The 16 year-old guru Maharaj Ji has decided he is God, I understand. That is not a bad job for a 16 year-old kid, except that there's no chance for advancement.
The most succinct line I have heard on the guru was uttered by Hudson Marquez: "He isn't God," said Hudson. "And if he is God, I don't like him."
Hudson Marquez is one of the producers of "The Lord of the Universe," a one-hour videotape report on the rather astounding phenomenon of Maharaj Ji, which Marquez calls "the slickest combination yet of the pap culture of the sixties and the mysticism of the East." The program is on KQED tonight at 9. The film centers on the guru's appearance in the Houston Astrodome, where he and his followers staged a three-day spiritual festival called "Milennium '73," billed as "the most significant event in the history of humanity.”
The spectacle of thousands of young people bowing to the ground, quivering in ecstacy and staring in blank-eyed transport – "blissed out," they call it - while a chubby-chinned, moon faced youngster beams demurely down upon them should be edifying for us non-believers. And a little frightening, maybe.
"When we first began planning the film, we thought the guru was humorous,” Marquez told me. "Here was this outrageous fat kid, sitting on thrones, riding around in Rolls Royces, saying all these indecipherable things. It seemed funny. But the closer we got to it, the more we got the feeling that it was very evil."
One evil event that had a capricious beginning was described by Marquez: "A reporter named Pat Haley from an underground paper called the Fifth Estate went to a city council ceremony for the guru, shoved a pie in his face - a pie made of shaving cream - and ran off.
"About a week later two men called Pat up, praised him for what he'd done, told him they were an Indian journalist and a former follower of the guru. They wanted to give him some information that would help him expose Maharaj. They said they'd give him a demonstration of the guru's meditation techniques.
"They came to Pat's apartment, had him close his eyes for the demonstration of meditation. Then they took a blunt instrument and started beating him. He screamed a lot and they ran away. He had to go to the hospital, and has a four-inch plastic plate in his head."
In the film Haley describes his experience. It was later found that the two men were: a mahatma or teacher who works with the guru, who quickly left the country, and an executive of the guru's organization, the Divine Light Mission, who is presently in Denver. The police have not pursued him.
"Except for covering the press conference, we couldn't get near the guru," Marquez said. He's surrounded by a group calling itself the World Peace Carps, hundreds of young men from England, sort of his bodyguards. They actually believe he's God. We interviewed one who said that if he had been there when Haley hit the guru with a pie, he'd have slit his throat on the spot. The guru was asked about the beating in the press conference. He answered with a lot of mysterious Eastern mumbo-jumbo."
In addition to its value as an experience, tonight's program is an example of what's being done with new equipment and techniques in television. There are both color and black-and-white sequences; the latter were shot in half-inch video tape, by lightweight, highly portable video cameras, that require no special lights. They can cover events unobtrusively at a fraction of the cost of usual two inch videotaping. The half inch tape was converted to two-inch for normal televising.
Marquez is one of five producers in TVTV, the company that previously made a most interesting "underground" TV report of the Miami Democratic Convention. TVTV took 24 people to Houston, shooting the program for a comparatively miniscule cost of $33,000.
"The effect of the guru on these people is really amazing, as you'll see," Marquez said. "His techniques seem to bring about a genuine psychological change. The people's eyes are totally vacant, very much like a drug effect.
"There was a moment when we looked around and realized we were the only conscious people in the Astrodome."