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The Divine Light Mission
JIM ARDMORE was a twenty-five-year-old social worker employed by the State of Michigan at the time he was introduced to the Divine Light Mission. A well-read and highly articulate graduate of Michigan State University, Jim was acquainted with the literature then popular with many young people in the university subculture - the writing of Dr. Richard Alpert, and Carlos Castenada's books about Yaqui Indian sorcery. Books such as these, with a clear countercultural flavor, presented the model of a spiritual teacher imparting specialized and mysterious spiritual knowledge to his followers. Jim had also developed an interest in Transcendental Meditation as a result of his association with some friends who had been meditating for several years.
"I got promoted into a job where I was really in over my head. The new position involved finding jobs for people who didn't want to work. It was a pretty frustrating, depressing job. One day I received a letter from a young man inviting me to come to a meeting and learn about Guru Maharaj Ji, the fifteenyear-old Perfect Master from India. The invitation stated that I would learn four techniques of meditation completely free of charge. These included seeing Divine Light, hearing the music of the spheres [Divine Music] with the inner ear, tasting Nectar, and perceiving the Word [Holy Name of God] within oneself.
"I was a little suspicious about all this, so I went and asked a friend of mine who was knowledgeable about Eastern reli-
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gion: 'What do you know about this guru?' He replied that he had heard nothing bad about the guru and that some of his devotees seemed to be happy, loving people. So I decided to check it out. I went to a public meeting on the Michigan State campus the following week. At the entrance to the auditorium, there was a literature table where some friendly people suggested that I go in and sit down, which I did. I was feeling a little bit awkward with my long hair and my beard in the midst of a group of clean-shaven young men with short hair, wearing coats and ties. And they all had very shining-looking faces.
"By the time the program started, the auditorium was packed. The person who was supposed to speak was the guru's disciple, Mahatma Parlokanand. But first a Hawaiian fellow came up on the stage and started playing the guitar and leading singing. The first song they sang was 'Amazing Grace,' with particular emphasis on the line, 'When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun …' The references to light and sound in the songs were especially appropriate to their purpose. At the time it just struck me as being corny. They sang a song which proclaimed, 'Lord of the Universe, come to us this day. Open up your hearts to the Universe of Love, and He will fill you up.' Everybody there was young; everybody was either serene or ecstatic or very, very loving.
"Finally the mahatma came in, prostrated himself in front of the guru's picture, sat down, and sang a quotation from Shankara. He started telling parables which sounded like Indian folk tales: they were about kings and beggars and thieves and elephants and pools and birds and necklaces. Perfect spiritual knowledge was being offered at absolute discount - completely free.
"They gave an address where we could go to get more information. Then more songs were sung. People got up and talked about how miserable they were before they received the perfect spiritual knowledge and how everything was perfectly happy now. The meeting ended and we left."
AT THIS juncture in Jim's life, he was not particularly religiously oriented. "I had been vaguely Christian before I entered college. Until I was in the fourth grade, we attended a non-
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denominational church, and then we switched to a Methodist church because my father liked the minister. Throughout high school we attended a Presbyterian church. I sang in the choir and spent a couple of summers at Westminister Choir College Vocal Camp. Then I went to college and lived in an environment where nobody went to church.
"I went to the address I had been given and knocked on the door. There was no answer. Finally I opened the door, walked in, and was greeted by a sign: HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS. NO SMOKING. PLEASE REMOVE YOUR SHOES. There was a pile of shoes inside the door, so I took off mine. I entered a rather sparsely furnished living room which contained a little altar. I recognized the guru's picture. I heard somebody playing the guitar upstairs, so I went up and introduced myself to a young man who had obviously been meditating while playing his guitar. As I walked toward him, he opened his eyes and I said, 'I want to learn how to meditate.' He replied by saying something like 'Our generation has really been looking for this for a long time. We looked for it in peace politics, in street politics, in drugs and underground newspapers.' He hadn't gone much further before I was getting extraordinarily bored. I didn't want to listen to what our generation had been going through: I knew. I wanted to learn how to meditate. And he didn't look very spiritual - he was too healthy looking. After a few minutes, in came the guy who had written me the letter, Mark. He was a guy who looked like a true spiritual seeker: he was skinny; he was very cheerful, very happy, very open. He looked right at me, right into my eyes, and said, 'This is it. This is what you've been looking for.'
"I had the feeling that he was being completely honest with me. I just wanted to learn how to meditate, and he again said that it was completely free. 'All you have to do is ask for it.' But he said that he couldn't teach me. I'd have to learn from Mahatma."
IN THE Divine Light Mission, the ultimate spiritual experience is receiving "the Knowledge." Knowledge is given by Guru Maharaj Ji, "the Perfect Master of our time," who dispenses it to sincere seekers via a few special disciples called mahatmas.
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The guru explains why one should "take Knowledge": "You will be in perfection. Then you will be guided by God. Perfect guidance will be given to you. So just realize the perfect aim of your life, why you have come into this world."
There are only a few mahatmas in all North America who give Knowledge, so the would-be "premies" (devotees) must follow them around from city to city until they are finally admitted to a "Knowledge session." Prior to this, it is important that the new recruits listen to satsang, spiritual discourses. An introductory satsang is usually available at the local ashram, or temple, for those persons interested in finding out more about the Knowledge. Once satsang has been heard and there is a serious interest in receiving Knowledge, the aspirants are encouraged to attend a weekly satsang.
Jim was told that the mahatma was in another city, and he was encouraged to seek him out. "If you're really sincere, you can go right now. He doesn't take everybody right away. He has to believe that you're really sincere. He has to see you out a little while. Maybe you should go there today - you should go there tonight." Jim protested: "I have to go to work tomorrow." The reply was, "Just call your supervisor; it'll be okay."
Hesitantly Jim called his supervisor and asked for a day off for "personal business." Jim was astonished when his boss agreed because of the workload at the office. "I concluded, 'Obviously I'm supposed to be doing this.' I was starting to get into their frame of mind already."
It was the middle of January, and it was snowing. Jim drove to another city in search of the mahatma only to learn that the Hindu apostle had already selected fifteen people for admission to the Knowledge session. Jim wasn't discouraged. "I really wanted the perfect spiritual knowledge, since everybody was talking it up so much." Along with a group of other aspirants, he listened to satsang over the weekend and returned to his job Monday. He asked for time off to follow the mahatma around, but it was denied. One day he decided to take a week off anyway and drove to Chicago in search of the Knowledge.
A few days before the next scheduled Knowledge session, the mahatma had said to the devotees, "Give your love to Guru Maharaj Ji, and he will give you the Perfect Knowledge." At the
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time, Jim was feeling pretty depressed: "I'd been feeling like I was not loving enough, and I was depressed for various reasons. I'd been married for about two years and was divorced in the previous spring. I was going through a whole lot of stuff. It was a very bad year for me. And then the job.
"I was admitted to the Knowledge session on the twenty-sixth of February at three in the morning. As we prepared for the Knowledge session, we were told we should concentrate on how much we wanted the perfect spiritual knowledge. We were not to let our minds wander. In my mind I was singing a devotional song which went like this: 'I love you my Lord, your grace is overflowing; I love you my Lord, you are all-knowing. You have given me life out of your mercy and compassion. I am so grateful for the gift of devotion.'
"All fifteen of us were seated in a darkened room when all of a sudden the mahatma came in, sat down, and turned on the only light in the room. Just as he entered the room I felt this strange force inside my head. I felt as if I were blasted by some kind of energy coming from somewhere in the direction of the mahatma. I was just loaded with love. It was just pure love, really strong. And it kept getting stronger, more intense. I was feeling like a rickety-framed house about to collapse in a wind storm. I won't be able to take it, I thought. Tears were streaming down my cheeks. The emotion was just flowing. I hadn't cried since I was in the first grade.
"Then the mahatma began to talk about the light. He said, 'The light will purify you if you meditate on it, but you will not see the light if your mind is active.'
"Then he indicated that we should concentrate on the groove in our eyebrow ridge just above the nose. We put our index finger on the groove - that was the place where we were to concentrate. We were not to turn our eyes upward. Then he said he would give us the Knowledge. He would touch us on the forehead and we would see the Light. He turned off the one light in the room and began walking in the dark. I was sitting there with my eyes closed, waiting. Suddenly I felt him swishing by, and I could feel his finger on my forehead. Then all of a sudden, I felt his fingers on my eyes. Instantly I was zapped with light and was seeing a figure eight of pure white light. It
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was brilliant, dazzling. Then the mahatma took my right hand and put my index finger against my forehead, my thumb and my middle finger against my eyes. My left hand supported my right elbow, and in that position he left me. After he had initiated everybody, he told us to meditate for one hour, and then he left the room.
"When he returned, we went through a ritual that was to enable us to hear Divine Music. We were to concentrate on whatever we heard on the right side of our head. What we heard on the left side was evil, the left side was of the body - mortal; the right side was immortal. All I could hear was a ringing sound. After an hour, the mahatma returned to teach us the Word, the Holy Name of God. We learned to pronounce the name through a series of deep breathing exercises. It involved the sound of our own breathing.
"The mahatma returned one final time so that we could learn about the Nectar. We were told to turn our tongues back and that our tongues would naturally find the passageway to where the Nectar drips down. I didn't taste anything. Nobody tasted anything except one guy over in the corner who exclaimed how everything smelled like roses and how sweet everything was.
"At this point the mahatma got down on his knees, turned around to an altar, and asked us to repeat after him: 'I promise that I will always implicitly obey the commandments of Guru Maharaj Ji.' He said, 'Now you may do whatever you want, but make sure you meditate while you're doing it. Meditation will act as a sail on a sailboat and will always bring you back to Guru Maharaj Ji.'
The mahatma said the best way to live is with other devotees, to share everything except our clothing. 'You should not share your clothing, because you will pick up each other's vibrations. You should not eat meat, because it's impure - you pick up meat vibrations. You should not wear long hair, because this is impurity. You don't carry your excreta around in paper bags; same manner, you should not have long hair. This is impurity.'
"He concluded: 'Go now, the general secretary will give you an envelope. You should go back to whatever you do.'
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"It had been over a week since I was on the job. After I had been gone for two days, they had sent me a registered letter stating that if I didn't come back within two weeks I would be considered to have resigned. I went back before the two weeks was up, and I worked a couple of days. I was just higher than a kite: I was God talking to God, standing on God, breathing God. My supervisor was angry; he wanted me to resign. Obviously anybody who went off chasing after some guru could not be considered very reliable.
"I really wanted to resign anyway. I decided that I couldn't be a welfare worker while going around trying to convert everybody; I was trying to serve two masters. That wasn't appropriate, so I resigned."
HAVING EXPERIENCED the initiation ceremony of receiving Knowledge, Jim was now a member of a world-wide organization, the Divine Light Mission (DLM). The teen-age Indian guru who heads the movement is reported to have six million Indian devotees and over fifty thousand followers in the West. His father, Shri Hans Maharaj Ji, spent his life spreading the basic ideas of DLM throughout India and West Pakistan. His wife, Mata Ji, bore him four sons, the youngest being Guru Maharaj Ji. In 1966, when the guru was eight years old, his father died, and he assumed leadership of the movement. This took place in dramatic fashion, as reported by the monthly DLM magazine, And It Is Divine:
On August 1, 1966, Guru Maharaj Ji stood up in front of the thousands of devotees present at His father's funeral to speak:
"Dear Children of God, why are you weeping? Haven't you learned the lesson that your Master taught you? The Perfect Master never dies. Maharaj Ji is here, amongst you now. Recognize Him, obey Him, and worship Him" (November 1972).
Guru Maharaj Ji is considered by his devotees to be a satguru, or Perfect Master. In Hindi sat means truth, gu means darkness, and ru means light. A guru is therefore one who leads from darkness to light. Guru Maharaj Ji teaches his followers how to become perfect by "giving Knowledge" and by instructing them to meditate upon it. This Knowledge is said to be an
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intangible essence or energy which involves a direct experience of God. The Knowledge emanates from Guru Maharaj Ji but is transferred to initiates through specially designated disciples of the guru, called mahatmas.
After receiving the Knowledge, the new premie (devotee) is advised to meditate upon the Light, Music, Nectar, and Word for at least two hours a day. To achieve spiritual advancement, Guru Maharaj Ji recommends that a premie's life be devoted to four primary activities: meditation, darshan (physical sight of the Guru), satsang (spiritual discourse), and service. Of these four, meditation is the most significant. The premie is told to meditate continually on the Word; it becomes the primary objective and duty of the devotee. As Jim put it, "The mind had to be controlled. The mind was controlled by meditation."
The commandment to meditate continually may result in extraordinary consequences. Jim reports that some of his acquaintances in the movement literally lost the ability to read. "People around me were saying things like 'Wow, how can you still read?' They said if they meditate, they couldn't read. I myself lost the ability to add and subtract. I could not balance a checkbook. I was always spaced out. At this point, I would accept almost anything my leaders told me, since I was not capable of questioning anything.
"I was asked one day whether I would die for the Guru Maharaj Ji, and when I replied that I would, I was told that I was making progress quickly. In fact, if the guru had instructed me to murder my mother at that time, I would have done so without hesitation, confident that I was doing her a favor."
The experience of darshan involves being in the physical presence of Guru Maharaj Ji. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, the devotee is expected to make some effort to be as physically close to the guru as possible. And since there is a spiritual polarity in the human body with a positive end and a negative end, it is hoped that the devotee will be able to kiss the guru's feet. When the follower does this for the first time, it also involves what is called "receiving the holy breath." According to Jim, "You're supposed to indicate your right ear, and he will blow into your right ear, and this will benefit your meditation and improve you spiritually."
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Devotees who look at Maharaj Ji report seeing nothing but intense light. Some experience a complete stopping of time. Others find in his every motion, gesture, and word the answers to their most troubling questions and doubts. One devotee stated that she shivered in the cold for four hours waiting for the guru to deliver a five-minute speech. "In that time, fatigue, cold, hunger, uncertainty, irritation all vanished, and I felt fantastically energized, happy, and lighthearted." Others have related feelings of inexplicable happiness, a sense of floating in intense joy.
JIM HAD an opportunity to approach the "lotus feet" of the guru while in London during the summer of 1973. "After standing in line for six hours, I got within striking distance. But I didn't get close enough to kiss his feet. I got shoved by too fast, so all I could do was bend down and indicate my ear. I was expecting some kind of cosmic blast, and all that happened was a sense of something bubbling up from inside my mind."
Another method of receiving darshan is to pranam, or prostrate oneself on the ground in front of the guru without touching his feet. This prostration is symbolic of the devotee's complete surrender to the "greater reality." A DLM follower explains the experience:
One feels totally energized and full of life and one's consciousness becomes so pure and so intense that the experience is often described as stronger than LSD or other hallucinatory drugs. One's mind is instantly cleared; one's thoughts of the past and future and the condition of one's body drop away. One is left experiencing the moment directly as it is. One becomes totally calm and detached from everything and yet at the same time incredibly filled with energy and able to do nearly anything. Other people all seem beautiful and perfect, there is nothing to do but to hug them, one begins to feel a sense of infinite love for everyone and everything. One becomes irrationally happy without having taken any drugs.
Satsang is a kind of spiritual shot in the arm for DLM devotees. According to the guru, without satsang a premie really cannot thrive. He describes the importance of the practice in a message
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reprinted in the May 1976 issue of Love Song, a newsletter distributed by DLM of Los Angeles:
Satsang is something which is very, very direct, from Guru Maharj Ji, from the doctor, to you. It's a direct cure; not just prescribing your medicine, a more direct thing. Premies come, sit down, and Guru Maharaj Ji comes and gives satsang, maybe they are just the nurses, or the assistant, but they can help you too… That is why satsang is so important - to keep our mind where it should be, so that it's not affecting us the way it usually does.
The other activity comprising the ideal devotee's life is service. In its broadest sense, service is viewed as any physical or mental activity that is dedicated to Guru Maharaj Ji. Service is the "action" dimension of spiritual activity. Although "serving others" and "selfless service" are part of the official rhetoric, the average premie frequently experiences service by seeking donations, spreading information about DLM, or by participating in DUO - Divine United Organizations. DUO consists of a series of satellite operations including Shri Hans Productions, which publishes the newspaper Divine Times and the magazine And It Is Divine and produces films. DLM's equivalent to the Salvation Army's thrift stores are known as Divine Sales second-hand stores. There's also a Divine Clinic, drug rehabilitation centers, coffee shops, and restaurants.
THE DLM organization in the United States operates a chain of more than thirty ashrams. An ashram is where premies live and work. It serves as a center for DLM activity in a given locality. Each ashram is directed by a general secretary, who reports to headquarters in Denver, Colorado.
The organization pays no taxes on its reported monthly revenues of $355,000. According to DLM executive Bob Mischler, "We are a religion only through legal structures. What we really want to do is further human liberty."
If nothing else, the movement has clearly furthered the financial status of its teen-age leader. The guru smiles all the way to the bank in his $50,000 refrigerator-equipped Rolls Royce. The plump Perfect Master chews gum, loves ice cream,
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enjoys sports cars and cabin cruisers, and maintains a home in Denver and an estate at Malibu, California. His affluent life style, which hardly befits the ideal of traditional Indian gurus, caused a family feud when his mother, charging that Maharaj Ji had become a playboy, named her oldest son to replace his brother as new guru of the Divine Light Mission. The family battle caused a financial crisis and contributed to a drop in membership.
One source of income for the group is the donated gifts and possessions of new members. In one widely publicized case, a wealthy young heiress was willing to sign over an estimated $400,000 inheritance to the Divine Light Mission. As Jim describes it, "Service to humanity means giving money to the guru. You have to give up all your worldly possessions. When they heard that I had a trust fund, they said, 'You should get that for the guru.' Because my mother was the trustee, they wanted me to convert her. I really couldn't move into the ashram unless I got that money and gave it to the guru."
An ashram is a kind of coed monastery where renunciant premies live and work. All residents are expected to observe ashram discipline, which includes (1) turning over all material possessions and earnings to the Divine Light Mission; (2) devoting all one's time to service; (3) obedience to the general secretary of the ashram, who determines service assignments, gives permission to come and go, and makes other decisions pertaining to the daily operation of the local organization; and (4) following the daily schedule, which usually allows only five hours of sleep and begins at five in the morning; (5) abstaining from alcohol, drugs, tobacco, meat, sex, and food not provided by the ashram.
Only a small proportion of American devotees live in ashrams and adhere to the discipline required of ashram life. Many premies who, after receiving Knowledge, do not feel they can submit to the rigor of the ashram, live together in "premie houses." These houses serve as information centers in communities where there are no ashrams, as homes for those involved in DLM activities, or simply as residences where premies can meditate together and provide each other with spiritual support.
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Most devotees, whether living in a premie house or in an ashram, abstain from sexual activity, Jim reports. "Nobody was having sex. Some of the literature said that the guru expected that if you were having sex you would be married, and there was a kind of Roman Catholic morality about that. Sex was for the purpose of procreation; anything else was considered an 'attachment.' Birth control was something that you did because you were attached to sex and didn't want to have children. There were always a few people around, with a certain kind of ego, who would get into it and not buy the whole trip. In theory, the guru said that we could do whatever we want. On the other hand, there was a definite feeling that you weren't really a devotee unless you actually gave up everything for the guru, including sex."
The totalistic DLM life style is probably the major factor in building loyalty and commitment to the group. "We had the monopoly on truth and love, so that what we were picking up in the outside world wasn't truth. We were told that truth is not in words. Truth is vibration. So we have the truth, and it doesn't matter what we say. Words are not important. You can lie, you can say random words in sequence - it doesn't matter."
There was also commitment through pushing the product. "Whenever we had spare time, we were supposed to be out selling magazines. Most of the people were working in the outside world although they much preferred to work within the organization. We were encouraged to have jobs on the outside: they had to have cash from somewhere. Part of the rationale was that we were functioning in the larger society, we were doing whatever we were doing before, we were proving that we could meditate and be spiritual and still be contributing members of society. But the problem was that there wasn't too much you could do using your mind and meditate very well while you were doing it."
Interestingly, Jim states that the leaders did little meditating. "The people at the top didn't meditate at all. They had to be able to count; somebody had to be able to keep track of the money. Those with strong egos seemed to rise to the top of the organization. They controlled the people by putting them down, jumping on them. And the people would get so hurt that
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they would start meditating - a lot, turning their minds into jelly beans."
DLM devotees viewed all former associates on the outside as still being "into the darkness." All attachments had to be surrendered, including parents and friends. One of the group's devotional songs, when translated into English, includes this verse: "You are my mother, you are my father, you are my brother, you are my friend, you are riches, you are wisdom, you are my all, my Lord to me." As Jim observes, "You might well say that the guru was your mother and father."
GURU MAHARAJ JI again made headlines in November 1973 when the DLM sponsored a giant festival, Millennium '73, in Houston's Astrodome. Despite extensive publicity, the extravaganza was essentially a flop. Crowds were small, and the financial losses great. In what was billed as the "most significant event in the history of mankind," the guru delivered satsang from a blue velveteen throne high above the floor of the Astrodome. An army of premies was brought in from around the country to ensure that all would go well. Jim was among them. "We were all assigned our duties by a computer. I was helping to make twenty thousand tomato and cheese sandwiches. I was operating an electric meat slicer which the organization had rented for slicing tomatoes. After six hours of doing that, I felt the blade going through two of my fingertips. They called an ambulance and rushed me over to the county hospital after asking me, 'Do you have medical insurance?' It required about fifteen stitches per fingertip."
While recovering at home from the accident, which temporarily cost Jim the use of his right hand, his mother contacted Ted Patrick, the deprogramer. "There was no kidnaping. There was no physical force. Mother had Ted Patrick's telephone number by the telephone. I said, 'Mother, you shouldn't have that horrible person's telephone number around. I just read about him in the guru's newspaper.'
"One day, after visiting the doctor's office, I returned home to find a houseful of people, including Ted Patrick. The actual deprograming took only forty-five minutes and consisted of Ted asking me these obnoxious questions and then finally
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hitting me with the accusation that I'd been brainwashed and hypnotized without my knowledge and consent. I finally bought what he was saying. That was it! He stuck around for three days, but there really wasn't any need for him to do that- he had jolted me right out of it, pretty much, except for the fact that I couldn't stop meditating.
"I had to work on learning to think again. Whenever I would try to think, I'd start meditating. It was like an internal conditioned response. At first I stayed awake all night, because I'd been pretty much conditioned to need to meditate in order to fall asleep."
Several months after leaving DLM, Jim accepted Christ as his Savior as a result of the ministry of the Berkeley Christian Coalition. Today he lives in Southern California and is writing an autobiographical novel. He remains active in efforts to prevent other young people from being caught up in the cults. Jim learned from painful, first-hand experience that all is not sweetness and light in the Divine Light Mission.
TO MY FAMILY:
My wife, Ruth-Anne
My daughters, Kara and Becky
135 NORTH OAKLAND PASADENA, CALIFORNIA 91101
YOUTH, BRAINWASHING, AND THE EXTREMIST CULTS
Copyright © 1977 by The Zondervan Corporation Grand Rapids, Michigan
The names of persons interviewed during the writing of this book have been changed to protect their privacy.
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Enroth, Ronald M
Youth, brainwashing, and the extremist cults.
1. Cults. 2. Youth - Religious life. I. Title.
BP603.E6 301.5'8 77-5865
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA