My rating: 3 of 5 stars
There are some nonfiction books that one reads because one wants the objective, unvarnished truth about events. This is NOT that book. Some books you read knowing they are going to contain a mix of truth and falsehood–fact and fiction–and you read them believing you can gain insight from both the truth and the falsehood–if you consider the words analytically in light of known facts. This is that kind of book.
Don’t Kill Him is an autobiographical account of Ma Anand Sheela’s (a.k.a. Sheela Ambalal Patel’s) life as the secretary / spokeswoman / project manager / Pepper Potts for Bhagwan Rajneesh (a.k.a. Osho.) As such, while it is about the life of Sheela, the central character is the Bhagwan Rajneesh. This is indicative of the narcissistic but charismatic cult leader—who must be the center of attention—and the infatuated cult member for whom the “guru” is everything. What one really gets in this book is insight into the mind of a person prone to join a cult.
Chances are you know of the Bhagwan Rajneesh in one of two very different ways. As Osho, he’s an enlightened guru who penned over 600 books on spiritual topics from Taoism to Tantric sex, who attracted a vast following of wisdom seekers, and who to this day has a centers globally in his name—despite having died in 1990. As the Bhagwan Rajneesh you may know of him as a petty narcissist who built a stunningly successful cult of personality, and who in all likelihood green-lighted a salmonella attack on a rural populace in Oregon in an attempt to sway a local election so that certain dodgy practices could be carried out at his commune.
Sheela comes across as quite reasonable in the book. Gone are the days when she made replies to questions such as “tough titties” or a horrifying Holocaust joke. She claims that her former outlandishness was part of a role that she played on behalf and at the behest of the Bhagwan, but playing the victim in the face of entire world that conspired against her in her selfless virtuousness is a prevailing theme throughout the book.
Read carefully, there is plenty of evidence that all is not right with the author’s mind. She barely addresses criminal charges for which she was given sentences in total of 64 years (though, because they were to be served concurrently, the most she would have served would have been 20—and in reality she served less than two-and-a-half.) She talks more about the least of the charges–visa fraud then the attempted murder and assault convictions. She merely asserts that there was a vast conspiracy involving the German government (who extradited her), the U.S. criminal system (which indicted her), and at least two different factions of the Rajneeshee cult (one being exemplified by the Bhagwan, himself, and the other by David Berry Knapp, the mayor of Rajneeshpuram (the incorporation of the cult compound) who not only dropped a dime on Sheela but also implicated the Bhagwan)
While it’s fair to say mistakes are made in the American criminal justice system now and again, the scale of conspiracy that would have to be involved in Sheela’s case strains credulity. Her suggestion that a criminal justice system that protects defendants as much as anywhere in world is completely corrupt comes off as a bit sad and pathetic. Here and there she points out that there were one or two good people in the jail or justice system, but one soon suspects that these are just other deluded cult-prone individuals ready to drink the Kool-Aid themselves. Interestingly, while she claims there was not a shred of evidence against her, she made an Alford plea. (You’ll be forgiven for not knowing what an Alford Plea is, as it’s something only the mind of a lawyer could come up with. One pleads guilty while asserting one’s innocence. In essence, one says, “I’m really not guilty, but there’s enough evidence to convict me so I want to make a deal to get less prison time.” Of course, she makes paranoid-sounding claims that the American criminal justice system as justification for not standing up for her own innocence.
The only bad decision of any note that the author ever admits to making is slapping one of the followers, an act for which she claims both Bhagwan Rajneesh and the commune forgave her. These repeated claims that while her life was falling apart it was because almost everyone else was wicked while she was a victim wear a little thin. She claims that all the accusations against her resulted from her decision to leave because of her guru’s latest decision to bilk wealthy followers to pay for more Rolls-Royces. There may be a seed of truth in this. The Bhagwan also claimed that she embezzled money, a charge that was not covered in the charges for which Sheela was convicted. It’s as likely as not that any shortage of funds resulted from the Bhagwan’s own materialistic addictions. Whether his accusations about the bioterror attack were spurred by being spurned by this assistant cannot be known. Of course, it could also be that he wanted to separate himself from the felony indictments that were becoming increasingly inevitable.
The title, Don’t Kill Him, comes from Sheela’s repeated suggestion that, while the Bhagwan was a madman, one shouldn’t destroy the legacy. It’s this back and forth between deifying and castigating the Bhagwan that gives one insight into the mind of a cultist—but also leaves one scratching one’s head at what the author’s point is. When she suggests that he was a petty, narcissistic, greedy drug addict who should be exalted, it’s a bit dumbfounding for the average individual. It seems to be a textbook case of infatuation with the charisma of an otherwise deplorable human being. There is this widespread confusion of charisma with enlightenment that is intriguing. Early in Chapter 4 and later in Chapter 5, the author suggests that the Bhagwan set up her imprisonment as part of her education. That level of delusion is astounding.
There are those who’ll say that Sheela is right and others who’ll tell you that she is just trying to bash the Bhagwan—albeit in a very ambivalent way. I’m here to tell you that this book leaves the reader with one logical conclusion, and that’s that both Sheela and the Bhagwan were coo-coo for Coco-Puffs.