Singing Along With the Guru
ACCORDING TO ITS public relations men, Blue Aquarius is a band which can produce "the best music in the world," and if that isn't enough, their 20 year old bandleader claims to be the brother of God. Blue Aquarius is the new rock band of Guru Maharaj Ji, the self-proclaimed perfect master, who is leading a pilgrimage of his followers from all over the world to the Astrodome in November.
In many ways, the band, which played for an audience of the Guru's Boston devotees Wednesday night, personifies the movement which has built around the 15-year old Indian boy. Blue Aquarius is slick and professional. Their leader, portly Bhole Ji, struts in front of them like a cross between Tonto and Lawrence Welk.
The Guru Maharaj Ji has learned to specialize in just this sort of improbability and overstatement: the shameless graft of a veneer of Eastern spiritualism on to Western pop culture. The band, which will release its first album "Who Is Guru Maharaj Ji?" next month, does songs with refrains like "Take me home with you, Guru Maharaj Ji." The Guru's Indian Mahatmas, equivalent to disciples, stud their sermons with words like "far out" and "A.O.K." At the concert Wednesday, the Guru's most prestigious American convert, former radical leader Rennie Davis, put forth a message which he called "almost unthinkable." Davis, the coordinator of Millenium '73, the Guru's three-day celebration in the Astrodome, said, "We declare that the lord is on the planet, with a concrete program to end racism, poverty and war." Davis identified the Guru as the "golden boy" who it was prophesized would come in the 20th Century to bring "a thousand years of peace."
THIS GOLDEN BOY Guru claims six million followers worldwide, and 40,000 in the United States. The core of his teachings is the divine light, the physical experience of light, shining in the brain. Devotees claim to have seen this light "shining through walls." After attending satsang, a meeting where the basic outlines of Divine Light's movement is discussed, those who decide to join the faithful attend a session where one of the Mahatmas reveals the "knowledge" (the experience of the light) through instruction in meditative techniques.
The Guru claims to be one in a long line of perfect masters--which included Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Krishna and Rama. The divine light itself can represent anything from God to the basic energy source of all life, depending on the individual devotee's religious or scientific persuasion.
In addition, the Guru has built a chain of enterprises designed to carry out the "practical plan for world peace" which he will detail at the Astrodome. Under the aegis of Divine United Organization (set up to enlist the "efforts of all trying to improve the condition of the world") is a chain of Divine Sales stores offering second-hand goods; Shri Hans Aviation, which operates two small planes in Riverside, Calif; and Divine Systems Enterprises, Inc. which includes wholesale dealerships in electronic equipment ("Divine Office Systems") and musical instruments ("Divine Harmony"). But most of Divine Light's money is raised through contributions of money and services from its membership.
A lot of money passes through Divine Light Mission, and every press report about the Guru's appearances mentions his limousines, his air-planes, houses and wardrobe. But these reports have failed to dent the loyalty of his followers. The bulk of his movement, at least in the United States, is made up of people who have traveled the "guru circuit" from drugs to yoga to transcendental meditation. Many have latched on to him as a God figure, a trend which his publicity men encourage.
THERE IS ALSO a much smaller and more intellectual wing of the Guru's devotees--including a few at Harvard--who don't deify the Guru. "It's natural to get the impression of a little fat kid ripping people off--but people never examine the knowledge that Maharaj Ji is talking about," Steve Beers '74 said. "My personal style would be different from his, but that doesn't matter."
Concentrating on the knowledge itself "brings clarity to our minds and our lives. It helps us to become selfless people--and that is what the earth needs, a world of servants," said another Harvard devotee. "The Guru's only claim is personal peace, and the rest is going to happen. The role of Divine Light Mission in world peace is questionable, but personal knowledge can unify people."
They bring a strong sense of social mission to their new beliefs and find Harvard compatible with their aims. "I see Harvard as an institution whose goals are educating people and helping society," said one devotee. "We don't throw these things out the window. Having knowledge gives our brain freedom to act."
The Guru has been able to incorporate many of the characteristics of successful mass movements into his doctrine. He has found a meditative technique which brings satisfaction to the "seekers" who are willing to embrace it without question, enabling his followers to display an almost childlike calm. And through the vagueness of his doctrine he has avoided challenging any of the pre-existing beliefs of his devotees.
HE HAS FORMULATED a dogma of social change which merely points to society's ills without suggesting specific change. To spread his message, the Guru has created his own media, including And It Is Divine, a monthly magazine (with a centerfold picture of the Guru in every issue), a new book entitled Who is Guru Maharaj Ji?, and a slick 70 minute feature film with the same title. The problems of pollution, war, and poverty provide easy targets for his public relations men who contrast them with the blissful smiles of satisfied devotees.
What the Guru plays upon are some of the themes that Americans have lived with for so long. He has captured some of those who reacted against American materialism, and supplied them with a new material good--the mental pill that produces bliss. To a nation spanned by identical Holiday Inns he has brought a religion whose one size fits all.
But it is hard to predict great success for the Guru in America. To broaden his nationwide appeal, he must bring older people into his youth-dominated movement. He must also move away from the hard core of people troubled by grave personal problems who have so far staffed his movement, and this will be harder to do. However, for some people, the qualities which most enhance the Divine Light bid for a mass audience--the freedom from questioning and the uncomplicated bliss which total belief in the Guru provides--are the most repulsive and this will hurt recruiting efforts.
Blue Aquarius has a full and polished sound but all told, it's not a very good band. The Guru's got a catchy tune, but the words don't mean a thing.