Thursday, 25 February 2010

The Bell

Do you remember when the cult, Indian meditation group, Divine Light was in full swing, around 30 years ago? Headed by the fat boy, 'Guru Maharaji' - dressed in a sharp suit, with a feint moustache and mild acne - it claimed millions of doe-eyed followers, all of whom seemed to routinely donate huge percentages of their income to his already over-flowing coffers, in much the same way as all the cults had done in the West since the Beatles were first duped in the sixties. And to what purpose? For the buzz.

Bath had its fair share of Divine-Lighters, and many of them were acquaintances of mine. Most of them tried to divert me onto their path, but - thanks to an old, American, alcoholic hippy - I was never interested. I doubt if I would ever have seen the point anyway, as whenever I asked them what was the point of their unconditional devotion, the only explanation they could give was that when you were in the presence of the fat boy, you would be transported to a state of spiritual bliss or ecstasy, the like of which had never been experienced by them before. Evidently, he had only to pass within about 100 feet of you for this transportation to take place. My reaction to this was, "So what?"

These people were so stupid, that they could not accept that I believed them when they talked about his powers, but I was not so impressed by them that I would be prepared to devote the rest of my life to repeating such a self-indulgent experience, no matter how blissful it was. Like first time acid-trippers, they had become ridiculously evangelical about their indulgence, and were deaf to someone who might try and explain that they already knew all about it. Here's how I found out about this particular Indian Rope Trick:

On the outskirts of Farnham, there was a large, rambling house that had been built around 1900. It was - like many others at the time - surrounded by rhododendron bushes, and split into various, cheap flats and bed-sitting-rooms. In one of the flats dwelt an aging, American hippy (of about 40 years old - aging at the time) and his silent, inscrutable, Japanese girlfriend. The American fitted the standard image of a hippy perfectly, with shoulder-length hair and chest-length beard, but his preferred drug was booze - he was a self confessed alcoholic. His Japanese partner was absolutely calm and serene, and never spoke a word. This was in sharp contrast to her man, who constantly went off on fits of temper, and never - for almost the whole time I was with him that afternoon - stopped jabbering on about everything and anything. He always carried a small, leather, doctor's bag with him, which he never let out of his sight.

During the course of the afternoon, when I had been invited home with him after a chance meeting, he became increasingly irritated with a neighbor down the corridor, who was playing loud, heavy-metal music on a record player. Being able to stand it no longer, he opened the door to his room and bellowed down the hall for his neighbor to turn it off, to no avail.

After about 15 minutes of this, he could stand it no longer, and stormed down the corridor, kicked in the door of his neighbor, and proceeded to try to destroy his record collection. The Japanese girl looked at me and smiled serenely.

When he returned, he was red in the face, breathing heavily and smiling sheepishly. Being middle-aged in 1970, and having spent most of his adult life in India, he was only accustomed to the old, brittle, 78 rpm records, and had spent about three minutes bending the modern vinyl one over his knee as his incredulous neighbor looked on. He eventually gave up and returned to us to ask about modern record production.

When he was in India, he spent pretty much all of his time with the 'Tantric Boys' as he called them, and showed me photographs of himself running down the street with them, naked except for a thick coating of local, red dust. They taught him quite a few tricks when he was there, and now he was about to teach me one. With a mad look in his eyes, he pronounced that now was the right time to show me what was in his little bag, and that I should appreciate that very few people had seen the contents, let alone undergo the experience he was just about to inflict on me.

He opened the bag, and proceeded to pullout various, ethnic Indian objects - only a few of which he permitted me to handle. There were stone carvings with fossils in them, mysteriously cut so accurately, that the existence of the fossil would have to have been known of, before the cutting began. Eventually, he pulled out the bell.

It was a circle of brass about three inches in diameter, with a thong of leather attached to the back. With it came a small, hardwood striker, and he held each object in both hands, with the striker poised a little way from the edge of the bell. There was a pause whilst he continued to stare at me with mad eyes, and his girlfriend sat back and waited, the same serene smile on her lips. Then he struck the bell.

I have tried hard, over the years, to find words to describe the effect that the bell had on me that instant. It was as if an unseen lid had opened in the top of my head, and my entire being was launched through the roof of the house, through the cloud canopy, and into deepest outer space, where in floated amongst the stars for as long as I heard the resonance of the ring. The actual resonance of that ring continued for a lot longer that the ring itself, but since time had become meaningless, it is impossible to say how long a period it was.

When we eventually floated back into our corporeal selves, we were involuntarily laughing with absolute joy. He told me that - now I had heard that sound - I would never forget it and, sure enough, I heard it a few years later - with the same effect - when I accidentally hit the right note whilst whistling and sweeping a school playground at around 10,00 am in the morning, in full view of the pupils watching in the nearby building. All they saw was me leaning on the broom with my eyes closed - not an unusual sight in those days.

So, when I left the old hippy and his partner that day, all I could do was thank him for an interesting afternoon. Neither of us expected me to devote the rest of my life to following him around until he repeated the performance. I never saw him again, in fact.


  1. Don't you just hate 'religions' that rely on MAPS. Usually they have a central circle (probably called 'enlightenment'), then various interconnecting ley lines to outer sub-circles named 'consciousness' or 'pathway', or 'give me 10% of your dosh'. Never trust a religion that has MAPS; I think the fat boy had lots.

  2. I don't know what else to call them. They are illustrations of how each particular 'Guru' sells his 'path to enlightenment' rubbish. Perhaps 'diagrams' would be a better word. Rather like the old idea of various 'Astral Plains', there's always a map somewhere.

  3. Oh, I see. I thought it might be an acronym. Sorry to have rattled you on a friday. Maybe I'll do something on what good work the Pope is doing tomorrow, just to completely ruin your weekend...

  4. Watch out. I believe he's going over to the UK quite soon. No doubt with more apologies on the agenda! D├ęgoutant.

  5. Who? The Pope or the Fat Boy? Either way, I doubt if I'll get a visit.