Episode 4: Buying Utopia

Full Transcript

Introduction

This is the Building Utopia podcast. My name is Rusty King, and I am obsessed with the history of the charismatic leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. In this series, we’re taking a deep dive into the creation, and implosion, of the communities that formed around Bhagwan. Along the way we’ll meet some of the big personalities who supported him, and we’ll try to get inside the minds of everyday Rajneeshees.

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Sheela and her boyfriend Marc just needed some privacy. It was the late 60s, and they were college students in the throes of a deep love affair. Sheela was an energetic art student from India, with a baudy sense of humor and a taste for the finer things in life. Marc was a quiet New Jersey boy, a couple years older than Sheela, who dreamed of becoming a physicist. On paper, they shouldn’t have worked — but the chemistry between them was undeniable.

They’d hop in Marc’s car and drive all over their little college town — Montclair, New Jersey — searching for some place where they could be alone together. One day they stumbled upon a huge, secluded, private lot. It rose to a peak, and on top of the hill somebody had built a castle-like home with views of the Manhattan skyline. Sheela and Marc would park right in front of the “Private Property” sign, and go on long walks under the trees, and be together. They never saw any cars, never ran into other people — it was just the two of them.

Marc would sometimes say to Sheela: “If I ever become rich, I will buy you this castle.”

Ten years later, Sheela pulled up to the Montclair castle in a limousine. With a radiant smile on her face, she held open the door for her white-robed Master, fresh off the plane from Bombay. A small group of sannyasins greeted them with namaste salutations. Sheela guided her Master into his new home — into the castle that she and Marc used to sneak around in their college days — into the castle that was now hers

See — her husband finally did buy the Montclair castle for her. But it wasn’t Marc Silverman, who died before he could fulfill that promise. With a new husband, and a new plan for her Master — Sheela had her castle, and her king. Now all she had to find… was a kingdom.

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Today we’ll visit the launching pad for Bhagwan’s American experiment: New Jersey. We’ll join his followers scrambling to prepare for his arrival, and see the trouble he got into while waiting for his next move. Later, we’ll travel America with Sheela as she searches for the perfect place for Bhagwan’s new commune. She’ll wind up about as far from New Jersey as you can get, in a dusty desert town, negotiating the biggest deal of her life.

Stick with us.


PART 1 - A Castle in New Jersey

Who knows? If Marc Silverman had made it to 1981, he may have been the one to buy the New Jersey castle for Sheela. Although the couple had married in 1969 and then moved to India after taking sannyas, they kept up their connections to the Montclair area. Together they had founded the Chidvilas Rajneesh Meditation Center there, and Sheela often made trips back and forth to check in on her center. As we discussed last time, Sheela worked diligently — and secretly — to increase the center’s power and wealth into the early ‘80s. By ’81, Chidvilas had become the logical anchor for Bhagwan’s move to the US. 

But Marc — whose sannyasin name was Chinmaya — didn’t live to see that. His Hodgkin’s Disease had been in remission for years, which Sheela and Chinmaya attributed to Bhagwan’s power. But in the late 70s, while they were living at the Poona ashram and Sheela was gaining influence, the disease came back with a vengeance. Chinmaya refused to go to the hospital, or return to the US, because he wanted to die at the ashram, close to his Master. When he did die in June 1980, he received a hero’s memorial, with a huge parade of sannyasins traveling with his body, bedecked in flowers, to the crematorium, singing to celebrate his life. The next day at discourse, Bhagwan said he had given Chinmaya permission to die: 

[BSR AUDIO] “And the moment he was ready I allowed him to go. I had to tell him, ‘Now you can drop your body.’ The day before yesterday I called Sheela to my room just to tell her that ‘Now it is time. Chinmaya can go – he is ready. Now there is no need for him to suffer anymore in the body.’”

Upon learning that Bhagwan had given his blessing, Chinmaya reportedly said, “Well, I guess this means goodbye.” And then he died 12 hours later.

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It’s possible that Chinmaya’s death wasn’t entirely natural. In 1985, while the Rajneeshpuram commune was crumbling to the ground in Oregon, a top Rajneeshee leader gave a statement to the police that mentioned Chinmaya’s death. This leader, who we’ll meet in the next episode, claimed that Sheela told him that she had asked Bhagwan if she could end Chinmaya’s suffering, and he had given his blessing. Sheela then supposedly injected something into Chinmaya that had helped him along. She received this alleged injectible from Chinmaya’s sannyasin nurse, who later became known to Oregon law enforcement as Nurse Mengele for her efforts to poison hundreds of Oregonians.

However he died, Chinmaya’s story didn’t end there. As we’ll see, his memory — or some would say his spirit — continued to guide Sheela in critical decisions she faced over the next year. This included the purchase of both the Montclair castle, and the property for Bhagwan’s new commune.

Sheela did not stay single for very long. A few months after Chinmaya died, while she was visiting Chidvilas in Montclair, she met and fell in love with another New Jersey man, named Swami Prem Jayananda. Things moved fast, and on January 26, 1981, they were married by the pilot of Pan Am Flight 002 en route from New York to Bombay.

Now — I have no reason to question that Sheela and Jayananda loved each other deeply. But allow me to engage in a little cynical speculation for a moment… If you think of Sheela as a cunning strategist, it’s easy to see her new marriage as a chess move. She got married to Jayananda at the same time that she was taking her first concrete steps to move Bhagwan to America. On January 25, 1981, Sheela presided over a Chidvilas board meeting where the organization resolved to search for farm land. This is the first documented evidence that I can find that America was to be the commune’s new home. And the very next day, Sheela’s on a plane to Bombay where she “spontaneously” gets married to an American.

So why would she need to do that? Well, Sheela may have been concerned about her own immigration status. She had become a permanent resident alien in the U.S. ten years earlier, thanks to her marriage to Chinmaya. But she hadn’t lived there since the mid-70s — so she was at risk of losing her green card, especially after Chinmaya died. Quickly marrying another American… well, that would just make some practical sense. Especially for sannyasins who — let’s face it — were never afraid to use the institution of marriage for its immigration benefits. 

And Sheela didn’t just marry any American. She married a financial whiz with banking and import/export connections. Jayananda, or “Jay” as he was called, had worked as a New York banker and an exporter to the Mid-East before taking sannyas in April 1977. He was least a decade older than Sheela, and he advised her on how to grow Chidvilas and invest its money in the American stock market. If, hypothetically speaking, Sheela were looking for a very advantageous marriage that would drastically increase her chances of success in the United States — she couldn’t have picked anybody better than Jay. 

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A couple months after the marriage and the Chidvilas board resolution, they still hadn’t found land for the new commune. But the ball was rolling, and Sheela was a planner. In case Bhagwan received his American visa before the commune was ready, she would need a temporary home for him. This ended up being Sheela’s castle, where she and Chinmaya had trespassed a decade earlier. The way she tells it, a cosmic twist of fate brought together Jay and the property owner. The two men struck up a conversation while jogging in the Montclair area, and the owner revealed he was looking to sell. Sheela told Bhagwan about the property and how she and Chinmaya used to “kiss” in front of the home and how Chinmaya had promised to buy it for her. Bhagwan smiled at the memory of his beloved disciple, and he told her to go ahead and do it.

When you really think about it, it seems perfect that Bhagwan’s first stop in the new world would be a mansion designed to look like a medieval Norman castle, plopped in Northern New Jersey. He was always melding old and new, East and West, mashing together philosophies and traditions. In many ways, the castle seems to me like a physical manifestation of Bhagwan’s message.

“Kip’s Castle,” as it’s called, was built at the turn of the century by a wealthy industrialist and his wife. The main building is three stories, 9,000 square feet, with 10 bedrooms. It sits on a 120-acre hilltop estate overlooking New York City across the Hudson River. Today it’s owned by the Essex County parks department, which rents it out for special events. As you browse the county’s website, though, you won’t find anything about the enlightened master who lived there with about 50 Rajneeshees in 1981. 

I’d imagine that the folks in Essex County aren’t too eager to dwell on what the Rajneeshees did to the castle. 

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In May 1981, Deeksha — the Italian kitchen supervisor we’ve met before — was told to gather a work crew at Poona that could travel to New Jersey and prepare the castle for Bhagwan. She identified American sannyasins — who could get into the country with no problems — and then arranged for some of them to quickly marry foreign women so they could get in as well. Deeksha traveled over with the first wave of workers on May 14, 1981. Among the things they brought with them were bracelets fashioned to look like brass — but were in fact gold ingots that had been melted down. A second group, also carrying valuable cargo, arrived four days later, bringing their number to around 35 sannyasins.

Deeksha found a beautiful old home that she felt needed some refurbishing before it was fit for her Master. The extent to which Deeksha took this belief was shocking to some of the sannyasins. The castle had magnificent interiors: wood floors, carved bannisters, mahogany paneling, cherrywood veneers, priceless Tiffany stained-glass windows. Deeksha had the windows tossed in a dumpster outside… had the floors covered with linoleum… had sheetrock placed over all the wood paneling.. had everything painted white. She was probably trying to anticipate what Bhagwan would want — something modern and simple. It may also have had to do with Bhagwan’s legendary sensitivity to dust and allergens and odors.

The pace that Deeksha set was exhausting. Her crew worked 19-hour shifts doing heavy construction labor, seven days a week. To be fair, Sheela had warned them about this before they left Poona: she told the vanguards that anybody who wasn’t ready to work around the clock, and who wasn’t willing to surrender totally to Sheela and Deeksha, should leave immediately.

And then, suddenly, in the midst of all their work and preparations — they received word that Bhagwan was on his way from India. It must have been almost impossible for them to imagine it… Their master, who barely left his house in Poona, much less the city, who had never set foot on a plane, was about to show up in New Jersey. Deeksha’s renovations weren’t done yet, and some took this to mean that Sheela’s plans to get Bhagwan to America had moved faster than even she had imagined.

Meanwhile, on Pan Am Flight 001 from Bombay to New York…Sheela was doting over Bhagwan up in the first-class cabin. The way she describes it in her memoir, it’s clear that Sheela absolutely relished having her Master dependent on her during the trip. While they flew over Germany, Sheela suggested that Bhagwan try pumpernickel bread with strawberry yogurt. With each bite, Sheela writes, she “felt the joy of a mother bird teaching its babies to fly.”

They landed at JFK, and the theatrics sprung into action. Remember, Bhagwan was traveling on a tourist visa, and the story pitched to the US consulate was that he had terrible back pain that required treatment only available in the United States. As their plane pulled into the gate, they were met by an ambulance and a medical team with a stretcher ready to transport Bhagwan to Montclair. Sheela had somehow induced immigration and customs officials to board the plane to clear Bhagwan.

But as soon as the officials were gone, Bhagwan happened to see the limousine that Deeksha and Jay had driven to the airport, parked next to the ambulance. He refused to use the stretcher and walked right into the limousine.

Pulling up to the castle in Montclair, Bhagwan was greeted on the lawn by the sannyasin work crew. He was still in his silent phase, not speaking publicly, so he sat with them for a few quiet moments before entering the house. Notably, he ignored the stair lift that Deeksha had installed for him, and walked right up the stairs and through the door.

Since they were still preparing the lower rooms for his use, Bhagwan and his companion Vivek were stowed in a tiny attic bedroom. Everything sped up to a furious pace: Deeksha hired outside contractors to help finish the renovations, and any able-bodied sannyasin who had traveled over with Bhagwan was put to work. This included Shiva, who had been Bhagwan’s bodyguard but now found himself doing construction work from 7:30 am to 3 or four in the morning. Some couldn’t take the brutal schedule and they left. One suffered kidney failure. Another renounced being a sannyasin altogether because he was so horrified by Deeksha’s destruction of the home’s interiors.

Shiva says that the Montclair castle was the beginnings of a huge upheaval in the social order that existed in Poona. As Bhagwan’s bodyguard, he’d been a celebrity around the ashram. He got to live in Bhagwan’s house and was afforded special privileges. But now in Montclair, he was just another sannyasin, with no special status. This wasn’t just a feeling he got — Sheela and Deeksha said it right to his face. In her memoir, Sheela wrote that was tired of all the people who felt that they were so close to Bhagwan that they walked on water. With the move to America, she intended to clean house, and make it clear that there was one guru in Bhagwan’s community. Everybody else was there to work. As we’ll see, Sheela’s actions led to both defections and excommunications among the Poona “old guard” over the coming years.

One way that Sheela was able to exert her new authority was by controlling who was invited to the castle — and even who knew where Bhagwan was. There was no announcement when Bhagwan left the ashram. He was gone a week or two before many people even realized it. It wasn’t unusual for him skip his silent discourses, so they just thought he was inside his house. To keep the secret under wraps, Sheela swore everybody at the castle to absolute secrecy. She also forbade them from leaving the castle or making telephone calls. She didn’t want thousands of sannyasins around the world — including everybody back in Poona — to figure out where he was and try to join them. They just weren’t ready to host a commune yet.

But this secrecy also made Sheela the gatekeeper for this new chapter in Bhagwan’s life. As we’ll see in future episodes, she strictly controlled who was allowed to be in “her” commune, and who wasn’t. Montclair was truly the beginning of Sheela’s unchecked reign over Bhagwan’s world.

But there was one guy who wasn’t about to be constrained by Sheela’s rules…

One day a brand new Rolls Royce Corniche pulled up in front of the castle, compliments of the Chidvilas Rajneesh Meditation Center. On one of his first rides around Montclair, Bhagwan insisted that they put down the soft top so he could feel the open air. He was a highly recognizable public figure, and some were certain that he’d be spotted and reported in the media. Things only got worse when, after a couple days riding in the back, he decided that he was going to drive the Rolls Royce.

Now, Bhagwan hadn’t driven a car for nearly 10 years. The last car he drove was his battered Impala on the streets of Bombay. But… what the Master wanted, the Master got. Within a week, what he got was a speeding ticket and a terrified group of passengers. On one outing, Bhagwan supposedly drove through a stop sign and a four-lane highway during rush-hour traffic, and then drove through a set of red lights for good measure. He passed two police cars before one finally pulled him over on the Garden State Parkway. A sannyasin later suggested they buy a radar detector, but Bhagwan lashed out, saying that anybody who was too scared to travel with him was welcome to stop doing so.

A couple weeks after Bhagwan arrived at Montclair, two exhausted travelers showed up at the castle: a luminous Chilean sannyasin named Ma Prem Isabel… and Ma Yoga Laxmi. Laxmi had been left behind during the transition, tasked with keeping things calm at the ashram. At the castle, they’d heard rumors that she’d gone half crazy being cut off from her Master. Laxmi arrived in America nervous and uncertain of her position. She quickly realized that there was nothing for her to do. Sheela and Deeksha were running the show. 

When an American sannyasin reached Laxmi by phone at the castle, Laxmi told her she was practically a prisoner there. She had to ask Deeksha or Sheela for permission to do anything, even talk to her old friends. But there was no reason for these restrictions, Laxmi said, because she had nothing to say. She was finished. Before she could say another word - Deeksha snatched the phone away from her and told the sannyasin on the other end that Laxmi was in a “negative space.”

Laxmi’s depression was obvious to those who knew her. She hacked off her long black hair with a pair of blunt scissors, without even looking in the mirror. Bhagwan, to his credit, tried to ease her into this strange new country by allowing her to use his car and take trips into Manhattan and giving her some spending money. She used the money to buy him a $20K watch. He wasn’t impressed.

Laxmi’s traveling companion, Ma Prem Isabel, created some anxiety for Shiva, who had dated her back in Poona. In his memoir, Shiva tells a pretty gross story about women and sex in Montclair. There was one woman to every five men at the castle, so the sex that had been freely available at Poona had pretty much vanished. This apparently riled the men working at the castle. According to Shiva, to ease this tension, Deeksha and Sheela ordered that any female sannyasin at the castle without a regular boyfriend would have to, quote, “make herself available to the unattached men,” end quote. Essentially, single women would have to have sex with any male sannyasin who asked, at least until the new commune was located and more women arrived. To ensure that Isabel wouldn’t have to “share herself,” as he put it, Shiva had her sleep in his bed every night. Don’t worry: the “woman-sharing” program came to an abrupt end two weeks later with a herpes outbreak. 

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Amid all the hustle and bustle at the castle, Sheela was working on an all-consuming project of her own. Coming up after the break, we’ll follow along with Sheela as she scours the country for Bhagwan’s new commune. His marching orders were straightforward: he wanted a huge, unregulated paradise where he could form a type of being that had never before existed on this planet. And he wanted it yesterday. All Sheela had to do was find it.

Stick with us.


PART 2 - The Search

So what was she looking for? We heard last time about Bhagwan’s vision for the new commune: a place where his followers could all live together, in peace, and allow Bhagwan to somehow form them into a well-balanced “new man.” He called it his “Buddhafield,” a place where his energy could flow and touch everybody there, and ultimately fan out to reach the entire world. It was to be a self-sufficient community, much like the Poona ashram had been. And given all their problems in India, he wanted the new commune to be as free from outside interference or regulation as possible.

Practically, Sheela translated this vision into a remote ranch, in a warm climate, large enough for several thousand sannyasins to live and work. The price range was 2 to 4 million dollars. The hunt began even before she left Poona, when she dispatched various sannyasins, including her husband Jay, to scour America for property. They looked in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Tennessee, New Jersey, and upstate New York, among other places.

And then, in the midst of the search, Bhagwan received his visa and came immediately to America. He was reportedly outraged that his new commune wasn’t waiting for him, that he had to cool his heels in Montclair while the search continued. Sheela says that Bhagwan gave her six weeks to find the perfect property, but then he kept moving up the deadline. Within a week of arriving, he told her how disappointed he was that she couldn’t find the paradise for which he had been waiting 30 years.

We can’t know exactly what Bhagwan was thinking about in his tiny bedroom at the top of the castle. But remember that just days earlier he’d been ensconsed in a Western-style mansion in Poona, surrounded by bodyguards and cooks and gardeners, not to mention the thousands of people who passed in and out of the ashram each day. He’d been the center of a huge universe of disciples, all there to be close to him, to essentially worship him. It had been that way for more than seven years at Poona, and four years before that in his packed Bombay apartment. And before that it was the crowds of thousands who gathered to hear him speak. And now… he was cut off from everyone. 

You can see why he might have felt some urgency to get the new commune purchased, open for business, and ready to accept his sannyasins. I imagine he may also have been concerned about letting too much time pass without tending to his flock. There were a lot of gurus around at the time, and people might have other commitments back home they might want to get to… Bhagwan certainly didn’t want to be forgotten.

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He managed to instill a sense of urgent panic in Sheela, and she brought in a new player to help expedite the land hunt: her brother, Bipin Patel. He had moved to the US in 1965 and lived in Chicago. He wasn’t a sannyasin, but, like Sheela, he had an appreciation for the finer things in life, like expensive cars and gold chains. In the mid-70s Sheela asked him to invest some Rajneeshee money in the commodities market… and he managed to lose them about $175,000. This apparently didn’t deter Sheela from tapping her brother when she needed help finding the new commune.

Bipin brought in a high-stakes gambler and real-estate consultant from Alabama named Archer Lawson Booth. Booth had been indicted the previous year for arson when the disco he owned had gone up in flames. He could smell a hefty commission just as well as Bipin could, and he eagerly joined the search. Booth suggested a property in Alabama, but Sheela rejected it outright, fearing racial problems.

Booth put out his feelers and received a call from a Texas real-estate salesman: “What do you think about 60,000 acres in Oregon?”

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Sheela and Jay were in Phoenix touring a property when Booth called them and persuaded them to visit the Big Muddy Ranch. They flew to Redmond, Oregon and were greeted by Bob Harvey, the ranch overseer. He drove them an hour northeast along Highway 97, with brown, high-desert terrain passing by and Mount Hood looming to the left. After reaching the tiny town of Antelope, they turned onto a poorly-maintained county road and made the bumpy, arduous trip up through the hills to the Big Muddy Ranch.

We’ll talk more in future episodes about the layout and development of the ranch. But what they found in June 1981 was a huge, vacant property that was miles from anything. And it was beautiful: gentle hills, grazing land, a lake, a river, a creek. For Sheela, it was love at first sight. The ranch seemed to meet all of Bhagwan’s criteria, including gorgeous views everywhere you looked, and fresh, unpolluted air. There was also a spiritual factor that called to Sheela. Her first husband Chinmaya had died exactly one year earlier, and she later told people that she felt his presence at the ranch. And unlike many of the other places they were considering — Sheela had found this property, through her brother. The glory of discovery belonged to her.

After touring the property, they had lunch at a small cafe in Antelope, toasting with a bottle of wine they had purchased inside. To Jay’s annoyance, Sheela told Bob Harvey that she wanted to purchase the ranch, without any pretense of disinterest or complaining about the price. By the next day, they were in Arizona meeting with the land owner. After minimal talks, they settled on a 7 million dollar price tag and a closing date within a month. Jay signed the purchase agreement on his own behalf, and a week later he signed it over to the Chidvilas Rajneesh Meditation Center.

Sheela arrived back in Montclair ecstatic. They had been in the US for less than three weeks, and she already had found Bhagwan’s new home. She gathered all the workers and told them they were moving to Oregon. 

And then… something unorthodox and sort of prescient happened. One of the crew members had the audacity to raise a practical question. How was the land zoned? The question seemed to take Sheela by surprise. As farmland, she said, but some of it is also commercial and residential. This seemed odd to the crew member, who knew a thing or two about American zoning regulations. He asked, what are the restrictions on how many people can live there? Sheela floundered around for an answer, and ultimately Jay managed to change the subject. According to Shiva, it was clear that Sheela and Jay had gleefully signed the purchase agreement without asking whether the property could legally house the 10,000 sannyasins Bhagwan envisioned for his new commune.

In her memoir, Sheela admits being hasty — she just wanted to make Bhagwan happy and get the deal done in his unrealistic timeframe. As such, she didn’t even consider things like examining the land records, or access to drinking water, or whether there was a sufficient power supply. She believed that all the details would take care of themselves as long as Bhagwan was satisfied. 

Her headlong rush to purchase the Big Muddy Ranch would have devastating consequences in the years to come.

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At the closing table in July, things got dicey as the Rajneeshees tried to negotatiate the price down. Sheela didn’t have 7 million dollars for the ranch, so she needed to lower the price as much as possible, but she was also under ontense pressure from Bhagwan to hurry up the negotiations. This created tensions with Jay and Bipin, who thought Sheela was showing too many of their cards and weakening their negotiation position. The seller wouldn’t budge on the price — she was just too eager. In an effort to move the needle in their direction, Bipin insisted that the sellers reveal how much they had paid for the ranch. They almost stormed out of the room in anger, before Sheela said, “Bipin, shut up!”

After the second day passed with no deal, according to Sheela, Bhagwan’s companion Vivek called her from New Jersey and said, “Bhagwan knew that you were incapable of finding land for His commune. Now you have brought him into this foreign country…” at which point Sheela erupted and said Bhagwan could find another secretary if he wanted. She hung up on Vivek, and locked herself in the bathroom, sobbing. Bipin found her in this state and helped restore some of her confidence. It worked. Later that night, Sheela negotiated the price down to 5.75 million dollars. 

She was so angry at Bhagwan and Vivek that she didn’t bother calling to tell them the good news.

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There’s an interesting post-script to the ranch purchase, involving the commissions that Bipin Patel and Archer Booth were to receive for their match-making. A few days before the closing, Bipin demanded 250 thousand dollars as a commission, or else he said he’d find a way to kill the deal. Ultimately, the sellers reduced the ranch’s price by $250,000 so that Chidvilas could use that money to make two equal commission payments to Bipin and Booth. 

But that money didn’t end up in Booth’s pockets. Furious about being scammed out of his commission, Archer Booth threatened to kill various people, including Sheela. After she moved to the Big Muddy Ranch later that month, Sheela posted guards outside her trailer for days, and slept in different locations in case Booth or his goons showed up.

Six months after the closing, Archer Booth took his dispute to the courts, suing almost everyone involved in the deal for nearly 1.3 million dollars. The case settled out of court a month later, when Booth apparently received a $75,000 payment from the Rajneesh Investment Corporation. But later that year, the ranch sellers received phone calls from a mysterious man named “Curley” demanding nearly half a million dollars. The FBI arrested Archer Booth when he tried to withdraw the first installment of that money from his bank in Alabama. 

As for Bipin… It’s not actually clear whether he received anything from the deal. Sheela signed two checks worth 100 thousand dollars that were apparently intended for him, but she stopped payment before they could be cashed.

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Immediately after the closing, Sheela flew back to New Jersey. She had to meet with Bhagwan and tell him the deal was done — that she had bought his paradise, just as he had instructed. Despite her excitement, she was already worrying about how she’d find the money to make the first payment on the ranch, which would be hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Bhagwan greeted her with warmth and love and listened as she recounted all the details from the transaction. Just before she got up to leave, he smiled and told her that he had visited a car dealership earlier that day and purchased two brand new vehicles: a Mercedes-Benz and a Rolls Royce. Well, he hadn’t exactly purchased them. He took the cars and told the dealer, “Tomorrow, my secretary will come and handle it.”

Sheela… had her work cut out for her.

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Next time on Building Utopia, work begins at the Big Muddy Ranch to prepare it for Bhagwan’s arrival. But first, Sheela and her skeleton crew need to figure out what exactly they’re allowed to do on the property — and how to get away with everything else. This takes them in some unexpected directions, like learning how to incorporate a city. It also sets them at odds with their neighbors, who are starting to wonder why all these strange people are showing up at the range.

We hope you join us next time.

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Building Utopia is researched, written, narrated, and produced by me, Rusty King. For more insights on Bhagwan and his followers, including photographs and source documents, check out our website, BuildingUtopiaPodcast.com. If you have a unique perspective on any of the issues discussed in this series, I’d love to hear from you. See you next time.