Excerpts: Between Dark and Dark by David Lovejoy

{ 12 } Prem Nagar

The border was halfway between the big dusty city of Lahore on the Pakistani side and the small elegant other, and the Indian checkpoint was a table under a banyan tree.

The line of people waiting for entry moved slowly and, although it was late in the year and the latitude was high, it was uncomfortable in the direct sun. At last we reached the banyan tree and its deep pool of shade. Glen was our spokesman and explained to the official that we were travelling to Guru Maharaj Ji's ashram.

The border inspector looked bemused for a moment. He was probably trying to compute the title 'Maharaji' in northern India it was commonplace and it would have been like saying at London airport, "We've come to see Mr Smith." Then he smiled broadly and in pure Peter Sellers tones said, "You are all chelas of Guru Maharaj Ji? Then you are welcome to India!"

In our innocence we felt specially honoured that our master's name, had been recognised here, still hundreds of miles from his home, and we tumbled back into the van in high spirits.

We arrived at 'Prem Nagar', Maharaji's ashram on the outskirts of Hardwar, late on the evening of November 22, 1970, after a journey of exactly seven weeks.

David Thorp was there to meet us. His windowless truck had pushed on through without distractions and they had arrived in good time for the festival on November 7. Which meant that he and his passengers had already seen and heard Maharaji, who was now back in his home of Dehra Dun, eighty miles to the north. We were disappointed: if only we had hurried more, detoured less, or left England earlier!

The next morning we explored our new environment. We were first addressed by the senior mahatma, whose name was Premanand. He was a stooped figure with a stick to lean on, a long white beard and no English. I think Premanand was chiefly concerned to lay down the ground rules for living in the ashram, but somehow those parts of his speech were not heeded. The young Indian who translated for him was much taken by my surname which was identical to that of the venerable mahatma, and indeed throughout my travels in India this equivalence of my name with a common Hindi one was a useful icebreaker.

Prem Nagar was bounded on one side by the road to Hardwar, and on the other by a canal that left the Ganges at Hardwar and helped distribute water from the melting snows of the Himalayas. These mountains were quite visible from the ashram even though they were three hundred miles to the northeast. The canal was freezing cold and very fast flowing, an invigorating but dangerous place to swim, as you could only make it back to the bank, several hundred yards downstream from where you plunged in.

The ashram consisted of three main buildings: the residence of the mahatmas, with the upper floors reserved for Maharaji and his family, the satsang hall and the three-storeyed main accommodation, appropriately divided into plain monastic cells. There was a vegetable garden, a herb garden where ayurvedic (from the Sanskrit, science of life) remedies were grown and a garden of remembrance for Shri Sant Ji Maharaj, Guru Maharaj Ji's father. Leading up to these buildings from the gates on the Hardwar Road was a wide driveway lined with well-tended flowerbeds.

The bits of Premanand's speech that we missed concerned working in the gardens from an hour before dawn till lunch,

The western pilgrims at Prem Nagar ashram: Peter Lee is on the far right a blanket. I am fourth from the right clutching my hands. Glen stands next to me, Suzie Bai sits at my feet and on her right is Jeannette and next to Jeannette is Anne Lancaster. Next to Glen is Patrick and next to him Saphalanand. On the far left is Venetia Stanley-Smith, second from her left is Peter Potter and third from his left is George. David Thorp can he glimpsed behind Saphlanand.

regular attendance at, satsang, an hour's meditation morning and night, and no smoking in the ashram. It wasn't that we deliberately flouted these rules; we simply had no comprehension that there could be such things as rules, much less that they, could apply to us. Instead we passed the first few days walking along the canal bank to Hardwar and hanging out in chai houses, drinking in the local culture.

The first batch of westerners had come to a compromise with the rules and were observing most of Premanand's requirements. Indeed David Thorp made it clear that he was not associated with these undisciplined later arrivals. This made it doubly unfortunate when, one afternoon as we (including David) sat playing cards and smoking in one of the rooms, Mahatma Premanand made the long climb up the stairs and appeared at the door like some old testament prophet. I thought he would explode with wrath, but he mastered himself and silently turned away with an expression of such contempt and disgust that we actually began to consider how we should behave.

Rising at four in the morning wasn't a serious option: for the first week or so of my stay I slept too soundly to even hear the bell that was rung at that hour. But I was willing to make myself useful in other ways. One of the younger mahatmas had translated all the talks of Shri Sant Ji Maharaj into fractured English. There, were shelves of these manuscripts and I volunteered to make a start on editing them.

I was also given, a glimpse of the political difficulties the arrival of several dozen westerners had given the ashram administration. Other establishments in Hardwar were jealous, and there was always the threat from the hardline religious right who wished to circumscribe what Hindus should believe, in much the same way as fundamentalists everywhere. It was thought that a bit of political lobbying would be beneficial, and so Saphalanand and I took a train to Lucknow, where we were given audiences with various state politicians and demonstrated, I hope, that we were serious truth seekers and not a fifth column of neocolonialists.

On the platform of the Lucknow railway station on our way back, Saphalanand introduced me to the mango, a fruit I had heard of, read about, even seen before, but never tasted. "Tasting the mango" became for me a somewhat subjective tool for examining competing religious concepts. If the truth is there you can taste it, and all the argument in the world won't change that experience.

{ 13 } Maharaji

Prem Rawat (Guru Maharaj Ji) The Young Pudgy Satguru When we got back to Prem Nagar there was great excitement in the air. The next day, December 10, was Maharaji's thirteenth birthday and the latecomers, we of the green van brigade, had been invited to visit him in Dehra Dun.

It was a birthday for a thirteen year old, and we had no way of procuring presents. We spent the evening creating birthday cards, and we took those, and ones from all the other westerners not so lucky as us, to Maharaja's residence.

I don't know what I expected. Mahatma Charanand literally worshipped this child, calling him the incarnation not just of those footling prophets Buddha, Krishna and Jesus, but of the Creator Himself. It, was, according to him, supreme good fortune for a human being to live on the planet as the same time as this Master, let alone have the privilege of his darshan, that is, of seeing him directly.

We were invited into the inner courtyard of the house. We may have met Maharaji's mother, Mata Ji, and his three older brothers, Raja Ji, Bhole Ji and Balbhagwan Ji, but I only recall the stillness emanating from the form of Maharaji himself. He was small of stature, quite plump, with huge, eyes which were seemingly all pupil. His face was almost Tibetan in its broadness and certainly nothing like the Indians of the plains. Perhaps he looked more like his mother than his father, pictures of whom we had seen in Prem Nagar, but I can't say I noticed his physical being very much. All the energy and activity in that place seemed to descend on him, started and finished with him, while he never moved at all, wrapped in this profound stillness. Except of course that he did move. He took our collection of cards, he glanced at one or two and smiled. He asked Peter, who had been introduced as the owner of the van, about the journey and listened politely to the stammered reply.

I don't suppose we were there very long, but time, seemed to have been suspended as it does at times of great emotion. Speaking for myself, I did not accept then and there a divine origin for Maharaji, but I was deeply and inexplicably moved by his presence.

However, the others in my party did seem to make some sort of commitment. When it was time to go I took the wheel, as Peter had asked me to, and Maharaji gravely watched us prepare to leave. Suddenly the others climbed out of the van again and one by one prostrated themselves before him, with their heads at his feet. I remained at my post while they performed their pranams. When they got back into the van we drove slowly away down the drive and Maharaji watched us out of sight.

We were all learning in our different ways. As if to emphasise this, Maharaji sent Balbhagwan Ji to the ashram several times.

Now BBJ, as we called him (but not to his face), seemed to fit the part of Perfect Master better than his youngest brother. He was about twenty years old, looked like his father and was proficient in English and hence more intelligible than Maharaji. He would give talks about Knowledge, relating it to science in an exhilarating way.

I kept a notebook and wrote down things that impressed me. Looking at the entries much later I could not discern how BBJ differed from all the other plausible Indians who misuse scraps of physics to push their mystic barrows. Isolated from his compelling personal presence the thoughts seem quite inane, for example:

"Divine light is everywhere. It has no speed because it fills the universe so completely that there is no room for it to vibrate."
"Excite atoms by removing the protons and electrons and matter turns into energy in the four manifestations of Indra's dart: light, heat, sound and energy."

Bhole Ji on the other hand was a large, clumsy-looking youth who was supposed to be the incarnation, of music. When he came to Prem Nagar he didn't speak much, even in Hindi, but he would always take the tablas in the satsang hall when there was a meeting. I knew little of drumming from the performance point of view, and the musical conventions of India and the West are so different that comparison was difficult, but to my ear he seemed always to be slightly out of time with the rest of the musicians. Raja Ji was, closest to Maharaji in age and seemed closest to him as a brother. His supernatural role, assigned I am sure by Maharaji as a joke, was as Shiva the Destroyer. Fortunately we saw no evidence for the accuracy of this identification.

The mood of the visitors taking advantage of the hospitality of Prem Nagar was confused. Many of us accepted this presentation of the 'holy family' at face value, many could not, and grumbled quietly about it. Moreover, one or two westerners were now arriving every week, lured by the spiritual bush telephone and the buzz that Prem Nagar was a happening ashram.

The original green van brigade had spread out a little. Pamela took off for a tour of Rajahstan where she bought fabrics and established trading contacts for a promising import business. Suzie Bai needed to visit the ashrams of other holy men before she could satisfy herself about Maharaji - returning in the end to become a staunch follower.

The rest of us, along with David Thorp and one or two others from the truck, took refuge at night in the chai shop that some enterprising local had pitched just outside the ashram gates on the Hardwar Road. The chai was good, but the pathetic selection of biscuits led to long food fantasies at which George and Glen were the acknowledged masters.

A couple of weeks after his birthday, Maharaji himself came to Prem Nagar. He called us into a room with a blackboard and invited questions.

A young woman called Anne Lancaster was the first to find her voice. She hadn't come on one of the original buses from England but had flown in from America. I understood she was from a political family in Washington and I had noticed her because she always seemed to be weeping from some private grief. She was crying now as she asked, "Why don't we live longer? Why do people have to die?"

Maharaji looked at her silently for a moment. Then he raised the little finger of his right hand and placed the index of his left on the tip of it.

"Why does my little finger, end here?" he said, and squinted along the finger as though it were a gun barrel. "How I would like my little finger to go on for ever!"

His voice was high, even for his age, but extremely sweet, and it was accompanied by a smile in her direction in which were mixed love, understanding and playfulness. I looked over at Anne and saw for the first time a degree of peace in her countenance.

He was barely thirteen years old, and he had just touched and healed the heart of a grieving woman with a simple childlike explanation. Philosophically you could say he had resolved her question by reference to the different categories of being, which is how I put it to myself in my over-intellectual way, but in fact it was the manner of his answer which stilled her tears.

There were some other questions and then Maharaji went through the meditation techniques which Mahatma Ji had shown us. One of them involves turning the sense of hearing inwards. After a few minutes of this he suddenly looked at Glen and asked, "Did you experience the divine sounds?"

"Er no, Maharaji," said Glen, "when I do the sound technique I get such good divine light that I get lost in it!"

"Don't get lost, get found," said Maharaji gently.

There was another round of questions, several of them from an urgent woman with a strong religious background.

"Yes, I am. a reincarnation of Christ; but if I came in Christ's shape they would throw me out of the churches." As half the males in the room looked like pre-Raphaelite images of Jesus I think we understood his point.

"But I have to know," said the woman.

"God is one love is one; come above the languages," replied Maharaji.

"Did the crucifixion hurt?" persisted the woman.

"No, the crucifixion did not hurt. The people were innocent. Does it hurt when a little child slaps you? No, because he doesn't know what he is doing."

Was he serious? Well, I don't believe he meant that he literally remembered being Jesus, but his answers were nonetheless seriously insightful. But who can say - be was a child with a child's delight in the new and a child's relish for fun. After the questions he took a piece of chalk and drew an elaborate diagram; on the blackboard, which. purported to show that we had all been removed from "long-term storage" in order to be born at this time, with him.

"But that means we have no karma to work out!" I recognised my own voice, surprised and incredulous.

"That is right," said Majaraji looking at me with mischief in his eyes.

For a long time after this first session we argued to and fro among ourselves. Back in the chai shop Glen was inclined to believe that we were already realised souls, free of the cycle of birth and death, brought back from Nirvana ("long-term storage") to be with the Lord.

Silently examining my confused and certainly impure consciousness I could not believe that proposition. "I thought for a while that maybe I had been accidentally caught up with a group of saints" by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that my imposture would be found out at any minute.

David Thorp said, "It's simple: either we're here because we've recognised the truth and we have, an important role to play, in Maharaji's work, or we're here because we've run out of road and we've got nowhere else to go." After a moment he added, "of course, both those statements could be true."

Those few weeks at Prem Nagar were a life-altering time for all of us, with consequences extending three decades or more into the future. But it is easy in retrospect to underplay the degree of doubt which some of us experienced. And even where there was not doubt there was culture-shock and homesickness. As well as the chai shop at the end of the drive, another source of comfort was Saphalanand simply reading aloud at night from The Lord of the Rings, with men and women in their early twenties clustered round his feet like, well, like thirteen year old children.

A fundamental element of Maharaji's earthly manifestation; if I can put it in an Indian way, was the concept of lila, which means "play". It is a Hindu concept that the, universe is essentially a play, not in the dramatic sense of a plot and denouement as Christians see it, but in the sense that many forces play and interplay to create the world our bodies live in. The supreme being enters into this play, for the sake of having some fun, some say to the extent of even forgetting its own identity, and can therefore be surprised by discovering that she/he is not just a human being but the Lord himself.

Whether he was consciously living up to this concept, or unconsciously fulfilling it by the very nature of his being, or just, playing like any ordinary child, Maharaji was full of fun.

One day he swam fully dressed in the huge water tank at the ashram, thus making not only our drinking water but also our ablutions holy. It started to rain while he was doing this, so he called for an umbrella and did a respectable backstroke while sheltering himself from the rain.

On the same day he got into an argument with his mother, Mata Ji. They were standing on the verandah of their residence talking about something and gradually their voices increased in volume until they were screaming at one another. A storm had come in from the northeast while their anger waxed, and thunder and lightning did a full circle of the ashram while they fought.

Another time we followed him out to the dunes by the banks of the Ganges canal and played a game of king of the castle, which consisted of Maharaji pushing us off the top of the dunes. For most of us, rolling down a sandbank propelled by the Perfect Master was not a hardship, but one democratic westerner crawled up behind Maharaji and heaved him down the dune instead.

With considerable physical grace he was on his feet in a flash with his hands raised. "No reprisals!" he said in English and Hindi, "no reprisals." I looked at the faces of the Indians and realised how quick-thinking Maharaji had been. They were ready to tear the offender limb from limb; clearly the lila had rules.

Sometimes the lila became institutionalised, as it were into a common custom. After we had been at Prem Nagar for a few months the festival of Holi arrived on the calendar.

In the morning the ashram was transformed. A big water cannon was set up and tarpaulins were hung down the side of the building opposite. In the middle of the day, when the sun was hottest, Maharaj Ji appeared (we all having gathered in front of the cannon, half-knowing, half-guessing what was to come) and began spraying us with cold water pumped from the canal. Mahatmas helped him by pouring dyes into the jets so that our white vests and dhotis became Maharaji"s rainbow coloured canvases.