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Nothing to Lose by Manbeena Sandhu is a no holds barred Ma Anand Sheela biography, a fascinating and controversial woman from the Osho cult.
The story of Ma Anand Sheela is controversial, provocative and intriguing. She is indeed the most fascinating anti-hero – intelligent, persuasive, and driven by her love for her master whom she calls ‘Bhagwan’ to do whatever it takes to satisfy his demands.
The book starts with Sheela in a guesthouse in Germany – planning to start a new life with twenty of her followers – to start a new business.
Sheela is shocked when FBI knocks on her door – to arrest her and two of her aides. Her lawyer tells her that the FBI and her Bhagwan have slapped multiple changes on her – attempted murder, bio-terrorist attack, wire-tapping, theft, drugging, immigration fraud.
We are intrigued – why would an intelligent, strong woman land up in jail because of her master?
In the jail, as Sheela ruminates on her past, her childhood in a liberal household where the children are not shackled by rules.
At the young age of 16, Sheela attends the lecture of Acharya Rajneesh, a new age Guru with revolutionary ideas. Sheela is mesmerised by the hypnotic voice and powerful eyes of the master – she sits in front of him in complete surrender.
With the ‘master’ in her heart, Sheela goes to the US for her graduation where she falls in love with Marc at first sight and spends happy moments with him. Her parents accept Marc unconditionally – this unconditional love empowers Sheela to follow her heart.
Sheela brings Marc to the master’s ashram in Pune where they them as his disciples, converts them into neo-sannyasins. They are renamed Ma Anand Sheela and Swami Chinmaya – they don orange robes and malas round their necks and stay with the master.
The book then goes on to describe ashram life in the Osho Rajneesh cult, Ma Anand Sheela’s meteoric rise to power, and the misuse of it on all sides – it all reads almost like a crime thriller complete with property issues and Osho’s flight to the US, and later incidences.
The photograph of Ma Anand Sheela with her head on the master’s lap in complete surrender shows how deep their relationship was. Other photographs of the master and his followers speak volumes about the cult.
The author dwells in length about the master, the physical and mental health issues of followers, and the increasing problems for the ashram – but we are distanced from Sheela, her thoughts, emotions. Is she running around, only to please her master? She stops at nothing to satisfy his ever-increasing demands. While the master indulges in a luxurious lifestyle, Sheela takes the entire brunt of managing the commune, upto the arrest, and the present.
It is heartening to see Sheela’s resilience and her ability to start from the scratch to build a business and life. A strong message for women – “failure is never fatal.”
Has the author done justice to Ma Anand Sheela’s story? I am not sure – the ‘master’ takes so much space, and yet I cannot see any greatness in him that makes Sheela so devoted to him.
Sheela’s story is controversial yet fascinating – we might dislike the master’s philosophy, question her blind faith, disapprove of her methods, but we cannot fail to appreciate her grit, confidence, perseverance and indomitable spirit.
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Author of book, Hello Banker.
Founder, Trainer at Banxzu training and development solutions.
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