Arthur Chappell's Story

To me, Arthur Chappell and I seem world's apart. He's suspicious, I'm optimistic. He lives in Manchester, a city I imagine as an overcast Victorian slum, and I live in beautiful sunny Australia. He believes he was brainwashed, I believe Divine Light Mission recruitment didn't qualify to be called "brainwashing." He thinks premies deliberately deceived him, I think they were just being nice to me. But on nearly all the external details his experience and mine seem to agree despite the huge differences in location and personal outlook, family life and even 8 years' difference in the time we became involved.


I am an unusual atheist and Humanist in that the God I don't believe in is still alive, and was last seen living in Malibu. His name is Maharaji. I still have a four foot by three foot photograph of him at home. It was the centre piece of my bedroom shrine to this God, an object of idolatry. I used to have the big portrait, and several smaller photographs placed around my bedroom in such a way that I would see the so-called "Living Perfect Master, or Satguru," whichever way I faced. He was the first thing I saw as I woke up of a morning, and the last thing I saw before I fell asleep at night. Without even being physically present in my life, he influenced my every moment for four and a half years between 1981 and 1985. A cult permeates every aspect of your life and influences every thought and decision you have.

It should hopefully now be very apparent to you that Maharaji no longer dictates my thoughts or my feelings in any way, and what I want to do is to show how someone like me, and someone like yourself, can easily be sucked into a cult like Maharaji's Divine Light Mission. I'll take you step by step through the experience of being drawn in to a cult, like sinking in a quicksand. It's important that anyone who has been conned asks themselves how it happened, so it doesn't happen again, to them or to others.

How did I get recruited? Some of you probably just agree with P. T. Barnum and say "There's one born every minute". Others tell me I must have been on some kind of quest or search for ultimate spiritual truth, and that I undoubtedly wanted to join a cult. In fact, I was an atheist when the cult recruited me. I was raised as a Roman Catholic, confirmed in the name of St. Jerome, (because St. Christopher who I wanted to be my personal saint, had been struck off the canonical list, and I went to confession every Saturday. This involved sitting in a cold, dark, haemorrhoid inducing box to tell my sins to a grouchy humourless priest I couldn't see, even though he and his God saw me clearly. He was never happy with my tales of being caught pinching jam and biscuits, and convinced himself that there was more that I wasn't telling him. I found myself making things up just to confess to them. They say childhood traumas from home life make your character composition up in your first five years, but most of my problems and neurosis probably stem from the terror of the confessional. So strictly speaking, I've actually been in two cults, but a childhood of having my fingers rapped with rulers by nuns for writing left handed made me rebel early on. I turned atheist as soon as I first heard of the word, in Joseph Heller's novel Catch 22. Sadly, I never really worked out what to do with my atheism bar being relatively rude to hard-line Christians. I was worried at times that God might actually exist after all, and that he might send me to Hell for doubting him, whilst death leading to total non-existence also worried me. I was actually surprised recently to see that I excelled at religious Instruction at school, according to my report cards. I wasn't aware of Humanism, or of Freethought at all.

It has been said by American Psychiatrist, Professor Margaret Singer, that people who are in some kind of temporary mental and emotional disorientation are the most likely cult recruits. By Singer's reckoning, after some kind of crisis in your life you should be at you most guarded regarding cult recruitment. I wasn't guarded or prepared for what happened at all. The crisis in my life was multiple. My father died alone, suddenly in a cafe in Manchester, where I live, dropping dead with an instant coronary a month short of his 50th birthday in 1979, and the police came to the house to tell my mother. It was a tragedy that tore us all apart. My O level studies became very half hearted, and as I left school, I was hit by a severe attack of Hepatitis, followed by long term unemployment. By 1981, I was just aimlessly drifting through life, and reading a lot of books to pass the time. I was cynical and totally unmotivated. Searching for anything, spiritual, or material was far from my mind. I simply existed. It started at a second hand book stall, when a pretty girl invited me to join her at what she called a lecture on Transcendental meditation. It sounded as innocent and as simple as that. As the meeting was at a hall hired from Manchester's Science Museum, it sounded academic, if not a little dull to me, but cults like to leave you with false impressions. I also found the girl quite attractive, and felt as though I was going on a date. Big mistake.

I waited outside the meeting hall, and watched a lot of friendly, smiling people go in. A few introduced themselves and invited me in, but I insisted on waiting for the girl I knew, and in the end she turned up. We went in, and I sat beside her. She obviously knew most people there. The stage was a box, a poor quality PA system, and a portrait of a smiling elderly looking Indian gentleman, with a candle burning in front of it. Some of the audience members added more flowers to it as the evening went on.

A girl got up, talking of a life of drugs and sorrow, and her quest for happiness, which she found in the grace and gift of meditation given to her by Maharaj Ji. She occasionally threw in very offbeat jokes, and casually said that the light he had given her was the best orgasm she had ever achieved in her life. As she finished, and sat down, I started clapping, more to be polite after her effort to entertain us than anything. I wondered what sort of lecture this was. To my horror, no one else clapped, or expressed pleasure at her passionate talk whatsoever. I felt like a total pratt. I was told bluntly later on why I wasn't to applaud. No one is speaking for ego-gratification. Our only pleasure in this task of presenting the Knowledge to the world comes from Maharaji himself by his grace and wisdom. Applause only gives our egos and our pride a boost. Save your gratitude for the Satguru. The speaker didn't do anything for you. Maharaji reached directly to you using the speaker as a medium of expressing his wishes for your happiness. Thank only the guru, never anyone else. So from then on, I met each speaker's efforts with stony silence, and no applause.

Talking about Maharaji, I learned is called Satsang. It's a Hindi word meaning The Company Of Truth, and had to be spontaneous, though many a follower rehearsed a Satsang carefully and some recycled favourite stories for use again in future formal talks and casual house meetings. Satsangs were all concerned with promoting Maharaji as the hero of the world. "He's saved so many of us," one girl said, "that he should now receive the Nobel Peace Prize." Another speaker told us the story of the ugly duckling and how Maharaj Ji had turned her into a beautiful swan, or at least made her see that she was a swan deceived by her illusionary mind into thinking she was just an ugly little duck in a muddy puddle.

Sometimes, between speakers, someone sang a song; some were popsongs, but sung as though they were hymns; Lennon's Imagine, which I know is popular with Humanists, was one. An Indian called Charanand sang a song of his own composition called "There is a Knowledge you will not find in college", and I noticed that the word Knowledge wasused frequently in the meeting after that.

The recruitment strategy was simple; divert his attention, don't answer any of his questions, smile at him a lot, hug him as though he's your best friend in the world, charm, smarm, sales pitch, push and pull the target. The classic brainwashing techniques to keep you off balance so you can't assess what is happening to you. Martial arts fans will know the first rule of fighting combat is to keep moving. Don't stand still so your opponent can focus his attack. That's why boxers use a lot of footwork. Cults recruit at breakneck speed, putting you through processes of indoctrination quickly so that you have little time to register doubts or co-ordinate your scepticism. This is known as information overload. They bombard your analytical thinking system by giving you more data than you can absorb in one go, all in vague, shifting language. Guru, Ashram, prachar, Premie, Jaisatchitanand, Bolishrisatgurudev Maharaj Ki Jai, the Kriyas, The list goes on. I'll explain these words shortly. You normally wouldn't get to ask what they mean too soon, or to grasp the extent of their meanings as they are given to you. You find yourself as I was, surrounded by beaming, happy people who know all this already or at least appear to. You feel like an outsider in a club where everyone knows some earth shattering, life changing secret which they don't want to share with you too soon. As a recent cult related article said;

"It is easy, I tell you, if you sit long enough in the landscape of some very odd picture, to begin thinking, WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? instead of WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE? You see that everyone else thinks this odd place is normal, and because you don't see it is normal, well, then you must be abnormal. You start questioning yourself. Your judgement gets wacky. You don't want to be odd. You want to fit in, so you become normal as defined by the abnormal picture. you become odd."

I was a little puzzled by it all, and more or less planned on saying so. As the formal meeting dissolved, people came over asking me about me, one after another. I was answering questions without getting answers. The cult gets to know all about you, with information to use for future reference, and yet it shrouds itself in mystery, to keep you guessing and wanting more. Plural now on recruiters. There were suddenly several of them. The girl who originally invited me along has conveniently vanished into the background. I am outnumbered. I ask one person a question, and someone else gives a vague answer to it. Feeling slightly overwhelmed, I try to get through to my original recruiter, but someone else gets in my way, shaking my hand, smiling at me, skirting my questions with practised skill I would soon acquire myself. Misinformation, controlled hysteria, rehearsed spontaneity.

They agree to go to a pub with me and answer my questions over a few drinks. My first recruiter comes along, but she is quiet, in the background still. I find them overpowering. I'm a little afraid of them. I tell them they are starting to sound religious. "No," one of them says, "we are not a religion. We have the actual experience that all the great religions of the world merely talk about. We don't believe, we know." What followed then was a lot of jeering and mockery of all things Christian. In many ways this appealed to me. My own contempt for Christianity was being mirrored here. "There's room for non-believers here, too" they said. They would continue to appeal to my atheism until they were confident enough of their ability to undermine it completely. Cult members are not religious believers like Christians. They give you God on a plate, for a price. They don't need to believe in anything. They know. Their hints at belief in Maharaj Jias a saviour figure alarmed me. "If a man saved you from drowning, wouldn't you be grateful to him?" they asked me. Their overbearing tone and perpetual smiling that made them all seem rather alike in mannerism alarmed me. I told myself to get clear of them, but I was slightly overawed too, and I found them exciting and different after the humdrum drudgery of my undirected, uninspired, undisciplined, unambiguous adult lifestyle so far. I can't blame them a hundred percent for hooking me in, but they realised how vulnerable I was, and they played on that to draw me further in. I can't deny that I exercised an element of free will in all this, but I do believe that they manipulated and pressured me in against my better intentions. On my part, it was my first real encounter with a subcultural society. I hadn't been a mod, a rocker, or a hippie. I was quite old fashioned, square and a dull person. I probably still am. I was a bookworm, mostly for cheap Science Fiction books, a day dreamer, and relatively lazy and laid back. I dreamed of travel and adventures, but most of my jokes, anecdotes and stories to tell were borrowed from other people, or from the previous evening's TV. Suddenly I was involved in a real adventure with truly interesting, if slightly offbeat, occasionally sinister people. I felt alive. They called their Guru Goomradjie for short, and talked of him with deep rooted tears of conviction and love that rather irritated me. I felt as though he was going to walk into the pub at any minute. It was as though he was with us, and for his followers of course, he was.

Their irreverence for Catholicism was of much appeal to me." They mock us because Goomradjie has some money in the bank, but they follow the Pope who has much more money than that. Such hypocrisy. They failed to see that if it was wrong for the Pope, it was wrong for their leader too. "They say Maharaji has a big expensive car, but that Jesus only had a donkey, but I bet that Donkey was the finest Jesus's followers could get for him at the time."

Unlike the Catholic community I was raised in, Maharaji's followers were vibrant, alive, and full of good spirit. They gushed and talked with ceaseless enthusiasm, non-stop. I envied them for being so articulate. Their talk was sometimes hilarious and occasionally sad. They confessed casually to the most extraordinary and often deeply private things; not in a quiet priest's confessional, but openly, casually, for all to hear; abortions, attempted suicides, petty crimes committed in their youth, nervous breakdowns, etc. They were full of analogies and parable like stories. I had imagined myself one day becoming a writer, but I had never known people use words to fill someone with wonderment, as they did so easily, before.

I asked for a description of this Knowledge of which they spoke with such awe and reverence. "It's easy to understand," they said, "it's so simple that you can't actually describe it in words or pictures. It's like trying to describe the taste of sweet sugar. You only understand it once you actually get to taste it." Let me taste it then? I asked. "You're not ready for it yet," they said. "You think too much. You ask too many questions."

I took their anti-catholicism for anti-religion, though they were certainly a religion, being a Hindu based meditation cult, but as yet they made little use of ideas like Karma, Yoga-meditation, or belief in reincarnation. That would come once I was fully ensnared in their ranks. I was torn between the emotional impact they had on me, and the rising tide of alarm and critical doubt that filled my head. I went home after that initial meeting in a daze, confused. My sister asked me about them and shared my laughter about their absurd beliefs, or at least what little of them I could grasp at that early stage.

I was torn between the emotional impact that they had on me and the alarming doubts and criticisms filling my head. I went home after that first meeting in total confusion. My sister asked me about them, and shared my laughter at the absurdity of their beliefs, what little of them I could grasp at that stage, and I decided never to go again, but I went back a fortnight later because I couldn't stop thinking about them and their Guru at all. They had said that my own mind was thething I most had to fear. "Mind distracts you. It keeps you away from your birthright, and makes you look in all the wrong places for answers that are right in your own heart. How often have you mislaid a sock and found that your mind won't tell you where it is, even when it knows? Your mind knows about the inner peace you can experience if it ever shuts up. You have felt this inner peace before. Your heart remembers it. Mind hides it from you. Maharaji can give you that inner peace again and in a way that you will never lose it again. You just have to be able to switch your mind off to hear what Maharaji is saying to you."

And there it was all of a sudden, disturbing me, not letting me sleep or think straight. I was acutely conscious of my own mental processes ticking over. The cult had sown the suggestion into my head that I should mistrust my own thinking. Here's a simple brainwashing experiment for you. Think of numbers in your head, randomly, not in sequence. The only number you can't think of is 42. Notice how 42 keeps popping into your head. You can't not think of it without also being consciously aware of it. My mind was hyperactive on me all of a sudden. It's like the Aesopian fable the cult used frequently themselves. A butterfly asks a caterpillar how it manages to co-ordinate all its hundreds of legs to be able to walk so easily on them. The caterpillar thinks about it and then starts tripping up and stumbling through thinking about what has been intrinsic and natural to him all along. The trick is autosuggestion, a key word in brainwashing. You end up half-brainwashing yourself. I'd been happy with my mind for 19 years then, and suddenly I didn't trust it any more, it was a destructive, dangerous, possibly even sentient enemy. Once fully indoctrinated, the cult would turn my own mind into a satanic demon inside me. I was at war with myself. I was told that we are all always at war with ourselves, with only Maharaji to bring us to peace. Going back to these strange people sounded like a good idea. I went back, still full of doubts, still resisting, and seeking some other way to interpret the Experiences I was having in some way other than the cult wanted me to experience everything. They kept pulling me back to seeing things their way. I had too many questions, and it worried them as much as it worried me.

After a few meetings more, I found my sister still regarding the cult as a joke, but that I was taking her remarks as personal insults now. My mother was getting worried too, by my listlessness, tense looks on my face, my reluctance to wash or change clothes any more, and explosions of anger at her efforts to find out where I had been and what I had been doing. I became sullen and introspective. I wasn't reading books any more, which was a real give-away that something was wrong in my case. Books tell you about things. They don't show you things for yourself.

As well as formal public meetings, cult members met nightly at each other's houses. I was invited to one, and it surprised me that the room was devoid of furniture. There were only cushions to sit on, and we had to take our shoes off in the hall. I was originally told that his was just to save wear and tear on the carpets. Large photographs of the guru were on every wall. There was even a giant picture of just his feet. When invited to ask a question I immediately asked about this, which seemed to embarrass the hosts. Maharaji's feet, I learned, play a big part in this story. There are giant photographs available, just of his feet, the lotus feet of Satguru. The lotus is a powerful symbol in India, as the lotus flower grows in foul mangrove swamps, but its petals never touch the mud, so it is seen as a perfect thing in a revolting environment. Maharaji's followers believe that his lotus feet, like the flower, touch our world, but don't belong here.

I gave more and more time to the meetings. Once a week became twice a week, then every day and weekend retreats. I lived at home with my mother, and sister, but they hardly saw me. I dressed, went straight to the ashram, and stayed there till home time, and then went straight to bed to read their literature or listen to Maharaji speaking in his shrill excitable metaphors on audio cassettes. This practice served both to steep me in the cult's philosophy, and also to get me used to using an hour after waking and an hour before sleeping for the meditation that I would soon be taught. The main ashram was the chief centre of the cult's activity in Manchester. I never actually moved in to the cult communally, as my income wasn't strong enough for that. Ashram members had to submit their entire income to the cult, which then paid them back a strictly controlled allowance. Though not an ashram member, I was living the cult's teachings round the clock, and I wasn't even fully converted yet.

At the cult's suggestion, I minimised communication with my mother. Cults have a way of making profound changes in the way we use everyday language. Many parents will say to a son or daughter in a cult that they only criticise the cult because they have the son or daughter's interests at heart. Cult recruits are however primed, as I was, early on to watch out for such impassioned plea bargaining as my mother was to use on me. "If your mother says she loves you it's because she wants to control you and possess you. If she really loves you, she will let you make up your own mind about staying with us." I was one step ahead of my mother on every argument she tried. She started fighting back. Relatives and friends came round trying to talk sense into me. Most of them were easy to ignore, but my Mum's sister actually knew a thing or two about the cult, as they'd tried unsuccessfully to recruit her. In fact, her recruiter was the same girl who had recruited me. My auntie told me the group were called Divine Light Mission, which even after two months of involvement, was news to me. They'd been hiring halls as The Divine Understanding order (probably Divine United Organisation DUO). Later, they would change that to The World Welfare Society (actually the World Welfare Association), and today the cult's official name is ElanVital. My auntie had been disturbed by the vacant similar smiles of the group members, and she had fled from them at the first opportunity she had, actually leaping out of one of their cars while it was at a set of traffic lights. Since that near recruitment she had learned that the guru had been accused of womanising, eating meat, and financial question marks were raised over his real worth in capital and income. Worse, his own mother had publicly denounced him as a charlatan, and attempted to set up his brother as the real guru. This had almost driven the cult to destruction in the seventies. They were now beginning to recruit again, strictly by word of mouth alone, and I was picked up as part of this major recruitment drive to recharge the cult's failing fortunes.

What my aunt said should have told me to distance myself too, but it wasn't enough. The group did seem happy, and there was this Knowledge they spoke of. I dreamed of getting the Knowledge and then showing it for the sham it was and rescuing these genuinely nice people from their own folly. I was addicted to my own curiosity. I even went to the library and found out more about the cult, and about brainwashing itself. The techniques were gleaned from behavioural psychology, and first given prominent use in the Korean War, often in conjunction with physical torture and violence, which cults don't often use in recruitment. The aim in Korea was not to get vital information on military weapons and plans, etc, but to actually change the ideology of the captives through breaking down of the personality in order to remould it with new ways of seeing the world. US Prisoners found themselves embracing communism, and Koreans were induced to denounce Mao and Marx in favour of capitalism.

I learned that Maharaji spells his name differently from time to time, depending on who is interested in knowing about him. Maharaj Ji, or Great King as it means in English (actually Ultimate Ruler), is his most commonly used title, though he varies the spelling of it from time to time. Goomradjie was a followers' pet name for him, abbreviating his title somewhat; then there was the modest title, Satguru, or Living Perfect Master, a strange title for a man who once informed 8,000 people that he no longer had an ego. Sometimes we just called him Guru, which is itself a mystical title. Gu means darkness, and Ru, means light, so a guru is someone who takes you from darkness to light. A guru is a messiah, an avatar, and a living incarnation of God. Maharaji's actual name from birth was Prem Pal Singh Rawat, but a name like that doesn't pull the punters in, does it?

I took my new discoveries back to the cult and put the charges before them. They were shocked by what I knew and yet they answered me. We have to keep our identity secret, because there are people out there who want to hurt us, and laugh at us. Maharaji's mother was the corrupt one, not her son. She wanted to take over and dominate the movement. I asked about brainwashing. The answer was put bluntly; if this is brainwashing, I want more of it. I love being brainwashed. Somehow the answers wore me down gradually, but if they hadn't I was too far gone now. Had I discovered Maharaji had an atom bomb and ate babies, I still wouldn't have left. I was that far gone. I have quite a lot of sympathy with Hitler's nazis who pleaded that they were only following orders. I'm just glad this cult never issued such orders. I would have undoubtedly followed them too.

While my family watched me sinking deeper in the mire, the cult saw me as too resistant, and full of doubts. They decided to change that once and for all. Things were about to get very nasty. I was summoned, rather than invited, to an ashram gathering. I went, but while everyone else went into the main room for satsang, I was told to stay in another room alone.

After about ten minutes solitary confinement, I tried to sneak across to the satsang room, but someone big and mean looking was posted outside the door to stop me. "WAIT HERE," I was told bluntly, and the door was slammed in my face. I tried again, with similar results, and then decided the old ruse of expressing a need to go to the loo. I was permitted, but the guard followed me up to the bathroom door, and all the way back to my isolation cell. I burst into tears. They were cutting me off from talk about the guru. I could just about hear muffled laughing and singing from the other room. I desperately wanted to be in there. I was going cold turkey. They'd fuelled my addiction, and now they were regulating what had so far been an unlimited, undiluted supply. The knowledge was going to be secured only at a price. They were hiding something from me, and I desperately needed to know what it was. Here was the next phase of my brainwashing process, reward was replaced by punishment, A domesticated cat pressing a lever in a cage to get food pellets learns which lever provides the pellets, and which one provides electric shocks. Dolphins are trained by receiving a fish every time they get a trick right. If the cat is shocked, or the dolphin is denied a fish, it changes its behaviour accordingly. So do people. I was being subjected to similar conditioning by stimulus responses. Now punishment was taking its place along side the rewarding satsangs. Deprivation of satsang was the technique used to first challenge my questioning, doubting, nature.

An initiator, one of the people empowered to give out the knowledge techniques of meditation came into my cell to interview me.

"We have to be careful," he said. We don't know whether we can trust you or not. We have to deceive people sometimes to get them to the right frame of mind for receiving the truth later on. Some lies are necessary. If you had to lie to someone to save their lives, wouldn't you do it? The truth has to be rationed sometimes. It's all too much to take in at once. You're very close to receiving the truth itself now, Arthur, but there is a problem. You have to agree to stop asking questions first. Your mind's too strong for you. It's freaking you out, and some other people are asking questions too, because they've heard you doing it. You are upsetting other people's minds as well, and we can't let that happen. Your mind is freaking you out. You do want the Knowledge. You must do, because you keep coming back to us, so stop resisting it and fighting. Face it, Arthur, we've got you. However, if you ask any more questions, we will have to let you go and ask you to leave. If you do go, it will be terribly sad and painful for you. You can never be at peace again inside your head without the Knowledge now. We are the only way you'll ever be safe from going insane and having a mental breakdown. I'm going to have to ask you to peddle faster, or get off the bike. The choice is entirely yours. You've seen too much to stop searching here now. You're too close to give up."

I agreed in buckets of tears to suspend my disbelief. I still had doubts at first, but I was never going to express them openly again. I suppressed my skepticism.

As a reward for signing away my soul, they let me go to the closing hour of satsang. Any questions the meeting co-ordinator asked, looking right at me. I stayed silent.

My indoctrination sped up. I attended the fortnight long satsang period called, all too appropriately, an intensive. They talked again of the mind's ability to deceive us. Chain the elephant that is your mind and it turns into a mouse to slip through the chains. Cage the mouse, and it turns into an elephant again and smashes through the bars. The mind is unstoppable without Maharaji's grace. Without him we'd all go mad.

Fear is a big cult brainwashing factor. Fear of death, fear of evil, hell, madness, loneliness, other people, yourself, of being unloved, and it's all described in gruesome graphic detail as being typical of life outside the cult's safe harbours. A few days into the intensive, the initiator produced a song sheet with words to a hymn called Arti, an extract from a Sanskrit hymn that had been retranslated to apply to Maharaji. I was actually praying to him now, though I didn't realise it at the time. One man stood up, and said that the didn't agree with all the words in the song, but that he would keep singing over and over until he jolly well did believe it all. We all agreed to follow his example. Within days I had memorised all 19 verses. Here are a few lines from it;

"Your glory fills the world; protector of the weary and the weak. You bring the death of attachment. You bring the mind true detachment. Save us from the ocean deep. Jai dev, Jai Satguru dev." Also "You are my Mother. You are my Father. You are my Brother. You are my friend. You are riches, you are wisdom. You are my all, my Lord to me."

My father was dead, as I've described earlier. Now I was singing the praises of a new father figure. One follower tipped me off about a vacancy that lead to my first real job, in Lewis's Department store. I'd been out of work for 18 months. The cult achieved, superficially, what my parents, the schools, the state, and the church had failed to achieve for me. I felt as though I was backing the right horse.

Maharaji made his first ever visit to Manchester, and I went to see him, live. Though we never clapped a speaker giving Satsang, we cheered and laughed and cried for Maharaji as though he was part of a Beatles comeback tour; it was sheer hysteria. I was totally intoxicated. The final barrier to the knowledge crumbled for me, as I was convinced that this preposterous little man really was God incarnate. I was no longer an atheist and wouldn't be for another four and a half years. I was a fanatic. Here he was, 35 years old then, and looking ten years older, he had declared himself a God when he was just eight years old in India and inherited a cult founded by his father, who was also called Maharaj Ji. His wisdom was a pot pourri of tired old risqué jokes and clichés. He frequently lost the thread of his stories and went off at tangents in a long, drawn out, allegedly unscripted monologue. But to me, he was Satguru, the living perfect Master, and my God.

To quote an earlier speech of his, "Guru is greater than God, because guru can show you God." Maharaj Ji was literally God to us; as one follower said often, "Maharaji is God the Father, not the Son. Why send a boy to do a man's job?"

In the days after his visit, the euphoria of the group deepened. We were sold tap water that he had washed his feet in. I was told that this holy Charanamrit water was better than Catholic consecrated water, because if |I drank it, but left just one drop in the bottom, it would return to its full original potency when I refilled it. By the time I was drinking this miracle water, my doubts had genuinely vanished rather than just been suppressed. Bye Bye skepticism.

Satsang talks got longer, and meals were postponed indefinitely as the monologues rolled on despite being tired and hungry. We struggled to listen. Food and sleep deprivation are two more major components of the brainwashing art. On some nights, I ended up walking home as the last bus had gone.

As I was now so desperate, they decided I was ready for full initiation. Six months from my first meeting; I have met members who were kept waiting for up to two years, and a few who got it right away. The knowledge is the Kriyas, the four secret meditation techniques that are the core doctrine of Divine Light Mission teachings. It is these kriyas that make belief and faith in God obsolete and experienced Knowledge of God accessible. The big eight hour day arrived. I was taught the meditation, and sworn to an oath of secrecy never to share them with anyone.

As I now regard the meditation techniques as an insult, and my whole recruitment as a mocking exploitation of the vulnerable state I was in at the time, I have no hesitation in giving you these very meditation techniques. It starts with a ceremony called the opening of the third eye. This involves the initiator literally jabbing you in the eyes and the space between your eyes with his or her fingers, in Maharaji's name. It's more startling than painful, and as you are sitting in a totally darkened room, you can't tell when it is going to happen.

  1. THE LIGHT - By focusing in total darkness on the third eye, with your fingers appropriately placed, with thumb and middle finger resting just below the eyebrows, (thumb in one eye and third finger in the other), and your index finger resting gently against the centre of your temple, you close your real eyes and concentrate. You should see the light forming inside your head. Many see it as a white glow; clichés like brighter than a thousand suns, and I just had my head opened and a torch shone in, are common. At first, I saw zilch. On the second try I saw a bright, thin orange line of light turning over and over on itself slowly. After you learn the Light, your initiator reads quotations from saints like Anselm & Augustine to convince you that they also saw The Light you have seen.
  2. THE MUSIC - involves concentrating on the primordial vibration that activates the Universe, the so-called 'Music of the Spheres'. You hear it by placing your thumbs in your ears and pulling back just far enough not to be listening to the blood pounding through your ears, which is of course, exactly what you are meditating on, not God's Song Of All Creation.
  3. THE HOLY NAME (THE VIBRATION) - This is basically deep hyperventilation, or over-breathing. Inhale slowly, deeply, smoothly, through your nose, and then slowly exhale, but before all the air is out you start breathing in again, and you just keep going, never quite letting all the air out. This overfeeds the brain with oxygen, and creates an artificial but potent drug like high which can obliterate some brain cells in the process. Long term practitioners have claimed an inability to read books or do simple arithmetic any more. This is the most important technique, and used often in conjunction with the other three techniques. It is also the one technique you can practice round the clock, as was expected of DLM followers, and it believed that you can, with practice, even perform the holy name in your sleep. You are supposed to breath the holy name in all Satsangs and throughout your working day.
  4. THE NECTAR - This involves a slight sounding addition to the holy name technique in which you move your tongue back as far is it will go towards the naval cavity and keep it there as you breath the holy name. This allows you to supposedly breath in all the sweet tastes in the Universe, while in fact you are only inhaling mucous, and snot dripping down the cavity towards the throat. Many followers damaged their tongue muscles using this technique, and while I never came across a case, the danger of actually swallowing your tongue seems very apparent.

These meditation techniques turned me into a Premie, which literally means "lover of God". My mother took my total membership as the final straw. She ran out of ideas. She watched helplessly as I became totally zombified. Every night, I meditated for hours, and again as I woke each day.

We went out selling potatoes door to door and later we sold home made cheap first aid kits the same way. We worked at this for hours, and never got paid a penny. This was called service, the joy of working for the Guru without expecting personal reward or even a thank you in return. Service was a philosophy of total altruism, or as I think of it now, cheap slave labour. We used to have stalls at rock festivals too, and at Knebworth one year, I literally worked for 28 solid hours before total exhaustion stopped me. I was woken up four hours later to start again. The daily life in the cult was one of daily service, an evening of satsang, and meditation, That routine rarely altered over the next four years.

I sold all my treasured books and records to raise money for a pilgrimage to Rome, not to see the Pope, but to see Maharaji, at a three day festival there. A friend, a non-Premie joked that I should ask Maharaji who the bloke on the balcony was, wearing that funny hat. In Rome, Maharaji spoke, and also danced. He dresses as Krishna, the major Hindu deity and dances to rock music. We went crazy at this, yelling encore after encore. In retrospect his golden robes and high crown made him look like Carmen Miranda.

The man who claimed to have no ego, also allowed 8,000 of us, queue up to kiss the lotus feet themselves. It was called darshan, or being "in the presence of the Master". We'd heard of Darshan from those who had been before us, and how Maharaji suffers. They told how Maharaji's feet get cramped and how he suffers and that they have to carry him off afterwards but that he does it from his love for us. I think he just liked seeing us grovel before him, to appease his ego and megalomania, but then, at the peak of my involvement, we'd have kissed his arse as well as his feet if he'd let us. "He wore socks," a Premie moaned. "If he really loved us, we could have kissed his bare feet." That kind of thinking isn't thinking at all. Maharaji said, "If your mind troubles you, give it to me; it won't trouble me.' I gave him mine, but it was creeping back at times. This is expected. We had to counter it by further meditation, satsang and service. His mother called him a cheat. Illusion, meditate. I'm discouraged from sexual relationships, he's married with four kids. Mind talk. Ignore it. How can he have no ego? Remember to practice the holy name.

Maharaji's 4th son was born on Christmas day. The significance of this was not lost on us at all. His wife deserves a mention too. Marilyn Johnson, was an American air stewardess. Maharaji renamed her Durga Ji, after the Hindu fertility goddess. This was regarded as a terrible insult by many of his Hindu followers in India, and they left the group in droves as a protest against him.

Maharaji's followers were often former Christians and Jews who have redirected their original beliefs towards Maharaji, instead of to other human-divinity figures. Maharaji is a surrogate God, a syncretistic variation on the religion virus. We believed he was omnipotent and that he saw us at all times. If a bus came on time, it was by his grace. If the bus was late, it was our lack of faith in Goomradjie that was to blame. We attributed miracles to Maharaji; he allegedly came across a cow that wouldn't give milk, and told the farmer exactly how much milk it would give next time it was milked. As you guess, the prophesy came true. We believed all such piffle.

How did the utopian wonderland world turn sour in the end? I was a poor follower, having little money to give to the perpetual collections, when even those giving hundreds of pounds were made to feel guilty for not offering more. My contribution was mostly through unpaid service. I was also left feeling slightly outside of everything. I never converted to vegetarianism, which upset some Premies. I was untidy, unwashed, and worn out from lack of sleep caused by late night meditation, and my hyperactive mind torturing me. Most Premies seemed to like me. One girl told me that they liked the way I looked them in the eye when I spoke Satsang, when few others, especially our co-ordinators and initiators did. If Premies spoke particularly well, I told them so afterwards, which was seen by some as a reversion to my old individualism and free expression of feelings.

Satsangs were in small venues around Manchester. If I wasn't at a meeting, people just assumed I was at another house or hall that night. I used this security lapse to sneak off to the pictures every now and then. One night, a co-ordinator saw me there and threatened to tell everyone I'd spaced out and gone back to the ways of the world. "So what are you doing here,?" I asked him. He never said a word about it. One night, a Premie co-ordinator told of a dream he had the night before in which he had seen Maharaji. These Darshan dreams were very sacred pieces of satsang for us. Unfortunately for him, I had heard the same story he was telling, presumably on the same radio programme the night before, and as I was the next speaker, I told everyone about his plagiarism, and demanded to know why the satsang company of truth had to be in the company of liars. I got told off for my outburst, and a few weeks later, he was moved to a new Ashram in London, a fate shared at various times by many of the ashram Premies if they stepped on the wrong toes. In 1994, Maharaji came to Birmingham NEC. There was criticism that high ranking Premies were selling the best seats to the highest bidders, which resulted in a randomised ticket allocation. Hall security, Maharaji's hired and much feared personal bodyguards were thrown into confusion because Premies suspected of being security risks (likely to heckle or mob the Guru) would not now be conveniently sat at the back of the hall, for ease of throwing out. My job was to follow risky members around, see where they sat, and report their seat numbers to the security men. None of the people I followed looked even remotely like problem people to me. I knew some of them. I wondered who might be following me.

I got a seat two rows from the front, and when Maharaji took questions, I put my hand up. We were supposed to OK such a move with our co-ordinators first. I hadn't. Maharaji spoke to me. I asked him how important it was that his followers loved each other as much if not more than we loved him. "I just want you all to love me, he replied. What kind of a world would it be if we all loved each other? I don't want to French kiss the postman."

I was torn between egotistical pride at getting his attention, and finding his answer troubling. Worse, the co-ordinators were jealous, and forbade anyone from quoting the incident at public meetings, which many Premies protested about. A few months later a girl from the Ashram got to ask Maharaji if she could cut his hair, which he treated as a cute joke, and she was milked on this trivial drivel for months at public meetings, again with no mention of my question. We had our nightly house meetings which were more fun and more relaxed. While I spoke often at these, I had only once in four years been invited to speak at a public meeting, (and only then because a co-ordinator broke the rules). Now, at a house meeting, I found out why. Co-ordinators drew up a shortlist of about twenty out of a hundred members considered suitable to speak in public and to act as official recruiters. The girl who spilled this useful information was drunk and boastful, as she was now on the list and feeling chuffed about it. The house meetings suddenly came to an end. It was decided that these meetings lacked official co-ordination and were therefore unauthorised, undisciplined and dangerous. At first we refused to heed the order, and carried on meeting in that way, believing that Maharaji would stop the co-ordinators from such corruption once he learned about it, (we seemed to forget about his omnipotency). "No one tells me what I do and don't do at home," one member insisted defiantly. The order was repeated, with little doubt that it came from the top. All house meetings stopped. Cracks and holes were forming everywhere, and petty jealousies were rife. Many members were missing meetings, and some were leaving the movement. I found that I wasn't maintaining my meditations every night any more. I lacked the motivation, though I found myself still going into the trances involuntarily. I was shocked when a man actually identified me as a Premie just because I had their 'typical' glassy eyed stare.

I committed the cardinal sin then of starting to date a girl we were trying to recruit. We skipped official meetings to be together, which soon got noticed, especially as she was asking awkward questions about the guru, as I used to do when I started. One night a Premie shoulder charged her and knocked her against a wall and called her a Jezebel for luring me away. It was the real beginning of the end for me. I started consciously thinking of leaving, and made several abortive attempts, but for a while I was drifting back. No one seemed to notice or care about my prolonged absences. The last meeting I attended seemed dull, and repetitive, and boring. The trouble with Divine Light is that once you have the Knowledge, the meditation techniques, you are thought to be saved. There are no new revelations, no new secrets to learn, no progress or evolution. You just repeat it all, and use satsangs to find new ways to say how good it was. Unreplenished enlightenment can quickly go stale. I left for the last time, drifted for a while, sinking in my own apathy and sense of shame. I was becoming cynical and angry, and more Humanistic, without realising it at first. I went into full time education. I needed to get my head back together again. The lack of listening to my mind had left me with much to be healed. My mother at least was relieved. I took up the Humanities. At Bolton Institute, where I was, a cult called The School Of Economic Science was recruiting on campus. I broke silence and reported my own experiences in the college paper. I finally felt free. I've gone onto become a Humanist, and I hold down a warehouse job, so I'm reasonably free now, but I am sullen and given to bouts of intense introspection. Some people think I'm too caustic, sharp, and self assertive. I always seem to probe into everyone as though they are trying to sell me something. Many people still sense that I look a bit odd, and keep their distance from me. It wasn't all bad though. Premies were often wonderful, sincere loving people. The cult exploited people who got together under the genuine belief that they would help make the world a better place. There's a certain noble sense of tragedy about that, and some of my best friends are still in there, probably thinking of me as a Judas, and a traitor to their ideals. That hurts.

The problem for us as Humanists is that when people have religious doubts, they don't think there is no God, they just think their religion is the wrong one for finding God, and they start considering sales pitches offered by other religions and cults instead. The rise of cults is proof that Christian mainstream religion has failed, but the cults get in the way when people could start to see religion for the emptiness it really is. Look at Ann Widdicombe and the number of people who change religion rather than reject it outright. If not for cults, there would be many more Humanists around. Cults turn religion into a haggler's bazaar with religions made to measure. Sometimes we could even convert people without trying. Going to Rome we used the coach for continual Satsang, for three days, by the end of which, our hired driver begged to join us. While Humanists show how it's possible to live happily and morally without religion, cults offer themselves as new, better religions. "You don't like that God? Try this one instead." If all else fails, hype God mark 2; God mark 3. Cults often splinter from other cults, and sects. They arise when religion fragments. When is a big cult a small religion? When is a big boat a small ship? Cults aren't doing anything new. The Kriyas were not invented by Maharaji. They are in the Bhagavad Gita. Cults sell old wine in new bottles, but with no receipts and no refunds for dissatisfied customers like me.

This was the talk I gave to the Bristol Humanists in England in March 1998.