Knowledge in Action
The "Hare Krishnas" and the "Guru people" were supposed to be having a feud. Alan Cunningham was sent out to cover the story for the Rocky Mountain News.
He found out that Guru Maharaj Ji, depending on who he talked to, was either a "fraud, a rascal and a small pudgy boy of questionable character," or "the purest, most divine soul who walks the earth." The reporter in him maybe wanted to let it go at that. But something else couldn't.
Nearly 20 years earlier his father had dropped dead, unexpectedly. Then several other acquaintances died and finally, bafflingly, a close friend. Alan began to wake up at night terrified at the thought of the gaping void of death. For the sake of a sound sleep, if nothing else, he had to know.
The search, perhaps, led him into newspaper work in the first place. A reporter must unravel and debunk, if not the Cosmic plan, at least man's tangled attempts at remaking it.
He married and fathered two sons. Louise and he became politicized; he began to wonder if there weren't some issues with which a reporter, for the good of his conscience - and despite the professional ethic of "objectivity" - had to get involved. But all the moral crusades in the world couldn't explain about death.
One day a babysitter turned them on to Edgar Cayce. Then came yoga, Science of Mind, mystical books, a vague shadow of the Messiah idea …
And dissatisfaction. Alan tried to take hold of his career and his marriage and tear them both apart with his own hands - and found that he wasn't allowed to, that his wasn't that kind of a search.
After the "feud" article, Alan was urged occasionally to "go out and expose this fraud for what he really is." In a satirical skit for the Denver Newspaper Guild annual show he was cast as Guru Maharaj Ji, pies in the face and all.
But that something else in him liked hearing satsang. Coincidentally, a premie called on Louise at home one day, trying to collect rummage. Her own investigation began. The children, too, were drawn in. "It's puzzling, to an outsider," Alan wrote in his next Guru article. "But somehow Knowledge goes with a look of clarity and peace in the eyes of beaming young men and women …"
He had taken a stand, and suddenly he was whisked away from the battle altogether, to write editorials in a quiet little office sheltered from scandals, exposes, and the fast-paced, argumentative reporter's life. Here he was free enough to let "A Mysterious Light and Sound" fill his column on Christmas Day. Free enough to watch Louise get Knowledge first. And to receive Knowledge himself within a few weeks.
"It wasn't a chic or fashionable thing to do." He wrote in his column a few months later. "It wasn't even cynical.
It meant subjecting oneself to all those jokes about 'guru freaks.' It meant … discomfort. It meant … smiling faces and a community of loving brothers and sisters who didn't judge me … It meant … I was hooked, jokes and explanations and all."
The Knowledge session was exhausting. Afterwards Alan went home to nap. He woke up just soon enough to go pick up his 12-year-old son Paul after satsang. Paul had also received Knowledge that day.
The hall was jam-packed. Alan was trying so hard to tiptoe, and to be unobtrusive, that at first he didn't hear that high, triumphant voice, and the crowd laughing: "At first I thought that receiving Knowledge meant I couldn't play basketball." More laughter. "But then I realized that I could play basketball for Guru Maharaj Ji." Uproarious applause. It was Paul, giving satsang in front of everyone, loving every
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minute of it. Clearly, devotion was going to become a family thing.
Years before, the Cunninghams had started out - like many families maybe too close, clingingly close. So Alan had tried to cut them apart. Now Knowledge began to center the pendulum. The children still fought with each other, and the adults still fought with each other, and the children still fought with the adults, but no longer in the sense that 'tomorrow we're going to have THE big fight that will just break it all up, or tomorrow …
Love one another, the Prophet said, but make not a bond of love.
Alan imagined that after he had Knowledge about three months it was just going to become impossible to function. "I thought I'd reach a point where I felt that what I was doing at the newspaper was just so irrelevant - I'd just wake up one day and say I don't even want to read this newspaper, let alone write for it, and that was just going to be the end."
Nothing of the kind ever happened. Sheltered in his editorial niche, Alan kept his job. The changes brought by Knowledge were more subtle, unfor seen. At first being a premie and a professional newspaperman at the same time was difficult. Suddenly he was having to prove - later he realized, to himself as much as to his colleagues - that he hadn't floated off, that he could still function in an ordinary, competent way. The thought of another Guru joke made him cringe; he couldn't bring himself to wear his Guru Maharaj Ji button to work.
The Rocky Mountain News was five blocks from the Kittredge Building, Divine Light Mission National Headquarters. For a long time, shuttling back and forth, he had the sense of living in two different worlds.
Against particularly gruesome headlines one week late in May, Guru Maharaj Ji's marriage stood out as one joyous, beautiful event. Suddenly no matter which world Alan went to, people were talking about the same thing and joking with the same smile. That week he wore his button to work. In his article on the wedding Alan stated, for the first time in print, that he was a premie. His two worlds were wedded.
The marriage was strong, within and without. Strong enough that when Alan suffered a stroke several months later and faced the choice of whether to panic or to meditate, he chose to meditate. "When death sits on your chest and stares at you like a tiger and you are actually able to face the possibility and reconcile yourself enough so it's all right, then, when something like that happens, it doesn't matter whether you're practicing this Knowledge on a day-to-day basis as diligently as your mind or other premies will tell you; you've got this thing up on the shelf and you just grab it."
When the crisis was over, Alan just sat back in his hospital bed to watch. Premies brought pictures and pictures and more pictures, and just sort of settled in like they do at the corner coffee house. They seemed to be saying, 'oh boy, somebody's in the hospital so we can go give him love and satsang and all these joyous things;' and Alan began to feel like, 'oh boy, I've had a stroke, so all these beautiful things are happening …'
His roommates, their visitors, the janitors, the doctors, and the nurses saw the pictures, heard the satsang. When, one by one, the newspaper people came, no one had even the fleetingest thought of hiding the pictures away.
Back at work, the newsmen greeted him with a lot of love. They had accepted the fact, it seemed, that some very orthodox, middle-of-the-road type people right in the middle of their lives happened to have this whatever-it-is, and be in love with this little kid. And Alan accepted the fact that they accepted, and that Guru Maharaj Ji was working on everyone.
Writing again, Alan discovered that when a story left the typewriter, he could forget about it completely; suddenly it wouldn't be important anymore, even if the next day he got a call and it was sliced to ribbons. His center seemed to be shifting gradually away from "ego" toward some deep infinite point.
Sometimes it almost seemed as if detachment was becoming indifference, and yet, "it's not that you cease to care in the sense that you don't do your work properly; but it begins to seem like this little framework of chicken-wire that you used to think was like big structural steel hasn't actually changed, but your perceptions have changed to where you hadn't actually realized that what you thought was structural steel was actually chicken-wire. And there's this other thing just going up in the middle of it, this great big strong thing that's Knowledge …"
Recently Mata Ji made a release to the press saying, among other things, that Guru Maharaj Ji was no longer perfect master. Why do you think she chose this time to take her story to the press?
Maharaj Ji's been out of India almost two years. And now he's of age he turned 17 last December - and he's back in India to straighten things out. Now he's legally and officially head of Indian Divine Light Mission. He's planning to attend a festival on April 13 in Lucknow, which is the same date Mata Ji is holding a festival at Hardwar.
As soon as Mata Ji heard of his plans she came out with a statement that Maharaj Ji is living the life of a playboy, trying to discredit him in the eyes of the Indians. Then Professor Tandon, who was General Secretary of the Mission in India, announced that Guru Maharaj Ji was associated with the CIA.
What exactly did Mata Ji say to the Press?
Mata Ji has made two very long statements to the press, but I don't know exactly what they are in total, because I only know what is quoted in the press, and they never release anything exactly the way it's said. She basically said that she was "removing Guru Maharaj Ji as Perfect Master," which was very interesting to the press because she was in fact saying that Guru Maharaj Ji is Perfect Master - you can't remove somebody from a place unless they were at that place. She said that she was replacing Maharaj Ji with Bal Bhagwan Ji as director of the Mission in India, and she accused Maharaj Ji of being a playboy.
How are the Indians reacting to all of this?
Well, ironically Mata Ji's actions are helping Maharaj Ji. If we had sent a news release to the Indian newspapers that Guru Maharaj Ji was coming there on April 13th, they'd have said, "So what?" But now, because of what Mata Ji has said, every paper in India is carrying the fact that Guru Maharaj Ji will be in Lucknow on April 13th. Every premie in the whole of Asia will know about it, which is outrageous. We had no better way of telling them.
How long will Guru MaharajJi stay in India?
He'll be there three weeks or three months, whatever it takes to get the situation cleared up. I think it'll take about three weeks. The idea is to straighten out the confusion that Mata Ji and Bal Bhagwan Ji have created in a few hundred Indian devotees - if that many. In any case, he'll definitely come back for the Guru Puja festival in Venezuela in July.
Joe, the papers all refer to you as Guru Maharaj Ji's personal press secretary. What kind of direction have you gotten from Maharaj Ji about dealing with the press?
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. Then he pointed to me and said you're going to have to decide how much we actually talk to the press. Then all these stories started breaking. The calls started coming in from London, Germany, Copenhagen, Florida, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Kalamazoo-all the cities and all the little tiny places as well.
It seems like the only time the Mission or Maharaj Ji gets in the press is when they're the source of some new scandal. Why do they focus so much on the bad news and never on the good?
Papers that have nothing but good news in them don't exist - nobody buys them, so they can't be printed. So the only way to get into a newspaper is with what's seemingly bad news. Here's an example: I sent out an information kit on Divine Light Mission two months ago to the major magazines and newspapers and wire services, and nobody's interested; it's such a nice story - how Divine Light Mission is growing and how we're paying our bills and how everything's really, really nice now - nobody cares. But if Mike Garson says that 60% of our income goes to upkeeping Maharaj Ji, now that is newsworthy, because it's seemingly bad news. Little does the general public or the newspapers know that the premies would be happier if 100% of our income went to support Guru Maharaj Ji. But the fact is, it's only 3 to 5 percent. Our income, right now, supports the Denver offices, the 24 regional offices, the 156 Divine Light Mission cars around the country, the computer, "And It Is Divine" and "Divine Times," all the propagation materials and the travel of all the mahatmas. There's no way. If Guru Maharaj Ji took up 60% of our income, we'd be $3 million in debt.
I'll have to relate what Virginia Culver, religion editor at the Denver Post, said when I asked her why she wanted to do a story on the fact that we've opened a laundry - I mean there are millions of laundries in the world. And her answer was that you are the only interesting religion going. She said she'd been at the Post for many years, and it wasn't until Divine Light Mission started in Denver that her stories were front page. press about it.
It's amazing. I've never handled a client in all my years of experience in PR work who hits the press every time he crosses the street the way Maharaj Ji does. It really doesn't matter what he does, he's in the press about it.
Do you think all this helps us?
Sure. All that's happening will be really good for us in the long run because it's allowed us to surface about the Mission with factual information, which we couldn't do before - because no one would listen.
Can you give me another example of that?
Mike Garson saw a computer form that showed 17,000 active premies, but he didn't see the other part of the form which showed all the centers and the ashram communities. He only saw the premies-at-large, which is only half the picture. But his seeing half the picture got us in the newspapers and gave me an opportunity to show the press that look, on our computer we have 41,000 names and that's only since we started counting in the middle of 1972.
What do you think about Guru Maharaj Ji being called a playboy?
Well, you might think that this would turn off all the spiritual people, but actually it doesn't - it makes them more inquisitive. They ask themselves how he gets away with this,
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"For further information, call Joe Anctil"
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and why all these spiritual people follow him if he's such a playboy. On the other hand, all the people who love playboys are now interested, so you've got a whole new segment we've just approached. I'm not saying that Hugh Hefner will receive Knowledge tomorrow, but those people who dig anybody who's called a playboy now look at Guru Maharaj Ji in an altogether different light.
Joe, say somebody from the press approaches a premie and asks about all these recent events. What should that premie say?
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. First of all, the press member's job is not to come and hear satsang, it's to write a story. He wants answers. And nine times out of ten, that premie won't have the answers he wants. He may have heard something, or his DUO director may have said something, but that information may be a day old, or half a day old, or two weeks old or two months old, and it might well have changed a great deal. So that premie, whoever and wherever he happens to be, should give that press member my name and the Denver phone number. And if the guy can't afford to call, tell him to call me collect, and I'll call him back.
The main thing is for the premie really to understand that Guru Maharaj Ji has given me direction on my service, how to be up-front with the press and really not hide anything. But 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.
Since July 1974 I've built a reputation with most of the magazines and newspapers and now they call me direct. The more that they know I'll be open with them, the more they'll call me. So whenever the newspapers, radio or TV call a premie - even if its just about his personal experiences of Knowledge or about what seems to be a local incident - he should say, "Look, call Joe Anctil, he's a professional, you'll really relate to him because he's right where you are, and he knows the kind of information you need. And he'll be very upfront with you." Then the guy will be more likely to call me. Don't just say, "Oh, I have no comment, you have to call Denver" - which sounds kind of spooky. You should tell them why they should call Denver.
What do you mean by a professional way of handling these things?
I'll give you an example. There is a German writer writing for nine newspapers in Germany with 15 million readers, who has actually submitted his questions so that Guru Maharaj Ji may answer them - which is beautiful. Now they seem to be understanding that we're not going to let them take pot shots at us any more. Unless they will work with us on a professional level and lay out some ground rules, they're not going to find out anything. We're not going to open our doors to them until they will submit their questions, and let me check their article - not to rewrite it, but to check the authenticity of the information. The trouble before in Divine Light Mission was nobody knew that this is the normal procedure to follow with the press, so no one ever asked for this, and the press just rolled all over us. They will not allow you to rewrite the article, but if they say you have 10,000 followers and you say hey look, our files say 41,000, then you are getting that last piece of input, and when the thing goes to press, if they don't change it it's their conscience. Of course there will always be a little bit of editorializing, especially in magazines - that's what magazines are about - but you can still explain to them when they're really off base. These are the ground rules that have to be established. And the more they want a story, the easier the ground rules can be established.
Didn't People Magazine want to do a story?
That's right. First I met with the writer in Los Angeles. I told her that no, you cannot just run out to the residence, take pictures and do a story. Then when I was in New York I met with her editor. After a 20-minute conversation, when he found out that Guru Maharaj Ji had not spoken to anyone in one and a half years and had not been interviewed by anybody then he offered us, yes, the questions, a guaranteed four-page spread and yes, we can check the story. And all of a sudden they want it even more than before, because these new stories have just broken. Now Guru Maharaj Ji has said maybe he would do the story and maybe he would not, so there's no guarantee that it will happen. But that's the beauty of doing this thing with Guru Maharaj Ji: I can't guarantee the press anything.
So as far as propagation '75 is concerned, do you see this whole press thing as helping us?
I see the press putting Guru Maharaj Ji in people's consciousness so that we can propagate Knowledge more easily. He's just making it easier for us by bringing Guru Maharaj Ji into the conversation. The secret now is for us to move from the subject of Maharaj Ji to the subject of Knowledge, which as we know in our hearts is one and the same, but to the general public we've got to give satsang on Knowledge. 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. We're just getting another opportunity to make that distinction.