- by Jim Bass
Two dramas were performed in the Astrodome last November In one, the Lord and his devotees shared each other's love and left contented. In the other, the press encountered something they couldn't understand and left confused.
Millennium '73 was a media event, which means the Astrodome was packed with reporters. Due in part to an effective promotional campaign by Divine Light Mission, over three hundred professional newsmen came to Houston from all over the U.S.A and the world to find Out about Guru Maharaj Ji.
The result has been that in the past five months, you can hardly pick up a newspaper or magazine and not find something written about Maharaj Ji and his mission. Articles have appeared in Time, Newsweek, New York Times, The New Republic, Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Creem, Crawdaddy, Ramparts, Trans India, Intellectual Digest, Saturday Review World, Penthouse, Esquire, Vogue, Stereo Review, Oui, and in every major newspaper in America.
With few exceptions, these reports have portrayed Maharaj Ji as a materialist and his followers as misguided or misled.
In each case, the articles reflected the ethical standards and clarity of the particular writers and their editors. Some made an honest attempt to understand Millennium '73 while others seemed to have an allergic reaction and irrationally insulted Maharaj Ji and his followers. Others tried to understand, but in the end, attempted to compensate for their lack of Knowledge by advancing their own theories.
One such journalist was Ted Morgan, whose story "Oz in the Astrodome" appeared in the New York Times Book Review. Morgan noticed that premies are nice people who love each other and have learned how to cooperate. But Morgan couldn't see the one thing that tied the premies to Maharaj Ji and so he filled the gap with his own ideas. He concluded that Maharaj Ji was like the Wizard of Oz, a master of illusion and a mirror who reflected whatever the premies wanted to see. If they wanted a magician, they got one. If they wanted a Lord, they got that also. What Morgan didn't understand was that Maharaj Ji can also mirror Truth.
Besides the written media coverage, there were live radio broadcasts of the festival and one television documentary produced by TVTV under a grant by National Educational Television and aired nationally in March. Called "Lord of the Universe," this 45-minute special purported to be an objective appraisal of the Perfect Master and his following.
But in fact, the people making this film had an axe to grind. With the aid of subtle visual techniques, they left the audience with a confused impression of Guru Maharaj Ji. For example, in an interview with Bal Bhagwan Ji, they used a fisheye lens to distort his face. In another segment, they showed Maharaj Ji telling the premies the parable of the Superman comic, but neatly left out Maharaj Ji explaining the meaning of the story, thus making his words sound silly.
To be fair, we must admit that much of the bad publicity stemmed from improper and inept handling of the press at Millennium. Most of the Divine Light Mission public relation officers were tenderfeet among professionals. Only a minority truly understood a journalist's job and some harbored an ill-concealed distrust of all reporters.
The biggest botch was Guru Maharaj Ji's press conference. Approximately fifty premies (mostly foreign) posing as DLM "press" convinced WPC guards that they should be allowed into the conference along with working press.
This would have been fine if these people had known how to remain invisible. Instead they acted like cheerleaders at a basketball game crying out "Boli Shri …" whenever Maharaj Ji answered a question. Naturally, the professional newsmen felt like their intelligence was being insulted. It is no wonder that a Houston paper reported the following day that DLM had staged a press conference with premie stooges.
0f course, the news media didn't always behave like gentlemen. When Maharaj Ji first came onto stage at the press conference, the photographers were told they could have five minutes to snap pictures. What ensued was a chaotic, elbow jabbing spectacle with so many scavengers swooping in on their prey. Maharaj Ji sat composed throughout the whole period except for one time when he broke into a wide smile.
Some of the reporters dealt with Maharaj Ji as though they were district attorneys interrogating a hostile witness, not writers seeking to make the facts clear to themselves.
Last week, I sat down with Carole Greenberg, head of DLM Information Services and discussed the lessons learned from the press at Millennium '73. Carole noted, "Many reporters came to this event thinking they might really be in on the action.
Lots of them actually expressed this and this is why Millennium '73 drew so many reporters from all over the world. Every major network, radio, newspaper and magazine was represented there, making their own investment of staff time and money to capture this event."
Millennium '73 was promoted as the greatest event in the history of the world and for those who knew how to tune into the vibration of love, it was. But the press came wanting something to happen that they could film and show on the eleven o'clock news.
Carole said, "The press came wanting to take a picture of truth or to interview truth. They expected something tangible and when they didn't get it, there was a reaction. Much of this was our fault because of the way we promoted Millennium as an external event.
"We said that Maharaj Ji was going to reveal his plan for world peace and that strange and wonderful things were going to happen. There were rumors that the Astrodome was going to lift off. In fact, the strange and wonderful thing did happen, but it was something you could not quantify. Knowledge is the key to world peace but you cannot report on it without first receiving it and understanding it."
When the newsmen finally realized that the secret of Millennium '73 was Knowledge, they requested a special "press Knowledge session." But they asked as reporters, not as humble human beings. Under the circumstances, a Knowledge session would have done them no good, so they were told they would have to wait.
At this point, a lot of reporters got angry. One classic and almost comic example of this took place during a press conference with Mahatma Ashokanand. One reporter asked. "They tell me that before I can receive Knowledge I must understand what it is. Then they tell me that before I can understand it. I must receive it. Sounds like a circle to me."
Ashokanand replied with hands pressed together. "My dear brother, by the Grace of Guru Maharaj Ji. I have realized that this life is but a circle …" and went on with more satsang. The reporter left the room furious.
That afternoon I encountered this same reporter and tried to answer his question. He flushed instantly and said, "Listen. I'm going to cut it off right here because you are going to try and satsang me and I know it!" And he stomped off.
The press felt betrayed. Without Knowledge. Millennium '73 was like an inside joke. When they reached for the punch line they found they were not ready for it. That left the press little choice but to write about the external aspects of the festival.
What they saw didn't add up. Most of the reporters noted that the premies were radiating love. but they also noted some gaudy commercialization. As Carole said, "We took something subtle and sacred and tried to market it to the public." Even premies were dismayed at times by all the hustle. I saw one devotee lose his temper when a Divine Sales hawker walked through the crowd pushing his wares during satsang.
What was learned from all of this? As for the press, Carole remarked, "We must understand where they are coming from and that in our enthusiasm to bring people to the Knowledge we shouldn't clobber them over the head with propaganda instead of understanding."
Carole feels that in one sense, the press helped us to see where we were coming from. "They did us a favor by providing a mirror. They took all this garbage we gave them and put it right in front of us. And they did it without the compassion and love we are used to. The garbage we gave them was all the stuff that wasn't satsang."
Premies are finally realizing something that Maharaj Ji has told us all along - Knowledge will not be spread by the media. Propagation takes place on a person to person, heart-to-heart basis. Carole remembers, "We used to think we could go on TV and the whole world would wake up. Now we understand that you cannot change a person until he wants to change."
Propagation has now gone grass roots. Premies are going out into their communities and serving people. Programs have been established in hospitals, prisons, drug centers and convalescent homes so that premies can share the joy they feel. "When we go to serve people, our happiness is contagious," Carol said. "Then we see the tangible results of this Knowledge which is uplifting human beings. Premies love this service because this is their true mission - helping people and bringing them closer to the vibration."
Carole also foresees a widening of attitudes among premies regarding the practice of Knowledge. Too often premies push their own particular way of expressing the Knowledge onto people. Carole said, "We often try to present ourselves as one brand of spirituality labeled 'universal.' But our attitudes are often rigid. The press picked up on the fact that many of us have seen the Knowledge as a dogma and DLM as our church. But it's not true: Knowledge is for everybody and fits everywhere. We have to practice what we preach without trying to be good premies or bad premies but simply human beings who have realized the purpose of our lives. We have to see ourselves as universal citizens."
As an afterthought, not all was bad in the press. In fact. there were two good stories printed although they showed up in unlikely places. One was in a kiddy magazine called Fun Time. They kept their approach simple and succeeded. The gist of their story was Maharaj Ji saying, "I love them and they love me."
Another surprise was in Zap Comix's "Mr. Natural Meets the Kid." In this episode Mr. Natural goes to the desert where he encounters a boy who looks a lot like you-know-who. Mr. Natural heaps abuse on the "Kid" by first throwing dynamite on him, then stomping on him and finally crashing boulders on the "Kid's" head. The "Kid" remains unaffected through it all.
Finally Mr. Natural asks him, "Just who the hell are you?" and the Kid replies, "I'm God." Flabbergasted by the response, Mr. Natural mutters, "I might have known," then decides to return to the city where he can "find some pleasures of the flesh and forget about my 'higher self'." But when he gets to town he runs into a parade of people carrying placards with the boy's face. Mr. Natural cries. "Oy, the kid is a comer." and passes out on the sidewalk.