Book Review - Robes of Silk, Feet of Clay

ICSA Today, 10, (2), 2019, 18-19

Robes of Silk, Feet of Clay

By Judith Bourque

Reviewed by Gina Catena

Published in ICSA Today 10.2

Waterside Productions (Cardiff by the Sea, CA). 2018. ISBN-10: 1947637800; ISBN-13: 978-1947637801 (paperback). $13.36 US (; Kindle, $9.95 US; Audio CD, $14.19 US). 279 pages.

In Judith Bourque’s memoir, Robes of Silk, Feet of Clay: The true story of a love affair with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the TM Guru followed by the Beatles, Deepak Chopra, David Lynch, and millions more, the author details her intimate relationship with a world-famous guru. She reviews her youthful susceptibility to the guru’s attentions through to her later recovery.

In 1968, the rock musician John Lennon alluded to Maharishi’s sexual charades in his song, Sexy Sadie; and actress Mia Farrow once explained how she rebuffed an awkward seduction attempt by this same guru. Bourque is the only former lover of this guru to publicly tell the story, although she claims others confided similar experiences to her after publication of her memoir’s earlier editions.

An unpretentious writing style belies the author’s courage to expose intimacies with this guru, whom millions of followers revere as their monastic spiritual leader. Without malice, the author describes a secretive seduction in India, elite world travels with the guru’s inner circle, and a painful breakup. Photos of the time and Maharishi’s personal handwritten notes embellish the written text.

Believable confessions from this once-idealistic young disciple describe her racing heart in response to personal attention from her godhead in a silk dhoti. By day she lived in service to Maharishi, while by night she tiptoed through forested paths to his private cottage, where he listened to her attempts at poetry. After their first night together, Maharishi complained of exhaustion from dissipating his life energy through his lower chakra (sexual energy). The young woman was riddled with guilt because she had caused Maharishi to cancel the day’s lectures. Regardless, for the next 2 years Bourque traveled the world with Maharishi and his inner circle. When with Maharishi, she dressed in his preferred silk saris, switching to Western dress when she was assisting other TM administrators.

The story mentions competitiveness within Maharishi’s inner circle, sexual shenanigans among devotees, lawsuits, and the guru’s growing paranoia. Despite mixed messages, Bourque believed Maharishi was a divine conduit. She committed herself to his spiritual service. Her world shattered when she realized he had other lovers. With nowhere to turn, she continued her work for a few more months after that before she overcame her fear of the outside world. When she was preparing to depart, Maharishi granted her a personal audience so she could apologize for an earlier angry outburst. Maharishi responded, “I gave you enough love to last a lifetime” (p. 156).Their last words were the movement’s impersonal greeting, an anticlimactic “Jai Guru Dev," praise for Maharishi’s deceased guru.

As the author’s world seemingly unraveled, another member of Maharishi’s inner circle stabilized her. A Swedish architect ignored Maharishi’s warning about Bourque and abandoned his work on a project for the guru. The young architect and Bourque settled together in Sweden and had a son. Bourque struggled with postcult anxiety while building this new life. She believed Maharishi’s thoughts could obliterate her if she divulged their forbidden history. Eventually, she found her direction through shamanism, which continues as her life work.

When Bourque reflects on Maharishi’s hypocritical demand for devotees’ celibacy, she describes his “obvious spiritual power and wisdom” (p. 195) and concludes he was both human and divine. She continues to value meditation without mention of potential risks of dissociative meditation practices. Ironically, she quotes Maharishi to encourage readers to seek their own life purpose, not to become dependent upon one leader.

To this reviewer, Bourque appears to continue in magical thinking with her Shamanistic work, and to remain partially enthralled with her former guru. The author admittedly decided to make this story public after a medium helped her interpret a dream wherein the recently deceased Maharishi visited her, requesting that she tell this story and free him from a karmic burden. Bourque  writes of her belief that sharing this history will liberate Maharishi to reincarnate as a pure teacher in his next lifetime.

Judith Bourque deserves credit for gracefully sharing her story to expose hypocrisy at the core of a flawed spiritual leader. In my opinion, the text fails to fully acknowledge the inherent power imbalance of a guru who exploits a devotee less than half his age. With multiple references to Maharishi’s teachings and other New Age teachings, the book’s intended audience may be former and current practitioners of Transcendental Meditation who still adhere to Eastern mysticism.

Reviewer disclaimer: I confess personal bias from an upbringing and family defined by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. For more than half a century, my mother has spoken of Maharishi’s spiritual power. Unlike my mother, Bourque, and many others, I was never mesmerized by Maharishi. Similar to Bourque, I continued to internalize some teachings for many years after leaving the organization. Perhaps I still do. It can take decades to cleanse one’s mind of vestigial cult beliefs.

About the Reviewer

Gina Catena, MS, was raised in the Transcendental Meditation (TM) group as an early “child of the Age of Enlightenment.” She married and was a parent in the group until the age of 30. After 22 years of childhood and young adulthood enmeshed in the TM culture, Ms. Catena left the group with three children and obtained an education and career while integrating into mainstream culture. She lives with ongoing cult influence through three generations of her immediate family. She contributed to Child of the Cult by Nori Muster and Combating Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan, and has written articles, given talks, and facilitated workshops for those raised in cultic groups. Ms. Catena is also working on several projects about family influence in cults. She obtained a Master of Science (MS) degree from the University of California at San Francisco, a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Art History, and a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Nursing, with a minor in psychology. She is now a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) and nurse practitioner (NP) in the San Francisco Bay Area.