UNDER THE ASTRODOME
The Light! You just cannot believe the Divine Light! At first it is only a phosphorescent glow, a flame that burns within the center of your forehead, glowing with the brilliance of a spinning diamond, burning brighter than 100,000 suns ... and suddenly you, are flying, flying faster than. the speed of light itself, flying through the many facets of the diamond ... oh wow, man., it is so very far. far out . , .
And then begins the Music, if you can just try to believe the Divine Music! In its origins almost imperceptible, a hummmmm. No, not a hummmmm, a roaarrr, the muted roaarrr of 100,000 waterfalls hurtling over a distant dam, and it grows and it builds and it evolves into ... a har-mony ... a harmony of violins ... of hells . . . nit. man! the Divine Nectar is also beginning to flow, sweet, like honey, ambrosia, cherry-tart, custard, pineapple, toffy and hat-buttered toast ... oh wow man, it is so very far far out .
And finally comes the Word! The Primordial Vibration!! Man, you are. really plugged into it now, plugged into the Almighty Battery Pack, the Great Rechargeable Divine, and MAN!!! the shock of it all just about blisses out your mind ...
The Light, the Music, the 'Nectar and the Word collectively are referred to as the Knowledge, the Knowledge that Guru Maharaj Ji, a 15-yearold boy from India, the self-proclaimed Perfect Master of our times, would like to market throughout the world.
Because they have experienced the Knowledge, because they hoped to experience the Knowledge, approximately 20,000 of Maharaj Ji's followers assembled in the Houston Astrodome last Thursday for a three-day festival, Millenium '73, advertised as the most profound event in the history of the world, a stunning demonstration that would inaugurate 1,000 years of peace.
Budgeted at $950,000 - $100,000 alone was earmarked for publicity - it would not be peace at any price, but it would be a bargain just the same.
After all, Maharaj Ji figured it, look at Buddha, look at Christ. They were perfect masters too, you know. Just as a math master teaches you math, they were perfect masters because they taught perfection. But they sort of blew it. They were liked, but not well liked. They lacked efficient organizations; they had a poor grasp of communications. Not so Maharaj Ji.
Guru Maharaj Ji's Divine Light Mission claims to direct the activities of his 8 million worldwide followers in 37 countries (40,000 in the United States). Since Maharaj Ji himself is fond of illustrating his discourses with the stuff of modern life - like most bright adolescents, he is fascinated with cars and cameras and tape recorders - perhaps one can best understand the Divine Light Mission if it is regarded as a successful family business.
Now like all good family businesses, DLM was founded, in 1960, by an independent old patriarch, Maharaj Ji's father, Hans Ji Maharaj. Hans Ji was an Indian holy man. Born of a tougher fiber than his son, he forswore materialism to tred the dusty roads of Asian mysticism.
Guru Maharaj Ji and the Knowledge
Like son, like father, Hans Ji was also a perfect master. And since, as Maharaj Ji explains the rules of the game, there can only be one perfect master on this earth at a time, the DLM held monopoly control of the Knowledge.
In 1966, when Hans Ji died, Maharaj Ji assumed perfection and took over the organization's reigns. With the assistance of his holy mother, Mata Ji, he began to franchise mahatmas, spiritual heavies who have sole authorization to pass on the experience of the Knowledge.
Maharaj Ji's three older brothers were awarded positions in the organization. Bal Bhagwan Ji, the eldest, was put in charge of the divine intelligence and set up as the house intellectual; Bhole Ji's penchant for divine flash made him the perfect choice to direct Blue Aquarius, the 56-piece big band that tours on behalf of DLM; and Raja Ji, the family's elusive, silent member, became commander of the World Peace Corps, the DLM's everpresent security force.
Incorporated in the United States as a nonprofit, non-sectarian, tax-exempt organization, the Divine Light Mission quickly began to diversify: It publishes its own journals, Divine Times and And It Is Divine; produces films and tapes under the auspices of Shri Hans Productions; recycles goods through Divine Sales; is planning to expand into educational services, Shri Hans Educational, and health care, Shri Hans Humanitarian Services.
So when the DLM's annual Hans Jayanti festival drew near, although it has been traditionally held in India, the decision was made to move the show to America. America was where it's at. While Blue Aquarius played "As the Saints Go Marching In," 3,000 premies - as those who have received the Knowledge are called - awaited the arrival of Guru Maharaj Ji at Houston's Hobby Airport.
Many of the men wore suits and ties, a good many of which had probably not been worn since high school. Their manner was officious, abrasively clean-cut. They looked as if they had all shaved with the same razor blade within the last five minutes.
Edges of Existence
The women wore long dresses, preferring shades of gray and brown, and they wore simple cotton blouses in imitation of Asian modesty and its need to hide the female form. Their hair was pulled back, worn simply. Except for badges hearing the benign smile of Maharaj Ji, they had done away with the adornment of the self.
If they shared a common background, it was that they had been to the very edges of existence. Unkempt, undisciplined, they had done graduate school and they had done drugs, they had wandered from the Haight to the wilderness and back. They had been searching, endlessly searching for that one irrefutable answer that would set their lives to rest.
"In many ways, yes, we are people who were at the end of our tether. We'd been through so many trips, our situation was desperate," explains a Ceylonese girl who was born and bred in London.
It was only when they discovered the Knowledge and surrendered themselves to Guru Maharaj Ji, prostrating themselves before his picture during the course of a Knowledge session, reciting over and over, "I give my life to Guru Maharaj Ji," that they began to know true peace.
For Maharaj Ji teaches that the ego is evil and dangerous. The ego is the source of competition, strife and war. Unless we tame the ego, we lead lives of anxiety and frustration.
But experience the Knowledge, follow Maharaj Ji, defer to the Divine Light Mission, obey the members of the World Peace Corps and you find peace. You are no longer unhappy, you no longer resent your job, you have become a stranger to hate and anger and you have transcended sexuality.
"Premies, after Maharaj Ji leaves, those of you who came in private cars should leave immediately. Those of you who came in the buses should sit and meditate until the buses are ready."
Smiling, the premies obey instructions. They do not rush the platform when, after keeping them waiting two and one half hours in the humid, afternoon sun, Maharaj Ji makes his brief, five-minute appearance. They sit where they are told, some sobbing ecstatically, others holding on to their brothers and sisters in simple, pure embrace.
"If anyone here is really disinterested in selling, then don't hang around. This is something that, if you enjoy doing it, gets you fantastically high."
A Millenium staff member, a representative of Divine Sales, is briefing the hawkers on Thursday morning, the first day of the festival.
"We want to make sure people know these things are available and that they can get them very easily."
Holy Family Posters, $1.71; T-shirts, S3; Guru Maharaj Ji stationary, $1; Earplugs, 50 cents.
"Anytime a member of the Holy Family is speaking, though, if you'd just try to kind of sit down ..."
With a minimum of fanfare, a phalanx of World Peace Corps men ushers Guru Maharaj Ji into a room in the Astroworld Hotel, where he takes his place in a gold-brocaded chair surrounded by a hedge of flowers. A table full of tape recorders and microphones sits before him, like gifts that have been laid at the feet of a lord.
"The aim of this mission is to establish peace on this earth. Here I am. I say I can establish peace in this world. It is quite possible. I would very much like all the press would cooperate with me in doing this."
Maharaj Ji bears himself formally, gestures fluidly, magnanimously, occasionally exhibiting a tense and impudent smile. His voice coasts up and down a narrow, high-pitched register, cracking each time it rolls over a crest.
Patiently, he once again explains that he has not come to establish a religion, but simply to distribute the Knowledge. Everyone is welcome - Catholic, Jew or Buddhist.
Does he have a plan for world peace? Well, there will be peace in the world when all receive the Knowledge.
Does he have a plan to feed the poor? Well, there are many ways to feed the poor and he hasn't yet decided which way is the best.
Why doesn't he sell his Rolls-Royce - which sits in front of the hotel, a recording of "Your Saving Grace" by the Steve Miller Band in its tape deck and a photo of the guru on its dashboard - and give the proceeds to the hungry?
But what would that accomplish, he answers, sooner or later the poor again would be hungry.
A Trace of Pique
Skillfully, he answers questions with questions, retreating into talk of the Knowledge whenever the questions get rough. Jostled by the premies who crowd the room, the press is increasingly annoyed; challenged by the press, Maharaj Ji sweats ever so slightly, revealing just a trace of pique.
"What about the reporter in Detroit who was badly beaten by Maharaj Ji's followers after he threw a pie at the guru? What happened to the reporter?"
"That you got to find out for yourself."
"Could I say, sir, you've asked for the cooperation of the press. With all due respect, your answers have been very flippant. Don't you think it's time to level with the press?"
"Why doesn't the press level with me?"
Her son never had to work as she did. He was pampered, spoiled, left without the ballast a rough life can provide. He was confused, seeking, he started taking marijuana.
Then one day he changed. He came home with the Knowledge.
"I saw heaven within him, he was so happy," she says. "And I received the Knowledge myself. 'Son,' I told him, 'this is what. I taught you from the very beginning.' 'Yes, mother,' he said. 'you taught me but Guru Maharaj Ji showed me the way.'
"Look around. There's no dope here. No smoking, no drinking. These youngsters are so well-behaved. Why does the press have to take pictures of the kooks? I think Guru Maharaj Ji is doing a wonderful thing."
"Princess Anne's wedding cake," Walter continued through his punchline.
"Wow," a premie relaxed. "That one was certainly close. He was only an inch away."
The premies tried to laugh it off, but their good nature was under trial. Why did the press insist on being so skeptical in the face of the greatest scoop in the history of the world?
The local stations were the worst, calling Millenium '73 the biggest hustle to hit the Astrodome since that recent visit by Bobby Riggs. But the national press really wasn't far behind, bristling with questions, concerned only with costs and the chain of organization, refusing to feel the Knowledge.
And so, on the final day of Millenium, a special Knowledge session was arranged for interested reporters. At least, that's what they thought. For, as it developed, it was not a full-fledged session but a preliminary satsang, where a mahatma tests the sincerity of those wishing to be initiated into the four techniques of meditation.
After the confusion of the preceding three days, it was an inviting opportunity, if nothing else an opportunity to unwind. Mahatma Saphlanand Ji, Maharaj Ji's only Western apostle, drew the circle close around him.
Power of Media
Speaking softly, smiling, charming in his own contentment, sometimes shaking his head in inexpressible bliss, sometimes clasping the hands of premies present, really getting off, the mahatma resembled Kathryn Kuhlman, ever-so-transported when contemplating the wondrous ways of the Lord.
The media, the mahatma said, really was capable of marvelous things. The media had the power to spread the name of Maharaj Ji. He talked like an understanding father, always comforting, always supportive.
But would he explain the four techniques of meditation, please? Because, really now, they were fast becoming an open secret.
Wasn't it true that to see the light you merely closed your eyes and pressed upon the eyelids? That to hear the music, you stuck your thumbs into your ears? That to taste the nectar you curled your tongue back toward your throat and savored your own saliva?
The mahatma would not comment. For the techniques are empty ritual unless you are ready to experience the Knowledge, and only the mahatma can determine when that time has come.
The reporters were once again stymied.
They would not understand Maharaj Ji's words until they had experienced the Knowledge.
But they would not be allowed to experience the Knowledge until they had demonstrated a belief in Maharaj Ji's words.
It had begun to sound like a cosmic Catch-22.
"Can't we have a Knowledge session, now?" a woman pleaded, sincere in her desire to go on to receive the Knowledge.
The mahatma's calming smile momentarily froze. We must not rush, he insisted. There will be time tomorrow, you will be asked to fill out forms, everything must pass through proper channels.
Meanwhile, kids who had gone to their first Knowledge sessions at 3:30 that afternoon were blissing out by 8, just in time to rush back to the Astrodome for Maharaj Ji's final address.
"It wasn't the mind-blow I'd expected," admitted one freshly processed premie, his eyes glazed over with excitement. "But I heard the Word. That really came through strong. The rest of it'll come later."
"We are very fortunate to belong to this generation, which will see the beginning of 1,000 years of peace, now that the Lord of the Universe is walking on the face of the earth. It is an incredible time for America."
Rennie Davis, the former anti-war activist, Maharaj Ji's star convert, led off Saturday evening's final session.
As general coordinator of Millenium '73, he announced Maharaj Ji's plan to build a Divine City, possibly in California. A city greater than Disneyworld, a completely harmonious community, its medium of exchange would be not money but service to Maharaj Ji, a city that could only be described as a little bit of heaven on earth.
Like contending cheers in a football game, Hindi chants of approval echoed through the dome, as ushers circulated with buckets to collect seed money for the city.
With that, the entertainment began. Bhole Ji, aglitter in silver and gold, took up his baton and led the Blue Aquarius Band through soft rock versions of the best of 60s rock, often wrenching songs entirely out of context, taking a lament like Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door," originally meant to voice the final moments in the life of a dying cowboy, and turning it into an anthem for the real estate developers that would bulldoze their way into the promised land.
Simultaneously, slides of President Kennedy's assassination, the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War flashed by on giant screens, while scriptural texts played across the Astrolite.
Clearly, nothing was sacred - not rock nor history nor scripture- when it came to promoting the majesty of Guru Maharaj Ji.
And now all eyes were on the stage, an enormous four-tiered building, rising ever higher to a whitefrosted platform where Maharaj Ji sat on a translucent throne shaped like a huge gas flame while multiple rainbows, projected on a screen, radiated outward.
Rennie Davis, on his hands and knees, climbed the steps of the throne to present Maharaj Ji with a marble plaque; another official offered a golden swan; a third presented a jeweled crown, the crown of Krishna, which Maharaj Ji solemnly donned.
"Bolie shri satguru dev Maharaj Ji jai," the assembled mob shouted.
"All praise to the Perfect Master, giver of all life!"
The Guru Maharaj JI deftly disappeared.
FOR LOVERS OF MUSIC, commanded the Astrolite, BLUE AQUARIUS RECORD ALBUM BY STAX - RECORDING COMPANY ON SALE HERE FOR $5.
One thousand years of peace had begun.
Who would have ever predicted such bliss?