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Soul Rush

The Odyssey of a Young Woman in the 70s'

(Excerpts)

by S. Collier. Published in 1978
 

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Chapter 12: Millennium Fever.

AS A WRITER, I HAD MUCH MORE PLEASANT WORKING CONDITIONS
than I had labored under as a laundress. Instead of a sweaty "washateria," as they call laundromats in Houston, I now was given a nice air-conditioned office on a quiet street with a window overlooking a full-blossomed magnolia tree. My standing assignment was to write about the progress of the Millennium festival preparations for the Divine Times. I could write anything I wanted to, with the tacit understanding that it would portray Guru Maharaj Ji, DLM, and the coming festival in a favorable light.

The way I planned to approach my position as propagandist was to examine whatever I saw as negative in the organization by severely confronting whoever was perpetrating the problem. I would weigh what I learned against my sense of DLM's overall worth. Since I had a high opinion of DLM's potential, I assumed it would take something pretty atrocious to make me arrive at a negative net worth by this analysis. Then, if the item was newsworthy, I planned to present the facts accompanied by the context I saw, and the reader could make up his own mind, in the light of his own opinion of DLM's overall worth. I believed DLM's strength would be drawn from informed and committed members who each were certain in their reasons for alliance.

By following this plan, I believed I would never have to compromise myself. In a situation where I looked at the assets and liabilities of the organization and saw a negative net worth, I thought, knowing me, I wouldn't hang around too long. First chance I got, I'd be down at the airlines office, making reservations to go home.

Pad and pencil in hand, I set out to do my first article: a study of the way the Houston festival staffers lived when they were off the job. I thought this would be interesting, as it would include short portraits of a few of the staff members with more varied backgrounds-Peter and his travels through Asia, for instance.

In the course of preparing the article I spoke with one of the festival organizers and mentioned the disorganized manner in which medical care was handled. He seemed genuinely surprised that I saw a problem.

"Well, it may not be so together now. You know we are sort of low on cash, but after Millennium we won't have to worry about anything."

"Oh, really, why not?" I said, expecting to hear that DLM was getting a national health insurance policy. Or starting a clinic with premie doctors while financing interested ashram residents through medical school.

He looked at me with sympathy, as if I were hopelessly uninformed. "Because," he said, "after the festival is the New Age."

"Come on," I replied. "When we decided to call the festival 'Millennium' I thought it was because our vision of one peaceful world based on spiritual values was evoked by the word, 'Millennium'-not because the hoped-for Millennium will begin on November eighth, the day we take over the Dome. You heard Bob say that," I concluded, referring to a recent meeting we had both attended with Bob Mishler, the DLM president.

"That's not what Bal Bhagwan Ji says," the fellow continued; but, seeing my skepticism, he demurred, "Who knows what will happen?" He shrugged and smiled.

The New Age. It signifies a complete transformation of the world as we know it, into another perfect world where all manner of evil and suffering have passed away. People from every sort of background believe the New Age will come, but their ideas vary greatly on the "how" behind its arrival.

Some-the "have you read Revelations?" crowd-believe a horrible binge of physical destruction will obliterate the present world with all of its sinning inhabitants and quickly replace it with a perfect one. Perhaps, they speculate, God will come out of the clouds on a golden chariot and orchestrate the end.

Others-like Anne Frank, the sweet little girl who wrote in her diary after seeing some of her family shot to death by Nazis, "I still believe that people are basically good at heart"-believe it will just happen. People's higher nature will get the best of them.

Then, there are those people who believe that the New Age is inevitable, but it is going to take time and bucks, blood and sweat. (Count me in here, though there's a little of the second group in me, too.)

Even within these three groups, people's timetables vary. There is little agreement just when the awaited hour will dawn. Dr. Laurence Peter-in the Anne Frank group-feels it will be in the next twenty years or so. He discusses how, when, and where at length in his book, The Peter Plan.

Cesar Chavez-in the time and bucks group-has a simpler analysis and expectation. "You want to know what I really think?" he says. "I really think one day the world will be great."

But the most interesting timetable for the arrival of the New Age is envisioned by the Jehovah's Witnesses. The New Age, they say, is already here. It came sometime in the early part of the century, when Christ quietly returned to earth.

Whatever is the case about the New Age, it seemed to have little relevance to my Divine Times article. Using another person's comment on premie health care, I finished my article and sent it to Denver, where the newspaper's editorial offices were located. But this was not the last time I heard of an unfounded thing that "Bal Bhagwan Ji said."

"New York is going to have earthquakes in October!" someone was yelling outside my door. "Bal Bhagwan Ji says the fault runs right down Fourteenth Street!"

Well, that's one way to get rid of the old S. Klein building, I thought, remembering a particular eyesore in the Fourteenth Street area. From what I could determine from the conversation in the hall, the belief of Bal Bhagwan Ji-or BB, as I shall affectionately call him-in New York's rumbling demise was not founded on any studies of the terrain in that area. Even though some mahatmas considered BB to be the embodiment of intellect and wisdom, in making this prediction he had no seismographs at his disposal. No experts had advised him. It was something that just occurred to him one day. It was "revealed truth," like the Bible's Book of Revelations.

Because Bal Bhagwan Ji was not in Houston at the time, we got wind of his idea through other premies. Most of the people only repeated BB's ideas out of surprise and astonishment, but some premies actually believed what BB was saying.

Peter and I and some of our other friends started calling these people who picked up on BB's ideas Victims of the Millennium Fever. Implicit in this description was our conviction that eventually their symptoms would go away: a fever eventually breaks and the victims return to their former healthy selves. Fortunately, even at the peak of contagion, the fever was limited to a minority of premies, mostly in Houston.

In reflecting on the Millennium Fever from the vantage of four years, there is one thing which particularly strikes me. I find it curious that it is so easy for people to feel identified with a spiritual organization even when they have considerable differences of opinion with the leadership. As I live and see more of the world, I realize this is common to all spiritual organizations.

For instance, Catholicism. People call themselves Catholics for many reasons. The Pope, who is acknowledged as the head of the Roman Catholic religion, has spoken out strongly against birth control and even more harshly against abortion. But this does not mean that all Catholics feel this way. The other day I heard that a doctor in charge of a large abortion clinic in Florida said 40 percent of the women who come into his clinic for abortions are practicing Catholics. This is a very interesting figure, when you consider that only 20 percent of the Florida population in that area is Catholic.

From what I understand of the Catholic spiritual organization, papal authority is one of the most basic tenets. Yet these people are willing to go against what the Pope has specifically said and still consider themselves part of the Catholic community.

Catholics who have had abortions are tied to the faith by something deeper and more important to them than any rules, dogma, or creed. (I will not speculate on just what it is that creates this strong bond. Suffice to say that it exists and exerts strong power in a person's life.)

In the same way, acknowledgment of the common bond which attracted each of us to DLM made it easy for premies with differences of opinion to coexist. When I sat in early morning group meditation, I was moved to respect the other premies, even those with Millennium Fever, because I felt our common urge toward higher awareness and a new world.

I remember one particular morning when I was getting ready to meditate with a group of about forty others. Since we wanted to get a good jump on the day, we generally started meditating at about 5:00 A.M. At this time it was still dark outside; gradually, during the hour we sat together in meditation, the sky grew light.

On this morning we were sitting in a circle and I could see the face of nearly every person there. After about half an hour I opened my eyes. I felt very peaceful and I looked around at the meditators.

Some of the people I could see were stretching and straining to concentrate; their brows were slightly furrowed like those of students studying weighty texts. Others were calm; they had almost baby-like faces, the faces of angels, I thought. A carpenter I didn't like very much had a small smile. His rough hands rested in his lap. Several people were nodding, falling asleep for an instant but firmly waking themselves up again and again. Looking at these sleepy ones, I recognized our housemother. I knew she had been up late the previous night making lunches. I felt a little rush of inspiration as I saw her effort.

Sitting there that morning I experienced the bond the people in DLM shared. It was our common hope, our common effort to meet and merge with that vast interior world and then, in whatever way, to bring that profound inner grace to life in the outer world of action.

I felt like a person on a frontier, bonded to my fellow travelers by our common desire to get to the other side. With this feeling of community established inside me, it was hard to judge, but easy to forgive, what I saw as temporary troubles and aberrations in my friends' spirits.

But I hardly knew Bal Bhagwan Ji. He was not a friend whose deep intentions I trusted and understood. If the premies I knew who repeated his odd ideas were victims of Millennium Fever, BB was the Fever's carrier.

By the time BB arrived in Houston I had pieced together his whole prophetic scheme. All of BB's ideas had one central focus: the festival we were planning for November would be "the most holy and significant event in human history." It would not be a private great event-an Astrodome official told me that every religious group which has a gathering there secretly believes the dome was built for them-everyone would know.

Between the present time and the time of the festival, according to BB's predictions, there would be a series of major disasters, natural and political. To augment this there would also be a series of extraterrestrial phenomena. (Remember Kohoutek comet and the frequent UFO sightings of the summer of '73?) All of these things would lead people to seek the return of the messiah. Since BB was a scripture freak, he had dug up these qualifications for The Coming One.

From the prophet Isaiah, for instance:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the Knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

Or this one, from a Tibetan source:

The sun and the moon dance and blow the trumpets, and a little child shall turn the Wheel of the Law. Secret of the body, of the Word and Heart of God, His innermost breath is the steed of the Bodhisattvas.

When considering a "little child" for the role, BB's mind naturally went to the one little child he knew best-his own kid brother, Guru Maharaj Ji aka The Lord. The Millennium festival was the event at which the world would find out what BB already knew.

I was anxious to speak to BB and see if I really could be a propagandist with honor. It soon became clear, however, that an interview with BB was hard to come by. He was a very busy man. Or so everyone said. From the first he had taken a great interest in the festival, and sometime in the early summer Maharaj Ji had put him "in charge" of the festival effort. Despite the title though, it was commonly understood that Rennie Davis, going under the more humble billing of "General Coordinator," was the person to listen to on any nuts and bolts issues involving the event.

Finally, after trying to see BB for several weeks, I gave up and started working on other things. Then, suddenly, BB wanted to see me; not because he wished to make known why he believed as he did, but instead because he had discovered my background in food service.

I arrived at the scheduled hour, but was told to wait outside: BB was not yet ready to see me. After a half-hour the door to BB's room opened a crack and a hand motioned me to enter. (Maharaj Ji and all the members of his family posted sentries at their doors to regulate the stream of devotees who came to seek their advice, counsel, or blessings.) Entering the room I saw several of the festival brass sitting on the floor. BB, himself, was seated comfortably on a chair with his feet resting on a cushion. He wore white traditional Indian garments-a dhoti and kirta. His chair was white, the cushion was white, and the rug was white. It was a rather dramatic effect, the highlight of which were BB's deep black eyes and black moustache.

Rennie Davis suddenly entered the room. "Hey, Rennie!" I greeted my friend, in what I later was informed was a serious breach of protocol. Rennie undoubtedly heard me, but did not respond. Instead he went straight to BB and bowed deeply as Christians sometimes do before the cross. After acknowledging Rennie with a loving smile, BB then looked at me.

I had no feeling of reverence or humility in front of this young Indian, so I kind of cocked my head and said hello without bowing. After an awkward pause, I was introduced. BB studied me for a moment and then, speaking quickly, asked, "How many have you cooked for?"

"Well, two twenty-five," I estimated.

"How many work in the kitchen?"

"Sometimes just me," I answered, "but if you set it up right you'd have four. Two main cooks. A dishwasher. And a pot washer who'd double as a veggie chopper ..." I continued detailing my idea of a good cooking setup.

In the middle of my presentation he nodded as if I had said enough. "In our kitchen," he said, "two hundred and twenty-five will work. Thousands and thousands will be fed."

"Oh, really?" I raised my eyebrows. "Where will this be?"

"Here in this city, in Houston. Many will be coming, you know." He spoke with authority. The people seated on the floor noted all of this down in small notebooks.

After a few more questions, BB appeared to lose interest in me and began to expound a theory he had developed about Kohoutek comet and UFOs. "The stock market will fall in October." (I wondered if this would correspond with the predicted earthquake.) "And at least 400,000 people will be at our November Millennium."

All of this was respectfully noted.

Hoping nobody would notice, I quietly left the room. Walking home, I found I had a bad headache. The thing that bothered me the most was not BB's ideas, but the respect with which Rennie and the others listened to him. I knew that even though BB claimed 400,000 (or 200,000, depending on the day) would come to the festival and Rennie carefully noted this down as if he believed BB, Rennie would then quietly reserve hotel rooms for only 22,000.

"From my tours to promote the festival and my previous experience organizing this sort of event, I know 22,000 is all we can count on. It's a reasonable figure," I had heard Rennie remark a few days before. "If others come," Rennie continued almost whimsically, "it will be the grace of God, so then the grace of God can house them, too."

Why was Rennie leading BB on in this way? The whole situation started to smell like power politics. BB's lack of proportion was evident, but as brother of the guru, he couldn't be put out to pasture in the same way as a less nobly born leader. Historically, the less gifted relatives of the monarch are a common problem for royalty.

It must have been clear to Maharaj Ji when he arrived in the United States in late June 1973 that BB was treading on thin ice. Why did he leave BB in charge of the Astrodome festival? In order to make sense of this, I had to consider Maharaj Ji's position on a global basis.

He was "the Guru" for a constituency that numbered over one million. Many members of this group lived in India and shared, at least to some extent, the mahatmas' idea of the Hans family as five forms of a single divinity. Even though Maharaj Ji recognized this penta-god idea as rubbish, it was something he inherited with the mission. When at the age of eight he accepted the post, he took with it the whole shebang. So even though Maharaj Ji had been gradually working away at the accumulated religious concepts of the followers he inherited with the mission, he didn't want to do anything too radical which would send his Indian devotees packing down the street to the local swami.

Even if Maharaj Ji wanted to stage a little cultural revolution in the mission, he knew he couldn't do it just yet. His mother had worked long and hard at achieving a strong power base in India. The followers of her late husband, Hans, had naturally looked to her for wisdom during the period when Maharaj Ji was a small boy-guru. She would crush any challenge to her power.

The first time I saw Mata was at an airport reception in Houston. I did not like her at all. About a hundred or so people bringing garlands and flowers had come to meet her. As she came down the airport hall, I saw that she was quite fat. Her skin and hair had a greasy shine. Bundled up in a silk sari, she hurried past the people who had come to greet her. When she turned to look at someone, I saw the distinctive flash of a diamond in her nose.

People thrust the flowers toward her and she took them up with her pudgy hands, often breaking and crushing them in the process. In a moment she was gone. I was disappointed because I had hoped to like her, at least a little.

During her years of spiritual dominance, Mata had managed to advance her position in the spiritual hierarchy. Very much like Shri Aurobindo's wife, who took over Aurobindo's mission after his death, Mata became DLM's patron. She traveled everywhere with little Maharaj Ji, speaking before he did, telling stories she had heard from Hans.

In my opinion, Mata was a traditional Hindu. To her, DLM was a family business. A shrewd businessperson, Mata set out to solidify her power base, until eventually, as Bob Mishler told me, "She had India wrapped up like a spiritual Mafia."

What Mata did not count on was that her son, Maharaj Ji, the main capital in her business, would not want to go along with her scheme. It wasn't public knowledge at this point that the members of the family did not get along, but word filtered out from the people who lived with the Hans family that they were fighting more and more. The sides in these fights were clear from the beginning. It was Mata, BB, and Bhole Ji who were carrying the flag for traditional Indian culture against Maharaj Ji and Raja Ji, who wanted to throw out the old ways and get into the Western world to create a new kind of spirituality.

The pathetic thing about this struggle was that it did not come into the open until much later. It was the kind of cruel and private fight that only families can have. Publicly, the five stood together and smiled as if, as one journalist wrote, "God is in his Astrodome and all is right with the world." Perhaps Maharaj Ji hoped things would somehow resolve themselves and he would not have to take that most painful step of renouncing his family and splitting up the mission his father and he had worked so hard to build.

In the light of these background forces, the question of why Maharaj Ji left BB in charge of the festival had a simple answer. Guru Maharaj Ji was up against the wall. If he fired BB, those Indian devotees who thought of the family as being five forms of the same divinity might find this violated their ideas, and might leave the mission altogether. If he tried to push BB into the background- keeping BB around but in a minor position-it would offend Mata-BB-Bhole Ji's high sense of their own importance and would make them retaliate. If all else failed, Mata could fall back on the traditional way mothers control their children. "Don't forget you are underage, dear."

If BB was the only thing Maharaj Ji had to worry about, then, I concluded, Maharaj Ji actually would not be facing a major problem. The kinds of predictions BB was making were like bonds that mature quickly. Everything he was predicting was to happen within 90 to 120 days. He said the stock market would fall in October. When, on November first, people were still scurrying around on the Wall Street trading floor, he would be discredited. He said 400,000 people would come to Millennium; when only 22,000 showed up, again, he'd be discredited. From a PR point of view, BB was digging his own grave.

However, because of Maharaj Ji's stand-and-smile-with-the-family policy, I thought Maharaj Ji might fall into BB's grave too. Rennie and other prominent figures in DLM were very busy inviting the press to see the festival. How could a journalist resist reporting what the Millennium Fever victims were saying?

Sitting and considering these things in my cool office overlooking the magnolia tree, I kept wondering what Maharaj Ji would do. That fifteen-year-old kid has got some pretty deft maneuvering in front of him if he is going to pull out of this alive, I thought, feeling glad I had friends, not followers, and parents without vested interest in how I lived. I was not the least bit surprised when Maharaj Ji came down with an ulcer.

That summer Maharaj Ji had been touring the United States and Europe. From what I could see, Maharaj Ji's style of "leadership" was to leave all of the nitty-gritty decisions about DLM operations to the headquarters in Denver, while dividing his own time between giving lectures for the membership or the public and "resting," a euphemism for his long periods of inactivity. At his speaking engagements he rarely spoke about the organization, but rather concentrated on subjects with which he was more familiar, like meditation and Knowledge.

His itinerary was packed for the summer's tour. He had public programs in several major cities, TV appearances, and some appointments to receive awards and keys to various cities, as well as more intimate premie programs for the membership only. Things were going well until he got to Detroit, where he was to receive a civic citation. After he accepted the award, an underground-newspaper reporter came rushing up to Maharaj Ji and, in what the reporter described as "a protest against God," hit Maharaj Ji in the face with a shaving cream pie. This in itself was not a tragedy. But what happened afterward was.

Two premies sought out the pie-thrower, Pat Halley, and creamed him with a steel pipe. This was a dreadful and pathetic example of fanaticism at work. What makes it worse is that I know, from a very good source, that one of the premie assailants was a mahatma, a DLM figure who initiated many thousands of U.S. premies in 1971-1973. Maharaj Ji did not know of this mahatma's plans beforehand, and afterward when the incident came to his attention Maharaj Ji stripped the mahatma of his rank and urged him to turn himself in to the police. However, the mahatma did not follow this advice and quietly slipped out of the country. The other assailant, Bob Mishler believes, was an American and still even today lives in a DLM ashram. If this is true I feel Maharaj Ji is at fault. He should have pursued this matter more aggressively and made sure the perpetrators were apprehended and tried in a court of law.

One day, as I was thinking about these things, I went out to buy a candy bar. A man standing in line at the cash register noticed my "Who Is Guru Maharaj Ji?" button and asked, "Well, okay, who is he?"

Before I had a chance to launch into the rap I had developed, the man whipped out a card and handed it to me. "Ed Krotin, Imperial Wizard, Ku Klux Klan," was embossed on it.

"Klan, huh?" I said sweetly. "Do you still bomb Negro churches?"

"Only when they need it. We don't need you in Houston," he hissed, and left without paying for his large cigar.

Chewing on my Hershey bar, it occurred to me that I'd just met someone like the pipe-wielding mahatma.

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