(9 December 1952 – 8 February 2018)
Ma Prem Seva was born Angela Burkhardt in West Berlin, Germany. Her childhood was influenced by the post-war situation in a city that had been divided amongst the winners of the Second World War:
“She was only a young girl when the GDR suddenly constructed the Wall in the summer of 1961, and she found herself cut off from her much older brother, who was trapped in the East. He became a fireman for the city of East Berlin, but as a state employee, was highly monitored in all his movements and communications, prevented from seeing or contacting Angela and his family and friends. One day, there was a massive fire in the apartment block next to Angela’s family apartment in West Berlin, and reinforcements were called from the East. She vividly recalled looking into the street at the loud and chaotic assembly of fire trucks and personnel below, when there was an urgent pounding on the door of her apartment. She opened the door to look up at her brother in his fireman’s uniform, covered in soot and swirling smoke, illegally and breathlessly away from his post for a few minutes hoping he might see her. She expressed a surge of love and admiration for his bravery and daring.”
(as told by her friend and neighbour in her last home in Boston)
Seva finished school in Berlin, became a photographer and did some modelling. She took sannyas by mail in 1976 and joined the local community of sannyasins, meeting at Anandlok Centre. In 1979 she went to Poona to stay – like so many of us – ‘forever’.
There she worked as a photo editor for the Press Office, in the Chiyono cleaning department and also in Vrindavan kitchen. In 1981, when Teertha took over the energy darshans, she was chosen as one of his mediums.
Seva visited Rajneeshpuram for the first festival, and returned once again, after she had moved from Germany to Boston in 1985, “only to be greeted by the sight of Vidya in a red leather suit carrying a gun. I had not even digested the sight when we were whisked off to a welcome speech by Sheela, who was not full of Osho, but only full of herself.”
Disappointed by what she had seen in Rajneeshpuram and, in the absence of a local community, Osho became a private matter.
“I still consider what I learned from Osho as the biggest treasure of my life. It’s become part of my DNA, often manifesting itself in surprising ways I don’t even notice. For example, I once had someone visit who, upon entering my house proclaimed, ‘Oh my god, this place has the same vibe as the ashram in Pune!’ It turned out she was a Ma who had once worked in the kitchen on the Ranch (and had previously visited Pune). I no longer felt the ‘magic dust’ (as I’m quite used to my living room), but she did.”
(quoted from an article by Bhagawati published in Viha Connection, May/June 2012)
After the Ranch she moved back to Boston, got married and earned a double B.A. in informatics and psychology. She worked with Brad Silberberg to develop Windows 95, worked with Symantec and later as a web designer and in e-commerce.
However, working had been difficult for her as, in 1989, she had a tumor operation – which was successful – but left her with problems in her lower back that left her unable to move without pain or dance at all.
When after many years, in 2012, I reconnected with her on Facebook, she posted pictures taken in winter from her window. I told her that they reminded me of Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ from 1954 where James Steward, being confined to a wheelchair, watches the world through the window of his apartment. Only recently she told me how fitting this description was for the last years of her life.
She had to stop working in 2010 because of her health and the electronic media became her main window to the world.
In 2015 she had a heart attack and was afterwards diagnosed with lung cancer. The therapy went well, and she wrote to me on 11 January 2018:
“Thanks for asking how I am. The body is a fragile thing. Since we last talked, I was indeed diagnosed with early stage lung cancer. Opted for a high dose radiation treatment (CyberKnife) last summer (90% success rate) – no chemo needed, so maybe lucked out. Now my old back problem has reared its back and I’m flat on my back in bed. Last three years were difficult. Nice to know that the government is sending me a check every month and money is not an additional worry.”
A few days later she hinted that she hoped that her back problems would diminish again. My answer to that message was never answered.
Her neighbor and friend David wrote to me on 15 February:
“…After her heart attack a couple of years ago, she became more emotional, more willing to talk about the past, and had many observations and memories. I sat for hours with her on a few occasions, sometimes next to her hospital bed, listening to her talk, like a kind of unburdening, a release of long-held difficult memories.
You should know that at the end, she was very peaceful, her pain was well controlled, she was kept company around the clock in a quiet hospice situation. She had opted not to have intensive medical procedures (chemotherapy, radiation, surgery) for her rapidly advancing cancer. I believe her Buddhist perspective on life allowed her to make these choices happily, quietly, contentedly. She brought her inner awareness and insight with her to the end. She told me that, in some ways, she had been preparing for her death for decades. It truly showed in her graceful exit.”
You can leave a message / tribute / anecdote using our contact form (please add ‘Seva’ in the subject field)
Oh Seva, I was so happy to have met you again on FB after so many years! It felt like really being with you, sharing the memories again. You called me “my Vrindavan friend.” I wish I could have hugged you one more time and laugh together at this stupid death that is now separating us.
Dear Seva, I feel sorry hearing that you had to suffer so much. I wish you a great journey into the light and will always remember how you miraculously smelled like peach and our Egyptian “past life” connection. Lots of love,
Although I was not lucky enough to meet Seva while she was in her body, I am so grateful to know her now. What a departure! Love and blessings to her and all those that know her.