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BOOK REVIEW: "Don't Kill Him! The Story of my life With Bhagwan Rajneesh" by Ma Anand Sheela

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BOOK REVIEW: Don’t Kill Him! The Story of my life With Bhagwan Rajneesh by Ma Anand Sheela (Fingerprint!) 2012/2014

Last April I watched the fascinating documentary Wild, Wild Country, about the cult surrounding Indian “sex guru” Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who relocated from India (where he was increasingly unpopular) to rural Oregon in the early 1980’s, only to run afoul of pretty much everyone who was not a Rajneesh-worshiping sannyasin, or devoted follower who hang on the Bhagwan’s every word.

In my “review” of Wild, Wild Country, a gonzo/sync piece I titled “She(ela) seeks sanctuary,” I highlighted the role of the Bhagwan’s secretary and spokesperson Ma Anand Sheela (aka Sheela Ambalal Patel aka Sheela Silverman), who “comes off in the archive footage like a villain in a Bond film” and a woman who was “hated even more than the Bhagwan … because of her merciless and cruel behavior” towards non-Rajneeshees and average Oregonians who were naturally suspicious of their behavior and endgame.

I remember that time well, particularly as everything related to the Rajneesh cult came to a head as Sheela fled the Rajneeshpuram cult compound and went to Europe after an alleged “bioterror attack” on a salad bar in a nearby city led to local and national outrage over this whole business of the Bhagwan.

I admit that I found Ma Anand Sheela a compelling person, and blindly devoted to the Bhagwan, a rather brittle and amoral character who espoused free love and few rules, other than the ones he imposed to protect himself and his fiercely loyal inner circle.

In her autobiography Don’t Kill Him!, Sheela spends more time talking about the Bhagwan than herself, but in the end, you realize that the Bhagwan was her life.

But the materialistic and deeply jealous Bhagwan was exceedingly angry when Sheela left him to fend for himself after the bioterror attack story surfaced, along with reported threats against elected officials. Sheela, after all, had not made her feelings hidden regarding local officials in Oregon and the folks in the nearby town who, after time passed, grew to hate the Rajneeshees and their bizarre lifestyle and unquestioning loyalty to the Bhagwan.

She was a very divisive figure in the Wild, Wild Country documentary, and she does little to downplay it in her autobiography. She was from a small town in Gujarat, India in the early 1970's when her father introduced her to Bhagwan. From the moment she laid eyes on him she was deeply in love with this person and decided then and there to follow him, just as many others did as well.

And while she ends up going to New Jersey to study art, and even marries a man who has cancer (she seems drawn to men who have physical problems of some sort and says as much, later marrying a man who is gay but claims she is the only woman he could be with, etc.) and moves back to her homeland, only to be turned off by India's poverty and less-than-preferable infrastructure issues, particularly after living in America for a while. But she would come to view her time in America differently after the insanity and drama that swirled around her and the Rajneeshees between 1981 and 1985. 

The book actually goes backward in that she addresses the controversies surrounding the Rajneeshees and her role and her loyalty and love for the Bhagwan while also talking about her time in American prison and what she did to survive those 39 months behind bars (and her thoughts on the corrupt nature of the American justice system when dealing with alternative communities like the Rajneeshees) before going to Switzerland where her love for the elderly led her to open a progressive old-age home where the physical and emotional needs of the residents are addressed. "Through a simple, basic concept, it is possible to help one another," Sheela writes. "Love and compassion must become the leading forces of our lives. I am sure that Existence will keep holding my hand help me move forward."

When referring to Bhagwan as the personal pronoun "Him," it is always capitalized. This is because to Sheela, Bhagwan, even though he died in 1990 known as "Osho," had a godlike status. She says as much in the book and speaks glowingly of his aim to "create a new human being, Homo Novus - a New Man who lives at his highest potential, the potential of Buddha. He is not split inside between the physical or spiritual, but is whole and complete.

Adds Sheela, talking about the Homo Novus: "Bhagwan wanted to dissolve the polarities between man and woman, yin and yang, summer and winter. He wanted to bring together Sex and Samadhi." It reminds me of David Bowie's 1971 song "Oh! You Pretty Things," a lyrical mix of Nietzche and Crowley, with his emphasis on making way for "Homo Superior." A tall order, indeed. Clearly, from Sheela's perspective, America and the world were not ready for the far-out views of the Bhagwan. 

The “Don’t Kill Him!” in the title is her way of asking the sannyasins of allowing all aspects of the Bhagwan’s life to be remembered and to not “kill” that part of him. To whitewash the bad parts – between 1980 and 1986 – when he was the guru with dozens of Rolls-Royces and expensive wristwatches and a sinister presence in God-fearing rural Oregon, is to kill his memory, one that now only emphasizes and acknowledges his role as philosopher-guru Osho.

I urge folks to read Sheela's book while also watching Wild, Wild Country. It will help the reader get a sense of the bigger picture in this whole, wild drama.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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