Maharaji's Start in the West
This short article by Mike Finch provides a clear sighted picture of the beginnings of Divine Light Mission in the West. Some people who have been involved tend to an exaggerated picture of Rawat's role in this. He was needed as both a figure-head endowed with magic powers and as the selfish little shit who being the Lord of the Universe could do anything if only people could be found to provide him with the wherewithal. It's quite possible that if he had been a sensible, intelligent, selfless young guru then he would not have been auccessful in the West but his combination of grandiose chutzpah and the enthusiasm and brashness of the new converts and the times got the ball rolling.
Even Mike lets his fancy get the better of him. The little documentation we have from Maharaji's life in India before 1972 and various mentions in his speeches is enough to show a young boy who was extremely materialistic and longing to enjoy the fruits of Western Technology. Of course, to actually enter Harrods and see and touch the goodies probably made his eyes light up as he realised he was on the verge of getting his hands on the loot but Mike is not the only ex-DLM honcho to tell their stories of Rawat's obsessive shopping expeditions.
From time to time people come out with their versions of how Maharaji began in the West. Some of the more recent versions make it appear like a 'grand design', a carefully considered strategy by Maharaji and his then family (his mother Mata Ji and eldest brother Bal Bhagwan Ji, (now called Satpal).I don't remember it like that.
I saw hardly any evidence of 'orchestration' or grand design, by Mata Ji (Maharaji's mother) or anyone else. Maharaji's beginnings in the West seemed to me chaotic and opportunist.
In 1969 Mahatma Gurucharnanand (as he was then known, now just called Charnanand) was sent to England by MataJi, but at the promptings of some Indian premies in England in 1969, who mostly lived in Hackney, London. The main guy was called Surresh. They sponsored his travel and his immigration into England.No non-Indian was involved, and there was no thought in anybody's mind that Maharaji would ever come, or that Charnanand was preparing for Maharaji's visit.
Charnanand arrived in London in October 1969, and for a while lived with and only met his Indian sponsors, and went to their temples etc in East London.
In the 60's various hippy-types found their way to India, and got Knowledge as part of their spiritual quest.Five returned to England when they heard about Charnanand being there (they were Saphlanand - the one and only white mahatma before the mid 70's - Ron Geaves, Sandy Collier, Milky Cole, David Beales).
They met up with Charnanand, got a few other whiteys in England interested (including me), and got him to move out of India-land in East London and into a West London basement apartment in West Kensington.
Charnanand went back to India for the November 1970 Peace Bomb event, and returned in spring 1971. It was then that the possibility of Maharaji visiting England was first talked about. At this point there was only one American premie in USA, a guy named Richard, who flew over to England because he was lonely in USA, and so there were zero premies in America at this time.
Then some of the US premies in India returned to USA - Joan Apter, Sitaram (Will, now called Rampuri), Gary Girard, and I think two more, in early 1971. None of them were mahatmas, in the sense of being authorised by Maharaji, although I know both in US and UK some people pretended or thought they were. Maharaji made Charnanand tell them all to dress in Western style, and stop their trip. The only 'authorised' Western mahatma before the Arthur Brigham/Ira crowd was Saphlanand - a guy called Brian from Devon, England.
Western premies in India were asked by Mata Ji to return to their home countries, but more to get them out of India, and because Mata Ji wanted Charnanand to go from England to USA, and there obviously needed to be some westerners there. In that sense, everybody was 'sent' to UK or USA - it was no big deal, and no one was 'sent' in the sense of a big agya thing as far as I know, except possibly Saphlanand, who was a Mahatma, and was 'sent' in that agya meaning of the word. At this time we never imagined Maharaji going to America. I was in India in 1970, and I was 'sent' to England - it was rather like saying good-bye: 'ok, off you go now, have a good trip and remember to do lots of propagation in England/America/wherever'.
Maharaji came to England in June 1971 for his 3 week school-vacation visit, and it was then that he got the idea of going to America, which Mata Ji objected to, saying he should return to India to finish his schooling. I was closely involved with getting him to the US, taking him to the US Consulate in Grosvenor Square, London, to get his visa, over several days. The problem was that he was a minor, and in order to get his visa he needed permission from his legal guardian, who was Mata Ji and refused to give it. I cannot remember how it got resolved.
I was on the phone to America many times to arrange details of his visit, and I always spoke to Joan Apter who was clearly the main person in the US arranging everything.
In my opinion, the family split started right there - June 1971. Several times I was in the room while Maharaji was talking to Mata Ji over the phone, and he was yelling and I could hear her yelling, and things sounded very unpleasant between them.
However, because America went so well for Maharaji, and the lure of the west with all its goodies was beckoning, the family was persuaded to stick together and all share in the loot. But the strain was always there, and the more Maharaji got into western ways the more was the strain. Raja Ji and Maharaji marrying westerners was just the straw that broke a very heavily laden camel. I think the actual split came when Mata Ji and Satpal reckoned that Maharaji was uncontrollable, and that they would be better off as top dogs in India, rather than relying on crumbs from Maharaji's Western table.
I guess we all tend to see the past through a romantic haze, and exaggerate the importance of the part we played in it, but I distinctly see a trend developing where this era is being revised.
I don't think there was any design or grand plan; it was all chaos and opportunism. The only real design occurred when Maharaji sniffed the West, and decided he wanted it. I even fancy I can pinpoint it to the second when this happened: I drove Maharaji in London in June and early July 71, and we often went to Harrods. Once I took him to the watches and jewellery section, and I distinctly remember his eyes light up, and a real change came over him. It was a little scary, he seemed to change right there.
- Mike Finch