The World of Gurus
THE AUDIO-LUMINOUS GURUS
GOD Is INFINITE, almost blinding, light. He is the primordial sound - the word - that reverberates throughout the universe. He is also within us. Until we come to the lotus feet of the sadguru (true guru), we will remain unhappy, seeking peace, enslaved in the cycle of birth and death. But if we come to the living master, receive the true knowledge, and practice true meditation, we will see the light and hear the sound. We will merge into God and obtain liberation.
Many sects, mainly in North India, believe God to be sound and light. For them, surat-shabd yoga (union of soul with word) is the only means of realizing God. While each group claims the authenticity of their guru, they also assert that their teachings have been universally taught by all true saints always.
In recent years, Radha Soami Satsang (Beas), Jai Gurudev Dharam Pracharak Sangh, and the Divine Light Mission have been the most influential of these sects. The Radha Soamis derive their inspiration more from Sikhism; the other two favor Hinduism. But they belong to neither and prefer to be called sant mat - the path of saints. Historically, Sant Kabir and Guru Nanak were the forerunners of sant mat, but the present sects claim that the sant mat has existed since the dawn of civilization.
Though initially included in the research, the Jai Gurudev Dharam Pracharak Sang (JGDPS) need no longer be discussed at length. It started as a religious sect; later it was turned into a political weapon by certain political parties. Its founder, Sri Tulsidas Ji Maharaj, overstepped himself at Kanput on January 23, 1975 when he tried to declare that he was Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose (whose death is controversial). It now seems unlikely that his movement will draw much attention.
The Divine Light Mission
THE SPECTACULAR RISE and the scandalous fall of the Divine Light Mission has made it the most publicized sect of our day. Its recently dethroned leader, Balyogeshwar, alias Guru Maharaj Ji, was claimed to be "the brightest event in the history of the planet." Balyogeshwar's father, the founder of the Mission, had declared him to be be the "born saint"; his mother, the patron of the Mission, and Bal Bhagavan, his oldest brother and the new leader of the Mission, called him the "perfect master." Like Sai Baba, Balyogeshwar claimed the he was Jesus Christ come again and Krishna reincarnated. Millions believed him and surrendered their minds to him. They testified that he had given them the experience of divinity. This brilliant star has turned out to be a meteor that flashed across gurudom only to sputter out into darkness.
The founder of the Divine Light Mission, Shri Hans Ji Maharaj, was born in Badrinath, UP. He was drawn to the Arya Samaj at an early age because of his religious inclinations. Later, by sheer coincidence, he met a saint known as Dada Guru and became his disciple. He entered samadhi while meditating, only the day after his initiation. He lost his body consciousness and realized the divinity within.
Dada Guru had appointed Shri Hans Ji to be his successor, but after the guru?s death a small band of disciples refused to acknowledge Hans Ji's leadership. Therefore, he left for Sindh and Lahore and started disseminating the knowledge of Divine Light and Holy Name. From 1930 onwards he visited Delhi frequently, preaching to the laborers of the Delhi Cloth Mills.
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His simple, practical, well-illustrated lectures, with a strong moral tone backed by his magnetic personality, attracted many followers. By 1960, it is claimed that "tens of thousands" had taken initiation, and subsequently the Divine Light Mission was founded. (The Mission is not always honest in giving statistics; a book published by the Mission in 1970 claims that there were approximately a hundred thousand members at that time.1 But a book published in 1973 claims that in 1966 they had several million followers.2)
Generally, in the tradition of sant mat, guruship is hereditary or at least confined to the family. Shri Hans Ji Maharaj married Rajeshwari Devi because his first wife did not bear him a son. Mataji and he had four sons; all were claimed to be divine, but the youngest was the "born saint," the "perfect master." Rajeshwari Devi became the "divine mother," but the first wife, who lived in Dehra Dun, had no place in the Mission. Balyogeshwar became the leader of the sect after his father's death on July 19, 1966.
Balyogeshwar was born on December 10, 1957, at Hardwar. He had his schooling at St. Joseph's Academy, Dehra Dun. His father initiated him when he was six years old, but it took about a month of meditation before he realized his divinity.
On August 1, 1966, when he was eight years old, he declared himself to be the "perfect master." To the thousands of devotees present at his father's funeral, he said, "Why are you weeping? Haven't you learned the lesson that your master taught you? The perfect master never dies. Maharaj Ji is here, among you now." Awed at this declaration, his mother, brother, and mahatmas (apostles) prostrated themselves at his feet and received his blessing.
At a mammoth gathering in Delhi in November 1970, Balyogeshwar said "I declare that I will establish peace in this world." Six months later he went on his first tour to Great Britain, Canada, and the United States. His mission had phenomenal success in the West. By 1972, the DLM (Divine Light Mission) claimed 45 centers in the U.S. with fifteen thousand members. By June 1973 they claimed to have 480 centers in 38 countries.
The Mission launched a popular paper called The Divine Times and a magazine, And It Is Divine. Their movies, Lord of the Universe and Satguru Has Come attracted many viewers.
Balyogeshwar reached the zenith of his popularity during the Millennium Festival, 1973, in Houston. There his devotees declared him to be the savior of the world who was ushering in the thousand years of utopia. It would perhaps be an exaggeration to say that at that time his popularity overshadowed that of all the gurus and religious leaders in the world. But it didn't take long for it to dwindle to almost nothing.
The descent began in late 1973 when the sixteen-year-old god married his twenty-four-year-old American secretary, Marolyn Louise Johnson. By the end of 1974, he had reached the point of no return on the road described as "unspiritual" by his mother, brother, and C. L. Tandon, the secretary general of the Mission in India. The "divine mother" spent virtually the whole of 1974 trying to get her son back on the proper path. Mr. Tandon made two visits to the U.S. to persuade the "perfect master" to mend his ways but was appalled to see that "night clubs," "illicit relations," and liquor were part of the routine of the young guru. Also, the four taboos of the mission - "no sex, no alcohol, no consumption of non-vegetarian food, and complete celibacy" - had been broken within the ashram in the U.S.3
The cracks within the "divine family" became impossible to cement after Balyogeshwar issued directives that the photographs of his mother were to be removed from all the centers, since she was no longer divine, and in their place were to be put photographs of his wife who was "the incarnation of the goddess Durga." This precipitated a situation in which his mother, the patron of the Mission, had to remove him from leadership and enthrone his eldest brother, Bal Bhagavan, in his place.
Balyogeshwar and his Western followers, however, described his mother's step as "ridiculous," since he had taken over the complete management of the Mission on his sixteenth birthday in December 1973 in accordance with the will of his divine father. Joe Anctil, Balyogeshwar's press secretary, defended the perfect master on the grounds that he wasn't following any traditions or Indian concepts and so couldn't be bound by Indian social taboos. Mr. Anctil argued that "Maharaj Ji doesn't say what to eat, drink or smoke. He wants to change the hearts of men and not their habits." Besides, he argued, when Balyogeshwar's mother was in the U.S., "she lived exactly the [same] lifestyle,"4 and Balyogeshwar had to remove her from the Mission because she "had mismanaged the Mission which caused [them] to be in debt at the time."
After Bal Bhagavan was declared to be the leader of the Mission, Balyogeshwar levelled serious charges against his brother's character as well, for which they went to court. The particular case was withdrawn because this "battle of bhagavans" made the entire "divine family" a laughingstock to the world. But the legal battle for ownership of the property in the West continued. The Western followers have generally sided with the "perfect master," whereas the Indians have generally accepted the leadership of Bal Bhagavan. The average Indian devotee is in fact little bothered with these details. In talking to some, I found that they still consider Balyogeshwar to be God. One of them said to me, "Lord Krishna also lived this kind of life and we worship him as God; why hold Balyogeshwar guilty?"
The Divine Light Mission has not been interested in teachings and philosophies. Balyogeshwar and his brother have consistently rejected "theoretical" knowledge as "useless." I found the DLM devotees most difficult to talk to, because they neither wanted to teach their philosophy to me nor answer philosophical questions and objections. Their one comment was, "Take the
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practical knowledge of the experience of Sound and Light and all your doubts and questions will be answered."
"Practical knowledge" or simply "knowledge" is a term used to describe meditation. DLM claims that the knowledge has been handed down through the ages from one realized person to another. It was there when the world began, and it is with us now. In times of greater darkness, great saints are sent to disseminate this knowledge. The knowledge or meditation consists of four techniques; namely, the techniques of seeing the divine light, hearing the divine sound, tasting the divine nectar, and hearing the divine word. These techniques are taught by the guru or by the mahatmas authorized by him in a secret initiation ceremony which includes meditation.5
A person is initiated only after a mahatma can see that he is spiritually prepared. There is no definite criterion for judging whether or not a person is ready. You can go to a mahatma today and be declared unprepared. But go to another and you may be told that you have been ready for a longtime. The main thing a mahatma generally looks for is the intensity of one's desire to receive the knowledge. Often people fall on their hands and knees before the mahatmas to beg for knowledge. They may be refused even after such prayers.
After some people have been selected for initiation, they are taken into a closed room where the mahatma explains to them the importance of the knowledge, satsang, and the sadguru. The would-be initiates make an open profession that they will follow no other guru or saint except their own and that they will worship and serve the sadguru with all their hearts, strength, wealth, and talents. Serving the sadguru in practice means obeying the orders of the mahatma and propagating the knowledge.
After making the vows, one by one the initiates bow before the picture of the sadguru and worship it. Then the mahatma gives the knowledge or the techniques of meditation.
In order to show the divine light, the mahatma asks the initiates to close their eyes. Then he places his middle finger and thumb on their eyes and starting from the corner of the eyeballs he presses the eyeballs up from the bottom so that if the eyelids were open the center of the pupils would be looking at the "third eye."6 If the initiate concentrates on this point, he may see a light; some others see a psychedelic movie of moving patterns and brilliant colors, while some don't see anything at all.
The technique of hearing the music or the sound is simple. The initiate is asked to block his ears with his thumbs so that he does not hear any external sounds. When he listens long enough to his inner silence, he can even hear some noises. To some people this sounds like celestial music, while others think they are hearing their favorite tune played on some heavenly instrument.
The technique of tasting nectar is a very difficult yogic exercise. Usually it is experienced after much practice. The initiate has to try and curl his tongue to come up to the back of the throat and then has to swallow the tongue in such a way that it points upwards. Here the tongue is supposed to hit a point and make contact with the nectar that is constantly flowing through one's body. It is claimed that this nectar is indescribably tasty and that it is the "living water" of which Jesus spoke. Some of the devotees also describe it as the "bread of life" and claim that after making contact with the ever-flowing stream of nectar you can live without food or water but no one has as yet come forward to demonstrate these claims.
Hearing the word is the main meditation. In fact, it is often regarded as the knowledge. It is simply a breathing exercise in which one sits in a lotus position, if possible, with both hands on the knees, and concentrates on breathing in and out, in and out. Through concentrating on this, one supposedly tunes into that "primordial vibration," the word or logos which has created the universe and sustains it. By constant meditation, one is supposed to reach samadhi or the expanded state of consciousness, which according to the DLM is the purpose of life. You know that you have reached samadhi by the light. At the initiation, the light seen may be only a small point. But as you meditate the light gets brighter. Eventually the light overtakes you, and you become literally full of this light. Once you feel or perceive that you have become the light, you are assured that you have reached samadhi, or have merged into God. You will never be reborn.
The monistic presuppositions of the Divine Light Mission and those aspects of its teachings which it shares with the Radha Soami Satsang will be touched on later. Here we need only say of Sri Balyogeshwar that his life - which has been described by his mother and brother as immoral - is quite consistent with his philosophy. If God is impersonal sound, light, nectar, word, or consciousness without any specific moral qualities; if liberation is merging into this impersonal, amoral God; and if the way to liberation is through autosuggestion and physical manipulation of certain nerves; then there is no need for anyone to be moral. Balyogeshwar's so-called "immoral" life in no way disproves his claim to divinity and guruship.
I have seen slogans and posters put up in many of our cities by the Vishwa Shanti Dal (World Peace Corps), asking us to receive knowledge from Balyogeshwar the avatar!
To those who can't accept an immoral man as an incarnation of God, this must seem to be the height of religious deception. If the Vishwa Shanti Dal succeeds in putting Balyogeshwar back on the religious map of the world, it will become a classic example of the gullibility of humanity. This must cause us all to reexamine our beliefs and deities. Do we also believe blindly? If we do, then our beliefs are no better than those of DLM's followers.