Into the room walks Mooji, a charismatic Jamaican holy man with greying dreadlocks, dressed in the Indian style clothing of the mystic.
A very unusual guru, he’s a cross between Mahatma Gandhi and Bob Marley. It’s obvious you’re in the presence of a holy man as the fifty or so casually dressed people, mostly well-off whites, who’ve gathered in a meeting room in New York City hush themselves in respect as the revered figure, who positively glows with good vibes, appears in their midst.
Into the room walks Mooji, a charismatic Jamaican holy man with greying dreadlocks, dressed in the Indian style clothing of the mystic. On a stool next to him are two tins of a favourite ginger ale which he’ll need to keep himself refreshed for the lengthy spiritual session ahead.
Mooji offers a general welcome and it is time to begin what’s called satsang, a five hour spiritual question and answer session during which devotees can ask their guru how best to find the spiritual contentment money and material positions have not brought them. A satsang, which in Sanskrit means an assembly of the highest truth, can take place indoors or outdoors.
At a Mooji satsang in India recently, hundreds of people squeezed into a tent to be in his presence and later pursued the taxi he left in.
“I have just experienced what the disciples felt around Jesus" said a visitor to the satsang.
Mooji had a similar effect on those attending the New York satsang, one of many such events he hosted recently while in the US on the first leg of a nine-month world tour which will take him to India, Brazil, Italy, Ireland and to Spain. Why, a devotee asked the guru, had she not succeeded in getting in touch with her inner self despite having given up her job and living a very simple life?
Because, Mooji said, in essence, you’re trying too hard.
Why, a devotee complained, was he not sleeping as contentedly as he once had?
Mooji laughed and, like a standup comic, told the devotee not to worry because he knew a man in London who hadn’t slept for seven years, and this man, Mooji said, introduced him to another man who hadn’t slept for more than eleven years and was, somehow, still alive.
The satsang rumbled with laughter. The point, artfully made, was something to the effect of ‘don’t worry, be happy’ or the Jamaican equivalent, ‘no problem.’
Advaita, the popular Hindu philosophy practiced by Mooji, says, in essence, that a person’s inner self is the only real and conscious part of them and that recognising this will bring one closer to the true state. Mooji’s version of Advaita does not seem to make great demands on adherents.
The lazy man’s way to enlightenment?
To belong, it’s not, at all, necessary to abstain from worldly pleasures. Mooji, for example, enjoys a nice plate of chicken or duck and is a big fan of the British TV talent show, The X Factor. Mooji has called his approach, the lazy man’s way to enlightenment.
“This is a kind of religion without religion, without doctrine,” Mooji, his accent somewhere between Calcutta and Kingston, explains after his New York satsang.
It’s this easy path to enlightenment – his devotees line up after satsangs to receive a big hug from him like children waiting to see Santa –that’ve made Mooji such a popular guru.
“Mooji gives his devotees what they lack most of all – not enlightenment, but love,” said a visitor to a satsang.
Perhaps Mooji is so good at giving people what they want, and need, because he’s been in need often in his own life. His father died when he was very young. He was separated from his mother, who migrated to Britain in the 1950s, for many years. His eldest child died of pneumonia and his sister, Cherry, was accidentally shot and paralysed by police in London, sparking the Brixton riots of 1985.
“I simply help put people who come to me,” Mooji says, “back in touch with themselves.”
To 'get in touch with himself', Mooji gave up his home and a job as an art teacher in London and set off for India in 1993. He had no idea he would stay there, on and off, for several years, become a disciple of an Indian guru known as ‘Papaji’, and return to London where, after a time selling incense and Chai tea on the streets, would himself become a guru in 1999 after a group of spiritual seekers who’d begun to congregate at Mooji’s home convinced him to begin offering satsangs in London and abroad.
Mooji’s disciples, which include an Italian filmmaker and a former French philosophy professor, now manage his website, record and film his satsangs for sale on CD and DVD, and are planning to make a documentary about him and publish a book of his teachings, Before I Am, in 2008.
“I’ve been adopted by people in this role, I guess,” Mooji says. “I don’t like labels, but I don’t mean to avoid the labels, either.”
It all started in Jamaica
Though Mooji might seem an unlikely guru to some, those who’ve known him the longest say he’s always had his followers. He was the most popular boy at his high school in Jamaica, Titchfield, in Port Antonio, where he was respected by the boys because he was a star athlete and loved by the girls because he was a good singer. His brother, Peter Moo Young, 45, one of Jamaica’s top table tennis players, says he doesn’t understand his brother’s transformation, but is not surprised people follow him wherever he goes.
“I have no understanding, whatsoever, of what it is he has become, but I tell you something about Tony, his personality always drew people to him in whatever he was doing.”
Still, though he’s always been something of a Pied Piper, is Mooji, at all, surprised at what he’s become?
“I don’t know if I can say I’m surprised, really, because I wasn’t into looking ahead and forecasting what my future would be,” he says smiling but obviously perplexed by the question.
“That Tony Moo Young is now known as ‘Mooji’? What can I say, except that’s life.”
Author: Leslie Goffe for BBC Caribbean, bbc.co.uk