Netflix docuseries 'Wild Wild Country' delves into story of Ma Anand Sheela and her relationship with Osho
Osho fired his previous secretary for not being able to find him a space large enough for his 10,000 followers but Sheela was able to do that and much more
Ma Anand Sheela's story came to be heard only after she was released from prison 30 years ago. The new Netflix docuseries "Wild Wild Country" details her life with Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who is more famously known as Osho.
The docuseries highlights the rise and fall of what was once viewed as the single largest wiretapping case. Ma Anand Sheela was Osho's most trusted secretary at one point but their falling out also led to the doom of the Rajneeshpuram religious commune.
Who is Ma Anand Sheela?
Ma Anand Sheela was born on December 28, 1949, as Sheela Ambalal Patel in Baroda, India. She is the youngest of 6 children born to Ambalal and Maniben Patel. When she was 17, she moved to the US and studied at the Montclair State College in New Jersey.
This is also where she met her future husband, Marc Harris Silverman, who is a native of Highland Park, Illinois. Sheela moved back to India with her husband in 1972 and they both pursued spiritual studies at the Shree Rajneesh Ashram in Pune, India.
The couple became disciples of the Indian guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and this is when Sheela took up the name Ma Anand Sheela. Her husband died after a long battle with Hodgkin's disease, which is cancer that affects the lymphatic system which is part of the immune system. Sheela married John Shelfer, who is a fellow Rajneesh follower after her first husband died.
Sheela starts heading the Rajneesh movement
In the year 1981, Sheela was assigned by the guru to be his personal assistant after his previous assistant was fired because could not find a property for the commune big enough to support 10,000 people. Sheela convinced Osho to leave India and establish his ashram in the US.
One year later, Sheela bought the Big Muddy Ranch in Wasco County, Oregon, and this became the site for the Rajneeshpuram commune. The land was a massive 64,000 acres (260 square kilometers). She also became the president of the Rajneesh Foundation International.
Sheela managed the commune and met up with Osho on a daily basis to discuss matters of business. According to the former secretary, Osho was fully aware of and even directed her involvement in the crimes that she committed later and was imprisoned for.
When a reporter for Australia's 60 Minutes interviewed her about local objections to the commune's expansion in Western Australia, she replied: "What I can say? Tough titties." In the many interviews that Sheela has given in the US, she has referred to the local governing bodies as "bigoted pigs" and "fascists" which caused one upset reporter to say she had an "acid tongue".
Sheela starts committing crimes
By the time the year 1984 rolled around, the commune was having increasing conflicts with the local residents of Antelope and the county commission. The residents of Antelope were determined to get the Rajneeshees out of their county.
Sheela tried to influence the Wasco County Court's election in November and take over the 2 seats that were up for grabs by using an interesting plan. She decided to bring in thousands of homeless people from across the country promising them food, shelter and a fresh start to life with one catch... they had to register as county voters and cast their vote.
The plan failed spectacularly so Sheela switched to plan B. The 1984 Rajneesh bioterror attack was Sheela's plot to save face and she used "bacteria and other methods to make people ill" just to prevent them from voting. The result of this insane plan was that 10 local restaurants were infected with home-grown salmonella and around 750 people became violently ill.
Sheela and her loyal followers even tried to kill the ashram's doctor because she found out that Osho wanted to be euthanized and she couldn't let that happen. Sheela left the ashram and went to Europe on September 13, 1985. A few days after she left, Osho broke his 3-and-a-half years of silence and "accused her of arson, wiretapping, attempted murder, and mass poisonings."
He also told his followers that Sheela was the one who wrote the Book of Rajneeshism using his name to publish it. Sheela's robes and about 5,000 copies of the book were burned in a massive bonfire at the ashram.
Sheela gets convicted
Sheela was arrested in West Germany in October 1986 after US authorities found wire-tapping networks and a bioterror lab in the house that Sheela resided in at the ashram which was called Jesus Grove. She was then extradited to the US in February 1987 on the charges of immigration fraud and attempted murder.
The Oregon Attorney General prosecuted her for crimes related to the poisoning of Commissioner Matthew and Judge Hulse. The US Attorney prosecuted her for crimes related to the restaurant poisonings.
Sheela pleaded guilty to 1st-degree assault and conspiracy/assault against Judge Hulse on July 22, 1985. She later pleaded guilty to 2nd-degree conspiracy/assault against Commissioner Matthew. She also pleaded guilty to setting fire to the county office and wire-tapping at her former commune.
The former secretary of Osho was sentenced to 3 20-year terms in federal prison for her crimes and they were to be served simultaneously. In addition to the prison sentence, Sheela was fined $470,000.
Sheela was sent to the Pleasanton prison for nonviolent white-collar criminals in California. While she was there, she announced that she would make a "controversial documentary" about her life. In December 1988, the former sanyasi was released on good behavior after she served 29-months of her 20-year sentence. She was then moved, on parole, to an undisclosed location in Switzerland.
Sheela moves on with life
Sheela eventually got married to Swiss resident and fellow Rajneesh follower, Urs Birnstiel. Once she settled into her new life on parole, she bought 2 nursing homes and managed them as well.
She was convicted by a Swiss court in 1999 for "criminal acts preparatory to the commission of murder" but she did not serve any prison time. On March 16, 2018, Netflix released its latest docu-series "Wild Wild Country" worldwide. Sheela and other former Rajneesh followers give an in-depth look into the life and times of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
Watch the trailer below:
If you have any views or stories that you would like to share with us, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org