Lovejoy on Donner: Upheavals

Early one morning in March 1974 I was woken up by a telephone-call from one of the Sydney tabloids. 'Do you have a comment on the marriage of your sixteen year old guru to an American air hostess?'

'You must be mistaken,' I replied primly. 'It is his brother, Raja Ji, who has got married, and to an Italian lady, I believe.'

'The story on the wire service says it's Guru Maharaj Ji, mate. He's married a Californian woman called Marolyn. Oh yeah there's a bit at the end about his brother getting married too.'

I had no comment. Still lapped in a Hindu dream, I hadn't considered the possibility of Maharaji marrying. I also felt wounded that I had to learn about it from the media. That morning I walked to the Sydney central post office, where I knew there would be a telex machine, and despatched to Maharaji's residence not a congratulatory message but a complaint about not being fore-warned.

About a month later the telephone rang in the Wentworth Avenue office. 'Have you got something to say to me?' asked a high-pitched Indian voice. I recognised him instantly and said what was in my heart: 'Maharaji, please come to Australia again. There is so much love for you here.'

The caller seemed somewhat surprised by this request. Was there anything else? 'No, only that we need to see you, my lord.' Very well, then, we'll see what can be done.

This was the genesis of Maharaji's second visit to Australia which took place six months later. It did not occur to me until long after that he might have been calling in answer to my impertinent telex.

I wasn't the only one to be surprised by Maharaji's wedding. His two unmarried brothers and his mother were scandalised. Not at the fact of a marriage - after all the previous Perfect Master had been a householder - but at the much more alarming fact that the marriage was not to some suitable Indian girl chosen by Mata Ji but to a westerner chosen by himself.

Before long Balbhagwan Ji, arrived again in Sydney, this time unexpectedly. We installed him in the lavish Mosman mansion which we had rented in hope of a visit from Maharaji. However, he would only consent to do one public program and the rest of the time he stayed in his room speaking in conspiratorial Hindi on the phone to India and America. When he condescended to speak to his Australian hosts he hinted darkly at betrayal and injustice. After a week or so of this he left as abruptly as he arrived and I got summons to fly to Denver.

World headquarters turned out to be two or three floors of a highrise office building in the business district of Denver. People had been assembled from all over America to work in Maharaji's organisation, and they lived in dozens of rented houses around own. There were also quite a few non-Americans: Jacques Sandoz, Swiss film-maker who had put together the biopic Lord of the Universe, an English editor, David Passes, who was in charge of the magazine And It Is Divine, Charles Cameron, another Englishman, busily plugging his book Who Is Guru MaharajJi? on the TV talk show circuit. Later on Denver would also enlist our Golden Age editor Michael McDonald to help with DUO's publishing arm.

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Mahatma Rajeshwar and I at a meeting in Melbourne, 1974. Divine Light Mission Australia hosted a number of visiting speakers in addition to the resident mahatma, Padarthanand. Another photo taken at the time and since lost shows me asleep and oblivious to the mahatma's oratory (they were exhausting times)

Denver, and hence in due course the rest of the worldwide organisation, was in the throes of a cultural revolution. According to the new doctrine, the simple life-enhancing techniques of Knowledge had arrived in the West with too many Hindu trappings and the non-essentials had to go. How much of this came from Maharaji himself and how much from Bob Mishler and his lieutenants was hard to say. The only people at that stage entrusted with revealing Knowledge were Indian mahatmas: exotic, shaven-pated, saffron-robed individuals who could hardly disguise their Hindu origin. Each ashram in Denver, and elsewhere, had an altar with Maharaji's picture on it, to which morning and evening the Indian devotional prayer of arti was sung.

Nevertheless, we were all to put away our Indian concepts and present Knowledge to the public as a simple path of meditation. Alhough this felt a little schizophrenic, moving the emphasis away from the mahatmas and firmly on to Maharaji as the sole source of this path of enlightenment was a sound instinct. Mishler's second in command, Michael Donner, was particularly fierce about it. 'Do you think the mahatmas have magic fingers when they show divine light?' he scornfully asked me one day when I expressed some misgivings about the wholesale undermining of mahatma authority. No, I didn't, but I did feel that demystifying the experience might lead to less respect for Maharaji himself. I need not have worried.

Shortly afterwards Donner was arrested and served a term for his anti-draft activities during the Vietnam war. I corresponded with Michael while he was in jail, admiring both his principled anti-war campaigning and his stoic acceptance of the consequences.