I went to a house in Alba Gardens, north London, in October 1970. I went in and sat down and was immediately overwhelmed by the feeling in the room. I turned to my wife and told her this was what I had been looking for, although I did not know what it was. A few people tried to explain what they were doing there, but it was not too clear.
There were many pictures on the wall of this very happy person and I remember thinking even if this was a PR job those smiles were real and that he knew what everyone was trying to explain. I came to understand that this was Maharaji. A few days later I received Knowledge.
When Maharaji returned to England from America I saw him for the first time at Golden Manor. I sat near the chair where he came to sit. The impressions and feelings of that moment are still crystal clear. It was a wonderful privilege to meet Maharaji. That he is still here continues to be an amazing gift and there is still no satisfactory way of thanking him.
In the last years of the sixties. I was in a deep personal crisis. Then to my surprise from within myself a thought arose. "Before you take such an extreme decision, why not go to India and look for a guru." So at the beginning of the seventies, I set off with a couple of friends from Torino by car - direction. FULL EAST!
When finally we arrived in Delhi my two friends went straight to Goa. I didn't go with them, reasoning that it would be extremely unlikely to find a guru in seaside resort.
The problem I was facing was easy to put into words, but difficult to bring to an end: how to find a true guru in vast India. I proceeded western style, with the utmost of logic:
- Which is the holiest place in India? Benares.
- Which is the holiest place in Benares? The Ganges.
- Which is the holiest place by the Ganges? The right bank for at least that is what it said in the tourist guide that had).
On reaching Benares I went straight to the right bank of the Ganges. The days pass by: one, two, three, four, five, but still no sign of my guru. I was becoming deeply disappointed and my patience was ebbing swiftly away.
Then, by chance I met Dario from the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. Being Swiss, Dario was rather slow to open up but finally he disclosed his secret: he already had a guru. I immediately began to question him:
- Name of the guru? Maharaji.
- Age of guru? Fourteen years old.
He told me that I could go to see him at his ashram in Hardwar, a day's journey north of Delhi.
I was totally prepared for a 100-year-old guru, but totally unprepared for a 14-year-old guru. One thing was clear though: Dario was quite happy and I was rather desperate.
When I arrived at Prem Nagar ashram in the foothills of the Himalayas, Maharaji was expected to arrive any day.
I was confronted with three major problems:
- The horribly cold climate.
- The absolute lack of hot water.
- The ancient prohibition on smoking in the ashram.
I overcame these three obstacles brilliantly:
- Two thick sweaters and the resolve to go to bed fully clothed.
- The irrevocable decision to quit washing.
- The resolve to carry on smoking, but outside the ashram.
And finally one late afternoon the guru arrived. And it was true, he was a teenager. And he was bright. And he was powerful. And he had a fascinating voice. He was kind enough, although leaving the next morning, to come to speak to the small group of westerners. I liked what he said so much that I decided on the spot that my search was over and that now I had a guru myself.
I knew him only from magazines. It was the summer of 1972. I lived in Copenhagen, where I worked as a writer. I had just received Knowledge in Germany and now was heading for Switzerland in order to see and hear 14-year-old Maharaji, who had come to Europe for the second year in a row.
I used to say. "If the truth is the truth, why would I have to go to India to find it? Isn't the truth the same everywhere?" So, to me it was definitely a disadvantage for anyone with a message that he came from India. But what this 14 year old said was so fresh and simple, not at all like words from a book. This person said "First experience, then believe." That made so much sense to someone who had heard nearly everything.
Yet what Maharaji said was refreshingly different, actually very rough and simple. More or less like a farmer speaking about potatoes. It all sounded completely practical. And indeed it was. I received Knowledge from an Indian instructor. And it worked. I had an experience, I could believe in. I was very thankful. For the two weeks since the Knowledge session I had practiced several times every day, partly struggling with a wild mind and partly giving in to a longing heart. But I had no idea who Maharaji was. Not the slightest. Until I met him in Switzerland. The programme was taking place outdoors in beautiful mountain terrain, and nearly a thousand would all sit on the ground or stand up dancing to the times of the Anand Band.
Then it happened. Maharaji, with his characteristic energetic stride, came on the stage and sat under the rainbow decoration. As soon as he began to speak, I was shocked. I had never heard anything like this before. It was not the words: it was where they came from. Within a few minutes I realized that this was the first time in my life I heard a person who drew all his authority from himself. What a pleasant shock. And to think, that I would be 27 years old before I heard someone speak who knew what he was saying. And yet I'm sure there are people who will never experience that in a whole lifetime.
After the programme I was standing at the roadside with many others to catch a glimpse of him leaving. After his car had sped by, other cars were coming. In one of them my instructor was sitting in the back seat. She had the car stopped and winked at me to jump in beside her. "Quickly, quickly." she said. "You come and make interview with Maharaji's brother!" The car took me to a house.
In a room were representatives of Maharaji's work in the different countries of Europe. It was getting late; I didn't know what was doing there anyway, so I got up to leave for the camp site. I wanted to practice and have a good night's sleep before the event started the next day. I realized that this was the house where I had put my luggage when I arrived so I went upstairs to get the luggage and leave.
I was alone in the hallway when a door opened. Out came Maharaji. I was standing looking down the corridor at him. It was like a cowboy movie. The empty road, and just the two of us facing each other. I didn't know what to say and just stared at him. He looked at me with such a directness. I had never experienced anybody being so frank. That was the second shock of the day. It was such a challenge to my own being, so well hidden behind layers of intellect. Then somebody came on the scene from a side corridor. Maharaji pointed at me and asked the guy, "Who is he?" The other person, to my complete terror, said "Maheraji, he is a Danish journalist. He wants to interview you for his newspaper! "
Now, I had no idea how this unknown person could say that. I had never even contemplated making an interview with Maharaji. Maharaji made such a grim face, like he had just swallowed half a kilo of salt, and he said to the other guy. "I am not giving him an interview, even if he pays me one million dollars!"
Bang! My big writer's ego completely shattered I stammered. "Maharaji, the premies in Copenhagen invite you to come. They are preparing a house for you, and they really want you to come." While I talked to him, Maharaji looked at me with no expression on his face. Then he smiled and said he would consider. He turned to go back into his room. I was still standing half paralyzed. Maharaji turned and looked at me. I was full of frustration, because I just couldn't rise to his level and communicate with him as some sort of equal partner. I couldn't even show him love. And then he did the most incredible thing. He smiled to me and shook his own hands several times in front of himself.
I could hardly believe what I saw. It was as close as it could be to actually shaking hands. I was paralyzed. So he chose, as he has so often done since then for all of us, to play both parts, the lover as well as the beloved. Or, maybe he just meant to say, well you can level with me, and I will level with you." (Boy, it took me many years to get that one.) I was overwhelmed.
He went into his room. The other people left the corridor and the hall. I was standing there fumbling with my luggage. Then his door opened and he came out again. I looked at him. He looked at me. And then for a couple of minutes he fiddled with a key and said something about not being able to lock the door. He tried again and again to lock his door, came in and out, while I was standing there looking at him. Writing this, it occurs to me, maybe there was a message there. He never locks his door on me. Twenty-four years later, I can look back at an incredible unfolding of joy and happiness.
Today people go to know the giver before they receive the gift, that is so much more practical. But anyway what a wonderful journey.
Thank you, Maharaji. You are the truest friend.