When Netflix’s hit series Wild Wild Country debuted in March, friends who know about my upbringing began messaging me. They wanted to hear what I thought about the documentary, which centers on the so-called cult my mother once belonged to. Even if I had wanted to skip the show, it’d have been impossible to avoid all the articles about the group’s leader, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. He stared at me from news sites with the same eyes I’d seen on book covers in my mother’s apartment—after she returned from his ashram in India, and before she left our family a second time to follow him to Oregon, where much of Wild Wild Country takes place. Though my mother made her way back into my life when I was in high school and we now have a close relationship, I never wanted to think about Bhagwan again. But a couple of weeks after the documentary’s release, I braced myself and sat down to watch.
Wild Wild Country proved lush and captivating, as it highlighted the magnetism of Bhagwan (later known as Osho) and the devotion of his thousands of followers (known as sannyasins). At its heart, the six-episode series is about an upstart religious movement clashing with big government. The Rajneeshees, as they were known, moved en masse in the early 1980s to the tiny town of Antelope, Oregon, where their efforts to create a utopian city called Rajneeshpuram upset local residents. Eventually, the group’s bizarre activities attracted attention from the federal government, leading to a spate of allegations for crimes including mass poisoning and immigration fraud.