Ma Anand Sheela has courted a life of controversy and her life, choices and association with Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, popularly known as Osho, have raised a lot of curiosity and questions over the years. While a lot of time had passed since the controversies, two Netflix programmes put her back in spotlight – documentary films ‘Wild Wild Country’ and ‘Searching for Sheela’. The latter was produced by Karan Johar and during the making of the film, Sheela visited India after 34 years.
In an exclusive interview with Chirantana Bhatt of Gujarati Mid-Day.com, Ma Sheela further opened up about her life recently. Here are some excerpts from the interview. But before that, here’s a small introduction of the enigmatic woman.
Who is Ma Anand Sheela?
Before she turned into a cult icon, Ma Anand Sheela was known as Sheela Ambalal Patel. She hailed from Vadodara in Gujarat and was born in 1949. She was the spokeswoman of the Rajneesh movement and Osho’s secretary from 1981-1985. She was touted to be the woman who egged Osho to leave India. The cult established its first international base in 1981. The city was named Rajneeshpuram, and Sheela looked after the Rajneeshpuram ashram in Wasco County, United States.
But Ma Sheela had a fall out with Osho. In 1984, she was accused of a Bioterror attack. Hundreds of people fell ill after eating salmonella and Sheela was accused of sprinkling the bacteria on the salad bars across many restaurants. There were growing cases of conflict between the ashram and the local residents along with the Wasco county commission and it was alleged that Sheela tried to make people sick so that they could not vote in Wasco County Court’s November election. In 1985, she fled to Europe and was finally arrested in the then West Germany in October 1986. She was also accused of wire-tapping the ashram and stealing $55 million from the cult.
Ma Anand Sheela was sentenced to 20 years in prison for a number of crimes including attempted murder, wiretapping, and mass poisoning for which she pleaded guilty in 1986 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. However, she was released on parole for good behaviour after serving 39 months in jail.
Osho publicly denounced her, accusing her of the crimes, but Sheela continues to maintain that she loves Rajneesh till date.
Ma Anand Sheela now runs two nursing homes in Switzerland that provide shelter to the elderly suffering from mental illnesses.
Below are the excerpts of the interview from Gujarati Mid-Day.com.
‘No sense of guilt’
Guilt and liberation are two sides of the same coin and neither of them applies to me. Most people live between freedom and guilt. Someone asked me how you react when you feel a sense of guilt, but I don’t feel guilty. I do what I have to do and do it the way I want to do it, be it cooking, be it cleaning, or any philosophical endeavour. I do and say what I have in mind. A person can move on only if there is no sense of guilt.
‘I love Osho, but love and sex are two different things’
I loved that man and still do today. Love and sex are two different things. Whenever I think of Bhagwan (Osho), I do not associate my emotions with a sexual feeling, even for a moment. I have only felt love, honor, respect and gratitude for Bhagwan.
I just fell in love, just like any young girl. No one thinks anything when they fall in love, they don’t use their brains. It doesn’t matter if its hormones or not. I was in love and it was a very nice feeling.
There is no expectation in love, and if there is, it is not love. Then it is a deal, it is business – you do it for me and I do it for you.
Lessons from Osho
What he said (against her after their fallout) was his choice, only he can answer why he did it. He has always told me not to worry about the fact that whether he is himself following what he has learnt, but he always wanted me to learn from him. I have totally followed Bahgwan’s words.
Love, life, laughter, and acceptance – these are the values I learnt during my association with Bhagwan, and I live by those values till date.
‘Don’t need people to remember me’
I don’t need people to remember me at all. Just like it is people’s personal choice how they want to address or call me, it’s their choice if they want to remember me. You see me as I am and you have to make sense of my life based on your life experiences, form your point of view.
‘Learnt the value of time in prison’
The experience I gained in the prison taught me both the value of time and patience. The value of time is something we fail to understand in our daily lives, that is why we live in stress. I waited 39 months to get out of prison, it changed how I viewed time.
Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic
As for me, I see it very practically. My first analysis is that COVID is much bigger than we think it is, so we have to think about how to deal with a monster that is bigger than me.
My only advice is to use your intelligence when you can’t avoid circumstances, accept the circumstances and take advantage of this opportunity to become your own special friend. After you learn this, social life will also have a different meaning, you will not feel lonely. Nature has given you this time to identify with yourself. When we get bored with ourselves, we need a social life, so don’t get bored with yourself.
‘Don’t be helpless’
I want to tell all youngsters to think about the beauty you have in yourself, think about the beauty around you and not be helpless at all. There is both sunshine and shade in life. Live your life as much as you can in the sunshine. When you look at life when you are 72 like me, you will say that life was not so difficult, it was fun.