The New Republic    November 17, 1973, page 17

God in Houston

The Cult of Guru Maharaj Ji Ji

by Jonathon Rawson

Dressed in a neat pin-striped suit Rennie Davis, late of the Chicago Seven, stood stiffly near an airport arrival gate holding a lei of pink, white and red carnations. Stretched out behind him in two long lines were more than 100 fellow devotees of Satguru Maharaj Ji, the 15- year-old guru who is said to be the incarnation for this generation of the primordial vibrations of the universe.

The Perfect Master's plane arrived on schedule, and, after the other passengers had been allowed to debark, he emerged from the loading ramp - a short, puffy-cheeked adolescent with a dark Indian complexion, jet black hair combed flat, soft blemish-free skin, wearing a brown cord suit with an orange shirt and tie. Flanked by aides he approached the greeting party, took the lei, crushing it slightly in the process, and moved briskly down the gauntlet of premies. As he passed, the devotees, many in tears, threw flower petals in his path and then prostrated themselves to kiss the marble slabs where his lotus feet had just trod. With Davis at his side, the Perfect Master sped off into the afternoon.

Rennie Davis is the most conspicuous, though by no means the only, political activist who has made the trip from radical politics to radical religion, and his conversion has been a boon to Guru Maharaj Ji, the most spectacularly successful of recent spiritual immigrants from the East. Davis' first assignment was to put together ''Soul Rush," a three-day rally held. last week in the Houston Astrodome and modestly billed by Davis as "the most important event in the history of the world." Davis says that his decision to stop trying to close down capitals and start opening up people's inner selves came after a trip to Paris to speak with members of the North Vietnamese delegation to the peace talks. He ran into a friend from the movement who had turned on to the 15-year-old master; a ticket to India was provided; and Davis flew off to check it out. His first impressions of the Perfect Master were negative. "But then I began talking with some of the premies," he said. "One came up and said that he had been with me at the Democratic convention. Another said that he'd been in Washington. I realized that these were really good people. I decided to take a second look, and I received Knowledge."

"Receiving Knowledge" is the key to everything in the Divine Light Mission, which is the organization headed by Guru Maharaj Ji, and the first step is to attend satsang, a sort of revival meeting in which premies give testimonies. To find out what it is that turned on Davis and the other followers - officially listed as 40,000 in this country and six million around the world - I attended a satsang in the Sunday school auditorium


of a local Presbyterian church. About 50 persons, most of them already committed, were in attendance. There was singing to guitars and a small rock band, and then one premie after another speaking in gushing but vague terms about the bliss that follows the receipt of Knowledge. Guru Maharaj Ji is no ordinary guru, or guide. He is the Word become Flesh. "You mustn't confuse him with the components of his body," said one teenage girl. "He is timeless. He is the energy that is in every leaf and tree." A boy told how he had been delivered from fear of walking around big city streets at night. "When you have Knowledge you aren't afraid to go out," he declared. Another testified that he was living in sin with a girl until he saw what Knowledge had done to a childhood acquaintance: "I felt this warmth in him," he said. "He was shining, radiating with peace and joy. I figured that after awhile he would come down, but every day he got more blissful. It drove me crazy. Here was my old friend John from Akron, and he had found the peace of the universe."

At the end the leader announced that anyone interested in receiving Knowledge should come to the local headquarters the next morning. I showed up shortly before 9 am and, along with about 30 other persons, was ushered into a large living room. At one end was a makeshift, altar draped with a white satin cloth and bearing innumerable pictures of Guru Maharaj Ji and other members of his family. We sat cross-legged on the floor and for two hours listened to more satsang and sang devotional folk songs ("Though the sun may fall and the moon may die, I will love you forever.") Shortly after 11 o'clock the mahatma - one of a reported 2000 persons authorized by the Perfect Master to impart Knowledge - arrived. He was dressed in a saffron robe and talked with an Indian accent.

The Knowledge session began about noon with an examination of each of the potential premies. Do you really believe Guru Maharaj Ji is the Lord? Do you really want to serve Him and Him alone? Do you have any other gurus? One young man made the mistake of saying that he wanted to receive Knowledge even though he was still a follower of Jesus. "Then get Jesus to give you Knowledge," retorted the mahatma. Asked why she wanted to receive Knowledge, one girl replied innocently enough that she wanted to find God. She was rejected along with nearly half of the others.

After a lunch break we settled into the serious business of making contact with the primordial vibrations of the universe. We were instructed to sit up straight, keep our eyes on the mahatma and answer all his questions in loud, clear voices. The first step was for everyone to take all the money out of his pockets, present it at the foot of the altar and express eternal gratitude and devotion to Guru Maharaj Ji. "If all you have is a check, sign it so that it can be cashed," instructed the mahatma. One boy was found to be holding out enough for his bus fare home. "What if Guru Maharaj Ji doesn't want you to go home?" asked the mahatma.

The Knowledge on which the Divine Light Mission is built is fourfold, and the first part is the seeing of "divine light." The living room lights were extinguished, and after a discourse on the significance of spiritual inner light the mahatma began moving among us. Explaining that the center of the forehead is the center of the body, he showed each person how to press against the side of the forehead with the thumb and middle finger of the right hand and against the lower center of the forehead with the index finger. Sure enough, we pressed and saw light. Some described the sensation as similar to seeing a starry night. Others reported comets and fireworks. One girl said that she saw images she hadn't seen since childhood. The mahatma assured us that this was just the beginning of our spiritual light shows. "You are new-born babes," he explained. "You will see cosmic light."

We were told to prostrate ourselves before the largest picture of the Perfect Master and say "Guru Maharaj Ji I am yours" and then we moved on to the next piece of Knowledge - hearing divine harmonies. The mahatma showed us how to put our thumbs in our ears and the index fingers over our eyes. When the pressure on the right ear was relaxed we all heard dull rhythmic sounds. One initiate said it sounded like a generator. Another said it was like a train. The mahatma nodded approvingly.

The third part was a breathing exercise in which we were instructed to sit with our index fingers and thumbs together and meditate on God and soul. The fourth involved "nectar" or divine revelation through the sense of taste. The mahatma explained that babies are born with their tongues curled back so as to receive nutrition from nectar that falls down from the center of their head before birth. This faculty, he said, is normally forgotten after birth but can be reclaimed. He showed us how to curl our tongues back toward the tonsils, an exercise that is presumably followed by premies often during the day. No one seemed to be tasting much nectar, but after 10 hours of sitting cross-legged in the living room no one seemed to want to make an issue of it.

With the Knowledge imparted, the mahatma read some passages from the Bible, the Bhagavad-Gita and Zen masters that, he said, proved that this was the Knowledge possessed by Jesus, the Buddha and other earlier spiritual leaders. He told us to meditate several hours a day, covering the head for the divine light part, and told us that the first time we saw Guru Maharaj ji in person we should turn our right ear to him so that he might "blow you a puff of grace." He gave us a greeting to be used in addressing other premies and passed out pieces of paper with his name and address. "Send your worldly possessions here," he said. "Do you love Guru Maharaj Ji, or do you love your money?' Then - 11 hours after it all began - we rose and staggered stiffly out into the cool evening air.

JONATHAN RAWSON is a journalist specializing in religious affairs.