This book mainly deals with Foster's unhappy childhood, his hatred of his father, his inability to come to a positive acceptance of his homosexuality, his life as a struggling actor and gay prostitute and his "born again" Christianity and career as a Christian pastor, author and producer. None of which is of great interest except to other homosexual hating evangelical Christians but his book has a few chapters dealing with his brief time as a premie.
In July 1979 at the rather late age of 28 he came under the influence of the rich and successful Tim Gallwey who had polar bear rugs and a beautiful wife. After enjoying the Guru Puja festival in Miami he returned to LA and at the beginning of September he was initiated. He recounts very strong experiences on being initiated but then he was an actor after all - seeing the light of 10,000 suns, etc, etc and in long letters to his parents he naively spewed out Divine Light Mission clichés that horrified them. Reading them 35 years later even horrifies me. He considers he "achieved nirvana" and experienced "the incredible God-consciousness that gurus spend their entire lives pursuing" but he was humble. Click here to get the full picture.
Fortunately for his parents' peace of mind the angry, father-hating leaf didn't fall far from the pastoral tree and Foster had a very un-1979-premie obsession with Maharaji's quotes from the Bible something that had pretty well disappeared from the Mission by then. Foster believes that Maharaji "cleverly twisted and turned around what Jesus said to fit whatever the cult was teaching." He doesn't seem to understand that the guru knew next to nothing about the Bible or any scripture and could only rattle off the few phrases he remembered from Catholic school. Yes, it was embarrassing to hear your guru say John the Baptist wrote the Gospel of John but is it more embarassing than thinking the disciple John wrote the Gospel of John which millions of Christians do? The shit hit the fan for Foster when :
Maharaj Ji denied what Jesus Christ said He came to do. On Christmas Day, 1979, he said that the only reason Christ died on the cross was to get people's attention. When Maharaj Ji said those words, something inside me felt as though it were jumping to its feet and crying, "NO!" I could feel the physical reverberations of the cry echoing across the expanse of space and time.
What? Reverberating through intergalactic space and time or only through the room? However on re-reading the speech Rawat gave that day I don't find him saying that at all. Rawat said that Jesus came for his disciples, to reveal the Knowledge to them and give them that wonderful experience." Memory is a strange thing.
Despite his misgivings he moved into the ashram and gave all his possessions to the Mission except for a credit card. Due to his "consistent and absolute devotion to Maharaj Ji, in less than a year I was placed in a position of secrecy and trust within the cult." Here he was shocked to find out DLM kept 2 sets of books, only one of whiich was shown to the IRS and that premies were prepared to pretend they weren't premies if it was good for business. I mean Christians have been murdering and killing each other in the millions for 2 millenia and crusading and child molesting and sinning in countless ways but those followers of Prem Rawat kept 2 sets of books! So because of these doubts and despite the nirvana and the joys and "the most exquisite experience of my lifetime" and the fact that he was no longer going out every night fucking men in cars and alleys for money he decided to stop meditating after only 6 months and just pretend to be doing it. He was a little worried because "the penalty for rejecting the Perfect Master of the Universe was eternal damnation." Actually Maharaji has always been ambiguous on that topic. It's Christianity and Islam that promise eternal damnation for apostasy and in Islam they'll kill you as well to send you straight to hell.
It was hard for David to make up his mind as he "had come to realize that since Satan could appear as an angel of light, he could just as easily masquerade as Jesus." What can a poor boy do? Nothing. But David still had that credit card and enough money for a round trip to Israel and so he lied and pretended he was going to the Holi festival in Rome in June 1980. It was in Israel that he decided to forgo Prem Rawat and his "Knowledge" and become a Christian and he felt rather aggrieved when he was told to leave the ashram immediately on his return to LA and that they wouldn't accept him passing out anti-Maharaji leaflets in a loving spirit. His final assessment:
But as I tried to remember practical demonstrations of Maharaj Ji's love, nothing came to mind. In fact, the only thing he ever did in practical terms was take from us. He took our time, our money, our belongings, our service and even our minds.
Of course Rawat didn't take Foster's mind or anybodies' minds else why do the majority of people, like David Foster, become disillusioned with him and reject him.
If there is a God and if evangelical Christianity is a correct reflection of God's wishes then Foster certainly made the right decision to leave Divine Light Mission. Actually it is the right decision even if there is no God or if God is a Buddhist but what sort of God makes a man homosexual and then condemns it as an intolerable sin? Despite his claims to have had extraordinary experiences as a premie, "nirvana", "incredible God-consciousness," "spiritual Niagara," "electrifying moment", "something genuine, something transformational and fulfilling," "recognition of who Maharaj Ji is," "true devotion" in a religion in which his sexuality is accepted he returned to Christianity.
. . .
I returned to the dorm, and as I walked into the lounge, I noticed one guy slouched on the couch, watching the Merv Griffin Show. Merv was interviewing a boy guru from India named Guru Maharaj Ji. I glanced at the television just long enough to notice the guru, with no idea of the role he would play in my life down the road. At the moment, I had other things on my mind.
. . .
It was a night that was impossible to forget. Sitting alone on my bed, legs crossed in the lotus position and hands formed in the Gyan Mudra position, I began to meditate on "Holy Light." By now, I was quite proficient in this technique and could quickly bring to my awareness the light that shone within. It was my favorite of the four meditation techniques revealed to me by the guru because it was the most "supernatural" in its effect. I loved to bathe in the light and meditate on the belief that it was the pure essence of God Himself. I had also been taught that it was my purest essence as well, and that the ultimate goal of meditation was to become so one with the light that I would lose my identity and merge into it, thus gaining the consciousness that I was one with it.
Of course, on this night I did not expect anything different from the normal blissful experience that I had grown used to having during the meditation, but was I ever in for a shock. About forty minutes into the meditation, I suddenly moved from observer to subject. In other words, I suddenly merged into the light and became one with it. My individual identity ceased and became one with the light.
On the one hand, it was a bit frightening to lose my individual identity. Yet on the other hand, the experience felt like one of complete bliss and peace. Without warning or expectation, I had achieved "nirvana" and suddenly seemed to be experiencing the incredible God-consciousness that gurus spend their entire lives pursuing.
Livin' in the Guru … U.S.A.
My close relationship with the man I am calling Hugh, the well-known Malibu playwright, went on for years. He continued his obsession with me, and for a long time I needed his approval as a father figure. I also treasured the recognition of seeing—and being seen by—the coterie of genuinely talented people who surrounded him.
When July 1979 came around, on the day before my 28th birthday, I called him and asked if I could spend the night on his pool deck. My hunger for love was insatiable, and my thirst for spirituality was intensifying. Someone had told me that the "spiritual energies" on that particular day were powerful because of the full moon and some kind of a "spiritual convergence." In my emotional misery, I was trying explore the depths of life since the heights had proven so disappointing. At first, Hugh said no because he had other plans. But uncharacteristically, I insisted.
While I was there, a Malibu surfer named Don came over to visit. He was a young kid, and I assumed he was another of Hugh's boy lovers. He was nice, enthusiastic and upbeat—a refreshing change from the jaded Hollywood crowd. At one point, he and Hugh were leaving to go see a video about an Indian guru, Maharaj Ji. As an afterthought, Don invited me along. I told him, "I don't want to go see no tape about no guru!"
Then Hugh mentioned that they were going to Timothy Gallwey's house. That caught my attention. Timothy Gallwey was the author of one of the biggest-selling books at the time, called The Inner Game of Tennis. I had not even begun to stop chasing the great and the near great, so I went along. Maybe, I thought, somebody will make a movie out of Gallwey's book. If I get to know him now, I'll be in a better position to get a part in it later.
The author's home was in the exclusive Point Dume area north of Malibu, near Zuma Beach. Tim Gallwey had a sunken living room covered in polar bear rugs and a wife who looked as if she had just stepped out of Vogue. Tim was clearly part of the elite Malibu jet-setting world, so I enthusiastically listened to everything he had to say. He talked about his book and his house for a while. Then gradually, he changed the subject to the purpose of life and how important it is to find it.
I was immediately enthralled. I had hungered for acceptance, and my dreams of fulfilling that need had been crushed. By now I knew I needed something more—something substantial to satiate the yearning that burned inside me. Here I was, listening to a man with money, fame, a beautiful wife and a fabulous house, who was confidently telling me how he had found purpose in life. His words were mesmerizing.
Gallwey spoke for about 45 minutes. Then he masterfully eased the direction of his talk toward Guru Maharaj Ji. All I could remember about Maharaj Ji was that he had been a pudgy little kid who had immigrated to the United States from India in the early 1970s, when he was 12. By the time I was at the Gallweys' home, the guru was 21. Eastern mysticism was a hot subject, so he had been on all the talk shows. I had seen him on the Merv Griffin Show that day I had been in the college lounge after trying to commit suicide, and then again on the cover of Life magazine.
Gallwey continued to hold us spellbound, relating how Maharaj Ji offered practical experience to people instead of just another set of religious concepts. His words were meaningless as far as leading people to the one true God, but they struck just the right chords in my mind and heart at that time. Then Timothy put in the videotape. For another twenty minutes, we heard from Guru Maharaj Ji himself.
I was not 100 percent sure about the guru, but Gallwey convinced me that there really could be life after Hollywood.
God and the Guru
Love and acceptance. Acceptance and love. Those three little words, and the emptiness in my soul that hungered for their satisfaction, had become something of a mantra for me. By the time I first heard about Maharaj Ji, I had given up all hope of finding any sort of emotional fulfillment in Hollywood. But now a new possibility had emerged, and I felt a ripple of hope that there was something for me in this young guru's mystical teachings.
It was clear by then that the entertainment business simply could not satisfy my deepest needs. Instead, little by little, my focus was shifting from dreams of stardom to an exploration of the supernatural. Surely the Cosmos—as I had begun to call whatever power existed beyond the material word—could offer meaning and purpose. And if my life became meaningful to the Ultimate Power, surely my need for love and acceptance would be met as well.
At that point, the Protestant denomination I had grown up in was of no interest to me. In my view, Christianity was a plastic religion populated by people who only pretended to have faith. I still respected Jesus, or at least the idea of Him. But my antagonism toward God had increased through the years, and my defenses against Him were rock hard and unyielding. I hated the "imaginary" deity of stuffy, uncaring church people. I had had enough of Him and His followers. But it was beginning to dawn on me that there might just be another deity out there—someone or something that could actually have benevolent thoughts and plans for me. The idea of an impersonal Higher Power appealed to me. I envisioned such a pure energy force redeeming my past and transforming all the evil I had ever done into something meaningful.
After the first meeting at Gallwey's home, I had been skeptical despite his brilliance. But in the days that followed, his words haunted me. I was invited to another similar event and eagerly went along. This second meeting was called a satsang, a Sanskrit word that identifies a gathering for the purpose of seeking Truth, the Ultimate Being, or God.
We found ourselves in Malibu once again, and this time we all removed our shoes before entering the house. As I looked around, the crowd of chic, wealthy searchers impressed me. Their warmth and sincerity melted more of my skepticism. This isn't a bunch of poor, uneducated people grasping at straws, I thought. Instead, they seemed highly educated and financially sound. One by one, various men and women described how uncertain they had been about Maharaj Ji at first, and how wonderful life had become after they had finally opened their hearts to the love he offered.
Tim Gallwey spoke again. Once more I was enthralled with his enthusiasm. He spoke confidently and rapidly of receiving "Knowledge"—with a capital K—that becomes available to us when enlightened teachers help us connect our consciousness with the Energy Force we call God. He explained that this Energy Force flows through each of us and is part of us. He called it the Divine within.
After the meeting, I gave a ride to two young guys who lived in one of Maharaj Ji's ashrams. Ashram is another Sanskrit word that literally means "to work." An ashram is generally a residence for followers of an Eastern guru. Ashrams are common among Hindus, and Maharaj Ji, as I came to learn, borrowed liberally from Hinduism and other Eastern religions, as well as from Christianity. He was from India, but had been raised in a Catholic school there.
I was attracted to one of the guys and thought I would try to develop a friendship—maybe even more—with him. I also wanted to see what level of poverty they had to live with in the ashram. When we arrived, I was amazed to find myself inside a beautiful modern house overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was right below Maharaj Ji's own lavish home, which crowned a nearby hill in Trancas Beach.
I questioned the two disciples about the ashram's prosperous look. I had assumed that austerity would be a necessary part of its existence. They told me that abject poverty was a religious concept Maharaj Ji simply did not embrace. Instead, he drove a Rolls-Royce and taught that possessing material things is not a sin. "Only the attachment to material things is wrong," one of the guys explained.
I decided to suspend judgment on that one for the moment.
In becoming involved with the guru, I also failed to notice that I was repeating the same fantasy I had cherished before, when I thought Hollywood was my ticket out of the mess I had made of my life. This time, I thought my ticket was the guru. By the time he entered the scene, my life was in shambles, just as it had been when I left college. My alcohol and drug use was rampant. My dependence on hustling for both income and sexual gratification was increasingly dangerous. I knew I had to make some changes.
My new friends suggested that I travel to Miami the following week to see Maharaj Ji in person. Was he a charismatic teacher of wisdom or a charlatan? I needed to find out.
At first, I was under the impression that I would be traveling to Miami to have a private meeting with Maharaj Ji. However, I was disabused of that notion the minute I entered the convention center. The presence of somewhere around ten thousand frenetic premies—"lovers of truth" in Sanskrit—was overwhelming. What energy! What excitement! Immediately, I was glad I had come.
Hopeful as I was, however, I was still looking for signs of weirdness. Were the participants dressed in strange garb? Did they appear brainwashed or on drugs? Were they true believers, or was a shadow of doubt hovering over the room? To my relief, everyone looked absolutely normal.
Before long there was buzz and excitement, and suddenly Maharaj Ji walked onto the stage. In an electrifying moment, the venue exploded into a kind of glee approaching delirium. Arms were raised in exaltation. Cheers and squeals filled the air. This was the last thing I had expected. Until then, I had only seen relatively serene lecture videos. There was more going on here than uplifting teaching, more than the appearance of a "good" man. I watched in amazement.
This is new, I thought. This is different. This is exciting. Even if he turns out to be a fraud, this is one bizarre trip that I've never taken before.
I had no idea that the ten thousand people in the Miami Convention Center actually believed that their guru was God Himself.
There are only two reasons people act this way, I counseled myself. They are either brainwashed, or they're responding to something genuine, something transformational and fulfilling.
No one seemed brainwashed, so I opened up my spirit to welcome Maharaj Ji in.
After his intriguing lecture, Maharaj Ji sat on that Miami stage for several hours, moving nothing except his head while the faithful paraded in front of him, kissing his feet. As they walked away from him after doing so, there was such an obvious look of bliss on their faces that I decided to try it myself to see if there was something supernatural going on. As I bent down to kiss his feet, I tried to pour out to him every bit of love that I could muster.
As I walked away, I felt only a subtle vibration and a vague sense of peace. Left and right, others were losing consciousness all around me. That puzzled me. What about me? I could not have known—would not have wanted to know—that the one true God was subtly leading me to Himself along the only path I was willing to follow.
I returned to L.A. and dove into the Bible for several weeks. Thanks to my limited biblical knowledge, I was easily convinced that Maharaj Ji was, indeed, God in the flesh. Helping me along, of course, were members of his cult, who offered a random collection of convoluted Scriptures the guru used to convince people of his authenticity.
I attended satsang almost every night after the Miami trip. I eagerly listened to the premies talk at length about their love for Maharaj Ji and what he had done in their lives. They repeatedly spoke about the meaning and purpose he had brought to the world.
I was captivated by the notion that, for some strange reason, God had decided to allow me to become a part of something ultimate and cosmic. I thought it was worth a shot, in any case. If there were any chance that this guru was God and that my wretched life could be redeemed through my involvement with him, I was going for it with everything in me. I suspended my acting and hustling pursuits to devote every waking hour to following Maharaj Ji.
New Twist: A Family in Prayer
What I did not know and really could not have imagined was that other forces—powerful forces—were at work on my behalf. Of all people, my parents were pouring out their love for me in a most unexpected way.
During the late 1970s, my parents had encountered the charismatic renewal in the Presbyterian Church and had experienced a dramatic turnaround in their lives. As they described it, "Our faith became deeper and more substantive and God more real in our lives." They believed that the Holy Spirit had come into them in a new way, and their faith had become something tangible and vital, as opposed to something academic and peripheral to everyday life.
I did not realize exactly what had happened to my parents. Instead, in my letters, I tried to convince them that they needed Guru Maharaj Ji. Unbeknownst to me, however, Mom and Dad's belief in the authority of the Bible had dramatically increased. Their network of friends had blossomed beyond the nominal "mainline" Presbyterian crowd to include serious believers and prayer warriors who were serving God all over the world. And they were all praying for me.
When I wrote to my parents about the guru, my words deeply troubled them, more intensely than I might have imagined. They knew very well that I was deceived, and they feared that I would be lost to the true God forever. The letters I wrote to them were sobering, showing how dangerously deceived and lost I really was. In a letter dated September 6, 1979, I wrote,
Maharaj Ji is the Lord—please believe it! He has heard my cries for help and has come to make me a devotee of him.
Later I wrote,
The only clue we have to finding God is through our hearts, because that is where truth lies. There we can find Him.
My recognition of who Maharaj Ji is was immediate. My heart told me right away. It was my mind that kept me from true devotion for all this time.
Stop listening to your minds and you will see that he is the Lord—you will see with your heart—not your mind.
Only in my letters did I try to convert my parents. I was afraid to talk to them on the phone or in person about the guru. In my memory, they had always denigrated my hopes and dreams, criticized my interests or tried to talk me out of them. That is why I had never shared with them my dreams for Hollywood. And now what was happening between me and my guru was way too precious to argue with them about. I was unwilling to receive their criticism in any form other than a letter that could easily be thrown away.
Meanwhile, I was tireless in my efforts to convince them of my newfound faith. Many of my letters to my parents were ten to fifteen pages long. Only my concern for their salvation prodded me to reveal slowly and gently to them that God was on the planet. As it turned out, they already knew more about God's presence among us than I did. Still I wrote,
Your mind, your ego, your imagination is deceiving you into thinking that Maharaj Ji is not the Holy Spirit. That is its job, its purpose. Feel from the heart—that is where truth lies, not in the mind.
Later, after a supernatural experience, I wrote to them,
I'm no longer the impetuous little kid that you remember who ran off and dove into things without thinking. Remember, I've been living in the unreal world of Los Angeles for six years now—have a college degree—and can safely say that I'm no fool. I have checked out every angle on this thing.
Last Saturday I received "Knowledge." There is now no longer anything of this world that can touch me as long as I use the tools of "Knowledge" given to me by God. It is absolutely forbidden by God for one who has received this precious "Knowledge" to reveal it to anyone. Only God Himself can do that and only through Guru Maharaj Ji.
When "Knowledge" was revealed to me, I saw just who Maharaj Ji was. The first thing I saw was light—incredible light, that which would power 10,000 suns. I saw this inside of me. In fact, I can close my eyes right now and see it shining. It is the very essence of God. It is God. It is Jesus. It is Maharaj Ji. They are all one.
Also I was revealed the music of God. I could, and can, hear celestial music inside myself.
In addition, I was given the taste of nectar, which is God. And I was revealed the Holy Name—that unspeakable name that is God. Maharaj Ji tells us that unless we are constantly in the remembrance of Holy Name, when the time comes for the passing from this life, we will not be saved. So we must constantly be in God consciousness to be saved because our time will come like a thief in the night. And so my effort must constantly be there. Having "Knowledge" revealed to me alone will not save me. It is because of my true effort through "Knowledge" that I will be saved.
An Exquisite Experience
One of the factors that contributed to my deception was the supernatural element empowering the guru. I had not experienced anything like it in a direct way since my twelfth year, when I had sensed Jesus' presence in my father's church during "O Holy Night." I was unfamiliar with the spirit realm and even more unaware of Satan's power to deceive. Like so many others, I naïvely assumed that if something was supernatural, it had to be from God.
When I found myself weeping uncontrollably during the guru's teachings, for example, I assumed that God was responding to my unspoken inner request for mercy and reconciliation, and that He was doing something beyond my understanding. Indeed, in spite of all the fallacies involved, I had begun to believe that God—notwithstanding the virulent hatred I had had of Him most of my life, and despite my personal wickedness—was still willing to forgive me and have me as one of His children. To have this hope revived after I had utterly forsaken it for so many years stimulated a rising tide of emotion. And although I was feeling these emotions under false pretenses, my impression was true. God really was wooing me to Himself.
All the while, I was intent on confirming that Guru Maharaj Ji was an incarnation of God Himself. That was a key element in his teaching—that in every generation there is an incarnation of God on this earth, called a "Perfect Master." And since Maharaj Ji had arrived to usher in the final age of mankind, he had come with more power than anyone else before him. I had long carried within my heart the belief that my generation was the final age of humanity, so I was eager to believe the guru's claims. I just needed supernatural proof.
One night I knelt on the floor, surrounded by dozens of other premies who were likewise bowing to the floor in worship of Guru Maharaj Ji. We were doing pranam, which means bowing down—literally facedown, prostrate. And my prayer was sincere. I told God that I believed in His Son Jesus, and I asked Him to forgive me, save me and show me if Maharaj Ji was really Him or not.
All at once, I felt that a door to my heart had been opened like a camera aperture, and an enormous torrent of pure energy had rushed into my heart through the opening. Liquid love was being poured through me with such force that it seemed as if I were lying at the bottom of Niagara Falls, with the full force of the water rushing toward me. I felt both exhilarated and terrified at the same time.
Curiously, however, the torrent poured into an invisible, other-dimensional place in my heart rather than hitting me physically. It sounded simultaneously like a mighty rushing wind, millions of voices and a blast from a hurricane-force storm. It was unquestionably the most exquisite experience of my lifetime, as well as the most intensely frightening and powerful feeling I had ever known. It was pure, furious love. I knew that it would kill me if it continued, so in my spirit I shouted, STOP! It instantly stopped.
My first thought was, Wow! God! You do exist!
My next thought was, But was that meant to show me that the guru really is You, or that You are something completely different? Was it a response to my willingness to follow Maharaj Ji, or a response to my trust in Jesus Christ?
I still was not so sure about the guru. But one thing I was sure of—after years of denial—was that God was powerful and that He loved me very much. The partition between God and me had been consumed by His love for me. The angry barrier between us was no longer there. I would never, ever be able to doubt God's power or His love again.
At the same time, I was increasingly unsure that Guru Maharaj Ji was who he claimed to be. After the spiritual Niagara had nearly drowned me, I looked around to see if anyone else in the room had felt the same thing. Those around me were serenely bowed in veneration, clearly clueless about what I had just experienced. I was dying to tell them, but at the same time I realized that there was no way I was going to get anyone to believe what had just happened.
But maybe Tim Gallwey will get it, I thought. I walked out the front door and sat on the low brick wall that bordered the walkway, waiting for him to emerge. Almost on cue, with most of the people still inside, Tim emerged from the house. He walked toward me and asked me how I was doing.
"I have to tell you what just happened to me!" I exclaimed fervently, trying my best not to sound like a complete fanatic.
"Please, do tell me," he calmly replied, cool as ever.
I tried to find the words I needed to describe the experience. "Okay … while we were doing pranam just now, it was as if a door in my chest opened up and a rushing force of energy poured into my heart! What was that?"
Knowing of my Christian upbringing, Tim replied, "That was the river of living water. In the book of John, Jesus promised to give it to everyone who was thirsty. You have been thirsty, haven't you?"
"Well, yeah!" I replied.
"And you have been wondering whether or not Maharaj Ji is God, haven't you?"
"Yeah, I have."
"God has chosen this way to answer your prayers. He has shown you that Guru Maharaj Ji offers you the experience of God that you've been looking for. It is through him that you will receive the eternal life you've been seeking. Maharaj Ji has filled you with the living water of Jesus Christ; he has filled you with his living water—the water that he gave to Jesus to pour out on all who would follow the one true God."
I went home that night and looked up all the Scriptures that spoke of the river of living water that Jesus Christ had promised. That was all I needed. Within weeks, I had sold everything I owned, given the proceeds to the guru and moved into his ashram in Brentwood. From that point on, as far as I was concerned, Guru Maharaj Ji was God the Father Himself, and I was the guru's—lock, stock and barrel.
"In Your Mind or in Your Heart?"
One of the reasons I was vulnerable to supernatural phenomena was because of Maharaj Ji's earliest conditioning of the premies. He insisted that questioning and doubting him was wrong; it was a sure sign that you were "in your mind" rather than "in your heart." As devotees, we were conditioned not to think, but simply to feel. Eventually, we lost the ability to discern counterfeit feelings from authentic experiences. And before long, we willingly opened our minds to demonic influences.
It was shocking that I was so willing to blindly follow a spiritual leader based on the disengagement of the mind. As a romantic, I found the idea that truth can only be perceived by the heart attractive. It might have been different if someone had shown me Jesus' words from Mark 7:21—23, "For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." Or Jeremiah's declaration in Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"
Another element that assisted in our conditioning was the diet we were required to follow. We were strict and total vegetarians, meaning no meat and no fish or eggs, or anything that contained those things, including cake mixes (which contain eggs) and other packaged goods. It was difficult, however, to figure out how to adhere to such a diet, and many premies became anemic and hypoglycemic from getting too little protein and too many carbohydrates.
My parents were, of course, gripped with fear during that time period. It was obvious to them that I was being deceived. When I wrote to them about seeing light emanating from Guru Maharaj Ji, they responding by pointing out that the Bible clearly says in 2 Corinthians 11:13—15,
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
I did not know enough about the Bible to understand that when Jesus said in John 8:12 and John 9:5, "I am the light of the world," He was providing a metaphor to help explain His message. He did not mean that He was literally a light inside that could be accessed by meditation.
Mom and Dad wrote letter after letter to me, trying to convince me that Jesus was the only way. I responded with letter after letter to them, assuring them that they only had part of the picture and that Guru Maharaj Ji had the rest. I spun every Scripture I could find, making venerable passages of God's Word sound like they referred to Maharaj Ji. I fed my family massive doses of reinterpreted and misdirected quotes. Meanwhile, my childhood belief in the spiritual bankruptcy of my parents became a shield against much of what they wrote.
* * *
The Guru's Big Mistake
Maharaj Ji usually was careful to speak respectfully of Jesus. After all, in his bodily form he was supposedly a reincarnation of Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and all the "Perfect Masters" who had come before him—or so he led us to believe. In the process, he cleverly twisted and turned around what Jesus said to fit whatever the cult was teaching. This was relatively easy to do since the people in the cult who had Christian backgrounds only had a surface knowledge of the Bible anyway. No one had been a Bible scholar, for example, or even a Bible college student, as far as I knew. We were all simply disaffected "Christians" from nominal backgrounds. And we shared one reason or another for not wanting the traditional interpretation of the Bible to be true. A lot of Jews were also in the cult, looking for their Messiah.
Then one day, Maharaj Ji denied what Jesus Christ said He came to do. On Christmas Day, 1979, he said that the only reason Christ died on the cross was to get people's attention. When Maharaj Ji said those words, something inside me felt as though it were jumping to its feet and crying, "NO!" I could feel the physical reverberations of the cry echoing across the expanse of space and time.
How completely unexpected this was. I remember wondering what that cry was all about, what spirit had done it and what it meant with regard to my weakening belief that Maharaj Ji was God. Because of my "river of living water" experience, I had come to believe that God resided within me, and this "voice" confirmed to me that I was right. Now I had to decide if the spirit that cried "NO!" was the real Jesus, the Holy Spirit or some deceiving entity trying to confuse me and rob me of the true reincarnation of Jesus—Maharaj Ji. It certainly got my attention, sending me on a further search for answers.
Due to my consistent and absolute devotion to Maharaj Ji, in less than a year I was placed in a position of secrecy and trust within the cult. That trust meant I had access to information that was damaging to the group. I was now working in the main office in L.A. and had occasion to see what was going on behind the scenes. Some of it was not pretty.
I will never forget the day I sat in the office with the girl who did the books. I heard her ask her supervisor which set of books a particular source of income belonged in—the set shown to the IRS or the set that revealed the cult's real income. I asked her about it, and she made a joke about how we had to keep two sets of books in order to avoid trouble from the government.
On another occasion, I was present at a group meeting of leaders where they gloated over a coup they had just pulled off over the local PTA. The cult owned an old movie theater where they showed family-style movies to the public on weekends. I had served as an usher and ticket taker on many occasions. After a while, we found out that neighborhood parents had banded together to keep their kids from going to the theater because it was being run by the cult. They did not want their money supporting the guru, and they did not want their children seduced into the cult by the devotees who ran the theater.
In response, several cult members decided to dress up in business attire and attend the local PTA meeting. They would go in pretending to be businessmen who had just bought the theater from the cult. At the meeting, they assured the parents that it was now safe to send their kids to the movies there. This scam worked like a charm.
These two incidents caused me great distress. Why would Maharaj Ji have to cheat the government and lie to parents over money concerns? Wasn't he God? If so, he could create any kind of income he needed. Additionally, if he really was God, why would he lie? Shouldn't he be perfect and therefore incapable of lying?
I still remembered the moment when he had alluded to Christ's death on the cross as though it had been some kind of publicity stunt. Above all things, that had been the guru's biggest mistake. A conflict arose inside me, with Maharaj Ji on one side and logic and respect for Jesus on the other.
* * *
The things going on in the unseen world of prayerful intercession for my deliverance were beginning to take effect. Gradually, my confidence in Maharaj Ji was eroding. One issue that grated on me was his repeated reference to John the Baptist as "the man who wrote the gospel of John." Normally, a nominal Christian like me would never have noticed this error; it was only by God's grace that I did. The guru said it only three or four times, but every once in a while, in the middle of giving satsang (sharing his thoughts at a satsang meeting), he would refer to John the Baptist in this erroneous way.
It was so obviously wrong that at first I assumed he was joking with us. In fact, whenever Maharaj Ji said or did something that seemed inconsistent with the cult's teachings, the leaders would always dismiss it as "Maharaj Ji playing with our minds." If something seemed questionable and someone brought it up, the leaders would accuse the person of "being in your mind." We were supposed to operate in the continual supernatural consciousness of Maharaj Ji, which was just the opposite of trying to think things through rationally. It was a clever ruse that cut off contradictions, complaints and the questioning of leadership.
As little as I knew about the Bible, I did know that John the Baptist could not have written the gospel of John because Herod had beheaded him long before many of the events described in it took place. If Guru Maharaj Ji is God, I asked myself, then how could he be so wrong about this? In fact, how could he be wrong about anything?
I began to consider something new and shocking: Was the real God causing Maharaj Ji to make these statements so I could see that he was actually a fraud?
* * *
In May 1980, I decided to stop meditating for a while. I needed to clear my mind of doubts about the guru. I had secretly begun to read my Bible again—a practice frowned upon in the ashram—so I read it late at night under my blanket, or while my roommate was at work. One day while I was reading, the words shot out at me, almost as if they had leapt from the page, and I suddenly had an understanding of Scripture that I had never had before. It was as if a spiritual veil was lifted. Instantly, I was able to understand scriptural warnings about people like Maharaj Ji and to discern his methods of deception. Second Corinthians 11:14—15 screamed at me once again: "Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. …"
I had also become quite fond of the gospel of John because it was mystical and therefore was a better fit with my homemade brew of religious philosophy. These verses leapt out at me:
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."
I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am [the one I claim to be], you will indeed die in your sins.
John 8:24 NIV1984
And Jesus answered them, "See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray. … Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!' or ‘There he is!' do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand."
Matthew 24:4—5, 23—25
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
2 Timothy 3:16
That last one particularly impacted me because it went directly against the cult's claims that Scripture was unnecessary and was not the direct Word of God to us, as Maharaj Ji claimed to be.
When we meditated in our rooms at night, we used a stick to prop up a sheet or blanket over our heads, making a sort of personal little tent. My roommate was on a mattress just a few feet away, and we were supposed to be meditating at the same time. I would have a small Bible and a flashlight under my tent with me, however, so I could read the Bible instead of meditating. After my roommate had gone to sleep, I would lie down, pull the blanket up over my head, and pretend to sleep, but continue to read underneath the blanket with a flashlight.
One night my roommate caught me reading the Bible. "Why are you doing that?" he asked.
"I'm just confirming Maharaj Ji's teachings by comparing them to it."
"That's not right! You're just ‘in your mind.' Otherwise, you wouldn't have to confirm anything Maharaj Ji says."
By then I was pretty sure that if Maharaj Ji really was God, the Bible would only confirm what he taught. So why the pressure not to read it? It was all beginning to seem rather suspicious.
Still, I was afraid to do anything. I had worked hard to attain the position of trust the cult had put me in. To make matters worse, the penalty for rejecting the Perfect Master of the Universe was eternal damnation. Needless to say, I had to be absolutely sure of what I was doing before I left. At the same time, months and months of conditioning could not be shaken off in a moment. I had invested so much devotion and dedication to Maharaj Ji that to even consider that he was not who he claimed to be frightened me. Nonetheless, I had to find out the absolute truth. I had to be completely certain.
In my earnest search through the pages of the Bible, I discovered a wonderful promise in Jeremiah 29:13: "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart." Could it be true? To find out, I decided to take God at His word, travel to Israel and make a personal pilgrimage in search of Him. I sensed that getting away from the cult for a little while would allow me to think things through without distraction. I wanted to reconsider everything. And I needed breathing room—space from those who so adamantly rejected the Bible and discouraged my intellectual concerns. I had been in the guru's world long enough. Now I needed to spend some time in the world Jesus knew.
* * *
By now, a real battle between my devotion to Guru Maharaj Ji and my belief in Jesus was being waged inside me. The guru spoke respectfully of Jesus most of the time, but he insisted that Jesus was simply another embodiment of God. The guru, on the other hand, was supposedly the ultimate manifestation.
I had been taught as a child that Jesus claimed to be the only way to God. Who was right? Was the guru right, and was organized Christianity simply getting Jesus' message wrong? Did Jesus really mean that He alone was the way to the Father? If so, did that mean the guru was a fraud?
I had always respected Jesus, but I was not completely sure that He was what Christianity taught He was. My knuckles whitened as I grasped my hands firmly together in front of me. I reminded Jesus that I believed in Him. I told Him once again that I was sorry for my sins and reminded Him that I had come all the way to Israel to make sure that by following Maharaj Ji, I was indeed following Him.
I had hoped for some miraculous sign, but by then, I had come to realize that since Satan could appear as an angel of light, he could just as easily masquerade as Jesus. He could have come walking toward me on the Sea of Galilee, and I would have been misled. I suddenly understood that finding the answer to my question would take more than a miracle. But what could that something be?
As I knelt in prayer, straining with hope that God would give me the answer, I said, "God, You can do miracles, and Satan can do miracles. How am I supposed to know who is truly from God?"
I was surprised that a reply came so quickly into my mind—a thought so abstract that it could never have been my own: Who proved His love for you?
At first, the thought did not make sense to me. As I struggled to understand it, the image of Christ's scourging and torturous crucifixion flashed through my brain. In fact, I had just visited the very places where those things had taken place. Yes, Jesus had demonstrated His love for me in a practical way by enduring that long, agonizing death to pay for my sins.
Then I began to consider Maharaj Ji. He had certainly made me feel loved at times. But as I tried to remember practical demonstrations of Maharaj Ji's love, nothing came to mind. In fact, the only thing he ever did in practical terms was take from us. He took our time, our money, our belongings, our service and even our minds.
The guru took. Jesus, the Savior, gave.
It was so simple. And so marvelous. Why hadn't I thought of it before? Jesus alone had demonstrated in a practical way, and had thereby proven, His love for me. And He had risen from the dead to prove that He was powerful enough to save me.
I rose up from that rock feeling featherlight, as if the heaviness of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. A veil of deception had been removed from my mind. I had received my answer at last, and the answer was Jesus.
Joyous and free, I hurried back toward my hotel, reveling in the peace and love I was feeling. I finally had a certainty about who God was—from the lips of God Himself and from the confirming historical record of the demonstration of Jesus' love on the cross during His sojourn on the earth. He was a God who took on human flesh and died a torturous death in order to take upon Himself the punishment of those who were at enmity with Him. It was mind-blowing!
Once I returned to Los Angeles, I was not sure what to do next. First of all, I was completely broke. Although I did not have the money to move anywhere else, I certainly could not stay in the ashram. I decided not to do anything for a while, acting as if nothing had happened, until I could figure out a strategy. Already, however, I was preparing a lengthy letter to all the guru's premies. The finished letter was ten pages long, typed front and back, single-spaced. In no uncertain terms, I spelled out how and why I knew that Maharaj Ji was a phony. As I read and reread it, I thought it was a masterpiece.
In the meantime, I decided it would be wise to appear at satsang, in case I had fallen under suspicion. As far as everybody knew, I had just returned from a blissful trip to see Maharaj Ji in Rome. Just a week after my return, I made my way with great trepidation into the Loyola Theatre in Westchester (near LAX airport). It was a large, old-fashioned movie house with red-carpeted aisles and stuffed red velvet seats that folded backward. An actual stage still graced the front of the auditorium, and the movie screen was hidden behind red velvet curtains. A lone microphone stood on the left side of the stage, awaiting testimonials.
Fear fluttered inside me. I knew intuitively that someone would ask me to give satsang. There was no way I could speak that night. For one thing, I was incapable of articulating what had happened to me. Knowing what I did about the cult, I actually feared being physically attacked and bodily thrown out if I stood before the audience and announced that the guru was a fraud. Yet at the same time, I knew that eventually I had to tell them. They were all being deceived, and I wanted to let them know it. Some of the cult members really mattered to me.
I had intentionally arrived late and had slipped silently into the very back of the mezzanine section, clinging to the hope that I would not be noticed. Someone was watching for me, however. I had been seated only about twenty minutes when the young woman at the microphone called for me to come forward. I slid more deeply into my chair, hoping to look unwell. I had noticed before that occasionally, someone did not respond to the request to speak. Thankfully, after an agonizing minute or two, she called on someone else.
Later that night at our ashram, a few of the guys began to question me about my trip. Why hadn't I gone to see Guru Maharaj Ji in Rome like I said I would? Why had I gone to Israel, of all places? Did I think it was permissible for an ashram premie to simply go off on a vacation trip? Weren't we supposed to be working hard together?
I tried to explain my concerns, first to the guys and later to my roommate. I was as honest as possible about my doubts, but as it turned out, my sincerity did not help me much. The trip to Israel, combined with my growing skepticism about Maharaj Ji, were bright red flags in the face of the cult's leadership. My days at the ashram clearly were numbered.
Fortunately, my friend Shirley agreed to take me in. She was a lesbian psychologist who shared a house with a homosexual ballet dancer. They had been my friends for years, and they graciously made their basement apartment available for my use during this crisis.
It was not long until I needed it. Sooner than I expected, the ashram informed me that because I no longer fully believed in Guru Maharaj Ji, I would have to leave. The cult's spokespeople were unbending, unkind and impatient. I told them that I would be out within a few days. It was sobering that these so-called brothers, who allegedly loved me devotedly, had no problem whatsoever kicking me out into the street without a word of consideration for my well-being.
I moved into Shirley's basement, feeling confident that God was with me and that He and I could handle anything. But doubts soon gathered. Shirley was into some sort of angel worship, and as I was kneeling beside my bed each night, I would hear her angel-worship music moaning through my ceiling—an eerie, mournful sound. "Lord," I prayed silently, "are You sure You want me here? After all, they're homosexuals and angel worshipers! Shouldn't I be in a healthier climate?"
One day I decided to walk the two blocks down to Hollywood Presbyterian Church, thinking to myself, Even though they're almost certainly a bunch of hypocrites, I can still worship God there. To my utter surprise, the church was spilling over with born-again believers who really seemed to care about me. I had never run into that before and was quite taken by it. Paul Cedar was the associate pastor, and he was preaching all that month. To my astonishment, each Sunday his sermon answered the primary question that I had put before God that very week. It was a marvelous example of the Lord's detailed concern for me. He was there, and He was listening.
A week after being ejected from the ashram, I stood outside the old satsang hall and distributed my letter to the premies. At first they probably assumed that I wanted to repent. But instead of going in, I stood outside and handed my ten-page document to every person who passed. Within a few minutes, one of the leaders came out and asked me to come inside so they could talk to me about the statements I had made.
Now more than ever, I mistrusted them and refused to go with them. They ordered me off the property under threat of arrest. I refused, pointing out that I was standing on a public sidewalk. They stood next to me, warning people not to accept or read my paper. I pretended to leave, but instead went to the parking lot and starting putting my letter under windshield wipers. The cultists eventually spotted me and starting ripping the papers off the cars. I responded by slipping copies through partially opened windows. Finally, the disgusted cultists left, and I learned later that they had urgently warned the guru's following not to read a word of what I had written. I fervently hoped that this ban would stimulate interest all the more. Once I had handed out every last copy of the letter, I left and never returned.