Realist Article - December
What's Behind the 15-Year-Old Guru Maharaj Ji?
"Solvable Problems Are Unsolvable" is the title of a major article in Divine Light Mission's extremely well-heeled publication. Reality is all mystery; mystery, the only reality. Knowledge, therefore, is the delicate semantic art of professing to know nothing. Activism in the real world is a waste; passivity is power. Down is up. "Richard Nixon can have Truth, Knowledge and Bliss" Rennie Davis, Berkeley, 1973).
Who is Guru Maharaj Ji? He is an incredibly rich Indian prince, the pudgy heir to leadership of one of his country's counties, mystical sects, whose privileged caste has felt none of the sting of a century of colonialism.
Gurus are a dime a dozen in India, and Maharaj Ji's cult was in death throes when he devised a brilliant scheme: he would diversify and expand abroad! His product costs nothing to manufacture - and there's a market that will pay any price for it. He's exporting forgiveness to the mother country. To the masses who live in "the belly of the beast" he peddles his spiritual Rol-aids:
"Actually, in America people were saying that this Divine Light Mission is like a washing machine. You put your dirty clothes inside and they come out very clean. So anybody who is dirty who goes inside the mission comes out perfectly clean. But I don't mean clean outside. I mean clean from inside. And this is a real thing!" (Shri Bal Bhagwan Ji, the Guru's holy brother)
Yes indeed, folks, just one taste of the Guru's holy Knowledge can soak up 47 times its weight in excess guilt.
What's frightening is that people - devotees - do believe it. Not because it makes sense, but because we have come to the point in our history where the dirt is starting to show, and the Guru's one-stop laundromat is a deep-seated appeal to the "instant" mentality that is nurtured and maintained by the American experience.
Looking at the cult from this perspective, the picture emerges of the sickness feeding on itself: there is a logical symbiosis that sustains both the Guru and his followers: Americans want their self-respect; the Guru wants to make a buck.
How much simpler it is to think that our president hits within him the seeds of divinity than that we have within ourselves the seeds of rebellion!
How handy that the system is so evil that its participants voluntarily oppress themselves in order not to face it and deal with it.
Before it ends, we will doubtless see decadence in many forms, but at present the cult of the Guru Maharaj Ji is one of the most prominent.
Our first contact with Divine Light Mission was when Rennie Davis came to Berkeley and made a disastrous attempt to convince our rowdy crowd of non-believers that he had found something better than political activism - he had found god. Rennie was, of course, referring to the teenaged "perfect master," the Guru Maharaj Ji.
The cult of the Guru, however, was presented as more than simply another mystical cult. No, the child-god has something much more to offer the Pepsi generation; a Puritanical alternative to "counter-culture" life-style (celibacy is required), and a "peace movement that will save the world."
Indeed, the devoted followers of the Guru present that night certainly did look different from us grubby leftists and hippie, who were there to check it out - well-scrubbed young men dressed in three-piece suits, whose only telling difference from businessmen was their psychedelic buttons of the chubby cherub.
Looking like a cross between Brooks Brothers ads and hired thugs, the devotees who were present that night certainly did not fit my image of white middle-class drop-outs who get into Eastern mysticism.
Rennie told us how he was skeptical when he first encountered the adolescent millionaire at the "divine residence" in Prem Nagar, India. After all, Guru Maharaj Ji has gotten some bad publicity, and his media image is not quite what one could call divine:
The boy guru, 'the perfect master,' picked up his $50,000 car yesterday, along with his 45 strong-arm 'disciples.'
In spite of himself, it seems, Rennie was nevertheless convinced by a series of miracles, or coincidences, that Guru Maharaj Ji is indeed god. Rennie's explanation for the Guru's penchant for extravagance was that god "came back as a king this time (rather than a carpenter's son) so nobody could miss him."
Rennie made it perfectly clear the Divine Light Mission, Inc. is an ambitious, growing organization that has a strategy as well as a philosophy. He even gave us a schedule of where and when the continents of the world would be "swept by the tide of Guru Maharaj Ji's Knowledge" (This year is pour chance, America!)
Divine United Organization is part of that strategy, and will serve to proselytize more efficiently and professionally, and will ultimately, say the faithful, provide the answers to every social problem: war, poverty, racism, pollution, ad nauseam.
The arrogance was astounding. Just leave it to the Guru and his merry band of white middle-class American men, and everything will he taken care of. All it takes is Truth, Knowledge, and Bliss, which only the Guru can deliver. We were being offered a CARE package for underdeveloped minds.
Our curiosity aroused by this strange blend of Amerikana and mysticism, we went to the San Francisco headquarters (Ashram) of Divine Light Mission, where we had our first encounter with the Guru's premies (devotees). A young woman answered our knock and told us that we would have to come back for Satsang - their nightly program about the Guru and the Divine Light Mission (D.L.M.) - since everyone who was home was too busy to talk.
We said that we couldn't come back later, and she hemmed and hawed until a young man came to the door and said that he could spare a few minutes. Removing our shoes, we went inside our first Ashram, which was decorated in neo-guru style (his picture plastered on every available space). There were quite a few people in the house who later got involved in our sometimes heated discussion, including the woman who answered the door and told us she was too busy to talk.
We wanted to find out who the financial backers of the organization are, since it was obvious from the high quality and quantity of their propaganda that Divine Light Mission has money to spend. We were also very suspicious of the fact that Rennie's pitch was directed at people who have been or are active in political movements. Is D.L.M. funded by the C.I.A.?
However, we soon realized that the extent of the premies' "Knowledge" of the cult was how to give Satsang ("once you taste of this precious Knowledge you will understand why everything we need just comes to us - it's the energy force of Guru Maharaj Ji," etc., etc.). If they had any information about the finances of the organization, they certainly didn't let on, although they insisted that all of the money D.L.M. has comes from them, the premies, donating their salaries. There were also many denials of any political motivation in Rennie's pitch to the Movement.
It was here on our first visit to premie land that we really began to realize that the primary focus and thrust of D.L.M. is building a powerful organization and promoting their business. There is already a nationwide chain of thrift stores, a health clinic in New York, a fixit service, and plans for a "divine city" in California to be built from start to finish within a year.
The extravaganza scheduled for the Houston Astrodome in November will feature the Guru himself, and here it will be announced that god has once again descended to the planet. Their plans are grandiose, to say the least.
Rennie has been assigned the task of raising one million for the Houston festival (entitled Soul Rush '73). Originally, their plans included the rental of the Astrohall for displays revealing the mysteries of the seven wonders of the world, but which is now slated for a pavilion at the next World's Fair.
The theme of the festival will have a three-pronged approach: "Who is Guru Maharaj Ji"; "Guru Maharaj Ji is Here"; "The Messiah Has Come." One of the primary aims of the Houston festival, aside from attracting new converts with the hoopla and free food, is to stimulate media coverage of the Guru and Divine Light Mission. Premies envision the Guru on nationwide television clearly their idea of the pinnacle of success.
We spent a good part of the interview challenging the ideas and attitudes of the premies, and were horrified by the robot-like response. We began to wonder if there was some form of hypnotism or drug "therapy" involved in receiving Knowledge (being initiated), since every question asked was answered with another question, or an irrelevant passage memorized and quoted verbatim.
Bored to tears at the parables and anecdotes we were told over and over again, we breathed a sigh of relief and put on our shoes as we walked out the door, albeit with new insights into what kind of people become followers and some information about their plans for the organization.
One of the main themes of Rennie's abortive Satsang in Pauley Ballroom was that many of the devotees of Divine Light Mission are former political activists. He really pushed the idea that a large percentage of the premie population had tried radical politics and "found out that it didn't work." Rennie would have us believe that the premies turned to the Guru out of devotion to changing the world, and had switched from politics to D.L.M. because the Guru could deliver what the Movement couldn't.
However, our experiences in San Francisco, Denver, and New York brought us to a different conclusion.
For one thing, we found very few premies who had actually been involved in, or had had much contact with, political movements. Most of the people we talked to were disillusioned professionals, frustrated college students, bored bureaucrats, or from a heavy drug scene. Many of the premies had been dabbling in other mystical religions, rather than politics, before they came to the conclusion that the Guru Maharaj Ji is The Ree-al Thing.
Why, then, do Rennie and other speakers selling the Guru push the lie that the devotees are all disillusioned political activists? The reasons are two-fold. People from the Left are experienced organizers - Rennie being the best example of D. L. M.'s desire to use that skill. In addition, skilled speakers, people used to arguing to defend their beliefs, are also the people who have been feeling a lot of frustration in trying to bring about changes over the past several years.
Divine Light Mission, Inc. is banking - literally - on those people admitting defeat and looking around for something else to believe in. That's why Rennie chose Berkeley as his first stop on an organizing tour for the Guru, and why he made his primary pitch to all of his "old friends" in the Movement.
When we left the San Francisco Ashram, we took three issues of And It Is Divine, D.L.M.'s slick monthly magazine, copies of which sell for a dollar each (and which were refused to us as free copies).The first issue we leafed through confirmed my suspicion that D.L.M. is a wolf in sheep's clothing -a reactionary force disguised as a peace movement.
In the January, 1973 issue, there's a computerized history of the world and war, from 1967 to 1972. The only entry even mentioning Viet Nam in all four pages of this article is: "January, 1970. Vietnam: the 40,OOOth American died in the longest U.S. war."
And here's what they say about the Chicago Convention in 1968: "Riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago by a variety of student political organizations resulted in scores of injuries, including 152 injured police" (emphasis added).
Looking further into the Guru's literature, we were even more shocked to come across an article entitled "Genetic Gambling" in the April, 1973 issue:
Selective breeding is truly a doublebladed axe, capable of cutting both ways, depending completely on how it is used. One good example of the scientific objectivity which may be expected is Dr. Shockley, a Nobel Prize winning physicist whose own personal theory of genetics allows him to state that the Negroid race is genetically inferior as proven by I.Q. tests.
Scientific objectivity? William Shockley has long been recognized by more legitimate scientists and his students at Stanford as a racist whose sickness is only thinly veiled by "scientific" theory.
Other blatant examples of racism are found in D.L.M.'s weekly newspaper, Divine Times, which is the in-house organ. The following manifestations of Guru Maharaj Ji's perfect knowledge and love as communicated by three of his dedicated missionaries in the Third World were taken from a single issue of Divine Times, April 15, 1973:
Kenya - Here we encountered the beauty and love of people who . . . are so close to the heart of Guru Maharaj Ji because they are childlike.
says "the white man's burden" is a thing of the past?
No doubt she was a Shockley fan, too; it all hangs together. We found out more about how it does when we went to Denver, the site of D.L.M.'s national headquarters.
Coincidentally enough, the day we arrived in the "mile high city," D.L.M. was sponsoring a program at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The centerpiece - who never spoke, except for a dollop of particularly bland Satsang before the movie - was one of the Guru's mahatmas ("teachers" - those who can act as "extension cords" for the Guru-generator, and transmit his Knowledge). It was our first experience with one of D.L.M.'s routine recruiting sessions, and the audience was comprised mainly of college students (about 200 people).
The program was started by a starry-eyed young woman who sang two gushy songs (about Guess Who). As her performance was drawing to a close, we were astounded to observe devotees prostrating themselves in the aisle before the ever-present, flower-bedecked color glossy of His Holiness.
It was getting hard to keep still; hard to watch people our own age and younger pushing their faces into the floor. Were we in a medieval convent or a college auditorium? With a few changes in decor, the gathering could as easily have been presided over by Anton La Vey of the Satanic Church.
The next speaker was a spiffy salesman type, who started his spiel with: "You know, the other day I was reading Carl Oglesby's article about Rennie and it had a picture of Rennie with the Chicago 7. It reminded me of all the demonstrations and rallies we all went to that didn't change anything, because everything is the same now as it was then. But now Rennie and all of us have something much better - something that will really work - we have the Guru Maharaji Ji."
You can't fight City Hall, right? So never mind: City Hall's an irrelevant bummer anyway. The only reason things seem so bad is that you haven't blissed in yet.
We were told by that same salesman that the Guru was even "more exciting than Santa Claus" and that "if there's something we think we need, all we have to do is just go out and get it. There's nothing we have to do without." And all this said to a group of people who most likely already have everything they ever thought they needed. The question kept turning over in our minds: Why were these students so alienated from our movement and so dedicatedly unconscious, politically?
The problems withing the Left are admittedly serious ones - of overcoming elitism, sexism, racism, dealing with sectarian disputes, and trying to forge new identities in the midst of a society geared to preventing it. The Rennie Davis-style movement organization has been all too common, with top-down exclusively male leadership, that has tended towards grandiose visions rather than a sense of reality - for example, May Day: "End the War in May."
The MayDay-type slogans represent the "instant" mentality that found its way into movement ideology and activity. The lack of understanding of what it means to take part in a revolutionary process engendered frustration, discouragement, and ultimately defeatism on the Left.
We have made many mistakes and encountered many difficulties in trying to bring about change; it's no easy task to change ourselves, and at the same time challenge the status quo. But believing in the Guru Maharaj Ji is easy in that sense - no more guilt about who we are (we're saving the world); no more mistakes (Guru never makes one); no more anxieties about sexual identities (no sex); and certainly no more risks (capitalism isn't the problem and revolution isn't the answer).
Later that night in Boulder we interviewed Sheldon Jaffe, the director of Divine Sales (D. L. M.'s chain of 16 thrift stores-one of their sources of "green energy"). Sheldon was typical of many premies we talked to: overweight, pale and twitchy, he clearly gets a lot out of being a "heavy" in the organization. He said he was alienated, unsatisfied and unhappy before joining up with the forces of Guru Maharaj Ji. Now, he told us, he gets to fly all over the country as National Director of Divine Sales, and attend Board of Directors meetings.
Indeed, Sheldon's new-found self-importance was reflected in his vision of the organization. When we asked him about the new formation, Divine United Organization, he responded by saying its function would be to "clothe, feed and shelter the entire world" (DUO is planning to become the next benevolent world power).
Sheldon gave us the names of people to talk to at the national headquarters in Denver, and the next day we went to Denver to investigate further. Our first stop was the state capitol building, where we looked up D.L.M.'s incorporation papers.
We discovered that D.L.M. obtains four stories of office space rent-free from one Joseph Gould, in exchange for "janitorial services." Mr. Gould obviously has a good deal of faith in the Guru's cleansing powers, since a large chunk of the money he gets from real estate speculation in Nevada and landlording in Denver is destined to finance the "divine city" in California - an $11 million undertaking.
Our next stop was 511 16th Street in beautiful downtown Denver, the national offices of Divine Light Mission, Inc. The national public relations director, Billy White, certainly fit our image of what a public relations man should look like -from Roos-Atkins suit to fashionably long sideburns. Our interview with him, however, wasn't even really off the ground when Mahatma Ji unexpectedly walked into the office. Billy White relinquished his seat next to us for the mahatma, and suddenly our interview was cut off by the dozen or so office workers who immediately gathered around him.
As the devotees settled on the floor, it was as though we were watching a rock star paying a surprise visit to his fans. There was excitement in the air and everything in the office came to a standstill the moment Mahatma Ji entered the room. And there we were, face to face with one of the Holy Men, who was obviously enjoying all the attention he was getting.
When Billy White told the honored guest that we were from the media, his eyes lit up and he looked as if he wanted us to ask him some questions. In the course of our short interview with Mahatma Ji, he told us that he had been a follower of Guru Maharaj Ji for four years, and that he had been an engineer in India before that.
The conversation got around to politics when we asked the mahatma and the assembled premies what their position was on the war in Indochina. His reply was that they did not support either side, since the Guru teaches us that war is wrong and that the love of Guru Maharaj Ji is the only way to procure peace.
We asked if that meant that D.L. M. does not support the right of the Indochinese people to self-defense against American aggression. The answer was no (that was an irrelevant question).
Testing how far they were willing to go, we asked, "What if B52's are above you, dropping bombs on your homes, schools, children and everything you know and love is being destroyed, what then?" The group smiles (another irrelevant question). "Well, then, far out! It doesn't matter!"
Even though we half expected something like this, we couldn't quite believe what we had just heard, and couldn't quite control the anger and frustration boiling up inside. So that was the end of our interview with the mahatma and his admirers.
As we made our exit, two men from the office followed us out onto the street. They wanted to give us some more Satsang, and couldn't understand why we were angry and upset. One of the men was genuinely confused, and wanted to smooth things out and make us feel better. The other stood there mocking us, grinning and staring and full of hate.
Suddenly I lost control and started screaming that they were robots, incapable of understanding or displaying any human emotions or reactions. Smack! Everett (the one with the evil eye) hit me in the face with a roll of posters (of the Guru, no doubt) he was carrying. "That's reaction," was his only explanation.
As more and more premies filtered out into the street to see what was happening, we confronted them with what had just occurred, and waited to see what their reactions would be. The mahatma's only response to the incident was, "Well, nobody's perfect - he just hasn't meditated on the Knowledge enough yet."
What hypocrisy. Physical violence is okay when it's used by men against women who get uppity, who dare to criticize. It was ironic, to say the least, that this came from the same person who had just told us that it was wrong for the Vietnamese to shoot down American planes - that any kind of violence was wrong. Some of the women we talked to were clearly upset by what had happened; perhaps they began to see some flaws in the perfect Knowledge they had accepted without question.
While we were standing outside the national headquarters, we ran into a young woman who had another reason to be upset with D.L.M. She told us that she had been following Mahatma Ji around the country. trying to receive Knowledge; but had been refused again and again. She was running out of money, and would have to give up soon if she couldn't find a job in Denver.
She was different from all of the devotees we had met, in the sense that she was not college-educated and / or from the upper middle class. Hence, she did not have any skills that D. L. M. could find particularly useful or desirable. As we talked to her, it became clearer that we were right in presuming that Divine Light Mission is interested in recruiting only people with skills into their organization - and apparently she wasn't one of them.
As we systematically went through the literature we were given in Denver, another frightening aspect of the D. L. M. philosophy surfaced. The authoritarian structure of the organization is really no different from any other corporation, and worse in many ways, because it extends to every facet of everyday life: from the clothes you wear (suits for men, long dresses for women), to your sex life (or in this case, the prohibition thereof).
The Guru is daddy, the premies are his children, and all the authoritarianism implied in that structure is present, only worse, since the daddy is also god and never makes a mistake. Mindlessness is the goal for premies to strive for. As Rennie put it in an interview with Ken Kelley, "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.' "
Not only are the premies seen as children, they are also machines that only the Guru knows how to operate:
The mind has an automatic acceleration on it and you can't control it. Only one man can control it, the man who built it, who mastered it, who is a doctor on it! Only He knows how to find the acceleration screw so he can loosen it up and take it out, so that the proportions of the mixture will be set properly.
The next stop in our quest for knowledge about Divine Light Mission was New York City. We had the usual interview with the public relations man, and our first contact with the Divine Organization of Women, which is literally the women's auxiliary of D.L.M. We had been hearing about D.O.W. since Rennie's appearance in Berkeley, and it was touted as the answer to our questions about the sexism of D.L.M.
When we arrived at the New York Ashram for our interview with Dan Anthon, N.Y.C. public relations director, we came into contact with three women. The first was answering phones, typing letters, sending Telex messages; the second woman served us ice tea while we were talking to Anthon; and the third was vacuuming the carpets and ironing clothes.
When we confronted Anthon about this, his response was that he had been a housemother once, and everything ended up in total chaos. Also, he said, there wasn't much time left to save the world, and everyone had to do what they best know how. Besides, there are three Ashram General Secretaries in Canada who are women!
Almost in the same breath, he told us that he hadn't had any experience in public relations before joining D.L.M., but had somehow "fallen into it" and learned the required skills. Danny Anthon told us that we should talk to the head of D.O.W. in New York, a woman named Elise, to get the real scoop on women and D.L.M. from a woman's perspective.
The following day we went back to the Ashram and interviewed Elise and Judy about D.O.S. (which should really be D.O.G., since they consistently referred to grown women as girls), They told us that the female head of D.O. W. is the Guru's mother, but that D.O.W. is run "supremely" by Guru Maharaj Ji. We asked if they didn't consider it a contradiction for a woman's organization to be headed by a man. Of course the answer was no, since the Guru is perfect and it's irrelevant whether he's a man or a woman. It's also irrelevant because "your body is just a piece of meat" and the only thing that counts is whether or not you can accept the Guru's knowledge.
We got the same justification for division of roles along sex lines as we did the day before from Anthon, and the same insistence that such questions were irrelevant anyway ("It doesn't matter whether you're a house-mother or a public relations man, as long as you're happy doing service for Guru Maharaj Ji.")
When we suggested that the formation of D.O. W. was simply another attempt at co-option of a popular movement, we were told that we were, in fact, right; that the Divine Organization of Women was not founded in order to heighten women's consciousness within the organization.
Elise stressed that D.O.W. was there to help women deal with husbands who wouldn't accept Knowledge, for example, and other related problems. Sex roles are encouraged rather than discouraged by D.L.M., and the devotees believe in the "inherent" differences between women and men. We were told that "woman is of the earth, man is of the sky," and that "women have softer hearts than men."
Sexism pervades D.L.M. literature as well. The April, 1973 issue of And It Is Divine has an article entitled "Women" that is no less subtle than the male supremacy we encountered in every Ashram. The article asks different women about the Equal Rights Amendment and women's liberation. The first woman they quote is Phyllis Schlafly, national chairman of the Committee to Stop the Equal Rights Amendment, and authoress of A Choice Not An Echo, a book about Barry Goldwater. She says, "Women's lib is a total assault on the role of the American woman as wife and mother and on the family as the basic unit of society."
The same article quites Sharon Keller, a young black devotee and head of Shri Hans Education (the D.L.M. media front group), who says that the trouble with the United States is that "men relate to women as potential wives, whereas in India and the high Aryan cultures, they relate to woman as a mother." Great! We suppose if you are celibate and like doing the housework, it's better to be seen as a mother than a potential wife.
By the time we got to the New York Ashram, the beliefs and attitudes of the premies no longer shocked us. We fully expected the sexism we saw and felt, and the rationalizations for it that were spouted repeatedly. We expected the women to be as sexist as the men. We even expected to be told that sexism is an irrelevant issue. Expecting it is one thing, however; accepting it, quite another.
Coming into close contact with the D.L.M. philosophy was a traumatic experience. It was difficult to keep it at a distance - to bear in mind that it represents only a temporary co-option of the people who have been sucked in by it. Of course, we did learn to make a distinction between the leadership and the premies Rennie being the prime example of the power-monger, opportunist mentality that is characteristic of the elite of Divine Light Mission, Inc.
The average premie, on the other hand, seems to be taking his-her ideologically literal background to its logical conclusion: believing in the Guru combines the "do-gooder" and "God Helps those who help themselves" aspects of liberalism in America. Accepting the Guru as god not only alleviates white liberal guilt, however; it also provides something to believe in and work for, in the midst of a crumbling, decaying society.
It was clear to us, meanwhile that Divine Light Mission appeals only to the class of people it has had limited success in reaching, and that it has nothing to offer the masses of American people. It is good to know, also, that large numbers of premies have dropped out of the organization, and that D.L.M.'s premie census figures are inflated and exaggerated, since drop-outs are included.
for the Guru, he is no more nor less than any other smart
capitalist business man, but hopefully will run out of
prospective buyers in the very near future.