Minisode 4 - A Child of the Commune

Full Transcript

This is a Building Utopia Podcast minisode. A topic that often comes up in the listener questions I’ve received is childhood at Rajneeshpuram. The adult sannyasins and all their crazy antics have been well-publicized, but what was it like for the kids living on the commune in eastern Oregon?

You’ll remember from previous episodes that Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh wasn’t really into kids. They just distracted his followers from their spiritual growth. At his ashram in India, he had encouraged sannyasins to get abortions and to get sterilized. But, still, some sannyasins had kids. And they brought them to Rajneeshpuram. And the commune leaders had to do something with them.

You may also remember that Bhagwan advocated the death of the nuclear family. He had said that in his new utopia, children would be raised communally, by everybody. So now Rajneeshpuram gave commune leaders an opportunity to put Bhagwan’s words into practice. But what did that actually look like? And what was it like for the kids who lived through it? That’s what we’ll explore in today’s minisode.

To make sure I do this topic justice, so I’m doing something a little different today. I’ve turned to an expert for some help. 

One day I come home from school and my mom says, “We’re leaving. We’re gonna move to Oregon.” And I literally started, I sat down on a couch and just -- bawling, tears. And I remember this so distinctly, I said, “Why can’t we just be normal?” And its like I even get goosebumps and almost feel teary saying it now. Is, here’s this 12 year old— I just wanted to be normal for a change.

This is Dickon Kent. His mother took sannyas in the early 1970s, when Dickon was around 5 years old. He spent the rest of his childhood living communally, first at a Rajneesh Meditation Center in London, and later at the ranch in Oregon. He spent most of his teenage years at Rajneeshpuram. He left only after Sheela and Bhagwan were gone, when he found himself thrust into the strange, non-sannyasin world.

Dickon was kind enough to chat with me about his experiences living at Rajneeshpuram, and that interview will be the focus of today’s minisode. Now, he’s the first to admit that other kids at the ranch may have had vastly different experiences. So today’s story is really one child’s experience living at the ranch.

One last note before we begin: this story goes to some dark places, including a discussion about the sexual abuse of children. This content may be disturbing to some listeners.

Now, let’s get to our story.

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Dickon Kent was only about five years old when he realized that he hated communal living. His parents would sometimes rent out their old farmhouse in the English countryside to meditation groups — this was the early 70s. One weekend, young Dickon was forced to give up his bedroom and sleep in a barn with some other kids:

So this one house in particular we had a big barn and I remember I took a corner and I kind of barricaded myself into this corner. … And so I kind of created my safe space. I told the other kids, you’re not supposed to come past this barrier. In here this is my space. The rest of the barn you can do whatever you want. And I would have been five then, I think. So, it’s a part of me, that’s the part of me that didn’t sit well with communal living.”

Unfortunately for Dickon, he wouldn’t be able to escape communal living for the next 12 years. His parents were both seekers. They each went on their own spiritual journey to India when Dickon was still very young. He was staying with his grandmother when his mom returned from her trip with an announcement that would forever change his childhood:

“She shows up, she’s wearing a dark red robe, with a mala with Bhagwan’s picture around her neck. She tells my grandmother “I’ve taken sannyas,” and my grandmother says “Oh my god, what’s going to happen to the children?”

Dickon’s mother had gone to the Poona ashram, and sat at the feet of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and become his disciple. And she was all in. Shortly after that, Dickon’s mother moved with him to London to work at a Rajneesh Meditation Center. He attended regular, non-sannyasin school, but at home he was increasingly surrounded by Rajneeshees. They started living communally with other sannyasins. Eventually, Dickon decided to take sannyas himself. Oh yes — kids could become sannyasins. There were infant sannyasins. All you had to do was send a letter to Poona, and you’d receive a mala necklace and a new name through the mail. Dickon went through a couple sannyasin names, but ultimately he became 

Swami Anand Bhikkshu

So why did Dickon do it, at such a young age?

I think it really was because I was surrounded by his pictures, by Bhagwan’s pictures. And this was the life my mother had chosen. And when I wasn’t in school most, I’d say 90% of the people I was interacting with, were sannyasins. So, it just, it kind of just was, it was my life, by default.

When he was 12, Dickon’s mother announced that she and her son would be moving to India, to live at the ashram. By that point, she had separated from Dickon’s father — largely thanks to her all-consuming spiritual journey. It would just be the two of them, her and Dickon. She had packed their bags and they were about to head to the airport when a telex arrived from Poona.

You don’t have to come, because he’s left. He’s gone.

It was June 1981. Bhagwan had abruptly left the ashram and flown to Montclair, New Jersey, with his powerful new secretary, Ma Anand Sheela. So Dickon’s mother regrouped and formed a new plan.

It wasn’t long after that, maybe three months or something, that we moved to America. And it was because you know by then my mom knew that Bhagwan was in America. I don’t know if Oregon had been decided by then. But she knew well enough that he was in America and was probably gonna stay here, so she wanted to be here.

They lived first at a communal house in Vermont. Dickon attended regular school that fall and through the winter. He started making some new friends. He met a girl he liked. And then his mom dropped yet another bomb on him. She had finally received the call from Oregon. They were moving across the country to Rajneeshpuram.

And that’s where…

I literally started, I sat down on a couch bawling, tears. And I remember this so distinctly, I said, “Why can’t we just be normal?”

Dickon had just rolled with the punches as a younger child, living wherever and with whomever his mom wanted. He’d even come to America, voluntarily — he could have just stayed back in England with his dad. But now, after just a few months, they were uprooting their lives yet again. He may not have realized this at the time, but when they loaded up the car and started the cross-country trip to Rajneeshpuram, Dickon was effectively saying farewell to life outside the Rajneeshee bubble. He would stay in that bubble for the next four years.

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It was the spring of 1982 when 13-year-old Dickon and his mother pulled up at the ranch. At the time, the Rajneeshees had been in Oregon for almost a year. They were in the process of voting to incorporate their new city, Rajneeshpuram. They were already at odds with their ranching neighbors and the people of Antelope. There were probably about 500 Rajneeshees living on the ranch when Dickon and his mom arrived. And it was immediately clear that this communal living experience would be very different:

We found our way down to wherever we were. It was kind of the central part of what I would call the downtown area, which was kind of a good stone’s throw from Jesus Grove which was where Sheela lived. There was an old ranch house, kind of a white Victorian house, and then there was a barn next to it, and the barn was called Howdy Doody, and it was kind of a dorm for some of the kids.

So, we got out of the car, there were kind of like smiles, and hugs, and hey how’s it going, da da da da da. And then pretty soon she was off somewhere. I was literally, I had a big green backpack, I was dragging my skis across the mud and dirt, and heading into this barn. And the barn was, it had bunkbeds kind of like platforms. I don’t know who took me there. I think it was a kid who showed me to a spot. And I kind of put my stuff down. And there was a bed.

And then kids started showed up because it was like, fresh meat, who’s this guy, kind of thing? And I’ve got stuff, so I’ve got all my stuff, so of course kids are curious like, what’s your stuff? That was, like, my introduction.

Dickon was separated from his mother, for the first time in his life. He… was no longer her responsibility. He belonged to the commune now, just as Bhagwan had said it would be, back in India. 

[Bhagwan Discourse Audio] “In a commune, children can belong to the commune, and that will be far better. They will have more opportunities to grow with many more kinds of people. . .  . If a hundred people live together in a commune there will be many male members, many female members; the child need not get fixed and obsessed with one pattern of life. He can learn from his father, he can learn from his uncles, he can learn from all the men in the community. He will have a bigger soul.”

Rajneeshpuram put the Master’s words into action. Kids didn’t live with their parents. Some lived at the Howdy Doody bunkhouse, with no adult supervision. Others lived in double-wide trailers scattered across the ranch. That’s where Dickon moved after a couple days.

There were six of us in the room. So there were myself and another boy my age, and four girls who were all about our age. All of a sudden, I’m like sharing a bedroom with four other girls. The one room that I was in, it was all kids. All the other rooms had adults in them.

None of those adults in the other rooms was Dickon’s mother. She lived somewhere else on the ranch. And the adults he did live with were strangers. Not that it really mattered, since they barely saw each other. The trailers weren’t really homes, the way we might think of them. They didn’t have televisions, they barely had cooking facilities since everybody ate in the cafeteria. They were essentially flop houses.

You kind of didn’t have a home life. You had somewhere you slept. And you had somewhere you worked. You had somewhere you ate. And initially we had places we would play.

Dickon would at least get to see his mother every day at the cafeteria — but only at first.

Initially I would see her pretty much every mealtime because she worked at Magdalena. So she worked at the cafeteria. And she actually - she was the lady who would give out cigarettes and stamps. So if you needed stamps or cigarettes, you would go see my mom. Later on though when she moved to a different job, there would be times where I wouldn’t see her sometimes for weeks, I think.

So how did a 13-year old kid like Dickon react to all this change — being separated from his mother, being forced to live with a bunch of strangers out in the desert? Well, you have to remember how unusual his life had already been up to that point. He was used to change. Used to chaos.

I don’t know that I thought about it a whole lot. I just kind of went with it. It was like, OK, this is where I am now, so then let me deal with now. 

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The day-to-day life of a kid at Rajneeshpuram was mainly going to school and working. At first the kids all went to a school on the ranch and were taught by commune members. His classmates were a diverse group of kids, to say the least:

So my memory of school on the ranch in general was that I was in a school environment with a bunch of kids who really didn’t want to learn, or who just— it just wasn’t their thing, they just weren’t into it. You have to remember also some of these kids grew up on the streets in Poona. Right? I mean I have good friends, one very good friend, a wonderful guy, who he could barely read, even my age, he could barely read on the ranch. So everybody came from very diverse backgrounds, whether they were in India, Europe, Australia, England, America, all sort of… Just the whole gamut. So the schooling prior to Antelope, as a teenager, I just didn’t— I just felt like it was a waste of time.

When the Rajneeshees took over the Antelope city government in the fall of 1982, suddenly they had a real school building available to them. It became a Rajneeshee school, and ranch kids were bused there for at least part of the day. Although he says it was better, the education still seemed superficial to Dickon: 

And I think.. I don’t know, you’d have to talk to some of the other kids. But I feel like for me it never felt serious, it never felt like, Oh, you’re going to school so you can graduate and to go college. Nobody every spoke to me about education beyond whatever was happening that day. Like, even my parents, that wasn’t even a part of my life.

Fortunately, he had somewhere else he could direct his energy. In fact — he had to. Just like the adults, kids living at the ranch were expected to work for at least part of the day, doing whatever the commune leaders assigned them to do. Dickon ended up in a job he happened to love, working at the ranch’s A/V department, which was called Edison.

All the video recording, all the cassette duplication for Bhagwan’s discourses, all that sort of stuff — electronics, surveillance which people didn’t know about it at the time. All of that happened at Edison. And I really enjoyed that work. And there were a bunch of us teenage boys who worked at Edison.

It may sound harsh to us, on the outside, this idea of having young teenagers working for long hours in a job they didn’t necessarily choose. But if you ask Dickon — he thought it was pretty great:

One of my favorite things to do was to stay at work after everybody had gone home and work like all night. And I did that on a few occasions. Maybe it was because I would be— it was quiet and there was kind of something solitary to it. But work wasn’t — from my perspective — work was never really seen as a chore. I don’t know that I was— had these lofty goals about creating some utopia. But we were all in this together, and I enjoyed what I did. Yes it’s hard work. Most of the time it’s fun, because nobody’s screaming at you, or you’re not on a clock because you need to fulfill a certain requirement of a paycheck or time or that kind of thing. It’s like, if you’re being responsible and kind of working towards what’s being created here, then in a way you’re taken care of. Like I would go home and my clothes had been washed and folded and put on the end of my bed. My room had been vacuumed. The bathroom’s were all clean. I just had a really nice hot meal at the cafeteria. I hopped on a bus I didn’t have to pay for. And I’m hanging out with my friends basically most of the time.

So he was generally okay with the living and working conditions on the ranch. But what about the big man himself? Now that Dickon was a teenager and living close to Bhagwan, I wondered, did he feel a deep spirtitual connection to Bhagwan and his teachings. When he saw his Master drive by in a Rolls Royce each day, what did he feel?

I’m here as a child as a teenager, I have decided that this man is my Master, whatever that means in the mind of a 15, 14 year old. And I often wanted to feel more than I did. There was so much mystery around who this person was, and all day long, every day, I’m surrounded by his picture, not only around my neck on a locket, but on the walls of pretty much every room [laugh], every bus, the inside — you know, like, everywhere. And we were all there because of him. So, just understanding that context, yeah, of course there’s focus on him because we’re all here because of him.

Although he loved his job, Dickon still had to go to school in Antelope. One day the schoolhouse received a VIP visitor — Bhagwan’s secretary, Ma Anand Sheela. In a classroom discussion with her, Dickon made a comment that led to a significant change at the ranch. He told Sheela:

Honestly I learn so much more at my work in Edison on the ranch than I do here at school. And I would much rather spend my time there. And that became the cataylst for us creating an Oregon-accredited school called School Without Walls. Which was basically — the whole thing was a sham, right? — But we got approved by the state, and the idea was that were were all learning our basic subjects through our work. So in my case doing electronics, doing audio, video stuff. There’s communication in there, there’s math, there’s science.

It was the end of Dickon’s formal education. After that, he assumed he would just live and work at the ranch for the rest of his life. The commune leaders didn’t encourage the kids to think beyond that.

As far as the commune was— the commune as a whole, or Bhagwan, or Sheela — they weren’t thinking about the long-term well-being of the kids. It just wasn’t part of the plan. I don’t know if it was just because they were busy with other things. But there was never — yeah — there was never any talk about, OK, in the future we’re going to need other city planners and other lawyers and other accountants and other doctors and so we should train… I don’t remember anything like that.

To Dickon, it seemed that children at Rajneeshpuram were an afterthought at best. And that came straight from the top.

And I think it ties in with this whole idea that I’ve heard Bhagwan say, which is, “Children become an obstacle to a parent’s spiritual growth.” You know, if you have kids you don’t have the energy to go meditate and go do these other things.

So ultimately, the sannyasin kids were shunted aside so the adults could focus on their growth … and their work building the commune. The adults often ignored them. The kids were left to roam the ranch, and to work, and to have fun, and to get into some trouble. Maybe they’d see their parents every now and then, maybe they wouldn’t.

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Now, here’s where this story takes a darker turn. In researching this series, I’ve come across many troubling allegation about things that happened to children at Rajneeshpuram. But I’ve been doing this long enough to know that stories about the Rajneeshees - especially those told by outsiders — are often exaggerated or based on rumor or speculation. That’s really why I wanted to talk to Dickon — to ask somebody who was actually a child there about his experiences, and to try to separate the truth from the fiction.

For example, I had read an allegation that children as young as five years old were given beer tickets and allowed to drink alcohol at the Magdalena Cafeteria. Here’s what Dickon had to say about that:

I’m not gonna say it didn’t happen. I never saw it. I as a 13, 14, 15 year old, the only way I ever got beer was if we stole it out of the refrigerated containers that were out of the back of the cafeteria. I mean, maybe somebody would have given me a sip out of their beer. I, I don’t remember any of the kids being able to go up to the beer counter and get a beer. I mean, we got in trouble as kids— we would get in trouble if we… Look, we’re kids, and if alcohol and if we were able to get our hands on some alcohol we would drink it, for sure, you know? But if somebody found out and we got reported, we would also get called into Sheela’s house and get reamed out. And you know, like, that was not a pleasant experience. I mean, we got really — there were times that we really got told off.

I also read an allegation that children were taken in groups of two to the Pythagorous Medical Clinic on the ranch, and made to watch adults getting STD examinations. It was supposed to be an anatomy lesson. As for this claim… according to Dickon, turns out… it was true.

At one point I was in Pythagorous Medical Center, with a girl about my age, and we were — yeah — we were sitting there, there was a woman up on the doctor’s bed with her feet in stirrups, and the gynecologist was pointing, and she was like, This is the labia, this is where the clitoris is. Like it was like a full on GYN exam. And sure, it was uncomfortable as hell. I remember the patient was a German woman, I don’t know if she was uncomfortable. I don’t remember it necessarily being around STDs, but maybe it was. But what she said about like seeing an exam, yeah, that’s totally true, because I saw an exam of a mature woman when I was 14 years old or something.

I also heard stories that when they weren’t working and weren’t at school, the kids just ran wild, having all-night parties, doing reckless stunts, injuring themselves — and that none of the adults did anything to stop them. But for his part, Dickon describes his free time as being much tamer than that.

Like by the time you were done with dinner… I mean, as a kid I guess I might hang out with my friends, there were different things that we might do. But usually just, instead of hanging out outside 7/11, we were hanging out outside the refrigerated trailers that were out the back the cafeteria. What we’d also do also after dinner is go to, if it was one of the nights when we were doing our underage nightclub, that’s pretty much where we’d hang out as kids. I don’t remember the hours of that. I don’t remember how late we’d go. I don’t think we went too late, maybe like 10 o’clock or something like that. Because we all still did have to get up in the morning and go to work.

But these allegations are all really mild compared to the most serious claims uttered about children at Rajneeshpuram.


Bob (part 4)

There’s sex with the younger children. There’s one case in particular with a girl who was 13 years old. She had slept with guys, one was 45. One was 32. 

That’s Bob Harvey. You may remember that name from an earlier episode. He was the ranchhand who first gave Sheela a tour of the Big Muddy Ranch in June 1981. The Rajneeshees kept Bob Harvey, and his family, on at the ranch for about a year and a half. They were famously the only non-sannyasins living there. Harvey had two daughters, and the eldest was the same age as Dickon.

After the Harveys left the ranch in late 1982, they became government informants. They told law enforcement that sexual contact between children and adults was common at the ranch, an open secret. An investigation was lauched, but the commune fought back vigorously, and nobody was ever formally charged.

Dickon and I spoke about the allegation that adults and children at Rajneeshpuram were having sex. He told me about a particular incident that helps illustrate the attitude and the atmosphere at the ranch:

So there was a party in one of the trailers, one of the trailer homes, and it was out near Pythagorous, I can’t remember the name, and it got… I’m not going to say it was an orgy, because it wasn’t. But there were kids… at the time, I was, probably 14, maybe 15. I’m guessing closer to 14. There was drink, there was alcohol. And so there were kids and adults. And I just remember, it was very sexually charged. And… I remember stumbling my way home after that. And there was a... There was a lot of kissing and groping going on, and stuff. I didn’t see anybody actually having intercourse or anything like that. But it was a trailer and I was in one room and there were other rooms. So I don’t know everything that went on. Anyways, it was a mess. Somehow Sheela heard about this… The following day, all the kids got called into Jesus Grove, into Sheela’s house. She was furious. Like, she was so mad. And, honestly, rightly so. This was a bit more than just kids having fun. The fact that, you know, we were drinking, there were definitely some people who were, let’s put it this way, if sex took place, there probably could have been some statutory rape charges filed based on what happened that night. And, Sheela was like, “You guys, If I hear about this stuff again, people are going to start getting kicked out. If somebody from the outside finds out, this reflects terribly on this commune,” that whole thing. She was saying it a lot harder than what I just said.

Just to underline this point: Dickon is saying that kids and adults had a sexually-charged drinking party in a trailer, and Sheela yelled at the kids because it could bring down the commune if people on the outside knew. I asked Dickon, based on what he saw, did it seem like the commune leadership had any moral reservations about adults sexually abusing children? 

Look, if she was that… the energy that she came at us with during that meeting was so intense that if that was how she felt about, you know, underage, too-old-too-young relationships, they would have been— you wouldn’t have seen it. But, for a fact, and everybody who was there [laugh] if they didn’t notice then they just weren’t paying attention, it was very common. A lot of older guys were with younger girls.

This situation led to a sort of unfair competition that really rankled Dickon as a teenage boy:

One of the things that upset me, to give this story again some teenage context is, you know, as a teenage boy who who you know maybe at this time liked this girl who was about my age, and I like that girl who was about my age, was seeing them date men who were much older than I was. 15 year old girls with 30 year old guys, kind of thing. It’s kind of strange to say this. That was upsetting to me because, well wait, you’re my age, why wouldn’t you want to go out with me? As opposed to whoa, there’s something weird about this situation. What’s a 30 year old man doing with a 15 year old girl or 14 year old girl?

What about the other way around — what about sexual relationships between teenage boys and adult women? Did that happen?

It did, to a much lesser degree. And it happened to me. You know, and it’s something that I… I was with a 28 year old when I was 14. And… it destroyed me. Because the following day, she was with one of my friends. And then the day following that she was with another one of my friends. So, it’s… I have to tell you, it’s a very confusing thing. Because I was… From what I knew at the time, again as a 14 year old boy, I was in love with this person. And so I was heartbroken, and distraught, and I just didn’t know any better. I was 14 years old. And, uh, so, you know, is that abuse? Was I abused? Maybe. I think it’s, I think it’s harder… if it’s a man and a woman, or a male and a female, again, very much my own experience, culture… not culture on the ranch, I think culture in general, or western culture, is like hey, good for him, he got it off with so and so. I don’t know. It’s confusing. It really is. Sometimes I feel like, it’s hard to say I feel like I was taken advantage of or something, because at the time it was something I really wanted. But does that make it right, does that make it not right, who knows?

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A comment you often hear from rank-and-file sannyasins when they talk about all the crazy stuff that happened at Rajneeshpuram is — that was all Sheela. She was doing things behind the scenes that nobody knew about. We were just there working, loving, laughing, meditating, while she was doing all these Machiavellian schemes behind our backs.

But that excuse doesn’t work here. As Dickon says, it was no secret that adults were having sexual relationships with children. Not just any children, but children whose parents were there, who were part of this culture. Statutory rape must have become normalized in their insulated society, to the point where adults saw it happening, knew it was happening, and did little to stop it. 

I suspect you can trace this attitude to Bhagwan and the atmosphere he created in his communities. He was of course famous for his liberal attitude toward sex. And some of his disciples joined his commune precisely because they could have open sexual relationships with multiple people. That was part of the allure. Maybe they just kept pushing the sexual boundaries until children got swept up in it. And when that happened, nobody stopped them. Not the commune leaders. Not the adult bystanders. And not the parents.

And those kids… they had no defenses. Bhagwan had demolished their family unit. They were supposed to be “raised” by the commune — but who was actually “raising” them? They were working with adults, living with adults — like they were all equals.

The closest thing I’ve found to an adult Rajneeshee really trying to grapple with the rampant sexual abuse comes from Shanti Bhadra, or Jane Stork. If you’ve seen the Netflix documentary series Wild Wild Country, you’ll remember her as the soft-voiced Australian woman who threw herself at the mercy of the court when her son was dying of a brain tumor. In her memoir, Breaking the Spell, Jane Stork writes that in 1984, when Bhagwan started speaking publicly again, he told a story to his followers over the course of many days about a middle-aged woman who worked in his household. She was intent on seducing a teenage boy who lived at the ranch. The joke was that the boy only cared about comic books and wasn’t interested. But the older woman persisted, and she persuaded the boy to have sex with her. Stork says the sannyasins in the lecture hall laughed “uproariously” as Bhagwan would tell this story. 

And then one day, as everybody was laughing around her, Jane Stork realized that the boy in Bhagwan’s story… it was Peter, her sixteen-year-old son. At first she was shocked — she had no idea that her son was having sex with an adult woman. But then she decided, since Bhagwan thinks it’s okay… it must be okay. She joined in the laughter. And then it became more than that: she felt proud. Proud that her Master even knew who Peter was, and that he would talk about her son at such length. 

Whatever instinct Jane Stork might have had to be outraged, to stand up and protest what Bhagwan saying, to pull her son out of that situation — she had surrended it, to Bhagwan, long ago.

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Dickon left Rajneeshpuram in November 1985, when he was 17 years old. By that point, Bhagwan was gone from the ranch, and it was clear the place was dissolving. He left his mother behind, traveling with some other Rajneeshee kids to California, where they planned to open a disco — without realizing they would need things like money to get that done. He never went to school again, but he found work. Out there in the real world, he stopped wearing red. One morning, he didn’t put on his mala necklace. It wasn’t a statement or anything, it just didn’t matter to him anymore.

Now Dickon is in his early 50s, with a 16-year old son of his own. His mom lives back in England, and sadly she’s in the final stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Dickon recently sent out a message about his mother’s condition to a private Facebook group for former Rajneeshpuram residents. He was blown away by the response he received, and his mother was in tears when he read her the loving messages from the community of former residents.

To me, that’s one of the beautiful things. Is there is this… I liken it to, not that I have this experience because I didn’t go to high school, but I liken it to the community of people, if you make good friends in high school or in college, there’s this common thread that you’ve all lived through, and somehow it’s easy to come back together after that. And I feel like we do, for those of us that lived there, there is this common thread that we have, and it’s easy to rekindle those friendships just because of what we lived through.

For those of us on the outside, it might be easy to paint Rajneeshpuram as one thing: maybe it’s evil, or lofty, or unrealistic, or beautiful, or manipulative. But when Dickon looks back on his time there… his feeling are much more complicated than that. It’s not all good, not all bad.

And I think that’s the hardest thing for me about this story. Like every time I talk to somebody about it, it’s like, I don’t want to deny the darkness and I don’t want to deny the positive. And as a child, from a child’s perspective, most of it was positive. It was like a wild— Mr. Toad’s wild ride. But I know there are plenty of other kids who didn’t feel that way, who were really distraught, who didn’t see their parents much. So again, it’s very much an individual, an individual kind of thing.

He knows people who still feel pain about what they experienced as children at the ranch. And he knows others who remember their time at the ranch as a beautiful experience, and they’re grateful for it. As for Dickon, I’ll let him have the last word:

I don’t look at it — as unconventional as my life was, I don’t look at it and say, Oh I wish it wasn’t that way or I wish we had stayed in England or I wish this that and the other. It’s just, that was my life, that was my lot, and… Hell I’ve got some good stories to tell. [Laugh] 

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Building Utopia is researched, written, narrated, and produced by me, Rusty King. If you’re enjoying the series and want to support the show — please write a 5-star review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you’re listening to this.

For more insights on Bhagwan and his followers, including photographs and source documents, check out our website, BuildingUtopiaPodcast.com.

If you have any questions or comments about the show, I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me through the website, or find Building Utopia on Twitter and Instagram.

See you next time.