From the Night Factory
25. The Glass of Milk
In my journal I find this entry: 3:10 PM 25th June 1973. Brushed my teeth and bathed. I am going into Denver to receive ‘Knowledge’.
I was twenty-two years old and more willing to suspend disbelief. That was a feature of my youth. Forty years later I am less inclined. From the time I was twelve, I felt God required me to explore alternatives. God was surely confident of His or Herself and could not fear being tested or examined. I set out thinking the very testing and examination of my belief could only lead back to God. And when I was twelve, I was convinced it was a moral imperative even to explore Atheism, an idea that has since seeped into my bones and has become the inescapable foundation of my spiritual life.
When I was twenty-two, I was prepared to force my Atheism aside to give religion another chance. India, in those days, used to export spiritual leaders by the dozens. This particular guru came by way of peer pressure from my dearest friends. I was determined to receive Knowledge from the Divine Light Mission. With that goal in mind, I removed myself from all my distracting possessions and with only the clothes I happened to be wearing, left my sister’s house in Boulder, Colorado to once more find God, this time in the incarnation of a fifteen-year-old boy from India. At that time, God was living in Denver.
I took my friend Joel’s sandals so that there wouldn’t be the complication of socks that grow stiff from sweat, or my boots’ difficult lacing. One sometimes had to remove shoes in holy places. It also appealed to my romantic idea of a spiritual neophyte, sandals and a folded blanket over my shoulder. I was determined to take no food until I had received Knowledge, also known as the Divine Light.
I concentrated on each moment being the Satguru’s and abandoned my ego and mind. I walked to the bus stop, arriving too early, yet Maharaj Ji didn’t waste my steps. Confident that he was leading me, taking care of me, I stuck out my thumb. In a very short time I was in a car, a young, attractive, stocky and freckled blonde drove me right to the Boulder-Denver bus station. She was a good omen.
The bus wasn’t to leave for half an hour. They told me I could board it on top of the Hill if I wanted. This left me time to stop at the local Boulder ashram, on the way to the Hill’s top, and to tell Joel what I was doing. Joel was a devotee of Guru Maharaj Ji. They call themselves premies. Joel is a premie to this day. Premie is Hindu for lover and is the title given to the Satguru’s followers. (After some inner turmoil, a schism within the holy family, the Divine Light Mission in the U.S. is now known as Elan Vital and the Guru Maharaj Ji is Prem Rawat.) I returned money I had borrowed earlier, what money of his I had not spent. Of course, Maharaj Ji conveniently provided for Joel to be at the ashram to receive the money from me.
Walking to where the bus would depart, I noticed every traffic light presented itself in my favor. The Satguru was busy working even the little things for me.
Once I was in Denver, I instinctively found my way through streets I only vaguely remembered from one previous visit. Walking up the street was the loveliest of women, slender with short dark hair and deep round eyes. Her purse had Guru Maharaj Ji written on it. Her name was Jennifer. By the grace of my new found Lord, here was someone who could, as a vehicle of Maharaj Ji, lead me through my next steps.
The story in my journal of this pilgrimage to Denver for spiritual enlightenment is rich with accounts of meeting attractive women. It should be noted that at twenty-two, while my soul sought spiritual guidance, my soul was also awash in hormones with a distinctly separate mission.
Jennifer, so beautiful I fell into her eyes, wanted to offer me a place to stay, but the missions are not permitted to do this. I understood and told her so; I told her not to be concerned, the Satguru would provide me a place to stay. In the meantime, I pulled out a telephone number I had written on the reverse side of Guru Maharaj Ji’s wallet-sized photograph. I showed Jennifer the phone number, hoping she might recognize it. She checked with her friends and came back. It was the phone number to 1750 High Street, a premie house, where I would next have to go to find out about receiving Knowledge. I added the address on the back of Maharaj Ji’s photograph. In accord with the billions of small miracles Maharaj Ji does, a pencil just happened to lie on the table alongside.
Upon reaching 1750, I was redirected to the ashram on Race Street, where Maharaj Ji and family were living during their stay in Denver. I trekked to the Race Street ashram and was informed that there was a Knowledge session being given across the street in a premie house.
That Knowledge session had already begun and no one knew when the next one would be. I told my story to the young woman who was head of that household. She said I could probably stay overnight at the 1750 premie house. So it was that the Maharaj Ji had provided for me, and I trekked back to 1750, where they allowed me to sleep in the backyard. I parked my blanket there and went to a special event being held at the Indian [Native American] Center, which turned out to be a synagogue.
It was not the typical synagogue I was used to, the wood framed and cinder block boxes of suburbia. This was a grand building built of red bricks, formerly the Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol synagogue. It felt like an appropriate place to hear God speak. There were stained-glass windows. They bore aphorisms in English. One read, “The Ledger lies open and the Hand writes” and it was noted to come from Pirke Aboth III, 20, a name I had never heard before.
In the years since my visit to that sanctuary, it had been abandoned and damaged, broken windows and leaking water; it had been disgraced, spray painted with obscenities and satanic symbols. However, in the last few years that fine structure has been restored by new worshippers, has become the Beth Abraham Church in the City thanks to Reverend Michael Walker, a “Christian” Jew. But when I was there, it was for a different messiah, the Guru Maharaj Ji, who graced us with his presence.
After Guru Maharaj Ji’s sermon, there was an announcement that a satsang would be given at 1750 by Mahatma Fakiranand, at which time he would pick people for a Knowledge session. The very place where I was staying! The Lord was being kind. In my dizzy, frenzied excitement, I told everyone of my good fortune and how wonderful was Maharaj Ji.
That night, I laid on the hard ground of 1750’s backyard wrapped in my sister’s blanket. I watched a bright star in the southeast, near the horizon. It could have been Venus; it could have been Jupiter. I prayed to the Guru Maharaj Ji to help me sleep, because I was very uncomfortable and hungry. He helped.
During next morning’s satsang, I sat in front. When Mahatma Ji came and asked who would like to receive Knowledge, I raised my hand. I was the third person he spoke to. “Yes?” he said.
“Mahatma Ji, I would like to receive Knowledge; I desire it very much.”
“Yes, but you don’t want to become a devotee.” With that he turned away and spoke to others. I raised my hand again. “Yes?”
“Mahatma Ji, I want very much to receive Knowledge and I do want to become a devotee.”
“Have you attended satsang for 15 days regularly before now?”
“I have attended satsang for seven weeks.”
“Do you believe Maharaj Ji is the Lord of the Universe?”
“Have you ever had another guru?” I was not sure what he meant by another guru, but once I understood, I said no. He said to his aide to put my name on the list. Number five – Bruce Bentzman. I made it.
Fifteen names were on the list before the Mahatma had finished. His assistant said we should all get plenty of rest, attend satsang that night at a Unitarian Church, and go to the premie house on Race Street for a Knowledge session at 3:00 AM the next morning.
When the Mahatma left, I followed. I thought this; no, I knew this to be the Guru Maharaj Ji’s wish.
As we walked, I asked the Mahatma how old he was. He responded, “Ten years old.” This meant it had been ten years since he received Knowledge. His assistant then explained that 29 was put on his passport. In fact, Fakiranand was fifty-five. I know this from a news account. Later that year, the Guru Maharaj Ji got a cream pie in the face. The perpetrator was Pat Halley, a reporter for Detroit’s Fifth Estate magazine. The Mahatma Ji Fakiranand and fellow conspirator Richard Fletcher decided pushing a cream pie into the face of God was a sacrilege punishable by death. They visited Halley at his home and attacked him with some heavy metal. Halley was able to fight off his assailants, but he required 55 sutures and a permanent plate in his skull. The Divine Light Mission whisked Fakiranand out of the country to avoid arrest. But this was to be in the future.
I was walking in Fakiranand’s footsteps. The Mahatma reached under his orange robe to take out with both hands a crumpled pile of money in small bills. He handed this to his assistant to carry. It was donations from newly acquired premies, having just received Knowledge. A five dollar bill dropped to the street. Perhaps this is why Maharaj Ji had me follow. If I had not been there the money would have gotten lost. I picked it up and returned it.
The Mahatma Ji went into the ashram where he was living, across the street from the premie house where I was to receive Knowledge. They told me I couldn’t wait at the ashram, so I went across the street to the premie house. There I was again told that I couldn’t stay, so I return to 1750 High Street.
When I arrived at 1750, they suggested I do service by passing out leaflets. They sent me to a park at the south end of High Street.
I was upset at the prospect of pamphleteering. I had not yet received Knowledge, what was I to tell people? Besides, I had always felt proselytizing uninvited was rude. Also, I was afraid the disinterested would litter the pamphlets. This, surely, was a test of my devotion. It was necessary that I do this hard thing to prove my faith.
On the way to the park, I passed a man cutting wood to remodel the interior of his house. I didn’t have the courage to stop and tell him about Guru Maharaj Ji. I walked past the opportunity and stubbed my toe on the sidewalk. For this reason, I went back and started an awkward conversation. When I asked if he was curious about Guru Maharaj Ji, he said “definitely not”. I left, stubbing my toe again in the same place.
I asked the people I met if they were curious. If not, I let them be. Meanwhile, Joel’s sandals wore a blister on the top of my foot that at this point burst and bleed. I was hot and very tired.
I sat down next to a young woman in the park. She was sketching textures of the grass and leaves and trees. She was a Christian. I was hoping to convince her that Maharaj Ji was the Second Coming. She was stubborn and said she was a bad philosopher, that she couldn’t win our argument because she didn’t understand logic. “I believe in my religion and no one is going to change my mind,” she said. I left the park. Forty years later I’m wondering if I had frightened her.
I returned to the ashram of Jennifer with the beautiful eyes, but she was too busy to see me. Others there asked if I could spare any leaflets and were glad when I gave them all. They let me go downstairs to rest on a couch in preparation for that early morning Knowledge session.
When I awoke, I went back to the 1750 premie house and retrieved my blanket, then went for satsang at a neighborhood Unitarian Church. By this time my steps were painful. Joel’s sandals did not fit. At satsang, I gave myself over to the singing and praying before returning to the premie house where I was to receive Knowledge.
I arrived at 1609 Race Street ten o’clock at night, exhausted, my mind in a twilight state. Five hours to go. To stay awake, I walked about the neighborhood and wondered, “Why did the Divine Light Mission attract so many attractive, young women?” I met a devotee couple who gave me satsang at yet another premie house. They gave me milk. It was my undoing.
For thirty-six hours I had nothing but water. I was having tremendous difficulties staying awake, enduring the worst headache I had ever had, and suffered stomach cramps. I drank the milk and laid down on the sidewalk, flat on my back, looking up at the stars. My skepticism came flooding back, could no longer be contained.
I explained to the folks who gave me milk, how I wanted to experience Knowledge to find out if the Guru Maharaj Ji was really God, because I must know the truth, especially the one truth the Satguru spoke of. But if it were true, I would be frightened to death to learn that such childish absurdities were reality. I could not accept that the ineffable mysteries of existence could be reduced to something no more sophisticated than a parlor game, what I would describe now as appalling obscurantism.
The stars were beautiful. Soothing music found my ears. My pains were gone. I blew it. Now I couldn’t receive Knowledge because my answers to the Mahatma’s earlier questions had changed. I was feeling very good.
I stuck around until three o’clock in the morning, but the Mahatma didn’t come. His assistant forgot to wake him. I waited. He woke at six. We were told we’d see him in an hour; time for him to prepare. An hour later we were to be put off again. He wanted to wait until the Maharaj Ji was awake. Daylight came.
All fifteen proselytes waiting for the Mahatma had fallen asleep, except for me. I was too happy. There was an elegant crescent moon, an archer’s bow aiming at the sun just below the horizon. And still I persisted. Didn’t my friend George receive Knowledge simply by lying?
The Knowledge session was put off again. We were told there would be a new time announced in the afternoon. We all made our way to 1750 for another satsang and during that satsang I walked out, the blanket over my shoulder. I was no longer willing to suspend disbelief and abandon what was known. At the bus station, I was there just in time to board the bus for Boulder. I wonder now how I paid for the return trip.
Mr Bentzman will continue to report here regularly about the events and concerns of his life. If you've any comments or suggestions, he would be pleased to hear from you.
Selected Suburban Soliloquies, the best of Mr Bentzman's earlier series of Snakeskin essays, is available as a book or as an ebook, from Amazon and elsewhere.