'We had pendulums and aura goggles' Me and My God Frances Welch talks to the actor Linus Roache

Line One/August 6, 2000
By Frances Welch

Linus Roache's voice takes on a benevolent buoyancy as he discusses his spirituality. His speech abounds with contemporary jargon: "Andrew's teachings are about making people selfless, less self-centred and ego-ic. If you can be selfless you cease being part of the problem and start being part of the solution."

"Andrew" is the actor's spiritual mentor, Andrew Cohen, the leader of the International Fellowship for the Realisation of Impersonal Englightenment. Roache visits Cohen's London centre daily and meditates for up to two hours. "But what matters is what you express in this world when you get off the meditation cushion," he insists. "I've met some great meditators who are proud, arrogant people."

Roache is has just finished playing Bolingbroke in Richard II and Aufidius in Coriolanus, with Ralph Fiennes in London; next month the productions move to New York. He admits that there has been a conflict between the professional and spiritual aspects of his life. "It is an ongoing question for me. The theatre is all to do with image and ambition; that seems to run contrary to any idea of a spiritual life.

"But Andrew's teaching is reliant on the modern age and modern ideas; you don't have to live in a cave and withdraw from the world. In fact, his teaching has improved my performances. I have fewer neuroses; I'm more willing to take risks."

He has discussed his spiritual quest with fellow actors, including Fiennes. "I don't go around trying to persuade people. But I do find that, underneath, a lot of people are pursuing the question `Why are we here?' "Ralph did meditation once but he felt, early on, that you had to go for it 100 per cent. At that point he wanted to go for the acting."

In 1995, Roache took 18 months off to pursue his spiritual interests. "I became desperate about it. I'd exhausted the worldly success side of things. I'd done the movie Priest and Seaforth on television. I realised that the recognition of my acting only satisfied part of me. I had a choice: to accumulate more of the same, or to find out where real satisfaction and contentment were."

Roache attended healing voice workshops and personal growth workshops, read Buddhist texts and even visited Mother Meera in Germany. "She doesn't speak, you're just in her presence. When you're with her you experience an expression of unconditional love."

He finally came upon Andrew Cohen's book, Enlightenment is a Secret. "I found everything I needed to know, right there, in the palm of my hand. It was not to do with beliefs and dogma, it was just pages of questions and answers. I read it in one sitting and afterwards I felt like I was on fire. As soon as I could, I went on a retreat with him in India."

He has since introduced his father, the Coronation Street actor Bill Roache, to Andrew Cohen. "He thinks Andrew is great. He had a dialogue with him, asked him a few questions."

Roache's parents were both once involved with a druid order. As a child, Roache attended Methodist and Anglican schools. "I was interested in what church services were about, but I found the experience quite dead." He remembers being more entranced by his parents' less conventional spiritual ventures.

"My parents were reading Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. We had pendulums. We even had aura goggles; you were meant to be able to see people's auras through them."

At 13 Roache became interested in Buddhism. "My mother had a friend who had trained under a lama in India and started an ashram in England. I knew that this was going to be something I would pursue. But one Buddhist teacher told me I should find out about life first."

Roache hopes to make a documentary about Andrew Cohen, who, he believes, has about 1,000 followers. He is somewhat guarded when I ask him about the criticisms that have been levelled at Cohen. The spiritual leader's own mother has attacked him for being tyrannical and claiming to be the Son of God. "His mother was bitter because he wouldn't treat her any differently from anybody else," he explains peremptorily.

Roache once believed in reincarnation. Now he is content to remain open-minded. "When Andrew is asked about the afterlife he just says: `I'll send you a postcard.' "

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