God Goes to the Astrodome

The Maharaj Ji has fused the New Left and the flower children, galvanized serious college-educated young people, and promised a new era of peace. And it was all supposed to begin in Houston.

WELL, THE FAT KID CAME and went. The 15-year-old, ulcer-ridden pretender to the throne of the AI-mighty—a paunchy pre-adolescent mystical magnate believed by millions of devoted followers to be, well...God—chose Judge Roy Hofheinz' domed stadium to usher in 1000 years of peace for mankind.

Guru Maharaj Ji and his Divine Light Mission leased Houston's Astrodome for three days in November and spent well over a half million dollars promoting Millenilium '73, an event which they promised would force this country, and the world, to deal with the controversial Guru and his plan for spiritual peace.

Millennium '73 fell far short of the grandiose spectacle projected in an upbeat public relations campaign. Peak attendance was maybe 20,000, far short of the overflow throngs predicted early on. There were no levitations or other miracles, no visitations from extraterrestrial believers, and—for those of us whose expectations were more mundane—not much excitement and little substantive content.

The question "Who is Guru Maharaj Ji?" has not become a burning issue of the day and it's quite possible that the Divine Light Mission, for all its financial muscle, its efficient organization, and its dedicated believers, has shot its wad and is hopelessly over-extended.

But for every hard-assed cynic like this writer there just may be a gu-roovy with a permanent smile; the leaders believe, in apparent sincerity, that the Millennium was a rousing success and that the basis for a solid national organization exists. In any event, it's now full steam ahead on the Guru's next project, which just happens to be building a city (more on this later).

And, though the Millennium didn't live up to expectations, it was a very interesting event and we've got some good stories to tell. The Maharaj Ji's movement remains the most significant of its genre, with strong appeal to a fairly sophisticated class of young folks in this country.

Just the Facts, Ma'am...

BEFORE WE CARRY ON INTO the juicier parts of our narrative, let's have a quick Guru Primer. Just some basics that will help make you a more informed reader, and that will aid the writer in avoiding informational digressions and parenthetical side steps. Should you already know all the answers (unlikely, to be sure), accept a gold star for "informed citizen" and move right on to the next subhead.

Hans Jayanti —Astrodome event was tagged Millennium '73 and ushered in the a1leged 1000 years of peace, but it was also the celebration of Hans Jayanti, the annual observance of the birthday of Maharaj Ji's father, Satgurudev Shri Hans Ji Maharaj, who also was a perfect master before he shuffled off this mortal coil in July 1966.

Divine Light Mission —The organization that spreads Maharaj Ji's Knowledge. It claims more than 6 million members and has its international headquarters in Denver. There are a number of sub-units, including World Peace Corps (a very intimidating security force); Shri Hans Productions (media arm); Divine Sales (retail merchandising); Divine United Organization (practical service arm).

Holy Family —Guru Maharaj Ji (named Perfect Master by father at age 8); Shri Mata Ji (Maharaj Ji's mom, name means "Holy Mother"); Bal Bhagwan Ji (eldest brother, 23, may be the real power); Bhole Ji (20, director of 50-piece band, Blue Aquarius); Raja Ji (18, Commander-in-Chief of World Peace Corps).

Knowledge—This is the direct experience that premies (see below) say you must have in order to know what they're talking about. This experience puts you in touch with the "source of peace within you" and is transmitted by Mahatamas (close disciples of Maharaj Ji) through meditation techniques. Some critics claim there's heavy suggestion or even hypnosis involved.

Premies—Devotees of the Guru who have received knowledge. Word means "lovers."

Satsang—"Truth-giving." Spiritual discourse on Maharaj Ji and his Knowledge.

Ashram—Communal dwelling for premies. Very regimented; premies give up worldly goods, are supplied with food, clothing and other basics.

Yesterday's Papers

THE WRITER KNEW RENNIE DAVIS "when." We weren't close friends, but we did share some experiences—especially one big collective experience (recalled these days with nostalgia): The Movement. When I was a young whippersnapper rebel/UT dropout, I got involved with an organization called Students for a Democratic Society (not to be confused with its latter and sadly crazy days).

I'd make all the national confabs and cathartic mass actions (ah, the Battle of the Pentagon...), usually packed into a minimally functional automobile with a handful of my righteous-if-scraggly cohorts.

Rennie Davis was a founding father of our organization and thus held in some awe for having been there in the very beginning, and signing the Port Huron Statement. In fact, his roots went back further, to the South and civil rights. Of course we Texans were wildly anti-authoritarian young punks and anyone who'd hung in long enough to attain a Leadership Position was as likely to receive our venom as our respect.

In 1967 Rennie and I and a couple dozen fellow activists in the U .S. peace movement flew to Czechoslovakia for an anti-Vietnam war gathering. This was one of many such trips Rennie would make in the following years, and it was during one such junket last year that he made the essential contact that led to his conversion to the path of the Guru.

(Rennie was in flight from Paris last January on peace movement business when he ran into some premie heavies including an old anti-war activist friend named Larry Canada. A long rap on the plane and several visits in Paris convinced Rennie to join the premies on a trip to India where he had along and significant meeting with the Divine brother, Bal Bhagwan Ji. Despite lingering doubts Rennie decided to take the Knowledge, had a mystical experience—involving crows and a pillowcase embroidered with "Lord of the Universe"—and headed for home to spread the Word among his astounded brethren.)

Rennie Davis had an aura of clarity about him; he was considered one of the most solid and sane movement leaders, and one of its more eloquent orators.

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