Whatever Happened to the Maitraya?

Almost everybody in the major cities of the Western world must have read something about Benjamin Creme, if only from the sporadic full-page spreads he bought in virtually every prominent newspaper. If nothing else, one had to admire his nerve! We have to remember that Creme was receiving all his messages telepathically, relying on non-mortal guides for any information he had--and we all know how tricky telepathically-received information can be!

Creme was predicting the Messiah would make himself known on world-wide TV; he even picked the weekend in question: May 22-23, 1982. The Maitraya was to speak to each of us watching in our own native language! Yes, this was going to be the Big One we’d all been waiting for...

Ben Creme had himself a fine old time telling everybody about it, publishing books, going on the air, giving news conferences, and generally stirring up a lot of Messianic fervor. But unless I missed it entirely, I don’t believe Creme has his Maitraya yet.

At least, he doesn’t think he has! Creme was looking to the old authoritarian model. Surely it would be too easy if some omnipotent super-terrestrial strode onto the world stage and took over--even if there are times when any of us might call passionately for just such an intervention. No, this time, I suspect it’s going to have to be a bit different; perhaps along the lines of a group entity, a collective Messiah. And I further suspect that the Maitraya that Benjamin Creme and others so desperately want has come and gone and done His job.

It was late September, 1982, and I was in London visiting my family when my mother, ever happy to be on some trail, thought of contacting Benjamin Creme. When I telephoned, a lady answered. Loving wife or bewitched acolyte it was hard to discern; she didn’t introduce herself. Ben Creme was out of the country, giving a lecture in Holland, but she confirmed what I’d supposed--namely, that the Maitraya hadn’t manifested himself as Ben had predicted, either on world-wide TV or anywhere else. Since I’d first heard Creme’s pronouncements back in New York, I’d assumed this speaking-in-one’s-own-language on TV would be angelically assisted--a miracle of sort, a kind of supernatural zapping into the satellite circuits. But it seems Ben’s man was going to do it by calling together the world’s press and letting them translate. And what happened? I asked.

Apparently, she explained, the press couldn’t find the Maitraya. They’d scoured the streets for a week or two, but by all accounts, no Messiah had emerged. In Ben’s terms, the two or three people claiming to be the Maitraya certainly weren’t all-powerful or all-knowing, and Ben had disqualified one because he was too short!

It’s turned into a Maitraya contest, I thought, wondering where Creme fitted into all of this: as ringmaster? Judge? The Maitraya himself, in disguise?

“But Ben feels sure the Maitraya will make himself known just as soon as we are ready for him,” Creme’s companion hurried on. “Ben thinks the press didn’t get behind it enough--they weren’t sufficiently interested!”

I asked about the Pakistani I’d read about, the one who’d declared himself the Maitraya? She hastily told me there’d been two. Fortunately, one had stepped down, so that simplified my quest. All she could tell me was that the other claimant lived and worked in the Brick Lane area of Bethnall Green, among the Asian communities settled there.

“But doesn’t the Maitraya of Ben’s transmissions also work in that community?” I asked.

“Yes... Well, it can’t be the same man, because Ben says the Maitraya is from the Himalayas and only arrived here in 1976.” Apparently the “impostor” had arrived in England from Sri Lanka sometime in the mid-’60s.
Well, I was more than eager to meet a man someone else had denounced as not being the Maitraya. So the next day, my mother and I set off into the interminably long Brick Lane.

We left the car in a sidestreet. Torn posters advertising Pakistani movies lay in the gutter. Dilapidated shops sold a variety of heavily-scented sweetmeats, whose pheromones swirled together with the odor of old mattresses. It was an unloved place. The Muslim Dynamic, too, had taken it’s toll. “By crediting Allah with all, the people have allowed too little joy into their own lives,” an Egyptian friend had told me; and indeed, it seemed this dis-spiritedness spread through Brick Lane like a fog.

None of the more likely-looking prospects I asked had the slightest idea where I might find the Maitraya. Some had difficulty with the word, others scuttled off muttering. Most just shook their heads.

A startling modern structure loomed out of the gathering mists. We were drawn into its courtyard, in through the revolving doors to a receptionist who told us it was Truman Brewery--ironically, smack among this teetotalling Asian colony. Asked about the Maitraya, the nice-girl receptionist smiled with a tolerance reserved for nuns and suggested we ask in an Indian restaurant.

Nothing seemed to be happening, nor was I aware that our feet were being led. But when we emerged from the Brewery, there in front of us was a tiny police station. “When in doubt,” my mother intoned, “always ask a policeman.” And in we went.
“Er, ‘scuse me, officer, but remember all that Messiah stuff a few months back?”

The bland-faced young fuzz smiled across the counter at me. “Ho yus,” he said, straight out of Gilbert and Sullivan and, I suspect, putting me on something dreadful. “Wha’ ever ‘appened to all that? Lived darn this way, din’ ‘e? Back in Mye, warn’ it?” He turned to his mate for confirmation.

“Had the press darn ‘ere an’ everyfing. Over on Commercial Street, warn’ it?”
“How would you know if he was the Messiah?” my mother asked.

Not believing the set-up, the mate stammered, “’Cos ‘e’d ‘ave ‘oles in ‘is ‘ands!” and started the slow heave of pub-roar. Midway, he caught my recoil of pain, knew he’d overstepped the intimacy of the occasion.

“Mye twenny-secon’,” the first officer mused. “Or was it the twenny-third? Lasted abart a week, ‘din it?” A dreamy look came over his face at the thought of the Messiah, right there on his beat. “Aye, but wouldn’ it ‘ave been wonderful...?”

And that was all they could tell us--apart from the Maitraya’s address on a nearby street.

The small house was a dump. We climbed the dark, rubbish-strewn stairs. Opening the second-floor door, I found a crammed sweat-shop full of clicking, whirring machines and bright-eyed Pakistani lads. One detached himself from his machine.

“I’m looking for the Maitraya, I’m told he lives here....”

He didn’t understand me at first. Then I said “holy man,” and his eyes lit up: “Ah! Sadhu, Baba...He not here right now. Back seven o’clock!”
I gave him my mother’s number and asked if the Maitraya could please call me after nine that evening.

At ten, sure enough, the ‘phone was bleating in its strident English dissonance.

“Could I speak to Ti--” He couldn’t read my writing, but at least he could speak English! There was a moment of disequilibrium--what does one say to a Messiah? But after a few formalities, it all came out in a bubbling rush:

“My name is Premaratma. People around here call me Sadhu, Baba, many names...” He told me he was born in Sri Lanka in 1926 and had come to England in ‘66. Then, taking the bull by the horns, he said he’d known for thirty years that he was the Maitraya. He’d been told by holy men back in Sri Lanka but at the time, hadn’t understood what they meant.

After reading one of Benjamin Creme’s press conferences, the publicity for which he’d stumbled upon merely by “chance,” Creme’s pronouncements had started him wondering--after all, he did work in the Brick Lane area! But he had sat quiet for two years and had become confident enough to announce himself only when the press and all the people had descended on the Lane that week of May 22nd. Some of the articles, he said proudly, had reached all of two or three million people. I couldn’t tell if he meant this constituted enough of an audience to count as a “world-wide phenomenon.”

I found myself starting to feel sorry for the guy. He was so evidently happy I’d called, so open and enthusiastic and lacking in any of the kind of sophistication I might have anticipated from a Messiah. I could see why Creme didn’t think Baba was his man. What had gone awry? I wondered.

“There’s much Mr. Creme doesn’t know...” He wanted to meet us, he said, he’d even been waiting for us! “There’s so much to tell you....”
I set a time for the following weekend and arranged to meet him outside the little house.

When my companion, newly arrived from New York, and I arrived that next Sunday afternoon, Premaratma was waiting outside the terraced shop in which he lived.

It was unmistakably him: small, a little plump, with sweet, delicate features breaking into a broad smile of recognition. Wide-set grey-blue eyes twinkling amid the scrunchy crinkles. Yin softness to the skin on his face and hands. Yet his grip was a whole lot firmer than I might have foreseen.

As he led us upstairs, I saw he’d wound his hair into a bulbous spiral that lay like a soft beret on the tilt of his head. He ushered us through the family sweat-shop (not his, apparently) and into a tiny office at the rear of the building. Its one redeeming feature was a room-wide factory window, now open in part to allow the rays of an English autumn sun to fill it with gold.

It was in those first few moments that we all knew each other. Soft as a whisper, a spirit fell over the three of us--a far deeper communication, well beyond our rational grasp. We all felt a connection set up, and our spiritual minds joined together in a new way.

I recognized the nature of this communion from other encounters, and am now starting to comprehend the rapport somewhat better. It seems to appear among Spirit-led individuals whom we have come to perceive as the spiritual nobility of our times--just those people who, I have suggested, may be carrying the baraka of the collective Messiah. The sensation is that of witnessing, of a detached wonderment that inevitably leads to a still deeper appreciation of the Indwelling Divine Spark in all of us. It is heartfelt and not a matter for words and intellects.

The richness of the moment passed, and we settled down to hear his story: He’d been born in Sri Lanka of an honored and illustrious family--proud and independent people of the land. His great-grandfather became known as the Maitraya to his people and, according to Baba’s researches, the old man had single-handedly fermented enough righteous indignation in the populace to secure the great nationwide land reforms of the 1840s. (Somehow, I felt I should have heard of them.)

They were staunchly spiritual people, too, with a cultivated acquaintance with the inner life, born of the interactions of Buddhism and Hinduism meeting and blossoming on their doorstep. And there was a considerable Western influence as well. C.W. Leadbetter, one of the most spiritually knowledgeable forces in the last hundred years, attended Baba’s father’s guru. In fact, that is why Theosophy was first drawn to Ceylon:
“Madame Blavatsky had a vision while sitting in...Green Park, I think it was, in London. A beautiful young indian guide appeared to her in a cloud of light and told her the answer to her quest lay in Lanka.” There was no hint at self-aggrandizement; Baba was simply unfolding it as he saw it.

In childhood, he’d always been spiritually inclined and from an early age had devoted his life to religious studies. On two separate occasions he had been told, under rather remarkable conditions, that he was indeed the Maitraya. In one of them, the sadhu in question had fairly leaped at him, bowling him over with the energy and certitude with which he assured him that he, Baba, was the Maitraya.

In a curious way, Baba told us, these incidents hadn’t really registered on him, strange though he’d thought them at the time. Indeed, thirty years later he’d all but forgotten then when into his hands fell a Los Angeles Times article describing one of Mr. Creme’s press conferences. And there it was--the Maitraya, alive and well and living in the Brick Lane!

This was two years ago, after he’d already been in England a full fourteen years. He’d moved around a bit before being drawn to live and work in tis particular community. Now he was known and accepted by everybody: Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists all regarded him as a holy man, and he moved freely between otherwise dissenting groups. He had not pursued the Creme situation; information would just show up at the right time. He pointed to a pile of newspapers and magazines which, together with some religious books, lay on the floor next to my metal folding chair. Every so often, he would reach over and scrabble through them, although I noticed he had them in chronological sequence. I dreaded having him read us the whole bundle!

My companion, fresh off the plane, had settled down onto Baba’s sleeping mat. He, ever solicitous, unwrapped a new blanket for her. Presumably celibate all or most of his life, he was unaccustomed to the ways of women, but discreetly attentive.

“And what actually happened on the weekend of May 22nd?” I asked.

Well, he’d watched the journalists scouring the streets for the Maitraya they’d been told would be awaiting them with open arms. But it wasn’t to be as easy as that; the post was evidently a coveted one. A young Pakistani--evidently the one we’d heard about in New York--a self-styled “representative of the government in exile” (and even Baba had wondered what that might have meant!) had stepped up and claimed the title. Benjamin Creme had chosen to meet the pretender in a local Brick Lane tea shop. And in one of those odd little synchronicities that pepper Baba’s tale, Baba had chanced to be walking by at the time. He recognized Creme from newspaper photos and sat down to join their debate. No doubt Ben Creme had been unconvinced by the Pakistani, since within ten minutes the exiled official had forsworn the Maitraya bit and had pledged himself to Premaratma as his disciple!

Baba, so it seems, did not go into his feelings about his own status at that point. The press never did find him, nor any other Maitraya, and hurried back to their usual murders and mayhem. But amongst all this coming and going, some canny young American searchers, alerted by Creme’s publicity blitz, were sniffing around. One, said Baba, kept being led to his door. Every trail he’d followed inevitably pointed in Premaratma’s direction, and he’d managed to turn others onto Baba’s Maitrayahood.

Baba himself had remained strictly ambivalent: It did not feel seemly to him to make such a claim. If it was to become known gradually, in the natural course of events, then so be it; but from his hesitations, I could see he felt he was stepping into someone else’s dream.

The Americans had been insistent, so he had told them his story. Creme had heard about it and, not recalling him as the small, shy man who’d had tea with them a few days back, had agreed to a press interview with his newly-found Maitraya. Thus it was on the radio that Benjamin Creme, in his self-appointed role of Messiah-maker, busted poor Baba’s chops, exposing him as an impostor.

By this time, of course, Baba was bewildered. He’d done what they all wanted, against his better judgment, and they had rejected him because he was too short! Did that make him any less the Maitraya? He knew there was no one else working the Brick Lane area with any such notions, yet Ben Creme continued to insist that his Maitraya was well-known in the Asian community and gave numerous public meetings.

With this comical, rather sad story out of the way, we started exploring more substantial issues. For Baba, cosmic consciousness is the central point of Buddhism. In his experience, no other teaching had outlined so clearly the paths and pratfalls of an ongoing relationship with the Inner Divinity. When I asked about the lack of a personal god in Buddhism, he said that cosmic consciousness brought about a real awareness of God, and only then was it possible to have any real depth of understanding of a personal Deity. He saw it as Man’s greatest adventure--first to acquire cosmic consciousness, and then to know and love the Atman, the Divine Inner Spark.

The sun slewed in through the commercial metal window. Motes of dust from the stacks of journals eddied and swirled, defining the beams that bathed us all in light. In the silence, the lines of the world met in Baba; the rhythms of generations of God-realization joined and centered on this small, delicate man. In those moments, he spoke as the Maitraya.

In sing-song Pali, the Buddha’s original spoken language, he chanted the eight sutras--teachings the Buddha gave immediately after receiving his enlightenment. The echoing melody of the words had a power to them, a loving wisdom quite outside and beyond what they might have meant. Translating them for us, Baba dedicated each to all our mutual activities ahead. Again in Pali, he evoked the Devas, especially the Old Ones--those whom we might call the Energy Beings who hold together the physical fabric of the planet and solar system.

We, in turn, asked our Angelic friends--whom we imagined coursing happily around the entire encounter--to bless the Maitraya Premaratma with their joyous presence. There, among the host of super-mortal Beings, we shared fruit together and knew that this great collective entity, this Group Soul that is starting to overshadow so many of us, had taken another casually personal step forward. The Indwelling Spirit in each of us had let us to this meeting, had shown us through personal experience, as well as through signs and intimations, still further aspects in the coming-together of the evolving Supreme Deity.

In the calmness among us, we rose to leave. Baba silently kneeled down to kiss our shoes. At this gesture, we shuffled our democratic feet. “Is this part of it?” I asked. “Is this what one does?”

Taken aback by my frankness, Baba smiled and assured us that it was merely the way of his people.

“Well, here’s one from the ways of our people,” my companion chuckled, giving him the biggest hug he had probably ever received. His little arms dangled by his waist in surprise, quite unable to make the reciprocal shapes, and then we all three burst into happy laughter.

Before leaving London, I gave the Messiah-meister Benjamin Creme another call. This time, he was in. He had nothing new to add, insisting it was the media’s fault for not showing sufficient interest and that his man was still lying low, waiting for His time to come.

I probed him a bit on the collective Messiah concept that had felt so right to Baba. But he would have none of it, reasserting that the literally omnipotent and omniscient Maitraya would be making a personal appearance in the flesh.

“Well,” I asked, “don’t you think it would be plain, old boring if someone just stepped in and did it all for us?”

He didn’t have an answer for that one!

In the final analysis, however, Ben Creme centered a lot of awareness on the coming of a Spiritual Being and raised a great deal of passionate Messianic interest. He was, in all likelihood, playing a different and vastly more complex role in the Master Game than even he imagined. After all, regardless of his unfulfilled predictions, he became something of a collecting point for a whole host of Spirit-oriented people.

And then again, perhaps he did know more than he was saying. He ended our conversation with a phrase he had reiterated a couple of times in the course of our talk: “Baba is a very nice man, I’m sure, but he’s no more the Maitraya than you or I.”

And probably every bit as much, I thought.

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