An East Indian Teen-ager Says He Is God
BY KEN KELLEY
Thousands of Americans now give Satgurudev Shri Sant Ji Maharaj their time, devotion, and money. Why?
America's hunger for newness and dependency on image has produced helter-skelter plunges into trendiness in recent years. New cars, New Journalism, new panty hose, New Politics, new razor blades, New Sexuality - newness itself is becoming passe as the new improved models breathlessly arrive from Madison Avenue. It is a tribute to American fortitude that an entire generation somehow survived on bread with only eight essential body-builders, cornflakes without pulverizing doses of vitamin E, and toothpaste minus red stripes or green flecks.
Now religion is grinding through its facelift, and Jesus Christ has come out a Superstar. No New Theology would be complete, of course, without a shot of Eastern mysticism and a weekly television show to Kung Fu the message into our souls. And just as the battle rages over the one mouthwash that can deliver earthly happiness, the new Messiah-mongers are fighting eyetooth and nail over which savior will lead us to eternal salvation.
Few people would have predicted twenty years ago that a small German import would challenge Detroit's automobile supremacy, just as few now predict that a diminutive boy from India can overtake Billy Graham or the Pope. But that doesn't stop sixteen-year-old Guru Maharaj Ji and his followers, in the Divine Light Mission from trying, using the same underdog appeal and slick public-relations savvy employed by a high-powered advertising agency.
In the front lines of the campaign is former Leftist and Chicago-Seven defendant Rennie Davis, to whom the teen-age avatar gave a new lease on life following his demise as an antiwar leader. Davis thinks his training as a political preacher and mass proselytizer serves him well in his new calling. And while most of his former colleagues feel Davis has become something of a burned-out basket case, Davis asserts that his sanity has never been more apparent. "I'm simply doing what Guru Maharaj Ji has prepared me to do all my life, he says. "He is the Perfect Master, the creator of the world, and we are nothing but his perfect puppets."
With an estimated membership of about fifty thousand in only its third year of American operations, the Divine Light Mission has certainly cornered the market on the eighteen-to-twenty-three-year-old white middle-class dropouts who have elected to drop back in. An affluent, permissive upbringing devoid of traditional religious pageantry and a vain search for truth through drugs, sexual promiscuity, and experimentation with new life-styles left most of these Aquarian angels in the throes of confusion and despair. "I wanted to just stop thinking - I couldn't stand it," says one. "Everywhere I looked I saw misery and loneliness. Since I discovered Guru Maharaj Ji, I'm completely blissed out."
Guru Maharaj Ji one-ups all other mystic cults by claiming he is the embodiment of all previous Messiahs, from Krishna to Buddha to Jesus. His message is a mishmash of all three with, a heavy dose of technocratic symbolism thrown in to update the line. Shunning the austere, simple life of traditional godheads, he has decided to make the best of his self-proclaimed divinity. At last count he owns six cars (all in the $15,000 to $30,000 range), two airplanes, a string of mansions from Los Angeles to Long Island, and real estate running into the millions of dollar "Last time around the Messiah came as a beggar," says 'Rennie Davis. "This time he's come as a King!" The king comes complete with a Holy Family which includes a diva mother and three sacred siblings, brothers ranging in age (Continued on page 160)
"Fortunate followers pushed in a puddle or pinched on the face by the Guru are considered near saints"
GURU MAHARAJ JI
(Continued from page 120)
from eighteen to twenty-two. The eldest, Bal Bhagwan Ji, is considered second in the divine pecking order only to the Guru himself and performs most of the behind-the-scenes-decision-making in the Divine Light Mission.
Guru Maharaj Ji lives a life of royalty on a scale with King Farouk, whose younger pictures he more than slightly resembles. His devotees live in large houses called ashrams, and they tremble with joy at the thought of seeing him in the flesh. When they do, divine protocol calls for them to instantly kiss his feet. Cleaning the bathroom that the Guru will use is one of the holiest functions in the Divine Light Mission, and those followers fortunate enough to have been pushed into a puddle, dragged on a motorcycle, or pinched in the face by the Guru - three types of affection he is fond of bestowing - are considered near-saints.
The young Messiah has perfected a series of ancient Yoga techniques which he reveals to his flock in an elaborate initiation rite called "The Knowledge." His followers claim that the resultant inner peace is as instantaneous as broiling a hot dog on a radar range, and the attendant vernacular is as mysterious-sounding as the latest miracle ingredient in an underarm deodorant. The only deterrent to this tranquillity is the human mind, which the Divine Light Mission members regard as "the devil." When the devil intrudes, say, by challenging the blind adulation which must accompany the total obeisance to Guru Maharaj Ji, devotees must meditate on "The Knowledge" until the doubt dissipates. Divine Light Mission regimen allows for few doubting moments; ashram apostles must work sixteen-hour days raising money for the Guru and propagating his faith.
Guru Maharaj Ji's soapbox is constructed largely of Christian timber for the American version of his revival, a far cry from his Hindu roots where the concept of monotheistic evangelism is alien. But in his formative years he attended a Catholic school in his hometown of Hardwar, India; hence his eschatological dooms dayism leaves as little to the imagination as a Roman Catholic catechism. "I foresee the time when millions of people will line up weeping for The Knowledge, and there will be none to be had," predicts Davis. "Guru Maharaj Ji says we must seek him out now, before the gnashing of teeth. Soon there will be a great wash over the whole world, and the only survivors will be those who have acknowledged him as God."
Yet this Guru is nothing if not expedient; and where Old Testament conflicts with New, it's as if Christ remained in the sepulcher. "This is not the age to turn the other cheek," warns Davis. "This savior will not be crucified." Pat Haley, a Detroit underground newspaper reporter, has a permanent plastic plate over his crushed skull and several garish scars on his face in case he should ever again forget that message. Early last August, Haley indulged in some guerrilla theater by throwing a shaving-cream pie in the Guru's face. One week later, he was bludgeoned with a blackjack to within an inch of his life by two devotees. The Divine Light Mission at first denied that the assailants were true devotees and said it had expelled them from the organization. A tinge of Watergate emerged, however, when Davis later admitted that the would-be murderers were in fact high-ranking devotees. One is a Mahatma, the equivalent to an archbishop, the other is considered the reincarnation of St. Peter. Both are still very much in the Guru's good graces.
"Holiness is a matter of interpretation," admits Ranhan Chadha, a top-ranking Divine Light Mission official from India. "In India there are gurus who have led their followers into full-scale war. And once you become a devotee of Guru Maharaj Ji, you become a fanatic." The point was driven home when this reporter confronted a devotee with the observation that the Guru's actions make him seem like a divine juvenile delinquent. "Only the mind says the Detroit incident is strange," the devotee replied. "We must unquestioningly do whatever Guru Maharaj tells us. If he told me to slit your throat, I would do so in an instant." And hell hath no fury like a teen-age god scorned.