He is the Indian religious leader sometimes known as the "sex guru" because of his open-minded views on the subject. She is the 52-year-old, wealthy daughter of the inventor of the Lear jet, twice a congressional candidate in California, and ex-wife of former Rep. James Corman. In an Indian village two years ago, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh met Patti Lear. He called her, among other things, beautiful and outrageous and gave her the honorary name of Ma Amrit Chinmayo; she found Bhagwan compelling, though she considered his disciples' rebirthing sessions, sexual experimentation and exhausting encounter groups "shocking."
It was a long, strange trip for Lear, who--at the end of her two-year marriage to Corman in 1976--unsuccessfully ran for Congress as a Democrat from the San Fernando Valley. Two years later, she lost again, but Lear says the couple of weeks she spent in Poona, India, in 1980 altered her life's direction.
"I realized we were always looking to cure the world by changing what was out there, and I realized we had to clean up our own act," says Lear. "If you're not a whole person, it's very hard to go out there and be a do-gooder."
She was so interested in Bhagwan's daily sermons that she contracted to publish three books of his collected wisdom. The first, Sex, was published last fall and is sold in specialty bookstores (such as Yes! in Georgetown) for about $4. Lear paid for 50,000 copies to be printed in Korea, and she hopes to make a profit from the trilogy, whose second two titles are Love and Prayer.
"You watch the shock on people's faces when they see or hear the word 'sex,'" says Lear, explaining her decision to publish a book that begins with the message that sex is a "pure phenomenon" that entails "no obligation, no duty, no commitment." Says Lear: "By this very act is how we came into being and yet that's the last thing we are allowed to know about."
But last month Lear gave up her honorary name. Recent articles about Bhagwan's sect focused on the lifestyle of some of his devotees living on a 125- square-mile Oregon retreat bought for $1.5 million last summer. Tales of casual sex, brutal indoctrination sessions and the obligation to relinquish all worldly goods to Bhagwan's sect surfaced. Lear felt crowded by some of Bhagwan's ashram. And though she'll publish Love and Prayer, last month she stopped wearing the sect's beads.
"With all due respect to Bhagwan's intellect, but with reservations about the judgment of the ashram hierarchy, I made a decision that the only 'master' I could follow unhesitatingly was my own consciousness," says Lear, who lives in Woodland Hills, Calif., with a boyfriend. "I think it's a decision my father, who was never much for submitting to authority, would have applauded."