Mystic Religion Attracts Youths
The notes of the flute danced like a woodland air through the motherhouse of the 45-member Holy Order of MANS at 20 Steiner Street.
It was 5:45 a.m, Brother Andrew, the steward for the week, was waking his sleeping brothers.
Entering our room, he took the flute from his lips and called out: “Rise, Rise, brothers, and greet the new day.”
Twenty or so brothers on each of the two upper floors of the old mansion lined up to enter the two bathrooms. They dressed hurriedly, made their beds and straightened their rooms before the morning worship service and communion at 6:15.
The 7 a.m. breakfast was the time to break the silence that had begun at 11 p.m. the previous night.
About half the residents would be going out to work that day, serving at lunch counters, washing dishes, working as bellhops and bus boys, delivering telegrams, working with construction crews or performing routine office work.
The others would remain in the house, painting, repairing, doing clerical work, running errands, cooking, washing dishes, or perhaps being sent to the women’s residence down the street to do jobs requiring a man’s strength.
At the end of the day’s work, there would be an hour of silence for meditation and study, a vegetarian dinner at 6, two hours of instruction from the Bible and common evening prayers before lights-out.
Such was the life I led for most of last year after I had entered my sixtieth year. I had gone to the West Coast to search out some of the new religious communities being formed by young Americans.
The Holy Order of MANS is such a community. Most of its members are under 30 years old. They seem to be genuinely searching for a spiritual and mystical way of life.
Most of the members were once hippie-style street people, roaming through Southern California. Most had smoked marijuana and hashish and had taken LSD.
Unlike many hippies, however, these youths did not suffer from drugs.
The psychedelic drugs gave them a touch of the mystical experiences sought by religious persons through the ages. But they began to seek a life of Mystical experience based not on drugs but on a monastic-like discipline and simplicity.
Today, a truckload of marijuana dumped at the motherhouse would probably result in one of the brothers saying: “Okay, let’s get some shovels and brooms and get rid of this stuff.”
0ne day in the carpentry shop, I asked a brother why he had joined.
“There was no meaning in my life,” he said. “It was like a graveyard out there. Everything – college, work, the conventional life style – was irrelevant. If that’s what life’s all about I thought, how have peope managed to survive and at least remain reasonably sane?
“Then somebody told me about the Holy Order of MANS. I came down here to find out about it, and life has taken on meaning. I wouldn’t go back out there for all the money in the world,” he said.
The Rev. Earl W. Blighton, 66, is founder and director general of the order. He was once an electrical engineer and had been a clergyman in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He founded the Science of Man Church but could not do what he wanted to within a church structure. So he organized a brotherhood within the church, out of which grew the Holy Order of MANS.
When the order was incorporated in 1968, it had 18 members and one house. Within 18 months, it had two houses and an aid station in San Francisco, two houses in Hawaii and a farm in Sebastopol, Calif., 60 miles north of the headquarters. The order says it now has about 400 members and centers in 36 cities.
The motherhouse is organized like a traditional monastery, with members holding all money in common and taking vows of obedience, poverty, humility and “purity of thought.”
Opposed To War
Life in the order was rigorous but joyful. It was a house of love and peace. There was unanimous agreement that the war in Vietnam – like all wars – was wrong.
My first surprise was the appearance of the brothers and sisters. They might once have been street people, but the men now had their hair cut to medium length and were dressed somberly in clerical-like garb. The sisters wore knee-length skirts and had short hair, or wore their hair in a bun at the back of their necks.
One major aim of the order’s discipline was to separate a newcomer from his past quickly as possible. And having one’s hair shorn can be a vivid break with the past.
The order’s spiritual symbols and theories are drawn from Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha’i, Taoism, Yoga, Judaism and early Christianity. All the religious symbols and theories are aimed at achieving what the order calls “realization of the self.”
All who say they have reached that goal say that their spiritual bodies are as real as their physical bodies, that they know all about their past existences, that the self is the God within them and that those who abolish their egos for the true self can travel to distant places while their physical bodies
Belief in reincarnation is growing among the young on the West Coast. In the MANS order, it has been worked out precisely.
MANS members hold that each person’s lifespan is about 144 years. One who dies – “goes into transition” – at age 50, for example, lives as the same person on a spiritual plane for 94 more years. Then begins a new life in a new body.
Borrowing from a Hindu theological principle, the order teaches that, in the present life, decisions must be made on how one can best “work out his karma.”
“Karma” is loosely defined as cause and effect. Persons work out the effects of what they have done in previous lives and perhaps build up more “karma” to be worked out in another life. Once it has been worked out, believers may “return to the Father” and can be done with “life in a dense body.”
I had a son who had died at the age of 10. 1 was told: “That’s all the time he needed to work out all of his karma.” I couldn’t help thinking of the adage, “The good die young.”
Reincarnation for the order members means belief that they once may have been of the opposite sex, of a different color, race and religion, and perhaps had lived on another planet.
One aspect of the belief in reincarnation is the elimination among believers of bigotry. Members believe that those who know themselves well enough discover they were once the objects of bigotry.
Life exists on all planets, the order believes. But the inhabitants cannot be detected by humans.
I rejected some teachimgs of the order. But my life there was one of my finer experiences.
I could not take vows after the six-month trial period. But that life seemed valid for young persons who had not yet become skeptical or analytical and who were part of the youth revolution, with which I identify in spirit and in understanding.
I feel that I returned to Philadephia a better man.