Auckland, New Zealand
The Sunday Herald, November 17
In the old Tongan Embassy in Parnell, 15 young people have found peace in their lives by worshipping a 16-year old Indian boy and living in monastic simplicity.
They are devotees of the Divine Light Mission and believe that their spiritual leader, Guru Maharaj Ji, the "perfect master," is the living incarnation of God.
The guru claims six million followers throughout the world and the other day 200 New Zealand devotees came from all over the country to see him. Maharaj Ji was giving "darshan" - the physical presence of the Guru among his devotees - for the first time in New Zealand.
"It is a time of great happiness for us," said David Lovejoy, his Australian agent.
At a "satsang" (holy discourse) he told his premies (devotees) that he was the peanut butter jar and they were the knife. "You must spread the knowledge," he said.
A year ago when one of the guru's disciples, Mahatma Padarthanand, visited New Zealand there were only a handful of followers in the country.
They began by meeting in a one-bedroom flat in Grafton. When it became too small they rented a house but accommodation was again fully taken for the growing number of followers. In September this year, they took out a three-year lease on the old Tongan Embassy.
In a few weeks the old two-storey home has been largely repainted and redecorated and new lawns and flower beds have been laid.
At university at Wellington he got into politics "a bit." "I wanted to do something about the world but couldn't see how marching and making a disturbance was going to bring peace to anyone," he said. He dropped out of university and drifted. He "got into" yoga, Buddhism, the scriptures, the Hare Krishna movement - and drugs.
"I was generally trying to find out what was going on," he explains. Then a friend returned from Australia and told him that Guru Maharaj Ji had taught him how to meditate; that there was a light inside his head on which he could meditate.
"He talked about Maharaj Ji and meditation, but never actually showed us anything we could do," said Moss. "But as I travelled with him, I could see he was clearer than before and could do things more easily than I."
Moss followed his friend back to Australia in April last year and received "knowledge" (the spiritual experience revealed by Maharaj Ti) from Mahatma Padarthanand.
In Sydney he joined a mission home, later to become an ashram, and began full-time work for the Divine Light Mission. After a few months in Melbourne, he returned to New Zealand to join the growing number of devotees. There is now an ashram in Wellington and Christchurch.
Those who live in the ashrams renounce worldly desires. They do not drink or smoke and are vegetarians. Sexual relations are forbidden. "We live as brothers and sisters,"says Moss. Some continue outside work and their wages are devoted entirely to the ashram. Premies who live away from the mission give donations and voluntary help.
The devotees rise at 5.45 a.m. and meditate from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. In the evening, they meditate again and hold satsang. At 9.30 p.m. there is another hour of meditation.
When the devotees speak of their faith they are mindful of evangelical Christians. It is a simple faith where intellect plays little part.
Asked why they practised celibacy when the guru himself recently married his former secretary, Moss says: "What he does is not for us to judge - though the rest of the world probably will."
The premies' holy ghost, is meditation on Guru Maharaj Ji, unlike some other meditation techniqes where the mind is blanked off from troublesome thoughts by concentration on a meaningless word or inanimate object.
"It's so simple. Just think of me as your spare wheel when you go flat," the guru told devotees at a satsang in Houston recently.
"Guru Maharaj Ji is our meditation," says Moss.
"People see him in their meditation," said David Lovejoy, explaining why the guru remained isolated from most of his devotees during his visit to Auckland.
A pre-requisite for those who receive "knowledge" usually seems to be a searching. "I was ready to receive. I was truly empty, therefore I qualified,' says the testimony of one devotee.
Says Moss: "It is like filling a glass with water. You have to be thirsty to want 'knowledge' and the glass has to be empty before you can fill it. You have to empty yourself of any ideas and accept that Guru Maharaj Ji is giving knowledge."
Moss, like other devotees at the Parnell ashram, a quiet and smiling manner. "We laugh a lot," he says. With the girls it is an expression of serenity. Peaceful, yes.
"We hope to bring people to an awareness that peace is possible within their lives," says Moss. "Not just in meditation, but during every moment of their life.
"Guru Maharaj Ji is not turning us into zombies, He is not asking us to become mindless morons for some cause.
Transcendental meditation, says Moss, has a similar effect to that enjoyed by some from television - "mindless switch-off."
Meditating on a mantra or chanting, he says, is not much different from spinning round and round getting giddy.
"Guru Maharaj Ji can give you more than this," says Moss. "It is impossible to be chanting while talking; or using prayer beads while in a factory.'
"Christ came to show people God in their lives, they need that now, but it is no good going back to Christ or Krishna or Buddha, who were alive thousands years ago. Guru Maharaj Ji is living now."
When the guru first visited the West he received flower-strewn greetings by hundreds of followers. The lavish gifts he received, including thousands of acres of real estate in America, led to sceptical press reports as to his motives. He has now adopted a low-profile approach and his visit to New Zealand was for several days known only to devotees.
Many devotees, particularly those travelling with the Guru or living in the ashrams, have cut their long hair and beards and changed their Eastern and hippie like dress for conservative Western clothes. They were external trappings which were done away with when it was realised that "knowledge" was internal, said David Lovejoy.
The devotees in Auckland have now begun social work, such as hospital and prison visiting and providing voluntary manpower for various social agencies.
"At one time we put posters all over the city. We were so grateful to the guru and wanted to show it," explains Moss. "But he isn't going to be understood by most people, so we try to show what he can give by our own example."
"There is definitely a change in the life of people who take 'knowledge.' It is such a stable thing, so satisfying. It has taken us back into society with peace inside ourselves."