O DIVINE ENERGY, Super-Shakti... shower down like rose petals... attack like a thunderbolt. Just... get on with it.Sweep away the suffering, strip away the stress, negate the nerves, exorcise the lower back pain, dry up the acne, clear up the constipation, diminish the doubt, whittle down the ego, help us transcend filet mignon... Guddle all your wretchedly excessive dharma bums... Oh, what's the use... pass the sesame yum-yums!
He was a short, pudgy little guru, enlightened at the age of 11 when he started spouting Sanskrit like a scholar and singing Vedic hymms like a Beatle from Bangalore. His ample bottom wrapped in a silk white dhoti, a round belly nagging at the purple velour turtleneck, Sant Keshavadas, 44, father of three, shrugged off his diet and began handing out spiritual munchies.
There were honey-sesame balls, a spicy nut mix and krinkly nibblies that tasted like Hindu 'Tater Tots. These he pulled from plastic bags, just one of the Cosmic Crunchies available to those who play The Washington Guru Game.
It can be great sport, running around town, looking for enlightenment.
For if you stir together the forktongued lawyers, brainless bureacrats, jockeying journalists, loquacious lobbyists, cunning congressmen, what you'll find if you dig deep is a town of angst-ridden Souls yearning to get free. Underneath the three-piece suits and sensual silks throbs -- California East!
"Washington is a spiritual supermarket," says Ollie Popenoe, 52, an entrepreneur who built the Yes! bookstore-restaurant into a mini-cosmic conglomerate that rang up $1.25 million in sales last year. "Some people are willing to try almost anything, in the hope that around the bend they'll find 'Mr. Right Guru.'"
Indeed, that's what most enlightenment hustlers believe, as they set out to unlock the bodymind of folks all over town.
For $25 an hour ( $15 after the first), you can court realizations by depriving the senses of all stimuli as you float naked, belly up, in the dark, salt-water security of a Lilly tank in Silver Springs. For $10, you can take a course at Washington's Open University in foot, head or ego massage. For the price of a movie ticket, you can huddle inside a human circle at the Quest Growth Center in Bethesda on Friday nights and Get In Touch with your feelings.
Or you can plop down $300 to $350 for weekend harangues that promise a new way of looking at the world. You can get actualized, lifesprung, bioengergized, hypnotized, focused, tuned and retuned. A quick zap is only as far away as the wallet.
Getting the head together, a frequent resolve at the budding of a new year, is a popular inner sport for thousands hereabouts, many of whom take seeking downright seriously, spending hundreds, even thousands of dollars as part of an ongoing process of transformation, a never-ending battle to harmonize the mind, body and spirit. The goal is self-discovery. The motto: no pain, no gain.
"If you don't change your inner self, how can you change the world?" asks Popenoe, an original architect of the Peace Corps who dropped out of government to pursue his self and, with the help of his wife, Cris, his fortune.
Or, you can take seeking less seriously, do some random spirtual schlepping, nibble at the smorgasboard pell-mell and... stunble into the arms of happy-go-lucky little gurus like Sant Keshavadas.
THERE WAS NO gleaming Mercedes outside the windblown mansion on 16th Street, but sandalwood incense floated about the halls. The upstairs bedroom was a mess. Open suitcases, note pads with scribblings, an unmade bed, an empty Neiman-Marcus shopping bag. Sant Keshavadas surveyed his dominion.
"Too much organization kills the spirit," he sniffed, more embarrassed about the bottles of Vitamin C in full view than the sloth. He gobbled vitamins only because his followers insisted. "God's holy name is the best cure." He laughed off the paradox of an avatar with a cold.
I handn't seen Sant-ji, as his pals call him, for several years, ever since a San Francisco promoter had sweet-talked him into blessing a new hotel.
"He promised to make me famous," sighed Sant-ji, who stands just over five feet tall and sports a scraggly beard and black hair that sweeps to his shoulders. He regretted lending his spirtual eminence to such a venture. "Later, I cried about the whole thing."
Alas, with devotees always kissing one's feet, even gurus can get swelled heads. "Now, whenever I feel my ego coming, I fall to my kness and ask God to save me... The spiritual path is hazardous, like walking on a razor's edge."
It's tough going to be a guru these days, Everyone thinks you're out to pull a mindsnatch. Jim Jones has cast a shadow of suspicion over everyone in the business.
"That," he scowled, referring to the Guyana massacre, "is what happens when people develop a personality cult. I tell people, 'Worship God, not me.' We don't brainwash anyone. We don't ask for money, except for contributions to produce our records and books." He brandished a copy of The Purposeof Life , $5.95.
The overhead bulb glinted off his gold ring and watch. He'd firted with temptation. "Food, clothes, fame. I've had my problems. But behind them, the idea was always to glorify God's holy name."
Not that destiny was treating him shabbily. He could boast seven Temples of Cosmic Religion stretching from Hyattsville to Oakland, an ashram in the Himalayas, 49 books and a general philosophy that appears to espouse the brotherhood of all religions. But, he said, his daughter needed a job.
The phone rang, long distance from a devotee. Sant-ji laughed into the receiver. "Larry, darling! Remember, 10 years ago, I gave you a coin and promised you'd be a millionaire. I want you to tell The Washington Post." A beaming Sant-ji handed me the phone. An earnest voice identified himself as an inventor from San Francisco. He said he owed everything to his guru.
Three years ago, the man said, he was staring bankruptcy in the face. He'd been awarded a hefty research contract for a ship guidance system. But he needed $50,000 to clinch the deal. A key investor pulled out at the last minute. "I was on the verge of tears," he said.
Then he got a call from Sant-ji, who instructed him to come to a prayer meeting. He walked into a room of 200 people and sat down next to a woman he'd never met. He told her about the project. She said her husband might be interested. That night, he got a check. He's now negotiating with the Navy for a multimillion-dollar contract. "Divine coincidence," he called it.
Sant-ji shrugged. "Whatever happens to people, good or bad, they always blame their guru."
ENLIGHTENMENT is the perfect product for the New Age Entrepreneurs of America. There's built-in demand: everyone thinks something is wrong with them and they want to get rid of it. ("Life is blah and it's all my fault.") So, naturally, buyers embrace anyone who guarantees to turn drudgery into a beautiful experience ("You mean today can be the first day of my life?").
Repeat sales are built in. Give someone a taste of realization, they can't live without it. Cosmic heroin.
No fuss about unions or minimum wage. Everyone recruits his or her friends, who, in turn, recruit their friends, who work for free spreading the word. Word-of-mouth is the best advertising. An employee asks for a raise, he gets a hug.
Consumer Reports hasn't figured out how to road-test a mantra. Ralph Nader isn't looking.
And there's low overhead: no factories cranking out widgets. Just package and repackage the ideas of others. No patent gripes: Who has a lock on universal truth? What is, really is.
But how is a seeker to know when he finds it?Or where to look?
When the student is ready, the teacher will appear... Neither ladle with a sieve, nor strain with a dipper.
"It's the responsibility of the consumer," says Anne Adamcewicz, 28, director of Healing Resources, a non-profit yellow-page directory to the area's alternative therapies. The directory lists everyone, from Scientologists to Rebirthers. Anyone who bought in got listed. "We didn't want to get into a judgmental thing."
In the enlightenment business, there's room for all comers. "In this business, there's no more competition than in a symphony orchestra, where one is a flute player and another a drummer," says Temple of Cosmic Religion priest Nama Deva, 38. "It's all music. Everyone has their approaches and we have ours. But we're all going to the same place. There's no reason to quibble."
BERT AND ELAINE Weiner put dollar bills, not fish, in their aquarium. "We believe in prosperity," laughs Elaine, former Montgomery County drug-treatment program coordinator and mother of three. She and husband Bert, a chunky, middle-aged lawyer coming off a mine-day fast, have turned their Silver Spring split-level into a bustling 7-Eleven for the soul.
On the dining-room buffet, one finds pamphlets touting seminars on Loving Relationships ( $250) and Metamorphosis Workshops ( $15 per session or $60 for five). But this evening, the Weiners are about to kick off The Money Seminar, a four-hour videocassette of a slick-talking salesman who tells our small group that it's okay to have oodles of money and feel good about it. Now, if one chooses to live without money, hey, that's cool, too. That'll be $15 for the pep talk.
On coffee break, Bert asks if anyone wants to buy a financial newsletter, $12 a year.
There are books on self-improvement and, if one wishes, the opportunity to sign up for Rebirthing, a breathing technique that purports to transport individuals back to their very first trauma: birth. All neuroses stem from the delivery room, says Bert, explaining the philosophy Rebirthing borrowed from Frederick Leboyer.
"It's a chance to experience out all the negative impressions we carry around," he says.
California salesman Leonard Orr claims to have developed the process after spending too much time inside a sauna bath one afternoon in 1974. Since then, more than 10,000 people have been Rebirthed, and Rebirthers like Bert and Elaine have done nicely for themselves. "I love Mercedes," says Elaine.
Anyone who feels "qualified" after having been Rebirthed can then charge $35 to $50 an hour to Rebirth others. But it's all negotiable, says Bert, and there's a moneyback guarantee. "We'll give back your money and your negativity."
The technique, said to be adapted from yogic breathing, attempts to turn hyperventilating into a religious experience.
"Rebirthing," says Bert, "repairs the damage done to our breathing process at the time of birth. Our umbilical cords are cut too soon, so we struggle for the first breath. The dlivery room is cold, noisy, full of blinding light. A lot of fear and anger is at tached to birth. We're not aware how the trauma runs our lives."
It costs $200 to experience the series of lectures and four private sessions of instructional breathing. Advanced sessions may be taken in a hot tub, naked, with a snorkel.
"With a lot of other therapies, you have to go through all your garbage," says Elaine. "With Rebirthing, you just put your garbage in a bag and set it out on the curb. You don't have to sift through it. And who cares what's in the bag after you've thrown it out?"
THE YOUNG MAN answered the door in an orange robe. Shakti, a fiesty long-haired chihuahua, yapped at strangers, urging them to toss a rubber frog.
About a dozen people -- two college professors, students, a secretary and several devotees -- crowd into the living room to hear what this Indian guru is all about. Welcome to the local ashram of Rajneesh.
"Bagwan," explains the young man, referring to his spiritual leader, "allows his disciples to do anything they please." His philosophy: If it itches, scratch it, but scratch it with awareness.
"Sex is absolutely encouraged," he says. "Relationships among the devotees are very fluid. The deeper one goes into sex, the more it can be turned into a meditation."
What about smoking tobacco? "As long as you smoke with awareness. Bagwan feels that growth is a matter of awareness. If you are aware, undesirble things will drop away. Now if you work at dropping sex or smoking, you build up stress and it goes deep into the subconscious. The Tantra says, 'Indulge, but indulge with awareness.'"
Psychedelic sitar music wafts from the amplifier. We are invited to adjourn to the basement. Watches, shoes, a few shirts are removed. We are given instructions for the next 45 minutes of letting it all hang out: 10 minutes of chaotic breathing, 10 minutes of shouting "hoo-hoo-hoo" at the top of our loungs, 10 minutes of stillness and 15 minutes of dancing -- in the dark.
"Do anything you want," says the man in the orange robe. "Laugh, cry, scream. Play it out. We'll all have our eyes shut so no one will know who has taken the opportunity to express themselves."
We spread out. The lights are turned off. Loud conga drums come blaring over the speaker. The orange robe begins flailing and roaring like a lion. Nostrils flare with awareness. We hop about like Jacks-in-the-box gone mad. The basement smells like locker room.
Afterwards, soup and tea. A 40-ish devote with a long face, dark eyes and a wife in India plops down beside a blond teenag girl, a visitor, and begins stroking her knee.
"... I'm not for renunciation," says thguru, on tape. "The world is a reward. Go has given you this world to play with... Three people start massaging a prostrat visitor.
A scrawny, unattached young man pause at the door to ponder what it all means. He says he washes dishes in a restaurnt. It his first time. I ask if he will come back. He shakes his head, but he's not disappointed It's just that he already has a guru. This lips creep into a sly smile. "She's a house wife, and she's very good at cleanin kitchens."