magazine Article - March 14,
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them."
In the damp late autumn of 1973 it did not take a religious fanatic in a tattered overcoat to sense that the real Kingdom lay within, things being as rotten as they were without. There was an unmistakable apocalyptic chill in the air. Corruption in Washington. Mass murders in Texas and California. UFO sightings across the South. An energy crisis that threatened to turn off the Christmas lights and slow Americans down to 55 miles per hour. Reports that the brightest comet ever recorded would soon trail orange clouds of cosmic dust over the whole land. One imagines looking through cracks in the wall at glaciers clinking outside like ice cubes in a tray.
The North Beach section of San Francisco where I live, has a chronic case of the Thousand-Year Itch. In the coffee houses and laundromats along Grant Avenue, aging beatniks still write vers libre hymns to other false endings/beginnings, and the walls are decorated with posters of the latest jet-setting gurus to arrive in town their flowing silver hair and somnolent eyes and immaculate yoga whites summoning up the cover illustration of God on the Golden Picture Book of the Bible that my father used to read to my brother and me. Many of them I have seen in the flesh, while seated in the back of this or that Unitarian church, feeling a bit like a tourist lured into a shady nightclub. I have also attended Sufi dances, introductory Arica sessions, lectures on faith healing or "practical" Buddhism, films about Kirlian photography, and demonstrations of all manner of psychic parlor tricks that I wouldn't have been caught dead at a short while back. Call it Mystic Chic if you want, but as I say, there's a certain stirring in the air.
By far the most incongruous of those coffee-house posters on Grant Avenue began to crop up last summer, advertising a chubby young Indian in a well-tailored, wide-lapelled suit, a sheeny Pierre Cardin tie and a huge gold wristwatch. He didn't look at all like the illustration on my Golden Picture Book of the Bible. He looked like a precocious Third World account executive on the make. The banner on the poster asked, WHO Is GURU MAHARAJ Ji? and who he is, according to a courteous young man tacking up one of the posters, turned out, in fact, to be the same fellow who appeared on the cover of my childhood bock-although the Guru himself (good account executives knowing when to lay back) merely claimed to be the Perfect Master of our time.
The young man, a "premie" (loosely defined from the Hindi as "lover of truth"), as the followers of the Guru call themselves, explained to me that Maharaj Ji was indeed a l6-year-old Indian kid "this time around," and that there were now 40,000 premies in the United States and over six million in India. When I asked why there were only 40,000 in the US, he said that the Divine Light Mission (DLM) has been active in this country just two years. He also explained that Maharaj Ji taught a kind of meditation called Knowledge, a gift of inner peace which could not be described in words. "How do you describe the taste of an orange?" he asked, with a slight bobbing of the head. "You only experience it. Come to the ashram. Receive this Knowledge."
Sometime during the next several months the WHO Is GURU MAHARAJ J1? posters along Grant Avenue were replaced with posters reading, GURU MAHARAJ Ji Is HERE AND NOW, a fact soon verified by a couple of disturbing news reports. Last August, during a welcoming ceremony at City Hall in Detroit, the Guru was draped in a shaving-cream pie by a reporter for a local underground newspaper. Two days later the reporter was severely beaten on the head by two blackjack-wielding men who claimed to be premies and taken to the hospital with a brain concussion. But what really piqued my curiosity was a report that Maharaj Ji himself was confined to a hospital bed with a bleeding duodenal ulcer, a Perfect Master with an ulcer, it seemed to me, was either an imposter of considerable genius or the finest Zen koan since the sound of one hand clapping.
A short time later I received a press handout in the mail from the Divine Light Mission announcing "for immediate release" . . . the Millennium. The rest of the release was equally forthright, explaining that during the three-day "world assemblage to save humanity" at the Houston Astrodome, Maharaj Ji would reveal a "practical plan" to save mankind and would kick off a thousand years of peace on earth ("for people who want peace"-a small copout I ignored at the time). I could be one of tens of thousands of people attending "the most holy and significant event in human history," bearing witness to "the dawn of a New Age." Some invitations are hard to refuse, and this is why I found myself in Houston early in November, feeling a bit like a tourist lured into a shady nightclub, but sustained in some deep recess of my professional ego by the tiniest particle of hope that I was in for, well, the Perfect Scoop.
He is coming! And a couple of thousand exultant premies are waiting to receive him at William Hobby Airport outside Houston on an unseasonably muggy Texas afternoon. He is also nearly two hours late, although I am the only one who seems to mind. The crowd is uniformly young. bright-eyed and clean-cut, the men in ties and jackets, the women in long dresses, everyone wearing some kind of button picturing the Guru. One imagines a group of Young Republicans waiting to welcome President Eisenhower on a campaign stop in 1955. It is, of course, a false impression, but a very calculated one. I have been in Houston long enough to know that a good portion of the premies in attendance are former freaks who have only recently made the move from crashpad to ashram, that most of them have been on the usual Sixties trips and consider themselves to have arrived at the Final Destination, where they were unwittingly headed all along. When I ask one of them what he's been up before receiving Knowledge, he tells me he had "done a little bit of college, a little bit of revolution, a little bit of acid" - an admittedly sketchy life history that may fit 98% of the crowd here today.
Most of the premies are seated on the tarmac in front of an improvised stage loaded down with baskets of flowers and two throne-like stuffed chairs, the larger one for the Guru and the smaller one for his Holy Mother, Mata Ji, who is flying in with him from Los Angeles. The stage is ringed by members of the World Peace Corps, the security arm of the DLM, who are constantly pushing overzealous premies away from the immediate area, a finger-in-the-dike operation." Please move your physical bodies back, "one WPC guard coaxes." Merge into one."
To the side, a group of girls is decorating the hood of the Guru's emerald-green Rolls Royce with a heartshaped floral arrangement of red and white carnations. It is the most blissful of devotional services, and they are singing, "Maharaj Ji, Maharaj Ji/ We love you, we love you/ Satguru, Satguru . . ." to the tune of "Frere Jacques." The car's California license plate spells HANSA, which is, according to one of the girls, the Hindi word for "swan," the symbol of the Holy Family. Inside the Holy Limo one secretly glimpses a telephone, a framed picture of the Guru on the dashboard and a stereophonic tape deck loaded with a cassette recording of Your Saving Grace by the Steve Miller Band.
Now a band onstage is playing what might be described as ashram rock-up-tempo tunes with devotional Iyrics-and many of the premies are stomping to the beat. There is a show-business quality to the afternoon more reminiscent of old-fashioned Bible Belt revivalism than anything going on in the foothills of the Himalayas. (When I pointed this out to one premie, he told me that he'd been to the mountain top and could assure me that it has already been subdivided.) Rennie Davis, the Guru's biggest catch to date and his leading spokesman to the non-premie world, steps to the microphone. There is an aura of martyrdom about him today, for he is here under special dispensation from a federal judge who is at this very moment hearing contempt citations against the defendants in the Chicago Seven trial. He is positively beaming, a schoolboy let out for recess. He looks the crowd over carefully, pauses a practiced moment (this man has warmed up a crowd or two before) and says: "Wow! What a thing it is to stand here and say that the Lord is on the planet and he's a l6-year-old kid and he's about to fly in here and sit on this chair and receive a welcome from his devotees." Rennie laughs at the sheer preposterousness of it all, then goes on to talk about his appearances across the country in the last few months, where he has been telling "about a million people a day" over radio and television that there really is a way out of "the collision course civilization is on," and that way out is Guru Maharaj Ji. Invariably after each show, he says, the sound technician and the cameraman and the lighting director and maybe the make-up girl approach him to find out why he's so obviously happy and at peace with himself, to learn what he knows that they don't know. And what he knows, he tells them, is that the vision of universal peace and brotherhood glimpsed by the generation of the Sixties is about to be realized in the Seventies through the grace of the Perfect Master. No, the Movement could hardly be dead if Rennie bears better tidings than ever before. "It's springtime, everyone," he says breathlessly. "It's springtime for the human race. Welcome to the Millennium!"
Someone announces that "the moment of moments" is fast approaching, sending a ripple of excitement through the crowd. Many of the newer premies have never seen the Guru in flesh and they are preparing themselves by meditating on the Holy Name. Others search the sky for his twin-engine Cessna-to no avail. (In fact, there hasn't been a plane overhead all afternoon for some odd reason.) Suddenly, from a hangar that abuts the stage, Mata Ji appears, a plumpish matron swathed in a gold-embroidered white sari and wearing sequinned glasses and a huge diamond in one nostril. She accepts an armful of red roses from an Indian mahatma, one of the Guru's closest disciples, who then falls to the floor to kiss her slippered Lotus Feet. The crowd yells the Divine Light Mission cheer- "Bolie Shri Satgurudev Maharaj Ki Jai!"-all arms flung upward on the last emphasized syllable. It will be chanted frequently throughout the festival and means, according to one premie, "something like, 'Let's hear it for the Perfect Master!'"
The band strikes up "The Lord of the Universe" (sample verse: "Well we've seen Maharaj Ji coming in glory/ Moving like lightning from the East to the West/So rise up my brothers and lay down before Him/Just give Him your lave and give Him your minds"), a revamped Methodist hymn that has become a kind of theme song for the Guru. In the middle of the song the Perfect Master walks briskly out from the hangar and takes his seat on the stage. A moment of absolute stillness-of 2000 inhaled breaths-precedes a collective sigh: "Aah!" goes the crowd. "Aaahhh." The premies take up the "Bolie Shri" chant while mahatmas place leis around the Guru's neck and kneel down at his feet in a palms-together pose, adoring Magis from the East. Either Maharaj Ji photographs badly or, as I have heard rumored, he has lost a considerable amount of weight since his hospitalization, for there is little of the familiar baby-fat puffiness in his face, but instead taut, almost stubborn lines and a wary look in his eyes. He still seems an unlikely figure of reverence, with his adolescent peach fuzz moustache on an oversized face and the gap between his front teeth, but if there is an aura of power about him, it comes from a sure sense of his place above the world, the total nonchalance with which he accepts the homage paid him.
After the Hindi cheer subsides, Maharaj Ji speaks a few welcoming words. They are not particularly wellchosen ones, for he is no oratorical spellbinder. "It's just something really fantastic and really beautiful to see you here," he says in a flat, imitation American accent that comes from Dehra Dun by way of Kansas. "I guess there have been too many of these mess-ups like Watergate and things like that going on. It's not just here, it's right around the world. So I guess it's just about time when everybody gets together and understands who is God, because it's important that people know that by now at least. Everybody comes and picks up a microphone and says something about peace and something and something, but now somebody really gives peace." More cheers from the crowd as the Guru heads quickly toward his car, with Mata Ji and the mahatmas in tow, for a drive to the Celestial Suite (rented at the celestial rate of $2500 a day) of the Astroworld Hotel.
It all might seem a bit anticlimactic after a three-hour wait in the hot sun, but not to the premies, who have not come so much to hear him speak-he might have recited nursery rhymes or said nothing at all for all they care-as to receive the gift of his holy presence, called darshan. The premies are transfixed for long minutes afterward, literally rooted in place like so many deer caught in a headlight. They are "blissed out," smiling in à manner at once utterly peaceful and childlike and a touch demented, the kind of smile I have seen only on the faces of autistic children. "He was here just two minutes and he blew everyone's mind," a premie next to me tells his friend, and one understands just what he means, for to look at a blissed-out premie is to peer into an empty house through spotless windows-there is that same unlived-in quality about his face. Another premie comes rushing up to me with a red carnation from one of the Guru's leis in his hand. He's hysterical, laughing and sobbing at the same time, and he offers me a petal plucked from the flower, screaming: "Do you know who's touched this flower? The Lord of the Universe . . . this flower!"
Later I learn that the reception had been staged. The Guru actually flew into Houston Intercontinental Airport 30 miles across town, but since officials there would have nothing to do with 2000 premies welcoming the Lord Incarnate on their runways, he was driven to little-used Hobby Airport for the ceremony. "That's why he was so late and you didn't see a plane come in," my informer, a premie who works in the PR department of the DLM, tells me with complete insouciance. So the whole afternoon has been a kind of happening, a dramatic structure imposed on reality to make it less godawfully boring and provide "photographic possibilities" for the evening news. These kids haven't spent so many years before TV sets without absorbing a trick or two.
A parade through downtown Houston ends with a rally in a small park. More Americana: placards reading HOUSTON OR BUST/ IN GOD WE TRUST, TOWARD THE PERFECT UNION, FREEDOM-DISCOVER IT INSIDE; huge papier mache heads of Washington, Franklin and Lincoln. It is drizzling and some premies have covered themselves with improvised hats made out of the special Millennium '73 edition of The Divine Times, the Mission's biweekly newspaper, which features a picture of the Guru, index finger extended in an Uncle Sam recruiting gesture, bordered with a stars-and-stripes motif. I walk over to three premies who are holding up papier mache heads of Popeye, Olive Oyl and Brutus on broomsticks. Washington, Franklin and Lincoln I can understand, I tell them, but why Popeye? "Knowledge," one of them answers, "is the Ultimate Spinach."
Strange rumors are floating around premie centers like straws from a witch's broom. According to a fellow named Rick Geer, who describes himself as "the unofficial astrologer of the DLM," the opening day of Millennium will be marked by a Grand Cross-four planets positioned at right angles to one another-a rare astrological configuration that signifies the imminent release of enormous pent-up cosmic energy; while on the last day Mercury will pass over the face of the sun, indicating a union of mind and heart. Other omens involve Kohoutek, which stands for KO Houston, Texas, according to the Guru's eldest brother, Bal Bhagwan Ji, who is also known as the Divine Freak. Some premies are saying that the comet is actually a spaceship carrying astro-travelers to Houston for the event. This is substantiated, they say, by the fact that it has no tail and has changed directions three times, information that NASA officials are refusing to divulge for fear of the widespread panic it might cause. Other premies suggest that Kohoutek is neither a comet nor a spaceship but the return of the Star of Bethlehem.
The recent spate of UFO sightings across the South has spurted predictions of visitors from outer space, and a portion of the Astrodome parking lot has been roped off as a landing strip. A premie named Susan Flack communicates with Lao-tzu by means of a ouija board (hence her nickname, Lao Sue) and has told me that she is in touch with a delegation of Venutians who plan to attend Millennium "because they're from the planet of love and Guru Maharaj Ji is the source of love in the universe."
Another story making the rounds is that a baby born several days ago in Houston shouted, "The Lord has come," and immediately died. Guru Maharaj Ji himself has indicated, I am told, that the angels will drop flowers on the roof of the Astrodome during the event and even hinted that the whole stadium might fly off into space-although a premie has assured me that the latter prediction is probably another example of lila, the Guru's divine game-playing.
Meanwhile, the opposition is marshaling its own counter-rumors. The Jesus Freaks are proclaiming Guru Maharaj Ji the antichrist, while the Baptist churches of Houston have alluded more temperately to false prophets in a full-page newspaper ad that includes a quote from Timothy 4:34: "For there is going to come a time when people won't listen to the truth, but will go around looking for teachers who will tell them just what they want to hear."
I am looking for Alan at the Peace Plant, an abandoned Coca-Cola battling factory that serves as temporary housing quarters for 1500 premies. Alan has already told me a little about his search among various spiritual disciplines for something more meaningful than his anti-war work in Los Angeles. I've heard it's a common story among the Guru's devotees and I'm anxious to talk to someone still in transition from politics to religion. But Alan is nowhere to be found, so I spend some time wandering around the Peace Plant, also known as the Divine Concentration Camp because the premies are trying to concentrate so hard on the Holy Word in these harried days before the Millennium program begins. Many of them have been on Soul Rush, a cross-country bus caravan that promoted the program with rallies at Plymouth Rock, the White House (where President Nixon received a special invitation to attend Millennium because as Rennie Davis told reporters, "His only way out lies at the feet of the Perfect Master"), Independence Hall in Philadelphia, in Columbus, Ohio ("Proctor and Gamble tests its products there," a Soul Rush organizer explained, "so why shouldn't we test ours") and in several cities along the way to Houston.
The building itself is a gray concrete slab dreary as the shell of a ghetto housing project. Inside, the huge room is partitioned into men's and women's dorms, in accordance with the strict celibacy rules of ashram life. The floor is carpeted in wall-to-wall bedroll with narrow aisles to totter down for late-night visits to the Porto-Toilets outside. The air is heavy with that familiar odor of young people on a crowded quest, made up in part of orange peels, dirty clothes and incense burning beside tiny pictures of the Guru at the foot of many bedrolls. The room is crisscrossed with a cat's cradle of clotheslines, and on the walls hang more pictures of Maharaj Ji as well as a printed list of the organization's Five Commandments:
NEVER PUT OFF UNTIL TOMORROW WHAT YOU CAN DO TODAY
Beside the rules hangs this notice: DEAR PREMiES, UPON ARRIVAL PLEASE SURRENDER ALL CARS TO DIVINE TRANSPORTATION FOR REASSIGNMENT. IF YOU ARE ATTACHED TO YOUR CAR PLEASE SURRENDER YOURSELF WITH IT. Young Americans surrendering their cars-now there is a good working definition of devotion.
Only a few meditating premies are scattered throughout the room in the early afternoon, seated on their sleeping bags in half-lotus positions and draped in white sheets, a precaution taken to guard the secret meditation techniques from the eyes of prowling non-premies. (Premies are told to meditate an hour after rising and an hour before going to sleep, but extra time logged is considered all to the good.) They look like surplus statues of Buddha relegated to a museum basement. One premie is listening to a cassette recording of Guru Maharaj Ji giving satsang. ''I know that water quenches my thirst," he is saying. "I'm not going to stop drinking it because I don't know why. Similarly, this Knowledge is a question of experience and not faith. It's practical. One hundred percent. It works."
Meanwhile, the scene outside has all the frenetic, disconnected activity of an Eastern bazaar. Under a large lean-to in the center of a courtyard, a premie-barber is trimming every over-the-ear lock in sight. Nearby, other premie-mechanics are servicing the surrendered cars that will shuttle between the Astrodome and various centers of DLM activity in Houston. A leader of the Rainbow Brigade, a volunteer work force whose motto is "Work Is Worship," is holding a meeting with those premies who have not yet been assigned a devotion. He is down to the bottom of the list and is having trouble getting volunteers to clean out the Porto-Toilets. "I can't assign this one," he says. "Don't volunteer unless your hearts are really into doing this blissful service for the Lord." No one does.
In a shed beside the main building, a group of premies is making hundreds of peanut-butter-and jelly sandwiches for lunch assembly-line fashion, using 25-pound bags of peanut butter and gallon tins of apple butter. Premies patiently wait their turn to pick up a couple of sandwiches and an apple, then go off to eat lunch alone or in quiet groups, touching their food to their foreheads in a silent grace before eating. Silent meals are another ashram regulation-the point being that eating is a reverential act which should be performed without distractions-but at the Peace Plant the energy level is too high and the distractions too great for the rule to be strictly upheld.
At this particular moment, in fact, a group of premies is standing on a balcony that overlooks the courtyard and filming the scene below. They are members of Shri Hans Productions, the DLM's film and publishing company, who are in the process of making their second feature-length film on Guru Maharaj Ji. I learn the plot from the scriptwriter, Mickey Cottrell, a 29-year-old actor who left the Tyrone Guthrie Theater to become a "macrobiotic-wino" in Europe before taking Knowledge two years ago. The film, a kind of spiritualized Horatio Alger story, concerns a Vietnam veteran-turned junkie who decides to leave his down-and-out life in New York to hitchhike across the country, runs into the Soul Rush caravan a couple of times along the way, finds himself in Houston during Millennium, listens to a lot of satsang, receives Knowledge and presumably meditates happily ever after. Right now he is on the food line about to realize that the premies have the kind of inner peace that he has only found on junk.
And indeed the premies seem a remarkably contented lot. They live in overcrowded quarters and work long hours with almost no sign of jangled nerves or egos rubbed raw as skinned tomatoes. They are supportive of
Other premies gather in small groups to thumb through advance copies of the new And It Is Divine, the DLM's monthly magazine, which this month doubles as the Millennium program. It is printed on paper that would do the Queen's stationer proud and lavishly illustrated in four-color graphics often chosen, I have been told, by Maharaj Ji himself, who is listed on the masthead as "Supreme Editor-in-Chief." After an approving glance at the cover-which depicts the Guru's deceased father, the Perfect Master of his time, seated on what looks like the bleachers of heaven and wearing a distinct halo around his head-one premie in each group begins to read the main feature on the Holy Family aloud, although they must all have heard the story dozens of times, for it already has taken on the stylized airs and rounded edges of a myth in the making.
It is a simple tale, not unlike the stories of many another Holy Family you may have read about. In a small village in Northern India a marriage is arranged between Shri Hans Ji Maharaj and a beautiful young girl who will come to be known as Mata Ji. In time, Mata Ji bears Shri Hans four sons: Bal Bhagwan Ji, Bhole Ji, Raja Ji and, the youngest, Maharaj Ji. Shortly before leaving his mortal body, Shri Hans writes a letter home, sending his love to his three oldest sons and his "infinite prostrations" to his youngest, then eight years old, thereby fingering Maharaj Ji as the next Perfect Master.
Early on, the distinct personalities and future roles of her four sons become evident to Mata Ji, who resolves to carry on her adored husband's work. The oldest, Bal Bhagwan Ji, who was born "the very instant the sun reached its zenith" during the autumnal equinox, is intelligent and industrious. He would become the principal organizer of the Divine Light Mission's programs. As a child Raja Ji always asked to be told stories of the great servants and protectors of the Perfect Master, and he would become the Chief Commander of the World Peace Corps, whose job it is, in his own words, "to make sure that whatever is happening, happens correctly." As for Bhole Ji, almost before he could sit up he was dancing and playing the tabla. Bhole Ji would become the Lord of Music and the conductor of the DLM's 56-piece rock band, Blue Aquarius.
But at this point, of course, the story focuses on Guru Maharaj Ji. From the very beginning his divinity was apparent. "At his birth the sky lit up in brilliant colors and a sweet music could be heard all around. According to Mata Ji, his first words were on the meaning of life, and at the age of two-and-a-half he was already giving satsang to his father's devotees.
Then in 1966, the night Shri Hans dies, Maharaj Ji hears a voice that says, "You are he, you are the one to go and take this Knowledge to the world," and Mata Ji weeps for joy, knowing that her husband "had indeed kept his promise that he would never leave her." Four years later, at the annual celebration of his father's birthday in New Delhi, Guru Maharaj Ji "reveals his plan" to a crowd of over a million people: "I declare I shall bring in the Golden Age of Peace to the whole world."
In the late afternoon Alan shows up at the Peace Plant and explains that he has ODed on satsang and has been spending his time alone in Houston, trying to resolve his doubts about the Guru and wondering if he should become a premie in the Knowledge session marathon that will take place the week after Millennium. He's a likable kid, dark and slightly built, with big brown eyes out of a Keene painting and a soft-spoken sincerity that makes the struggle he is going through even more affecting. Ever since Rennie Davis returned from India last winter, full of wild tales of a boy-god who would save humanity, Alan has felt obliged to investigate the Divine Light Mission as a kind of self-appointed emissary from the peace movement. He has long seen his own political work and spiritual growth as two disconnected halves of a single emerging Truth, but at this point he is only moderately hopeful that Guru Maharaj Ji can provide the missing link.
After we find a quiet corner of the courtyard, Alan begins by telling me that he grew up in Woodland Hills, a conservative, upper-middle-class suburb of Los Angeles. His parents were church-going Catholics, and he remembers the childhood comfort of knowing that if he died he would go to heaven, as well as a growing awareness of the distance between his parents' religious ideals and the lives they led. He describes himself as a high achiever who was elected a class officer in junior and senior high school, received consistently high grades and joined the school track and baseball teams. After the Watts rebellion of 1965, Alan focused his energies on social matters, working one summer and fall for VISTA and helping to plan a radical study program during his freshman year at UCLA. In the middle of his sophomore year, Alan enrolled at Berkeley, where he spent an academic quarter in an ecology program and tried unsuccessfully to work out an individual major that would integrate psychology and social structures, the interior and exterior halves that would never quite come together. He got caught up in the anti-war demonstrations at Berkeley, took a few acid trips and finally dropped out of school during the Cambodian invasion in the spring of 1970.
It was a time when he felt a need to balance his active, achievement-oriented nature with a more reflective, inward-reaching side that he felt he'd neglected too long. He lived with a girl who was into Japanese pottery-making and dabbled in Eastern mysticism, and partially under her influence he read Krishnamurti, who taught him that only a revolution in human consciousness could produce changes in the structure of society. He also read a lot of Jungian psychology and began to write down and analyze his dreams each morning. He studied astrology and found that his dreams could be grouped into cycles that varied with the phases of the moon. He started practicing a kind of breath-control meditation that seemed to release centers of tension throughout his body, leaving him with a floating feeling. He dipped into Reichian theories of character armor and biopsychic energy.
That summer he hitchhiked to a spiritual festival in Boulder, where various gurus spoke and the energy level often seemed incredibly high. (Swami Satchidananda said something that Alan had come to believe more and more: that his generation in America had gone through great transformations which would enable it to become the architects of a New Age, characterized by radically different psychic and social forms.) The last day of the festival was held in a field high in the Rockies. When it started to rain in the afternoon people formed a large circle and began chanting Om. Soon a tiny blue hole in the sky opened up above their heads and the rain stopped in the field, although it continued to come down in the surrounding forest.
The next fall Alan worked as a gardener and taught in a free nursery school in Berkeley, but the new psychic states he was experiencing became his consuming interest. Weird things began to happen to him. He would wake up at five in the morning already in a deep meditative trance and often float over his bed for hours.
On several occasions he had the sensation of leaving his body and flying around the room. Often, he would experience his body as a stream of undifferentiated energy that seemed the stuff of the universe, millions of mad molecules trapped in a temporary mold. Once his body turned into a tunnel through which wind rushed at great speed and another time it transformed into a flock of chirping birds. He found that if he looked at his hand long enough while meditating it would disintegrate like an aspirin in water and eventually disappear completely.
Alan claims that none of these strange experiences were drug-induced, nor were they particularly susceptible to voluntary control. (In fact, whenever he willed himself into a trance, nothing much seemed to happen.) There were moments when he thought he was going crazy, but for a long time he decided to give in to the experiences because he felt he was learning a great deal about himself from them and wondered where they would lead him. By the spring of 1971, however, he had begun to suspect that the balance he was seeking between his emotional and intellectual faculties, the inner and outer realms of consciousness, had now shifted dangerously in the opposite direction, and he moved back down to Los Angeles in order to cool off for a time and renew contact with his family and old friends. Tom Hayden, whom he had known in Berkeley, was now directing the Indochina Peace Campaign from Los Angeles, and Alan soon found himself heavily involved in radical politics again, organizing slide shows on North Vietnamese culture, arranging lectures for Movement speakers and attending a constant round of political workshops.
One day, after a long meditation Alan had what he describes as a vision: pictures of political leaders he admired flashed through his mind-Marx, Lenin, Ho, Jefferson, Lincoln, F.D.R.-followed by a scene of a new kind of self-reliant rural collective in America, a small center of light in the midst of darkness, where the spirit of brotherhood would prevail and the most modern technology the country could provide would be used to make life more harmonious and pleasurable rather than more fragmented and anxiety-ridden. He wrote up the vision as a proposal, and when Rennie Davis came to Los Angeles for a speaking engagement, gave it to him to read.
In time, Alan became fairly influential within the Indochina Peace Campaign (IPC), but his old doubts about Movement politics continued to plague him. The constant disputes and petty bickerings within the Movement seemed a reflection of the old ego-oriented values of American society at large. On the other hand, most of the religious organizations he had checked into-the Hare Krishna kids and the Jesus Freaks and a Zen community or two-seemed to him blatantly escapist. He still had not found the connecting link.
When Rennie Davis returned from India last winter, he called Alan and told him: "This is the most important day of your life." He came over and talked for six hours straight about the Knowledge he had received in India and how it would bring the world to a state of harmony a million times greater than anything Alan had envisioned in his proposal for self-reliant communities. As it happened, Alan had picked up a copy of And It Is Divine in a bookstore earlier that same day and decided to learn more about the Divine Light Mission, so that when Rennie explained that this was a perfect example of the "incidents of coincidence" that occurred with astonishing regularity along a devotee's path to the Lord, Alan's curiosity was piqued even more.
In the next few months Alan frequently visited the ashram in Los Angeles and read all the DLM publications he could get his hands on. There was much that he liked about the organization. It seemed unusually outward-reaching and talked about feeding, clothing and sheltering humanity, although the details were admittedly a bit sketchy. The Divine City, an elec-
About this time he had been reading Reich's Mass Psychology of Fascism and he wondered if the Guru, by demanding total submission from his devotees, wasn't in fact the last defender of the old paternalistic order. He was also beginning to feel the strain of dividing his personal loyalty between Rennie and Tom Hayden, who took a rather jaundiced view of the Guru, saying he had already received Knowledge from the North Vietnamese.
Then in mid-July, when he had nearly decided that the Divine Light Mission was just another spiritual trip, he had a strange dream. He experienced four different scenes of extreme adversity, then found himself playing with Maharaj Ji on a huge canopied bed, feeding him organic health-food sandwiches with a feeling of happiness that he had never known before. At the end of the dream Alan bent down to kiss Maharaj Ji's calf and woke up thinking that maybe Reich was wrong, maybe the trouble with totalitarianism was that it denied the gift of submission freely given.
Just before Millennium, Alan traveled to Dayton Ohio, for an IPC national conference and found the discussions far removed from his present concerns. On the last night of the convention, when he had to decide whether to go to Chicago for the contempt trial or Houston for Millennium, he had another dream about Maharaj Ji. Alan was in a classroom watching Pablo Friere-the Brazilian activist-priest whom he thought best integrated religion and politics-on television. Next he was seated in a steeply-tiered auditorium where Maharaj Ji was about to give satsang. He noticed many of his Movement friends in the audience and smiled warmly at them. When Maharaj Ji began to speak, Alan saw a luminescent cathedral inside him. Later, in some night kitchen, Maharaj Ji took two chemical vials out of a refrigerator and explained to Alan that the one containing a dark brackish liquid was the mind of man, while the other, which held a clear liquid, was his soul.
The next day Alan headed for Houston.
It is Millennium eve, and in the Astrohall, the cavernous convention center adjacent to the Astrodome, last-minute preparations are being made. Although there are several hundred premies scurrying about in a frenzy of activity, they are dwarfed by the sheer size of the place, which does indeed seem more suited to the small craft, home furnishing and livestock shows pictured in the Astrodome's promotional booklet. I stop to pick up my press card and become involved in a prolonged discussion with a premie from the press-relations department about whether I am entitled to the normal green press card or an orange one that admits its bearer to the "high security" area around the Astrodome stage. The main problem seems to be the tangled wording on a DLM "Passes and l.D." memo that lists, besides the green and orange press cards, blue "free access" buttons, silver "universal access" buttons rainbow-colored buttons for mahatmas, white buttons for backstage areas, VIP buttons for the lofty parents' section (called "cloud heaven") and a half-dozen others. Nearly all the categories forbid loitering, which is defined in the memo as "standing around with no service to do-i.e., seeking darshan or spacing out." Finally I settle for the standard green card and am appointed a premie-guide who, I am told, must be with me at all times to answer any questions I may have.
In truth, nothing very intriguing is happening inside the Astrohall. Over in one corner premies from Divine Sales are unpacking cartons of souvenirs that will be sold at Astrodome concession stands during the event. Piled on the floor and on tables are stacks of Guru Maharaj Ji stationery sets, Holy Family posters, Millennium '73 bumper stickers and pennants, "yoga whites," bound volumes of And It Is Divine, a recently issued Bantam paperback called Who Is Guru Maharaj Ji? and an LP of the Blue Aquarius band that Stax, the soul-oriented company, has just released on its Gospel Truth label. Judging from their quantity, the hottest items are expected to be the Guru T-shirts and thermal underwear. picturing his silkscreened face in the sky above a swan floating in a mountain lake. I ask about some unopened cartons and am told they contain opera glasses, a variety of buttons, and two items used in the meditation: earplugs and something called a "barragon," a wooden elbow-rest in the form of a T-bar. "That's what Christ meant when he said you should carry your cross upon your back," a premie informs me.
Over in the press-relations department I run into its director, Richard Profumo, a 26-year-old former Movement worker who once spent seven months in jail for draft evasion. I have already asked him several times about setting up an interview with the Guru and each time received a curt "not now, maybe later" in response. A certain tension has developed between DLM officials and members of the press, who tend to see the whole event as a dislocating mixture of the physical and the spiritual, so that covering such events inevitably produces a queasy feeling in the pit of the stomach, something akin to filling up on communion wafers. (A welcoming press conference earlier in the day seemed to take place almost literally on different wavelengths, as when Rennie Davis explained that Maharaj Ji's ulcer could be viewed as a result of the spicy Indian diet he ate, but that he preferred to see it as an example of the Perfect Master taking on the karma of the age, this being the most anxious of times, or even as an example of divine lila and a test for devotees.) So I am hardly surprised that Profumo again evades my request for an interview. "You have to understand that Maharaj Ji is very unpredictable," he explains. "Sometimes he refuses an interview with the New York Times and asks me to call in some reporter from the Hokey Phenokee Tribune, circulation 300." My frustration is not assuaged when I learn later that the only reporter offered an interview with the Guru is Marjoe, covering the event for Oui magazine, circulation 1,750,000.
By far the liveliest action in the Astrohall is taking place at the food preparation tables, where a peanut-butter-and-jelly brigade is busily turning out 20,000 sandwiches and 77,000 raisin-and-nut bags to tide premies over the next few days. I am marveling at the efficiency of the operation when it suddenly comes to a dead halt-Bal Bhagwan Ji, who has been darting around the Astrohall like a sudden draft, is headed this way on an electric golf cart, followed by two mahatmas driving their own carts. He stops short of a stack of cartons, opens one, waves me over and holds out an official Millennium '73 candy bar. As I unwrap it, I am immediately surrounded by a dozen premies with outstretched arms, for Bal Bhagwan Ji's touch has transformed the organic candy bar into prasad, soul food of the truest sort. Seconds later I am left with a messy smudge of raw honey and cashews on my fingers and the sneaking suspicion that I have just been a patsy for a divine lila. After a few minutes the peanut-butter-and-jelly brigade is still abuzz with the unexpected darshan it has just received from Bal Bhagwan Ji. "There was light around him, now that I think about it," one premie says to no one in particular.
Every night throughout the week satsang sessions are scheduled in the various hotels around Houston where premies and their parents are staying. For the non-premie, attending a satsang session is like being the only one not stoned at an otherwise dull and endless party. (Fortunately, satsang is held to be effective even when one is asleep.) Tonight, in a basement room of the Astroworld Hotel, a group of parents sit in chairs at the rear, looking properly reverential and trying to hide their obvious discomfort, while a hundred or so premies, nearly all in their late teens or early 20s, crowd closely together on the carpeted floor.
The satsang leader begins the session by announcing that premies should remove all DLM identification from their cars because Jesus Freaks have been caught dumping salt into some premies' gas tanks. Then he calls for volunteers to speak.
A young woman stands up and tells a kind of parable about a potter who shapes his pot with two hands, the hand inside being the meditation and the hand outside being external events. "We're not complete yet," she concludes. "We're waiting for Guru Maharaj Ji to shape us."
Another premie gets up and says: "We're just one big family, just brothers and sisters. Our Lord, our Father, has come to us and all we have to do is play. Today I wake up and I'm in a Charlie Chaplin movie and the next day maybe it'll be a horror movie and the next a soap opera. Once you receive Knowledge you know it's all just a movie-and Guru Maharaj Ji is the director."
A third premie: "I was having doubts today and it was like a cloud hanging over me. But listening to satsang I realized that everything's perfect. I understood what Guru Maharaj Ji meant when he said that angels may drop flowers over the Astrodome. I was sitting watching the sunset earlier and now I realize that Guru Maharaj Ji made that sunset so that I could enjoy it, so that I could feel at one with the universe."
The satsang drones on, one boneless monologue after another, for nearly two hours, until finally a premie picks up his guitar and leads everyone in a song from Blue Aquarius' new album: "Rock me, Maharaj Ji, and roll me tonight/ Rock me, Maharaj Ji, and say it's all right/Say it's all ri-ight/Say it's all ri-ight."
I keep glancing at the mothers and fathers, wondering what they are thinking, for it is difficult to avoid the feeling that these are kids who have overstayed their childhood and are playing a last cruel joke on their unsuspecting parents. Here they are-well-dressed, cleancut, industrious, happy and God-loving kids, in one sense the best dreams of their parents come true. And yet the uncomprehending looks on the faces of these parents clearly indicate that this is not at all what they had in mind.
Later I have dinner with Bob Hallowitz, a 30-year old neurophysiologist who received Knowledge last April, an event he describes as perhaps the most magnificent experience in his life. I am puzzled and a bit shaken by our conversation. Here is a man who clearly answered the Guru's call to "give him your love and give him your minds," and he has such a fine mind that I can't help thinking it may not have been an even trade.
Hallowitz, who has just strengthened his attachment to Guru Maharaj Ji by becoming a vegetarian, orders three dinner salads and remarks on the practical benefits of his new lifestyle. Rather than require blind faith, he says, the Divine Light Mission offers an experience, the Knowledge which every person can test for himself. As we begin to eat, Hallowitz tells me about a little experiment he carried out not long ago in which he offered up 20 peanuts to Maharaj Ji by touching each one to his forehead, putting aside two that somehow "didn't feel right." Afterward he de-shelled them all and found that those two were rotten.
Presumably this is not the sort of experiment Hallowitz performs in his research at the Laboratory o! Brain, Evolution and Behavior of the National Institute of Mental Health, but he assures me that his work there
Theoretically, a person who is sure of his continued existence in one form or another, aware that he is part of a universal energy flow, will be less controlled by the fight-flight syndrome programmed into the older layers of the brain. According to Hallowitz, there is a growing body of scientific evidence suggesting that one physiological link between higher and lower consciousness is the pineal gland, which was long thought to be a vestigial organ but might in fact turn out to be the brain's master switch, the Third Eye of mystic tradition. The pineal gland, this theory goes, secretes a hormone that inhibits the action of the rest of the endocrine system, thus allowing human beings a measure of independence from the older brains with their orientation toward the basic values of survival. And what seems to happen during meditation is that the secretion from the pineal gland increases, allowing a person to exist at peace with himself and the world.
In his own life Hallowitz has seen the meditation work wonders. A few weeks ago, he tells me, a shopping bag he was carrying broke as he was leaving the supermarket and it hardly fazed him, although that was just the kind of incident which would have sent him into a spinning rage before he became a premie. He describes himself as having been an intense compulsive person, quick to anger and bearing a large load of self-hate. Like my friend Alan, he also searched for a unifying Truth, which he failed to find in his biological studies or, earlier, in his parents' reformed Jewish tradition.
A year ago he first heard about Maharaj Ji from a young chemist at work who seemed to be a much happier person after becoming a premie. Hallowitz eventually received Knowledge at the Washington D.C. ashram, and after a month of diligent meditation, he had a dream-a new version of a nightmare that had haunted him for years, in which he was always killed in some gruesome manner. In the dream he was alone in a bare white room with a much larger man waving a pistol at him and muttering, "I'll kill you, you bastard." Finally the man placed the gun against his temple and fired. At that moment Hallowitz experienced the full power of the Knowledge as he had never experienced it before-an intense white light that filled his head, a sound of celestial bells chiming in exquisite harmony, the indescribably sweet fragrance of the Holy Nectar and the vibration at the root of his being that is the Word-all this accompanied by a feeling of "finally going home," of ultimate peace beyond description.
Strengthened by this experience, Hallowitz began meditating more intensively than ever mornings and evenings; this created constant friction with his wife, who viewed his devotion to Guru Maharaj Ji as a threat to their marriage and another in a long list of enthusiasms he would pick up, only to drop weeks or months later. But Hallowitz feels certain that he has finally found the Truth and has come to Millennium, over his wife's bitter objections, hoping to ask Mata Ji how he can resolve his marital problems and to talk with the Guru personally about his future service in the Mission.
As I drive him back to the Houston ashram, he reads me a letter he has written to Maharaj Ji explaining his research work and requesting an interview. "l am crying warm tears of love to see and talk with you," the letter concludes: "I would rather be no other place than at your glorious feet." He points out a tear stain in the lower left-hand corner of the letter.
A few days later the receptionist at my hotel hands me a note from Bal Bhagwan Ji, who has evidently gotten wind of my conversation with Hallowitz. It contains the results of a study done by a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of Colorado in which premies experienced marked reduction in their pulse and respiration rates while meditating. There is also a list of chapter-and-verse citations from the Bible. The first one I turn to in my hotel Gideon is Genesis 32-30: "And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved."
It is probably nitpicking to report that the Millennium starts late, for what is an hour or two in the span of a thousand years? And happily a first glimpse of the Astrodome is a sight worth the time to linger upon. The stadium itself is a perfect setting for a festival celebrating the End, being a kind of American fantasy of the Elysian Fields, where the temperature is a uniform 72 degrees, a gentle five-mile-an-hour breeze circulates constantly, and the astroturf is always a lush emerald green. At one end of the field, premies have built an enormous, multi-level stage, constructed of translucent white plastic boxes that glow from the inside and bordered by an artificial stream of blue cellulose acetate over tinfoil. It looks like a Hollywood backlot prop of Metropolis in a silent movie. On the topmost level, 70 feet above the floor, four overstuffed orange chairs await the Holy Family; while in the center and a few steps higher; an enormous circular throne, made of blue velveteen in a style that might be called Hotel Lobby Chintz, awaits the Perfect Master himself. Before the throne is a heart-shaped pillow to cushion his Lotus Feet. Behind it stands a piece of white lucite the size and shape of a surfboard that symbolizes his Holy Flame. On either side of the stage 10,000 feet of crepe paper have been set into a mosaic of a white swan floating on a purple backdrop. The whole construction is surmounted by the Astrodome's American flag and two huge Texaco billboards.
And yet despite the grandeur of the setting, it must be said that the event is a bit of a bust. For one thing, there are only a few thousand people attending the opening ceremonies, nearly all of them premies seated on the astroturf, and while the crowd will swell to a maximum of perhaps 20,000 on the final day (less than a third of the Astrodome's capacity), the empty seats always give the show the forlorn air of an out-of-town tryout that will never make the big city. For another, most of the program during the afternoons is clearly intended as a warm-up for Maharaj Ji's evening appearances, and it is dull beyond description to all but the most blissed-out premies.
Charles Cameron, one of the first Western premies, begins his introductory speech by announcing "This is going to be the most incredible event on the face of the planet." Programmed pictures of Guru Maharaj Ji and the other members of the Holy Family flash on the Astrodome scoreboard. "I am standing on the biggest indoor stage ever built, in the biggest auditorium in the world." This is the language in which condominiums are sold, curious talk for someone whose autobiographical statement in the Millennium press kit begins: "After graduating from Oxford, I set out in search of the Kingdom of Heaven." And it does not get much better when he goes on to give a history of the festival (actually, the anniversary of Shri Hans' birthday) in jumbo jets, saying that "in 1971 one jumbo jet carried Western devotees to India for Hans Jayanti; in 1972 there were seven jumbo jets full of Western devotees; and this year, 30 jumbo jets brought premies from around the world to Houston, the largest air charter in the peacetime history of the world."
The rest of the program consists of one satsang after another. Mahatmas talk about the infinite bliss of the Knowledge. DLM officials talk about "concrete plans to feed, clothe and shelter humanity" and a "practical proposal for world peace," neither of which ever seems to materialize.
The only interesting talk I hear during the three days is given by Larry Bernstein, the 41-year-old architect who designed the Millennium stage. Like Bob Hallowitz and several other older premies I have met, Bernstein brings together in odd ways both a keen practical intelligence and a genuine mystical streak. (For example, he built the stage out of movable plastic modules so that it could be assembled and disassembled easily, but also used multiples of seven in the measurements because that is the number most often mentioned in the Book of Revelations.) A protege of Frank Lloyd Wright (whom he calls his "first guru"), Bernstein has been a successful architect for years, having designed Lake Lingamore, a New City in Maryland, and marketed a pre-fabricated plastic house; yet he spent 15 minutes trying to explain to me a mathematical formula he had worked out proving the existence of God. He also had no hesitation about leaving a high-paying job to move into an ashram when it became clear to him that Guru Maharaj Ji was the fulfillment of an Edgar Cayce prediction that a boy born in India in 1958 would bring spiritual enlightenment to the world. "Last January," he told me, "Guru Maharaj Ji said he could show me God and I said, 'That's a deal, let's do it.'
In his talk Bernstein reveals his plans for the Divine City-to-be. A great satsang hall will be suspended from the sides of a cavern and surrounded by 13 churches representing the world's principal religions. Every human need will be taken care of in the most technologically advanced manner. The basic housing unit will be a luminescent, movable plastic module that can hook onto central towers in any variety of combinations. The whole city will run on solar energy, and public transportation will consist of lightweight vehicles that can be placed on computerized monorails. Each apartment will have an 82-channel cable TV plugged into a vast library for instant information retrieval. Alpha-wave machines will teach a person six languages in four weeks. Birth control will be induced by pineal gland cutoff. Home deliveries will be made through pneumatic tubes. Bernstein has even thought up such details as the name of the Divine City's movie studio, "Hollywood," and a toothbrush with toothpaste stored in the handle.
One item he doesn't mention is the location of the Divine City, for at the moment it could only be built on very unreal estate. Earlier plans to purchase land around Santa Barbara have evidently fallen through, and, although Bal Bhagwan Ji tells me later that a premie has donated land in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, no one else in the Mission seems to have heard of the gift-another example, I strongly suspect, of divine lila at work.
About the only other reason to stay glued to one's seat during the day is the constant display of messages on the Astrodome's scoreboard, most of them scriptural citations from the Guru's satsangs, but with occasional-and largely unintended-flashes of humor. Some of my favorites: GM is SHORT FOR GURU MAHARAJ JI-THE WORK OF EXCELLENCE; SUGAR IS SWEET AND SO ARE YOU (a quotation inexplicably attributed to the Guru); I REGRET THAT I HAVE ONLY ONE LIFE FOR PEACE; and FROM DUST YOU COME TO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN-THE WORLD is A HOLIDAY INN.
Outside the stadium Jesus Freaks and Hare Krishna kids are picketing the Millennium. The Jesus Freaks stand by the entrance to the parking lot, holding bullhorns and angrily yelling "antichrist!" and remarks like "You are riding the back of the Beast" at every pas-
But it is the Hare Krishna kids who provide the tough opposition, for they are grouped at the entrance to the stadium itself, dressed in hooded gray sweatshirts over' saffron dhotis, chanting and leaping about with an energy that belies their frail looks. Off to the side, a Hare Krishna devotee named Akshobhya is trying to explain to a group of premies that the Guru must be a fraud, since he does not possess the six opulences of God listed in the Vedas: all beauty, strength, knowledge, fame, renunciation and wealth. 'For instance," Akshobhya says, "he doesn't own the Astrodome." To which a premie in a Millennium thermal undershirt responds, "Yeah? But he could if he wanted to." Twice I see WPC guards shoving some of the Hare Krishna kids back from the entrance, and the next day the Divine Light Mission asks the Houston police to arrest the whole group on disorderly conduct charges. They are released on bail, $27.50 each, which they eventually forfeit.
On the morning of the second day, the Guru holds a press conference at the Astroworld Hotel, and Bob Hallowitz asks me to take him along. As we drive over, Hallowitz admits he really doesn't want to discuss his scientific research with Maharaj Ji so much as to be near him for a few minutes, a remark in keeping with a curiously regressive element in the behavior of premies which seems to make even the adults act like teenyboppers getting a piece of their favorite pop idol. In this sense Realist editor Paul Krassner's term for premies -gurupies-is not wide of the mark.
Maharaj Ji, who is clearly accustomed to more respectful attention than he has been getting from the press, appears tense and hostile throughout the questioning (one is not surprised to learn from his personal physician that he still takes Tums to soothe his stomach). He comes out dressed in yoga whites and sits on an armchair in the front of the room, his expression deadly serious and his arms folded in a manner that makes him resemble the crown prince of some puppet Himalayan kingdom. His eyes dart about the room like a squirrel in traffic as the photographers, who have not been allowed this close to him before, click away furiously. Only when they are through does he allow himself to smile, forcing them to begin shooting again. It seems a deliberately taunting gesture, as do his opening remarks: "The thing is, if you write an article, maybe the credit goes to you or not; but if peace is established in the world, definitely there will be a credit for you. And this is the most important point that press reporters usually look for, 'Will we get credit out of this or not?'" Then the Guru calls for questions:
Reporter: Maharaj Ji, are you the Messiah foretold in the Bible?
Maharaj Ji: Please do not presume me as that. Respect me as a humble servant of God trying to establish peace in this world.
Reporter: Why is there such a great contradiction between what you say about yourself and what your followers say about you?
Maharaj Ji: Well, why don't you do me a favor.. . why don't you go to the devotees and ask their explanation about it?
Reporter: Guru, is it possible to have two Perfect Masters living on the earth at the same time?
Maharaj Ji: Well, I think the best thing for us to do right now is to find out one Perfect Master and be satisfied with that.
Reporter: Do you think that the comet that is coming has any relationship to the Millennium?
Maharaj Ji: Oh, I guess you just better wait and watch.
Reporter: It's hard for some people to understand how you personally can live so luxuriously in your several homes and your Rolls Royces.
Maharaj Ji: That life that you call luxurious ain't luxurious at all, because if any other person gets the same life I get, he's gonna blow apart in a million pieces in a split of a second.... People have made Rolls Royce a heck of a car, only it's a piece of tin with a V-8 engine which probably a Chevelle Concourse has.
Reporter: Why don't you sell it and give food to people?
Maharaj Ji: What good would it do. All that's gonna happen is they will need more and I don't have other Rolls Royces. I will sell everything and I'll walk and still they will be hungry.
Reporter: Would you respond to those who say you cannot be a Perfect Master if you have an ulcer?
Maharaj Ji: If an ulcer is the only imperfectness, then people who don't have ulcers are perfect.... Perfectness has got nothing to do with an ulcer and a broken leg and things like that. Perfectness is perfectness. When Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross, He bleeded. People could have said, He's not a Perfect Master.
Reporter: Guru, what happened to the reporter in Detroit who was badly beaten by your followers?
Maharaj Ji (after a brief hassle in which Richard Profumo, doing an imitation of Ron Ziegler, accuses the questioner of hogging the floor): I think you ought to find out what happened to everything.
As abruptly as he entered, the Guru suddenly gets up from his chair and heads for the door along a path cleared by a few WPC guards moving before him like a snowplow. Hallowitz a short, powerfully built man, struggles unsuccessfully to push his way toward him, then at the last minute drives through a hole in the crowd, stretches out his arm and manages to touch the Guru's foot. "I touched his foot! I touched his foot!" he tells me, beaming. Later he confides: I couldn't help myself. A premie before his Lord has no control over his actions."
After the press conference Hallowitz hands the letter he has written to one of Maharaj Ji's personal attendants and joins a line outdoors of perhaps a hundred premies to wait for an audience with the Guru. The line stretches back from a glass elevator that rises four floors to the Celestial Suite. (The suite itself, which I tour after Millennium, looks like Disneyland with beds. It has most recently been occupied by Tandem Productions, the company that put on the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs spectacular. The master bedroom includes a four-poster bed with a TV set hung above it, a suit of medieval armor, stained-glass windows and an enormous tiled Roman bath outfitted with a Jacuzzi whirlpool and gold spigots in the shape of swans. There is also the Tarzan Parlor with its leopard-skin pillows, bamboo balcony and plastic jungle greenery; the Big Top Parlor with horses off the original Barnum and Bailey carousel and Tom Thumb's custom-built mini-bed; and the Fu Manchu Bedroom featuring Chinese decor and a large bronze Buddha.)
Maharaj Ji stays up in the Celestial Suite that afternoon watching the program at the Astrodome on a closed-circuit television; but at one point he sends down his personal bodyguard, a black-belt karate instructor named Joe Lopez, who promptly sprays the crowd with pink foam confetti from an aerosol can. It is a lila, an example of the divine play that is the principal way devotees relate to Maharaj Ji, and the premies scramble for the stringy pieces of foam to keep as momentos. Every premie who has been around the Holy Family car tell a story about the time the Guru sprayed him with shaving cream, squirted a water pistol at him, threw a pie in his face or-the favorite lila-pushed him into a swimming pool at one of the three Divine Residences in the United States.
Occasionally, the lila take a more ominous turn. Jacques Sandoz, a Swiss premie who heads Shri Hans Films, tells about an incident that took place at the Divine Residence in Los Angeles, where he held the end of a balloon between his teeth while Bal Bhagwan Ji stood on a balcony 40 feet away and shot at it with a BB gun to test his devotion. Another premie describes the time the Guru fired a pistol at a number of prized vases in the backyard of the L.A. Residence "to teach us the worthlessness of material possessions."
There is a fanaticism about the behavior of premies in the Guru's presence which is often amusing to an outsider (the day before, three premies managed to climb up an air shaft leading into the Celestial Suite) but sometimes borders on the kind of violence not uncommon in millennial movements and at least once, in Detroit, crossed over the line. On that occasion two men posing as ex-devotees of the Guru first asked Pat Halley, the young reporter for The Fifth Estate who threw a pie at Maharaj Ji, to close his eyes so they could demonstrate the meditation techniques to him, then struck him repeatedly on the head with a blunt instrument, causing multiple brain contusions. None of the premies I have talked to about the beating seemed much bothered by it, although some of them were aware that one of Halley's assailants was a revered mahatma who was quickly hustled out of the country and is now giving Knowledge in Germany.
While waiting in line I ask Hallowitz for his reaction to the Detroit incident, and he says: "That fellow could have been carrying a machine gun. But he's actually blessed, he's part of the divine plan, and after he receives Knowledge his physical pain will mean nothing to him." And a WPC guard standing nearby comments to a reporter for TVTV, a documentary videotape company covering the event for public television: "If it'd been me, I would have split his throat on the spot." When the reporter remarks that it seems a bit fanatic to kill, a man for throwing a pie, the guard replies: "On the spot!" Hallowitz and I stick around a while longer, until it becomes clear that the Guru is not going to receive him. Later, he is called over to the Divine Residence to treat Raja Ji for a sty and considers that darshan enough for one day.
On the afternoon of the third day, a most unusual event is arranged for the press, a debate in the Astrohall between Rennie Davis and Paul Krassner (who has been broadcasting an irreverent play-by-play of the goings-on at the Astrodome over the local Pacifica radio station). The question: Does the Guru divert young people from their social responsibility? It is a curious affair, for here are two leaders of the counterculture who shared a basic viewpoint about society until recently and now seem to have almost nothing in common.
Krassner, who is wearing a faded dungaree jacket with a "Legalize Marijuana" patch on the sleeve, sees the Guru as "a spiritual equivalent to Mark Spitz . . . who was trained at an early age in his craft," and the Divine Light Mission as part of a huge ClA-directed conspiracy to destroy political opposition. He thinks that the main contradiction in society is "not between communism and capitalism or between Eastern and Western religion, it's between programming and spontaneity," and he has heard nothing but programmed responses from the premies he has met. "A distinction has to be made between searching and escaping, he says, "between doing your own thing and doing his thing."
Rennie smiles blissfully through Krassner's attack, closing his eyes every so often and appearing to meditate. In his gold-rimmed glasses and striped seersucker suit he looks like a young Bible salesman confident that he has the best territory in the land. All of the objections Krassner has raised, he says, miss the main point, which is that "the Lord is on the planet and he has the secret of life." Far from being a form of escapism, Maharaj Ji will lead "the most serious revolution ever to take place in the history of the world." For Rennie the main battleground now is "the struggle between the mind and the soul" in each person.
Listening to the debate one does not have the feeling that either of them have escaped the political repression
After the debate Rennie announces that those members of the press who want to receive Knowledge should meet with Mahatma Ashokanand on the top level of the Astrodome. There has been a rumor floating around for days that a special Knowledge session would be arranged for the press during Millennium, and we have all heard enough about the miraculous effects of the meditation by now to make us rush back to the stadium fairly buzzing with anticipation. Although devotees are warned not to reveal the actual techniques of the Knowledge, often being told by mahatmas that they will return in their next lives as ants or worse if they do, we have learned most of what goes on in the secret ceremony from disillusioned ex-premies who are more than willing to spill the beans.
It seems that after weeks, sometimes months, of listening to satsang at an ashram, a person who is deemed ready to receive Knowledge by a mahatma (meaning generally a person who shows some willingness to recognize Guru Maharaj Ji as the Lord) is taken into a small, darkened room in a group of not more than 25 initiates, for the ceremony. It can last anywhere from a few hours to a full day. Most of the time is spent listening to more satsang from the mahatma, who sits before the group with a bright light shining on him, and the atmosphere is naturally very highly charged. At one point each prospective premie must prove his devotion by pranaming before a picture of the Guru.
The actual demonstration of the techniques takes only a few minutes. The initiates are told to close their eyes while the mahatma comes around and presses his knuckles forcefully against each person's eyeballs, producing flashes of light caused by a pinching of the optic nerve. (This is a favorite medical school parlor trick, I am told, as well as a standard yoga practice. Later, I come across a description of the technique while leafing through a paperback called The Book of Highs: 250 Ways to Alter Your Consciousness Without Drugs.) To produce the Divine Music the mahatma puts his fingers deep into each initiate's ears, blocking out all external noise so that he hears only his own internal bodily sounds. Next the mahatma pushes each person's head far back while instructing him to curl his tongue against the roof of his mouth, producing a sweetish taste which is either the Divine Nectar or draining mucus, depending, I suppose, on one's ability to divine nectar. Finally, the experience of the Word (sometimes expressed onomatopoetically as "So-Hum") is a matter of concentrating on the sound of one's own deep breathing. After the ceremony, the new premies fill out Knowledge cards that include questions about their personal finances, for those who choose to enter an ashram must relinquish all their worldly possessions to the Mission and others are encouraged to donate a proportion of their income.
But it does not take a Pulitzer Prize winner to know that a report from an anonymous source is not the same as a first-person account, and the small, airless Astrodome room prepared for the press is as crowded as a rush-hour subway. To be fair, there is probably not a reporter in the room with a totally guileless heart, a cardinal prerequisite for receiving Knowledge. Yet the meeting would not be half as frustrating if the bait hadn't been dangled so teasingly for days. Ashokanand, a small, gentle Indian whose lips flatten out like a trumpet player's when he smiles, talks for a while about what it means to be dying of thirst in the desert and have someone offer you a cool drink of water; then he deftly sidesteps questions for an hour or more in a colloquy of the deaf:
Reporter: When will we be given Knowledge?
Mahatma: The thing is, this is the Knowledge of God and He is not bound by time.
Reporter: Could you give us Knowledge now?
Mahatma: This Knowledge is a fixed thing and you must go to it. It will not come to you.
Reporter: Could you tell us where to go, then?
Mahatma: I pray you, the path to God is verry, verry wide.
Finally, Ashokanand excuses himself, saying he must catch his charter back to London.
I return to the press level, where a group of premies is watching the CBS Evening News for a report on Millennium. Months ago Rennie Davis boasted that Walter Cronkite would cover the event like a space shot; yet so far there has been hardly a mention of it on network television and only the most slighting references toward the end of local newscasts, a light change-of-pace leading into the hard stuff ("And now for Houston's very own guru, weatherman Bill Ryan"). So here it is the evening of the last day of the Millennium, and Walter is about to wrap up the show without a word about the most significant event in all of human history. He barely has time for a quick tag item. "What is 5'8" tall and weighs 145 Ibs.?" he asks.
There is an audible gasp from the premies, for the dimensions seem to fit the Guru all right. Then Walter says, "Princess Anne's wedding cake" and signs off with a chuckle.
After dinner I drop by the medical clinic in the Astrohall to meet Bob Hallowitz, but the place is deserted. A hand-lettered sign near the entrance reads: DEAR BROTHERS AND SISTERS: GURU MAHARAJ Jl WILL BE GIVING 'SATSANG' AND 'DARSHAN' SOON IN THE ASTRODOME. TONIGHT THIS IS OUR BEST MEDICINE.
This leaves me with few alternatives, so I hurry over to catch the Guru's last show, which, as usual, opens with a set by his brother's rock band, Blue Aquarius. If the band is not exactly in Perfect Pitch, neither is its sound-an eclectic mixture of Thirties big band music, jazz and rock-half bad for a group organized only six months ago. Most of the musicians are English premies, and while the band includes professionals formerly with such rock groups as the Bee Gees, the Soul Survivors and the Foundations, even a few ex-members of the Royal Opera House orchestra, the majority are amateurs. And although the real creative force behind Blue Aquarius seems to be ex-Bee Gees drummer Geoff Bridgeford, the band's devotion to its leader, Bhole Ji, is touching (one night the band members took up a collection to buy him some Ray Charles records and a gift certificate to Baskin-Robbins), if a bit inexplicable. He comes out every night, a fat, walleyed fellow wearing a silver lame suit with matching shoes that look as though they have been pasted together from a thousand chewing gum wrappers, and flaps his arms around fiercely, resembling a grounded penguin learning to fly again, in a rhythm that seems to bear only the most tangential relation to the beat. "You have to understand," one band member tells me, "that Bhole Ji doesn't know music, he is music." Another claims that "Blue Aquarius plays the greatest music in the world because it comes from the Divine Harmony inside all of us," but admits that you have to be a devotee of the Guru to understand this-a kind of spiritual Catch-22 that crops up constantly in discussions with premies.
Blue Aquarius' finest moment comes during a kind of son-et-lumiere presentation of Sixties nostalgia. "These are some of the trips that brought us to the feet of Guru Maharaj Ji," announces Charles Cameron and the band plays a medley of songs by the Beatles, the Stones, the Grateful Dead, Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, the Supremes and other imperfect masters of music . All the while a mind-boggling array of pictures flashes on giant video screens: John Kennedy in the Dallas motorcade, the May Day arrests, Billy Graham, candy bars and malteds, Martin Luther King on the motel balcony, Vietnamese War scenes, Porky Pig, ghetto riots, the Maharishi, flower children, Lee Harvey Oswald . . .
As the concert is about to wind up, Maharaj Ji makes his way down a ramp connecting the stage with one of the stadium's upper tiers, wearing a kind of red-velvet smoking jacket and gold pants. He takes his place on the circular blue throne, flanked by his mother and older brothers. The band strikes up a chorus of "Lord of the Universe" while mahatmas place floral leis around his neck and the Astrodome's electronic wizardry goes into full gear, lighting him with powerful spots and projecting his image on the two color video screens adjacent to the stage. The stadium scoreboard begins to peel off a hodgepodge of scriptural citations like a Times Square tickertape reporting the Second Coming. Maharaj Ji waits, an impervious Buddha, for the "Bolie Shri" cheers to die down and the pranaming 70 feet below him to stop, then begins his hour-long satsang, full of the American youth-culture slang he has recently acquired and spoken in a high-pitched voice that echoes irritatingly off the stadium's lucite dome.
The Divine Light Mission is very much a religion in search of a creed, so that the Guru's message is unavoidably simple-minded, with the rankest cliches intoned as though they were moderately obscure literary quotations. (Imagine the Book of Revelations as a Classic Comic or the Disney version of the Bhagavad Gita.) He repeats the same few notions over and over again: The Knowledge can bring peace, love and harmony to the world. It is "beautiful," "fantastic," "far-out" but cannot really be described in words. Every human being possesses this "primordial vibration" within himself. However, our minds trap us into mistaking the external world for the "real reality." We are all One. Everything is perfect. He is the Perfect Master because he teaches perfection. Other religious leaders say they can bring peace to the world but look at the results. He ends by imploring the audience to experience the Knowledge, alternating a cutely cajoling manner ("Try it, you'll like it") with a vaguely threatening one ("You better get hold of it quick, you see").
It is all laced with a variety of homespun parables illustrating the few basic themes. The Guru has a Third World kid's obsession with Western technology (one of his main ambitions, a premie who has been close to him for several years told me, is to set the world land speed record), and a good proportion of these parables center around cars, planes, cameras and hi-fi equipment. "The thing is that this life is a big car," he says at one point, "and inside the car there is a big engine. And in the engine there is a carburetor, which is hooked up to a fuel line. In some cars, before the fuel line hits the carburetor, there is a thing called a filter that makes sure the fuel going into the carburetor is pure. So in this life, the filter for our minds is the Knowledge, and if we are not being filtered properly, many dirty particles enter our minds and eventually the whole engine is destroyed."
On this final night of the festival Maharaj Ji ends his satsang by telling the premies to "keep on doing the meditation because it'll be more beautiful than ever." He beams at the crowd of premies below as a mahatma places a miter-like Crown of Krishna, symbol of Hindu holiness, on his head, and Bob Mishler, the president of the Divine Light Mission in the United States, presents
The image of Perfect Master Guru Maharaj Ji, as it shone from the electronic scoreboard of Houston's Astrodome.
It strikes me that a record promo coming after all those scriptural references is a clue to the Guru's appeal and an apt text for a new type of religion. The whole puzzling event might be looked at as a kind of musical version of the Millennium, Gautama Buddha Superstar, a neat packaging of words and music and image that fashions a theology out of the Iyrics of a thousand popular songs about lave, love, love. The Divine Light Mission then becomes a form of pop religion, perhaps the first genuine rock & roll religion. For if pop art puts the stamp of high culture on the most mundane artifacts of a civilization, and thus merges the sacred and profane of a secular world, then pop religion says the common values of a culture are the keys to the Kingdom. There can be no dark reaches of sin and retribution (or of bad karma and the endless return) in a pop religion, nothing but an uncritical mirroring of a generation's best hopes about itself.
Considered as pop religion, the Divine Light Mission becomes part of a trend in recent years toward the Americanizing of Eastern mysticism. Much like the Maharishi (with whom he is inevitably confused), Maharaj Ji merchandizes meditation as a spiritual additive, STP for the soul, which is why his car analogies are so fitting. And he does it with a sharp eye on the values of prospective customers. There is the media orientation catering to a generation which grew up before a television set and so knows in its bones that the image is the reality. There is the American emphasis on scientific validation and the uncritical acceptance of technology as the finest achievements of the culture. There is the appeal to practical experience and the promise of instant gratification in the form of a high-voltage bolt out of the blue, a cosmic zap. There are the exaggerated claims of promotional campaigns ("now we are eight million people," the Guru said in one satsang, "and soon it's going to be 16, and then 32, and it will keep on multiplying like that"). There is even the fact that the Guru is 16 years old, for a culture which despises old age expects to hear wisdom out of the mouths of babes. But most of all there is the creation of a sense of community at a time of disintegrating social structures: The premies call each other "brothers" and "sisters," talk about belonging to a "family of love," revel in the feeling of being, as the Guru put it, "different flowers on the same thread."
Whatever else it might do, religion helps teach a society its table manners, the rules of social relations and it is probably no accident that Eastern religion became popular in this country when those rules were in transition. Individualism, achievement, striving-the values taught by an older American religion that saw human will as a reflection of divine will-no longer work in a place that has suddenly become crowded and depleted of resources, at a time when getting along becomes more important than getting ahead What is more natural than to turn to Hinduism, a religion that grew on overpopulated, resource-scarce soil and so taught a radical indifference to external reality and focused on the "boundless Being" into which we all merge as One-good values for hard times. What the Guru expounds is a kind of five-and-dime-store Hinduism, a cheap, easily assimilated import that denigrates individual ego and mind ("the werewolf that starts eating you up," Maharaj Ji says in favor of a more collective consciousness). Mind is the real enemy, for it separates, makes distinctions, analyzes, and so frays the social fabric further when the need is felt to smooth it over.
There is no use trying to understand Maharaj Ji's appeal in traditional ways-in terms of his charisma, say, or the contents of his statements-because his appeal is precisely that he is so uncharismatic and his statements so empty. There can be no disputing what he says because he says virtually nothing. Instead, Maharaj Ji provides a nucleus for a community of believers without demanding any particular beliefs of them other than those they already hold.
After the event is over I stay around the Astrodome to watch a crew of premies clean up the field. It must be done in a matter of hours in preparation for tomorrow's football game between the Houston Oilers and the Cleveland Browns. The premies sit silently meditating on the sidelines until they are called upon to roll up the tarp protecting the astroturf or carry away the plastic modules of the stage or dismantle the sound system. They work smoothly, efficiently, happily into the early morning hours, without a word of complaint or a note of friction. The game the next afternoon is a lackluster affair that the Browns take 23 to 15, but at least when the crowd cheers I understand why.
A few days later I visit the national headquarters of the Divine Light Mission in Denver, hoping to get my long-delayed interview with Maharaj Ji. He has flown to Los Angeles, however, and I am given a vague promise that a meeting will be arranged there in the next few weeks, as well as a tour of the office. It is a pleasant, well-equipped place that occupies three floors of a building in the heart of downtown Denver. Enlarged photographs of members of the Holy Family hang on the walls and there are inspirational messages on every desk such as "God is within you-find Him" and "Don't go to Guru Maharaj Ji: He will give you peace," a soft-sell pitch thought up by Bal Bhagwan Ji. There is a communications room that links the 27 DLM ashrams in this country by telex, a photo-typesetter named Lila and a recently purchased IBM System 3 computer. The computer stores the names and special skills of the 40,000 American premies, although on the day of my tour it is busy turning out programmed portraits of Maharaj Ji to the delight of a visiting delegation of Indian premies.
After some hesitation by DLM officials, I am allowed to see the Guru's office, which has a gold plaque reading "Supreme Chief Executive" on the door. The floor is covered with a royal blue carpet and on the orange walls hang framed resolutions honoring Maharaj Ji from a number of city councils and state legislatures (ex-Mayor Yorty of Los Angeles, for example, proclaimed "International Meditation Day" in honor of the Guru). On the Guru's desk are a couple of dozen rubber stamps, including one marked SANCTIONED. A button beside the desk opens a bookcase electronically to allow entrance to an adjoining office. On the bookcase there are several Bibles, a Koran, a Gita, a copy of the Aquarian Gospel and two large picture bocks, one entitled Cars, Cars, Cars and the other Airplanes, Airplanes, but I do not come across the book that is reportedly the Guru's favorite American work, Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Usually, a couple of hundred premies work full-time at the national headquarters, putting out the Mission's publications and staffing the standard departments of any medium-sized corporation. But there are only a handful here today, largely because a memo has been circulated directing all premies to look for jobs during the Christmas season in order to make up the organization's considerable debt. In normal times the DLM's $250,000 monthly operating budget is met through gifts from wealthy premies (at least one premie has donated a trust fund of over $100,000), the income from ten Divine Sales rummage stores across the country and several other small businesses ("Happy People Make Good Workers," reads the advertising handout for Divine Painters, Inc.) and the salaries of the 1200 premies who live in ashrams, most of whom hold outside jobs and must hand over their paychecks to the Mission. However, the expense of putting on Millennium has left the Divine Light Mission several hundred thousand dollars in the hole (aside from the $75,000 Astrodome rental fee, DLM officials refuse to divulge the costs of the event), necessitating the emergency measure.
Just as I am about to leave for the airport, my friend Alan shows up at the office with that familiar blissed-out smile of premies on his face. He tells me that he has received Knowledge in Houston and decided to live in an ashram in order to devote his life to Guru Maharaj Ji. Although he seems very relieved to have finally made the commitment, he is also understandably apprehensive about changing his lifestyle so drastically and wonders what his friends in the Movement will think of him. He shows me a letter of resignation from the Indochina Peace Campaign that he has written, which says in part: "For years I have worked for peace in Vietnam and now I must turn my attention to the deepest roots of American imperialism, the gross qualities of the human species, and work to affect an evolution of this being, beginning with myself."
I offer to drop Alan off at the Denver ashram on the way to the airport, and turn on my tape recorder as we talk. He tells me about an experience he had while meditating on the Knowledge a few days ago, where he heard a voice narrate the life of St. Francis and another lecture on the Industrial Revolution and he realized that the two voices, although seemingly different, both belonged to Maharaj Ji. "He is the voice that I have been listening to all these years inside myself," Alan says, "and now I know that he is in control."
I pull up to the ashram and turn off the machine. We start to say "goodbye" and then Alan has an afterthought. He reaches for the tape recorder, turns it back on and says in a rush: "People may think I'm freaked out but I'm not. I'm not freaked out. I'm not."
Several weeks go by during which I keep trying to set up an interview with Maharaj Ji. Finally, Jacques Sandoz calls to say that if I come to Los Angeles the next day, he thinks it can be arranged. I fly to L.A. and drive over to the Divine Residence in Pacific Palisades, a fairly modest stucco-and-brick ranch house with an orange railing around an exterior balcony. I am ushered inside by a premie-servant, told to leave my shoes in the hallway and to sit on the floor in the living room because the furniture is reserved exclusively for the members of the Holy Family.
There are still crepe-paper streamers across the room, for the Guru has recently celebrated his 16th birthday. A number of presents from premies are scattered about: two cooing doves in a cage, a stuffed monkey and panda bear, a model Boeing 747, a toy power boat. On a table in an adjoining room there is enough quadraphonic stereo equipment to reopen the San Andreas Fault one last time.
am kept company for an hour or so by a three-year-old Indian
kid, the Guru's nephew, who keeps shooting me dead with a
toy machine gun. Then Maharaj Ji pulls into the driveway in
a gray Mercedes 450 SL to take Mata Ji for an afternoon
spin, and I go outside to meet him. He is wearing a black
pinstripe suit and reflector aviator glasses. When he comes
around to help buckle his mother in, I remind him of our
talk. "Not now," he says, "maybe later," and takes off with
a screech. It is the last I see of