Book Review - Without the Guru
International Journal of Cultic Studies, 2, 2011, 87
Without the Guru: How I Took My Life Back After Thirty Years
By Michael Finch, PhD
Reviewed by Lois Kendall, PhD
Leicester, England: Babbling Brook Press (www.babblingbrookpress.net). 2009. ISBN-10: 1-4392-4504-5; ISBN-13: 978-1-4392-4504-0 (paperback), $18.99, £11.99, Amazon.co.uk. 288 pages.
Dr Michael Finch has done an excellent job of cramming more than 30 years of his life into one book with 37 brief, clear, and readable chapters. Mike, as a vulnerable 22-year-old in 1970, began following Prem Rawat (Guru Maharaji) and joined a group that was known at the time as the Divine Light Mission. Those unfamiliar with Eastern religions will find that this book is written in such a way that a prior understanding of meditation or Eastern philosophies is not needed. Mike had spent 8 years out of the group when he wrote this insightful autobiography.
Mike unpicks and logically analyses aspects of his life and the dynamics in place in Prem Rawat. He delayed his education because of his group involvement, but he visited many different countries in the world. Despite having his “cynical observer well battened down under the hatches by this time” (p. 43), he completed both an undergraduate degree and a Ph.D. in math and theoretical physics while in the group.
A number of reoccurring themes run like threads through this book. Similar to some other first-generation autobiographies, one central theme of the book is Mike’s desire to fully understand and explain why he stayed so long in this group, and why he did not leave sooner. In places this book is slightly slow and laborious, but overall it is well written and worth taking the time to read.
Mike does not paint himself in a rosy light. Rather, with at times painful honesty, humility, and vulnerability, he recounts many different experiences and emotions; and, as the reader, it is difficult not to feel moved. In addition to his work for some time as Prem Rawat’s chauffeur, Mike details a number of meetings with him, including his first when Prem Rawat was just 12 years old. Mike experienced Prem Rawat being more interested in the gift he had given him, a tape recorder, than the giver, Mike. Prem Rawat retreated into his home, and as Mike went to follow, the door was slammed in his face.
Regardless of my being a second-generation former member of a non-eastern group, I found parallels to my group and certainly found Mike Finch’s insights beneficial. As such, I think this book will appeal and be beneficial to former members of many different groups, particularly anywhere the leader has God-like status or, as Mike makes clear, is perceived to be the “Lord of the Universe.” Mike explains well the cycle of reinforcement between a guru and his followers, and the seductive nature of adoration.
Mike’s concluding chapters detail how, once he was “prepared to admit the possibility that he (Prem Rawat) was not the Lord, the whole thing came tumbling down” (p. 220). He recounts the steps he took to free himself from 30 years of dependency, how he grieved, and how he rebuilt his life. He also briefly describes his return to Buddhism. Dr Finch graciously concludes his book by thanking the guru for what he learned as a result of his time with him and finishes with these words: “I learned a lot from him, although as this book makes clear, the lessons I learned are not necessarily those that he was trying to teach” (p. 250).
International Journal of Cultic Studies ■ Vol. 2, 2011