12 - The Great Speckled Bird
Rennie Davis and the Bird
GET YOUR GURU
Rennie Davis was in town a couple of weeks ago and a few of us from the Bird went out to talk to him. Rennie, for those who don't know, is an old new-leftist type. He was a founder ofSDS back when it wasn’t more than a liberal organization, was indicted and tried for organizing the ’68 Chicago demonstrations (the Conspiracy 8), was chief architect of the Mayday demonstrations in Washington in ’71 and has long been a leading anti-war, anti-poverty, anti-repression organizer. This time, however, Rennie wasn’t in town to organize fpr a left demonstration or project. This time Rennie was here to organize for Guru Maharaj Ji, the 15 year old Indian guru who has become the latest prophet to sweep across the country, amassing followers and devotees right and left. Rennie is one of the more prominent of these and much publicity has surrounded his conversion from left politics to religious fervor
The following interview covers most of the crucial points raised in our two hour discussion. We have tried to present it in such a way as to make clear the major divisions between our view of reality and how to change it and Rennie and the Guru’s view. Although much has been said and written about the Guru, pro and con, there have been very few attempts to concretely analyse his world view, his theology, his strategy for the world’s future. We hope that this interview can begin to clarify our differences and can begin to help us all find a way to change the world into a better, more humane place.
The interview was conducted by Doyle Niemann, Paula Cohen and David Schlissel.
BIRD: What does it mean when you see in the newspapers that Rennie Davis, Chicago Seven, long time anti-war movement, student movement activist is speaking for the Guru? Is this the right thing to do?
RENNIE: Well, it should be if this is the most revolutionary movement in the history of the planet. The vision that young people proclaimed so eloquently in the streets of America in the 1960’s, we are going to practically realize in the ’70’s and ’80’s.
RENNIE: Well, the prior question is who is Guru Maharaj Ji? Even before the analysis, because what we are saying is that without any faith and belief, which is what all religions depend upon, but through the basis of empirical evidence it can, you can establish, because you have a human body, that Guru Maharaj Ji is, himself, the power of creation.
BIRD: What is that empirical evidence? It always seems to me that that empirical evidence is not any different from that which the Jesus freaks provide. You know by virtue of knowing, you know by virtue of experiencing, but experiencing in an essentially metaphysical sense. You cannot pin it down into a quantity, you cannot pin it down into anything that is material.
RENNIE: Well it is not an abstract thought, nor does it require a leap of faith. In fact a logical mind can have the experience. You may not believe this, but this glass of water will quench your thirst. But you say, well prove it to me. So, I try to sit here and describe for the next three hours how it will do this and you say you sound like a religious person, you’re basically asking me to make a leap of faith that it is going to do it. I keep telling you that actually you don’t need a leap of faith. If you will just pick up this glass of water and taste it you will see for yourself whether it does or does not quench your thirst. In the same way, this knowledge is that kind of experience.
BIRD: What is the connection between the Guru and this experience?
RENNIE: The connection is that Guru Maharaj Ji is this experience.
BIRD: In your speech the last time you were here you said that I have the quote here in fact- "Everything that exists is the product of thought" and "the fact that there is capitalism, poverty, war, pollution, racism, sexism, is the consequence of mind, our thought waves. "And again the Guru’s eldest brother says "By knowledge and by practice you concentrate your mind so that you only see God and nothing else, and in reality nothing else exists. The rest is only relativity, only illusion."
How is it then that you can build a movement to change the world which is what you say you want to do, and what I think that you cannot do, if you base yourself on illusion? Pollution, poverty, racism that are very real, material sort of phenomenon and unless you understand that and adopt a policy and a strategy that relates to that you aren’t anywhere. And to me it seems that the Guru’s movement, irregardless of whatever personal benefits it may have for someone, never addresses the social reality of the world, never addresses how you change what exists, how you change capitalism in this country, how you get rid of Richard Nixon, how you do any of those things. You can be blissed out all you want and none of those things are going to change.
RENNIE: It is a strategy, I think, very similar to the strategy of the movement, the strategy of counter institutions, the strategy of the model. We always rather thought that if we could offer an example to people that more people would relate to the example as an alternative way to what they were living in now.
BIRD: We were wrong. Every thing you say, I think, comes out of the deterioration of a society, of the values and institutions of society. It seems to me that there are two ways in which people become, as you refer to it, blissed out. On the one hand, there is the way that I think is based on reality which is coming to know yourself, your responsibilities, to assume real responsibility for yourself. And at times what you say sounds like that. The other way, which my experience, study and knowledge of the guru shows is really at the core, is to give up yourself wholly, to become an extension, an emanation of somebody else, in this case the Guru. So you say to me that the Guru provides this experience. To me all that means is that you’ve essentially given up that responsibility for being your own self. To me what the Guru represents is the epitomy of cop out. It’s totally denying that you are a person with your own identity. You’re just an extension of the will of the Guru and that is unreal.
RENNIE: The thing is that all of human history rather seems to have been what you have said, a search for yourself, a search for meaning, a search for truth, a search for perfect society, and it gets expressed by I want to be famous, I want wealth, I want to live on a mountainside, I want to have a family, many many different searches. And like you say the movement has also been involved in the search. We use our mind, basically, as a tool to try and cut our way through why it is that we are here and what it is that is going on and what it is that we want. And the thing that none of you can imagine because it’s completely beyond imagination is that there is an answer to this, and that Guru Maharaj Ji has come not only to provide the answer, but he is the answer. It turns out that the order to this creation does have behind it an intelligence, It turns out that there is a God, a Creator. It turns out that there is a Father. And it turns out that the Father himself, is in a human body on this planet. If you, in fact, knew, not believed, but knew that Guru Maharaj Ji created you, and that he has come down here in order to put the world back into peace and to achieve everything that we always dreamed about, you would definitely relate to it, you would ....I am convinced that a perfect world order is on the agenda, and it is on the agenda immediately, not in some pie-in-the-sky way down the road, but right on the agenda. The main thing now is to prove to people that it is on the agenda.
BIRD: When you were here before I took you at your word to look into the Guru and 1 did to some extent. One of the things that I found was in the newsletter that your organization puts out. It was at the time of the bombing of Cambodia and there was an editorial about the bombing that was going on, the most brutal in the history of the world. The editorial first ran down an analysis of how there were two ways of looking at this world conflict. On the one side there was the capitalist view that it was a fight between freedom (i.e. capitalism) and slavery (in that case communism). And then there is another view that the bombing was due to imperialist ambitions on the part of the United States after natural resources, to protect the national interest, and to keep an empire.
After laying those two views out it didn’t make any choice between them, but went on to say "So long as we continue to look at the world-literally-through our eyes, we will get a picture of ‘reality’ that refuses to correspond with at least one person’s reality, and we will be in conflict with that other person (societies as a whole can hold views; thus ‘us’against ‘them’). Only when we cease to view the world as reality at all, only when we know the world to be an illusion, only when we have been connected with the reality that lies within and keep our vision constantly turned to that reality, will all mankind view the world from the same perspective."
To me that is the height of idealism. It’s saying that this bombing which is going on in Cambodia with hundreds of thousands of people being killed, the land being devastated, is not reality. It is just an illusion.
november 12, 1973-13
And what the Cambodians in this case should do, since they were the ones being affected; they should forget all about what was happening. They should look within themselves and find a reality. Later on the comment says that only the Guru Maharaji Ji will provide this. They should turn to the Guru. To me that is absurd. You’re going to tell the Cambodians whose land is being destroyed or the Vietnamese who are fighting for their very survival that it is not important at all, and that they should see the Guru and somehow that will make it all right. Well, how is it going to be right ? Will the bombing stop if the entire Cambodian people as a mass converted or came to see the Guru?
RENNIE: The Cambodians may not have the privilege right now of receiving knowledge. But you do. And the challenge, really, is being put to you.
BIRD: Would my receiving knowldege stop the bombing?
RENNIE: Actually it will because the bombing as a matter of fact at its material level is the consequence of American foreign policy.
BIRD: But I’ve been against the bombing from the very start and actively manifested that opposition. So has almost everybody I know, including the majority of people in this country. If I take the knowledge; if all those millions of people in this country that have been opposed to the bombing, the majority, 68% or whatever, took the knowledge it still would not stop the bombings. Now, maybe if Richard Nixon took the knowledge, Henry Kissinger, Melvin Laird, and so forth, but frankly I cannot conceive any way that those particular people will take the knowledge.
RENNIE: But that is because you cannot conceive who Guru Maharaj Ji is. Or what time we are living in. Or what is really unfolding. It may be that Richard Nixon will not take the knowledge. It may be that Richard Nixon will come back in another lifetime, that Richard Nixon may not be a part of the scene. 1 have no way of knowing. Or it may be that Richard Nixon’s life will become so unbearable that he also will receive this knowledge. Our approach is to try and let everyone know, even Richard Nixon, that this kind of knowledge is available and it is the only reason for being alive. It is the only reason for having a human body and in fact it’s the purpose of life. And we also are absolutely convinced that if people will receive this knowledge that we would discover that there is a way to deal with all social problems. You keep forgetting who Guru Maharaj Ji is, who is leading our movement. It is a movement that is being led by a rather strong force, namely the one who created Nixon.
BIRD: Wow, if he created Nixon he made a mistake. Can he destroy him?
RENNIE: It all comes down to whether this thing is a fraud or whether it is true. We are saying that the Lord is on the planet. Either its true or it’s not. You read what the Guru Maharaj Ji is saying and it is very clear that he is not just another great spiritual teacher with a new meditation thing. Its much, much, more.
BIRD: To get to the point of whether its true or false. Or the one hand you claim that Guru Maharaj Ji is God. Now to my mind that is either true or false. But on the other hand you claim certain other experiences that you have experienced and that the Guru and his movement have helped you experienced. Those are a different kind of phenomena. You don’t have to say the Guru is God to say that you may indeed have had those experiences. I tend to think that there are material explanations for those experiences and there is scientific evidence in that direction. We can say that some things you say may be true and that doesn’t mean that your whole movement is true. We can also say that the experience you have had as an individual may be true, but that doesn’t mean that the strategy that you put forward for world change is true either. You said that yours is a weak movement. I suppose that is true as well of the left movement. We have very competing concepts of how to change things. You want to change people’s consciousness, build a counter institution. Well the left, I think, has abandoned that simple kind of approach. Thie it wants to change people’s consciousness, it wants to build institutions, but it has come to understand that the real struggle will be to take over and transform the institutions that exist, to take power. It is power that is really the question not just people’s minds. It is a question of society, of the material world and what effects it. 1hat is where the real test of the Guru’s movement will come. Who is it that makes the decisions, about your city or the money or whatever?
RENNIE: Guru Maharaj Ji makes the decisions.
BIRD: Basically then you have faith in his decisions?
RENNIE: You’ll have a lot of faith in Guru Maharaj Ji’s decisions when you know who he is.
BIRD: What if he ordered you to do something you didn’t want to do? What if he wanted you to do something that really went against your beliefs? What if he ordered you to kill somebody, to rape somebodyI’m picking really extreme examples of course.
RENNIE: Well, I would face that when I came to it. But my view is that Guru Maharaj Ji is on this planet for one reason and that is to let us realize God and to teach us devotion and to show us what it means to be a human being. And everything that 1 have experienced so far basically convinces me that his only purpose in being on this planet is to teach us why we were born. So sometimes it might be that he would have me do something as a teacher that I might not fully comprehend, but so far when that example has come up I find that his teachings have always been very perfect.
BIRD: When you were here before you said that all of those things you had stood for when you active in the left movement and more, the transformation of this society, the creation of humane socialist society all the struggles around poverty, racism, and oppression, all those were necessary, important and correct, except, and this is what I want to ask you, except if God is on the planet. The fact that God is here in the form, as you say, of the Guru transforms all that. Then the struggle for socialism is not the primary struggle. The struggle is then for
RENNIE: Heaven on earth.
BIRD: Heaven on earth through the Guru. If we could pin down the difference that we have it would be that?
RENNIE: I don’t look back on the past with any regret. One could say why didn’t you figure this out before, that God existed and was the chief motor behind every action on the planet earth. Well, my consciousness just wasn’t there. Given all of my experience I could only sort out what my limited consciousness could sort out and understand.
BIRD: This is how I perceive what the Guru has done. There are certain, what I would call techniques, that go into producing this "knowledge". There are things that you do to open up the knowledge of the body, open up the flow of energy. My own feeling is that there are many ways to do this. I’ve been reading Alexander Lowen and he offers a certain set of exercises and therapy that does the same thing. He makes many of the same claims. Transcendental meditation as well.
RENNIE: Transcendental meditation doesn’t make the claim to show you God.
BIRD: No, what I am saying is that there are certain experiences that you get from these techniques-you hear noises, see light, taste the nectar, etc. The Guru then goes beyond that. What you were saying as meditating upon that knowledge and experience and providing satsang which is essentially an education defining that experience, from whence it comes, what it means, what its implications are. In this case what its implications are that it comes from the Guru, the Guru is God, the Divine Light Mission is the means by which the Guru has chosen to work his will upon the world. That is the kind of education, socialization that gives a meaning and a definition to the original experience. It seems to me that there is no necessary relationship between that experience and the ideology of the Guru. It is the ideology which goes with the experience that is misleading, incorrect and I think in a real sense destructive of people because it misdefines the experience.
RENNIE: When you describe Divine Light Mission I don’t feel that you are describing anything that I belong to. I feel like you’re describing your idea of what it is, not what I am experiencing.
BIRD: Tell us about Millenium 73.
RENNIE: Guru Maharaj Ji, himself, describes this event in Houston as the most holy and significant event in the history of mankind. He says it will usher in a thousand years of peace. It will bring about the greatest change in the history of the world. It’s November 8,9 and 10. The most holy and significant gathering in the history of the world. Guru Maharaj Ji will announce a practical program for ending war, racism, sexism, economic systems that oppress people, human misery, human suffering on a global basis and will offer a tool to carry out'the plan.
BIRD: We’ll remember what you say the next time you are here.
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