Gurus and Yogis and Meditators Bring Students Peace and Love
By MARK C. FRAZIER
TED CHADWICK does not flinch even a bit as he sits in Winthrop House dining hall. Light more intense than 10,000 suns is incandescing behind his sealed eyes, but he feels no pain. Only a sweet whiteness lies within his head. It overwhelms his thoughts, taking them away from exams, the dish of brown ice-cream melting on the table before him, and his father's plea that if he must give any money to a 15-year-old guru, he should turn over income only and keep his capital intact. Ted Chadwick has "had Knowledge" for over a year now, and it has given him a Divine Light precious beyond any earthly concerns.
Followers of the teenage Guru Maharaj Ji are among the many Harvard evangelists who have tried to offer students salvation for the past three years. Ministers of the Church of Scientology pressed hard on campus a while back, charging thousands of dollars to "clear" people of problems by using skin-sweat detectors. At the same time, figures caped in black and necklaced in silver swept down on the Square to proselytize for a religion called the Process, which installs Satan, Lucifer, and Jehovah as equal rulers in its universe. Neither of these religions has any visible following at the College today. But a widening constellation of religions and meditation groups now run over with converts, and light new paths to bliss. Heaven is very big at Harvard, and graduating seniors may wish to see what, if anything, they're going to miss.
THE FASTEST-GROWING of the new Harvard sects follows the teaching of a sad-eyed, bearded Indian yogi named Maharishi Mahesh. The Yogi has succeeded phenomenally in his efforts to spread his system of deep meditation in America. The number of users of his Transcendental Meditation (TM) shot from 200 to roughly 200,000 in the past eight years. The Beatles and Mia Farrow have tried Transcendental Meditation, and presently vocal users of TM include astronaut Russell Schweickart, the Beach Boys, and the majority leader of the Illinois House of Representatives. At Harvard, the number of student practitioners is not known precisely, but appears to be in the hundreds: Larry Geeslin, head of the H-R Students' International Meditation Society, says that over 85 students were initiated in the past year alone. The depth of local entrenchment is clear from other signs. About 30 undergraduates made a joint independent work project of the study of Transcendental Meditation this Spring, and a more advanced course will be offered this fall. And the Cambridge headquarters of the International Meditation Society - an amply lawned mansion at 33 Garden Street - testifies to the wealth of the enterprise.
In leaflets lining the shelves of the Garden Street center, Transcendental Meditation is said to require "a few minutes each morning and evening as one sits comfortably with eyes closed." The few minutes generally run to about 20 or 30 per session - whether alone or with others. Larry Geeslin, a tall, thin faced second semester senior, who found TM while on a leave of absence, describes the method as being simple and natural. A nonsense word called a "mantra" is assigned for life to each student by a teacher. Contemplation of the mantra allows the user to enter the transcendental state, during which Geeslin says meditators appear to be sleeping but in fact remain acutely alert to the outside environment. "What occurs during meditation is that everyday levels of thought become quieter and quieter until the quietest level can be transcended. The quieting is accompanied by physical changes - the breathing is shallower, brain waves are altered, and the heart load changes," he says.
The virtue of the practice comes not with a transitory feeling but with a lasting release from stress. Individuals say they emerge from meditation refreshed and alert. As evidence, one of the pamphlets cites studies made at the University of Texas, UCLA, and Berkeley. Bar charts of the results show Transcendental Meditators were much better at perceptual and motor tasks, as well as learning and short-and long-term memory tests, than normal people. The benefits are corroborated by students, who make up half the beginners in Transcendental Meditation today in America.
While the Society's claims may suggest a "Dare To Be Great course for hippies" - a description made by one visitor at an introductory lecture last year - independent scientific literature supports the contentions of the pamphlet. Articles in Scientific American, Science, The American Journal of Physiology, and The Journal of the American Medical Association have documented changes in mental and physical states during meditation. The light sweat normally present in skin diminishes abruptly, signalling greater ease. Alpha waves in the brain, another indicator of relaxation, grow stronger. The heart beat and blood pressure drop.
Dr. Herbert Benson, an assistant professor of Medicine here, found evidence two years ago that drug abusers who tried TM broke away from their dependencies much more often than a control group. "It was clear that most were at one point heavily involved in drug abuse," he said of his sample of 1862 Transcendental Meditators. "But practically all of them - 19 of 20 - said that they had given up drugs because they felt that their subjective meditative experience was superior to what they achieved through drugs."
Drug abuse control is just one of the uses seen by some of the advocates of Transcendental Meditation. William J. Murphy, majority leader of the Illinois House of Representatives, steered through a resolution last summer immodestly praising the Yogi's system as a way to cool down student unrest as well as to fight drugs. "School officials have noted a lessening of student unrest and an improvement in grades and student-parent and teacher relationships among practicitioners of Transcendental Meditation," Murphy's resolution read.
Also last year, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare gave the Society a $21,540 grant to train 100 public school teachers across the country in the system. Murphy himself has meditated since the fall of 1969, and says "without fear of correction that it has aided me physically and mentally." The significance of the legislature's approval of his resolution, however, is open to possible correction: few legislators anywhere read proposed statements of legislative sentiment. Two years ago the Texas legislature unanimously affirmed a measure praising the Boston Strangler for his efforts on behalf of population control.
Strangely, one of the most out-spoken proponents of Transcendental Meditation is Major General Franklin M. Davis, commandant of the Army War College. The War College has few problems keeping its student body pacified, so Davis has other ideas in mind. He believes the Yogi's teachings may help to relieve combat fatigue as well as drug abuse among soldiers, and at his request, classes in Transcendental Meditation have begun at Fort Dix and Fort Bliss.
At Harvard, three of the most active undergraduates working with the Society's Garden Street center intend to teach the system when they graduate. To Geeslin, Transcendental Meditation will be a "life's work." He found that it gave him a reason to return to Harvard after a prolonged leave of absence, and it continues to allow him to "master life" and enjoy it.
"It's not based on any passivity, but on a very substantial increase in ability to utilize intellect and emotion," he says. One of its beauties is simplicity - meditation takes only a few hours to learn. Unlike religions requiring hugely sophisticated skills, Geeslin says that Transcendental Meditation involves "no manipulation or effort." Perhaps for that reason alone, laziness being what it is at Harvard and almost everywhere else, the users of Transcendental Meditation will continue to find a growing audience at politically apathetic campuses.
SEPARATING the mystical bliss of Maharishi and the doctrines of the Baha'i is a profound difference in essence and teaching. Where the emphasis of the Transcendental Meditators is on inner peace, Harvard Baha'is try to unify men. The Baha'is have a set of holy scriptures offering explicit, but vaguely worded, prescriptions for political and economic glory on earth, unlike followers of the Maharishi. A further difference between the two sects is size: the Baha'i community at Harvard numbers only half a dozen.
Michael Porter '73, a bespectacled math major who has been a believer for over two years, served as head of H-R Baha'i Association for the past year. "For me, it started with a mild curiosity," he said. "I met a Baha'i in an airplane. At the time she kept saying, 'Don't you see? World government based on spiritual values!'" Porter laughs at how ridiculous it all once seemed. "Later I went to a number of meetings, and asked questions for about six months. First came a period of skepticism that Baha'i principles would work. The teaching of world unity - I didn't see why that was a necessity. But I didn't feel any kind of heat until I decided all the intellectual things really held together." After deciding that they did, he spent some time trying to judge what it felt like to be a Baha'i. "Everything is different," he said. "You try to see the spark of God in every human."
His parents received the news with a close approximation of equanimity. Porter had drifted away from Judaism long before, due to "laziness" during junior high school toward Orthodox rituals, and made a conscientious breakaway in high school. The new religion had all the virtues of tepid liberalism, without the hungry search for righteous causes so dismally pursued over the past decade by many students and suburbanites. Porter was attracted by the religion's calls for men to "abolish extreme wealth and extreme poverty," "to choose an international language to be used along with the mother tongue," and to grant women "equal opportunities, rights and privileges." His parents were concerned only with the teaching of Baha'i which encourages interracial and cross-cultural marriages, he said.
Baha'i as a faith, in fitting with its humanitarian tone, is unencumbered by the ceremony and rituals that drove Porter from his original religion. The only exercise expected of an active believer consists of attending a feast once every 19 days - the length of the Baha'i month. Feasts subsume social, devotional and business functions, with scripture reading and discussion of local and international Baha'i news taking up much of the meetings. At Harvard, the handful of Baha'is also gathered informally each week this spring in the rooms of members. No paid clergy officiate at these or other Baha'i meetings. "Men need no longer depend on a priestly class," Porter explained. "Each individual is his own spiritual teacher as far as authority is concerned."
Mastering Baha'i doctrines does not come quickly. Porter said, only half in jest, that it would take him about six weeks to do justice to the teachings. At its core, the religion claims that God is a living being who cares about human affairs and makes his will known at intervals through Prophets. The founder of the religion, Baha'u 'llah, began it with the premise that Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus Christ and Mohammed all were "Manifestations of God." Every major religion is part of an organic whole, and the duty of Baha'is is to show this to a reluctant-and often hostile - world.
Fearful Moslem authorities in 19th Century Persia did their best to stamp out Baha'u 'llah and his camp of followers, coming close to success on a number of occasions, but the leader survived to leave half a dozen books describing the Baha'i plan before he died in 1892. The plan, in the words of an official Baha'i publication, "offers a clear pattern of world order," without invoking any "secret mystic doctrines." That plan is now overseen by an elected nine-mancouncil located in Israel which also sets policy for Baha'is in those areas neglected by the scriptures of the founder.
Despite the sophistication of Baha'i doctrine, the Baha'i religion has enjoyed a vast surge in followers during the past decades. Proselytizers have tripled the number of followers in South Vietnam over the past five years to 121,000, and while Harvard membership ebbs and flows, other areas of the United States are responding handsomely.
In a recent issue of The American Baha'i, the religion is said to be spreading "like a hungry flame" across Carolina sharecropping districts. The message - "Have you heard the good news? …God has sent a new Prophet to the world… His Laws will eliminate poverty, prejudice, injustice…" -was greeted by more than four thousand converts in the first four weeks.
Though skilled missionaries, Baha'is seldom come across as driven fanatics; the tolerance of their teachings is matched by an accommodating approach. "Baha'is are very eager to spread their message all over the world," Porter said. But when the audience is uninterested - as many roommates of Baha'is are - "you have to keep your mouth shut" to avoid alienating them. Ludwig Tuman, a bearded junior who is a former Christian, said Bahai's expect to spread "at least as much by deeds as words." While no figures of worldwide Baha'i membership exist, and the Harvard following is still small, Baha'i's claim some impressive present and past believers - including Seals and Croft, Dizzie Gillespie, Mrs. Randolph Hearst, and the last Queen of Romania.
A LIST OF FIVE commandments hangs over the bed of Theodore Chadwick '74. From top down, it reads:
"Do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today."
"Constant meditation…and remember the Name."
"Leave no room for doubt in your mind."
"Always…have faith in God."
"Never delay…in attending SatSang."
It is a bit confusing at first. But the rest of the room reveals a unifying theme - that of the religious group known at Harvard as the Divine Light Mission. An array of framed photographs of a baby-faced 15-year-old guru smiles out at visitors, inviting them to tap a superfocused sunlight within each individual: the religion of the perfect spiritual master Guru Maharaj Ji.
Guru Maharaj Ji is but the latest in a long line of perfect spiritual masters, tracing back over centuries, who have kept alive the Divine Light. He "received Knowledge" from the previous perfect master, his father, at the age of six, and became a perfect master at eight, two days after his father died. His perfection lies ostensibly with his complete detachment from worry for his physical being, and the constant flow of love and peace from him to others and back again.
The whole thing is so improbable that present believers retain vivid memories of their reactions upon first learning of the religion. "A guy in my Ec 10 section said one day that I ought to look into the Guru Maharaj Ji," Chadwick said early this month as he sat eating lunch in Winthrop House. "I said he was crazy." Nevertheless, Chadwick agreed to attend a Sat-sang - a regularly held introductory meeting - shortly afterwards. "I thought the people didn't believe in a word they said," he continued. "I didn't relate to it, that hocus pocus about a Divine Light. And I couldn't relate to that picture at all. A 14 year-old kid on the other side of the globe - forget it."
But Chadwick liked the people he met, and came back. Soon he did see a dim light during Satsang. One night, when he went back to his room and closed his eyes in bed, his "whole head was full of lights." The initial harshness of the Knowledge was soon transformed into an intense, sweet experience, amenable to being turned on or off at will. "It was like learning to walk," he said. "It improves one's functioning - the mind is more harmonious, you're never confused or thinking two things at the same time. There's no mental static. You have complete control."
Inner light is not the only sensation felt by followers of Maharaj Ji. The second commandment on Chadwick's poster - "Constant Meditation…and remember the Name" - refers to the Holy Name, a subtle vibration felt during meditation throughout the body. With practice, harmonious chords can also fill the ear, and a taste of "nectar" may appear in the mouth. And besides receiving "Knowledge" in these four forms, the believer loses subservience to repressed desires. "You can get rid of your unconscious mind," Chadwick said. "What are we prisoners of? Our unconscious. We [people who "have Knowledge"] don't suppress it - we just lose it."
Over 45,000 Americans have received Knowledge at the present time, as compared to the six individuals in the whole country who had seen the light just a year and 11 months ago. The Guru Maharaj Ji's worldwide following now numbers over six million, with the bulk of it concentrated in India, followed in Western countries by Great Britain and the United States. The religion is, in Chadwick's words, "chameleonlike" in nature. In communist countries, the Divine Light mission operates as the "Raj-Yoga Academy" in Third World and European countries it acts as a church; and in the United States it is a corporation, the "Divine United Organization, Inc."
Like most heads of American corporations, the young Guru enjoys the perquisites of his office. He dresses invariably in a tailored grey suit and white shirt, drives around in a chauffered Rolls Royce, and commands a small fleet of private airplanes. The Guru serves as Supreme Editor In Chief of the organization's House organ, a slick monthly called "And It Is Divine." And his lieutenants, like executives in the business world, sometimes fall victim to government rules and regulations. One member of the Maharaj Ji's entourage was recently arrested while attempting to smuggle a suitcase full of jewels into India.
None of this makes it easy for the Divine Light Mission to claim that it has inherited the mantle of the "Movement" in the United States, that it is the logical successor to liberal and radical political activism. But the monthly magazine And It is Divine is larded with such statements. In a recent issue, an editorial proclaimed "It is safe to say that until now the 'Movement' as a political and cultural effort has failed." Idealists must come to share the same concept of reality, it stated, or their efforts would fall apart as differing approaches diluted energies and worked at cross purposes. Rennie Davis, a Chicago Eight defendant and recent convert to Divine Light, made the same argument: in a recent world tour, which included a stop this spring at Harvard, he repeatedly argued that political radicalism is dead, and that its goals must now be realized through the Guru Maharaj Ji. "Now it is possible to connect all of us to one source - and food, shelter and peace become a practical reality," he said.
The group is surprisingly generous toward other religions. Chadwick says Divine Light is a complement rather than a competitor to them, and that the founders of virtually all major religions - Buddha, Moses, Christ, Krishna, and Mohammed - are treated with great respect. All are assumed, he said, to have "had Knowledge." Still, the structured ritualism of established churches is a failing, and the newer and less formal sects also miss the mark. "All those other groups says you'll see light in ten years, 20 years," Chadwick said. "The Guru Maharaj Ji says you can see light today."
The Divine Light Mission is also a lot less awed by solemnity in devotion than its competition: the Guru himself spends much of his time reading comic books, and the centerfold of the monthly magazine features him regularly cavorting on tractors and playing with his followers. But the conviction animating the Divine Light Mission is not to be taken as superficial. Two Harvard followers of the Guru Maharaj Ji have already taken leaves of absence to refine their Knowledge on Ashrams - spiritual teaching centers belonging to the Divine United Order, Inc. And Chadwick, plus a friend, Jim Goldman '74, plan to follow their example this fall.
THERE ARE, OF COURSE, other sects at Harvard which would like to rescue your soul. The Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship is a group of largely Protestant fundamentalists, who take the existence of Satan very literally and host weekly open meetings to present the respectable side of what has been termed the "Jesus" movement. A Buddhist group called Nicheren Shoshu offers a chanting technique that purportedly allows one to succeed at whatever is within one's capacity. The H-R Latter Day Saints Student Association is the vehicle through which undergraduates become part of the larger Mormon community here. (Active Mormons at Harvard number about 25, comparing favorably to the four followers of Nichiren Shoshu and unfavorably to those of the Christian Fellowship, which draws about 110 students from Harvard and Wellesley each term to weekend retreats.) According to Scott Birdsall, one of the Mormon activists who served as a missionary in Uruguay, about five Harvard students are now on two-year leave of absences for Church missionary work.
But what is the True Way amid this clutter of sects? The Class of '73 has been exposed to more formulas for salvation than any of its recent predecessors. It has seen the intense spread of conviction through all six groups that each, in the end, is the sole vessel of Truth. It has probably guessed that whatever friendly noises the sects may make about one another, the doctrines cannot be ultimately reconciled. Therefore, it may be suspected that no over-whelming evidence is leading to conversions - how can six groups all give completely compelling proof of a sole monopoly over the final truth? - but rather a felt need on the part of students to join something.
Several tentative explanations for the intensity of belief suggest themselves. The phenomenon of "blissing out" is plenty real to worshippers of the 15 year-old Guru Maharaj Ji - but then, dazzling light can be hallucinated in a realistic fashion if one tries hard enough. The doctrines of the Bahai's and the Christians also seem plausible - if one really wants to believe them. So with the chanting of TM and Nichiren Shoshu; by sitting still and poising the mind on a single subject, determination can be channelled toward achieving previously hard-to-reach goals. An explanation of the need to join is more obvious. Faiths of any sort make difficult problems go away, especially those pertaining to the direction of one's life. Students are no less eager to rid themselves of the dilemmas of self-responsibility than anyone else. Thus, with increasing frequency, undergraduates here appear to be striking out on all sorts of paths marked with trappings of the supernatural, out of faith that the one they have chosen must lead to an Answer somewhere.
What, however, if each person is the ultimate value of existence - if there is no God or higher purpose? Then religion would become an escape from anxiety and loneliness, similar in many ways to the "Movement" of the late sixties. Harvard would become a testing arena of persons as individuals, rather than group members. In the end, each person would stand alone.
There is reason to think that an ethos of independence continues to prevail at Harvard. Despite the flowering of sects, the great bulk of the graduating class remains agnostic or atheistic, and religion is about as popular as patriotism or political activism. At Harvard, for better or worse, Number One is still Number One, and likely to stay that way