Ma Anand Sheela: Where is Bhagwan Rajneesh’s Aide Now?

Netflix’s ‘Searching for Sheela’ is an hour-long documentary wherein the controversial Ma Anand Sheela, one of the top aides/secretaries of Indian mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, aka Osho, seems to present her side of the story. With a film project already in the pipeline about her life, starring Priyanka Chopra as the convicted felon, this documentary comes almost as a prequel that highlights how Sheela perceives herself and how she wants the world to see her too.

Who is Ma Anand Sheela?

Born as Sheela Ambalal Patel in 1949 in Baroda, Gujarat, India, despite what some people believe, she initially moved to America at the age of 18 for studies, attending the Montclair State College in New Jersey. It was here that she met and soon married Marc Harris Silverman from Highland Park, Illinois, just to then take up the name Sheela Silverman. Yet the couple actually came back to India in 1972 to pursue spiritual enlightenment under Guru Rajneesh’s guidance.

After all, Sheela had first met him through her father when she was 16 years old and had become instantly devoted. As years passed, Sheela lost her husband, remarried another co-follower, John Shelfer, became the guru’s secretary, and even helped him establish an ashram in Wasco County, Oregon. However, within the subsequent four years, in 1985, what she described as mutual love between her and Osho turned into a problem.

After facing heat from local ranchers in the county, not only did Sheela allegedly attempt to influence the municipal elections, but she apparently also orchestrated one of the most significant bioterrorism attacks in the US — infecting ten local salad bars, and thus over 750 people, with a toxic salmonella bacteria. Then, in the fall of 1985, days after Sheela fled to Europe, Rajneesh accused her of arson, wiretapping, poisoning, and attempted murder, adding that she was the one who’d penned the book ‘Rajneeshism’ and published it under his name.

He asserted that Sheela was simply power-hungry. The authorities subsequently searched her home and found incriminating evidence linking her to the bacteria and the wiretapping, resulting in a warrant against her. Sheela was apprehended in Germany and extradited to the US, where, in 1986, she ended up pleading guilty to assault and attempted murder charges for the bioterror attack.

Ma Anand Sheela is Thriving in Switzerland Today

Sheela, who’d taken the title of Ma Anand Sheela after getting involved with the Guru, was ultimately sentenced to 20 years in a federal facility but was paroled following a mere 39 months on good behavior. Soon, once the Indian native’s restrictions ended, she migrated to Maisprach, Switzerland, where she started two government-approved special needs nursing homes: Matrusaden and Bapusaden.

Though it’s imperative to note Sheela was also convicted by a Swiss court in 1999 for “criminal acts preparatory to the commission of murder” in connection to the 1985 plot to kill a US federal prosecutor. Yet in the end, she was merely sentenced to time already served — the truth is the Swiss government had refused to extradite her to the US as protocol but had agreed to hold a trial on their base land.

Today, as a Swiss citizen through her third marriage, Sheela continues to run her two mental health focused homes, all the while trying to move on from the past. We say move on because she has made it clear there’ll be no redemption. “Redemption lies in guilt,” she said in the Netflix original. “That’s why I can not redeem myself.” In other words, the 73-year-old insists she’s not guilty of the charges she was accused and convicted of, and there is no reclamation needed as she has already paid her dues by serving time.

The one aspect of Sheela’s story that has never wavered, though, is that she was in love with Osho. In fact, in ‘Searching for Sheela,’ she asserted he was utterly in love with her too. “You should see some of the photographs and see how he looked at me, and the way he said ‘Sheela,'” she recalled. However, Sheela just had to leave him in 1985. “It was bound to happen, wasn’t it?” she admitted to India Today.

“It’s like needing a doctor when you are sick. When people are not sick, where is the need for a doctor? I had had enough of him. I was in love with him all these years, but things just crystallized over that time. There were no specific instances which escalated matters but it kept building up till I reached a stage where I decided to go on my own.” And now, Sheela is independent and thriving in Switzerland, practicing Osho’s way of communal living through her work.

Read More: Where is Ma Anand Sheela’s Daughter Now?