God is in his astrodome, all's right with the world
HOUSTON, Texas - "Do you know what came across the telex today?" Sophia, an intense 17-year-old Guru Maharaj ji devotee (premie) asked me excitedly, "This is very confidential but there are two beings from another planet staying at the Rainbow Inn in Houston. That's where all the premies live down there."
Soulrush had begun and we were on our way to Houston where Maharaj ji promised to present his plan for world peace. By this time I'd begun to love the premies - their energy. their enthusiasm, the way they treated each other.
"How do you know they're other beings?" I asked, hopeful that maybe it wasn't as weird as it sounded. I was thumbing through the Boston Globe and stopped at the page with a photograph of UFOs over Columbus. Ohio.
"Look!" Sophia jumped around me and grabbed the paper. "See, they're following Soulrush. They're going to Millennium to see Maharaj ji cause he's their Lord. too. He's the Lord of the Universe. Really."
"Hey Sophia, what do these beings look like?" I asked. "Has anyone actually seen them?"
"Oh yes," she said. "They're 12 feet tall and have these big round gleaming eyes like half-dollars and fingers kind of like claws. I also heard that a big mother craft stopped above the Rainbow Inn, and a lot of baby craft went outdoors in the bottom. It was pulsating all different color lights."
Sophia is tall and boyish, with a long brown pony tail tied at her neck. She used to work in a health food store in Maine. When she received knowledge at 16 she was already a sophomore at the University of Maine.
"Your mind's really gonna be blown," she told me giggling. "Bal Bhagwan ji said that a lot of strange things are gonna happen in Houston. All of those UFOs people've been seeing are around the Gulf Coast waiting for Millennium. Maharaj ji says he wants all his premies inside the Astrodome on Saturday night."
I came to Soulrush a cynic and wasn't prepared for the emotional openness I found with premies. I kept falling in love, first with one then another and then another. I felt very silly feeling like that. Sophia had been a premie for a year. She was seven when Kennedy was shot. That event was very significant in my life so when the buses stopped for lunch in Dallas. Sophia walked to Dealey Plaza with me. Sophia only barely remembered the assassination but when she was 11 she learned to sing "We Shall Overcome" in camp. "I believed every last word of it," she told me. By the time she was 12 Sophia had been kicked out of one school for interrupting teachers to talk about peace and out of another for trying to raise money for kids in Mississippi and then Biafra. By 13 she was trying drugs. "I felt I was on a search for truth, for justice," she said. "We knew what was right. Maybe we couldn't tell you exactly, but we knew in our hearts."
Sophia is a visionary idealist, the kind I remember from the early '60s. By the time she was 15 the movement had dissolved into yearly marches on Washington, and infighting over non-existent power positions. "I heard words of love," said Tracy, a buoyant 23-year-old who'd been Sophia's lover before ashram rules made them celibate. "but all I saw in politics was hatred." There was no place for them to go.
In Houston Maharaj ji was not only going to announce the founding of an international organization to feed and shelter the world's hungry, he was not only going to initiate the building of a divine city, he was going to show the world that the Lord is indeed on this planet. By what proof we didn't know, but the UFOs were a good bet for Sophia and Tracy.
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'On Saturday night there were a lot of disappointed premies'
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The rumors built to a great pitch by the time Maharaj ji and his Holy Family arrived at Houston's Hobby Airport on Wednesday, November 7. By then premies said a baby was born in Houston, promptly said, "The Lord has come," and died. They said a Mother Superior in Colombia entered a church, found two luminescent beings who told her to go to an ashram where she received knowledge. Then the nun wrote Maharaj ji to ask him to give the Pope knowledge. Things were very high, so high that premies hardly noticed Columbus, Indianapolis, St. Louis, or Kansas City. Energy was centered on the Lord.
On Wednesday it was hot in Houston. Premies gathered at the airport and sat before a white-clothed stage and throne, filling one entire section of airport gates. They sang and gave one another satsang, awaiting the arrival of the Perfect Master.
Security was tight. On Soulrush, American premies kept order. In Houston, British premies were imported, supposedly because they are more experienced. Guards, called the World Peace Corps, circled the stage where Maharaj ji would sit.
"You can thank Pat Haley for this," one WPCer told me. Haley, a reporter from Detroit's underground paper Fifth Estate, threw a pie in Maharaj ji's face last summer. Pat's head was subsequently smashed in.
Armed with walkie talkies, WPC means business. They are not allowed to bliss out while on duty.
Soon a Cessna 380 twin engine plane pulled onto the runway - one of Maharaj ji's three planes in the Shri Hans aviation fleet. The kid arrived wearing white. He's lost 25 pounds but was still chubby. Through the WPC he made his way to the throne in center stage. Mata ji, his mother, and Bal Bhagwan ji, a brother, sat to his left. Raja ji and Bhole ji, his other brothers, sat to his right. Mahatmas crowded around his feet, kissing them and prenamming (falling prostrate). The crowd, estimated at about 3000, cheered wildly. "Bolie Shri Satgurudev Maharaj ji Ki Jai!" All praise and honor to the Perfect Living Master. Arms thrown up with each chant.
"A lot of people get in front of a microphone and talk about peace," Maharaj ji said. But we are confused. We really are. They talk about peace, but then we have Watergate and wars like in the Middle East. They don't know how to make peace. So that's why I'm here. I've come to show you how to have peace in this world."
"Bolie Shri Satgurudev Maharaj Ki Jai." the premies roared.
And he was off, driven to the Celestial Suite of the Astroworld Hotel in his dark green Rolls Royce with the Steve Miller album in the tape deck. Just this morning 20 women had covered the car with fishnet woven with fresh carnations. Premies cried with happiness as he left. "He's here, breathing the same air as we are," a weeping boy said to no one in particular.
Millenium was an entirely different trip than Soulrush was for me. It might be because on Soulrush I was the only reporter living daily with 500 premies and in Houston I was put in a hotel with other press. That changed our relationship. But still, it was entirely different. Millenium was a Disneyland event. Soulrush was a caring community.
Soulrush was supposed to publicize Houston but it was a failure in those terms. The concerts were only half full, there was very little press coverage, hardly anyone joined the parades. But the energy was obvious.
There was the old man in Boston who said to his cronies while the parade went by - balloons, clowns, brass band, and all - "These kids have got something here. Just look at their faces. Look how enthusiastic they are. We're jaded. We don't have so much enthusiasm." And the old lady in the Breezewood, Pennsylvania, bathroom who burst out crying and held onto her friend. "I know these kids have seen God." she sobbed. "You can tell by their faces."
A two-week trip over 2000 miles on Greyhound buses with 560 other people could be a grueling experience. There could have been the lost luggage, the sickness from little sleep and close quarters, the angers and frustrations of having to get up early each morning to meditate and then parade, or go to a concert you've already heard many times, or just having to do things on time like everyone else. There was none of this.
For me the trip was one or continual astonishment at the smoothness of logistics, at the happiness amongst the premies, at the love transmitted back and forth in massages and back rubs, in juice and special diets for stomach aches, in providing for the emotional and physical needs of a group of people high on each other, on their own music and songs, and of course, on the Holy Family.
Millenium was a contradiction. It was an Event. Like Woodstock and the Chicago Demonstrations were Events. Only not as big. Disneyland religion. Glitter, glitter everywhere and not a place to think.
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The Astrodome is billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World and its manager says every religious group that rents it says it was built just for them. Rent is $15,000 a day. While Jehovah's Witnesses pack the place each year, managers say that's nothing compared with the crowds they have to turn away from Billy Graham or football games. The Dome has a seating capacity of 66,000 and is wired to reach the world via radio, tv, and satellite transmitters. For Millennium there were supposed to be 20 charter jumbo jet flights bringing 4000 people from foreign countries, and an additional 18 flights from this country. Despite expectations of 100,000, estimates of actual attendance ranged between 10,000 and 25,000. Millennium Coordinator Rennie Davis later said people just weren't ready for Maharaj ji. Yet.
"I've worked on a lot of events like this one," Rennie told the press. "There are now 4000 people on staff here. Before, generally about now I was completely wasted, frantic, and pulled apart. We were just waiting for the final day and then those who were left got together to say how terrible everything was. Here people are just blissed out of their heads. They have certain criticisms - maybe we're a little over-organized or the WPC is too security-conscious. But I'm experiencing Asia - the ability to function in harmony with definite leadership, the ability to share a certain perspective and to build and build and build."
While the Holy Family stayed at the Celestial Suite, premies working on Millennium stayed at two warehouse buildings if they came to work, and in hotels if they came to look. The Peace Plant (formerly a Coca-Cola warehouse) and Rainbow Inn each housed close to 1000 people who slept on floors, row upon row of mattresses. There were chow lines and cold showers, adding to the glamor of what looked like a refugee camp. I asked Rennie why the disparity and he said, "We want the very best for the Lord." Amen.
"We have planned Millenium to announce the formation of Divine United Organization," Rennie said. "Our first project will be to build a city as an example of how human beings were meant to live." Plans for Divine City included toothbrushes with toothpaste that automatically comes out of the handles, parakeets trained to say "Jai Satachadan," the premie greeting, and a 144,000 satsang hall suspended between two mountains.
Thursday, November 8. the first day of Millennium. On the seven-tier stage below the Plexiglas throne of the Perfect Master, there was a narrative about past Perfect Masters - Christ, Buddha, and Krishna, and a play called "Lord Jesus." Bhole ji's Blue Aquarius Big Band, now on the Stax Record label, played its medley of "the big new devotional sound." It's almost embarrassing that by now I know the words to songs like "Rock Me Maharaj ji." "The Lord of the Universe," and "At the Feet of the Master." God is not someone I normally sing about. Bhole ji was billed as a streak of light that would appear on Millennium's stage. He arrived dressed in a silver sequined suit, all 300 pounds of him.
At dinner Tracy said she'd always wanted to be a Yippie. "Jerry Rubin was my hero. He was always so outrageous!" She loved Bhole ji's outfit because it was definitely outrageous.
When we got back Maharaj ji was sitting atop his throne - 35 feet above the Dome floor. The throne was made of white Plexiglas with a teardrop-shaped back with a big blue dot in the center - rather like a Kodak blue dot flash cube with the kid in the middle.
Who should arrive but Jerry Rubin. "Yuck," he said. "This is terrible." Tracy thought he'd changed.
The scoreboards behind Maharaj ji flashed quotes from the kid: "The Holy Breath will fill this place and you will be baptized in Holy Breath." Finally he spoke. "You want to be the richest man in the world?" Maharaj ji said: "I can make you
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rich. I have the only currency that doesn't go down … People think I'm a smuggler. You betcha I am. I smuggle peace from one country to another. This currency is really rich. But if you think I'm a smuggler then Jesus Christ was a smuggler and so was Lord Krishna and Mohammed."
Outside the Dome Jesus people disagreed. They stopped premies to tell how they'd found peace in Christ and carried signs saying "Guru is an Anti-Christ." Hare Krishna folks disagreed too and 50 of them chanted continually, submerged in a sea of premies who wouldn't allow them into the dome. By Saturday 20 Krishna folks had been arrested.
Friday was more of the same but Friday night premies blissed out, Maharaj ji appeared on stage in his red Krishna robe, which devotees say he's never worn outside of India. After he spoke the crown of Krishna was placed on his head, symbolizing he's the Lord of the Universe. Several premies went into frenzied spasms on the floor.
"Did you feel those high vibes," Tracy asked me the next day. "Something really big is going to happen tonight. This is it. Wow."
Sally had been my bus mother and I saw her as I was wandering around looking at the Divine Light Concessions booths where they sold Millennium t-shirts and buttons. I was bored, and asked her if the plasticness of everything bothered her.
"Why I didn't even notice that," she told me. "The vibration of the Holy Family is just filling up the whole stadium. You could feel it last night, couldn't you?"
I'd thought people had just flipped
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out and she was saying how blissful it was. "Don't you see any freak-outs?" I asked.
"Well yes, a lot of people are freaking out, but they are just working out a lot of old sicknesses," she told me. She said she'd freaked out yesterday because her boyfriend showed up with another woman after she hadn't seen him for awhile. "I freaked," she said, "but I realized it was an ego problem. I'd relied on him as a crutch and when I meditated I realized that Maharaj ji was showing me that I had to give up that attachment and grow closer to Him, to purer love. So I feel I've grown tremendously. A lot of people's freak-outs are about things like that. They are too attached to things, too unable to stay on the vibration. They look too closely at the physical world, and when they are in Holy Company they freak because they realize how temporary it all is. The knowledge is the only thing that's certain."
I thought Millenium was a bad high school play but I knew from Soulrush that the Knowledge was something very special to premies. I know little about Eastern religions but I have meditated in my own fashion. Whenever I meditate it's a centering and extremely calming experience, but I think receiving knowledge is more of an intense psychic experience. Those who know say the meditation forms Mahatmas teach are old yoga techniques, but the great masters have always taught them slowly. You meditate first a few minutes a day and work up to two hours a day in seven years. Premies meditate two hours a day right away. Apparently so severe an experience can really make you schizo, or anyway it's very intense. At first I'd been asking to receive knowledge. When I found out more, about it I stopped asking.
Millennium was an event within an event. Among the press were some big deals of the '60s movement. Jerry Rubin was there, Paul Krassner, Bob Scheer, and some SDS folks. Rubin said he'd never heard Rennie sound more dangerous. Krassner was doing Millennium live as a sports broadcast for Pacifica Radio. Saturday he debated with Rennie. "Resolved: Guru Maharaj ji and Divine Light Mission serve to divert young people from social responsibility to inner escape." Krassner said, "I think Maharaj ji is the spiritual equivalent of Mark Spitz." Rennie said Maharaj ji is God.
Krassner began to flip out by Saturday night. "It isn't irresponsible," he said, "to consider this the work of a massive intelligence operation. I've been doing research into the Charlie Manson thing for two years and Manson was in direct contact with someone from naval intelligence. It was an anti-hippie action designed to produce hatred just like anti-Semitism was produced in Nazi Germany." Krassner was winding up.
A light show was just beginning to Bhole ji's medley of '60s songs. Faces of the Beatles, screaming women at concerts, the Stones, screaming, Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger. Music of the Beatles and Stones, "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "Satisfaction," "Love, Love, Love." The WPC began telling Jesus people they couldn't bring bibles into the Astrodome. The light show flashes faces on and on. Vietnamese women screaming, Ho Chi Minh, Maharaj ji's photo on his throne. Porky Pig, Fritz the Cat, the Vietnamese. Maharaj ji. Frank
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Zappa songs. R. Crumb comix.
Krassner told me 600 Nazis were imported to the U. S. after World War II, and that it's Chile now and the U. S. in six years, a military coup. And maybe Rennie's a CIA agent and always has been and Scheer tells me there was a Divine Light Mission same as this organized in pre-Nazi Germany.
Maharaj Ji gave his farewell address to America and to the world. Imagine if you wanted a Superman comic real bad. And you go all over asking people if they've got one. You go to all the bookstores and to all all the kids in the colleges, and all the people on the streets and no one has one anywhere. And you're real depressed and you're sitting there in the park and this little kid comes up and says "Hey man, how'd you like a Superman comic." And you say, "G'wan. You don't have one." And this kid pulls it from out of his shirt and it is a genuine; a gen-u-ine Superman comic: And you look at it and say, "Hey man; this must be very expensive," and he says "no, take it, it's yours, it's free." And you don't believe him but then you take it. He just gives it to you. Well if you can imagine that, you can imagine what Knowledge would mean to you.
And that was it. When it ended I began to cry. I cried for the premies: how genuine they are and how much they want a world where people care about one another. I cried at how sad it was that a tinsely god was all this country has to offer kids who have a vision worth much more.
It also opened a lot of questions for me that I want to talk about more later. Politically Divine Light Mission is following a model of creating utopian communities. There are roots of this throughout American history - the Oneida Community. Walden. Free Vermont. Yet politicos can criticize this model for not serving anybody but themselves, for not stopping the Pentagon. DLM answers are also traditional: the forces of dark will crumble of their own destruction. They point to Rome and to Watergate. But what would a good mass movement be anyway? Can there be a good mass movement?
Spiritually premies say serving God means to work in this world and if reaching people means using mass culture, then why not? Religious folks can criticize them for not being more ascetic, but DLM says the world is about to be destroyed and action is needed now before it's too late. How can the spiritual and political be combined, if at all?
As a feminist I wonder what it means to be life-affirming. It is female life? Planetary life? Cosmic life? In the end of "Four-Gated City" Doris Lessing prophesies that some people learn to tune into different frequencies of communication. They develop different perceptual abilities to communicate with one another and with other planetary beings. This biological transformation is what is necessary for frail humans to be able to handle the enormous technology we've created, without destroying the universe. Maybe this is knowledge. Are we going through a psychic revolution, or is it just more acceptable to talk about psychic experiences? Or is it all the crumbling of the Empire?
In Houston on Saturday night there were a lot of disappointed premies around. And no UFOs. And no proof of God. They tried to comfort one another. "Don't think about the concepts," Tracy sold Sophia. "Just think of the knowledge. That's the only thing that's real. When you think in terms of externals like UFOs you're bound to be disappointed." Tracy told me it was all a joke Maharaj ji was playing on his premies to show them they have to be centered on The Word."
Tim, another premie I'd fallen in love with, came up, "You know," he said. "I asked Bal Bhagwan ji what he thought about there being so few people here and you know what he told me?"
"What?", I asked, dreading the answer.
There were actually 150,000 beings there. Really."