Age of Disenlightenment
It was the Beatles who played a large part in bringing to our shores religious figures from the East. The incredibly influential rockers had taken a trip to India in 1968 and had hooked up with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his path to enlightenment, called Transcendental Meditation. The group's trip was one long commercial for the Godhead.
By the time the Maharishi hit Stateside, people were lining up to see him. Imagine if the Beatles had embraced Islam, the way Cat Stevens did. Who knows where we would be now. We might have avoided September 11, or maybe we just would have attacked ourselves.
So once the word of the successful tour of the Maharishi got back to India, the floodgates burst open. First there were the Hare Krishnas, who inundated this country's streets and airports with tambourines, sandals, and outstretched hands. And let's face it, they had to love God if they were going to look like that. Saffron robes and bald heads with ponytails. They make the geek of today look GQ.
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Not to be outdone, we even started to grow our own gurus here.
It was all about enlightenment. This worked well for the mind-set that wanted the perks of religion without having to deal with God. Or if there was going to have to be a God, then at least you could see his embodiment here on earth.
One of the first of these new snake charmers I had contact with was the Guru Maharaj Ji. It was Gayle who led me to him. Sitting at his feet was the last place I wanted to be, but unrequited love plays strange tricks on the brain, and, as any man knows, it sure can do a number on the penis.
Gayle had written to me that she was in London and was now a follower of a thirteen-year-old guru. She had become a member of his dance company. Thirteen years old and the kid's a guru? You've got to be kidding me. At least that was my first thought. And then my second. And my third. My fourth thought was that the guy has got to be a midget. For God's sake, that's the age I was bar mitzvahed. How does someone with acne lead anyone along a spiritual path? (Oh, if I had only known this when I was bar mitzvahed. I could have become the world's only thirteen-year-old rabbi, moved to Los Angeles, started a congregation, and really gotten my career off to a speedy start.)
It was tough enough for me to stand in front of family and friends, reading from the Torah and the Haftorah in Hebrew, and then translating the passage and explaining what it all meant to me. And this kid was in charge of his own religious group? Or a cult. But a cult of what? Clearasil? Doesn't a religious leader need a driver's license? Christ, by thirteen I hadn't even figured out how to masturbate. I didn't know how to please myself, let alone worry about pleasing God.
I was in a bit of a panic about Gayle, so I called her in England. She seemed completely content, even serene. I threw out a few arguments about the idiocy of following a thirteen-year-old guru, but to no avail.
"Are you sure you haven't lost your mind?" I asked. "No," she said joyously, "I have found it."
Oh, sweet Jesus, I said to myself.
Gayle is one of the most sublime and wondrous creatures I have ever met on this planet. I would seek out her new bar mitzvah boy and see what he was up to, in the hope that I'd understand what my dear friend had gotten herself into.
The first contact I made with the boy wonder was in Colorado, at a huge festival in his honor. Apparently many of the folks saw the guru as the Lord of the Universe. With a thirteen-year-old Lord, I thought, this must he a pretty young universe. I wasn't buying it. A thirteen-year-old Lord, awash in the changes brought on by puberty, fuck!
What I remember most vividly is he seemed to be hanging around with some hot stewardesses and he had a Rolls-Royce and a couple of other swell cars that he wasn't old enough to drive. These cars -- and their drivers -- didn't seem so spiritual
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to me, but I was told he had no attachment to them, so it wasn't a sign of his materialism.
How do you argue with logic like that? I just figured this new Lord of the Universe was no idiot. What's he going to be driven around in, a Pontiac? Or to quote the Bible: "And the Lord saw the Rolls-Royce, and it was a bitchin' ride."
This was back in the early seventies, before conspicuous consumption became a good thing. A Rolls was an unusual sight, especially at a religious festival. And what was the kid dispensing that was enabling him to raise the money for a Rolls -- and apparently a lot more? It was called, I shit you not, The Knowledge.
The Knowledge. The Secret. The Truth. They've always got a name for whatever they're selling as "The Way." Most of my adulthood, I have preferred The Secret Truth for Making the Perfect Martini. There's my path to enlightenment.
The Knowledge, as it turned out, was four different ways to meditate, and by doing so you could achieve inner peace. All you had to do to receive The Knowledge was attend a few meetings and then sign up for the all-day session, where it would be given out to you. There was no charge for this. Actually you were asked to bring a piece of fruit, like an apple. I guess once they had you hooked, they would go after the cash, like a heroin dealer who gives you the first free dose up front. Or maybe The Knowledge compelled you to give your money to the kid.
I had to see for myself just what this Knowledge was. So when I moved to Maryland to work in a theater company, I went to a number of meetings of his followers at an ashram in Washington, D.C. These meetings were called Satsangs, and it was at them that the converts talked about their experiences with The Knowledge or how they felt about the kid. They were all grinning that grin that one finds only in the zealously religious. The kind of grin that says idiocy has replaced any form of real thought.
These people were all harmless enough, and like any group that seeks converts, they were thrilled to have me around. They treated me like just one more moron to throw on the pyre of enlightenment.
The meetings were run by one of the kid's disciples, who were all from india. Even in his pidgin English, the disciple seemed a lot more spiritual than his fearless leader. For starters, he was a lot older than thirteen, and that was comforting. He wasn't surrounded by a circus of sycophants and a luxury car dealership. He also gave off the impression that he was completely at peace and at one with the universe. Finally, as he spoke of the meditation, he exuded truth and wisdom.
On the day I was to receive The Knowledge, I brought my apple and placed it in the basket. I was so skeptical about this, I'll bet you could have smelled it on me. Our teacher that day was actually my favorite of the guru's disciples, and he blew my cynical mind when he meditated in front of us and within thirty seconds of his beginning to meditate his skin became
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translucent, as if a light were shining through it. If that was a magic trick, it was fucking spectacular. No one commented on it; the room was absolutely silent.
Once he had finished meditating, it was time for us to be given our four meditative techniques. I will not go through them for you. You want The Knowledge, cough up your own goddamn apple.
I will tell you that we were told to close our eyes. Without going into details, I was instructed to focus on where my third eye would be. Easy enough. I had two eyes in my head, and there was the one-eyed monster in my pants. That made three. I was focused.
You weren't supposed to watch as the instructor went from pupil to pupil, but I snuck a few peeks. He was barely touching anyone. So when he came to me, I am sure he was doing the same thing, but the effect was overwhelming: When he touched me, it was as if he had poked my eyes as hard as he could. It was such an overwhelming jolt that I felt as if my head was going to explode. The vague shapes and shadowy figures I had been seeing turned into a mandala of spectacularly vivid colors. My mind was seriously blown. If I was going to meditate, this was the meditation for me.
I know I don't seem like the kind of person who would meditate, but at least I now had begun to understand what had attracted Gayle to this outfit. It seemed pretty powerful, and I wanted to see where it would lead me. Despite my earlier skepticism, I actually found it fascinating. It seemed to be a gateway to the power of the mind.
Still, it didn't seem all that spiritual to me, and it was totally separate from the thirteen-year-old kid. He was just the pitchman. Besides, it only cost an apple. I had paid a lot more for a lot less.
So every afternoon, I sat upright and put a sheet over my head. (Don't even ask.) The first four times I meditated, not much happened. My body was no doubt adjusting to staying still for a half hour. Then, as now, I am not good at sitting still. I've always been a twitcher. But the fifth time I got under the sheet, all hell broke loose. Bright colors were spinning in circles and everything around me was blue -- sky blue to be exact.
"Holy shit," my conscious flashed, "I'm in the sky. I AM IN THE FUCKING SKY. It smells like the outdoors. And there's a cloud."
It freaked the piss out of me. And just as soon as I realized I was in the sky, I wasn't anymore.
That was that. I never tried to meditate again. That's how much it shook me up. It's one thing to watch someone's tie turn into a snake while you're on some hallucinogen; it's quite another thing to be sober and float around in the sky while your body is in the living room.
It is the only out-of-body experience I have ever had. I know I was in the sky. I know I saw that cloud. No one ever
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talked about this kind of experience at Satsang. And that was the problem. These guys knew how to hook us up to our interior, but they didn't seem to know how to guide us out. They didn't really communicate how the interior reality and the exterior reality could be brought into balance. They didn't warn us that we would be tripping our brains out. At least the first guy who gave me mescaline gave me that little talk beforehand. I call that responsible.
Now, my grip on reality has always been tenuous at best. I'm the kind of person who needs balance. I have always taken my cues from what I see around me. It's my guide. And if I was going to be going God knows where when I closed my eyes, I needed a reliable guide. Not some thirteen-year-old sitting in the back of a Rolls-Royce.
I never talked to Gayle about this. I didn't have to: The unrequited love died in the sky. I went from serious meditation back to heavy masturbation. I found they both do the job. They calm you down.