"A Little Somethink"
by John Macgregor.
In September 2002, one month after the publication of his article, Blinded by the Light, by the Australian press, John Macgregor published the following article on the Ex-premie forumWhat appeared in the press was edited from a longer version for publication. The original, uncut, version appears here.
Hello again everyone,
The story I did for the Australian newspapers started life much longer than the version that was published. As the 'offcuts' contain some interesting stuff, I thought I'd put them back in, and post an 'extended version' of the story here - rather than see all this material go to waste.
This is about 10,000 words (spread over more than one post due to Anyboards space restrictions), so you may want to save it to disk. Because of the way it was patched back together, it's a little disjointed, and it definitely rambles! If you want to read it at all, you may want to pick the eyes out of it.
As for the published version:
I received no coherent criticisms from premies, other than two very civil communications - from Glen Whittaker and another premie friend - disputing some of my facts. After some back and forth I accepted that I had made one factual error - I'd said Amaroo had a 'million dollar hall', whereas my premie friend assures me it only cost $A600,000 (tho this doesn't account for interest on the loan money that built it, nor free premie labour). So this is an apology and correction for that.
I think EV's press release saying that basically everything in my story was fabricated has so little credibility that there's little point in disputing it here. (EV also told the Brisbane papers that I was protesting at the gates of Amaroo!)
One point where I had a little sympathy for EV was when they were forced to deny Maharaji had raffled a set of his mother's dental X-rays. This ghastly calumny arose when the Brisbane Courier Mail lifted (without permission or attribution) a tidbit from my story, about how we 1970s Australian premies had raffled a set of Mataji's dental X-rays. As with most of their reporting, the Courier Mail got this wrong - saying that Maharaji had personally raffled the X-rays.
To my knowledge, the story helped push a couple of premies out the door, tho I suspect it will be a sleeper for the majority - something they'll think about over time.
Apart from those who've exited, perhaps the most gratifying responses have been from non-premies. My area (Byron Shire, on Australia's east coast) has historically been quite premie-dense. So an awful lot of people here have had dealings, friendships and relationships with premies over the years. (Which incidentally means I'm forever dealing with the question: 'If this thing premies talk about is so great, how come they smoke so much dope?')
Many of these people have contacted me since the story was published, expressing relief that what has been obvious to them for many years - that Maharaji's mission is a racket - has now been stated publicly.
My story was three months in the planning, two months in the researching and five weeks in the writing. The published version appeared in Good Weekend - the colour magazine shared by The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney) and The Age (Melbourne). A fortnight later it appeared in The West Australian Weekend Extra magazine. These are the three biggest-circulation broadsheets in Australia, and the story had a total circulation of nearly a million - probably meaning up to 3 million readers.
Had Maharaji's tactics not been so basically nasty over the last year or two - the CAC website, letting Jagdeo slip away unpunished (to say nothing of the 'civil suit' snow job), legal assaults on ex-premies - I might have moved on and written about something else. Because he could have acted on these things and did not do so, I felt more than ever that he merited public exposure.
Another reason for posting the long version of the story is that it makes the research a little more apparent. One premie told me he assumed I just spent an afternoon scooping material off EPO, and cobbling it together into an article. In fact the published version went through 60 drafts. With the exception of Maharaji (last spoke to media 1973?), and Mishler (died 1977) all my quotes were from people I interviewed personally - by email, phone and/or in person. Listing every source for each fact would have clogged the story unnecessarily, however very often 2-6 people provided the same information.
Even the stuff which originated in EPO was generally verified and expanded by the primary source. My international and interstate phone expenses for this story were nearly $200, and after finishing it I trashed more than 400 emails.
For the published version, 10,000+ words were gradually reduced to 3920. Friends and strangers alike were extremely supportive of the process, and gave much constructive criticism. I'm not sure who wants to be named and who doesn't - so I'll just thank everyone now: they know who they are.
I'm a bit embarrassed by the amount of material in the story to do with my own journey - but my editors demanded it, so I've left it in here. There's also a fair amount of psychological and philosophical musing, which some will enjoy and others find self-indulgent. Just skim.
As I said, this 'extended version' might ramble sometimes, and there may be occasional repetition: such is the nature of putting so many offcuts back into a story, and trying to make it all hang together.
by John Macgregor
'How do you find a lion that has swallowed you?' - C.G. Jung
My theory is that we're hard-wired for this stuff.
The earliest evidence of it is a sacrifical altar in Germany, maybe 350,000 years old, made by our immediate ancestor Homo erectus. Tens of thousands of years before Homo sapiens arrived, these proto-humans were prostrating themselves before ghosts they'd conjured out of the thin ancestral air.
Only eons later did we get around to making cloth and learning to fish. First came our non-existent fellow-travellers.
The ghosts were still with us in 1980 - when it was brought to my attention that OPEC had once sparked a world oil crisis, that cricketers no longer dressed in whites, and that someone called David Bowie had been very popular.
My absence from the 1970s had much to do with a teenaged incarnation of God named Guru Maharaji, who had in 1971 decamped from northern India with his mother and three brothers - also great incarnations, though not quite as great as him - to Malibu Beach, southern California, and the West at large.
Thirty years on, after a long succession of sex and money scandals, most of Maharaji's premies - or devotees - have abandoned him. But in 1972, the plump 14-year-old persuaded me that a divine experience awaited me if I received his initiation, or 'Knowledge' as he called it - which was based on four secret meditation techniques.
I'd been introduced to Maharaji by old schoolfriends from Geelong Grammar in September 1972. By early October, I was travelling up the Hume Highway with a group of his premies - it's a Hindi word meaning 'giver of love' - whom I'd met at their Carlton ashram.
My fellow travellers were impressively euphoric. One zapped me with rapidfire talk about my 'third eye'. This one of Maharaji's mahatmas (his Indian lieutenants) would duly open, she said, assuming I was pure enough.
(I knew about the third eye from books by Lobsang Rampa. Rampa turned out to be a British plumber named Cyril Hoskins - but at the time the ruse was unknown, and he was a hugely popular 'lama'.)
A shaven-headed Irishman meditated under a blanket for the entire twelve-hour trip. Across the back seat, a girl fresh from the cast of Hair had the face of a Pre-Raphaelite princess, sang like an angel, and didn't appear to have a boyfriend.
It was gently intoxicating. Someone gave me a Divine Times magazine, published by Maharaji's organisation, DLM - Divine Light Mission. (Everything to do with Maharaji was divine or holy. For example DLM's secondhand shops were 'Divine Sales', and his family the 'Holy Family'.)
As we roared northward I read Maharaji's words: 'If you come to me with a guileless heart you will surely receive this most ancient spiritual Knowledge, which, if practised upon, will give you perfect peace of mind.'
His English was far more circuitous than that, I was soon to discover - but his editors were Oxford graduates. It was an impressive claim from someone six years younger than myself. So who was Maharaji, exactly?
'Every ear should hear that the saviour of humanity has come!' he'd proclaimed. 'When human beings forget the religion of humanity, the Supreme Lord incarnates... If you want to give devotion, give it to Guru.'
Compared with the other possibilities on offer (devoting myself to law or accountancy, for example) I wondered if it was such a bad idea.
Premies ate no meat, and en route to Sydney we wondered how we'd find vegetarian food. In Albury, the first thing that loomed into view was a health food shop - a rarity in 1972.
'Maharaji! You are incredible!' my colleagues shouted to the thin air.
A few hours later we ran out of petrol in a deserted back street of Yass. Almost immediately, an NRMA van materialised.
'Oh, thankyou Maharaji!' my premie co-travellers chorused, when the driver was out of earshot.
Gurus weave their spells - but devotees do a pretty good job on each other. By the time I reached Sydney, I'd been well-primed for the big night - September 6 - when the purveyor of all this magic would speak at Sydney's Lower Town Hall.
On the night, the hall overflowed, and hundreds were turned away. Maharaji strode quickly through a path of rose petals to a throne at centre-stage, and scanned the audience with what I thought to be a shifty, calculating look. (I later had it explained that he, being perfect, reflected all your defects back at you.) Before the bemused denizens of Sydney, a throng of premies dived to the floor before him, flat on their faces.
Maharaji talked - sometimes obscurely, often repetitively, but always with transcendent self-confidence - of the divine experience which awaited me if I received his 'Knowledge'. Arrayed in the seats around me like seraphs, those who'd received the 'Knowledge' looked like the calmest, happiest people I'd ever seen.
Since my life had begun, all-surrounding Christianity had been the only product on the shelves. Its idol, a secretive old man, made the birds sing on the wires outside my window, or so my mother had told me.
I'd watched the birds in vain for signs of this agency. But I did know what everyone knew, and that was that this person was the creator of the world, and that all the best people through time had served him. To be happy and to join the elect, I would need to do the same. So, most probably, would the whole world if it was to save itself.
Since as early as I can remember, my enemy had been randomness, and my great desire was that everything be under control. Maharaji offered all the totalism an adolescent could ask for. And within his racked and tortured syntaxes, I gradually discerned the message I'd been waiting to hear since the end of childhood: life was not random.
It was a grim era - Nixon, Vietnam, the Cold War - and we were idealists. We were intelligent - cult-joiners are above average, if the research is to be believed - but for two or three years, passing sages had drummed it into us that critical thinking was of limited use. 'Feeling' was what life was about. Maharaji, I'd read, had endorsed this with bells on, extolling the 'soul' or 'heart', and railing against 'the mind' - which would trick us, lie to us and lead us all the way to hell.
'Guru does not deal with us as father or as friend,' he had said. 'But as children. As children.'
Many in that youthful audience were at the tail-ends of long, unhappy upbringings, and the remedies of the counter-culture had already failed us. We were yet too immature to take possession of our own goodness, and good judgement - preferring for the moment to project them onto a wise figure outside of ourselves, so the heat of self-knowledge did not burn too hot too soon.
Last year one of Maharaji's premies from this era wrote:
'Maybe it was a gimmick, you know, selling the youngest Indian guru to the West just when everyone in the 70s seemed to be fed up with the straight adult world. How could anyone question a child, right? It appealed to the inner-child in all the lost young seekers but also, oddly, even perversely, set up a child as the supreme father. A seductive mix.'
It was the Freudian nursery story, and it was the near-irresistible persuasive power of the crowd. Taking a guru involves embracing a myth about him - but also about onself. That takes some doing: so it was also what's now known as 'thought reform' - at which Maharaji and his ubiquitous mahatmas were, it transpired, quite expert.
As with all collective madnesses, nobody can understand it afterwards. It all seems idiotic now. Once you've come back through the looking glass, you'll never quite be able to explain why you joined a cult. All I can recall is that our yearning for something better was fierce, and deep - and was now focused entirely on the most unlikely messiah in the West.
Even today, with the 1970s long-gone, irrationality surrounds and permeates us. (A third of the population smoking, the free world being led by a dolt.) We mostly hate it when it comes in an unfamiliar form.
Worshipping a person who - to everone else - was a transparent fraud, might have something to do with Zahavi's Handicap Theory of Sexual Selection, which Richard Dawkins has cleverly applied to religious nutters:
'It is as though the faithful gain prestige through managing to believe even more impossible things than their rivals succeed in believing.'
It sounds far-fetched. But in 1973, premie and famed anti-war activist Rennie Davis said:
'Either Guru Maharaj Ji is for real, or he's the biggest fraud of all time.'
In the same year the world-famous author of The Inner Game of Tennis, Tim Gallwey - today one of Maharaji's closest disciples, and a hugely successful corporate trainer - was asked why he believed Maharaji was God, as opposed to a con artist. He answered:
'A good con artist wouldn't wear a gold wrist watch or give such stupid answers.'
The case for Zahavi rests.
Movies have now re-invented Seventies youth as zany, happy-go-lucky and wildly experimental. In reality, vast numbers of us were paralysed by black angst. Personally, I was all at sea in a post-War world whose goals meant nothing to me.
If it weren't for Maharaji I might not have survived the 1970s. So might not a lot of others. Returning the favour of four centuries of colonialism, perhaps, Maharaji and the other Indian exports of the time capitalised on with a vengeance on the Western malaise. And happily for him, he arrived at the height of an anti-rational era.
Maharaji's solution kicked me rapidly into an entirely new way of thinking, which was very much required for survival. 'Knowledge' was the medium, Maharaji said, 'wherein the obvious becomes obvious'. My new reality got me out of an existential fix. And by the time that had happened, I'd been 'thought reformed' to believe Maharaji was 'God-in-a-bod' (as ex-premies now wryly describe him), and his 'Knowledge' the only answer. You can do a lot of damage to the mind of a 20-year-old in a short time.
Even - after the Seventies - when I got into the rhythm of marriage, career and so on, there was always another, earlier rhythm playing in parallel: 'Knowledge' is the only reality: all else is unreal. It was quite a volition-sapper.
As for the 'thought reform' - the modern term for brainwashing - it had nothing to do with (say) being locked in a room without sleep. British psychologist and ex-premie Nigel Longhurst puts it better than I could:
'I had a cat once, which after once being run over, would never go near a road again. Not a conscious decision it made, but a learned fear at biochemical level.' Similarly, after sufficient conditioning, he says, 'your body associates euphoria or any kind of well-being with god-in-a-bod's presence on this planet'.
That conditioning was indeed powerful, and - in addition to the messages that rained down on us daily from tapes, magazines and mahatmas - we did it to each other. Premies brought fragments of food Maharaji had discarded (prasad) or vials of water he'd bathed his feet in (charanamrit) home in suitcases from his international programs, like drug smugglers. Anything he'd touched was sacred. We once raffled a set of his mother's dental X-rays.
In time, clear thinking was replaced by fuzzy, pleasant sensations - and the most dubious of assumptions. For instance, I'd always sensed there was more to myself than met the eye - reasonably enough. But instead of exploring this unknown part, I called it soul, and decided to regard it as 'transcendent' and 'mysterious'. Or if I felt peaceful, I blithely called it 'experiencing the infinite'. In the Seventies, of course, there was a cast of thousands urging me on.
We humans project divinity outward, conferring imaginary qualities on real people. But we also project it inwards, changing real sensations into imaginary objects with names such as 'spirit'.
Misnomers, indeed, may have been our earliest talent. We feel something nice inside us, and immediately assert - without evidence - that it is 'eternal', 'part of God', and our 'higher self'. These simple feelings are the first lily humanity ever gilded, and hundreds of thousands of years later they remain the most influential.
One of the mysteries remaining is why it can take us half a lifetime to apprehend such a simple truth as this. It often takes the most blatant abuse before the scales fall away.
But for all the abounding misnomers, Maharaji's 'Knowledge' did deliver. It gave me peace, euphoria, love and certainty that I hadn't even known were possible. My own goals, and the pursuits of the entire world, suddenly seemed small and wretched. It took away anxiety - and even loneliness, the curse of modernity. It had to be divine, eternal, all-knowing. And so, ergo, did its giver.
In case we'd missed the message, he spelled it out:
'When you become Lord of the Universe, you become a puppet, really! Nothing else; not 'you'. Not 'I', not 'you' no egos, no pride, nothing else. One with humbleness; servant. Very, very beautiful. Always in divine bliss.'
'Who is Guru? The highest manifestation of God is Guru. So when Guru is here, God is here, to whom will you give your devotion? Guru Maharaj Ji knows all. Guru Maharaji is Brahma (creator). Guru Maharaji is Vishnu (Operator). Guru Maharjai is Shiva (Destroyer of illusion and ego). And above all, Guru Mahraji is the Supremest Lord in person before us. I have come so powerful. I have come for the world. Whenever the great come,the worldly oppose them. Again I have come and you are not listening.'
'A devotee will follow their Guru Maharaj Ji wherever Guru Maharaj Ji goes and not be involved in anything else.'
'Everything depends on me. Not even a leaf moves a millimetre without my wish.'
'The only reason for this existence is to be a devotee.'
After months and years during which messages like these became a steady rain, we genuinely pitied people who were pursuing careers and marriages. Did they imagine in their wildest dreams that these things would really bring them satisfaction? Did they not know that sickness and bad luck and old age would come, and destroy their dreams? Had they learned nothing from the great masters of the past, who had repeatedly come, uttered the secret of eternity, and then gone again? Had they not realised that God had not planted this secret in churches or books, but in the most obvious, and accessible place of all: the human heart? Did they think life would last forever?
'Our father doesn't want us, our mother doesn't want us, our brothers don't want us, our uncles don't want us, our aunt doesn't want us, nobody wants us in this world. Except Guru Maharaj Ji.'
I was ready to believe every word of Maharaji's claims. Or, more exactly, I had no choice but to find someone to save me from my weldtschmertz - my 'world-pain'. Basically, I could die to the world, or just die. Or so, with a fair bit of encouragement, I came to believe.
It's little wonder that thirty years later, when his name is scandal-blackened, premies hang onto Maharaji, and 'his precious gift', with a grim determination.
'I'd completely forgotten the feelings associated with childhood,' I later wrote of receiving Knowledge. 'Feelings like innocence and reverence. Now they rushed back to greet me like old friends... Happiness and meaning - this is Maharaji's unique gift.'
It wasn't unique, of course. In upstate New York Swami Muktananda was initiating people in shaktipat, and across the West His Divine Grace AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was initiating acolytes in the 'divine' Hare Krishna mantra. Rajneeshis 'received sanyass' from Shree Rajneesh, and Anandmurti was handing out the 'unique acoustical sound' which would take the devotee to God.
Thesdays I call it 'the Juice', and I've belatedly learned that it derives from simple physical techniques which calm the central nervous system. Peace, certainty, bliss, timelessness and the rest - can all be precipitated by meditation, fervent prayer, chanting - or (in hundreds of experiments) by wearing a magnet-filled 'God-helmet' in the research lab of Dr Michael Persinger of Canada's Laurentian University.
If someone had told me all that in 1972, it might have saved me 28 years. Then again, I probably wouldn't have believed them.
I've also since learned that Maharaji's meditation techniques are available worldwide via books and many other gurus. But in those days we knew none of this, and what we had seemed quite transcendent.
Transcendent experiences are common to most cults, and even when they diminish with age (as they do), the memory of them stays precious. Cult remainees take them to their graves. So would have I - had it not been for the Evil Princess of Darkness. (See below.)
The 'Knowledge' experience, and the all-explaining paradigm we'd embraced, made everything else seem dull. We rarely saw our families, lost souls that they were. Careers and relationships seemed idiotic. We were convinced that the world's destiny lay in Maharaji's hands. 'Maharaji is controlling this whole world like a chessboard,' I told my sister.
In Queensland, a premie work gang concreting a driveway heard a rumour that a Maharaji visit was in the offing down south. They dropped their tools and walked off, the concrete machine still churning. The distraught client had a heart attack and dropped into the wet cement.
I had no trouble, during the Summer of 1972, in going onto Lorne Beach south of Melbourne, clad in my black Divine Sales suit, smiling beatifically from under my basin cut, and thrusting a Maharaji leaflet between thinly clad couples locked in passionate embrace - gravely informing them that they were wasting their time in worldly pleasures.
Throughout the West, similar tectonic shifts were occurring for others. 'There is no deity superior to the Guru,' Swami Muktananda said of himself at his upstate New York ashram. 'No gain better than the Guru's grace.'
In South Korea, the Rev Sun Myung Moon proclaimed: 'I have inherited the mission and the work, and succeed Jesus in this work. I am fulfilling what Jesus left undone.'
When the US Government arrested him after his followers organised the largest mass poisoning in US history, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh protested: 'This time Jesus has been crucified in America by Christians themselves.'
Premies knew the real truth. And throughout the Seventies, for thousands of us, devotion to Guru Maharaji became known as the 'hidden treasure within'.
Maharaji wasn't short on hidden treasure of his own. Wherever he went - Australia, Taiwan, Japan, Fiji - there was a 'darshan line', where premies would queue to kiss his feet, and deposit gifts of cash. The latter were spirited off to Hong Kong in suitcases by premie 'couriers' - sometimes $US300,000 or more at a time - and transferred to Maharaji's Swiss banks.
'There were also special fund-raisers for the extravagant birthday gifts,' recalls Michael Donner, former US national director of Maharaji's Divine Light Mission. 'People flying around collecting bags of cash - often over $US100,000 - for a new car or whatever. The use of the organisation to collect and solicit this money was no doubt not too legal.'
But Maharaji had declared himself 'the person who is everything, the Lord all-powerful': serving him required a comprehensive change in values. Across the world, thousands gave away money, possessions, relationships, drugs and alcohol to move into his ashrams, as life was reduced to the spare, elemental habits of meditation, work and worship.
Maharaji announced from California that if he stopped meditating 'the whole world would die': it seemed prudent to follow what he said as closely as possible.
So, in October 1972, the same month 26-year-old graduate student Candace Pert discovered the brain's opiate receptor, leading to a revolution in neuroscience, I threw myself on the 'mercy' and 'grace' of an acned youth from northern India who didn't know my name - and entered a monastery.
Suddenly I had a family. In fact I had a whole international tribe. Maharaji had 'sworn on the Bible' that he would establish peace in the world - and we were to help him. So I had a purpose too.
In the ashram, there was (blissfully) no longer a need to project a personality. Ashrams afforded freedom from the need to 'succeed' in other people's terms. There was no peer pressure to get drunk, or take drugs. There was a prohibition on relationships and sex which, whilst it became oppressive in time, was for the first year or so a welcome holiday from the disasters of dating, fumbling and sexual inexperience. And not having to incessantly talk was something of a relief: in time, whole, troubled parts of ourselves fell silent.
In the beginning the ashrams were often places of great healing. In time they marked a developmental lull.
Though sex was banned, in due course there were some dramatic elopements. And many of us, after a time, began secret sexual liaisons, racked by guilt and fear. Numerous premie children were conceived on car seats, lawns and satsang hall floors, under the forbidding eye of 'the Lord all-powerful'.
The Digger, an underground magazine in Melbourne, did a story on Maharaji titled 'Who's This Little Bastard Trying to Ban Sex?' Yet the journalist admitted to having been completely overcome in the satsang he attended. Journalists came to Divine Light Mission meetings smelling of beer, and ready for an expose - and left muttering about the 'special feeling' in the room, and grinning like cats.
Maharaji's sense of self was exceptional. His father had been a well-known guru in northern India. Maharaji was the youngest of his four sons. From the earliest age, he'd had adults throwing themselves at his feet, and obeying his slightest whim. When his father died in 1966, Maharaji became the Satguru - the 'true guru' for all humankind - at the tender age of eight.
Little wonder that when he delivered his 'Peace Bomb' address to over a million people at India Gate, Delhi, in 1970, he felt confident in declaiming:
'Guru Mahraji is the Supremest Lord in person before us.'
Maharaji was nothing if not a chip off the old block. His father, Shri Hans Ji Maharaji, had excoriated the leaders of the Indian parliament, telling them that Lord Krishna - the Hindus' favourite incarnation of God - had returned to Earth with 'all 64 divine powers' for the first time.
For potential doubters, Maharaji was just as good with the stick as he was with the carrot:
'And if we forget who we really are, if we let go of Guru Maharaj Ji and really forget who we really are in the true sense of the word, then that's almost like committing suicide, that's almost like dying... If you don't practise this Knowledge, you will get rotten inside.'
Maharaji had rivals - even near-clones: in 1948, another 14-year-old Indian boy, Sai Baba, had told his startled parents that he was an avatar who'd 'come to establish righteousness'. He began manifesting holy ash and wristwatches out of the air. Through the Seventies I lived in ashrams in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, where stories would reach us of Sai Baba's wizardry, from breathless travellers home from India.
But we had little use for magic tricks. Liberating the soul was the difficult piece de resistance of the spiritual repertoire, and so far as we were concerned Maharaji alone had done that.
In 1973 Maharaji announced a program - Millennium 73 - to be held in the massive Astrodome in Houston, Texas. Still blissfully free of false modesty, he promised it would be 'the most holy and significant event in human history'. His lean, dapper eldest brother, Bal Bhagwan Ji, said that beings from other planets would visit to pay homage to the Satguru.
When I was driving Bal Bhagwan Ji around Adelaide, he had told me the parable of the devotee and the guru who came upon a dying snake being eaten alive by ants. 'In his last lifetime, that snake was a false guru,' said the master. 'And those ants were his disciples. Now they are taking their revenge.'
Hundreds of us boarded planes for Texas from Sydney Airport in November - the first of dozens of international pilgrimages which would fire our hearts, and drain our pockets, over the decade.
But Millennium was a flop. Only 15,000 people turned up - not the expected 144,000 - and all were from Earth. On a throne so high it gave me a crick in the neck, Maharaji's addresses were slurred and undistinguished. The press were merciless. Ramparts magazine reported the arrival of Maharaji and his family at Houston's Airport:
'With the exception of Bal Bhagwan Ji, the entire Holy Family sits sweating plumply in the 95 percent humidity like the before-pictures in a Weight Watchers ad.'
'It's all within you!' Maharaji shrieked - more right than either of us realised.
My Millennium highpoint was coming across Maharaji sitting on his golfcart at the top level of the Astrodome, at two in the morning, surrounded by a group of premies.
His designer clothing was a marked contrast to the hand-me-downs worn by those around him. But more than that, he was the only person in the group who seemed to be himself. The women encircling him had their hands clasped rapturously to their breast, as if protecting themselves from his radiance. The men stood tensely, their hands clasped tightly in front of their genitals. Everybody sported fixed grins.
Whenever Maharaji spoke, heads nodded up and down furiously. (It still happens today: ex-premies know it as 'the nod'.) His jokes - most of them inane - were laughed at uproariously.
At the eye of this surreal tableau, my portly, golfcart-straddling deity struck me as 'unique', 'divine'. But for the first time premies - once my boon companions - appeared to be just 'sheep'. I was still only 21: it never occurred to me that I was a member of the flock.
Premies developed a battery of psychological techniques to deal with the teeming anomalies in Maharaji's world. When Maharaji got an ulcer, this was a lila - a divine game to 'blow our concepts'. When a protestor threw a cream pie in Maharaji's face, a mahatma nearly killed him with an iron bar. ('I saw the light all right,' said left-wing journalist Pat Halley. 'And lots of stars. I didn't realize what was going on till I heard my blood splatter on the wall and started screaming.') Most of us simply put that one out of our minds - the most popular defence, even today.
A premie mass murder in Tallahassee, Florida, and a suicide in a Sydney ashram, were 'the mind taking control' - further evidence of the need to 'focus on Knowledge alone'.
Though Millennium had bombed, 1974 was another year, and it was brimming with omens. A cousin contacted me: his friend had seen Maharaji in the middle of the sky, the Sun haloing his head. The much-screened Divine Light Mission movie, Satguru Has Come, showed Maharaji hurling lightning across the heavens. Bob Mishler, Divine Light Mission's world president, reported seeing Maharaji raise a child from the dead. With a power like this on our side, we were certain Maharaji would soon be fulfilling his 1970 prediction:
'I declare that I will establish peace in this world!'
The world saw it rather differently. Press coverage was uniformly bad: Maharaji's marriage at 16 to a shapely blonde; the cavernous unpaid debts from Millennium. In Brisbane, bored copy editors had some fun with an ad for the Divine Movie: Fatguru Has Come, read The Courier-Mail's display ad.
No guru thrives without an opposition. For the Ananda Marga it was the Indian Government, who'd imprisoned their guru - and all governments which supported it. (The margis, as they called themselves, confided that they were engaged in a campaign of sabotage and violence to 'bring down society'. Soon enough they underlined the point by throwing a rock through the plate glass window of Divine Sales in Adelaide.) For the Hare Krishnas it was the sex-, power- and money-obsessed 'demons' who ran the corporations, the media and the churches. For the Reverend Sun Myung Moon it was the 'evil spirits' within the mind, and the sexual licence he saw everywhere.
Maharaji was an over-achiever: for him the whole of existence was the problem. In May, 1974 he said:
'In this world there is no peace, no harmony, no love. Why not? Because the whole world does not exist. Nothing exists.'
This was the Hindu idea of maya - that only God is real, and the entire world an illusion.
Maharaji was still having significant quantities of this illusion transferred to his Swiss banks. Mansions, luxury cars, and the first of many private jets, all materialised. An early Divine 707 boasted a gold toilet, says US ex-premie Cynthia Gracie, who worked to refurbish it - 'though I don't know if it was solid or plated gold'.
Today, those assets which Maharaji's aggrieved former devotees can trace have been conservatively valued at one hundred million dollars.
Even if we early premies had known the sheer volume of the loot, it may have been water off a duck's back. I hadn't even noticed the rows of empty seats at Millennium, nor Maharaji's blurry, circular speech:
'So it seems that apparently something is guiding something else, and something is guiding something else, and something is guiding something else, and then something is guiding something else. And it's just like seems [sic] to be a series of things in this world that are making one or the other thing go.'
Years later Bob Mishler - by now an ex-premie - explained the performance. The Perfect Master, he said, had been 'sloshed'.
After a bitter 1974 power struggle within the 'Holy Family', two of Maharaji's brothers, and his mother, had denounced him as a fraud.
His charity, Divine United Organization - which he'd billed as 'the only solution to the problems that all the governments of the world are facing today' - sank without a trace.
As the Eighties dawned, Maharaji - sensing a growing wariness of cults - closed the ashrams, dropped the 'Guru' from his name, and ceased to wear the jewelled crown of Krishna, the great boy-God of Hinduism.
Premies worldwide were instructed to hand in their tapes and magazines. The Holy Family, and Maharaji's claims to divinity, were consigned to the flames.
By the mid-Eighties Divine Light Mission had re-emerged as Elan Vital, and the 'Lord of the Universe' had morphed into 'someone who speaks about life', as Elan Vital rather blandly described him. The idea of his divinity, Maharaji explained, was a 'misunderstanding' propagated by his mahatmas.
Many premies had become ex-premies by then: even the remainees were belatedly getting interested in marriage, children and careers. Maharaji's plan to establish peace in the world was not prospering.
Whilst the Eighties were fairly sterile (Maharaji had a program in the Gold Coast's hideous Jupiter's Casino, for example) the early Nineties saw a spiritual resurgence, as mid-life began to kick in.
In 1991 his mission gained a new lease of life, when a property was purchased outside Brisbane for international gatherings. For the first time, Australia became the centre of Maharaji's global activities.
'Amaroo', as the property is known, has hosted half a dozen programs, with up to 4600 attendees pouring in from every continent. The property sits under the massive volcanic plug known as Ivory's Rock.
Amaroo - known publicly as 'Ivory's Rock Conference Centre' - is 2000 acres of reclaimed farmland, 45 minutes south-west of Brisbane. It's the international meeting place for Maharaji and his devotees: gatherings are held once or twice a year.
Amaroo has miles of sealed roads, dams, campsites for several thousand, a tiered outdoor amphitheatre seating 4500, a modern meeting hall, and 20 shops, including food outlets and a clothing shop selling expensive, Maharaji-endorsed caps, mugs, T-shirts and trinkets. At Daya's Fine Dining Restaurant, premies can eat for average $150, plus wine.
Millions of dollars have been poured into Maharaji's personal facilities, including a hilltop house. His 'campsite' has living quarters appointed to the highest standards of luxury - for example an electronics room, and a toilet with a bank of sophisticated electronic controls.
The details of Maharaji's 'campsite' are kept from premies: 'they wouldn't understand', according to a senior aide. His barbeque area, according to one of the few premies to have seen it, is 'like a command centre at NASA', with electronically controlled grills which rise hydraulically.
The meat for Maharaji's barbeque comes from a calf chosen by premies as 'the one with the nicest nature' of the herd, and is massaged before being slaughtered, to ensure maximum tenderness. The wood for the barbecue is stacked, with excruciating neatness, over several hours - including a heart-shaped hollow in the middle of the pile.
When the master's arrival is imminent, the coals on his campfire are allowed to burn low, and his gigantic stereo speakers are brought outside. (When he winds up the volume, Maharaji's music can be heard kilometres away on the far side of the property.) Premies are sent away, and the sheets on the master's bed - handmade in South America - are turned down.
Maharaji spends a lot of his time at Amaroo 'resting', and partying at his luxury 'campsite'. He goes for the occasional walk, shoots rabbits (an official secret), and meets with his international organisers.
A highlight of Amaroo programs is the 'darshan line' - the foot-kissing ritual which he has quietly revived. These are now conducted behind metal detectors, on days when no outsiders are present - their existence publicly denied.
Another highlight is Maharaji's daily addresses, which tend to be more personal, and relaxed, at Amaroo. A favourite topic is his late father and guru, Hans Ji - whose mission he inherited at the tender age of eight.
Maharaji sometimes narrates how Hans Ji - and thus himself - derive from a centuries-old line of masters. He has even published this lineage on his website, complete with the portraits and dates of his predecessors.
The world expert on the 'Rhadasoami Tradition' from which Maharaji's family claim to derive is California State University's Professor David Lane. Lane states that, after being overlooked for the succession by his own guru, Hans Ji defected, and set up on his own. Maharaji's 'lineage', he says, is a fabrication.
Of India-based organisations like Maharaji's, Professor Lane says: 'Most of these groups which start illegitimately - in the sense that they don't really have the credentials from the previous guru, and in Hans Ji's case he didn't. What they do is they invent a kind of neo-mythology which enhances their case.'
For me, the Nineties brought some 'drips' - the ex-premie term for anomalies or wrongs which penetrate one's thick mental armour, enabling doubt to grow, and one's addiction to 'Meaning' to loosen.
An early drip was Maharaji's habit of alloting Amaroo's management positions on the basis of unswerving loyalty. Talent for the job - and especially people skills - appeared to be optional, perhaps undesirable. Thus Amaroo plunged from one organisational crisis to another (as it does to this day).
In 1997, a Brisbane newspaper story described Maharaji's lifestyle fairly accurately (a string of mansions including one in the Brisbane suburb of Fig Tree Pocket, the most expensive private jet in the world, et al). Infuriated, he blamed the story on Elan Vital's PR team, who were somehow meant to have 'stopped it'. His valet told me he was depressed all the way through till Christmas.
At a party one night, two Amaroo organisers confided to several of us that some disastrously expensive mistakes had been made in the Amaroo building program. They eventually mumbled that it was actually Maharaji who had made them. The entire room fell silent, everyone looking at the floor.
Various ex-premie friends asked me to explain certain dichotomies - and I was unable to. One of them was how Maharaji could have believed he was God in one era, then claimed never to have believed such a thing in another.
In 1970 Maharaji had said:
'The great leaders think that I have come to rule and yes, they are right! I will rule the world! And just watch how I will do it.'
In 1999 he'd said on his website:
'Quite a few people wanted to see me as a figurehead. I didn't want to be one and I am not one. A few others saw me as a leader, and I didn't want to be one and I am not one.'
I ignored all this, and stayed with the far safer central message: 'Happiness and meaning,' I wrote in some divine propaganda. 'These are Maharaji's unique gifts.'
Then came a major 'drip'. In 1997, most of Amaroo's managers complained about the autocratic style of its top leadership. Maharaji sent an envoy from the US to put 40 of us through intensive self-criticism sessions, amidst confessions of unworthiness and guilt. The strangest thing was that those who tearfully - at times hysterically - confessed to the most thorough-going unworthiness had done nothing wrong. (The worst offenders, like myself, stayed dry-eyed.)
I left Amaroo and Queensland after this, somewhat troubled.
I returned for a week-long 'training' session in September 1999, run by Maharaji himself. It one of the strangest experiences of my life.
Alarmingly, the training began with another penitence session, where premies wept piteously at their unworthiness - this time in front of a sternly impassive Master. This session was not intended for penitence, but as a 'light introduction' to the week. Once again, premies were abasing themselves unprompted.
The training itself was an exercise in confusion, and fear. Maharaji seemed to be on a hair-trigger the entire week, and descended into violent rages on small provocation.
Pointless tasks were repeated. Unwinnable team games were played. Endless messages about 'independence', 'respect' and 'honesty' were hammered in - then undercut by demands for total obedience, by scarifying abuse, and by secret deals between the trainers and selected attendees.
One of the strangest moments was hearing Maharaji's scorching monologue on 'how hard I work to keep my body fit, so I can do this work'. Maharaji has a famously unhealthy lifestyle - smoking, drinking, eating well and exercising little. And he was standing before us in the flesh - demonstrably obese. No-one said a word - even later in private.
At one point a 'black sheep' was identified (he'd made a mistake in an exercise), and over the course of many excruciating hours, was publicly shamed, and finally expelled from the group. Other highlights included the Ritual Humiliation of the Dissenter, and (after one of Maharaji's tantrums) the Begging for Forgiveness Ritual.
Those who made 'mistakes' were attacked by Maharaji with volleys of obscenities, whereafter he'd storm out - on one occasion telling the entire room to 'fuck off!' as he did so.
Provoking Maharaji's anger seemed to throw participants (me included) back into childhood emotional states. The Angry Daddy gambit, I learned, is a Maharaji favourite.
Above all, I finally grasped that Maharaji thrives on the mixed message. Independence/devotion, honesty/scheming, trust yourself/trust the master. One half of the mixed message empowers and expands, the other half intimidates and reduces; one half provokes love, the other half fear; one half liberates, the other half enslaves.
Premies are powerfully hooked by both elements of the mixed message. Everyone wants to feel free, but we also want to obey a legitimate authority. Thus the mixed message strategically confuses.
Finally I was digging through the surface logic - the premise - which had been installed in my 20-year-old skull. The ground started shifting under my feet.
I've since been contacted by a corporate manager in Germany, where Maharaji's chief trainers Valerio Pascotto and Tim Gallwey have been attempting to market the 'trainings' commercially. She felt, she said, as if she were in a cult - and fled the room.
Since the 1999 premie training, Maharaji has told his senior organisers that he was no longer going to shout and scream at premies: it clearly had bad side-effects.
Today the contradiction between freedom and slavery which Maharaji embodies is blindingly clear. But for the years that it was not, it troubled me in strange, unconscious ways: the sapping of ambition, an inability to explain Maharaji to outsiders, ethical lapses I would not normally have been prey to, and clinging to 'safe' channels of thought.
Such insights were bubbling to the surface as, once again, I left Amaroo in a troubled state of mind.
For many cult members - and none more than premies - the Internet proved to be the dream-breaker.
In 1996, Canadian lawyer and ex-premie Jim Heller was cruising the early cult newsgroups, looking for some mention of Maharaji. Nothing. Then, slowly, other ex-premies materialised - including one who happened to have web design skills: www.ex-premie.org was born.
As bits of information - recollections, documents, photos - trickled into the website from all over the world, an entirely new picture of the Perfect Master began to emerge.
An early eye-opener was an interview with the late Bob Mishler - Divine Light Mission's President for five years, and personal secretary to Maharaji - who'd defected in 1977. Mishler's disclosures covered the waterfront:
Maharaji 'drank heavily...to the point that he was stewed every evening. There was more than one occasion where we had to carry him to bed after he had passed out.'
'He would find ways to charge off things that we'd bought - for him - to various Divine Light Mission departments, so that they could be hidden within our financial status... Consumerism is like a disease with him. He no sooner has the object of his desire, whether it's a new Maserati or Rolls Royce or whatever - Aston Martin - he's thinking about the next thing.'
'There came a time', Mishler revealed, when Maharaji 'had degenerated physically to the point that he was having these fainting spells, and we had had it diagnosed and found out that there was no physical cause for it, it was psychosomatic.'
When Mishler had tried to raise what he saw as the personal stunting and economic exploitation of premies living in ashrams, Maharaji, he said, 'wouldn't want to deal with it'.
'He would put it off for weeks, months - sometimes just not deal with it at all - and he would go and get drunk instead, almost on a daily basis.... [He] had tremendous problems of anxiety which he combated with alcohol. It even developed into a high blood pressure condition caused by essential hypertension, which is a form of internalising anxiety...
'We were concerned because he was destroying himself, and I was doubly concerned...[at] the impact what he was doing was having on the lives of these other people: premies who were living on the edge of destitution.'
Mishler also claimed that Maharaji had not inherited the leadership from his father and guru - which is the official story - but as the result of a power struggle between mahatmas loyal to his eldest brother and to himself.
By the end of 1975, Mishler had got through to Maharaji that his situation could be saved if he were to 'change this belief that he was God, by actually coming out and denying it, and by taking some responsibility to de-program our own membership away from this belief... I had persuaded him to see that he was going to lose his popularity and ability to do any good at all in this country, if he became a cult leader'.
For a time, Mishler convinced Maharaji to make the wrench. Then Maharaji reneged: 'If it meant that he was going to have to make any sacrifices in this lifestyle - and it had become apparent by the middle of 1976 that this was going to be the case - he didn't really want to have to do that. That's where we came to a parting of the ways.'
Mishler had one recurrent theme:
'Most of the members...have only seen Maharaji under very well-staged and planned conditions.'
'So much has been given to Maharaji spiritually and materially,' rues a close family source. 'And he has given back so little. His motto is always 'Do as I say, not as I do.''
The scandal which came to cause Elan Vital's international PR team the most heartburn surrounds the Indian Mahatma Jagdeo, twenty years ago described by some as 'Maharaji's closest mahatma'.
Via the ex-premie website, two women have come forward, claiming that as the children of premies in the 1970s they were sexually assaulted by Jagdeo. One gave a harrowing account of being raped at the age of nine, and the other was aggressively fondled at 15, in 1977.
The latter woman, Susan Haupt, wrote: 'I was very aware that Jagdeo did this over the span of two years to several children.' She now knows 'more than a few other victims who are unwilling to speak out publicly'.
Susan Haupt states that she sent word of Jagdeo's misdeeds to Maharaji, through two premies in his inner circle. One contacted her to say the message had been delivered to Maharaji personally.
But Jagdeo remained prominent in the organisation, and his access to children continued unabated. Years later, the two alleged messengers - both from Maharaji's inner circle - have 'no recollection' of the messages. Elan Vital describes claims that Maharaji knew about Jagdeo's abuses as 'hearsay'.
What is not hearsay is a January 23, 2000 email from Glen Whittaker, the British head of Elan Vital. Whittaker had been dealing with the media flak from the more serious Jagdeo incident - the rape of an nine-year-old girl - which occurred in a British ashram:
'The Jagdeo stuff is very hot here - since Xmas more so as the press is fascinated by Jonathan Cainer, 'the world's top astrologer' and a dedicated premie, who has just switched acrimoniously from the Mail to the Express (according to Private Eye in exchange for suppressing a story about Jagdeo and paedophilia in M's org), and become the highest paid UK journalist to boot. It looks like Jagdeo did abuse, and I wrote an official note to Deepak (the Indian National Co-ordinator) just yesterday asking him for details of Jagdeo's current whereabouts etc.'
The premie PR advisor to the famous Jonathan Cainer, Whittaker said, 'feels M is responsible here for leaving us all in the lurch with this dreadful PR situation, which should have been cleared up and dealt with years ago instead of hoping it would never come to light'.
Whittaker did not explain how Maharaji could have dealt with the problem 'years ago' if he knew nothing of it.
When Jagdeo was confronted with the paedophilia allegations at Maharaji's Delhi ashram, according to a British ex-premie who phoned Deepak Bhandari - Maharaji's chief organiser in India, about the matter - Jagdeo wept, and moved out of the ashram.
Several ex-premies have stated publicly, and told me, that stories of Jagdeo's paedophilia were known at senior levels in Elan Vital since 1978. I saw Jagdeo at Maharaji's Delhi ashram in November 1997. Elan Vital now says he has 'disappeared'.
The Mishler and Jagdeo bombshells peeled away quite a few premies, but worse was to come. The indefatigable Jim Heller tracked down Michael Dettmers, who'd managed Maharaji's assets, personal affairs and 'presentation to the world' from 1975 till 1987.
Dettmers confirmed that the Perfect Master had a long-running drinking problem ('The guy's an alcoholic'), and that he often became highly abusive when drunk.
In separate interviews with me, the close family source agreed that privately Maharaji is often 'cruel', and Divine Light Mission's former US national director, Michael Donner, said: 'It was his style to humiliate and put one down.'
'After a while,' Dettmers had said on the website, 'I concluded that there was a strong correlation between his failing mission and the fact that he was slightly inebriated, if not out-and-out drunk, five out of seven days of every week for years on end.'
Whilst insisting that people in ashrams abstain from drugs, alcohol and sex, Dettmers told me, Maharaji had smoked pot 'four or five nights a week' at Malibu, and had Dettmers 'arrange' for premie women to provide sexual favours. Invariably, the women were quickly dropped, with 'upset and confusion' resulting. Michael Donner and the close family source confirm these accounts.
Did Maharaji ever take responsibility for his own mistakes? 'Never,' said the close family source. 'Anybody who is part of Maharaji's inner circle is expected to keep complete secrecy about the details of his lifestyle.'
Dettmers says that for many years that secrecy was maintained via a system known as 'X-Rating'. 'X-Rated' premies were an inner circle, carefully approved by Maharaji to be apprised of his lifestyle - and sworn 'to maintain that in confidence'.
Interestingly, the ignorance is two-way. Most of Maharaji's voluminous premie-mail is destroyed, unread.
Now an ex-premie of several years' standing, Dettmers tells of being present when Maharaji ran down and killed a cyclist whilst driving to Delhi airport, in the early Eighties. Dettmers emphasises that this was an accident - the cyclist's fault if anything. Maharaji left the houseboy of Mahatma Sampuranand, head of the Indian organisation, at the scene to claim culpability to the authorities, then left the country. The victim's family was given a 'hefty cash payout' by Maharaji's Indian organisation.
Dettmers divulged the cyclist story 'in the context of the Jagdeo situation - to demonstrate that if this organisation and Maharaji wanted to cover something up, they're quite capable of doing it.'
'People liked to believe that Maharaji is all-knowing and that he knows what each person is thinking and feeling,' Dettmers said on www.ex-premie.org. 'And I think that's just a pure projection. He hasn't got a clue and doesn't really care that much about people, in my view.'
In the ashram period, did Maharaji ever express concern for the ashram premies? 'No of course not,' says ther close family source. 'The ashram was a system that had worked very well in India. He just adapted it to the west until it became too much of a burden to maintain.'
Regarding Mahatma Fakiranand, who'd nearly killed the Detroit cream pie-thrower in 1973, Michael Donner now says, 'The official line of Divine Light Mission was that 'we have instructed the Detroit center to cooperate with officials''. But in reality, he says, he was instructed by Maharaji 'to get Fakiranand out of the country' - which he promptly did. The victim was disfigured for life.
Those who spill such beans do not get off lightly. Elan Vital's lawyers have shut down ex-premie websites in the US and France. In January, cyber attacks on www.ex-premie.org were on a scale unprecedented and twice disabled its host server, paralysing scores of businesses. Websites put up by premies last year suggested that Dettmers, Donner and 21 other prominent ex-premies were mentally ill, kidnappers or (of course) paedophiles.
Whilst Elan Vital has denied any involvement, a few months earlier a premie working for its international PR team told me he'd been charged with coming up with 'radical new ways to combat the Internet ex-premies'.
Maharaji still counts among his devotees psychiatrists, businessmen and journalists. Internationally, premies include Hollywood actor Michael Nouri, astrologer Jonathan Cainer, and a three-star general in the Pentagon. (George Harrison's widow, Olivia, seems to have slipped off the scene.)
Maharaji still tours the West, often several times a year, though maximum program numbers are down from 20,000 in 1979 to 5000 today. Even in India his popularity has waned. In Delhi in 1970 he drew a crowd of one million. Today his Delhi programs draw about 70,000.
In India, Maharaji is still announced as a deity. In the West, he 'speaks about life', and overt devotion is confined to the darshan lines, and what's called the 'Backstage Vestal Virgin Cult': those super-devoted premie women who shower and meditate before scrubbing clean every inch of his backstage floor.
Over 25 years - in which time perhaps ninety percent of premies left the fold - Mishler, Dettmers and even Australian organisers urged Maharaji to become less focussed on wealth-accumulation, more spontaneous and down-to-earth. It wasn't to be - and not, Mishler had said, 'if it meant that he was going to have to make any sacrifices in his lifestyle'.
By invisible degrees, we'd become adherents of a faith that failed to work away from the stimulus of the group, and its infectious drives - and the wisdom, compassion and clarity our projections gifted to the Master. By day we were enthusiastically committed to happiness, expansion and awareness - by night, gnawed by feelings of constriction, emptiness, and a kind of emotional illiteracy.
Things ossified. In his dogged pursuit of maya, Maharaji pulled some of the vital underpinnings which kept the faithful faithful. His biggest mistake might have been to dismantle the sense of community we once shared, to sharpen the focus on himself. Friendship, he has often said, is a recipe for disappointment.
Meetings where premies shared their feelings with each other have long been replaced by videos or satellite broadcasts of Maharaji talking.
'Knowledge Introduction Steering Committees' now draw up 'Knowledge Introduction Plans', so premies at 'Knowledge Introduction Trainings' can practise scripts for telling their friends about 'the joy which flows within'. At Amaroo programs, songs are now pre-taped and lip-synced. Maharaji has asked that security cameras be installed across the property.
'Basically like all powerful people,' says the close family source, 'Maharaji is a complete control freak.'
Since exposure in the French media last year, says former instructor Jean-Michel Kahn, 'Elan Vital has disappeared under the carpet. Their website is closed, no answering machines for premies anymore, no emails, no faxes, no written materials. I guess they're afraid of journalists.'
Those close to the family say that even Maharaji's remaining loyal brother, Raja Ji, has doubts about his brother's judgement, and what it has wrought. Increasingly, premies are leaking their secrets to www.ex-premie.org and jumping ship. Even Maharaji's family are readers.
At exactly the right moment for me, along came an old friend, Lesley Veale, who had recently done the unthinkable and cut her ties with Maharaji. Lesley had spent countless hours trawling through the ex-premie website, and had absorbed every scintilla of the lies, fraud, scandal and cover-up it contained. I listened to her tales - but reflexly came back at her with robust defences of Maharaji. Week after week, she demolished them.
A premie had told me that Lesley had 'become very dark', so I dubbed her the Princess of Darkness.
Finally, I went to the website to read the revelations for myself. The worst was confirmed. I disassociated myself from Maharaji, quickly and publicly.
Equally quickly, two 30-year friends launched onto the Web - one stating that I might be 'on the verge of a nervous breakdown', the other that I was 'schizophrenic' and 'a drug addict'.
Leaving was, indeed, what I imagine coming off heroin to be like. Taking responsibility for perpetrating some of the frauds was the easy part. For months my nervous system laboured mightily to catch up with my intellect. It was as if I'd taken the door off a cave of bats, which were now flying, shrieking, into the daylight.
The 'bats' were long-repressed feelings, and disused analytical skills - and judgements about the treachery I'd seen around Maharaji which were so secret, so inadmissable, that I'd hidden them even from myself.
Finally I uttered the words which, to a babyboomer, were like drinking poison: 'My parents were right.'
Knowledge and devotion had worked for me as a young person, in much the same way an intensive care unit works for an accident victim. But I made the grave mistake of staying on life support when, with a little effort and confidence, I could have got onto my feet and walked out of the hospital.
Cult thinking doesn't just exist in cults. It exists in schools, companies and idealistic organisations - wherever emotional need (which is universal) meets two cc's of charisma. Some families are mini-cults, where an all powerful father binds his children emotionally by dealing out love with the one hand, and abuse with the other.
Those who think it unusual that normal people should swoon and weep over an obese performer uttering cliches and dripping with silver sequins should study the last days of Elvis. A whole nation can be swallowed up by the psychodynamics of a cult - which usually has a religious template, even under atheist governments. Germany, Russia, Rumania, China and Cambodia have all been swept up in personality cults every bit as mad as Maharaji's - and a good deal more dangerous.
Last year in Havana I visited the Museum of the Revolution, and looked at the endless parapheranlia pertaining to the life of Che Guevara - his books, his boots, his blood-stained T-shirt, and, ubiquitously, his astonishingly Christ-like visage.
One of the nicest experiences I've had in years is giving a speech after winning a journalism award last year. If I ever won anything, I'd always intended to thank my all-pervading ghost, and its revealer - Maharaji (who was at that moment probably knocking back a fourth or fifth cognac in his $20 million Malibu mansion, and who probably doesn't remember my name). Instead I thanked my parents, who'd sent me my first typewriter at boarding school, and who'd encouraged my career with emotional and practical aid from before it began.
When a paradigm changes, the central beliefs can go fairly quickly - but it may be some time before word reaches the psychic provinces. But when that turbulent few months have ended, the dominant feeling is sheer relief.
Reconfiguring just about everything that had happened to me over 28 years was extraordinary fun, and very revealing. Even little things, like the theologian in 1973 who'd rudely told me that Maharaji was 'good for a laugh.' For 30 years I'd thought of him as the ultimate representative of intellectualism which had lost touch with the spirit - of academia cut off from real life. Re-inventing him as insightful - rather than 'lost in ego' - was a challenging exercise.
Another reconfiguring had to do with the experience itself. Looking back on my three decades with the Knowledge of all knowledges, there wasn't 'one experience' - as the advertising insists. There were quite a few: peace, euphoria, the sensing of a superior power, timelessness, unity with all things, sharpened focus, ineffability, an implacable certainty, acceptance, love...
It's one of the more banal facts of recent science that all of these experiences have now been sourced to brain activity brought about by calming the central nervous system. Which is what you do when you chant, pray or meditate.
Recent centuries have been all about decentralisation. Newton, then Einstein, decentralised the cosmos. Within the economic model which rules the world, capitalism, power has shifted from large centres like New York and London to transnational corporations - so much so that a frequent question now for economic theorists is: 'Who is 'us'?'
Even the God of the West has slowly decentralised, with the appearance of his son (fourth century), then the Holy Spirit - then finally in the nineteenth century the Virgin Mary gaining parity, as Queen of Heaven. The chemical model of the brain outlined by neurologists such as Candace Pert is about burying the artifical division between body and mind, and about a 'body-wide' brain.
In such an age, with all the old monoliths in decline, Maharaji was looking a little isolated. He tried to backpedal - stating that he was imperfect, could make mistakes, was not God, and all the rest - but it was too little too late. (Another problem is that he delivers the opposite message in India: a visit to his Delhi ashram is like travelling down a wormhole to 1973.)
No wonder that, for those who remain in Maharaji's organisation, things have become increasingly unreal. In Elan Vital I'd witnessed nearly three decades of revolutions, changes in style and terminology, trainings, workshops, conferences, mutinies and purges - and everything had stayed the same. I felt like Alice's Red Queen, riding around a countryside which moved along with her. But now, at last, I could dismount.
What new mental landscape greets the defector?
Wonder and happiness still exist. What fills me with wonder now - for example - is that for the first time in human history we are reading the subtext: we have access to the gene-code that makes us. Evolution tells us where we really come from. We've never had that before.
Exiting a cult has other advantages - more time, and more money, for example. And not feeling 'wierd' in the eyes of the world. And old friends - even children in my case - rushing up and saying, 'Thank God you're out. Thank God you're normal again!'
Also, you will never again attribute divine qualities to someone who doesn't even know your name; you will never again equate infantile 'good feelings' with enlightenment; you'll be much less swayed by group thinking. And you're most unlikely to join multi-level marketing schemes - pioneered in Australia by premies, incidentally.
According to the ex-premie website's co-founder Jim Heller, the Internet is the real hero of the Maharaji story:
'Without it, I'd have been just another guy with some quirky past who, if I was lucky, might get a chance to hash it all out in an airport bar with some other former comrade twenty years down the line. But the Net has spurred us all on to being cold-case detectives - scrutinising our collective past with the benefit of maturity, hindsight and relief from the information-deprivation all cults seem to thrive in.'
A rump of Maharaji's premies remains, defending him with rationalisations that become less tenable with each passing year. But for the majority, the obvious has become obvious. As they unpick the thousand locks of cult indoctrination, one-time premies are living up to their reputation for furious energy, as they swarm over the man who tricked them, like ants over a dying snake.
Maharaji is not the only cult leader to be undone by the Internet. A 1994 article on Siddha Yoga, 'Oh Guru, Guru, Guru' - based on no less than 100 interviews with members and ex-members - received relatively small circulation in The New Yorker. But when the World Wide Web was born, Siddha Yoga devotees everywhere were able to read that their beloved founder, Swami Muktananda, had routinely forced himself on early teenaged girls. His co-successor, Guru Mayi, had orchestrated physical assaults upon her own younger brother, and rival.
In a near-carbon copy of Maharaji, Guru Mayi had split acrimoniously with her mother and brother in a succession dispute, and failed to protect female children from rape at the hands of her closest devotee.
In a series of striking parallels with Maharaji, The New Yorker cites evidence that Guru Mayi kept a million-dollar Swiss bank account, permitted dissidents to be intimidated, ordered destruction of materials on Siddha Yoga's early days, and insigated pre-scripted public presentations. She has also introduced corporate-style team trainings in a failed attempt to overcome her organisation's dysfunctions.
Since his jailing for tax evasion, the suicide of his son and the decline of his business empire, Sun Myung Moon has seen his US support base drop from 50,000 to about 6,000 (an extremely close parallel to Maharaji), in significant measure due to Internet exposure.
In February, the international Hare Krishna organisation filed for bankruptcy in the US, in the face of a $US400 million lawsuit. The plaintiffs are 44 former children from Hare Krishna schools, who allege 'rape, sexual abuse, physical torture and emotional terrorising of children as young as three'.
As for the 'avatar' Sai Baba, his miracles have been unmasked by slo-mo cameras as simple sleights of hand.
An 800-page book, The Murders in Sai Baba's Bedroom, is all the rage in India. It describes the 1993 shooting of four people in Sai Baba's presence - a crime which the Indian authorities declined to investigate, possibly because the 'avatar' had devotees in the government, including the Prime Minister.
Following widespread Internet publicity, dozens of former male followers now claim Sai Baba abused or raped them as adolescents and young men. This 'veritable ocean of knowledge and guidance on all aspects of spiritual, religious, and value-oriented living' is now the subject of a US consular warning.
As Sai Baba once said: 'It is easy to see how the modern world, through its moral regress and decline of values, is ripe for avatars.'
Maharaji couldn't have put it better himself.