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Ma Anand Sheela on how Bhagwan Rajneesh turned sannyasins into prostitutes

Ma Anand Sheela
Ma Anand SheelaApr 17, 2018 | 18:26

Ma Anand Sheela on how Bhagwan Rajneesh turned sannyasins into prostitutes

The hostility against Bhagwan grew

Once Bhagwan established himself in Poona, more than five thousand people began to come to listen to Bhagwan every day. Thousands came by plane from the West to India just to be with him. Because of the Rajneesh ashram in Poona, Indian tourism achieved growth rates exceeding 15 per cent. The ashram was also responsible for bringing Poona onto the world map. Most tourist guides in the West even began to publish information on Poona and the Rajneesh ashram.


Our presence also gave greater stability to Poona’s economy. In an economically fragile time, the businessmen in Poona got a very handsome source of income. Our foreign visitors spent money generously. We brought wealth and colour to the city.

For the expansion of the ashram much money was needed. Bhagwan did not want to be dependent on donations any longer. That was too risky and nettlesome. Those who offered money linked their gifts to conditions. As long as their egos were massaged, there was money. Bhagwan was not interested in doing this. He told us regularly that time was running short.

What can be done tomorrow should be finished today. There was no tomorrow for Him. It was now or never.

He wanted to quickly expand His work. His aim was to create a new human being, Homo Novus — a New Man who lives at his highest potential, the potential of Buddha. He is not split inside between the physical and the spiritual, but is whole and complete. Bhagwan taught that there is a synthesis between Zorba and Buddha. Zorba represents the earth and life, while Buddha stands for divine awareness. The meeting of the two is a meeting of heaven and earth. Bhagwan wanted to dissolve the polarities between man and woman, yin and yang, summer and winter. He wanted to bring together Sex and Samadhi.


The New Man is courageous, not hypocritical or dishonest. He is authentic. He does not create a jail around him and live like a prisoner; instead he enjoys total freedom. He is filled with life, love, and joy. This New Man knows no boundaries between people of different colours or ideologies. He is universal, not bound by creed, religion, or nationality. He is neither a capitalist nor a communist; rather he is just a man who cannot be put into a specific box. He is a complete man.

Don't Kill Him!; by Ma Anand Sheela; Fingerprint

Bhagwan was also a good businessman. He knew His products, their value, and their market. He wanted the ashram to work such that all costs were covered. An entrance fee hence began to be asked for His discourses. His group therapists also went into action. In the ashram therapies began to be offered as food is on a buffet. Visitors could pick and choose and pay for their choice. The ashram also started other fee-based services for the visitors and group participants. Money began to flow like water.

During the early ‘70s, group therapies used to play a major role in the psychology of the Western people. To them, therapies seemed to be the answer to the dissatisfaction of modern man. Among educated people, it was the in thing to participate in group therapies. In some circles, it was even regarded as old-fashioned to have no experience with such therapies. People decorated themselves with them as though they were medals. Some even became really addicted to these therapies.


The therapy groups were to help release the anger, hate, jealousy, sexual suppressions, and other taboos that one learns and carries through life. Bhagwan thought that once a person is free of these unpleasant feelings, one can move towards inward journey easily. There were many different types of therapies offered at the ashram. Only encounter groups dealt with aggression and were perhaps the most popular therapy group.

Sexuality, which was seen as the cause of many sufferings, was one of the main topics in these therapies. The liberation of repression and sexual perversion was their focal point. Sexuality was accepted without judgement. There were no taboos, no moral issues attached with sexuality. Bhagwan wanted us to be free of jealousy and possessiveness. He wanted us to deal with our sexuality by acting it out with the consent of the partner. He wanted us to go beyond moral and guilt restraints. There was a lot going on in these groups. Some, in the excitement of the group and the enthusiasm to climb the ladder of enlightenment took part in violence and sexual encounters in groups. But always, the participation was absolutely voluntary.

In India, these therapies were a complete unknown. People had no idea how they worked. The locals who feared the unknown were frightened of them. To prevent this fear from spreading everywhere, Indians were not allowed to participate in therapy groups in the ashram. This seemed like discrimination to the Indians. But some of the therapies were truly frightful. Occasional bone fractures and black eyes were normal.

Not everyone understood why Bhagwan banned Indians from participation in these groups. Many questions were put to Him about this. Finally, He gave an official reason so that the negativity did not spread further. He said, “People from the West come from a very oppressive world. Their lifestyle is different from that of an Indian’s. Their mindset is different. They need active therapies. Indians need more passive, quiet meditations . . .” With this explanation the Indians thought they were more spiritually developed.

With this feeling of spiritual superiority, some of the Indian sannyasins began to walk around with their noses in the air. But the real reason for Bhagwan’s statement was that He did not want the local Indian sentiment to turn against Him with accusations of discrimination. By excluding Indians from the whole exercise, He also made sure that no ugly gossip was spread. The ashram needed to prevent the Indian authorities from discontinuing the therapies. A ban on therapies would have been very bad for the business. The ashram depended on the continual cash flow generated by the therapies to support itself financially.

Bhagwan was very conscious of the economic value of the group therapies and therapists. He started to publicly show preference for the therapy leaders in order to flatter their egos. Like a clever businessman, He always showed strong personal interest in people who had a high economic potential. He knew that much money was needed for His work and to keep up His luxurious lifestyle. So, He would always massage the ego of these people by calling them highly developed, conscious beings. But, like always, when they became a plague, He would turn the tables on them. He was a master at taking advantage of people for their money or their skills. Afterwards, when they no more supported His intentions in a productive way, He would throw many of them out of the ashram. Bhagwan was very different from typical Indians who continue to consider a cow sacred long after it has stopped giving milk. Bhagwan had no scruples in sending a cow He could no longer milk to the slaughterhouse.

It was interesting to listen to how the sannyasins talked about their therapies. It sounded as if without therapies there was no possibility of enlightenment for them — and to them that sounded like a major catastrophe. They compared records of who had done which therapy groups. They tried to find spiritual explanations for the sequence in which Bhagwan had recommended therapies to them. They could not see it as a simple, practical marketing and moneymaking process.

Bhagwan combined these therapies with meditation, so that they served His purpose. He had to sell them. He was the best salesman. After all, He had His customers secured. Nobody said no to Him. He could sell His people anything and everything. When He initiated a person as a sannyasin, He at the same time recommended the participation in a sequence of group therapies. His proposals were accepted unquestioningly and in totality. Sannyasins took them as commandments, as a very important and necessary step towards their enlightenment.

Actually, to give His recommendations, Bhagwan always consulted a chart we would prepare for Him. On this chart, we highlighted the groups that were not sold out. He gave His recommendations according to the spaces available. Sannyasins would take this as a big spiritual theater and would measure the distance that still separated them from enlightenment by the number of completed groups. They calculated which level of spirituality they had already achieved.

These therapy groups were expensive. For many sannyasins this was a problem. Many of us coming from the West had lived in India for years without any income. The savings had been used up long ago. So, many of us were very poor. To have money meant to be able to be in the ashram and with Bhagwan, and many of us were willing to become beggars rather than be separated from Him. Some even decided to work as prostitutes. To have money and be able to live with Bhagwan was more important than the method of accumulating money.

I can still remember very well how one of my aunts warned me of Bhagwan. AP photo

Bhagwan’s teachings did not preach any morality. This made it easy to overcome guilt in these matters. The only valid guilt was related to Him. Bhagwan would often say that life as a prostitute can be important in the spiritual quest. Like many of the ancient Tantric teachers He would say, “...prostitution can serve as a kind of meditation. One can learn to observe how the body takes part in the sexual act when the consciousness of being exists separately. This is a good opportunity to be the watcher.” He told many stories on this subject. He taught us not to judge, but to use every situation in life to develop awareness.

A great sage told one of his disciples to go to the court of the king and be there for a few days as his last lesson. “If this is what the master wants...” The young man went. He thought, “Perhaps the king is a great sage; he must be greater than my own master, if my master sends everybody to him for the last lesson and the last test.

“Strange that a sage who has renounced everything should send his disciples to a man who has not renounced anything, who is just an ordinary power-hungry man, continually trying to conquer other countries; an imperialist, so attached to things that he does not bother about killing thousands of people. And I am being sent to him? There must be some secret in it.”

He went there. It was evening time, and he was brought immediately before the king. It was time for the king to drink; beautiful women had come to dance. His court was now going to celebrate the evening. Seeing all this, the young renunciate felt terrible, shocked, and he said to the king, “I had come to stay for a few days but I cannot stay here for a few minutes even. I cannot think why my master has sent me to this hell!”

The king said, “If your master has sent you, there must be some reason. And don’t be so judgmental so quickly. What are you going to lose in two or three days’ time? And remember, this is your last test. Without my approval you can remain there in your master’s house your whole life, but you will never be declared graduate. So it is better that you come to your senses; remain here for three days. You have not been sent here to judge me; you have been sent here to be judged by me.”

Now, this was too much: this man was going to judge him, who had renounced everything! But what to do? He was in a fix. If he goes go back, the master will be unhappy. And if this was going to be the case, he will have to finally come back here.

“It is better to pass these three days somehow and get the clearance from this arrogant man,” he thought.

The king said, “You are cooling down and coming to your senses. First take a good bath that I had prepared for you when the message of your arrival had come to me. But don’t be worried: in youth everybody is too quick to judge. It takes a little experience not to judge, not to judge superficially at least. And you have not seen anything.

“Be here for three days, watch, see. Then you have your whole life there in which you can judge – no problem – but first get my clearance. So first think of how I’ll judge you and move accordingly, so that you can get a favorable judgment from me; otherwise you will have to come here again and again and again, your whole life. So you go and take a bath – I have arranged everything.”

The young man had never been in the bath of a king before; he had never seen such a beautiful place. Naked women were there to massage him . . . He said, “My God, this test is the end; in three days this man is going to kill me!”

Three days was enough time for that. He could not speak any further. He was really on the verge of a nervous breakdown. All his life he had escaped from women and here he finds naked women right in front of him. Never before had he seen such beautiful women, and now they were going to give him a massage!

He could not say anything anymore, in fact he found he had lost his voice. He could only say “Aaaahh!” – nothing more. Soon those women started undressing him. Before he could do anything, he was standing naked; those four women took possession of him completely and brought him to the bathtub which was filled with rose water. In the East, kings and very rich customarily took baths in rose water. In the night, hundreds of roses were put in the bathtub so their fragrance is absorbed by the water. Then in the morning the flowers are removed, so you don’t see many roses, but you are surrounded by a cloud of rose fragrance.

He had never in his whole life seen anything so luxurious. The bathtub was made of gold; precious oils were poured on his body and he was massaged. And he was dying to escape somehow from there, but he was feeling completely paralysed. And then the king invited him to a feast of things that he had never tasted before.

He had always read: “Discipline yourself to tastelessness” – and here was such tasteful, delicious food! Just the aroma, the flavor, was enough to make you go crazy.

The king said, “Sit down and eat – and remember your discipline of tastelessness. What was the point in your master’s house where the food was tasteless anyway? If you could remember tastelessness there, do you think that was because of some discipline? It was tasteless; any idiot would have felt tastelessness. Now try and feel tastelessness.”

The young man saw the difficulty but saw the point also. “And by the way,” the king said, “how was the bath? Were the women nice to you? They are the best out of all the masseuses. I think you must be feeling satisfied.”

He said, “Satisfied? I am just somehow trying to get through the three days – if I can survive, but I don’t have much hope. This is the first evening; three days seem like three lives to me. And now this food! I will not forget it my whole life – and I have to be a renunciate! And those beautiful women – I will not forget them. What kind of test is this? You are giving me all the experiences against which I have been prepared all these years.”

Then came the wine, and the king offered him some himself.

The young man said: “This is too much – wine is prohibited in my master’s house.” The king said: “This is not your master’s house, this is your examiner’s palace. If you want clearance, be alert and do what I say. Your master has told you not to be unconscious. Don’t be unconscious; drink and remain conscious. What is the point of remaining conscious without drinking? Anybody can do that; everybody is doing that.

“You better drink, and drink to your heart’s content, because never again will you get this chance. And I tell you, consciousness has nothing to do with it: I will be drinking with you; in fact I have been drinking the whole evening – can you say I am unconscious? So drink!”

He had to drink. He was falling apart, not knowing what was happening – the intoxication, the women, the food, the beautiful clothes that were given to him after the bath… And then the king took him to the guesthouse where he was to stay. He could not believe it. He thought he must have come to heaven – alcohol gives many people the feeling of being in heaven. Perhaps that’s why all the religions are against alcohol, because if alcohol can satisfy your desire for heaven, who would bother to go to the churches and to the temples and do all kinds of strange things, when heaven is possible through the simple process of drinking alcohol?

The young man thought he must be in heaven; he forgot completely that he had come for his final test. The king showed him his bed, and the moment the young man lay down he saw a naked sword hanging by a thin thread just above him. All intoxication disappeared; suddenly he found that he was not in heaven. That sword… Death can bring anybody back to earth from anywhere!

He asked the king, “Why is this sword hanging here?” The king said, “This is hanging here to keep you conscious. This is your room – now, go to sleep. And if, by God’s grace, both of us survive till tomorrow morning, we will meet again.”

The young man said to the king, “Nothing is going to happen to you, you will survive all right; the question is about me. Even with God’s help I don’t think this thin thread can hold this heavy, naked sword hanging over me; it is going to fall any moment. Just a little breeze is enough, and I am finished!”

The king said, “Don’t be worried. If you are finished off – your master must have been telling you about reincarnation – you will be reincarnated – a rebirth. And whatever you have learned will go with you. So don’t miss these last moments. Perhaps it may fall – I cannot guarantee anything. It is up to you what you make of these moments. Remain conscious, and if you die in consciousness, nothing can be better than that.”

But the young man said: “I don’t want to die. I have come here just to get the clearance, and you are just clearing me away from life itself!”

The king said: “This is the way one gets the clearance. You go to sleep: whatever is going to happen is going to happen – that’s your master’s teaching. That’s what Hindus say: Even a leaf does not move without God’s will, so how can a sword kill you without God’s will? And WITH His will, sword or no sword, you will be killed.

“So just go to sleep, the way I go to sleep. Over you there is only one naked sword hanging; over me there are thousands of naked swords hanging. And yet, soon you will hear my snores from the other room.”

The young man could not sleep the whole night; the whole night he heard the king snoring. In the morning, the king came into his room. The young man was fully awake, lying, just looking at the sword; there was nothing else in the whole world except the sword.

The king said, “I am going to take a bath” – just behind his palace was the sacred river Ganges. Come along with me for the morning walk, and a little swim in the river.”

They went down to the river. The young man wore nothing except a small langoti, a traditional small loin cloth worn by Hindu monks draped around ones waist and between the thighs. The young man came to the river wearing only the langoti, leaving behind the finer clothes the king had given.

He said: “In the palace I can use them but not outside. If somebody sees me in these robes it will be very embarrassing for me and for you, so let me wear my everyday uniform of langoti.

The king said,”That is up to you.”

So the king went in his royal clothes and the monk in his uniform. They both put their clothes on the bank of the Ganges and entered the water. While they were taking their bath, the monk shouted to the king, “Your palace is on fire!” The king said, “I saw it before you did, but there is nothing to be worried about. Now what can be done? It is on fire, but nothing happens without God’s will so don’t be worried; you just take your bath.”

The young man said, “What are you saying! At least I have to save my uniform that was lying by the side of the palace,” and he ran out of the water to save his uniform.

The palace was burning, the king’s clothes were lying there, but he was worried about his own loin-cloth! The king took his bath. The palace was in ashes, completely destroyed – it had been set on fire on his orders. The monk was shaking and trembling, and he was saying, “It is such a great loss. How many millions of rupees!”

But the king said, “Don’t worry; that has nothing to do with you. Your things are safe.” The young man said, “All my things are perfectly safe.” The king said, “That’s enough for you – you should be worried about your things: these are your possessions, this is your kingdom. But I don’t care if my whole kingdom burns down; it doesn’t matter – because before when I was not here, the world was here and the kingdom was here. One day I will not be here again and the world will continue. I am here just as an observer. Why should I get too involved?

“But you have to remember that you have not been able to renounce anything; you have not yet become a detached observer. You could not even watch my house on fire. If your uniform – which is not much of a uniform – had been on fire I think you would have gone mad! You are already in a state of madness because of so much loss… But what has it to do with you? ‘And you were shocked seeing me drinking, but you don’t know that even while drinking I am a conscious observer.

“You were shocked seeing me surrounded by beautiful women; even looking at their dance I am only an observer. But you are not a detached observer at all. Now make up for it within two days. The time is short, very short. Be a detached observer, because before I give you the clearance so that you can graduate, you will have to prove that you have become a detached witness, an observer.”

He said, “How have I to prove it?’ The king said, “Today just go on trying it on everything. Everything is managed in such a way that it will help you watch. Just watch. Don’t try to escape, don’t try to repress, don’t try to fight, don’t try to avoid: just watch, let things happen.”

And on the last day, the last test was that there was going to be a beautiful dance. This young man was given a cup full of oil – so full that if he just moved a little, the oil would spill. The dancers were in a circle and the king was sitting in the middle. And the man, the poor young man holding that precious bowl full of oil, was told “Even if a single drop of the oil falls, you have failed.”

Now there was so much temptation to look at on every side – so many beautiful women dancing! But from that bowl, just a single drop… just a single moment of unwatchfulness… He passed by the women, went around them – and as he was going around, slowly, slowly watchfulness settled in him. He forgot all about the dance; there was only the “now,” the oil, and watchfulness . . .

(From “Exactly How Do You Do It?,” in Osho: From Misery to Enlightenment)

Bhagwan’s teachings did not preach any morality. 

Bhagwan had described to His management the value of the groups very clearly. “Remember, the groups are a good source of income. Once someone is allowed to participate for free, others will also want that. You must understand human nature. If people do not have to pay for something, they do not believe that they will receive any value from it. If they pay and do not get what they expected, they will say nothing, because they do not want to look stupid. And if they pay, they make an effort, they work harder . . .”

The sannyasins were all very enthusiastic about therapy groups, because Bhagwan had advised them to participate in them. His directives put a lot of pressure on Sannyasins who did not have money but who wanted to participate in the groups along with others. The group process made them more vulnerable. The environment, the language, and the expectations — all this made them more prone to exploitation. Everyone wanted to grow, to become meditative, to give up their ego.

In the commune ego was a word to be avoided and detested. Nobody wanted to have anything to do with it, and yet everybody had it. We all tried to hide it. In my opinion all these big words — ego, meditation, and enlightenment — were used to camouflage serious emotions and mask exploitation. Everyone was so crazy for enlightenment and so zealously anxious to be without ego and to be meditative that they could do anything for it. The sannyasins participated in sexual activities, emptied their pockets, and proved their devotion by expensive gifts and the like. This exploitation was dirty, ugly, and repulsive, especially coming from Bhagwan. He totally exploited His people. But with Bhagwan, it was also possible to learn if one was willing and ready. This exploitation was a price that I gladly paid and paid to the fullest extent.

To have money and be able to live with Bhagwan was more important than the method of accumulating money.

Soon, the groups were running very well. The ashram became known worldwide for Bhagwan’s group therapies. He soon transferred the responsibility of booking the groups and recommending groups to the new comers to us. He gave us general guidelines for the distribution of the sannyasins. The groups for beginners were quite harmless. But the advanced groups were stricter and harder. The harder therapies such as primal groups and encounter groups were offered only to persons who had participated in at least ten other groups, or to people who knew Bhagwan’s working methods and trusted them.

We only asked for Bhagwan’s advice when a participant had medical problems or when there were other difficulties. All therapists worked under His guidance, and He was always informed about what was happening in these groups. In the beginning, He gave Teertha complete freedom with his encounter groups until there were negative press reports everywhere about violence and rapes in his group. This publicity was a nightmare for us. After this no journalists were allowed to participate in encounter groups anymore. The therapists were encouraged to be cautious when cameras were nearby. They were encouraged to act more restrained and responsibly and offer no more reasons for any bad publicity. There was also no more violence in the groups. The therapies became more harmless, including the encounter groups.

Bhagwan had the reputation of advocating frequent changes of sexual partners. His famous book From Sex to Superconsciousness was thought to be pornographic by many Indians. Their religious feelings were violated because a holy man had spoken so openly about sex in the book and had given sex a religious legitimacy. These ideas were not received well. He became the enemy of all sexually repressed saints and sadhus. On the other hand, this sympathetic attitude of Bhagwan toward sex served many sex-hungry men and women justification for promiscuous behaviour. The apparent freedom to express their feelings was seen as encouragement to frequently change sexual partners.

Bhagwan was also accused of being sexually very free with women around Him in the ashram. According to the commonly accepted standards holy men must not deal with such sensual issues at “lower planes of existence.” I can still remember very well how one of my aunts warned me of Bhagwan. She told me, “Be careful when you visit him. Do not go alone into his room with him; you are a young girl.”

Because of the press reports about therapy groups and Bhagwan’s discourses about sexual matters, He was threatened by violence. Average Indians soon avoided having anything to do with Him. They were very skeptical, afraid and conservative. The hostility against Bhagwan grew.

(Excerpted with permissions of Fingerprint from Don't Kill Him! by Ma Anand Sheela.)

Last updated: April 24, 2018 | 18:27
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