Those first couple of years out were spent in a shifting haze, a very loose affiliation of fragmented moments of seeming clarity, when that which eventually proved to be a mirage, quenched a thirst; a kind of channel surf to patch together a means, a method, perhaps even mash up a style with which to proceed with this strange and experimental circumstance. Mostly it was like riding a wave of unreliable and indeterminate material which sometimes seemed well supportive, rolling lightly over the gutters and sandbanks. At other times the supporting material just too flimsy, too much like a prototype needing more work. In those dumped times I would reach in blindly and see what stirred up. And always, the lingering transparent meme resident in the foundations of my emotional circuitry palely grinned back at my mild panic, intimating the extraordinary, perhaps even supernatural love I’d experienced was IT. I had to find a way to tap this resource and preserve it, to cherish it. To serve it even. This mercurial driver faded in and out of view, its signal frequently drowned out by mundane local realities always on the go to persuade that aspirations can be realised by consooming – something, anything; and if you’re not convinced, try harder, eat more, drink more, smoke more, get another car, maybe a wife, a child, several children – yes that’d do it. But children were out; for me. So it seemed. Maggie’s place in Sydney was a fine reintroduction to the world of busyness; a lovely family complete with two dogs and a baby. I was deeply grateful. The dogs were large silver-grey hunters with yellow eyes and docked tails; the origin of this tail feature, also shared by Boxers and Dobermans, lay, some say, in protecting working dogs from tail injury but like circumcision, the original, possibly good reason for the practice had long since evaporated, replaced by tradition, that most mindless of motivators – and the only work M’s dogs ever did was shit all over the lawn. In former times even surgically spiked ears were an essential part of the look of some dogs, perhaps initially to minimise injury to a working dog – but more likely to make it look fierce. As a child, I owned several Boxers one of which had to suffer her ears being cut as she cowered on my lap, just a puppy, held tight by my shaking arms while the vet applied the stainless steel choppers. The barbaric practice of ear trimming has been outlawed and the only recent example I’ve seen has been of some unfortunate, mad fighting dog caught in a vicious attack on a human. There he stands, captured in a fading black and white photograph in the local rag, behind bars, a criminal dog, bred to kill. Awaiting the executioner. You’d like to see the people who made the dog wear a similar fate. M’s Weimaraners had what seemed like quite long docked tails, reminiscent of English boys and their preference for long shorts circa 1950s – unlike Belgian males of all ages who couldn’t roll theirs up short enough. But the dogs were handsome, seemed smart enough, and as M’s two were breeding, I acquired a puppy. You had to have a dog. For company. One of life’s more terrifying prospects, loneliness. People say. Here was a popular belief I couldn’t quite buy. I did buy the dog though. I called the little fellow Sam. Sam I Am. Siam. The world of Dr Seuss never far away. Holding the dog’s lead while attempting to swing around the block on callipers and crutches was pretty dangerous so the puppy stayed home. He was only small but even the slightest tug in the wrong direction from the junior four-leg-driver would have had me sprawling everywhere, so he only came out with me when I rode in the wheelchair. But pushing a chair and holding a lead was also problematic. So I trained him to run in from the back, under the chair, between the two wheels where a sizeable gap allowed his small body to trot along, sheltered from the traffic. He was easy to train and this worked well – he seemed to enjoy it; unfortunately he got bigger – and bigger - and bigger and eventually he was so big only his snout could fit in the gap under the ‘chair. He didn’t seem to realise this, maybe he wasn’t that bright, as he scampered along behind me, head down and nose to the ground under the ‘chair, like he was following a scent. Such a big powerful dog needed an amount of work I just wasn’t able to provide so eventually I gave him to a mate who lived out in the Warrumbungles, central western NSW. M also had a sister. She would sometimes come around. A was a fit young New Zealand woman, generous, uninhibited and energetic, a belly dancer and all-round friendly gal. She sometimes entertained me and my weird body on the bean-bag in M’s lounge room. The sexual thing seemed well and truly gone with absolutely zero sensory feed-back from the procreative tool. I could see learning to enjoy the possible delights of sensuality was going to involve some muscular imagination – and not just on my part. In the quest for innovative life skills I moved out from Maggie’s place (hating to overstay a welcome) and moved into Milson’s Point on the North Shore with a friend and her husband, only a few blocks from the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the North Sydney Pool. The couple was serious about their spirituality; Acharya was a yoga and meditation teacher. The incense licked atmosphere, the no furniture, heavily becushioned living room and off-white carpets nicely conducive to the contemplative life. Not to mention the mildly cluttered altar, an artefact of colonising polytheistic Hindu culture. I joined in with chanting and meditation, using the old mantras acquired before my Indian sojourn, adding others. Special affection still for Tibetan mythology kept me at arm’s length from the particular devotional flavour of the Milson’s Point house, but I appreciated the stillness. In that stillness my own deeper turbulence rose inexorably to the surface as the multiple in-flux elements of my psyche sought to settle in this new found land, some siting comfortably, others hovering at the edge of an abyss, steadily scrambling for traction. At the edge of the continental plate beyond where light will not go and we must play our inner illumination upon the deep. When pressure builds up something has to happen. Lightning and thunder, Sturm und Drang, it’s a natural process. I’d had some contact with a couple of mates from the HAIR days who’d become proselytising fans of a chubby young Indian guru named Maharaji. Both friends were adamant it was he who could reveal the settlement I sought. At this stage in 1974 the DLM was a small affair fraternised to a large extent by an educated, middle class crowd. Frankly, and in spite of my friends I was not persuaded of the authenticity of the followers. Let alone the guru and his ‘holy’ family. So I rejected their offers of joining. I’d had, you may remember dear Reader, an encounter in a Delhi saree shop in ’71 with several local members of the Diving Light Mission as the cult was then known. One showed me a faded pink flyer and told me the reason I’d come to India was to find this little guy pictured in the fancy dress Krshna suit. Yeh right! Back in Milson’s Point a few years later I was getting much the same message, this time from people I knew and had some regard for; this time burdened with credible, even painful, evidence of irremediable dysfunction - a deeply wounded body which just wouldn’t go away. I continued to resist. The old ways relinquish authority with great reluctance. A few weeks later, sleeping in my softly lit Milson’s Point room, I’d rolled a rubber pillow out over the aromatic candle flickering on my bedside table. I awoke to the vicious sucking sound of flames, quite tall flames, loudly swallowing great gollops of oxygen around about my left ear. Megalomaniacal Fire! Somehow you know it wants to consume everything in inglorious conflagration. In an instant and obviously with no thought I beat the flames out with my bare hand. Some of the molten rubber had stuck to the fingers of my right hand and they were somewhat burned. Not too badly, just burned enough to make pushing the wheelchair an awkward and uncomfortable exercise for three weeks. I was down to one left hand. Monty Python’s bizarre circus. My life as medieval farce. The next morning the phone rings and, struggling to manoevre the ‘chair into position to pick up with my left hand, I answer. My old mate Wayne Cull, one of a group of half a dozen or so original yoga enthusiasts from the HAIR days, now full-on devotee of Guru Maharaji, wants to know how I’m doing. “Great!” is the routine reply until I hear the hollow ring of this too blasé assertion. In that moment I faced the awful prospect of having to concede I wasn’t that flash in fact. The implications were almost enough to shut me up, but I decided there and then to ignore my sensibilities. I resolved to ignore any and all objections I knew I would regurgitate during the month or so it would take to go through with the ritual initiation. So I went along, partly comforted by the certain home truth that I was not a well-integrated vessel and that some of my sublime circuits were capable of achieving unhelpful effects. I needed help. The initiation was called ‘Knowledge’. Like the London cabbie’s navigation tool, but the area covered was - bigger. It took attendance at thirty meetings or satsangs before being eligible for Knowledge. Someone was counting. I was just going to have to bear the mental distaste of association with something I believed was a bit of a joke, all the while courteously trying to camouflage my intransigence. I needed to work out how and why I was slowly whittling myself away. But even the how and why of it finally wasn’t that important, it just needed to stop. I was running out of good bits. In the event it wasn’t too arduous, listening to a vast and marvellous accumulation of Indian stories, parables and poetry gathered over many centuries of human creativity. In the early days of the movement most of the satsang content was delivered by Indian emissaries of the guru, known as Mahatmas. Maha: great, Atma: soul. India well provided with great souls in a great many guises from saddhus, itinerant holy men, up to and including the revered Mahatma Gandhi. Over the years the honorific within the DLM was earned and deserved by some but not others. The evening meetings were also addressed by enthusiastic local converts who would, one at a time, sit in a chair at the front of a room in Wentworth Avenue, Sydney, and declaim about their day, more often than not the narrative revolved around a theme: the folly of Western Civilisation and the mad rush to achieve happiness through material prosperity. And then, of course, how ‘Knowledge’ was the antivenene to materialism’s toxic dream. I was in general sympathetic to the argument, but there was something in the skin of it, the costume, which stuck in my throat. The mandatory devotional focus on the guru and his family, his brothers three and his mother, matriarch of all – well it was all a bit of a struggle. The Christian church had devised a Trinity: a Father, a Son and a Holy Ghost. Three, but One. As a twelve-year-old child serving at the chapel altar in my boarding school, the mysterious resonances of this three-in-one story often sang sweetly in my innocent heart. The supporting ideology in the Maharaji cult proposed the guru as the living Saviour. The One and The Only. And like Christians they seemed to want a multitude within the exclusive singularity who presented as ‘holy’ too. Bowing down and prostrating before these people was de rigueur - and we know the persuasive power of collectives is insidious. But I’d determined to give it a good go, so I conformed. At this level Islam shines refreshingly and with quiet modesty with its determination to eschew all anthropomorphic imaginings choosing to go with the simple power of ONE- and the patterns 1 can generate. God geomatrises. Baroque representations, overdubbed ad absurdam in most religions, are much reduced by Mohammed’s seventh century upgrade to Christianity, an evolutionary step much needed after its wounding by Constantine’s appropriation of the Christian cult for the Roman Empire two hundred years earlier. An absence of idols and divine hierarchies in Islam had the effect of engaging the Muslim through the very beautiful abstract art decorating Islamic mosques, preserving the finest reaches of the imagination in their primordial uncreated state. This entirely abstract imagery perhaps a clue that the human mind cannot comprehend or grasp the Being of God. Any more than he can see the back of his own head. The magician's mirror notwithstanding. “To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed …” Chuang Tzu. But no matter what the ideology, no matter how carefully a system might inbuild its protections, human beings’ chauvinism, our lust for power and control, will usually confuse and confound it. Pervert it. And finally lose it. Sometimes the flood of peer pressure could be irresistible. On one occasion, Guru Maharaji’s older brother came out to Australia and addressed our little congregation in Wentworth Avenue. The place was aflutter with excitement and floral preparations. At the end of his quite cosmological rave (of the guru’s three brothers he was known as the intellectual one – I don’t recall the characterisation of the other two), the rapt audience, one at a time, filed before him and either kissed or placed their forehead on his white-socked foot while making an offering, a gift, perhaps some money discreetly contained in a decorative envelope. As the room was up a flight of stairs, a couple of lads carried me up and placed me on the ground amidst the devotees. My wheelchair was left downstairs so I had no means of moving anywhere. Crawling was a gesture too abject to contemplate. So I sat, comfortably enough, cross-legged on the floor while the small crowd did what it had to do. At the end, the boys who had carried me up to the room, approached and seemed to want to deliver me, the last in the room, to the now waiting Balbagwanji so I could have a turn at the prostration known as ‘darshan’, apparently a much valued part of a devotee’s life. At the time I was beset by a wave of ‘I am not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table’. This emotion wasn’t focussed on our man in the white socks, the crisis more a product of a gouging at my foundations where I found a litany of guilt and disquiet. Tears dripped on my shirt front as the two brothers, without so much as a by your leave, picked me up, carried me the three metres and deposited me at the feet of the pretender. As he turned out to be. Some said. Standing next to the seated Balbagwanji was one of the Mahatmas, Rajeswaranand. On security service. Balbagwanji looked at me, seemed to recoil slightly at the same time as snapping his head around to caste a concerned look at the former judge, now presenting as a Mahatma doing security, on his right. The man was producing one of those marvellously non-committal Indian head gestures, as I put my head down and dripped a few tears on the white sock where they vanished in the weave. Embarrassing as that experience was, the general atmosphere amongst the fans was genial, I was with friends, chanting, meditating. Convivial times. After receiving Knowledge, you were extended the opportunity to get up in the chair at satsang and talk. It was a lot of fun. You might have twenty, thirty people sitting there listening. No heckling, no interruptions, just rapt faces of devotees drinking in the atmosphere. A good number didn’t listen, just sat there, vibeing the moment. Public speaking is widely recognised as one of the more terrifying challenges confronting human beings and we’ll do almost anything to avoid it. Here however it wasn’t so much public speaking as an extemporised rave pickled with anecdotes, casual observations and a kind of instinctive generation of possibly meaningful, or not, tales. In other words an uplifting and creative adventure. Some years later Maharaji evidently decided there were just too many people making stuff up, stuffing up his agenda, so the chair was available only to the approved, those appointed by himself; as some of these were Americans and Europeans and eventually Australians, the title of Mahatma, or great soul, was mildly preposterous – they became Initiators. The Indian flavour within the movement was being steadily superceded. It was around that time my interest in the nightly meetings waned. Interactivity had been pruned, a development I thought ripped most of the fun out of it. My enthusiasm for the practice of the meditation was undiminished however and grew to become as much a part of me as my weird body. The growing familiarity with the inner world I was now enjoying had a salutary effect on my acceptance of the outer body’s dysfunction, bringing to an end apparently, at least for the time being, my heavy handed civil war which had inflicted such lasting and visible damage. It wasn’t just the cessation of existential conflict that sustained my interest. From the start my aim had been to access the extraordinary love I’d experienced while lying in Sydney Hospital. I believe that through a process of surrender to simple instructions and stepping over my pride and considerable arrogance, the meditation revealed the vast inner world where consciousness has its being and the being of consciousness is that love. It was an exceedingly subtle subsiding of noise, which slowly dissolved the resistances to my own wealth of being. My active association with the cult lasted more than twenty years during which time I travelled in the US and Europe on the path of devotion to Maharaji. Large festivals or events were organised; on one occasion in Florida, USA, a crowd of 20,000 turned up for a three day festival to listen to Himself, meet with your friends and file in long, slow moving queues for that personal touch of the Guru’s white sock, one of the few splashes of Indian colour still extant. These large scale festivals were for the most part only for the initiated to enable the Guru to do his private thing before his devoted audience. Some of these performances, particularly his poetry and dancing where he would don his Krsna costume, were a joke, but no one laughed, instead most eulogised on the genius of his invention. No court jester here. In quiet corners you might find the odd person who would admit to finding these offerings trite and embarrassing, but mostly the crowd went off and so the practice continued. It would have been a brave party who risked his or her place of privilege close to the Presence to be critical of his efforts. In recent times I’ve wondered whether any one close to the former US president, G.W.Bush, had tried to tell him how to say ‘nuclear’. “Er, Mr President, it’s a lazy tongue thing I believe, but let’s try it one more time… Noo Cle Ar.” “Noo Cu Lar…, that’set ahm sayen.” The evidence suggests nobody risked it. Eventually the movement acquired some land not far from Brisbane, where the Australian festivals, attended by ‘premies’ (Hindi word: lovers) from all over the world, would be staged. The last event I attended was at this venue, less than an hour’s drive from my place in the suburbs of Brisbane. I’d taken along my twelve-year-old son for the day thinking he might enjoy the spectacle. Meet some of my friends. But the gatekeepers wouldn’t let him in. Not initiated. That was it for my participation in the Maharaji culture. It seemed ridiculous to me that a boy should be denied access for what I considered, in his case, to be entirely spurious reasons. The four techniques of ‘Knowledge’ were mandated as secret, known only to the initiated who were charged, on pain of ill-defined punishment, usually portrayed through Indian parables, to never reveal them. I could see a couple of reasons for the prohibition. The first was the identical techniques were available in many Indian publications, and like the Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation which he said Westerners just would not get it if they didn’t pay for it, the Knowledge needed a tightly nurtured, supportive environment if it was to take root and flourish. The parable of the sower and the seed was cited. The ground needed careful cultivation if the seed was to grow to its potential. Giving the seed to just anybody, without them having undergone the gruelling ego-challenging submission rituals led by Maharaji’s team would inevitably cruel their chances of discovering and then preserving the power of Knowledge. The second was undoubtedly self-serving and linked to controlling the franchise. But who can blame them for that? They are after all human beings with a no less developed urge to self-preservation than any other; and this was a family enterprise, handed down from father to son. The lie, if it was ever perceived by them to be such, was harmless enough. When dozens of gurus and religions proclaim this same nonsense, who among us can honestly say, “We were tricked”? When the light finally dawns we may see it’s our own propensity to chauvinism that is the architect of these mighty castles of sand. The heart of “the Knowledge” lay in any case above and beyond the mask worn by its purveyors. Our appetite for family, identity, bonds with people of like mind, can be satisfied in many ways. The gratitude which spontaneously arises on finding oneself in the simplicity of Being, can express itself in service to our fellows, largely untroubled by the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ monkeys bouncing around inside us. The form of the service is a matter of opportunity and the individual conscience, the memory of which is a birthright and simply needs regular polishing to clear the cobwebs of false belief constantly woven and laid down by the world before us.
No Man’s Land
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