LARSON'S Book of Cults
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois
Guru Maharaj Ji
(Divine Light Mission)
"God has retired and now resides in comfortable affluence amid the placid splendor of a Malibu, California mansion." That might well be the epitaph on the tombstone of Divine Light Mission. In the early seventies Guru Maharaj Ji commanded one of the largest and fastest-growing followings of all imported cult leaders.
At one time he confidently declared, "The key to the whole life, the key to the existence of this entire universe rests in the hands of Guru Maharaj Ji." Then, it all fell apart. Reorganizational efforts failed to salvage the momentum of the days when he was worshiped as one "greater than god, because he showed men to god." But don't count him out yet. A hard core of an estimated several hundred to several thousand disciples still believe he is the incarnation of God, the Perfect Master for our age. Guru Maharaj ji owes the founding of Divine Light Mission (DLM) to his wealthy, revered father, Brahma Shri Hans ji Maharaj, who headed the Prem Nagar Ashram. Shri Hans was considered to be a Satguru
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(Perfect Master) by many of his countrymen. When Maharaj ji was born December 10, 1957, in Hardwar, India, no one paid much attention. The family already had three older sons and one of them was presumed to be next in line as Satguru. But Maharaj ji was remarkably precocious. By age two he was meditating and giving satsang ("holy discourses").
When Maharaj Ji was eight years old, his father died. The boy addressed the grieving devotees by declaring, "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." As his father's disciples bowed at Maharaj Ji's feet, his mother Rajeshwari Devi (usually known as Mata Ji) confirmed passing of the spiritual mantle to him. He was invested with the crown of Krishna and thirteen days later, while praying to his father's cremated ashes, an inner voice spoke. The message was simple: Guru Maharaj ji was destined to become the savior of humanity.
On November 8, 1970, Maharaj ji led an entourage thousands of followers through the streets of Delhi. Arriving at the India Gate he declared, "I will establish peace in this world." Strange words, indeed, for a ninth-grade dropout from a Catholic mission school. Several million Indian disciples believed his claim, but only a handful of premies (devotees - literally "lover") greeted his arrival in the West as he touched down at Los Angeles International in 1971. Yet, there was something fascinating about this pudgy teenager whose tastes ran to Baskin Robbins and horror movies.
The turning point came the following year in Montrose Colorado. Two thousand converts were solicited from audience of 5,000, and suddenly Maharaj Ji was on his way. By the time another year rolled around there were 480 DLM centers and 35,000 members in the United States. The organization opened up a variety of businesses and communes along with a record company, a film production house, and a printing establishment: Then came "Millennium 1973," an extravaganza held in the Houston Astrodome.
This author witnessed the events of that festival which was supposed to draw a potential attendance of 144,000. Though only approximately 20,000 showed up, the worship accorded to Maharaj ji testified to his uncanny power. Dopers-turned-devotees, fornicators-turned-celibates, hippies, and straights all united in their shouting praise: "Bholie Shri Satguru Dev Maharaj Ki Jai," a Hindi "hip, hip, hooray" to the Lord of the Universe. To this author's amazement, the entire audience of thousands prostrated themselves before Maharaj Ji's throne, which was elevated nearly forty feet above the Astroturf.
Controversy soon followed glory. A reporter who threw a cream pie in Maharaj Ji's face was mercilessly beaten by the Guru's disciples. Maharaj Ji was accused by Indian customs officials of trying to smuggle $80,000 worth of jewels into his native land. The Astrodome gathering rang up huge debts, and questions were raised about the Guru's true age and materialistic preoccupations. Still, dedicated followers declared they would die or kill for the corpulent kid whom Rennie Davis, the ex-leftist radical called "the power of creation itself."
The biggest upheaval occurred in 1974 when he married a former United Airlines stewardess who was years his senior. He pronounced her the incarnation of ten-armed, tiger-riding goddess Durga. When the new bride refused her mother-in-law access to their $554,000 Malibu estate, that was the last straw. Mother Mata Ji denounced her son as a drinking, dancing, nightclub-haunting meat-eater. She changed the name of The U.S. organization to The Spiritual Life Society and installed Maharaj Ji's eldest brother Shri Satyapal Ji (Bal Bagwan Ji) as the new Perfect Master. Even the birth of grandchildren (Premlata and Hans Pal) didn't mollify her anger. However, Maharaj ji was unperturbed, wondering aloud how anyone could claim to tell God he was no longer qualified to hold office.
For a while things picked up. Income averaged over $400,000 a month, mostly due to a mandatory tithe. Maharaj Ji's passion for automobiles extended to a Jensen, Mercedes-Benz, Maserati, Lotus, and a mobile van. The Divine Times, a slick four-color publication, reported on the Guru's activities to communities in sixty-six countries. He still continued holding large festivals and lilas (god-games where audiences of disciples were doused with water and red paint from
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huge pressurized nozzles). But as Goomerajee (as he is affectionately known by close associates) grew more obese, his following conversely diminished.
Plans for his divine city were shelved. Almost 100 DLM-owned vehicles were sold. All but one of thirty food cooperatives were shut down. The staff of 250 at Denver international headquarters was reduced to a mere forty. Maharaj Ji's scores of hand-picked evangelists, called mahatmas, were reduced to twenty and renamed "initiators." Income plunged to less than $100,000 per month. Estimates of followers worldwide remained slightly above a million, but in the U. S. that total went from a heyday high of 50,000 to about 10,000. Some critics suggested the figure might be closer to 3,000. Worst of all, his former head, Bob Mishler, left the DLM amid a series of accusations.
But before any final obituaries on Guru Maharaj Ji are pronounced, it would be wise to ponder the teachings and practices that precipitated his sudden rise to power. In the seeds of his fame may be the genesis of other cult leaders having an Eastern inclination. Understanding what the DLM taught and represented may give a clue forewarning society of other personality cult figures.
Followers of Maharaj Ji are encouraged to live by his Five Commandments: (1) Do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today; (2) Constantly meditate and remember the Holy Name; (3) Leave no room for doubt in your mind; (4) Never delay in attending satsang (one of Maharaj Ji's discourses of rambling stories and illustrations); (5) Always have faith in God (which is translated as complete devotion to Maharaj Ji).
The theology of DLM may be summed up by understanding its view of God, guru, mind, and Knowledge. To begin with, God is a form of energy, cosmic vibration. As such, "the Word" extends itself to everything, making even man's soul part of God. This author once heard Guru Maharaj Ji exclaim in a speech that he did not desire a relationship with God. To do so would imply that deity is separate to man, undercutting the doctrine of oneness which is central to Hinduism. Hence DLM has as its ultimate goal the merging of man's soul with the Infinite Absolute - the soul's energy being reabsorbed into the universal energy of God.
Guru Maharaj Ji's variant of Hinduism emphasizes the Siddha Yoga school of thought. In this tradition, god-realization can only be accomplished with the aid of a guru who leads one forward on the path of enlightenment. All the better if this guru is a Perfect Master greater than God himself. The Perfect Master is sinless, since his subjective consciousness is the only standard by which he is judged (God is inside him). No external principles of absolute values guide him because he responds spontaneously to his own divinity. This living Master deserves and has the right to demand total submission from his followers. In Maharaj Ji's case, such subservience is reinforced by his ubiquitous visage adorning every trinket and magazine produced by DLM. But there is an impediment to following the Perfect Master on the path toward knowledge of God - the mind. Maharaj Ji insists that the rationalistic West has given much prominence to reasoning faculties. The mind, in his estimation, is delusive, unreliable, and imperfect. It is the spirit which contains the capacity for love and peace. Therefore, the Knowledge of God is unattainable by objective information. It can only be received by experience. Maharaj Ji describes the mind as a snake to he killed so the direct revelation of divine Knowledge can be transmitted. "Give it (your mind) to me," he implores. "I am ready to receive it. Because your mind troubles you, give it to me."
The devotee who surrenders his mental capacities is ready to receive the Guru's Knowledge. It is this experience which transforms the lives of his disciples, makes them into robots to do his bidding. When pressed to explain this phenomenon, premies give glowing testimonials of its benefits but never divulge its process. Only diligent research has uncovered the four-fold procedure which consists of a blinding light (seeing with the so-called third eye), hearing celestial music (supposedly referred to in Revelation 22), tasting a sweet substance called nectar (which presumably has curative powers), and sensing a primordial vibration (representing the internalized Word of God).
A devotee is considered ready to receive Knowledge once his unfettered submission to Maharaj Ji has been proven. This may be evidenced by signing away one's
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possessions to DLM or listening to extended hours of satsang. At the appointed time, the candidate enters a darkened room. He may sit there, draped in a sheet, for several hours. All the while a mahatma lectures him on the importance of the Knowledge he is about to receive.
Finally the initiator places his thumb and middle finger on the devotee's temples and presses inward with the index finger at a spot near the center of the forehead (claimed to be the location of the spiritual "third eye," pineal gland). The optic nerve is pinched and a neurological light results from pressure upon the retina. Premies learn how to duplicate this experience at will merely closing their eyelids and letting their eyeballs back in their sockets.
Divine music is heard with the "third ear." The mahatma places his fingers in the initiate's ears long enough for the recipient to be conscious of the sounds of his own internal organs and systems. One premie described the sound as "loud rock and roll" while another insisted she was hearing the same vibrations a experienced in her mother's womb.
Tasting divine nectar isn't as easy. The substance is said to be a fluid flowing from the brain, the very elixir which sustained Christ forty days in the wilderness. With the devotee's mouth open, the mahatma places his finger in the premie's throat and forces his tongue backward until it rests against the uvula. The resulting mucous of post-nasal drip is interpreted as being "sweeter than honey."
Finally, John 1:14 is quoted to justify the theory that God's Word is in man's flesh. The candidate is told that repetitive pattern of rhythmic breathing actually constitutes a mantra. In reality, this experience of the "primordial vibration of the divine word" is a hyperventilative technique which leaves the premie altered state of consciousness much like a drug-induced high. This concluding experience conveys a sense of omnipotence producing a feeling of oneness with the universe. Followers of the Guru refer to this ultimate high as being "blissed out."
The dynamics of the four states of Guru Maharaj Ji's Knowledge can be explained on a naturalistic basis. Aft the mahatma has predefined each experience, the candidate can easily be manipulated by autosuggestive hypnosis. At each stage, he is prone to interpret the phenomenon according to the expectations his spiritual leader has previously explained. Undoubtedly, the passively receptive state of the willing devotee also allows demonic forces to enhance the dimensions of each aspect of the Guru's ritual of receiving Knowledge.
Now that the image of the organization has been revamped, the procedure of transmitting Knowledge has become refined and dignified. Guru Maharaj Ji no longer sits on a throne, and devotees do not have to practice the custom of darshan, literally kissing his feet.
Mahatmas have exchanged their robes for business suits, even Maharaj Ji's divinity is being downplayed. It remains to be seen whether Maharaj Ji's duodenal ulcer will be placated by the less frantic pace of his activities. Perhaps he was only a confused adolescent being exploited by a "holy" family lusting for power. If he really is the antichrist convinced of his own divinity, he'll soon need to fulfill his lofty predictions before another Perfect Master comes along.
Founder: Balyogeshwar Param Hans Satgurudev Shri Sant Ji Maharaj (Guru Maharaj Ji), born December 10, 1957, Hardwar, India.
Text: Hindu scriptures.
Symbols: Pictures of Maharaj Ji seated on a throne wearing the Crown of Krishna.
Appeal: During the early seventies, the rebellion of youth against established institutions made them susceptible to a strong disciplinary structure. The age of Maharaj Ji was an ironic contrast appealing to their loss of adult authority. Today's disciples tend to be older and better educated, responding to the DLM's current goals of peace through meditation and selfless service.
Purpose: The only pathway to God is by submission to an avatar, a fully god-realized guru. This Perfect Master helps one to remove the resistance of the logical mind which is the only block between man and his divine inner soul. Maharaj Ji's Knowledge is equated with the Holy Spirit, an experience which conveys a heightened sense of well-being and union with the Infinite.
Errors: All the requirements of the DLM are based on pleasing God by the works of submission and service, a contradiction of Ephesians 2:8, 9. Since the experience of Knowledge communicates a euphoric feeling, it is wrongly assumed to substantiate the teachings of Maharaj Ji. Proverbs 1:7 states that true knowledge is "the fear of the Lord," not a hypnotic series of psycho-neurological manipulations. Clearly, according to 1 John 2:18-23, Maharaj Ji fulfills the role of an antichrist as prophesied Matthew 24.
Who Is Guru Maharaj Ji? 1978, Bantam Books, New York, NY;
various issues of DLM publication Divine Times;
miscellaneous DLM pamphlets and materials published for release to the press;
The Guru, 1974, Bob Larson, Bob Larson Ministries, Denver, CO;
Cults, World Religions and You, 1980, Kenneth Boar, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL;
Empire Magazine, 4/28/74, pp. 52-61;
The Denver Post, 4/2/76; Ibid., 8/13/76; Ibid, 2/18/77, p. 3BB; Ibid., 12/15/78, p. 3BB;
Time, 4/28/75, p. 75;
Ibid., 3/13/78, p. 39.
Divine Light Mission, Box 532, Denver, CO 80201.
First printing, September 1982
Library of Congress Catalog Number 82-60018 ISBN 0-8423-2104-7
Copyright ©1982 by Bob Larson All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America