Divine Eye Divine Eye

The Savior in a Mercedes Benz

With the ceasefire signed and the national antiwar movement at its lowest ebb, what's a big name activist/organizer like Renny Davis doing with his time? (Davis was a Chicago 7 defendant and the prime architect of the May Day Antiwar demonstrations held in Washington, D.C. in 1971.)

Well, since early February Rennie has held a steady job setting up a promotional drive in the U. S. for a 15 year-old, roly-poly guru from India who says he's God. The youngster's full name is Balyogeshwar Pram Hans Satgurudev Shri Ji Mahara; he is affectionately known in the trade as Maharaj Ji (pronounced miragee) or the Perfect Master.

Davis was in Spokane, Wash., on April 22 talking to the upstart guru's devotees (called premies) at a branch office of his international organization, Divine Light Mission. The Spokane office is a pleasant, split-level affair in a middle class suburb; it has an alter in the living room and a sauna in the basement.

We went to Spokane to talk with Davis and learn more about the new product he is pushing.

Davis estimated the youngster has about 50,000 followers in his U. S. flock and as many as 5 million in his international herd. In fact, after only two years of active recruiting, Divine Light is recognized as the fastest growing, most slickly promoted cult in Western civilization.

In the highly competitive guru market, it's necessary to offer more than a quick route to nirvana or day-glo bumper stickers. And the Maharaj Ji has got the Something Extra. His headquarters is a spacious mountain retreat called Prem Nagar Ashram. (An ashram is a coed monastary for premies.) He travels through the wretched, starving Indian countryside in either his RoUs Royce or new Mercedes Benz - depending on his celestial fancy. It's often difficult to navigate the RoHs through Indian cities like Calcutta. There are about 200,000 people who live in Calcutta's gutters, and hundreds who die each week on the sidewalks.

On his return to India last year after an international tour, he was busted by customs officials for failing to declare a bag full of jewelry and trinkets laid on him by his devotees. He didn't spend any time in jail, and his legal people claim the arrest was a mistake.

If more than the guru's spirit has to travel someplace in the world, he's got two airplanes. If he wants to put out a Messianic message, he's got Divine Light, which - according to its own brochures - is "an international non-profit tax-exempt organization, linked by telex and a data system at the U. S. national headquarters in Denver."

The Kid's 21 year-old brother, Bal Bhagwan Ji (pronounced bobawangee) is the brains of the outfit. He was Jesus Christ in his last lifetime. This time - the saying goes - he brought his Father with him. He's the Incarnation of Divine Intelligence and will be referred to in the hereafter as Bob.


Rennie Davis always was described as a radical who looked and talked like the boy next door. Now he's grown up a bit - he's 32 years old - and looks like the hip, young executive next door, except he wears a medallion with a picture of Majaraj Ji. Rennie sets a mellow, light-hearted mood as he describes Divine Light, Inc. He has been visiting U. S. ashrams for the past month, sizing up The Kid's distribution system and outlining plans for this year's big promotion in the U. S.

As Rennie goes from one divine door to the next, he lays out a testimonial you won't believe. So we're printing part of it verbatim: (While enroute to Paris for the Vietnamese victory celebration in January, Rennie was persuaded by some premies to fly to Prem Nagar to "check out the heaviest event in history. " Months earlier, Rennie had seen television coverage of Maharaj Ji’s visit to the U. S. He was not impressed: "All these lost kids come up and kiss His feet. He just totally turned me off." When Rennie arrived at Prem Nagar, he still was very skeptical. He visited with Bob for a couple hours and came to regard the guru's big brother as "one of the smartest people" he'd ever met. Then, a couple days later, Rennie began to get to know the Perfect Master.)

"The next day Maharaj Ji drives up, and he honks his horn. You know, a really holy ashram where things are supposed to be sacred and quiet. And the horn goes bam-bum-boom-bum-bam. One of those up-and-down horns - really loud. And he honks it again and again and again. He's driving in, a big cloud of dust goes up. He opens the door, he runs into the ashram - he's got his shoes on. You're supposed to take your shoes off, you know. I just flipped out. Everybody just races over. He gets up to the top floor where his place is, and there's these steel doors in the stairweH - there's a bunch of people racing after him - he just turns around and slams the door in front of them.

"The next day he comes out and he's dressed in a brown, pinstripe suit and low-cut cowboy boots. He gets on a motorcycle. This is just flipping me out. This is supposed to be the Lord of the Universe, and he's getting on a motorcycle. Just as the mahatmas (top disciples) start to get close to him, he digs a wheel, and dust and exhaust fly up in their faces. He just leaves them there, and they're totaHy blissed out. (Eds. note: Devotees frequently are blissed out, which roughly means to be happily, dreamily in love with every moment - no matter how banal or adolescent it might be.)

"He flips around the yard a couple times on the motorcycle then goes out to this hardtop driveway that is about 80-100 yards long. There's a big, heavy iron gate at the end of this driveway and it's closed. About 20 yarcjs from the gate -- he's hitting 65-70 miles an hour - and I'd say, like, no way he's going to make it. He's right on top of that gate. Then he hits his brakes and drags rubber for about 20 yards. The rear tire goes SCCREEEEE like a teenage hot-rodder and he spins around and comes back.

"There's a little group of mahatmas and he starts bearing down on them. And I think, all right, you better take off. Pretty soon they get hip to the fact they better take off and they do and he takes off right behind them. He's just running all around the yard trying to run them down.

"All this time I'm trying to figure out, what is he doing. It's absolutely insane.

"Everyday he does this. He plays for like 10 minutes and he reduces 150 adults to children. Everybody is blissed out completely by him - except me. I'in trying to figure out what does this mean. I ask a mahatma, and he says, 'When father plays with child, child doesn't ask for meaning. Child just enjoys.'

"One day he's doing the motorcycle thing, and I laugh. The laughter totally transforms me. It's like a blast of bliss. I experienced what it was that people were experiencing in this play. It was fantastic. I was just sitting there, completely blissed out, and he got off his motorcycle and he looked at me and motioned and I just took off towards him like a kid. He said, 'Oh, here take this motorcycle and park it.' And I just felt like - whew - it was the most important thing I had ever done in my entire life."

Obviously not everyone can park the Lord's bicycle, but everyone can have bliss in their heart and the Word on their lips. The Kid has an eclectic blend of Hindu and Christian doctrine that tells how in a couple of easy leaps. To put it simply:

1) Your ideals determine the world. In other words, it's not whether you wake up starving or go to bed with B-52's raining bombs, it's whether your soul spends its day at peace with the universe.

2) To bring peace to your world, you have to re-educate yourself - by ceasing to think. As Rennie put it, "The cause of suffering on the planet is because the mind is the master. Bal Bhagwan Ji (Bob) says, 'The Antichrist is mind. Want to know who Satan is? Mind. Want to know who Devil is? Mind.'"

As followers of the Kid turn off their minds and turn inward, the Divine Liturgy claims they tie into a pure energy that is present in all creation. As Rennie puts it, "As you sit there and I sit here with the appearance of separation, the reality is we're totally one. It's only the mind, seeing through the eyes and ears that creates the iUusion that we are separated." In other words, you are one with Richard Nixon and starving Bengali peasants.

"From time to time," Rennie explained, "in order to teach this truth, this energy manifests itself in a human body and we call this body, Perfect Master, satguru, avatar. He comes again and again and again. In fact, he's always been on the planet. But at the beginning of every age, he comes in a more or less visible way. He pretty much says the same things about the purpose of life, except he lays on a handful of people something called the Knowledge."

Rennie has received the Knowledge and now he knows one thing: Peace is inevitable, because 15 year-old Maharaj Ji has declared that he will bring it. How? He and Bob have a secret plan to end war, and their followers leave it to them to call the shots. Rennie did learn that the Divine Duo has declared 1973 the year to bliss out the U.S.; then it wll be on to Russia in 74, and to China in 75.


By the time the guru returns to the U. S. this summer, Rennie says that Divine Light will be a national issue. Is this God on Earth or Fraud on Us? And as the debate mounts, followers will pull off a nine-ring Cosmic Circus on Nov. 9 at - you bet - the Astrodome.

It's not all idle talk, either. The Perfect Master and his sales force are putting together a talented organization with that one big asset - money. He draws the money out of the pockets and purses of upper middle and middle class people - most of them college students or dropouts - who have been searching desperately for the past ten years for something to believe in. Rennie found a lot of familiar faces at Prem Nagar, people who had been in Chicago in 1968 and in Washington on May Day. People who, in the words of one devotee, had "been into a lot of weird scenes and now wanted to be at peace with themselves." People who now have found a way to keep a steady, straight job, but instead of being just another cog in the plastic death machine, they now believe they're serving a Higher Purpose.

Scores of flower children and angry youth of the 60s relax a bit and slip into the mainstream of American life - as poUuted and rancid as it is. Thus, the guru movement is not really a threat to the established American lifestyle; it's not a counterculture or contradiction of established beliefs. By passively accepting capitalism but calling it another name - a divine mission - the guru's followers play right into the hands of business and government vested interests trying to save a decaying economic and social system. The Eastern religion movement has been conspicuously well-treated by police and government authorities in contrast to brutal repression of such real threats to the system as the Black Panthers and the Weathermen.

Inside the Divine Light movement, the social relationships mirror the existing society - complete with sexism, elitism, and puritanical repression of natural sexual impulses. The ashrams designate a woman "house mother" to tend the kitchen and supervise the household, just as in the homes where the devotees were raised. Males hold the role of "general secretary" or coordinator of the ashram. Sex is taboo for ashram residents. All these features combine to yield an unquestioning attitude toward existing American sex roles.

The followers tend to adopt a "do your own thing" attitude toward social change, once again the least threatening position they could take.


On the basis of these easy-come-easy-go ideals, Rennie says Divine Light is "going to put together the best organization anyone has ever seen." The organization relies a great deal on what he describes as "far-out coincidences."

We asked him about the coincidence of the continued bombing of Cambodia and the prospect of renewed bombing of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. His answer was vague, but its tenor was that he was getting tired of aU these serious people asking him heavy questions about Southeast Asia. That answer comes from the same Rennie Davis who was so seriously committed to ending the Indochina war until a few months ago.

Looking back at his years of struggle, Rennie had to suppress a Cosmic Grin:

"I am reaUy struck by wonder at the incredibly tense moments I have had in my life, like when I had to have 13 stitches in my head after a beating in Chicago, the five months I spent in a courtroom, the time 13,000 people got arrested in the May Day demonstrations in 1971, aU the times water hoses have been turned on me. "It's aU been such a game. I was taking it so seriously, when it is all such a divine play."

Unfortunately, there are stiU tens of thousands of people in South east Asia who haven't learned it's a divine joke when a B-52 or a Phantom splatters their family across a rice paddy. There are people - many of them old friends - who keep reminding Rennie that the war, imperialism, racism and suffering still go on. Two weeks ago he was denounced as a sellout and CIA agent by a crowd of 1,000 persons at a lecture in Berkeley.

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His longtime comrade in radical politics, Carl Oglesby, reluctant to attack Rennie personally, has made a general putdown of cultists.

"Many of us who cut our teeth on the activism of the new left will inescapably deplore this new fashion in spiritualism East and West, finding much of it bogus or illusory or outright madness, and will complain that the revolution has again been betrayed and the wretched of the earth abandoned by this new fancy of the addled imperial middle class."

It's not that Rennie and his class-mates are so wrong for spending their time in pursuit of spiritual perfection, it's that they are suggesting that the starved and oppressed do the same. They are asking the people in the squalor of India or South America to keep on waiting - the Savior is coming in his Mercedes Benz.


Jesus Freaks and gurus, astrologers and Yogis, Mansonites and the 15 year-old prophet of eternal light.

These and hundreds of other oddities have entered the circus of American cultural life, blazed brightly for a few weeks or a month, made the cover of Time magazine and then disappeared leaving only a residue of optimistic believers standing in the wings like a South Seas Cargo Cult waiting for the return of the Air Force.

When these sects reach their zenith they appear to wreak great change on this society. But shortly they all become like Maharishi What's His Name - the one who attracted such a furor when the Beatles and Mia Farrow were counted among his devotees a few years back. The leaders of these cults offer an organization, an ideology, and a seemingly simple way to escape the pain which is life in the United States in 1973.

To the alienated people who smile blindly at the eminent return of Jesus Christ or the everlasting wisdom of Buddha there is no Watergate affair, no racism, no unemployment and no inflation, and, if only women accepted the role cast for them in the Bible (or whatever their holy script is), they would be happy without earthly liberation. Many of the people who believe in the Jesus movement today believed yesterday in vegetarianism or Tarot cards; each new religious fad that comes along offers them a mental release from this decaying society.

Even though this cultism is new to many of us, historically it is an old phenomena. When societies begin to collapse, people try to escape any way possible. Each crumbling culture produces its own type of escape routes. It is fitting that in consumer-mad America the models are the most varied and colorful. But really it was not basically different in Algeria before its revolution when a new reformist type of Islam swept the country.

In turn of the century Russia the counterpart of the Jesus Freaks was the sect of the Old Believers which went to the peasants in the countryside to alert them of the coming of the Millenia. In China hundreds of secret societies formed before the revolution got underway in earnest; the Mexican Revolution of the turn of the century saw the rapid growth of Millenarian sects.

Political change, unlike Hollywood's version of it, does not occur all of a sudden when a few troublemakers take control. The process is slow, affecting the lives of everyone in many ways. Relationships fall apart, corruption is rampant and the traditional ways that people look at and understand the world no longer work. People lose their faith in the organizations and institutions of their society, including their traditional religious beliefs.

As might be expected, these attempts at finding new ways of looking at the world are acted out most earnestly by people whose traditional roles in society have been written out of the script by the people in control.

In countries like pre-revolutionary Vietnam the prime actors in these cults were the old aristocrats who were dispossessed by the French colonialists. Their earthly roles had been usurped. They had two choices: to write their own script for a playhouse controlled by the French or to take control of the theatre, as Ho Chi Minh and thousands of others did. The sects in that country were even more bizarre than those in this country; they once had thousands of followers, their own large armies, and formal regional governments.

This history in mind, it is no surprise the cults claim their devotees mostly from the young, white middle class dropouts who desperately want something to believe in. Many of these young people are so-called hippies whose Haight Ashbury dreams were smashed by the government that taught them there would be no peace on earth unless the Pentagon approved. And since there was to be no economic peace on earth for these people, either in the form of meaningful jobs or sufficient income, they turned to heaven.

But even understanding what is going on as a historical phenomena of a society collapsing does not really alleviate the pain many of us feel when we see an old friend who was bitter and disillusioned about his or her life, suddenly wearing a feeble grin and boasting about how things have changed miraculously just three days after using Jesus or Guru Whatever.

Like a quick paint job over a rotting building, their smiling peaceful look is a lie. They have not really changed because this society has not really changed. They are just hooked on something else. And the only antidote to their sickness and to ours, is to build a society where life is unabashedly worth living for itself and not for a guru or master.