How I took my life back after thirty years
Many academics of New Religious Movements have disparaged apostate evidence about their former membership as "atrocity tales" in an attempt to destroy their credibility through pejorative labelling. It would be interesting to read their comments about Finch's book in which he has deliberately withheld the many "atrocity tales" he saw first-hand and attempts to maintain an air of imperturbable high-mindedness widely at odds with the behaviour of the guru he spent decades revering: Prem Rawat or Maharaji (the "Ultimate Ruler" as he prefers to be known), the former teenage Perfect Master and Lord of the Universe, Guru Maharaj Ji.
The book Without the Guru: How I took my life back after thirty years is available from Amazon.
Rawat's father, Hans, spent 35 years building up a successful movement based in the Sant Mat tradition of Northern India. He claimed to have millions of followers and at his death in 1966 passed the mantle of unique Divine guruship on to his youngest, 8 year old son. The inheritance story is steeped in hagiography but there is no doubt that from 1969 the pudgy, squeaky-voiced young Guru Maharaj Ji's Western followers grew extraordinarily rapidly to the amazement of a skeptical media. As J. Gordon Melton has written, "The arrival in the United States in 1971 of a 13 year old religious leader from India was met with some ridicule." This success, while overstated, continued until November 1973 when he became a laughing stock with the failure of the Millenium '73 event, advertised as "the most Holy and significant event in human history", in the Houston Astrodome which nearly bankrupted his organisation, Divine Light Mission
Finch gives a very personal view of the Rawat movement and while former "premies" (devotees of Rawat's) can flesh out the details with their own remembrances, other readers may find themselves a little lost. Finch does not try to whitewash Rawat's behaviour and an accurate picture of Rawat's character can be gleaned through events that Finch recounts but even the author must have decided that the picture he presents is inadequate and so he includes two short sections written by two other former devotees who had worked closely with Rawat to present some more of the unsavoury details.
"I knew that some of what they said was true, such as Maharaji's drinking, smoking and the fact that he had a mistress - I had witnessed all of this as an instructor. However, I had been totally loyal to Maharaji and never disclosed any of this to anyone - never mentioned the mistress even to Mike! But what shocked me in addition to the anger, was the extent of the revelations." pp 215-216
Finch doesn't try to hide his acceptance of Rawat's behaviour such as his desperate greed for luxury possessions, his lack of unselfish interest in or caring for his followers and his ignorance but I couldn't find any explanation for why Finch and many other intelligent young adults could accept Rawat as an incarnation of God on the flimsy and inadequate evidence they experienced and then accept and explain away Rawat's discreditable, immoral behaviour. I think that one possibility as to why this occurred is that as far as I recall the word 'God' is only mentioned twice in the book. Once Rawat is accepted as the Perfect Master, Saviour, Lord, etc all negative ideas about him are considered unacceptable.
If there was one word I would use to summarise the book's portrayal of Finch's life during those 30 years, it would be 'abject.' The book is steeped in the feeling of a desperate need to be validated by Rawat and to be physically close to him, a 'need' that was not generally available as Rawat went to great lengths to ensure the overwhelming majority of his followers were kept distant. They might pay lip service to their desire to be literally at "the Lotus Feet of Guru Maharaj J'" but went on living their lives, "practising Knowledge" in their communities, wherever they might be quite normally. Marijuana and LSD use and some sort of "counter-culture lifestyle" prior to accepting Rawat and "receiving Knowledge" ie being taught Rawat's meditation techniques and accepting him as their Master, were the norm in the 1970's. However, Finch had suffered a series of psychotic episodes, living in a constant "abyss of terror, torment and permanent panic" and these possibly predisposed him to accepting the guru uncritically.
Those parts of the book that I found most interesting and informative are the ones dealing with his conversion from being a bored Buddhist to an excited and hopeful premie through the proselytising of his old friend Ron Geaves, who arrived back from India and was tracking down his old Oxford drug-taking mates to share the good news that he'd found the Satguru of the age, the Lord of the Universe, who had the power and grace to take anyone and everyone straight to God Realisation and Liberation. Professor Ron Geaves of Liverpool Hope University has continued in his worship of Rawat and over the last decade has written a few laudatory papers and other forms of academic writing (eg a chapter on Rawat in "A Guide to New and Alternative Religions in the USA") putting forward very strong positive views of his Master.
Finch was dazzled and enchanted by Rawat's Indian emissary to the West, "Mahatma" Gurucharnanand (mahatma ="great soul"). "He appeared all that I had imagined a true Yogi to be" and recounting his conversion and "brainwashing" process Finch conveys possibly the only excitement in the whole book.
"Perhaps up to fifty people would sometimes squash into his bedroom in an evening to hear him talk. He would sit on his bed, upright and cross-legged, and he held us enthralled - 'us' being an assorted group of ex-beatniks, hippies, spiritual seekers, drop-outs, artists, the inquisitive, and people who had just wandered in off the street, wondering what was going on in this small basement apartment. He talked of peace within, and the possibility of finding it; of the divine spark that was our true nature, and how Guru Maharaj Ji could lead us to it. He often told us stories of Hindu saints and their parables, sometimes having one of us read from the Hindu scriptures - the Ramayana or the Mahabharata, perhaps, or Ramakrishna's talks or the writings of Kabir or Guru Nanak. But what was said at these evening satsang meetings was only a small part of it. The reason that I made the journey most evenings to sit in this small crowded bedroom, with smelly socks all around me, was the exuberance, the enthusiasm, the love, and feeling of just coming to my true home at last. For there was no doubt that Mahatmaj Ji had a presence; he radiated hope and love and serenity. We all loved him." - pp 25-26
It's possible that I responded to this section because it recounts my own experience nearly perfectly, 2 years later, half the world away in Sydney, Australia, in a dingy, upstairs warehouse, with a different group of ex-hippies, spiritual seekers, drop-outs, artists and the inquisitive with a different Indian "mahatma", Mahatma Padarthanand.
Not everyone loved the "Mahatma", Finch is forgetting that the majority of people who came into contact with DLM mahatmas and members were very unimpressed and simply did not return. Finch soon had reason to understand that the "mahatma" was not a realised soul but a loveless fanatic when Gurucharanand rang Finch to tell him he was the worst of the worst and was disowned for his "crime" of marriage. Unfortunately Finch did not have the clarity to see that at the time.
The book would appeal to a wider audience if the didactic sections were replaced by racy details of Rawat's vulgar venality but it is by far the best (and almost the only) book available about Rawat's career as Lord of the Universe to "World Renowned Master of Inner Peace" and philanthropist and life in the Rawatism cult and it is courageous, truthful and accurate, though very personal.
Copyright (c) 2009 Michael Finch
All rights reserved.
LCCN : 2009909311
Babbling Brook Press