The Heart of the Matter
September 15, 2008
What's in a Name?


Whenever a person who has received Knowledge from Maharaji tries to describe their relationship to him, they usually end up using one of the following five words: student, devotee, follower, friend, or premie.

I'm sure you've heard at least a few of these words before in one context or another.

Each of them describes an aspect of my relationship to Maharaji, but only an aspect.

None of them describes the whole shebang. In fact, each of these words has been known to confuse, distract, or repel since each one carries a kind of cultural baggage.

Allow me to explain.

If I tell you that I am the son of Barney and Sylvia, you will instantly know what I mean. If I tell you I am the husband of Evelyne, I need not explain further. If I tell you that I'm the brother of Phyllis, the friend of Scott, and the father of Jesse and Mimi, you catch my drift.

But when it comes to describing my relationship to Maharaji, language comes up short.

Which brings us back to the five words noted above: student, follower, devotee, friend, and premie.

It's clear to me, that if you're reading this blog, it's only a matter of time before you hear one of Maharaji's _____________ (fill in the blank, folks) use one of the above-mentioned words to describe their relationship to him. And when they do, I want to make sure you don't run for the hills just because the word they use doesn't quite make it for you.


"Student" is perhaps the most politically correct way to describe my relationship to Maharaji. Simply put, he's my teacher and I learn from him. All of us understand the concept of teacher. It's embedded in our culture.

But this is where some Knowledge-sniffing people might decide to bail out.

Yes, we've all had teachers, but some of our teachers have disappointed. Some, in fact, were awful -- manipulative, fear-mongering, narrow-minded, and boring. Plus they gave us homework. Ouch!

The word "student" also conjures up, for some of us, images of school. School? Does anyone really want to go to school? To my kids, school often feels like prison. They'd rather be playing.

"Student" also conjures up images of big books with small print that have to be read by Thursday when it's Springtime outside and all you really want to do is roller blade. Study? Give me a break. Who wants to study?

Here's the paradox. I'm a student of Maharaji, but I'm not in school. I'm a student of Maharaji, but I don't study. I'm a student of Maharaji, but I follow no curriculum. I'm a student of Maharaji, but he never tests me. I'm a student of Maharaji, but I pay no tuition.

And yet, believe it or not, I've learned more from him than anyone else on planet Earth. By at least a few light years.

In the 1970's when Maharaji's arrival on the scene was being carefully tracked by the media, journalists referred to people attracted to his teachings as "followers" -- as in "the followers of the boy Guru from India."

No wonder why so many Time and Newsweek readers (my mother included) got turned off.

"Followers" conjures up images of sheep walking off cliffs... of weak-willed people... of glassy-eyed, hopelessly uncool wanabees. Hey, who wants to be a "follower?" Isn't that a sign of nerdhood? It's leaders we want! Take charge people! Alpha men and women! Superheroes!

Here's a slightly different way of looking it.

When you're trying to get somewhere you've never been before, it's not uncommon to follow directions. (Are you giving away your power because you follow a map or the instructions of the gas station attendant?)

I'm guessing you've followed your instincts from time to time. Yes? And if you're a sports fan, you've undoubtedly followed a team or two -- fascinated and uplifted by what they did and how they did it. And if you've ever been in love, I'd venture to say that somewhere along the line, you told your Beloved you'd follow them to the ends of the Earth.

Following is not a sign of weakness -- not if what you're following is worthy of your pursuit. Maharaji, by the way, doesn't ask people to follow him. People follow him for the same reason they follow their instinct, their team, a map, or their significant other. For love. For results. For enjoyment.

This is not a blind following. This is an informed following. This is not a following that disempowers. This is a following that strengthens, empowers, and delights.

There are two ways of saying the word "devotee" -- the first one rhymes with "clay," the second rhymes with "tea." I prefer the second. Devotee. The first one reminds me of an upwardly mobile fashionista in LA or NY who calls everyone "dahling." They are, on Mondays, at least, a "devotay" of this or that. But what they're devoted to this week will invariably change into something else next week and so on ad infinitum.

Their devotion, if you will, is really just a thinly veiled emotion -- their circumstantial focus on something or other for a limited period of time until they either get bored, distracted, or convinced by a much hipper and better-dressed friend to be a "devotay" of something else.

I'm not talking about that.

I'm talking about the second word -- the one that rhymes with "tea." Devotee -- whose root is "devote."

We're all devoted to something. Some of us are devoted to family. Some of us are devoted to country. Some of us are devoted to work. Still others are devoted to skin care products.

And so it goes...

Why is it that some people refer to themselves as "devotees" of Maharaji? Because he's shown them something worth being devoted to. He's shown them what devotion really is. Not blind devotion. No herd devotion. Not trendy devotion. Something very different -- the unconditional, soulful commitment to the core of life.

Many people who practice Knowledge, refer to Maharaji as their "friend." And yet, they may see him only once a year. They may never have even said a single word to him. They never go bowling with him or share a pizza or double date, but still they use the word "friend" to describe him.

How can this be? How can you call someone a friend who you rarely ever see?

It's simple.

A friend knows you. A friend is there when needed. A friend is non-judgmental. A friend has your best interests in mind. A friend is someone you can rely on. A friend surprises you with love when you least expect it.

All of these describe my relationship to Maharaji. And when I look into his eyes -- or he looks into mine -- I feel, in a heartbeat, that he is a Friend with a capital "F."

"F" for fearless. "F" for fun. "F" for fabuloso.

For some of us, however, the word "friend" is troubling. Friends have sometimes let us down. Friends sometimes take more than they give. Friends have borrowed tools and not returned them. And so, it's not at all surprising that calling Maharaji my "friend" may not work for you.

OK. Maybe the next word will work better for you...

I'm guessing you've heard the word "premie" before. It's Hindi for "lover" and was the most popular way that students/followers/devotees/friends of Maharaji referred to themselves in the 1970's and '80's.

One of the great things about this word, to Westerners, is that no one had any concepts about it -- no previous associations. And it's translation was cool. Lover. Who could argue with that -- especially since one of the outcomes of practicing Knowledge and being around Maharaji was a steady infusion of love.

At least that's the way it was -- and is -- for me.

Looking back, it felt right to use the word "premie" to describe my relationship to Maharaji. After all, the word came from the same country he did -- India -- and it translated as "love." And his first name is "Prem."

Seems kind of like a no brainer, eh?

Of course, there's an equal and opposite way of looking at this, too. After all, as Paul Simon once said, "One man's ceiling is another man's floor."

I'm sure for some people, it's a turn off to hear the word "premie." It seems so foreign -- so not "made in the USA." And, as if that wasn't enough, it sounds a lot like "preemie," every mother's worse nightmare -- someone not quite fully formed.

Well, then, maybe "premie" isn't the best word to describe someone who practices Knowledge and loves Maharaji. Maybe the word should be "Bubeleh," or "Tootsie" or "Fred." You tell me.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter what word I use to describe my relationship to Maharaji. What matters is this: Maharaji is the real deal. My life has majorly flourished since I met him. His message is ancient and timeless and real. His gift of Knowledge is a treasure.

Shakespeare had it right, methinks:

"What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at September 15, 2008 12:41 AM


Thank you for your eloquent explanations. I will be sending a link to this article to my sisters. I think they have always wondered about my relationship to Maharaji. You voiced wonderfully what I could not.

Posted by: C B [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 14, 2008 02:12 AM

Mitch, this is a magnificent piece. What a dilemma we have, being unable to find an appropriate word to communicate with others about such a beautiful loving relationship. This entry addresses that dilemma in a big way.

There is one other word I have found myself using recently that avoids many of the traps you pointed out in the big five. That word is "admirer."

When I say that I am an admirer of Maharaji, almost anyone can relate to the idea without turnoff. Everyone has experienced admiration, and most people value the feeling. It feels very precise. To me, there a continuum between everyday admiration and devotion. Their essence is the same. The distinction is one of intensity and depth. Devotion is admiration without walls, without restraint.

Posted by: Steve K [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 15, 2008 12:53 PM

Marvelous, made me laugh with glee, made me want to share this with myriads. Mitch, your writing is as sweet and beautiful as any rose, by any name.

Posted by: Jiya [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 15, 2008 01:46 PM

Mitch I like your writing so much, and would have said that I love your writing but "you know who" told us to be aware of how we use the word love. I knew you in the 70's through Jan C. when she was sewing a suit, and Trudi. Since I am in S. Korea teaching English, your premie writing soothes my soul like you can't imagine, but I bet you do. I am inspired. Thanks Dude, like there is no tomorrow. Many Koreans learn English through Idioms. Love and peace, Joyce

Posted by: Joyce [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 16, 2008 09:48 PM

Nicely done!

Posted by: Jule [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 21, 2009 02:44 PM

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