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´╗┐Title: Take Me for a Ride: coming of age in a destructive cult
Author: Laxer, Mark Eliot
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Take Me for a Ride: coming of age in a destructive cult" ***

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  Coming Of Age In A Destructive Cult
  by Mark E. Laxer
  Copyright 1993 by Mark E. Laxer

Take Me For A Ride

* * *

     One flew east,
     One flew west,
     One flew over the cuckoo's nest.

                   --Childhood nursery rhyme
                     quoted in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
                     by Ken Kesey

     Fly me over the cuckoo's nest,
     To your *golden* side,
     I don't care if you're the cuckoo--
     Take me for a ride...



Coming Of Age In A Destructive Cult


Mark E. Laxer

1993 Outer Rim Press Copyright 1993 by Mark E. Laxer

No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without written
permission from the publisher, unless the intent is to benefit

For *physical* book order information, or to contribute to Laxer's
legal defense fund :( and write-another-book fund :)

  Outer Rim Press
  4431 Lehigh Road, #221
  College Park, MD 20740

Grateful acknowledgment is made to Simon & Schuster, Inc., for
permission to reprint an excerpt from Gandhi: A Memoir by William
Shirer.  Copyright (c) 1979 by William Shirer.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number:  93-085777

ISBN 0-9638108-3-9

Initially printed and posted in the United States of America

To Patsy Sims--inspired teacher, intriguing storyteller, intrepid

Author's Note

Names in the following story have been changed, except for those
already mentioned in the press.


   1.   Bicycle Ride--Walden
   2.   Zapped!
   3.   The Joining
   4.   The Community
   5.   Bicycle Ride--Lenox
   6.   The Garden
   7.   Money Mantra
   8.   Fast Leader
   9.   Off The Map
  10.   Bicycle Ride--Utica
  11.   Displaced
  12.   Thwarted Escape
  13.   Breakdown
  14.   Bicycle Ride--St. Ignes
  15.   The Enchanted Taco
  16.   Ride To Heaven
  17.   On High
  18.   Where's My Tribe?
  19.   I'm Okay
  20.   The Last Supper
  21.   Bicycle Ride--The Continental Divide

  Appendix A:  Excerpts From WOOF!
  Appendix B:  Excerpts From "Welcome To Lakshmi"
  Appendix C:  Excerpts From "Sophisticated Sexuality"
  Appendix D:  Excerpts From Rama's Ads and Brochures

1.  Bicycle Ride--Walden

After I left Rama's inner circle in 1985, I occasionally bicycled to
Walden Pond, where I read about Thoreau's experiment with
self-reliance. My seven years in the cult of Rama--Dr. Frederick Lenz,
who was known early on as Atmananda--had deeply shaken my confidence.
Atmananda often assured me that I was possessed by Negative Forces,
that I was barely able to function in the real world, and that I was
fortunate he did not drop me off at a mental institution.  I met him in
1978, when I was seventeen.

Thoreau helped me recall a time, before Atmananda, when I was strong
and self-reliant. I had been an avid cyclist.  Pedaling thousands of
miles each year helped strengthen both my legs and self-esteem.
Throughout my teenage years bicycling and self-confidence were
inextricably linked, and I grew to believe I could ride anywhere, under
any conditions.  I tried to approach life with a similar gusto, which
may explain why, in 1979, Atmananda invited me to move with him to
southern California to start a spiritual centre.  From 1979 to 1981, I
lived with him by the cliffs of La Jolla where I witnessed his rise to
power.  Today, in 1993, he controls the minds of several hundred
computer consultants, businessmen, doctors, and lawyers.  Each year he
extracts from them roughly ten million dollars.

As I gazed at Walden Pond in search of calm, the wind spawned new
waves, and the surface swelled with complexity.  I recalled what
Atmananda had said after I returned from a five-day bike trip in
California.  He announced in front of other disciples that my aura was
dark.  He also said that I had been attacked by nocturnal,
mountain-dwelling Entities which "cause neurosis and psychosis,
obliterate lifetimes of spiritual evolution, and can possess your soul."

Atmananda's Entity-prevention program included studying with a fully
enlightened teacher, meditating regularly, and avoiding solitary
excursions into nature.  Yet in the spring of 1986, nearly one year
after I left him, I reminded myself that I would rather be possessed in
my world than potentially perfect in his.  I planned to pedal across
America not with an exorcist, but with a puppy.

On May 31, 1986, as warm, moist air pushed pockets of fog over Walden
Pond, I lifted the four-month-old Siberian husky, Nunatak, into the
doggie-carrier. The carrier rested on top of the bicycle trailer,
attached to the frame of my 12-speed. Strong headwinds soon strained my
muscles, shook the lush canopy of foliage, and pelted me with large
drops of rain.  As I began the journey west, the front tire raced
through puddles while my mind raced through painful memories and
questions.  How had my years with Atmananda affected me?  Why was it so
difficult to leave him?  What was it about my past that led me to him?

2.  Zapped!

"Lights," said my father and for a moment, except for the
phosphorescent hands of the clock on the wall, the room went black.
With a flip of a switch, he suddenly reappeared:  a tall, thin man with
thick glasses, standing beside the glowing enlarger.  As a child I sat
for hours under a dim yellow light, mesmerized by images appearing on
paper submerged in trays filled with smelly liquid.  Yellow, my father
taught me, has no apparent effect on the light-sensitive specks coating
photographic paper.

The unorthodox images which leapt from the walls of our house seemed as
eerie as the darkroom experience itself:  there was a photograph of a
llama's head as viewed through a distorting fish-eye lens, there was a
photograph of a shredded poster of a man's face, and there were many
abstract photos which seemed to defy description.  My father, a
production manager at a New York publishing company, perhaps saw the
world in a different light than his peers.

My mother was an elementary school teacher with black hair and
sometimes kind, sometimes intense eyes.  A generous and caring woman,
she put her career on hold for more than a decade to raise a family.
She met my father in upstate New York on a hike sponsored by an outing

When I was fourteen, I sensed that my father was growing tired,
detached, and depressed, but I did not understand why.  He expressed
abstractions better than emotions, and found it difficult to vent the
angers and frustrations which had accumulated from work and from home.

Nor did I understand that my mother freely gave to me what she, in her
youth, had sorely missed:  love.  Oblivious to the magnitude of her
workload--she taught full-time and was pursuing a Master's degree--I
grew angry with her as a teenager partly because she seemed insecure
and overbearing, and partly because she expected me, my brother, and my
father to help keep the house clean in the way that she wanted.

Despite my family's love for the outdoors, for our dog, and for one
another, the emotional fabric that bound us together often seemed on
the verge of ripping apart.  And the problems only intensified as my
brother and I grew older.

Two-and-a-half-years my elder, my brother was an avid backpacker and
rock climber with jet-black hair, Gandhi glasses, and a gentle but
determined disposition.  He too felt that something in our family was
"out of whack," and we occasionally discussed what we would do when we
left home.  But unlike me, he had no one to buffer him from my parents
who, I was starting to discover, were only human.

I was a sensitive child.  I was so sensitive that the sounds of someone
chewing made me upset.  I was a light sleeper.  I was also a slob, a
knee-jerk rebel, and something of a nerd when it came to doing things
like making friends with girls.  Nonetheless, I decided that I could
work out whatever I needed to work out in a healthier environment than
at home; the countdown to the last day of high school, after which I
planned to set out on my own, began when I was around fifteen.
Meanwhile, I read a lot and spent time with friends, some of whom also
enjoyed hiking and bicycling.

In the summer of 1976, when I was sixteen, I bicycled from the White
Mountains of New Hampshire to Boston with people from an outing club.
One morning, as I watched my traveling companions prepare their daily
dose of hallucinogens, I realized that I wanted to be part of their
fellowship.  The desire, however, was checked by a gut-level impulse to
avoid drugs, so Jim, a sinewy guy stooped over a pot of boiling morning
glory seeds, turned me on instead to The Teachings of Don Juan:  A
Yaqui Way of Knowledge.  This was a popular account of Carlos
Castaneda's purported apprenticeship with Yaqui Indian medicine man
Juan Matus, or Don Juan.

From the cover of the book peered a menacing and surreal painting of a

"But a crow isn't always a crow," said Jim softly, paraphrasing Don
Juan as he stirred the seeds.  "Sometimes it's a powerful sorcerer in

Intrigued by the paradox of the crow, I plowed through The Teachings of
Don Juan and through Castaneda's A Separate Reality and Journey To
Ixtlan.  At summer's end, still drugless and clueless as to whether
crows were birds or sorcerers, I left Boston clutching a Castaneda book.

Back in New York, I chose to see the world less through the eyes of an
eleventh grader taking honors physics and history, and more through the
eyes of a sorcerer's apprentice.  I incorporated into my daily routine
Don Juan's recommendations.  As an exercise in humility, I spoke aloud
to plants.  To *see* beyond society's description of reality, I tried
to stop my thoughts.  To expand my awareness beyond the confines of the
waking state, I sought to wake within a dream.

My interest in what lay beyond the scope of traditional reality led to
an interest in what lay beyond the scope of traditional education, and,
that fall, I thought about switching to a public experimental high
school founded in the late '60s.  I firmly believed that I would thrive
in a world without grades, attendance taking, tests, and requirements.
In January, 1977, with the guidance of my brother, I managed to
persuade my reluctant parents to let me join.

I chose to continue taking physics and history at the traditional
school; other subjects I took at the non-traditional school where, in a
creative writing class, I wrote:

                  Teachers force us to perceive,
                  The surface world of reason:
                  "A tree is but a pole with leaves,
                  Whose habits change each season."

I thrived within a self-designed, academically rigorous educational
program, but experienced no breakthroughs in my search for Hidden
Realms of Perception until the following summer.  The experience came
when I was working ten-hour days and five-and-a-half day weeks on a
farm in southern New Hampshire.  In my spare time, I was designing and
building an electricity-producing windmill, which ended up towering
some twenty feet above Onyx, one of the tallest cows.  Farm-crew
members sometimes walked out to the hay fields to get high.  One night,
after smoking marijuana, I fell asleep and later saw, above where I
lay, a cow, its head swaying gently to and fro.  Though I thought I was
awake it was but a dream, for when I woke from "waking," the cow had
disappeared.  This experience led me to believe that like Mr.
Castaneda's mentor, I could consciously direct my actions within the
context of a dream.

Back in New York, I became editor-in-chief of the high school
newspaper.  I soon learned that I had a knack for inspiring and for
managing a team.  I was well regarded by my teachers and by my peers,
and I had many friends.  I could have continued my studies at a
prestigious university, but I longed for a mystical quest.  I dreamt
that I walked silently across a vast desert plain.  I longed to
experience that which lay beyond the surface world of reason.  I dreamt
that I flew over desert chaparral into an infinite orange horizon.  I
longed for a wisdom that was secret, magical, ancient.  I decided to
hitchhike, alone, to the Sonoran Desert in Mexico to find a mystical
teacher, a *brujo*, who was just like Don Juan.  I planned to leave on
the day after high school graduation.

Meanwhile, I continued to read the Castaneda books and to experiment
with consciousness.  One time I attempted to raise my right arm without
consciously lifting it.  I wanted it to levitate on its own.  I soon
felt a tingling in the arm, but it did not rise.  Finally, I lifted it
on purpose.  Then, as part of the experiment, I suggested to myself
that the arm remain lifted.  As long as I repeated the suggestion, the
arm remained where it was.  Afterwards, I could not recall how long the
state of mind had lasted.

My brother shared with me an interest in rising above the limitations
of home, school, religion, society, and reality.  By the time I turned
him on to the Castaneda books, he had already studied Einstein's
special theory of relativity and The Tao Of Physics.  In the spring of
1978, when he was studying physics at the State University of New York
at Stony Brook, he told me that he had met an English professor who was
an expert on the Castaneda books.  He knew that my quest for a teacher
would begin in roughly two months, when I would graduate from high
school.  He wanted to help me.  He suggested that I attend the
Castaneda expert's free lecture series on meditation in Manhattan.

I wondered why a Castaneda expert would live on Long Island rather than
in a remote desert in Mexico, but my brother's enthusiasm was sincere.
"Besides," I thought as we rode the train into the city, "anything I
learn now will only help me on the journey."

We arrived at a building on 33rd Street.  A rickety elevator took us to
the third floor, where the sweet and spicy aroma of incense wafted
through the air.  I saw a row of sneakers by the elevator door and
wondered if they had been responsible for the incense.  After placing
our sneakers in line with the others, we walked past a sign which read
"Yoga Life Perfection."  A young woman with long, black hair and a
playful, impish grin sold books and incense in the hallway.  She
recognized my brother and smiled at us.  She wore a sari.

We entered a medium-sized room where a smoldering stick of incense and
two unlit candles rested on a table up front.  Two young women stood
together near the back of the room.  One had long brown hair and dreamy
eyes.  The other had a face and figure like a model.  Their faces were
flushed and aglow.  They also wore saris.

"Too bad I'm not gonna be sticking around New York," I thought, gazing
at them.

In the audience sat two women in their sixties, dressed entirely in
black.  They sat near a man in his thirties, with the frame of a metal
pyramid resting squarely on his head.

We sat by the two sari-clad women.  They were clearly excited about
something.  They used words like inspiration, aspiration,
concentration, visualization, meditation, reincarnation, and
perfection.  My brother, too, seemed excited, as if something
extraordinary and wonderful were about to occur.  With each passing
minute, I found myself growing more curious, more impatient, and more
excited.  Fifteen minutes after the talk was scheduled to begin, the
women in saris stopped talking and looked up.

I looked up too and saw a tall man with a projecting nose and lush
locks.  His long strides seemed synchronized with his arms, which swung
like perfectly conflicting pendulums; this motion seemed to propel him
into the room.  He sat on the table facing the audience, folded his
legs in the pretzel-like posture seen in Buddha statues, and introduced
himself as Dr. Frederick Lenz.  He explained that he had another name:
Atmananda.  Then he lit the candles and asked us to drop our
preconceived notions because, "meditation is beyond thought."

"Thought is like a car," he said in a smooth, charming voice.  "You can
drive it to California.  But if you want to cross the ocean, you will
need an alternate means of transportation.  If you want to cross the
sea of consciousness, you will need meditation."

Though his metaphors were new to me, they seemed to point the way
beyond the surface world of reason.  He used words like guru, avatar,
warrior, power, power spots, personal power, moments of power,
spiritual power, psychic power, ecstasy, enlightenment, cosmic love,
transcendental, supreme, Nirvana, and the Infinite.  When he said it
was time to meditate, I was surprised that he had been speaking for
over forty minutes.  It had seemed like five.

"Now extend your index fingers and close your eyes," Atmananda

I squinted to see if anyone else was peeking.  From what I could tell,
the twenty or so people obeyed him.

"Now say 'me' out loud and touch your chest."

My "me" was muffled by the group's "me".

"You are not only pointing to your chest," Atmananda explained, "but to
your heart chakra, one of seven psychic energy centers associated with
the subtle body.  Concentrating on a chakra is an easy way to begin
crossing the sea of consciousness."

So we sat there, drifting, and though I tried to stop my thoughts and
feel the throbbing pulse of my heart chakra, I found myself checking
out the women in saris.

"Very good," he said after about five minutes.  Then he suggested that
we sit back, relax, and ask questions.

There was something hauntingly familiar about this confident,
well-spoken, young professor.  Perhaps it was the way his chin jutted
forward, the rich timbre of his voice, or his seeming interest in
helping people that reminded me of the cartoon character
Dudley-Do-Right. I felt drawn to him.  I found myself staring into his
full moon, gripping eyes.  I found myself seeking his attention.

"Can a person be healed by meditating?"  I asked, only partly concerned
that I had a cold.

He locked my attention with those eyes... I felt slightly dizzy... it was
not unpleasant... it felt as though I were floating... my vision
blurred... things went fuzzy and white... it appeared as though it were

"Am I having a vision?"  I wondered and immediately the "snow"
vanished.  Just then Atmananda seemed unreal, like a superhero from a
cosmic comic-strip that had been cut, enlarged, and inserted into the
room.  When he smiled at me, I had the uncanny sense that he knew what
I had felt and seen.  Then he left, flanked by the women in saris.

3.  The Joining

In the days following Atmananda's talk, I longed to know if my vision
of the "snow" had been a mystical experience, an optical illusion, or a
figment of my imagination.  Graduation was only weeks away.  I assumed
that Atmananda would help me solve the mystery, and I counted the days
until his next public lecture.

I did not tell my friends much about Atmananda.  They seemed content,
even after reading the Castaneda books, to view the world through a
rational framework.  In contrast, I grew excited about the possibility
of transcending the world of reason altogether.  They were proud of
their letters of acceptance from the Harvards and the Princetons.  I
was proud of my letter of acceptance from The School Of Mysticism.  My
letter arrived in the form of brilliant white specks which swirled
about me like snow.

Nor did I tell my parents, who represented discord, anxiety, and
manipulation--the opposite of what Atmananda seemed to stand for.

Instead, I spoke with my brother.  He and I were close.  I wanted to be
just like him.  He used words such as disciples, selfless-service,
humanity, humility, purity, soul, soul-mate, past-lives, karma, fast
track, and cosmic evolution.  He got excited when he talked about
Atmananda.  He told me that he too had experienced perceptual
distortion during Atmananda's talks.  We returned to "Yoga Life

About thirty minutes after the talk was scheduled to begin, Atmananda
strode through the door.  He wore a light brown suit.

"Anne," he said, "did you bring the Transcendental?"

The sari-clad woman who had sold incense at the last lecture placed a
frame on the table beside Atmananda.  The Transcendental was a
photograph of Atmananda's Indian guru, Chinmoy.  But it was so
underexposed that it seemed not a picture of a guru, but rather a
mug-shot of a ghost with high cheekbones.  It reminded me of one of the
experimental images which had emerged from my father's darkroom.

"The Transcendental portrays Guru in his highest transcendental
consciousness," my brother told me.

Atmananda scanned the audience, mostly women in their sixties.  Then he
began to lecture, not on meditation, but on reincarnation, which he had
done many times before.

"Maya, or illusion, eclipses the original perfection of the soul," he
said.  "The soul reincarnates over thousands of lessons known as

I could not recall learning about reincarnation at Hebrew school.

"As the soul evolves, it transcends desire and attachment, which is the
root of all suffering.  Finally, enlightenment occurs."

Unaware that he was borrowing Hindu and Buddhist doctrine, and
intrigued but not convinced that in a future life I would attain
enlightenment, I kept one eye on Atmananda and the other on Anne.

"Everything can be classified according to its level of spiritual
evolution.  Rocks and minerals are very primitive, whereas plants have
more developed auras.  After thousands of years, the soul seeks an
animal incarnation.  Except in rare instances, enlightenment occurs
through the human form only."

I grinned and wiggled my thumbs, figuring I was already ahead of the

"Humans in their early incarnations are responsible for many of the
world's problems.  But evolved people are not better than others.  Are
college students any better than third graders?"

This diffused my concern that Atmananda's line of reasoning justified
the formation of an evolved elite.

"Karma is a cosmic feedback mechanism triggered by past actions.  In a
universe governed by karma, few experiences are coincidental."

I supposed a lottery winner could have been a generous philanthropist
in a past life.  But remembering the various times I had been robbed
while growing up in New York, I doubted that I had spent incarnations
as a mugger.  Still, I liked his contention that it was karma's role
not to punish, but to educate.

"After thousands of human incarnations, you become ready to study with
an enlightened teacher.  You may suddenly notice a teacher's poster.
You may have seen the poster many times before--only this time
something *clicks*."

I looked at the Transcendental and wondered if the Guru, who looked
like he badly needed sleep, could make something in me *click*.

Atmananda turned toward me, as if in response to my newest doubt, and
said, "An enlightened teacher can take a person through thousands of
lives in just one lifetime."

"What's the rush?"  I thought.

"The sooner you attain enlightenment, the sooner you can help others
transcend this world of pain and suffering."

"How did he do that?"  I wondered, unsure if he were addressing typical
doubts, or if he were actually reading my mind.

Atmananda continued to look at me.  I found myself gazing, without
blinking, into his eyes... I began to feel as if I were floating...
somewhere far away I sensed my body breathing... I heard "bzzzzzzzz"
droning on and on and on...

He turned away, and I returned to normal consciousness.

"Holy cow," I thought.  "He did it again!"  Suddenly, I imagined that
he was a sorcerer and I, his apprentice.  I forgot about Anne and
carefully followed his words.

"Advanced seekers say that after they attain enlightenment they will
return to earth to help others.  But most of them end up choosing
eternal ecstasy instead."

I vowed to come back and help the downtrodden.

"It is even rarer for fully enlightened souls to return," he said,
pointing out that his Guru was fully enlightened.

Fully enlightened souls, Atmananda explained, were aware of those who
meditated sincerely on their photograph.  Atmananda then instructed us
to meditate on the Transcendental.  After about ten minutes of silence
he asked, "Who saw the light around Guru?"

One woman shot up her hand.  Then another.  I admitted to myself that I
thought I saw the photo glow.

"Guru flooded you with light from another world," he explained.  Then,
inviting the audience to experience the "advanced" side of
self-discovery, he told us about Chinmoy's free weekly meditations at
St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia University.

By this time, in keeping with Atmananda's suggestions, my brother had
applied to study with Chinmoy.  He was accepted.  He lived near the
State University of New York at Stony Brook, near the eight or so
Chinmoy disciples, near Atmananda.  When I asked him to take me to his
Guru, he said that he would.

We met at our parents' home.  He wore all white clothes.  "White
symbolizes purity--the spiritual quality men need to develop most," he
explained, quoting Chinmoy.  "Wearing white only adds one or two
percent more purity to your consciousness, but every bit helps."

My mother came into the room and looked at my brother.

"Uh-oh," I thought.  I felt bad for my mother.  She typically had to
deal with me and my brother on her own.  Perhaps in anticipation of an
ulcer condition, my father tended to avoid so-called family
discussions.  "If only she would leave us alone," I figured, "she would
not get so bent out of shape."

I also felt bad for my brother.  Everything he did, it seemed,
aggravated my parents.  "They should support him in his spiritual
quest," I decided.

Now my mother looked upset.  I did not know it then, but she was not
upset that her sons were interested in yoga.  In her youth she had
satisfied a similar interest in the East by taking a course on Gandhi's
philosophy.  She grew concerned, however, when she realized that we
were intensely focusing on one person--on a living guru.

"Where are you boys going?" she asked.

"It's okay, Mom," I replied, assuming my role as mediator.  "We're just
going to a talk on relaxation and meditation--you know, stuff like
that."  I had already told her about Chinmoy and Atmananda ("Mom, I
think I found a teacher right here in New York!"). But she wanted to
know more.  She looked hurt.

"You're upset about relaxation and meditation?"  I said, trying my best
to reason with her.  "This is nothing, Mom.  What are you going to say
when I hitchhike to Mexico to study with a *brujo*?"

The silence that ensued bore with it all the weight of a mother's love,
hope, and fear for her sons.

We said good-bye and rode to the city.

"I mean, I have to lead my own life," I thought, and focused on my
parents' shortcomings to offset pangs of guilt.

Manhattan's ivy-league citadel of the intellect seemed an unlikely spot
for people to be led beyond thought.  But then, finding a guru with an
enlightened soul uptown seemed no less likely than meeting a sorcerer
with a Ph.D. downtown.  We switched at Grand Central Station to an
uptown train and emerged at 125th Street.  The clatter of subway cars
gave way to traffic noise which faded once we entered the Columbia
University campus.  Soon we ascended steps to St. Paul's Chapel.  Ahead
of us were men with closely cropped hair wearing all white clothes.
With hair clenched in braids, the sari-wrapped women walked apart from
the men--who were not looking at them.  At the top of the stairs,
dressed in a red tennis outfit, stood Atmananda.

"Hi, Atmananda," said my brother, looking up.

With folded arms, Atmananda looked down and said, "Hello, Dan."

"You remember my kid brother?"

"Hello, kid brother."

Atmananda and I were roughly the same height, yet as disciples flocked
by him he seemed much taller.  I was again struck by his piercing eyes,
sharp nose, and thick crown of brown hair.  With such a countenance of
nobility, he could have passed as a high Roman senator or Greek god.

"Guru couldn't make it this week," he said.  "Why don't you go in and
meditate, and pick up on Guru's vibes?"

My brother and I went inside.  High above us on the massive chapel dome
were paintings of angels.  Perhaps it was the distant angels, the two
hundred or more silent disciples, and the rising scent of sandalwood
incense, that made me feel foreign and small.  We meditated for about
five minutes and left.

Outside, Atmananda was speaking with a man in white, when it struck me
that he was wearing red.  "A non-conformist within a group of
non-conformists!" I thought.

He nodded to us but continued talking.

I walked by and noticed his name tag.  Directly beneath "ATMANANDA"
glimmered a sticker from AAA and this warning:  "Fasten Your Seat Belt."

That night, in the Castaneda books, I read how ordinary events were
often portentous omens.  I wondered if there was a significant message
hidden in the Guru's absence.  I wondered, too, if I was supposed to
meditate with this Guru before hitchhiking west.

The following week, I ventured with my brother to another of
Atmananda's lectures.  We also returned to meditate with Chinmoy.  When
we arrived at Columbia, disciples were arranging flowers, lighting
incense, and otherwise darting about in preparation for their master's
presence.  Chinmoy apparently was on his way.  Several minutes later a
short, stocky Indian entered the chapel.  He had a shiny head, a hooked
nose, and high cheek bones.  He was draped in a light-blue dhoti, the
male version of a sari.  He walked slowly toward the front.  He sat in
a big blue chair, opened his eyes wide, and blinked a couple of times.

Disciples in the audience sat with their hands folded, as if they were
praying to him.

"Are they praying to him?"  I asked my brother.

"No," he whispered.  "They are aspiring to the Infinite in him."

The Guru sipped from a glass which he held with his pinky pointing out.

"Well," I thought.  "As long as they aren't praying to him."

Suddenly Chinmoy belted out, "Aummm.  Auuummmmmm.  Auuummmmmmmmmmmm."
After five minutes of meditation, the Guru folded his hands and bowed
to the audience.

My brother whispered, "He is offering his meditation to the Infinite in

"That about evens the score," I thought, feeling better about the whole
business of guru worship.

Chinmoy signaled a disciple who placed a box of oranges before him.  He
stood behind it and nodded to the audience, which began forming a line.

At first I thought he was just giving out oranges.  But by filling the
fruits with spiritual light, my brother explained, the Guru was really
giving darshan.

One by one, the disciples looked into Chinmoy's eyes with out-stretched
hands.  When they received the darshan they touched the orange to their
heart chakra, bowed, and walked reverentially back to the benches.

When it came my turn, I approached slowly so that people would think I
was spiritual.  "When Guru flickers his eyes," I recalled my brother
telling me, "he is entering the perfect awareness of Nirvakalpa
Samadhi."  I looked up.  Chinmoy smiled, flickered his eyes, and pulled
from the box... nothing! He had run out of oranges.

"An omen!"  I thought.  I was unsure, though, what the delay exactly
meant.  Nonetheless, I decided to take advantage of the situation.  I
focused my gaze on Chinmoy.  Soon everything in the chapel, except for
his shiny face, seemed to disappear.  Then, borrowing a technique from
the Castaneda books, I squinted and crossed my eyes until Chinmoy
transformed into swirls of shimmering light.  "Wow!"  I thought.  For a
moment, the distorted image before me reminded me of the Transcendental.

When Chinmoy came back into focus, he shot a glance at the side of the
chapel.  A disciple brought him a fresh crate.  After the second
flickering, I took the orange with both hands, touched it to my heart
chakra, and bowed.  I walked away feeling grateful.  A wave of joy
washed over me.  I saw the disciples, including my brother and
Atmananda, gazing lovingly at Chinmoy.  I felt touched by a power which
seemed greater and more romantic than that of the world of reason.
"How many people get a gift from a *fully* enlightened guru?" I

"Don't just stare at it," my brother reproved, explaining that oranges
were poor retainers of Spiritual Light.  "Eat it!"

Moments later, the Guru announced in a lilting voice, "Atmananda,
pleeeez bring."

Atmananda led the five or six potential initiates to the front of the
chapel.  He had found, inspired, and persuaded them through his
lectures.  While Atmananda watched the Guru initiate them, he did not
return to his seat.  Instead, he remained in front, several feet away.

Chinmoy rapidly oscillated his eyes at the new recruits.  His eyes were
still flickering when he placed his hand on each of their foreheads.
When his eyes returned to normal, he flashed a smile at Atmananda, at
the new disciples, and at the rest of the audience.  Then he left the
chapel in a flurry of whites and saris.

As I watched him leave, I felt secure that he and Atmananda knew a lot
about the unknown.  I glanced across the room at the disciples.  I
realized that I wanted to be part of their fellowship.

My brother and I found Atmananda outside, addressing a group of Stony
Brook Chinmoy disciples.

"Do you want to go with us to Au Natural?" he asked us.

At that moment I would have gone with him anywhere, partly because I
was not keen on going home, and partly because he was so compelling.
There was something about him that felt nurturing yet electric, casual
yet happening.

"Yes!" we chimed.

Atmananda organized rides, gave directions, warned us about potholes
and drunk drivers, and suggested that we maintain a meditative
consciousness, lest we lose the Guru's light.  Then he led us away from
the other Chinmoy disciples, from the chapel, from the campus, and onto
the streets.

I watched the blur of city lights from the back of Atmananda's Saab,
which hurtled through the streets at a velocity close to that of a New
York taxi.  He skillfully avoided potholes and drunk drivers.  He told
my brother of his plan to have Stony Brook disciples advertise his free
public lectures by placing posters in Manhattan.  I relaxed, believing
he was in control.

At Au Natural, a yogurt shop, Atmananda introduced me to the Stony
Brook disciples.  There were Anne, Dana, and Suzanne, the sari-clad
women from his lectures.  There was Tom, a dark-haired young man who
was as tall as Atmananda and who seemed easygoing.  There was Sal, a
balding young man who seemed intense.  There were other Chinmoy
disciples milling around, but the Stony Brook group stuck together.

I expected the conversation would be spiritual, seeing as how we had
just meditated with a fully enlightened guru.  To my surprise,
Atmananda and Tom recalled an episode from The Twilight Zone.

"And he totally disappeared."

"Into the fifth dimension."

"Yeah, he really got zapped."

That night, when I got home, I wondered if Atmananda should have been
more meditative.  But I recalled that Don Juan often acted absurd,
funny, and irreverent.  He did so to balance the utter seriousness of
The Path, as well as to shake up Castaneda's pre-conceived notions of
what it meant to be a seeker.  "Besides," I thought, quoting Atmananda,
"who says spirituality can't be fun?"

The following week, I wondered if Chinmoy would accept me as his
disciple.  I asked my brother what my odds were.

"If you are drawn to Guru," he said, "the chances are you have studied
with him in past lives.  But if he sees that he's not the right teacher
for you, he'll guide you inwardly to the right one."

I wanted to believe what my brother and Atmananda had been telling me.
I wanted to believe that the Guru installed disciple-specific,
invisible channels through which peace, light, and bliss could, if the
disciple were receptive, inwardly flow.  Yet I was not sold on the
theory of reincarnation.  Nor was I convinced that Atmananda was fully
accurate when he claimed that Chinmoy was the Cosmic Boatman, an avatar
[incarnation of a Hindu deity], and the most advanced soul ever to have
incarnated anywhere in the entire universe.

"Why would the messiah live in Jamaica, Queens?"  I wondered.  But then
I felt bad.  After all, the Buddha and Christ probably didn't live in
such fancy neighborhoods either.  I also realized that my doubts were
based on the premise of rationality, the very nature of which Atmananda
had taught me was limited, flawed, and often destructive.  "I suppose
Chinmoy *could* be the Cosmic Boatman," I told myself as part of a

Days later, after one of Atmananda's public lectures, I grew curious
about my earlier vision of the snow.  I asked Atmananda to explain.

"Your third eye chakra is opening up a bit," he explained
matter-of-factly. "You are seeing into another world.  It is not
unusual to have this type of experience if you have meditated in past

"Thanks, Atmananda!"  I said.

"Sure, kid," he said, suggesting that I sit back and enjoy the process.

Except for occasional doubts, I had been enjoying the process.  I
enjoyed hanging out with the Stony Brook disciples.  They were not only
fellow seekers, but they seemed to have a good time.  Atmananda, in
particular, was fun to be around.  He sometimes made me feel important
and powerful.  I enjoyed his lectures, during which he quoted The
Bhagavad-Gita, The Bible, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Star Wars,
Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Thoreau, Roethke, and Carlos Castaneda.  One
time he even recited my favorite passage from the Castaneda books, the
one about traveling on paths that have heart.

Now convinced that I had found a home in Atmananda's world, I decided
to seek initiation from Chinmoy.

My mother knew that my involvement with the group was intensifying.
She had been trying to get me to talk to the rabbi.

"Why should I talk to the rabbi?"  I responded.

"Will you at least listen to what he has to say?"

But I had been listening to the rabbi since my bar mitzvah four years
ago and, frankly, I was not impressed.  A kind and sometimes humorous
man with a keen intellect, the rabbi represented a religion which
seemed less mystical than social.  He struck me as being extremely
reasonable, if not a little dull.  In all the years I studied, sang,
and prayed in his congregation, not once, as I recall, did he capture
my imagination.

"I don't want to talk to the rabbi," I had replied.

Now I told my mother that I wanted to become a disciple.

She grew quiet and pale.

I told her that I had had mystical experiences while meditating with
Chinmoy.  I did not tell her, nor did I acknowledge, that the mystical
experiences mostly occurred after I crossed or squinted my eyes, or
after I gazed at Chinmoy for two minutes or more.  I told her that
Chinmoy was an enlightened guru, and that I respected him greatly.  I
did not tell her, nor did I acknowledge, that my respect--my
reverence--was shaped largely by Atmananda and the other disciples.

I was convinced by these reasons.  So was my brother.  My parents were

"Mark, would you please talk to the rabbi?"

I finally agreed to go.

When my brother, my mother, and I entered the book-filled office, the
rabbi's expression, accentuated by a bulbous nose and glasses, was
anything but humorous.

"Hello, Mrs. Laxer," he said.  "Hello, boys."

"Hello, rabbi."

He asked us if we were getting involved in another religion.

"No, rabbi," explained my brother.  "We are studying spiritual

"We're just learning to meditate," I added.

"I see," he said.  He mentioned an obscure mystical sect within the
Jewish religion known as Cabalism.  But Judaism, he explained, slowly,
as though measuring each word, was based upon laws--not direct
mystical experience.  As he spoke, I recalled that Jewish law had been
passed down through the generations since the time of Abraham and
Isaac.  Chinmoy's teachings, I realized, also stemmed from a tradition
dating back thousands of years.  I found myself picturing Chinmoy and
Atmananda.  "They are such colorful characters," I thought.

I glanced at the rabbi.  He was saying something about the dangers of
mind control.  "The rabbi is so... plain," I decided.  I felt certain
that he had never read the Castaneda books.

My mother said little during the meeting.  She was hoping that the
rabbi would build for my brother and me a framework through which we
could view our mystical quest.  When the meeting was over, I went home
and stared at the underexposed Transcendental photo of Chinmoy.

The next day I tried to meditate, but my mind dwelt on familiar
thoughts: "As soon as I graduate, I'm going to leave my tired,
depressed father.  I'm going to leave my manipulative, demanding
mother.  I'm going to follow a path with heart, and things are going to
get better."

Meanwhile, my mother had asked if she could attend one of the meetings
with the Guru.

"Sure," I replied.  I felt I had nothing to hide, and I secretly hoped
that she would wish me well on my journey.

Dressed in Western clothes, she went to St. Paul's Chapel that
Wednesday night and sat near the front.  She felt uncomfortable being
surrounded by a sea of whites and saris.  She saw disciples praying to
a short, Indian man dressed in robes.  Her stomach became tense when
the man placed his hand on the forehead of her youngest son.

I stood in front of the chapel, before Chinmoy, squinting.  In the
flickering of the Guru's eyes, I was initiated.  I bowed and turned,
and in the audience I saw my mother.  I quickly looked away.  I saw
myself less as the son of caring, creative, and slightly mixed-up New
York Jews, and more a disciple of the man Atmananda said was perfect.

After initiation, I began to spend less time at home, where I often
heard things like:  "Artie, you talk to your son about what he is
getting involved in."

"Leave me alone!" my father replied, irritably.

"It's a *rotten* family!" my mother declared.

I happily spent time instead with my brother, Atmananda, and the other
Stony Brook Chinmoy disciples.

One time, while camping with my brother in a marsh near Stony Brook, my
calves began to itch.  I tried not to scratch what seemed to be poison
ivy, but must have done so in my sleep because by morning, the rash had

When I went home, my mother applied lotion to my skin.  The next day,
she asked if I was better.

"Yup," I said and left for school.  Confident that my skin would heal
on its own, I did not want to make a fuss over the red bumps which now
covered most of my body.  Yet later that day in writing class I had to
sto...p reading a poem becau...se I could no...t get the words out, and
my mother arrived and rushed me to the hospital.  After a shot of
adrenaline caused the puffy, quarter-sized blotches to shrink, the
doctor pointed out that had I not been treated in time, I might have
been suffocated by the growing bump in my throat.

"How odd to have a near-death experience so soon after my spiritual
initiation," I thought.  I asked the doctor what he thought had nearly
killed me.  "Perhaps you had an allergic reaction to something you
ate," he said.  But after various food groups were one by one
reintroduced into my diet, the cause of the hives remained hidden.

I asked Atmananda what he thought had nearly killed me.  "It is no
coincidence," he said mysteriously.  "Whenever you make genuine
spiritual progress, the Negative Forces in the universe try and hold
you back.  But don't worry.  When you are attacked by the Forces, just
think of Guru."

I did think of Guru.  I often doubted, though, that nefarious,
non-physical Entities from beyond the world of reason were getting
underneath my skin.  I recalled that Don Juan tricked Castaneda into
pursuing the path to knowledge, and wondered if Atmananda's explanation
was a ploy to maneuver me closer to Guru.  But because I sought
adventure, challenge, and entrance into the metaphysical worlds of Don
Juan, Obi-Wan-Kanobi, Chinmoy and Atmananda, I willfully suspended my
disbelief.  I also suspended my plans to hitchhike west.  After reading
a speech at my high school graduation, I said good-bye to friends and
family, and bought a one-way ticket east to Stony Brook.

4.  The Community

"Hello... Atmananda?" said my brother into the phone.  Then he winced
and hung up.

"Well?"  I asked.

"I have to call him back," he replied sheepishly.

"How come?"

"He said I didn't have the right spirit."

He dialed again.  "Halllooooooo, Atmanaaaaaaanda!" he bellowed.  This
time, Atmananda gave him directions to the party.

Weeks before, Atmananda gave me permission to attend his
parties--provided that I did not "vibe" the women.

"Don't look at them as women," my brother had suggested, quoting
Chinmoy and Atmananda.  "Look at them as seekers.  When you look at
them as women, it hurts their evolution."

I assured him I would try.

After I moved to Stony Brook, I started going to Atmananda's parties
regularly.  At one party my brother and I arrived at Tom's house, left
our sneakers by the door, and went inside.  Atmananda, Sal, Anne, Tom,
and a few other disciples stood in the kitchen.  They looked
bewildered.  The air smelled charred.  Black, gooey gobs darkened the
floor.  Atmananda was not talking.  Something was wrong.

When Anne had lit the stove moments before, an explosion singed her
hair and propelled chocolate and marshmallow covered graham crackers
across the room.  Now, as we cleaned the mess, Atmananda began to speak.

"Guru protected us from the Negative Forces," he said in a rich,
lulling voice.

I told myself that the explosion had probably more to do with the gas
being left on than it did with Guru and the Forces.

"The Negative Forces want to hurt Guru's mission," Atmananda continued
grimly.  "But they know not to challenge an avatar directly.  Instead,
they go after his disciples--particularly those wide open to doubt."

For months I had grappled with the concept of Negative Forces.  Perhaps
they existed, I told myself, perhaps they did not.  In either case, I
did not take them seriously.  Now, though, I tried to imagine what they
looked like.  I pictured massive, menacing storm clouds in a dark,
foreboding sky.  I imagined the "clouds" were aware of my current
thoughts.  Suddenly the clouds seemed real.  I felt jolted.  I looked
around the room.  I sensed the disciples had taken Atmananda's caveat
seriously.  My stomach felt taut.  I thanked Chinmoy silently.

Atmananda had meanwhile flipped to a less somber mood.  "One of the
best ways to combat the Forces," he said, "is to have fun." So we went
out to eat.

At an Italian restaurant during one party, Atmananda suddenly slapped
Sal on the back and, adopting the voice of the Godfather, cried, "Heyyy
Sal!  You plenty-fine kinda guy!"

"Sure I'm plenty-fine, but I'm also plenty-hungry!" Sal replied with an
equally zesty accent, but without slapping him back.

Atmananda then denounced Sal for rescuing a maiden who had been held
against her will in "a large vat of ravioli."

"What's wrong with that?"  I asked.

"Sal, tell the baby what'sa wrong with that."

Until now I had enjoyed their antics, but the transition from being the
editor-in-chief of my high school paper to "the baby" felt awkward.
Yet at seventeen, I was the youngest in the group, the average age of
which was twenty-one. Atmananda was twenty-seven.  And I had learned
from Chinmoy and Atmananda that humility was the quintessential
spiritual quality.  Besides, I loved the attention.

Sal replied that rescuing maidens was wrong because he should have been
at home meditating.

I looked again at Sal, a twenty-year-old with a large, creased
forehead.  He had studied computer engineering first at CalTech, and
now at Stony Brook.  He also studied guitar and drama.  He cradled the
eggplant parmigiano hero lovingly in his hands and closed his eyes
before each bite, as if bracing for the next dose of ecstasy.

"Observe the maestro chow hound," Atmananda announced.

We laughed.

Sal had apparently adjusted to his role as chow hound.  He continued to
eat as if nothing happened.

"If only Sal could focus on the Infinite rather than on the eggplant,"
Atmananda noted, "he would be the first among us to realize God."

It was fun eating out with Atmananda.  After dinner, we often continued
the fun and the fight against the Forces at the movies.

One time, Atmananda took us to Warlords of Atlantis.  He bought five
buckets of heavily buttered popcorn, Tabs, Cokes, diet Cokes, boxes of
licorice, Sno-caps, and Raisinetes.  Then, from the fourth
row--Atmananda claimed that four was a power number--we watched a film
which, at the time, seemed extraordinary.

Atmananda sat by the aisle of the nearly empty theatre.  He whispered
something to Sal, who told Tom, who told my brother, who told me:
"Atlantis was once a real city."

"Atlantis was a real city," I told Anne, who told Dana, who told
Suzanne.  Meanwhile, juxtaposed at an intersection of transmigrating
junk food, I further divided my attention between monitoring what
needed to be passed, trying not to notice the women, and watching a man
on the screen discover a lost world of magic and conflict under the sea.

"We all had past lives in Atlantis."

"We had past lives there."  Pass the Raisinetes.  A hidden city of
magicians, seers, and warriors, where the laws of physics do not apply.

"We were together then."

"We were together."  Pass the napkins.  Crystals have a non-physical

"Atlantis was destroyed by the greed of its inhabitants."

"Atlantis was destroyed by greedy people."

Afterwards, we drove back to Tom's and caught the last few minutes of
The Twilight Zone.  It was late.  I was getting sleepy.  Atmananda
began to repeat how Guru had saved us from stove-demolishing Entities.
I entered a state of mind where I heard his words, but did not
scrutinize them.  Fifteen or twenty minutes later, he suggested that we
meditate on the Transcendental which Tom placed on a table by the

In the months that followed, Atmananda accepted me into his inner
circle of friends.  But not every encounter with him, I quickly
learned, was a party.

* * *

One morning Atmananda emerged from his cottage in Stony Brook carrying
a thick stack of posters.  Bluejays, doves, sparrows, and chickadees
flocked around a feeder.  Sal, Paul, my brother, and I stood nearby.
Atmananda approached, but the little birds remained.

"Ellaow," he said in a Cockney accent.

"Ellaow," we echoed.

"WHAT... is your name!" he demanded, quoting from the movie Monty Python
and the Holy Grail.

"Sir Waff-noid," offered Sal.

"WHAT... is your quest!"

"I seek the higher worlds."

"WHAT... were you thinking about last night at 11:30!"

Sal blushed.

"Alas, my lad," said Atmananda, patting him on the shoulder.  "You
won't reach the higher worlds thinking about that."

Atmananda showed us a poster.  It read:  "ECSTASY AS A WAY OF LIFE."
Also printed were details about a free lecture series, "With
Atmananda-Dr. Frederick Lenz."  But before he sent us to Manhattan,
Atmananda inspired us, told us how to protect ourselves, how to change.

"Guru's mission," he said in a pacifying voice, "is to bring peace,
light, and bliss into a world that is rapidly heading towards darkness."

I realized that it was largely through Atmananda's lectures, and
through his appearances on radio and television--including a recent
appearance on the Phil Donahue Show--that Chinmoy's mission was being
spread.  I felt important that I was a part of the operation.

"Your task is to see where to place the posters so that they will be
noticed by advanced seekers.  To do this you will need to maintain a
very high state of consciousness."

We nodded solemnly.

"If you run into religious fanatics, be polite but firm.  Do not let
them engage you in conversation."

We nodded again.

"By postering, you are helping Guru bring light into this world.  But
Negative Forces will sense this and will try to inject you with doubts.
If you are attacked by the Forces, cry inwardly to Guru."

I was not too worried about non-physical creatures on the prowl.  I had
a great deal of self-confidence, I assumed the Guru would protect me,
and I wasn't convinced that Atmananda's ghosts were real.

"I see that many will be helped as a result of today's efforts--
provided that Sal can muster the willpower to work and not just eat,"
he said, smiling warmly.  "And don't forget to have a good time."

We meditated a moment.

"Guru put a special force on the posters," Atmananda said, breaking the
silence and handing the stack to my brother.  Then he strutted around
us in a "silly walk" which I recognized from a Monty Python skit.


"Cheeriao," we echoed, waddling down the driveway, imitating his
imitation.  On the way to the train station, his words reverberated in
my mind: the path, spiritual, awareness, see, sea of consciousness,
dream-time, vibrations, energy, chakra, subtle, metaphysical, pyschic,
unseen forces, traps, Entities, light, and darkness.  The language
defined for me a world in which I chose at each moment between good and
evil.  Put that way, there was not much of a choice.  I believed now
that ours was a pure and noble quest, and that I was a warrior of
Truth, not a casualty of rhetoric.

On the train ride into the city, I sat next to Paul, a happy-go-lucky
Swede with blond hair, a broad grin, and a magnet-like attraction for
devices that were electronic.  We both were Stony Brook freshmen who
had learned about Chinmoy through Atmananda's lectures.  We both sensed
that there was something out there beyond the surface world of reason.
We both intended to do something about it.

"What's the penguin doing on the tehlee?" he quipped, quoting from
Monty Python.  Green and grey scenes of Long Island sped by through the
train's window frame.

"The penguin on the tehlee," I squawked, "is about to blow up!"

"Tickets, tickets," announced the conductor.  "All tickets please!"

I remembered how, as a kid, I rode the trains without paying.  I had
stayed ahead of the ticket collector, gotten off when I reached the
front car, and then caught the next train...  But now I no longer
believed in free rides.  It did not matter that the Ultimate
Destination could not, according to Atmananda, be described using
words.  I still felt that I should pay to get there.  By postering I
was not only paying for myself, but was affording thousands the
opportunity to be taken for a ride of their own.  I handed the
conductor my ticket.

My brother and Sal sat across from us.  Their backs were straight,
their eyes closed.  I too tried to meditate, but could not.  Instead, I
thought about my parents.  I had followed Atmananda's suggestion and
told them that I was studying spiritual mysticism.  Nonetheless, they
seemed convinced that their sons were getting sucked into a cult.  I
was sensitive to their reaction to me and intentionally saw them less
as the weeks went by.

I also thought about Chinmoy.  He had instructed followers to memorize
four of his disciple-published books.  I opened one and read, "When you
choose you lose."  Chinmoy, it seemed, believed that major decisions
should be left to the Supreme, his favorite word for what Atmananda
called the Infinite, which the Rabbi had referred to as God.

"Help, Guru!"  I thought, doubting I could memorize the numerous
aphorisms without divine intervention.

"Penn Station, Penn Station," came the reply.  "Last stop!"

We left the train and were funneled onto the escalator by the crowd.
Paul and my brother headed uptown on Third Avenue, while Sal and I
worked Second Avenue.  Dodging cars, bicycles, and more crowds, we
entered a supermarket and found the manager.

"Excuse me, sir," Sal said sweetly.  "We are sponsoring a workshop on
relaxation and were wondering if we could place this in your window."

"One of the posters is already outdated," I pointed out.  "So we won't
have to take up more of your window space."

The manager looked us over, glanced at the poster, and nodded.

"Thanks," we said and quickly placed two, back to back, visible to
people inside and out.  After several hours we had placed more than
half the stack.

Postering with Sal boosted my confidence in asking favors from
strangers.  Soon, though, we decided to work opposite sides of the
street to increase our efficiency.  I found that by acting polite and a
bit shy, I could easily persuade store owners to say yes.  The more I
spread the word of Guru's mission, to people in stores and on the
street, the more I believed in it.  And the more I believed, the more I
wanted to spread the word of Guru's mission...

When Sal and I ran out of posters, we crossed over to Third Avenue, met
Paul and my brother, and caught the subway to Penn Station.  I was
tired from the postering.  I found the repetitive clatter and
vibrations of the train soothing.  I found it easy to meditate.  I
could have thought about how Atmananda had been teaching me
how-to-hunt-and-how-not-to-be-hunted. I could have thought about how
those who teach how-to-hunt-and-how-not-to-be-hunted can easily prey
upon those whom they teach.  I could have thought about how, by asking
Atmananda to take me beyond the world of reason, I was hunting him.  I
could have thought about how he was hunting me.  But I just sat there
and let my thoughts run free.

That year, Sal, Paul, Tom, my brother, and I placed thousands of
posters in Manhattan.  Working with Anne, Dana, and Suzanne, we also
distributed thousands of handouts on the Stony Brook campus.  Sometimes
we worked in sub-freezing temperatures.  Once Atmananda had us glue
posters on buildings in Manhattan in the middle of the night.  I did
not mind.  I tended to enjoy the effort, in part because I believed we
were doing some good, because we had plenty of time to pursue other
interests (in January, 1979, I began studying English literature at
Stony Brook), and because as hard as we worked, we played.

* * *

"The Muppet Movie?"  I asked after another full day of postering.
"Starring Kermit-the-Frog?"

"Trust me," Atmananda replied.

Trust was the bridge to Atmananda's world, a peculiar, improbable place
where it snowed inside buildings in Manhattan in the spring, where
invisible beings threatened a guru's mission by blowing up stoves, and
where people were hunters or hunted or both.  It felt natural to trust
a man who treated me with kindness, who exuded an aura of competency
and of vulnerability, and who seemed wholeheartedly dedicated to the
cause of self-improvement.

We met at a theatre where we ate popcorn and candy in the fourth row.
I told Atmananda that the postering had gone well.  The lights faded
and the movie began.

A Hollywood agent on a fishing trip strikes up a conversation with
Kermit-the-Frog. The agent is impressed with him and suggests that he
move west, to Hollywood.

Though seemingly content in his East Coast swamp, Kermit is taken by
the agent's prediction that, as a movie star, he could make millions of
people happy.  "Make millions of people happy," echoes the starry-eyed

The scene reminded me of my former plan to hitchhike west on a mystical
quest.  The plan seemed less glamorous now because I had already found
a teacher and because of Atmananda's prediction.  He often told me that
had he not rescued me from that path I would have been shot by bandits
and tossed in a ditch.  Perhaps, though, the former plan would have
regained some momentum had I known about, and had I analyzed, the
problems currently fouling the air between Chinmoy and Atmananda.

One problem was sex.  Chinmoy, who taught that higher consciousness lay
above the sweaty world of physical pleasure, often instructed us to
avoid members of the opposite sex whenever possible.

In contrast, Atmananda told me, "I once had several girlfriends at the
same time--each named Susan."

There was the problem of ego.  Chinmoy emphasized over and over the
importance of humility.

Atmananda often pointed out, to his inner circle of friends, that in a
past life he was Sir Thomas More.

There was the problem of cinema.  Guru prohibited the viewing of
sexually explicit or violent movies.

Atmananda had his own view, which was to see them.  As a result, I got
to see such films as Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dawn of the Dead, and
Apocalypse Now.

There was the problem of expression of individuality.  In an attempt to
merge with the Beyond, many disciples decorated their often sparse
homes with Guru's paintings, posters, and photographs.

In contrast, Atmananda's plushly carpeted, colorful cottage, gave me
the sense that he rearranged the space until the lines connecting the
physical and non-physical dimensions meshed nicely.  By the front door,
two ferns thrived beside an electronic synthesizer.  By a stained-glass
window hung a photograph of Atmananda with a toucan on his shoulder.
"The toucan died," he once told me, "but its soul is advanced and will
soon take on a human incarnation." Multi-colored rug segments covered
the stairs to the loft, where a larger-than-life Transcendental stared
down from the slanted ceiling, directly over his bed.

And there was the problem that Stony Brook disciples learned the
language of spirituality and of dreams less from Chinmoy than Atmananda.

Able to speak at length about anything and nothing, Atmananda often
did.  For him, reality seemed to consist of an infinite number of
levels which were interconnected in obvious and in not so obvious ways.

"Words are used to describe these levels but are extremely limited," he
explained.  Nonetheless, I often found myself tripping on his words
from the world of the bizarre to the world of the sensible, and back
again.  I became familiar with the diversity of his language during his
lectures and, perhaps more so, during his parties.

"Auuuuummmmmmmmmmmmm," he chanted after a twenty-five minute meditation
at the start of one party.  He slowly bowed and touched his forehead to
the floor which is where he sat, along with the rest of us.  Then the
Stony Brook disciples stoked the fireplace, set the tablecloth on the
floor, grated cheese, and emptied bags of tortilla chips.  I watched
the disciples work.  Only months had passed since the exploding stove
episode, and yet I felt close to them.  There was Atmananda.  He was
orchestrating the festivities.  He had brought us all together.  There
was my brother.  He looked happy.  He did not seem to mind me tagging
along.  There was Sal.  His intense nature seemed balanced by a
fabulous sense of humor.  There was Tom, the tall, easygoing bass
guitar player.  He would soon receive a degree in history from Stony
Brook.  He seemed to be good friends with Atmananda.  And there was
Paul.  He and I were becoming friends.

Then there were the women.  According to Guru, I was not even supposed
to look them in the eye.  I tried to protect them from my wayward
sexual thoughts but sometimes, in my imagination, I did more than just
look.  Then I felt bad.  I was told that they would now have to
meditate extra hard to cleanse themselves of such "lower energy." I
wished that we could be friends.  They seemed so nice.

Rachel, with light brown hair and perceptive eyes, was closer in age to
Atmananda than the rest of us.  She had completed medical school in
three years and become a disciple in 1978, two months after attending
Atmananda's lectures at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan.

Dana, a one-time fashion model, had been an occupational therapy major
at Canada's McGill University.  She first met Atmananda while
interviewing him for the campus radio station.  After the interview,
which touched on Atmananda's book Lifetimes:  True Accounts of
Reincarnation, he invited her to visit him in Stony Brook.  Shortly
thereafter she left her boyfriend, family, school, and country.  She
moved to Stony Brook, just around the block from the charismatic young
meditation teacher and author.

Connie was a waitress with long dark braids, a Midwesterner's
friendliness, and a cheeky smile.

Suzanne had long brown hair and dreamy eyes.  She studied art at the
Parson's School of Design in Manhattan.

And Anne, with long, black hair and that playful, impish grin, was
studying to be a nurse.

I turned back to watch Atmananda.  "Don't think that spirituality is
divorced from the physical world," he was saying as he reached for a
chip.  "After you meditate a few years, you begin to see that Annam
Brahma--food is God."  He then set the chips-and-cheese-laden tray in
the oven.

Sal observed intently, as though witnessing a ritual.

Soon Atmananda and Sal were delivering trays of crunchy nachos.  I
garnished mine with sour cream to alleviate the delicious,
consciousness-altering burn of the hot sauce.  As we ate, I felt proud
that I had managed to stop thinking about the women.  Then I had to
tell myself to be careful, lest my ego swell instead.  Finally, I told
myself to relax.  Which I did.  The food, the crackling fireplace, and
the medieval trumpet and recorder music reminded me of something
distant, intangible, and noble.  My spirit soared.

"The kid and I are going to write some songs for you," Atmananda

I looked at him, perplexed.  After all, I was no longer "the baby" but
"the kid."

He motioned for me to follow him upstairs.

I immediately assumed that my brother would be right beside me when I
climbed those stairs:  him first and then me.  But he just sat there,
boosting my confidence with a faraway smile.

I nearly told Atmananda to write the song with my brother.  Instead, I
chose instead to go with the flow.  I climbed.

"If you are going to study English," Atmananda told me, "you might as
well get used to putting together words."  He grinned mischievously.
"Let's write songs about Sal."

At first, he was the driving force behind the creative process; I
merely smiled at each of his ideas.  Later, though, I came up with a
few lines of my own, which seemed to blend with his, and after about
forty-five minutes we marched triumphantly downstairs and sang together.

                    Soul of Sal
                    (sung to the tune of O Sole Mio)

                    Ohhhh, soul of Sal,
                    Aspire tonight.
                    Don't be a shmuck-o,
                    Manifest Light.
                    Tomorrow--may be too late,
                    Now is never,
                    My gazpacho, she cannot 'a wait.

                    Now is the right time,
                    The food delight time,
                    So open up 'a you mouth,
                    And face the south.

                    Tomorrow--may be too late,
                    Now is never,
                    My gazpacho, she cannot 'a wait.

We sang and danced around Sal, who tried to maintain a dignified
countenance but who ended up laughing along with the rest of us.  Then
Rachel made cinnamon-spiced, hot apple cider and we sat around the fire
sipping the brew.  Later, Atmananda sang a revised version of I Don
Quixote from Man of La Mancha:

                 Hear me heathens and wizards
                 and servants of sin,
                 All your dastardly doings are past,
                 For a holy endeavor is now to begin,

                 I am I Atmananda--the humble and pure!
                 My destiny calls and I go,
                 And the wild winds of fortune
                 shall carry me onward,
                 Oh whither soever they blow.

                 Whither soever they blow,
                 Onward to glory I go!

After the performance, Atmananda said that the level of our
consciousness was dropping, so he had us meditate for about twenty
minutes.  Then he said, "We are going to play The Game."

"What game?"  I asked, feeling bolder after having performed with him.

"Part of The Game," he replied cryptically, "is to figure out what The
Game is."

"The Game is The Intuition Game," said Sal.  "You want us to intuit


I wondered if Sal could read Atmananda's mind.

"Some of you think that you can read my mind," Atmananda said, peering
at Sal.  "But you can read only those thoughts that I make available to

Sal had intuited that we had to intuit something but we still did not
know what it was.

"Is it about the past?" asked Anne.

"When you intuit The Truth you get an answer, not a question,"
Atmananda stated.

"It's about the future," stated Dana.


"You want us to look into the future," she continued.

He nodded.

"I see you traveling around the world giving lectures," she predicted.

"Many seekers will become disciples as a result of your talks," offered

"Guru will be happy with us," suggested Anne.

"We're going to put up a lot of posters," I added.

Atmananda said that we had done well but were forgetting something

We looked at him expectantly.

Then, in his Kermit-the-Frog voice, he said, "We're going to make
millions of people happy."

"Make millions of people happy," I echoed.

Chinmoy seemed willing to look the other way when Atmananda, his chief
recruiter, disregarded his etiquette on sex, ego, cinema,
individuality, and language.  But his patience ran out in 1979, when a
Queens disciple informed him that Atmananda was "playing guru."
Actually, it had been several months since Atmananda had made it a
practice to scan the audience during the meditation part of his talks,
as if he were channeling Divine Light.  But now Chinmoy saw the light,
and Atmananda was in immediate danger of being kicked out of the Centre.

When Atmananda learned of his predicament, he had an idea.  Fond of
temperate climates, he had been wanting for years to move back to his
birthplace, sunny southern California.  This dream had recently
reasserted itself in his mind as the number of people attending his
talks gradually dwindled, which he attributed to a diminishing interest
in spirituality in the New York metropolitan area.  But suddenly the
idea of starting a Chinmoy Centre in a distant city seemed less of a
dream than a necessity.  He wrote Guru a letter asking if he could move
to San Diego.

Chinmoy consented.

Weeks later, the phone rang.  It was Atmananda.

I offered to find my brother.

"No," he said, "I want to speak with you.  Why don't you come over?"

He lived about a quarter of a mile from my apartment in Stony Brook.  I
jogged down Cedar Street and knocked on his door.

"Hi, kid.  Make yourself at home."  He offered me a yogurt.

I accepted.

He told me that he was starting a Centre for Guru in La Jolla,
California.  Then, in an enchantingly anesthetizing voice, he explained
that southern California rested upon a mystical power spot around which
had congregated the nation's largest population of spiritual seekers.
"Would you like to go?"

I realized that San Diego--San Diego!--was driving distance to the
Sonoran Desert and to UCLA--Castaneda's frequent haunts!  I remembered
Atmananda telling me that California boasted many lovely, friendly
women!  I realized that such a move would distance me from my parents,
who continued to worry that I was in a cult!  I also realized that such
a move would distance me from Guru.  But I now believed that the Light
would reach me in whichever state I inhabited.  Besides, I sensed that
without Atmananda as a buffer, Chinmoy's highly regimented brand of
spirituality would be difficult, if not impossible, for me to conform

And what a buffer Atmananda was!  I pictured him striding about with
his chin jutting forward, exuding that aura of confidence; joking and
singing, inspiring and enlivening us; challenging our intellects with
the known and unknowable; framing and reframing the way in which we
viewed the world; and generating mystical experiences--not on his own,
of course, but with the Guru's Spiritual Light.

"Yes!"  I replied, without considering the feelings of my brother, who
continued to support me in my quest with a faraway smile.  I was proud
that Atmananda had chosen me to be part of his team.  I did not know,
however, that he had embellished stories in his book Lifetimes.  Nor
did I know that he had told the San Francisco Examiner that he never
experienced a past life remembrance.  Nor did I know that he had once
asked a girlfriend to slip out the window when another appeared at the
door.  Nor that he had recently been in deep trouble with Chinmoy.  Nor
that during the height of the controversy, he had admitted to Tom that
he might leave the Centre before Chinmoy kicked him out.

"What would you do if you left?"  Tom had asked him.

"I'd move to California and teach meditation," Atmananda replied.

On August 30, 1979, Atmananda, Dana, Rachel, Connie, and I left the
ground in a jet bound for San Diego.  In the excitement of packing and
leaving, I had forgotten my wallet and daypack back at my brother's.
Now, without money or ID, I watched rays of light play off darkening
clouds and thought about the frog.

5.  Bicycle Ride--Lenox

The weather had cleared since I had started pedaling west from Walden
Pond five days before, but headwinds continued to press both the
doggie-carrier and bicycle-trailer as if I were tugging a parachute.
Contributing little to the weight of the rig was a book by William
Shirer on Mahatma Gandhi.  Disillusioned, but not yet ready to live
without heroes, I actively sought a replacement for Atmananda.

I rode over the mountains of western Massachusetts and rolled into the
town of Lenox.  There a woman noticed the oddness of my entourage and
asked, "What exactly is going on?"

"I am bicycling across America with my dog," I replied.

Ten minutes later she was interviewing me in a nearby cafe.  She was a
reporter for the Berkshire Eagle, and, as I answered her questions, I
thought about how I would answer when she asked me "why?"  I realized
it was more than a love for bicycling, more than a longing for
adventure, and more than a desire to strengthen my self-confidence that
propelled me west.  I wanted time to think about Atmananda's thousands
of lessons, some of which I sensed were valid and some of which I knew
were not.

There was another reason:  I wanted to do something distinctly *me*.
Bicycling across a continent against the prevailing winds with all my
possessions and a Siberian husky--that was *me*.

"Why?" she asked later.

I tempered my answer with the knowledge that I was being interviewed by
a journalist and not a shrink.  At one point I told her that I was
traveling with a book on Gandhi.

"Do you like it?" she asked.

While reading the book I felt proud that Gandhi had been deeply
influenced by Thoreau's essay "Civil Disobedience," proud that a
thinker and experimenter from the United States had had an effect on
one from India whose thoughts and experiments affected humankind.  But
it was more than pride which attracted me to Shirer's Gandhi: A Memoir.
Gandhi's dream of helping the masses reminded me of Atmananda's seeming
interest in making millions of people happy.  While Gandhi wielded
influence over two-thirds of a billion people as he helped India secure
independence, never did he grow twisted by the enormity of his own
power, never did he betray the public trust.  Though Atmananda
eloquently described the balance between the spiritual and the mundane,
I knew from years of firsthand experience--yet found it difficult to
admit--that a Mahatma Gandhi he was not.

"I like the book very much," I replied.

"Would you like to meet Shirer?" she offered.

William L. Shirer was the only correspondent sent by an American
newspaper to cover India's revolution.  He gathered that Gandhi's
philosophy encompassed more than civil disobedience, passive
resistance, non-cooperation and non-violence, but "had to do also with
something more subtle--and fundamental:  the search for truth, for the
essence of the spirit... " Insights such as this made him seem
particularly suited to investigate so complex and sensitive a matter as
India's social, political, and spiritual ferment.  Shirer was also the
author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi
Germany.  As I knocked on his door, I hoped that with his knowledge of
benevolent and malevolent charismatic leaders, he could help me to
understand Atmananda.

I wanted to tell Shirer that I had seen Atmananda's seemingly
tight-knit community transform into a group of fearful, paranoid
people.  I wanted to tell him that I had seen Atmananda himself
transform from a seemingly kind and noble seeker into a man who used
anti-psychotic drugs and LSD as tools of persuasion, who--without the
use of drugs--persuaded one woman to leave her husband and newborn
child, who dreamt of filling stadiums and of starting a world religion,
who claimed to be the anti-Christ, and who spoke repeatedly of taking
the inner circle for a ride in a Learjet into a mountain.  I wanted to
tell Shirer how, in 1984, I had helped Atmananda through a bad LSD trip
and how, as he was "coming down," I had observed his opposing
personalities reassert themselves.  I wanted to tell him that Atmananda
seemed to be getting progressively worse.  And I wanted to tell him how
Atmananda had persuaded one disciple that he and I would be forever
locked in a battle over mystical power.  The disciple was my brother.

When Shirer answered the door his large, bright forehead and serene
countenance made him appear intellectually and spiritually advanced,
and I had an uncanny feeling that something of the Mahatma himself
peered out at me through those eighty-three-year-old eyes.

"What can I do for you?" he asked me.

"I wanted to tell you that I'm enjoying your book," I said, suddenly
aware that he might not want to discuss the extremities of human nature
with a total stranger.  I told him about the bike trip, his book on
Gandhi, and the reporter.  But he was busy preparing for a lecture tour
of Russia and had no time to talk.  I thanked him, got back on my
bicycle, and left.

I pictured Shirer as a young man, contemplating the life and lessons of
Mahatma Gandhi.  I also pictured him observing uniformed men with
swastikas, bent on genocide.  I imagined him accepting both good and
bad in people, for only by cultivating acceptance did I imagine him
harvesting peace.  But I realized, as I pedaled north, that I would
have to learn to distinguish between the nurturing and noxious roots
Atmananda had sown in my mind without Shirer's help.  This was
something I would have to do for myself.

I continued to ride towards Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with Frank, a
childhood friend.  Tall, with messy red hair, he was an expert car
mechanic though he never made much money.  This was in part because he
was a slow worker, because he had little self-confidence, and because
people took advantage of him.

"How's work going?"  I asked him.

"Okay, I suppose."

I knew that he was making less than six dollars an hour.  "Have you
thought about looking for a higher paying job?" I asked.

He shrugged.

"You know you're being ripped off."

He shrugged again.  We had been through this conversation before.  I
wanted to teach Frank that he was like a sitting duck, that he could
protect himself, that he could change--suddenly I froze.  I remembered
that Atmananda had taught us that we were like sitting ducks, that we
could protect ourselves, that we could change...

6.  The Garden

Southern Californians have been exposed to more New Age teachers than
perhaps any population in the United States.  Yet the forty or so
people seemed unprepared for Atmananda, who strode into the lecture
hall twenty minutes late, with a can of diet soda in one hand and a
pack of green gum in the other.

I assumed that many of the Birkenstock-clad seekers drank natural fruit
juice and did not chew gum.

"This evening I'd like for you all to hold hands and be like reeeally
mellowwww," said Atmananda, mimicking the way some people spoke in San
Diego's flourishing holistic community.

There was tense laughter.  A few people left.

"Those who take themselves too seriously on the path to enlightenment,"
Atmananda said in a more dignified tone, "tend not to get very far."

I felt good knowing that I did not take myself too seriously.

"From the spiritual point of view," he said later on, "eating junk food
is fine--as long as you do so in moderation and as long as you exercise

Jaws dropped.  I figured that many of them ate unprocessed rice and

When the meditation began, Atmananda played fast-paced electronic music
by Tangerine Dream.

More jaws dropped.  I surmised that many of them meditated to flute and
chime melodies.

During the meditation, Atmananda briefly gazed at each person in the
audience, as if he were sending them Spiritual Light.

I closed my eyes... tried to slow my thoughts... opened my eyes... gazed
intensely at Atmananda... perceived light emanating from his
eyes!... kept gazing without blinking... perceived the entire room go
white!... .

"How many of you saw Light in the room?" he asked several minutes later.

No response.

"Be honest now."

I raised my hand.

"Why don't you describe what you saw, Mark?"

I did.

"Mark has been studying advanced meditation techniques with us for over
a year.  But you don't have to be advanced to have mystical
experiences.  Who--besides Mark--got zapped?"

A few raised their hands.

"I think you all got so blasted," Atmananda said, "that you don't know
what hit you."

After the talk, many of the people came forward with questions.  I
wanted to watch Atmananda work his charm, but I knew that I had a task
to perform.  Weeks earlier he had instructed me, "If you see a guy at a
workshop trying to pick up a lady, move right in and engage him in
conversation.  This will give her the opportunity to walk away and
maintain a high level of consciousness.

"Do you know what women at the lectures really want?  They want to get
closer to God.  They may think that they want relationships with men.
But if they choose that world, believe me, their inner beings will be

I did not ask how he proposed to relate to them.

"The tricky part," he added, "is to do this without letting either one
know what is going on."  He was silent awhile and I sensed there was
more he wanted to tell me.

"Why don't more women attain enlightenment?" he finally sighed.
"Because they are taught in a male-dominated society to marry, have
children, and serve their husbands.  Traditionally, they have not had
the opportunity to study with an enlightened teacher."

I was moved by the truth that I felt in his words and now, as he
answered questions in the front of the room, I interrupted
conversations with all the speed and savvy I could muster.  People did
not seem to mind.  On the contrary, they seemed to regard me as someone
special, as if I were on The Bus--and they were trying to get on.

With each passing week, Atmananda further opened the audience to the
possibility that they could evolve countless lifetimes by staring at
the underexposed photo of a balding man.  After about a month, he
announced:  "Those who are interested in the advanced side of
self-discovery should ask Mark for a map to the Centre."

"The Centre" was Atmananda's term for the San Diego branch of Chinmoy's
organization.  It was also his term for the house he now shared with me
and the three other Chinmoy disciples.  Atmananda had not needed a map
to the Centre months before, on the day that the five of us moved west.
He had seemed to know the way.  "There's Mission Bay," he said,
pointing to bright green lawns bordering light blue water.  When he
exited the freeway, which he assured us was free, I noticed
ground-cover plants surrounding and dividing the road like armies of
fat green spiders.  On La Jolla Scenic Road, I saw more exotic flora:
tall, cedar-like trees, plants with huge vein-covered leaves, and cacti
with yellow flowers and spiny needles.  I did not know their names.

"At last," boomed Atmananda, pointing to a large shrub which drooped
like a wilted phallus.  "We have found the fabled swaaaanso bush!"

I laughed nervously at his fabrication and glanced at Dana, who sat
beside me.  Only minutes ago, she and I had sat outside the San Diego
airport terminal, caressed by a balmy breeze, waiting for Atmananda and
Rachel to rent a car.  It was the first time we had been alone.  My
heart pounded, and I unsuccessfully tried not to watch the way in which
her breasts pressed against her blouse.

She ran her fingers through her hair and smiled at me.

I wanted so much to kiss her, to tell her that she was beautiful, to
love her.  Had I followed my gut feelings, Atmananda might have sent me
back to New York on the next available flight.  But Chinmoy and
Atmananda had explained that sex saps psychic growth.  And I was
concerned that Atmananda and Dana might be in some sort of relationship
already.  Besides, I never had had a girlfriend and was at a loss as to
what to say.  I paused, and Atmananda and Rachel appeared with the
rental car.

Atmananda often displayed an extraordinary sensitivity toward what
people around him were thinking and now, as we approached the Centre
for the first time, I wondered if he had timed his arrival back at the
airport based on my wayward desire.  I also wondered how to diffuse my
crush on Dana.

"Don't worry," I told myself.  "Guru will help me work it out."

Now Atmananda told his passengers that the new Centre was only a few
blocks away.  He had chosen a house on Cliffridge Avenue where, in the
name of the Guru, we would fight evil forces and make millions happy.
Before turning left on Cliffridge, we drove past Nottingham and Robin

The lawns in the neighborhood seemed like tiny golf courses.  Atmananda
pulled into one of the driveways, got out of the car, and said, "Here
we are."  Then he strode down the path as though leading us to his

He claimed the master bedroom which overlooked the garden.  Dana's was
next to his.  Then mine.  Then Connie's. Then Rachel's.

"Welcome to Atmananda's bar and grill," he grinned from behind the
kitchen counter, pretending to serve us.

Adjacent to the kitchen was the meditation room, where Atmananda
planned to conduct weekly meetings for the soon-to-be-recruited Chinmoy
disciples.  From the meditation room I could see the long, narrow yard
and the large, wooden deck which he christened "the flogging platform."
On the steep hill past the deck, legions of spidery plants advanced
imperceptibly toward the garden.

Nearly every day during the first few weeks in San Diego, Atmananda
drove us to La Jolla Shores Beach.  There, he led Rachel, Dana, and me
to where the water was over our heads.  Connie was intimidated by the
Pacific surf and did not immerse herself the way the rest of us did.
With Atmananda's guidance, however, that would soon change.

Two years before, in New York, Atmananda and Tom had tried to swim
across a channel in the Long Island Sound.  Though a strong swimmer,
Tom grew fatigued fighting the swift current, and Atmananda risked his
life to save his friend from being swept to sea.

Now, buoyed by Atmananda's legendary strength, I rode the swells beyond
the breakers to where my feet dangled above the ocean floor.  After
thirty minutes or so, we rode the waves toward the shore.  At this time
Atmananda often disappeared beneath the surface.  We stood there in the
waist-deep water, waiting, watching, and trying to figure out his next
move--when suddenly there was a scream!  Still underwater, Atmananda
had seized and was tickling someone's foot.

Then we sat on the beach, soothed by gentle currents of the
herb-scented air.  I looked to the west.  Blue on blue stretched across
the horizon.  I looked to the east.  White buildings gleamed behind a
row of tall, healthy palms.  I remembered Atmananda's advice: "If you
want to live in a pretty world, just cry inwardly to Guru." I could not
help but feel that I had entered one of Dr. Seuss' fantasy-gardens for

Atmananda drove us back to the Centre, where we gazed for forty minutes
or so at the Transcendental.  Then we ate nachos--a perfect ending, I
thought, to a perfect day.  I was so absorbed in having fun with my new
family, I did not think to contact my parents or my brother.

Several days after we arrived in southern California, Atmananda took us
on a bus tour of the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park.  The guide pointed
to an elephant and said, "This is Peanuts.  Peanuts has been with us
for seven years."

"This guy is making it up as he goes," whispered Atmananda, who seemed
to resent having someone else control the conversation.

The guide pointed to a giraffe.  "This is--"

"Fwazznoid," interrupted Atmananda loudly.

"--and Puzzles has been with us for three years," continued the guide,
trying to ignore the man monkeying around with the four laughing hyenas.

One time during our first few weeks in California, Atmananda saw me
standing on a wall in the yard.  He later told me that he had seen me

"Really?"  I said.

"Yes," he replied.  "I saw your Astral Body hovering over the canyon."


Suddenly, his kind encouragement transmogrified into a cold,
penetrating glare.  I felt he was looking right through me.

"I can see that you still doubt me," he said, turning away.

I was upset with myself.  As usual, he was right.  Yet I sensed there
was something more, something in the way he looked at me...

But he was smiling now.  "Don't let it bother you, kid.  You're doing

"Whew," I thought, happy to forget about it.

Perhaps Atmananda had been happy to forget about it too because he
began giving me other things to think about.  He gave me the task, for
instance, of starting a meditation club at my new school, the
University of California at San Diego (UCSD). He understood that by
controlling a university club, he gained legitimacy, prestige, and
unlimited access to free lecture halls.

I saw no harm in Atmananda's request.  We were, after all, using the
club to help Guru.  So I set out to find three full-time students who
were willing to sign up as the club's officers.

"Hi!"  I said, approaching one student.  "I'm starting a meditation
club and was wondering if you might be interested in helping out."

"What's a meditation club?"

"We're going to have guest lecturers teach Zen and relaxation--you
know, stuff like that."

"Sounds cool, dude, but I'm already relaxed."

"Great--but maybe you could take a moment and help people who are not."
And so, by soliciting signatures from those not particularly interested
in meditation, I became the club's sole proprietor.

Meanwhile, Dana designed, Rachel mostly payed for, and Atmananda
"zapped" the new stack of posters, which I then placed around UCSD, San
Diego State University (SDSU), and the neighboring communities.  The
talks went well, and I soon handed out many maps to the Centre.

Before the potential recruits arrived, Connie spent hours cleaning the
Centre.  According to Atmananda, this was something her soul loved to
do.  My soul, he pointed out, loved to greet people.

"Howdy--I'm Mark!"  I said.

"Hello," she replied.  She was graceful and alluring.  "I'm Mandy."

"This one," I thought, "is gonna need some heavy protecting."

During the lecture, Atmananda predicted that the world would enter a
spiritual dark age in 1985.  "The darkness will last for thousands of
years, and it will become increasingly difficult to meditate and to
think clearly.  Spiritual warriors will need to band together under the
protection of a guru who can fight the Negative Forces and forge a path
toward freedom and Light through a world turned murky and grey."  Then
we had cookies.

After several public meetings at the Centre, Atmananda invited those
who were interested in studying with Chinmoy to stay afterwards.

"What do you do for a living?"  Atmananda asked each of the three.

"I'm a flight attendant," said Mandy.

"I know a few things about flying," Atmananda interjected.

"I cane chairs," said a woman with long, brown hair.

"I cane people," said a man with a crewcut.

"If you sincerely want to take the next step in your spiritual
evolution," Atmananda said, "we will mail your photographs to Guru.
Guru will use his psychic vision to see if you are meant to study with

By the time Chinmoy accepted the flight attendant, the crafts-person,
and the marine, there were many more applicants to be processed.

Despite the intensity of the recruitment drive, Atmananda found time to
assist certain seekers on a one-on-one basis.  Mandy, in particular,
must have exhibited potential because he often spent nights at her

I figured it was okay for Atmananda to sleep with Mandy, though it was
not okay for me to appreciate her beauty.  He was, after all, an
advanced disciple and knew a lot more about these things than I. (He
said on occasion that I could have a girlfriend outside the Centre, but
mostly he said that I shouldn't.) My perceptions might have changed,
however, had I known that he was sleeping with *numerous* women
disciples.  My perceptions also might have changed had I known about
the "Bedroom Incident."

When Atmananda first flew with Rachel to La Jolla in search of a
rental, he chose a house with "good vibes"--but with only four
bedrooms.  He told Rachel that he would take the large bedroom, that
she would take the dining room and living room areas, and that they
would switch.

But he never allowed her to use the living room.  Nor would he switch.
To complicate matters, he often sat outside her makeshift bedroom,
advising disciples through the night and early morning how they could
accelerate their march toward a wordless perfection.

Unlike Atmananda, Rachel had to wake up in the morning and go to work.
After too many nights of too little sleep, she grew tired, angry, and

When Atmananda sensed that she was not her usual, happy self, he did
not openly communicate his displeasure.  Instead, he ignored her.  He
let the other women know that she was in a bad consciousness and should
be avoided whenever possible.  He began to treat her as if she were an

Rachel grew increasingly flustered.  She reached out in her thoughts to
Guru, to family, and to friends.  When Atmananda asked her to move out
of the house, she breathed an exhausted sigh of relief.

In the meantime, without a clue, I studied literature, worked
part-time, read Guru's books, meditated one-and-a-half hours a day,
tried to see, organized poster teams, attended Atmananda's talks, and
immersed myself each day in water over my head.  I felt so good about
my life and the community I was helping to build that it seemed like I
was living in paradise.

7.  Money Mantra

Arriving carless in California, Atmananda thought about continuing his
career as a college professor.  He thought about writing another book.
He even considered going to law school.  Instead, he expanded the Money

The Money Club had started in New York when Atmananda began collecting
from Stony Brook disciples.  We voluntarily gave a few dollars a month
to offset the cost of the posters.

In San Diego, he raised membership dues to four or so dollars a week.
Rachel, who took out loans to help the San Diego Chinmoy Centre get
started, gave much more.  As The Centre rapidly grew, so did the
numbers in Atmananda's club.

"Seekers used to live in monasteries and in caves," Atmananda taught at
Centre meetings.  "But Guru recommends that instead, we live in a city.
This gives us the opportunity to strengthen our psychic defenses and to
better serve humanity.  In order to live in the world, particularly as
your consciousness evolves and as the vibrations of the world grow
darker, you will need money."

Most of the new disciples, though, were UCSD undergraduates; when
Atmananda explained the etiquette of selfless giving--"You can give in
the right way or you can give in the wrong way"--many of us wondered
how we could give in any way.

But Atmananda had an idea.  He suggested that we take out student loans
for more than we actually needed.

"You can then donate the extra amount to a worthy cause," he pointed
out.  "To a genuine spiritual centre, for instance."

It was no coincidence that the Centre's finances improved significantly
after banks issued checks for guaranteed student loans.

Atmananda had another idea.

"Accepting money from your parents is the spiritual thing to do.  Why
not give your parents the opportunity to help?  Why shouldn't they be
given the opportunity to make spiritual progress?"

He even devised a way that we could earn money.

"Why work for five dollars an hour when you could be making twenty?
Work is not supposed to be fun.  Believe me, they would not be paying
you if it was.  Unless you already have a career that you are happy
with, you should study computer science.

"Most of you developed software back in Atlantis, back when computers
were far more advanced than they are today.  Keeping track of all those
variables will help you strengthen your mind.  Besides, programming
pays extremely well after a relatively short period of time."

Atmananda interspersed talk of raising consciousness and money with
stories from the rich world of his imagination.  He told stories, for
instance, about a legendary character that he called "The Gwid."

"The Gwid is close friends with Roshi Megabucks," he said, stroking his
chin and smiling.  "The Gwid leases all of reality to God."

At one Centre meeting, a UCSD anthropology graduate student pointed out
that millions in the world were starving.  "Shouldn't we be doing
something to help?" she asked.

"On the surface," Atmananda replied, "Elizabeth is asking a perfectly
legitimate question.  But if you could see, you would have detected the
underlying hostility in her tone."

The room filled with uneasy silence.

"But that is why we study meditation," he went on.  "We are constantly
striving to perfect our different selves."

He slowly scanned the disciples.  "Many of you send Guru hostile
vibrations in the inner worlds, so don't hide behind your
holier-than-thou facade.  It isn't necessary.  We understand."

He turned back to Elizabeth, his sarcastic pout transforming into a
compassionate smile.  "There are many who are suited for helping the
poor.  What we do here is help people on a higher level." He went on to
provide a framework through which to view poverty.  Each soul, he
explained, chooses the circumstance of its birth so that it can best
work out its karma.

At first, Elizabeth's question struck a chord in me.  But I associated
her question with Atmananda's accusation--that many of us were sending
hostile vibes to Guru.  This made me upset, so I tried to think about
something else.  But there was something else I was trying not to think

"Has anyone noticed that I have been going into advanced states of
consciousness?"  Atmananda had started to ask at the Centre meetings.

At first there had been no response.

"The powers from my past lives are returning," he continued in a
sincere-sounding voice.  "My consciousness is cycling.  Those of you
who can see will easily feel The Change."

Several disciples nodded, as though for the first time they were
feeling The Change.

I knew that if I gazed at him intensely for several minutes, I saw
auras in whichever hue I imagined.  Nonetheless, I had not detected The
Change.  I wanted to maintain complete trust in my mentor, housemate,
and friend.  I told myself that my seeing abilities must not be too

Atmananda then changed the subject.  "The Golden Gwid Card," he said
with a grin, "gives The Gwid and Roshi Megabucks unlimited access to
multi-dimensional, trans-reality banking networks."

Perhaps it was with The Golden Gwid Card in mind that Atmananda asked
me to perform a "task of power."  He instructed me to inspire each of
the several dozen disciples in the Centre to donate money.  "Tell them
that the money will be used to buy me a surprise gift, and tell them
the gift will be a new car."  He suggested that I remind them that he
worked night and day for the good of others, that he was broke because
he gave all his money to the Centre, and that if he concentrated on
making money rather than on helping Guru's mission, he could easily
afford to buy his own car.

"Got it," I said.

"Don't pressure anyone.  If someone does not want to contribute, that's

"Of course!"

"And keep a list of who gave what."

"No pro-blem-mo!" Honored that Atmananda would trust me with such
responsibility, with such a secret, and with so much money, I felt
guilty for not having thought of the idea myself.  I understood that
Atmananda was being a sneak.  But he did work for the good of others
night and day.  And ours was the fastest growing Chinmoy Centre in the
world.  And the Guru's mission would suffer if Atmananda worked a
traditional job.  Besides, I was drawn to the idea of sneaking for a
noble cause.

The disciples gave generously, and Atmananda soon shifted the garage
door opener from Rachel's car, which he had frequently borrowed, to the
glove compartment of his shiny, new Renault LeCar.

Rachel, who had donated generously to the "surprise" gift, felt that
they should share the garage door opener.  She decided that Atmananda
was being unfair and told him so.

The next day, Atmananda instructed Dana to tell Rachel that,
spiritually speaking, she was heading for some serious hot water and
had better apologize quickly.

Unaware of the "Garage Door Opener Incident," I was feeling pretty
good.  I felt even better when Atmananda, who liked the new car,
reminded the Centre of how advanced a soul I really was.  When the
disciples began to treat me with a mellow kind of reverence--a
phenomenon local, perhaps, to southern California--I was thrilled.  I
had an intuitive grasp on how to wield the ad hoc power, but I did not
grasp that it was the power which was actually wielding me.

Meanwhile, Atmananda had added "money collector" to the growing list of
my responsibilities.  This task, he cautioned, was not without its
dangers.  "Money is physically dirty," he said, as though telling me a
secret.  "It also retains and transmits the greed of its handlers.
Always wash your hands after you touch it." But he did not always ask
me to collect it directly.

In 1981, he asked me to inspire Richard, a tall, large-hearted disciple
who owned a raquet-stringing shop in La Jolla.  Richard, who appeared
to love Guru even more than he loved tennis, was on the verge of
purchasing a million-dollar house, which he planned to rent to the
Centre at a bargain rate.

"How's your game coming along?"  I asked him.

"Oh, not too bad I suppose."

"Are you ready to play against Guru?"

"Guru is not going to want to play tennis with me."

"Sure he is.  Only if I were you, I'd let him win every so often."

We laughed.

"How's the deal going?"  I asked.

His gaiety suddenly vanished.  "It almost went through," he said.  "But
someone pulled out at the last minute... again."

"Oh well," I tried.  "Maybe there's someone else who could help."

No response.

"Wouldn't it be great," I continued, "to have the Centre across the
street from UCSD?  Parking sure wouldn't be a problem anymore.  And
picture a meditation room overlooking the ocean--a meditation room
large enough to hold everyone."

He nodded.

"Imagine Guru coming to San Diego and visiting us at the new Centre!"

"That would be nice," he admitted.

"Remember Richard," I added, working in a quote from Atmananda,
"whatever you really want you will get."

"You're right," he said resolutely.  "I'll just keep trying."

After several more setbacks the deal went through, and Atmananda, Dana,
Anne, Tammy, and I moved in.  Atmananda occasionally paced the carpets
of the new Centre, improvising a song from Fiddler On The Roof in which
pious dairyman Tevya aspires for a little wealth from God.

"If I were a realized soul!"  Atmananda began.  "Ahhh yaahtuh daahtuh
daahtuh yaahtuh daahtuh daahtuh daahtuh duhm.  All day long I'd bittih
bittih buhm.  If I were a realized soul!  Ahhh wouldn't have to work
hard... "

Once at the new Centre, Atmananda recited for me the money mantra.

"Ya devi sarva bhutesu ratna rupena sangsthita nastasvai namastvai
namastvai namo nama," he chanted soulfully.

If I could have followed his words down the corridors of time, I would
have seen him--

Ya devi...

Dramatically increasing the cost of public meditation lectures and

... sarva bhutesu...

Charging one thousand dollars a person for weekend desert trips (1987).

... ratna rupena...

Increasing his advertising budget from hundreds (1977) to hundreds of
thousands (1987).

... sangsthita...

Requesting that manditory tuition--which took the place of the
voluntary Money Club--be paid in hundred dollar denominations to avoid
"low vibe" tens and twenties.  Suggesting that followers hold off on
tax payments until "later."  Raising monthly tuition from one hundred
dollars (1982) to approximately thirty-five hundred dollars (1993).

... nastasvai...

Driving a Renault LeCar (1979), a BMW (1981), a 911 Porsche (1982), a
928 Porsche (1983), a turbo Carerra Porsche (1984), a Bentley (1991).
Keeping seven cars at his New York property: three Mercedes Benzes, two
Porsches and two Range Rovers (1991).

... namastvai namastvai...

Renting the Del Mar castle, complete with turrets, a walk-in fireplace,
and a full-court basketball-game-sized living room (1982). Renting in
Malibu what he claimed was Goldie Hawn's house (1983). Spending roughly
nine hundred dollars per night for a hotel suite where his dog enjoyed
a room of its own (1988). Buying a house on Conscience Bay in Old
Field, New York, for about nine-hundred-fifty thousand dollars (1988).
Buying a house in Tesuque, a suburb near Sante Fe, New Mexico, for
about eight-hundred-seventy-five thousand dollars (1990). Spending
approximately one million dollars on each house for electronic security
systems and renovations (1991). Renting Sting's house in Malibu Colony
for about twenty-five thousand dollars a month (1992).

... namo nama.

I spent many happy hours with Atmananda, in the plushly carpeted
meditation room, watching the Pacific Ocean as I listened to him sing
and talk about his dreams.  Deeply believing that millions would be
made happy, I refused to acknowledge that millions would soon be made.
And though I never chanted the money mantra, I helped my housemate who

8.  Fast Leader

In the fall of 1980, Atmananda spoke with the Stony Brook disciples,
who were still in New York, "on an inner level."  He also spoke with
them on the phone.  He told them that Chinmoy was directing a "special
force" toward our new, million-dollar Centre in La Jolla.  He told them
about our now legendary recruitment drive.  He told them about our

These disciples missed Atmananda.  They missed his advice, friendship,
and love.  They missed his extended family.  They missed him coaxing,
"Eat, eat."

When Sal moved west, he joined the disciples who ate each week at a
Mexican restaurant with Atmananda.  One time Atmananda declared, "I
wonder where The Gwid has been hiding these days."

Sal said, "You would not believe how many people have asked me that
very question."

"You swine!" cried Atmananda.  "All along you've been hiding him
in... your nose!"

"How can you tell?"

"Hah--so you doubt my ability to see!"

A few minutes later, the waiter arrived.  I ordered a quesadilla and a
chile relleno.

"C'mon kid," said Atmananda, "where's your capacity?"

I admitted I was low on money.

"Stop worrying about money," he admonished.  "If you're in the right
consciousness, believe me, the money will come."

"Okay," I agreed, adding a large cheese crisp to the order.  So the
disciples, now reunited with Sal, happily broke bread and chips with
our nurturing spiritual shepherd.  A ditty from the Paul Winter song
Icarus played in the background.

Atmananda often spoke about myths.  Icarus, according to Greek
mythology, took flight from prison on wings of wax which were crafted
by Daedalus, his father.  Despite warnings from Daedalus, Icarus soared
too near the sun and fell with melted wings to his death in the sea.

I knew about the myth of Icarus from my childhood.  "Icarus was
punished," my father had taught me, "because humans are not supposed to
fly among the gods."

Atmananda did not teach the myth of Icarus.  He spoke, instead, about
the role of the Self-Sacrificing Hero.  "Be like a star," he said at
Centre meetings, citing Guru, Gandhi, and Jesus Christ.  "Burn your own
substance so that others may see."

Yet as the months in southern California slipped by, he spoke
increasingly about the myth of the Fluid Warrior.  "Be fluid," he said.
"Don't let people pin you down as being a certain way." Perhaps, then,
the deviation from his role as Feeder Of The Tribe should have come as
no surprise.  It was during a Centre meeting that he announced the
fast.  Missing meals for thirteen days, he explained, would raise the
level of our consciousness, increase our personal power, and bring us
closer to Guru.  "Besides," he said, "it's the thaaang."

I longed to raise my consciousness, increase my power, and develop a
deeper connection with Chinmoy.  I wanted to maintain my status as an
"advanced" follower.  I hungered, too, for Atmananda's approval.  About
twenty of us agreed to limit our nourishment to a glass or two of juice
a day.

Painful, dizzying hours of drinking water passed.  Several devotees,
including Atmananda, claimed that their meditations were growing
increasingly powerful.  In contrast, my efforts to empty my mind were
interrupted by gurgling complaints rumbling up from the caverns of my
gut.  I found myself concentrating not on eternal salvation, but on
persistent growls.  I found myself thinking not about God, but about
vast quantities of food.

On the sixth day of the fast, I stood at the edge of the meditation
room trying not to think about the sharp pains now forking my belly.  I
gazed at the larger-than-life Transcendental on the tall, wooden table.
Atmananda typically lectured from beside this shrine.  It was also from
here that he continued his effort to spread Spiritual Light--to play
guru--during public and private meditations.  After weekly Centre
meetings, Atmananda often cooked for the nearly one hundred Chinmoy
disciples.  It was a joy to watch him sing and dance around the
kitchen, adding spice to our lives and to the simmering vats of Indian
curry.  On occasion, he asked Cheryl to cook for the Centre.  He loved
the way her eggplant parmigiano patties tasted.  Leftovers were wrapped
in aluminum foil and stored in the freezer.

On the seventh day, I opened the door to the freezer and there, wrapped
in aluminum foil, were eggplant parmigiano patties waiting to be
plucked like gems from a cave.  I felt weak and disoriented.  I was so
hungry.  Memories of the peppery patties brought back the luscious
aroma.  I thrust my hand toward a shimmering treasure...

On the eighth day, I wondered if I should confess that I had cheated.
I recalled the story of a priest who, out of concern for his
congregation, hid his doubts about God.  I, too, chose not to confess,
and the ensuing guilt served to strengthen my resolve not to stray from
Atmananda's suggested path again.  And though I did eat part of a
patty, I still shared with the disciples an overpowering emptiness and
a heightened receptivity to the fast leader.

During the second week, my meditations began to improve.  Typically,
when I gazed at the Transcendental, I only saw a subtle glow around the
photo.  Now I saw thousands of swirling dots swimming before me.
Typically, when I meditated on my heart chakra, I had to remind myself
to visualize the ocean.  Now I became immersed in a world of blue
light.  Typically, when I realized that I was having a powerful
mystical experience, I found it difficult to reenter a state of
meditation after a self-congratulatory interruption.  Now I found it
easy to resubmerge my awareness into a thoughtless calm.

My newfound calm, however, was broken by what Atmananda said at a
Centre meeting several days later.  He announced that he had recently
attained levels of consciousness so powerful and sublime that he was no
longer the person that we thought him to be.  Each time he dipped into
these higher realms of perception, his old self died and a new one
emerged, forged in the fires of what he called perfection.

"A number of you have already sensed the change," he said.  "I first
started entering into these higher states--which I call basement
samadhi--during deep meditation.  Recently, though, I have been
slipping in and out of them spontaneously: while walking at the beach,
for instance, or while eating at Howard Johnson's. Now I am finding
that I can enter them at will." Atmananda repeatedly described his
newfound abilities until the disciples, a number of whom had not eaten
in nearly two weeks, appeared to accept the restructuring.

After the meeting I sat on the toilet, contemplating what had passed
through Atmananda's lips.  "What is going on?"  I wondered.  "Who does
he think he is?"  I felt angry and confused.  I had been taught that
samadhi was a state of consciousness so exalted that precious few
enlightened souls achieved it.  But now I was dizzy and nauseous from
hunger.  I was having difficulty concentrating.  I saw swirling dots
before me whether I was meditating or not.  I found myself realizing
that Atmananda had studied meditation in past lives.  I found myself
realizing that he was an advanced disciple of the Guru.  I found myself
feeling bad that I had doubted so advanced a soul, so educated a man,
and so close a friend.

"The thing to remember," I told myself, recalling Atmananda's lessons
on humility, "is that it's only *basement* samadhi."

After the fast, Atmananda took me to an Orange Julius shop in a mall.
We sat by a window, sipping the sweet, rich drinks.

"What do you *see*?" he asked.

I looked and saw our reflection superimposed on the image of the crowd.

"The people," I said.  "They don't seem real."

"Yes," he agreed.  "Theirs is a world of illusion."

9.  Off The Map

"Something heavy has been going down in the inner worlds," Atmananda
announced at a Centre meeting in late December, 1980.  "Can anyone
*see* what it is?"

"Is Guru coming to visit us soon?" asked one disciple.


"Is the earth's psychic energy field getting progressively worse?"
tried another.

"Yes, but that's not it.  Anyone else?"

"This is going to sound crazy," said Kara, a UCSD student who seemed
entranced by her own melodious voice.  "But has Guru fallen?"


No one stirred.

"Why don't you elaborate, Kara?" said Atmananda.

"I first felt it a few weeks ago," she said, glancing at the ceiling as
if she were trying to recall something.  "I was meditating on the
Transcendental but didn't *see* much light, ya know, and well, I just
thought it was me but it just kept happening, and like I love Guru and
all but... " Months later, Kara would be hospitalized for a mental

"You have truly *seen*," praised Atmananda.

My heart pounded.  I felt like a bomb had exploded in my face.  I saw
Kara gazing at Atmananda.  It was only months before that Atmananda had
asked me to deceive the disciples into buying him a "surprise
gift"--the new car.  I scanned the crowded room.  People seemed
disoriented.  Three disciples visiting from the Santa Barbara Chinmoy
Centre kept glancing at the door.  They looked ready to bolt.

"Many of you have been having difficulty meditating recently," said
Atmananda in his familiar, soothing voice.  "You have been blaming
yourselves.  But you should understand that it is not you.

"For years I have meditated on the Transcendental and the room has
filled with a beautiful, white light.  But lately, the light has simply
not been there.  At first I thought that the level of my meditation had
dropped.  Intuitively, though, I knew that that was not the case."

I could not believe what was happening.  I had never heard Atmananda
criticize his--our--beloved Guru.  Still, I had to admit that his
intuition was usually correct.

"When I tried meditating without the Transcendental," he continued, "my
consciousness suddenly jumped to a much higher level--as if the Guru
had been holding me down.  And yet my logical mind still refused to
accept that the Guru had fallen.  You see, you don't just turn your
back on someone you have devoted eleven years of your life to, someone
you have loved more than anyone else in the universe."

I wondered if a con artist would devote eleven years of his life to a

"I had to make sure that the Negative Forces were not playing tricks on
my mind," he continued.  "So I decided to visit New York and meditate
on the Guru in person.  I found that he still looked like Guru.  But
inwardly I could see right away that he had lost his power."

I wondered if I could have detected a change.

"When the Guru began to meditate, it became clear that he was not
entering into samadhi--though the disciples still believed that he was.
Nonetheless, I wanted to be absolutely certain that the Negative Forces
were not clouding my vision.  So I visited Apeksha, a Queens, New York,
disciple who has studied with the Guru for as long as I have.

"At first, Apeksha thought I was crazy.  But after we spent hours
looking at old Guru photos, neither of us had any doubt as to what had

"Apeksha is now in a real bind.  On the one hand, he can see that the
Guru has fallen.  On the other hand, he knows that he's not strong
enough yet to ward off the Negative Forces on his own."

Richard, who had bought the million-dollar Centre, raised his hand and
said, "Atmananda, isn't there anything we can do to help Guru?"

"Your sentiment is a noble one," Atmananda replied.  "But you have to
be careful.  If you are swimming near a sinking ocean liner, it doesn't
matter how nice a person you are--you'll be sucked under when the ship
goes down.

"You should understand that I am not criticizing the Guru.  Nor should
any of you.  You should give him a great deal of credit for holding out
against the Forces for as long as he did.

"The Forces are not exactly evil per se.  They are merely playing their
role in the Cosmic Game.  It just so happens that their role is to
destroy Light."

Several disciples shook their heads incredulously.  Others cast a
glassy-eyed, soporific gaze at the renegade Centre leader--as if this
were a typical late-night meeting.

"In 1985, the situation in the universe will begin to get much worse.
A great cloud of darkness will envelop the earth for thousands of

I pictured the shadow of a huge oil slick creeping toward the globe.

"There will soon be a sharp increase in the number of wars and natural
disasters, and nearly everyone on the planet will be affected.
Spiritual seekers will suffer the most, because they are the ones who
are most sensitive to the pain and suffering of others.  It will become
increasingly difficult to meditate, and seekers not grounded in the
dharma [Truth] will be in grave danger of being seduced by the Dark

Unaware of the effect Atmananda was having beneath the surface world of
my reason, I watched his demanding, doughy face and listened to his
soothing, arresting voice.

"But there is no reason for you to indulge in sadness.  In times of
great darkness, spiritual warriors band together and fight the Forces.
This is their soul's work, and therefore their inner beings are
extremely happy!  Despite enormous odds, they fight for Truth and Light
and, well, I'm not supposed to tell you this, but, let's just say that
the warriors are in for some pleasant surprises in this and in future

I assumed he meant that they would accrue good karma.

"And I would be willing to wager," he said, smiling warmly, "that they
are in for a heck of a good time.

"Until the warriors are close to attaining enlightenment, they will
need a genuine spiritual teacher.  They will need a teacher who turns
out strong, free-thinking individuals, *not* spaced-out, dependent
disciples.  They will need a teacher who is fully or partially
enlightened, and who has extensive experience in guiding souls to
self-realization.  They will also need a teacher who has the power to
ward off hordes of Negative Forces."

Atmananda reminded us that the powers from his past lives had been
"cycling" through him and had been propelling him into basement samadhi
and beyond.  He said that he had been carefully monitoring his progress
toward self-realization. He had not only asked the Infinite for advice,
he assured us, but had been reading detailed accounts of the
enlightenment process.

No one asked to review his source material.

He went on to describe the countless inner realms he had been slipping
in and out of lately.  The realms, he explained, were so deep and
powerful that the man we had come to know as Atmananda had all but
disappeared inside the clear light of the void.

I was attempting to make sense of his claims, when he said that samadhi
was incomprehensible to the human mind.  Then he paused, slowly scanned
the audience, and announced that he would be helping advanced, sincere
seekers in their quest for enlightenment... on his *own*.

"He's on a power trip!"  I thought.  "Maybe he's been planning this all
along.  Maybe he actually believes in it.  In either case... "

"You need to realize that I am doing this because it is what the
Infinite wants me to do.  It certainly wasn't my idea.  You see, when
you reach this stage in the enlightenment process, you completely
surrender your will to the Infinite."

"If that's true," I thought, "no problem.  But... "

"Please understand that I am not a guru.  I am a teacher.  How can you
tell if someone is your teacher?  By how you feel when you meditate
with them.  By their glow.  By how they treat the people around them.
By whether they practice what they preach.  But you have to be careful
out there.  You have to ask yourself, 'Are they phony or are they
genuine?  Are they trying to take your money?  Are they trying to sell
you spiritual rhetoric laced with subtle, complex half-truths?'"

"I agree," I thought, "we should watch out.  But... "

"You have to ask yourself, 'Does the teacher give individual counseling
when necessary?  Provide a community of advanced seekers?  Transmit
light inwardly?  Teach several spiritual philosophies and disciplines?
Point out traps along the Path?  Ward off the Negative Forces?'"
Atmananda inundated us with so many details that he appeared to be
conducting a lesson, not a coup.

"Another way to tell if someone is your teacher," Atmananda said,
turning toward me, "is to see if you have studied with them in a
previous life.  Several of you have been with me before.  Mark, for
instance, has studied with me in Tibet, Japan, and India.  He doesn't
remember very well, but he will.  You may have noticed how easy it is
to see his aura."

"He's just saying that!"  I thought.  Yet I had always felt a powerful
affinity toward those countries.  Several students cast their gaze at
me.  I felt a rush.  I felt powerful.  It felt good.

Minutes later, Atmananda suddenly grew bitter.  "Don't think that I
don't know what some of you are thinking," he accused, as he aimed his
eagle-like glare.  "You realize, of course, who I *am*," he added

"Who are you really, Atmananda?"  I wondered.  I felt frenzied and
dazed, as if a dark and powerful cyclone had swept Atmananda's train
off its tracks--and me with it.  I thought about the time Atmananda had
narrated at a Centre meeting the tale of "The Emperor's New Clothes."
He had likened himself to the story's truthful, outspoken child.

"Is he like the child?"  I now wondered.  "Or is he really like the
deceitful tailor?"  Looking up, I chose to see him as my kind,
warm-hearted friend.

"There are a few of you," he said, "who are letting the Forces fill you
with confusion and doubt.  But overall, you are a fairly advanced group
and should have no trouble perceiving what your inner beings already

"He sounds like he believes in what he's saying," I thought.

"Look, you can think about it all you want.  But until you learn to
*see*, believe me, you won't get very far."

The Santa Barbara disciples suddenly stood up.

"You folks are invited to stick around," Atmananda said.

They stepped outside and closed the door.

At around 9:30 p.m., Atmananda announced that those who sought to
continue their studies with him should return to the Centre later that
night.  Then, pointing out that we were letting ourselves get fogged,
he suggested that we meditate to clear things up.

Many in the audience closed their eyes to meditate.

"Open your eyes and look at me," Atmananda scolded.

Despite my new credentials as an old mystical seer, I looked but could
not *see* if Atmananda was an enlightened spiritual teacher who had
found the way, or a charismatic megalomaniac who had lost it.  But the
thick fog of illusion, which prevented me from gaining insight into his
true nature, might have partially cleared had I known what Atmananda
told Tom only weeks before, during a meditation with Chinmoy in New

"Have you noticed anything different about Guru?"  Atmananda had asked

"No," replied Tom, who had not yet joined Atmananda's west coast

"Something heavy has been going down in the inner worlds," Atmananda
said.  "Call me in San Diego in late December, and I will fill you in."

10.  Bicycle Ride--Utica

One week into the cross-country bicycle trek, I stopped near the New
York-Massachusetts border by a sign pointing to a campground.  It was
getting late.  I wondered if I should save the money and sleep in the
woods.  I recalled Atmananda's penchant for lodging at exclusive,
expensive hotels.  I realized that I did not want to follow him.  I
also realized that I did not want to *not* follow him.  I wanted to do
what was right for me.  I followed the sign.

I stood at the campground entrance beneath a totem pole, whose carved
faces reminded me of the Negative Forces.  But I was no longer bound by
Atmananda's interpretation of the world, I told myself.  "Sweet
dreams," I said to the faces and rolled past them.

The next morning I crossed over the Hudson River into Albany and walked
up the hill toward the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State
Plaza.  Endowed with intricately sculptured arches and columns, the
majestic New York State capitol building contrasted with the modern
structures across the street, which included four towers labeled in
letters of gold.  I sat by a reflecting pool where I watched wavering
images of pennies at the bottom.  I thought about my financial
situation.  I was doing okay.  In Boston I had stopped paying
Atmananda's ever-increasing tuition, moved from a studio apartment to a
small room in a house, and commuted to my computer job each day by
bicycle.  I had managed to pay off one student loan and, after selling
the car, to build a small buffer.  Why, I now wondered as I tossed a
penny in the pool, did I feel so bad?

Because it was Atmananda, I suddenly realized, who had sent me to
computer school.  It was Atmananda who had bought me that car.  I felt
bad because I still considered myself to be in his debt.  I needed to
distinguish, I told myself, between the effects of his unsolicited
gifts and the results of my own hard-earned efforts.

Two days later, as I continued to travel, the cars whizzing by served
as a constant, crushing reminder that towing a three-foot wide trailer
down a country road at night was probably not such a good idea.  But
driven by the thought of staying with a friend in Utica, I continued
despite the danger.  The road gradually rose into thick, dark woods,
and there were no houses in sight.  To complicate matters, I was a
devout believer in the excitement and mystery of a journey and carried
no maps.  I was completely lost.

The road began following a winding river, and it became increasingly
difficult to convince myself that a town or phone was just ahead.
Exhausted, I stopped at the edge of a clearing and set up the bent,
many-sided tent--another gift from Atmananda.  I lay on my sleeping bag
and listened to the river and to voices from the past.  I could almost
hear Atmananda talking, back in 1979, about the pending move from New
York to southern California.

"It's very important that the right people go," he had said to Rachel
and me.

We nodded.

"I'm not sure about Dana and Connie," he confided.  "But I'm sure I
made the right decision about you two."  Then he squinted and focused
his gaze above our heads.

"You realize, of course, who I am," he added haughtily.

I was eighteen at the time and thought I already knew who he was: a
devoted Chinmoy disciple, a respected English professor, and a kind,
sensitive person.  His remark had left me so confused and repulsed that
I let it drop from my conscious mind.

Now, as I listened to the gurgling river, I realized that Atmananda had
made the same remark two years later, when he announced that Chinmoy
had fallen.  I realized, too, that there were other foreshadowings of
his rise to power.  There were the money and the "surprise gift"
schemes.  There was the basement samadhi announcement, which came
during a debilitating thirteen-day fast.  And there were numerous times
he manipulated Chinmoy's disciples through the use of images, such as
when he told me to picture my parents as "two red lobsters sporting bow

Why, I wondered, had I largely ignored these and other warnings?  Part
of the answer, I supposed, had to do with the masterful way in which
Atmananda used words.  Equipped with a seductively compelling voice, he
built vast, virtual kingdoms which were subject to constantly changing,
contradictory etiquette.  One week, for instance, it was spiritually
correct to save money for ourselves, to have sex with someone outside
the Centre, to study with Chinmoy; the following week, it was not.  It
had been difficult to maintain a perspective.  I sensed that another
part of the answer had to do with me and my need to believe, but now,
as memories and realizations grew too painful to touch, I let my
thoughts swirl slowly downstream with the gurgles of the river.  Soon I
was asleep.

That night, I woke to the noise of a racing engine and screeching

"This is no dream," I thought.  "This is real!"

Two blinding lights sped straight toward me.

"HEEEYYYYYYYYYYYYY!"  I screamed.  Suddenly, the screeching and
skidding stopped.  My heart pounded.  No more than ten feet away was a
vehicle.  It kicked into reverse, spun around, and disappeared into the
night in a cacophonous squeal of metal, rubber, and asphalt.  It was
some time before the sound of rushing water lulled me back to sleep.

The next morning, I woke to the sound of car doors slamming.  From the
tent I saw a family walking toward the river.  They stepped past long
skid marks.  "Excuse me," I called out, "which way is it to Utica?"

11.  Displaced

"Aren't enlightened souls supposed to be more quiet?"  I thought,
recalling Atmananda's newfound access to a world without words.  It was
an hour or so after the coup.  His voice crept through my bedroom door,
interrupting my thoughts.  I had been deliberating on whether I would
attend the follow-up meeting, which was scheduled to begin within
minutes.  "Well," I thought, trying to ignore the relentless monologue,
"he did claim only *partial* enlightenment."

I read from the Castaneda poster on the wall of my room a quote about
following a path with heart.  "Does Atmananda's path have heart?" I
wondered.  "Is it even a path?  What the hell is going on?"

I turned toward the underexposed photo of Chinmoy still on my shrine.
"What if Guru has not fallen?"  I wondered, not wanting to be left
bobbing in the stormy sea of ignorance.

"But then again," I thought, reminded of Atmananda's uncanny ability to
see, "what if he has?"  I felt overwhelmed.  I realized I needed time
to think.  I realized I needed guidance.

I wanted to ask former Chinmoy disciples for advice, but did not want
to subject them to spiritual doubts about Guru or Atmananda.  I wanted
to ask friends and teachers outside the group, but did not want to rely
on people whom I supposed could not see.  I even thought of asking my
parents, but did not want to rely on two lobsters sporting bow ties.
So I tried to assess the situation on my own.

I recalled some of the good times I had had with Atmananda.  I also
recalled Atmananda admitting to me, months before, that he wanted some
day to be a guru.

I saw him as a genuine seeker on the path to Truth.  I also saw him as
a man whose ambitions I could not fathom.

"I need to get away," I told myself.  "I need to get a perspective.
It's not that I don't trust Atmananda.  It's just that... "


I jumped up.

Atmananda smiled as he opened my door.  "Hi, kid.  The meeting will
start in a few minutes.  Do you want to greet people--or should I find
someone else?"

Simultaneously soothed and disoriented by his voice and face, I felt
reluctant to give up a position of authority.  "I'll greet them," I

Some of the fifty or so former Chinmoy disciples that I greeted seemed
excited, but most, like me, seemed anxious and confused.  Twenty
minutes after the meeting was scheduled to begin, I closed the door and
sat with the group before a barren, Transcendental-less shrine.  A
nervous tension permeated the room.  Atmananda strode in, sat down, and
fiddled with his wristwatch.  Then he looked up and quickly raised his
hand to his mouth--as if he were surprised that he was not alone.  A
few people laughed.

"There are four paths leading to enlightenment," Atmananda said.
"Bhakti yoga, the way of love, is by far the easiest path because love
is the strongest force in the universe."

He had described the four paths many times before, and I began to feel
slightly more at ease.  It was particularly reassuring in his
tumultuous world that love was still so important a quality.

"Karma yoga, the path of selfless service, is perhaps the noblest of
the paths if you can avoid feeling superior to those whom you serve.
Mahatma Gandhi was a karma yogi, though he never actually attained

"How can he be so sure?"  I wondered.  "Maybe Gandhi *had* attained
enlightenment."  I also wondered if Atmananda would end up serving
himself rather than the Infinite.

"Jnana yoga, the path of knowledge and wisdom, is the least traveled of
the four paths.  Jnana yogis face the difficult task of learning to
discriminate between what is real and what is maya, or illusion."

It was extremely difficult for me to face my friend and hero, and to
discern whether his was a genuine path to the Infinite or an illusory
path to himself.  So I thought, instead, about jnana yoga master Sri
Yukteswar, whose disciple, Paramahansa Yogananda, wrote the popular
Autobiography of a Yogi.

"Mysticism," Atmananda said, "is the path described in the Castaneda
books.  By living impeccably, the mystic accumulates personal power
until she or he is capable of entering into the Other Worlds.  Though
mysticism is the fastest way to enlightenment, it is also the most
dangerous.  Mystics are often attacked and drained of their power by
the Dark Magicians, and many end up becoming Dark Magicians themselves."

Though enthralled by this path, I was bothered by Atmananda's
insistence that a myriad of beings, human and otherwise, stood poised
to destroy mystics who strayed from a constantly changing set of
rules--that Atmananda happened to know all about.  I was also bothered
by Atmananda's seeming obsession with "Dark Magicians."

"In past lives," Atmananda continued, "I have followed, mastered, and
taught each of the four paths.  You should understand that if you
choose to continue your spiritual education with me, it will be your
resistance to the Light--not my level of evolution--that is responsible
for impeding your progress."

"Where does he come off sounding so sure of himself?"  I wondered, my
doubts suddenly resurfacing.  "I really need time to think about this."

"For me, leading people to enlightenment is old hat.  Each of you have
been singled out to me through omens or through dreams.  It was up to
me to hook you, to essentially trick you into pursuing the long,
arduous path to knowledge.  Hooking takes place on an inner level and
can not be explained with words.  Tricking is necessary because people,
left to their own devices, are inherently lazy and would avoid their
higher destiny."

Remembering how Don Juan hooked Castaneda, I figured that being hooked
and tricked into a higher destiny was probably okay--as long as
everything turned out all right.  It was deeply ingrained in me to
believe that things tended to turn out all right.

"It is essential that you learn spiritual etiquette," Atmananda said.
"Do not hang pictures of me.  Do not worship me.  Do not treat me like
a guru.  I am a teacher, a spiritual benefactor.  You will have to
fight your impulses to treat me as though I were more important than
anyone else."

I liked his term "spiritual benefactor."  It seemed to encompass the
spiritual worlds of the Guru and the mystical worlds of benefactor Don
Juan.  I also liked his claim that he sought no special attention.

"Needless to say, you are free to leave at any time," he suddenly
lashed out.  "No one is asking you to stay--believe me, you are not
doing anyone any favors!"

It made me upset and confused when Atmananda flipped to his emerging,
hostile personality.

"But if it is the highest good that you seek," he said, returning to a
gentler tongue, "you have come to the right place."

I suppressed a yawn.  He had been speaking awhile, and it was well past
midnight.  Exhausted, too, from the shock of Atmananda's sudden grab
for power, I became mesmerized by the sound and the rhythm of the words.

"You are caught up in trying to be someone you are not, and it is
clearly not working.  You are fighting yourselves for no apparent
reason.  Look, it's easy.  You can stay the way you are and continue
living someone else's dream, or you can come with me on a walk to
nowhere.  Leave aside your petty jealousies, your hates, your desires,
your attachments, your fears, and enter the worlds where I hang
out--worlds of pure joy, light, and bliss."

Several minutes later, Atmananda announced it was time to meditate.  I
wanted to rub my eyes, yawn, and stretch out on the soft blue rug.
Instead, I sat there spellbound, drifting in and out of a dreamless
sleep.  At one point, I woke and heard, "When you attain enlightenment,
your selves dissolve in the clear light of the void.  Maybe you exist,
maybe you don't. It no longer matters."  Then, as Atmananda rehashed
the details of his own enlightenment, I dozed off again.

After the meeting, I went to my room.  "I need time to think," I
reminded myself.  As I drifted off to sleep, I could still hear my
housemate talking.

Of the original one hundred San Diego Chinmoy disciples, roughly ten
formed their own Chinmoy Centre, forty set out on their own, and fifty
followed Atmananda.  While some aspects of Atmananda's program remained
the same, others intensified.  He repeatedly warned, for instance, that
the Negative Forces would prey on those who did not meditate regularly,
those who diluted their power with doubts about him, and those who did
not regularly attend his meetings.  He began holding "crucial" meetings
each night to help us "combat the Forces."  The meetings began at
around seven-thirty p.m.  and lasted at times until dawn.

I attended each of Atmananda's meetings and, with only two or three
hours of sleep per night, quickly grew fatigued.  Once my boss at the
UCSD Computer Center found me asleep with my upper body resting on a
noisy, three-and-a-half-foot-high mainframe printer.  Another time,
Atmananda read to me a letter that he had sent to Chinmoy: "As you
know, I have been entering into highly advanced states of consciousness
lately... " Unable to concentrate, I suppressed a yawn and lapsed into a
long, thoughtless pause.

I was occasionally buoyed by the realization that I desperately needed
rest, that I needed time to think, and that I needed to take a break
from Atmananda's all-night meetings.  But I was mostly slapped by waves
of fear of Atmananda's Negative Forces, and pulled under by the weight
of shifting etiquette, meta-rational rhetoric, and sleep deprivation.

Roughly two weeks into the post-coup program, Atmananda began to
publish WOOF!  The Weekly Newsletter of Anahata.  Having named his
organization after the anahata chakra--the "psychic energy center of
love"--he initially distributed WOOF! to the fifty Anahatans.  Weeks
later, after having renamed his organization "Church of Atlantis"
(C.O.A.), Atmananda decided to distribute WOOF!  The Voice of Southern
California to tens of thousands of San Diegans.

WOOF! provided work for Atmananda's devotees and helped bind the
fledgling group.  We illustrated, laid out, distributed, and laughed
over each edition.  We laughed, for instance, at Atmananda's fabricated
advertisement about an imaginary bank (Issue #3; January, 1981):
"Interloka Bank is pleased to announce the opening of a new branch in
Mark's room.  We will be giving away the first 500 customers as
valuable gifts... We at Interloka are dedicated to serving you totally,
and are proud to take you for all we can, whenever we can.  We are the
only authorized distributors of the GOLDEN GWIDcard... Interloka
Bank--We Own You... " Perhaps it was the lack of sleep, the desire to
believe in our friend and mentor, or the need for comic relief that
blinded us to the grim foreshadowing of Atmananda's humor.

I laughed the hardest at Atmananda's ads and columns in which he
satirized televangelists, Indian gurus, the Moonies, and New Age
healers (see Appendix A). I felt justified in laughing at other
spiritual groups, partly because they seemed to merit it and partly
because Atmananda said that they needed to be laughed at.  He wrote in
an editorial (Issue #6; March, 1981): "WOOF!, the all-natural and
organic paper that millions use to line their bird cages, makes fun of
it all.  We act as a consumer's representative for you in the field of
New Age consciousness.  We feel that if what people have to offer is
genuine then they won't mind us poking a little fun at them.  And if
they do mind--then maybe the products or services they offer deserve
careful scrutiny, and we should re-evaluate the truthfulness of their
claims... "

In my naive, sleepless stupor, I accepted Atmananda's mission of poking
fun at others, and did my best to train and coordinate the WOOF!
distribution teams.

Perhaps it was to dispel doubts about his own authenticity that
Atmananda proceeded to poke fun at himself.  Appearing beside his
photograph was the following ad (Issue #6; March, 1981): "His High
Holiness SWAMI UGULA UGLE From The Himalayan Institute For The Strange
will be appearing in Del Mar on March 37th at 2 a.m.  for the high
himalayan karrmuppet hat dancing & tea ceremony.  $$ Bring Lots Of
Money $$ His high Holiness Swami Ugula Ugle is a direct lineal
descendant of Llama Fred.  He personally assisted in the baking of
several LARGE rye breads at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.  A devotee of Sri
Ramana Maharshi and baseball, the Swami actually is a good guy.  He
doesn't claim to be any better than the rest of us.  But he's happy.
So maybe happiness can be learned?  Come and find out... We may hit you
for a few bucks--but we'll give you a good time... Lots of pomp and
ceremony for you Western types who can't accept that enlightened souls
can look and act like normal human beings... "

I liked the ad.  I saw no reason why enlightened souls should not look
and act like normal human beings.  I liked the way Atmananda poked fun
at the pomp and ceremony which had distanced Chinmoy from many of his
disciples.  I also found Atmananda's deflated view of himself a relief.

A number of Atmananda's advertisements, however, were of a more serious
nature.  In the first issue, for instance (January, 1981), he wrote:
"1st WORKSHOP OF 1981... another exciting Castaneda experience at
UCSD... inspired posterers--here's your chance!" In later issues, he
repeatedly ran "The Experience of Luminosity" ad (Issue #6; March,
1981): "DR.  FREDERICK LENZ is a spiritual Benefactor.  Each month... he
offers several free workshops to members of the San Diego community.
At these workshops he provides solid information and techniques that
will help you to gain inner peace and happiness.  Dr. Lenz does this by
discussing the most helpful aspects of Buddhism, Yoga, Vedanta, Zen,
Taoism and the psychic and spiritual arts... During meditation, Dr. Lenz
enters into Samadhi and directly channels Peace, Light, Power and
Ecstasy to you... ADMISSION FREE... "

At the top of this full-page ad appeared the words, "Paid
advertisement"--as if WOOF! had been published by someone other than
Dr. Frederick Lenz.

Atmananda, who at times seemed as cautious as he was bold, told me to
instruct WOOF! distribution volunteers to be highly inaccessible.  I
kept this in mind one Saturday afternoon as I approached a health food
store with Marty, a shy, soft-spoken UCSD student with a sense of
wonder in his eyes.  Marty had been a disciple of Chinmoy for about a

Raising the WOOF!'s to the counter, I said, "Could we leave these by
the door?  They're free!"

"Sure," the manager replied and he took one.

I placed my stack, and Marty, who had been lugging additional copies,
placed his as well.  We were almost out the door when the man said,
"Say, who puts out this... WOOF!?"

I was about to reply that we did not know, that we were only doing this
for money, when Marty suddenly blurted, "What WOOF!?" And in a flash we
were gone.

When I told Atmananda this story, he seemed pleased with me.  He was
pleased with the large turn-outs at his public lectures, and he said I
was doing an impeccable job overseeing the ten or so WOOF! and poster
distribution volunteers.  Perhaps it was in anticipation of unbridled
expansion that, using doubt-diffusing humor, he wrote and published the
"Cult Of The Gwid Spreads Throughout Rancho Bernardo" article (Issue
#6; March, 1981): "In a seemingly unstoppable tide of fanatic cultism,
proponents, adherents and admirers of the Gwid have firmly rooted
themselves in Rancho Bernardo and are expanding at an alarming rate.
The concerned people of Rancho Bernardo are helpless in the face of
such determined behavior and many have resigned themselves to their
fate and joined ranks with the lively followers of the Gwid... the Gwid
reassured and won the hearts of the entire Rancho Bernardo community
when he gave a public speech yesterday outlining his major beliefs and
ideals.  Excerpts follow:  'I do not wish to own your sons and
daughters, merely to use them as a tax break.  It is not the acquiring
of wealth that interests me, but rather the actual possession of it.
All else is useless to me unless it involves adventure, limber bodies,
cunning and chocolate... In closing, I stand for freedom, a cheese in
every hand, the dignity to live a free and happy life under my close
supervision... '"

As the month wore on, Atmananda often stopped by my room to perform
what he called "reality checks."  This involved chatting and meditating
with me until my consciousness was "in a good place." He was probably
concerned that, as a member of his inner circle, I might unduly
influence his disciples.  But I was too tired, too fearful of the
Negative Forces, and too busy coordinating WOOF!  and poster
distribution teams to seriously reflect on or pose a threat to his
self-anointed position of power.

Occasionally, though, I did think about the change.  But instead of
confronting guilt from having abandoned Chinmoy, and instead of
confronting doubts about Atmananda, I found it easier to laugh and
laugh at spiritual groups and the absurd things that they did.

12.  Thwarted Escape

Months after the coup, Atmananda held late-night meetings less often,
and I soon caught up on sleep.  Refreshed from the rest, I tried to
understand the changes that had been taking place within the Centre and
within Atmananda.  My thoughts were frequently interrupted by squawks
from Atmananda's fourteen blue-and-gold macaws.  He kept them in a room
in the garage.  He was unaware that they were gnawing a hole in the
roof.  He planned to tame them and to sell them at a profit.

One time I lay in bed thinking about One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, a
book Atmananda had recommended to me.  At first I thought about the
similarities between Atmananda and R. P. McMurphy, the novel's
free-spirited protagonist.  Both men, I realized, exuded auras of
self-confidence. Atmananda, for instance, had once offered to teach me
the secret of attracting women.  Jutting his chin forward like a
boxer's glove, he focused on an imaginary horizon and began taking long
and rhythmic strides.  He suddenly seemed eight feet tall, and I
watched in awe as he ignored the young women who were checking him out.

Both Atmananda and McMurphy, I realized, shared their knowledge with
others.  Atmananda, for instance, made a special effort to make his
followers feel big.  "How can you become strong and self-confident?" he
asked at Centre meetings.  "By doing all the things I have been
recommending.  By meditating.  By leading impeccable lives.  By cutting
off those--such as your family--who are draining your power.  And by
learning to trust in yourselves."

Both Atmananda and McMurphy, I also realized, were teachers of
self-sacrifice. Atmananda, for instance, lectured on Jesus Christ,
Gandhi, and McMurphy.  "McMurphy," he said at Centre meetings, "leads
twelve men to the sea and takes them fishing.  After the fishing trip,
McMurphy is worn out.  He is in pain.  He has exhausted his energy so
that others might be free.  This is the essence of self-giving. This is
why I do what I do."

I reflected on the sacrifices that Atmananda had been making lately.
His efforts at running a spiritual Centre appeared to leave him
exhausted and in pain.  Dealing with the physical and non-physical
demands of a congregation was no doubt an enormous imposition.  And
what a spiritual leader he was!  I pictured him striding about with his
chin jutting forward, exuding that aura of confidence; sharing insights
into metaphysical philosophies of the ancients, as well as American pop
culture of the early '80s; joking and singing, inspiring and enlivening
us; writing and publishing WOOF!, as well as a book called The Bridge
is Flowing But the River Is Not; challenging our intellects with the
known and unknowable; recording and selling tapes on a variety of
spiritual topics; framing and reframing the ways in which we viewed the
world; issuing a recommended book list which included The Way Of Life
According To Lao Tzu, The Bhagavad-Gita, How To Know God, I Ching, The
Gospel Of Sri Ramakrishna, Tales Of Power, Tibetan Book Of The Dead,
and Walden; distributing geometric patterns on which to meditate; and
generating mystical experiences--with Light from the Infinite, of

But then I thought about how, unlike McMurphy, Atmananda increasingly
blamed others for the role he chose to play.  "I incarnated into this
world of pain and suffering," Atmananda often claimed, "to help my
students from past lives.  Many of you don't seem to realize it, but I
am in a constant state of pain as a result of the bad energy that you
continuously bombard me with.  I am also constantly ill as a result of
the massive amounts of bad karma that I absorb from you on a regular

I began to think not about McMurphy and Atmananda's similarities, but
about their differences.  I recalled Atmananda saying, "When you attain
my level of enlightenment, you transcend good and evil.  'Good' and
'evil' become mere words, mere concepts in a universe where only
experience matters.  So why be attached to the good side of the force?"

I wanted to believe that Atmananda meant:  "Why worry about being good
if you become goodness itself?"  But other memories surfaced, and I
became overwhelmed by a nauseating sense that he had something else in
mind.  "Do you know who I really am?" he had increasingly croaked in a
low, throaty rasp, his bright eyes mocking me.  "The anti-Christ. I
work for the other side.  Six-six-six. Think about it."

"He was only joking," I reassured myself.  "Or maybe he was testing me.
That's it--he was only testing me."  Yet it was difficult to discount
the numerous, bone-chilling times that he had adopted a credible
Lucifer persona.

Vivid memories now rushed forward like water through a newly unblocked
dam.  There were memories of Atmananda telling students that he
meditated each day at noon.  "Maybe Atmananda's inner being is always
in a state of meditation," I thought, recalling the numerous times that
I had seen him at noon not meditating.  "But then again, maybe he was
just lying."

There were memories of Atmananda's recent nightmare.  "Guru tried to
kill me last night," he had told me several mornings before.

"Really?"  I replied, certain that Chinmoy, the peace-and-tennis-loving
Guru, would not want to hurt anyone.

"That's right," he continued.  "The Guru attacked me in the dream plane
and nearly strangled me.  Fortunately, I am stronger than he
is--otherwise I would now be dead!"

"Are you okay?"

"My neck and throat hurt."

But Atmananda's sore throat had not stopped him from voicing and
capitalizing on what he had dreamt.

"The Guru is attempting to destroy me," Atmananda announced to his
disciples at subsequent Centre meetings.  "You need to understand that
while the Guru has lost his spiritual powers, he has not lost his
mystical powers.  Until you break all mental, emotional, and psychic
attachments to him, and until you develop a powerful inner connection
with me, you will be completely vulnerable to his next round of inner
attacks.  Many of you think that this is some kind of game.  Just don't
come running to me when you find that all your power is gone."

Memories about Atmananda that had been suppressed for months continued
to freely flow.  "Do you see how my skin glows?" he had recently asked

"That means you are healthy," I had replied.

"True, but if you look closely you will see that the light from my body
is emanating from a higher plane."

There were memories of eating breakfast with Atmananda and my other
housemates.  At one point during the meal, Atmananda gazed out the
window and spoke as though in a trance.  "The powers," he said
repeatedly, "are coming back to me.  I can now fill an entire room with
golden light.  I am not who you think I am." About fifteen minutes
later, he stopped talking and went to his room.

"Is there something wrong with Atmananda?"  Anne asked me as we washed
the breakfast dishes.

"Something is definitely not right," I replied.  We glanced at each
other, but found it difficult to share our ideas and doubts in much
depth.  We both felt indebted to Atmananda.  He had managed to convince
us, separately, that had we not met him, we would now be dead.  He used
this tactic on many disciples.  He had also been giving Anne and me
special attention lately, and we therefore felt particularly guilty
that we had doubts about him.  Then there was the climate of distrust
that he had been fostering within the Centre.  He occasionally warned
me, for instance, that Anne was in a low state of consciousness and
that I should avoid her whenever possible; he would then tell her the
same about me, and so on.  Furthermore, Atmananda had worked to make
communication among disciples intimidating and taboo.

"If any of you break the Seven Seals of Silence," he had repeatedly
warned inner circle devotees, without explaining what the Seals were,
"I would not want to be in your shoes.  You have to understand that
there would be absolutely nothing I could do to help you.  It would be
awful--I don't even want to think about it."

Other surfacing memories of Atmananda revolted me.  I recalled his
often-stated maxim that only through revenge could one of life's
greatest joys be attained.  In WOOF!  (Issue #3; January, 1981), he
wrote:  "Thousands died today in Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted
without warning... It was seen that the people of Pompeii had all been
enemies of the Gwid in a recent incarnation and that the
explosion... was the Gwid's special way of showing the populace that he
is not a person to be trifled with... "

I recalled with disgust Atmananda's claim that he used to toss his dog
fifteen to twenty feet into the air.

I recalled with disgust his treatment of me during one of his public
lectures.  "Can anyone see what is wrong with Mark?" he had asked the
audience, after calling me to the front of the room.

No response.

"Look at him now."


"The energy around his head," he told them matter-of-factly, "is not
balanced.  But don't worry.  We are working on him."

As I grappled with the memory, I grew angry.  Atmananda, I realized,
probably saw me as one of his pets.  Suddenly it struck me that while
Atmananda might be like McMurphy, he might also be like the novel's
mean-spirited antagonist, Nurse Ratched, also known as Big Nurse.

Both Atmananda and Big Nurse, I realized, discouraged their wards from
exploring the outdoors.  I remembered Atmananda warning me, before I
went backpacking in Yosemite, that he was picking up bad vibes from the
trip.  Despite his grim prophecy, the trip had been a success.  I had
gone with three friends from the Centre, each of whom loved the woods
as much as I did.  We woke to the sounds of a brown bear eating our
food.  We played hacky-sack on top of Half Dome.  We got muddy and
jumped in a river and yelled and laughed from the cold.  Yet when we
returned, Atmananda scolded me for having picked up significant
quantities of Negative Psychic Energy.  "Don't worry," he told me.
"I'll process the bad energy for you--though it will probably make me
ill."  Then, adding humiliation to guilt, he dubbed us "assholes of the

Both Atmananda and Big Nurse, I also realized, relied heavily on
informants to gather data about the group that they controlled.
Atmananda exposed his Big Nurse nature in other ways.  He claimed, for
instance, that he had to "press all the right buttons" to help people
overcome their resistance to the Light and to him.  And he said he
never trusted a man unless he had his pecker in his pocket.

As I lay in bed remembering and reflecting, I felt overwhelmed by the
extent to which Atmananda had changed.  For a moment, I felt sad.  I
still thought of him as a friend.  I found myself thinking about the
time he had initiated the former Chinmoy disciples.  When it came my
turn, he placed his hand on my forehead and looked into my eyes.  Not a
grin or gesture broke his stern countenance.  Seconds later he was done
meditating on me, and I returned to the audience.  Then he called me

"You are rejecting me inwardly," he accused and tried again.  After the
third time, he frowned.

"Next," he said.

Now I struggled with the memory and with the realization that Atmananda
considered me less his friend than a subject.  I had believed in him.
I had loved him.  I was devastated.  But as I concentrated again on his
other side, the sadness disappeared.  Atmananda, I realized, had been
using me.  I grew angry and scared.

My thoughts drifted, and I found myself thinking about a bicycle trip I
had taken to Palomar Mountain months before.  At the top of the
mountain one of my brakes had malfunctioned, so I hitched a ride to a
bike shop in Escondido.  A plumber had picked me up.  During the ride,
the plumber, who lived with his wife and kids on the mountain, had
pointed out a red-tailed hawk.  Now, in my room in Atmananda's Centre,
I pictured the way that the hawk had soared through the clear, blue,
mountain sky on a course of its own...

"What the hell am I doing here?"  I suddenly thought, lifting myself
out of bed.  I stepped into the hall.

"What if Atmananda sees me?"  I thought nervously.  But the door to his
room was shut.  I stepped into the kitchen.  Except for an occasional
squawk from a macaw, the house was dead quiet.  I picked up the phone.
I remembered the name of the plumber on Palomar Mountain.  I called
information.  My heart raced.  The plumber remembered who I was.

"Do you need an apprentice?"  I asked in a strained whisper.

"Well, come to think of it," he said, "I could use some help.  But
weren't you going to finish college?"

"I think I need to take a break for awhile," I admitted.

"I understand.  I'll tell you what.  Why don't you come on out and
we'll talk it over."

I wrote down directions, thanked him, and returned to my room.  I
wanted to say good-bye to my friends in the Centre, but I knew that in
the interest of "saving" me, they would tell Atmananda.  And I knew too
well that he had a knack for persuading borderline disciples not to
leave.  So, wishing the disciples well on their journey, I kept my plan
secret.  I wished Atmananda well on his journey, too.  Each time I
thought of him, though, I broke out in a cold sweat.

My plan was to hitchhike that night to Palomar Mountain.  I stuffed
some gear in my backpack, which I kept hidden in the closet.  I was
ready.  The sun was starting to set.  "It's okay, man," I thought,
hugging myself.  I was frightened.

Suddenly the bell rang.  I remained in my room.  Atmananda answered the
door.  It was Sal.

I heard Atmananda shout, "Salitos, take out the hot sauce!"

"Yowwwww!"  I heard them yell moments later.

I opened the door to my room and saw them hopping around the kitchen.
For a moment I felt nostalgic.  Drinking hot sauce and hopping around
with Atmananda had been one of my favorite experiences in the Centre.
Returning to my room, I quietly closed the door and tried to ignore
them.  I imagined that I was living on Palomar Mountain by a clearing
in the forest.  I imagined the brilliant California sun as it pierced
the thick morning fog below.  I imagined the solitary red-tailed hawk
as it soared through the clear, blue, mountain sky on a course of its...

The door flew open and in strode Atmananda.  He took giant steps.  He
was followed by Sal.

"Heyyy, Sal!"  Atmananda blasted.  "Da baby, he'sa thinkin'-a leavin'!"

"Baby," queried Sal, "you thinkin'-a leavin'?"

"Gespacho," cried Atmananda, not waiting for my reply, "where have-a
you been?"

"With-a Guacamole!" shouted Sal.

I was stunned.  "How... how did they find out?"  I thought.

They danced about the room singing about Guacamole, a young maiden who
blushed bright green.

I did not know whether to laugh or to cry.  I was doing a little of
both when, a minute or so later, Atmananda asked Sal to wait outside.

"You've got to admit, kid," Atmananda said to me.  "We have a good time

I glanced in the direction of my backpack.

Atmananda made a fist and shut his eyes.

"Watch out!" cried my rational side.  But he seemed sincere and
vulnerable, and I found myself gazing at him.

"Contemplate mountains--not him!"  I thought.  But in him I saw a man
who could see; who read people's inner thoughts and feelings; who
predicted the future; who glowed after I stared at him intensely for
several minutes; who spent hundreds of hours teaching me about worlds
of enchantment, excitement, and nobility; and who banked on a career of
making millions happy.

"Sure he's got a lot to offer," I thought, "but he's got that other
side--I need to get away!"  But in him I saw the community I had helped
build, a community which included all my current friends.

"Help build another community!  Find new friends!"  But in him I saw my
aspiration to be a seeker of Truth--as well as my desire to wield power
over others.

"He's playing a power game--run!"

Atmananda opened his eyes.  He seemed displeased and hurt.  He appeared
as both a mother and father figure.  He towered over me.  He exuded

I grimaced.  Over the past few years, I had occassionally questioned
Chinmoy's authenticity in the back of my mind.  Over the past few
months, I had occasionally questioned Atmananda's authenticity in the
back of my sleepy mind.  Over the past few days, I had continuously
questioned Atmananda's authenticity in the forefront of my rested mind.
But now, the conflict, which pitted my rational nature against my
mystical nature, became too much to endure.

He opened his fist and demanded, "What do you see?"

I saw memories of him telling me to act like a warrior before the
Forces destroyed what we had worked so hard to achieve.  I saw him
telling me with a concerned look on his face that he had spent more
time with me than with any other student.

"I... "

I had developed over the years a deep trust in him, as if he were
family.  I had allowed him to access and to control an important part
of me, my imagination, and now I feared that without him, the window to
worlds of dreams and fantasy would never open up again.  There were
other fears:  of death, of God, of the absence of God, of being lost
without a world, without a friend...

"I... "

I could not admit that I had trod what had in part become a bogus path.
I wanted so much for there to be a simple solution.

"I... I see sparks flying from your hand, Atmananda," I said, allowing
myself to imagine--and therefore to see--the sparks.

Atmananda left the room.  I lay in bed, listening to the macaws.

"I won't let the Negative Forces take me over," I determined.  "I am
going to be a true spiritual warrior."  When thoughts about Atmananda's
other side resurfaced, I refused to confront them.  Instead, I silently
repeated Atmananda's recommended doubt-combating mantra:  "NO!"

"NO!"  I thought, after reading in a Castaneda book Don Juan's
assertion that under no circumstance should you stay on a given path if
your feelings tell you to leave.

"NO!"  I thought, whenever I found myself questioning the process by
which I censored my own thoughts.

I was still thinking, "NO," on the day Atmananda noticed the hole in
the roof.

"GRAAAAAUUUUHHHHG!" squawked one of the colorful, captive birds.

"BAM!  BAM!  BAM!" echoed Atmananda's hammer as he blocked off the
escape route with some two-by-fours.

13.  Breakdown

In the months after I tried to run away, Atmananda kept me busy
expanding his postering routes north to Los Angeles and to the Bay
area.  Once he had me plan and coordinate a campaign in which one
hundred disciples distributed four thousand posters and one hundred
thousand promotional newsletters across the entire state of California.
He did not seem concerned that I was only twenty-one. He seemed to have
faith in me.  But after the work was complete, his faith regressed into
stinging verbal attacks on my level of consciousness, loyalty, and

"You are mentally ill," he said.  "You can hardly deal with the real
world." He explained that I was a prime target for the mind-ravaging
Forces because I was spiritually advanced, because I held a key
position in his Light-spreading organization, and, most importantly,
because I still doubted him.

"But stick with it, kid," he added.  "We haven't given up on you yet."

Atmananda failed to appreciate that my doubt-blocking efforts were
largely successful, except for the time that I spent with him.  It was
then that I saw him not as a divine incarnation with a bright golden
aura, but rather as an opportunistic Ph.D. with smooth social skills.
It was then that knots of tension mounted in my stomach, pangs of guilt
haunted my conscience, and, only after several emotionally exhausting
hours of telling myself, "NO!", the surfacing conflict appeared to
short-circuit. It was then that my mind drew a blank.

One evening, in a movie theatre with Atmananda and the inner circle,
the conflict had already run its course.  I felt detached, numb, dumb.
I gazed listlessly at the screen.  Atmananda said something.  Sal,
Anne, Rachel, and Dana laughed.  I looked straight ahead.  I did not

They kept giving me popcorn and candy, but I had deeply withdrawn.  I
did not eat.  I passed the items along.  I wished that it would stop.

What happened next seemed to occur in slow motion.  Sal held out a
bucket of popcorn.  Halfheartedly, I reached for it.  I wanted to be
left alone.  I held the bucket loosely.  It slipped from my hand.
Popcorn covered the floor.  I stood up.  Popcorn fell from my lap.  I
sensed that my friends had been having fun, and that I was ruining it
for them.  I would not meet their gazes.  I stood there, bathed by the
flickering lights of the film, frightened by the resurfacing conflict.

"Maybe it's been me all along," I thought.

"That's nonsense," I countered.  "It's Atmananda who is... "


I grimaced.  I walked up the incline toward the exit.  I left the
theatre in a stupor.  I felt dizzy and disoriented.  My mind again drew
a blank.

I crossed the street to UCSD.  I walked to Revelle College.  To the
Humanities Library Building.  To HL 1402.  I often reserved this room
through the Meditation Club for Atmananda's public and private
meetings.  I sat down.  I did not reflect on how his talks in this room
had changed in the past two years.  Nor did I reflect on how he had
changed.  Nor on how I had changed.  I just sat there.  After a few
minutes, I stood up and left.

I walked to John Muir College.  I saw a picture of conservationist,
writer, and mountaineer John Muir.  I found myself thinking about the
plumber, about Palomar Mountain, about the solitary hawk...

"NO!"  I said aloud and turned away.

I walked down the hill to Central Library.  I remembered walking here
with two friends from high school who, months before, had unexpectedly
appeared at the Centre door.  I had not spoken with them in years.  I
told them I was no longer a disciple of an Indian guru.  I also told
them my new spiritual teacher was different than the others.  "He's got
a Ph.D," I explained.  "He's been on Phil Donahue.  He's my friend."
Despite my assertions that I was fine and that I could take care of
myself, they still looked at me as if I were in some kind of cult.

"The past is dust," I now thought, recalling a saying that Atmananda
had borrowed from Chinmoy.

I walked to Third College.  To Third College Lecture Hall.  To TLH 104.
I saw Atmananda's face on either side of the front wall.  I had placed
the two posters.  Atmananda often claimed that his photograph was a
doorway to his "awareness field," and now I wondered if he was watching
me through the posters on the wall.  I felt uneasy and left.

I walked to a nearby computer terminal room.  I logged on and played
Star Trek.  The E on the screen was the Enterprise.  R's were Romulans.
K's were Klingons.  Klingons had stealth devices.  I was E. R's and K's
surrounded E. E got destroyed.  Each time I played, E got destroyed.  I
logged off and walked away.

I plodded over soft, squishy lawns.  The sprinklers were on.  I got
wet.  I felt like a zombie.  I felt small.

I crisscrossed campus several times more.  I was tired.  I thought
about sleeping in the computer room.  I was afraid to return to the
Centre.  I was afraid of facing Atmananda.  I did not examine the fear.
I walked home.

I opened the door.  It was late.  Atmananda stood in the living room.
I sensed that he had been waiting for me.

"You may not realize it," he said right away, "but you are very sick.
You are mentally ill.  I am a professional and you are going to have to
trust me."

Atmananda spoke authoritatively.  He held something in his hand.  He
said that he was going to help me.

"Have you ever heard of Stelazine?" he asked.


"Stelazine is a drug that helps people who suffer from mental illness
or depression.  With the advent of drugs such as this, people who would
otherwise be dysfunctional can lead happy and normal lives."

I had a flash of fear.  I glanced at the door.

"Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of," Atmananda said, holding
out the pills.  "You'd be surprised how many people experience some
form of neurosis or psychosis.  I have a cousin who took anti-psychotic
drugs for years.  Now he flies F-14's for the military."

The conflict sparked and it flickered and then disappeared.  My mind
became still.  I reached for the pills.

"Western doctors don't really understand mental illness.  It is a form
of possession.  Stelazine blocks out the lower occult worlds, which are
inhabited by the Negative Forces."

I nodded.  My doubts remained submerged.

"We are not about to desert you.  But you have to understand that you
*are* mentally ill.  All along, you thought that this was some kind of
game.  You did not take my warnings about the Forces seriously.  You
opened up your consciousness to them, and now you are paying the price."

I nodded again.

"Of course, there is still hope.  But you've got to stop fighting me.
You've got to act *now*." He instructed me to take the drug.  I had no
premonition as I swallowed the Stelazine that Atmananda would later
call me his "chemical experiment."

In the days that followed, Atmananda seemed to enjoy his assumed role
as psychiatrist and nurse.  He knocked on my door several times a day
and, in a cheery voice, announced, "Hi, kid--reality check.  How do you

"Dizzy," I replied.  I smiled.  I was enjoying Atmananda's attention
and kind treatment.  "I feel pretty relaxed."

"Good," he said.  "Now tell me about your thoughts."

I did.

He seemed pleased that I was finding it difficult to concentrate, that
my thoughts had a fuzzy, dream-like quality to them, and that my
self-analyzing, authority-questioning nature had submerged beyond my

"You should feel good about yourself," he said pleasantly.  "You are
making some definite progress."

14.  Bicycle Ride--St. Ignes

Two weeks into the cross-country bicycle trek, I pedaled from Utica,
New York, to Rochester, where I stayed with Noah, a childhood friend.
When I told him the story of my years with Atmananda, he congratulated
me for having left what sounded to him like an abusive marriage.  In
fact, he was surprised that Atmananda did not have sexual relations
with the men disciples as a way to control them.  He also pointed out
that while in medical school, he had observed self-proclaimed
incarnations of Jesus Christ at psychiatric wards.

"How can you be sure that someone *isn't* enlightened?"  I asked,
puzzled by the certainty with which Noah expressed his opinions.

"How can you be sure that someone *is*?" he replied.

I thought about the visit as I continued the journey west to Detroit.
Noah's reluctance to give a person or an idea the benefit of the doubt,
and the scrutiny with which he questioned words such as
"enlightenment," seemed bizarre but not entirely unnatural, like a
trusted habit long forgotten.

Several days later, I rushed down a long hill in northern Michigan
toward an oncoming truck.  It was twilight.  The trailer suddenly hit a
bump, swung out from behind the bicycle, and slammed into my rear
wheel.  I nearly fell from the impact.  Then I lurched forward as the
trailer disengaged.

"Nuna!"  I cried, glancing back, but the wheel had stopped spinning and
it took my full attention to balance the skidding, swerving bicycle.
Moments later the truck smacked me with a wall of air as it thundered
by, and the bike quickly came to a halt.  I ran up the hill to the
wayward trailer and found Nunatak peering out from the doggie-carrier.
She tilted her head as if to ask, "Is this something all huskies go

I sat with the pup in the tall grass.  I was devastated.  The rig was
the vehicle I had chosen to exercise and exorcise my body and mind.  It
was also my means of transportation.  Now, it was broken.  As the sky
went from deep purple to black, the memory of Atmananda calling me his
"chemical experiment" seemed to usher in the darkness.  Other
recollections bubbled up from the murky depths, only to burst into
vivid, unnerving images.  Here was Atmananda telling me that he was a
professional, that I was extremely sick, and that he was going to help
me.  Here he was telling me to swallow my pride.  And here he was
telling me to swallow the Stelazine.

Cars zoomed by now and then, dispelling apparitions of my former
mentor.  Headlights flashed an angry light at the severed trailer, the
pretzel-shaped wheel, and the fallen gear strewn in disarray.  Then the
lights were gone, leaving behind a fiery-comet afterimage.

I wondered why Atmananda had fed me the drug.  Did he actually believe
that he was helping me?  If so, why didn't he recommend that I seek
guidance outside his direct sphere of influence?  It seemed more likely
that, unable to tell the difference between helping and controlling
people, he gave me the drug to strengthen his grip on my mind.  But I
suspected another motive.  I knew that Atmananda had often used me as a
sounding board for new ideas and, later, for LSD.  He may have wanted
to observe my reaction to the Stelazine before using it on others--or
on himself.

As I meditated on Atmananda's possible motives, I swatted mosquitos and
picked at scabs of aging stings.  I did not yet know that he had given
Stelazine to at least one other inner circle follower.

I tried to remember how I had felt during the Stelazine experiment.  I
recalled feeling dizzy.  I also recalled feeling at peace with myself.
The conflict between my rational and mystical natures did not seem to
matter.  Nothing seemed to matter.

"You're doing fine, kid," Atmananda had told me each day.  "Just go
with the flow and enjoy the process."

Stunned by the memory, I held the husky in my arms.  Nunatak was a
wonderful traveling companion.  Each day she tugged and leaped
alongside the rig as if she were a full-grown sled dog.  She licked the
drying sweat and tears on my face.

I tried to understand why I had followed Atmananda-Dr. Lenz's drug
prescription.  Perhaps the most compelling reason was because I was
afraid not to.  Since the coup, Atmananda had stepped up his effort to
instill fear in his followers.  He taught me, for instance, to fear the
Negative Forces which he said were destroying the fabric of society.
"Just read the papers," he would say.  "You'll see what I'm talking

He taught me to fear what would happen if I left the Centre.  "You know
too much to leave.  It's a greedy, materialistic world out there.  Your
soul would be miserable.  Besides, the Forces would flatten you like a
bug.  You would lose thousands of lifetimes of evolution."

He taught me to fear, not just the Forces but people, particularly old
friends and family.  "It's best if you don't tell them what we do here.
Believe me, they won't understand.  They'll end up blocking your
progress and sapping your power."

And he taught me to fear for my sanity.  "You can no longer deal with
the real world.  You're lucky I don't drop you off at a mental

Other reasons why I had felt compelled to take the Stelazine slowly
dawned.  I realized that Atmananda's senatorial countenance, his
smooth, commanding voice, and his Ph.D. contributed to an aura of
authority which I had found difficult to dispute.  He had combined
Western rhetoric, Eastern mysticism, and American pop culture to entice
me; vague language, long pauses, and repetition to hold me spellbound;
and fear, fasting, and sleep deprivation to break me down.

Had Atmananda's techniques ended there, I might have seen him as a
control freak--and left.  But each time he had broken me down, he built
me up again with kindness and with words of inspiration.  He spoke of
saints, of beauty, and of the wisdom of the desert.  He spoke of
selflessness, quixotic quests, literature, and wonder.  And he spoke of
an unconditional love and of a multi-lifetime camaraderie.

Had Atmananda's techniques ended there, I might have seen him as a
confused combination of Big Nurse and McMurphy--and left.  But he
managed, by flipping between abusive and supportive personas, to keep
me off balance on an emotionally gut-wrenching roller coaster ride.
Genuine spiritual benefactors were supposed to keep students off
balance, he maintained, because it was only then that they could "let
go and make real leaps in spiritual progress." It was primarily in his
uncanny ability to read an individual or group, and to gauge the
precise instance in which to flip, that Atmananda's brilliance could be
found.  I had been unaware that he was speaking to me, controlling me,
through the rhythmic "off" and "on" language of intermittent

It was painful to grapple with memories of Atmananda and to see him in
such a searing light.  But it was far more painful to examine what it
was about me that had complemented his techniques and allowed me to
accept his authority.  I thought about how, as a thirteen-year-old, it
had been easier to journey into lives of sorcerers from the Castaneda
books than it was to deal with the emotions of a family in conflict;
years later, it was easier to follow Atmananda's narcotic program than
it was to brave a suppressed conflict of my own.  I also realized that
I had grown up feeling blessed, immortal, and immune to the dangers of
the world; later, when Atmananda issued post-coup etiquette and
Stelazine, I found it difficult to admit that I was so wrong for so
long about so many things, and that I was just another victim of one
man's *other* side.

The reluctance to view myself as a victim persisted, and now, draped
with a sleeping bag to protect me from mosquitos, I found it difficult
to admit that the "Atmananda phenomenon" may have had as much to do
with Atmananda, and with me, as it did with the balance of society.
Years later, I wondered if modern American society had been replacing a
system of mythology and religious dogma with a system of reason as a
way to explain ourselves and the world around us.  I wondered if there
were a genuine need in humans not only to categorize and comprehend,
but to acknowledge and to address, in unscientific terms, the mystery
of that which creates, binds, animates, and destroys.  And I wondered
if teachers like Atmananda were increasingly exploiting such a need in
millions who, for whatever reasons, had chosen a path apart from
conventional religion.  Perhaps by nurturing both mystical and rational
inclinations, society could explore the realm beyond the surface world
of reason while keeping pace with the charismatic predators of the New

But in the darkness of a northern Michigan night, still angry and upset
from memories of Atmananda's experiments, I sensed that a New Age of
enchantment and wisdom had passed me by.  Yet I also felt cleansed and
refreshed, like the air of a city after heavy rain.  I stood up and
began gathering the fallen gear in a pile by the trailer.  Suddenly, I
was staring into headlights which did not disappear.  A man got out of
the pickup.

"What happened, son?"

As I recounted the bicycle incident, I tried to control the quiver in
my voice.

"Officer Brown," he said, showing me a badge.  He dropped me, the dog,
and the rig off at a motel in nearby St. Ignes.  He also left me his
number at the station, in case I needed help getting back on the road.

The following afternoon, the policeman pounded the wheel back into
shape, fixed the derailleur, replaced spokes, and bolted steel bars
over the aluminum which attached the trailer to the bicycle.  When he
was done, he refused to take my money.

"What are you doing now?"  I asked.

"Cleaning the frame."

"Thanks," I said, "but you don't have to do that."

"Whenever you do a job, son, do it right."

Later that day, invisible currents from California, along with the
weight of the baggage, continued to affect my progress west.  As I rode
through the woods of the Upper Peninsula, I reflected on Noah's remark
that I had escaped from an abusive relationship.  My story, I
concluded, was not so unusual after all.  Invigorated, I coasted down a
long hill and squeezed the brakes intermittently.

15.  The Enchanted Taco

Late one night, Atmananda met three hundred disciples in a parking lot
in the desert ninety miles east of San Diego.  He led us for hours over
soft, cooling sand to a spot in a dry river bed.  He had us form a
circle around him.  As we scanned for scorpions before sitting down,
the desert floor lit up like a circular, gyrating constellation, until
one by one the flashlights went out and it grew difficult again to see.

"If you enter a higher level of consciousness," Atmananda began from
the center of the circle, "you will see the Warriors on the cliffs
across the gorge.  They are subtle beings from another plane of
existence.  They look a lot like American Indians."

Hundreds of braves, tall and unflinching, were conjured in my

"What do you *see*?" Atmananda asked the group.

I made no response.  I did not doubt the images cast on the back of my
eyes by my brain.  Nor did I doubt Atmananda.  In the months after the
week-and-a-half-long Stelazine experiment, the doubts and the conflict
had vanished.  I was reluctant to speak because my vision had been so
subtle, so fleeting.

Meanwhile, others in the circle--engineers, teachers, doctors, lawyers,
students, and business professionals--also remained as silent as the
rocks and hills around us.

"If you are at all serious about the study of mysticism," chided
Atmananda, "you must learn to talk openly about what you *see*. If you
don't, your mind will play tricks on you and you will doubt your
experiences later on."

More silence.  The next ten seconds passed very slowly.

"Atmananda," I suddenly announced.  "I *saw* the Warriors."

Others in the circle soon *saw* them too.

Atmananda held desert trips once or twice a month and, by mid-1983,
followers *saw* him walking above the ground on a "cushion of light,"
flying to distant mountains, sending columns of light into the sky, and
causing constellations to gyrate and disappear.

On one starlit night, Atmananda raised his hands above his head.  As he
slowly lowered them, he made a low, whistling sound like the wind.

"What did you *see*?" he asked afterward.

"I didn't *see* anything," one new follower bemoaned.

"Advanced psychic vision is necessary to perceive what I am doing or,
more accurately, not doing," Atmananda said patiently.

"I hate to sound negative," persisted the follower, "but what exactly
are you doing?"

For a moment I felt tense.  The disciple had unearthed a question that
had badly stung me many times before.

"Sometimes I alter actual physical objects, sometimes I alter your
perceptions, and sometimes I alter both," Atmananda said, dispelling
the tension with his gentle, soothing voice.

"Atmananda, I *saw* you become a luminous egg," said another follower,
borrowing a phrase from the Castaneda books.

"Anyone else?"

"I *saw* light from the stars pass through your body," tried another.

"Very good.  Who *saw* me disappear?"

I often saw Atmananda disappear after I stared at him for several
minutes without blinking.  But during one desert trip in 1983, I saw
him vanish independently of the dilated pupils.  Then, a moment later,
I saw him reappear as someone else.

"What I am about to say," he had announced that night, "is going to
come as a shock to you.  You see, I am not who you think I am."

The followers stopped fidgeting.

"A few days ago," he continued, "when I stopped drinking Tab, I knew
something was up.  This morning when I woke, I looked at my body.
There was nothing but Light.  I suddenly understood.  It was all so

He paused.  "Who am I?" he asked.

Dead silence.

"Don't all answer at once."

Nervous laughter.

"I thought you were a man named Atmananda who meditated extremely
well," said a man.

Atmananda did not reply.

"Are you a doorway to eternity?"

"Please--no philosophy tonight," he said sharply.  "Who else?"

After several more tries, a devotee suggested that he was Vishnu, a
Hindu godhead.

"Close," he approved.

I felt a rush in the pit of my stomach.  Atmananda's private jet, after
years of accumulating the fuel of our trust and belief, was finally
taking off.  I was worried.  "Fastening my seat belt" would do me no
good if he started thinking he was on par with Jesus Christ or the

"Are you Rama?" someone asked.

"Yes," he replied.  "I am Rama, the last incarnation of Vishnu.  You
people think that I am a person, but I am not.  Over the years I
watched my various selves fade away.  I fought the process tooth and
nail--like each of you are doing now.  But it was in vain.  I could not
stop the process of dissolution.  I had to admit that I was no longer a
person.  This morning I suddenly knew who I was.  I have been
cycling... I am beginning to remember... Eternity has named me
Rama... Rama most clearly reflects my strand of luminosity... We're at
the end of a cycle... At this time, Vishnu takes incarnation as a
person... Vishnu is that aspect of God that preserves and protects
life... Rama... the last incarnation of Vishnu... "

Jolted by the speed and the angle at which his jet now climbed--he
*was* putting himself on par with Jesus Christ and the Buddha--I
suppressed a reaction and awaited instructions from the pilot's latest
persona.  But the instructions, it turned out, had been issued months
before.  Each follower was supposed to write and submit stories--typed,
double-spaced--about his or her experiences with him.  Our prose, he
had been telling us, was indicative of our mediocre level of
consciousness, so we wrote and rewrote and we tried to revise, guided
by his comments in the margin.

Stories about Rama--a figure from Hindu mythology--can be found in the
classic Indian text, The Ramayana.  Stories about "Rama" (Atmananda
[Fred])--a guy from Connecticut--can be found in The Last Incarnation.

The words, "THE LAST INCARNATION" flash from the cover in letters of
gold, above a backlit photo of "Rama," the book's editor, publisher,
and focus.  The stories portray Rama as a warm, intelligent servant of
Truth--with enough mystical power to light up a city.  A few of my
stories, which also depict him as a down-to-earth demigod, appear in
the 403-page collection.  But there were other stories I could have

I could have written, for instance, the story of "Rama and the Puppets
of Bliss and Profit."  In 1980, Rama got a cuddly, white hand puppet
which had purple feet and a purple, toucan-shaped beak.  Rama called it
"Bliss," and often played with it as though it were alive.  He appeared
to make it talk, yawn, sleep, and soar.  "Bliss is soaring through the
other worlds," he explained.  In 1982, I asked Rama what he wanted for
his birthday.

"Another Bliss," he replied with a boyish grin.  So I set out on a
quest with Paul to buy a Bliss for our benefactor.  Together we combed
the toy stores of southern California, but the search was to no avail.
Weeks later, I spoke with a puppet designer in northern California.

"Sounds to me like you have a 'Take Me To Your Leader,'" she said.
"Does it have antennas?"


"Then you must have an 'Uncle Lucius.'"

"Actually," I said, "we call it 'Bliss.'"

Over the next few years, Rama ordered thousands of yellow, red, green,
pink, and blue Blisses.

"Oh, how adorable," said the flight attendants when they saw the grown
man in first class playing with the colorful puppets.

"We donate them to children's hospitals," Rama claimed.  He failed to
mention that he brought the Blisses to Centre meetings, where he
infused their beaks with a "special force" and where he sold them at a
handsome profit.

I could have written the story of "Rama and the Token Underdog." "A
large part of what motivates me," Rama once confided, "is my concern
for the underdog."  He displayed his concern one desert trip by
accompanying a handicapped student who was unable to keep pace with the
group.  I recalled one of Rama's lessons: "You can tell a person's
level of spiritual evolution by how they treat those around them."  I
felt proud of my teacher.  But shortly thereafter, Rama's attitude
changed.  He began four-wheeling the desert sands while the rest of us
walked.  He also banned from all desert trips those who were unable to
keep up.

I could have written the story of "Rama and the Menorah Incident." I
once placed in the window of my room a menorah, a traditional candle
holder used by Jews during the celebration of Hanukkah.  But when my
housemate and mentor noticed, he looked at me askance.  "What, are you
crazy?" he said.  "Take it down right away!" It was inconceivable to me
that behind a mask of intellectual and religious tolerance could lie so
powerful a bent to control.  I removed the menorah from my window.

I could have written the story of "Rama and the Satanic Billboard." In
1982 and 1983, Rama occasionally said that he'd like to place a
billboard of his face above the busy intersection of freeways 10 and
405 in Los Angeles.  He seemed excited about including this message:
"666--We're Back".

And I could have written the story of "Rama and the Blade Runner Day."
"Would you like to meet Harrison Ford?"  Rama asked me over the phone
in 1983.  By then, many San Diego devotees had moved to the expanding
Centre in L.A., based largely on Rama's advice.  Centre meetings in Los
Angeles were first held in a small room in Hollywood, and then in a
large room with a stage in Manhattan Beach.  By the time meetings were
held in the ornate Beverly Theater on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly
Hills, Rama commuted each week from his ocean-view Malibu rental to the
expanding Centre in San Francisco.

"You mean Hans Solo?"  I asked.  "You bet!"  I drove west, then north,
toward Zuma Beach.  Twenty minutes later, I turned down a long driveway
to Rama's house, which he claimed that he rented from Goldie Hawn.
Hawn wanted to sell; Ford wanted to buy; and Rama, Anne, and I wanted
to see, in real life, a favorite image from the magic screen.

Rama wore a colorful shirt patterned with scenes of the tropics,
similar to one worn by Allie Fox (Harrison Ford) in The Mosquito Coast.
Obsessed with creating a world of his own, Fox bares a captive
community to his innovative dreams, poisoned experiments, and
diminishing sanity.

Rama suggested that we act busy, so I went outside and pushed a broom.
I smelled smoke.  Nearby brush fires had been fanned out of control by
increasingly strong winds.  The thick, yellow sky reminded me of Blade
Runner, a science fiction film starring Harrison Ford.  The
recollection caused my mind to digress down a corridor of memories,
smoke, and mirrors.

I pictured Rama in line at the movies, which is where he met disciples
on Saturday nights.  He was easy to spot.  With arms folded, one foot
forward, and head tilted back, he played the part of the
self-possessed, insurgent general who had ordered his troops to carry
on, despite the overwhelming odds.  His bush of hair made him seem
taller than he was.

Rama incorporated into his teachings what he gleaned from the three,
sometimes four films he saw in a typical week.  He taught, for
instance, that he was like Mike (Robert De Niro) from The Deerhunter.
Mike risks a game of Russian roulette in war-torn Saigon to try to save
Nicky (Christopher Walken), his friend.

"You are like Nicky," Rama told me frequently.

Drawing, too, from Mel Gibson's role in Road Warrior, Rama taught that
it was okay for spiritual Warriors to temper their valor in order to

Rama taught that it was spiritually correct to see such movies as The
Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Dawn Of The Dead, and The Shining, each of
which he viewed repeatedly.  Horror films, he claimed, were a clean way
to alter our level of consciousness--"No drugs, no sex"--and were a
graphic reminder that each lifetime was but a brief, fragile
opportunity through which to evolve.

Citing Mick Jaggar in the concert film Let's Spend The Night Together,
Rama further taught that it was perfectly natural for powerful men to
develop their feminine side.  "Part of the reason why people are so
attracted to Mick," he said, "is because he puts out a very feminine
energy."  Rama later depicted himself in posters and newspaper ads as
an androgynous figure.

Perhaps as part of a doubt-diffusing lesson, Rama once invited about
twenty-five inner circle disciples to see Split Image, a movie
portraying a cult in the late '70s.  When the cult leader (Peter Fonda)
blatantly manipulated his followers, Rama laughed out loud.  We laughed
too.  It was an odd moment; our laughter had a nervous edge to it.  I
laughed partly to fit in, and partly because I sensed, but refused to
confront, the absurdity of the situation.

Another time, Rama took followers to see Conan The Barbarian.  When
Conan (Arnold Schwartzeneggar) observes a cult leader raise his arms to
silence throngs of "DOOM"-chanting disciples, Rama, who sat beside me
in the theatre, turned to me and said, "He doesn't have such a bad set
up."  I figured Rama was only joking.  I laughed, but laughed alone.

Rama's lessons about movies often turned my topsy-turvy world further
upside down.  He told me, for instance, that Star Wars creator George
Lucas was wrong to have Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) prematurely leave
a mystical apprenticeship, wrong to have evil unmasked by good, and
wrong to portray Yoda as being gay.

"Yoda is gay?"  I asked.

"Yes," Rama replied, "but don't worry--you are not gay.  No way.  Of
course you're not gay.  Don't believe anyone who tells you that you
are.  Why even allow yourself to think that you are gay?" Then, after
laughing heartily, he hissed an imitation of the Emperor, Darth Vader's
evil master.

Rama, who assumed broad powers to interpret reality and myth, seemed to
believe that he was made of the stuff of legends.  He got touchy,
however, when disciples looked to legends outside the realm of his
control.  One time, for instance, I excitedly told him that I had seen
an autographed photo of Mark Hamill.

"Here you are sitting next to a fully enlightened teacher," he said
bitterly, "and all you can do is live in a world of fantasy."

Rama was right, I decided, as I pushed the broom down the long driveway
in Malibu.  I was living in a world of fantasy.  There, shaded by
billowing, yellow smoke and accompanied by a talkative real estate
agent, was Harrison Ford, quietly stepping toward Goldie Hawn's house,
toward the "Last Incarnation of Vishnu."  Ford wore dungarees.

Rama introduced himself as the renter and as a teacher of advanced

Anne introduced herself as a friend of Rama's.

"Sure is a blade runner kind of day," I blurted.

Ford said hello and went inside with the agent.  We followed.

When the entourage reached the master bedroom, Rama gazed at the ocean
and declared, "The Force is strong here."

But Ford did not seem interested in Rama's assessment of the local
mystical energy field.  Nor did Ford seem interested in Rama's
recollections about his fire fighting days.  (Rama failed to mention
that he had fought the fires while in a prison camp, where he had been
serving time for selling drugs.) Ford was interested in the
construction of the house, and now he had seen enough.  He started to

Rama handed him a Self Discovery, the free, promotional publication
that had taken the place of WOOF!. Rama gave him an issue that had been
distributed throughout southern California.  On the front cover was a
blowup of Cindy, a beautiful, young, blond woman, meditating on the
hood of Rama's red Porsche.  Inside were stories from The Last
Incarnation.  On the back cover was Rama's past-life resume
advertisement, in which he claimed: "1531-1575, Zen Master, Japan;
1602-1771, Head of Zen Order, Japan; 1725-1804, Master of Monastery,
Tibet; 1834-1905, Jnana Yoga Master, India; 1912-1945, Tibetan Lama and
Head of Monastic Order, Tibet; 1950- , Self Realized Spiritual Teacher
and Director of Spiritual Communities, United States."

Ford took the issue and left.

"It's just like in Star Wars," Rama noted as Ford drove away.  "He
doesn't really believe in The Force."

There was more to tell of that particular story--my house burned down
that day.  And while disciples gave generously when Rama took up a
collection, no one could have replaced my birthday gift from Rama.  I
found it lying on the scorched foundation, reduced from a sleek, red
bicycle to a meteor-like lump of distorted alloys.

But of all the sketches I could have written for The Last Incarnation,
perhaps the most telling would have been the story of "Rama and the
Enlightenment of Women."  "Certainly we welcome men into our
organization," Rama often announced.  "But our primary focus is on the
enlightenment of women."  His interest in helping hundreds, even
thousands, of women seemed a genuine reflection of his commitment to
the underdog.

When I first met Rama in 1978, his crusade for women had already begun.
"Unless you are close to enlightenment," he had told potential women
disciples, "you will lose a great deal of your spiritual and mystical
power through sex and through sexual relationships." Over the years,
Rama spent many hours counseling and persuading women seekers to leave
their boyfriends and husbands in the name of gender equality and higher
spirituality.  In 1981, for instance, weeks after the coup, he wrote
and published in WOOF!  (Issue #2; January, 1981): "Dear WOOF!, I love
the spiritual life and the vital life too.  What should I
do?--Sproutarina J. Prana

"Dear Sproutarina, Your difficulty is that you are burning the candle
at both ends and sooner or later you are going to melt.  I suggest a
day in the desert alone, a good movie, or a powerful occult experience.
You see, Sproutarina, God loves you no matter what you do.  If you want
the vital, you can have it, and if you want the psychic you can have
that too.  But you can't have both, at least not in our Centre.  Decide
which will really fulfill you and choose that one.  Only you can decide
what you want in this lifetime."

Rama--who preferred the term "having sex" to "making
love"--occasionally softened his position on sexuality and invited
followers to relax, accept their human nature, and do whatever worked
for them.  "Hey, Kate!" he once said in an Italian accent.  "You go out
with-a my boy Mark, and I'll take plenty good care a-you!" It was
understood that Rama meant business when he donned his Godfather
persona, and I subsequently enjoyed a several-month relationship with
this young disciple.  Yet when I asked Rama if it was possible for a
man and woman to have an emotionally and spiritually supportive
relationship, he smiled, shook his head, and said, "Even if you find a
woman whose consciousness is spiritually refined, it still wouldn't
work--because yours is not... "

In contrast, his relationships with women were highly refined, Rama
pointed out, because for him sex had become an act of spiritual, not
physical, self-giving. Nonetheless, after he got his housemate Anne
pregnant in 1982, his self-giving nature was nowhere to be found.
Instead of offering her wisdom or support, he sat in the lobby of the
abortion clinic, sorting and counting cash from a workshop he had given
on spiritual evolution.

When Anne returned to the lobby after the abortion, Rama had
disappeared.  Embarrassed, she approached the receptionist.

"He went to a bookstore," the woman replied.  "He said he'd be back

Women in the Centre were not supposed to let on that they were sleeping
with Rama.  Anne therefore felt that she had no one with whom to share
the burden of the abortion.  When she appeared depressed a week later,
Rama, in front of another disciple, remarked, "If it's not one, it's
the other."

Rama often invited women disciples to "talk" with him after Centre
meetings, Anne recalled years later.  But there, in his bedroom, they
frequently exchanged more than words.  Rama's relationship policy, she
also recalled, required inner circle women to limit their relationships
to one man:  himself.  His justification for the policy was that it
kept them from unwittingly transferring their partners' lower male
energy.  Male energy, he frequently complained, very much affected his
finely tuned, delicate sensibilities.

Perhaps Rama sought protection from "baby energy" as well; he managed
to persuade one disciple in her late twenties to leave her husband and
newborn child.

Despite his ability to invoke adoration and fidelity, Rama seemed
concerned that his power to control female followers was not absolute.
He therefore kept certain men from the inner circle, despite my

"Jeff," I once advised, "is really smart.  He's good with people, and
he's a lot of fun to be around."

Rama hesitated.  "I don't know, Mark; I'm worried about Dana."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't want her falling in love with him."

Rama was in a bind.  On the one hand, he knew that Jeff would be an
asset to the operation.  On the other, he sensed that Jeff was too
bright (he had been an honors graduate student in chemistry at UCSD),
too athletic (he played ultimate frisbee), and too good looking to be
running around loose within the carefully controlled nest.  But Rama
had a plan.  He encouraged Jeff to form a relationship with Karen, who
had previously followed Rama's advice and turned down an offer from
Stanford medical school.  He then encouraged them both to enroll in a
computer science Master's program at UCLA, and to gradually phase me
out as the poster and newspaper distribution coordinator.

One night in a restaurant in Los Angeles, Rama's story about wanting to
help women took on a new twist.  He had invited me to dinner with Nick
and Sarah, a handsome young couple who acted in Hollywood and who had
recently joined the Centre.  When the waitress came to take our orders,
Rama began waving and curling his hand.

Moments later, as the waitress was walking away, Nick asked, "What were
you doing with your hand, Rama?"

"I was sending her sexual pleasure directly through the inner worlds,"
he replied, glancing at Sarah now and again.

Stories of "Rama and the Enlightenment of Women" were all the more
startling, I found, when narrated by Rama himself.  There was the one,
for instance, about Sue.

"Sue once came in my room," Rama told me, "took off all her clothes,
and flung herself on me.  'Please don't make me go home and masturbate,
Rama,' she kept saying, but I just sat there and meditated on the
Infinite, until I entered samadhi."

There was the one about Harry, the main character from Lolita, one of
Vladimir Nabokov's novels.  "The point of Lolita," Rama explained to
me, "is not that Harry repeatedly slept with a fourteen-year-old after
kidnapping and drugging her.  The point is that Harry really did love

There was the one about the UCLA students.  "Sometimes I walk the
streets of Westwood," he said at Centre meetings, "and drain the
undergraduates of their mystical power.  Now, don't get all upset.
It's not like they're using it.  Most of them are just wasting it on

And there was the one about his former wife.  "At one point in the
relationship," he told me, "I had to decide whether to be of service to
the one or to the many."  Rama often described his dream of living in a
fortified desert compound with hundreds of heavily armed women
devotees.  Perhaps he broke up with his "jealous" wife--"She kept
imagining that I was looking at other women... "--in search of the many.

Once I invited a friend from work to one of Rama's public lectures.
She was interested in meditation and had recently left her boyfriend.

"Thanks, but no thanks!" she exclaimed when I mentioned the lecturer's

"So, what's wrong with Rama?"

"You mean the one who lists his past life credentials--dates and
all--in full-page ads?  The one who *specializes* in women?"

"Uh, yeah."

"He isn't bringing women to enlightenment, Mark.  He's bringing them to

"Come on," I countered, trying not to admit to her or to myself what he
had been doing for years.  "So he has a girlfriend.  What's wrong with
a spiritual teacher having a girlfriend?"

"There's nothing wrong with that," she said firmly.  "But he is
sleeping with many, many women."

"Where did you hear that?"

"From a number of women I met at a meditation retreat in San Diego.
They fell for his line about being lovers in past lives."

Suddenly I recalled Rama on stage at Centre meetings, wearing short red
gym shorts, closing and spreading his legs, tonguing in a slow,
circular fashion the insides of his mouth.  The memory repulsed me.
But the repulsion, I feared, was due to the Negative Entities within
me.  And it was Rama, I quickly reminded myself, who had been trying
day and night to imbue the many with the fullness of his enlightenment.

"Well, I have been good friends with him since 1978," I replied, "and
he's just not like that."

When disciples Giles and Claire, a couple living in Los Angeles, heard
similar stories about Rama's sexual exploits, they spoke candidly with
one another.

"We were not judging him," Claire recalled years later.  "But we were
concerned about what would happen to him and to our community if the
press found out.  I wrote him a letter saying that he looked much more
human than divine when he approached women at Centre meetings for
sexual, rather than spiritual reasons."

"And I decided to phone him," recalled Giles.  "A member of his staff
said that he was not at home and would call me back.  Several days
later at three a.m. the phone rang.  It was Rama.  We spoke for about
an hour.  When I suggested that he consider exercising more discretion,
he was reasonable and polite.  We discussed the issue like human
beings.  After all, I am old enough to be his father.  He told me, 'Of
course I like girls.  I'm just an ordinary guy.  You don't know what
it's like.  They throw themselves at me.  What's a healthy man to do?'"

"At the next Centre meeting," Claire said, "Rama gave us the cold
shoulder.  And at the one after that, he distributed the tape
'Sophisticated Sexuality' (see Appendix C). During the break, Rama
approached me.  His eyes became small, like hard, little bullets.  He
was furious.  He told me repeatedly that my letter was self-indulgent

"Then he asked to see me outside," said Giles.  "Alone.  Grabbing me
and digging his fingers into my shoulders, he shouted, 'I'VE BEATEN

"After the break," Claire continued, "Rama lectured for thirty minutes
about how people had been constantly throwing him bad energy--all the
while glaring at Giles."

During the next few weeks, Giles and Claire fearfully recalled Rama's
threat that deserters would look and feel like hell.  Nonetheless, they
stopped attending meetings and trips to the desert, where Rama kept
trying to disappear.

"Some of you still harbor doubts that I can disappear," Rama accused
the several hundred disciples who sat around him in a circle.  "But
perhaps if I dissolve someone else, you will find it easier to see.
Tonight I will be dissolving an old friend of mine.  Mark, would you
come up here, please."

I walked toward him.  I was thrilled.  My heart was pumping fast.  I
loved being the center of attention.

"Now, close your eyes," he said, placing his hand on my forehead.  He
flashed me a devilish grin.  "This won't hurt a bit."

I closed my lids.  After several seconds, I felt detached from my
thought process.  It was as if I could visually observe a thought as it
formed, connected with meaning, and vanished.  One thought had been:
"What is going on?"  As I tried to anticipate my next thought, I ended
up instead observing the thought of anticipating a thought--when
suddenly a volley of words jarred me out of the trance.

"Earth to Mark.  Come in Mark."

I opened my eyes and saw Rama towering above me, laughing softly.  I
looked away and saw liquid gold specks lining the blackness.  I had
managed, until now, to avoid thoughts about time and had no idea how
long the experience lasted.

"What did you see?"  Rama asked the group.

"It looked like Mark was dizzy, and you caught him right when he fell."

"I didn't see anything," reported another.  "But I felt very peaceful.
I found it easy to slow my thoughts."

"You dissolved him, Rama," offered another.

As we prepared for the journey back to the cars, Rama invited me to
walk with him at the front of the line.

"That was fun, wasn't it?" he asked several minutes later.  As he
scanned the path for rattlesnakes, his powerful beam cut a sharp tunnel
through the darkness.

I agreed.  It had been a blast.  Over the past five years, moments of
deep meditation had been typically interrupted by thoughts such as,
"Hey--I'm meditating!"  But moments earlier, I witnessed thoughts
objectively, as if they belonged to someone else.

"Tonight I helped you see a beautiful world," Rama said.  "My intent is
to show my students how to fly through these worlds on their wings of
perception.  It is easy to show you because you like me.  Many of my
students fear me or hate me--or, even worse, they worship me." Suddenly
he flipped off the light, and a fifteen-foot high ocotillo shrub

"I don't perform miracles to show off my powers, but to expand your
view of reality.  If my students can accept that I disappear, just
imagine what they will be capable of."

Though I was learning to fly on my wings of perception, and though in
the months after the Stelazine trip I continued to deeply suppress part
of my rational side, I never fully accepted Rama's world in its
entirety.  I never accepted, for instance, the story of "Rama and the
Enchanted Taco."  The Enchanted Taco, Rama said, was an immense,
luminous, and other-worldly treat.  It could be seen in the desert,
hovering casually over mystical power spots, garnished with divine
light, knowledge, and guacamole.  But in a parking lot at four a.m., I
saw Rama wave to three hundred bleary-eyed disciples, get in a black
Turbo Carrera, and disappear.

16.  Ride To Heaven

"I didn't do well enough to remember," wrote Donald Kohl in 1984.
"Bye, Rama, see you next time."

Months later, Donald's father called me.  "Do you have a few minutes?"
he asked.  I knew that Rama would not want me to talk with Mr. Kohl.
But I was shocked by the image of blood spurting from Donald's wrists.

"I have time," I said.  "I'm sorry about your son."

Mr. Kohl asked about Rama and the organization.

"I know what you're thinking," I said.  "But Donald was not involved in
a cult.  We're not like that.  Rama teaches us to accept or reject his
recommendations based on our own perceptions.  He teaches us that he's
no more important than anyone else." I did not mention that Rama had
distributed to each devotee a larger-than-life poster of his face.

"Rama asks that we help cover the cost of room rentals and things like
that.  But we're in charge of our own money."  I did not tell him that
Rama actively sought gift money to supplement the skyrocketing
"tuition." Nor did I tell him that Rama worshipped and had named the
organization "Lakshmi," the Hindu goddess of beauty and prosperity.

"Our goal is to teach people to meditate."  I did not mention Rama's
stated interest in finding students from his past lives, filling
stadiums, and starting a world religion.  Nor did I mention that Rama
actively pursued these interests.  He payed many thousands of dollars,
for instance, for promotional photographs featuring a back-lit aura.
He shifted his advertising copy and name to reflect a growing sentiment
that gurus were out while Zen masters were in (he called himself "Zen
Master Rama"). And he persuaded thousands in the two years since the
Stelazine experiment that he was a living legend, a rare presence, and
a direct line to God.

"We normally meditate on our own for forty minutes in the morning,
fifteen minutes at noon, and fifty minutes in the evening.  Once a week
we meditate with Rama at a Centre meeting.  Sometimes we'll attend a
public lecture or a field trip to the desert.  Sometimes we'll help out
on a project like office work or postering.  But that's pretty much it.
Basically, we're just a group of healthy individuals who happen to
meditate.  It's not like we live in an ashram or anything."  I did not
mention that Rama had been initiating disciples with names--Prema,
Hanuman, Arjuna--taken from Hindu mythology.  Nor did I mention that
Rama had been teaching us to flip between various "caretaker
personalities."  He taught, for instance, that within the hostile
environment of the "outside world" we should adopt the shrewd powerful
personality of a warrior, whereas within the safe environment of a
Centre meeting we should adopt the gentle, trusting personality of a
child.  Nor did I mention the details of Rama's spiritual etiquette,
some of which he described in his tape, "Welcome To Lakshmi" (see
Appendix B).

"Rama teaches us a combination of spiritual paths like Taoism,
mysticism, and Christianity."  I did not describe what might happen at
a typical Centre meeting.  Rama, who usually arrived about forty
minutes late, might begin with a discourse on the teachings of Lao Tzu,
Castaneda's Don Juan, or Christ.  Then, couching parables in modern
terms, he might proclaim:  "Short is the path of the fast lane on the
freeway to enlightenment."  Or he might say:  "As the coyote tries to
catch the road runner, so too tries the seeker to comprehend the life
of a fully enlightened teacher through rational means."

He might make the several hundred disciples laugh with:  "Many are cold
(called) but few are frozen (chosen)."

He often lectured the men in the Centre that our untamed sexual energy
had been stunting the spiritual growth of our sister disciples.  He
often lectured the women in the Centre that they needed to learn how to
emotionally detach themselves from men.  And he often lectured both
sexes that he attracted very powerful souls, that we were way too
powerful for our own good, and that we had been making him physically
ill by relentlessly attacking him in the inner world.

He lectured, too, about the inevitable eclipsing of the world's
spiritual light, a process which seemed to be perpetually accelerating.
"Haven't you been feeling it?" he asked.

"Yes, Rama," came the inevitable response.  "I feel it."

Rama quoted Chaucer, Roethke, and Shakespeare.  He also told a story
(from The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury) about a Martian who,
when approached by humans, transformed into the object of their
desires.  The Martian became a woman's dead son, for instance, until
someone else walked by.  "I am like the Martian," said Rama.  "I am
constantly being called upon to fulfill your desires."

Rama might question disciples with a portable microphone, a la Phil
Donahue.  "Why don't you share what you saw tonight," he said, roaming
the aisles.  He seemed to enjoy interrupting us when our response was
spiritually or grammatically incorrect.

Then Rama sat in front of the auditorium, wiggling his toes and
fielding questions, a la Chinmoy.

"Rama?" a woman might begin.


"The men where I work are constantly sending me sexual energy.  Each
day I come home completely drained."

"What do you do for a living?"

"I'm a receptionist."

"Why don't you study programming?" he suggested.  "Software
professionals tend to be less visible and, therefore, less prone to
psychic attack."

Rama often lectured on the nature of consciousness:  "Consciousness,
like a complex system of software, has thousands of levels of nested,
self-accessing subroutines."  He taught that the next step along the
path to self-knowledge was to debug those subroutines hidden in our
minds at an early age by our teachers and, in particular, by our

Rama lectured on the nature of words:  "Words are inaccurate pointers
to reality and should by no means be trusted."  Logic, he said, was
based on the shaky foundation of words and was of primary value to
those who could not access Truth directly.  Since he had transcended
these limited tools, attempts to comprehend his actions on a rational
basis were meaningless.  In fact, those doubting his behavior through a
framework of words and logic were merely reflecting their own mediocre
level of awareness.  Those who concluded that he was greedy were,
therefore, guilty of greed themselves.

I felt confident as I listened to Rama's words that I was learning new,
valuable ways of understanding knowledge.  Just as often, though, I
felt confused by the belief that words had no fixed, real meaning.  It
was as if Rama were yanking the rug on which my descriptions of the
world were centered.  But then I recalled that confusion was an
essential part of the process through which the Infinite dissolved our
countless selves in the clear light of the void.  "If you think you
have it figured," Rama often pointed out, "you have what we refer to as
an inflated ego."

At one point during a typical Centre meeting, Rama frowned and said,
"Okay, what's up?"

No response.

"Hello, friends.  What's going on out there?"

The silence and tension grew.

"Let's talk!"

It occurred to me that I did not like his tone.  Suddenly, a hidden,
mental "subroutine" activated, reminding me that those who questioned
his methods were asked to leave the Centre.

"Fess up!" he snapped.

"Rama," started one disciple, "I don't know what it is, but... "

"Of course you know.  Look--you're fooling no one but yourselves.
C'mon people--fess up!"

"Rama, are we focusing on the l.o. [lower occult] again?"

"What do you think?"

"Yes, Rama."

"Look, none of you realize what you are getting yourselves into.  Once
you open the door to the Negative Entities, it is nearly impossible to
get rid of them."  He read our expressions and paused, as if to assess
the point at which to start building us up again.

"Eternity is all around us at every moment," he said gently, "be
absorbed.  Nirvana is a world of unlimited ecstasy, be absorbed.  Go
see the new Schwartzenegger movie, be absorbed.  You are doing much
better lately, be absorbed.  Don't forget that we will soon be
meditating together on the golden beaches of Maui, be absorbed.  Be
proud that you are taking a stand against the Negative Forces, be
absorbed.  Don't be so hard on yourselves--give yourselves a break--be
absorbed.  Learn humility and you will learn the secret to happiness,
be absorbed.  A desert trip is coming up soon, be absorbed.  Forget not
that our mission is to spread light in the world, be absorbed.  Our
friends from past lives will soon be joining us, be absorbed."

Rama asked that we sit up straight.  He put on electronic music, slowly
scanned the audience, and raised his hands above his head.  Many of us
gazed at him intensely.  It didn't matter that those occupying the same
room as him were, during meditation, supposed to evolve hundreds, even
thousands of lifetimes.  We still tried to absorb as much spiritual
light as we could.

Then, he might end with a quote from the teachings of Lao Tzu,
Castaneda's Don Juan, or Christ.

At the next Centre meeting, Rama might announce that everything had
changed and that we were in an extremely poor state of consciousness.

"At the weekly Centre meetings," I told Donald Kohl's father, "Rama
teaches us to realize our full potential.  He teaches us to love and
respect life."  I did not describe, however, Rama's fixation on death.

"Someone in San Diego is trying to kill me," Rama once told devotees in
a turret of the castle he was renting.  "I am moving to Los Angeles.  I
suggest that you do the same."

Another time Rama turned to me and said, "Do you realize that I can
kill you at any moment?"

"He's only joking," I thought.

"No, really," he went on.  "I am extremely strong and could kill you in
an instant!"

Repeatedly during the '80s and early '90s, Rama expressed a desire to
take disciples for a ride in a Lear Jet into a snow-capped mountain,
into the other worlds.  "That would be a clean way to go," he said.

One time after a beach meditation, Rama asked five or six disciples,
"What do you see?"

"I see red," said Sal.  "I see blood, destruction, war, global

"Very good," said Rama.

Repeatedly during the '80s and early '90s, Rama slept with numerous
women devotees, several of whom claim that he took no measures
whatsoever to prevent the potential spread of AIDS.

Also in the 80s, Rama encouraged followers to secure software contracts
in ADA, a computer language used to control the United States' hardware
of war.

On the night before his thirty-fifth birthday, Rama invited thirty or
so disciples to a party.  He had been either ignoring or abusing many
of us, so the invitation came as a welcome surprise.  Unlike other
recent events, there was an upbeat feel to the party.  He had asked
Anne, for instance, to spend time decorating the room with colorful
balloons.  "Maybe," a few of us thought, "things are going to get
better." During the party, though, Rama demanded that a handful of us
confess, one by one, before the other disciples, that the demons had
succeeded in talking over our souls.

"Anne is the worst," Rama proclaimed, lashing out at her.  "She either
looks like a witch or a whore."  Then, in a seeming attempt to exorcise
the demons, he told us to meet him the following day at the Los Angeles
coroner's office.  He wanted us to witness an autopsy.

The next day I watched two men saw the skull of a "John Doe"
hit-and-run victim.  The saw whined.  They peeled off the face.  The
air smelled acrid.  My stomach felt bloated.  "That could be me on the
table," I thought.  I wanted to retch.  The pathologist measured the
brain.  I found myself thinking about life.  Not in terms of Rama's
increasingly fearful descriptions of the world, but in terms of my gut
feelings.  "Something happened," I wrote in a journal that I had
recently started.  "I felt it, a change inside me... "

After the autopsy, I noticed the way I breathed.  I noticed the way my
blood pulsed through me.  I slept more; I had been sleeping only five
or six hours a night.  I watched the way light played off ripples in a
body of water.  Rama had failed to appear at the coroner's that day.
Until the next Centre meeting, his world seemed small.

Mr. Kohl listened to my descriptions of Rama and of the organization.
"Tell me, Mark," he said.  "Does Rama pressure the disciples to be a
certain way?"

"Well, technically we're not really disciples.  We're students.  Think
of the organization as being like a university.  Sure, there's some
pressure, if that's what you want to call it.  But it doesn't come from
Rama.  It comes from each of us wanting to do well."

I did not mention that Rama often threatened to spend less time with
his disciples because we maintained an abysmal level of consciousness
and because we bombarded him with Negative Occult Energy.  "You should
understand that I will still love you no matter what you do," Rama
lectured.  "But when you ignore my suggestions, when you succumb to the
Forces, when you don't keep up with your tuition payments, you are
setting yourselves up for a multi-lifetime pattern that will be
extremely difficult to break.  You are also letting down those we were
sent here to help.  Many of you don't seem to realize that you can
easily be replaced.  Believe me, there are plenty of seekers out there
who would genuinely appreciate the opportunity that the Infinite is
providing here."

Nor did I mention to Mr. Kohl that Rama followed through with his
threats of replacement.  In 1984, for instance, he kicked out four
hundred followers after looking at their photos and reading their
recently submitted essays.  The purge gave him greater control over the
remaining four or five hundred, who now lived in constant fear of
getting kicked out.  As for the outcasts, many had developed
psychological dependencies on Rama.  They continued to write him
letters, to appear regularly at public lectures, and to send him money.
Because he maintained their names and addresses in a database, he could
always swap them back in when the current batch burned out.

Nor did I mention that, in response to the intensifying pressure, I had
dropped out of UCSD a year before Donald, a sensitive, bright UCLA
undergraduate, committed suicide.

The longer I spoke with Mr. Kohl, the more I became aware of--and
uneasy about--the discrepancy between what I knew and what I was
willing to admit about my teacher and my organization.  I felt
particularly uneasy knowing that at one Centre meeting, Rama had
promised to take closer devotees for a ride through the death worlds in
a Porsche.  After I hung up the phone, the uneasiness did not
disappear.  Though I did not openly entertain doubts about Rama, my
ability to separate myself from his world, and to view myself as an
individual, was suddenly infused with new life.

17.  On High

"How would you like to get out of the spiritual rut you are in?" Rama
asked me in the spring of 1984.

"I would like that very much," I replied.  I knew that there was
something wrong with my life.  For years I sought enlightenment, but
was no longer happy.  For years I sought the Spirit, but was no longer
animated.  For years I sought the Self, but was no longer me.  I was
ready to try anything, I told him.

He offered to give me LSD.  "I suggest that you take it," he said.
"But you should only take it if it feels right."

In the past he had used Chinmoy's line that hallucinogens damaged the
subtle body.  But the potential benefits, he now explained, outweighed
the risk, provided that a fully enlightened teacher was around to
supervise.  "Don't worry," he added with a smile.  "I am very familiar
with the drug."

I was startled by the offer.  As a teenager, I had responded to similar
solicitations with:  "I'm high on life--drugs would just bring me
down."  But the buzz of youth had long disappeared, and I knew that the
rut ran deep.  Sensing, too, that three years before Rama had diffused
my internal conflict with Stelazine, I wondered if LSD could quell my
recently resurfacing doubts.

There were other factors involved.  Months before, Rama had asked Tom,
the bass-guitar-playing disciple who had finally moved west, to compile
a tape of songs from the late '60s.  "I want to tap into the people who
had been involved in the early consciousness movement," Rama explained.
Subsequently, the list of musicians whose songs Rama played at Centre
meetings and at public lectures--without regard for copyright law--grew
from Tangerine Dream, Walter Carlos, Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, and
the Talking Heads, to now include the Beatles, Cat Stevens, Traffic,
and Jimi Hendrix.  Perhaps my decision regarding the LSD was affected
by the music.  Perhaps it was affected by my fascination with the drug
scenes in the Castaneda books.  Perhaps it was affected by my
realization that, according to the dictates of Rama's etiquette, there
were grave karmic consequences for those foolish enough to ignore his
suggestions.  I told him it felt right.

Roughly one hundred fifty miles east of the beaches of Los Angeles, in
Joshua Tree National Monument, was a rock climbing route called
"Therapeutic Tyranny."  Less than ten miles away, by the edge of a
mountain, the five or six disciples probably did not see Rama handing
me a tiny stamp.  On it was a picture of Mickey Mouse dressed as a
wizard, waving a wand.

I was slightly apprehensive.  LSD was supposed to be a powerful drug.

"Chew it for a few minutes," Rama whispered.

It was as bitter as he said it would be.  I soon noticed the deep blue
sky turn to bands of crimson and yellow and orange.  I noticed the
lights of Palm Springs twinkle like stars thousands of feet below.  I
noticed the mammoth peaks of Mount San Jacinto gradually fading away.
So stark and surreal was the scene before me, that I had to remind
myself that this was how the desert appeared at twilight ordinarily.

"How do you feel, kid?"

"Fine, Rama," I reported, enjoying the attention.  "Nothing yet." About
fifteen minutes later he gave me another stamp when I found myself
noticing that I was noticing that I was noticing that I was

that i was




that hey


     -* h e y * ------------ (it)
                          -* i  t * -----------  (works)
                                             -* w o r k s *-

I gazed at the lights of Palm Springs.  I did not blink.  I did not
breathe.  I lost awareness that I was on a mountain.  I lost awareness
that I was tripping.  I lost awareness that I existed.  The points of
light grew fuzzy and bright.

Time touched the mountain world.  I blinked.  I inhaled.  I turned from
the light.  "I am alive in this desert," I thought.  Through the
powerful, rose-colored lens of the initial rush, the thought magnified
and blossomed into a stunning realization.  I blinked again and exhaled.

I turned and saw Rama and the disciples.  I knew that I was *seeing* on
a different level than they were.  This made me happy.  A large, silly
grin took hold of my face.  The joy gradually receded, but the facial
muscles held.  I knew the grin was out of sync.  I laughed.

I turned to some rocks.  I grew serious.  "The rocks," I realized, "are
part of the Earth.  The Earth is sacred."  I did not realize, as I
continued to astonish myself with my own profundity, that I had finally
entered a world similar to the ones described in the Castaneda books.

Suddenly Rama raised his arms and made a whistling sound.  The
disciples looked at him as if he were a god.  I felt detached from the
scene, as if I were observing myself observe the disciples observe the
man acting like a sorcerer.  Soon I detected a faint glow from the
corner of my eye.  I gazed at what I felt was an incredible source of
power, beauty, and wisdom.  It was the rocks.  They were glowing.

On the drive back to Malibu, Rama was perhaps experiencing flashbacks
from the late '60s, because he "let me do my own thing." As a result, I
rode with him in front, but focused on Cindy in back.  Her flowing,
blond hair and radiant face had made an impression on me long before
she appeared on the cover of Rama's newspaper.  I turned around often
to smile at her.

"Hey there!"  I said at one point.

Cindy looked slightly embarrassed.  "Hey there!" she returned

This is fun, I thought.  For the first time in years, things were
looking up.

18.  Where's My Tribe?

In the fall of 1984, Rama took twenty-eight disciples for a ride around
the western United States.  The purpose of the trip, he said, was to
*see* which city we were supposed to move to.  I was glad that he had
invited me.  I liked the idea of searching for a home.  I loved to
travel.  And I looked forward to an exercise in *seeing*.  "This is
going to be fun," I thought.

The trip began in a parking lot in southern Malibu.  Rama raised his
arms, made a whistling sound, and said, "The ocean is your friend.  You
do not know how long you have left in this world.  You may never see
the ocean again in this lifetime.  You should say good-bye."

It was a poignant moment for me.  I loved the ocean.  "Good-bye," I
thought.  Then Rama strode to his Turbo Carerra.

It no longer bothered me that Rama owned two Porsches at a time when
many disciples were struggling to meet the increasing tuition.  If he
got what he wanted, I figured, maybe he'd go easy on us during the
scorching demon-and-brimstone monologues.  Besides, at three a.m. in
northern Malibu, he once took me over one hundred and twenty miles an
hour.  The acceleration had been breathtaking; the ride, smooth.

The disciples now turned from the ocean to their cars.  Anne, Dana, and
I walked to our gifts from Rama--two Mazda RX-7's and a Honda Civic
Wagon, respectively.  Then we drove east by northeast into Los Angeles,
the high desert, and southern Nevada.

Rama had divided us into four groups, with three cars per group and two
or three disciples per car.  The groups caravanned separately, and we
met two or three times a day, typically at a Denny's restaurant or at a
Best Western motel.  I rode with Alexander, a spare, devout UCSD
recruit who had impressed the Centre with his ability to place second
or third in a marathon.  Perhaps from a lack of social self-esteem,
Alexander never said much, but he spoke with me, and I enjoyed his

The following day, Rama invited me and Alexander to ride in his group.
It was at a rest area in southwestern Utah that Rama approached me and
said, "You had better stop vibing Laura.  I am fucking her."

A UCSD recruit in her early twenties, Laura had large, dark eyes and
ample social self-esteem. She spoke so fast that she often slurred her
words.  She was currently riding with Rama.

"Sorry, Rama," I said, startled by his raw honesty.

We pushed on to Denver and then to Boulder, where we stayed in a motel
near the university.  We assessed the city in terms of jobs, housing,
computer courses, and mystical power spots.  Two or three days later,
Rama asked us to *see* if we should stay or move on to Boston.  He
seemed pleased that we voted to stay.  Boulder, after all, was
commuting distance to computer jobs in Denver; it had a respectable
university; it was beautiful in the winter and cute the year round; it
felt at least a mile high until several days later, when Rama accused
us of destroying it with our powerful Negative Energy Field.

"Pack your things," he ordered, and we cut a path south toward
Albuquerque along the Rockies' edge.

There was something about the open road and the blue Colorado sky that
absolved us of our guilt from having decimated a city, because
Alexander and I were anything but upset.  The Beatles' White Album was
playing Sexy Sadie, a song satirizing an Indian guru.  I asked him if I
could turn up the volume.  "Sure."  Soon he asked me the same.  Before
long, the music was blasting, and we were singing Helter Skelter at the

Several nights later, near Tucson, Arizona, the disciples looked out
from a hill at the lights of the city below.  "This is a real moment of
power," said Rama.  "It is essential that each of you speak with power
and with respect for the spirit of the land."

I typically spoke very briefly at such a gathering unless I knew in
advance what Rama wanted to hear.  But now I went on and on about how
in Tucson there was a healthy balance between people and nature, and
about how if we moved here, we would heal.  When I was done, Rama took
me aside and said, "Kid--you're going to be all right." But Tucson was
not the right city, he later announced, so we continued the drive west.

In a motel just east of San Diego, Rama left us one evening to conduct
a Centre meeting in Beverly Hills.  When he returned, he berated us for
not working together and for not even *trying* to maintain a decent
level of consciousness in his absence.  "You are acting like a hoard of
angry sorcerers," he snapped, borrowing a phrase from a Castaneda book.
But he was wrong.  Paul, Karen, and I had stayed up late that night
trying to come up with a catchy name for his proposed software company.
Furthermore, we had meditated together, we had maintained something of
a meditative consciousness, and we had tried to *see* which city we
were supposed to move to.

In the past when Rama contradicted the facts, I had assumed that he was
right while my *seeing* was wrong.  But riding across America's west
was making me feel big.  And memories of traveling rogues from Jack
Kerouac's On The Road, which I had read and reread in high school, was
making me feel good and rebellious.  And Tom Wolfe's
experimentally:::::punctuated, day-glowingly huemorous, sa-tir-ically
lyr-i-cal The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which Rama had recently
assigned, was making me want to view the world through the sharp,
detached eye of the narrator.  "Maybe Rama really can't *see* all that
well," I suddenly thought.  "Maybe he's making it up as he goes along."

The following day, Rama asked the group to *see* if we should stay in
San Diego, return to Boulder, or move to Boston.  When our vote was
split, mostly between Boulder and Boston, he gave the word to move on.
So we drove around again to Los Angeles, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado,
where, by the intersection of Interstate-70 and Route 82, he announced
that we had arrived at a crossroad: we could continue the search for a
home, or we could take a side trip to a posh resort in nearby Aspen.

By now the disciples had been out of work for nearly a month, and a few
of us were running low on money.  The majority voted to continue the
search.  He led us instead to Aspen.

I told Rama that I felt uncomfortable having him pay my way.

"Look," he retorted, "it's my experiment."

"Does that make us your guinea pigs?"  I wondered.

Later that week, in front of a handful of disciples, Rama harshly
accused me of indulging like a child, of attacking him in the inner
world, and of ruining the experience for the others.  Then he issued a
compassionate smile.  "Don't take it so personally, kid," he said
pleasantly.  "Your consciousness got stuck, so I fixed it." Then he
swaggered away with the confidence of a heavyweight champion.

Rather than accepting the abuse as I had done in the past, I found
myself thinking about The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.  I thought about
how main character Ken Kesey convinced himself during a drug experience
that he could access god-like powers.  Kesey, writes Wolfe, was able to
step back and realize that he was only hallucinating.  Rama, who often
claimed that he took so much LSD in the '60s that he never came down,
also convinced himself that he could access god-like powers.  But Rama
went further than Kesey.  Rama professed to be an actual incarnation of
a god.  Rama professed that a few dozen disciples were causing
extensive, invisible damage to a metropolitan area.  "Maybe Rama has
been hallucinating since 1969," I thought.  "Maybe, unlike Kesey, he
can't step back and get a perspective."

During the drive from Aspen to Boulder, I also realized that Kesey
never charged "tuition," never tricked followers into buying lavish
gifts for himself, and never claimed to be the anti-Christ. Kesey drove
around America with his community in an old school bus.  Rama led us
separately in cars.  Kesey brought diverse groups of people together.
Rama made a special effort to keep friends, lovers, and families apart.
Yet despite their differences, I sensed that Rama had been shaped in
his youth by Kesey's pioneering experiments with Eastern culture and
Western counter-culture, consciousness and drugs, expression and art,
and freedom and control.  I wondered if Rama, by assigning the book,
had been trying to reach out vicariously to his past and to an
influential leader of his generation.

When we arrived in Boulder, Rama seemed to flip between supportive and
abusive personas more rapidly.  One moment, he was calm and kind; the
next, he was ranting about how the Negative Forces, which had been
co-inhabiting our bodies, were causing his hair to fall out and
affecting the health of Vayu, his advance-souled Scottish terrier;
then, flipping again to the other extreme, he encouraged us to move to
a new condominium just outside of Boulder where "we could all live
close to one another." No one reminded him that only weeks before, we
had left the city in psychic shambles.

The dream of living and working together--of community--lingered on,
and Rama had us fill out rental applications.  When he found out that I
had signed up for a less expensive condo unit, he gently chided me.
"You just don't get it, Mark.  That's your old self trying to reassert
itself.  You need to have more space.  You need to live in a clean,
healthy environment."

I tried to explain to him that I needed money for Centre expenses and
also for food.

"Don't worry, kid," he said.  "I'll subsidize you.  I want you to be

So I switched to the most expensive unit and I was happy, and the other
disciples seemed happy, and Rama seemed happy.  Boulder, after all,
felt at least a mile high until a few days later, when Rama shouted at
us for having once again destroyed the dream, the Light, and the city.

"This is crazy," I thought.  After the meeting, I went for a walk.  I
thought about how, earlier in the trip, Cathy had approached me and
said, "This may sound funny, but is Rama... *okay*?"

"What do you mean?"  I had replied.

"He's... well... it's just that something doesn't feel right."

"Rama is fine," I told her.  "He just *sees* on a different level than
we do."

But now, as I strayed from the condo grounds, I wondered if Cathy had
been on to something.  I thought about how the other disciples had
seemed pensive lately, as if they too shared her concern.  I thought
about how, during the trip, Rama seemed to be flipping out of control.
"Maybe Rama is not okay," I thought.

Meanwhile, my readings and reflections on Kesey had located Rama within
a cultural context which, like the knowledge that the Wizard of Oz was
a man behind a curtain, largely deflated his projected images and
metaphors.  This enabled me to question elements of his world without
fear of reprisal.

I questioned the Negative Forces.  The Forces, I realized, had never
affected me before I met Rama.  Furthermore, they seemed to disappear
as soon as I stopped thinking about them.  "Maybe the Forces only exist
in my mind," I thought.  "Maybe they are a part of Rama's trip--Rama's

I questioned Rama's claim that I was mentally ill and that I could
hardly deal with the real world.  I recalled my success as an
undergraduate at a competitive university, as a computer operator and
programmer, and as Rama's distribution coordinator.  I recalled his
claim that nearly *everyone* on the planet was mentally ill.  "Maybe
Rama isn't qualified to diagnose mental illness," I thought.  "Maybe
playing doctor is his way to control people."

At one point during the walk, I wondered what the consequences were for
doubting the "Last Incarnation of Vishnu."  But Rama had encouraged us,
in the early years, to question him and to think for ourselves.
"Besides," I thought, "I haven't burst into flames yet." So I went
right on remembering, questioning, and thinking.

I thought about The Razor's Edge, a movie about one man's attempt to
walk the narrow path between the spiritual and the mundane.  What
struck me about the film was that the man does not have a guru.  Life
is his teacher.

I recalled the hour-long conversation I had had with Donald Kohl's
father, and suddenly the dam burst open and a flood of suppressed
memories washed over me.  I pictured Rama shouting "Fess up!";
announcing his name change; telling me to swallow the Stelazine;
bursting into my room on the night that I wanted to leave...

I walked briskly back to the condo and knocked on Rama's door.  "Things
don't feel right," I told him.  "I think I need to take some time off."

"You have to do what is right for you," he replied.

I wanted to make a clean break.  I still had a few hundred dollars.  I
told him that I wanted to give him back the car.

He frowned.  "Your desire to return the gift," he said, "is proof that
you are mentally ill and that you can not function in the real world."

I did not want to stand around and argue.  "Okay, Rama," I said and
left.  I felt primed for action.  I was not scared.  I felt sure I was
doing the right thing.  I said good-bye to the disciples, packed, and
started to back out of the lot, when I saw Laura in the rearview
mirror, signaling me to wait.

"Rama wants to see you!" she exclaimed.

My impulse was to press the accelerator.  After all, he might try and
get me to stay, as he did years before in La Jolla.  But I felt that I
had come a long way since 1981.  I felt confident that I could handle
myself.  Besides, I was curious.  I let Laura lead me to him.

Rama, Anne, and a few others were in the room.  They looked somber.
Rama had us stand in a circle and hold hands.  He told us we were a
tribe.  It felt odd, holding hands.  It wasn't the sort of thing he'd
normally have us do.  After a brief meditation, he took me to another
room and gave me a long hug.  I drove away feeling sad.

For the next few days I rode east, driven by childhood memories of New
England, and by the notion that I had *seen* Boston as the target city.
In Nebraska and Iowa, I felt good about my decision to leave.  But I
had developed no system with which to support my new interpretation of
the world, and the decision seemed more distant with each passing
state.  I had devised no language of rebellion, forged no icons of
discontent, and, on a more practical level, had no sense of what I
wanted to do or whom I wanted to be.  I had met Rama when I was
seventeen.  Now I was twenty-four. I had never experienced successes or
failures from following a path of my own design.  I had been deprived
of this ritual of passage into adulthood.  I had come of age in a
destructive cult.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test was packed away somewhere in the back.
I arrived in Massachusetts feeling frightened and confused.  I felt
drawn to southern New Hampshire where, eight years before, I had worked
one summer on a farm.  I found Rico, a younger friend from the farm
days who was now a senior in high school.  I had not seen him in years.
I wanted to tell him about Rama and the organization but did not know
where to start.  "There are bad people out there, Rico," I told him.
"You have to be careful.  Whatever happens, always follow your heart."
I drove away, Rico later recalled, with a frightened look on my face.

I called my parents in New York and asked them if they wanted to see
me.  They flew to Boston, and we went to a restaurant near Gloucester,
Massachusetts.  I felt happy to see them but could not share the burden
of my new found freedom.

Days later I sat in traffic in the suburbs of Boston.  I felt
completely alone.  I missed the disciples.  It was true that we had
fallen for Rama's line about stealing one another's power.  It was true
that we had allowed Rama to foster, through ongoing whispering
campaigns, a climate of fear and competition.  But I didn't care.  The
disciples spoke the same language as I. They were my friends.

I missed Robert, a UCLA graduate who, in 1982, was drawn to a lecture
on the works of Carlos Castaneda.  Months after joining the Los Angeles
Centre, he was approached one night in Pacific Palisades by two white
men.  Robert was black.  The men were angry that his girlfriend was
white.  They each pulled out a gun and took aim.  They said:  "Get out
of the car."  Robert was concerned that they would rape and kill his
girlfriend.  He made a quick decision.  He slammed down hard on the
accelerator.  When the bullet entered his head, he kept driving.  He
passed familiar streets.  He had grown up in Los Angeles.  Blood
streamed down his face.  He drove to a hospital where, in the weeks
that followed, he did miraculously well.  The experience cemented his
devotion to Rama, who took credit for the recovery.

I missed the Stony Brook disciples.  I missed Paul, the computer wizard
with the silly grin.  Sal, another computer genius, had taken to heart
Rama's caveat that disciples were stealing his power.  But beneath his
fears was a gentle, humorous soul, and I missed him.  I missed Rachel,
the doctor, who had continued to support the Centre financially, and
who had apparently forgotten about the "Garage Door Opener Incident."
Dana, the former model and occupational therapy student, often grew icy
with the power that Rama gave her over other disciples.  But I knew
that as Rama's office manager, hers was a particularly trying position
(she typically slept three or four hours a night), and I missed her.  I
missed Anne, the nurse, who had known Rama the longest, and who was
also under intense pressure to perform.  Once I overheard Rama advising
Anne to accept her "true" cold and callous nature.  Despite his remark,
she mostly lived up to her spiritual name, Prema, which symbolized a
higher form of love.

I missed the disciples whom Rama had dubbed "assholes of the
mountains." I missed UCSD recruits Doug and Eric, whose adventuresome
spirit and love of the outdoors was evident in their winter assaults on
12,000 foot peaks.  And I missed Mike.  Tall, with thick red hair, Mike
looked, ate, and at times acted like a wild Viking.  In reality, he was
a wild UCSD medical student.  Once he told me that he occasionally
slept in his Volkswagon bus in campus parking lots.

"You really do that?"  I asked.

"Yeah.  The cops don't like it, though."

"What do they do?"

"They shake the van and try to get me to come out."

"Do you?"

"Nah.  I usually go back to sleep."

Perhaps Mike's unique way of doing things, as well as the pride with
which he questioned authority, contributed to his standing in the
Centre as a less-than-model disciple.  "I'm glad that you are friendly
with Mike," Rama once told me.  "But you should understand that he's
not really into our program.  I can see that he's in it for himself."

I missed Tom, the bass-guitar-playing disciple from Stony Brook whom
Rama had put in charge of security.  (Rama, based on fears that his
psychic vision excluded those who wanted to shoot him, had assembled a
team of volunteer disciples and professional security guards.) Tom, one
of Rama's closest disciples, was the first high-profile follower to
leave the Centre.  He left largely as a result of the "Omelet Incident."

The "Incident" occurred in Rama's kitchen in Malibu.  Rama sat with Tom
and Fran, a tall, young UCSD recruit with a long, powerful stride and a
glint of the wild in her eye.  Rama liked to say that Fran had spent
past lives in Africa as a hunter, and that she was one of two disciples
with the potential of attaining enlightenment in this life (I was the
other). At around 2:30 a.m., Rama asked Fran to cook him an omelet.
Perhaps she was tired from having accompanied Rama and Tom that night
to the San Francisco Centre meeting.  She burned the eggs.

"You are in a lousy consciousness," Rama accused her, stewing over the
omelet.  "Your level of spirituality has been plummeting!" Then he
continued to lambast her.

Tom was struck by the contrast between Rama's lofty language onstage
and his crass behavior at home.  After mulling over the double standard
for several days, he sent Rama a note that he was leaving the Centre.
Rama called him and shouted at him for roughly twenty minutes.  Rama
told him that he was a low life and that he was blowing it for future
lives.  Despite Rama's warning, Tom left his apartment and prepared to
move back to the east coast.  A day or two later, Dana told me that
Rama wanted me to track Tom down and have him call the Centre.  When I
succeeded at my "Warrior's task," Tom spoke with a very different Rama.

"Don't worry about all the negative karma," Rama assured him.  "I'll
absorb it for you."  Rama also told him that he was not really leaving
so much as he was being kicked out.  But I did not yet know the details
of Tom's sudden departure as I sat in rush hour traffic in Concord,
Massachusetts, feeling dejected and lonely.

I missed Fran.  I missed Kate and Pat, each of whom I had gone out
with.  I missed Ed, a quick witted UCSD recruit with a passion for
mysticism and Jimi Hendrix music.  We had studied together at a
computer school in Los Angeles and, back in 1982, we had bicycled from
San Luis Obispo to Monterey, California.  I missed Alexander and Marty
and Elizabeth and Carl and Karen and Jeff and...

I missed my brother.  Dan had already left Chinmoy to join Rama's
Centre in San Diego.  But the closeness we once shared was buried by
too many months and too many miles, by unspoken resentments on his
part, and by a lust for power within Rama's organization on mine.
Ultimately, though, it was the acquired belief that "the past is dust"
that kept us from searching and sifting through finer elements of
memories' shifting sands.

In 1983, my brother nearly left the Centre.  He had been hanging out
with Bill, a burly, bearded, freedom-loving forest ranger who decided
that Rama was taking advantage of women disciples or, to put it in his
words, Rama was "dipping into the company ink." My brother, too,
decided that Rama was out of line, and the two of them were planning to
leave.  When Rama found out, he summoned me to his house.

"Your brother is about to blow it in a big way," he told me.  "This is
your big chance to help him.  Get him to call me."  I did, and Rama
persuaded him to stay.

I missed my friends and my brother and now, as I roamed the streets of
Concord, I wondered if I would ever see them again.  I thought about
contacting pre-Rama friends but I feared that we shared little in
common.  Besides, I had treated several of them as if they were
spiritually unrefined, and now it felt awkward to ask for their support.

Later that day, on my way to Walden Pond, I saw a man in his seventies
walking slowly toward me.  "It's an omen of death," I thought
nervously.  Quickly turning back toward the car, I saw a brief flash of
light--a reflection from something I could not see.

"It's the Forces!"  I told myself and slipped down a fearful stretch of
imagination back toward a nightmarish state of mind.  Rama's Forces
were back.  I got in the car and locked the door.  I was scared.  I
meditated a few minutes.  I asked the Infinite for protection.  I drove
around awhile.  I had no destination.  I recalled something Rama used
to say about reflections.  "I am like a perfect mirror.  If you ever
perceive me in a negative light, you are seeing nothing more than a
reflection." I pulled into a parking lot of a motel.  I found myself
looking for cars from Rama's tour group.  I found myself wondering
where the disciples--my friends--were and what they were doing.  For
years we had been close, like a tribe.  Suddenly I had an inspiration:
set out across America and rejoin my tribe!  And how my spirit soared!
And through the sleepless days and nights, I searched Howard Johnson's,
Best Western, and Denny's parking lots across America for a black Turbo

I had not forgotten the problems with Rama.  But I remembered him
telling me that through the good times and bad, we would always be
family.  "And what family doesn't have problems?" I asked myself.

I drove south to Stony Brook but did not find the group, so in New York
City I paid a surprise visit to Tom.  When I told him about my quest to
find my tribe, he seemed to understand what I was going through.  But
he had left the Centre roughly nine months before and had no interest
in returning.  That night I saw for the second time The Razor's Edge.
"Maybe I can rejoin the group and be independent at the same time," I
told myself as I began the drive west.

Days later, in San Diego, I was showering at the UCSD gym, when I asked
a guy if I could use some of his shampoo.

"Sure, Mark, take as much as you want," was the reply.

Wiping the soap from my eyes, I recognized Gary, a disciple who had
left Rama years ago.  I was glad to see him.  We decided to go for a
hike on Palomar Mountain.  I told him during the ride that I had lost
my tribe.

He gave me an understanding smile.  "I hear they have moved to Laguna

"No kidding!"  I said.  "Would you like to go there instead of to
Palomar?" In less than two hours we sat eating cheesecake in Laguna
Beach.  Suddenly I saw Paul drive by.

"They're here!"  I exclaimed and chased the car down Pacific Coast
Highway.  But I soon lost sight of my old friend from Stony Brook.  I
walked back, polished off the cheesecake, and drove Gary back to San
Diego.  The next day I returned to Laguna Beach.  I decided to wait by
a twenty-four hour banking machine, an appropriate place it seemed to
stalk members of Rama's tribe.

Alexander and Marty soon appeared searching for cash.  I was jubilant
to see them.  They were wary of me.  After a few minutes, though, they
seemed to forget that I was taboo (Rama had put me down at one of the
Centre meetings). They told me when and where the meetings were being

They did not tell me what had happened after I left them in Boulder.
The twenty-eight had continued their journey east to Lincoln, Nebraska,
where Rama declared that they should move to whichever cities they as
individuals *saw*. But when it looked like the group was going to
splinter, Rama changed his mind and instructed them all to move to
Laguna Beach, California.

The next week I drove to the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills.  I
asked Al, who was now in charge of security, to ask Rama if I could
rejoin the Centre.

I shuffled about nervously.  "It may not be perfect," I told myself.
"But at least it's where I belong."

Al returned after a few minutes.  "Rama said 'okay.'"

"Did he say anything else?"  I asked, greatly relieved.

"Yes," Al replied.  "Rama said that it's a tough world out there."

19.  I'm Okay

When I rejoined the Centre, I was determined to be a good disciple.  I
got a programming job in Newport Beach.  I studied advanced topics in
computer science at UC Irvine.  I rented a condo for
seven-hundred-twenty-five dollars per month, based on Rama's suggestion
in Boulder.  I worked hard, meditated deeply, and stole three eggs from
a supermarket after Rama hiked the tuition again.

Rama treated me with kindness.  Perhaps he believed that this time I
was really with him.  He invited me to his house.  He invited me to the
desert.  He invited me to partake in his chemical experiments.

Roughly one hundred fifty miles southeast of the beaches of Orange
County, in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, was a peak called Split
Mountain.  More than thirty miles away, by the edge of the park, was
Casa Del Zorro, a cottage-renting resort catering to the upper middle
class.  Here, Rama divined, was a good place to drop acid in a group.

During the drive to Casa Del Zorro, a fast-food restaurant triggered a
flashback of Rama giving Sal and me LSD and taking us to MacDonald's.
"Whatever you do," Rama had said, "don't order a strawberry shake!"
Rama and Sal proceeded to repeat the warning as if it were a mantra.
Perhaps the drug magnified my sensitivity to the way Sal parroted Rama.
Perhaps it magnified my sense of independence.  Perhaps I was not in
the mood for chocolate or vanilla.  I stumbled to the counter and
ordered a strawberry shake.  It was delicious.  Rama and Sal looked at
me disapprovingly.  I couldn't have cared less.

The memory of the MacDonald's trip made me smile.  Later, as I
approached Casa Del Zorro, I had a flashback of Rama giving me acid at
his home in Malibu.  I had been sitting on a rug in the living room.  A
Beatles record played.  ("You never give me your money... ") Rama
entered the room.

"How are you doing, kid?" he asked.

"Not so good."  I had been thinking about money.  The world of my
finances had appeared as menacing walls of debt that were surrounding
and closing in on me.  I felt miserable.  Tears formed.  I told Rama
what I was going through.

"Listen to the words of the song," he said.  ("Oh, that magic feeling,
nowhere to go... ") "See, kid?  Nowhere to go."

I gazed at the floor.

"You need to take time and rethink your life," he went on.  "Somehow
you got entrenched in the dark side.  But life does not have to be that
way.  Life can be wonderful."

Typically, I would have felt elated by the attention he was giving me.
It had been years since we were close.  But through hallucinating eyes
he seemed distant and small, and his attempt to cheer me up made me
feel worse.

"Why don't you go jump in the pool," he finally said.  Years before, in
La Jolla, he had often suggested "Pool Therapy" as a way to douse the
flames of a conflict burning within.  In Malibu, as in La Jolla, my
woes soon diffused among ripples from the impact of one hand slapping.

I played in the shallow end during that LSD trip until Rama asked Sal,
who was not tripping, to drive me home.  When we arrived at my
apartment I felt lucid, creative, fearless.  I started to say whatever
popped into my mind.  Sal looked surprised.  He looked at me as if I
were someone else.

Sal offered to take me for a walk.  With my arms dangling and torso
bent, I moved like an injured ape.  But gradually I slouched with Sal's
support down the hill to the beach.

"Look, Mark," said Sal.  "There's the ocean."

I looked to the frozen snapshot of the sea.  I blinked and the waves
rolled closer--then they froze again.  Then I saw whales diving and
breaching in slow motion.  I found myself among them.  We swam
together.  We spoke a silent language I thought I never knew.  I felt
complete.  They accepted me.

"Are you okay?" asked Sal, holding me up.

I longed for the freedom to roam.  I longed for the support of
community.  I looked to the sea, but the whales were gone.

Later that day I overheard Sal say to Rama, "You know, Mark is really

"Of course he is," Rama replied, snapping his fingers.  "He's quick."

I appreciated the compliment.  But I wondered, "How could I be bright
and quick if I was also possessed and non-functional?"

The memory of the Malibu trip was fresh on my mind when I arrived in
the Anza Borrego Desert and approached Casa Del Zorro.  Soon I sat
waiting in the cottage with Sal, Bill, and Al.  Rama arrived late.  He
looked doughy faced and haggard.  He said he was stressed out and
exhausted.  Perhaps he was in more of a rut than we were.

Rama distributed the stamps.  Later he drove us to the top of a hill
where he had us watch him.  At some point I threw up.  My awareness
that I was me faded in and out.  Behind my opened or closed lids
flashed continuous, multi-colored explosions.  From the chaos formed a
spot, and the spot became shapes, and the shapes became symbols.  I
startled myself when I realized that I had been gazing in my mind's eye
at the word "eliot." Perhaps, as the rug of my ordinary perception was
wrenched out from under me, I needed something solid, such as my middle
name, to hold on to.

I found myself sitting in the cottage, observing the way in which I
thought about my thoughts.  I noticed that my thoughts arrived in the
form of words.  I could read and understand them, or I could hide from
them and let them pass.  When Rama started to speak, his words were
tightly packed, and it was difficult to hide.  He talked for what
seemed an eternity.  Hours later, when Rama decided to drop acid--which
he may not have done since the early '70s--I had for the most part come
down from my trip.

Roughly forty-five minutes after Rama took the drug, he called me into
his room.  He lay in bed.  His hair was messy.  His face was contorted.
He seemed disturbed.  "Is it okay?" he asked meekly.

"It's okay, Rama," I said.

"Are you sure?"

I looked at him tossing and turning.  I remembered how he had
repeatedly knocked me down psychologically, helped me, and knocked me
down again.  I remembered how he had often told me that revenge was
worth waiting for.  I had the sudden urge to help him up--and knock him
down.  But my anger quickly dissipated when I realized that trembling
before me lay not ruthless Rama, but rather the shell of a
thirty-four-year-old man named Fred Lenz.

"I'm sure," I said.

I had an idea.  "A beautiful, blue bird is here, Rama," I whispered.
Birds, I knew, were something he genuinely loved.

He looked confused.

"Yes, it's a beautiful, blue bird, and it's large and friendly, and
it's flying all around--there it goes!  Rama, don't you *see* it?"

He followed my finger with his eyes as if he were *seeing* the
imaginary bird, and soon he fell asleep with a smile across his face.

As he slept, I thought about what had just happened.  An incarnation of
God, I realized, would not have had a bad LSD trip.  Rama was not who
he said he was.  He was not one of twelve fully enlightened souls on
the planet.  He was an ordinary man, he was vulnerable, and I wanted to
believe he was my friend.

After about thirty minutes, Rama awoke.  He lifted his quivering hands
above his head.  "Did you *see* that?" he asked.

"See what, Rama?"

"I am filling the room with light.  The powers are cycling through me.
I am reattaining enlightenment."

"Uh-oh," I thought.  "Here we go again."

Rama seemed utterly fascinated by his hands, which he wiggled and waved
in front of his face.

An uneasy feeling permeated my gut.  I recalled the aftermath of his
last enlightenment.  "Just because he believes that he's perfect," I
thought, "why should I suffer?"  I recalled a few of his more
outlandish claims.  He had lectured a doctor about the nature of
illness: "Disease is merely the result of a difference in vibrations."
He had taken credit when his father survived a coronary bypass
operation.  He had taken credit when disciples got decent jobs.

I now realized that if I were to remain a disciple, I would need to
humor myself about Rama's claims--lest I rekindle the debilitating
conflict between my rational and mystical natures.  I had the
impression that Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters kept a sense of
humor about their experiments, and I wondered how they might deal with
someone afflicted with Rama's particular brand of enlightenment.  I
recalled reading in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test that one prankster
often said:  "Yeah!  Yeah!  Right!  Right!  Right!"

"That's it," I decided.  "When Rama starts getting out there, I'll say
to myself, 'Yeah!  Yeah!  Right!  Right!  Right!'"

At that moment, Rama raised his arms again.  "Do you *see* it?" he

"I *see* it, Rama.  Golden light is filling the room." ("Yeah! Yeah!
Right!  Right!  Right!"  I thought.)

Rama waited for me to continue describing the Light which I did, and
though I was lying and probably fanning the flame, I supposed this
would beat an ongoing dark night of the soul.

Rama now looked directly into my eyes.  I could not recall him doing
so, except during lectures and meditations, since 1981.  "We used to be
friends," he murmured.  "What happened?"

"Rama, I don't know."

"Should there be any problems between us?" he asked.

I felt that this was Fred trying to break through, and I struggled to
hold back the tears.

"You and I used to be friends," he continued.  "But then something
happened.  We should be friends.  Would you like that?"

"Yes, Rama."

He smiled at me with big, puppy eyes.

I told him that Sal, Bill, Al, and I had maintained a high
consciousness earlier that day, before he arrived.  "We talked about
what we hoped to gain from the power drug, Rama.  It was as if we were
spiritual warriors."

Rama looked at me resolutely.  "You are spiritual warriors," he said.
Then he lay back down and fell asleep.  I felt happy and self-confident.

When Rama awoke, he turned to me and said, "You are okay.  You are on
the net."

"On the what?"

"The net.  The network.  The psychic energy network."

"Really?"  ("Yeah! Yeah!  Right!  Right!  Right!")


Rama, who wanted to see who else was on the net, hobbled out to the
living room where Sal and Al quietly sat.

"Are you on the net?"  Rama asked them.

"Yes," replied Sal, who had always been adept at learning rules to new

Rama looked at him suspiciously, when suddenly the phone rang.  It was
Dana.  Rama told her that she was on the net, seeing as how she had
called at so auspicious a moment.  "So," he told her, "it's me, you,
Mark, and Sal... " He paused and said, "Sure, Mark is on the net.  He's
quick like mercury.  He's right there."

I realized it was less a network than it was Rama's net, but I was
happy because the man I had once been friends with was back.  I was
also happy because my conflict-diffusing strategy seemed to be working.

The following morning, I greeted Rama.

He squinted his eyes and looked away.

"Is anything the matter?"  I asked.

"Oh, yes," he answered, haughtily.  "I know all about it."

"About what?  I thought we were friends."

"Oh, sure," he replied.  "I know all about that part of you.  That's
the part that wants to control me."

"Rama," I said, looking him squarely in the eye.  "You have two very
different sides.  And I like the other one better."

In the weeks that followed, Rama mostly ignored me until he uprooted
the four hundred or so disciples from southern California to the
suburbs of Boston.  At the last meeting in Beverly Hills, he called me
to the stage, put his hand on my forehead, and said, "The Infinite is
naming you Agni."

The entry in my journal for the following day, April 4th, 1985, reads,
"yea! got my spiritual name... AGNI... Fire... Breaker of
Illusions... Vision... Third Eye... Now, everything is totally fresh &
new... I feel good."

I liked the name.  It represented the spiritual progress I had made
despite the difficulties of the past few years.  As I caravanned across
America in Rama's group, the new name boosted my confidence.

It was springtime in New England.  Rama rented a large house in
Needham, Massachusetts, and held Centre meetings in a church in Boston.
Many disciples followed his suggestion and moved to Concord, Lincoln,
or Wellesley.  I moved to Wayland.

One day I bought a copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau.  My journal
entry for June 15th, 1985, reads, "Economics chapter in Walden... didn't
provide any answers, but caused me to ask questions which lead to a
variety of possibilities... "

One question I asked myself was:  how can I pay off my debt?  One
solution I came up with was:  commute to work by bicycle.  The entry
continues, "By driving to a free lot in Arlington, parking, and
bicycling the remaining 7-8 miles... save $100/month; instill spirit
back in me; get exercise & strength; pass Harvard & MIT daily for brain
power; bike around Boston lunch time.  meet girls at Faneuil Hall; be
independent, mobile, self-reliant!"

The following day I bought a used three-speed for forty-five dollars
and put the plan into effect.  Each weekday I parked in a free lot,
pedaled several miles along the Charles River, and braved downtown
traffic as I sped to work, which was located two blocks from the site
of the Boston Tea Party.  I began to think of myself not as Rama's
disciple, but as a bicyclist.  On June 29th, 1985, I wrote, "i am a
bicyclist.  that is my nature.  swift.  light.  strong & sure.  motion.
speed.  agility.  pivotable.  flexible.  colorful.  self-propelled.
motivated.  bad forces beware.  i am back.  and i'm riding high.
that's me.  Agni.  free spirit.  go, now.  and do not look back."

It felt good to be pursuing a dream of my own.  But I sensed that Rama
would equate my project with the Negative Forces, so I chose not to
tell him about the daily commutes and my newfound esteem.

Perhaps as a result of my new, street-wise sense of self, I grew
increasingly critical of Rama.  Another entry for June reads, "What
really pisses me off is that Rama changes everything he says,
contradicts himself, turns a situation around completely--so you never
have a handle on him."

The following week, Rama invited me to a group LSD trip at his house.
On July 7th, 1985, I wrote, "... may be a picnic [LSD trip] tomorrow at
Rama's. my intent is:  to change my view of reality completely, with
particular attention given toward:  *becoming someone who has a
girlfriend, *becoming my own person, i.e., my happiness & well-being is
not hinged upon the absence (parents) or presence (Rama)(girlfriend) of
any person(s)... to regain my kinship with the earth... to renew my
excitement in life, to regain my integrity, self-reliance and
confidence... "

The next day Rama distributed drug-soaked stamps to ten or so followers
in his living room.  He let us wander around the house.  Hours later,
he called us to the living room and began to talk.  And talk.  And
talk.  I tried to understand how his words were affecting us.  I
thought in terms of computers.  I decided that he had rebooted us with
LSD and now, as we were coming down, he was downloading his wordy
operating system to our unformatted, receptive minds.

"He's formatting us like floppy disks!"  I thought.  I was about to
plug my ears with my fingers when suddenly I remembered that I had
brought my journal.  I retrieved it and sat back down.  Rama was still
talking.  In the upper right hand corner of the page, where I typically
included the date, I wrote, "**timeless". I was still high.  Then I
wrote, "... the basic Agni Operating System:  boot:  breath deeply 2x.
Take your time.  where is your stomache... who has control of it?  NOTE:
nothing else matters.  who ever is letting or not letting you take deep
breaths of air-->if this is someone other than me, eliminate them.  you
breathe.  You take it ez.  get good exercise.  Learn ANYTHING at a pace
healthy for you!  So, 2 traps to avoid:  1) other people... who live my
life (not me living my life); 2) people trying to help me, but i take
it wrong (due to #1). whatever TRIP you're on, remember breathing.
remember who you are... never look to others to patch... Agni... You must
be strong... even now, i am drawing upon a very healthy basic energy
that supports me.  That so is good.  But over the last 7 years, i have
been always rushing to meet someone else's gap.  No thanx... Everyone is
the same.  Some people think they are special.  No... "

Rama was talking about American Indians.  "They weave people's
attention," he said, "to help sell their products."

I wrote, "always be moving ON YOUR OWN STEAM! accept NO substitutes.
everything has power.  some things are good, others not."

Rama asked what I was doing.

"I'm writing in my journal," I replied.

"What have you written?"

I read the last few sentences aloud.

"Some things have more power than others," he editorialized.  Then he
began talking about me.  He spoke about how, when I had lived with him,
I made shakes in the blender with all kinds of "strange" ingredients.

"Why did Agni make these shakes?" he asked the disciples.

No one answered.

"One," he continued, "there was power to them.  Two, to attract
attention.  Three, this boy is an asshole."

I wrote, "Asshole," and drew a circle around the word.  Then I wrote,
"ok but it is me.  so, fine."

A few minutes later Rama said, "Fake obvious things fool everybody."
Then he said, "Humans are continually knocking on your door.  As long
as they are alive, they try and suck your power.  You need to get
strategic and learn to intensely dislike them.  Cut them.  Push them
away--anything to get them to fuck off."

I wrote, "cold."

About an hour later, Rama had us watch The Adventures of Buckaroo
Bonzai on the VCR.  I sat several feet back from the group.  After the
movie Rama announced, "Someone is way off.  Can anyone see who it is?"

The disciples glanced at me.

"Of course, you all know that it's Agni.  Now what's the matter, baby?"

I told him that things in my life were not working out.  I told him
that I needed to try something new.

"If you wish to leave, please don't bring everyone else down."

"Sorry, Rama."

When I got home, I wrote, "good.  i feel much better already.  keep
breathing.  slow.  keep remembering Mark Eliot, is the breather.
Before he met any of these people he was the breather; so too after.
Before he dreamed himself into a don Juan/CC [Carlos Castaneda] world
extravagansa... Fred--he's cool.  But he was formatted improperly by a
bad occultist.  Simple.  He also wanted to be a Guru, told me so in a
UCSD parking lot.  But cool guy.  Powerful attention level.  Controls
every situation impeccably.  cares about others what seems to be an
enormous amount.  Yet detached.  cold.  warm.  whatever he was
projecting.  A master illusionist.  Created/s dreams & realities with
the flick of a wrist.  This has not been healthy for me.  7 years
occult training school has wiped me.  Nothing wrong with it--taught by
an impeccable 8th degree Black belt; only, I don't handle it too well.
So, I recognize i tried something, and it didn't work.  I have the
humility to realize that it isn't working for me.  And for God sakes,
try new things in your life, as FDR says.  But Fred is definitely bent
out of shape.  'Let your hate grow,' devil ref's, paranoia...  Not to
blame him.  Had weak 1st attention as a kid.  Dad... Teacher bent.
Important:  i believe that the good side of Fred respects what I am
doing & wishes me well.  i have no desire to speak or see anyone with
whom I didn't know 7 1/2 years ago... Still coming down, here, from 3
hits of 6-7?th Acid trip.  Good thing.  boy does that stuff make me
sick! good for changing though.  thrown away much unk stuff!... The
journey, Eliot Mark Laxer, has just begun!  Don't turn back!  Go! &
keep moving.  I have graduated (7 yrs) an EKATEST [Electric Koolaid
Acid Test]!  Congrad!"

That night I wrote to Robert, the disciple who had gotten shot, "... the
past 4-5 years have been a bad trip, a bad format.  i was getting
sicker, weaker.  it is necessary for my well being that i live off my
own power.  i have no need to convince you of this.  this my body
knows.  my body has been telling me for years to leave Rama.  Finally,
he stopped convincing me to stay.  Then i couldn't make it on my own.
So i left & came back.  Now i'm stronger; off my own steam... unlike
past times when i left Rama's Attention field, i'm not going to waste
thoughts & power on the past.  The past, people's thoughts about me, my
thoughts about me--are all like Nately's Whore, in Catch-22; only she
misses, and i jump... "

About a week later, Dana called me with a "Warrior's task." Rama, she
explained, wanted me to get former disciple Tom to call him.

I told her that I was not looking for a Warrior's task--or any task for
that matter.  "You know I have left the Centre," I said.

"Don't you think you might be following your gut feelings?" she asked.

"You bet!"

I also followed my gut feelings during the group acid trip earlier that
month when Rama asked the disciples to remain inside.  I had walked
outside and watched the small birds fly.  "The bottom line is that he's
wrong about me," I thought, my self-confidence germinating the way pine
seeds flourish when their cones are scorched by fire.  "I'm not
possessed by demons, mentally ill, or bent on destruction.  I'm okay."

20.  The Last Supper

In August, 1985, I began spending time with old friends and with people
from work.  I felt awkward.  I did not know what to talk about.  They
used words like concerts, bar hop, chaser, dive, dude, hot babe,
married, pregnant, job security, tax break, investment, global economy,
third world, cold war, Reagan, Saturday Night Live, and Letterman.
Their language felt alien to me.  They used "party" as a verb, not as a
noun.  They used "to see" as a way to describe what they did with their
eyes and with their mind, not what they did with their inner being.  I
learned to navigate within their world, but felt like I did not belong.

The initial reentry into society was difficult in other ways.  I found
myself constantly reverting back to Rama's world of fear, isolation,
and self-doubt. When I had eye contact with someone, for instance, I
had to remind myself that my reservoir of mystical power was not being
drained.  When I saw a flicker of light, I had to remind myself that
the reflection was not Negative Forces.  When a non-disciple told me of
his or her hopes and dreams, I had to remind myself that theirs was not
simply a world of illusion.  And when I thought of my own hopes and
dreams, I had to remind myself that I was not a mentally ill zombie
unable to deal with the real world.

I realized that Rama had taught me to think this way.  I also realized
that I could, in time, unlearn these associations.  I told myself I was
doing okay.  I was doing well at my job.  I was saving money and paying
off loans.  I was commuting to work each day by bicycle.  I was slowly
getting stronger.

One day I had a conversation with the vice president of my company.  I
respected him.  He seemed to be creative, bright, and energetic.  He
told me that he read a great deal.  "I try to learn many different
philosophies," he said.  "A philosophy that discourages you from
learning other philosophies is a good one to avoid." I liked his
approach to knowledge.  I was impressed that such wisdom was available
in an office building in downtown Boston.  I was impressed that in his
own way, my boss was a seeker.

Another weekend a childhood friend invited me to a beach party in New
York.  There I met Christina, a young woman with long legs and deep
blue eyes.  I started driving to New York often.  One evening, the
phone rang.  I had been expecting a call from Christina.

"Hi, Agni," said a woman's voice.  It was Dana.

"I should have changed my number," I thought.

"There's going to be a meeting at Rama's for the Stony Brook group,"
she said.  "Can you make it?"

"I'm doing okay on my own," I reminded myself.  "I don't need to see

"Rama said it's going to be our last meeting together," she added.

I nearly laughed.  He had been holding "last meetings" for years.  I
wondered if he were trying to suck me back into his organization.  I
thought about the disciples and about my brother.  I had not seen them
in weeks.  "I'll be there," I told her.

Late the following night I rode my three-speed toward Needham.  Rama
typically conducted business between two and four a.m.  because "the
world's psychic energy was calm" and, perhaps, because disciples at
that time tended to be tired and off balance.  Yet as I pedaled through
the dark and empty streets, blood pulsed quickly through my veins.  I
felt alert.  I wore all black.  Black for me was a symbol of power.  I
wore around my neck a string with a bicycle lock key.  I had worn such
a string during bike trips of my youth, before locking on to Rama's
path.  The key was a reminder that waiting just outside Rama's door was
the trusted three-speed.

I entered the house.  The disciples seemed friendly toward me.  Rama
approached.  He said, "You look much better, Agni."

I offered him a classical music tape.  This was my way of saying that I
harbored no ill feelings.

He accepted.

It was well past midnight and the twelve had arrived.  Actually there
were only ten but we counted Tom's spirit.  We also counted Lakshmi,
the Centre's patron goddess.

Rama served a red wine which he said was expensive.  I recalled that
weeks before, he had counseled disciples to avoid alcohol.

He showed us a cake decorated with the image of a frog.  "You will get
some cake after the meeting," he said, as though addressing a group of
children.  The decoration reminded me of Kermit.  I wondered if he had
reincarnated the symbol as part of a spiritual lesson, or if it was
just icing on the cake.

A few minutes later Rama put on electronic music, picked up the
original Bliss puppet, and started to dance.

The disciples watched, their faces aglow with adoration.  I wondered if
I used to look like that.  "Don't watch," I thought and walked away.
In a corner of the room, I quietly danced with a Bliss of my own.

The music stopped.  Rama instructed us to sit in a circle in the living
room.  I hesitated.  "Something about this doesn't feel right," I
thought.  I sat down, nonetheless, and meditated with the group.

Roughly forty-five minutes later, Rama began to speak about the rapid
deterioration of the earth's psychic energy field.  His language
sounded strange to me.  Terms such as "Entities" and "occult attack" no
longer seemed natural.

Several minutes after that Rama's bright, friendly eyes suddenly
hardened.  "Instead of aspiring to the higher worlds," he accused, "you
are evolving into a horde of angry sorcerers."

"What am I doing here?"  I wondered.  "I don't have to listen to this."

"You are trying to increase your personal power by attacking each
other--and me--in the Dream Plane," he charged.  "I have no choice but
to disband your Circle Of Power."

"This is why he called us here?"  I thought.  The tension in the room
felt like nails in my stomach.  I glanced at the door.

Rama explained that our final task, before he disbanded the Circle, was
to take turns confronting one another.  "It is very important for each
of you to voice what is *really* going down," he said.

The people in the original inner circle had been through a lot together.
The first few seemed reluctant to adopt his suggested role as angry,
finger-pointing sorcerers.  They said things like, "I think you may be
sending me some bad vibrations in the inner worlds."

Rama frowned.  "You think you are acting like Warriors, but you are
really acting like wimps.  If you don't *'fess up* now, it will be
extremely difficult for you to continue making spiritual progress later

"You've been attacking me in the Dream Plane!" my brother accused me
and several others.

"You've been trying to steal my power for years!" countered Sal when it
came his turn.

"Yes," approved Rama.

Instead of listening and preparing for my turn, I recalled the way Big
Nurse inspired patients to rat on each other.  "Rama is manipulating
us," I thought.  "He's getting us to turn on one another.  He's
dividing us.  Divide and conquer."

Suddenly it was my turn.  I did not know what to say.  I stood up.  The
others had remained seated.  I turned to Rachel.  ("I have always liked
you," I thought.) I said, "We have gotten along well.  I don't see any
problems between us."

Rama looked surprised.  This was not the kind of response he had in

Rachel smiled at me.

I turned to Suzanne.  ("You say that I suffer from delusions that I'm
Luke Skywalker.  Perhaps.") I said, "I hardly even know you."

I turned to Dana.  ("I've had a crush on you since the time in the San
Diego airport, under the palms.") I said, "I don't know if you've been
sending me sexual energy or what, but for years I've been very
attracted to you."

She raised her eyebrows.  So did Rama.  So did the others.  I had
broken a taboo.  Sexual attraction was not something we were supposed
to discuss, particularly in a group, particularly with Rama,
particularly regarding one of Rama's women, and *particularly*
regarding Dana who, along with Anne, was Rama's closest disciple.

I turned to Anne.  ("If only I were older.") I said, "I feel the same
way about you."

More looks of surprise.

I felt exhilarated.  I was not accustomed to voicing my gut feelings.
I turned to Sal.  ("No, old friend, I'm not trying to steal your
power.") I said, "You have gotten a little paranoid over the past few
years.  I hope you can work it out."

He frowned.

I turned to Donna.  ("Are you still planning to marry Rama?") I said,
"I have no problem with you."

She nodded.

I turned to Paul.  ("What's the penguin doing on the tehlee?") I said,
"We are friends."

He grinned.

"In other words," Rama interrupted, "you have Paul wrapped around your
finger.  You have learned much."  His twisted compliment threw me off
balance, and I failed to defend the seven-year friendship.

I turned to my brother.  ("Love ya, bro.") I said, "I am not attacking
you in the Dream Plane."

"Oh no?"  Rama interrupted again.

"I'm not conscious of it."

"Oh, sure you're not," mocked Rama.  Then, in a professorial voice, he
explained how, in each family, only a limited amount of power could be
passed to the offspring.  "Typically, one child claims most of it.  The
others are often so drained that they don't even notice it's gone."

"Rama is an only child," I thought.

"Agni used to have the power," he went on.  "Now Dan has it.  They will
have to fight each other for the rest of their lives... "

"That's bull!"  I shouted.

The disciples looked shocked.  No one spoke that way to Rama.

Now I was angry.  It was still my turn.  I turned to Rama.  My heart
was pounding.  ("Why do you tell Dana to tell me to tell Tom to call
you?  Why can't you call your old friend on your own?  You're playing
power games.") I said, "You're a grown man.  You have a Ph.D. You run a
computer company and a spiritual organization.  Given three phone
numbers, I think you should be able to contact Tom by *yourself*." I
sat down, stunned.  I had spoken honestly to Rama.  It was invigorating.

"That's going to be a tough act to follow," admitted Rama.  Then he
began to speak.  Within minutes he transported me with a tranquilizing
voice and abstract language inside a fuzzy, familiar bubble where words
were not questioned and consciousness seemed high.  I found myself
being drawn into his world.  It was comforting being back.  Earlier, he
had given me some play.  That made me feel important.  I let my
thoughts drift aimlessly about.  I found myself gazing, without
blinking, into his eyes.  I found myself mesmerized by the sound and
the rhythm of his words.  Somewhere far away, I found myself
floating... my vision blurred... things went fuzzy...

"Hey!"  I thought, bursting the mental bubble.  "He's formatting us
again--only this time without the LSD!"

I stood back up.  I was ready for action.  I did not know what to do.

Rama stopped talking, squinted his eyes, and aimed his index finger at

I recalled a scene from The Last Wave, a movie Rama once took me to
see, in which a sorcerer kills a man by pointing a "death bone" at him.

I now saw Rama as both friend and foe, mentor and tormentor, Christ and
anti-Christ. I was frightened and confused.  Estranged, yet held by his
seductively androgynous, authoritative face, I lapsed into a meditative

A glint of light caught my eye and snapped me out of the trance.

Rama was chanting something in a low, monotonous tone.

I seized the string with the bicycle lock key.  I pictured bright
purple sparks and blue lightning bolts radiating in all directions from
the key.  The light shielded me from attack and lit the path to the

"Gotta go," I said and slowly walked away.

"I've got your number," Rama replied, still pointing his crooked finger.

"You're full of it," I returned and stepped outside.  Here the light
was soft and grey.  A morning dove cooed.  The bicycle was there for
me.  It was 1985, and I was twenty-five.

In the months that followed, I occasionally bicycled to Walden Pond,
where I read about Thoreau's experiment with self-reliance. Distracted
by haunting memories, I gazed at the water in search of calm, but the
wind spawned new waves and the surface swelled with complexity.
"There's plenty of time to sort it out," I reassured myself.  "Maybe
I'll take myself for a ride across America and do some thinking."

21.  Bicycle Ride--The Continental Divide

Three months into the cross-country bicycle trek, I pulled off the road
west of Walden, Colorado.  I was stuck.  The problem was not so much
the physical journey.  True, I was towing additional weight because
towns were farther apart and because Nunatak was no longer a pup.  But
my leg muscles were rock solid from the miles in Massachusetts, New
York, the southern tip of Canada, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South
Dakota, Wyoming, and Colorado, and I felt confident I could ride to the

The problem was more the inner journey.  The more I thought about Rama,
the more I understood.  The more I understood, the more I wanted to
write.  If I wrote, I might publish.  If I published, I would betray
Rama.  If I didn't publish, I would betray those whom I might have
warned.  I thought, "Damned if I do, damned if I don't." I became
emotionally exhausted.  I decided to end the bike trip, return to
school, and take a break from the past.

But I still wanted to believe that Rama was a powerful incarnation and
that I was an advanced soul of sorts.  I did not yet understand that
only when I checked my desire to soar, like Icarus, too close to the
sun would the impasse disappear, and I would accept who Rama was and
who he was not.

That night on a bed of wildflowers, I petted the husky and gazed at the
canopy of stars.  A warm breeze carried the scent of pine.  I felt at
peace.  I was proud and relieved that I had used my rational side to
alter the course of my bike trip when my world was in need of balance.
I looked forward to hitchhiking west with the dog.  I looked forward to
school.  I took slow, deep breaths and listened to the silence of the
valley.  My thoughts ebbed into a sea of calm.  Flecks of starlight
grew brilliant and close.  I felt complete.  I lost awareness of the
passing of time.  Suddenly, I realized I had been meditating.  I felt
surprised.  I had not consciously meditated since leaving Rama one year
before.  Yet the state of mind felt oddly familiar, and I tried to
understand why.

I thought about the meaning of meditation.  To meditate, I supposed,
was to concentrate and reflect on thoughts, images, or phenomena.  It
was to work in a garden or stand in a subway and listen to currents of
the mind.  It was to lose track of time completely, absorbed in
memories of a friend.  It was to gaze down the highway of light where
the sun lit into the sea.  There were as many ways to meditate, it
seemed, as there were facets on the jewel of the human condition.

It occurred to me that I had meditated on the first day of the bike
trip at Walden Pond.  I had become immersed in watching waves rise and
fall and in listening to them lap the shore.  Their pattern suggested a
rhythm unlike any I had followed.  When a friend asked which route I
would take, I smiled.  My plan was to follow the setting sun.

Now, stretched out on a sleeping bag in northern Colorado, I realized
that I had started and ended the bike trip in spontaneous meditation.
I recalled other times during the journey that I had meditated.  I
gazed, for instance, at the bands of bright color which arched from
drenched cow fields to the luminous Wisconsin sky.  I gazed at the blur
of the Minnesota pavement when the wind was strong and at my tail.  I
pondered an encounter with a young, six-pack-carrying Native American
who, when I mentioned the spirit of South Dakota's land, told me he had
sold his for a bundle of cash.  I contemplated an encounter with a
Vietnam veteran in Rapid City who said his death was near and whose
shirt read, "AGENT ORANGE KILLS."  I meditated on the meaning of a
bumper sticker in Wyoming that read, "MY OTHER CAR IS A HORSE." I
reflected on Nuna's response when I encouraged her to help pull the
rig.  The nearly full-grown husky had sat down and scratched her ear.

The primary focus of the bike trip meditations, though, had been on my
years with Rama.  I had meditated, for instance, on the LSD trips.
During the intense rush of the drug, my acquired knowledge of myself
and of the world around me peeled away like layers of an onion.  It was
as if I saw the world through the eyes of a child.  Hours later, as the
effects of the acid began to wear off, it was as if I saw the world
through the eyes of a young man whose self-confidence had not yet been
shaken.  Rama, who observed me during each trip, mostly let me re-form
the layers which made up "me" on my own.  The next wave of subjects in
his chemical experiments would not be as fortunate (see Epilogue).

I meditated during the bike trip on how, over the years, Rama flipped
between "caretaker personalities" more frequently and how, starting in
1984, the flipping grew sudden and extreme.  This unnerving phenomenon
could be seen in the stages of his LSD trip.  Perhaps, inadvertently,
he had designed a multi-leveled, persona-flipping program of
"sophisticated spirituality" to mask advanced symptoms of schizophrenia.

I meditated on what had happened the night I left the Centre.  When I
followed my gut feelings and spoke honestly to Rama and to the inner
circle, Rama responded by turning my brother against me.

It did not matter to me, during the meditations on my brother, that
Rama's childhood had been difficult.  Rama had told me that his father
was "power hungry" and "cold" and that his mother was "wacky" and
"liked to take drugs."  Nor did it matter that Rama had probably sought
to fill the vacuum of his early years with promiscuity, LSD, devotion
to a guru, money, expensive cars and property, and consummate power
over hundreds of peoples' lives.  Nor did it matter that his confusing
set of personalities had probably developed from a simultaneous belief
that he was a hustler on the one hand, and a living legend and god
incarnate on the other.  Nor did it matter that I wanted to forgive him.

When I meditated on the casual, diabolical way in which he pitted my
brother against me, my understanding and forgiveness vanished.  I
tensed my gut and wrestled with a primal image.  The water was red.  I
shuddered.  I saw my brother clearly.  He had an open, bleeding heart.
I knew how that felt.  I saw him treading water.  There was no bottom.
I knew how that felt too.  A great white shark circled, rising
effortlessly from the depths.  I clenched my fists.  There was nothing
I could do.  Dan could not hear me.

I meditated on what had happened later that night, after Rama rooted
his divisive legacy in my brother's mind.  When Rama pointed his finger
at me, I knew that he was trying to intimidate me.  I also knew that he
was trying to maintain some semblance of control.  But I feared that he
might be a sorcerer.  I intentionally visualized sparks and bolts of
protective lightning radiating from the bicycle key.  I understood that
the colorful explosions were emanating from the world of my
imagination.  But that did not stop me from *seeing* them.  The scene
unfolding before me was, after all, not just another ending to a
Castaneda book.  It was real.  And I needed all the inspiration I could

The meditations during the bicycle journey helped me comprehend and
come to terms with an earlier journey.  When I was sixteen, I sought
fellowship, Truth, and that which lies beneath the "surface" world of
reason.  I came to believe that I could find these things by studying
with a sorcerer in a desert in Mexico, by gazing at an underexposed
photograph of a *fully* enlightened Indian man, and by following the
etiquette of a warm, funny, brilliant, persona-flipping man with a
Ph.D. in English.  I later looked to Gandhi and to William Shirer for
answers.  But as I rode west from Concord, Massachusetts, I found a
teacher inside myself, and the lessons worked for me.

I learned that it is important not to follow someone blindly, even if
he is truly childlike, humble, self-giving, and "Self-Realized"; even
if he is a friend; and particularly if he is reluctant to openly admit
that he can be seduced by his power over others.  Genuine teachers
encourage their students to question them throughout the *entire*
apprenticeship, because genuine teachers accept their own imperfect
human nature.

I learned that it is important to balance the mystical with the
rational.  Meditation tends to open the mind to suggestion.  The art of
the mystic seems to be, therefore, to know when to let go, be
spontaneous, and open up to the universe, and when to gain control, use
the power of reason, and protect the body, mind, and soul.

I learned, too, that it is not necessary to focus on a leader, a
philosophy, or a technique to contact deep mystical currents.  By
facing intense sunlight and storms during the bike trek, I was in
direct contact with the ancient, transcendental kingdom of nature.  By
observing my thoughts clarify as they projected and pulsed over fields,
lakes, and mountains, I drew closer to the land, to the creation.  By
wrestling with winds born of colossal power, I was forced to make
constant leaps of faith to merely carry on.  But now, sitting by the
Eskimo dog, I contemplated the awesome blackness of the night.  I was
unaware that the bicycle journey itself had been a natural expression
of mysticism.

The following day, I ascended the purple peaks of the Continental
Divide.  The sky was clear; the wind, calm.  A sign indicated that
waters to the east flowed toward the Atlantic, and to the west, the
Pacific.  It did not indicate that the waters might return and follow a
different path.  I dismounted the 12-speed. Fragments of Rama's deepest
hooks still lurked in my heart.  But I was doing better now.  The
healing process had begun.  Facing the east while walking backwards to
the west, I quickly retracted my thumb whenever a vehicle or driver
seemed unsuitable or unsafe to take me for a ride.


Hidden between UCSD and the Pacific Ocean were burial grounds, Rama
said, that were sacred to Native Americans.  Surfers on their way to
Black's Beach passed through this land of cliffs and ravines.  They
pointed to a graceful, white mansion and said, "Heyyy, duuuude, that's
Atkinson's place, duuuuuuuuude."  Several properties south of the UCSD
Chancellor's mansion lay a burned-out car abandoned on a charred
foundation.  The address seemed to be 951, but in my mind the missing
tile was in place:  9514 La Jolla Farms Road, where Rama became
"enlightened" and where I moved into darkness.

It was 1988.  I parked my Volkswagon Bus at a mall one-and-a-half miles
east of campus and walked with Nunatak toward the sea.  I had cut
through the not-yet-bulldozed chaparral just east of Interstate-5 many
times since returning to UCSD--a twenty-seven year old
undergraduate--but now the sun was setting and the air seemed heavy.
Suddenly, I had a sense of where I was going.  During the past two
years I had dealt with my Rama experiences intellectually.  But you can
only sit cooly, unmoved and protected on the cap-of-things-that-were
for so long before the cap blows and sends you tumbling.  There are
many ways to grapple with the enormity of what lies beneath the surface
world of reason.  I approached 9514 La Jolla Farms Road.

The last time I got near the place had been the year before, with a
friend.  "I lived there once with some radical people," I had told her.
"One of them became... enlightened."

"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked.

"That's where Atkinson lives," I said, pointing away.

Now, as the sun sank in the Pacific, I stood with Nuna on the edge of
the property.  I took a few steps forward but quickly stopped cold.  I
could almost hear Rama saying in his Kermit-the-Frog voice, "Make
millions of people happy."  I stepped to where my room used to be when
suddenly, superimposed over blackened concrete slabs, images appeared.
Rama was in the kitchen cooking for a hundred spiritual seekers.  Rama
was in the meditation room giving a talk beside a larger-than-life
photo of an Indian guru.  Rama was at the same spot giving a talk
beside himself.  Rama was in the garage surveying stacks of WOOF!  Rama
was offering me cookies to cheer me up because I doubted his
enlightenment--my *friend's* enlightenment.  Rama was hopping around
the house like a kangaroo, and I was right beside him, and we were
laughing like children, and at that moment, in the fading light, the
cap blew and tears streamed down my face.

* * *

Over the next few years, I grappled with conflicting images of Rama.
Sometimes I saw him as a friend.  Other times I saw him as a
semi-enlightened seeker or as a powerful sorcerer.  But the more I
researched his past, the more I discovered he was human.

He was born Frederick P. Lenz III on February ninth, 1950, in Mercy
Hospital, San Diego.  He was raised Catholic in Connecticut where he
lived, alternately, with his grandparents, aunt and uncle, and father.
His parents divorced when he was a child.  His father remarried, joined
a yacht club, and, in 1974, was elected mayor of Stamford.

In 1967 Fred graduated from Rippowam High School.  The following
description of him appears in the yearbook:  "A streak of the
unusual--chasing the beautiful, hiding from the known.  Cut-rate
philosopher--monopoly on the side... "

At seventeen, Fred left the east coast and experienced the mushrooming
of the psychedelic movement while living in San Francisco's
Haight-Ashbury district.  It was during the subsequent year, which he
spent in prison for selling drugs, that he was handed a promotional
brochure for Indian guru Chinmoy Kumar Ghose.  Chinmoy, whose path was
paved with "peace, light, and bliss," had several hundred followers
worldwide, including rock musicians John "Mahavishnu" McLaughlin and
Carlos "Devadip" Santana.

Fascinated by Eastern philosophy and meditation techniques popularized
in the late '60s, Fred returned to the east coast where he studied the
art of quieting the mind with Chinmoy.  He also studied English at the
University of Connecticut at Storrs.  While still an undergraduate, he
married and divorced a Chinmoy disciple named Pam, built dulcimers in a
wood shop in his basement, joined the university debating team, and
began hosting free public lectures on meditation.

Chinmoy, who often asked disciples to start "divine enterprises," asked
this well-spoken, Phi Beta Kappa graduate to start a laundromat.  When
Fred chose instead to enroll in a Ph.D. program in English at the State
University of New York at Stony Brook, Chinmoy kicked him out of the
Centre for roughly one year in an apparent attempt to teach him
obedience and humility.

By the time I met Fred several years later, Chinmoy had dubbed him
"Atmananda" or "Bliss-of-the-Soul," whereas the State University of New
York at Stony Brook, after accepting his dissertation ("The Evolution
of Matter and Spirit In The Poetry Of Theodore Roethke"), had bestowed
upon him the title "Frederick Lenz, Ph.D."

* * *

Fundamental to my research on Rama were my discussions with former
disciples, some of whom I tracked down, and some of whom I happened to
meet at movie theatres, airports, and gatherings of Amnesty
International.  Talking and writing about my experiences helped me to
work out much of the emotional pain.  Listening to what others had gone
through also helped a great deal.  But as I listened, I realized that
my darkest fear had come true.  Rama had been getting progressively

In the fall of 1985, weeks after I left the Centre, Rama disbanded
Lakshmi and encouraged roughly one hundred followers to move from
Boston to Los Angeles.  He directed these disciples to donate their
time to his software company, Vishnu Systems.

In 1986, Rama moved from Boston to Seattle with about eight men and
three inner circle women:  Laura, Cindy, and Anne.  Once they arrived
in Seattle, Rama informed the three women that he had asked them along
specifically to satisfy his sexual appetite.  He told them that they
were to be his "Geisha's." By then, he explained, he needed to sleep
with two or three women at a time; an individual, he maintained, had
too little "energy" to stimulate him.

He confessed to Anne that for most of his life something had been
hurting him, keeping him down.  He told her that during a recent trip
to a family event, he saw that his aunt and uncle had been using their
psychic powers all along to make him deathly ill and to try to kill
him.  He told her that I had been sending him a great deal of Negative
Psychic Energy and that, in response, he had been sending me Entities
so my life would be "miserable on a daily basis."

Also in Seattle, Rama repeatedly administered LSD to the three women.
During their hallucinogenic trips he kept them up all night, shouted at
them, told them that they were possessed, and tried to get them to
confess that they had incarnated on earth to destroy his mission.  Then
he threatened their lives.

During one such episode described by Anne as "nightmare weekend," Rama
fed them acid--five or so hits each--and showed them his new puppy.

"This dog is possessed," he claimed, citing its frequent need to
urinate, and its habit of whining when confined alone in the basement.
Rama then fed the dog seven hits of LSD.  "Look--it's still standing!"
he said in an effort to substantiate his claim.  Rama placed his hands
around the puppy's neck and began to squeeze.  Earlier he had claimed
that the Evil Forces were trying to get to him through his pets.  All
of his pets, he complained, became demonically possessed.  Now he
continued to choke the puppy to the brink of death.  Then he scowled at
the three women and boasted that he had just used his *willpower* to
stop himself from eliminating this "enemy." Through the sleepless night
and following morning, Rama repeatedly told the women that the puppy's
situation was remarkably similar to their own.  He reminded them that
they had better confess.

"Barbara confessed!"  Rama finally snapped.  "Barbara has come clean!
If you want to study with me in this or in any future lifetime, you had
better come clean!"

After Rama left the room, memories screamed across horror-fried
synapses of Anne's acid-drenched brain:  the puppy... he's strangling
the puppy... can't breath... it's possessed--EVIL...  like us... --EVIL...
like us...  five hits of acid...  the room...  the furniture...  me...
focus... the Forces...  the puppy...  he's strangling the...  "Anne, I
will send you to hell for thousands of lifetimes!"...  can't breath...
"What you will experience will make AIDS look like fun!"...  he, he
threatened to kill me...  "Cindy, I have a special place for you in
hell!"... --EVIL...  like me...  "Consider your future lives!"...  the
puppy...  "Barbara confessed!"...  like me...  "Come clean!"...  --EVIL...

When Rama returned to the room, the three young women confessed.

Weeks later, when the women asked Rama about the health of the puppy,
he replied that it had passed on to another world.

"Do you know how I did it?" he whispered.  "With my *will*."

Months later, Rama announced to hundreds of followers:  "No, friends, I
am not paranoid.  In fact, three students recently confessed to me that
they had incarnated on earth to destroy my mission."

Also in 1986, Rama wrote to followers:  "A very close friend of mine,
Jack Kukulan, died several weeks ago.  I know Jack was a friend to many
of you.  We will miss him.  Jack was the best part of all of us.  His
tremendous help and economic support of the spread of meditation has
benefited many.  Jack died a warrior's death."

A squat man with dark, curly hair and a sardonic smile, Jack had
applied to be a student shortly after Rama's 1982 Berkeley lecture
series.  He had allowed the Bay Area postering crew to use his house as
a base of operation, and seemed willing to help his new spiritual
teacher in any way that he could.  When Rama closed the San Francisco
Centre, Jack sold his house and moved to southern California, where he
continued to run an Oakland-based fruit distribution company.

Each week I stopped by Jack's Malibu apartment to pick up a crate of
fruit for Rama, who lived down the block near Point Dume.  Before I
left, Jack slipped me a small, brown, paper bag.

"That's for you," he said.

"Thanks," I replied and I pulled out a plum.

One time I asked him how he could run a company that was hundreds of
miles away.

"By making a lot of phone calls."

Another time I invited him to see a movie.

"Can't make it," he told me.  "I need to take a client out to dinner."

I nodded.  "Big deal coming up?"


Rama began spending time with Jack.  In 1986, they went on a trip to
Japan where, Rama told him, they had spent past lives together.
Meanwhile, Jack had donated to Rama not only numerous crates of fruit,
but well over one hundred thousand dollars.  In fact, Rama announced at
fund-raising dinners that the disciples were "off the hook" because
Jack had donated yet another hundred thousand.

On August 2nd, 1986, forty-year-old Jack Kukulan was found in his
apartment, partially decomposed before the shrine.  According to the
police report, white powder was found on a nearby piece of paper and on
the blade of a knife from the kitchen.  According to the autopsy
report, Jack died of "heroin/morphine intoxication."

In August, 1986, Rama left Seattle.  Four months later, he returned to
Boston, where he reunited dozens of former followers.  "You should
forgive each other and start anew," he told them.  Four months after
that, he instructed them to call and invite other former followers to a
"very important" meeting in Boston.

Hundreds responded by flocking east from Los Angeles and from other
areas of the country.

At the meeting, Rama divided the congregation into the "NO," "YES," and
"MAYBE" groups as a way to determine who could come back into his new,
nameless Centre.  He put the women who had been with him the longest in
the "MAYBE" group.

"They are the worst," Rama declared, explaining that they would be
required to "pay off" their bad karma with checks ranging from $1200 to
$2000 a month each.  He then informed the "MAYBE" as well as the "YES"
disciples that if they wanted to study with him in this or in any
future lifetime, they should prepare to move to Silicon Valley.

Several hundred disciples made the move and attended Rama's first
gathering in Palo Alto, California.  Anne and Rachel, followers since
the Stony Brook days, drove west together from Boston and arrived a
month later, in time for the second meeting.  Rama asked them and
seventeen other inner circle women to work at the second meeting.  They
would check attendance lists and sell his books and tapes, which they
had done many times before.

During the meeting, Rama warned the disciples in the audience to make a
mental note of the nineteen women working that night.  "*They* are
witches," he explained.  "*They* have been incarnating together since
ancient Egypt.  *They* have been trying to destroy my mission."  He
cited as evidence the times he had gotten sick, that some of his hair
had fallen out, that past-life students had been kept from finding him,
and that current students had been sapped of their energy.

Briefly flipping to a less abusive persona, Rama announced that the
nineteen women also happened to be his best students.  "But," he said
firmly, "they have been seduced by the dark side of the force... they
seduce people... they band together in the demon world."

Rama knew the women had recently left their homes, quit their jobs, and
traveled three thousand miles to be with him.  He knew their devotion
ran deep.  He then kicked them out before the entire Centre.

"Rama?" started a woman disciple from the audience.  "I recently dreamt
that seven of the nineteen flew around me like witches."

Rama nodded.  "Recently," he said, "they have networked and conspired
to murder Jack Kukulan."

Several months later, Rama gave Karen a "Warrior's task." He told her
to call and instruct each of the nineteen to attend a private meeting.
The meeting was to be held hundreds of miles south of Palo Alto, in an
obscure park in the mountains of Malibu.  It was scheduled for December
5th, 1987--the following night.

They showed.

Under the guise of helping them protect their careers, Rama warned the
approximately thirty people--the nineteen women and about eleven other
disciples--that newspaper articles targeting him in a negative light
were in the offing.

He spoke to them about the case of Annie Eastwood.  A former follower,
Ms.  Eastwood reported that during one encounter, Rama had misled her
spiritually, abused her psychologically, showed her a gun, and demanded
that she have sex with him.  Rama later told the press: "At no time
during our evening together [with Annie] did I brandish a hand gun."
But now, at the 1987 late night Malibu gathering, he admitted:  "I did
have a hand gun with me that night with Annie... but I did not wave it

Later that night, Rama asked five or six people to walk back to the
cars and wait in the parking lot.  Anne and Rachel remained.

Rama faced the remaining disciples, roughly half of whom had
participated in one of his group LSD trips.  "If anyone asks you about
LSD," he said somberly, "you all *know* that I gave you a placebo."

Then Rama, perhaps nervous about what I had observed in 1984 and 1985,
told the disciples:  "Mark was always a little young, a little naive, a
little stupid... he thought that I actually *had* given him LSD... we all
used to indulge him... we all knew that it was just that goofy Mark
again... "

Rama went on to say that one day they might have to explain "all this"
to a judge and jury.  But under *no* circumstance, he warned, should
they speak to the press.

Toward the end of the meeting, he told the nineteen that if they wanted
to return to the Centre in this life, they must first hand in an
essay--typed, double-spaced--in which they were to confess to and
apologize for their hurtful, wicked deeds.

After the meeting, Rama returned to his latest project: staging a
national, six-month, six hundred and fifty thousand dollar "Zen"
seminar promotional campaign.  The effort included the placement of a
two-page spread in the Sunday New York Times.  One page was a photo of
himself; the other advertised his free talk on Zen and success at Alice
Tully Hall, Lincoln Center (see Appendix D). The full-page spreads also
appeared in the L.A. Times, L.A. Weekly, Los Angeles Magazine, Vanity
Fair, and in more than a dozen college campus newspapers across the
country, including MIT, Harvard, Columbia, UCLA, UC San Diego, San
Diego State, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara.

Rama's aura of allegations came to light in the press in the midst of
his national speaking tour:  Newsweek, "Who Is This Rama?--The master
of Zen and the Art of Publicity is now having some very serious
problems", 2/1/88; The L.A. Weekly, "The Cosmic Seducer: How Frederick
Lenz Got Rich, Built A Clientele And Seduced Women", 1/28/88, and "Rama
Redux", 9/1/88; The San Francisco Chronicle, "Zen and now:  The gospel
according to guru 'Rama'", 11/8/87, and "Sex, Fear Broke Guru's Spell",
11/27/87; The San Diego Union, "YUPPIE GURU: Ex-Disciples Turn On
'Master'", 1/10/88; and New Age Journal, "The Rama Drama", 6/1/88.

When articles began to appear, Rama cancelled several talks.  When more
appeared, he stopped giving public lectures altogether.

In the spring of 1988, Rama had Karen call and instruct the nineteen to
attend a middle-of-the-night meeting in the Mohave Desert, scheduled
for the end of April.

Rachel and Anne individually expressed doubts about whether they would

In the past, Rama had used the fear of Entities and of bad karma to
discipline his disciples.  Typically, he had explained that he would
try to protect those who strayed from his path.  But by now his role
had dramatically changed.  No longer the protector, he told disciples
that if they disobeyed him, *he* would see to it that they had a car
accident or that they came down with cancer.  He had Karen warn Rachel
and Anne that if they did not attend the meeting, they would come to
"serious harm."

They showed.

At the Mohave Desert meeting, Rama announced that the nineteen could
return to the Centre, move to Boston, teach yoga, and bring him new

"Who does *not* want to come back?" he asked.

Anne, Dana, and Rachel reached their hands into the desert sky.

Afterwards, the devotees stopped at Denny's restaurant for coffee.  The
dissenters sat together.  Rama approached.  Anne mentioned that the
brakes of her car were not functioning properly, and that she had had
difficulty getting to the meeting.  Rama took credit for the problem.
He said:  "Let that be a warning." Then he told the three women that
they had better not send him any bad vibes.

"One out of twenty women gets breast cancer," he told them.  "Five out
of twenty women could get breast cancer.  Twenty out of twenty women
could get breast cancer.  Some women get cancer of the uterus... "

* * *

I was shocked when I learned how Rama had treated Rachel, Dana, and
Anne.  I was shocked that Rama's world had gotten so out of hand.  But
according to what I read in the press, the experiences of my friends
were by no means isolated.

In 1990, Anne and I sat together and read Rama's seven-page "Statement
To The Press."  Near the start of the "Statement," Rama lists the names
of "credible persons who can verify the truth of my assertions." I
glanced at the names.  "Karen Lever."  True, she had been accepted at a
number of medical schools, including Stanford.  She *was* extremely
bright.  But as Rama's mouthpiece, she was the one who had threatened
dissenters with serious harm.  "Dr. Wayne Surdam" and "Dr. Ermano
Rambaldi."  True, they were an award-winning UC Berkeley scholar and a
UCLA geologist respectively.  True, they *had* taken the study of
spirituality to heart.  But they had never gotten close enough to Rama
to observe his *other* side.  "Richard Loftin."  I did not know him.
But during nightmare weekend in Seattle, he reportedly sat across from
the three tripping women and giggled.

Rama continues in the "Statement":

          Annie Eastwood alleges that we had a single
          sexual encounter over five years ago in my
          home in Malibu, California.  She has told the
          press that in hindsight, she now views the
          sexual encounter we had together as forced.
          She has alleged that during the course of an
          evening together I brandished a hand gun.  She
          then states that she had sex with me out of fear.

Rama then claims:

          ... at no time during our evening together did
          I brandish a hand gun.

Anne looked up from the "Statement" and said, "But Rama explicitly told
us at the meeting in Malibu that he *did* take out a hand gun that
night with Annie."

"Maybe," I replied, "Rama is playing off the difference in meaning
between *holding* and *brandishing* [waving] a hand gun."

"What Annie perhaps did not know," Anne added, "and what Rama fails to
mention, is that he nearly *always* slept with a gun by his bed."

Rama writes:

          Ms. Eastwood continued to attend my seminars
          for another year after our night together.
          This would not seem to be likely behavior on
          the part of a person who was allegedly forced
          to have sex at gunpoint.

"No," I thought.  "But perhaps on the part of a person who has been
psychologically and sexually manipulated and abused."

Rama continues:

          Now, five years after the event and in concordance
          with a group of persons affiliated with Cult
          Awareness Network, she has decided that a gun
          was present during our encounter and that she
          was forced to have sex with me.  Her story is
          absurd and untrue.

          ... Lisa Hughes has asserted in a variety of
          interviews that I forced her to take L.S.D.
          while she was a guest at my home during the
          summer of 1987.  She also alleges that in
          some way, which is not fully clear in her
          accounts, I coerced her into having sex with
          me.  She further alleges that I bought her
          presents and that while she was on L.S.D.  I
          tried to convince her that she was possessed
          by 'demons.'

          I never gave Lisa Hughes L.S.D. nor did I,
          as Lisa Hughes asserts, take L.S.D. with her.

          For a period of time during the summer of
          1987 Lisa and I traveled together.  I purchased
          some clothing for her, and some luggage which
          she desperately needed.

I recalled, from press accounts, that Rama had bought Lisa $17,000
worth of clothes.  I also recalled how, in 1984, Rama had told me I was
mentally ill when I tried to return the new car he had bought for me.

          During that summer while Lisa was a guest
          in my home, Lisa and I were frequently joined
          for dinner, videos and an occasional soccer
          game by our mutual friend Mr. Richard Loftin.

          Shortly before I started spending time with
          Lisa, a close female friend of hers was killed
          in a brutal knife attack in a parking lot in
          Santa Barbara.  Lisa told me that she 'knew'
          that the killer was also stalking her.  She
          told me that he was following her on campus
          and knew where she lived.

          Lisa shared a small house in the Santa Barbara
          area with several men and one other woman.  She
          told me that she was certain that the killer had
          come into her house when no one was home.  She
          told me that this was possible because her
          housemates never locked the doors.  She said
          that it was only a question of time before she
          would be killed.

          Out of concern for her welfare I gave Lisa
          some money to rent an apartment in a gated
          high security condominium complex so that she
          would be safe.  Just before Lisa graduated the
          killer was apprehended and I did not give the
          matter any more thought until she brought it
          up over the summer.

          During the summer Lisa told me about the demons.
          Her first revelations occurred in the early part
          of the summer.  As the summer progressed
          'demons' became all that she talked about.

          One evening, in the presence of Mr. Loftin, she
          said that she was convinced that demons had
          been directing the killer in Santa Barbara.
          She also asserted that my home was filled with

Anne turned to me and said, "I don't know whether that is true or not,
but he makes it sound as if he is perfectly normal--as if *he* is not
obsessed with demons."

I recalled how Rama had increasingly preached that most of his
disciples--and most of the human race--were possessed by "Negative
Entity" demons.

"And I know for a fact," Anne added, "that Rama told us there were
demons in his house in Seattle."

Rama writes:

          She [Lisa] led Mr. Loftin and I down into
          the basement and pointed to areas of the
          vacant air where she asserted that the demons
          lived.  She was also convinced that a demon
          lived on the second to the top stair of the
          upstairs staircase.  She told us that the
          demon that lived on the stair had caused her
          to fall down the stairs once and was continually
          trying to trip her.

I recalled, from press accounts, that it was Rama who had climbed a
stepladder to clean invisible demons off the ceiling, it was Rama who
had swept the stairs with his hands to avoid being tripped by demons,
and it was Rama who, wearing raingear and Indian beads, had spent hours
in the basement grabbing at the air.

Rama claims:

          On another occasion while the three of
          us were chatting in my backyard, Lisa
          told Richard and I that she had taken
          L.S.D. and other drugs as a student at
          U.C. Santa Barbara.

          She asked Richard if he knew where she
          could get some L.S.D. and cocaine.  When
          he informed her that he had no knowledge
          of where she could get these drugs she
          became belligerent and angry.

I recalled reading about Rama's treatment of Lisa.  He had allegedly
given her LSD.  Then, as he had done to the three women in Seattle, he
screamed at her for hours, repeating that she was evil and that she had
been trying to hurt him.

Rama writes:

          Lisa told me she was afraid of her parents.
          She was convinced that they were trying to
          psychologically control her.  It was only after
          I had repeatedly requested that she call her parents
          and inform them that she was staying with me
          as a guest that she finally did so.

I recalled how Rama had instructed me to avoid speaking with my
parents, unless I needed money.

Rama continues:

          Finally, it became clear to me that it
          was time for us to separate.  I suggested
          that she return home to her parents, and
          she insisted that the demons were possessing
          them too.

          After Lisa's refusal to return to her
          parents, we agreed on a solution.  Lisa
          had expressed a desire to go to a local
          computer school.  I agreed to pay her
          tuition, purchase her a car and give her
          enough money to get an apartment.  It was
          my hope that this would give Lisa a new
          start and help her to gain some perspective
          on her life.

Rama goes on:

          Nancy Knupfer, a woman in her early
          forties, attended some of my seminars a
          number of years ago.  She also, entirely
          voluntarily, donated a sum of money to
          help defray the cost of offering meditation
          classes free or at low cost to the public...

Anne said, "Free or at low cost to the public?  Rama has a funny
concept of what 'free' and 'low cost' actually mean."

Rama describes Steve Putnam, who:

          ... made a number of public accusations
          regarding the validity of the teaching
          process I engage in.  My seminars are frequently
          attended by Buddhist monks and teachers.  Dr.
          Wayne Surdam, an award winning Oriental scholar
          from the University of California at Berkeley,
          also regularly attends.  I certainly feel that
          Dr. Surdam is a better judge of the validity
          of my presentations of the Buddhist and Hindu
          philosophies and methodologies than is Mr. Putnam.

I recalled that the editor-in-chief of the Vajradhatu Sun, an
international Buddhist newspaper, once wrote of Rama, "Nobody within
the Buddhist tradition, as far as I know, has ever taken him
seriously." (New Age Journal, "The Rama Drama", 6/1/88.)

Rama continues:

          Donald Kohl was a young man who at one time
          attended a number of my seminars in meditation
          and self-development.  In the Buddhist philosophy
          we strongly counsel persons against taking their
          own lives because of a negative karma that can
          be generated by this action.  I was touched by
          the fact that Donald said good-bye to me in the
          note he left before he died, and I was deeply
          saddened to hear of his suicide.  I did not
          know Donald and I never spoke to him personally,
          except in passing to say hello.

Anne said to me, "Donald did not just attend a number of seminars.  He
was a student.  He saw Rama on a weekly basis.  He came to Rama's house
and ate dinner with us.  He came to parties.  He went on desert trips.
He came to movies with us on Friday nights.  Rama is trying to make it
seem as if Donald had been some kind of stranger."

I replied, "Mr. Kohl called me after Donald's death.  I spoke with him
for more than an hour.  I figured Rama would not want me talking with
him, but I did anyway."

Anne said, "I was at the Centre when Rama found out that Donald had
taken his life.  At first he looked very sad.  But the first thing he
said was regarding protecting himself from blame.  He told us not to
speak with Donald's parents except to say we were sorry."

Rama writes:

          I can understand Donald's parents' grief
          over the tragedy of their son's death.
          In their pain they are understandably
          inclined to search for events and individuals
          they can use to explain or rationalize
          Donald's death.  However, to attempt to
          attribute his death to his interest in
          meditation or to his attendance at some
          seminars I conducted on meditation and
          self-development is far-fetched at the very

          When examined individually the charges
          that these six persons have made against
          me have little validity or impact.  But when
          all of these people walk into a newspaper
          office together and tell their stories, an
          avalanche effect occurs.  I can well understand
          how all of these allegations, when presented
          at the same time, could raise questions in
          someone's mind regarding my conduct and
          character.  And until Jennifer Jacobs told me
          the story of her kidnapping, I too was at a
          loss to explain how these individuals, who
          attended my seminars at different times, had
          come to join together in an orchestrated
          effort to discredit me.

Rama begins the "Kidnapping Of Jennifer Jacobs" section of the
"Statement" with:

          It wasn't until I encountered Jennifer Jacobs,
          a woman who at one time attended some of my
          classes, that I understood why I had become
          the target...

Anne said, "At *one time* attended *some* of my classes?  She was in
the inner circle.  She worked for him.  She was one of the nineteen
'witches.'  He recommended where she should live, and gave her other
personal advice... "

Rama writes:

          Jennifer's mind was violated in a variety of
          horrible ways.  She was kept awake for extended
          hours and forced repeatedly to view videos of
          Charles Manson... Jennifer was screamed at, ridiculed
          and degraded.  She was constantly surrounded by
          guards and was never allowed to leave the motel...
          Jennifer was told that she would not be released
          until she gave up her beliefs in the Buddhist
          faith... her kidnappers also threatened that
          if she went to the police they would kidnap her
          again and that her family would have her
          committed to a mental institution for the
          rest of her life.

Jennifer Jacob's parents maintain that their daughter was not screamed
at, ridiculed, or degraded.  Although neither Anne nor I knew what had
actually taken place with Jennifer, Anne recalled too well some of
Rama's methods:  "Our minds [during nightmare weekend in Seattle] were
violated in a variety of horrible ways.  Rama kept us awake all night.
We did not see Charles Manson videos.  We got to see Rama strangling
his puppy instead.  Rama repeatedly berated us.  He claimed we were
reincarnated demons and were out to get him.  He did not hold us
prisoners, but then again, I would not advise running off into the
night on five hits of acid.  Rama said we could 'come clean' if we,
like Barbara, confessed that we were trying to destroy his mission.  He
threatened that he would send us to hell for thousands of lifetimes... "

Rama claims:

          Cult Awareness Network and persons associated with
          it are participating in the very practices that
          they purport to be dead set against.  They are
          encouraging the abrogation of the personal
          and religious freedoms of adult American citizens
          through brainwashing methods and techniques similar
          to those employed by the North Koreans and
          North Vietnamese against American P.O.W's...
          I certainly am not in favor of cults--who is?
          But I do not believe any person or organization
          has the right to incite the kidnappings of persons
          who are part of small religious organizations
          that are not cults... This is a money making
          racket.  This [Cult Awarenes Network] is nothing
          more than McCarthyism in a new form.

Anne and I read and reread this last section of the "Statement." We
glanced at each other for a moment--but said nothing.

* * *

In 1990 I spoke with the three English professors who, in 1976, had
served on Rama's doctoral dissertation committee.  Louis Simpson, a
Pulitzer prize winning writer, told me he had written a poem about a
student, a brilliant lecturer, who creates his own system rather than
working within an existing one (Simpson, Louis.  "Herons and Water
Lilies."  In The Room We Share.  New York: Paragon House, 1990). Paul
Dolan told me that Fred's performance on the Ph.D. oral exams had been
slightly above average.  Gerald Nelson told me that while he had taken
a liking to this graduate student, he had never thought much of Fred's
get-rich-and-famous schemes, including the one to boost his credentials
via a mail-order minister's degree.

"Fred once asked me what I thought of his idea for a book called The
Thirteen Mystics," Nelson told me.  "I joked that he would already have
a built in market for the sequel, The Return Of The Thirteen Mystics."
But Nelson had not taken lightly the way young Frederick had been
affecting undergraduates during his free lectures on meditation.  In
1975, Nelson recommended that Fred read about Ken Kesey and about
Charles Manson.  The lesson was that while both charismatic leaders had
experimented with drugs and with young peoples' lives, Kesey learned to
check his power over others.  Manson did not.

"Yet it was difficult for me to guide Fred," Nelson explained.  "Though
he was my student, he was Chinmoy's disciple."

Professor Nelson was a tall man with a strong, kind voice.  I wondered
if Fred had been drawn to him in his search for a caring father figure.

I asked Nelson if he had read the newspaper accounts of Fred's recent
schemes.  He nodded sadly.  "This is the sort of thing you would expect
from an intelligent, sensitive, abused child from a well-to-do family.
Fred quite obviously needs help, but is probably too far-gone to
realize or admit it."

In the mid-eighties, Rama sent Nelson self-promotional brochures,
tapes, and books; in 1986, Rama wrote in a brochure that Nelson had
been one of the three most influential people in his life; in 1988,
Rama confessed to Nelson that he only wanted to make some money, that
he no longer maintained a following, and that he had finally learned
his lesson about Ken Kesey and about Charles Manson.

Yet the more I learned about Rama through my continuing research, the
less I was heartened by Rama's confession to his former mentor.

In 1988, Rama persuaded many of the roughly three hundred disciples to
move to Reston, Virginia, and then to Westchester, New York.  He
founded two for-profit organizations:  National Professional and
Personal Development Seminars (NPDS) and Advanced Systems Inc.  (ASI)
During regular meetings of NPDS and ASI he continued to teach his
disciples about spirituality.  He continued to experiment with mind
control.  He also experimented with new ways to make money.

Rama had been strongly encouraging disciples to study software at the
Computer Learning Center (CLC), a six-month technical school which
typically prepared people for entry-level programming jobs.

Several disciples, including my brother, Sal, and Paul, had developed
impressive track records in the software industry.  But many were only
CLC graduates.  During the meetings of NPDS and ASI, Rama told
disciples to share their knowledge of state-of-the-art software
technology.  Then he told them to lie.  According to the San Francisco
Chronicle ("Yuppie Guru Finds Cash in Computers: Devotees pay $3,000 a
month to sit at his feet", 7/30/92), Rama, in 1989, wrote a manual for
disciples in which he encouraged them to think of a resume as "a
mandala that reflects your new self." Rama wrote:  "They will believe
anything you say, even when you intersperse unrealities, because they
feel the truth of your experience.  When you have your stories and
images in place, arrange for your references.  Choose people from our
group who are comfortable on the phone, who sound professional and who
have had data processing experience.  Give them a few notes about who
they were."

In 1991 Rama told New York Newsday's William Falk ("The Yuppie Guru",
7/30/91), "It's the most amazing career that I know of.  You can start
in the mid-30s, and in a year or two you can make $100,000 to $150,000
a year."

From 1988 to 1991, Rama's individual tuition rose from roughly one
thousand to three thousand dollars per month.  He told followers that
since NPDS and ASI were actually furthering their careers, they should
deduct the increasing payments from their taxes.  This enabled Rama to
dramatically increase his "surprise" gift reservoir--while bilking the
IRS of millions, in a way that would be difficult to expose.

In 1989, Rama justified to the disciples his rising tuition.  "I nearly
killed myself by accepting your Negative Occult Energy," he said, "and
now you are going to have to pay for it."

In January, 1990, Rama announced that disciples had until March 21,
1991, to donate additional money--from $50,000 to $1,000,000 per
person, depending on his or her "capacity."  They didn't have to
participate, he told them.  But it would be their last year in the
Centre if they did not.  He gave them each "charmed" marbles.  The
marbles, he said, would enable them to accomplish any task he
suggested.  The charm, he added, would fade for those who left the
Centre--who had not already lost their marbles.

At one meeting in 1990, Rama claimed that his students were treating
him with disrespect by being late with their tuition payments.  "Better
to owe your creditors than to owe me," he told them.  He suggested that
they move in together, sleep on apartment floors, and not pay their
other bills for awhile.

Rama increasingly used fear tactics to control the financially
hard-pressed, sleep deprived followers, many of whom worked more than
one job.  He told them that if he stopped protecting someone who left
the Centre, they would suffer forever in the "seventh level of hell."
He told them that he wielded the power to create and demolish the
universes.  He told them that he was no longer the "Last Incarnation of
Vishnu The Cosmic Preserver," but of "Siva The Cosmic Destroyer." He
emphasized that those criticizing him would invariably get hit by a car
or contract cancer.

Rama, who had not held public lectures since early 1988, required most
students to bring at least three new potential initiates per year.  He
spent hours during the NPDS and ASI "computer" meetings coaching
disciples about what kind of people they should recruit and about how
they should go about recruiting them.  He also told them of his plan to
have them recruit at universities in every state in North America.

Rama came up with many new ideas between 1989 and 1991.  He told the
disciples, for instance, that his former Guru was really "a great big
spidery Entity from hell."  He did not mention that ten years earlier,
he had billed Chinmoy as "the Seventh Avatar... the highest soul to
incarnate on earth... " He told a few disciples to infiltrate and
destroy Microsoft Corporation (one devotee actually landed a job at the
software giant as a recruiter). He told disciples that he was ordaining
them as Buddhist monks.  He did not mention, however, that he was
having unprotected sex with a substantial number of them under the
guise of advancing their souls.

In 1991, articles on Rama appeared in New York's Newsday, "The Yuppie
Guru", 7/30/91; The L.A. Weekly, "Rama Rerun", 11/29/91; and in several
issues of the Consultants' & Contractors' Newsletter (CCN). I read in
CCN (July/August, 1991 issue) how Rama's followers had become known in
the computer industry as the "California Raisins." The Raisins
apparently had been causing companies, recruiters, and agencies in New
York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to lose a substantial amount of time
and money.  In the same issue, I read: "... we think it only fair to put
cult members on notice that knowledge of their activities is
widespread... local area recruiters are now circulating a list of those
known to be cult members, which is regularly updated as new names are
added... In other words, local recruiters, typically thought of as
competing with one another, are acting in unison when it comes to
fighting the onslaught of this group... if you want to adhere to a
certain faith or religion, go ahead, it's what our country was set up
to protect.  But don't continue trying to raise money through
fraudulent behavior which neither the courts, nor most religions would
condone... Further info. available from (201) 299-1535."

Also in 1991, I read in Newsday that Rama did not permit disciples to
live near him because he did not want them to "lower the vibe" of Long
Island.  I read about one follower who committed suicide after
"speaking incessantly about Rama and about making enough money to get
back into the group."  I read about Brenda Kerber, a follower who
disappeared from her White Plains apartment on October 9th, 1989, and
who, at the printing of this book, is still listed as "missing."  I
read about Rama's claim that those who had not done well in his program
were "simply unrealistic or lazy." And I read about Rama's claim that
he merely wanted to teach, travel, meditate, and, when time permitted,
date women.  "I have a great life," Rama was quoted as saying.  "I'm
one of the happier people I know."

In 1992, Rama regularly held private meetings for his computer company
"monks" at the Performing Arts Center at the State University of New
York at Purchase.  Christopher Beach, director of the Performing Arts
Center, told The New York Times ("Mentor to Some, Cult Leader to
Others", Westchester edition, 6/20/93) that Lenz is "no more than a
Dale Carnegie of the 90's." Dr. Sheldon N. Grebstein, president of SUNY
Purchase, also defended Lenz in The Times article: "At SUNY Purchase we
have directly witnessed none of the alleged cult activity."

From the stage of this prestigious auditorium, Rama, whom Grebstein
described as a "model client," instructed the hi-tech monks to fan out
to different parts of the country, form front organizations, and give
talks on meditation.  On the east coast his recruiting arms included:
Boston Meditation Society (Massachusetts), Hartford Meditation Society
(Connecticut), Philadelphia Society for the Meditative Arts (eastern
Pennsylvania), Diamond Mind (Washington, D.C. and Maryland), New Jersey
Meditative Society (southern New Jersey and Princeton area), Virginia
Meditative Society, and Manhattan Meditation Forum (New York City and
Westchester). On the west coast:  Banzai Tantric Institute (Silicon
Valley), RCF (San Francisco, Marin County, and East Bay area), and
Pacific Meditation Society (Los Angeles). He told disciples to promote
their talks by postering universities.  He told them to pay particular
attention to bulletin boards around engineering and computer science
departments.  He told them to invite certain seekers to meditate with
him (at SUNY Purchase on the east coast and at a rented hall in
Oakland, California, on the west coast). It was no secret what type of
person Rama wanted to attract.  Many of his posters found at
universities across America contain this message:  "All workshops
designed for individuals 29 and under."

According to one disciple who left the group in 1993, Rama's recent,
indirect recruiting method attracted roughly four hundred new disciples.

When a group of disciples' parents--known as the "Rama Mamas"--found
out about Rama's active quest for fresh material, they alerted the
press.  Articles began to appear:  The Santa Fe New Mexican,
"Controversial guru coming to Santa Fe", 3/24/92; Santa Fe Reporter,
"Computer Cult:  Is the Leader Here?", 3/25/92; Heart Dance:  The Bay
Area's Most Comprehensive Events Calendar for Contemporary Human
Awareness, Spirituality & Well-Being, Editorial:  "RAMA?  UH-OH",
4/1/92; The Daily Californian (UC Berkeley), "Zen master a fraud,
followers say", 6/26/92; San Francisco Chronicle, "Yuppie Guru Finds
Cash in Computers: Devotees pay $3,000 a month to sit at his feet",
7/30/92; The Philadelphia Inquirer, "As guru's disciples hit town,
critics cry beware:  Truth and light, the followers promise.  Fraud and
suffering, the watch group warns", 8/31/92; The Portland Oregonian, "Is
Brenda Barratt reading this?  If so, phone home", 9/5/92; The Ramapo
News, "College Authorities Alerted of Cult Leader", 10/15/92; The
Hartford Courant, "Guru mixes money, mystique:  Ex-followers say
students exploited", and "Traveling along the path toward enlightment",
10/18/92; The Wesleyan Argus, "Cult Recruits Students Via Meditation
Group", 10/30/92, and "Arguses Stolen", 11/3/92, and "Cult Faces
Obstacles Elsewhere; None at Wes", 11/6/92, and "Self-Discovery Club
Loses Group Status", 12/4/92, and "Wes Investigates Meditation Group's
Activities", 12/4/92; The Trinity Tripod, "Alleged Cult Sponsors
Workshops On Campus", 11/3/92, and "Meditation Workshops Exposed",
11/10/92; Peninsula Times Tribune, "Manipulative... or merely
meditative?  Zen Master Rama faces serious charges", 11/7/92; Baltimore
City Paper, "Software Svengali: Yuppie Guru Frederick Lenz Wants You
For His Army Of Meditating Computer Programmers.  Step #1: Bring Your
Purses And Wallets", 11/13/92; Yale Herald, "Meditation group accused
of cult recruiting", 11/13/92; Westchester Gannett Reporter Dispatch,
"ZEN and the ART of COMPUTER MAINTENANCE", and "Flim Flam Artist or
Hindu Deity?", 11/22/92; The Chronicle of Higher Education, "Insidious
Recruiting or Innocent Seminar?  Colleges Police Meetings of So-Called
Cult: Meditation group forces administrators to confront questions
about student safety", 12/2/92; New Age Journal, "The Return of Rama",
1/1/93; Family Circle, "Do You Believe In Magic?  New Light on the New
Age", 2/23/93; The Trenton Times, "Meditation or manipulation?  Guru
called cult leader", and "Disciples carry Rama's word by meditation
class", 2/28/93; Santa Cruz Sentinel, "HIGH-TECH Rama: Frederick Lenz
offers a vision of affluence, for a price", 2/28/93 and "Guru's
Disciples teach campus clubs:  Is it a 'hustler's' scam, or an
invitation to enlightenment?", 3/1/93; The New York Times (Westchester
edition), "Mentor to Some, Cult Leader to Others", 6/20/93.

Rama's response to the waves of negative publicity was no different
than his response years before on "The Larry King Show" and "A Current
Affair."  He professed, through spokeswoman Lisa Lewinson, that
money-seeking deprogrammers were persuading former disciples to
fabricate accusations.  Yet the individuals whose accounts appear in
this book share their experiences as individuals.  These individuals
are members of no such anti-cult conspiracy.  These individuals respect
and defend the freedom to practice religion in its myriad forms.  These
individuals have a simple message.  Fly East.  Fly West.  But don't fly
into the cuckoo's nest.

* * *

Yet in the spring of 1988, stung by memories of friendship and deceit
in Rama's nest, I stumbled my way past the burned-out car abandoned on
the charred foundation of 9514 La Jolla Farms Road.  I let Nunatak lead
me in the fading light through the parched chaparral.  She gently
tugged me back to the present.  One-and-a-half miles east of campus, I
opened the door of my Volkswagon Bus.  I was still crying.

Inside the van I saw my fish-net "bulletin board" which reminded me
where I had been and where I was going.  On it I saw an article about a
bicycle ride I had taken two years before with Nunatak.  I saw the
cover of a book about Mohandas K. Gandhi, autographed by its author,
William L. Shirer.  I saw a brochure from the Peace Corps and a
miniature American flag.  I saw a sticker for UCSD, John Muir College.
I saw a quote from Thoreau:  "If a man does not keep pace with his
companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let
him step to the music that he hears, however measured or far away." My
father sent me that.

I saw a picture of anthropologist-explorer Thor Heyerdahl standing at
the bow of Ra I, a papyrus reed boat which he and six others sailed
across the Atlantic.  The journey had proved that "primitive" people
could have crossed the great waterways which connect the continents.
My mother sent me that.

And I saw, next to an inflatable globe, written on a small piece of
paper, the name of the chariot:  "Sunped I, a solar electric/human
powered vehicle."  Below that I saw the name of the quest: "Tour Del
Mundo."  I was starting to realize that by leaving Rama's dream, I had
gotten back my world.

Nuna rode shotgun in the passenger seat, I turned the key and--it
started.  Leaving the mall, I slowly gained momentum.

Appendix A:  Excerpts from WOOF!

In a fabricated advertisement (Issue #4; February, 1981), Atmananda
poked fun at televangelists:  "Dear Friends in Christ... I want to offer
you my secrets of success so that you can make fantastic profits before
the world ends!  This offer is good for a limited time only, so act
now.  Send $500.00 for my new book, Better Living With Jesus Through
Voodoo.  You will receive your copy in a plain brown bag.  Here is a
brief selection of some of the wonderful topics my book covers:  1) How
to make Satan work for you, 2) Selling religious trinkets to the poor,
3) Using television to rake in the millions, 4) Fourteen genuine fake
miracles you can impress your congregation with, 5) Using guilt to pry
the last pennies from your friends' pockets, 6) How to make your own
religion look good while defaming all the others, 7) Convincing people
that you once took Jesus to lunch, 8) Seven great strategies to win at
pinball, 9) How to give a fire and brimstone sermon that will cast fear
into the hearts of all Christians, 10) Tax shelters to protect your new
fortunes.  All this and more can be yours if you act now!  Don't delay.
Send for my book today.  Yours in Christ and Heavenly Bucks$, The Right
Reverend Armageddon T. Thunderbird, Esq."

In "Swami Muktaneeshprabhphada's Thoughts For Clean Living & Laundry"
(Issue #6; March, 1981), Atmananda satirized Indian gurus: "Greetings
on you, my favorite little people!  Today I am going to discuss things
with so much spiritual significance... You all want to attain
Illumination, I know that you do.  You are good children.  But at the
same time many of you have dirty and disgusting thoughts about sex, sex
and sex.  Now you must put these rotten thoughts away.  You can't
achieve Enlightenment thinking about sex.  You must think about me.  If
you meditate on your dear old Swami then you will become pure--like
your laundry... "

In "Constipation Cure" (Issue #7; April, 1981), Atmananda struck out at
the Moonies:  "Constipated?  Can't go at all?  REAM YOURSELF with
Reverend Mune's Original Korean Holistic Reamer.  All Natural, Heavy
Metal, Available in decorator colors."

In "Polarity Institute For The Criminally Insane--Formerly Twingle's
Military Academy for the Criminally Insane" (Issue #6; March, 1981),
Atmananda lambasted New Age groups: "Dear Holistic Friends, It is with
the greatest joy that I can invite you to a free weekend of fun and
kinkyness at the GRAND OPENING of the Polarity Institute for the
Criminally Insane.  We know that if you will come to one or two of our
free sessions we can hook you into a long term program which will cost
you thousands!... How do we manage this?  By putting pictures in our ads
that are filled with subliminal sexual stimulation, by filling our ads
with a lot of nonsense about the types of therapies we offer.  And last
but not least, by relying on your own insecurity and lack of faith in
your own natural healing abilities.  Choose from any of the fine
therapeutic programs we offer to you:  1) QUESADILLA WRAPS.  Imagine
your naked body being wrapped in warm cheese-filled Quesadillas.  Very
good for gout and ingrown toenails.  2) Luxuriate in a GUACAMOLE HOT
TUB.  Wonderful for mild psychosis.  3) LIE ON ONE OF OUR EXCLUSIVE
'Clam Beds' and be stroked with a flamingo feather by Ultra Violet, one
of our staff 'workers.'  4) TEQUILLA & GINSENG BODY RUB Wonderful for
asthma, heart attack, cerebral hemorrhage and mild back aches.  Located
in Beautiful Downtown Tijuana, The Home Of The Stars.  Gwidcard

Appendix B:  Excerpts from Rama's Tape "Welcome To Lakshmi" (1982)

"During the first year, you will in effect become a new person.  Even
your personality structure will alter... we're just trying to cleanse
your being... to just wash away those layers of maya, to teach you
enough of our language so we can begin to communicate in a more
sophisticated manner spiritually...

"Initially, the first few years, we're just trying to get basic
obstructions out of the way, get your ideas of selfhood out of the way,
just open you up to your own perfection.  And as we remove more and
more of these obstructions, then I am able to do more and more for you.

"You must keep a journal... of your spiritual experiences... when you
write it down, it brings it very much into the physical
consciousness... in other words, it will imprint the experience on your
mind.  Then, you should read your journal over from time to time... You
see, the mind refuses to believe a lot of what we do... but when you
bring the mind into the action of writing it down, the mind agrees and
accepts these things...

"A large part of our program has to do with self-giving. Self-giving is
totally important in my estimation.  Everything we do is predicated
upon it.  You can only meditate a few hours a day, but you can give of
yourself constantly.  You should feel your whole life is nothing but
self-giving... there is a great deal of self-giving you can do around
the Centre, which will help you.  Naturally, whenever you give to a
spiritual organization, you enter into that circle of light, and you
gain much more for it than if you had just gone out and helped one of
your neighbors, from a karmic point of view.  The way that you can give
of yourself at the Centre, well, there are a few ways.  Naturally, the
most important is economically.  Money is necessary in this world to
run a spiritual organization.  The more money we have, the more people
we help.  It's a very simple equation... "

Appendix C:  Excerpts from Rama's Tape "Sophisticated Sexuality" (1983)

"As the years went on, I found that my relationships got better.  They
changed, though, as I changed... The love became very pure and then it
was no longer painful.  As I went on, relationships got better and
better.  And they meant less...

"I found that love and sexuality continued to be one of many doorways
that seemed to continue to help me in evolution.  It just seemed to be
there.  I had no choice in the matter.  As I have no choice in anything
that happens anymore...

"I no longer could love one person.  I just found that I loved
everyone.  Equally...

"It's no more special to sleep with one person than another.  What's
the difference?  It's all a dream anyway...

"So I decided the best thing to do was to avoid the Watergate
mentality.  And to be in full disclosure.  Without the sense that
anyone would understand.  Most people and most of you are threatened
completely by your own sexuality.  You don't know how to deal with it.
You're terribly afraid of it.  And it's a terrible threat to see
someone who is at ease with it...

"So I knew it wouldn't be easy.  But at the same time I... had to be
myself... I was never particularly interested in impressing others.
Otherwise I would not have been part of the Woodstock nation.  I
rejected society ages ago, and came back to it because it seemed like
an interesting thing to do...

"I began to hear rumors that well, I was--I don't know what I was
doing--I haven't listened to much of the rumors but I guess, umm, I
don't know, that I was making love to millions of women, or something
like that, uhh, I don't know.  That hasn't been the case; it might be a
wonderful idea, but to be quite honest, I haven't the time because I'm
very busy; it's very demanding running a spiritual community.  It might
be a heck of a lot more fun than some of the things I do...

"I've been very fortunate without one exception; all of the women I
have ever met and have been involved with have been wonderful.
Remarkable.  Absolutely remarkable.  And I feel they have all been my
teachers.  As are all of you my teachers...

"But I think it's time everybody grew up.  And stop being so petty.
About their own lives or other people's lives.  And instead, turn their
attention towards what matters:  money!  Sex is the preoccupation of
adolescence.  Money is the preoccupation of adults.  And Lakshmi is the
goddess of money...

"So I think it's time everybody adopted a more professional attitude
about their lives.  In other words, don't focus so much on your
relationships.  Have fun with them.  Or if you don't have them, you
don't want them, have fun with that.  But don't bother with what other
people in the Centre do so much...

"Sexuality, I think, is a little different for me than it is for most
people in that there is almost no body awareness whatsoever.  It's just

"If you can't handle the fact that someday you might be enlightened,
and still fall in love with people and love them and be with them, and
if you can't deal with that, if you hate yourself so much and hate your
sexuality so much that you think it has no light in it... If you think
it makes a difference if I have ten thousand sports cars, and ten
million girlfriends, and lead a very flashy life, and eat at only the
most fashionable restaurants, which I don't, but if that would make a
difference in what we do, in other words, if you can carry my lifestyle
to the most absurd proportions in your mind, and that would make a
difference in the meditation process, then you shouldn't work with me.
I don't think you should work with any teacher.  'Cause you don't know
what it's all about yet.  You should come to the fashionable
restaurants with us and have a good time.  'Cause we have a good time.
'Cause God is in everything... "

Appendix D:  Excerpts from Rama's Advertisements and Brochures

(from a full-page spread in The New York Times)

The Still Center of the Turning Worlds

"There is a still center of Eternity.  A place where all pasts,
presents and futures meet.  This intersecting point of knowledge and
experience, pleasure and pain, mortality and immortality has been
described and referred to in a variety of different ways by mystics,
prophets and teachers who have experienced it.

"Some have described it as God or Heaven.  Others have referred to it
as Nirvana or Tao.  In Zen it is called Zen mind or Enlightenment.

"While names, descriptions and methods for reaching the still center of
being vary greatly, the ultimate worth of this awareness is agreed upon
by all who have shared it.  The experience of the still center of being
brings freedom, self-control, balance and power to those who have
attuned their lives to it.

"Zen is the study of the Ten Thousand States of Mind and of
Enlightenment, the still center which lies beyond the Ten Thousand
States of Mind.  It is a highly personal study which brings clarity and
purpose into the lives of those who practice it.

"Zen Buddhist thought has had a profound influence upon Chinese and
Japanese history and culture.  A great deal of the current success of
the Japanese corporate mind stems from the effect of centuries of Zen
practice in Japan.  Martial arts, dance, poetry, the tea ceremony and
many other forms of personal, athletic and artistic expression have
been given birth to by Zen mind.

"Zen is a highly refined and artistic approach to the meaning of life.
It isn't necessary to learn Oriental customs or to speak the Japanese
language to successfully practice it.  All that is required is an open
mind, patience, a good sense of humor and an intense desire for

"I have written a free booklet about Zen for the 'computer age' called
'The Zen Experience.'  (sm) In it I discuss Zen in more depth and
describe both contemporary and traditional methods I employ in teaching
Zen at seminars and in private practice.

"If you would like to learn more about Zen and the wonders of your own
mind, call or write for this free booklet... "

* * *

(from a RAMA SEMINARS notice; June 7, 1987)

"The cost of Saturday's Desert Excursion will be $500. If you choose to
attend both the Saturday and Sunday Excursions the rate will be
$1,000... No personal checks will be accepted... "

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