July 1973, Page 32-34
Blissed Out With The Perfect Master
"This is the real thing, not a wax banana"
by Ken Kelley
Ken Kelley, cofounder of SunDance magazine, is now managing editor of the Berkeley Barb, and a free-lance journalist.
For an entire week, Berkeley buzzed in anticipation of the return of Rennie Davis. The incredible story of his conversion to the divine prodigy, Satguru Maharaj Ji, had been revealed in a 40-minute interview on the local FM rocker KSAN. Not only was he dedicating his entire life to Maharaj Ji, but by 1975 Mao Tse-tung himself would be bowing in homage before the teenage theomorphic guru. The reaction ranged from sympathy to Paul Krassner's insistence that the entire enterprise was a CIA plot. In between were those who felt that Davis was bummed out by the abuse heaped on him as an active, white, male Movement heavy, disappointed by the disintegration of the anti-war movement and therefore open to the love-vibes and Telex technology which form the core of the Satguru's appeal. Whatever the explanation, everyone was curious, and they itched to see the new Rennie Davis and hear him explain it all in the flesh.
He chose Pauley Ballroom on the U.C. campus to make his stand, a site which overlooks the famous Sproul Plaza. There, some eight years earlier, Mario Savio and his fellow students had marched to shut down the university, thereby unloosing a flood of campus protest which did not subside for five years. Rennie Davis had played a crucial role in that Movement. He had raised money, mapped strategy, given speeches, negotiated permits, written pamphlets-in short, he had done everything that the Movement had done and more. When others had grown tired and cynical, he had worked on and on, and it was only in recent months that he had begun to slacken his pace.
People had come to view Rennie Davis as better, more dedicated than the rest of us, and now, suddenly, he was telling us to surrender our hearts and minds to a barely pubescent self-proclaimed Perfect Master from India and waltz into Nirvana. It was as if Che Guevara had returned to recruit for the Campfire Girls: the anomaly was as profound as the amazement.
And so they packed the ballroom to hear Rennie Davis, and one sensed curiosity, a certain amount of hostility, and an undercurrent of fear. As he stood before the assemblage, the vultures descended. "Kiss my lotus ass." "All power to the Maharajah, huh?" He took it in with smiles and good humor. "I'm really blissed out with a capital 'B,' " he proclaimed in the vernacular of his new calling. "I'm just here to make a report, and if you don't want to check out what I'm saying, that's cool. Sooner or later you'll find out that we are operating under a new leadership, and it is Divine, that it's literally going to transform the planet into what we've always hoped and dreamed for." This is what the Hindu mystics call satsang-literally, truthgiving. It plays the role in Eastern religion that street-corner rapping did back in the old days when Rennie Davis was the guiding light of the JOIN community organizing project in Chicago.
Now Davis, all cosmic dimples, ignored the slings and arrows and continued his mass satsang. The crowd's initial curiosity turned to hostility and derision. A local wino stood on a chair and harangued the multitude about God and jail and politics-much to their delight. Davis waited patiently for him to finish, then continued his report. It was late now, and people were beginning to drift off. Anxious to get on with the showing of the official film on Guru Maharaj Ji, he began to conclude his remarks and sought a way to rekindle interest. "The Guru Maharaj Ji," he said, "teaches us that Truth, Knowledge and Bliss are inherent in our human souls." He paused "And I say to you here that Richard Nixon is Truth, Knowledge, and Bliss."
The tomatoes flew; down came the linen-draped altar with the Perfect Master's Divine visage; and catcall city erupted. Mouths agape, blank stares and unbelieving faces, fury bleeding out of every wound. One had to admire the sheer nerve of this man to keep talking and not wilt in the face of such hysterical opposition. Instead, he raised his hands in a serene gesture of halcyon. "If I weren't absolutely convinced that this is the greatest event mankind has ever known, if I didn't believe with my entire soul that Guru Maharaj Ji is going to save the planet, then I wouldn't be placing myself so far out on a limb. I love all of you very much." And then, "Jai Satchitanan." "Hail Truth, Knowledge and Bliss," the ancient sanskrit definition for the three aspects of God. Whereupon his ashram apostles began a celestial chant, the lights went out and the movie projector started to roll.
[THE ROAD TO BLISS]
The next day I observed Rennie Davis in his own milieu in the Unitarian church where the "premies," or devotees (the word literally translates as "lovers") were holding their weekly satsang service. After some sluggish guitar work and blissed-out meditation, he rose to speak. "Last night was very far out. I only wish people have the space to listen now to what Guru Maharaj Ji is saying. But through His Divine Grace everyone will, in time. We're just so lucky to be here. Every morning I wake up and just can't believe that I'm alive and fortunate enough to have discovered His Knowledge."
He then went into a cosmic peptalk, culminating in a fund-raising pitch for Soul Rush '73, the divine exposition slated for November in the Astrodome, and for the perfect city which, according to plan, will be built by next year in California. Davis is a pitchman from way back, and he has in his day raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Movement. This time, however, there was an important difference in the appeal.
"When I think of what in two short years in America we've accomplished …" He stopped and his eyebrows arched. "I mean, what Guru Maharaj Ji has accomplished; we've accomplished nothing, of course-it blows my mind."
The next morning, I visited him at the San Francisco Ashram. He greeted me at the door with a kiss. On the lips. (I have known Rennie Davis for almost five years, and we've embraced warmly many times, but never before had he initiated such communion.) Removing my shoes, an act prerequisite to entering the room where the Divine Presence is worshipped, I listened as Rennie told me of his conversion and what had led up to it.
For the previous year, he had been getting "more into myself," even as he worked on the Miami demonstrations last summer. He dropped acid, fasted, ate organic food, hiked in the mountains, and generally eased the pace which had earned him a reputation as one of the most intense activists in the anti-war movement. After the cease-fire accords were announced in January, he prepared a trip to Paris with veteran peace organizers Cora Weiss and Sidney Peck to represent the American Movement at the celebrations following the signing. He then planned to return and help form a "national party" of the left, a feat many have attempted without success since the demise of SDS.
But something funny happened on the way to Paris. Boarding the plane at the same time were a group of premies including, Rennie said, an old friend named Larry Canada.
Now it so happens that I shared a grand jury inquest with Larry Canada back in 1971. He and I and four others were being questioned in the course of what the Justice Department claimed was an investigation into the bombing of the Capitol building on March 1, 1971. All of us had worked in Mayday and had been in town the day the Weather underground blew the minds and walls of Congress apart. The Torquemadas of the Justice Department figured the explosion had to be related to Mayday, and they took particular interest in Canada and his ex-wife Kathy Noyes, an heiress to the Eli Lilly drug fortune. The two of them had contributed almost $75,000 to the Mayday project.
Canada was unique among the Mayday tribe, aside from his rather special financial status. He was our resident mystic. Recruited off his Indiana farm, he had moved into Rennie's Washington apartment, took lots of LSD and fantasized an incredible blueprint for the shutdown of D.C. He wanted to bring in the Beatles, feed 100,000 people for a week, and send a Rebel Navy up the Potomac to meet the troops closing the bridges. It was a fine dream, especially insofar as he would foot the bill. At one point, he had even gone to Ottawa to inform the Chinese legation of Mayday's plans. The legend of his lunacy was matched only by that of his generosity. In a tight spot, you could always count on Larry.
By the time the Grand Jury proceedings began, Canada had undergone a remarkable change. One day I came upon him reading a Bible in the hallway outside the Grand Jury room. I assumed he had picked it up from the hotel to pass the time as he waited to be called. In fact, he had brought it all the way from Indiana, where he and his wife had become full-fledged Jesus freaks. They approached Christianity with the same zeal they had shown in Mayday, and when called to testify, Larry did not shrink from quoting Ecclesiastes to the federal prosecutor.
But on the plane to Paris Larry Canada was preaching a new gospel, and Rennie was listening. "He talked with Canada and his crew for over three hours," recalls Cora Weiss. "And when he came back and told us about their scene he was-well, really smiling." Among Canada's "crew" was Charles Cameron, one of the first Western devotees of the Satguru. A gaunt-faced Englishman who fancies himself a poet, Cameron took on the task of giving satsang to the anti-war activist. "It really blew Rennie's mind," Cameron told me. "I could see right away that he was open to what I was saying though he wasn't taking it all in." Rennie discounts this, however-"I just thought 'here are some down-to-earth folks,' considering how ridiculous their rap is-you know?"
In any event, he was interested enough to follow it up in Paris, and he slipped away at least once a day to visit his holy friends at the posh Georges V Hotel. After the peace festivities were concluded, he stayed behind and continued receiving satsang. "He told us he was just staying for a couple of more days," said Weiss. But Larry Canada was feeling particularly philanthropic- "he had about $20,000 to blow," according to Cameron. So Rennie was offered a free trip to India as part of the "Divine Scouting mission" to Prem Nagar-City of Love-where Maharaj Ji, his mother, and his three brothers hold forth. "We had originally gone to Paris to see if we could figure out a way of going to Vietnam and China to do some filming," relates Cameron. "Larry Canada had told us that's where Rennie would be, and that if anyone could arrange for us to go there, he could. So imagine the incredibly cosmic coincidence of actually meeting on the plane-it's perfect. But Rennie told us there was no way to visit Vietnam or China right now, so we settled on India. We could film Guru Maharaj Ji and Rennie could check out everything we had been telling him firsthand."
First stop was Delhi where the party proceeded to a relatively new ashram called Punjab Bagh. There they met Bal Bhagwan Ji, the Satguru's 21-year-old brother. He is known in the Divine Light Mission as Maharaj Ji's "most devoted follower" and one whose divinity and position is second only to the Satguru. Rennie talked for hours with Bal Bhagwan Ji, and their discussion turned to Vietnam. "He has an incredible love for the Vietnamese," says Rennie. "He is also the smartest person I've ever met."
It was a significant meeting. It was, in fact, unusually significant because, as Cameron says, "members of the holy family don't give away their smiles and tears as readily as we human beings, and Bal Bhagwan Ji was smiling and tears were welling in his eyes … And for Bal Bhagwan Ji to show those emotions so soon is extraordinary-usually he would wait. But it was the perfect moment, in Rennie's case."
If he established immediate rapport with the "most devoted follower," he did not take such instant liking to the Avatar Himself. On the contrary, he now describes his first impression of Guru Maharaj Ji as "terrible": "Here was this fat little rich kid with this swarm of old men-Mahatmas-bowing and kissing His feet. And instead of acknowledging that respect, He jumped on this big motorcycle and tore off, completely covering them with dust. Then He screeched to a stop, turned around and headed back towards them. At the last possible moment
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they jumped out of the way-He kept right on going. Then He ended up in this field of mud and got stuck. They came over and eventually pushed Him out, getting completely covered with mud and slime in the process. Then He attached this mattress to the back of his bike, took one of the old men and told him to lie on it, and tore off again with the Mahatma flopping ridiculously on the back.
"Of course I couldn't relate to it, then," says Rennie. "But afterward I realized it was lila-God's game-playing that was reducing all of us to a child-like state, something Guru Maharaj Ji always seeks to do to us to remind us that we must always be simple like children.
"I kept getting more and more freaked-the whole thing stank of fraud. But there were about 60 western young people at Prem Nagar, and I kept having these great raps with them People would come up to me and say 'Far out-I was with you in the streets of Chicago,' or 'Good to see you again, last time I saw you was at Mayday.' Slowly my resistance began to break down as I saw that these great people were really into this kid. So I decided I would at least try and receive Knowledge."
Receiving Knowledge (with a capital K) is the experience that separates the mind from the soul and the premies from the zombies. It is-to use the Divine expression-the perfect experience, and it only comes after receiving a perfect pre-education from a Mahatma. This can, in some cases, last years, but for Rennie Davis it took considerably less time. At five in the morning on a bright January day he began experiencing the four techniques of receiving Knowledge.
"I was first shown a technique called 'light,' where I saw light in my head that was a hundred times lighter than the sun. And it was fantastic, but my mind, seeing this light, just went crazy. I said 'no, no, no' - this is a fraud. Then the second thing I was taught was 'music.' At the center of creation are sounds that support creation - I heard a bell that made me more blissed out than I've ever been in my life, and my mind started hearing really loud rock 'n' roll, and I just went crazy some more. Then the third technique was called 'nectar' - when Jesus went into the desert for 40 days he was drinking Nectar. It's a mechanism inside your body that sustains you without food or water. And the fourth is called the 'word.' You know, 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God' - the Last Gospel stuff, every scripture talks about the Word. It turns out there's a vibration in your body, and He teaches you what this vibration is.
"Then my mind just completely flipped out and said 'Get out of India. He's the Anti-Christ, a fake.' And I went outside and was dragged off by this Mahatma to wash some clothes, my service for the day." Every premie is expected to perform diurnal service for the Perfect Master, whether it be envelope-licking in the ashram of dishwashing. "I was sitting there by this water trying to figure out how this could be a fraud, trying to figure out a theory of how this could not be real even though I'd just experienced it. I thought, 'I've just been taken in, these are only techniques.' Then I noticed this crow sitting on a branch. Then another. Then a couple more.
Pretty soon there are like 50 crows sitting there cackling at me, flying around. Then they start flying closer and closer, 'til finally one dives for my head dead ringer and I managed to jump just in time. It was right out of Hitchcock - all these birds screaming at me and going crazy and swooping down on me. It was out of control.
"And at the point where I was literally terrified for my life, I pulled out of my laundry this pillowcase. Embroidered on it was this phrase, 'Lord of the Universe.' It was just an amazing kind of coincidence in the midst of this freakout. I pulled out that pillowcase and instantly the crows just flew away in all directions-they left! And I just said, 'I really don't know what's going on here, I just really don't know.' " That, it turned out, was the crucial point - to admit that you haven't the faintest idea what's happening; to literally lose your mind and the control it has over your soul and let the Word of the Perfect Master take over.
"For the first time," says Rennie, "I felt completely open. And the buzz I was feeling was just unbelievable. I just surrendered my mind completely to Guru Maharaj Ji and said 'No more-from here on out you do the thinking and I'll do the listening.'
Boom Zap Thwang. At that instant Rennie Davis abandoned all pretensions to what we know as rational human behavior and donated his mind to the divine prodigy, where it reposes to this day and, Rennie knows, for the rest of his cosmic existence - in other words, for all eternity.
[BLISS WITH A CAPITAL B]
As though he himself has foresworn thinking, he does offer the rest of us a scientific explanation for all this Bliss and Knowledge. "Scientists are just discovering that the Pineal Gland is light-receptive, and that the Pineal Gland is sort of the thing that directs the flow of the brain. Guru Maharaj Ji shows us how to discover this gland, and how to use this light so that we can become a part of Him. And this light shows us the Word, and if we can experience the Word, we'll be saved, no matter what else happens to us." As it turns out, the Word has arrived not a moment too soon, for the Guru Maharaj Ji also predicts, in Rennie's words, "a great wash will sweep the planet. Those who have the Word will be saved, and those who don't will not pass through this time.
"That's why He's come at this point in history. He will provide the opportunity to make His Knowledge available to every human being on the planet. If people will just listen to what He is saying, and come to Him with an open mind, He will give them the divine Truth which will not only transform this planet to heaven on earth, but will bring eternal happiness and bliss to everyone on it. And I mean Bliss with a capital 'B.' "
Now some might find this rather incredible, if not ridiculous. To be sure, Rennie Davis has been given to exaggeration before. For example, he confidently predicted that Mayday would shut down Washington, quite literally bring it to a halt. But while such a statement might be excused as good PR, it is quite something again to say that in two years' time, Mao Tse-tung will bow down and worship a 15-year
"Of course it is," smiled Rennie. "And it is Divine. You see, we can't possibly know the Will of God-only He knows that and we are nothing but His humble servants. He tells us what to say and do, and I'm just repeating what He has told me. What He's saying is that this year He will give everyone the chance to find out who they really are. Of course that doesn't mean everyone will take Him up on it.
"You know," he went on, "I still can't believe it. That's the thing about this Knowledge - you just cannot believe it's happened to you. Guru Maharaj Ji is the culmination of every Perfect Master that preceded him - Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, all wrapped up in this fat little bundle of human flesh."
In fact, Rennie's admiration for the Perfect Master and His family knows no bounds. All members of the family, he says, are "some aspect of the Maharaj Ji's divinity." And as for Bal Bhagwan Ji, "personally, I think he's Jesus Christ returned to Earth and that this time he's brought his father with him." With such faith, he has no difficulty explaining what might appear as a blatant contradiction, if not an outright hypocrisy. The Guru Maharaj Ji, for example, has a marked weakness for expensive cars, motorcycles, and airplanes, and his mother rarely appears in public without diamonds. Who is this Perfect Master that He can pass himself off as a rich communist in a country where millions are starving?
"Last time," Rennie explains, "the Perfect Master came, He was dressed in rags and nobody believed him. This time, He's come back as a king and said, 'Pow - dig this, I'm here everybody and you can't miss me this time.' Besides, the material things He has are all just toys that He uses to make people realize how ludicrous money is. People are constantly laying all those gifts on Him - remember, even Christ let Mary Magdalene annoint Him with precious oils, it's the same kind of thing. And you just cannot look at Guru Maharaj Ji in the human form with any of His surroundings. He's challenging us to go beyond that that's why He looks so ridiculous and why He surrounds himself with materialism - it's lila. Like right now He's taking apart his Rolls engine and re-building it so He can understand it and then build an engine that will enable Him to beat the world's land speed record. After all, He's King of the Yippies.
"And it's the whole duality thing of our egos, fundamentally, rather than capitalism, fundamentally. Eliminate that duality and you eliminate capitalism, sexism, racism-everything. Guru Maharaj Ji is simply saying 'accept me and let's get it on and start to rebuild this planet.' "
Looking into his clear brown eyes, I suddenly felt like a caveman trying to communicate with a gorilla: all the instincts were there, but there was a genetic time warp between my grunts and his. Perhaps sensing my incredulity, he reassured me with a pat on the knee. "It's good you're freaked out, Ken. That's the first step. All I'm saying is go check it out."
And so, in late April, I made my way to Denver where the Divine Light Mission of America was holding its second annual national gathering of ashram secretaries.
[CHECKING IT OUT]
Downtown Denver's 16th Street is a Disneyesque phantasmagoria of counterculture stereotypes, porn shops and exotic transplants melding into a surreal chimera of methedrine hustle. Sixteen-year-old longhairs panhandle the fat businessmen peeping at 60-second snatches of pubic fantasy for two bits. Hare Krishnas jangle their incessant tambourines alongside Jesus freaks preaching from invisible soapboxes. Women waddle by decorated as penguins with long rosaries swinging in synch to each step.
The neon red demon of Orange Julius marks the site of Denver's Kitteridge Building. Upstairs the North American headquarters of the Divine Light Mission occupies four floors. Well-scrubbed premies dash about their innocence a rude contrast to their environment. A few blocks away sits the national ashram, where I arrived having driven for 24 hours stuffed into a car with two ashram secretaries. My head was still zinging from the non-stop satsang and the whirl of slot machines, when who should walk up the steps but the perfect person to give us knowledge (small "k") about the national operation: Joan Apter, 26, National Promotions Director for the DLM.
Rennie Davis had told me in San Francisco that "starting now, we're going to make the revolution professionally." Joan Apter's very presence mirrors his prediction. She told the same life story that I would hear again and again that weekend with almost suspicious redundance.
"I quit school as a junior and travelled for three years. I'd been into acting and the arts, never much religion. I started school with lots of optimism which faded into boredom. And I was very unhappy. I left America knowing something was wrong, wanting to discover what it was and how to solve it. Then I found myself in India, as far north as I could go without entering China, which was impossible. I'd come to the point in my mind where I didn't know where else to turn. I'd tried everything I could come up with but each would finish up as a dead-end road. There are limits to the alternatives-even the human mind has a point where that limit is reached. I was emotionally drained and there was nothing to be optimistic about-I felt that whatever it was that gives happiness didn't exist. Life was all a joke and the joke was on me. Basically I wanted very simple things, like a child, and all the contradictions were making me more unnatural and unchildlike.
"It was at this point that I discovered Maharaj Ji, and the holy family took me in. It's said that when a person has been refused and rejected by the rest of the world, when everything else has left you behind, that's when you're ready for the Perfect Master. I received so much patience, love and revelation into a new type of life of which I knew nothing. Layer by layer my negativism started to disappear."
Returning to America, she joined two other premies and began the first U.S. ashram. "First I'd hooked up with this premie in West Virginia, and he and I began giving each other lots of satsang. Then there was this man in a mental institution in Maryland who wanted satsang, and I began giving it to him. But the staff told me, 'Hey, we need this Knowledge as much as the patients do-we don't know if we're crazy or they are most of the time,' so I gave them satsang too. It was perfect -if anyone belonged in a mental institution before I met Guru Maharaj Ji I did, only there were none in India. So by His Grace I was saved, and now I was allowed to spread some of His Grace to others. Then I got a call from another incredible premie in L.A. who gave me a plane ticket and we started the first American ashram." That was but two years ago. Today the Divine Light Mission boasts 35 ashrams, with scores of attendant "premie houses" and related communities of devotees. Not only has the movement grown rapidly, but its adherents are convinced it won't peak and fizzle out.
"The difference," says Joan Apter, "is that we have a living master, a living example to relate to. Not a past theory or doctrine, but a living guide. Everything is now-there is no past or future. And from our practical experience we know we have nothing to worry about-we'll never go wrong because we have His Divine Grace to guide us. This is no wax banana."
Though her belief is strong, she was not so quick as Rennie to assert that Guru Maharaj Ji is God. "He says He's just a humble servant. But He gives you indications of who He is. He tells us that if a man is very clever, 'I only have to beckon to him with my little finger and he will come. But if a man is not clever I must say put your eyes toward me, put your head toward me, put your left foot in front of your right foot and walk: In 1970 when He made his first public appearance He said 'I have come with more power than ever before. Surrender your reins to me and I will give you salvation. I'm feeling power, so much power, but you must come to me to receive what I can give you.' So there are lots of indications but it's like Jesus wouldn't answer Pilate when asked if He were the Messiah- 'You say,' He said."
I inquired about Rennie's assertion that the Satguru was the reincarnation of all previous Perfect Masters. "Perfect Masters are not the reincarnation of each other. Buddha was not the reincarnation of Krishna. Perfect Masters are the reincarnation of perfection." Evidently, Rennie has not yet honed his zeal to the fine edge of a Joan Apter. Hers is a spit-'n'-polish ecumenicalism.
Rennie had told me that since America was the darkest place on the planet it would accept Maharaj Ji first. I inquired then whether Eastern Europe-as the second darkest place might be in line for a Soul Rush '74. No, said Joan Apter. "There is no great contradiction between their philosophy and that of Guru Maharaj Ji. The Russians don't deny God-they deny religion, and why shouldn't they? There is an incredible amount of activity in Czechoslovakia, for instance-our ashram there is doing amazing things. Basically, we have no philosophical differences with anybody. Everybody's just after happiness. But the Knowledge is universal. It's perfect communism. Also perfect democracy-perfect everything." Perfect fascism? I inquired. "Yes, perfect fascism, perfect totalitarianism-every system was created for a good reason."
The Knowledge, it seems, is all things to all people.
Most important, it is the key to immortality. "After you've received Knowledge, it's like you've roasted your seeds and can't re-plant them. After death there are two courses-liberation or devotion, if you've received Knowledge. Devotion means that you get another body to come back and help others receive Knowledge-people think that liberation is the most important thing, but it's not. The attachment to that energy which will bring the whole universe to liberation is most important. But if a person decides against devotion and simply wants liberation, then he'll simply merge without life and stay merged without life-no form, no human body. At death, whatever one wants is what the next life will be for him." This only applies, however, to those who have received Knowledge. The rest are consigned to a bestial future at best. "They take another, lower form than a human body: an animal form. If a mother at death is thinking of her children, if that's the single most important thing to her, she might come back as a pig and have lots of piglets. There are 8.6 million forms that energy can take, and the highest one is the human body. But the odds against actually getting one are immense. And it is only through that body that Knowledge can be received."
[THE HOLY FAMILY]
The Guru Maharaj Ji himself emerged in human form some 15 years ago. Like other Indians, he was given two names at birth: Pratap Singh Rawat, and Balyogeshwar.
When he was born, his father, Shri Hans Ji Maharaj, also a Perfect Master and the actual founder of the Divine Light Mission, exulted that the "Perfect Master has finally come who will be able to do the fullness for which he has come. He is so great I can but prostrate myself in front of him." Shri Hans died when Balyogeshwar was eight years old. When he was 13, he made his first public appearance to proclaim his mission in front of a million people. He now claims five million followers in India, and the Indian parliament includes numerous supporters and detractors. Many of his converts
come from the untouchable caste; his adherents cite this to back up their claim that he is doing more than anyone in India to eliminate the caste system.
In 1971 he made his first Western appearance at a pop festival in Glastonbury, England. There he stunned the promoters and the crowd by driving up in a white Rolls Royce, and delivering satsang for a full 5 minutes before the power was cut on the microphone. In 1972, he ventured across the Atlantic to the United States and held his first American Guru Puja-Guru Worship-festival in the mountains of Colorado. More than 2,000 converts emerged from that event. This year, he plans to take the country by storm with a three-part media program ("Who is Guru Maharaj Ji"; "Guru Maharaj Ji is Here"; "The Messiah Has Come") culminating in a three-day celebration at the Houston Astrodome. The program-entitled Soul Rush '73-is set to begin on November 9, Shri Hans Ji Maharaj's birthday. The premies flatly predict they will fill the stadium with more than 60,000 disciples, and they plan to provide free food for the multitude. In addition, they will have exhibits which will portray cosmic consciousness through the centuries, from the most ancient mystic arts to the most recent para-psychological discoveries.
The Holy Family includes Maharaj Ji, his three brothers-Bal Bhagwa Ji, 21; Bhole Ji, 19; and Raja Ji, 17-and his Divine Mother Shri Mata Ji. Merely to be in their presence is considered a sacred event called darshan. Mata Ji has made several appearances in the U.S., though mostly she remains at the home ashram in Prem Nagar, where she welcomes thousands of visitors every month. Bhole Ji and Raja Ji are presently students in London. Bhole Ji is reportedly planning to launch a 42-piece band, replete with an entire horn, string and choir section.
Diana Stone, 26, is a very special premie who has experienced much darshan. Her father was in the diplomatic corps, and she has been all over the world and majored in psychology in college. While her father was acting ambassador to India, she first discovered the Holy Family and received Knowledge. She reflects an innate warmth and intelligence that attracts immediate attention. She describes her leader as "the true dispeller of darkness and revealer of light." Rennie and many other premies had assured me that the Satguru was God Himself. Diana Stone went beyond them, saying that Maharaj Ji is "greater than God-He is the Guru. Without the Guru, you cannot receive God … God is energy, infinite and omnipotent. Guru Maharaj Ji enables us to realize that energy and take full advantage of it. It's like there is the knowledge which is the water, and the Guru is the cup with which to drink the water and ingest the knowledge." Why not drink from the faucet? "Impossible. The mind, the ego, has stopped us from even realizing we're thirsty."
As was talking to Diana, an undercurrent of low-key hysteria swept the ashram: Bal Bhagwan Ji himself was going to put in an appearance at the conference. Premies had been hinting at it all weekend, but divine impulse is unpredictable. Diana Stone promised she would ask that I be allowed to interview him, as did Joan Apter. As the moment drew closer when he would actually walk through the door (without, by the way, removing his shoes-divine privilege has its compensations), the frenzy approached delirium. Premies clutched moist handkerchiefs in one hand to dry their eyes while, with the other, they madly sprayed air-freshener on everything and everyone in sight. Garlands of flowers appeared magically, people jockeyed for position around the foyer to get a little hit of darshan as Bal Bhagwan Ji walked up to this third floor sanctum sanctorum, reserved exclusively for visiting members of the Holy Family. I was allowed a ringside seat, and I must admit I was more than a little blissed out amidst the heavenly hoopla; who knows but that just the sight of such splendor might give me some of the fabled white light of Knowledge that heretofore I had only approached with nitrous oxide in my dentist's chair. Fully primed, I watched the door fly open, and a slight figure resembling a young Thomas Dewey dashed upstairs faster than a rat fleeing a cat. Halfway up he paused, glanced over his shoulder, and was off like a shot again.
As it turned out, that fleeting glimpse of divinity was all I was to be allowed. Bal Bhagwan Ji would not see me. When I found out that he spent three hours the next day playing with a ouija board, I was furious. My protests got me nowhere, however, and when I telephoned Rennie Davis for some divine intercession on my behalf, he only laughed at my frustration. "This is a test, a little lila, Ken, so don't worry. Besides it may have nothing to do with who you are now, but who you were in a past lifetime-Bal Bhagwan Ji sees those things, you know." You cannot know true frustration until you have been penalized for being a frog in a previous incarnation. I continued to protest, and only felt more foolish at the inevitable response: "Everyone gets what's perfect for him," said Rennie. "Have pa
tience." And I had thought all you needed was sincerity.
I sulked in a corner and contemplated nefarious schemes to sneak up on Bal Bhagwan Ji. It was hopeless, I realized: as Diana Stone had pointed out, "Even the crummiest little Swami can read minds," and the most devoted follower was undoubtedly following my every move. As I stood on the steps, a mustached young man, fastidious in his premie mod attire, sat down at my side.
Steve O'Neill, 25, has been a DLM organizer in Boston for two years. Beantown has been especially receptive to the guru's grace: it ranks second only to Denver in the volume of activity and number of devotees-four ashrams and five of the less formal premie houses. O'Neill is currently a top officer in the World Peace Corps, the DLM front-group which raises money by any means necessary-from babysitting to installing car mufflers. It also provides security troops for any DLM event, such as a visit by a member of the Holy Family. For the moment, Steve O'Neill is on temporary reassignment in Denver, as general secretary of the local WPC ashram. "Everything within the Divine Light Mission is temporary these days," he says. "You just move around wherever needed, as the flow goes." Job assignment is not based on ability, just sincerity - "Guru Maharaj Ji's Grace gives us all the ability we need," according to Joan Apter. As a case in point, Michael Donner, the 24-year-old Executive Director of Personnel - one of the top three positions in the entire DLM-has been an active premie for only four months. "I was in jail for a year for draft resistance," Donner told me. A member of the "Beaver 55" (eight people charged with destroying draft records and destruction of Dow Chemical Company property), Donner received Knowledge almost two years ago, "but I did nothing with it until the aimlessness of my life caught up with me."
Like Donner, Steve O'Neill was a revolutionary of sorts before his transmogrification, and in fact many top-echelon premies share a political background. O'Neill's story is a particularly interesting one.
"I joined the army to learn how to kill. I was really into weapons and the whole John Wayne syndrome. I was stoned out on acid when I enlisted, and I wanted to use the knowledge I gained to just, you know, blow up the whole government. I was a topnotch soldier, and got my classification as a weapons expert. They sent me to Korea, where I hung out with some black cats and we'd do things like set the library on fire, steal a bunch of weapons, stuff like that. It was a whole joke to us, but we were serious at the same time. Then I got myself thrown out on a drug charge-I was stoned all the time-and I went back to Long Island and got in with a bunch of old buddies who were ex-Gls too. We were just waiting for the shit to hit so we could go into the streets and tear down the system.
"We were pulling lots of robberies on the side. Finally everyone got busted-everyone but me. I slid. We'd been operating out of my family's basement, and one night we went out to sell this guy $1000 worth of dope, though we planned to rip him off. I stayed home. When the other guys told him to hand over the bread, he pulled out a badge and said, 'I'm a detective and you're all under arrest.' All of a sudden a helicopter searchlight flashed on them and five sharpshooters opened up. The guys dove into a nearby lake, where they were picked up on the other side. Then some other cops came to my house and were halfway down the basement stairs - the basement was full of bullets on the tables and barbiturates on the floors - when my father said 'Hey, wait a minute.' They stopped, walked back outside, and showed me the pictures of my buddies. 'Do you know these guys,' they asked. 'Yeah, they're my friends,' I answered. They said okay, and split. I never heard anything about it again. Even then I felt Guru Maharaj Ji's Grace - there was no reason I shouldn't have landed in the can. So I split for Ireland and got into a lot of acid and mountains. I met a premie who was so peaceful and beautiful that I instantly picked up on the vibe. I heard satsang for a couple of days in Dublin in the fall of 1971, received Knowledge, and totally blossomed out. I then organized some satsang programs in Ireland and started the first premie house there. It was so beautiful so … perfect."
[SHOCK TROOPS FOR THE GURU]
Premies, like Steve O'Neill, Joan Apter, Diana Stone and indeed, Rennie Davis are the Avatar's front line, and they use meditation as a kind of cosmic Gatorade. "We meditate 24 hours a day on a subconscious level, and at least two hours a day on a conscious level," says Joan Apter. Mass meditation on the "conscious level" is a sight to behold. During my visit to Denver, I would walk into the large room of the ashram at night to sleep and have to wend my way through an obstacle course of frozen figurines with sheets draped about them, eyes immovably tuned into the fourth dimension. It was like one of those horror movies where you need the tinted goggles to see the ghosts, and I'd left mine home. Then about 5:00 a.m. all the devotees would jump up from slumber with a Hindu war-whoop and chant for an hour before going back into meditation. By seven o'clock they had shared a communal breakfast and were off to do their work. Premies rarely have more than five hours sleep a night, yet they sustain an incredibly energetic schedule.
The premies have but five commandments to follow:
1. Never put off 'til tomorrow what you can do today.
2. Never delay in attending satsang.
3. Always have faith in God.
4. Constantly meditate and remember the Name. (The Name is something revealed in the Knowledge session.)
5. Never keep any doubt in the mind.
These are the written rules; there is another set of unwritten ones which premies must follow religiously so long as they reside in an ashram. They stay away from movies and general "entertainment." They never swear. They must surrender all worldly possessions to the DLM. And they must be celibate.
"There is something much higher, much more pleasureable than sex," says Steve O'Neill. "We just don't need it." Never? "Well, once me and my old lady got to making out in a closet and we just couldn't restrain ourselves, so we balled. But we had to leave the ashram, of course."
Carol Greenberg heads up the Divine Organization of Women, a recently formed adjunct to the DLM. "Celibacy is actually very liberating," she says. "It removes the sexual objectification of women a great deal." DOW is charged with responsibility for recruiting women into the organization. Though she uses the terminology of women's liberation, Carol Greenberg does not view her organization as part of the women's movement. And indeed, the Divine position on women is not likely to have a broad appeal to feminists.
The majority of housemothers, premies responsible for maintaining domestic tranquility in the ashram, are women, as are the cooks and kitchen-workers. "The woman has naturally taken her place as housemother, and the man has naturally taken his place as coordinator, organizer and breadwinner," says O'Neill. Joan Apter told me she believes there are fundamentally different qualities in men and women-"but it's not a problem within the organization, only to people on the outside looking in. I have never met a woman working in an ashram kitchen that wasn't happy, and that's what matters. Everybody wants to be liberated, free from limitations. But when you identify yourself with a limitation-whether woman, man, black or white, you automatically create a frustration. When Guru Maharaj Ji was four years old he was asked what the difference between girls and boys was. He replied that 'girls have much softer hearts than boys.' " Does a soft heart a better dishwasher make? I asked. "No, but service is service, whether designing plans for the perfect city or cooking a meal. You get the same satisfaction because of Guru Maharaj Ji's Grace."
One might wonder, then, why the Perfect Master even bothers with a Divine Organization of Women. Rennie Davis sees it as a potentially important instrument for spreading the Knowledge. "The first realization is that you're not your body and you're not your mind. Premies say 'I'm not a woman, I'm not black,' whatever. But now that people know the greatest service of the Knowledge is to reach people where they're at with Guru Maharaj Ji's message, then we begin to move beyond that phase. Although we are actually the light inside ourselves, to reach women we need a national women's organization that will go out and say 'we have the ultimate in consciousness-raising.' And we need black groups and Indian groups and all kinds of ways to propagate the Knowledge." (The lone black premie I met in Denver still hadn't reached that particular stage: "I'm not black-I'm a manifestation of my soul, not my pigmentation," he told me.)
"A lot of the people who came into the organization went through no women's consciousness at all," continues Rennie, "and that's a problem. Women are still called chicks and lots of the old weird things still exist. Our language needs to fit our new consciousness and it doesn't always do that. But it's getting worked out."
To the DLM's credit, many of the key administrators in the national organization are women, as are some of the most intelligent and impressive premies I met. Yet no women serve as ashram general secretaries in the United States, though three of the four Canadian ashrams have female general secretaries. In any event, sexism is hardly a major concern in the Divine Order of Things.
The Divine Light Mission is growing like a mushroom on a spring day," says Rennie Davis, and figures supplied by the organization tend to bear him out-even allowing for a tendency to exaggerate its own momentum. From Joan Apter and her two friends in 1971, the North American branch has grown to some 35,000 devotees. Only two Mahatmas-instillers of Knowledge-work the States, and each conducts one or two daily sessions with at least 15 initiates. They are followed wherever they go by scores of disciples seeking to prepare themselves for receiving Knowledge.
Coast to coast, the DLM has some 35 ashrams, and 30 premie houses will soon become ashrams. In additions there are at least 300 other premie houses, and they too will one day blossom. The Satguru's burgeoning empire of services and projects falls under the aegis of the Divine Light Mission, Inc., a non-profit organization. The new Divine United Organization, however, will soon take over the material end of the Mission's work, leaving the DLM free to concentrate on "spiritual propagation." In addition, the World Peace Organization repairs cars, runs print shops, supervises thrift shops, builds sound systems, provides babysitters and carpentry work to anyone who needs them, all profits going back into the parent organization.
A prison program gives satsang in six states, and a drug program operates in eight states. Shri Hans Productions publishes a slick magazine, And It Is Divine, whose circulation has risen from 20,000 to 130,000 in four issues. It also puts out a weekly tabloid, Divine Times, which claims a nationwide circulation of 30,000. Thirty radio stations around the country carry a regular half-hour show about Guru Maharaj Ji, and the programming is adjusted to mesh with the station format. Recently, the Mission has sponsored a syndicated television show which originates in Minneapolis.
Then there's Shri Hans Humanitarian, which operates a New York health clinic-staffed by 20 doctors and seven nurses-to provide free health care to anyone needing it. Starting this fall, the Mission will launch an elementary school in Denver for 100 premie children who have received Knowledge. Eventually, this operation will be expanded to include kindergarten through high school.
Equally impressive are what Guru Maharaj Ji describes as his technological toys: a Cessna Cardinal single-engine plane worth $30,000 and a Cessna twin engine worth $190,000; a Mercedes Benz in New York worth $12,000 and a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud in Los Angeles worth $26,000; a $12,000 mobile home in Montrose, Colorado, which will soon be sold to buy a mobile van for the medical clinic; a movie camera worth $12,000 and numerous related sound devices. DLM's property holdings do not yet rival those of the Catholic Church, but they are numerous and growing. They include a Divine residence in Los Angeles worth $76,000; an ashram in Denver worth $41,000 and one in Hyattsville, Md. valued at $55,000; and several hundred acres of property in New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Maine, donated by premies and their friends.
[THE GURU'S BENEFACTORS]
Michael Bergman, 26, keeps track of all this wealth in his capacity as executive accountant for the Divine Light Mission. He defies the stereotype of the hard-nosed, close-mouthed bookkeeper, and he allowed me to inspect the organization's records and interview its donors. Most, he says, are premies who have inherited money and have been inspired to support the word of Guru Maharaj Ji with their own worldly goods. Last year, five premies together gave over $110,000. So far this year three more have given $60,000 and in all likelihood two financial angels will contribute close to $200,000 each by the time this article appears. Also, he says that "dozens and dozens" of cherubs have donated gifts of $1,000 to $10,000.
A Houston premie, whom we will call Cliff, has made the largest contribution to date: $40,000. "I couldn't see how I was ever going to use that money," he told me, "It was a real weight on me. I never really considered it mine. And the dividends and interest were so high that I had to pay income tax even though I was unemployed." After receiving Knowledge, Cliff traveled to India last November as part of an excursion of 3,500 premies to hang out in Prem Nagar and witness the antics of Guru Maharaj Ji. "After experiencing His Divine Love, there was no doubt in my mind what to do with the money. He has converted the medium of exchange from dollars to love." His father disowned him, but Cliff says, "We communicate now. We just don't talk about the money." The parents of a Wisconsin premie reacted less benevolently on learning that their daughter had given the DLM her $20,000-plus inheritance. They hired the notorious Frecog-"Free Our Children from the Children of God"-to kidnap her. (These thugs have become infamous for the heavy-handed tactics they use to convince Jesus freaks to renounce their fervor.)
The total bill for last November's trip to India was $638,000, as while the spiritual aspects of the sojourn may have been perfect, the logistics were something less. In Delhi, Indian customs officials confiscated Joan Apter's suitcase containing some $28,000 in cash, traveler's checks and jewelry, creating a minor international incident. (She did not declare it properly.) It has yet to be returned.
But such figures pale alongside the most ambitious project yet undertaken by the Mission: the Divine City which, according the Guru Maharaj Ji, will rise from nothing in one year's time somewhere in California. It will be the physical manifestation of the heaven-on-earth one receives through knowledge, with design, technology and environment to boggle the mind of man. A tract near Santa Barbara seems the likely location, subject of course to Maharaj Ji's final approval. The purchase price is reportedly $11 million, including $1 million down payment.
It may well take a miracle to accomplish this ultimate vision. In this instance, the miracle worker appears to be an unlikely character named Joe Gould, a 58-year-old Denver businessman who owns the Kitteridge Building housing the DLM national headquarters. Leaders of the Mission discount Gould's reputation as a robber baron. "Guru Maharaj Ji tells us that no matter how evil a man has become in his society, when he encounters satsang his humanness can come out," explains Bob Mishler, 28, the tall, soft-spoken and very elusive National Director of the DLM. "Gould has been very kind to us, and has expressed a willingness to work with us on the Divine City in the same way he has worked with us on renting us office space." As a landlord, he has been very kind indeed; while charging a nominal rent, he has given them $18,000 to fix up their offices to their exact needs.
"He has told us he'd be willing to arrange the land purchase to enable us to have the best terms and lowest payment schedule," says accountant Bergman. "As for actually giving us some of the money, that's very vague right now. But anything can happen-at one point when we were negotiating the office deal, he said he might give us the entire building."
Gould himself says that while he has not really thought about it, "I wouldn't dismiss the possibility of giving them some of the money." He owns oil wells in Texas, office buildings, theatres and luxury housing in the Denver area, and real estate in Las Vegas. His manufacturing concern ranks as the largest producer of charcoal lighter fluid in the world. By his own admission he has never felt compelled to help any other group of people. He is drawn to the Divine Disciples, however, "because this is a different breed of young people. Irrespective of their philosophy, which I don't know much about, I think it's wonderful what they're doing. I admire their spirit-they're always full of smiles, and they dress very neat and clean. I consider it a pleasure and privilege to be of help to them."
["IF YOU NEED ME… "I
As Kris Kristoffersen says, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." You night just as well say the obverse-that slavery's just another word for everything to gain, and obeisance to Guru Maharaj Ji has its attractions. For one thing, it offers a living, loving teacher who serves as a shield from all worry and an umbilical cord to eternity.
In one last bit of satsang I received in Denver, a premie compared mankind to "a fish going downstream with a hook caught in his mouth and a line of string attached to the pole." Thinking that this was actually special satsang for outdoorsmen, I mused aloud that the string must be the Satguru. "No," he said. "It's free will."
So just "let go" like Rennie: the string will snap; the crows will fly away. You will discover heaven on earth and death itself will become a delicious experience, offering reincarnation, not as a zombie condemned to walk about with doubt, uncertainty and despair, but as one of the enlightened elect blessed with the Knowledge of Truth. Or you may prefer to swim around in the cosmos, and you can then-if you choose-know the pleasures of eternal life as a formless spirit.
The Guru Maharaj Ji will solve your problems, whatever they may be. There are no sexual hangups in the Divine Light Mission because there is no sex, and Bal Bhagwan Ji told Rennie Davis that "we'll just eliminate distinctions between men and women eventually." Who needs it anyway? No sex, no movies, no rock festivals, no all-night poker games. I asked Steve O'Neill if the premies have any vices at all. "Yes," he replied. "A couple of times a week we go out and get a Baskin-Robbins ice cream cone."
It is the ultimate irony of the Movement's search for answers that there are none-only more questions, more struggle which grows ever more difficult as the questions become ever harder to ask. Maharaj Ji tells us to knock our heads on the four corners of the earth, "and if you like any of them, stay there. But if you don't, keep me in mind." There are plenty of bruised noggins drifting around right now. And it seems altogether likely that, in coming months, many of them will be donated to the Divine Light Mission.