Michael's "pre-Knowledge biography" was published in the Golden Age in which he spoke of a reasonably standard 1960's path: bright boy becomes angsty teenager obsessed with mysticism and the "meaning of life". A heavy reader becomes a heavy user of LSD with predictable worrying results - obsessional thinking, delusions and possible suicide - which are relieved by a poster advertising the presence of a 14-year-old Perfect Master in Australia. Indoctrination takes place through continual "satsang", a process which he described, at the time, as "Guru Maharaj Ji carefully and gently remoulded my thinking in the flame of his love."
He commenced full-time unpaid work for the fledgling Divine Light Mission and was one of the people who received Knowledge when Mahatma Padarthanand came to Australia in November, 1973. Unlike the majority who did the same at that time, he remained a follower for nearly 30 years. He was interviewed by Penny Watson for the Golden Age of April 1976 shortly before going to Denver to join the volunteer staff of the International Headquarters of DLM. He parrotted the official line at the time: Maharaji required his premies to be in "synchronisation" with him through "internationalisation" and "community" so that he could really start to bring peace to the world without everybody laughing at him and that while everything the premies had done before was wrong and their understanding minimal, now at last by Maharaji's grace everything was finally coming good. McDonald expressed it much better than that.
He arrived at the Denver International Headquarters of DLM just in time for it's near collapse due to the ashrams closing and writers leaving town (and Rawat) in droves. For a time he edited both the Divine Times and And It Is Divine. He returned to Australia where he once more edited the Golden Age until it's demise in 1979 though by now it contained nothing but reprints of Rawat's speeches and those of his wife.
He remained a committed devotee of Rawat's though he had little connection with service in Élan Vital, apart from donating money, until 1999 when he was asked to join the Elan Vital Public Relations team as a writer. In early 2001 he re-examined his beliefs after prompting from friends, who included John MacGregor, and in "a triumph of logic and common sense over instilled belief" he repudiated Rawat and his so-called "Knowledge". He is the editor of the Byron Bay Echo.
Michael McDonald was quite active for a time on the internet after becoming disillusioned with Prem Rawat.
He posted five statements of the many possible valid criticisms of the Rawat religion which he believed deserve examination by anyone with "Knowledge" or aspiring to its acquisition:
- Maharaji is not the 'superior power in person', at least no more or less than you and I. He is a charismatic figure whose charisma is reinforced by the devotion showered upon him, and an adherent of a teacher/student tradition.
- Elan Vital is an organisation which, despite its PR image, acts as if Maharaji is the 'superior power in person'. That is, it is a cult.
- The tools and experience of Knowledge are not unique to Maharaji. The experience is inherently within you and may be reached by a number of means (brain science is a big eye-opener in this regard).
- Elan Vital is beset by a paralysis caused by its ambivalent/deceitful presentation of Maharaji and Knowledge. Publicly, Maharaji's just a guy with a few techniques; privately, people sing arti to him. The official PR explanations are expected to be followed by those 'in synch'. There is no room for a range of opinions to be expressed to the media, from 'He's an okay guy' to 'I think he's the lord of the universe!' Natural poetry has been suppressed in favour of blandness.
- The difference between 'the mind' and 'the heart' is just an arbitrary line drawn in the sand. They are not different places to live, as Maharaji seems to insist, but simply facile definitions by which we categorise parts of our experience of being alive.
He discussed the "Trainings" (see Introducing the Possibility of Knowledge), of his life as a follower of prem Rawat and his thoughts on Rawat's strategy re this on-line criticism and some thoughts on the international organisation of Elan Vital.
A selection of his blogs on Rawat and his followers is available here.