Wild Wild Rajneeshpuram, a collective responsibility

'Wild Wild Country' Psychology

In this essay, Marc explores responsibility and groupthink in the wake of the events in Rajneeshpuram, shown in the docuseries Wild Wild Country.

Osho drive-by

Beloved Master,

how did we who love you, let this ugliness happen to your vision and to ourselves? I saw things I thought were ugly. I’d tell myself, ‘The master must want it this way. I don’t see the whole picture. I don’t want to be negative.’

What is the blindness in us?

The blindness is in every person who has been brought up to be dependent on a father figure – God is doing everything. You are not responsible for anything. If you are poor, God must be wanting it this way. If you are sick, God must be wanting it this way.

The whole of humanity has been reduced to a helpless child, dependent on a father figure who does not exist anywhere.

So you go on changing your father figures. Nothing changes by that. The Christian becomes Hindu; he changes his gods, but his psychology is the same. The Hindu becomes Christian; he changes his God, but the psychology is the same. There are three hundred religions in the world, but the psychology of all the religions is exactly the same. And the psychology is: keep man dependent, irresponsible, always hoping, praying to someone who does not exist. This has created the whole tragedy.

Whatever was done here, your reason was saying to you, “This is not right.” But you thought, “The master must be wanting it this way.”

When have I told you to think on these lines? I have been teaching reasoning, doubt, scepticism, inquiry, independence, and you are doing just the opposite. That’s why Sheela never wanted me to speak again. That’s why they have tampered with my tapes – the original tapes. Now there is no way to find out what they have changed.

But they don’t know…. I am still alive, and what I had said ten years ago – I will say something more outrageous today, because ten years’ experience will be added to it.

They never wanted me to speak to you. Sheela was persuading me that my health will suffer if I start speaking. I said, “But what will I do with my health? Just remaining healthy and waiting for death?”

I started speaking against her will.

Just the other day I have been informed that my milk was poisoned, slow poisoning, so that I become sick – if not dead, at least not able to talk to you, so she remains the representative.

Or perhaps the poison was just to make my tongue dead so I cannot speak. They have been experimenting with it. I have come to know about one doctor who took a cup of tea and she found that for the whole day she could not speak. Her tongue was almost paralyzed.

Sheela was telling you that total surrender was needed.

I am telling you total responsibility is needed.

And you have to prove that what total surrender can do, total responsibility can do a hundred times better!

I was teaching you doubt; she was teaching you to believe. Because I insisted on speaking, her gang and their activities became exposed. If I had remained silent you would have continued to think, “Perhaps the master wants it this way.”

It means you have never listened to me. You have not tried to understand me at all. I never want you to do anything against your reason, against your own dignity.

I want to give you back your pride of being the highest expression of evolution.

So from now on, remember, even if I go on speaking for my whole life, one day I will have to leave the body. Somebody cunning, clever, political, can again make you into a fascist group. Don’t let this happen.

But that does not mean that you become a nuisance in the commune. You have to learn a balance. You know only two things: either you will be a slave or a nuisance. Can’t you find a middle course? – where you are sensible, not nuisance, just sense, and where you are not a slave but pure freedom.

Act out of your sensitivity, your freedom, your love – and I don’t think there is any problem: you can manage it.

I love you so much, I trust you so much. I have such high evaluation of your intelligence, that I can say you can make the impossible possible.

Osho, From Bondage to Freedom, Ch 6, Q 1 (excerpt)

When I took sannyas and decided to live in the commune, it was my responsibility. The idea was: To attain enlightenment I have to drop my ego/mind, accept, surrender, trust and just follow whatever is said and happens. I loved living in the commune and went three times to the annual festival in Rajneeshpuram, where thousands of sannyasins from all over the world came together. Osho was in silence, Sheela was the chief, we had a good time. OK, the guns at drive-by were strange and scary but deemed to be necessary against the “outgroup”.

Later, I heard of all the rather negative things that had happened and wondered how this could have happened to us? Who is responsible? The docuseries ‘Wild Wild Country’ about Rajneeshpuram revived this question and I read up on collective responsibility in Wikipedia:

Collective responsibility refers to responsibilities of organizations, groups and societies. Part of it is the concept known as collective guilt by which individuals who are part of such collectives are held to be responsible for other people’s actions and occurrences by tolerating, ignoring, or harbouring them, without actively engaging.

The diffusion of responsibility is a sociopsychological phenomenon that refers to the decreased responsibility of action each member of a group feels when he or she is part of a group.

For example, in emergency situations, individuals feel less responsibility to respond or call for help if they know that there are others also watching the situation – if they know they are a part of the group of witnesses. In other group settings (in which a group is appointed to complete a task or reach a certain goal), the diffusion of responsibility manifests itself as the decreased responsibility each member feels to contribute and work hard towards accomplishing the task or goal.

A diffusion of responsibility can occur when managers create subtasks in an organization. When people are subdivided into individual tasks they can often forget their role to the organization as a whole and get narrow-minded into focusing on their own role. Individuals may unknowingly diffuse their responsibility to an organization by only doing what is required of them in their respective tasks. This is due to the fact that their focus for accountability is diverted from the organization to their individualized tasks.

In organizations, diffusion of responsibility can also be observed on the basis of roles and differing levels of expertise. For instance, in a hierarchical structure, where your position in the organization is associated with your level of engagement to the group, people tend to diffuse accountability to those with greater responsibility and a higher level in the structure. Evidence from numerous research studies suggests “followers” have not taken responsibility because they feel they have a lower status in the organization. Many individuals in a group assume those with a greater level of power are held accountable for more and assume they take on a greater level of responsibility.

In this context, the definition of groupthink must be also addressed:

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.

Groupthink requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. The dysfunctional group dynamics of the ingroup produces an “illusion of invulnerability” (an inflated certainty that the right decision has been made). Thus the ingroup significantly overrates its own abilities in decision-making and significantly underrates the abilities of its opponents (the outgroup). Furthermore, groupthink can produce dehumanizing actions against the outgroup.

In conclusion, the question remains, “Am I responsible for the beautiful things that happened in Rajneeshpuram as well as for the negative events that unfolded?”

The answer is, “Yes.”

The road to enlightenment is mysterious, the road to awareness is clear.

Antar Marc

Marc is an artist, coach, lecturer and writer of essays about topics of general interest.

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