Expressway over Bliss
On the stage of Hynes Civic Auditorium in Boston is it big golden throne. Two of Guru Maharaj Ji's devotees have re-upholstered it and it looks beautiful, but before the program starts two other devotees hustle out with a red throne and take the golden throne away. The Guru will be wearing white tonight and will photograph better against a dark background.
I have a seat about one hundred yards from the stage, off to the left, in roughly the same position as the seat I had for the Beatles' concert in Chicago in 1966. The main difference is that this seat, like all the others here, was free. All I had to do was stand outside for two hours to get it, and I'm still one hundred yards away.
I figured the same reaction would greet Maharaj Ji that greeted the Beatles: frenzied and passionate screaming and the popping of a thousand flashcubes, giving the place the general atmosphere of the D-Day landing. I also wondered if the Guru would appear in a great circle of golden light, and if so, would I melt?
The crowd files in, nine thousand strong People are still looking at each other's chests to see if they're wearing Guru Maharaj Ji buttons. Button wearers receive smiles from other button wearers. A few angry looking young men are pushing their way down front, hindered here and there by members of the World Peace Corps, the devotees in charge of ushering and providing security: in general the ambience is good. Through the heat, breath, sweat, and patchouli oil they come. Soon there is only standing room, and soon that will be filled, so that several hundred people will have to be left outside.
A band playing on the side of the stage as the last people walk in, and then a young woman with an acoustic guitar announces into the microphone that she is going to sing a song she could not possibly have sung before joining the Divine Light Mission of Maharaj Ji. "I will build you a ship to sail the seas on waves of fire," she sings. It's like an LSD love song, with an underlying theme of natural cataclysm.
Then a man in a yellow robe stands up in the middle of the stage and speaks into another microphone. This is one of Maharaj Ji's mahatmas, one of the men who travel around the world spreading the Knowledge of the Guru. The lighting is quite poor and he is standing in a shadow. He talks very rapidly and with great feeling about the benefits of receiving knowledge, the state of supreme bliss one experiences after having learned the particular meditation techniques. The process of receiving Knowledge could be characterized in this fashion: the Guru is the waterfall; the mahatma is the turbine; the meditation techniques are the cables; and the initiate is the light bulb. The mahatma finishes and prostrates himself before the throne. Maharaj Ji has still not appeared.
A girl sitting next to me is reading flyer that someone handed her outside. It says "Guru Maharaj Ji is the enemy of the peoples of India and Pakistan," because he rides around in a Rolls Royce. This fact has gained much space in newspaper articles recently - the teen-age guru with a fleet of fancy cars. Whenever I read that, however, I can't help remembering an aphorism of Meher Baba's or someone: "When a pickpocket looks at a saint, all he sees are his pockets." If this is true then it would seem to me that the people who talk about Maharaj Ji in terms of his Rolls Royce must be car thieves. At the same time of course, as Orwell wrote in his essay on Gandhi: "Saints should be judged guilty until they are proved innocent." This is certainly true also. Yet as far as the fancy cars go, apparently people have given him the damn things because he gave them peace of mind. That seems to he a fair trade.
Maharaj Ji has said: "Know me by knowledge," and that I
presume, is the way to judge him. Unfortunately there are
certain demands made by the mahatmas before they give the
Knowledge out; namely that you give yourself up to the Guru.
I have to admit that this is why I haven't tried it. At any
rate, to continue my objective report:
More music. A young man sings a song which includes a line that really ties this kind of Hindu guru-worship and Christian Christ-worship together. Referring to inner peace he sings, "You'll never find it cause it's got to be laid on you. By the grace of the perfect satguru." This line emphasizes the basic idea of both religions that there must necessarily be some intermediary between us and God, a divine border guard who will let out desires through and who will let the light of God shine back the other way upon us. It's an idea that grates on people -- existentialists and free-wheelers of all types -- especially because the border guard in this case is a teen-age kid with a Rolls Royce. Even disregarding Maharaj Ji's age and accumulated horsepower, the question remains: Is it necessary to have an intermediary between us and the spiritual world; and if it is, can't he be just a selfless guide through the wilderness without asking us to devote our lives to him?
The band strikes up again and in the middle of the song Guru Maharaj Ji appears. There is no screaming or popping of flash cubes, only a stifled gasp here and there among the devotees and a half-rising out of their seats.
Maharaj Ji looked like a chubby teenager. He walked quickly from stage left, ascended the three steps up to the throne and sat down beneath the rhinestone rainbow strung above the platform. He put his hands together in prayer for a moment and sat back.
Another mahatma got up and spoke. This fellow used to be a judge in India. He spoke rapidly and with passion for several minutes. I couldn't understand him. Therefore, objectively speaking, I would have to say he ranted and raved. It seemed rather pointless anyway since this Knowledge is presumably beyond words. The crowd had not come to hear people talk about it. They had come to see Maharaj Ji perform magic by way of levitating or emanating golden light. But he did neither.
Maharaj Ji's microphone, swathed in a golden cloth, was being constantly adjusted, readjusted, and then adjusted a little more by a long arm in a suit coat sleeve that snaked out from behind the throne, to make sure the electrical system would perfectly transmit the guru's clear and resonant tones.
Maharaj Ji came across as a real human being. He spoke humbly, conversationally, and without any apparent notion that he was God. In fact he seemed to consciously undercut the divine stage show and the passionate words said in his honor. Devotees and mahatmas speak of him as the guy who will out-Christ Christ, yet the guru himself claims, not that he is divine, but that his Knowledge is.
He spoke in allegories, referring to himself in one of them as a "cute kid" who helped someone find the superman comic that he was looking for. He has a good command of the language and a practiced sense of comic timing. At one point he said that people could search for inner peace other places, but if they didn't find it, "Come back because I've got it." No magic tricks. Simply, if you want peace. I got it.
people left with the feeling that it had been a "cosmic
rip-off" or the embryonic stage of "spiritual fascism." As
you've probably heard, Maharaj Ji went to Detroit the next
day and got hit in the face with a shaving cream pie by a
fellow who felt the whole thing was a fraud. The only fault
I can find with this protest, regardless of whether that
feeling was substantiated, is that the pie was not edible.
Had it been edible, the stunt might not have seemed so
cheap. As it was, the guy who threw the pie got his head
broken by two "former disciples" of Maharaj Ji. Not only
that, but they were driving a car registered to the Divine
Light Mission. Are new swastikas being fashioned? It's
possible. I suppose, since the other side of devotion is
murder. Yet we must take into account that the pie throwing
and subsequent beating took place in Detroit where they
don't ask you to take off your guns before you enter church.
But you'd think those two fellows who clobbered the pie
thrower could take a joke.