Episode 3: Trouble in Paradise

In Episode 3: Trouble in Paradise, we dissect what all was going on that resulted in Bhagwan abandoning his first ashram in Poona, India. As his dreams for the future continued to blossom, outside pressures, like the Indian government, threatened to squeeze the life out of Bhagwan’s community. We also examine the efforts to find a new home for the ashram, led by two very different but equally devoted women: Ma Yoga Laxmi, and her assistant, Ma Anand Sheela. To the surprise of nearly everyone, Sheela was about to take Bhagwan’s future into her own hands … forever changing his life and his legacy.

Episode Notes & Sources

Episode 3 Transcript

Audio of Bhagwan discussing “The New Man” and the new commune comes from The Dhammapada Vol. 2 Part 8.

Audio of the assassination attempt on Bhagwan comes from the Hindi lecture Sumeran Mera Hari Kare. 

Richard Price’s letters to Time Magazine and to the ashram.

Rajneesh Foundation press release to the people of Kutch threatening to bring 100,000 people within 10 years.

Audio of Bhagwan’s comments on politicians comes from The Secret of Secrets Vol. 1 Part 10.

Audio of Bhagwan’s comments on Morarji Desai comes from Unio Mystica Vol. 1 Part 10; Unio Mystica Vol. 2 Part 4; Guia Spirituale Chapter 9; and Philisophia Perennis Vol. 1 Part 8.

Chidvilas Rajneesh Meditation Center / Rajneesh Foundation International board minutes.

Bhagwan’s May 18, 1981 visa application.

Flight manifest for Bhagwan’s June 1, 1981 flight from Bombay to New York.


Sheela and Bhagwan

Sheela and Bhagwan

Bhagwan and Sheela

Bhagwan and Sheela


Music

When I Am Laid in Space by Rusty King (based on Dido's Lament from Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell)

Piano Concerto in G-major, 2nd Movement by Maurice Ravel

Haunting Guitarist by Stefan Netsman

Powerwalkin’ by Future Joust

All other music by Rusty King


Cutting Room Floor

In Part 2, while discussing Laxmi’s efforts to find a place for the “new commune” in India, I had to cut a longer discussion about the Saswad fortress near Poona. I may come back to it in a later episode — particularly Sheela’s efforts to entrap the landlord — but here is the lengthier section that was trimmed down for time:

An official from the state where Poona was located, aware the Desai’s government was dragging out the Gujarat negotiations, encouraged Laxmi to stay local and find somewhere nearby. That’s exactly what happened on January 10, 1978, when Laxmi and Sheela signed an agreement to rent a 300-year old fortress near Saswad, just 21 miles south of Poona. Nearly two years later, the commune was officially inaugurated on Bhagwan’s birthday, with 6,000 sannyasins traveling there in convoy to check it out. Almost immediately people started fighting over which dirt-floor room would be theirs. Laxmi moved to Saswad to oversee the improvements that a crew was making to the property, like installing plumbing. With Laxmi away from the ashram, Sheela stepped in her role — a temporary arrangement, or so it was believed.

And then people at the ashram started noticing something suspicious about who was being sent to Saswad. It wasn’t the best of the best, it wasn’t anybody close to Bhagwan, it wasn’t important ashram leaders. It seemed that Sheela was sending people there who she didn’t like, as punishment, as if it were Siberia. Sometimes they were sent for two weeks, but then would not be invited to return to the ashram, and their room would be given to somebody else. This was a crippling blow to people who had traveled across the planet to be close to their master, and were now exiled a two-hour bus ride away, in the middle of nowhere.  

People also noticed that supplies were only slowly trickling out to Saswad, not the gush you would expect if it would truly be the new commune any time soon. And then Laxmi suddenly returned to the ashram, leaving only a skeleton crew at the fortress — a clear sign that something was wrong with the plan.

Well, at least one problem was Morarji Desai. The Rajneeshee plans for Saswad required government approval. The Rajneesh Foundation promptly filed the necessary paperwork, but Desai’s government sat on it. Indira Gandhi, running for re-election, agreed to help with Saswad if she became prime minister. And she did return to office in 1980, when Desai was ousted, but.. she apparently had a change of heart. Laxmi camped out on Gandhi’s doorstep in New Delhi for six months in 1980, but Gandhi kept putting her off until it became clear that she would not stick out her neck for her old friend and her provocative Master. 

The relationship between the Rajneeshees and their landlord at Saswad soured dramatically. They stopped paying rent in the spring of 1980, over a water dispute. Sheela claimed there wasn’t enough water to support the 10,000 sannyasins expected to move there, while the landlord said the Rajneeshees were using a well at the property that was not supposed to be theirs. When he protested, Sheela posted sannyasin guards around the well so they could keep using it. 

Things took a dark turn after that. The Saswad landlord was invited to the ashram in May 1981 to iron out their disagreements. A young sannyasin woman came to his house that evening and rode along with him to the ashram. As soon as they arrived, the woman started crying and a large group of sannyasins surrounded him. Sheela immediately appeared with papers for the landlord to sign, or else she would call the police. He refused to sign the papers, or even look at them, and the Rajneeshees reported him for assaulting the woman. The police dismissed the complaint, and the landlord sued for defamation. According to Deeksha, the ashram’s Italian kitchen supervisor, Sheela planned the whole incident as a way to entrap the landlord. She would either get what she wanted from him, or at least get even.