April 14, 2002 11:00 pm

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

In less than five years, they arrived, developed, damaged others and finally disappeared from Oregon.

The memories, many unpleasant, live on, and archivists at the University of Oregon want to build a history of the Rajneesh movement that flashed through Wasco County from 1982 to 1985 and affected the entire state.

In a talk Saturday to the Blue Mountain Forum, Marion Sherman Goldman, a professor from the university, said that the Rajneesh movement continues today under the name of Osho.

The Sannyasins are still very much a part of the movement, Goldman said. Many in the rank and file still believe.

Osho has its headquarters in Pune, India, where a former doctor, Amrito, is the leader. Amrito, personal physician to the Bhagwan at the ranch, was poisoned by Ma Anan Sheila, Goldman said.

Researchers on the buildings occupied by the Rajneeshees discovered a room under Sheilas headquarters where it is said that she mixed poisons, Goldman said.

Goldman visited Rajneeshpuram on the Big Muddy Ranch near Antelope, and she recalled that in the early days, the ranchs leaders, especially Sheila, were cordial and friendly.

I was with Sheila at an event, and we talked about which reds went best with what, Goldman said about the requirement that Sannyasins wear red. She was very charming.

Goldman said that when she visited the commune, she was at one point asked to sign a release. Later, others asked to search her handbag, and eventually she said she was skin-searched.

The Rajneeshees were a bit on the self-involved side, but they were not psychotic, she said.

The Rajneesh attracted educated men and women, with about 66 percent of Bhagwan Shree Rajneeshs followers in Oregon having college degrees, compared with 17 percent of the general population, and women were interested in his philosophy.

He said the feminine traits were more important than the masculine traits, Goldman said. He said to women, Your work is important, as important as work is to men. Women were absolutely drawn to this message.

Many of his followers came from stressed families, she said.

Women didnt want to be their mothers; they wanted independence, she said. Men were different. They often had been pushed into an achievement they didnt want. All their lives were redirected, and many are still Sannyasins.

Goldman said that the Rajneesh followed some practices that other religions follow, including asking for money from the followers.

Who hasnt been in a religious group where you werent pressured to give up money? she asked.

Goldman pointed to some of the worst excesses of the Sannyasins, from poisoning 900 people through tainted salad in one restaurant at The Dalles to illegally taking water from surrounding ranches and attempting election fraud. She told of an incident when the Sannyasins positioned a bright spotlight to shine in a ranchers babys room at night.

The Sannyasins did some pretty awful stuff to their neighbors, she said.

The more than 35 forum attendees watched a video showing Sheila bringing homeless people from around the nation to live at Rajneeshpuram so they could vote. The goal was to take over Wasco County, but Oregon Secretary of State Norma Paulus thwarted that movement when she went to Wasco County and interviewed each person.

Goldman praised former Attorney General Dave Frohnmeyer for his insistence on maintaining the rule of law, but she said that as time went on, communication between the Sannyasins and other Oregonians shut down completely. After the poisonings at The Dalles, there was a polarization. Scholars stopped listening.

From the beginning, misuse of water rights and a failure to follow Oregons land-use laws brought animosity from nearby ranchers and others in Eastern Oregon, as well as government officials.

Unlike the incidents at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho, the Rajneesh movement brought very few deaths.

But Goldman said some of the problems arose because of lack of communication. Oregonians on both sides of the state must listen to each other, she said.

Unless we listen to each other on each side of the state, were in trouble, she said.

Despite their excesses, The Rajneeshees brought some positive innovation to the state, Goldman said. Before the commune was established, the ideas of Yoga, meditation and alternative medicine were not well known in Oregon, she said, but the Rajneeshees brought those concepts, which have become popular.

They also brought safe sex, she said. They (recognized) STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) years before most Americans.

At the beginning, members were encouraged to engage in sex with as many partners as they wished, but they were not encouraged to have children. They were urged to use protections.

If you kissed, you should put on rubber gloves, that sort of thing, Goldman said. After AIDS was found, the Rajneesh said celibacy was the best policy or monogamy.

The universitys Division of Special Collections and University Archives is looking for artifacts from the ranch or from those who were affected by the activities there. Much of the collection comes from people who lived on the ranch.

Were looking for anything, letters, objects from people from the outside, people with negative experiences, she said.

Those who want to donate are asked to contact Linda Long at 541-346-1906, or a This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it