Ma Anand Sheela's authorised biography delves into relationship with Rajneesh, cult's rise; read an excerpt

In Nothing to Lose: The Authorised Biography of Ma Anand Sheela, we have an account of Sheela’s life, her relationship with Bhagwan Rajneesh, and the story of what actually happened behind the closed doors of the cult’s ashram

Manbeena Sandhu September 08, 2020 14:45:16 IST
Ma Anand Sheela's authorised biography delves into relationship with Rajneesh, cult's rise; read an excerpt

The following excerpt from Nothing to Lose: The Authorised Biography of Ma Anand Sheela has been republished here with permission from HarperCollins India. From heading an ashram at Rajneeshpuram, Oregon, US, in the 1980s to allegedly spearheading what is known as the largest bioterror attack in American history and spending 39 months in prison, Ma Anand Sheela’s life is one that intrigues. Manbeena Sandhu authors an account of Sheela’s life, her relationship with Bhagwan, and the story of what actually happened behind the closed doors of the cult’s ashram.


One crisp and clear spring morning of 1984, a very anxious sounding Bhagwan called upon Sheela. Abandoning all activity at once, Sheela slid inside her car. The zipping Mercedes nosed into the buzzing Red stream of morning crowd and pulled into Bhagwan’s driveway. Butterflies fluttered around boxwood hedges and sun shone upon Bhagwan’s swanky Rolls-of-the-day as Sheela strode past it and twisted the brassy doorknob to enter inside the Guru’s abode.

Bhagwan was sedately seated in his lounger, lost in thought. Sheela bowed and the glazy-eyed Guru motioned her to sit by his feet. Bhagwan’s face wore an expression of sullen reflection and as his lips parted to break the baleful silence, Sheela felt a sharp pang of fear creeping down to the pit of her stomach.

‘Seela, buy me thirty new Rolls Royces this month,’ Bhagwan said in the most nonchalant manner. Sheela’s face clouded over and she gaped at Bhagwan, paralyzed with shock. The air of dismal discord that had suddenly engulfed the room was palpable to the Guru as well as the disciple.

Sheela cleared her parched throat and croaked, ‘But Bhagwan, thirty new Rolls Royces will cost three to four million dollars …’ ‘Do whatever you have to do, Seela …’ said the unconcerned Bhagwan with a determined air.

On Firstpost: Rajneesh aide Ma Anand Sheela talks of Netflix documentary Wild Wild Country, and controversial past

Sheela’s body felt frigid and all her muscles were tense. Something inside of her had just snapped and collapsed. She was shocked at the sordidness of Bhagwan’s reaction, shocked at the grossness of his insatiable greed, shocked at the obvious lack of concern for the well-being of his people.She flexed her numb ankles and somehow managed to scoot and bow before shuffling out the door. She drove homewards in a zombie-like state, wearing an expression of grave reflection. Her answer to Bhagwan was clear in her mind. Even though she loved Bhagwan, she was not prepared to sacrifice the welfare of her people to fulfill the Guru’s outrageous demands.

Sheela spent the rest of her day going about her daily chores in the most robotic manner. In the evening, she paced back and forth in her room with a cup of black coffee in her hand, taking anxious sips of the drink, lost in deep rumination. There was not enough money to meet the basic needs of the commune members, let alone catering to Bhagwan’s extravaganza. Credit was stretched to the limits. The ranch was not bought in a lump sum, it was a multi-million dollar mortgage by the owner of the land that Sheela was scampering to pay each month. Even though money was trickling in through donations, casinos, fundraisers, nothing would be enough to fulfil Bhagwan’s outrageous demands.

Sheela finally took a deep breath and stood still, placing the cup wearily on the glass table and decided to go right ahead and say yet another clear ‘No’ to her beloved Bhagwan. Hearing Sheela’s defiant answer, the Guru was overcome with bitterness. Bhagwan decided to employ a nifty ploy to break into the bulging wallets of his wealthy sannyasins. This way he would kill two birds with one stone — he would teach Sheela a lesson and also attain his thirty new Rolls Royces that his longing heart so ardently desired.

Ma Anand Sheelas authorised biography delves into relationship with Rajneesh cults rise read an excerpt

Cover for Nothing to Lose: The Authorised Biography of Ma Anand Sheela. HarperCollins India

The rays of the morning sun brought a succinct little note from Bhagwan that lay ominously enveloped at Sheela’s door. Sheela fumbled and opened it with an impatiently distraught hand and upon reading it, her face lost colour. The note listed the names of about fifty to sixty affluent sannyasins and an underlined message from Bhagwan instructing Sheela to invite these guests to a meeting in his living room the next day. Sheela folded the note with a solemn expression, forcibly pushing down her anger and resentment, knowing that Bhagwan was playing yet another dirty trick on his sannyasins and unfortunately, she had to play the part of an unwilling mediator. She leaned over to pick up the handset and made arrangements to contact each of the listed sannyasins to personally extend Bhagwan’s invitation.

The invitees were jumping up and down upon receiving this special invitation from Bhagwan and they ogled at the invites as though they represented the door to nirvana. The next morning, the deep pocketed honourable guests gathered at Bhagwan’s house, anxiously awaiting the Guru’s speech. Sheela swallowed every unpleasant feeling she had and seated herself composedly at Bhagwan’s feet. All the while, her eyes wandered to the window to catch a glimpse of the birds in flight and her squirming heart longing to be free in some distant land.

As Bhagwan cleared his throat to speak, the whispering sannyasins suddenly fell silent. Bhagwan concentrated his attention on the gold signet ring glittering on one of the sannyasins little finger as he began to speak in his hypnotically entrancing voice that was his time-tested armour. ‘The time has come. I will soon leave my body …’ Sheela winced at the overtly pronounced prophecy that she had heard umpteen times before.

Her eyes swiftly wandered to locate the sound of sobbing that seemed to emanate from one corner of the room. Suddenly, she found herself cringing in disgust at Bhagwan’s lowly means of exploitation as Bhagwan droned on about his upcoming day of final departure. Bhagwan concluded his talk by declaring twenty-one people enlightened, the ‘Bodhisattvas’, who would collectively form his inner circle that would lead the commune after the Guru’s imminent demise. Sheela wanted to run out the door and disappear, but she had to survive through yet another meeting with the recently enlightened Bodhisattvas that was scheduled by Bhagwan to take place an hour later.

In the following meeting, Bhagwan changed his tone and offered his Bodhisattvas an opportune way through which they could keep their Master in the body, only a little while longer. ‘An enlightened being needs material attachment to stay in his physical body. If you all can somehow buy me thirty new Rolls Royces, this new attachment will keep my body on earth a little bit longer.’ Bhagwan continued, ‘Poor Seela is not responsible. S(h)ee has to take care of the commune and its needs. I cannot put more pressure on her. For her, it would be easy to lead the commune without me. There would be fewer disputes when I would be no longer in my body …’

While Sheela sat silently with a solemn face, sobbing sannyasins were readily moving forward and unloading their bulging wallets at Bhagwan’s holy feet. Much to the relief of his panicked sannyasins, Bhagwan finally decided to postpone his demise.

The next morning Sheela had to fulfill her duty of driving Bhagwan to the Buddha Hall. She was broken inside, and for the very first time in her life, she did not look forward to being in Bhagwan’s company. The Master and the disciple did not exchange any words. Sheela drove him straight-faced in a zombie-like state and the arrogant Master just turned his face and peered out the window. When Bhagwan’s gaze fell upon some sannyasins who were prostrating at the holy feet of the Bhagwan-declared enlightened Bodhisattvas, the Guru almost jumped out of his skin and Sheela burst out laughing deliriously. A silent slap had stung the face of the Guru who was well-known for not tolerating any enlightened competitors. Sheela broke her silence by informing Bhagwan of the rollicking night-long parties that recently enlightened lot had thrown the night before. Bhagwan was speechless with fury.

A few pensive moments later he said, ‘Seela call a meeting immediately, so that I can beat some sense into their inflated heads!’ ‘Yes, Bhagwan,’ smiled Sheela.

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