NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS

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ELAN VITAL 75

We can be happy in this life. You don't have to wait. There can be that joy, there can be that love, there can be that experience. It's not a way of life. It's not a way of thinking. It's not a philosophy … I'm talking about an experience that's continually happening. That true enjoyment of just being a human being - you can enjoy that simple fact now. 76

To know how to appreciate Knowledge, you need to know how to appreciate life… Nobody is playing a game with us in life, except with our own selves… But you don't have to lose every hand… There is a quality to this life, which all you have to do is simply uncover. You don't have to do anything… All you have to do is take a brush and undust it…

Everywhere, everywhere in this world people receive this Knowledge and their first question is, "How come I didn't know about this before?" "How come it's so simple?" It is simple because life is simple, very very simple. 77

The Divine Light Mission (DLM) was founded in the 1930s by Shri Hans Ji Maharaj. His youngest son, Prem Pal Singh Rawat (1957- ), later known as Guru Maharaj Ji, and then as Maharaji, to his followers, became the Satguru or Perfect Master at the age of eight, when his father died in 1966. In 1971, at the age of 13, Maharaji came to England; soon afterwards, he established his base in the United States.

Although there are transcripts, audio cassettes and videos of Maharaji's speeches, the movement has never produced a body of literature about its beliefs and practices in the way that other movements, such as the Church of Scientology, ISKCON, or the Unification Church have done. A central belief held by members is that the key to self-understanding and self-realisation lies in practising the 'Knowledge". While the

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Knowledge is within each individual, it is said that it can only be practised after it has been revealed by Maharaji or one of his appointed initiators. The Knowledge consists of four techniques which enable initiates to turn their senses within and to perceive what were described in the early 1970s as Divine Light, Music, Nectar, and the 'primordial vibration' or 'Holy Name'.

Those who take the Knowledge are asked to promise not to reveal the techniques; they explain that taking the Knowledge cannot be described because, in an important, fundamental way, it can only be subjectively experienced. None the less, a number of accounts of the external, physical aspects, and some of the feelings they have experienced, have been given by ex-members. 78

In its early days, the movement grew quickly, and by the summer of 1973, it claimed to have 8,000 devotees or 'premies' (who were drawn largely from the young, white, middle-class hippie culture) and about 40 ashrams (designated premie households) in Britain. 79 By about the same time, an estimated 50,000 in the United States had "received the Knowledge", although the number of committed followers was considerably smaller - about 500 were sufficiently dedicated to live in one of the 24 American DLM ashrams. 80

The movement, which was largely run by Maharaji's mother, Mata Ji, with the help of his older brother, soon ran into difficulties, however. A financial crisis followed a gathering in 1973 at the Houston Astrodome; 81 and, in 1974, Maharaji's marriage to his American secretary, Marolyn, precipitated a power struggle within, his family. 82 (*** Ms Barker's source for this information is James Downton. She mistakenly cites Chapter 1 of Soul Journeys. The actual information about the "family split" is in Chapter 12 and Downton's footnotes reveal that the source of his information was "Communication from a Mission official." This information should be treated with some skepticism as the actual reasons given by Rawat's mother for her demotion and disinheritance of him was his drug-taking, meat-eating and playboy lifestyle and Rawat and his close followers, who knew these accusations were true, did not want them to become common knowledge. Rawat refused to answer journalists' questions. Furthermore the marriage took place on May 20, 1974 and Mata Ji's announcements to the press about her ousting her son occurred on May 1, 1975.)

This resulted in Maharaji taking sole control of the movement in the West.

The general character of the movement changed. Maharaji rejected many aspects that had been associated with Indian traditions, and focused on the essence of his teaching. The name Elan Vital was adopted in the early 1980s; Maharaji insisted that he was not to be worshipped as a God; the ashrams were dissolved; the term 'premie' was dropped; and initiators came to be called instructors, not mahatmas. Although those who had received the Knowledge might still meet together, satsang (holy discourse) ceased to be a regular part of their lives; and although many have continued to work for the promotion of Maharaji's work, they are no longer expected to 'do service' as they once were. As part of a policy of adopting a low profile, the media and others who had not received in Knowledge found it increasingly difficult to obtain information.

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During the past few years, however, the movement has become more open to outside enquires.

Until recently, donations to Maharaji's work had been unpredictable, but recently the movement in the UK has made an attempt to 'rationalise' its financial situation by asking people to contribute a small sum (perhaps) on a monthly basis. By April 1989, there were, according to Elan Vital's internal UK newsletter, Newsline, 1,420 'subscribers' to the scheme. 83 There are about 5,000 persons on the UK's mailing list, and perhaps 7,000 (15,000 in the USA) who still practise the Knowledge on a more or less regular basis. Although the number of new people receiving the Knowledge is nothing like as high as it was in the early 1970s, about 100 persons in the UK received it during the past year, and, at the time of writing, there are evidently about 150 aspirants waiting to receive from one of Maharaji's instructors - a 4-day long Instructor-Training Conference was held for almost 200 candidates from the UK and north Europe in 1989; three similar courses had already been held in the USA and two more were to be held in Italy and Australia. 84

During its early years in the West, the Divine Light Mission was do subject of considerable controversy. Maharaji himself was constantly derided as the 'boy-guru' by the media; accusations were made of brainwashing and of premies becoming 'spaced out' on the Knowledge. In recent years, partly because of conscious efforts to maintain a low profile, and partly because most of those who practise the Knowledge lead relatively 'normal' lives, there has been less public controversy.


75. Elan Vital: P.O.Box 131, Hove, Sussex, BN3 1JA, UK.
USA Address: Box 6130, Malibu, CA 90230, USA.
Further Reading: James Downtown Jr., Sacred Journeys: The Conversion of Young Americans to Divine Light Mission, (1979);
Maeve Price, "The Divine light Mission as a Social Organisation", The Sociological Review, vol 27, no. 2, May 1979, pp. 279-296.
76. Maharaji quoted in a leaflet handed out at The Royal Albert Hall, London, meeting 12 October 1981.
77. Maharaji in Stockholm, 5 September 1985 printed in leaflet entitled Painting a Perfect Picture, distributed by Elan Vital, Sussex, n.d.
78. See Enroth (1977), pp. 137-8; Melton (1989), entry 1445, p. 901; and Melton (1976), p. 143. See also Downton (1979), chapter 10; and
Jeanne Messer "Guru Maharaj Ji and the Divine Light Mission" in Glock and Beulah (1976), p. 54.
79. Price, op cit, p. 281.
80. Downton (1979), p. 4.
81. Downton (1979), p. 189; Messer, op cit, p. 67, Price, op cit, p. 282.
82. Price, op cit; Downton, op cit, chapter 1.
83. Newsline, June 1989, p. 7.
84. Ibid, p. 3.