A brief stint in Divine Light Mission is described in D'Adamo's account of his long and somewhat depressing life of religious questing in which, despite years of different meditations, monkish endeavours and education in mathematics, he decides that the attacks on the World Trade Centre and related airplane hijackings of 2011 are a "false flag" operation, organised by President Bush and presumably handled by the CIA. I post this section because it is the only account I have found of a "premie" ie a person who was, to a greater or lesser extent, involved in Divine Light Mission activities (in his case as an ashram member) and Prem Rawat's so-called "Knowledge" who apostasised on account of the DLM cover-up of the attempted murder of Pat Halley. I have few regrets in life (though this may be because I'm a pretty irresponsible person in some ways) but I am ashamed that I didn't do the same.
Maybe a month later, a friend asked me if I wanted to go see a fifteen-year-old guru named Guru Maharaj Ji, at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall (if I remember correctly) in Washington, D.C. I felt curious so off we went.
The presentation started with devotees telling us how wonderful the guru was, how highly they thought of him. Then his mother and one or two of his older brothers spoke. They talked about a meditation technique the guru gave, called Knowledge, that led to direct experience of God. The guru himself never showed up that night. When we left, I recall feeling the whole thing wasn’t for me.
. . .
I began to feel lonely. By the beginning of 1973, I began looking for … something, I didn’t know what. I found (through a poster?) that devotees of Guru Maharaj Ji, the fifteen-year-old guru, met weekly, in central New Jersey. After thinking about it for a few weeks, I went.
The drive over unfamiliar back roads lasted close to an hour and led me to an isolated, old farmhouse. I’d had doubts the whole drive but when I saw the house, I almost turned back. When a man or woman drives up to such a house in the dark of night, the movie audience groans and shouts "Don’t do it! Don’t go in! Don’t go in!"
I went in. Several people sat in the living room, most of them more or less my age, including the woman who lived there, who welcomed me. Her husband, somewhat older, wrote professionally for a living. He told me they rented the old farm home from a company that planned eventually to demolish it to make way for a huge amusement park, Six Flags Great Adventure.
They called the meeting "satsang." Christians would call it "witnessing." We sat in a circle and people took turns talking about God, about enlightenment, about meditation, and about the guru, lots about the guru. After a few satsangs, I found the talks generally fell into two types: first, the cool, austere, philosophical/metaphysical intellectual type—"Buddha said desires lead to suffering, and we can see that in our life. For instance, yesterday when I …"; second, the warm and gooey emotional type—"When I see Guru Maharaj Ji, my heart just … just melts. You know? I mean … I mean … like wow …"
Of course, people didn’t fall strictly into one type or the other; they might be philosophical/metaphysical one moment and warm and gooey the next. But generally they leaned to one side or the other.
Sometimes I could guess before a new person spoke which way they leaned. Sometimes I guessed wrong. I remember Jack, who greatly surprised me. He had fought in Vietnam but could get as warm and gooey as a little girl talking about her puppy.
Aside from the guru, people at satsang often talked about "Knowledge," the word for the guru’s meditation technique. To get Knowledge, you had to attend satsang for a while and then wait for a mahatma (the guru’s equivalent of a priest) to visit your part of the country. You signed up for the special day, went and listened to satsang from the mahatma himself, pledged to devote your life to Guru Maharaj Ji, promised to never, ever divulge the meditation technique, and then learned the technique.
Supposedly, practicing the Knowledge meditation technique brought you to direct experience of God. At this point, my spiritual practices consisted of reading, thinking, and taking long walks. I liked the idea of learning how to meditate. But could I pledge my life to "Guru Maharaj Ji," the teenage guru? Not likely. But after repeatedly hearing people use the phrase "Guru Maharaj Ji" to mean God, I decided two could play that game. And so in February or March, I learned the meditation technique (which you can read about on the Internet if you are interested).
I liked the techniques; they made sense. They fit with my worldview, my ideas about God, the world, and myself.
After much reading and thinking I built up a worldview, a description of God, the world, and our place in it. I will use philosophical ideas to discuss the worldview and explore its various consequences. But first, here’s a simple image, a way of tying it all together, a helpful analogy.
The world is like a movie and God is like the light.
In this worldview, God is not someone who stands outside of creation and makes the world, like a watchmaker makes a watch. God becomes the world. Each and every second.
Various ideas lead to this view of God.
For instance, we take a composite object, a table, and select a part, the table top. The table top has parts, wood molecules. Molecules have parts, atoms. Atoms have parts … Do we ever reach bottom? A physicist might say we do when we reach energy, the E of Einstein’s E=mc2. Energy, as far as we know, cannot be created or destroyed. Something that cannot be created or destroyed must be eternal.
Wood constitutes the table’s ground of existence. Molecules constitute the ground of existence of the wood. Do we ever reach an ultimate ground of existence?
Composite objects have parts. Their parts have parts. Do we ever reach something that does not have parts? If so, we can call that something non-composite and simple, simple not in the sense of easy to understand but in the sense of having no parts.
God is light, a light infinite and incomprehensible … one single light … simple, non-composite, timeless, eternal … The light is life. The light is immortality. The light is the source of life … the door of the kingdom of heaven. The light is the very kingdom itself. —Symeon the New Theologian, one of the greatest saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church
God is our very ground of existence. The world is an act of God.
After a few months, some devotees decided to form a community house, a sort of spiritual commune, called an ashram. The day in the ashram began with an hour-long meditation, using the Knowledge meditation technique. Then you had breakfast and went to work, either in "the world" or in the guru’s organization. At night, you would have dinner, then satsang or free time. Before bed, we would have the "arati" ceremony, consisting of singing spiritual songs while someone waved a candle or oil lamp in front of a shrine. The shrine itself consisted of a picture of the guru, surrounded by flowers and candles, with maybe other religious symbols. Then there would be another hour meditation before bed.
I wanted in. My parents didn’t like the idea, to put it mildly. I could understand why. They had sacrificed raising me, sending me to college, and a thousand other ways. And now I wanted to leave my engineering job to go "throw my life away."
About that time, I wrote a story called "Two Letters," which I include at the end of this book. It shows something of my mindset at the time.
I moved into the ashram. Why? First, it concerned God, reason enough. But, also, I had done what my parents wanted, mostly, as a kid; as an adult I felt I should make my own life. So around May I moved into a four-bedroom house in an upper-class suburb of Philadelphia. The house had been condemned for a road construction, today called the Blue Route, and the owners temporarily rented it. For a time, I got a job working with plumbers on a nearby apartment construction project, then I drove a truck for the guru’s thrift store.
I liked living in the ashram; I felt happy there. I did not particularly like the guru’s picture on the shrine, but eventually I realized that the philosophical/metaphysical intellectual type of follower often had to tolerate things that the warm and gooey emotional type loved, and vice versa. Various tales revolve around the conflict between the two types.
For instance, to the intellectual type God is everywhere; the ultimate ground of existence of a crucifix or cathedral differs not one iota from the ultimate ground of existence of what a cat leaves in a litter box. To the emotional type, however, they differ a great deal. So we have stories like the one about the intellectual type sitting in a temple with his feet toward the altar. The emotional type criticizes him for pointing his feet toward the altar, toward God. "As you wish, brother," responds the intellectual type. "Pray, please turn my feet in a direction where God is not."
The mahatmas who visited the guru’s ashrams seemed to fall into one type or another. Mahatma Fakiranand had an excess of emotion and nervous energy that could leave you exhausted after a short time. He once harshly berated a devotee for reading an organization magazine on the floor because the magazine had a picture of the guru. Other mahatmas looked like stone statues when they meditated and spoke in short, pointed phrases. "Desires lead to suffering. Oh, devotees, when will you give up desires?" Pause. "If you meditate you will see God, but you must work." Longer pause.
I left the ashram because of an incident concerning Mahatma Fakiranand. Pat Halley, a Detroit journalist, publically pushed a shaving cream pie in the guru’s face. Under pretext of revealing the guru’s secret meditation technique, Mahatma Fakiranand lured Halley into a room, told him to shut his eyes, and hit him on the head, fracturing his skull. (Fortunately, Mr. Halley survived.)
When I heard the story, I knew what must be done. After all, had not Buddha preached the middle way? Though we might lean one way or the other, we needed to balance intellect and emotion. Without emotion, intellect could be lame. Without intellect, emotion might run blind, might lead to something like what Mahatma Fakiranand had done. I saw it all so clearly.
The organization saw it a different way. They would release Mahatma Fakiranand’s birth name to the press. It would appear some unknown devotee had gone off the deep end. They planned a cover-up, in other words. Shades of Watergate.
I moved in about May; I left near the end of August or the beginning of September, impulsively. I hitched a ride on a truck on its way back to the guru’s main headquarters in Denver. I rode as far as Iowa then got out and hitched to Davenport, to visit some relatives there studying to be chiropractors. Then I flew back to Philadelphia, got my car, and headed out for Denver again, to get away from the ashram, and to look up Carol C., who had recently left for an ashram in Denver.
In those days, people often moved from one ashram to another. Go to any city with an ashram of the guru, and you had a place to stay.
After staying maybe two weeks in Denver, I drove to Houston and stayed in another ashram a few weeks. Then drove back to Philadelphia, moved back with my parents, and started looking for a job.