It took 30 years for Michael McDonald to realise that his beliefs about Prem Rawat (aka Guru Maharaj Ji) and his so-called "Knowledge" were the lamest flights of dreary fantasy and wishful thinking. Further information and some of McDonald's mature reflections on Rawatism are available here.
People who found Peace.
In the search for Truth, many embark on long, physical journeys but Michael McDonald's path to Knowledge was a struggle through the intellectual jungle of his mind …
From a young age my imaginative taste was inclined to the bizarre and fanciful. Hours passed while I chased my shadow around the backyard, performed non-existent magic feats and hid my holsters in the persimmon tree. At kindergarten I fell madly in love with another pupil (who shall remain nameless) and created an endless array of plasticine bouquets for her delight. My real source of bliss, however, was in dreamland, where visionary myths became romantic realities, as I flapped about the sky on child's wings and slew dragons by the caveload. The horrible duality of the imagination spoiled my fun when I was eaten by crocodiles and spent eternity shelling peas.
Unlike the formative history of most of the "rebel generation", I had a fine relationship with my parents, who stubbornly held my feet to the ground while my head drifted aimlessly through roseate clouds. They were always gentle, loving people who defeated their goal of instilling commonsense in me by surrounding me with books, highly explosive mental fodder. I ate my way through volume after volume, from Tootle The Train to Winnie The Pooh. Both my mother and father were teachers and were perhaps surprised to see an erratic cuckoo educated in their own nest.
The Frustrated Mystic
At the age of sixteen I regarded myself as a frustrated mystic. All my pursuits were geared to the search for the ultimate experience. I forsook all my studies except English, whipping my mind into an intellectual fervour over novel after novel. I took up soccer, athletics and basketball not for physical exercise but for the complicated brainwork involved in an accurate and aesthetic sprint or ground pass from point A to point B. I hoped my mind would score home in the execution of the perfect goal. (Also, I sometimes indulged in the cheap thrill of winning when I found myself becoming proficient at sport.)
Alongside these activities, I became an ardent pupil of LSD. It introduced an intensity into my school career that I had never known before. Because of the relative newness and absolute illegality of LSD in Australia, I kept it a close secret from my friends and teachers while I enjoyed the odd hallucination in class.
My perception of the world gradually changed and my favourite occupation became writing. I saw it as an almost concrete expression of my dreamings and was greatly influenced by drug experiences and authors who glorified the unusual and mysterious. Arthur Koestler once defined the act of creation as a "bisociation of two modes of perception". For me, writing was the bridge between an enforced outlook on the world and the inner illusions that I loved.
My desire for mystical purity was easily polluted. Australian beer proved a pitfall for our entire basketball team who spent more time sinking "schooners" than baskets. Life became an obvious battle between intellectual ideals and physical appetites. The frustrations born from this tug-of-mind resulted in frequent forays into the absurd. Another writer, Vladimir Nabokov, explained it all, "Eccentricity is grief's greatest remedy".
As classwork began to suffer, I scraped through exams on my monster of a memory. I passed my final year quite well, only failing in history because I drew a picture on the test paper of Lenin getting off a train.
Rejecting university as a stultifying mind factory (not knowing that my limited thoughts were the only spanner in the works), I took off on a series of adventures in the outside world. A friend and I made a 600-mile bicycle journey from Sydney to Melbourne. We got drunk every night and pedalled a hundred miles or so the next day. Although we felt sophisticated enough to profess agnosticism, we cursed God heavily during rainstorms and wind gales and soared into ecstasy after hours on the road, tinkling our bells at cows in nearby fields and singing songs about freedom of action.
With another friend I hitch-hiked to Queensland where I managed to scramble my brains on an overdose of LSD. It was at a beach. The sky went pink, the waves went pink, the sand went pink and the stones turned orange and melted. Walls melted people's eyes swirled in circles surrounded by ribbons and I thought I had finally made it into another dimension.
But then I came down. I travelled the coast, plagued by hallucinations, sand-fly intoxication and heat exhaustion. The theory of permanent happiness seemed realisable but my practical attempts at that goal only resulted in greater confusion. I tried to straighten out my head by going to teachers' college where I perfected the game of table tennis and indulged in the breakfast-eating championships. After three months I resigned, writing a letter to the principal to explain that I could find no purpose to any form of education until I found the purpose of life. He rang me up and wished me good luck.
My existence became increasingly self-centred, isolationist and esoteric. I bent my brain in every way possible, through probing Descarte's philosophical riddles, through Tibetan Yoga doctrines, Mahayana Buddhism, Hinayana, Zen, mescalin and pool tables. Through reading and observing, it finally dawned on me that I was a product of my conditioning and that enlightenment, permanent happiness, was beyond conditioning. So I arrived at this piece of convoluted reasoning: If enlightenment was man's natural state beyond conditioning, and if I tried to remove my conditioning I would be imposing further conditioning by denying that I was already in the natural state beyond conditioning since the unconditional state was always present, being unbounded by conditions, of course. What to do and who to be?
Undoing a Koan
This heavy piece of intellectual hardware hung in my head for months. It was very far out discussing the nature of love and life with my friends, but once alone, nagging doubts returned. Sometimes I contemplated suicide. Rope was too hard on a delicate throat, gas was too smelly, tall buildings were too messy. Finally I swallowed twenty aspirin tablets. Nothing happened. I played some soccer and resigned myself to moral cowardice and times of tortured intellection. I began to pray for a Zen Master to untwist the knotted koan in my head.
One arrived. The moment I saw the posters advertising the presence of a 14-year-old Perfect Master in Australia, I fell in love with Guru Maharaj Ji. But it was no simple matter to rid me of my stubborn attachment to the dreamworld idea that by my own Quixotic efforts I would attain enlightenment. While I consciously thought I was in control, Guru Maharaj Ji carefully and gently remoulded my thinking in the flame of his love.
On the night of his Sydney program, which I had been looking forward to, I went up the coast instead. The next morning I took some LSD and saw Guru Maharaj Ji's face in the clouds. Still it did not occur to me that destiny was playing a game with my heart. A month or so later, a friend who had Knowledge took me to hear Mahatma Guru Charnanand Ji give Satsang. I was quite swept away by his inner serenity and constant smile of joy, but I did not see that his state had been achieved through a practical experience It is amazing how much you can hear what you need yet not want what you hear. I wanted Knowledge but I wanted it from me.
As time passed in the city, I built up a great desire to go overseas. I planned a trip to Indonesia; it seemed the last escape for a mind wearying of all other pleasures. I got my hair cut for the hot climate, got myself organised and bought a book on meditation. I stopped taking dope and thought I was fairly together until I indulged in one more LSD trip "for the road". Far into the imaginary sky, I felt as if I had reached the centre of the universe, the source of peace and love. I guess, in other terms, I thought I had realised Knowledge and was so happy that I could spend my life thanking Maharaj Ji without having to go through the hassle of approaching Divine Light Mission.
The inevitable after-acid downer was sheer terror. All my little illusions crumbled. In desperation I went to Satsang at the ashram in Balmain. After a week of listening and reading, it all clicked into place. The koan in my head was untangled. I cancelled my ticket to Indonesia.
After six months of painting walls with my new divine family, I received Knowledge from Mahatma Padarthanand Ji at Guru Puja '73 in Adelaide. After all Guru Maharaj Ji had shown me through service to him, it seemed like an overgenerous bonus offer. There was no need to convince me of his power and compassion.
By his Grace and the power of meditation my life has changed greatly: all my previous existence, excursion into exotic drugs, seem like lame flights of fancy compared to the beauty of this Knowledge. All the intellectual understanding I sought and gained is dwarfed by the learning experiences inspired by meditation. At last I can serve mankind in a practical manner. I can now see how my mind's pretensions towards Truth were devoid of all humility and a complete farce on the actual, spiritual reality. At last I can look into other people's eyes and see the love that shines within us all.