I prostrated on the orange shag carpet, my face pressed into the long, polyester fibers. I responded to Mahatma Fakiranand, an Indian man with a shaved head and a face like a skull. “Yes,” I said in answer to his question. “I would cut my head off for Guru Maharaj Ji.”
I was fifteen. I had cut 10th grade and walked a mile to the Elberon train station. Caught the train to East Brunswick, New Jersey. Walked however many blocks it was to the premie house. How did I find it? I don’t remember. This was decades before smart phones and GPS, Mapquest and Google Earth. But somehow, I got there. I snuck out of the house, pretended to go to school. And I got on that train, determined to become a devotee of the living Satguru.
My brother was already a premie. After majoring in LSD and driving a used hearse around the University of Colorado, he had dropped out of college and gone to India, following the 14-year-old boy who promised we could realize God if we practiced the sacred path of satsang, service and meditation.
I was an unhappy hippie girl with huge casaba melon breasts, living with a mother I hated. Every night after work, she came home from her job as a school social worker, made dinner, and tried to talk to me, but I had already shut her out. I could feel her talons digging into my flesh. I was her last hope. My brother was gone. My father had abandoned us, moving to Esalen and later, San Francisco to find himself. The campuses were on fire. The world as we knew it was burning down. I was trapped at Long Branch High School and I wanted out. The ashram seemed like the way to go.
I spent the whole day in that basement. Mahatma Fakiranand sat, wrapped in his saffron robes, on a silk-covered chair. Next to him were pictures of Guru Maharaj Ji, his mother, Mata Ji, his brothers Bal Bhagwan Ji, Rata Ji, and Bhole Ji, the Holy Family. The gilded frames holding their pictures were draped with garlands of chrysanthemums.
There were thirty of us in the basement that day. Under sharp questioning by Mahatama ji, those not ready to receive Knowledge were gradually weeded out. “You need to hear more satsang.” “You are not yet pure enough to receive this precious knowledge.” But I was accepted. Maybe it was because I was the youngest person in the room, still innocent. Maybe it was because my brother already lived in an ashram. Whatever it was, I was one of the lucky 12 chosen for the Knowledge session, the secret rite in which we would be taught to taste the divine nectar, hear the divine music, see the divine light and feel the primordial Word of God. This was not a religion. This was not some theory about God. This was direct experience of the Divine and soon it would be mine.
I don’t remember much about the Knowledge session. Mahatma Fakiranand came around and touched each of us on our third eye and I did see a flash of light. Nothing fancy, more like a glimmer than a lightning bolt. We were taught to meditate and instructed to do so two hours every morning and every night. I’m sure there were other important admonitions. When the endless ceremony was finally over, the premies upstairs celebrated our initiation with a homemade cake. It was our real birthday you see, our spiritual birthday.
Somehow, I made my way back to the train station. It was already dark when I boarded the train to go home. I hadn’t realized I’d be gone all day. It was after nine when I finally walked into my house. My mother was sitting at our yellow formica kitchen table, crying. She looked at me with red-rimmed eyes full of a grief I was far too young to understand. “First your father,” she said, “and then your brother, and now you.” She had lost me and there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it.