Once upon a time in Oregon

Letters / Opinions

Veena, Sheela and the Twinkies
– a letter from Subhuti.

Twinkies Rajneeshpuram

I enjoyed reading Veena’s tale in Osho News magazine of being a “Twinkie” in Rajneeshpuram, Oregon, where she worked as part of the reception team, welcoming visitors and journalists.

There’s no doubt Veena, Isabel, Sunshine and the other Twinkies were good at the PR game. While running the Ranch’s newspaper, The Rajneesh Times, I often connected with them and appreciated their grace, charm and intelligence. But I find Veena’s condemnation of Sheela as “evil and disgusting” too simple an interpretation of what went on.

God forbid that I should ever try to defend Sheela’s image and reputation! That’s a job she’ll attempt herself when her biography is published by HarperCollins later this year.

At the other extreme, however, to give the impression that Sheela was the source of everything bad that happened on the Ranch… well… that ain’t right either.

First of all, I would dispute the underlying assumption that anything went wrong on the Ranch. Of course, in terms of conventional morality, everything went wrong. But we weren’t playing that game. We weren’t actors in a Western movie with good guys and bad guys.

We were sannyasins committing ourselves to an enlightened mystic who’d taken on the task of helping others to spiritually awaken. This was a totally different ballgame in which none of us knew the rules or what would happen next.

At any moment during our saga, Osho could have replaced Sheela as his secretary. He could have fired her and appointed Veena, Sunshine or Isabel, or maybe a triumvirate of all three. That would have certainly been an interesting scenario!

But he didn’t. Why not?

Allow me to take you back to Pune, in 1980-81, just before Osho left for America, when Sheela supposedly ousted Laxmi, Osho’s former secretary, and grabbed the reins of power – so to speak.

An American sannyasin, who until that time had enjoyed personal and private access to Osho, went to the mystic to protest and to warn him that Sheela was ambitious, jealous, ruthless, power hungry and generally unsuited to be Osho’s secretary.

Osho smiled and told him (I’m paraphrasing): “There are things that Laxmi refuses to do, whereas Sheela will do anything I say.”

So, for the record and for the history books, let me say this:

I’m not suggesting Sheela didn’t have her own agenda. Of course, she did.
I’m not saying she didn’t pass on “messages” from Osho that in reality were her own.
I’m not saying she didn’t screw up – that’s kinda obvious.

But to portray Osho as a nice old man with a nasty secretary doesn’t cut it either.

In Australia, Sheela became famous, or let’s say notorious, for giving someone the finger on television, accompanied by the immortal words “Up yours, buddy!”

You really think that was her idea?

The way I heard it, Sheela was just obeying instructions.

Indeed, Osho enjoyed giving people the finger himself, although the way he did it was more stylish. What else was his collection of 93 Rolls Royces but an elegantly raised finger to a society that worshipped wealth?

To give another example, Osho told one of his female lieutenants to interrupt a conference where the Dalai Lama was speaking and publicly denounce him as “your phoniness” instead of “your holiness.” The way she told it to me, her legs were shaking so badly she had to immediately sit down afterwards, or risk collapsing at the microphone. So she couldn’t deliver the rest of her message which was to say that if the Dalai Lama didn’t admit that he had no answers for today’s problems, he would be reborn in his next life as a pig or a dog.

You get the picture?

Osho wasn’t a nice guy, which, I must confess, is partly why I fell in love with him. Or, let’s say he could sometimes be a very nice guy, certainly a very loving guy, but not limited by any means to such a narrow definition. He was a mystic, a role which, by the very definition of the term, carries an element of mystery. In other words, a mystic is mysterious. You can’t figure him out.

The implication in Veena’s story is that the Twinkies had the right approach to the PR business, while Sheela was messing up everything.

It ain’t that simple.

Many, many people – sannyasins and non-sannyasins alike – told Osho that Sheela was a public relations nightmare and urged him to find a new secretary. But he didn’t. He loved the way Oregonians became so allergic to Sheela that if she appeared on the evening television news while they were eating supper they’d immediately get indigestion.

Even in August 1985, just weeks before Sheela turned against Osho and left the Ranch, he publicly defended her at a press conference, saying “I am sharpening her like a sword!”

From her side, as part of her own ambitions, Sheela tried desperately to get rid of Vivek, Shunyo and the other members of Osho’s personal staff who lived with him in his compound on the Ranch. She wanted to replace them with her own people, but Osho refused. To Sheela’s great frustration, she was unable to burst the magic bubble surrounding him.

It was a complex game with no predictable goal. If you ask me, I’d say that Osho wasn’t thinking about where it was all heading, because, in the first place, he didn’t think. And I don’t subscribe to the theory, quite popular among older sannyasins, that we should have paid more attention to what was going on, taken more responsibility, learned our lessons about power and corruption.

Such conclusions are way too moralistic.

On the other hand, I’m not saying we should have been immoral, either. Whatever we did and whatever happened was in the context of one awakened being trying to disturb our sleep. As such, its success or failure can be measured only in terms of its impact on the consciousness of those who experienced it.

Come to think of it, even to try to measure it at all is to miss the point.

Maybe all one can do is look back and say “Wow!”

And if this “Wow!” helps us to be “Here” and “Now” that’s more than enough.

hostess twinkies boxSubhuti adds: Since many readers have asked why the PR team of hostesses on the Ranch were called “Twinkies,” here is an image of the famous Hostess Twinkies cake, sold all over America, which inspired their nickname.


Subhuti is a writer, author of many books, including the recent, Wild Wild Guru. subhutianand.com

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