Guru holds his faithful enthralled
By Claudia Kuehl
The middle-aged man said he is his own worst enemy. He filled his life with pain by unwittingly alienating his lover and withdrawing from his children. So he drove here from Minneapolis to see if devotion to the Guru Maharaj Ji could alleviate his anguish.
Friday, at a gathering of Divine Light Mission disciples in Municipal Auditorium, he often removed his glasses to quietly wipe his eyes. At the end he joined his voice with an estimated 9,000 other blissful devotees to sway, clap and sing to the guru, who sat impassive and serene on the stage before them:
"You take me—ooh, ooh—to the highest mountain.
You bathe me—ooh, ooh—in the purest fountain.
You are my savior … "
The "perfect master" of 1.2 million devotees of the Divine Light Mission proved Friday night to be a 22-year-old Indian with a cherubic smile, a pinchable layer of baby fat and a penchant for quips. He even says "you know" a lot.
Yet disciples came from around the world to glimpse him here, apparently needing his benign presence and approbation like an addict needs a fix.
"So. Dear friends. It's nice to see you all." The guru's pleasant, conversational greeting would suffice for a guest speaker at a suburban Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Indeed, he looked the part—blue shirt and maroon tie showing under a dark gray suit. Only his shoeless feet revealed a difference.
He joked, mildly, about his children, about dentures and Alka Seltzer, about pajamas and Martians and bumper stickers and visiting the Show-Me State.
And as he joked the laughter of his disciples blurted out, short, eager and disproportionate to the humor, reminiscent of puppies determined to ingratiate themselves
Two followers of the Guru Maharaj Ji share emotions after attending a gathering Saturday at the Municipal Auditorium. Dominique Bourquin and Miss Corinna Valaer, both of Bern, Switzerland, traveled here to join other disciples of the guru. (staff photo by Erik Hill)
See Guru, pg. 12A, col. 1
Page 12A The Kansas City Star, Sunday, November 30, 1980
Guru continued from pg. lA
with their master.
"He is the funniest man I ever knew," one dewy-eyed disciple declared.
The guru told his followers they could find God, happiness and peace through him—but he didn't specify how.
"Maybe something will happen for you. Maybe something in your heart will want to know more. More about the experience of this life … because it is a deeper meaning, a more beautiful meaning," he concluded.
For several hours before the 6 p.m. program, the guru's disciples had formed shifting lines in the auditorium's foyer to wait without apparent irritation for their seat tickets.
Then ushers allowed them into the building. Some went to the auditorium immediately to meditate. Others purchased 30-cent food coupons and traded them for juice, milk, fruit, yogurt, cheese sandwiches and other health foods. More money went to the Divine Light Mission through the brisk sale of pamphlets, tapes and photographs of the guru, ranging from wallet-size glossies for 50 cents to 16-by-20 portraits for $12.50.
Visitors from other nations, elderly men and women, babies, people in wheelchairs and on crutches, blacks and whites, Orientals and Hispanics milled about. But the bulk of the guru's followers appeared to be white men and women in their 20s and 30s. All were dressed comfortably but not sloppily. They smiled with anticipation and a seemingly universal affection.
"Very mellow," is how one long-time devotee described the mood.
Even when the auditorium was packed it was quiet. Many in the balcony, and even some seated less than 50 feet away, sat with binoculars trained on the tiny stage, as if willing Guru Maharaj Ji to appear ahead of schedule.
Piped-in music was tantalizingly smooth, soothing, almost hypnotic with a flavor of India. The stage, in contrast to the elaborate sailboat motif devised for the guru's appearance here two years ago, was bland. Massive brown and tan curtains formed a backdrop for a tiny raised orange stage with a white roof.
"Finally found a reason to live," the guru's traveling band, One Foundation, sang as the curtains parted from the stage, revealing a plush orange-cream armchair flanked by identical orange-and-white floral arrangements and a standing micro phone.
As the guru appeared from the wings a haphazard chant rose from thousands of throats, rumbling from the long-time "premies"—which literally means "lovers"—in the packed upper balconies to the initiates seated directly in front of the stage, who stumbled over the words: "Boli shri sat guru dev, Ma ha raj kee jai."
It means "All hail to the living perfect master," a disciple explained.
The guru concluded his appearance as blandly as he began it: "So thank you very much and good night."
His appearance, his words, seemed uninspiring. And yet a tear dripped slowly onto a young man's cheek as the guru departed. Other followers sat palely, eyes closed, deep in meditation, or stared upward at a vision of their own devising.
"I'm still shaking," confided one young woman who said she has seen Guru Maharaj Ji about 26 times in the last seven years. "I could feel his love."
Those immune to that powerful presence probably have not yet decided to accept the "knowledge" he offers, she said. Novices of the movement were to meet later in the weekend for a questionand-answer session at the Radisson Muehlebach Hotel. Others, the premies, were to gather to kiss the guru's feet, according to another disciple. Other sessions with the guru were scheduled, with the final meeting scheduled late today.
The guru does not claim to be perfect, but rather to teach perfection, disciples explained. Divine Light members believe he follows in the footsteps of other "perfect masters," including Jesus Christ, Buddha and Krishna.
"Where he speaks from is perfect," one disciple explained before the guru appeared.
Another promised: "There is such a thing as being content." What the guru offers, he said, is non-judgmental, unconditional, perfect love.
It is a tempting offer to anyone lonely and in pain.