Osho’s controversial aide Ma Anand Sheela recounts how the guru loved her, explained Umrao Jaan’s poetry to her
Ma Anand Sheela, former close aide of Rajneesh, on Sunday opened up about the way of life at Rajneeshpuram, a utopian city for the controversial guru’s followers in rural Oregon in the US, and how she still follows the communal lifestyle. Sheela, who is on her first India visit in 34 years, spoke with filmmaker Karan Johar at The Conversation, organised by Humans For Humanity in association with Sipping Thoughts.
Sheela worked as the personal secretary of Rajneesh, popularly known as Osho, from 1981 through 1985 and managed Rajneeshpuram. Sheela, who recently came to limelight as the central figure in Netflix’s 2018 docu-series Wild, Wild Country, said contrary to popular perception, sexuality was never misused in both of Bhagwan’s communes — Pune and Rajneeshpuram. “There was no misuse of sexuality in our commune in Pune or in Rajneeshpuram. We talked about sexuality openly. It’s like when you are attracted to somebody, you express your attraction,” she said.
“One message which I want to give to everyone present here is to be yourself; I am me and will always remain like this. I have learnt to live communal lifestyle from Bhagwan Rajneesh,” she added.
Sheela, 69, is known for wearing her heart on her sleeves and when asked whether she had unrequited love for Rajneesh, she said the guru was “also very much in love with me”.
“... You should see some of the photographs and see how he looked at me. And the way he said ‘Seela’...” Sharing an anecdote, Sheela recalled an evening she spent with Rajneesh as he watched the classic Umrao Jaan, featuring Rekha and Farooq Shaikh.
“There was a poetry on love in it. We finished our work and then Bhagwan said, ‘Seela, come sit here’. I sat with him and he explained every word of that poetry to me. It was divine,” she said.
When Karan pressed to know the nature of their relationship, Sheela counter-questioned the filmmaker if he was curious about the physical aspect of their equation.
“There was no sex with Osho. Our relationship was not sexual. The integrity mattered because I was already drowning in him...” she said.
Rajneesh was famous for advocating a more open attitude to human sexuality and when the director asked if she personally believes in his theories of free sex, Sheela had an interesting answer.
“Not just me, but I think everybody believes in it secretly. They want freedom from their relationships and enjoy themselves.” In 1986, after a fallout with the guru, Sheela pleaded guilty to attempted murder and assault for her role in the 1984 Rajneeshee bio-terror attack. She was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison and paroled after 39 months and moved to Switzerland.
Sheela then married Swiss citizen Urs Birnstiel, a fellow Rajneesh follower. She settled in Maisprach, Switzerland, where she bought and managed two nursing homes.
Sheela, who addressed Rajneesh as “my lover”, said she had no regrets in life.
“I’m living whatever I’ve learnt from Bhagwan’s communal lifestyle where you compliment one another and I cared for Bhagwan in his commune, I care now for my own disabled people.
“I created these homes because I was missing my parents and if people want to see it as redemption then I must need redemption, take it and move on.” In 1984, Sheela initiated attempts to murder Rajneesh’s caretaker and girlfriend, Ma Yoga Vivek, and his personal physician, Swami Devaraj (real name George Meredith), because she believed they were a threat to him.
When Karan asked what she would say to Rajneesh if given a chance to meet him one last time, she said, “I would tell Bhagwan, ‘You went with the wrong people who drugged you. And you shouldn’t have allowed it and you were too smart for that...’ But it was his choice.” Sheela is in the country till October 25.
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