Los Angeles Times (1886-Current File); Nov 25, 1973; ProQuest Historical Newspapers Los Angeles Times (1881 - 1985) pg. S18
Houston's Version of Peace in Our Time
We never had leadership that could really unite America. And now with the very foundation of the established order sinking in scandal, with people really crying out for new directions, there is no alternative leadership anywhere-not in the women's movement or peace movement or black movement, not in the Democratic Party or trade unions or reform organizations or churches …
Guru Maharaj Ji is the Lord of the Universe and anyone can find out who sincerely wants to know. Every fiber in me says that America is going to find out. Its too big a secret to keep quiet. And I'm starting to feel that America is going to be the most fantastic place on the planet because America is going to be the first country to realize Guru Maharaj Ji is here. America will teach the whole world the Perfect One has come, and that now there is a way to end the craziness of this century and wipe away the tears of its victims and teach us all how to be human beings again.
- Rennie Davis, in his introduction to "Who Is Guru Maharaj Ji"
His eyes firmly closed, his fingers serenely laced together, his back locked stiff, militarily erect, Rennie Davis snuck a moment's meditation, tuning in on the inner peace that he'd discovered through the grace of Maharaj Ji, while the surrounding photographers, insensitive to his mystic high, clicked away, capturing the pose for however long their work might survive into eternity.
FORMER STREET-FIGHTING MAN TURNS STUDENT OF DIVINITY - Like writing on the wall, the inevitably facile captions that would be invented to explain away the matter stood out in capital letters - Rennie Davis, the antiwar activist, member of the Chicago 7 and organiser of the 71 May Day demonstrations in Washington, D.C,. has traded in his radical fatigues for a seersucker suit as he goes about the country speaking on behalf of Guru Maharaj Ji, the 15-year-old boy who Davis claims is "the Lord of the Universe come to establish peace on earth."
Rennie opened his eyes. He blinked. He surveyed the crush of newsman and devotees that had assembled to hear him debate Paul Krassner, editor of the Realist and one of the few 60s radicals to have survived into the present decade, his anarchic spirit and paranoia intact. It was Krassner who had set the terms of the debate: Resolved, that Guru Maharaj Ji and the Divine Light Mission serve to divert young people from individual responsibility to personal escape.
Rennie sat back, smiled. Oh, ye of little faith! A beatific, messianic smile. His ascetic features shifted into gear and his dimples locked into a fierce and distant grin, the same maddeningly off putting grin that is standard issue among Maharaj Ji's premies, as his followers are called. Just look at us, the premies smile. We've found inner-peace. We are no longer buffeted by anxiety and frustration. We have lashed our egos down, Maharaj Ji is our captain.
Krassner would have none of it. Resolutely ill-tempered, he lurched crazily into the attack, calling the guru "a spiritual equivalent of Mark Spitz, trained from youth to practice his craft." Krassner hit the premies' Puritanism, objected to the Divine Light Mission's neo-Fascist discipline, rejected the guru's meditation techniques as med school parlor tricks, suggested that the DLM is a CIA plot, Maharaj Ji a mystic pied piper hired to seduce the youth movement into oblivion. So what is Rennie Davis, once one of the preeminent strategists of the New Left, doing in this godforsaken operation, running flack for a self-anointed boy god?
Rennie patiently smiled, before
trying once again to explain.
"Civilization is on a great collision course with its own mismanagement." Watergate, the Middle Fast, the energy crisis, all are harbingers of the impending apocalypse. The forces of light and the forces of darkness have been unleashed. The end is near. The time is ripe for a New Messiah to save us from ourselves.
To listen to Rennie speak was to be reminded of the messianic expectations that had accompanied the movement through the streets of Chicago in 1968, the Kent State campus in 1970. Washington in 1971. But the promised conflagration failed to arrive as scheduled. Impassioned soothsayers prophesied the end of the world, but however badly things seemed to be going, the end of the world never came.
And so … impatient with the trudging pace of political change … anxious for immediate, overnight relief … desperate for a miracle cure bringing with it instant gratification you stumble upon … the Guru! "I think we're on the eve of one of the most glorious times in human history," Rennie beamed. "And I believe the vision of peace and justice that was proclaimed in the streets of this country during the decade of the 1960s is now going to be actually achieved during the decade of the 7Os and 80s. It's just that it's going to come in a way that no one quite expected. Because the Lord is on the planet. He is in Houston right now and he's about to usher in the greatest change in the history of civilization."
Who, indeed, would have thunk it? But then it was about time that America stopped playing second string to all those foreign radicals and revolutionaries. I mean, if you can remember 1968: talk about feeling left out! Sure we had Columbia to boast of, but, all the heavy stuff was in Paris. Here at home we talked a good revolution, but the action was always somewhere else. I mean, there's only so much self-hatred you can handle. Deep down a guy gets a little tired of always deferring to the NLF and the North Vietnamese and the Chinese, always conceding that they are morally superior to us. Hell, it was about time that America got a chance to save the world. Thank God for Maharaj Ji. At least he appreciated this country's vast resources. Why else had he chosen America to inaugurate his 1,000 years of peace. But … but … the demurrer rises. Isn't there just a hint of national chauvinism, just a whisper of the self-centered cultural imperialism that is our national vice, in such grandiose predictions? Aren't the sins of the fathers being echoed by their sons?
Oh ye of little faith. So whats so bad about 1,000 years of peace?
Well, now that you mention it …
Consider the premies that had made the trek to Houston. Rennie Davis may be the exception rather than the rule because most of the premies were not concerned with world peace, despite their protestations. Their concerns were far less cosmic. The discarded experiments of the counterculture, they were victims of shell-shock. They had been through drugs, communes and mysticism, all in an effort to rediscover that total happiness they had known only as children, back when all the anticipations of Christmas Day were easily fulfilled and you were not disappointed that even after a month of waiting you did not get all the toys you'd been expecting. They couldn't care less about the condition of the world. They demanded an inner peace. They sought an end to conflicting human emotions, a truce between battling interests of the body end the mind, a cease-fire-that would take responsibility for policing one's own life and turn it over to the guru.
To be a premie was to play at being a child. (Premie-the very word struck a childish note, in the manner of kiddie, Brownie and do-bee.) When premies danced to the sounds of Blue Aquarius, the big band commanded by Bhole Ji, Maharaj Ji's show-biz brother, they danced like innocent children. They carefully avoided suggestive movements of hip and breast and rump. They did not jerk spasmodically as if they were on the floor of some benighted nightclub. Instead, they ran, skipped and jumped and when they embraced, their embraces were free of sensuality. Boys and girls and boys again might snuggle together in twos and threes and fours, but there was nothing kinky about it.
Officially premies have transcended sexuality. "The only reason for intercourse is to have a child," Rennie now believes. "There is no other reason." Sex is a burden. Sex is just I-can't-get-no-satisfaction.
How much nicer to live in an ashram, a community of premies who hand their wages over to the Divine Light Mission, in exchange for the DLM's deciding the direction of their lives. How very much nicer than struggling to keep afloat in that outside world, rife as it is with ego and anxiety, ambition and frustration, success and failure. How very, very much nicer to live in an ashram, a sort of refuge for wayward children like that home Wendy established in Neverland for boys who refused to grow up.
Not that the Divine light Mission doesn't offer other attractions and opportunities. Within its carefully ordered ranks, it awards premies a job, a calling, it confers on them a status. "Can you believe we are doing all of this? None of us has any experience running anything this big," one premie - once the manager of a health food store, now an administrative aide in the DLM - marveled. He was through with being called a hippie, he was tired of scraping his way through life. And so he had dragged his defeated self to the DLM and Maharaj Ji had made of him a man. Wow. Walking through the concourse at the Astrodome your suitcoat flapping officiously in the breeze, your clipboard clapping against your side. A good feeling, man. At last you were getting it together.
But … but … again a demurrer rose. Wasn't this new-found self-worth quite expensive? Weren't you more or less selling your soul to the organization? What had happened to all that 60s rhetoric about seizing control of our lives?
The more time one spends with the premies, the less one likes their answers. Perhaps it is all harmless enough. Just a grand humbug, really, the guru Maharaj Ji starring as the Wizard of Oz.
"Guru, can you give me peace?"
"Why, didn't you know? You already have peace within you, you just have to let it out."
Better then to salaam to this 15-year-old kid from India than to crack up in some deserted, dead-end alley, brought down by an overdose of drugs. Except that Maharaj Ji's answers are too easy, his brand of meditation not a rigorous discipline but a new bottling of snake oil. The fact that he has found an audience, albeit a small one - early promises that 100,000 devotees would be on parade in Houston were hastily declared inoperative when only 20,000 actually appeared - suggests that the search for peace, both individual and collective, begun in the 1960s, has yet to be satisfactorily resolved.
So Guru Maharaj Ji presents himself as the savior of the moment. But his claims are so inflated, his philosophy so fuzzy, his Eastern mysticism and Western merchandising so outrageous a combination, that the moment is reduced to farce.
Is it any wonder that Rennie Davis is constantly, endlessly grinning? It is almost as if he is begging that we call his bluff on the joke.