Building Utopia: Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

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Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh rose from a precocious boy in India to a spiritual guru to tens of thousands of people worldwide. He became famous for his controversial teachings and lavish lifestyle, leading some to call him a cult leader. Building Utopia paints an immersive, unflinching portrait of Rajneesh and the people who chose to devote their lives to him -- including his top lieutenants, who fled his Rajneeshpuram commune in 1985 amid a cloud of criminal allegations. Building Utopia will captivate those familiar with Rajneesh, as well as those who have not yet discovered his fascinating and troubling story.

language
English
notes
16 episodes + 5 "minisodes"
time period of hosting
2018 - 2022
presenter (producer)
Russell King
see also
Podcast website
Rajneeshpuram: Inside the Cult of Bhagwan and Its Failed American Utopia


episodes


Episode 1
Finding the Master, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh
Finding the Master explores Bhagwan's early life and his first years as an enlightened master. The episode focuses on the years 1970-1974, when Bhagwan was living in a Bombay apartment and receiving his new disciples there, whom he called his "neo-sannyasins."
Date of broadcast : Oct 2018
Duration : 41 min
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Episode notes :

Episode 2
Oasis in Poona
We take a grand tour of Bhagwan’s first ashram in the city of Poona, India. Within a couple years of its founding in 1974, the ashram had expanded into one of the most popular — and controversial — ashrams in India, where people could meditate, commune with likeminded people, and be close to the man they called Master. We'll see how an unstoppable force of nature made it all happen: Bhagwan’s personal secretary, Ma Yoga Laxmi. We’ll stroll the grounds through the eyes of a newcomer to see what this place was all about. And we’ll explore about a new, lucrative, sometimes-terrifying method that Bhagwan developed to instruct his followers — and to keep them there.
Date of broadcast : Oct 2018
Duration : 45 min
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Episode 3
Trouble in Paradise
We dissect what all was going on that resulted in Bhagwan abandoning his first ashram in Poona, India. As his dreams for the future continued to blossom, outside pressures, like the Indian government, threatened to squeeze the life out of Bhagwan’s community. We also examine the efforts to find a new home for the ashram, led by two very different but equally devoted women: Ma Yoga Laxmi, and her assistant, Ma Anand Sheela. To the surprise of nearly everyone, Sheela was about to take Bhagwan’s future into her own hands … forever changing his life and his legacy.
Date of broadcast : Oct 2018
Duration : 49 min
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Episode notes :

Episode 3.5
Dynamic Detours
Our first "minisode" provides some additional color on topics covered in the first three episodes. We’ll revisit Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh as a boy and look at the life-or-death events that may have turned him into the brash guru. Then we’ll sidle up to some of his earliest Western followers to see why they fell under Bhagwan's spell. We’ll end the episode at his ashram in Poona and learn about the not-quite-legal methods that some desperate sannyasins used to earn enough money to stay close to their Master.
Date of broadcast : Nov 2018
Duration : 30 min
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Episode 4
Buying Utopia - Rajneeshpuram
We visit the launching pad for Bhagwan’s American experiment: a castle in Montclair, New Jersey. Bhagwan's followers scramble to prepare for his arrival, and then he manages to get into some trouble while waiting for his next move. Later, we 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.
Date of broadcast : Nov 2018
Duration : 41 min
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Episode 5
Foundations in the Desert
In Episode 5: Foundations in the Desert, we consider why Oregon was about the last place Bhagwan’s personal secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, should have picked for the new commune. Then we see how exactly one starts to transform a huge tract of agricultural land into a commune fit for an enlightened Master and thousands of his disciples. We also compare the stories that Sheela told her neighbors and government officials in those early days with what was actually going on at the commune. By the time Bhagwan arrives, there is great confusion — and anxiety — about what exactly these “Rajneesh people” have in mind.
Date of broadcast : Nov 2018
Duration : xx min
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Episode 6
Between a Rock and Antelope
War is looming between the Rajneeshees and a town of just 39 people — a “ghost town,” as Sheela calls it. Bhagwan’s followers are about to go to battle with the people of Antelope.
Date of broadcast : Dec 2018
Duration : xx min
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Episode 6.5
A Very Rajneeshee Holiday
It’s the holiday season in Rajneeshpuram! We’ll explore the Rajneeshees’ three major holidays and see how they were celebrated during their first year in America. This culminates in the First World Festival in July 1982, which attracted 5,000 visitors and helped lay the foundation for the city of Rajneeshpuram. We’ll close by hearing Bhagwan’s thoughts on Santa Claus.
Date of broadcast : Dec 2018
Duration : xx min
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Episode 7
Inside the Compound
Now that the Rajneeshees own 125 square miles of remote land and control the cities of Rajneeshpuram and Antelope, we explore what they planned to do out on the ranch — and who they recruited to help them do it. We see what life was like for the hundreds of commune members who toiled from sun-up to sundown each day building their Master’s utopia. And later, we catch up with the big man himself. Bhagwan had entered into a silent phase before leaving India. So if he wasn’t talking… what was he doing in his secluded compound?
Date of broadcast : Jan 2019
Duration : xx min
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Episode 7.5
Noah’s Ark
Bhagwan develops a bizarre — and potentially lethal — habit while living in silent isolation at his compound in Rajneeshpuram.
Date of broadcast : Jan 2019
Duration : xx min
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Episode 8
Making it Legal (?)
How could Sheela and Bhagwan establish their new commune in America when most of their members came from other countries? The answer rested in a sacred institution — one the sannyasins were not afraid to twist to their own advantage.
Date of broadcast : Jan 2019
Duration : xx min
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Episode 9
Reign of Terror
The Rajneeshees extend themselves into the community in an effort to sway public opinion and make some money. But now their enemies have easy access to them — a vulnerability that is violently exploited on July 29, 1983
Date of broadcast : Feb 2019
Duration : xx min
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Episode 10
How to Win an Election
Sheela is given a new mission in 1984: win the Wasco County election, no matter what it takes. The plan she and her lieutenants put into place sets the state of Oregon into crisis mode, from the local politicians all the way to the governor's office.
Date of broadcast : Mar 2019
Duration : xx min
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Episode 10.5
A Child of the Commune
What was it like to be a child living at Rajneeshpuram? In this episode we’re joined by a special guest — a person who lived at the ranch as a teenager for nearly four years — who discusses his unique experiences living, learning, working, and loving at Rajneeshpuram.
Date of broadcast : Mar 2019
Duration : xx min
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Episode 11
Something in the Water
The largest bioterror attack on U.S. soil hits the sleepy town of The Dalles, Oregon, two months before a high-stakes county election. But it’s just a dress rehearsal for the bigger scheme that Sheela’s closest ally—an enigmatic nurse named Puja—has cooked up in her secret laboratory at Rajneeshpuram, amid her rat cages, incubators, and petri dishes.
Date of broadcast : May 2019
Duration : xx min
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Episode 12
God vs. The Universe
Bhagwan, who once called organized religion "the corpse of religiousness," becomes the head of his own religion in 1983. But the Oregon Attorney General proves that "Rajneeshism" is the greatest existential threat the new commune has ever faced.
Date of broadcast : Jun 2019
Duration : xx min
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Episode 13
The Enemy Within
While external enemies mass against Rajneeshpuram, Sheela fixates on powerful disciples within the commune whom she believes pose an even greater threat. Her efforts to neutralize them lead to unintended — and catastrophic — consequences.
Date of broadcast : Jan 2022
Duration : xx min
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Episode 14
The Downward Spiral
In the summer of 1985, commune leaders begin plotting the assassination of people who oppose them. In this episode, we examine the events that led them to believe that murder was the only way to preserve their community and their master. Explosive public hearings, concerns about the commune’s arsenal of semi-automatic weapons, and a sprawling surveillance apparatus all contribute to a frenzied atmosphere of paranoia.
Date of broadcast : Jan 2022
Duration : xx min
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Episode 15
Murder Summer
Murder is in the air at Rajneeshpuram during the summer of 1985. We track the commune leaders’ audacious plots to assassinate the public officials and commune members they felt were enemies, including U.S. Attorney for Oregon, Charles Turner, and Bhagwan’s closest companion, Vivek. The events culminate in Sheela making a drastic decision.
Date of broadcast : Feb 2022
Duration : 52 min
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Episode 16
Bhagwan’s Allegations
With Sheela gone, Bhagwan takes to his stage to make a series of shocking criminal allegations about his former secretary. Law enforcement pounces on the opportunity to investigate, while disciples are left to piece together what happened in the heart of their community.
Date of broadcast : Feb 2022
Duration : 30 min
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