The New York Times
Published: November 12, 1973
1973-11-11 (170K) Guru's Followers Cheer 'Millenium' in Festivities at Astrodome

Special to The New York Times

HOUSTON, Nov. 11 - Maharaj Ji, the young Indian guru whose followers say he is god, talked about inner peace and accepted a golden swan in the Astrodome last night in the finale of what was billed as "the most significant event in human history."

While thousands of devotees chanted his praise, electronic fireworks burst on a scoreboard screen of the mammoth stadium, which is used more often for football and baseball games. Quotations from the Bible, the Koran and Maharaj Ji himself lit up two other screens. And a group called Blue Aquarius blared its big-band sounds, led by a brother of the guru in a glittering silver suit.

Earlier in the evening, Rennie Davis, the former antiwar activist, told the assemblage: "All we can say is, honestly, very soon now, every single human being will know the one who was waited for by every religion of all times has actually come."

The three-day event; called "Millennium '73," was said to herald "a thousand years of peace for people who want peace." The idea was that peace could come to the world as individuals experienced inner peace or "knowledge" of a source of energy inside them. To do this, they would have to use techniques taught by "disciples" of the guru, who is said to be 15 years old.

Size of Crowd

Mr. Davis, who coordinated the extravaganza, conceded at a news conference that followers had overestimated the expected turnout. "I thought [an overflow of] 100,000 would fill the parking lot," he said.

The police put the turnout at 10,000; followers put it at 25,000. The audience filled less than a quarter of the Astrodome, which was said to have cost $75,000 in rent. The maximum capacity of the stadium is 66,000.

Mr. Davis insisted that the size of the crowd was unimportant. "There's much more going on than meets the eye," he said.

Most of the spectators appeared to be followers of the movement, which claims six million to eight million members, including more than 40,000 in the United States. Nearly all of those who said they were not devotees were nevertheless acquainted and impressed with the guru's teachings.

"I'm interested in peace," explained Charley Price of Austin, who is 26 years old. "This seems to be where it's at. I feel the energy." And he added what many of the young followers told a visitor: "It's not something I think, it's something I feel."

Kathryn Barkley, who lives in a Los Angeles ashram, or spiritual center for devotees, said her participation was "just another step" in the peace activities she had engaged in since her graduation from Stanford in 1969.

Miss Barkley, the wife of Anthony J. Russo Jr., a defendant in the Pentagon papers case, said that although he was not a follower of the guru, "he sees the changes in me. Anger doesn't happen to me any more," she said. "There is no anxiety. There are changes in my tone of voice, my eyes."

One prominent figure in the peace movement of the nineteen-sixties, Jerry Rubin, showed up at the Astrodome, apparently at the urging of Mr. Davis, and was heard to remark, "I don't like this movement." He looked somber and declined to elaborate.

Most Are Young

A majority of the spectators appeared to be in their 20's, white and middle class. Most of those interviewed appeared to have had at least some college education. Their religious backgrounds varied widely and they came from many parts of the United States as well as about 30 other countries, some on chartered flights.

Many replied to questions by quoting Maharaj Ji or imitating his style of parable. "It's like this," more than one devotee responded when asked about the special knowledge. "I can tell you about an orange, I can describe it to you, but you won't know what it tastes like until you bite into it."

Or, as the guru himself put it during one of his three satsangs, or spiritual discourses, at the Astrodome: "Try it, you'll like it."

Although Maharaj Ji stops short of saying that he is divine, most of his followers say unreservedly that he is the lord of the universe, god incarnate, the one "perfect master" on earth at a given time.

The plump young man, who looks older than 15, but whose voice sounds teenaged, seemed to compare himself to Christ and Buddha during the satsangs. He remarked at one point that it was unnecessary to conjecture about whether God had, say, a long beard, "when we can see God face to face."

But at a news conference, Maharaj Ji, asked if he were a messiah, responded, "Please do not presume that. I am humble servant of God, trying to establish peace in the world."

Why then did his followers call him the lord? "Why don't you do me a favor," the youth replied. "Why don't you ask them?" Asked why he did not sell his Rolls-Royce and other expensive gifts from devotees and give the money to the poor, he said, "If I give it for food to the people in the evening they will only be hungry the next morning."

Regarding reports that he had an ulcer, he said, "Ulcer is not the thing. This body has been born out of dust and will return to dust. When Jesus was nailed to the cross, He bleeded."

Addressing his disciples, he referred to an incident in which money and watches were seized by Indian customs agents, a year ago. He said, "People think I'm a smuggler. Well, I'm a smuggler, you betcha. Oh, boy, it's too big. I smuggle peace and truth from one country to another."

Alluding to other critics, including groups from the Hare Krishna and Jesus movements who passed out literature outside the Astrodome, Maharaj Ji remarked, "Many people say, 'You're a fake.' You know what I say? I smile. Because they don't know what they're talking about. Probably they're drunk or something." He added, "When the Antichrist comes they won't know. Gonna be too professional."

Last July, at the start of a United States tour by the guru, his promoters said they would disclose plans here for a divine city organized by an arm of the guru's Divine Light Mission, a tax-exempt organization that coordinates activities, including a monthly magazine, chiefly through membership donations.

The only plans announced here were that the city would include a 144,000-seat hall for satsangs, built between two mountains. Spokesmen said the site had not yet been chosen. Everything would be free, with service replacing money as a basis of exchange.

The guru sat on a throne of blue Plexiglas on the top, seventh level of a 35-foot high stage made of translucent white plastic that glowed from internal lighting. On a lower level, in smaller orange thrones, were members of his "holy family" - three brothers and his mother.

In contrast to the grandiose words of his followers, the young guru spoke simply. "This life is a big car," he told the devotees, or premies, last night. Just as cars need filters to keep dirt out of the fuel, he said, so cluttered minds need filters.

Grateful premies presented him with "a golden sculpture of the swan of truth uplifting the earth" as well as a marble plaque showing a lion and a lamb together. Blue Aquarius played a medley of tunes from the nineteen-sixties and songs with words such as "He's so funky, the lord of humanity."

Mr. Davis told reporters at one point that he could imagine how outsiders might regard the event. "Flashing lights, a huge stage, a kid talking not like Jesus but with parables about autos instead of a [fisherman's] net. It's not really a very good show," he said. "It's too hokey."

As for himself, he said, "I'm blown out. Here's the lord of the universe speaking from the stage of the Houston Astrodome saying, 'Here is peace.' "