Ma Anand Sheela is an intriguing personality, a very unusual life – a life that may seem like a bundle of contradictions, so it was a privilege to interact with her and find her more real than her life sounds. Read the review of her book Don’t Kill Him The Story of My Life with Bhagwan Rajneesh A Memoir by Ma Anand Sheela. Hear her answer my doubts and my curiosities:
Ma Anand Sheela Interview
1. Tell us something about your upbringing before you met Bhagwan, what did you study, where did you grow up.
Ma Anand Sheela: I had a wonderful family life. I was loved by everyone in the family as I was the last born. My parents spoiled me with their love but also my brothers and sisters did the same. This bond of love that our parents gave us as an inheritance we enjoy it still today.
My father was an ideologue. My mother was forgiving and loving beautiful woman. She was the sunflower of our family. Father wanted us to learn. Learn new things in life. From our young age, he took interest in reading with us different authors. I remember at the age of five-six sitting on my father’s lap with my other brothers and sisters around listening to my father reading us Khalil Gibran. I did not understand anything at the time but the feeling I remember today too how beautiful it was to be together with the family.
At an early age, our father sent us abroad for education one by one. He was often criticized by relatives that he was not interested in getting us married in tradition and that he had given us much freedom. All my basic values come from my mother and father. He never missed an opportunity to introduce us to great minds of India in person and through literature. My father personally took me to Bhagwan.
I was a student at MS University in Baroda majoring linguistic. From there I went to study Fine Arts at Montclair State in New Jersey. My major was ceramics. After that, I was with Bhagwan. Bhagwan is where my true education began.
2. Why did you choose to write the book now and not 10-20 years back? Did you need that time distance to be more objective about the whole situation?
Ma Anand Sheela: The original book was written in 1996 in German. The translation in English took time. I had started a new life after my time in prison. New existence had required much time, energy and hard work. The priorities of life had not allowed the attention on the translation. It happened that in 2010 one sannyasin came to me and said she would like to translate the book into English. I allowed her to do it and till we found Prakash Books and the production time took another two years.
Yes, you are right one requires time to digest such profound experience of life with a man like Bhagwan. I had that time in prison.
3. Given the maligning campaigns about you by the commune, do you think readers are going to believe your story? How has the response been to this memoir so far?
Ma Anand Sheela: Very good question. An important one. I wrote this book not to persuade anyone to see from my point of view or believe my story. I just wrote what was my experience. And I wrote this book for my father. It was his wish that I express myself with this valuable experience with Bhagwan. He felt my life can guide many people in their conflicts of life.
So far the response from intellectual readers is very positive and appreciative. From Bhagwan’s sannyasins, the response is angry and ugly maybe it does not agree with their maligning campaigns. It exposes them.
4. Do you portray the commune or the Ashram being run as any other business venture? What did you think about it then and what do you think about it now?
Ma Anand Sheela: The commune was an effective, well-run business. It was successful. It is a good form of social and economical way to live life. Today too I live and work in a communal setting. My communal homes are doing very well and are also successful.
5. To me, your story reiterates that a woman in love can go to any extent for the man she loves, irrespective of the fact if the man deserves that kind of reverence or not. Looking back do you think whatever you did – all rights and wrongs were out of your sheer love for Bhagwan.
Ma Anand Sheela: I used to feel and also verbalize often that as long as Bhagwan is behind me I can move mountains. The love and trust I felt gave a different kind of energy and sense to me that there were no limits to achievements. Whether the one you love deserves or not was not the issue. The love one feels was that mattered. Yes, what I felt was absolute love. Even today I feel the same quality of love. That love made the difference in life. It is that love motivates and inspires. It is that love which gives meaning to life. And it is that same love gave the strength to walk away at the right time too.
6. Do you think it is justified for some people to live on the charity of others and that too a charity that has been extracted in the name of providing spirituality?
Ma Anand Sheela: No one has right to exploit others. When gifts and presents become demand and burden then it is a point when one has to look deep inside. The desire for spirituality and becoming the number one spiritual then one is ready to offer the charity. This is an age-old problem. The churches had sold heavenly accommodations for the greedy of a good life after death. Spirituality runs on the same road. Before we blame others I think we need to look at our own greed.
7. His last identity was Osho, but you seem to not like that name or maybe not associate that name with him. Your comments.
Ma Anand Sheela: I knew Bhagwan. Bhagwan I can relate to. I did not know Osho. Osho is a stranger to me.
8. I found the end of the book a bit abrupt, you suddenly say Do Not Kill him without really saying Why? Would you like to elaborate that?
Ma Anand Sheela: You may be right. When I wrote this book, during the day I did my nursing and household work at my nursing home. I took care of my parents and animals and at late night I wrote the book. I guess at the end I was simply tired. During this time I had heard many annoying stories about Poona Ashram and how the publicity material they offered from the ashram did not include Bhagwan’s time in Oregon. It felt as if they were amputating Bhagwan by not including His full story in their representation. Of course what I had heard from the doctor who had written the death certificate of Bhagwan’s death without seeing Bhagwan’s dead body etc. made me sad.
9. Given a choice would you lead your life the same way, if not what would you like to change?
Ma Anand Sheela: Yes, without a doubt. It has been an adventure. If I would change anything then it would be I would not take so long to decide to leave the commune as I did.
10. If there is one learning that Bhagwan left this world with – what would that be according to you Ma Anand Sheela?
Ma Anand Sheela: Love, Laughter, Life, and Acceptance. LLLA. I live my life accordingly even today.
11. Looking back, what is your biggest learning in life, especially in the context of the relationship between a Guru and the devotee?
Ma Anand Sheela: Keep your focus on learning and not on your greed to be spiritual. Do not give up your own integrity. Love and respectfully but also remember your own values.