Annotated and abridged from "WHERE ARE THEY NOW?" re: Ma Anand Sheela
Published in Oregon, USA paper, Williamette Week on 28th Dec, 04)
At present Sheela runs two homes for the elderly and disabled in Switzerland. Her 20 employees know her as Sheela Birnstiel. Ma Anand Sheela was Osho's Secretary between 81-85.
During her four years in power, thousands of sannyasins visited the 64,000-acre commune she created in the Oregon desert.
From 1982 whilst Osho was in silence, Sheela stepped in and took over the day-to-day running of the commune and became the movement's increasingly strident voice, denouncing Oregonians as bigots and rednecks. During a nationally televised debate, she gave Nightline's Ted Koppel the finger when he cut off her mike after she kept shouting, "Bullshit!" over the air.
As Rancho Rajneesh swelled with sannyasins -- a mixture of well-educated enlightenment seekers and street people -- Sheela became convinced the county and state government were trying to bring Osho down, which they most likely were. She attempted to take political power within the local areas of Oregon adjacent to the Ranch. Her methods to do this are said to have included attempted murder.
In September, 85, Sheela fled to Germany, only to be extradited back to the U.S. and convicted of attempted murder and illegal wiretapping, among other crimes. She served 29 months in a federal prison.
After her release, Sheela married Swiss sannyasin Urs Birnstiel, giving her a Swiss passport and immunity from extradition to the U.S. on any future charges, such as the unresolved attempted murder of U.S. Attorney Turner. Urs Birnstiel died of AIDS in 1992
Sheela, now 55, currently tends 34 mentally disabled patients at her homes in Maisprach and Lausen, Switzerland, which she opened in 1990
"I call them 'communes,' not 'nursing homes,' because 'nursing homes' has a feeling of people you want to put aside," she says. "The same love I had for people at the Ranch, I bring to my patients now."
Sheela lives with her patients and her two black Labradors, Lalla and Rajab, at her "commune" in Maisprach, a village near Basel renowned for its fine pinot noir grapes. She integrates the patients' care into her daily life, treating them she says more like family members than invalids.
"I live with my people in the same house, I eat with them and dance with them," Sheela says. "People respect what I do."
Sheela says Osho is still "inside me, in my heart".
Sheela still maintains that she was innocent, and simply became a convenient scapegoat for everything that went wrong at the Ranch. Nevertheless, she doesn't blame Osho; though the two never met again after she left. She says they still had an unspoken bond. While she has no regrets, Sheela says she'd never want to go through it again. "I don't miss anything about Oregon," she says. "I would have to miss the hate, that's all. I don't forget anything that happened in my life; everything is for the best. I have a wonderful past, a wonderful present and I know I'm going to have a wonderful future."