I’m voraciously reading Sins of My Father: A Daughter, A Cult, A Wild Unravelling by Lily Dunn, a difficult book to describe. It’s a harrowing and troubling story of growing up controlled and manipulated by a malignant narcissist, Lily’s father. It’s horrifying and real and brilliantly written. Her father, a sex addict, among his other harmful traits, became a sannyasin, a devotee of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Lily shares vivid descriptions of the guru’s ashrams and communes in Pune, India; in Antelope, Oregon; in Italy; and one in Suffolk, called Medina. Lily’s father encouraged her, at age 13, to have sex with an adult man, a fellow sannyasin, more than four times her age. Her father tried to force her to ingest Ecstasy at an even younger age. The most upsetting and angering of what I’ve read so far (in addition to what Lily suffered) is how the children were mistreated – sexually, physically, and emotionally abused – at the ashram and at all of Rajneesh’s communes.
Lily’s intense memories of the culture of pedophilia at Medina are shocking and sickening.
Lily’s intense memories of the culture of pedophilia at Medina are shocking and sickening. She spent much time there with her father and his latest wife: “older men being with younger women, men pursuing minors, virgins… perverse and sinister, and a total abuse of power” (p. 88). Her father thought it was a good thing. Grown men constantly watched Lily inappropriately, saying to her father how cute she was. “He likes you,” her father would say to her, “as if it were normal for a man to look lecherously at a nine-year-old” (p. 89).
She tells us: “I have since had conversations with some of those who were raised at Medina, and there is a quiet mention of abuse that took place at the commune school, by one of the teachers; but there is also suspicion at my questions, a shake of the head at further inquiries, and a reminder of my position on the periphery. This particular story is not mine to tell. But I know that many of these children were not all right, and I also know there is a lot of secrecy still in the communities, loyalty, protection of each other, and fear of being misunderstood or ostracized.
“But what I can conclude from the evidence I have in front of me is that in his attempt to exorcise the sin of conventional sexual expectations and taboos, Bhagwan enabled instead what became a perversion of love. He and his disciples chose to ignore the corruption and abuse of the children who embodied the innocence they were meant to revere. By not acting they became complicit.”
Lily explains that in her father’s own book, he “parrots many of Bhagwan’s ideas: ‘To give us adults the chance to play with children so that we no longer need to think of them as our children that need our protection, for children need no protection.’” She concludes that her father’s book “has nothing to do with children, and everything to do with adults justifying their neglect of those children. It is the provocative twaddle that Bhagwan had become notorious for, but my father was no guru” (pp. 118-119).
Sins of My Father is unputdownable. A love story. A horror story. The unmasking of an unfortunately still much-beloved guru. And most of all, a deep soul-searching that can teach us much about how to analyze and escape from a cruel narcissist. And, not to be forgotten, exposing the danger of Rajneesh’s preaching of “sexual freedom,” which set the stage for a plethora of abuses, primarily of the women sannyasins and the neglected children.
My mentor and colleague, the renowned psychotherapist Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer, said Rajneesh was a genius at “trance talk,” which is used to shut down your critical thinking abilities.
Of course, I’ve known for a long time about cult leader Rajneesh (now known as Osho) and his unorthodox teachings, spoken in a rhythmic singsong. He expanded on spiritual “wisdoms” from various traditions in a powerfully slick hypnotic mix of New Age pablum and self-awareness slogans. At the time, his words made sense to curious, vulnerable followers. My mentor and colleague, the renowned psychotherapist Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer, said Rajneesh was a genius at “trance talk,” which is used to shut down your critical thinking abilities. He repeated it many times and always ended with “Surrender to your Master.” If interested, you can see a perfect example of this in the years-old but excellent Canadian documentary, Captive Minds. It’s surely available somewhere on the Internet.
Yes, for many years, I was aware of the multitude of sexual, physical, and psychological abuses that occurred over the years at his ashram, at the commune in Antelope, Oregon, and at the many other sannyasin communities around the world. It didn’t end with the incident of biological terrorism and other crimes that took place at Rajneeshpuram in Oregon. It didn’t end when he was expelled from the US or with the break-up of the Oregon community. I couldn’t even finish watching the documentary Wild, Wild Country because so much was left out.
I was contacted by a former sannyasin who, in her early twenties, went with a friend to the ashram in Pune, India, and spent the next 40 years of her life devoted to Rajneesh. Until she woke up one day and realized that he wasn’t the “holy man” she thought he was.
However, my interest was rekindled a little more than a year ago when I was contacted by a former sannyasin who, in her early twenties, went with a friend to the ashram in Pune, India, and spent the next 40 years of her life devoted to Rajneesh. Until she woke up one day and realized that he wasn’t the “holy man” she thought he was. When Erin (who has permitted me to use her real name) arrived at the ashram, Rajneesh instantly spotted the attractive, curly-haired young woman. Almost immediately she was brought into his inner circle and lured into an abusive sexual relationship with him. (But wait – these experiences were an “honor,” for Rajneesh was bringing Erin closer to her “awakening.”)
For years, Erin led Rajneesh’s “therapy” groups, workshops, and trainings, and dedicated herself to the growth of his movement. For two to three years, Rajneesh led energy darshans, those hours-long, high-arousal, mind-altering sessions, where sannyasins swayed and raved, their bodies trembling and shaking, with hands waving in the air amidst sexual vibes oozing all around, intense drumming, flashing strobe lights, and loud reverberating music that escalated in intensity. Entranced devotees believed they were having spiritual experiences that only their Master could lead them to. Rajneesh selected a small group of women to be his “energy mediums,” including Erin, who were to help transmit his energy to the rest of the sannyasins. Through her painstaking recovery from the trauma of having been with Rajneesh all those years, Erin realized that the so-called “mystical” experiences she had been attributing to Rajneesh were actually intentionally manufactured by him and, in reality, were merely brought on by her brain reacting to the high-arousal techniques that he was so genius at.
The sexual abuse started with Rajneesh. He created that perverse culture, and it was expressed throughout all his communes worldwide.
Earlier this year, after much deliberation and consultation with close friends and family, Erin chose to go public with her story on the A Little Bit Culty podcast. Immediately, once it aired, she was viciously attacked and harassed, verbally, in writing, and in public, by loyal Rajneeshis because she spoke of the abuse of the children. This is, in part, what led me to read Lily Dunn’s book. That book validated everything Erin spoke about and more. The sexual abuse started with Rajneesh. He created that perverse culture, and it was expressed throughout all his communes worldwide. Lily’s father, among all the many pedophiles, was attracted to Rajneesh’s communities because of the elevation of sexual freedom and self-satisfaction, minus any healthy moral compass. So, please, think twice before you post an Osho quote on social media. © 2022 Janja Lalich.