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Growing Up with the Guru

by Tim Guest

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-15-603106-X
Publisher: Harvest/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

British journalist Guest recalls the toll taken by his childhood in a commune devoted to the teachings of notorious Indian guru Bhagwan Rajneesh.

Torn between her conflicting desires for ecstasy and paradise, the author’s mother moved from devout Catholicism as a child to Marxism, feminism, and eventually a Bhagwan commune. She never married Guest’s father, an academic who later relocated to teach in California, and was a loving but troubled mother. In 1979, when Tim was three, she heard a tape of the guru talking “about joy, about bliss, about an end to fear and pain.” She became increasingly involved with Bhagwan’s British acolytes, went to India to meet him, then took her six-year-old son with her when she joined an ashram outside Bombay. From then until the late 1980s (when Bhagwan fled an indictment in the US, and his followers fell apart), Guest’s life was controlled by the cult. He poignantly describes a world turned upside down, a world in which the adults behaved like children, following their bliss with unlimited sex and drugs (until the Bhagwan became obsessed with AIDS) while their neglected offspring struggled to raise themselves and take care of one another. Guest movingly details a lonely childhood spent at communes in London, Devon, India, Oregon, and Germany. His mother moved frequently and performed exhausting manual work as she strove to obey the sect’s increasingly draconian dictates. He missed having her come to say goodnight to him, cuddle him, or read to him. He wanted to be with a parent, not a group, and he resented the numerous rules: obligatory worship, restricted diet, confiscation of his books and stuffed animals. Adolescence was rocky, though by then his mother had grown disillusioned with the Bhagwan, who once owned 93 Rolls Royces, lots of expensive jewelry, and 21 assault rifles.

A rightly disturbing record of malignant child neglect by people who sought a heaven, but made a hell.