Religions of the World [6 volumes]: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices
by J. Gordon Melton (Editor), Martin Baumann (Editor)
Hardcover – September 21, 2010
Elan Vital/Divine Light Mission
Shri Hans Maharaj Ji (1900-1966) founded the Divine Light Mission (DLM, which later became Elan Vital) in India during the 1930s. Hansji Maharaj was a disciple of Sarupanand, a guru in the lineage of Shri Paramhans Advait Mat centered in Guna, a district in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Shri Paramhans Advait Mat (which is based primarily on the teachings of the Sant tradition and shabd [sound current] yoga) is a guru-based organization with centers throughout India. The group's teachings are remarkably similar to those of the Radhasoami tradition, which was founded in Agra, India, around the same time period (mid- to late 19th century. Apparently Hansi split with the main center of Shri Paramhans Advait Mat in a succession dispute after his guru's death. This led him to create the Divine Light Mission. Hansji incorporated almost every tenet and practice he had learned in Shri Paramhans Advait Mat into his own teachings, including a nuanced understanding of sound and light meditation, lacto-vegetarianism, mahatmas, initiation, receiving "knowledge", and enjoying divine nectar.
When Maharaj Ji died in 1966, Prem Pal Singh Rawat, the youngest of four sons and only eight years old at the time, declared himself to be his father's spiritual successor and a satguru, or Perfect Master. A precocious child, he was said to have meditated from the age of two, and he spoke to crowds at age six. Although ascension to authority usually accrues to the oldest not the youngest son, neither his brothers nor his mother challenged his proclamation. He assumed his father's name Maharaj Ji, but later became known as Maharaji.
In 1971, at the age of 13, Guru Maharaj Ji traveled to England and the United States and was almost immediately a media sensation. He established headquarters in Colorado, but the largest number of devotees (called Premies, meaning "lovers of God") was in Britain. Barker estimates there were about 8,500 Premies in the early 1970s. But success was short-lived. In 1973 a mass gathering in Houston, Astrodome, called to proclaim a millennium of peace, drew only a fraction of the crowd anticipated and turned out to be a financial disaster. A year later, at age 16, the young guru married his secretary, who was eight years his senior. This marriage fractured family ties and resulted in a reorganization of DLM. Some of his followers began to drift away.
For the next several years Maharaj Ji struggled with reorganization–how to present the message and how to meet mounting financial obligations. In 1979 headquarters were moved from Denver, Colorado, to Miami, Florida, where the responsibility for meeting payrolls and caring for Premies became an increasing burden. Maharaj Ji came to see the Indian spiritual motif as unnecessary, perhaps even a hindrance to reaching a larger audience. In the early 1980s he began closing down ashrams. He eventually disbanded the Divine Light Mission altogether and formed a new corporate structure through which he would present his teachings: Elan Vital. He also repackaged the message, changed his name to Maharaji and then began to use his given name Prem Rawat and redefined himself as a teacher by dropping all outward appearances as an Indian guru.
In his new role, Prem Rawat has continued the primary teaching of the Divine Light Mission built around the "receipt of Knowledge." The path to receiving Knowledge is the practice of four meditation techniques. The meditation techniques the Maharaji teaches today are the same he learned from his father, Hansji Maharaj, who, in turn, learned them from his spiritual teacher. "Knowledge", claims Maharaji, "is a way to be able to take all your senses that have been going outside all your life, turn them around and put them inside to feel and to actually experience you … What you are looking for is inside you" (http://www.elanvital.org/Knowledge.htm).
The young guru, who willingly accepted the spiritual titles of "Lord of the Universe" and the "Perfect Master," considered these meditation techniques to be fundamental in the quest for spiritual existence. Gradually he came to see the meditation techniques as mere technology, which can be applied to "secular enlightenment." He now claims that "Knowledge" is not spiritual, nor is it a religion, And, of course, Elan Vital is not a religious organization.
Having set the Radhasoami perspective in a new context, as a secular personal-growth teaching, Maharaji has found a new following. He continues to travel the world lecturing and extending Knowledge to uncounted numbers, while the organization has assumed a low profile in many lands where it was formerly an object of intense controversy. In the process of change, he left behind a numbecr of former members of the Divine Light Mission, who have formed a network to continue to communicate about their experiences.
Elan Vital itself supports an Internet site, given below, where organizational contacts in countries around the world are listed.
PO Box 6130
Malibu, CA 90264-6130
Jeffrey K. Hadden and Eugene M. Elliott III
See also: Meditation: Radhasoami; Vegetarianism.
Barker, Eileen. New Religious Movements: A Practical Introduction. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1989.
Barrett, David V. The New Believers. London: Cassell, 2001.
Cagan, Andrea. Peace Is Possible: The Life and Message of Prem Rawat. Dresher, PA: Mighty River Press, 2007.
Downton, James V., Jr. Sacred Journeys: The Conversion of Young Americans to Divine Light Mission. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979.
Maharaji. Listen to the Cry of Your Heart: Something Wonderful Is Being Said. Malibu, CA: Visions International, 1995.
Maharaj Ji. The Living Master. Denver, CO: Divine Light Mission, 1978.
Messner, Jeanne. Guru Maharaj Ji and the Divine Light Mission, In The New Religious Consciousness, edited by Charles Y. Glock and Robert N. Bellah. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1976.