Blissing Out in Houston

Maharaj Ji
Maharaj Ji; drawing by David Levine

“What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon,” Daisy cried, “and the day after that, and the next thirty years?”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby

October 21, 1973:

Tonight I have an appointment with Rennie Davis to discuss his newborn self and the salvation of all mankind. Some months ago, Rennie shed his former political activism to receive the Divine Knowledge being offered by Guru Maharaj Ji, the fifteen-year-old Indian who claims to be an incarnation of God sent to humanity to bring us a thousand years of peace. Rennie and I walk toward a soul food restaurant not far from the New York headquarters of the Guru’s organization—Divine Light Mission—on Park Avenue South. Rennie asks me what I think the Maharaj Ji is about.

I answer him compulsively and with a sense of desperation. I talk about the proliferation of diverse mysticisms in reaction to the Sixties’ failures, the Orientalism that seems to be spreading in the West, our despair over the technological mess, our disillusionment with the myth of material progress, the failure of secular humanism. Rennie smiles cynically. “I know you have all the right historical dimensions,” he says, “but you’ve left out the only thing that really matters.” He stops smiling and suddenly speaks in a curt, intense voice.

The fact is, he says, that in the next few years the entire world is destined to recognize the Perfect Master Maharaj Ji. Perfect Master will trigger an awakening of our consciousness which will allow us to plug into the ground of Being—God—Divine Energy—and to realize the full potential of that energy within us. The Perfect Master’s Knowledge will abolish all greed, hunger, violence, will bring a thousand years of world peace such as we have never witnessed in recorded history. The Millennium will begin on November 8, in the Houston Astrodome, where the Perfect Master will give his practical plan for world peace….

“Peace Now!” “Out Now!” The slogans of the Sixties flash through my mind, along with a previous memory of Rennie Davis: A meeting of peace coalitions in a state of mayhem. Rennie standing in isolation from the disorder, dressed in blue jeans and sneakers, quietly bouncing a tennis ball against the wall.

I lose track of Rennie’s voice for a few seconds, and I return to it to hear him saying: “…as a matter of fact I wouldn’t be surprised if a UFO landed in the Astrodome while the Perfect Master is there, all the astrological conditions point to that possibility…beings on other planets must be equally thirsty for his Knowledge.”

At the restaurant, Rennie eats his vegetarian meal with his left hand, Indian fashion, deftly cupping the food with his fingers. He tells me that he first heard of the Perfect Master from two of his devotees while flying to Paris last January to meet with Madame Binh. Shortly thereafter he…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.