Get Your Red-Hot Panaceas!

By Ken Kelley

SAN FRANCISCO--"Destroy! Destroy! Destroy! hums the under-consciousness. Love and Produce! Love and Produce! Love and Produce! cackles the upper-consciousness."

D. H. Lawrence's description of the American way of violence was never more accurate than in the last decade - violence that snatched from us the Kennedys, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the violence of racism and poverty that is still with us, our holy crusade in Vietnam that triggered the most wrenching violence of all.

In the past few years a new kind of psychological violence has been spawned by the poverty of the soul that afflicts many young people. Their loss of innocence in the nineteen-sixties and their failure to produce fundamental change has created a spiritual vacuum and led them toward desperate new pursuits of self-discovery.

Into the abyss have stepped the God-peddlers with their instant solutions. The one thing that the Children of God, Jesus-freaks, Hare Krishnas and the myriads of swamis swarming on the landscape demand of their flocks is a total obedience to whichever savior they tout.

Any leap of faith requires some brutalization of the psyche, repressing the mind's natural desire to search, experiment and evaluate. Like so many other mysticults, the Divine Light Mission, whose followers proclaim divinity for a 16-year-old Indian boy named Guru Maharaj Ji, see the mind as "the devil."

When the mind cannot answer any of the questions on the road to satori, it is the mind that must be annihilated, not the road that must be re-examined.

The psychological violence that results from the constant repression of deviant ideas can lead to the same bellicose intolerance that overtook the pilgrims and Mormons after they established their religious hegemonies. And the line between psychological and physical violence is as thin as a junkie's needle.

Last August in Detroit, Pat Halley, an underground newspaper reporter, threw a shaving-cream pie into the face of Guru Maharaj Ji as an act of guerrilla theater. One week later he was nearly bludgeoned to death with a blackjack by two members of the Divine Light Mission, who gained access to his apartment by pretending they wanted to reveal to him the Guru's secret initiation rite.

Offically the Mission announced that the two assailants were not true devotees, that devotees could not perform such an act, that they had been banished from the organization, and that they would be turned over to the Detroit police to face felonious-assault charges.

But in fact the record shows that neither assailant - both of whom are extremely prestigious members of the Mission - has been removed from the Guru's good graces. One of them, a mahatma, or high priest, charged with initiating new members into the organization. was "shipped off to Germany" to continue his work. The other, an American who is considered the reincarnation of St. Peter, has eluded the law with equal success.

While researching a book, I queried devotees about the incident and the organization's deliberate prevarication, and was given one of two replies. A surprising number of devotees knew that the principal assailant was a mahatma and that the organization had lied, but it was irrelevant: "Guru Maharaj Ji is God and he knows exactly what he's doing. It is not within my ability to question it, because he is perfect and everything he does is perfect."

Those followers who claimed ignorance of the mahatma's role were completely unperturbed: "I was freaked out when I heard about the incident and my mind says it's strange that a mahatma performed the act, but everything is one gigantic game that Guru Maharaj Ji is testing our loyalty with."

When I replied to the latter devotee that Abraham, too, was tested by God when told to slit the throat of his son Isaac, but that an angel at least stopped the knife from penetrating at the crucial moment, I was told that the act of faith itself is the determining factor, not any physical consequences, "I would slit your throat in a moment if Guru Maharaj Ji told me to," said the devotee. "I would do anything Guru Maharaj Ji told me to."

Guru MaharaJ Ji instills in his followers a mind-control device that would surely make the Central Intelligence Agency envious, Called "The Knowledge," it is a combination of several ancient yoga meditation techniques that members must practice several times a day, and particularly when the mind threatens to reassert its rational thrust. So when the Guru's ostensible message of peace and love is overshadowed by the violent practice that can accompany it, a follower can purge the mind of all contradictions by meditating them into oblivion.

Ken Kelley, a journalist, is writing a book, "Brave New Bliss." on the Divine Light Mission.

Copyright The New York Times
Originally published January 19, 1974