Shoes fill the hall closet and spill out onto the front porch. A devotee lines them up into neat little rows. So many people are here tonight. The word is spreading like the Guru said it would. And in a few weeks, He will be here too.
Richard, the general secretary of Detroit's Divine Light Mission, watches his local flock enter and sit on the floor, facing the altar. The altar is a table draped with a white satin cloth. On it sit glossy color pictures of the Guru Maharaj Ji, his brothers and his mother. In front of it are rows of fresh-cut flowers. The premies (disciples), when they come before the altar, bow as low as they can before it, then sit on the carpeted floor.
"Four, five, six, seven," Richard counts in his head. "I wonder how many are here for knowledge and how many are just curiosity seekers?... Eleven, twelve, thirteen, but wait, what's this?"
Coming in the door are two very strange fellows. They don't bow. One of them looks like a junkie. And our tape player is sitting right out in plain view. Have to move it. The other character actually has dirt on him. Oh, Guru Maharaj Ji!
The two suspicious strangers sit on the floor and listen. In this sat sang (teaching) session, a few premies sit and talk about themselves, and how rotten and useless they felt before they received knowledge and how wonderful they feel now that they have it.
One of the strangers, the one who looks like a junkie, is quickly bored with the continuing rap.
". . .and I've always felt that no one loved me. . .'
So, he looks around the room, at the clean white drapes and the spotless altar and the full color oil painting of the Guru Maharaj Ji with a glow around his head.
The other stranger is puzzled. He had come, like his friend, to have his curiosity satisfied, but, instead, only more questions are being raised in his head. Finally, it becomes too much.
". . . but when I received this knowledge. . ." the premie continues. . .
"What knowledge?" the stranger blurts out.
Many in the room turn to him and grin, as if to say; "Ah, from the mouths of babes."
The premie who was giving sat sang grins too, and tries to explain.
"The knowledge that is given to us by this boy, this perfect spiritual master of our time."
"Is he God?" the stranger asks.
This is too much for the premie. He grins in response to the question, as if to say; "You are so close, oh, if you only knew." Then he begins to explain that, well, the Guru is not exactly God, but some people say he is God and he is so close to God that it doesn't make that much of a difference.
If you ride a bus in this city, or throw your chewing gum wrappers in the blue City trash receptacles, or cross streets at the corners, then you have certainly seen the face of Guru Maharaj Ji. Like the fabled piper in the town with all the rats, the Kid has been leading a seemingly mesmerized group of mostly young white people around the U.S, for about two years now. His first appearance in the US., in the mountains of Colorado in 1972, reportedly led to a conversion of 2,000 people.
These converts, and those who have been converted since, make up the organizing arm of the Guru's divine enterprise, called the Divine Light Mission.
"Well, would you jump off a cliff for him?" the stranger asks. Everyone laughs.
"Oh, yes," the premie replies. "Oh, yes." And around the room heads nod and people smile at each other and say, "Oh yes, we'd jump off a. cliff for him."
This irritates the stranger a little and he begins firing off questions about every contention that the premie makes. Out of this an argument begins to develop. Finally, one premie sitting by the altar interrupts with a clear tone of authority in his voice.
"Wait, perhaps you do not understand," he begins and he firmly but politely tells the strangers that it is their place to sit and listen when sat sang is going on. This is not a place for questions, but a place for acceptance and listening because only in this way can one obtain the knowledge.
In a few moments the strangers leave.
Two weeks later, one of them pelted the Guru in the face with a shaving cream pie.
Although the Guru claims a following of six million, the actual number is probably about a tenth of that. Most of his followers are active members of the Divine Light Mission and dedicate their lives to it. They are the premies (the word literally translates as "lovers') and when they are living together in the premie house they live by a strict code of conduct. They must be clean and neat in appearance. The men almost always have on clean shirts and ties. They don't eat meat, they abstain from sex and they meditate a lot.
The thing about celibacy is what surprises people most and the question is always, why? The premies themselves give at least two answers. One is that they have no time for sex and that it distracts them from their thought on the Guru. The other explanation is that their love for the Kid allows no room for other romantic endeavors and, anyway, their experience with meditating can be pseudo-sexual itself and much more satisfying.
The big selling point of the Divine Light Mission, the pitch, is that there is actually a miraculous experience, a sort of high, that each follower can go through. The experience is a white light seen through the mysterious third eye that the Guru claims you have in your head. You also "taste nectar and hear music."
Those who meditate with yoga or Transcendental Meditation also claim this experience, but for them it takes years to develop.
With the Kid, you get zapped in about six hours by a mahatma, one of the Kid's higher disciples.
How this is done is kept secret, but it seems to involve a hypnotic suggestion and a propensity on the part of the individual to believe. One of the key concepts to these people is "giving up your ego," which is exactly the same thing hypnotists tell their subjects to do. You must "release the reins on your mind." If you don't, you are told to listen to sat sang for a while longer, because you are not yet "ready."
The whole thing is eerie. Many of these people actually do get to a point where they would jump off a cliff for this smooth-talking Indian kid and his band of mesmerizing mahatmas.
Divine Decadence in the Burbs
Although the Guru himself claims to have fallen out of the sky just when we needed him, his followers have very concrete roots here on earth. Most of them are upper middle class, or, more precisely, petit bourgeois. Probably 90% of the faithful who gathered at the City-County Building to see the Guru get the testimonial resolution (and the pie) came down from Birmingham/Bloomfield Hills.
The thing about this particular social class is that it is unstable. Its members gravitate either towards the working class or towards the upper class. Or else they totally zone out into weirdness, such as religious excess (like the Divine Light trip) or fascism.
Interestingly enough, some of the philosophical undercurrents of the Divine Light activists are similar to those of fascism.
Take "Fuehrer worship," for example. It's just like the Guru worship that these kids carry on. They do, after all, call him the perfect master and they say he's going to solve all social problems. Young Nazis said the same of Hitler in the '30s.
And when they build their "divine city" (a religious city to be built in California, home state of Disneyland) you can be sure that the Guru won't be part of the divine garbage department.
But more clearly, the Divine Light Mission seems to be in the category of those escapist religious movements that precede the ride of fascism, as in Germany in the '30s. Sitting in the City-County Building, in the midst of all those well-scrubbed devotees, you felt an indefinable uneasiness. It was weird. Everybody was dressed up. Most of the boys and girls didn't sit together, but when they wanted to get each other's attention, they made strange hand motions and chirped at one another.
You half expected some young Aryan to stand up and begin singing "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" or some other fascist anthem.
Another thing that draws this class of followers to the Guru is approval by their parents. After years of smoking dope and shouting Weatherman smash-the-state slogans, the kids make Mom and Dad happy when they cut their hair, put on a tie and straighten up. A little religion is just what they needed. Mom and Dad might even chip in a little cash to help the Mission along. What a small price to pay for having their children returned.
Who is the guru?
Guru Maharaj Ji, although only fifteen years old, has had a lot of training in the Guru game. His father, Shri Hans Ji Maharaj, founded the Divine Light Mission in 1960, setting himself up as the "perfect spiritual master of his time." The organization grew pretty slowly at first and had a notable set back when Shri Hans died. But, undaunted, the Mission carried on, this time proclaiming the youngest of Shri Hans' sons as the new "perfect spiritual master of his time." Might as well keep it in the family.
By the early '70s the young Guru was well versed in the spiritual spiel. He'd been doing it since he was three years old. And the growth of the organization brought about a corresponding growth of income, mostly money and possessions donated by wealthy converts. The Guru, who is always well-dressed and decked out in jeweled rings, explains his fetish for sparkling jewels and money as "divine play." He describes his wealth as a demonstration of the silliness of material wealth.
But, silly as cash may be, it is the backbone of the organization. And to keep it flowing in, the Divine Light Mission has branched out into a number of enterprises.
One group of projects center around the media. The organization has both a newspaper and a magazine (the last issue carried full page ads for the Urban Coalition and the Police Athletic League). In addition, Shri Hans Productions produces films about the Guru and contributes to the media blitz which precedes each of his appearances.
In other areas, the organization owns an airline, operates a school, backs a dance ensemble and a few bands, owns and operates Divine Sales, a chain of retail stores, operates a chain of food stores, backs a theatre organization, owns a wholesale electronics firm, owns an office supply company, produces musical instruments, owns and operates a scab remodeling company, owns and operates a landscaping company and owns an engineering firm.
And the profits, as they say, are Divine.
by Peter Pan
It made the front pages of the Detroit Free Press and the News. It received prime attention from the local TV news shows. It even warranted a full five minute feature on Walter Cronkite's national news: God has been hit smack-dab in the face with a pie! Oh me. Oh my.
The shaving cream-pie was ceremoniously presented to the face of the Guru Maharaj Ji, the 15-year-old (?) "messiah" while he was waiting for, of all the outrageous things, a testimonial resolution from Detroit's slightly naive Common Council.
Apparently the child-god had winked his omnipresent eye long enough to allow a blasphemous heathen to perfectly place the blessed object neatly on the guru's, schnozzola. The sacrilege was performed by a gentleman by the name of Pat Halley, who works for the, Fifth Estate.
BLISS OPIATED SMILES
You should have been there (if only in spirit--excuse the expression). It was Tuesday, August 7th, around four in the afternoon. A typical day downtown in Detroit on the 13th floor of the City-County building in a small auditorium which functions as the formal meeting place for the Detroit Common Council public sessions. A city clerk official says that no more than a half-a-dozen concerned citizens ever show up for the formal sessions.
Today, however, the auditorium was half-filled with well-scrubbed young upper middle-class identity seekers. It was a small group of Detroiters from the Divine Light Mission who, in their search had "given-up the reins of their minds to the Guru Maharaj Ji" and were being led down the path of "perfect bliss" in exchange. The bliss-opiated uniform smiles on the crowd of 200 seemed to indicate that they had finally found the father that they never had. Someone to take care of them. To show them how to be happy. How to smile. How to act. How to think.
AN EMBARRASSINGLY NAIVE LADY
Nervous tension filled the hall as the young worshipers waited in anticipation for darshan - an Indian term to describe the sacred experience of being in the presence of god. Much time and effort had been spent on this testimonial by the Divine Light Missionaries. Earlier, they had approached councilwoman Erma Henderson and had convinced her with their smiles to draft the key-to-the city-type resolution for their elfish hero. They told her that the Guru was for peace, love and the various humanitarian generalities needed to convince a well-meaning, but embarrassingly naive lady.
Earlier in the day, the Common Council had debated the resolution; and for the first time in recent history the vote was split for a testimonial. "I can't be part of supporting a fake," said councilman David Eberhard who himself is a Lutheran minister. Eberhard, like all religious conservatives, is prone to resist any newcomers.
FLOWER CHILDREN PLUS ONE
The nine council members sit on an elevated stage ten feet from the first row of public seating. On this particular day the front row seats of the auditorium were filled with the "Perfect Master" witnesses. About every third occupand held a bouquet of flowers to set the mood for this auspicious occasion.
One occupant holding flowers, however, was not from the Divine Light Mission. He had arrived only a few minutes before the rest of the crowd to insure his front row position and a close inspection of his bouquet would have revealed the highly unusual shape of his floral arrangement: it was square in dimension about the size of a small pizza box covered with flowers.
There was another difference between this young man and the rest of the crowd: he had a beard and uncombed hair. There was too much excitement in the air, however, for any of the Divine Light Security Police (ushering the event) to notice - until it was too late.
In the meantime, the Common Council was taking quick roll-call votes on forty-odd resolutions dealing with city contracts and zoning before getting to the testimonial resolutions.
The press had been notified in the event, of course, and were met outside the City-County building with a tongue-in-cheek "Demonstration Against God" sponsored by a little-known group of pagans, the Council foR the Eruptive Anticipation of the Marvelous (CREAM). The group passed out a dubious list of demands that they were making on the Maharaj Ji. "After all," explained one of the protesting nulifidians, "he is claiming to be even better than god." The demands read as follows:
to all suffering, pain and hostility immediately.
While the members of the working press were quick to pick-up on the leaf-lets, none picked-up on the CREAM acro-nym. Eventually other conspirators strategically located in the council auditorium had to tip off the press shortly in advance that there was to be more than one testimonial for the Guru that day.
the real news, the reporters who were yawning through the
Common Council's vote roll-call, suddenly perked to life.
Pens clicked and cameras focused. . Meanwhile the protestors
outside began retiring to the 13th floor auditorium not to
miss the days events.
"I TOUCHED HIM - I TOUCHED HIM!"
Before the last demonstrator had walked inside, a flashy, powder blue Lincoln Continental pulled up to the foot of Woodward in front of the jolly green giant "Spirit of Detroit" statue which defends the city-county complex. Out of the penthouse-on-wheels stepped four men and one youth dressed in expensive business suits. It was Him! The Guru and his body guards stepped briskly past one or two of his followers who succeeded in briefly touching the Divine Kid's arm.
"I touched Him! I touched Him!" screamed one awe-struck woman to companion while they boarded, a separate elevator to the council auditorium. "Let me touch the hand you touched Him with," begged her companion. As the elevator doors closed, their hands touched and the woman's face twisted in ecstasy.
The Guru Maharaj Ji looked nervous as he stepped onto the 13th floor. After all, this is the Motor City with its no-bullshit frame of mind - 700 murders a year tend to give the place a certain karma. The Guru seemed to sense it as he stood in the doorway next to the Common Council benches at the front of the auditorium, slowly shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
The presence of the child-god had its effects on the bliss junkies in the audience. Every face beamed an ear-to-ear smile as if everyone there had just shot up an extra 100 cc's of bliss juice.
Suddenly the young man in the first row with the square-shaped bou-quet of flowers stood up from his seat, and with an equally broad smile on his face, began to walk quickly towards the Guru Maharaj Ji. Ex-cept for some reporters and photo-graphers, no one really seemed to notice the quick movements from the front. Councilman and Mayoral Can-didate Mel Ravitz was in the process of delivering the day's first testimon-ial to someone who had designed a clever anti-gun media campaign. The young man came closer and closer to the Divine Mortal. It wasn't until the bearded man came about ten feet within the doorway that the Guru and his bodyguards noticed him. Although the Guru blinked nervously once or twice, the bodyguards made no attempt to stop the man as all they saw at first was a square bouquet of flowers being held by an unkempt admirer.
then it happened. The young man, Pat Halley, lifted the
square flowers from his hand to reveal a Soupy Sales Shaving
Cream Pie. By now, the accuracy of Mr. Halley's aim is well
Instantly the plastic smiles in the auditorium were wiped clean and replaced with expressions of confusion and shock. The pie-toss had happened so quickly that it took a few seconds to sink in everybody's mind. The few seconds of disbelief were enough, however, to allow the iconoclast Pat Halley to slip away almost effortlessly out the building and into the rush-hour pedestrian traffic. The two police sergeants in the auditorium had helped Halley's escape by making only a half-hearted effort to give chase.
The Common Council was outraged - to the point of being almost incoherent in their reactions. "It could have been a machine gun" instead of a pie, quivered councilman Nicholas Hood. The Detroit Free Press in an editorial a few days later attempted to place the pie-throwing stunt in the same category as political terrorism like plane hijackings and airport massacres (all of which the Fifth Estate has taken strong editorial positions against). Mel Ravitz called the Fifth Estate office the next day to explain "we [the council] may have been taken in [by the Guru] but there are proper channels available to let us know the facts." Ravitz continued, "this pie-throwing could set a precedent for more violent disruptions of the Common Council in the future."
The embarrassment and anger of the liberal city officials and sympathizers (the Detroit Free Press) is understandable. Not only had such an outrageous act occurred during their formal session, but also the Council majority was caught with egg on their face for giving the key to the city to a slick and almost believable hustler. Like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, the council's anger and outrage was an attempted smoke-screen for their own naivete.
We seriously doubt that a Soupy Sales stunt like pie-throwing could lead to a machine-gunning or atom-bombing of the council chambers. Where's your sense of humor? Oh, yeah - it's election year, isn't it? But just to set the record straight, we doubt in any way encourage anybody to resolve political problems through individual acts of terrorism. The particular act of throwing a pie at a pseudo-dignitary is nothing more than a simple publicity stunt to counter a better-financed public relations stunt perpetrated by frauds and their naive sympathizers.
Perhaps the pie-act might be considered childish. But Pat Halley wasn't. in command of trillions of hustled dollars, airplanes, Lincoln Continentals, jewelry, etc; he couldn't afford. to go through the "the proper channels" of protest and media.