Journeys: Charlie

Date: April 21, 2000

At last I am truly in my head!

It was 1975 and I was 18 years old when I first met a premie. I was visiting Alan, a schoolfriend, one summer's afternoon and we were lazily sitting about smoking and listening to records at his parents house in a place called Raynes Park in SW London. My friend told me that his big brother had recently returned from India where he claimed he had discovered the 'Secret of the Universe'. Though it sounded preposterous I was nevertheless intrigued and wanted to know more.

As the conversation rolled along the name 'Maharaj Ji' kept popping up and I wondered if this could be the little fat Indian I had seen on T.V. a few years earlier, driving a white Rolls Royce. When I realised it was the very same individual, my reaction was to run for the door, but out of politeness I stayed to hear the rest of the story. Alan's brother John had now joined us. John told us he had received an "amazing gift called knowledge" from the little guru whom he met on his hippie travels in the East. He told us knowledge was the ability to see brilliant light and hear cosmic music within our being. It was stronger and more pure than the best dope or acid and the experience was always with him. Wow! That sounded fantastic to an impoverished teenager who found it a struggle to pay for a packet of cigarettes. A free natural high that was better than any drug was certainly a temptation, however fat the guru was. For whatever reason, I didn't do follow up on his suggestion to get the Knowledge for at least another year.

I was a simple teenage fool but like most teenagers, I thought I was hip and smart. Most of my big ideas were built around some popular 'spiritual' books I had been reading - in particular I was keen on the Carlos Castaneda yarn about the Mexican sorcerer Don Juan. Bizarrely, those books became a sort of manual to accompany me during my ever more frequent acid trips. Castaneda had said that the ultimate purpose in life was to become a 'Man of Knowledge'. In some strange way I figured that Maharaj ji's so called 'Knowledge' might be the same sort of thing.

Unfortunately, being so young I was unable to see the shape my life had already begun to take and how the circumstances prevailing in my teenage years would set ideal conditions to make a cult like Divine Light Mission seem attractive to me. In the devoutly Roman Catholic family in which I was raised communication was always difficult. Any deep questions about life which were not covered by the catacism where generally ignored by my parents or I would be told something glib like "you'll understand when you're older, son". A lot of use. My slothful hippie attitude had become increasingly out of step with my family and in particular my father with whom the atmosphere was very tense. Things came to a head with his death when I was seventeen. This event left me with many unresolved issues, some I wouldn't even begin to address until I was in my mid twenties. In short I was too confused to see where to start. I was emotionally very fragile. With no guiding parental control I quit my education and took a job in as a postman. I desperately needed something stabilising to hold on to. I guess that something could have been any number of things but DLM was first to turn up.

In 1976 another friend of mine became an 'aspirant', it was he who virtually led me by the hand to a large house in Streatham, South London, which he called called an ashram. He told me he was spending most of his time there and was so high on the vibe, he was ecstatic. He did seem happier than I'd ever known him. When we arrived I was taken into the kitchen and introduced to a woman in her early twenties, called the 'House Mother'.

"Charles has come to do service," announced my friend, and with that I was led to the top of the house with a bucket of soapy water and scrubbing brush.

"There now," said the house mother, pointing to the steps, "Work your way down to the ground floor and then come back to the kitchen and you can help prepare the evening meal". This was clearly my first lesson in humility so I accepted without question and got on to my hands and knees. That evening I joined the rest of the ashram premies who had returned from their day jobs to have a mixed bean and lentil dinner. Following the meal there was a migration to a beautiful yellow and white room which had been closed throughout the day. It was sparsely furnished but pleasantly decorated with flowers and two or three pictures of the guru, neatly framed and sitting on a little altar. Here I had my first experience of 'satsang' meaning 'company of truth'.

The first guy to speak genuinely had a very powerful effect on me. He spoke about love and its true meaning, and for all the world I might never have heard about it before that day. He touched my heart. Everyone seemed to be veterans of the Woodstock era and were well travelled (meaning they had been to India). They struck me as wise and I believed everything they said. For the first few months the emphasis was on 'Knowledge' rather than Maharaji. Knowledge became the ultimate shining promise for me, a beacon of light and stability in dark stormy weather. I wanted it more than anything but would be forced to wait for two years.

During those two years the emphasis switched from the Knowledge to Maharaji. After only a few months the message had become 'Worship Maharaji. He is the Lord of the Universe'. I was very confused. The personality cult was exactly what I had feared in my earliest experiences, but I had been reassured that Knowledge was the goal. The goalposts had moved, but I was in deep so I went along with it.

Outside Conway Hall, the venue for London's weekly community Satsang, a girl I knew ran up to me and some friends, crying "The Lord is on the planet!" I didn't know what to say. I was embarrassed but felt guilty, like St. Peter denying Jesus. Devotion was back in fashion. It was explained to me that premies had forgotten the beauty of devotion and fallen from the track. Bob Mischler was blamed for attempting to derail Maharaji's mission. When I asked questions like, 'Who is Bob Mischler? Why did the holy family break up? What happened in Houston Astrodome?' I was never given any straight answers. Premies told me to not confuse myself with those issues. I should concentrate on Maharaji and getting Knowledge, then everything would become clear.

Back in our community household the emphasis on devotion was stoked up to boiling point. Pictures of Maharaji appeared on every shelf and wall. I visited some premie friends and while making a cup of tea, one of them showed me with pride how not only their walls were covered with pictures of Maharji but also their kitchen cupboard doors.

"Oh yeah, nice but we have pictures on our cupboard doors as well" I said nonchalantly.

"Oh yeah, but what about the insides of your cupboard?" he asked. To my amazement he opened the doors to reveal how even hidden surfaces of his house were equally festooned with pictures of the master cut from Divine Times Magazine. Looking back, it frightens me to think how far I might have gone to get this thing. The frustration was agonising as I watched many other people come and get Knowledge before me. I jumped through as many hoops as were presented and would eventually promise my life away.

There had been plenty of hoops...

  • I'd been encouraged to give up my job in order to go and see Maharaji in foreign countries, then told to get another job ASAP upon return because Maharaji didn't want premies on Social Security.
  • I'd moved into a house with other premies to ensure maximum contact with satsang and service.
  • I became involved with the service programme in London, which was mostly messing around in a warehouse in Battersea. It was like moving piles of earth from place to place for no reason. One crafty premie got us to do the gardening so local satsang could be conducted on their lawn in summer.
  • I attended satsang every evening, aspirant events and the aspirant course at the local ashram.
  • I cut my hair and wore conventional clothing.
  • I stopped smoking, drinking alcohol and taking drugs.
  • I read Maharaji's satsang for an hour every morning and an hour every night. This was done while sitting in a lotus position on the floor. Sitting on the bed was considered dangerous. We were being prepared for meditation. We were told Maharaji couldn't slow his train down for us to get aboard, we had to get up to speed and jump on!
  • My final bizarre task before getting Knowledge from Rich Neal, was to complete a crazy, twenty-page questionnaire which included questions like, "Who is Guru Maharaj ji"? If only I had known!

Mateus (a Swiss initiator) made me feel as though I were a cheat and a liar unworthy to receive the purity of Maharaji's gift. He refused me twice and I hated him. I thought that there was no point in asking for knowledge so I didn't attend the selection with Julienne West. On another occasion when I was selected for knowledge by Anne Johnson, a Canadian. On the day I was supposed to be initiated, she left for America to see Maharaji. I was jilted!

In all I was refused nine times. I got seriously depressed. During one knowledge session I sat on the wall outside the ashram at Grove Way in Stockwell, crying while the other lucky aspirants were receiving the big prize inside. When I was finally accepted, it was one of the greatest feelings of relief I have ever known.

There was never a satisfying explanation why it was such an ordeal for me to get knowledge. It was my karma or what I 'personally' needed from Maharaji. I couldn't see the 'big picture'. I had to trust that it is all part of his divine plan. The Rolling Stones song, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need" was often quoted. It was classic brainwashing, 'cult style'.

Maharaji was the boss and the focus. As the leader he is ultimately responsible for the way things are run and how people are treated. But he has always remained silent about anything other than what's good for himself. After getting the knowledge the task ahead was to "realise it". Simply getting knowledge (the meditation) was not enough. There was a lifetime of work ahead, following the commandments and the rest of the trappings. The three legged stool was the example. One had to do Satsang (talk about Maharaji and Knowledge as much as possible), Service (give time, effort and money) and Meditation (shut your mind off at the end of the day in case you question anything) to get a glimpse of the true personality of Guru Maharaji. If Satsang, Service or Meditation was neglected, it would be like removing a leg from the stool- it would fall over. On many occasions it occurred to me that I could never reach any loftier realisation than I am a worm, never worthy to look into Maharaji's face. It is only by his supreme compassion that I am allowed the privilidge of his darshan. Knowledge was going to be an uphill struggle.

It was suggested that I should move into the ashram. A premie from took me aside and told me to get away from the 'spaced out' premies that I was living with. "You must plumb the depths of the knowledge" he told me, "if you hang around with these guys you'll get nowhere, you might as well have joined the Hare Krishnas". Well, a life of celibacy was not for me, I was a late developer and wasn't about to give up something that I'd hardly begun. I opted for the next best thing, living in community houses, usually with a mix of single guys and couples. It might not have been an ashram but it certainly wasn't conventional.

Life revolved around festivals. It was difficult to stay in work because you always needed money to get to the next gig. We lived as cheaply as we could, often in derelict buildings called squats. Winters were painful without proper heating and food was often in short supply. This pattern of chaos still echoes on in my life today. I couldn't keep a regular job and became a self employed carpenter. It was a skill that could benefit Maharaji. I spent many weeks each year building stages around London and Europe. culminating in a terrible time at Lingfield Racecourse in 1981.

I spent over a week working up to eighteen hour days at Lingfield. I suffered from exhaustion and had to use some of my registration money to buy food which still didn't amount to much. When the festival started I was locked out and forced to beg at the gate to top up my entrance fee. After several hours I still didn't have enough so the office finally settled for an I.O.U. This story happens to be written in greater detail on the House of eDrek. In Rome, tickets allocated to the building crew were dealt out by the officials to their friends. When I tried to get to my seat in the auditorium, I was given the "bum's rush"! Each time I was knocked down, I would just get back up and carry on. I accepted the pain. I was unlucky and Maharaji was too busy to listen to my little complaints. It was his 'lila', or divine game.

Lingfield was a turning point. It was when the cult began to lose its power over me. Month by month and year by year I let go of the trappings I'd held onto for so long. I stopped going to programmes and stopped meditating. There were no ill effects.

After I split up with my premie girlfriend of eight years I took my collection of divine publications into the back garden and burned them. I still regret ignoring people who told me that I was in a cult and should get out before it was too late.

The boy god declared that he "would establish peace into the world" and was quite an act back in the seventies. Yes, in the beginning they did seem like 'magical' days but as the years went by, things turned sour. Today there appears no form to Elan Vital, but it is still difficult to talk about Maharaji and knowledge with my old friends from the time. "Charlie, give it up and relax, you're in your head" or "Remember Charlie, Maharaji is here to crush mind and yours is very strong, so it hurts".

After 1984 I had almost nothing to do with the premie world and didn't see Maharaji for over ten years. I married another premie, a beautiful girl called Lee and we have two wonderful children. My family has been the most stabilising force in my life so far. We did not practice knowledge through the remainder of the eighties but in the nineties Lee tried to get back into it for a while. It ended up with us going to see Maharaji in Brighton and Wembley. I tried to shape up, stop complaining and get into the programme. But there's no point trying to polish a turd. The enduring memory I have of those 'events' was the cringing poetry and hours of insipid videos of waterfalls and dewdrops on flowers. I must accept it for what it is and in the words of Jagger and Richards "gotta scrape the shit right off my shoe."

I sometimes wonder why I stayed around so long. I suppose it was heavy conditioning. Communication was very restricted. In the early days everything said regarding M&K had to be 'praise'. Dissent was unthinkable, no criticism was tolerated. Even after many years I was never able to express myself. Remarkably it is only now, in the age of the Internet that people who care to remember can tell their tale and be heard. When I came across 'ex-premies' I had a strange reaction. I had run a search for Maharaji on the Internet and came to this weird yellow page where this angry guy was ranting about the "mind trap" of Maharaji. He sounded pissed off but I couldn't see how he'd got that way. Other premies told me how they had also found this awful place on the web. We mostly agreed that ex-premies were fools who were only doing themselves a disservice by getting so worked up Maharaji and knowledge. After all it was their choice to get knowledge, surely they could leave without so much fuss. If this was their choice they deserved all the pain and angst they got. We had been warned about the mind and its tricks by Maharaji. I am amazed at how these same worthless arguments are trotted out time after time by every premie who comes by There is a page on Roger eDrek's site that lists out all the standard premie apologia. Later when I found myself reading it I could see how I had become a robot.

It's hard for me to understand my initial reaction. I thought I'd excised the practice of knowledge from my life years before. My reaction showed that fear that remained with me and I had nothing better as a spiritual substitute. I didn't return to the ex-premie site for three years. Last year (1999) around spring, another old pal asked me for some advice about buying computers and getting online. I helped him as best I could and soon he was logging on to AOL. Then one evening he called and asked if I had seen the notorious ex-premie site. I told him that I had but did not think much of it. He on the other hand thought it was a great laugh and told me about many other entertaining Maharaji websites, some 'for' and some 'against'. He insisted I go to look at 'The House of Drek' and recommended the Chronicles of Red Nighty. Eventually I found found myself back on the yellow pages of what was now called The section that unhooked me was the 'Journeys', essays where ex-premies tell the story of how they got in and what led to their disillusionment. I read through these stories for days. I knew that I was giving reign to all my doubts which I had been "leaving no room for" for so many years. At the age of 42 I figured I must be old enough to handle the truth so ventured on. I did it at times when Lee was not about so she wouldn't know what I was up to and what was happening to me. Sometimes I sat at my computer crying my heart out. I was in a state of freefall which I could not control. All of my doubts were unleashed at once and there were no premies advising me to avert my gaze. Over the next few weeks layers of weirdness were stripped from me. I was vulnerable and lost. I thought I had left Maharaji but this was the final separation. My first sensations of freedom were cold and bleak, I was miserable and often felt sick in my stomach. Lee noticed that something was wrong and after a particular evening (regretably her birthday) when we were supposed to be celebrating it became so obvious that something was out of whack with me. I eventually told her what was happening. At first she was angry, then dismayed. She couldn't understand why I had opened this Pandora's box.

To my eternal relief, Lee went to look at for herself. She also went into a head spin. 1999 was a traumatic year. There were tears and our children had to endure some bad moods. But we've come through with a sense of lightness. Whatever we do is our choice. We don't need to check the game plan or book of rules. It's up to us, and nobody else, to make better use of our future.

Before I go I'd like to say a big thank you to all the people who have contributed their time and effort to make this and other ex-premie websites possible. Because of a chapter of my life that had no forseeable conclusion has now been closed as gracefully as possible.

Cheers... Charlie

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