented the most obvious fall-girl particularly after her criminal convictions. The authors try to dispose of Oregonians' dismay over the commune's activities (which is understandable when the Mayor of Rajneeshpuram announces in a TV interview that the group will take over Oregon) by blaming press "hysteria." And as for those gruesome tales about 'psychological casualties' stemming from the free-wheeling experiments in psychotherapy, Thompson and Heelas, unable to find easy targets of blame, instead argue that similar casualties can result from military service, and even marriage.

The authors claim to have employed anthropological methods whose 'main aim is to convey the nature of Rajneesh's teaching and the lives of his followers.' It appears, however, that their methods involved little more than reviewing many of Rajneesh's own works and receiving countless testimonials from joyful devotees. This might be satisfactory if Thompson and Heelas had stumbled upon some isolated South Seas society untainted by interaction with the outside world. But they ignore most of the information that has already accumulated about Rajneesh and his movement. Journalists' critical comments are cited in the last chapter, but interviews with disillusioned or ambivalent ex-Sannyasins were apparently not solicited. One ambivalent ex-follower, who might have given Thompson and Heelas much valuable input, is Richard Wright, author of Oranges and Lemmings, the other book reviewed here.

Readers unfamiliar with the orange garb worn by Rajneesh followers may be puzzled by the title of Wright’s book, its cover blazoned with a photograph of rotting oranges surrounding a beatific Rajneesh visage. The cover seems, in fact, to symbolize the very ambivalence of the book's contents. Wright begins by describing himself as a successful journalist with a national Australian newspaper who nonetheless felt a bit less successful in his personal life, discouraged and unhappy after two divorces and several seemingly unproductive encounters with psychiatrists. He recounts how he visited a "therapy group' of Orange People as an observer, out of curiosity. There, he struck up a friendly conversation with a female Sannyasin who, when he bade her goodbye at the end of the evening, gave him a hug and told him, 'Look, I've been thinking about you, and I think you should have a private session with Prasad (the psychologist).' She went as far as offering to pay the fee herself. Wright goes on to describe in some detail the consciousness-altering sessions in which he took pan, and a weekend in which he was told in advance that he would be underfed. He then cites conversations he had subsequently with experts in such matters who suggest that he may have been undergoing 'brainwashing." He concludes that no one has given him a satisfactory explanation of all of his initial experiences with the Rajneeshees, and that even he himself may not be the best judge of what happened to him then.

Wright has no scholarly pretensions to objectivity. There is no attempt to explore the meaning of Rajneesh's writings. What he offers is a picture of Sannyasins involved in endless therapy groups, fundraising appeals to one another, and sinister intrigues. There is little specific interest in the leader's tomes (although Wright records how 4,000 copies of one were burned in the last days of the Oregon ranch). There is no index and but a tiny bibliography, although this contains, interestingly, such books as Snapping and Lifton's work on thought reform.

The greatest strength of Oranges and Lemmings is the endless stream of anecdotes and tidbits, descriptions of how highly intelligent and trained followers participated in deceptions and then rationalized them; how wealthy followers allowed themselves to be flattered and then fleeced of huge contributions; how followers explained the relentless attack on the group by the Oregon Attorney General as due to a kind of cosmic joke wherein he and Rajneesh were secretly the best of friends. There is a poignant description of how the involvement demanded of Sannyasins led their children into an existence of perpetual neglect, with many of the younger ones wandering about begging, and needing daily delousing. Much documentation is furnished about the rude and obnoxious Ma Anand Sheela. Wright treats the fall of Rajneesh into increasing greed and drug abuse with more reverence, which seems to me to arise from the remnant of his once great devotion to the guru. Wright’s ambivalence is most obvious at the end of the book when he expresses his hope that former Sannyasins win not succumb to suicide or drug addiction, but will become happier and stronger as they realize that, notwithstanding the machinations of Rajneesh and his lieutenants, much of the group's evil came from within themselves.

How to account for all of the evils spawned by Rajneeshpuram, coincidentally, turns up at the end of Ways of the Heart, where the authors offer as an explanation a quote front the group's own Rajneesh Times: 'The rest of us who didn’t do anything wrong are guilty of being too innocent. We watched and sometimes cooperated as ma Anand Sheela and her fascist gang ran roughshod over our friends, us, and anyone else who got in their way.”

Wright’s views of the matter, on the other hand, are closer to my own bias, which is stated in the Bible as “The imaginations of Man are evil from his youth.” I believe that in Rajneeshpuram (and similar organizations) the group’s leadership becomes increasingly corrupted by the power handed over to it by the followers. It turns into a perversely heroic band through which members can vicariously live through their own fantasies of wealth and power, while masking the truth with spiritual and ethereal language. I think that Wright is too fond of the group, and of the many friends he made there, to view it in these terms. Thompson and Heelas, for their part, do little more than follow the Rajneesh Times propaganda line, which leads one to wonder whether they were co-conspirators or simply dazed by the many smiles they saw and by Rajneesh’s poetic talents.

John Hochman, M.D., is Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, School of medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, and a member of the Cultic Studies Journal Editorial Board. He is Vice Chairman of the Commission on cults and Missionary Efforts of the Jewish Federation Council of Los Angeles.

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1987

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1987, Page