Hugh Milne was a disciple of Indian “sex guru” Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh from his very early days but his dream of an enlightened community based on love and kindness came crashing down in spectacular style.
The popular Netflix series Wild Wild Country documented how the charismatic but controversial Bhagwan Rajneesh relocated from his ashram in India to create a commune for thousands of followers on a 64,000-acre ranch in in the US State of Oregon.
Over a five-year period there were legal confrontations and tensions with residents as well as attempted murder, election rigging, arms smuggling and a mass poisoning that still ranks as the largest bio-terror attack in US history.
Hugh Milne, from Edinburgh, spent almost a decade at close quarters with the mystic, who is reckoned to have had 90 Rolls Royces.
Over that period, Bagwhan Rajneesh inspired him, slept with his girlfriend and sent him to do hard labour.
For many years Hugh served as the Bhagwan’s bodyguard, with the main task of stopping his followers touching him.
In the decade that Hugh was with him, Rajneesh presided over the rapid expansion of a movement from “20 followers to 20,000”.
“These are not 20,000 people who are buying a magazine,” Hugh says.
“These are people who have left home, left their families, given up everything and will work 60 to 80 hours a week for no pay and live in dormitories.
“It’s that kind of commitment.”
Hugh, who is now 70, was born in Lanark because it was only natural child birth centre in Scotland.
He grew up in Edinburgh, where his family were linked to the Kingston Clinic, founded by his grandfather James C Thomson, who promoted natural cures such as hydrotherapy.
In 1973, after finishing his training as an osteopath, 25-year-old Hugh went to India after hearing the teachings of Bhagwan Rajneesh on audio cassettes.
“When you meet such a remarkable man it has an extraordinary impact on your being,” says Hugh, who in India went by the name of Swami Shivamurti.
“I thought ‘what a wonderful, wise, kind, loving, sentient being this is’.
“I wanted to sit at his feet and learn from him.”
Hugh, who published a book about the Bhagwan called The God That Failed, says he was never a God in the Christian sense.
“I saw him as a highly-evolved human being with extraordinary gifts of perception and understanding,” he says.
He says the Bhagwan, who adopted the name Osho in the years before his death in 1990, was a “chameleon” who became whatever people needed him to be.
Although Hugh says he found his one-to-one meetings with the Bhagwan, known as dharshans, “quite revelatory”, he still struggled with life in India at first.
Within the first 18 months Bhagwan Rajneesh began to sleep with Hugh’s girlfriend and then sent him away to work on a farm in one of the hottest parts of India.
Hugh says Rajneesh, who was in his early 40s at the time, had “special” darshans with female followers at four in the morning.
“He got the soubriquet The Sex Guru in part because he talked a lot about sex and orgasm in his public lectures and partly because it was quite well-known that he slept with his female followers,” Hugh says.
Hugh admits that he was jealous and considered leaving the ashram but he says some part of him thought it would work out for the best.
“I knew he was a sex guru. It was par for the course,” he says.
“We were all sexually liberated. Very few people were monogamous. It was a different context in 1973.”
Hugh says his relationship with his girlfriend had a “new quality” after the special darshans but it was shortlived because the Bhagwan sent him to a farm 400 miles away.
When he came back he became the bodyguard of Ma Yoga Laxmi, Rajneesh’s personal secretary.
She had been violently attacked when a follower, or sannyasin as they are called, had been denied a darshan.
Laxmi told Hugh he needed to guard the Bhagwan as well.
Rajneesh claimed to be uncomfortable with the idea of denying his followers access to him but Hugh says the guru could not stand people touching him or kissing his feet.
“He found it distasteful,” he says.
For the next seven years, Hugh was one of the high-level sannyasins who created a “certain sanctity” around the Bhagwan.
Another of the inner circle was Ma Anand Sheela, who features heavily in the Netflix documentary about the Oregon commune.
Sheela was Indian but went to college in New Jersey and married an American before returning to study with the Bhagwan.
Hugh says he worked alongside Sheela when they were running the canteen of the ashram in Pune, which was growing in size as the Bhagwan attracted more followers.
Hugh says he and Sheela had an intense affair for a month before her husband asked Rajneesh to stop it.
After it ended Sheela’s demeanour to Hugh changed and it caused him problems as she rose up the ashram hierarchy, replacing Laxmi as Rajneesh’s personal secretary.
It was Sheela who was the driving force behind the commune’s move to Oregon.
Rajneesh was attracting controversy in India and he wanted an ideal place to extend and settle a new community with tens of thousands of followers.
Sheela bought the Big Muddy Ranch in Oregon in 1981 with little regard to local laws and set the Sannyasins to work on building a new city based on Rajneeshi beliefs.
“I regard Oregon as a mistake,” says Hugh. “It was a disastrous choice.”
He says they were in contravention of local laws right from the start.
Sheela and a small band of followers did everything they could to be able to continue with their plans.
This involved harassing and intimidating the people of nearby Antelope before moving to larger targets and plotting to kill State government officials.
More than 750 people contracted salmonella when salad bars at local restaurants were poisoned by the Sannyasins in an attempt to rig an election.
The Rajneeshis claimed they were being persecuted by the authorities and the conservative establishment but Hugh says they brought trouble on themselves by having so little care for the rule of law.
By April 1982, Hugh says he was having doubts about the commune.
It was no longer about love and kindness and meditation, he says.
Hugh was working as an osteopath in the health centre on the ranch.
The Sannyasins, who were working 80 to 100 hours a week to build the commune, were “falling apart”.
He says Sheela’s directions on how to treat them when they came to health centre were “inhuman”.
“She said ‘give them an injection and send them back to work’,” Hugh says.
On another occasion, he was forbidden to go looking for a friend who had capsized in his canoe on the river and ordered to go back to work.
“I thought ‘we are becoming a monster’,” he says. “Why am I still here?”
Hugh left Oregon in November 1982.
“For a period I was a basket case,” he says.
“I was so confused and torn apart, I could not handle things.”
He spent six weeks in a psychiatric hospital before trying to rebuild his life.
Hugh says he spent some time working as an osteopath in Edinburgh before he moved to London, Zurich and California, where he has been since 1985.
He says the events depicted in the documentary series Wild Wild Country largely took place after he left and he knew very little about the full extent of what Sheela was doing.
But did Rajneesh know what Sheela and her supporters were up to?
“I have no doubt at all that he knew,” says Hugh.