Acharya Rajneesh, an Indian guru, headed the Rajneesh movement, a cult that was born in the 1960s and attracted followers around the world. Conflicts with the government caused the cult to consider an unusual strategy: Bhagwan, as the leader was called, bought a ranch in a remote area of the US state of Oregon. There the apparently peaceful spiritual group would form a community.
It was his promised land. The cult decided to create paradise right there in the middle of rural and conservative America: a community that built their own homes and lived a life without shame. The local people, of course, didn’t like it.
The clash between the communities was inevitable. The enemy reception forced the Rasjneesh to defend themselves. And at the center of all controversy was one figure: the right arm of Bhagwhan, a young Indian woman named Ma Anand Sheela. The Promised Land dream would end in tragedy.
The story went on to become one of the most talked-about of 2018, the year Netflix released the documentary “Wild Wild Country” – the antechamber that explains everything that’s revealed in a new documentary that will be released this Thursday, March 22nd. April, premiered.
Three years later, “Searching for Sheela” takes up the controversy again and finds 71-year-old Ma Anand Sheela, who lives in Switzerland and is preparing to return to India 34 years after exile.
The magnetic – and possibly perverse – character of Sheela, who was one of the highlights of Wild Wild Country, is explored as the Indian woman seeks to explore the legacy she left among the Indians. Would she be treated like an icon or a criminal?
However, the hour-long documentary needs context. This is all you need to know about Rajneesh and Ma Anand Sheela before diving into this insane story of religion, betrayal, and crime.
A pacifist cult
He came to criticize socialism and more orthodox religions. Chandra Mohan Jain was to be renamed Bhagwan Rajneesh before becoming a cult leader in the 1960s.
Little by little he gathered followers, the neo-sannyasins, who wore colorful clothes and were enchanted by the meditation sessions, the celebration of love and peace. The open view of sexuality, which earned him the nickname “Sex Guru”, was also curious. The service was a success.
The ideology not only attracted Indians but also many Westerners who traveled to India to join the rest of the sannyasins in Pune that were built with large and massive donations of money.
Brainwashing was considered an authentic God by its followers and began at a young age. This happened to the young Sheela Ambalal Patel, whose parents introduced Bhagwan at their apartment at the age of 16.
“It was then that I realized that I would accept it if death came. My life was complete, ”Sheela later revealed the moment she saw the leader of the cult for the first time.
The confrontation in America
In the late 1970s, the Rajneesh started some friction with the Indian government, which decided to slow their growth. The demand for taxes in the millions caused Bhagwan to find a solution to further increase the number of followers.
The Indian, who lived in opulence – and had a huge collection of Rolls Royce – raised the money and bought one of the largest farms in the United States in rural Oregon. Thousands of followers packed their bags and went to the Promised Land.
Among them were engineers, architects, doctors. The church was built with the hands of all these men and women and the uninhabitable land became a small town with electricity, running water, houses, meditation centers and even an airport. It would be the paradise of the neo-sannyasins.
Created the promised land in the United States
Ma Anand Sheela was no longer 16. He had grown up within the organization and was Bhagwan’s secretary at the time, his right-wing husband and his strong Rajneesh wife.
Adapting this group of pacifist mystics who organized orgies to rural America was far from easy. And in “Wild Wild Country” it is easy for the viewer to get angry about the obvious prejudices of the locals.
The population felt trapped as the Rajneesh increasingly bought land and housing. In the small town of Antelope, the sight of men and women in orange robes became uncomfortable.
Through the local assembly, they began to boycott expansion projects. The Rajneesh’s peaceful tactics became more bellicose: they began occupying local homes and quickly had a majority of the vote to block the will of the locals.
In June 1983 the confrontation turned bloody. A bomb exploded at a Rajneesh hotel in Portland. It was also the moment Ma Anand Sheela took over the leadership of the community and decided that they had to defend themselves.
“If either of us is injured at all, I’ll have 15 of our heads. I’m serious, ”he told the press during the conflict.
The pacifist supporters were armed and received target training. The clashes with locals escalated and it was only a matter of time before this powder keg exploded.
Terror at large
To increase the number of followers, the Rajneesh began welcoming all the homeless across the country – a strategy that had a detrimental impact on the community when they realized that many ex-drug addicts and criminals would be unwilling to share it in a more pacifist way Ghost.
Within the organization, trying to control the community has become increasingly obsessive. Wiretapping, corporal punishment, everything was acceptable under the relentless guidance of Ma Anand Sheela.
Between the violent conflicts with the locals and the attempt to control an already uncontrolled community, Sheela had to meddle in local politics to defend the Rajneesh.
In the 1984 local elections, Sheela had salmonella added to the salads of ten restaurants to ensure that her candidates would win. A bio-terrorism crime – one of the worst in the country’s history – that infected more than 750 people
Sheela would eventually turn out to be the ghost behind all the crimes. Accused by the authorities and by Bhagwan himself of theft, illegal wiretapping, attempted murder and mass poisoning, she fled to Europe in 1985. She was finally arrested in Germany in 1986 and extradited to the United States, where she was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was released after two years.
He settled in Switzerland, where he married a cult follower. Nor did he resolve the problems with the local authorities. A new charge – preparatory to the murder of an American prosecutor – would bring her back to court, where she was found guilty. In the following years he bought two nursing homes, which he still manages today.
He never escaped interviews and now, thirty years later, is returning to the place where it all began. And this is also the starting point for “In Search of Sheela”.