I first met the Guru at Varkala after one of the annual conferences. I had arrived there after chaotic years wandering around Asia which had left me completely confused and lost. I had washed up at the Gurukula in South India because a year or two before Curran had given me the address and told me a few things about the Guru which had seemed quite different from what other Gurus were saying.

So I took a plane from Delhi to Trivandrum and disembarked into a hot, humid tropical world covered entirely in coconut trees which seemed as far from North India as North India was from Europe. I took a train north along the coast to Varkala, and a taxi to the ashram.

I first ran into the Guru as he was proceeding across the Gurukula grounds, talking continuously in a strange-sounding language (Malayalam), and surrounded by a group of Indians who seemed to be very amused by what he was saying, as they were grinning and laughing. I gathered after a while that he was discussing improvements to the drainage system. He was a bit of a shock, because he neither looked nor acted like any of the Gurus and Holy Personages I had seen in Rishikesh and elsewhere in North India. He was short and round and his eyes sparkled merrily, and he seemed to have none of the self-important dignity of the others.


A bit later, Curran formally introduced me to the Guru and I touched his feet and said “Hari Aum” as I had been taught to do in North India. This was greeted by a roar of laughter by all present, and I felt very embarrassed. This was to be a fairly constant motif in my early relations with the Guru.


I hung around for a few weeks and attended the Guru’s lessons. I could make nothing of what he was saying. I could understand the words and, as I had studied Philosophy at the University, I was familiar with quite a lot of his references (Spinoza, Kant etc., e.g.), but had no idea what he was going on about. There would be occasional phrases that hit home, such as, “If it makes you happy and kind, it is the truth; if it does not make you happy and kind, it is not the truth”, but everything else was incomprehensible. This was because I could not grasp that the thread connecting what he said was structuralism.


Nevertheless, somehow I knew he was “The Guru”, but I was afraid of making a commitment to him that I knew would change the direction of my life forever, so I left on some pretext.


I went to Goa, and then soon fell ill with back-aches that seemed to be symptoms of a kidney complaint. This became worse and I went to Bombay for treatment, with no results. I eventually returned to Europe, but the pain persisted. I ended up the following summer at my house in Corsica, still undergoing treatment, to no avail. Then, one day as I was lying on the roof, toasting my back in the sun, I decided that I had to return to the Guru. Needless to say the back pains disappeared instantly, and never recurred.


However it was summer, and I knew it would be better to wait for the cool weather in South India while I closed up my affairs in Europe for what I knew was going to be a long or permanent absence. Also, there was the annual World Conference for Unitive Understanding which the Guru held in Kerala in November, which seemed a good time to arrive.


There were to occur, however, further episodes of insanity during that last summer in Europe, that do not belong here but elsewhere in the “Tales of Garbij Khan” that cover the other side of things.

However, suffice it to say that I decided to spend a few months meditating at Samye Ling Tibetan Monastery in Scotland. Typically, during a stopover in London I got waylaid by a beautiful doe-eyed Armenian girl and ended up at Eel Pie Island, at that time reputed to be the largest commune in England, and very certainly quite the opposite of  a Tibetan Monastery; but perhaps equally instructive in a completely different way.


However, as the summer ended I got on the plane to Kabul. This was a prestige flight of Afghan Airlines from London, once a week and completely empty, except for myself. The flight attendants and I came to an agreement and they parked the drink and snacks trolley by my seat and we all stretched out and dozed all the way to our first stop in Tehran.


In Kabul I hailed a cab to my old haunts at the Noor Hotel, where I was going to cool it until the ferocious heat eased a bit down in India. Also, I knew that this was the end of a period in my life in which Afghanistan had played a major part. Indeed, I was never to return, as it was only three years later that Daoud Khan’s coup d’état would lead to the Russian invasion and the subsequent age of chaos.


It was probably the same feeling of the end of an era in my life that caused me to get involved with Tuula, a Finnish girl, who was staying at the hotel. I knew that girlfriends would not be a part of my life for a long time – perhaps forever – and could not resist her, green-eyed and dressed like a belly-dancer - yet another in a series of disastrous relationships with Scandinavian snow-queens which must reflect some deep-seated obsession in my psyche. We travelled together to Delhi by hitching a lift in a Volkswagen bus with a couple of English guys of her acquaintance.  It was only when we detoured into Pakistani tribal territory soon after descending the Khyber Pass and arrived at Dera Ismael Khan, even then a very lawless place, that I realized that we were part of a major drug-smuggling operation. There were many bizarre and highly dangerous episodes as we journeyed through Pakistan, but eventually we reached Delhi, and Tuula and I parted - she for Kashmir, and I for South India and the Guru. I mention Tuula because she was to reappear, unexpectedly and instructively.


I arrived at the Gurukula run by Freddy on Ezhumalai Island, off the north Kerala coast, some weeks before the Conference was due to start. Curran and the Guru were to arrive soon from Varkala, in the south of the state, in order to finalize the preparations.


When the Guru arrived, he greeted me with a sort of grunt: “Hmm, you are back”. And that was the last time he paid me any attention for weeks.  I was somewhat miffed as, at the time, I considered myself to be only a few steps away from enlightenment and expected the Guru to acknowledge this and give me recognition as the great spiritual entity I was. This is what the prolonged use of LSD does to an already bloated ego. I say this without shame, as it is a long time since I came to terms with what a dickhead I was, and to an extent still am. Also I was not the only one around the Guru who suffered from these delusions, to which the subsequent careers of Curran, Freddy and how many, how many others, bear witness.


Anyway, after the Conference and the chaos surrounding it had subsided, I settled in to becoming my new self, the shining noble disciple. I abandoned my Afghan dress and Muslim skullcap and wore the white robes of a conventional Indian spiritual person and let my beard and hair grow long. I also became very holy and virtuous in my actions, meditating ostentatiously and going around with the constipated, supercilious smile of the spiritual aspirant. All this, of course, was intended to attract the attention of the Guru.


He, however, continued to ignore me. He would not even make eye-contact with me as his gaze passed over his assembled disciples. This seriously pissed me off. I was like a puppy panting at his feet, tongue lolling and tail wagging, but all to no avail. When the attention from him came, it was in an unexpected and highly embarrassing form.

It must have been a month or more later. I had settled in nicely to the routine of the ashram. Up at 5.30, meditation, lessons with the Guru until 8; more lessons from 9 till 9.30; more lessons in the afternoon, meditation, bed and so on. This was doing me a world of good, the first self-discipline that I had ever known. The meditation was causing me problems, about which I shall talk later, but was still giving me a good look at myself for the first time in my life. My hair and beard were also growing nicely, and I considered myself a model spiritual aspirant. Daily, I would take my place in the study hall, men and women on separate sides of the aisle, sitting cross-legged and dressed in immaculate white, in contemplative silence.


So it was with horror that, one day as I was seating myself for the mid-morning lesson, I saw Tuula come sashaying into the study hall and, in front of the Guru and the assembled disciples, plonk herself down beside me. She was dressed in her usual flamboyant style: red silk harem pyjamas and skimpy top, sequin-studded veil, nose-ring, earrings and mascara. I felt like sinking beneath the floor – my new self-image was totally and completely blown. The other disciples were discretely jaw-dropped, but much, much worse, the Guru had a glint of amusement in his eyes as his glance passed over the pair of us.


This was without doubt the most embarrassing event of my life to date, surpassing even the time I was seized by dysenteric pangs in the middle of Mayvand Avenue in Kabul and forced to take a crap between two parked cars in broad daylight in full view of the crowded street.


Somehow, I managed to get through to the end of the lesson and took Tuula aside to try and sort things out. It seems that I had given her the Gurukula address in a moment of derangement. I explained to her that I was a different and holier person now, etc. I could see that in her eyes also, my embarrassment made me laughable. Quite apart from anything else, I could not pretend that I did not fancy her – I was a randy 23 year-old – and I knew that this made me even more absurd.

I remained in the main ashram at the top of the hillside overlooking the sea, and she camped out with the various hippies who were living on the beach below, and I tried to retain some dignity by keeping as much distance as I could between us. This did not help much, as I could feel the suppressed sniggers all around me. After a while, I persuaded her to move on, and gave her some money that would enable her to go to Goa and live there for a while.  I breathed a mental sigh of relief, as I thought that the incident was over and that time would rapidly obliterate all memory of it. Little did I know the Guru!


A fair length of time passed, and I assumed that Tuula would gradually fade from the collective memory, and my status as a spiritual being would grow unhindered. Then one day, completely unexpectedly, in the middle of some lesson on, say, Einstein’s Relativity, the Guru said, addressing no-one in particular, something like this: “Yes, this young girl, Tuula, comes and offers her love to Patrick and he rejects her and sends her off, paying her money to go away, scorning her innocent devotion to him”. Then he continued his discourse on Einstein, or whatever it was. I blushed deep red and felt like disappearing through the floor, down into the bowels of the earth.


Then there was no more on the subject for quite some time, and I was lulled into thinking that was the end of the matter.  Then, one day, out of the blue, again in the middle of a lesson, the Guru came out with: “Yes, Patrick is a true disciple and spiritual aspirant: this temptress comes, dressed like a dancing girl, and tries to lure him away, but he resists the temptation and chooses meditation over sensual pleasures”. Now this was a surprise, and I felt rather good at my innate nobility being recognized at last by the Guru. However, I felt a bit puzzled at the apparent contradiction between the two versions of the story.


Then after some further time, he came out with a variation on the first theme – Patrick the callous bastard and innocent pure-hearted Tuula.

Then, he would come out with a remark about how noble I was, etc. I was soon thoroughly confused. This went on for quite a time, and the assembled disciples would wait with amused delight for the next round, as I felt more and more humiliated.

Then one day the Guru started up with: “One morning Patrick will be preparing for his morning meditation and he will see a taxi coming round the hill side, and in it will be Tuula, waving at him...” I broke in and said: “And then Patrick will go under his bed and fetch a machine gun and he will start firing at the taxi...” I saw the Guru looking at me with a broad grin, and that was the last time the subject was ever mentioned.



I won’t pretend that I immediately grasped what the Guru was trying to tell me with this episode, but I gradually began to get the point. As I mentioned earlier, at this time most of what he said I could not understand – I understood the words but had no idea what he was getting at. However, I would grasp certain phrases that would crop up often in his talk, and they began to fit together into some kind of meaning. He would say that “All action is a mistake”. This made sense. All action takes place in the horizontal world – the world where every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Things can appear right or wrong, depending on your relativistic perspective. I also began to realize how foolish and fragile was my image of myself, my “persona” – the picture I wanted to present to the world. As long as I kept my ego-pride, I could not learn anything new about myself, and that learning was why I was there.


 He would also say that “Clear thinking tends to lead to correct action”.  After saying, “All action is a mistake”, he would often add, “Make interesting mistakes and make them quickly”.


Despite the problems I had understanding most of what he said, there was something about his person – his manner, his way of talking and going about his affairs – that drew me to him. Almost every other “spiritual teacher” I had come across, in North India and elsewhere, took themselves very seriously and had a holier-than-thou attitude that infused their every action and speech. Not he. He had an immense dignity and presence, but he was also capable of self-mockery, and it was this lack of pretence that made me believe in him and in what he said.


I once heard him address his students and disciples more or less in these terms: “All of you hippy bums are mad. You could be lying on a beach in Sausalito smoking LSD and instead you are sleeping on the floor, eating rice twice a day and spending all your time sitting around being shouted at by a fat old nigger; this is called insanity”.


Together with all this, and despite his small size and rotundity, he commanded immediate respect from everyone who came near him. Sometimes he would be sitting in silence and I would catch a look in his eyes that made me want to bow down in awe. Years later, in Munich Zoo, I saw a gigantic male silverback gorilla sitting in splendid isolation on a rock, with all the other gorillas keeping a safe distance from him, and I caught a glance from him in my direction that conveyed immense power and something very ancient and dark – and I recognized that look.    


Years later, I was staying at the Gurukula in Ootacamund, high in the Nilgiri Mountains of Tamil Nadu, where the green rolling hills and the chilly climate reminded me of England. The Gurukula there was a large study hall, with various bedrooms giving onto it and the Guru’s room at the far end from the entrance. I lived in a small hut a little higher on the hillside.  As we got up at five and were hard at it studying etc. until lunchtime, everyone would retire for a couple of hours’ siesta after midday. One afternoon I came down to the main building to see if it was teatime and saw a bunch of small children come haring out of the door and off down the hillside. When I went in I saw that a lot of books had been pulled from the shelves and flower vases overturned etc. The Guru was standing there and he told me that he had woken up on hearing a noise and had come out and discovered some local kids trashing the place. He had told them off and had grabbed the cheekiest boy and given him a two-fingered slap on his hand to chastise him, and the kids had run off. The Guru then said that, although he had only smacked the boy’s hand lightly (he demonstrated – just enough to sting), he had done it because he had lost his temper, which was incorrect. We had our tea and then the Guru assembled the dozen or so disciples, put on his coat, took his walking-stick and we processed down the hillside to the nearby village.


Now you must understand that the Guru was 70-something years old; he was a very famous person, and held in awe by the local people as a great holy man. Also, the neighbouring village towards which we were heading was an untouchable settlement – these people were the lowest of the low in Hindu society and were forced to live in this filthy ghetto – their touch and their very presence were polluting to even the lowest-caste Hindu. So when we started processing down the one sordid street, the entire population came out of their houses and stared in silence and apprehension. The Guru called someone and asked them if they knew where was the house of the little boy he had smacked. He went up the path to the house where the parents of the boy were standing. They had their hands joined in namasté and were half-bowing to the Guru, obviously fearful of what would happen after their child had disturbed the great man. The little boy came out, cowering behind his parents. The Guru said that he, the Guru, had acted wrongly. Then he went down on his knees and performed the full prostration – the ultimate traditional Hindu gesture of debasement – that is, he lay flat on his face on the filthy ground and, with his hands joined in supplication, he touched the feet of the little boy and begged his forgiveness.


Why was he my Guru? Because when I saw this kind of thing I knew that this was a real man; this was what human beings were put on this earth to be – and if I could not become like him, I would at least serve him for the rest of my life.


So after the Tuula episode, the Guru paid me no further attention - for which I was not ungrateful - and I got more and more absorbed by the routine of study and meditation of Gurukula life. His lessons covered a wide range of subjects: the most difficult for me was the scientific side – structuralism – and it would be a long time before it burst into meaning in my brain. The most accessible was the traditional Vedantic teaching – the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads – but the subject that fascinated me from the beginning was the Saundarya Lahari, an extraordinary poem of erotic mysticism by Sankara, the founder of Vedanta Philosophy. The very term “Erotic mysticism” was a shock; my upbringing as a Catholic had led me to see eroticism as sinful and somehow dirty, and mysticism as its very opposite and denial. It was also this attitude of mine that the Guru was mocking when I was so embarrassed by the Tuula and her harem-girl appearance.


Many things that the Guru said on this subject perplexed me. Someone read him a quote from Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet-mystic, which went: “I love the jingling of women’s bangles as they draw water from the well too much to be a Sanyasi (Literally “renouncer”, something like a monk in the Indian context)”. The Guru said that, on the contrary, he himself was a sanyasi just because he loved the sound of women’s bangles so much.


He would also say: “When a woman looks into a mirror, she sees God”. Or: “There is nothing closer to the Absolute than a sixteen year-old girl”. This confused me until, much later, I understood that the final teaching of Vedanta was that the Absolute, or God or whatever you want to call it, was Absolute Beauty – and so was the great and eternal female person who was my own true self.


This was a bit too much for me to swallow, and it is perhaps because of this contradiction or confusion within myself that, for the first and last time ever, my entire body became covered with itching, scabby sores. It was a virulent form of psoriasis or eczema that was agonizing in the damp tropical heat. When I asked the Guru about it, he said it was due to a readjustment of the flow of sexual energy. After a few weeks it disappeared overnight.


Despite these difficulties in accepting the concept of eroticism and mysticism as being inseparable – he said that anyone who did not think that all meditation was erotic did not know what they were talking about – this began slowly to connect with my own mystical experiences. Although I had felt vague intimations of mysticism since childhood, it was only since my epiphany in the rose garden in Kabul that it had taken a central and inescapable place in my life. My first words to Don Kravchuk, when I became coherent after the LSD trip, were that I had seen God. At first, as I was in Afghanistan and surrounded and fascinated by the Muslim mystical tradition of the Sufis and their poetry, I adopted their guise. I would wander around the streets of Kabul trailing a Muslim rosary, pounding the ground with my staff and shouting “Awake!” or suchlike. But I was disturbed because there was no question that this divine presence that had appeared to me was female and there was no place for a female absolute in my mental lexicon.


There were many more factors that served to unsettle me from the prejudices and mental habits that my education had ingrained in me. I had begun meditating in North India some time before, but had let it lapse, as I seemed to be getting nowhere. But now, in the disciplined environment of the Gurukula, it became natural to meditate, as the Guru and most everyone else did, for half an hour at 5.30 in the morning and at 6 in the evening. My mind, as is the nature of all minds, would wander off on all sorts of sidetracks and byways as the mental breezes blew. Some of them would be utterly banal: had I taken my shirt off the washing line? What would there be for supper? Sometimes it was regrets for the past or angry shame at some snub or misadventure. From these I would drag my mind back to whatever I imagined was the right place or track. This might be an attempt to fix my inner gaze between my eyebrows and try to hold it there with mentally gritted-teeth determination. I might repeat AUM, AUM within my mind like a frog croaking by a pond. Then my mind would wander off again, to be pulled angrily back to what I thought must be the proper path. I was frustrated, not to say humiliated, at my lack of self-discipline. This did not fit well with the image I had of myself as the great disciple, shining with virtue and whose very farts smelt of roses.


But worse was yet to come. As the weeks and months passed and I continued meditating, and continued struggling with my wandering thoughts, I did begin to find that my mind was stabilizing and that I was finding it easier to concentrate on one subject. However, to my horror and disgust, this one subject was sex.


I would sit cross-legged, close my eyes and begin auming to myself, with gaze fixed between the eyebrows and mind one-pointedly concentrated upon whatever it was that I imagined to be holy or noble or elevating. Sure enough, naked women would appear, posturing and enticing, and there was nothing I could do about it. I would mentally curse myself as a vile sensualist: “Bad dog! Down, boy, down!” No use at all. I would open my eyes and shake my head and then try again – still sexual visions would appear before me. Perhaps you have seen old paintings of the “Temptations of Saint Anthony” e.g. by Hieronymus Bosch or Grünewald, where the holy man is trying to meditate while hordes of erotic harpies swirl around him with grotesqueries and grimaces. Something like that, except mine were in no way grotesque, just extremely sexy and alluring.

This became a big problem for me, and was leading me to despair of ever acquiring any spiritual attainments whatsoever.


Now, I had kept a low profile vis-à-vis the Guru ever since the Tuula episode. I had stopped showing off and demanding attention, and he pretty much ignored me. I had no desire to stick my neck out and get zapped again. But things had really become seriously disturbing and I decided to ask him for help. I screwed up my courage one day and cornered him in the corridor and told him about my problem. I don’t know what I expected, but he completely flummoxed me with his reaction. When I finished explaining myself, he looked at me approvingly and said: “Hmm, good, you seem to be cancelling out at a very high level”, and walked away, leaving me jawdropped.


I realized that I had to completely revise all that I had thought until then about spirituality, meditation and pretty much everything else.


Just as a footnote to this: one day someone asked the Guru about the Buddha and his attainment of Nirvana or enlightenment. (The story goes that the Buddha sat beneath a tree and decided he was not going to move until he attained Nirvana. At this the Gods became annoyed and sent Apsaras or heavenly maidens to come and dance erotically in front of him and seduce him away from his spiritual endeavour. The Buddha opened his eyes, incinerated them with one glance, closed his eyes again and attained enlightenment). The Guru’s remark on this subject was that if he had been in the Buddha’s place he would have sat the maidens on his knee and had them take dictation for his next book.




There is a Muslim saying that the Qur’an is a great ocean and that from it each man can pull up the fish he wants. In the same way, it seems that each person who knew the Guru emphasizes different things that seem relevant or important to him. My life presented me with certain problems or, you could say, certain lessons to be learned, which were my own and different from those of other people who knew him. So what I remember and find worth recounting is different from what others may tell.


I have tried to gather everything that he wrote and put it on the website ( so that it is available to all. However, he talked constantly and what he had to say was always interesting, and that is what I am recounting here. Naturally, what he said was directed towards the people he was talking to – what I mean is that, for example, he would talk about the philosophy of Bergson to an educated Western audience; while to an audience of rustic South Indians he would speak in terms of, say, the Bhagavad Gita, with which they were more familiar. In the same way, he would talk about different subjects with different disciples, according to their interests or needs. Also, of course, everyone remembers what they found interesting or relevant to themselves and forgets other things.


All of us who hung around him for any length of time were there because we had problems in our lives that we were looking to him to help us solve. As he used to say, “If you have questions about where this world came from and what is the meaning of your life, then wisdom can be of use to you. If you have no such problems, you don’t need wisdom”. Also, “If your typewriter is OK, leave it alone, but if it isn’t working properly, take it to the repair shop. This is what Gurus are for”.


Well, there was something very wrong with my typewriter, as anyone who has followed Garbij Khan’s twisted tail thus far can tell. (sic, couldn’t resist it). I have been reproached for the frivolity, sensuality, and gross self-indulgence of this account, so out of place in a spiritual quest. But I am what I am, and the reasons I ended up a babbling wreck at the Guru’s feet have to be made clear; for what I sought was the solution to my problems, not the problems of someone else. Anyway, check out the “Confessions” of Rousseau, whom the Guru praised so often – he comes across as pretty vile too, at times. Anyway, correct or incorrect action is more the domain of religion and morality than of pure wisdom. For a student of Vedanta, there is only one qualification needed: susruha in Sanskrit, which translates as, “Being prepared to listen”.


Another thing to be kept in mind is that the answer to a problem is in and through the problem itself. Poor Garbij Khan was unable to love because he had never been shown love, and his whole being was twisted because he had been taught that sensuality was filthy and evil and that everyone lied.


The answer that religion gives to such problems is sad Saint Anthony moaning and flagellating himself with knotted ropes in the desert to banish the naked women fluttering and swooping around his tortured mind, and eventually lopping off his penis to be rid of them. The solution that Vedanta provides is quite, quite different.


She who was to resolve my problems has been flitting in and out of this narrative from the beginning: sometimes just flashing a well-turned ankle as she walked ahead of me on a crowded street; sometimes filling the sunset sky above Kabul with her glory like a shimmering aurora borealis, causing the present author to fall on his knees and howl.


So you can understand why my account of the Guru is more concerned with some aspects of what he taught than with others.


At the end of his life, when I knew him, he was becoming more and more involved in the study of the Saundarya Lahari, and it was this that really awoke my interest in what he had to say, because it touched me at a deep emotional level. My life-problems and their solution lay in this “eternal feminine”; in that place deep within the psyche where the erotic and the mystical are one.


The Guru confirmed this one day in Ootacamund when he said something to me so strange and terrible that it has stayed with me always. My madness has always been cyclical: periods of normality or even of great happiness and exaltation, alternate with the blackest of depressions and paranoia, sometimes with psychotic episodes that have led at least twice to within a hairsbreadth of manslaughter. I was going through a dark period and the demons were stirring within me. One afternoon I was alone, standing in the study hall, looking out of the window with darkness in my soul, when I heard the Guru come out of his room. He came and stood beside me and said, “You are going mad again aren’t you?” Yes, Guru. He then said, “You are mad because you have been cursed for insulting the Mother”. I was so flabbergasted that I babbled back something like – “But I’ve always got on well with my mother!” He looked at me quizzically – he knew I understood what he meant – and walked away. I was flabbergasted and horrified, but I also knew that he was telling me what the problem was; and this gave me something to work on and eventually find the solution and lift the curse. It took a long time and it was hard work, but once such a curse is lifted it is not to ordinary life that you return, but to a world in which there is a great light flowing in coruscating billows of delight. Well worth the effort.


To illustrate more clearly the nature of this curse, we can go to another place and years later, when I knew that the curse was lifting; that the first chains were snapping. The Guru said that there was no action necessary: “Only understand!” he would say. When asked about karma – that is, the relativistic actions and reactions that are the bonds that bind us in a round of ignorance and suffering and repetitive action – he said that it is understanding that destroys all karma, and when karma ends the Tao shines.


So ten years later I was with Curran in a half-empty house that we were clearing of furniture near Oxford, back in England. I was not a happy bunny: Anita, my girlfriend of three years, had left me, and it was only after she was gone that I realized how much I cared for her. Even now, I still almost feel regret at not having loved her as she loved me; at having used her, at some level, as I had used women and their affection all my life, often in very sordid ways. This had been preoccupying me before I fell asleep on a mattress on the floor and had a dream that was so vivid and so significant that I remember it clearly to this day. I was travelling in a hot-air balloon over a beautiful landscape of lush, green rolling hills like the downs of southern England. This went on for some time, and gradually the sun was obscured and the countryside became somehow depressing and infinitely tedious. Then I heard a voice saying, “This is the land of regret, it goes on forever”. The next thing I knew, I was standing in an amphitheatre on a cliff-top. All around me were people seated on the concentric rows of seats, and I knew that they were the jury; that this was a trial; and that I was the accused. There was a podium where the judge would be, and on it I saw the twisting column of a whirlwind. From this there appeared a woman with a shaven head and an austere commanding appearance; I knew that she was the Great Goddess. She said to me, “You are on trial here for the crimes you have committed against women”; I hung my head and said that I knew that I was guilty. Then she said, “Are you mine?” I said yes. “Are you really mine, completely and absolutely?” Yes. Then the whirlwind grew and completely enveloped me and I disappeared inside it. Then I woke up, tears pouring down my face, but with the knowledge that an enormous weight had been removed from my shoulders. From then my life began creeping upwards towards the light and all began to go better with me, though there were many, many further lessons to come.


This goddess, by the way, is not some theological being to be bowed down to or praised in some temple, she is that deepest place within the consciousness of all of us; Psyché, “the soul” in Greek, is a woman; and all the gods dwell inside our consciousness, anyway.


I remembered that other time, years before when I was on my way to Kabul and my destiny in the rose-garden; and I had been in that sordid hotel in the rain in Tehran, and something had broken inside me and tears had poured down my cheeks for the first time ever; and how I had written a letter to my mother and my sister, begging their forgiveness.


Take all this as you will: the ravings of a madman, the delusions of a tortured drug-addled brain. However, consider this: “If it makes you happy and kind, it is the truth; if it does not make you happy and kind, it is not the truth”.  My early life, as I have tried to show you in this story, was a cold, unhappy, loveless agony. Now, it very definitely is a happy life and I am generally known as a dear old fart, though always talking too much.


By the way the Guru said that madness was not being true to yourself. Also that madness was being unhappy.


Less seriously, he also said that if you wanted to be considered mad, all you had to do was affiliate yourself to a minority spiritual context. Then they would lock you in a room at the end of your life and declare you insane. This is, of course, what they did to him.


We shall return to erotic mysticism later.




 If you have read this far in the Khan’s tales, you will realize that yet another reason for my madness and unhappiness was that I could trust no-one, and therefore would listen to no-one. My father, who up till then had shown me love, had rejected me as disgusting for no reason I could understand; so from then on I could never believe anyone really cared for me. The priests who had educated me and had told me to obey God showed me clearly that He was a cold, judgemental liar, just as they were. They pretended to be holy men but really they wanted power over others and to put their hands down little boys’ trousers. I came to distrust everyone; to believe that everyone had an ulterior motive and was lying for their own purposes.


So when I was confronted with the Guru, I looked at him carefully, full of cynical doubt; seeking always the chink in his persona that would show that he was just like all the others.


He was not easy to live with, as a disciple; for, however much I  wanted to improve myself, as a general principle, the day-to-day battering that my ego was subjected to was not a pile of laughs. One of the textbook psychological definitions of the ego is, “That part of the personality which resists change”. So, in the case of a vedantic student, it is that part of the personality which resists wisdom, and its personification, the Guru. Just as I have always been deeply suspicious of chocolate-box representations of “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild”; so have I always been wary of Gurus and teachers who were all rosewater and ecstatic prancing and sheepfaced joyful chanting. The Guru was many things, but meek and mild he was not. He did not tolerate fools gladly, and sometimes I would cringe inwardly as he would bait some pretentious swami, covered in holy markings, who had misrepresented the meaning of the Bhagavad Gita for his own purposes. At first, I would wonder why he did it, and then I realized that someone had to expose lies and distortions of the truth. Everyone else just let it slide, and it was up to the Guru to state the truth as it was so it could shine and banish the darkness of ignorance which is the source of all human ills. Shiva Nataraja, while he dances, is trampling beneath his feet a squirming demon who is ignorance. Still, if it was yourself being chastised, it was not always easy to take.


He did not shout as such, but he had a deep, resonant voice and he could raise the volume slightly and lower the pitch so that it drowned out everything else and was as unstoppable as a panzer division. Also, of course, he was right – and also motivated by nothing but kindness; for leaving someone in ignorance is not kind. What came out was perfectly reasoned and logical, scientifically valid and justified by unquestionable authorities and common sense. In fact he would often say that “There is no difference between wisdom and common sense, common sense is just sense that is common to everyone, everywhere".

Similarly, he would say that “The truth is always simple”. You could not argue with him; not because he would shout you down or disregard what you said, but because he was right and could prove it to you irrefutably. I would try and find flaws in his arguments, or errors of fact, but I could not. This is why he was my Guru - not because I followed him blindly, but because he spoke the truth. However, he encouraged us to question everything. The Bhagavad Gita is one of the three foundations upon which Vedanta is built; you cannot say the Gita is wrong and still call yourself a vedantin – but he told us that if our experience contradicted the Gita, we should follow our experience and throw away the Gita.


It wasn’t just because he was learned, completely logical and phenomenally intelligent that he was convincing, but because his motivation was absolutely pure. He had no axe to grind; he wasn’t trying to boost his ego by being always right. He wanted the truth to prevail, the truth that sets you free. The truth is when you see reality as it is: not change and becoming, endless action and reaction, terrible and void of content - but the reality that our reason can encompass when it is freed of its conditioning, a reality of great beauty and peace, where death has no dominion.


He wanted nothing, certainly not fame and recognition and people fawning at the feet of the Great Guru, the great trap into which so many fall. He hated it when I touched his feet in the traditional gesture of a disciple to his teacher. He hated it when I stood up when he came into the room and he told me not to (I did it anyway). He had no vanity in his great intellect or in his role as teacher of wisdom. He did say that he was the proudest man in the world, though, because he was proud of the patches in his clothes.


In Ootacamund we used to gather in the study hall before dawn after morning meditation, and sit cross-legged on the floor, waiting in silence for the Guru to come out of his room and start the lesson. Usually he was there on the dot, but on this particular day he was late. We sat for what seemed a long time in silence; then his door opened and he appeared. He was sticking out his lower lip and had his face scrunched up in a monkey grimace, he walked with an ape-like lope, his legs bent and his arms swinging back and forth. We were used to the Guru being rather unconventional, but this was really bizarre. He lolloped to his armchair and began sipping his morning cup of coffee as we watched in silent surprise. Then he said: “At Patrick’s place in Somanahalli, there are many monkeys living in the trees by the road, and in the morning they come down from the trees: first you will see the little monkeys, then their mothers, and they will all sit waiting; then after a long time you will see a big monkey come slowly down, looking very dignified, and he is the chief of all the monkeys”.





You don’t need much psychological insight to start questioning a lot of what we have described above. Isn’t it obvious that someone who has never had a functioning father-figure or male role-model is going to fixate on the ultimate father-figure of a guru, the all-wise authority that has been missing in his upbringing? Isn’t it obvious that someone with major problems about his sexuality and an inability to have a satisfying, loving relationship with a woman is going to sublimate and worship a female in the sky as a substitute for a real woman?


Of course this is true, and I have always been aware of it. I could not trust or respect my father on any level, and I can see that throughout my early life I was looking for an older, wiser male person who could provide what I lacked. My poor father was not highly intelligent and had no intellectual curiosity whatsoever. As a precocious little boy who read voraciously at a level far above my age, I would try and talk about space-time or Dostoievski, and he had no idea what I was talking about. Of course, this was a further reason for me to despise him (I was a horrid child). My older brother, Alain, was someone I could talk to and would treat my questions seriously. He became the person I looked up to and modeled myself upon. When I was about 12, my father quarelled with him about the woman he wanted to marry and cast him out out of his life. He would only refer to him as “That swine, Alain” or would say that he had no son of that name. This messed me up even more. My relationship with Curran, five years older than me and far more worldly-wise, was an obvious substitute for my lost brother. My life-long affiliation to the Guru is beyond any doubt the result of this type of emotional deprivation that formed my personality.


But so what? Everyone seeks for what is lacking in their life. This is a basic part of human existence; as basic as the desire for food. Do you say to a hungry person, “Oh yes, I know why you are hungry, it is because no-one has provided you with something to eat”? Does this make the food any less tasty or nourishing? Some people do not ask themselves questions about the meaning of the universe and of their lives – they do not need wisdom or gurus. Some people want wisdom as badly as an animal trapped in a forest fire wants to escape – they need it, as did I. Different strokes for different folks. Probably if I had not had a childhood deprived of a male role-model I would not have had a life-long affiliation to the Guru; but then I would have been a different person, wouldn’t I?


Some Christians believe that if you do not recognize Jesus Christ as your personal saviour, you are going to burn in hellfire for all eternity. Vedanta does not belong to this  kind of religious context: we tend to believe that Gurus can be useful to those who need them. Christianity, Islam or Atheism are obviously good for some people if they make them kinder and happier human beings. We do not believe that those who do not share our ideological orientation are going to damnation. The Bhagavad Gita says that all different faiths and beliefs are like streams and rivers that all end up merged in the waters of the ocean.


It’s slightly off the point, but here is a story.

A famous anthropologist, F.Boas, I think, was studying the poetry of the native american Hopi people. He was puzzled by the fact that so many of their songs were about water, and he went and asked an elder of the tribe why this was so. The elder said: “We Hopis live in the desert where there is no water, so it is rare and valuable to us and we make songs about it. Each man sings about what he does not have. Now tell me, why is it that all the songs of the white men are about love?”


Now, what about all this business of Goddesses and female Absolutes etc.? As we were saying above, Vedanta is not a religion that worships some divinity that happens to be female. It is a philosophy and is not concerned with worship, but rather with understanding. When the question of the proof of the existence or non-existence of God came up, the Guru would treat it as a false problem. All religions have different names and attributes for what they call “God”. None of them, however, would disagree if you were to describe God as “The highest of all values”. Everyone has some things that they value in life, even the atheist. So if you go to the highest level of abstraction and generalisation and talk of High Value, it does not really matter whether you label it “God” or not. High value exists because it is, by definition, that which you value most in all existence and it cannot be non-existent without an absurd contradiction.


So Vedanta, throughout a long tradition going from the Upanishads to the Saundarya Lahari of Shankara, talks of High Value or the Absolute, in terms of an “Eternal Feminine”, as Goethe calls it; or in Indian terms, a Goddess or Devi.


Does this Goddess exist in any objective sense or does she only exist in our mind? This is not important. Modern physics does not reject an observer-created universe; nor does it reject a multiplicity or boundless number of universes. If the Goddess only exists in the mind, we could say that so does the entire universe. Look at this simple logical proposition: where the mind is present, so is the universe; when there is a universe present, there is always a mind. Similarly when there is no mind, there is no universe. If there is never one without the other, then for any practical purpose, they are the same thing. From another point of view, if there is a boundless number of universes, by definition, there is a universe wherein the Goddess is real enough. I think this effectively deals with quibbles on this subject


Now obviously, it was because of the lack of love in my life and the supression of the feminine side of my personality that I was drawn to this erotic mystical tradition. Some people, indeed most people, are not attracted to it. Again, as above, different strokes for different folks; but for me it was what led me out of darkness and suffering and confusion to the fairly jolly place I now am in, so it seems to be good for me.




All through this narrative I have been telling how I was damaged by my upbringing, and I have passed the blame for my awful behaviour and all that was wrong in me onto other people, mainly my parents. This makes me appear blameless and badly done by rather than the real bastard I was – and you have not heard a tenth of the nastinesses I have committed in my life. Now is the time to correct all this.


If I say that I was incapable of recognizing love and incapable of giving love because of the way my parents brought me up, no-one can dismiss this as absurd. But why did they act towards me in the way they did? It seems obvious to me that they also were the victims of a flawed upbringing, and their parents also, and so on in an infinite regression. No-one is to blame. In any case, Vedanta does not waste its time laying blame or guilt upon anyone or making judgements about relativistic rights and wrongs. Vedanta seeks to understand the causes of things, and this understanding can resolve problems.


My father was a control freak: he only felt secure when he dominated his environment and no threat to his self-image could arise. Of course, this is a sign of vulnerability and weakness. His mother had spoilt him to a point difficult to believe; even when he was fifty she would continuously tell him how wonderful he was, and never criticized him. Nowadays this is recognized as passive agression – this constant praise enabled her to twist him around her little finger. He seems to have responded to her doting – he would tell me how he had always been the best in his class at school; how he had never misbehaved and how he had always been a success at everything he had done in life. This was stifling for me as his son; if I did not agree with him, I was wrong, and anyway I could never be as good as he was. Like all control freaks, he had built a protective cocoon around himself. He had no friends, and no-one ever visited our house. He had quarreled for life with his sister, probably because she was a rival for their mother’s affection. Likewise, he had cut my mother off from her relatives and friends, whom he would mock and denigrate, so that she was obliged to concentrate her life entirely upon him, as his mother had done. She tried to break away from him when they went to America as refugees from Hitler and she fell in love with another man; but he had persuaded her not to leave him. I was born soon after, ten years after my siblings, and he soon after hauled the whole family back to Belgium to be near his mother and to put a distance between my mother and the man she loved. Soon after this, my mother fell ill with a nervous disease and became a semi-invalid with chronic depression for most of my childhood , with her in a darkened room and myself praying on my knees to god that she would not die.


Pretty warped, one might say. But can we really blame the poor man? What had life taught him, after all? The only love he had been shown was manipulative. He was not happy, and his mouth was always twisted; his upper lip was as thin as string and the lower lip pouted in discontent. Life never treated him as well as his mother had; he made enormous amounts of money, but he was never really a success at anything else. He was continuously fussed and worried and given to fits of frustrated anger: if a car overtook him when he was driving, he would grind his teeth in rage and curse while he furiously tried to overtake the overtaker. His children were mostly a disappointment because they never came up to his standards. He never looked happy and relaxed and he had the unmistakable air of someone with a very unsatisfactory sex life. The prudery that had been instilled in him was more than Victorian. He found it indecent and shocking that there was a brand of oranges called “navel”, which to him was obscene.


Poor sad man. The most awful thing is that when he died, I felt nothing, no sense of loss – only relief that he was off my back at last. It was only thirty or more years later that he appeared to me in a dream, sitting by my bedside, and we embraced lovingly – something that had never happened when he was alive.


It was only after many years of meditation and the study of wisdom that I forgave him; that is, I understood him, which is the same thing. What is one to do when confronted with this sad series of loveless relationships being passed down, generation after generation? After his death, when understanding of him began to replace hate and resentment, I realized what a frustrated person he had been and I felt that his was an unresolved life – he had left so many lessons unlearned, so many knots inside him that he had never been able to undo and open himself to happiness and the infinite possibilities of this strange, beautiful universe. Somehow, by learning understanding, which is the same as love and freedom, I was breaking the bonds of generations of sadness and frustration and setting his soul free.


My mother’s life was not so unfortunate, because she freed herself while she was still alive. She had loved her father who had loved her in return, but he must somehow have been a weak man (I never knew him, he died young), because he allowed his wife to torment my mother mercilessly. My grandmother was haughty and intolerant; she always sat ramrod-straght and unbending, and her character was like her body. She scorned and dismissed with disdain everyone and everything that did not please her, and only seemed to derive pleasure from domination over others. She had been a great beauty in her youth, and must have been spoilt sick as a consequence. Like so many such selfish women, as her beauty faded with age, she was deeply resentful of anyone younger and attractive. My mother was stunning; she had the soulful, dark-eyed beauty that one sees in some Jewish or Armenian women, and in consequence my grandmother did her best to belittle her and sap her self-confidence. As a result of being brought up in a heartless manner, and receiving no love and no kindness, my mother in her turn was incapable of showing tender emotions. She never cuddled me as a child, and when I was older, she seemed incapable of letting go and showing empathy.


I cannot honestly blame either of my parents for the conditioning that circumscribed their happiness and their ability to feel and show love. I know so well how we are influenced by our upbringing. When I became a parent myself I was horrified to find myself reproducing my own parents’ behaviour, and I am aware of how inadequate my own role as a father was. I think, however that I have broken at last the sad loveless chain going back from generation to generation, because my children seem to be happy, open people.


After my father died, my mother was transformed. From an unhappy, frustrated and selfish person, she became kind and generous and happy. She would tell me how she felt as though she had spent the first part of her life in a dream, and would express regret for all the selfish and misguided things she had done to her children’s lives. She was too loyal to my father’s memory to admit to me that he had been the influence that had blighted her and her children’s existence, but it was clear she knew he was.


What is important to understand about this is how it influenced me and what I was looking for in the Guru. It was as though I had been anasthetized to any feeling, I could not give love; nor could I recognize it when it was shown to me. I was a total egotist who did not even know, let alone care, when his actions hurt others. What the Devi judged me for in my dream was the tears of women, from my 15 year-old first girlfriend whom I dumped without a backward glance, all the way to beautiful Anita, whose love I did not recognize nor care about. The study of the Saundarya Lahari with the Guru opened me up to a whole new world where the Goddess, who is only absolute beauty and kindness, reigns supreme.


Let us not forget those black-robed priests at Downside who hammered in the nails that sealed the coffin where lay all human and gentle and tender feeling in my soul. It was only a year ago that I understood what punishment life had awarded them. There was a series of programs on television about the religions of the world, and when they came to Catholicism, they showed Downside school and interviewed some of the monks. I was fascinated and horrified to recognize the grey stone walls and huge echoing corridors after forty years. Of course I could recognize none of the monks  as individuals, but I knew, oh so well, the expression that all their faces shared. What I had seen as coldness and cruelty, when I was their child-victim, I now saw as an expression of grim gritted-teeth resignation to a terrible, loveless emptiness within them; an awful inability to love, to relax and be happy. All my resentment towards them vanished, for there was no revenge I could wreak upon them more terrible than the sad lives they had condemned themselves to.


A nine year-old boy asked:

"What is a Gooroo?"

The Guru said you should reply,
“Somebody you would like to imitate in his ideas and his ways, who is interesting and inspiring.”
"What do you and he do?"
“We emulate each other.”




I am not going to pretend that I grasped what he was talking about on any subject before a long time had passed, and the Saundarya Lahari was no exception.


During those first few months, we were at the island Gurukula at Ezhumalai, just off the north coast of Kerala. It was a couple of hundred metres up the hillside, with below us a stretch of beach and then the vast blueness of the sky and sea. The land was covered with coconut trees, and you could only tell that it was inhabited from the scattered thatched or red-tiled roofs here and there among the waving, feather-like fronds. With the sea breeze always flowing through the pillared hall where we sat listening to the Guru, there was a peaceful, meditative atmosphere.


I have already made it clear that he was not given to mystic emotional outpourings  and, compared to many so-called gurus with their soulful looks and long, poignant silences, he came across as very matter-of-fact and “très ordinaire”, as he described himself. He would say that Sri Ramakrishna would go into a trance as soon as the Devi was mentioned, and once even collapsed on the platform of Calcutta railway station when he was trying to board a train. The Guru dismissed this as typical Bengali over-emotionalism and also very disruptive of normal existence.


This undemonstrative manner of the Guru was reinforced for me by the way he taught. He would sit in his wickerwork armchair with a table piled with papers and books next to him. There was a blackboard on which he would draw diagrams which seemed meaningless to me in those early days; and he would be constantly referring to dictionaries and texts as he taught. The students would all be taking notes assiduously.


Also, a lot of the time, he was talking about subjects like the flaws in Einstein’s concept of space-time, or the horrendously complex theories of Bergson on duration and simultaneity.  I would think, what on earth has this to do with spirituality? Also, I could understand almost nothing of what he was on about. I had always fancied myself as a clever little fellow but this had me stumped.


The Saundarya Lahari touched me somewhere emotionally, unlike the scientific stuff – these strange verses seemed to be talking of a numinous female entity that corresponded to my experience of mysticism. But here again, I was put off and confused by the way he would treat the subject. There were no weepy effusions or vague poetic flights – the kind of thing that made a lot of mystics sound like confused hippies trying to describe their last acid trip. No, again it was more diagrams and cross-references; both dry-as-dust and incomprehensible. Why was he treating this most delicate of subjects in this cold, scientific way? And what was he hoping to achieve – surely mysticism was an evanescent, elusive thing that could not be pinned down scientifically in this way? Didn’t he really feel this mysticism? Wasn’t he trying to pin it down like a collector’s butterfly, killing it in the process?


You must understand that I was watching him pretty much all day long: from the morning class at 6 o’clock until 8 or 9 at night, with short breaks for lunch and siesta and evening meditation and supper; and I watched him like a dog watches a piece of meat, to quote the Buddha. So nothing much he did or said escaped me; and also I began to be able to read the emotions in his voice and his expression.


Most of the time he was fairly dead-pan, but occasionally there would be an almost impish grin as he cracked a joke; he would glance at you sideways with half-closed eyes and chuckle. As I have already noted, when he was confronted with pretence, or ego-games or perversion of the truth, his eyes let loose a flash of his own formidable ego, otherwise always kept in check and verticalized – and all men’s knees turned to jelly. When he was in repose, sitting in his chair and for once not talking; then he would close his eyes, and you had the strange impression that there was no-one there, that he was in another, motionless place. Then his eyes would open and you would catch a look older than humanity, the look of an elephant, distant and infinitely knowing.


But when he was talking of the Saundarya Lahari or other works of erotic mysticism there was something else that gave me a clue to what was going on inside his head. He would be talking of the young girl, Shakuntala, in Kalidasa’s play, and how she was moved by compassion as she brushed against a flowering vine in the forest. She did not break the creeper because she felt that its tender beauty was the same as her own. He would try and convey to us that this was the essence of mysticism, and his voice would falter and almost break from overpowering emotion. At such moments I felt a numinous feeling like walking over the crest of a mountain trail and seeing before me a huge snowy peak towering way above me into the clouds.


So I knew there was something there of great significance, if I could only come to grasp it with my mind.