Guru Maharaj Ji: Spiritual Fascism
CHRIS VAN NESS
Last Thursday through Saturday, the Houston Astrodome hosted "Millenium 73," a festival in honor of 15-year-old Guru Maharaj Ji and his disciples. Although only 30,000 of an expected 80,000 people showed up the first night, the event was considered a success - a frightening success, I might add.
The following six paragraphs are notes I made to myself on the morning of the event. The story follows.
HOUSTON, Texas - Tonight approximately 80,000 people will gather in the Astrodome here to listen to the Guru Maharaj Ji offer the world a practical way to uplift human consciousness. According to the press release, 'the impact will last a thousand years. And it will change the world.'
"The facts that the Guru is only 15 years old, owns two Rolls Royces and one Mercedes and has been the subject of a massive publicity campaign leave some interesting questions about the motivations behind the effort.
"Certainly this kind of spiritual fascism (when he was 12, the Guru proclaimed: 'I am the source of peace in this world') is a profitable enterprise in our fad-oriented, capitalistic culture. The Guru's trappings of personal comfort are testament to that.
"Then there's the involvement of Stax Records, who are spending approximately $25,000 to promote singer Eric Mercury who was added to the show a couple of weeks ago. According to the official press hype, the Divine Light Mission (the Guru's international support foundation) heard Mercury's new single, 'Love is Taking Over' and invited him to participate.
"And what exactly is the involvement of Rennie Davis, member of the Chicago 8 and former political activist turned guru freak?
"Perhaps some of these questions and inconsistencies can be cleared up during interviews and observations later today."
"Boli Shri Satguru Dev Marharaj Ki Jai" is the response, delivered in unison with both arms thrown toward heaven (or the Guru, whichever is closer) on the last word. The first time I saw this happen to 30,000 people in the Astrodome), it was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. My mind automatically flashed back to films I had seen of the early Hitler youth rallies and the "Seig Heil!" Nazi salute. And that moment in the Astrodome involved only 30,000; the Guru is said to have over eight million devotees.
It is really impossible to argue with the message of Guru Maharaj Ji - something like: We can have peace in the world if we all have peace within ourselves as true and idealistic a thought as has ever come down. People like Billy Graham have been doing a great business with it for years.
The one major difference between the Billy Graham kind of evangelism and the Guru's (hereinafter referred to as "the kid") crusade, is that evangelists are doing leg work for an established deity; the kid has set himself up as a deity incarnate. And when the masses at the Astrodome went into the throes of religious fervor, it was not for a god or "greater power," it was for the kid. His gospel is not "believe in God" or "believe in yourself"; it is, in essence, "believe in me."
One of the reasons it is so difficult to expose the Guru is that I have no doubt that he believes totally in the role he has been programmed to play since birth. His father was a guru before him and Maharaj Ji was simply programmed to take over the business.
An interesting observation I got from listening to his 90-minute discourse was that many of his "parables" dealt with automobiles. Now what 15-yearold male doesn't have a hang-up about cars? The kid is just, like any other 15-year-old - only he just happens to be programmed as a deity. Perhaps it is only coincidental that his "toys" include three of the most expensive cars available.
But for a true perspective, you have only to look at the kid's devotees. It was Paul Krassner (more about his observations later) who labeled them "zombies," and I'm not too sure he was wrong. They are a unified (behind the whims of a child and his organization) mass of egoless humanity who are blind to everything but their guru. They give up any individuality they might have to follow and promote his teachings.
They are a rather plain lot of people, most of whom seem to have no regard for their personal appearance. A majority of these are former drug users (figures in this were furnished by the Divine Light Mission) who have simply found a new method of escape from reality. There was an unaccountably large number of single young women with small children in the crowd; and it was not unusual, when, during interviews, to hear stories like: "Well everything went wrong with my life, and I was left with nothing until Guru Maharaj came along." What they failed to realize in their misery was that they still had nothing but the whims of a child who led them around by a ring of doubletalk attached to what was left of their souls.
I should point out here that during my interviews and observations, I was leaving just a little room for belief until I actually listened to the kid's discourse. It wasn't until after I heard the hour-and-a-half of doubletalk and veiled promises of "salvation" that I was sure of the sham involved.
Now, there is no doubt that the show was a pretty impressive one - what with the multi-level stage painted in the colors of the rainbow and the rainbow lighting effects. And I suppose the spirit of the crowd could be considered infectious - had I been lost and in need of a new meaning to my life. In short, it was a good show - inspired not by Divine Light, but by a good stage technician and lighting director. (I even had one particularly zealous devotee tell me that he saw light coming out of the kid's body. I had only to remember that the Guru was wearing 'a mirrored' vest to realize how desperately some people must want to believe the hype.)
I had an opportunity later Thursday evening to speak with Marjoe Gortner, the former evangelist (who exposed himself as a money-hungry charlatan) who was covering the event for Oui magazine. "You'd be surprised how gullible people can be," he told me. "This guru is offering them everything and nothing, and they want so much to believe in the 'everything' that they do. The real problem is that you can't argue with the message."
I pushed Marjoe for some more observations on what he had seen that evening, and after some evasive answers asked him point blank: "Was this like anything you've ever done before?"
"I have to admit that it all looks very familiar," he finally gave in. "All of the advance hype and the kind of fervor, it stirs up in these people. Only the music is different (the Blue Aquarius group is the Divine Light house band), but it's the kind of music these kids can relate to (the Guru's exit music consisted of "Respect" and "Satisfaction"). Otherwise, I have to admit it's very much the same."
Up to this point I have been talking exclusively about the Guru Maharaj Ji, but there is one other fly in the salve worth noting: Rennie Davis, a member of the martyred "Chicago 8" and organizer for the Astrodome affair. He now sports a short haircut and claims to have undergone an entire, change of life since being "blessed-out" by Guru Maharaj Ji. A rather incredible transformation, if you ask me.
If Davis' inward being has been changed (and who's to say; he does walk around with a rather silly grin on his face now), his outward modus operandi has not. Basically, Rennie Davis was a movement organizer, and he still, is, only the movements have changed.
It was Paul Krassner, editor of The Realist and contemporary eccentric, who suggested to me that Davis might, in fact, be (and has been) a government agent. Until I considered Krassner's claim (one he has been researching for two years - apparently with some concrete results), I had just assumed that Rennie Davis was a fraud who got off on the ego trip of being a movement organizer. But Krassner's observations make sense.
If there is a movement afoot which is mobilizing the nation's youth (for whatever reasons) why shouldn't the government send in an agent to keep tabs on what's going on? With the millions of people involved beyond self-will with the Guru and the rate at which the movement is growing, a political endorsement from the kid could conceivably swing an election in 1976. And that's just looking at the bright side of that potential.
Krassner went on to explain that he saw this whole event as "a conspiracy to turn the youth of this country into zombies on a mass level." And, from all indications, I can't be sure he's wrong.
Krassner had made repeated attempts to challenge Rennie Davis to debate the issue, but Davis had repeatedly declined. When I caught up with Davis shortly after my conversation with Krassner, he was polite but insisted he couldn't possibly accept the invitation to debate until after the festival.
I took advantage of the opportunity by confronting him with some of Krassner's (and my own) observations, and his answers were exactly the same as any devotee's when challenged: "Well, you just don't understand. It's all here if you want to believe it." Which, of course, ends all argument. In other words: If you want to believe, you will, and if you don't, you won't. That's one of the great cop-outs of any religion: it's all based on belief with no empirical evidence to prove it true or false. The only thing that makes it real are the people that believe it, and it is the people that believe it. As Marjoe pointed out: everything and nothing.
In other words, if a huge publicity campaign could be mounted and convince eight million people that I was the son of God, I would be the son of God to those eight million people even though I knew otherwise. And then those eight million, by virtue of their numbers could convince another four million making 12 million who could convince another six million making 18 million, etc. And before long I would be the son of God whether I wanted to be or not. And the only difference between this absurd example and the case of the Guru Maharaj Ji is that he was already been programmed to believe he is the son of God (or more exactly, "the Perfect Master") and he is enjoying the role.
And I think that's what's frightening me so much about the Guru and what I witnessed in the Astrodome. By establishing himself as a deity and announcing "I will establish peace in the world," Maharaji Ji is setting himself up as a world dictator. Eight million is a very small number in terms of world population figures, but his organization admits that he wants to reach everybody. And considering the blind obedience his worship demands, his potential dictatorial capabilities are truly frightening.
I have no doubt, for example, that had he instructed the 30,000 in the Astrodome to march on the city and claim Houston as the new "Divine Light City" (such a place is going to be built outside Denver, by the way) they would have done so. As it was, the Divine Light Mission had totally taken over the Astrodome by having paid off all union employees and sent them home.
And I realize how easy it is for you to read this account and look at these pictures and say, "It's just another religious movement." And I realize there is really no way I can convey the (negative) power of what I witnessed in the Astrodome.
These people are not just another group of "Jesus Freaks"; they are mindless robots subject to the whims of a 15-year-old charlatan and his programmers who admit that they want to
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take over the world. Sure, they want to take over the world for peace, but Hitler had those same kinds of ideas once, too.
The line, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," has been right too many times. And, as far as I am concerned when anybody comes along and announces that he wants to take over the world - no matter for what reasons or motivations - I am going to oppose it. I only hope that there are enough whole people left in this country to oppose it with me. I can only add that after what I saw in Houston, I'm just a little bit scared.
(Next week I'll expose this distasteful phenomenon further through the story of singer Eric Mercury who went to Houston to perform and to believe and who came back disgusted and disturbed.)