Goom Rodgie's Razzle-Dazzle Soul Rush
In the triumphant moment of his worldwide "crusade," the Perfect Master reveals a plan for 1000 years of peace and sends the fundamentalists howling.
by David Snell
His Serene Holiness, Pratap Singh Rawat-Balyogeshwar, Satguru Shri Maharaj Ji, Perfect Master of the Universe, at the almost intolerable earthly age of sixteen, has a bit of a weight problem and a bleeding duodenal ulcer.
This crossed my mind when "Goom Rodgie," as his adoring American followers pronounce Guru Maharaj Ji, put down recently at Houston, Texas, in his twin-engine Cessna with the "Holy Family"-his widowed mother and three older brothers.
The guru's arrival was the triumphant moment of a worldwide "Soul Rush," which had brought an estimated 25,000 of his followers to Houston from all over the United States and thirty-six foreign countries. They had come to attend, in the Astrodome, a three-day festival of rock music and religious razzle-dazzle, which they called Millennium '73.
The specific promise was that on the final Saturday evening, in a sermon to the multitude and media, the guru would reveal his plan for 1000 years of peace on earth, with perpetual renewal options. Organizers of the affair called it "the most holy and significant event in human history."
Now a claim of that sweep and magnitude will not be swallowed lightly. Predictably, church groups failed to yield the point, to put it mildly. And as the drama unfolded, the news media took a harsh and suspicious view of Guru Maharaj Ji himself.
The morsel that stuck in many craws, mediawise, was a glaring incongruity. Whereas the rank-and-file guruphiles feel a compulsion to renounce all material wealth, he himself flamboyantly amasses it. Where does the money come from? Despite the guru's vaunted powers, no claim has been made that the cash comes from Heaven. A great deal of money comes to the guru's worldwide organization, the Divine Light Mission, from the kids themselves-many of them are using family savings that might have sent them through school; others tap their parents for contributions or go out on money-raising missions throughout the country.
The guru owns airplanes, real-estate that includes several expensive houses, and a burgeoning investment portfolio. Like any red-blooded teenage lad who happens to be a Perfect Master of the Universe, he pops wheelies with his motorcycle, tinkers with his two Mercedes-Benz automobiles and his $30,000 Silver Cloud Rolls-Royce, and eats hand-dipped Baskin-Robbins ice cream concoctions to his ulcer's delight. (He loves to play jokes-like the time back in India when he jumped onto his motorcycle and roared away, scattering dust and gravel on some people who had prostrated themselves to kiss his lotus feet.)
NOR WAS IT OVERLOOKED that Guru Maharaj Ji and his family put up in the penthouse suite of the Astroworld Hotel. The choice of that accommodation was practically ecumenical, its decor and $2500-a-day rental having been tailored to the tastes and style of a Texas state religion-the oil industry.
It could hardly have surprised the guru and his disciples that "religion and rip-off" became the between-the-lines reprise in so much of the commentary on Millennium '73.
And yet, with a refreshing kind of naivete, the guru's defenders-and implied victims-did little to dispel the idea, though there is much they could have said.
Rennie Davis, of Chicago Seven fame, the most celebrated of the guru's converts and the general coordinator of his Houston festival, put it simply: Our Lord is now on this planet. He is our guest in this country, and it is not for him to say what kind of transportation we should provide or the kind of lodgings we offer. We love him. We love to give him things.
THE PROBLEM that Goom Rodgie's press officers and PR flacks were always up against, in Houston and elsewhere, was a tough one, rather like performing the Hindu rope trick without a rope: How do you impart knowledge to media representatives who have never received the Knowledge?
Knowledge is what you have to receive in order to become a devotee. Devotees are called premies. That is not medical slang for premature babies. It is Hindustani for "lovers."
As recently as three years ago, America had no premies. Now there are 60,000 (N.B.: almost no black ones). That's how fast the thing is growing. Few if any of them have backslid. Stop any premie and ask him, or her, about the Knowledge. The face lights up, and you get instant satsang ("the giving of truth"). As in the theme song of the movie Lili, a song of love is a satsang, "hi-Lili, hi-Lili, hi-lo."
From random sampling as well as official doctrine, I am utterly persuaded that receiving Knowledge is a fuse-blowing experience. First, you have to undergo a kind of conditioning during a series of lengthy satsangs-group sessions, usually-presided over by one of Goom Rodgie's chosen disciples, who are called mahatmas. Currently about fifty mahatmas, most of them Indians, are working the circuit.
When at last you are deemed to have reached the proper state of readiness, the mahatma lays on hands. That is the real lock in and turn on. Using a manipulative technique that is never revealed to outsiders but is said to involve a certain way of pressing on your eyeballs, Mahatma shows you the Divine Light.
The method has something to do with brain circuitry that is linked up with the pineal gland. Each person comes with a pineal as standard equipment, situated next to the pituitary at the base of the brain. The ancients-I forget which ones, although back in college I knew -called the tiny bone structure in which the pineal rests the seat of the soul. Those ancients knew a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for. What you see when your pineal gets jiggered is a sunburst of light in the center of your forehead.
After that, you hear the Divine Music, which you get in glorious stereophonics when Mahatma puts his fingers into, or under, your ears. Then you taste the Divine Nectar. That is done with a secret technique in which you halfway swallow your tongue. The nectar is infinitely sweeter, if less fattening, than any product of Baskin-Robbins.
Finally the Divine Word is revealed to you, transporting you into the full Knowledge of God.
As DISPENSERS of knowledge, the mahatmas are greatly revered. Its ultimate source, of course, is Guru Maharaj Ji, who functions as a kind of spiritual atomic pile with all the rods pulled out.
During Millennium '73 I did a lot of tape recording-speeches, interviews, and performances by the Divine Light Mission's fifty-piece rock band, Blue Aquarius, which is conducted by the guru's brother, Bhole Ji. For some curious reason the sounds were very rough on my equipment. In rapid succession three Sony recorders conked out.
When I mentioned that to a young woman who was a member of the public relations staff, it was as though I had offered her my fraternity pin. Stars danced in her eyes.
"It's the great spiritual energy that Goom Rodgie gives off," she said. "When he is giving a talk, you'll see lots of premies just dozing off to sleep. His energy simply stuns them."
Wired into the amplifiers of Blue Aquarius, the energy output cast a different spell. It must take a special kind of poor luck, not to mention a malign configuration of asteroids and planets, to get yourself knocked down and trampled in a Soul Rush. Thanks to the wattage, I very nearly managed.
It was during the final evening's concert. Writhing to the music, thousands of premies sat tightly bunched on the Astrodome playing field. I was standing at the edge, and nearby several hundred of the faithful were turning handsprings, dancing, and leaping around. To use the Divine Light vernacular: Oh, wow, were they blissed out!
From the corner of my eye I saw a fast-moving snake dance turn sharply, the whip action sending a half-dozen premies hurtling toward me. They looked bullish on America, like a commercial for Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Goom Rodgie. I sprinted backwards barely in time-and slammed hard into a uniformed policeman.
"Hey, buster, you tryin to start sumpin', or sumpin?" he said, speaking slow and steely, like Shane.
"No, Sir!" I said and apologized profusely. He cooled down. And then, nodding out toward the arena, he said, real friendly-like: "Ain't this just the damnedest thang you have ever saw?"
"Damnedest" was the word for it. Only the Almighty in Heaven Above could know how many decent, God-fearing folks around the city had been calling down the damnation of Heaven upon this heathen-inspired happening.
It is likely that Goom Rodgie (or his strategy planners) had misjudged the mood of Houston and had miscalculated its degree of receptiveness to the startling doctrine of Perfect Masterhood.
Certainly this was a time of trauma for the city. The oil industry, which is its economic base, was filled with foreboding over the energy crisis. The once bright tomorrow of the Manned Spacecraft Center had all but vanished. The summer of '73 had brought an all but unspeakable horror, the discovery of the bodies of twenty-seven boys and young men, mainly Houstonians, who had been tortured and murdered by a homosexual sadist and his accomplices.
There were lesser things, too, chipping away at the Houston psyche. Much of the land in the city was inexorably subsiding toward sea level. After a year of the heaviest rainfall on record, the roof of the Astrodome sprang serious leaks above some expensive seats. The Astrodome, which bills itself as the Eighth Wonder of the World, was about to be eclipsed by Wonder Number Eight-and-a-Half. Nearing completion was the bigger and grander New Orleans Superdome. And as if all that were not bad enough, the hometown pro-sports teams, the baseball Astros and the football Oilers, were like zilch. Houston, it seemed, really was in a bad way. As one joke-about-town had it, her mayor was the only politician in Texas who managed to lose money on the Sharpstown bank scandal.
What better place, then, to weigh into with the message of serenity, hope, peace, and God-love that flows from the Perfect Master and his Knowledge? Confidently the Divine Light Mission budgeted a total of $953,177 for Millennium '73 for charter jet flights, hotel accommodations, and all the rest, including $75,000 for the Astrodome. The prediction was that the dome's 70,000 arena-and-stands capacity would be filled to overflowing.
As it turned out, counting on Houston to fill all the seats not taken by visiting premies was a mistake. Houston wasn't about to. Though no head count could be taken because admission to Millennium '73 was free, it is doubtful that attendance even approached 30,000 on any of the three nights.
Not that Houston was uninterested. "Beware of false prophets!" thundered the marquee of the venerable First Baptist Church. In the city and far into the suburbs, pastors railed against the boy guru or spoke with sorrow of the supposed misleading of youth. One group of fundamentalists picketed the Astrodome with signs calling the guru the messenger of Satan. "Heathenism invades America!" said one leaflet, "… more fantastical than communism. Denounce this imposter!" "Zombies!" shouted a picket, as the premies passed through. "You goin' to wind up in hell!" said another, a black ordained minister. "The Bible is the word of the Lord, you stupid ignoramus!" screamed a third.
IT WAS TIME for the message for which the world had been waiting. I could see Goom Rodgie in his scarlet tunic, looking like a wedding-cake ornament as he sat on his flame-shaped throne atop the many-tiered translucent platform that rose against the center-field wall. The heavens of the scoreboard above him exploded in the display that is used to celebrate Houston Astro home runs.
He began to speak. There were long, rambling parables having to do with automobile carburetors that need filters for purification of fuel and with a boy who searched frantically for a Superman comic book only to be given one by the child he tried to rebuff. Slowly I began to feel the stunning effects of Goom Rodgie's high voltage, and I tried to fight off sleep. Oh, yes. The plan for peace. "You want peace?" he said. "Give me a try. Let me have a try. I'll establish peace. It's a simple deal." That was just about all he had specifically to say on the subject.
THE RISE of the Perfect Master has been a remarkable phenomenon of our times, and his coming to the Astrodome was a strange interlude for Houston. On both counts many people felt a need to make assessments. Figuratively speaking, he had performed miracles and then had been reviled and spat upon and crowned with thorns. For some, this stirred a painful sense of deja vu.
I, too, was haunted by that feeling, and for the longest time I could not pin it down. It had something to do with the looks of radiant happiness that seemed almost congealed on the faces of the devotees and with the smiles they flashed at everyone they encountered. In the context of Watergate, the energy crisis, the trouble spots around the world, and all the rest of it, there is something spooky about seeing large numbers of people going around smiling. It's almost un-American.
Then it came to me. Some years ago I had had an allergic reaction to penicillin, which brought on acute anaphylactic shock. A physician pulled me back from the very edge of death, after heart and respiration had stopped. In that last supreme moment I had experienced sensations very much like those described by people who have received the guru's Knowledge.
And now I remembered something else. For two or three weeks after the penicillin incident, I had been filled with a sense of love, for everything and everybody-and, I'm embarrassed to say it, bliss. I remember passing total strangers on the street and thinking that I loved them. And then, though I tried to clutch onto it, the feeling had gradually ebbed away.
"MY GENERAL RESPONSE to the Divine Light movement," Dr. Kenneth L. Vaux was saying, "is positive and affirmative.
".. he pops wheelies with his motorcycle, tinkers with his two Mercedes-Benz cars, and eats hand-dipped Baskin-Robbins ice cream to his ulcer's delight."
It's a methodology of how to live, how to be alive, and how to interrelate wholesomely to other people." Dr. Vaux is a professor of ethics, the acting director of The Institute of Religion and Human Development, and a distinguished theologian. The institute, situated in the heart of the Texas Medical Center in Houston, was established two decades ago by a group of clergymen and doctors to serve as a kind of bridge between religion and the healing arts. It is wholly ecumenical. Now, on a golden afternoon, Dr. Vaux talked of his assessments:
I see a healing, wholesome kind of spirit. There are, I think, some dangers in it. I think that the answer that the guru and his followers offer to the moral crisis in the world is very simplistic. Inner security, which the guru and his followers say is all that matters, has been the classic escape mechanism in times of trouble. I would say that the times are too demanding for that kind of evasion….
Now I've had another reflection, and that is that I find authenticity in this child because of his simplicity. In a sense he's a kind of foolish figure, and there is a kind of naivete, an innocence, a foolishness about him, which, you know, has very frequently accompanied the saintly figure down through history… .
Why has this essentially Eastern view taken such firm root in the West? We're trying to understand why we became technological in the West. I essentially have come to feel that it's the basic Hebrew idea that time moves in a line…. In a medical center like this, for example, the only way you can understand the tremendous energy we release to try to defeat death is that we are on this road, in the Hebrew sense of building the Kingdom of God. Or creating a world where disease, debilitation, and death no longer reign. That's completely alien to Eastern cultures, in which there's an acceptance of birth and life and death and the cycles of the year, of the seasons of the year….
(What was it that Rennie Davis had said in his speech to Millennium '73?
"I tell you now that it is springtime on this earth! …")
"THESE PEOPLE, the devotees, are more 'into' respecting their bodies and taking care of themselves," said Dr. Robert R. Newport of Guerneville, California. Dr. Newport had come to Houston to attend Millennium '73. He is a psychiatrist. He also has received Knowledge. He is a premie. He said:
These people are feeling better - that's why you don't see any scowl lines on their faces. I think one of the greatest evils in the world is the phrase "I need." It comes from our ego, the "me" position, the "my" position. Now, notice these people in the Divine Light Mission. You won't hear them saying, "I want this" and "This is for me," and they won't be fighting with each other. Watch the traffic guards in the hallways, and watch how the devotees listen to their authority. There's no battle with authority.
Deja vu, anyone?
WHEN You stood in one of the upper levels of the Astrodome and looked out upon the thousands of premies in the darkened lower tiers and down on the arena floor, there was something very strange about it all, and it took you a while to realize what was smoking. Not tobacco, not grass. The faint wisp of smoke in the air was incense.
A great many, perhaps a majority, of Guru Maharaj Ji's converts in the United States formerly were active in the antiwar movement. Many thousands were "into" the drug culture. Today most of the premies live in communal houses that are called ashrams. Those who elect to do that surrender all their wealth and material possessions to the Divine Light Mission. In the ashrams there is no drug usage, no drinking, no smoking, no sex. Guru Maharaj Ji asks his followers to live and dress cleanly and to take care of their bodies. They do.
They meditate and they stay busy. Across the United States the Divine Light Mission is involved in all sorts of business enterprises. It operates thrift shops and a New York vegetarian restaurant, runs a food co-op, offers painting, carpentry, plumbing, housekeeping, lawn care, auto repair, and laundry services. There is a divine airline, Shri Hans Aviation, and a firm that markets wholesale electronics equipment.
One day soon, the Divine Light Mission will begin building a divine city, as proof that human beings can live together in peace and love. Reportedly it will be located near Santa Barbara, California. As with any ashram, the divine city will welcome anyone who wants to come. No premie is ever asked to give an explanation of his or her past. Guilt and confession are not in the guru's scheme of things.
On the last night of the festival, I sat briefly with a man named David Haddon. He and several colleagues had driven to Houston from Berkeley, California, representing the Christian Information Committee. They had come to tell the premies about Jesus-as missionaries to the Divine Light Mission.
In cooperation with local church people, these people had worked quietly, gently-a word here, a mention of the Scriptures there. To be sure, they held sleep differences on fundamental quesdons with the guru's devotees. The Divine Light Mission holds that there is always a Perfect Master on earth, and that Guru Maharaj Ji's predecessors included Moses, Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna. To Christians this view is intolerable.
David Haddon sees a great potential danger for the premies:
I'm really concerned about the people in this movement, because if, as all reasonable expectations would have it, this movement fails to produce the promised city, the promised peace, there are going to be some terribly disillusioned people who have already perhaps experienced disillusionment with materialistic American culture, with perhaps all kinds of sexual activity, drug use, various religious trips they may have been into, and this has been a culmination for them. For this to suddenly collapse would result in really powerful self-destructive tendencies in the people involved. Well, we have planted the seed and there is another way….
Arcs so, it came to an end and perhaps a beginning. When the last hymn had been sung, Goom Rodgie went back to his penthouse suite, and his devotees fell to the job of dismantling the great platform and throne. The next day the Oilers would play.
As I was leaving the Astrodome, I met up with a Houston matron who had attended two of the evening sessions. She said she had found it all tremendously impressive. She especially approved of how clean and neat the guru's younger followers looked, and there was something mighty appealing about their serenity, too.
Would she like to receive Knowledge?
"Well, I might," she said. "I just might - just so I don't have to fool around with some fusty old Indian!"
2/9/74 - SR/World
David Snell is a free-lance writer living in Houston and a former senior editor of Life.