Balyogeshwar Shri Sant Ji Maharaj is a 13-year-old Indian guru-saint with 3 million disciples, a dime-store Frankenstein mask, the certainty he can put you face to face with God, a fondness for zapping people with a water pistol, a boundless love for all mankind and automobiles, except for one disciple's van in Los Angeles that had sheepskins on the seats, a stack of telegrams and letters addressed to Supreme Commander and Sweet Lord With Salutations at His Lotus Feet and so on, plus a set of walkie-talkies, one of which Sharon Kelly, a school-teacher disciple carries as she runs out of the house in Northwest Washington, screaming with laughter as she communicates with the Perfect Master in some zany routine about President Nixon.
The Perfect Master is broadcasting from the sanctuary of the second floor, having minutes ago entered the house to a panic of prostrations in the living room.
This is no commune or ashram or crash pad, though. It's a suburban middle-class living room with wall-to-wall shag carpet, African figurines and a baby grand piano with Schumann on the music stand. It's owned by the parents of one of the disciples, Joan Apter, 23.
But today, Sept. 8, the guru is upstairs, on the last of his five-day stay, during which he spoke at All Souls Unitarian Church. It is not known if the guru will descend, or a visitor will ascend, or neither, for a meeting.
Downstairs, the visitor is recovering from the clamor of bad vibrations that went off like a burglar alarm when it looked like he might plunk his tushie in, my God, the guru's favorite overstuffed chair.
The guru spoke last year from a giant throne at India Gate, in New Delhi, to a reputed crowd of 1 million. He needs 1,000 apostles, called mahatmas, to lead and recruit his vast spiritual army. He's the son of a guru from Rishikesh, a region that has spawned holy men the way Appalachia has spawned stock car racers.
According to Dava Lurie, 19, who says the guru told it to her himself, he was sitting alone, weeping, the day his father died in 1966, when suddenly a great light filled the room and a voice said to him: "You are the one to take the message to the whole world."
He'd been getting in shape for years. At 18 months according to leaflets, the little guru would "wake up his father's disciples at 4 o'clock in the morning and tell them to meditate."
At 3 he discoursed to thousands on union with God. At 6 he could do it in English, along with his native Hindi.
Now, the disciples are gathering across the rug towards the newcomer (who elected to sit on the floor) to pass along the word of the Wordless Word. Their bodies tend to scrawniness, youth, and hair. Their eyes range from glitter to dream.
"This is our last trip," says Arthur Brigham, 21, of Denver. He ran into the guru during a year-and-a-half in lndia, and helped organize the American tour now in progress.
Balyogeshwar Shri Sant Ji Maharaj Says:
"He has given us his knowledge. We are in our last reincarnations. When we die, we will be liberated, become one with God. It will be like a drop of water that falls in the ocean. Can you take that same drop out again?"
The "knowledge" is given in an initiation, in which aspirants are taught to "perceive the soul with all the senses, with total attachment," Brigham says. "It's the inner vibration that's in everything, the word of God."
But the Word "cannot be pronounced, cannot be conceived by the mind. Only by the heart."
It took most of the disciples in the living room at least three days of intense devotion to get ready to hear the Word.
Learning the moral and ethical obligations of the Divine Light Mission, as the disciples call themselves, took no time at all. There aren't any.
No commandments, no Laws of the Church, no vegetarian diet, no mantras or yoga postures; thou shalt have no commandments. One doesn't need them, one understands, when one has The Knowledge. One will grow away from wrongdoing by meditating on the Unsayable Word.
In the initiation, however, which consists mostly of pep talk and explanation, the aspirants are asked to promise not to reveal the basic techniques for meditating on the Word. And to meditate every day, and attend the satsangs, or lectures.
("Don't use my name," says the woman who describes the initiation and promises. "I've only been in a couple of days and I don't know if you're supposed to tell about the promises or not.")
The proposition that someone with The Knowledge might believe it his sacred duty to murder someone draws patient smiles from the crowd in the living room. The safeguard of doubt is not necessary with The Knowledge.
"I believe in it absolutely and completely," says Brigham, who has moved to the inside of the circle after correcting a few other disciples' minor errors. "When you see dawn you don't question it, do you? I believe that, spiritually, I am at the dawn."
The Divine Light Mission meets the textbook qualifications for most basic religions: its experience is ineffable, its truth is self-evident, its secrets are reserved to initiates, and its leader, the guru, bears the total tidings of God.
"The guru is such a high," exclaims Miss Curie with soft wonder. "Actually, the first time I saw him he just looked like a little kid to me. But I went down to L.A. to the ashram. The first day, I hated it. I wanted to go back to Big Sur. Everybody said stick around for another day, and then I started to see it. He left for Boulder (Colo.) and one day I fell apart, crying, weeping, praying to . . . I don't knew what I prayed to. Then his spirit came into me and it was such a rush . . ."
Dan Toomey, 21, of Wilmington, was in Berkeley, Calif., "looking for a spiritual master" and getting ready "to split for L.A. when some guy, for no reason at all, gave me this poster about the Guru Maharaj Ji coming to Berkeley."
No reason, oh Perfect Master?
The only thing they can't tell you about him, it seems is whether he will make any more of an appearance this afternoon than a walkie-talkie broadcast.
A large, pimply girl announces the guru has been notified he has a visitor, but he has replied only "Okay."
Someone says the guru needs only seven more hours flying time to get his pilot's license. "The first landing he ever made was perfect."
"I should hope so," says the woman, who travels with Toomey.
They talk about the 1,000 American followers the guru has garnered; about the guru's large toy collection;
The girl messenger re-enters the living room. She brings word from upstairs.
"You may go up and knock on his door," she tells the visitor. "He may answer it. He may not." The burglar alarm vibes go off again.
With the grace of cattle panicking in a thunderstorm, electrified disciples stamped up the shag-rugged stairs with the infidel visitor. They swirl around a locus of panic when somebody sees, my God, the visitor's sandals. A sizzle of whispers orders them removed.
Everybody piles into a tiny study and readies tape recorders and obeisances.
A mahatma, one whose job is to transmit The Knowledge (If the guru did it himself it would blow your mind," says Brigham) leans his shaved head through the door and says to the multitude:
"He's in the bathroom. When he is finished he will come here."
Ears perk for the sound of water rushing down a drain, perhaps. Then the door opens.
Balyogeshwar (meaning "born Lord of the Yogis") Shri Sant Ji Maharaj walks in on patent-leather-booted lotus feet. Brigham scrambles to kiss them. Foreheads zoom toward the floor. The ignorant visitor stands up. The guru sits down in an overstuffed chair.
He's a little kid. Smiling but grave at the same time, he looks like the kind of little kid about whom adults say:, "He should act like a little kid more."
He wears white trousers and a white, shortsleeved shirt over a sleeveless undershirt. He has a round, brown, confident face. His black hair is parted on the right.
He looks like a young, possibly bored Orson Welles. He wears an enormous underwater-type red and blue watch on his left wrist.
He listens to questions and answers in the quick, high-pitched tones one links with both Indians and prepubescent boys. His hands dart and float like a classical pianist's.
Why, for instance, does he preach no rules or commandments? (Forgetting about those initiation promises.)
"You do not want to just polish the car, the outside. You want to work on the inside," he says.
Does he fear his antics with Frankenstein masks and water pistols might cause people to take him lightly?
"Those people who tell you those things do not see the real me. They are like those who stand in an automobile showroom and look only at the mirrors on the walls, not at the automobiles themselves."