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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 17: A Placebo Called Knowledge.

IT WAS JANUARY 1976, THE MIDDLE OF THE WINTER, BUT STILL I
had that spring feeling. A few days before I had returned to Denver from visiting friends back East.

(..........)

... I was wondering about all of these things when Dan came into my little office-Saul and I had both moved to separate but adjoining rooms, so mostly these days I was alone with the window. From the look in Dan's eye, I could see he had that spring feeling too.

"Hey, bear," I said to him, noticing that in a way he looked like the gentle sort of bear cub Smokey must have been before Smokey traded in his wildlife independence for shovel, trousers, and national recognition on buses and billboards across America.

Dan sat down in my visitor's chair and I noticed the spiffy way he was dressed: nice suit with a shirt open at the neck, but no fancy shoes. His outfit was bottomed off by his old Adidas running shoes, just the same as I wore. At nineteen years, I was still in sneakers.

After a minute I could see that the business bringing Dan to my office was not commas and colons, the editor's usual concern, but instead, Cadbury bars, fancy chocolate that comes wrapped in foil for twenty cents.

"Got some time?" Dan asked me.

"Sure, but the snow . . ."

"We'll run." He was confident, as young men often are who've been over six feet since before they were fourteen.

Dan was first and I was next as we zipped down to the street in a lightning flash, two blocks to the Hilton, in whose cafe we often sat to eat our chocolate bars, square by square. Chocolate has xanthines in it, the same drug that adds the zip to coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola. Eating chocolate Dan and I get stoned, our senses perhaps refined through our ashram abstinence from the harder stuff.

What William James had seen in 1905 and what my friend could see from across the country, Dan and I could see from where we sat. DLM was already showing the signs. It had become an "ecclesiastical institution" beset with all the maladies James described.

But for me and Dan it was different than for James or my friend who sends me The New York Times. We were in the middle of it. We had devoted three years to building something which was turning out to be nothing more than another religion. We had made a noble effort to turn the tide with yippie tricks and reasoned talk and even tears, but still, we could see what had happened. The organization had tens of thousands of solid members, people who had joined in good faith, attracted by the promise that meditation would tune them into their inner nature, but who had become rank and file in a new religion. How did this happen? Dan and I needed to know.

"Look." Dan pulled out of his pocket some notes he'd made from reading Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions. "We have to try to understand the nature of the mind. People's minds make theories to explain what they see. But these theories are just models, incomplete renditions of reality. Gradually, though, people forget that they are just theories. They write texts as though the theories are truth. People get cushy. They think they've got the story locked up tight. Then they try to suppress new facts that aren't explained by the theory. And when they can't suppress them any longer, then they puzzle solve, they invent ways, logical constructions which could explain how the theory is still true even in the light of contradictory evidence. What they don't do is problem solve, create a whole new paradigm to encompass all the new learning."

"But it seems to me, Dan, that despite all this, premies are always able to have access to the original material, through meditation, the wordless reality. You'd think a cosmology wouldn't be formed. You'd think the continual direct experience in meditation would correct false religious ideas . . ."

"Right, right!" Dan was getting more excited every minute. (Watch out for Cadbury bars.) "But you see, premies aren't meditating. I mean, they may make some effort, may sit down and watch their breath, but really, I feel they are only doing it to get a bit of peace-to relax, like it's some organic Valium. They falsely believe that they understand the truth. They are satisfied that they've already got the whole pie. I think the organization offers an artificial security which keeps people from doing their own realizing. From diving into the profound regions."

I thought about this and felt it was true. At the nightly programs DLM held in Denver, I heard people get up day after day and say the same things. People felt they had realized something when, finally, after much struggle, they had been able to accept the consensus; when finally, they believed. They accepted Maharaj Ji as a superior being, they saw themselves redeemed in his grace....

"So what do you want me to do, get a Railpass and travel all over America telling people to meditate harder?"

"No, no, no. People will still puzzle solve, even though meditation gives them the facts. What I am saying means one thing. We've got to blow up DLM."

I agreed. We shook hands and then sat for a time, looking at the snow.

Ours was not as revolutionary a pronouncement as it may sound. After the festival many people were beginning to talk along the same lines. In the letters I received from my national news correspondents I sensed a mood of dissatisfaction in the DLM membership. Not only were they dissatisfied with the way the Mission was being run, but also with the quality of their own spiritual experience. I remember one particular letter from the retired financial director whom Michael Dettmers replaced. He was working in the Portland, Oregon, DLM office as a part-time volunteer. (Unfortunately I have had to reconstruct this letter from memory, as I lost the original; it is impossible to duplicate his charming style.)

We started by asking each other, "Why did you join DLM?"

From this beginning we have traced through our whole DLM experience. Immediately it is evident that many of us have deeply entrenched religious concepts, almost totally without basis in experience. The people working in the local DLM office translate these baseless concepts into programs that encourage guilt and fear as the primary motivators, rather than love and clarity. Sometimes I wonder if it might just be better to cancel DLM and start again. I've heard several people say this here in Portland.

It had all started the month before, when Maharaj Ji came to the Denver community meeting and said that all the people in DLM should have "understanding." He seemed very emphatic about this, although it was rather vague just exactly what he wanted people to understand. Each person, according to her/his nature, interpreted Maharaj Ji's statement differently. Michael Dettmers and some of the other executives assumed people on the HQ staff needed to understand the organization and their commitment to it more fully. To this end, in the middle of December, they set up a large conference for the entire staff at the Hilton Hotel. They secured the services of a premie who was a professional in group dynamics. Maharaj Ji came to the conference and told everybody that he was completely behind this effort and the premies should relax, cooperate, and "not be paranoid."

Predictably, half of the conference was taken up with addresses by the executive staff. A new organizational chart was revealed and explained at length. But the other half of the conference, put together on the suggestions of the group dynamics professional, was completely different. People split up into "task teams" to come up with ,answers to specific problems. The teams were then to write their solution on a large piece of paper and post it on the wall. Before beginning we were given a little talk about teamwork. Whatever solution we came to had to be a group conclusion; nobody was to be left out.

To make sure this happened, the idea was to work on both the "task," the specific problem in front of us, and the "maintenance," or feelings of involvement and openness in the group.

The first task was to complete this sentence: "Commitment to Divine Light Mission equals . . ." In the course of this it was impossible not to get into why each person had joined the Mission and what their experiences and frustrations had been; it even provided the opportunity to broach the very delicate issue of whether Guru Maharaj Ji had powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Was Guru Maharaj Ji wiser than the rest of us, or was he just a sweet young man who was little more than a figurehead, a symbolic focus?

The reason this was such a delicate subject, I realized, was that many of the premies put up with the endless difficulties of DLM only because they believed Maharaj Ji had a plan; even if they could not see it, Maharaj Ji knew there was some meaning, reason, or ultimate justification for the scandal, difficulties, and grief they had seen over the several years of their involvement. Their reason for staying in DLM was based on him. They loved him, but they hardly knew him. If he was a fool, they were fools for staying with him for so long.

I and most of my close associates, on the other hand, did not feel our fates were so eternally bound with Maharaj Ji's. We had been attracted to the Mission for reasons other than him, and had decided to stay even after we saw his deficiencies.

When my group got around to this touchy issue, I found nobody wanted to be the little child who announced the emperor's nakedness. Even I didn't want to open the can of worms. Slowly, in the course of the team's functioning, I realized there was something I was not facing. Okay, I knew Maharaj Ji was not the hottest thing going, but I enjoyed being in the mission, personally and professionally. I still had hopes that things would get straightened out. But somewhere inside me, I knew that if I started getting deeply into questions about Maharaj Ji, I would reach a point where I would need to know with certainty what he thought about himself. Had he acquiesced mentally to all the adoration and begun to believe he was the Lord?

I knew that if I asked this question seriously I might just find out that Maharaj Ji did think he was God. And if that was indeed what he believed I would have to leave the Mission, leave my friends, leave my hopes, and start out anew.

There is no way I could stay around a mission led by a crazy man, no matter how clever, charming, and charismatic that man was.

Yet over the past year I had begun to suspect the worst. Inside I was straining to resolve my doubts. Today, in the Hilton, I knew I would begin. "I don't think he's God," I announced. "I don't think he's even got any special insight."

"But what are we doing here then?" someone else in my group asked me.

It was an obvious question. A debate ensued:

FIRST PERSON: There is something so marvelous I experience in meditation. Where did that come from? And when I see Maharaj Ji I feel a powerful energy. Remember that reporter from the Denver Post? Where did the golden light come from? Come on, you have to admit the kid's got some power.

ME: I don't know the answer. There are many things I don't know. The list grows longer every day.

THIRD PERSON: But I feel that too. I have doubts about Maharaj Ji. We give him a lot of money and don't seem to get much back.

FOURTH PERSON: HOW can you doubt? Maharaj Ji loves you so much. You people are so ungrateful for what he has done for you. He has taken us from unreality and shown us truth. Like Christ, he has delivered us. You know I was a junkie, before the Mission. The only thing that got me through was praying to Maharaj Ji. Now I'm off junk. Don't tell me he's not special.

We talked heatedly for several hours, the allotted time for the task, and came up with the sentence, "Commitment to DLM is commitment to Guru Maharaj Ji." It seemed true, but I felt both commitments slipping fast.

Elsewhere around the room, groups had found the same live wire. By the time the conference was over, many doubting Thomases had come out. Those who still harbored their doubts deep inside, a secret for only themselves to know, began thinking.

It was not what Michael Dettmers had planned, but in the following weeks everyone was still talking about the issues which had come up in the conference. "Listen, man, we've got to get down to basics. I feel you are hedging. Maharaj Ji's either God or he's not . . . " I heard the mail clerk tell the office messenger in the mail room.

By January, on the snowy day when Dan and I sat eating chocolate square by square in the Hilton, burning down DLM did not seem particularly revolutionary. It was something already happening in Denver; now it only needed to spread far and wide.

This was the one big clearance sale-everything must go. Naturally, as during any insurrection, there was a conservative faction, and a reactionary faction, too. They like it just fine the way it is, thank you. And they don't see any reason why we have to ruin it with all of our questions.

My personal question was, does Maharaj Ji actually think he's a divine figure? This seemed like the crux of the whole matter. Back in November I had written a little blurb for a brochure advertising the festival commemorating Hans' birthday. I had said, "This is a special occasion because it gives us a chance to see that Maharaj Ji is not only a Guru but also a premie, a person just like us." Somehow this slipped by Sharon and got printed in the Divine Times. Once it had been run off ten thousand copies' worth, Jeff came into my office and said, shaking his head, "You really blew it this time. You really did."

"Why, what's the trouble?"

"Maharaj Ji's no premie, stupid. When Bob saw the newspaper, he called the Boss. There's no way he's going to release that issue of the paper saying he's a premie. We have to reprint and recollate."

Shaking his head, Jeff walked out. On one hand I felt sorry I'd insulted Maharaj Ji, but, wow, did that sound like ego. Thinking about it now, toward the end of January, it seemed to be rather indicative. If Maharaj Ji wouldn't step off the stage for a minute, then maybe he was afraid-if the premies got one close look, it might ruin the magic.

But then, on the other hand, I remembered a story I heard from Freddy, the absentminded porter who forgot BB's suitcase full of money on the airport runway.

Maharaj Ji liked to watch movies. Sometime in 1973 Freddy had shown Maharaj Ji a Hollywood comedy called The Mouse That Roared, starring Peter Sellers in the role of a bumbling prince of a tiny country. In this tiny country the main occupation was wine making. Because a California vineyard had recently come out with a cheap imitation of its main product, the country was facing a dreadful recession. Hours of cabinet meetings with the Queen Mother suggested no solution. Then the prince had an inspiration. "We must declare war on the United States," he announced. According to his scheme, their country would declare war and forthwith lose. Then, undoubtedly, American aid would pour in and the country would experience the same prosperity as other countries that had lost wars to the United States, such as Japan or Germany.

The country-people were delighted and prepared for war, bringing out crossbows and chain-mail armors. They sailed to New York and went ashore, only to find the entire city deserted. Unknown to the prince and his soldiers, an air raid drill was in progress. As it happened, the only people around were an absentminded professor and his beautiful daughter. They were working on the professor's invention-a very powerful weapon called the Q-Bomb.

Seeing his opportunity, the prince captured the beautiful daughter and her father. Then he called his mother and told her that he had won the war. Meanwhile the beautiful daughter and the prince fell in love.

When they got back to their border they found an envoy from every powerful nation waiting for them, begging for the bomb. After many negotiations, the bomb started ticking menacingly. The professor took it back to the makeshift lab he had set up and attempted to disarm it. At a crucial moment a tiny mouse crawled out. The professor looked quizzically at the bomb and asked, in a classic Hollywood German accent, "Are you a dud?" The prince, the beautiful daughter, and the professor made a pact of silence. Because people continued to believe the three of them had the Q-Bomb they were able to direct the world onto a more noble course.

When Maharaj Ji saw this film, he was thrilled. "This is exactly what I am doing," he said. "I've got the Knowledge Bomb."

This story indicated to me that Maharaj Ji did not think he was God; he understood that he was a bumbling prince whose claim to power was a placebo called Knowledge. In order to get Knowledge to work he had to talk it up, act as though it were a cosmic mystery, "the holiest of all secrets."

This approach had some merits. Peak experiences of the sort I had in early spring of 1973 are completely different from ordinary consciousness. When someone has one of these experiences he usually believes it is beyond his ability to have it again. He attributes his temporary high awareness to luck, fate, the stars, or perhaps he is just baffled by it.

A guru knows that most people have great unused potential. Essentially, the guru tricks the people who come to him into doing what they are already able to do. Just like the good doctor with the sugar pill. "Take this and you'll [eel better soon."

If you are tempted to laugh at people who are cured by placebos, hold on. If you have ever taken cold pills and gotten relief, the joke's on you, too. According to an FDA study, when the government took a look at those tiny time pills they found "little evidence of any effect on major cold symptoms, except for minor decongestant action: It is ineffective as a fixed combination."

When the drug companies were confronted with this and similar studies, they "failed to substantiate claims for effectiveness [to] prevent or relieve the symptoms of a cold," according to the FDA's report. Still, they stand by their product. Speaking for the average consumer, the president of the drug industry lobby said, "If you find a product that works for you, then you know it works." The overwhelming public response to cold pills spoke louder to him than any study.

Spiritual experience is not like a cold cure. Once you've realized something, your growth is forever, unlike a cold, to which you'll be victim again and again. Because his students grow and learn, there comes a time when the guru trickster must let them graduate, must tell them the secret: "It was you all along. I tricked you into making the effort you needed to get you this far, but you did it yourself, you walked every step of the way."

Another fact in Maharaj Ji's favor was that he seemed to be encouraging a spring revolution, graduation in June. Or perhaps he was sick of being a big-time guru and wanted to settle down and be just folks.

"Once again life is following art," my father said when I told him of the situation, reminding me of a book by D. H. Lawrence. This novel suggests that Christ did not die on the cross, but rather fainted. Later, when he awakened in the tomb, he escaped and began a new life, feeling his mission was complete.

All of this controversy made me tremendously happy. Dan did a whole issue of the newspaper about "understanding," encouraging everyone to throw out their assumptions, question all their premises, and get back rooted in their real experiences. By the middle of February, Jeff wanted to get in on this new open awareness which was surging through his department.

As if to purge himself, he fired Sharon and became the newest member of R&D's cosmic Spanky and Our Gang. He put Saul in charge of us, as he was by every estimation the senior member of the writing staff. Immediately Saul abolished the post of "editor" and said everything should be done in a team approach. We formed the Divine Times Task Team and started cooking up articles to further the Spring Revolution among DT readers. "I Was a Happy Darkie for Guru Maharaj Ji," "Confessions of a Fanatic," and "Why I Left the Ashram," were just a few of the titles with which we hoped to arouse people's thoughts.

In forming the Divine Times Team we recruited someone from "North American Operations," the national coordinating department which communicated over the WATS lines with the local affiliates. We hoped this person could act as a news gatherer and save the postage and effort I had been expending to get the national news. Now that the "cultural revolution" had come to DLM, we wanted to make sure we got last-minute dispatches from The Front, the premie communities where the real changes would have to happen. Since North American Operations had the power of the WATS line and a full vice president as their director, they considered Divine Times small change. They assigned us one of the low-authority staff people. However, as soon as they saw the explosive list of articles we wanted to print, they became worried and sent some of their heavier brass in to watch over us.

"The Divine Times is actually an NAO function," they said, "because it is communicating to the North American premie community. Therefore we, rather than anybody down at R&D, should have the approval power over the articles."

Saul was incensed. He went straight to Jeff and told him, "Look, if you are behind us, work this out. We can't go on like this. It is completely contrary to the new way we are doing things."

Dan also spoke to Jeff about NAO. Dan understood the conflict as a struggle between an authoritarian style of management and a participatory style. "An authoritarian style will naturally inhibit the growth of consciousness. The Chief lays down the law for the workers, and they better do it no matter what they think. The Mission has been dominated by this style since it began. Now, Jeff," Dan spoke powerfully, "you have reached a point where you realize this is contradictory to our goal of promoting the growth of awareness. You are the only one who can help us. You have to go to bat for us with NAO."

Two weeks later, I was meditating in my room before dinner when I heard Barbara-Casey crying under her meditation blanket. In the half-light I could see tissue after tissue piling up on the floor.

"Barbara," I whispered to her, "are you crying?"

No answer. "Barbara . . . Barbara . . ." I went over to her bed and lay down on it. The only other time I had seen her cry was during a crisis period in her family.

She pulled the blanket off her. "Sophia, promise not to tell anybody until Thursday. Jeff's been fired."

Tears streamed down my face, too. I could see the executives were never going to relinquish their power. There would never be any participatory management structure in the Mission. There'd be no June graduation. This must be the way Maharaj Ji wants it-after all, he keeps these people in power, I thought as I put on my gloves and scarf, ready to break my promise to Barbara and walk over to Saul's to tell him the news. Whatever leeway Maharaj Ji had gained with me in Orlando, he had lost now.

It was an awkward time to fire Jeff. He'd been planning a retreat for the R8cD staff. "Since we're going to be working together on everything from now on," he had explained when he suggested the idea a few weeks earlier, "don't you think we ought to get to know each other a little better?" He'd taken some of the department money and rented a lodge, cross-country skis, the works. But with the news of his dismissal, a shadow was cast across our weekend in the hills.

When we arrived at the lodge, we were served an amazingly good meal by one of the artists. After dinner we sang songs and watched old movies. Outside was a bright moon. With the films over, several people went out to take walks. I was about to join them when Terry, one of the artists, asked to walk with me. I'd felt a great deal of affection for Terry ever since 1973, when we'd met in one enchanting moment across Saul's desk. For two and a half years I had kept this attraction to myself, trying to keep in mind that I was a nun. Because Terry showed a "saintly" character, often meditating long hours and giving inspired talks at staff meetings, he had already been selected as a candidate for mahatma. (Maharaj Ji had recently chosen four western mahatmas.) I was surprised and happy when I found I would have his company.

(..........)

In the next few weeks, I had no heart to fight North American Operations, quibbling over phrasing, when I went to work. I wasn't bitter or weary. Suddenly I felt it had nothing to do with me. Sitting in a meeting with Dan and the NAO director was like listening to a family fight among neighbors that came, muffled, through the walls of an apartment. I might listen, but more often I wouldn't. It didn't concern me. If Maharaj Ji wanted to run a little religion based on his father's teachings and he was able to find people to join, so what? That was his business, not mine. It all seemed so simple. When I walked around the office I felt peculiarly free. I had great affection for many of these people, but my destiny was no longer tied to theirs.

From this detached and happy perspective, it was easy for me to see the trouble wasn't so much in the way DLM was doing things, but in what DLM was doing in the first place. By teaching people meditation it was encouraging them to be individuals of spirit, but in trying to organize them to specific tasks, it was not giving them room to be individuals of action. It was like putting Bill Buckley out to work on the Yangtze River commune in China. There was just no way for it to work out.

So, with no regrets, I decided to leave the organization and strike out on my own beckoning frontier. On my twentieth birthday, the 13th of March, 1976, I wrote a little resignation message and posted it in the office lunchroom. I called my mother and told her I was going to leave. She said she'd send me money for my fare home and asked if I'd like to spend the summer in East Hampton with her.

"You could grow a garden," she said. "Georgica Beach lost several feet last winter, but I go down and look at it every day. The water's still cold, but in June we can swim."

Georgica Beach? I thought. It will be good to go back where this all began. It took me until the first week in April to get everything ready and pack up my clothes and office to ship home. Terry spent almost all the time with me. He was thinking he might leave, too, but he'd go west; home to him was California.

I knew I'd miss him and all the people I loved in DLM, but I was sure that, whatever friends I left here, I'd have an equal number and more in the future. "Besides, who wants all their friends to be from the same guru cult, anyway?" Saul quipped as he saw me off. I went to the train station to catch the six o'clock through Chicago to New York. I looked back once and saw the skyline against the pale but deepening blue of the evening sky.

The next morning I woke up earlier than anyone. The sun had not yet come up over the vast brown dirt fields of Nebraska. As the sun broke over the horizon, I felt overwhelmed with joy. I took a pad out of my purse and wrote a poem, the first one in two years:

No birds, this morning's dawn just the train and miles of new plowed fields unseeded yet.

When I got to New York it was eleven, two mornings later. I was so delighted to see the Big Apple, I went to a commuters' bar to have a beer. Stepping up boldly, I put my foot on the brass rail and ordered. I was the only woman in the place; my gusto must have made my voice loud. Up and down the bar the men's heads turned. I raised my mug in the air and gave them my biggest smile. Many of them returned the toast, raising their steins and drinking deep.

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