Texas Monthly, January 1974
God Goes to the Astrodome
A fat 15-year-old inaugurated 1000 years of peace in Houston this fall. Don't look now, but the people you went to college with may be following him.
The Maharaj Ji has fused the New Left and the flower children,
galvanized serious college-educated young people, and
promised a new era of peace. And it was all supposed to
begin in Houston.
By Thorne Dreyer
WELL, THE FAT KID CAME and went. The 15-year-old, ulcer-ridden pretender to the throne of the Al-mighty - a paunchy pre-adolescent mystical magnate believed by millions of devoted followers to be, well…God - chose Judge Roy Hofheinz' domed stadium to usher in 1000 years of peace for mankind.
Guru Maharaj Ji and his Divine Light Mission leased Houston's Astrodome for three days in November and spent well over a half million dollars promoting Millenilium '73, an event which they promised would force this country, and the world, to deal with the controversial Guru and his plan for spiritual peace.
Millennium '73 fell far short of the grandiose spectacle projected in an upbeat public relations campaign. Peak attendance was maybe 20,000, far short of the overflow throngs predicted early on. There were no levitations or other miracles, no visitations from extraterrestrial believers, and - for those of us whose expectations were more mundane - not much excitement and little substantive content.
The question "Who is Guru Maharaj Ji?" has not become a burning issue of the day and it's quite possible that the Divine Light Mission, for all its financial muscle, its efficient organization, and its dedicated believers, has shot its wad and is hopelessly over-extended.
But for every hard-assed cynic like this writer there just may be a gu-roovy with a permanent smile; the leaders believe, in apparent sincerity, that the Millennium was a rousing success and that the basis for a solid national organization exists. In any event, it's now full steam ahead on the Guru's next project, which just happens to be building a city (more on this later).
And, though the Millennium didn't live up to expectations, it was a very interesting event and we've got some good stories to tell. The Maharaj Ji's movement remains the most significant of its genre, with strong appeal to a fairly sophisticated class of young folks in this country.
Just the Facts, Ma'am…
BEFORE WE CARRY ON INTO the juicier parts of our narrative, let's have a quick Guru Primer. Just some basics that will help make you a more informed reader, and that will aid the writer in avoiding informational digressions and parenthetical side steps. Should you already know all the answers (unlikely, to be sure), accept a gold star for "informed citizen" and move right on to the next subhead.
Hans Jayanti - Astrodome event was tagged Millennium '73 and ushered in the alleged 1000 years of peace, but it was also the celebration of Hans Jayanti, the annual observance of the birthday of Maharaj Ji's father, Satgurudev Shri Hans Ji Maharaj, who also was a perfect master before he shuffled off this mortal coil in July 1966.
Divine Light Mission - The organization that spreads Maharaj Ji's Knowledge. It claims more than 6 million members and has its international headquarters in Denver. There are a number of sub-units, including World Peace Corps (a very intimidating security force); Shri Hans Productions (media arm); Divine Sales (retail merchandising); Divine United Organization (practical service arm).
Holy Family - Guru Maharaj Ji (named Perfect Master by father at age 8); Shri Mata Ji (Maharaj Ji's mom, name means "Holy Mother"); Bal Bhagwan Ji (eldest brother, 23, may be the real power); Bhole Ji (20, director of 50-piece band, Blue Aquarius); Raja Ji (18, Commander-in-Chief of World Peace Corps).
Knowledge - This is the direct experience that premies (see below) say you must have in order to know what they're talking about. This experience puts you in touch with the "source of peace within you" and is transmitted by Mahatamas (close disciples of Maharaj Ji) through meditation techniques. Some critics claim there's heavy suggestion or even hypnosis involved.
Premies - Devotees of the Guru who have received knowledge. Word means "lovers."
Satsang - "Truth-giving." Spiritual discourse on Maharaj Ji and his Knowledge.
Ashram - Communal dwelling for premies. Very regimented; premies give up worldly goods, are supplied with food, clothing and other basics.
THE WRITER KNEW RENNIE DAVIS "when." We weren't close friends, but we did share some experiences - especially one big collective experience (recalled these days with nostalgia): The Movement. When I was a young whippersnapper rebel/UT dropout, I got involved with an organization called Students for a Democratic Society (not to be confused with its latter and sadly crazy days).
I'd make all the national confabs and cathartic mass actions (ah, the Battle of the Pentagon…), usually packed into a minimally functional automobile with a handful of my righteous-if-scraggly cohorts.
Rennie Davis was a founding father of our organization and thus held in some awe for having been there in the very beginning, and signing the Port Huron Statement. In fact, his roots went back further, to the South and civil rights. Of course we Texans were wildly anti-authoritarian young punks and anyone who'd hung in long enough to attain a Leadership Position was as likely to receive our venom as our respect.
In 1967 Rennie and I and a couple dozen fellow activists in the U.S. peace movement flew to Czechoslovakia for an anti-Vietnam war gathering. This was one of many such trips Rennie would make in the following years, and it was during one such junket last year that he made the essential contact that led to his conversion to the path of the Guru.
(Rennie was in flight from Paris last January on peace movement business when he ran into some premie heavies including an old anti-war activist friend named Larry Canada. A long rap on the plane and several visits in Paris convinced Rennie to join the premies on a trip to India where he had along and significant meeting with the Divine brother, Bal Bhagwan Ji. Despite lingering doubts Rennie decided to take the Knowledge, had a mystical experience - involving crows and a pillowcase embroidered with "Lord of the Universe" - and headed for home to spread the Word among his astounded brethren.)
Rennie Davis had an aura of clarity about him; he was considered one of the most solid and sane movement leaders, and one of its more eloquent orators. And that, I guess, is why so many folks did more than a double take when Rennie made public his romance with the Perfect Master.
No Bliss This Trip
EARLIER THIS YEAR I DROPPED by a satsang on the University of Houston campus. I wanted to see Rennie but I was also curious about the Maharaj Ji scene. My initial experience was positive. People I talked with seemed really nice (not just goofy-groovy) and rather sophisticated: not the sort of people I normally associated with wild-eyed neo-religious cults. Rennie was relaxed and clearly at peace with himself.
Ironically, the Guru himself was arriving at the airport that very night (en route to Los Angeles), and a large welcoming party of premies and friends was being organized. I corralled gonzo-journalist compatriot Al Reinert and we headed for the airport; after all, it's not every day you can rub elbows with a deity.
It was like a Yippie scene at the airport; a couple hundred happy people in a circle in the center of the terminal making music and singing "Amazing Grace." Then it was time to prepare for the arrival. The rank-and-file devotees, many bearing flowers, formed a long line along the wan of the terminal. Rennie and several other primo premies slipped into a semi-circle up front. They held leis, presumably to place around wee God's neck.
Reinert and I situated ourselves at the rail where the Guru would enter, being careful to maintain our journalistic distance, but also halfway expecting to be blissed out on the spot. Well, such wasn't our karma this particular evening.
Maharaj Ji emerged, clad in a dark suit and carrying a briefcase, sandwiched between two body-guard types and looking for all the world like an uptight 42-year-old midget businessman.
He rushed right past Rennie and the other officials, grabbing the leis from their hands on the run. Then he huffed by the line of premies, some of whom were moaning and sobbing and eating their flowers. We saw not even a moment's eye contact for the faithful, not even a hidden twinkle or a hint of a smile. He just sashayed on out into the night and a waiting shiny limousine, and he was off. God moves in strange ways.
A Quick Flick at the Ashram
THE NEXT MAJOR DIVINE LIGHT affair I attended was an open house at the Rainbow Inn on October 7. It was my first time inside this ashram, which sleeps some 200 premies. The Rainbow Inn was, in a previous incarnation, the old Rams' Club and the interior reminds me of the places they stuffed you into for junior high school dance club dress-up affairs. It is not your run-of-the-mill setting for the practice of yogic expansion and metaphysical pursuits.
Immediately upon our entrance my friend Gray Fair was spirited off by two long-skirted premie ladies who led him first to the food and then to a chair where they could flank him and lay Maharaj Ji on him in stereo. Your writer, momentarily haunted by long-past fox trots, hovered in the vicinity of artist Don Snell who had combed his beard and brought along his camera for the occasion.
A steady stream of premies-in-service then began to parade by, each one - undaunted by his or her predecessor's failure - requesting the honor of finding me a seat down front. But I managed to hold out against all offers, expressing politely but firmly my preference to stay just where I was.
What they wanted (beyond satisfying a fetish for order) was to get me settled in for the program that was about to begin. But for now all there was to look at was a gold throne with white flowers and behind it a picture of Guru Maharaj Ji that honest-to-God managed to make him look like MarIon Brando.
After some preliminaries, Rennie Davis appeared and launched into one of many ultra-hyperbolic raps we'd hear from him in the next month. He touted the Millennium, happily proclaiming that it would be the "most profound and significant gathering in this nation's history." It would offer us the opportunity to "realize the vision of the Pilgrims." And would put humble Houston into the all-time Hall of Fame: "This city is goIng to be remembered through all the ages of human civilization." Yes, said Rennie, "It boggles the mind. A perfect master is again on this planet."
The Divine Light Dance Ensemble became a whirl of red sarongs and we were treated to a special screening of "Who is Guru Maharaj Ji?", a 60-minute color film produced by Shri Hans Productions - a skillfully executed, pizazzy back-grounder on the Guru and his followers. One sequence from the film stuck with me: Maharaj Ji is frolicking to and fro behind the wheel of a big orange tractor while the sound track intones the lilting "Who is Guru Maharaj Ji?"
I saw Rennie afterwards, we embraced, and he said, "Thorne, when are you going to come over here and try some of this Knowledge? I'm telling you, it's really beautiful…"
The True Path and Other Tendencies
FOR THREE DAYS IN NOVEMBER, Houston's domed temple of athletic worship became the unwitting focal point for esoteric metaphysical struggle
Jesus freaks of all stripes peddled their wares, offering to save the poor duped premies from the heathen ways of Guru Maharaj Ji. A whispered debate went on among their ranks: "Is the Guru really the anti-Christ? (Shudder.)"
Christian groups - many from out of town - set up head-quarters at spots like the Astroworld Hotel, distributed thousands of pieces of pro-Jesus literature, and laid heavy gospel on anyone who'd lend them an ear. They appeared at the gates with signs ranging from "Jesus Yes, Guru No" to the fascinating "Bhole Ji/Shiva/Dance and Destruction." Houston ministers raised the spectre of the Guru in their places of worship. Rev. Robert Montgomery, pastor of Minnetex Community Church, said, "The Guru claims to be the Messiah, but he is an anti-Christ. There is a spiritual presence about him, but I believe it is demonic."
More than 30 Protestant churches and religious groups - mostly Baptist - pooled their collection plates to purchase large display ads in the Houston dailies. Topped by a bold headline proclaiming, "We Thought You'd Like to Know," the ads proceeded to contrast statements of Guru Maharaj Ji with those of "The Living God."
But despite their numbers and traditional clout, the Christians caused much less of a buzz than the handful of kooky-looking folks from Hare Krishna who danced and chanted and passed out copies of the Bhagavad-gita. They claim the Maharaj Ji is a fraud and a cheat and blot on the name of Lord Krishna.
The Krishnas (actually devotees of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness) pose more of a threat because their spiritual roots and rhetoric are similar to those of the Mission. When these devotees, who live ascetic, meditative lives, shave their heads and wear flowing saffron robes, tell a premie that the Guru is a fraud, he just might listen.
In any event, the Krishnas were not allowed inside the Astrodome by the Guru's security forces (they weren't even granted bathroom privileges), and at times had to don wigs and straight clothes instead of their customary robes to get inside the gates of the parking lot.
Each day they gathered near the main entrance, danced and chanted "Hare Krishna." On Saturday, 31 were arrested after a Divine Light official filed a formal complaint.
We heard there was a confrontation brewing Friday afternoon, so we rushed down from the press area, unabashedly praying for some action to liven up the dreary goings-on. As we arrived, a group of Krishna followers was dancing towards the front of the Dome, their arms in the air and "Hare Krishna" on their breath. Meanwhile, coming from the bowels of the stadium, were multitudes of premies, set loose for the dinner break.
The two dozen Krishnas began a kirtan or extended musical chant. They danced in a circle praising God: "Hare Krishna/Hare Krishna/Krishna Krishna/Hare Hare." They were surrounded by premies, news hounds and the curious. The premies almost seemed to enjoy the heresy, but whenever there was a lull in the chanting, they would raise their arms and proclaim, as one: "Bolie Shri Satgurudev Maharaj Ki Jai!" ("All Praise and Honor to the Perfect Master.")
A bearded premie from Boston, though no Krishna-symp, voiced disillusionment with the Divine Light treatment of the Krishnas. "Rennie Davis, who is supposed to be such an advocate of free speech, isn't letting these folks have theirs. He's working with the police against these people."
Someone in the crowd held up a picture of Maharaj Ji and the Krishnas responded with likenesses of Krishna and of their spiritual master, A. C. Bhaktivedanta.
The sky over the Dome had turned a threatening grey and a chilling breeze had whipped up. Suddenly there was an electric undercurrent among the premies, and all eyes turned toward the sky. Their concern, however, was other than the weather. Maharaj Ji and his Holy Family had appeared in the windows on the top level of the Dome; the Guru raised his arms to his followers and they chanted his name, blissed-out by this unexpected long-distance audience with the Perfect Master.
Now it was the Krishnas' turn to escalate this spiritual battle of wits. Two devotees quickly climbed atop the roof of a small ticket-sales building, placing themselves in the line of sight of the Guru. They danced and chanted above the spot where Houston Oiler fans pick up their tickets to the next defeat, until one of Houston's finest sent them scrambling.
I later visited the Radha Krishna Temple and talked with Suhotra Das, a member of a traveling troupe of Krishnas who came to Houston, he said, at the invitation of Divine Light premies. Suhotra Das, who was once a Detroit hippie named Roger Terrence Crowley, told us why his people are down on the Guru.
"In India they have organizations that our spiritual master describes as Mystic Factories. These are places where they manufacture Gods. Yoga aspirants will go to school and they learn methods of, like, how to put someone in a trance. They learn a smattering of scriptures, so they can quote whatever they want.
"Guru Maharaj Ji has obviously been trained up in some hypnosis and things like that, and he's come over from India to make a lot of money off the Americans. He's dragging real spiritual life through the dirt."
Suhotra Das said that Maharaj Ji's methods are not authorized in the Bhagavad-gita, the basic Hindi spiritual text. "What he is doing has nothing to do with the knowledge Krishna describes. These rascals go on for a while cheating people but gradually - just like John Lennon, he wised up to the Maharishi and wrote that song Sexy Sadie - they'll get bitter, and turn sour on this guy and his mystic bag of tricks."
Rock Me, Maharaj Ji
WHEN HE WAS 12, GURU Maharaj Ji told more than a million people, "I am the source of peace in this world. All I ask of you is your love, and what I can give you is such peace as will never die. I declare I will establish peace in this world."
This grandiose proclamation was issued exactly three years before the Houston Millennium, during the Hans Jayanti celebration Nov. 8-10, 1970, in New Delhi, India. Those words became known as the Guru's Peace Bomb.
And the fulfillment of that prophecy, they told us, was to begin in Houston's Astrodome in 1973 and stretch out for a thousand years. Typical of the promotional hype was this, on a slick mass-produced flyer: "Now the turning point in human civilization is here. At the colossal Houston Astrodome on Nov. 8-10, Guru Maharaj Ji will bring in the age of peace. This gathering in Houston is more than just a large festival. It is a world assemblage to save humanity. The Dawn of the New Age."
The Millennium experience would do our heads and then some. More people than the stadium could hold, marvelous technological occurrences, The Show of Shows. The festival promised to inaugurate an "international agency to feed and shelter the world's hungry," and basically layout a concrete practical path towards world peace. The first step in the cosmic design would be the planning and construction of a utopian Divine City.
Well, they didn't pack the joint and the show was spotty: it had its up moments but the rest would have put a speed freak to sleep. Most of what was promised in the way of special effects either didn't occur at all or simply wasn't large enough in concept to cope with the vastness of the Astrodome experience. But if it was indeed a failure, those aren't the reasons. In fact, it's pretty amazing that this crew of amateur showmen was able to pull off as tight and professional an operation as it did.
The real problem, from this humble observer's perspective, was one of content, or should we say, lack of content. They didn't have much to say, and they said it over and over again. Basically they're talking about an experience that can't, by their own admission, be communicated verbally. The only way to know what the Knowledge is, is to receive it through meditation with a Mahatma. And the only way you can realize that Guru Maharaj Ji is for real a Big Dude is to have that Knowledge.
You certainly couldn't tell it from his reported erratic behavior, his recently diagnosed duodenal ulcer or his hefty penchant for Rolls Royces, airplanes and expensive homes. And you wouldn't know it from hearing him talk. He's difficult to understand, his voice is changing and far from eloquent, and if you strain for the words, you hear repetitive, empty aphorisms.
During his three hour Millennium oration he must have made at least a dozen analogies involving automobiles. (He appears to have a fixation.) And he went into one long rap comparing God to the Astrodome (with either one, if you haven't experienced it personally, you don't really know what it is). And there was the one about the poor fellow who tears Houston upside down looking for a Superman comic book, fails in his task and ends up hassled and discouraged. When who should appear but a smiling five-year-old kid who walks up and hands him - wonder of wonders - a Superman comic. (You don't have to look for it; it'll come to you.)
And those stories were high points. He mostly droned on and on with his basic message: "You want peace? Give me a try. I'll establish peace for you. It's a simple deal." It's hard to accept a God without even a little charisma.
The three days of the festival were inundated with satsang - long, rambling, repetitive testimonials to Maharaj Ji and his Knowledge - by members of the Holy Family, Mahatmas, and leaders of the Divine Light Mission. Only Rennie Davis' satsang on the final night reached anything approaching an oratorical peak.
At other times, the affair was more like a rock festival with long sets by Blue Aquarius, the 50-piece band led by Bhole Ji, the Guru's brother. (Bhole Ji, who is even plumper than his brother, wore a dazzling silver-sequined costume that rivalled Elvis at his gaudiest. At one point I observed, in a moment of rhetorical excess, that Bhole Ji was bouncing and bobbing like a rhetorical dumpling in Mata Ji's chicken soup.)
Blue Aquarius was capable of generating some real excitement, although the one time they really got the folks up and boogie-ing, a sign was flashed on the scoreboard saying, "Attention, Attention/Please do not run and dance/Thank you, Guru Maharaj Ji." The entertainment also included recording artist Eric Mercury and a beautifully choreographed and executed dance called Krishna Lila, performed by the Divine Light Dance Ensemble.
The size and scope of the Houston Astrodome, however, tended to dwarf whatever theatrical effects - visual or aural - were attempted. Though the multi-level stage and slide projections and light shows may have appeared massive on paper, they failed to overwhelm in execution. Even the Guru himself - high atop a flame-shaped throne - was a mere speck in the concave universe of colored seats and memories of home runs past.
Perhaps the most effective tool was the massive Astrodome scoreboard which served as the constant carrier of messages ranging from the sublime to the mundane. (To some sensibilities, however, it was a vehicle more of electronic overkill than of enlightenment.) When Maharaj Ji appeared on his throne the first night, his arrival was announced on the scoreboard by the same fireworks that greet Astro outfielder Cesar Cedeno when he clouts a hanging curve into the centerfield stands.
But the scoreboard has never honored a Cedeno blast with the slogan "Truth is the target/The mind is the bullet/Ready. Aim. Fire." - followed by a verbatim rendition of the Lord's Prayer. Or: "The Holy Breath will fill this place/And you will be baptized in Holy Breath."
When Maharaj Ji completed his Saturday night satsang, celestial music filled the dome, strobe lights flashed and the scoreboard overloaded. On one side it trumpeted scripture like, "Yea all kings shall fall down before him/ All nations shall serve him," while the other panel was flashing a giant yellow "REALIZE." It was, to be truthful, a bit eerie: like the setting for a futuristic ascension. For the Christian devout, it was surely the pinnacle of sacrilege; for the cynical, the height of pretension; and for the stoned, merely another manifestation of the cosmic giggle.
One time the scoreboard flashed "Sugar is Sweet/So are You/Guru Maharaj Ji." In fact, had the staff of The National Lampoon been placed in charge of the scoreboard, they probably wouldn't have changed a thing. They certainly wouldn't have cut this number: "All premies interested in doing/Propagation in Morocco please contact/Millennium Information at the Royal Coach Inn."
In total, however, not much of the event was burned into our memory (or our notepads). We are left with a montage of impressions, like random stills from a Shri Hans flick. For instance, we have a sharp visual after-image of the thousands of premies, mostly jetted in by special airlifts from India and Europe, who packed the floor of the Dome. The field was covered with a bright red carpet which the premies transformed into an impressive multicolored embroidery.And we certainly can't forget the incredible bureaucratic run-arounds with the World Peace Corps (described by one journalist as "a Guru goon squad of tough-looking teddy bear types from Britain"). Those premies drafted into bureaucratic service were often so mindless in their devotion to arbitrary principles of order that the term "guranoid" was coined in their honor.
And then there were the Divine Sales concession stands that peppered the area, hawking their spiritual souvenirs. (I even gave in and bought a rainbow-colored Guru button for my collection.) They did a booming business in items ranging from Millennium tee shirts ($2.75) to shoulder bags ($2.50) to Guru Maharaj Ji stationery ($1.50) to opera glasses and ear plugs. (Ear plugs?)
Austin artist Kerry Fitzgerald tried to give Divine Sales a little friendly competition and they put the World Peace Corps on him. Kerry - in the spirit of cosmic free enterprise - brought a bundle of special Guru tee shirts that he designed and had printed up. The guranoids expressed disapproval because Kerry's version of Maharaj Ji wasn't smiling and because one of his eyes was abstracted into a starburst. (Kerry said the starburst eye symbolized the comet Kohoutek and was inspired by a Maharaj Ji utterance: "Peace will come in the twinkling of an eye.") Informed speculation was that Divine Sales preferred to corner the market.
There were also interesting side trips with some of the personalities and media figures who were wandering around. Reformed evangelist Marjoe Gortner was covering the event for Oui magazine. Houston's listener-sponsored radio station KPFT-FM did "bliss-to-bliss" live coverage from the Dome, anchored by and featuring often sardonic commentary from Realist editor Paul Krassner, former celebrated pot prisoner and White Panther leader John Sinclair, Texas' gift to the Yippies Jeff Nightbyrd, and Jerry Rubin, Chicago Eight co-defendant with Rennie Davis.
KPFT aired a live debate between satirist Krassner and Millennium organizer Davis on the topic, "Resolved that Guru Maharaj Ji and the Divine Light Mission serve to divert young people from social responsibility to personal escape." Davis responded with poise when Krassner challenged him about the "Divine Ulcer" and the incident in Detroit where a staff-writer for the underground Fifth Estate threw a shaving cream pie in the Guru's face and later suffered a fractured skull at the hands of two over-zealous premies bearing lead pipes. (The DLM later disavowed the action.)
Krassner swore that, "if a giant pie had come down from the sky and hit the reporter in the face, I would have been converted on the spot." He suggested that the Guru movement might be a calculated diversion from the harsh realities of politics in this country and called Maharaj Ji "the spiritual equivalent of Mark Spitz."
But one side trip there wasn't. This has to be the only time in several years that I have been in such a large crowd of young people - many long-haired and freaky - and not once smelled marijuana fumes or seen the signal-flare of joints being passed and puffed in the black.
On the whole, if you weren't an initiate (and didn't have access to the press area), Millennium '73 fell flat. You might say it was the Guru's second Peace Bomb, if you catch our meaning.
Every premie we talked with, however, thought the event unquestionably Divine; their ability to consume with relish whatever was thrown at them from the stage rivaled the boredom-absorbing power of the delegates at the '72 Republican Convention.
Leaders of the Divine Light Mission also expressed sublime satisfaction with the affair though rationalization could easily be read into some of their explanations. Architect Larry Bernstein, who designed the stage, pointed to the scope of the whole project and the professionalism with which it was put together. "Eight months ago I didn't see how they had a snowball's chance in hell of pullng this thing off."
Bernstein said the event was designed for the premies and especially for the organizers, who he feels gained immeasurable experience useful for future projects. He also made an interesting admission. "I didn't design that stage for the people in the Astrodome. This event is going to be completely taped on TV , there's going to be a five-record album and a complete movie made from it. That was my audience."
The Perfect City and Related Visions
LARRY BERNSTEIN IS A HANDSOME, gentle man who studied architecture with Frank Lloyd Wright and now wants to build a perfect city for the Perfect Master.
"I've been told the city is top priority," Larry said two days post-Millennium. "Bal Bhagwan Ji (the Guru's eldest brother) called me Sunday morning and said, "Start working - you're the coordinator - start developing the city."
The Divine City is the first major project of the Divine United Organization (DUO) which was inaugurated during the World Assemblage to Save Humanity, on the third day of Millennium. In his November 10 satsang, Rennie Davis said, "With this organization (DUO), we will feed and shelter and clothe every human being who is in need on this planet." (No timetable was given so check with them before you start lining up.)
"The first project will be to build a city and Guru Maharaj Ji calls this city the Divine City and he says it will be a practical demonstration of the feasibility of establishing the kingdom of Heaven on earth. It will be like no city in the history of the world and people will come to this city and see how human beings were meant to be."
So you can see that Larry Bernstein's assignment is, well, challenging. But damned if there isn't a twinkle in this man's eye, and an aura of (peacefully) manic vision about him that makes you think that if anybody could do it…
Bernstein studied industrial engineering and architecture at M.I.T., spent a year with Frank Lloyd Wright and several years as an industrial design consultant. His achievements in architecture and related fields have won him awards and respect. He took the Knowledge and became a follower of Guru Maharaj Ji early last year. He has long been an ardent student of both physics and metaphysics and says that for 20 years he has been expecting Maharaj Ji to show up. It seems that psychic Edgar Cayce predicted then that a boy born in India in 1958 would lead the world, and Bernstein took him for his word.
Larry bought his trailer and his wife and daughter and two dogs and the tools of his trade to Houston three months before the Millennium. He set up shop behind the Rainbow Inn and proceeded to design and coordinate construction of the massive, multi-tiered stage that supported Maharaj Ji, the Holy Family, the Mahatmas, plus Blue Aquarius and other entertainers.
But that's done and gone; now his sights are on the Divine City - a structurally futuristic and functionally utopian concept. I came away halfway convinced that Larry Bernstein will indeed build a city someday. Maybe it won't be Heaven on Earth, but it ought to be a damn pleasant place to live.
The basic building unit of the city would be a six-sided module made of a translucent plastic, a concept Larry developed several years ago. Each module would have a hole in the center, and they would be stacked on pre-fab concrete trunks going up some 25 stories. But each trunk would be only 75 per cent full of modules, so there would be random holes (determined by computer) to make for an interesting cityscape.
He says the modules would be strong, economical and highly adaptable. Since the plastic would be translucent, light would come in evenly and there would be no dark corners. "You've got 20 stories of these little modules, and they're all glowing at night, which would make a really beautiful cityscape - a real city of light."
Larry would like to see the city in a mountain setting. "The modules would be capable of anything from flat terrain to hills to mountains, almost to cliffs - to the same modules going right down into lakes, to actually floating on lakes. You'd park your car outside of town, and you'd come in on the monorail, and you might come into the 12th floor on this one, and the eighth floor here and the first here…And when you come in through one of these buildings, you're looking up through stories and stories of modules. You should be able to love every inch of these buildings. Buildings today are just schlock."
But how would the city itself be organized?
"Unlike the commercial orientation of cities throughout the ages, the marketplace would be replaced by the spiritual centers and the cultural centers. Ballet and dance would dominate; the marketplace would be there, but to serve man, and not as the heart of the city."
"When you'd have a festival the whole city would be alive. It would be very conducive to performance - the pavement would all of a sudden swoop up and provide a beautiful podium for someone to give satsang, or here it might dip down into a natural amphitheater, or there it might swell into a place for the band to play…"
As he goes on, he becomes a tour guide in Fantasyland. It's like he's been teleported into his vision of this place; suddenly he's there in the flesh, his surroundings animated and in day-glo colors.
Would this city just be for premies? No, but if you're a premie, you just walk into a store, hand them your premie card "and they'd give you a suit or a meal or whatever you needed." But there would also be non-Ashram types, property-holders, who would pay for the same goods.
Larry says a book and a movie about the Divine City are currently in progress and that a design center is being pulled together. "We already have people from all over - Norway, Spain, Italy - who want to be a part of it. Carpenters, designers, architects, artists, engineers. We're looking for land. We want to prototype the city in a modest way somewhere on a couple hundred acres. And hopefully, within two or three years…"
We can understand why a visionary architect would want to build a city, but why for a 15-year-old chubby kid from India?
"I came to the realization several years ago that God is simply unity itself. And the only difference between me and that unity is the degree of realization. I am an aspect of the infinite that has not yet realized itself.
"We happen to have on the planet now a soul who has perfectly realized this energy. A soul who has so perfected himself in past lives, or in this life, that he's actually become one with that consciousness. And when you realize unity, you can operate omnisciently, omnipresently. I mean, this guy Maharaj Ji could right now pop out of that body and go play in an entire universe."
Wait a minute. You mean that ulcerated, chubby little…
"I think he appears as a fat little kid just to confuse us. You know, after I took the Knowledge, I freaked out over the outlandish things Maharaj Ji would do. I kept saying to myself, you know, this is a hell of a way for a God to act. I mean, this guy must be a fraud…".
There's a Hindi concept called lila which is sort of like Divine play. Larry Bernstein figures that the kid God knows very well what he's up to.
"All I know is that Maharaj Ji is not from around this neighborhood. He is a power that you and I don't know how to handle, yet. And he has his own way of doing things. He's going to do things for the good of his overall plan. And it's not going to jibe with anything we consider realistic."
Well, you can't argue with that, can you? The kid's weird because he's got something Big up his sleeve. Maybe a hit of that Knowledge stuff would make it all come clear. I'll tell you this much, Larry: at least I like the city.
Cheap Thrills at the Millennium
WE HAVE TWO FRIENDS WHO figure they got higher than anyone else at the Astrodome. They climbed to the top!
Gary and Diane got bored with the proceedings inside and, up for some cheap thrills, they opted to reach for the heavens. With the help of scaffolding left by workers mending the roof, they scaled the outside of the Dome. They climbed to the very top and, after basking for awhile in the breathtaking scene, discovered that in the very center there was an opening into the stadium. They climbed down into a wire mesh catwalk and were standing, suspended in air, with 360 degrees of Millennium below. Maharaj Ji - way down there - was delivering satsang.
After taking in the dazzling scene, they happened to glance upward. And there, divinely centered in the circular hole through which they had climbed, keeping guard directly above the Astrodome, was a perfectly full moon. The sky framing it was crystal clear and the moon was the brightest of whites.
DOWN ON THE FLOOR, TRUE believers from distant places were blissing out as the scoreboard flashed apocalyptic gospel and the Guru compared true peace to the carburetor of a Mercedes. Convert Rennie Davis was scurrying around doing the Lord's busywork, while in a radio booth far above his former compatriots wondered if he'd lost his New Left marbles.
As for Diane and Gary, the spectacle phased them little. They were still way up on high, sharing that catwalk with the full moon and figuring that if anyone at the Millennium had a mystical experience it was they. Knowledge notwithstanding.