******************* Unfortunately Pages 1 & 2 were left behind in a Berkeley motel *******************
who take considerable pains to defend their objectivity.1 I not only took no pains, but gave full reign to religious passion.
Physical hardships consumed my remaining energy. 3,500 Westerners were crowded into army tents on a few acres of dusty land in Hardwar, North India in late November, when the sun still roasts at midday but the nights nearly freeze. Twice a day we all stood in line for an hour or two waiting to eat. Then there were long tramps to the latrines, to the Ganges to squat and swish dirty clothes about in the water, and to the outdoor "showers," where women had to wash fully clothed (in the tradition of Indian modesty) from sporadically flowing taps. I hardly talked to anyone except a few friends from California who seemed to moan in their sleeping bags sick with dysentary for the entire month. The rest of the time when I was not wandering aimlessly among the market stalls of "Divine Sales," I sat quietly in meditation along the banks of the Ganges, or listened to "satsangs" (spiritual discourses) by the Guru and his "Mahatmas," or tried to sneak up to the Guru's rooms on the ashram roof, past ever-present guards, in hopes of "darshan" - a glimpse of him.
Several disconfirming events did not shake my initial enthusiasm. The friends I had come with gradually got fed up, and some other acquaintances from California left for Nepal in disgust. Then the reputation-conscious Mission, worried about customs,2 offended my counter-culture sensibilities by conducting a heavy-handed "dope raid" - in my tent among others - to confiscate hashish. Another time I even left the ashram with my parents, coincidentally in India on business, for a visit to New Delhi.3 For a day I enjoyed the warmth, food, and cleanliness of hotel life, but then began longing for the ashram's
"spiritual vibrations" and soon returned eagerly to the dusty little corner of my tent and the prospect of my Guru's "darshan."
Conditions improved along with my sociability when the 3,500 Westerners left. I and a few diehard hippies stayed on for a few weeks. We lived more like the Indian monks now, digging in the garden with them, cleaning the kitchen, book-binding, eating "chapatis" and spicey "subjee," and sitting through interminable "satsangs" in Hindi. I thought of staying there for good but permission was hard to come by, my return ticket would be running out, and dimly remembered commitments awaited me in Berkeley.
All along I had hardly noticed the conversion process. I enjoyed the meditation and a new perception emerged but it was subtle and continued rather smoothly the trajectory of consciousness exploration which, I suppose, my first puffs of marijuana had launched years before. Everything felt different, wonder built upon wonder, but so had it on other adventures in exotic continents. Only back home did I feel myself to have changed much and suddenly:
On arriving back in Berkeley after my two-month absence, encounters with my old friends shocked me. Seeing incredibly more in them than ever before, I found myself just watching the various acts, ploys, lies, and fears which swept over their faces. I was able to sense how I had formerly reacted to them with my own acts. My own projections and defenses seemed to have been swept away. As I would ride busses or stand in line at counters I incredulously observed humanity for the first time, watching through faces into minds and feelings. Others' emotions would affect me almost physically. I began to feel moods of people and of situations much more intensely than before. (DuPertuis, 1973, p. iii)
This transformation awed me; if I was not literally someone different, I was at least literally "coming from a different place." It felt stronger, clearer, surer. I had become a "native."
THE NATIVE AND THE SOCIOLOGIST
From then on until my gradual deconversion seven or eight years later I saw sociology from the point of view of a native whose interest- group has little power but enormous ambition. How I saw and related to sociology mirrored the way the Mission saw and related to the public and especially the press, progressing through phases of a "naive offensive," a "defense," and a "calculated offensive."4
The Naive Offensive
Converting to a religion resembles falling in love in the conviction that you are the first human being ever to discover its radiance, its boundless hopes. It seems that you need only hint toward this unfathomable secret for others to catch the glow and drop everything in amazement just as you did. You never think others will be on guard against people like you.
Early converts to DLM really thought their non-stop, wide-eyed superlatives would arouse their parents and friends, and then their parents and friends, detonating a "peace bomb" of conversion which would engulf the earth in just a few years.5 Mission public relations types harangued the press to come to "Millennium '73" in the Houston Astrodome - "the greatest event in the history of the planet" - and, during the festival, tried to initiate them. One press member later wrote,
In a bunker at the very top of the Astrodome, the press will be given "knowledge." …
… It's the kind of room they use to break down counterespionage agents. … They wait in silence. Each of them in their own way is as lonely and unsure as any person who comes to receive "knowledge." There's no reason to think the Divine Light method won't work for them. They've been harangued, satsanged, and treated like machines. Give them just a bit of real attention and they'll openlike flowers. There isn't a person present not capable
of surrender. All the activity of the past few days has led to this. This is the moment. (Greenfield, 1975, pp. 90-1)
In the same spirit earlier that year I had zealously dashed off a hundred-page paper on the Divine Light Mission (DuPertuis, 1973) for a Berkeley sociology course in hopes of converting the professor, and sent xeroxes to half a dozen former teachers.
The blind enthusiasm of the naive offensive sees only its own zeal. It cannot discriminate between people; it addresses the "everyone" in people which "has an aching heart" or "needs God," and ignores the individual, the parent's sensibilities, the newsman's scepticism, the sociologist's analytic bent. Unaware of the danger of the other's power to strike back, this zeal dismisses with a flick of rhetoric his background, perceptions, and competence because it literally cannot see them. In my hundred-page paper I wrote condescendingly,
All of what social scientists have studied so far as religion is the mere outer form of it after the 'spirit' has been lost. … Social scientists may study it as they study any other institution of society based on one of man's unsatisfied longings and find in it hypocrisy, delusion, oppression, meaningless variation between cultures, endless contradictions. As long as they believe that this is all there is to religion, study of the outer forms of various religions will only confuse them more, especially if they have ideas about what religion should do and be. (DuPertuis, 1973, p. 47)
If people turn away from the naive offensive, it is "their problem." They are "not ready," or "not open." One never blames oneself at this stage.
Grim reality reacts quite quickly to naive offensives. Parents harrassed shocked devotees - who had only wanted gently to nudge them toward the "light" - with tears, threats, psychiatrists. The press devastatingly panned the DLM, Guru Maharaj Ji, and the Millennium '73, to the premies' utter surprise:
One news story caused me great personal embarrassment. It was written by the woman from the "Village Voice" who had seemed so sweet … The things I had told her, hoping to explain how fanaticism and genuine spirituality coexisted in our movement, were misquoted. Other remarks, which I had made jokingly and in high spirits, she presented as my serious beliefs. …
… The article went on and on as if she were being paid by the word, no matter how trivial or inaccurate, obscuring and misrepresenting my actions and beliefs. I consider it libelous, and worse, it shows a lack of sense of humor. This was only one of many such articles about the festival. (Collier, 1978, pp. 177-8)
And the professors, being gentlemen, suspended hostility and wrote on my paper indifferent, lame comments about my "theoretical model."
After my lack of successs with sociology professors and the greater Bay Area population, I became bored with sociology and the San Francisco branch of DLM and moved to the DLM headquarters in Denver. There I moved into an "ashram" - the official monastic order which enforced poverty, chastity, and obedience - and a position as staff writer for the Mission publications. I stayed two years, witnessing "Millennium '73;" a subsequent year of deep debt when the Mission occasionally farmed out writers, artists, and even vice-presidents to bus tables,clean suburban homes, hawk flowers on street corners, and work temporary at Kelly Girl (Yudell, 1976); and an ensuing super- bureaucratic phase at the headquarters. (Collier, ch. 15-17)
In the face of the reaction which our "naive offensive" had caused we defended ourselves with a low profile and a more modest image. For a long time no one solicited the press, and we handled inquiries with the expertise of a former public-relations professional turned devotee who wrote official press releases and instructed devotees on how to handle reporters. Interviewed in our newspaper, he said,
When Guru Maharaj Ji met with the directors last November, he stated that the press is like a sleeping tiger, and we shouldn't wake it up. …
When a premie talks to a press member who has approached him as a press member to do a story, that premie should not try to give the press member satsang, at all. …
… there is a professional way of handling these things. Because although that premie may know something about the story, he may not understand the best way to present it. ("Divine Times," 4/75, pp. 10,12)
I dealt with sociologists who tried to research DLM. I saw them as deluded but powerful because they could produce "scientifically true" statements against us quotable by other social scientists, the press, parents, even courts of law. Like the Mission public relations people I too affected professionalism, critiquing their sampling, pointing out our "routinization of charisma," trying to interpret our reality according to the way I remembered that sociologists saw things. And I also tried to tell researchers how much we'd changed since they had collected their data - now we balanced our budget, stopped pamphleteering on the street and thinking of GMJ as Messiah; we ran a school, a clinic, a "World Welfare Association," and even hinted at a mature self-criticism in our publications.
The defensive posture affected the Mission in three ways. First, we reacted to criticism by eradicating our most flagrant eccentricities.6 We admitted the mistakes of our "naive offensive:"
To be fair, we must admit that much of the bad publicity stemmed from improper and inept handling of the press at Millennium. …
… Most of the reporters noted that the premies were radiating love, but they also noted some gaudy commercialization. As Carole said, "We took something subtle and sacred and tried to market it to the public." …
… Carole remembers, "We used to think we could go on TV and the whole world would wake up. Now we understand that you cannot change a person until he wants to change." ("Divine Times," 6/1/74, pp. 10-11)
We tried to revamp our approach to the public:
Propagation has now gone grass roots. Premies are going out into their communities and serving people. Programs have been established in hospitals, prisons, drug centers and convalescent homes so that premies can share the joy they feel. "When we go to serve people, our happiness is contagious." ("Divine Times," 6/1/75, p. 11)
And we tried to mellow our zealousness:
Our attitudes are often rigid. … We have to practice what we preach … We have to see ourselves as universal citizens. ("Divine Times," 6/1/74, p. 11)
Maharaj Ji is giving every premie an opportunity right now to be upfront about the fact that Maharaj Ji never says he's God, and about the fact that the only thing we should really be giving satsang about is Knowledge - not about Guru Maharaj Ji. ("Divine Times, 4/75, p. 12)
As a second reaction to the defensive posture, our self-consciousness tended to create factions within the organization. The top executives wanted us to look like an established corporation, the social activists wanted us to look like a liberal, community-oriented church, and the pious types saw us as a puritan introversionist or conversionist sect. (Wilson, 1970)
We writers were instructed to appeal our pamphlets to our department head's archetypal middle-aged, middle-class, polyester-pant-suit mother - bland, cliche-ridden, inoffensive, conservative pieces. We, on the other hand, wanted the Mission to appear as an intellectual avant-garde. If we writers wanted a new image to defend, which social commentators would not ridicule, we felt we had to help create it. So we used commentators' opinions to manipulate the Mission toward our own freethinking attitudes.
We would tell our superiors that press reporters and sociologists respect divergence of opinion and would continue to write that we were a bunch of fanatical robots unless independent thought emerged. Collier described anew publicity campaign which the writers and artists tried
to work out during the spring of 1975:
The main idea of it was based on C. S. Lewis's concept that you could lead people into higher awareness ("God," in his words) through art and beauty, which he said were imitations of the supreme. We wanted everything DLM did … to be light, beautiful art objects. We wanted them to be full of fun and not to take themselves too seriously. (Collier, 1978, p. 210)
Perhaps this divergence of opinion and factional struggle over how to proselytize and what to be eventually helped generate the reaction phase of 1977,7 when most members retreated to a unanimously religious and devotional viewpoint. But the story is getting ahead of itself.
The third and most shocking effect of the defensive phase was the realization that we and our observors saw each other as worlds apart. All too clearly we surmised that to them we were wierdoes, inhuman and fanatic "guru people," the natives everyone feared, gawked at, and tried to capture for their journals. Observors didn't want to learn something from us; they wanted to see a show.
In turn we saw journalists and sociologists as "ignorant," in the Hindu sense of unaware, naive, unenlightened. "Ignorance" explained hostility, fascination with irrelevant facts of our life, blindness to relevant ones. "When an ignorant person sees a precious jewel," according to one of our Indian adages, "he throws it away thinking it a useless rock. "When a thief meets a saint he sees only his pockets." And when "ignorant" writers saw us, they saw only a scandal, a joke, a rip-off, at best just another "new religion."
Informed "ignorance" proved the most mystifying, the kind of account which abounded in detail, correct argot and language yet still utterly missed the point. To us the most perceptive writers only caught caricatures, never the real us. They wrote about what we believed but
not what we knew; what we did but not what we lived; how we felt but not how we loved:
[One journalist] noticed that premies are nice people who love each other and have learned how to cooperate. But [he] couldn't see the one thing that tied the premies to Maharaj Ji and so he filled the gap with his own ideas. ("Divine Times," 6/1/74, p. 11)
Such a blindness to the obvious made the worldview of journalists and sociologists incomprehensively alien to us. I remember seriously wondering "where their heads are at," how they could know so much and yet fail to see as we saw. I must have felt like the "Jesus Freak" commune member interviewed by Robbins, Anthony and Curtis,
She couldn't understand how I could understand what it was like to be a Jesus Freak and not be a Jesus Freak, since to her being a Jesus Freak is a very unique kind of experience - no other religious trip is like it. She can't understand how anyone can understand it and not become it. (1973, p. 265)
Robbins at al go on to suggest that such accurate understanding by outsiders threatened the Jesus Freaks, but the sociological and journalistic counterfeit of our life hardly treatened us. If anything, it reinforced the notion that we had a "Knowledge" beyond the grasp of uninitiated minds, which lent us a special, subtle, and exciting uniqueness. This sense of our own uniqueness in turn helped us detect within their "ignorant" alien mode of thought the laughable ruse of "ego," the gargantuan arrogance of a blindness which insisted it saw us better than we could see ourselves.
* * * * *
During the defensive phase the Mission cut down on outreach and special projects, streamlined and consolidated the organization, and stabilized followers' lifestyles.8 The gulf between "us" and "them" now defined, our ideological position clarified, and our organization again stable, we began once more to take a proselytizing offensive.
The Calculated Offensive:9
The difference between the original "naive offensive" and the later "calculated offensive" is symbolized by the difference between the poorly-selling book Who is Guru Maharaj Ji? (Cameron, 1973) which appeared just before "Millennium '73", full of first-person conversion stories, fantastic scientific claims, and many, many of GMJ's speeches, and the best-selling The Inner Game of Tennis (Gallwey, 1974)10 written by a tennis professional in new-age consciousness style which mentioned meditation only obliquely toward the end and GMJ only in the dedication. Some of us writers wanted to accomplish a similar coup in social science.
But we knew that in academia tiny interest groups like the DLM seldom succeed in imposing their paradigm of social reality on a large portion of an established field. Even the Catholic Church with its established journal "Sociological Analysis" influences only a portion of the sociology of religion subfield. Their thought is otherwise confined to their own seminaries and colleges; conservative Protestants have done the same. Buddhist viewpoints appear in a few obscure Buddhist Studies departments or Asian Institutes; Hinduism and Islam are represented still less powerfully; but the New Religious Movements11 have yet to penetrate established academia at all. They have had to establish their own, usually unaccredited institutions like the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi University, the Unification Theological Seminary, and Naropa Institute.12 Those academic subfields which were partially influenced by new-age or occult thought, like transpersonal psychology or parapsychological anthropology (Long, 1977) had to found their own journals and scholarly meetings and enjoyed much derision from their parent fields.
The Divine Light Mission had no intention of founding a University or an Institute; it was having enough trouble with its grade school. No one wanted to outlay thousands to lure respectable academics to conferences in exotic settings as the Moonies were to do (Shupe and Bromley, 1979); even the idea of circulating a quasi-academic newsletter among Mission intellectuals never materialized. In fact, the Mission higher-ups so distrusted us writers that only a few strained, watered- down versions of our brainstormings ever filtered through their censorship into print.13 How, then, were we (or any powerless interest group) to introduce our world-view as a major new basis of social thought?
Our only practical possibility lay in taking academia by storm with a book so spectacularly true that social science could not possibly ignore it. One of my ideas for such a bombshell book was entitled "The Sociology of Unity: A New-Age Approach to the Search for Knowledge of God," whose purpose was:
To reach out to struggling new-age scientists and searchers of truth by showing them scientifically that: 1) man's strongest drive is toward super-conscious awareness of truth; 2) this drive can only be satisfied by direct experience of God; and 3) practicing the Knowledge and following the Commandments of Guru Maharaj Ji is a most excellent, and perfectly-designed method for reaching this satis- faction.14
Utterly blind to the fact that such a book would have resembled the worst of the pop "I found it" genre which populates bookstores' Christian, diet, marriage, health, and psychology shelves, we felt we were discreetly disguising our propaganda in "scientific" language. For example, our conviction that "secretly every human heart longs for GMJ's Knowledge" because a "scientific theory" we called the "unity drive." Citing Jung, Maslow and Weil (1972) to authenticate our idea, we suggested that this "unity drive" was,
The human urge to experience and merge with infinite consciousness. The unity drive is the basic human desire, but we often experience it disguised in limited forms, such as desires for food, sex, excitement, comfort, security or power. ("Divine Times," 3/75, p. 12)
Meditation on GMJ's Knowledge would satisfy this "unity drive" by breaking through limiting conceptual patterns to unfettered perception of "the true reality." Extraordinary creativity would result, like the paradigm-breaking scientific insights which Kuhn suggests follow reveries and intuitions (1962, pp. 121-2). Through meditation one would act in tune, forever in an experience of "flow." (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975)
Though we now saw social science in more detail than during our "naive offensive" when we had sought simply to strike for the "hearts" of social scientists, we still perceived the field according to our logic, not theirs. Ignoring the structure and development of the field, we rubricized sociologial concepts to suit our views, gleaning out of context findings which, when strung together (in a social scientific non-sequitor) successfully underpinned our theological argument.
In "Readers' Digest" fashion we would present gloomy social predicaments and then artfully solve them. In the article in which we introduced the "unity drive" we went on to note that Ralph Keyes in We The Lonely People suggests
Americans are at once searching and wishing for community, while avoiding it as best they can. They are victims of "ambivalence" -the simultaneous attraction toward and repulsion from an object, person, or action. They are pulled away from community by the desires for anonymity, privacy, convenience and mobility. ("Divine Times," 3/75, p. 12)
This argument, which proceeded through Rosabeth Moss Kanter's (1972) analysis of community, Carlos Castaneda's notion of "erasing personal history," (1972, p. 27ff), and 60's consciousness-raising groups methods, concluded that "through meditation we already know who we are.
So we are freed from both halves of Keyes' 'ambivalence'" - we no longer want either isolation or the appearance of community, but the "true community" of people practicing GMJ's Knowledge together.
We also used optimistic, new-age literature, for had not GMJ secretly inspired the writing of Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Bach, 1970), Be Here Now (Alpert, 1971), The Greening of America (Reich, 1970), even the Beatles' hit "Here Comes the Sun?" For of course we believed GMJ was the sun dawning after a long age of darkness. So we gathered evidence from Indian legends (Cameron, 1976; DuPertuis, 1975) and from modern science (Massey, 1974,1975) that the whole world, even social science, was about to turn a monumental corner. Utopia would finally dawn when universal understanding of GMJ's teachings would finally transcend the nauseating social see-saw between human cravings for excitement and for stability, as outlined in a light-hearted article called "Is Peace Boring?"
Peace is the experience which appeases both the anarchist and the reactionary in man's character. Peace offers excitement as well as tranquillity. Pure meditation offers the perfect marriage of the two extremes. Try it; you'll see that there is no greater security than realizing that you are infinite and there is no greater thrill than witnessing the creation of the universe within yourself. This happens simultaneously in meditation. This is peace. ("Divine Times," 2/75, p. 9)
* * * * *
As we thus toyed with social scientific and new-age ideas we felt something of the anxiety which sociology visits upon conventional religionists:
In some colleges training people for the Christian ministry, Durkheim is spoken of with a reverence which would have bewildered and shocked him; in others, all brands of sociology are still dismissively banned altogether. (Mills, 1980.)
From such anxieties we protected ourselves in three ways. First, as in our defensive stage, we still thought of sociologists as alien not
those who researched us, but now too those who wrote books and articles. For example, I secretly wondered if "professional sociologists" were capable of understanding something written "from the heart:"
I have certain notions about the book. The two main ones are possibly contradictory: 1) It must come from the heart; but 2)it must be acceptable and comprehensible by professional sociologists (personal notes)
Second, more than ever we believed in our uniqueness, especially in relation to other religions. Marx and reductionist sociologists were perfectly right about every other religion, new or old, for other faiths without exception based their thought on long-dead and dangerous distortions of Truth, which caused selfishness, greed, fear, and the desire to exploit and destroy one's neighbor. We were not a religion; we were "knowers of Truth."15 We could even use social science to keep an eye on our own tendency to degenerate into unenlightened, dogmatic religiosity:
Durkheim's book states that beliefs, when shared, become even more powerful … so pounded in by social means that it dare not be contradicted. … This is happening in DLM, if there is any premie who reacts irrationally and uncontrollably to some contradiction to a precept of the Knowledge, then he is guilty of belief. Belief is not Knowledge. Beliefs can be very close to the truth and still not be the truth. (personal notes)
"New-age" social scientific writing, like the "Journal of Transpersonal Psychology," proved especially threatening to our sense of uniqueness. We carefully purused this literature for contradiction and dogmatism, telling ourselves that it is easy enough to talk about truth but quite another thing to know it. For hadn't GMJ once (allegedly) said that practitioners of Transcendental Meditation might just as well be "going around mugging people"? But we had to be careful, for GMJ also would quote the Bhagavad-Gita in reference to followers of "other paths:"
Even those who worship other deities, and sacrifice to them with faith in their hearts, are really worshipping me, though with a mistaken approach. (Prabhavananda and Isherwood, 1944, p. 83)
Someday they too would become "premies," or "lovers" of GMJ. They were simply less advanced on the "path," like Richard Alpert/Ram Dass whom one of our number felt was articulating things we had already realized several years before. Our duty was to respect them as the "honorary premies" they were and to guide them when appropriate, like the premie psychologist who attended an Association of Transpersonal Psychology meeting and reported "blowing them away" with his analysis of the "guru-disciple relationship."
Third, our isolation protected us from both traditional and new- age social scientific thought. As in theology seminaries we read their ideas but addressed replies to each other. No genuine dialogue emerged. While in Denver we rarely talked with anyone outside the DLM, let alone professional social scientists. Those who lived in ashrams worked in the DLM headquarters or DLM companies during the day. When I quit the headquarters and moved into a non-ashram communal house I worked here and there as gardener, housecleaner, waitress, carpenter, junk mail distributor. But I still lived within the Mission world of perhaps a thousand premies who by 1976 lived in Denver's Capitol Hill district, operated a grocery, school, clinic, laundry, hostel, a new-businesses cooperative and job training center, and formed bands, writers' and artists' groups, parents' groups, garden and welfare projects and a community newspaper. From this comfortable community it was easy enough to address our "calculated offensive" to mythical aliens in the stilted language of what we thought was their view of life.
All this changed when the premie communities began to disintegrate. I grew tired of odd jobs and moved back to Berkeley in January, 1977 to re-enroll in the sociology department. Still bent on our "calculated offensive" bombshell book on the DLM, I was immediately confronted with the inadequately thin scientific disguise of our propaganda and its enormous straying from conventional social scientific thought. I realized that in order to argue against sociology competently and ferret out loopholes for my "native" views, I would have to establish myself as an impeccable professional.
I began to write conservatively, imitating the journals, footnoting extensively. But in so doing I ran the dismaying risk of "cooptation" already discovered by radical and minority students, in which despite oneself one begins to covet rewards the enemy provides for internalizing his thought and accepting the established view of one's "native" group. Two factors protected me for awhile.
First, 1977 and 1978 saw a phase of intense "charismatic renewal" (Downton, 1979) in the Mission. Though the Bay Area DLM community was small and uninspiring and I found myself associating more and more with other sociology graduate students, every few weeks GMJ would announce a national "festival" in some distant city. By plane, by Greyhound, by van or car, I would find myself trekking to Portland, Denver, Montreal, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Tuscon, and many times to Florida. At the festival I enjoyed once again the sight of my Guru, the loving embraces of old friends, and wondrous excitement; back in Berkeley I drudged through debts, jobs, sociological theory, grinding out papers. I clung to the ups and dreaded the downs but then, toward
the end of this period in the fall of 1978 I married a devoted premie.
Second, my religious commitment remained intact because my marriage and other premie commitments kept me apart from the sociology graduate student subculture sufficiently that I could maintain the view of sociology as just another "cult." The practitioners spoke far less eloquently than they wrote; they repeated themselves,thought fuzzily, flatly denied criticism, spoke with buzz words, hung around in cliques, disagreed self-righteously with everyone else, and claimed the only, the true, the profound view of life even more seriously than premies did, but with less humor and joy and far more bitterness. 16 Without them even knowing it I would bait them, get them to react predictably, and chuckle to myself. Functionalism, Marxism, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, even feminism became ways of life for these people in much the same way that devotion to GMJ had become a way of life for me, yet these philosophies provided no transcendence. The sociologists looked unhappy; they never glowed. I tended to agree with what Richard Alpert/Ram Dass had once said of his psychology colleagues at Harvard, "Their own lives were not fulfilled. There was not enough human beauty, human fulfillment, human contentment." (Alpert, 1971, p. 3)
Sociology played an indirect part in my eventual deconversion. Doubts did not emerge from theories and ideologies, for no amount of reductionistic, analysis could deny my meditation experiences (until much later when I reevaluated them in the light of Buddhist thought, which of course was not reductionistic). But facts did threaten my beliefs and thus the interpretation of my experience. Study of other religions and "New Religious Movement" gradually convinced me that no DLM phenomenon - neither the Guru's claims and charms nor the meditative
experience - was unique. If we were not unique, then how could GMJ be the one and only Living Perfect Master; and if he were not the Living Perfect Master then what other of his claims might be false? And if he were false, what might he do to my life? And why couldn't I just as well go ahead and meditate and attain realization without having to believe in him?
During the period when these doubts were creeping into my mind, the DLM was turning further and further away from the style of life I had now chosen. The "charismatic renewal" of 1977-78, with its renewed emphasis on the person of GMJ and its frequent festivals which wrenched premies once again away from careers, school, stable jobs and family lives, was pulling the Mission once again inward toward itself, resurrecting the ashrams, again championing what looked to me like puritanism, isolationism, conformity of opinion, a return to testimonials and GMJ's speeches in propaganda publications and inhibition of the individuality and creativity which had flourished during the 1975-76 era. Feeling I had already been through all this and that once was enough, I felt less and less comfortable with the Bay Area premies.
But theological doubts and disenchantment with fellow premies were not sufficient to break an elemental devotion to the Guru; many other premies have managed to harbor questions and avoid premie communities and yet still follow GMJ "in their hearts." My final disillusionment followed specific actions by GMJ himself which I suddenly could not rationalize in a holy light, which suddenly looked to me manipulative, deceitful and greedy. From one day to the next the attitude of guilty, grudging sarcasm which my doubts had fostered turned to intense repudiation. From then on I could not meditate in the old way, for the
meditation was inextricably bound up with the Guru, and eventually I came to regard the meditation as misused and the interpretation misleading and possibly harmful.
With deconversion my urge to proselytize vanished. As an ex-native writing about the DLM I would have to take an altogether different stand.
THE EX-NATIVE AS SOCIOLOGIST
In the twentieth-century United States one defects from a "cult" not into a vacuum but into a world eager to save one's soul and condemn one's past. Craving intelligent and sensitive exchange during the tremendously disorienting post-deconversion period, I found myself preyed upon most ruthlessly by Christians of all sorts but also by a Sufi, two devotees of the Goddess, a Humanist, a Nicheren Shoshu Buddhist and a group of psychic healers. Thankfully I at least eluded "anti-cult" groups and networks of hostile ex-members who bombard the defector with an anti-cult ideological package nearly as rigid as the "cult" views he has just left. (Bromley and Shupe, 1980)
Even ordinary people made demands. Few could understand ambivalence:
Returnees often want to talk to people about positive aspects of the cult experience. Yet they commonly feel that others refuse to hear anything but the negative aspects. (Singer, 1979, p. 80)
Some people wanted me to confess my former weakness, gullibility, immaturity, lack of discrimination and to show positive change, like a conventional religion and renewed career interests. Others simply wanted dirt and horror stories of "brainwashing" and victimization by the "cult'" cruelty and treachery. Refusal to repudiate the DLM in this way would convince them I was still "hooked:"
Family and friends are on the alert for any signs that the difficulties of real life will send the person back … [they] trigger an ex-cultist's feelings that people are staring, wondering why he joined such a group. (Singer, 1979, p. 80)
As do ex-junkies, ex-convicts and other stigmatized persons, I learned to "pass" (Coffman, 1963, p. 73ff), affecting nonchalance when religious topics came up, creatively disguising lost years for resumes and the nosey.
I soon found that social science was no haven from these sorts of demands. At one extreme, some social scientists belonged to what others called "cults" and were furtively trying, as I had, to further their views. A proponent of Parapsychological Anthropology lamented, "Anthropologists, in an abysmal ignorance of the vast literature of parapsychology, have almost totally ignored the paranormal dimension." (Long, 1977, p.10 ) I even discovered among the sociology graduate students at Berkeley closet devotees of assorted gurus.
At the opposite extreme, other social scientists had leaped to the aid of the anti-cult movement. After 1977, organizations which debated about "cults" at annual meetings included:
The American Sociological Association, the Religious Research Association, the Association for the Sociology of Religion, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, the American Academy of Religion, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association. (Bromley and Shupe, 1980, p. 192)
At these meetings, Shupe and Bromley noted,
The effectiveness with which anti-cult movement groups set the agenda for the discussion of new religions. Rather than focusing on the new religious movements' concerns about moral decay and alternative visions of the future, the anti-cultists managed to shift the debate largely to questions of brainwashing, financial exploitation, and political conspiracy. (1980, p. 192)
This debate, which raged in court as well as in meetings and journals, 17 exhibited a wide range of views,
A continuum of psychiatric attitudes toward the viability of the whole mind-control-in-new-religions argument ranging from the total rejection of brainwashing as a value-laden metaphor, to a middle position acknowledging the existence (and efficienty) of a brainwashing proceedure but only under extremely controlled, coercive, and rare conditions, to the opposite extreme where brainwashing was unquestionably assumed not only to exist but also to be a stable operating procedure in new religions. The latter spoke freely in terms of "ego regression" and "mentacide." (Bromley and Shupe, 1980, p. 194)
Sociological studies also displayed a great range of views, including great sympathy (Downton, 1979; Sontag, 1977; and Judah, 1974), the hint that we may have something to learn from the New Religious Movements (Needleman and Baker, 1978; Robbins, Anthony and Richardson, 1978), and also ridicule (Foss and Larkin, 1978), and labeling:
Bainbridge and Stark (1980), for example. have argued recently that the beliefs and claims of Scientologists are "impossible" to validate and therefore seemingly incredible. They thus raise for "investigation" "the question of how thousands of individuals could be seriously mistaken about their beliefs"(Bainbridge and Stark,1980, p. 128 in Snow and Machalek, 1982, p. 16)
As Donald Stone has observed, "The new religious movements often serve as spiritual inkblots: reports of movements may tell us more about the observors than about the observed." (Stone, 1978, p. 142)
* * * * * *
This array of views led me to perceive that sociology, like many a new religion, strays in practice incalculably far from its stated ideals, from Durkheim's "first corollary" of sociological method that "all preconceptions must be eradicated." (1938, p. 31) Gunnar Myrdal asks,
How can the student of social problems liberate himself from
1) the power heritage of earlier writings in his field … influences of the entire cultural, social, economic, and political milieu of the society where he lives, works, and earns his living and his status; and 3) the influence stemming from his own personality?" (Myrdal, 1969, p. 5)
And he recommended, with little suggestion as to how, that we "raise the
valuations actually determining our theoretical as well as our practical research to full awareness." (1969, p. 6) In my view, not only did sociologists fail miserably to do this, but they had not the faintest idea how; they didn't even grasp the nature of the problem.
"Liberating oneself" from the "entire influence" of one's culture and one's personality and reaching "full awareness" of anything, after all, were generally the goals of Eastern religions, including the DLM. I had quite painfully learned that one does not accomplish such things with a little meditation, much less a flick of the pen, the questionnaire or the computer. I perceived sociologists who actually believed they had reached "full awareness" or "objectivity" as at least as naive, pompous, and self-deceptive as GMJ's most dogmatic followers and, because of their greater influence, potentially more harmful to others.
To me, social science was simply reacting in divergent ways to alien worldviews, much as the DLM had. Mannheim (1936) suggests that certain historical factors force people to reflect "about thinking itself and even here not so much about truth in itself, as about the alarming fact that the same world can appear differently to different observors." (1936, p. 6) This happens in stages. First, "horizontal mobility … shows that different people think differently." But as long as one's power and tradition remain intact,
one remains so attached to its customary ways of thinking that the ways of thinking which are perceived in other groups are regarded as curiosities, errors, ambiguities, or heresies. At this stage one does not doubt either the correctness of one's own traditions of thought or the unity and uniformity of thought in general. (1936, p. 7)
If conventional, positivism-inspired sociology - and much of "anti-cult" social science - seemed to me to exemplify this stage, Marxist and
phenomenological sociology, which challenged the worldview and assumptions of positivist sociology, exemplified the next stage, of "vertical mobility," the "decisive factor in making persons uncertain and skeptical of their traditional view of the world." (1936, p. 7) At this stage,
Previously isolated strata begin to communicate with one another and a certain social circulation sets in … the forms of thought and experience, which had hitherto developed independently, enter into one and the same consciousness impelling the mind to discover the irreconcilability of the conflicting conceptions of the world. (1936, p. 8)
Though appealing, the phenomenological critique of sociology puzzled me because it never seemed to go far anough. Though it perceived the necessity of stepping aside from one's accustomed world- view, it provided no adequate method. Not only did its various factions squabble among themselves like so many religious sects (though perhaps sectarian squabble is typical of the uncertainty of the "vertical mobility" stage) each claiming that one need only "first do X … to carry out a truly scientific, objective, self-reflective study without presuppositions." (Attawell, 1974) - but each "X" was after all only a theory, only a conceptual and not an existential act.
Phenomenologists were learning to see as if they had bracketed their usual seeing or even as if they were seeing through the eyes of another. But for themselves, existentially, they still perceived the "paramount reality" of their own taken-for-granted worldview, to which they inevitably returned from phenomenological excursions. Pilarzik and Bharadwaj explored this limitation of phenomenology in the course of their research on DLM, contrasting "actual abandonment" with "temporary suspension of the preconceived, pragmatic motives of the modern scientific worldview." (1979, p. 30)
When applied to Schutz' outline, the mystical experience is conceived,
As an unsuspecting "shock" to the foundations of everyday life and therefore remains dependent upon it as the "paramount reality." But what if mysticism is an integral part of an entire esoteric worldview in which devotees are socialized by the experience? Schutz was not concerned with this latter situation. It would have undermined his entire program for a phenomenological sociology by relativizing the assumptions upon which it was based. (1979, p. 29)
No phenomenologist, it seemed to me (except possibly Garfinkel), had actually lived through the withering away of that "paramount reality" to the point where one can return to it no longer. They just grew overwhelmingly anxious over the possibility. Of all of them, only Berger and Luckman had even remarked about the "nightmarish terror" and "howling chaos" of the "nightside reality" (1967), that region beyond our taken-for-granted ways of seeing.
Early 1970's Berkeley leftists had been driven existentially much closer to this "howling chaos," as a radical critic of Rennie Davis' conversion to DLM suggests:
Nothing is what it has seemed; the stability of the American economy, our concepts of maleness and femaleness, the limits of consciousness, the nature of man. The plants, the whales, the stars, institutions, sanity: all call on us to discard our old impressions of them. Our friends make strange transits; an awesome chasm of possibilities and impossibilities gapes wide; black signals of death hang in the sky. A world is ending; intimations of the event penetrate our private being, and few can confess the extent to which they feel lost within it. (Rossman, 1979, p. 23)
Yet even they could still salvage enough of a worldview to provide a consistent orientation (which their academic counterparts then energetically fortified, often by aping the assumptions and methods of their more conventional rivals). Rossman continues:
To be able to go on we pull the appearances back together around us, even as we are trying to disassemble them and reassemble something truer; we shut out what we cannot explain or account for, even as we try to grasp what lies beyond. To not know who we are, to not know what is, is totally terrifying; and Rennie reminded us of this. (1979, p. 23)
Meanwhile, I felt that while phenomenologists had just dabbled theoretically and leftists were teetering on the brink of terror and chaos, I had blundered out of Middle America and sociology, out of the counterculture and the DLM world and finally over the brink. I had had to learn how to swim through a no-man's ocean dotted with the island mirages of a thousand "paramount realities," among them phenomenology, Marxism and all the social scientific schools. Anyone who still could cling to one of these islands and think it real inhabited a world I had fallen off of and could not clamber back upon because it began to crumble the moment I tried.
In this state I could hardly convince myself into some stable scientific, sociological, or phenomenological viewpoint. So I had to dream of another stage of phenomenology, or of sociology, or of "thinking about thought" which arose from circumstances at least as drastic as mine. Perhaps the Vine Delorias, the Franz Fanons, the Albert Memmis had already pioneered it; those who had been whitewashed or forced out of their worldview at gunpoint and could neither return home nor embrace the mentality of their oppressors. Perhaps even before them the Madhyamika Buddhists had pioneered it, learning somehow to penetrate through each successive absolute until finally they made no ultimate claims at all. In the face of these thinkers I felt like a naive beginner; perhaps my chaos with its islands of unreality was but another island of unreality in another chaos, which in turn was but an island in a yet grander chaos, and on and on through countless levels, each of which looks absolute until some terrible urgency forces one through its confines, transforming terror into something utterly unanticipated.
NOTES TO CHAPTER I
1) Goodman (1972) inadvertantly slipped into glossolalia during an early morning service and had to "intentionally block subsequent occurences." (p. 72-3) Once during her research on the Unification Church, Barker (1974) reports having "slipped without being at all aware of it into a completely alien kind of language," when talking with followers.
2) GMJ had been caught allegedly smuggling jewelry and money into India before the festival began.
3) In no sense was theirs a "deprogramming"mission; they simply happened to be in India at the time on business. They liked the devotees, who struck them as clean-cut, clear-eyed and polite compared to the dragged-out Western "freaks" who roamed the streets of Delhi.
4) My terms. Price (1979) documents analogous "conversionist," "recessionary," and "introversionist" phases in the DLM's development in England. My interpretation of the third phase suggests a less extreme introversionist outlook, but perhaps the English situation differed. Also, my personal experiences of these phases does not coincide completely chronologically with the general trend of the American Mission.
5) The term "peace bomb" gained currency as the name coined for a dramatic "satsang" GMJ delivered in New Delhi, November 9, 1970, printed in the 11/73 issue of "And It Is Divine."
6) For an analysis of secondary deviation and religious movements' reactions to criticism and persecution, see Wallis (1975).
7) Downton's (1979) term of "charismatic renewal" (p. 187, 201-3) for this phase eventually gained currency among DLM members.
8) Many observors during this period felt that the Mission had fallen apart for good, but membership actually stabilized during this period and remained the same for several years; ten to twelve thousand people would come to most nationally scheduled festivals, and a record twenty thousand came to an international week-long festival in Orlando, Florida in November of 1978.
9) The devensive and calculated offensive phases overlap to some extent; some parts of the Mission were still engaged in defense while others were concerned with offense; no one event demarcated a change from one to the other.
10) Gallwey wrote the book independently from the Mission publications but with GMJ's approval.
11) Needleman (1970) coined this term to refer to the movements, mostly of Eastern or syncretic origin, which have sprung up in the West since the late 1960's.
12) The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Theological Seminary was founded by proponents of Transcendental Meditation; the Unification Theological Seminary by the Unification Church ("the Moonies"), and Naropa Institute by followers of the Tibetan Buddhist Lama Chogyam Trungpa, Rimpoche.
13) Though we did eventually manage to produce an underground mimeo sheet ("Times Two") which surreptitiously circulated through the headquarters and, we liked to imagine, helped ferment a debacle in 1976 when the headquarters collapsed and everyone left the ashrams.
14) I submitted this on a "DUO Project Proposal Form," to the Mission executives who approved new projects. 2/14/74.
15) This was premies' reaction to the Jonestown mass suicide; they did not buy the implication that we were a cult capable of similar actions, but instead stressed how different we were from them.
16) Snow and Machalek have written, "All conventional religions, professions, and academic disciplines, including sociology, have their own specialized languages that fucntion in a manner similar to Scientology's argot. That is, they help to distinguish between insiders and outsiders, they function to extablish and maintain the boundaries of the system, and they support the validity of its claims and practices." (1982, p. 18)
17) Intense battles have been fought over the legality of "deprogramming" and the granting of temporary conservatorships to parents of cult members over twenty-one. (Shupe and Bromley, 1980)