Rush (Excerpts) by S.
Collier. Published in
1978 Previous Chapter
The Odyssey of a Young Woman in the 70s'
Chapter 10: Communal Monastic Life.
AFTER MY INITIATION INTO KNOWLEDGE I FOUND MYSELF IN
an uncompromised state of bliss that lasted almost eight weeks without pause for a tear or sad thought. Day after day I woke up to discover I was still overjoyed. The smallest things-walking to the Good Day Market with the cold on my face; drinking a cup of hot tea, smelling the steam; or seeing a tiny place where the ice on the street was melting, making beautiful colors as the light came through it-all were rich, precious experiences for me.
The Knowledge was turning out to be everything that it was chalked up to be, and more. For the first time I understood Lao-tzu's remark, "Those who say don't know, and those who know don't say." There was no way for me to "say" the tremendous feeling of steady-state ecstasy I knew in my heart. It was simply past the reach of words or even understanding.
Yet, unfathomable as it seemed, my transformed consciousness produced surprisingly concrete effects in me and in other living things I encountered.
One day I was walking along in the freezing March air to visit an old friend. The total trip was about two miles, which when made on foot should have been distance enough to freeze the most hearty north-country bones. However, as I walked I found I was getting warmer and warmer. The joy I felt in my chest was swelling up to such an extent that it was actually heating my body. First I unzipped my coat; by another quarter-mile I had to remove it altogether because I was so warm.
Soon after, as I walked on, I reached a large plumbingsupply yard. I was attracted to the shapes of the huge conduits, which looked interesting in the snow. Trooping across the yard seemd like a fine and fun shortcut. When I was about halfway across the lot, a huge dog came running out of nowhere, barking and growling. When he reached me, he jumped up and put his feet on my chedt. His huge head and open mouth were only about three inches from my face. Somehow I was not scared at all. Not once did I feel any adrenalin rise in my blood. In fact, it didn't even occur to me that the dog meant me any harm. All I felt from him was the weight of his paws and the warmth of his breath on my face.
The dog looked confused by this behavior. With his paws still on my chest, he turned his head first one way and then the other, as dogs do when they are puzzled. Then he jumped down and started wagging his tail and licking my hand.
I patted the dog on the head and walked on. Only the next day did I realize that I had encountered a guard dog. In the fullness of my own joy, I had assumed that the dog was running over to greet me and had jumped on me in his enthusiasm.
To some people this story may sound hopelessly spaced out. "The girl joins the guru and then she can't even tell when a dog is attacking her," they might say. But when you are inside such an experience it is quite different. It is powerful proof that in a very practical way you can change the world by changing your consciousness. When I met the dog I was feeling an indivisible connection with my own loving nature, and this feeling, like the alchemist's stone, transformed everything I came into contact with.
On another occasion, a month or so later, I was sitting in the woods meditating. My eyes were closed, and in front of them I saw only a luminous haze of slowly swirling golden light, In this tremendous state of peace, I felt like one of the old red rocks back at Verde Valley. Then something touched me. Slowly, I opened my eyes. A chickadee was sitting on my shoulder with its tiny, delicate legs holding the hem of my sleeve ever so lightly. I looked deep into its eyes and it began to sing.
People, on the other hand, did not always react so positively. The manager of my bank told me to stay away from gurus. "They are all cheats. It's no good for a girl like you."
When I called up Vito, my friend from the Portland underworld, he hung up on me in mid-conversation. When I called him back, believing I had been disconnected, he wouldn't answer the phone. Finally, after several weeks, he called me back and apologized.
"Listen, kid," he said. "You don't need to do this. People join these groups because they are failures. They're burnt out on drugs and are just looking for the next thing to help them escape it all, but you're a nice kid. You're a real winner."
After half an hour he gave up trying to convince me.
"Okay, okay," he said. "I never did understand you. So, good luck."
At home, my friends were interested, but somewhat skeptical about my new guru and my happy way of looking at life. "You sure you're not on STP?" one housemate asked me several times, referring to the hallucinogenic drug that provides a thirty-six- to forty-hour trip. I spent hours sitting around the kitchen table, answering questions with Tracy. In a few days Ricky, the Guru Vishnu Co-op's only rnusician, wanted to learn the meditation. And several weeks later, two more received the Knowledge. Eventually five people from the market and three from the co-op joined DLM.
During this time my circle of friends grew to include many of the local premies. From them I learned the history of Guru Maharaj Ji's mission from its beginnings in India.
Although it makes little difference to me, many people believe that the reputation of a spiritual group is based on the group's ability to trace the lineage of its leader back to some great soul who is commonly recognized for his miracles and saintly demeanor. The Pope, for instance, gains his authority from his fraternity with all the other Popes, all the way back to Peter and, via Peter, Jesus. If you have ever encountered a saffron-robed Hare Krishna on the street and lingered long enough to listen, you probably know that Indian spiritual groups put an even greater emphasis on the value of a divine lineage than Catholics do.
So, as you may imagine, to trace the/ history of Divine Light Mission you have to go back several generations. Guru Maharaj Ji's father was a guru before Guru Maharaj Ji was even born. His full spiritual name was Yogiraj Param Sant Satgurudev Shri Hans Ji Maharaj, but let's just call him "Hans."
In the classical tradition of an eastern religious story, Hans was born into a wealthy family. He grew discontent at an early age and left home to go in search of truth. After much traveling and a short stint in a political group, he found a guru who impressed him with a display of power and wisdom. This guru descended from the line of Ramakrishna, a famous Indian saint of the 1800s. Hans spent several years in the service of this guru and became a favored disciple. When the guru died he passed on his spiritual mission to Hans on the grounds that the young man was his true devotee, pure in heart and fully God-realized. Naturally, some of the other close disciples of the late guru were a bit upset about this. They had a favorite candidate of their own for the new guru. So they were determined to stir up trouble. In a graceful move, Hans abandoned them to their infighting and set out on foot to spread the "Knowledge of God" all over India. In many years of traveling, spending the night in rail stations and in fields, Hans attracted a large following, numbering an estimated one million.
Some years later Maharaj Ji's father settled down, married, and had four sons, the youngest of whom was Guru Maharaj Ji. When Hans died in 1966, he assigned the authority of his mission to his son, Maharaj Ji, who was just eight years old at the time. This choice of successor can be viewed in several ways. Maybe Guru Maharaj Ji really was the most pure devotee of Hans and therefore the only one truly fit to carry on his work. Or perhaps Hans wanted to keep "the money" in the family by electing the son he felt could best carry on the family business. Or maybe he was trying to avoid the turmoil which marked his own transition into power after his guru died.
Whatever the reasons, Hans made sure that his son was well prepared for his new role. Two years before, when Maharaj Ji was six, his father had taught him how to meditate, and constantly emphasized its importance. He taught Maharaj Ji English and gave him the opportunity to address the people who came each day to listen to spiritual discourses. Among Hans's followers, little Sant Ji, as he was called then, was a real inspiration and favorite.
In modern America the only examples of small children with religious missions are found on the gospel circuit. It is easy to assume that Maharaj Ji is just another Marjoe, bullied into preaching by his parents. But in India, young children with spiritual wisdom to share are an intrinsic part of the religious heritage. In fact, Krishna, the main Hindu God-incarnate figure, was first noticed for his divine escapades when he was but a wee lad. Popular folk legends in the East are full of tales of young children who have left all to follow God. One entire festival is celebrated every year in honor of Pralad, a nine-year-old whose love of God and guru was sufficient for him to endure great danger and suffering.
With so many role models around, it doesn't seem unlikely that a little Indian boy would want to grow up to be a saint, in the same way American boys wish to be President.
By his own accounts, Maharaj Ji "wanted to be a premie" and "understood the supreme importance of meditation by my own experience." He didn't want to be a guru himself. To me this sounds like the same thing I heard among the wealthy heirs at Verde Valley. They had been in the back rooms of the upper class and now they had graduated. Maharaj Ji's father was a guru, revered by a million people, yet Maharaj Ji saw more freedom in meditating and being "a mischievous little boy."
But, since Hans had died naming him the new Guru Maharaj Ji, he no longer had any choice about it. He recalls feeling a tremendous power coming into him at Hans's funeral. He was seized with a convic,iion to continue his father's work. This new role put the little Maharaj Ji in a difficult position. Many Indians believe that their guru is like God. Out of the guru's mouth comes the divine will. As the Mahatma said in my Knowledge session, "To me, Guru Maharaj Ji is my divine father . . . he is the Lord himself standing on the earth."
So, in 1966 Maharaj Ji accepted the post, and with it the ambiguity of his own opinion of himself as "a mischievous little boy," contrasted with the position some of the premies put him in: "The Lord of All." In the winter he went to school and in the summer he traveled on speaking tours throughout India, attracting new followers.
By 1969 several Western young people traveling in India had become his disciples. Gradually they convinced Maharaj Ji to come to the West. In 1971, when Maharaj Ji was thirteen, he went to England on his summer vacation. One of my friends met Maharaj Ji when he first arrived there. At that time, this particular friend was a completely outrageous hippie. He wore his very long dark hair puffed out like a dark halo extending half a foot from either side of his white face. He remembers spending an entire day talking with Maharaj Ji about the drug, LSD.
"He loved the idea of it," my friend said, "but he insisted Knowledge was better. I couldn't convince him to try LSD. And in the end he convinced me to try Knowledge."
If they had gotten Maharaj Ji to come as far as England, some American premies thought they could now get him to come all the way West. "To America, man."
Maharaj Ji's arrival stateside created quite a sensation in the youth culture. I remember hearing about it, even tucked away in Baltimore. Thousands of people were attracted to Maharaj Ji's lectures. With what I thought was a real genius for cultural adaptation, his speeches were filled with frequent references from the life of a young American. Bubble gum, comic books, race cars, rock and roll-all became neat objects for commercial-age parab]es about self-realization and the nature of the universe.
By the time I received Knowledge in February of 1973 an estimated 35,000 people had learned the meditation and were happily watching their breaths with their new guru.
So what did I think of all this? I knew I was literally having the experience of my life every day, but that was about all I knew. Upon joining DLM I did not accept all DLM ideas as my own. One of the ideas I couldn't go along with was that Maharaj Ji was the Perfect Master, the current incarnation of a divine lineage which included Krishna, Buddha, Mohammed, Moses, Jesus, Ramakrishna, as well as other luminaries.
The reason I couldn't go along with this idea was not because I thought it ridiculous that a fifteen-year-old fat kid from India was the Lord. People from every religion have equally foolish ideas at the very heart of their faiths. Some Hindus believe that Krishna is a four-armed fellow who even to this day dances in the deep forests of northern India. Some Christians think it is possible to rise from the dead, as they claim Christ did. Or maybe, they think the world will end in an angel-wrought torrent of fire, blood, plagues, and pain, as it says in Revelations.
In considering the worth of the DLM belief, I felt it was actually more sensible than most religious beliefs. People believe the sort of thing I mention above solely as the result of hearsay. They hear it in church or they read it in the scriptures. They don't have any firsthand experience of these things at all. No Jew I have met believes that leading an exemplary Jewish life will make the oil in his heater burn even one extra day, though every Hanukah he lights the menorah to commemorate the time in the first century when the Maccabees beat the Syrians and the temple lights burned eight days on one day's supply of oil. In the same season that Jews are celebrating this miracle, Christians are celebrating virgin birth. Yet if the daughter of any one of those Christians came home and dared to suggest that her pregnancy was one inspired without sex, her sanity would be doubted. "But these are miracles, one-time-only events," some might defend their faith. All I can say is, there is no way to know if these things even happened at all, let alone how they happened.
Premies who believe that Guru Maharaj Ji is the Lord have at least some actual basis for their belief. Through the Knowledge, most premies were experiencing an unusually great degree of happiness and peace of mind. Given my own experiences in Knowledge, if I were a religious person, I might easily have thought Guru Maharaj Ji was the Lord. After all, through the Knowledge he had taught me to do something I had wanted to do all my life and had never been able to. He taught me to consciously unlock the kingdom of energy, power, and love inside myself, to get bacl; inside of the East Hampton wave on a permanent basis. Now from all signs, that deepest want in me was satisfied. At any time I wanted to, I could meditate and be right there. For a religious person this could easily seem like adequate proof for identifying a divinity.
As a religious concept, "the Perfect Master" idea has some merits beyond the subjective analysis of people's firsthand testimony. I find it much more hopeful to thinl; that if God existed he would come to earth to ensure the salvation of the "righteous" members of every generation, rather than to appear once and leave a legacy in the form of scriptures on which subsequent generations must depend for their help. If every religion is based on the life and mission of a particular Perfect Master, then this promotes unity among different faiths. It makes it impossible for a Christian to call the Hindus "heathens," because Krishna-the "Lord" who lived 5,000 years ago in the Indian forests-was an earlier form of the "Lord" who appeared 3,000 years later as Christ.
Despite all of these good points I could not buy into the idea that Maharaj Ji was God. For one thing, I did not believe in any all-knowing, all-powerful God. In my mind, God never came to earth in any incarnation. As for the lives of Krishna, Buddha, and all the rest, I did not have any basis on which to determine if any of them lived at all, particularly as described by their followers, or if they were jt~st a strong dream that captured the minds of generation after generation.
Beyond my religious doubts, I had some doubts about Maharaj Ji himself. From listening to the stories of his activities, I believed I knew him a little better than to think he was divine. Mostly, to me, Maharaj Ji was a charming teenage prankster, a future friend.
To add to these hesitations, my mother pointed out something else to me. With the dry humor I love in her, she said, "Having such vast experience of the universe, you really are in a position to nominate someone as 'Lord."'
Hell, I haven't even been to Europe.
In the month after I had received Knowledge, several other people from my household went to learn the meditation with similar happy effects. Once we were all together trying to do meditation, satsang, and service, it was easy for us to see how our previous way of living was glaringly inconsistent with our new hopes. It didn't seem right to be discussing cosmic consciousness in our traditional talking place, the kitchen, when dishes were piled in the sink from the night before. Some of our bills were a month overdue, just from carelessness. Someone in the co-op had written away to a ]ot of book clubs to get their books and never paid a cent for them. Looking around, one thing seemed obvious. It was time to clean up our act, as individuals and as a household. In a blissful but bumbling way, we reasoned, "If Knowledge is a path to God, our aim is to become saints."
Gradually, as I spent more time considering the incorporeal side of life, I adopted the word "God" to describe a certain feeling I had for the unity of creation. After this, the other words that surround the concept of God-"grace," "saint," "purity . . ."-began to slip into my vocabulary. These words aren't exactly accurate for me to use because I have little feeling for God as a superior power or for saintliness as a moral concept, and those are the traditional ways in which these words are employed. Nonetheless, I didn't feel compromised by using them. I adopted them with the same mix of convenience and confoundment that prompted a group of subatomic physicists who were studying "Quarks," infinitesimal particles, to name the Quarks' characteristics ''Charm," "Strangeness," "Flavor," and "Color." As one of the researchers remarked: "It is all a great mystery to us. We know they exist. And we know they do things. And perhaps they are even holding this entire universe together, but how they are doing it, and why, well, I have to shrug my shoulders. I don't know."
With this highest goal of saintliness firmly in our sights, though admittedly quite a spell down the road from our actual position, we started trying to purify our lives from any taint of worldliness. As had been promised on the day I joined Divine Light Mission, I actually did develop a penchant for ironing and washing dishes. As a group, the Guru Vishnu Co-op settled all of its bills. We sent the books back to the book clubs and in general tried to make friends with all our past adversaries. We started to keep regular hours, cooking our meals together with "love and consciousness" and swallowing each well-chewed mouthful in monastic silence.
All this would have been great, except that there were still people living at the Guru Vishnu Co-op who liked it just fine the way it was before their friends "got religion." Naturally, all of this compulsive activity came as a surprise to these heathen members of the household. At first SophiaTom-Ricky-and-Tracy's "guru trip" was viewed with sympathy and amusement. But after a short time, our friends had enough of our odd behavior. I think the last straw came when Tracy asked the landlord to take off his shoes before he came into the house.
There is no one quite so impatient as someone who has just learned something. The newly mature, my mother says, are the most intolerant of all people. They expect everyone to know what they know and they want them to know it now.
After another week or so we met some people who had been meditating longer than we had and they suggested we cool out our trip. While silent meals and fanatic dishwashing may seem like the peak in Zen awareness to you, the older premies explained, to others they are nothing more than a petty annoyance, plain foolishness that will serve to alienate people from any spiritual wisdom you might have.
The widening differences between Guru Vishnu Co-op residents made it clear that the time had come for the household to split up. The reasonable thing to do seemed for the premies among us to find another place to live where we could pursue our specialized goals without bothering our friends.
Several other premies wanted to move in with us too, so we decided that in order to avoid the same problems we had at the Co-op, we should sit down and discuss exactly how each one of us wanted to live. In the end we decided to organize our new household like an ashram. Many groups, including DLM, have ashrams-spiritual residences organized in a monastic tradition. DLM was maintaining fortyeight ashrams in the United States at this time. We were not an official ashram, but each of us decided to take informal vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience according to the following definitions of these vows.
"Poverty" meant that the group would work as one person financially. Each person would give his paycheck into the common pot and then be cared for completely by the group. Everything that we used we agreed to own communally, respecting "habitual" use and common sense.
Another side of our financial life that we all agreed on was that each person in the house should have some kind of gainful employment, except for one person who would operate as a houseparent and take care of the others. Not in the mood to seek any "gainful employment," I volunteered for this job and was accepted on the scant credentials of my ability to make oatmeal and operate a washing machine.
"Chastity" meant no sex-at least not in the house, or with the other residents.
And "obedience" meant that once you moved in, until the day you moved out, you would cooperate with and work toward the goals of the group, in other words, poverty and chastity, satsang, service, and meditation. To help us fit all this in we adopted a simple schedule.
Since time immemorial, people have argued over the virtues of monastic life. But regardless of whether it is the best way to live, you can see that it is very practical. We all agreed that it would certainly simplify our personal lives and household hassles.
At this time Tracy decided to move into the real ashram in Boston. She always was a Massachusetts girl at heart. Since Tracy was, coincidentally, one of my only female premie friends, I was left alone to begin my first days of monastic life with a group of charming young men.
Right from the start we had a real family feeling. As the housemother I fixed meals. On Sundays I made muffins and brought them out to the table still steaming. I felt like a mother on a farm serving her brood of grown-up sons. On weekends, we all piled into the car and drove off to visit some friends who lived on the beach. Together we meditated late into the night, relishing the stillness of the hours after midnight. In the morning we played on the beach, running, laughing, and chasing each other, high as kites from our meditation the night before.
When we had started living together in the beginning of March, we had felt as though we were beginning an experiment. Now, after three months of communal monastic life, we thought we might do something which would make our life together more permanent. Our apartment was really a bit too small for all of us to spread out comfortably, so we decided to buy a house. "Poss," the wealthiest member of our household, said he would finance the purchase and, if anything went wrong, the house would be his and he could just sell it. With real estate values going up, who knows, he'd probably even make a profit.
After several weeks of checking the real estate listings, we found a beautiful house that was exactly what we were looking for. It was built at the turn of the century, but was extremely well cared for. In almost every room there was intricate oak woodwork and built-in leaded glass cabinets. The kitchen had counters of marble and slate.
There were plenty of rooms for all six current residents, and a few extra for new additions to our spiritual family. At the top of the house there was even a special room that we thought could be for Guru Maharaj Ji if he ever came up North.
Thinking about buying a house made me realize how much I cared for the people I lived with. Sometimes I laughed to myself, thinking, I'm only seventeen and already I'm in love with six people. In my service as housemother I tried to look after each one of them and take care of his personal needs. This love was not a one-way street. It seemed whatever I gave out of my heart came back to me multiplied. In particular I remember the day my two-month period of joy broke. Early in the morning I had had a haunting dream. I was in New York riding on a public bus. Somehow I had gotten into a conversation with the man sitting next to me. After some chatting, he asked me what I did in Maine. I told him about Knowledge. When he realized this meant Eastern spirituality, he made fun of meditation and the people who practiced it, in the same manner I had seen in popular magazines.
"I don't think you understand," I insisted. "Did you ever have a feeling of the vast awesome mystery that surrounds ]ife? Did you ever want to expand your awareness so that you might understand that mystery?"
My question made him mad.
"Look." He took out his wallet from his back pocket. Showing me a wad of C-notes, he said, "This is all the awareness I need."
I looked deep into his eyes. They were a rich chestnut brown. As I watched, their appearance changed. The man's eyes seemed like windows into another world. Through them I could see the dark blue color of a starless night sky.
When the man blinked, his chestnut-colored eyes reappeared. In this brief look I felt I had seen the infinite part of him. I had seen his "Buddha nature," the Kingdom of Heaven within him. That this man would have the potential for enlightenment inside him and not even be aware of it was a pathetic tragedy that I felt was common to many people in the world.
I woke up crying. This was the first morning that I was not in the elated state that had become my normal consciousness for the past few months. When I went to cook breakfast I was still sad. I served food and went to cry alone in the kitchen. Finally, at mid-morning, Poss came in and asked what was wrong. The sincerity of his love and concern struck me right away. But often when I am sad and crying, someone acting sweet toward me only makes me cry all the harder.
Poss stayed and I told him about the dream.
He said, "Soph, I believe the New Age is coming. Why do you think we are called Divine Light Mission? It's because we have a mission. And that's to help people to discover what we have found, to know within themselves the highest love."
In my sad mood, I just didn't see how such a thing could work. It would take magic to fix up this world and bring a new age.
"Let's take a drive in the country," Poss suggested. But even as I watched the early signs of spring pass by the car window, I still felt sad.
Poss was now at his wit's end. "Okay," he said. "There is one thing I know how to do that will cheer up a girl. It is something my father taught me."
I was interested to hear what this might be, remembering Poss's upper-class Maine background. He turned from the country road and drove to a nearby town. Pulling over at a fancy shop, he said, "Why don't you buy some new clothes on me. Anything you want." He handed me his charge card.
To some people this may reek of old-fashioned male chauvinism, but to me it was one of the sweetest things anyone had done for me in quite a while. It made me feel much better. With my packages in hand at the end of the day, I remembered my dream. If that man only knew what a little money and a little meditation can do for your life, I thought, smiling.
This dream proved sobering. More than before, I was struck with a sense of purpose in practicing Knowledge to increase my own awareness and in telling other people about it so that they might experience the same benefits as I.
One day Poss and I were sitting around the dining table talking about where the money was going to come from to buy the house. I was helping him sort out his assets, considering which ones he should liquidate.
"I have some money coming when I am eighteen," I offered, to match his investment, if not in dollar amounts, with my commitment.
"Eighteen, that's two yearsl" Poss laughed.
"No, no," I corrected. "Remember, I had my birthday. I'm seventeen now."
In our household, people frequently teased me goodnaturedly about my youth. Poss knew very well I was seventeen because he lit the candles on my birthday cake.
In the midst of this good-humored talk, the phone rang. It was the Boston DLM office calling us. Poss got on one extension and I took the other.
"So what's up in the woods?" a voice asked us.
We told about the new house we had found and our plans to buy it. Expecting them to be glad, we were shocked by the response.
"That's simply the worst idea we've heard yet," the voice said. "You heard about the festival we're having this fall in the Astrodome?"
"Sure, we read about it in the Divine Times."
"Well, who do you think is gonna pay for it? If you've got money like that you should send it to Denver, to National Headquarters. If we all work together as a group we can spread Knowledge. We can bring peace. But when premies are all looking out for their own little trips, in their own little towns, it's not going to work at all.
"Bal Bhagwan Ji, Guru Maharaj Ji's brother, is in charge of the festival. He's going to be in Boston next weekend to speak about it. You guys better come. This festival is our biggest outreach effort. You must have read what the national treasurer said in the Divine Times: 'Divine Light Mission is an emerging nation.' Well, this festival in the Astrodome is our birthday party where the whole world is invited to hear our message.
"Look, don't buy the house. Send the money to Denver and come to Boston to hear Bal Bhagwan Ji speak. You can fill out skills forms there. Who knows, they might need you to do service at Houston putting the festival together. Remember, this is a national movement." The voice hung up abruptly.
Poss and I looked at each other in amazement. We slowly replaced the receivers. Poss shrugged his shoulders with a smile on his face. We both felt excited but a little confused.
"National movement?" Poss said. "Goodness, we don't want to miss that."
Collier. Published in