Worshiping the Absurd The Negation Of Social Causality Among The by runout


									                                                                        Sociological Analysis, 1978, 39, 2:157-164

Worshiping the Absurd: The Negation
Of Social Causality Among The
Followers of Guru Maharaj Ji
D a n i e l A. Foss
R a l p h W. L a r k i n
Rutgers University

      This paper is the result of a two-and-a-half year participant-observation study in which the authors
   analyze the basis of Guru Maharaj Ji's appeal to ex-movement participants in the early 1970s. The youth
   movement of the 1960s had generated a reinterpretation of reality that called into question conventional
   reality. When the movement declined, the movement reinterpretation had no possibility for implementation.

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   Left between a reality they rejected and one that could not be implemented, ex-movement participants
   experienced life as arbitrary and senseless. Guru Maharaj Ji was deified as the mirror of an incomprehen-
   sible, meaningless universe. The Divine Light Mission stripped its foUowers of al! notions of cau.~atity
   while simultaneously subsuming and repudiating both conventional and movement interpretations of

Introduction: The Movement A n d The Mission
      In the wake of the 1960s youth movement, a plethora of organizations arose to serve
 the contradictory needs of ex-movement activists. As movement participants, they had
rejected the conventional interpretation of reality that pervaded the strata of their elders
and superiors. (For documentation of the conflicts between "straight" or dominant reality
and the reality of youth dissidents see Foss, 1973; Roszak, 1969, 1972; Flacks, 1971; Foss
and Larkin, 1976; Larkin, 1974; Hoffman, 1968, 1969; Wieder and Zimmerman, 1976.)
Yet as the movement waned in the early 1970s, the "freak" or movement interpretation of
reality which they had constructed in opposition to dominant society became insupporta-
ble. Many former movement participants flocked to organizations which purported to
solve the problems of youth caught between lives they despised and lives they could not
live. We call these organizations "post-movement groups," since they arose in response to
the decline of the movement (see Foss and Larkin, 1976, 1977). These groups took
several forms: Marxist sectarian "vanguard parties," religious sects of Christian and
Oriental provenance, and authoritarian communes and "families." In this paper, we will
explore the purpose and operation of one such group: the Divine Light Mission of the
Teenage Perfect Master and Lord of the Universe, Guru Maharaj Ji. The Divine Light
Mission was archetypal of the post-movement groups, since it was able to recruit from all
segments of the youth culture population: political radicals, acid-head "freaks" (cultural
radicals), communards, street people, rock musicians, dropouts, and "inhibited" types,
who, upon flirtation with drugs or some other aspect of dissidence, recoiled in reaction.
   The Divine Light Mission achieved prominence in 1973-74, receiving a substantial
amount of coverage in the print and electronic media. Its festival in November 1 9 7 3 -
called Millennium-'73--was held in the Houston Astrodome and was the youth culture
event of the year. It received coverage by local, national and international press and was
the subject of a documentary shown on the public television network. As it achieved
notoriety, the Mission alternatively became the focus of public outrage and ridicule. It
stood accused of "brainwashing" America's youth and turning them into "zombies"
(Kelley, 1974a). There were several instances in which the famed "deprogrammer," Ted
Patrick, attempted to kidnap devotees and "deprogram" them. The remnants of the New
Left claimed that the Mission was a "proto-fascist" group with a potential for violence and


  terroristic activities (Kelley, 1974a). Guru Maharaj Ji's penchant for high priced con-
  sumer iterns, expensive cars, and self-contradictory behavior was chronicled in the
  "People" or "Newsmakers" sections of the newsweeklies and the New York Times. Televised
  network news programs often used the strange activities of the Divine Light Mission and
 Guru Maharaj Ji as "kickers," light stories of humorous content to end the program.
    All of these characterizations have an element of truth in them. However, the essential
 mystery of the Mission eluded not only the observations of the media, but most of the
 premies 1 as well. In ah attempt to understand the fundamental reasons for the existence
 of the Divine Light Mission, the authors observed and participated in its activities over a
 period of two-and-a-half years from May 1973 to the end of 1975, meticulously docu-
 menting Mission events. In addition to attendance at weekly meetings of the New
 York-New Jersey area Mission, we visited their headquarters in Denver for several days,
 attended regional and national festivals, interviewed premies nationwide, including

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 dignitaries and policy-makers, learned the secret meditation techniques, read all Mission
 magazines, newspapers, bulletins and leaflets, read popular and professional literature
 pertaining to the Divine Light Mission and related groups, and studied Hindu theology.
    The Divine Light Mission emerged out of the ashes of the 1960s youth movement a s a
 highly incongruent, even self-contradictory organization. For example, the Mission
 propagated its secret meditation techniques (called, and referred to hereafter, as the
 Knowledge) as the road to ultimate liberation, yet enforced a highly authoritarian, strict
 regimen of life on its members. This strangeness was due to the contradictory functions
 of the Mission: it accommodated ex-dissidents to the reemergence of dominant institu-
 tions, while simultaneously claiming it was carrying on the revolution by alternate means.
 The followers of the Teenage Perfect Master, Guru Maharaj Ji, accepted again the
conventional interpretation of reality in an unconventional setting while retaining ele-
 ments of the youth movement reinterpretation in a fragmentary and dissociated form.
 They mimicked the social patterns of the wider society which they formerly rejected,
 while maintaining a posture of non-conflictual estrangement toward the larger society.
 For example, a former president of the Mission, who was a member of a Midwest terrorist
organization in the late 1960s, and who had adopted the image and behavior of
responsible corporate executives in the 1970s, told the authors in 1975, "This Knowledge
is the most revolutionary thing I know." Shortly thereafter, he stepped down from his
DLM position to serve a sentence at Ft. Leavenworth for his anti-war activities. T h e r e was
neither protest by the Mission nor premies acting on their own, ah unthinkable occur-
rence five years earlier.
    As they cut their hair, eschewed the hedonism of the earlier era, and conventionalized
their behavior to conform to the demands of "straight" society, they did so in the name of
G u r u Maharaj Ji, who was worshiped for his seemingly nonsensical and unpredictable
behavior. In order to minimize the pain (see Festinger et al., 1956, on psychic pain
generated by insupportable reality systems) generated by the conflicting interpretations
of reality in "straight" society and from the movement, the Mission systematically stripped
its members of all notions of causality and offered its own view of the universe that
emphasized formal structure without substantive content. However, before we discuss
this phenomenon, we must outline certain aspects of the "freak" reinterpretation of
reality that emerged during the late 1960s.

Reconciling The Irreconcilable: Liberation and Bureaucracy
  Central to the "freak" reinterpretation of social reality during the 1960s was the
characterization of all bureaucratic hierarchies as substantively irrational and eo ipso evil.

  ~Premie is a Hindi word rneaning "lover."
                                                       WORSHIPING THE ABSURD               159

 "Corporate-fascist-pig-bureaucracy" was a staple epithet in late-1960s "Movement"
 rhetoric. "Movement" participants rejected the rationales put forward by bureaucratic
 organizations to legitimate their activities in terms of principles of overarching signifi-
 cance such as material prosperity, democracy, national defense, or "the quest for truth."
    The end of the "movement" meant, for the erstwhile dissidents, a foreclosure of the
 possibilities of social transformation, i.e., an acknowledgement of the persistence of
 bureaucratic hierarchies for the foreseeable future. One way or another peace would
 have to be made on their terms. In these circumstances continued commitment by the
 former dissidents to the "freak" reinterpretation of social reality was rendered excruciat-
 ingly painful, and most of them accordingly abandoned it--at least to the extent that they
 could "function" within conventional bureaucratic organizations. They were, however,
 unwilling of unable to restore their lost faith in the pretensions of these organizations
 with respect to the overarching significance of their activities; and in fact, survey data

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 gathered by Yankelovich (1972) and Gallup (1975, 1976) indicate that the moral
 authority of bureaucratic elites continued to decline during the 1970s.
    Those who founded the Divine Light Mission orjoined it during 1971-72 were former
 "freaks." As "freaks" they had, during the 1960s, internalized the standard "Movement"
 conception of the repressive "corporate-fascist-pig-bureaucracy." But now, as "servants"
 of the Teenage Perfect Master, Guru Maharaj Ji, they proceeded to build and manage an
 organization which became, during 1972-73, a veritable parody of that conception: The
 Mission enjoined upon its organizational c o r e a strict regimentation of everyday life. It
 banned drugs and established an order of celibate-renunciates. It enforced hair and dress
 codes and fostered servility and obediente in lower-level operatives.
    By 1973, the Mission had developed a centralized bureaucracy with r a m p a n t titleism
 and a penchant for office forms and organizational charts. Observation of the Mission led
 us to the conclusion that the primary function of the staff was monitoring of its own
 activities. In effect, therefore, the Mission represented the ultimate parody of bureau-
 cracy in the wider society--functionally rational but substantively irrational. Failures and
 bungling on the part of the Mission staff were repeatedly demonstrated, yet the symbolic
form~~ of organizational seriousness and managerial competence had a compelling emo-
 tional appeal to both the Mission staff itself and to many potential converts/
    The significance of the activities of the Mission lay in "service" to and execution of the
 "Divine Plan" of Guru Maharaj Ji, Perfect Master and Lord of the Universe. But Guru
 Maharaj Ji was himself a supremely incongruous divinity: chubby, squat, enamored of
 expensive cars and other gadgets, and in no way saintly in his dealings with his followers.
 Yet it was this very implausibility which constituted a major factor in Guru Maharaj Ji's
 appeal to his adoring followers: having repudiated or become estranged from the
 conventional ("straight") interpretation of social reality, they could not adopt the "freak"
 reinterpretation of social reality, as it presented a declining promise of fulfillment. Society
 was therefore something merely factitious, making no sense. Guru Maharaj Ji accordingly
 represented the ideal embodiment of the universe, since he was himself so manifestly
    Since the prospective premies carne to the Mission in a state of confusion and despair, it
 maintained a strong emotional appeal by deifying the incomprehensibility of the material
 world, while at the same time providing an ideology which guaranteed that, through
 rigorous discipline, one would learn the ultimate meaning of life. However, in order to
 learn such an important (and eternal, we might add) lesson, one had to accept Guru

  2Extensive documentation of administrative ineptitude can be found in Daniel Foss and Ralph
Larkin, "The Premies: A Study of the Followers of the Teenage Perfect Master, Guru Maharaj Ji"
(unpublished), especially in the chapter entitled, "The Perfect Organization."

Maharaj Ji as Lord of the Universe and learn to speak and think in satsang 3 language,
which was the foundation of a noncausal belief system. In order to understand how such
an act led to the suspension of causality, we must examine the persona of G u r u Maharaj
Who Is Guru Maharaj fi?
   G u r u Maharaj Ji is held to be the personification, embodiment, and perfect mirror of
 the premie's experience of the universe. T h e Perfect Master is ambiguous, self-
 contradictory, absurd, capricious, self-indulgent, and arbitrary in everything he does--at
least to all outward appearances. But he is hardly expected to be plausible or even to make
 any sense at all. " H e j u s t is the way He is," as one premie put it. In fact, Guru Maharaj Ji
 has a positive obligation to avoid trimming his sails to curry favor with people who have
preconceptions of the behavior of a Perfect Master. It is only being "the way He is" that

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 Guru Maharaj Ji performs his p a r a m o u n t spiritual function, that of exploding "concepts"
and other preconceived notions which constitute the psychic baggage with which the
individual is encumbered. Thereby one is placed in a realm where the a p p a r e n t con-
tradictions among ideas, doctrines, words, theories, and concepts simply dissolve. Premies
say, "He's always blowing minds. That's the whole trip, I guess."
   Troubled premies are counseled to hand over their problems to Guru Maharaj Ji and
say, "Here, Lord, you take it, I can't handle this." T h e efficacy of this device lies, we
believe, in its invitation to premies to symbolically exorcise their inner conflicts by
projecting them upon an external figure, that of G u r u Maharaj Ji, who personifies all
contradiction, unifies all opposites, and must be in control of everything since everything is
out of control. Guru Maharaj Ji exemplifies and acts out the perceived orneriness,
capriciousness, and moral obtuseness of the universe with great skill. He is the obvious
and logical repository for any inner turmoil which cannot be resolved by the individual
   G u r u Maharaj Ji is aware of his preposterous image and skillfully manipulates it. To the
general public it is the height of ridicule to believe that "a fat little rich kid" with a taste for
luxurious living and expensive gadgets--and who, on top of everything, married his
secretary, a woman eight years older than himself--could be the Perfect Master; yet here
is G u r u Maharaj Ji using the very ludicrousness of that proposition to support his claim
that he is, in fact, the Perfect Master:
      I mean, it's like man is like a big surprise, you know, people talking about surprises, but I think
   Perfect Master is the biggest surprise. And people make a concept of a Perfect Master, he's going
   to be like this, 'n' he's going to be like this, 'n' he's going to be like this. And then he comes. He's
   completely different andas a matter of fact surprises the world so much, surprises everybody so
   much they don't think he is (from satsang concluding Guru Puja '74, Amherst, Mass.).
  It is very common satsang parlance to say that " G u r u Maharaj Ji is a mirror." If Guru
Maharaj Ji is a mirror and simultaneously is consciously preposterous and random, then
what kind of appeal does he have; what sort of collective experience--especially
pre-Knowledge experience--might he be reflecting?

Social Causality And Truth Within: Grace And Lila
  Premies-to-be come to the Mission already motivated to avoid formulating a com-
prehensive interpretation of the wider society. The Mission fortifies this inclination by
offering the T r u t h within, the bliss that comes with practicing the meditation techniques,

  nSatsang refers to the discourse given by the Holy Family and devotees. Premies informally use
satsang in talking to each other. It also refers to more formalized services held by the Mission for
purposes of recruitment and reaffirming the faith of the followers.
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attending satsang, a n d doing service. Within the Mission there are means and devices
which inhibit preoccupation with the wider society and sustain conviction that the T r u t h
is within even for those who consistently fail to find it. H u n d r e d s of premies echo G u r u
Maharaj Ji in saying that "the p r o o f o f the p u d d i n g is in the eating." Some eat the
p u d d i n g a n d find it delicious. Others eat the p u d d i n g a n d taste nothing. Yet the latter
continue to o r d e r more pudding. Why?
    T h e premie-to-be brings to the Mission a weak sense o f social causality based on an
image of society characterized by utter senselessness. Within the Mission he is exposed to
the sat~ang language e m b o d y i n g a m o d e o f t h o u g h t that accords perfectly with this denial
of causality. In fact, as one learns to think in satsang, tofeel in satsang, one's r e m a i n i n g
links with chains o f causality outside the realms of the Knowledge are systematically
snapped. For causality one substitutes Grace a n d lila. Neither is " e a r n e d " of "deserved."
N e i t h e r can be a n a l y z e d a c c o r d i n g to a n y c o d e o f m o r a l i t y . Yet b o t h s a n c t i f y

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r a n d o m n e s s - - w h i c h the would-be premie already accepts as the r u l i n g principle at work in
society--into a cosmic attribute of divinity. Since the individual b e f o r e h a n d accepts
senselessness as o m n i p r e s e n t , it does not take that much of a leap to accept senselessness
as Divinely o r d a i n e d and either worship it with seriousness and humility or wallow in it as
God sprays it all over hito. (Guru Maharaj Ji is well known for his p e n c h a n t for spraying
his followers with paint, water, and silly foam. All such dousings are r e g a r d e d by premies
as i m p o r t a n t religious experiences.) Grace is G u r u Maharaj Ji's Grace, but Guru Maharaj
Ji does not bestow it. As a h i g h - r a n k i n g p r e m i e said, "Grace is not s o m e t h i n g the Perfect
Master gives. It is s o m e t h i n g the devotee gets."
    Some instances o f Grace are directly attributable to the actions o f G u r u Maharaj Ji, as
when he Graces a p r e m i e with his Darshan 4 or assigns him to a particularly blissful service.
At other times G u r u Maharaj Ji intimates that Grace is a miracle or supernatural reward
which magnifies the anticipated consequences o f virtuous behavior such as hard work or
diligent organizing. After Millennium, for instance, the Mission finances were so awash in
a sea of red ink that the leadership could only hope for an o u t - a n d - o u t miracle. DLM
Financial Director Rick B e r m a n described the scene:

    Once we h a d a board meeting with Maharaj Ji and we had all these reports from him. Michael
    (Bergrnan), who was treasurer at the time, said to Maharaji Ji, "I remember just before
    Millennium you told me that if I had only told you about the money shortage you would have
    given me grace to get the money together. I'd like to officially ask for grace now because we really
    need it!" Maharaj Ji laughed and said, "Don't ask for grace officially because if you do I'll give you
    what I have in my pocket--two cents. Work hard and grace will come."
In the above a n e c d o t e Guru Maharaj Ji not only employs the notion of Grace in the old
sense that runs, "God helps those who help themselves"; but it is also indicated that he
uses it subtly to needle a b u r e a u c r a t who has withheld disagreeable news from him.
   Indeed, those instances in which grace is manifest to premies could not by any remote
stretch o f the imagination involve the conscious intervention or even awareness of Guru
M a h a r a j Ji (in His Finite Form). O n e e v e n i n g in A p r i l 1974 a s i x t e e n - y e a r - o l d
woman said that "little droplets of Grace" were constantly raining down on her. As an
example she told o f looking for a present for her mother; she did not expect to purchase
the desired item for u n d e r six dollars. Grace intervened w h e n she h a p p e n e d by a store
which had the i n t e n d e d gift on sale for a m e r e $1.98.
   Guru Maharaj Ji, the Perfect Master, according to Mission theology, has come to reveal
the Knowledge o f meditation to suffering h u m a n i t y ; he was not obliged to do this, but as
Perfect Master he has ahruistically chosen freely to dispense his revelation and thereby

  4Darshan is a term referring to being in the physical presence of Guru Maharaj Ji. Though Darshan
usually refers to the traditional foot-kissing ceremony, it can also designate less formal encounters.

   shed his Grace upon all who ask for T r u t h with a guileless heart. The experience of bliss
   in practicing the meditation is a further manifestation of Grace. However, when bliss fails
   to manifest it is blamed on the premie, and the problem can be attributed to numerous
   possible causes: he is insufficiently dedicated, he is in his mind, he has not let go of his
   ego, he has "expectations" of"realizing the Knowledge" too quickly, failing to "let go" and
   thereby make real progress on the spiritual path, and so forth. In short, if bliss is
   manifested, this is Guru Maharaj Ji's Grace; if it is not, this is h u m a n failure.
       T h e r e is a level of Grace the effects of which lie beyond the realm of awareness
   accessible to unrealized beings, as evident in the statement common in satsang, " . . . we are
   experiencing that family. We are experiencing that Grace." Even ir a premie cannot easily
   detect Grace manifesting itself in his life, ir is there nonetheless. The normative dimen-
   sion of positive experiences in the Mission subcuhure is apparent here. Whatever the
   premie's actual awareness of his experiences, he is encouraged to believe that Grace,

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  all-pervasive, is operating upon hito and that he must soon experience unquestionable
  evidence of its presence.
       Belief in the workings of Grace, as we have indicated, fragments what remains of the
   Knowledge-susceptible individual's already minimal sense of secular causality in society
  and psychodynamics. While the higher aspects of Grace may be presumed to operate
  according to unknown cosmic principles, its perceptible manifestations are rather chancy
  and "expectations" of Grace--the feeling that one is entitled to it--are expressly discour-
  aged. Guru Maharaj Ji, the incarnation of the principle of randomness in the universe,
  bestows Grace as he will; but at the same time Guru Maharaj Ji in his omnipotence,
  omniscience, and omnipresence is raining down Grace in a steady stream. Ir is fairly usual
  for a devoted premie to say, "I do not deserve such Grace," even though there are reaUy no
f i x e d principles according to which Grace is "deserved" or not. This attitude is encouraged within
  the Mission subcuhure.
       If premies ate thankful for the bestowal of Grace which they do not deserve then they
  should, according to formal logic, complain about lila which they do not deserve either.
  But formal logic yields to emotional logic; reactions to lila range from a quizzical shrug of
  the shoulders to positive relish. Even more than Grace, lila embodies a world-view of a
 capricious, absurd, and r a n d o m universe, at least in appearances; whatever cosmic laws
 may govern lila are beyond the capacity of unrealized souls to comprehend. Lila is the
 prerogative of adivine personage; it is in the nature of the divine personage to exercise
 that prerogative. Grace is a matter of imputation and interpretation: the premie must
 ascribe a miraculous quality to blissful experiences and instances of good fortune which
 an outsider might consider to be the natural consequences of psychic discipline and
 autosuggestion, of else as sheer coincidence or m u n d a n e events of no significance. Lila by
 contrast is more a matter of definition. For a premie to detect the workings of Grace he
 must be convinced that the miraculous is indeed in operation--even without any "exter-
 nal" manifestations of ir being required--while associating it with Guru Maharaj Ji. The
 occurrence of lila is on the other hand incontestable because something weird or unpleas-
 ant has unquestionably occurred, and it remains only to define it as the game-playing of
 G u r u Maharaj Ji.
      For instance, Guru Maharaj Ji's enjoyment of lavish material luxury (when celibacy and
 poverty were enjoined upon ashram residents) has from time to time been taken for an
enormous lila. Ir is not that the premies necessarily find anything the least strange in his
collection of cars, planes, Divine Residences, tape machines, and other baubles. After all,
why should they begrudge him a white Mercedes if they would not have felt the same
about Janis ("Lord, won'tcha buy me a Mercedes Benz")Joplin? Nevertheless, the
flaunting of conspicuous wealth by religious dignitaries is alien to the religious traditions
of the middle class from which most premies derive (though not to the religious traditions
of the Fundamentalist lower classes, both black and white) and is the object of the
                                                     WORSHIPING THE ABSURD              163

 contempt and derision of the media, middle-class parents, and rival sects; so the subject
 kept cropping up in satsang, especially with non-premies around. The premies retorted
 that it is all lila, a gigantic joke played upon a money-crazed and contraption-collecting
 society in which Guru Maharaj Ji holds u p a mirror to a debased consumer culture. This is
 proof that he is Perfect Master of this Age.
    A Mission fiasco to which Guru Maharaj Ji lent bis name could be susceptible to
 post-facto classification as lila: after the Millennium festival, at which Mission officials
 predicted an attendance upwards of 100,000 plus extraterrestrial beings, was in fact
 attended by a m a x i m u m of 35,000 and incurred a debt of over $1 million, some premies
 professed to believe that the prophecies had indeed been fulfilled and that 1,000 years of
 peace had in fact been inaugurated. Others, however, contended that the festival had in
 fact been lila, a stupendous trick played by Guru Maharaj Ji to teach the premies to avoid
 having "expectations" even if they derived from Guru Maharaj Ji's own pronouncement;

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 to eschew "attachments" to grandiose organizational manifestations and colossal objects in
 the material world such as the Astrodome; and to remain exclusively centered upon the
 only Truth, which lies within.
    Abrupt changes in Mission policy apparently due to decisions of Guru Maharaj Ji or
 other members of the Holy family were also defined as lila by premies in the provinces.
 Following Bal Bhagwan Ji's (Guru Maharaj Ji's eldest brother) visit to Denver in April
 1973 the Mission made some public gestures toward "relevance." And It Is Divine
 magazine started to print articles on subjects of major concern to the broader youth
 population, such as the fad for Quaaludes and the feminist movement. The July issue
 featured a cover story on lesbian women (though it is suggested with great delicacy that
 the demands of the women's movement could be satisfied through celibacy and medita-
 tion). Rapprochement with feminism was sought through a Divine Organization of
 Women which raised women's issues within National Headquarters and planned propa-
 gation activities using a feminist-tinged approach. In J u n e Mata Ji (Maharaj Ji's mother)
and Guru Maharaj Ji arrived in Denver. Guru Maharaj Ji reportedly examined the July
issue of AIID (the two women on the cover whom the reader was to take to be lesbians
were actually celibate ashram premies) with great disgust, saying "This is divine?" T h e
cover photo of the August issue, which was to show a premie dressed up as a Palestinian
guerrilla, was scrapped in favor of a picture of a little girl licking an ice cream cone; the
editorial content was correspondingly changed to sugar-'n'-spice pablum. The Divine
Organization of Women was disbanded. Meanwhile, back in New York one day in J u n e
we were doing service at an ashram by washing the dishes and mopping the floor. We
heard some premies making some remarks about lila; ir seemed that they were now
prohibited from using certain materials for purposes of propagation. We asked whether
different members of the Holy Family represented divergent policy positions within the
Mission. The housemother pointed out that members of the Holy Family could do
whatever they pleased because "they're not human," and therefore speculation about
their possible motives was entirely futile and presumptuous.
    Thus, the notion of lila surrounds one of the central mysteries of the Mission: Guru
Maharaj Ji can do anything he wants, and in so doing, behaves incomprehensibly,
exemplifying a universe beyond understanding. The appeal of Guru Maharaj Ji, then,
lies in his ability to reflect a world that is arbitrary, non-sensical, contradictory, and
ridiculous. The worship of the preposterous figure of a "fat, teenage, Indian kid" deifies
nonsense. He validates prior experiences of senseless randomness and senseless order in
the material world by sponsoring, through the Mission, an alternative society which
reproduces and parodies at the same time as it negates through ridicule the very features of
social reality which gave rise to the feelings of senselessness in the first place; and then
resolves the contradiction in a mystical synthesis by offering in himself an object of

     Re-acceptance of the conventional i n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f social reality does not imply a
 r e t u r n to the status quo ante. T o a greater or lesser d e g r e e conventional society has ceased
 to " m a k e sense" to the f o r m e r dissident, even as he or she submits to the behavioral
 dictates of "normal life." T h e social-movement r e i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of social reality also no
 longer "makes sense" insofar as the material possibilities for following its behavioral
 dictates in collective action for social t r a n s f o r m a t i o n no longer exist.
     Living in a social world e x p e r i e n c e d as making no sense is not very pleasant, especially
if the counter-sense one has recently m a d e o f it has become insupportable. T h e f o r m e r
dissident needs assurance f r o m some quarter that the social universe is o r d e r l y and
well-planned, yet u n d e r s t a n d a b l y resonates to indications that nonsense, r a n d o m n e s s ,
a n d absurdity reign.

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     For a brief peri9d in the early 1970s, Divine Light Mission met these contradictory
psychic needs of f o r m e r m o v e m e n t participants. Its doctrines and precepts r e p u d i a t e d
explicitly both the conventional interpretation o f social reality and the social-movement
r e i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of social reality; meanwhile the Mission bureaucracy p a r o d i e d authority
relations in the wider society.
    T h e prospective convert was i n f o r m e d by the (apparently) businesslike operatives of
the Mission that " G u r u Maharaj Ji tells you the m e a n i n g a n d purpose o f y o u r life," that
" G u r u Maharaj Ji has a Divine Plan." Yet Guru Maharaj Ji was manifestly p r e p o s t e r o u s as
a divinity, and p r o l o n g e d contact with the Mission only served to confirm his role as the
deification of the absurd. As converts dedicated their lives to the Mission a n d the
p r o p a g a t i o n of the secret m e d i t a t i o n techniques, they internalized the central concepts of
Grace a n d lila, which r e i n f o r c e d their pre-Knowledge experiences o f a world that
manifestly made no sense. T h u s , divested of the necessity of making sense out o f the
material world, they could a c c o m m o d a t e themselves to the resurgence of d o m i n a n t
institutions by c o n f o r m i n g in the n a m e of Guru Maharaj Ji for the purposes of s p r e a d i n g
his Knowledge of the universal T r u t h which could only be k n o w n t h r o u g h the worshiping
of a God who made no sense.

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