|Journeys: John Pedersen|
|Date: January 27, 2007|
|Over the years, many people have asked me how I got into Maharaji. I told them it was like this.
When I was 13, my Dad put me under house arrest for the whole of the summer holidays. My mother, seeing I was bored, gave me a big box containing a postal yoga course she had found at work. So I spent a summer with nothing to do but to read and to practice yoga. Being young, I was quickly able to do all the positions, and I enjoyed the exercises until I got to the final section of the course, about meditation. I didn't practice it much, but the idea settled on me that I might benefit if I could gain control of my mind as I had learned better control of my body.
In an English lesson at school, we read Brave New World, and when we got to the bit that described conditioning, the teacher tried to persuade us to try to argue the case for conditioning - we thought there was no case - it was clearly inhuman. Eventually it dawned on me that we were already conditioned, but assumed ourselves 'free', and so I realized that the possibility of consciously adjusting our conditioning was not such a big step as we thought. I'd had a little revelation, which our fine teacher spotted straight away, and he had me stand up on my chair to explain how everything we think is already the subject of some sort of conditioning.
The ideas in Brave New World intrigued me, and I added them to what I had read about meditation. I got hold of the notion that to be 'free', I would need to learn to stop thinking, and learn to experience what there was without the filter of the thoughts.
But this isn't true. I was trying to remember the sequence of events as clearly as I could, and I realized that when we read Brave New World, I was already a premie. Reading the book had nothing to do with joining the cult. Somewhere along the line, I created that scenario to explain or justify my involvement. I believed it for years. It wasn't the yoga course that provided a route to the cult either. That explanation makes no sense. I am one of four brothers. We all got sucked in. I was the only one who studied yoga. It seems unlikely my involvement had anything to do with yoga. More likely something to do with the nature of our family, and the alienation we felt from what we saw as the mundanity of mainstream society.
So, I got the 'knowledge' like this. I had just turned sixteen, in February, 1973. I told my mother I needed to buy some ink for school, and used the money for the bus fare to Newcastle, where Mahatma Dhar was handing out enlightenment. Truanting for the first time, I sat through the knowledge session in my school uniform. I don't think the mahatma understood that I needed to get home in time to pretend that I had spent the day at school. I didn't think I would qualify for receiving the knowledge of all knowledges if I stipulated that it had to be all over by 3pm. I got home at 11 pm, after phoning to explain I was at least safe. My Dad blew his top, threw me into the corner of my room, and kicked me till my mother dragged him off. I remembered Holy Name, and felt pity for him. Obviously, looking back, he didn't kick me hard enough.
For the next two years, geographically isolated from other premies and denied any opportunity to travel by my father, I meditated religiously, and not surprisingly, had a number of religious experiences. Meditation proved as powerful as I had expected it to be. For a period of couple of weeks or so, I felt a 'presence' when I finished meditating and had laid down to sleep. A light glowed above me (whether my eyes were open or not), and I felt at peace. I was able to ask questions and have answers appear in my head, at least at first, but towards the end of that period, I had run out of questions, and just bathed in the warmth of what I took to be divine company.
The only doubts I had in that time were sparked by a chemistry lesson, where we were told that carbon dioxide tastes sweet. I had just discovered 'nectar'. Putting my tongue down my throat (fourth technique, as it was at the time) I tasted a sweetness sometimes, but more on the outgoing breath than the incoming. Perhaps this simple chemistry was the explanation for the sweetness? The light was caused by pressing the eyeballs, the sound by the noise of blood going round the ear entrance (squeezed by the thumbs), and the Holy Name was just the peace obtained trying to relax and not think. How quickly I found some sort of explanation for it all, once a little doubt had grown! But this was the Knowledge of all knowledges, the knowledge Krishna gave to Arjuna, the very same, as the mahatma had frequently pointed out (he had pages marked in the Bhagavad Gita and the bible to back up what he had to say in the session). I put my doubts away, or I would have had to review my entire perspective on life, religion, and worse, accept that my headmaster and my father were right that it was all just an ugly cult designed to fill the guru's pockets. War with the headmaster was much more fun.
The war with the headmaster went on for a couple of years, as he tried to make a man out of me while I tried to make a monkey out of him. I hadn't understood he had better weaponry than me. At 18, I had some good exams results, but not one of the medical schools I applied to accepted me. They didn't go on just results, but also the head's report. Maybe we'd have been at war without my involvement with the cult, but it certainly got us off to a bad start.
With my career over before it began, I embarked on plan B. I got a lift to the A1, stuck out my thumb and set off for India. It didn't seem right. I already had a guru after all. But didn't that mean I was free? So I could go anyway? I took in Essen on the way, and saw Rawat for the first time, did the darshan thing, and was surprised that I wasn't more affected. After all, I had thought I had been meditating on the essence of Maharaji diligently for a couple of years. It was a minor disappointment - I had never liked crowds anyway.
I had set off with £100. It lasted for several weeks going round Europe, and I found myself broke in Italy. I was invited to Leeds university to study microbiology. No-one plans to study microbiology. People who apply to do medicine and fail are scooped up by microbiology departments. I'd get a grant. Easy money, I thought. I hitched back to England, and studied at Leeds for the next three years. I went to satsang every night, and most of the programs that happened within Europe. I hitched to them all - the money was never that easy. My grant cheques were always weeks late, and pretty soon there were two of us living off them. For the next eight years, the time when I went to program after program, I very rarely had more than £100 to my name. Usually much less.
One cold night after a program in Leeds city centre in November, I stood at a bus stop debating with my girlfriend whether we should take the bus home or walk. It was an hour's walk. It was cold. We had the bus fare, but we had nothing else. As we stood by the bus shelter, five pound notes blew out of an alley into the road. We scooped them up, took the bus home, and decided to hitch to Rome the next day for a program there. It was grace, you see.
It took 36 hours to get there. Good going, 1500 miles or so. I don't remember the program, but I remember it took two weeks to get back. Our tent got wrecked in a blizzard in the Alps. The whole of Europe was covered in snow. We saw most of it. We were so cold (I didn't even own a coat) we decided to take any lift that was going anywhere, and ended up getting back to England via northern Germany. So what happened to the grace? Ah, all was explained when we were invited by one of our drivers to stay a night in his luxury house. Hot baths, dry clothes, excellent food. As we left next morning, I realised that we had stayed at 7 Rue des Lilas. Ho ho! How sad, that we ever gave any significance to such a dumb coincidence. We spent a further night stranded in some woods in Belgium, far from any houses. We slept in the snow, by a fire that I had to keep going by finding more branches every hour or so. The following night we were still in the same woods, but we spotted a red light far off, and walked there, determined to find shelter. It was a brothel, but we were so obviously in need of shelter we were taken in, given food, drink and blankets to wrap around ourselves. Whenever a customer came, we had to hide in the kitchen. Eventually, we got to sleep on a pile of cushions behind the sofa.
My studies didn't go well. Programs were too frequent. Satsang and meditation left no time for private study. I was often on the verge of being thrown out of university. At the end of the second year there I won a reprieve. My house burned down. I had had a letter one morning informing me that a place had been found for me in at the hospital, and I was to go there that afternoon. I had suspected cancer - and I was to have at least one of my balls cut off. I figured I'd have a bath, walk to the university to let them know I wouldn't be around for a couple of weeks (good excuse this time, but they'd suspect I was lying!), and then go straight to the hospital. It was while I was in the bath that I heard shouting. The house was on fire. There was a kid to be pulled out of a burning room at short notice, and I lost some of my hair, and oddly, my eyebrows. The eyebrows were replaced with deeply ingrained soot from the fumes of a burning rubber-backed carpet. I was left with a shirt, a pair of underpants, and no eyebrows. A neighbour put a blanket round me as we got into a police car.
After two baths at a friend's house, I borrowed some clothes and went to the university. The head of department had been leading an experiment, which was delayed by my arrival, and my explanation about the fire.
"Well, I suppose you'll be needing some time to sort yourself out after the fire?" "A little more than you might expect… " I explained about the possible cancer, the operation…
The university cut me a lot of slack for the rest of the time that I was there. I took advantage of this and went to a lot of programs around Europe and missed even more lectures. A month before my final exams I decided I may as well try to get a degree as simply flunk it. All the notes I had taken over three years amounted to a pile of paper half an inch thick. I photocopied a friend's notes, and they were more than two feet thick. I figured I would spend the whole of the month reading this stuff and nothing else -- except for satsang in the evening of course.
I found it difficult to concentrate, so I meditated. I got the idea that the more I meditated the more I would be able to concentrate and more efficiently I would be able to study. I meditated for two weeks solidly. At first, my thoughts would wander but gradually they began to deepen. Memories from my childhood returned powerfully and clearly. It would have been easy to dwell on these, but I put them aside always aiming for internal quietness. When I had started, sitting cross-legged for a long time had been difficult without leaning against the wall. Now it was easy and perfectly comfortable to sit without support for hours on end. I was intrigued by my apparent progress. I decided that perhaps the meditation was more important than my studies and I gave it first priority. I meditated for the whole of that month.
I didn't stop until I hit samadhi. You know, expanding everywhere, bright light and sound, feeling as if every molecule within me was ecstatic simply to be in existence, and as I expanded the ecstasy within me grew... textbook samadhi really. I had been afraid just before the experience that if I stopped thinking entirely, how would I ever start again? It felt kind of suicidal to continue. Afterwards, I was surprised that there was any afterwards.
I started my studying at four o'clock on the morning of my first exam. With so little time, I simply skimmed through the pages noting key words here and there. In the exams, I had total recall and could answer the questions as if the notes were there in front of me. I did get a degree.
I had had the impression that samadhi was the same thing as 'realising knowledge'. I had thought that such an experience would grant me some vital wisdom and insight. I thought it was a one-way trip. In fact, having achieved the goal of my life I was confused. I knew nothing more than I had known before. I had thought that satsang, service, going to programs, the whole point of Maharaji was so that we could have such an experience. And now that I had had it, it really didn't make any difference. Nothing had changed. At this point, unfortunately, I still associated what I experienced internally with Maharaji -- even though it had become apparent that the techniques really didn't matter. If you want to experience samadhi, all you have to do is sit quietly enough for long enough. That's all there is to it -- it's a shame there isn't more to it, or I might have been able to make a small fortune by revealing the technique.
I decided to spend my time going to programs and getting close to Maharaji physically. Maybe that way, I might begin to understand the whole knowledge thing. I spent the next four years going to lots of programs. I never really had the money. I'd work in London for a couple of weeks, crap labouring jobs mostly, then hitchhike to a programme in Europe or fly (free as a courier) to Miami and then hitchhike to wherever the programme was.
Trying to get to the first big event at Kissimmee turned into an adventure. I was refused an American visa (no job, no family ties, no obvious reason to return to the UK). I hitchhiked from London to Edinburgh to try to get a visa at the embassy there. Refused. I decided just to go without a visa. I had enough money for a return flight to Florida but I couldn't imagine persuading the immigration people to let me in without a visa, so on the way to Heathrow I decided to fly instead to Montréal, then hitchhike. I could only afford a one-way ticket to Montréal, and was left with £5. My bag was packed for Florida. It was November. I didn't even have a coat. It took a whole day of interviewing to persuade the Canadian immigration people to let me through (I lied -- I told them I was dying of cancer...). Getting through the US border was tricky (picked up by a state trooper) but eventually I made it thanks to the generosity of a lot of drivers. I hitched back (changing my five pounds in New York on the way back up!) and worked in Montréal for a ticket back to the UK.
I met Maharaji only a couple of times. The first time we met on a beach in Spain. I had hitchhiked from London to Malaga and arrived just in time to be too late. I missed the whole programme, and slept on the beach. In the morning I was walking up the beach. Maharaji beached a speedboat right by me. He'd been taking his family out for a spin around the bay and his house was just across the dunes. Afraid to approach I just sat on the sand and watched. I didn't see much -- mostly I just saw his face surrounded by light. Apparently Marilyn, heavily pregnant, had had difficulty climbing into the boat and had looked to me as if I might help her. I never saw her. I was too busy having a religious experience. The only other time I saw him was in his garden in Reigate. I was helping build some stables. He just came out one day and stood beside me looking at the stables for a while and then went back in the house. Neither of us spoke.
In all, I hitchhiked 13 times between east and west coasts of America, getting to programs without money. I realised I was enjoying the travelling more than the arriving. The landscape on the route between L.A. and Miami is fantastic -- the mountains, the desert, the high open vastness of southern New Mexico, the rolling hills of Texas and then the swampland around the Mississippi. Sleeping out the whole way, ducking and diving -- I don't think I ever crossed America with more than $100 or so, and often with much less. Eventually, the number of programmes seemed to be fizzling out. Maharaji called a stop to satsang and I found myself with nothing to do, trying to imagine a future for myself, really for the first time.
Though I loved the travelling I was sick of the homelessness. I wanted somewhere I could put my feet up that didn't belong to somebody else. I was always a guest. I wanted to be able to be a host now and again. I wanted the place I could gather books. I wanted to continue travelling, but I never wanted to have to work to pay for it. The solution came to me in a flash. I bought a yacht.
Knowing nothing about sailing, I was motivated enough to earn the money within a year and buy a boat. I lived on the boat for the next five years and sailed 30,000 miles between Norway, Italy and Africa, travelling almost entirely by the wind ( the engine died after the first year, never to be replaced).
I didn't meditate any more. It seemed pointless. Unless I wanted a repeat of the samadhi thing, I couldn't see any reason to do it. And I couldn't make any sense of the whole samadhi thing, or in fact meditation at all. There's a whole world out there -- waves and stars and dolphins and whales and jungles and deserts -- and we have bodies and senses and I can no longer see any reason why I should close all that off.
The last programme I went to was in L.A. in 1996. I could hardly afford it. I had decided I couldn't afford both accommodation and a car (and neither did I want to sleep out any more in the city) so I hired a Rent-a-wreck and slept in the back. I had justified the trip partly so that I could also spend a few days out in the desert around Death Valley -- a place I used to go to by motorbike when I lived in L.A. for a while. I arrived a few days early and spent some time in quiet spots in the Malibu hills meditating. I still remembered how to do it. By the time the program got underway, I was high. On the last day, I had the samadhi thing again while I was meditating.
Afterwards, I set off for the desert. I couldn't find it! It was if I was stoned. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't find my way to the desert, along a route I knew very well. I had had similar difficulties after programs before - and I know it isn't just me. I once spent 8 hours driving from Birmingham to London after a program, all round the Cotswolds - yet the route is simple and fast. I never got to the desert. Eventually, I just checked in to some grim motel in north LA, and tried to ground myself with some grim TV. That worked, eventually. It was scary while it lasted.
Previously, when I had experienced samadhi, I had developed a temporary photographic memory. My ability to concentrate had been fantastic. Although I couldn't see much point in meditating any more, I had kept the impression that meditation was a positive thing, and at the very least benign. Now, I began to doubt even that. It's powerful stuff alright, but I think it can be dangerous. And Maharaji is no teacher. There was absolutely no way I could get to talk to him about it, and even if I did, I am sure he knows no more about it than I do.
Despite the bliss, despite the haloes, the 'divine presence', the samadhi, and the blissful programs, I was clear at least that it was all over for me. Meditation wasn't what I wanted. Maharaji I was sure was no more enlightened than I was. I just couldn't see the point of 'knowledge'. What would I be trying to achieve with it that I hadn't already achieved? There was no point in continuing the 'practise' of knowledge (practising for what?).
There was a relief in letting it all drop. Of course, it saved a lot of money, not going to programs. I didn't have to try to maintain a system of beliefs that didn't seem to have any roots, all that magical thinking about the lord, and the gift of life and that stuff. ( Gift? That implies a giver and a receiver. What nonsense - before I was alive, I wasn't around to receive anything, unless, of course, in that eternal life, the memory of which is erased at birth, we were given a body to inhabit in order to…. just absurd!). I am glad it is all over. And that poetry! That Vogon poetry! One time in Brighton he just went on and on with it. I think that was my second to last program. There's a relief to be free of that. No Lord of the Universe could come out with such flat drivel, even as a lila. No inspirational speaker could be so crass and still claim to be inspirational.
Anyway, I just dropped it, till I found EPO. Then I realised I needed to deconstruct the whole thing - to see what had happened. How come I got into it? How to be sure I won't be fooled again?
I could go on for ages about the idiocy of the cult thinking, the selfish greed of Rawat, but it has all been documented on EPO, and discussed on the forum.
Despite the obvious greed, the untenable 'philosophy' behind Rawatism, the wasted lives, I don't think Rawat is the main problem. In the end, it is just another cult. Just more magical thinking. The problem is bigger than Rawat. I see the problem as being the simple fact that people are prepared to believe pretty much anything without scrutinising it, without good evidence. Premies might point to my experiences, and ask how I can deny 'knowledge'. Easy, actually. With meditation - it has nothing to do with Rawat. In fact, his techniques are completely useless. To reach inner quiet, to experience life without thought, all you have to do is sit quiet for long enough. Make yourself quiet. Stop listening to the inner dialogue. Not hard at all, if that is what you want. But I wouldn't recommend it. And the bliss at programs? Have they not noticed the same bliss at revival meetings? Seeing light around Rawat - does this prove that he is not a lying, thieving manipulative cult leader? I'm afraid not. It's just some physiological thing I admit I don't have an explanation for. But this physiological stuff isn't the truth. And the 'divine presence'? Once, after a lift I had in Florida, I was given a bed for the night in a trailer. The trailer was full of books about angels. I asked my host about what he had experienced that had convinced him about angels. He told me an astonishing story. He had been driving up the freeway at night, about to run out of gas. He turned off at a junction, saw a fellow there, and asked him where the nearest gas station was. He was given directions. The gas station was there. When the driver got back to the junction, the fellow was gone. The driver, amazingly, concluded that he had had divine assistance, and that the fellow had in fact been an angel. When you see faith constructed from such flimsy evidence, you just have question your own faith.
The strap-line under the forum title says it all really: The truth is more than a feeling. An experience is not knowledge.
We pulled together a few experiences and ideas and cobbled together a belief system, ignoring the gaping holes, avoiding analysis. We lived on faith. That was the mistake.
Regrets? Plenty! That I ever 'gave satsang'. That I was such an embarrassing mug. That I so naively, and for so long, ascribed magical interpretations to my experiences. Sure, they were powerful. Powerful enough that with a little cunning, you could build it into a religion. I used to think that at least some of the people I met through the cult were special in some way. But so were some of the people I met who live on boats and sail across oceans one after another. I regret the time I considered myself in some way special, somehow beyond the mundane workaday life. That has gone now. I feel like I have rejoined the human race, the whole lot of it. The alienation has at last gone, and the need for a cult has gone with it.
Now I live in Totnes, the English centre for magical thinking. A lovely place, otherwise. Gurus, homeopathy, crystals, paganism, you name it, it goes on here. A friend who has a guru accepted that 99% of gurus are charlatans. We are almost in agreement. Another, on a walk across Dartmoor, insisted he could find our way using his crystal on a string, more accurately than I could using the sun! Ha! Even though he knows well that I have navigated across thousands of miles of ocean using just the sun and stars to find my way. I am surrounded by this crazy magical thinking, and it seems almost endless. Rawatism is just another form of that craziness, and I am glad to be well out of it.
I could have just dropped it and moved on, but EPO has been a great help in making me think through it all again, and to finally accept, I've been had. Thanks to all involved, in particular to Jim, who despite our political differences, I hold in high regard for his perspicacity, and to JHB, who has worked diligently to keep EPO and the forum going. Others I know less of, but thanks to you all.