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In the Shadow of Enlightenment
Neglect and Child Sexual Abuse in the Rajneesh Commune

For most of my adult life I have sought to untangle a web of trauma, confusion, and pain I have carried in the aftermath of growing up in the Rajneesh cult. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the self-proclaimed enlightened guru, and by extension the commune that formed around him, touted freedom and surrender as a path to spiritual awakening. We were the "chosen ones," and were made to believe we were spiritually superior to people in the "real world." We were told to celebrate life, let go of our egos, and follow our natural urges. With a unique blend of Eastern philosophy and Western psychology, and a load of charisma, Bhagwan (aka Osho) amassed thousands of followers from around the world. But, it was not all love and light. Especially not for me and other children who were not protected and were free to wander--be it into fun adventures instead of going to school, or into the arms of sexual predators.

In 1978, at just 9 years old, my mother took me to the Rajneesh ashram in Pune India. I was warmly welcomed and quickly taken under the tutelage of the "moms" who ran the place. I wanted to belong and fit in, and I was swept up into the commune life. I started wearing orange and going by the new name Bhagwan had given me. Shortly after that I moved into the ashram without my mother. I surrendered, celebrated, and turned my free will over to the community, just like the other good disciples did.  I no longer belonged to myself, I belonged to the commune. I learned to not trust myself or to speak my mind, but to follow the spoken and unspoken mores of the unique subculture. I played in the ashram, made friends, and felt so lucky I didn't have to go to school. Unsupervised and free to wander, I played and had fun, but also got caught up in less enlightened situations. I rarely saw my mother. I lived in a world free of boundaries.

 

In 1981 Rajneesh moved from India to the US. Starting at age 12, during the early days at Rajneeshpuram in Oregon, I was being groomed and sexually abused by adult men. Polyamory and sex with minors was seen as normal, was done in plain sight, and was just part of the culture. I was always obedient, a chameleon. I looked okay on the outside, but the joy I experienced in India had drained out of me. Inside I was tormented and weighed down with shame and self loathing. I blamed myself for my suffering, thinking it was my fault that I didn't know how to let things go, celebrate and be positive.

 

In 1985, when I was 16 years old, Rajneeshpruam folded under a swarm of legal allegations. The world I had known crumbled, and I was thrust into the "real world" without a parent, an education, or any money.

 

In time, and with a lot of hard work, I adapted and got an education and became a functional member of society. But my past always had a hold on me and threatened to derail me. After years of therapy, I came to understand that what I endured was not normal or special, but was abuse and neglect. Finally I could make sense of the disgust, shame and rage I felt. And finally feeling free to think and feel for myself, I needed to be heard. I was no longer willing to be the silent, obedient girl who just took whatever she was dealt.

35 years after the fall of Rajneeshpuram, and after several attempts to confront my perpetrators and the Rajneesh/Osho community, I had the courage to break my silence. I had enough of hiding my past. I was no longer part of the community, I no longer needed their approval, and I no longer wanted my silence to protect a community that did not protect me.

On September 22, 2021, I posted a open letter on two Rajneesh Facebook groups. (Read it here: Letter to the Rajneesh Community).  The responses were all over the map. Many  people were supportive, and others were in deep denial.  It became clear that piercing through the minimization and spiritual gaslighting of those who still held Rajneesh and the community on an untouchable pedestal, was not going to be easy.

Through the trials and tribulations of the past 10 months, I have been working hard on writing the first draft of my memoir. It is an intimate tale of my life before, during and after the Rajneesh cult. I am looking forward to working with the right editor to get this book into the world. Writing this book has been a longtime dream, and now that it's coming to fruition, I feel so excited. If you would like to be kept in the loop with the latest information about the progress and publishing of my book, please join my e-mail list.

Sarito taking Sannyas (initiation) from guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho)

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