Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh:
Blinded by the CULT
April 25, 2009
When Jane Stork tried to commit murder with a poisoned syringe, she was the catalyst for the spectacular downfall of guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, she tells WILLIAM VERITY.
BHAGWAN SHREE RAJNEESH STILL HAS the power to beguile, charm and fascinate almost two decades after his death.
Dressed in flowing robes, his long fingers tracing arcs in space, piercing eyes and long, grey beard, he looks every inch the Messiah.
"I am against marriage from the very beginning because that means cutting down your freedom," he tells Australian radio host Howard Sattler in a clip posted by his followers on YouTube.
"Getting attached legally to a woman or to a man? No. Freedom to me is the ultimate value. There is nothing higher than freedom."
How ironic then, that Jane Stork has spent half her life enmeshed in the Bhagwan and his orange-clad followers - imprisoned by a false ideology - nine years as a disciple (or sannyasin) and then 20 years running away from the law.
In the words of Bob Dylan, it took a stranger to teach her to look into justice's beautiful face. His name was Judge Malcolm F Marsh and the date was Monday, January 20, 2006.
But his place belongs at the end of this story. The beginning takes place in Western Australia, shortly after the end of World War II, when Jane was born - the fourth consecutive daughter - into a loving and devoted Catholic family.
When she was six, a key event that was to determine her life occurred when her older sister, Rosemary, became desperately ill and spent four months in a coma and 10 months in a hospital. Although she was to survive another 30 years, she was never the same again. She had become unpredictable and wild and, deep inside, Jane felt the need to become good, obedient, perhaps even holy.
So she was ripe for the picking when years later - as a young wife and mother of two children - she sought help for problems in her marriage and found a psychotherapist who had just returned from India and proselytised for an amazing enlightened teacher, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Before long, she had become a sannyasin, began wearing orange robes, had a new name - Ma Shanti Bhadra - and set off in 1978 with her family for a new life at the ashram in India.
"I completely lost my ability for critical thinking," Stork says.
She is now a softly spoken grandmother, sporting a grey-streaked bob, a gentle soul with large brown eyes, a trusting face and a ready chuckle.
"He would say one thing today and say something completely different tomorrow and that was all OK. He was an enlightened master so that's the way it is."
She would sit at her master's feet and meditate on his wisdom. "He did have an ethereal way, he didn't move or talk at the pace that people normally do, he was almost in slow motion."
He told her that marriage was bad, so she split the family and the children, Peter and Kylie, ran wild. He taught that wisdom could come with sexual freedom so her husband, Roger, had casual sexual encounters without opposition from his wife, who was still too conservative to take that path herself.
He encouraged disciples - both young and old - to become sterilised to avoid pregnancy so she obeyed his order, as did her daughter at the age of just 17.
And he decided to move his operations to the United States after clashing with Indian authorities, so she moved with him to a desolate ranch in south-east Oregon and toiled non-stop to build a city for 5000 people - the now infamous, Rajneeshpuram. It was here that the real trouble started.
At this stage, the Bhagwan had decided to cease speaking publicly, instead handing responsibility for public pronouncements to his diminutive, ascerbic but highly capable secretary, Ma Anand Sheela.
As a fellow early arriver at Rajneeshpuram, Sheela and Stork became friends and allies as the city began to take shape, relations with the wider community of pick-up driving ranchers developed into open warfare, the sect started to split into factions, and the Bhagwan developed a taste for Rolls-Royce cars and young girls.
By 1985, Sheela - who gained notoriety in Australia for telling 60 Minutes that it was "tough titties" if people objected to Rajneeshees - was bugging the Bhagwan and had heard him instruct his doctor to euthanase the Bhagwan the next day.
Something had to be done. It was the devoted good girl from Western Australia who volunteered to inject the doctor with poison, a murder attempt that failed, but which set in chain a series of events that would see a spectacular implosion from which the sect - though still active today - has never recovered.
First Sheela and her followers - including Stork - left and took with them the organisational skills that had kept the city functioning. Next, the Bhagwan did a deal with US authorities and returned to India, before he could be prosecuted for immigration violations, where he died in 1990.
Stork accompanied Sheela to Baden-Baden in Germany but was deported shortly after and tried for attempted murder, jailed for 10 years after a guilty plea but released after serving just two years.
On release, the pair returned to Germany and set up a juice bar together before parting ways and Stork met the man who would become her true saviour and her second husband, Hans-Georg Stork.
Four weeks after they married, two men and a woman walked into the juice bar. "You are under arrest," the man said. "Charged with conspiracy to murder the US attorney for the district of Oregon, Mr Charles Turner."
The charge related to a surreal incident in those chaotic last days of Rajneeshpuram when Stork had been asked to procure firearms that could not be traced and had plotted with others how it might be possible to use them to eliminate Charles Turner, the attorney who was investigating the Bhagwan.
Despite the fact that the conspiracy came to nothing, and that Germany refused to extradite her, Stork knew that she would have to face the charge if she was ever to travel or come to terms with her past.
The moment came in late 2004 - almost 20 years after leaving Rajneeshpuram - when she heard that her son, Peter, was dying of a brain tumour on the NSW North Coast.
Enter Judge Malcolm F Marsh.
"I think there are times when justice trumps mercy. It is more necessary," the judge told the court. "There are other times when mercy trumps justice. We have such a case here."
With those words, he set Stork free, sentencing her to five years probation for a crime that he had sentenced others to five years in jail. Stork was free to hold her son while he died. Free at last, to start looking to the future and stop fearing the past.
These days, Stork's spiritual beliefs are simple and gained from meditations in the forest near her German home.
"The only lesson I learned from Bhagwan is to trust myself. Face reality and trust your own feelings. All the rest is white noise," Stork said.
"I really hope that people will understand that even when they hit really tough spots in their lives, they just have to keep going.
"I can't help feeling that if people need somebody to tell them what to do then there is something wrong in their own lives.
"Otherwise I don' t see why they would need it. Why do we need leaders?"
Breaking The Spell by Jane Stork is published by Pan Macmillian, price $34.99.
Disclaimer:This news page is about groups, organizations or movements, which may have been called "cults" and/or "cult-like" in some way, shape or form. But not all groups called either "cults" or "cult-like" are harmful. Instead, they may be benign and generally defined as simply people intensely devoted to a person, place or thing. Therefore, the discussion or mention of a group, organization or person on this page, is not necessarily meant pejoratively. Readers are encouraged to read widely on a topic before forming an opinion. Never accept information from a single source at face value. This website only holds a small amount of information and should not be relied on as a complete source. For example, if you find older information, this should be weighed up against newer information as circumstances can change.