Sunday, January 23, 2011

Book Review: "Robes of Silk Feet of Clay" by Judith Bourque

"Robes of Silk Feet of Clay" by Judith Bourque, published 2010, is the true story of Ms. Bourque's 1971-1972 love affair with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. I'd like to share some of my thoughts about the book.

First of all, I believe Ms. Bourque did not make up this story. One, because her account, along with the photos, make internal sense, and fit with other things I have learned over the years about Maharishi and his international staff. Two, because the book is profoundly non-sensational. If Bourque's goal was to write a (fictional) best-selling, the book would not have been so temperate, so lacking in spicy, sexy, torrid, tell-all details.

The gist of this book is that Maharishi did indeed break his vow of celibacy, and then kept it a secret from the world. That's the explicit message. However, what I also found educational were the insights I could tease out from between the lines - details that help me continue to piece together the mystery that was Maharishi. So I will share my musings here, hoping they will be helpful to others.

First, I notice that Maharishi never courted Bourque in the way that many other supposedly celibate gurus courted their students. That is, he didn't promise her that having sex with him would benefit her spiritually, that it was a special privilege to have sex with him, that he would give her spiritual energy, or anything like that. This is surprising to me, since I have read so much about Maharishi being an opportunist and a liar. I wonder why he did not court her in this way. What do you think?

I also note that Bourque did not feel an awe-inspiring super-human overwhelming energy coming from Maharishi, as some people, including myself, have experienced. Why didn't she? (Or why did I? Did you?)

I was very surprised by Maharishi's reaction after the first time he had intercourse with Bourque. It was so different from what I would have expected from a celibate Western religious who had broken his vow. A Westerner, I am guessing, would have felt shame, or guilt, or would have tried to hide it, or would have rationalized it, or would have gone to his superior for confession and counsel. Maharishi, instead, called together his Indian celibate buddies, and they spent the afternoon with him. It seemed as if breaking a vow of chastity was a common event, calling for neighborly consolation and tried-and-true advice. Maharishi seemed to view his slip-up not as a moral or spiritual issue (as perhaps a Catholic monk might), but rather as a practical health/spiritual energy issue. "The energy is used to going up!" he told Bourque, as if the core of the dilemma were physical, not ethical. (Come to think of it, isn't that how he looked at the path to enlightenment? A mechanical physical approach, repeated by rote, rather than a path of prayer or self-examination, as a Westerner might.) In line with this view of his problem, one of his solutions to his slip-up was, logically, also physical: someone gave him a foot massage.

This whole event just confirms for me how little we in the West really understand of Maharishi's worldview.

As I read this particular section of the book, I was reminded of Maharishi's comment at (I think) Humboldt State College in Arcata, California, USA, in the summer of 1972. At one point, he said, "What this movement needs is a few good celibates." At the time, I heard something unusual in his voice, but I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it was. Now I wonder if what I heard was a wistfulness in his voice. Could he have been alluding to the fact that he wished that he had been a good celibate. Or am I being too generous? Maybe it was nostalgia for his ashram days? Or maybe it was just his embarrassment (noted many times in the book) around sex.

I also sadly note that after he had intercourse with Bourque for the first time, Maharishi was concerned about his own well-being, but he never expressed any concern for hers.

I found the photo on page 205 very interesting. This is a snapshot of Maharishi's scribbled notes. He had met with initiators from around the world to hear how some mantras had meanings in various tongues. For instance "rama" means "branch of a tree" in Spanish. (I looked it up in my Spanish-English dictionary.) And "aem" (also spelled "aim" or "ayim"), he notes, speaks to egotistical aspirations in English with its pronunciation as "I am." Maharishi scribbled on his notes"change it." He did, in fact, drop "rama," but not "aem." What about the eternal unchangeable tradition of how to choose the mantras? Or about his insistence that the sound is meaningless. Or that the sound becomes so faint that the exact pronunciation doesn't matter? Or about the mystical, never-to-be-spoken aloud, fragile-as-glass way we were taught to view mantras; and here he was, robustly marking the mantras down, fiddling with foreign languages, notating practical changes for a satisfied customer base.

Finally, I've heard Maharishi lecture many times that an enlightened person "averts the danger that has not yet come;" that an enlightened person "is not able to make mistakes." Therefore, the fact that Maharishi had sex - which he felt was unhealthy for him - would indicate either that he was lying to us about what an enlightened person is really like, or that Maharishi was not the enlightened person he implied he was. Or maybe both. What do you think? Did Maharishi believe those things, or was he just trying to entice us? Did he learn those things from Guru Dev?

Did you read the book? Would you like to share your thoughts about it here? Or your comments about my musings?

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