Guru Maharaj Ji Says: 'All I Promise Is Peace'
Sporting a smile that curls somewhere between warmth and omnipotence, the boy
with the face that has plastered Harvard Square for two weeks came to
Boston Saturday to make his pitch.
"All I promise is peace--that's my contract with you," Guru Maharaj Ji told an overflow audience of 6700 followers at War Memorial Auditorium. He spoke from a red velvet throne mounted on a satin covered platform, and covered with a suspended semi-circle of cut glass crystals that broke the auditorium lights into an artificial rainbow.
Insulated from his devotees by security guards uniformed in white carnations, he spoke in a shrill, small-boy's voice, with only a trace of an accent. In his rambling, anecdotal, half-hour satsang discourse, the Guru said that happiness springs from knowledge of the kinetic energy within each person.
"This knowledge is very far out," he said. "If you can't find it anywhere else, I can give you peace." The guru claims to have a practical plan to achieve world peace. This plan will be 'fully revealed" during the coming year, a spokesman for the Divine Light Mission, the organization of the guru's followers, said Saturday.
Who is Guru Maharaj Ji? An official biography says that he was born in India 15 years ago, the youngest of four sons of Shri Hans Ji Maharaj, "Perfect Master of his time and founder of the Divine Light Mission." His followers claim that Maharaj Ji, who first gave discourse at the age of two-and-a-half, (and his first English discourse at six), became a Perfect Master at eight, barely two weeks after his father's death. A Perfect Master is "one who can teach the Knowledge of God."
The guru's Boston visit is part of his third "world peace tour," which will culminate in a three-day celebration planned for November in the Houston Astrodome.
The Divine Light Mission claims six million followers worldwide, and 40,000 in the United States, including 1200 devotees in the Boston area. The organization, which says that it is supported mainly through donations of money and services by members, has six ashrams (residences) in the U.S.
The Mission has also set up a health clinic in New York; a chain of Divine Sales stores offering second-hand goods; a small school at its national headquarters in Denver, Col.; the Divine United Organization to enlist "efforts of all trying to improve the condition of the world;" Shri Hans Aviation, which operates two small planes in Riverside, Calif.; and, Divine Systems Enterprises Inc., an organization of wholesale dealerships in electronic equipment (Divinatronics), duplicating machines and office furniture (Divine Office Systems) and musical instruments (Divine Harmony).
In addition, it published a bi-weekly newspaper, the Divine Times, and a professional-looking monthly magazine, And It Is Divine, which features a centerfold photo of the guru in every issue, and is doing well at $1 a copy. On Sunday. The Boston Globe estimated that the organization's income is $250.000 a month.
Maharaj Ji himself has been given several residences, a limousine, and many expensive gifts by his devotees. He says that these possessions have been given to him "to help spread the knowledge. If Jesus came today, you are not going to give him a donkey to ride on. Is that right?"
"The gifts are only material things, given to him by grateful people," one Divine Light member said. "He's not attached to them."
The core of the guru's teachings is the Divine Light, a physical, revelatory experience. After attending satsang, where the basic outline of Divine Light's message is discussed, those who decide to join the faithful attend a "knowledge session." At this stage, a Mahatma--one of the guru's several thousand apostles--reveals the "Knowledge" through instruction in meditative techniques.
Other meditation techniques focus concentration upon a phrase such as a mantra, or upon a physical process like breathing, utilizing them as intermediaries in order to reach a state closer to God. The Divine Light technique claims to allow devotees to meditate directly upon God, without use of an intermediary.
God is the life force which is found identically within each human, they claim. He is manifested, say devotees, by the Divine Light, which is the main object of their meditation. Devotees claim the Divine Light--described in the Divine Light Mission's official glossary as "a self-effulgent light which can be seen within"--to be the most brilliant sight they have ever seen. Some have claimed to see the light "shining through walls."
In addition to the light, God-as-life-force is sensed by those who have received knowledge in interval sounds and vibrations, and in a nectar, supposedly identical to the "living waters" mentioned by Christ.
The guru's teachings as a whole stress immediate experience, avoiding abstraction to the greatest possibly degree. Much of the appeal of the guru's movement is based upon the follower's ability to summon the light at will. "The light is something I can't deny," one devotee said. "It's there every morning when I get up."
The guru's personal appeal is also rooted in the power of direct experience. Maraj Ji is said to be the latest in a long line of Perfect Masters, which include Moses. Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Krishna and Rama.
There is said to be one Perfect Master present on earth at all times. As the world's only living Perfect Master, Maharaj Ji claims that his teachings reveal the basic aim of aal the world's religions.
"You can't run the country with a dead president," said one Mahatma in a warm-up satsang before Majaraj Ji's Saturday address. "To get peace, you must go to a living Perfect Master."
It is meditation upon the divine light-energy which brings happiness and peace, claims Divine Light Mission. "Life is bliss," said a Mahatma a Friday night MIT satsang. An empty throne, reminder of Maharaj Ji, sat on the stage as he spoke, an Elijah's cup woth microphone attachment.
"Liberation is knowing everything correctly," he added. "What is mortal, you must treat as mortal." The intellect and its ideas are mortal, he explained, and therefore must be subjugated to the one immortality--God.
"Put aside your debates, arguments and cynicism," said a Divine Light official Saturday night. "This is something that can change your life. The aim of life is to follow the Creator and obey him."
Devotees do not believe the guru's teachings to be anti-intellectual. When one receives knowledge, "the mind finds its true place," and ends its "aimless wandering," said a member of the publicity staff of Boston's Divine Light Mission.
The guru has framed a uniquely marketable philosophy. There are no complicated or subtle beliefs, no long reading lists, much room for personal interpretated or subtle beliefs, no long reading lists, much room for personal interpretation and no conflict with existing beliefs. Most importantly, there is the daily reinforcement of meditation--the experience of the Divine Light, which claims no intellectual content, and therefore cannot be challenged by the intellect. Maharaj Ji likens the receiving of knowledge to a pinch--something that cannot be understood until it is experienced.
Divine Light crowds most resemble gatherings of slightly subdued Jesus freaks. (One devotee said that "Jesus freaks are the hardest people to talk to. They say the Bible is the word of God. But there was God before the Bible."
The followers listen closely to the rambling and often repetitive discourses of the Mahatmas, enthusiasm surfacing only in the chants they shout at the beginning and end of each speech. Sitting bolt upright, they seem to hang on to every word with a fascination that is almost childlike in its intensity. Their faith, founded on a common experience, is apparently unassailable as long as the experience remains.
Under it all, there runs a barely detectable consciousness of the improbability of the Divine Light claims. "No one can appreciate more than me how outrageous this whole thing is," ex-radical leader and now devotee Rennie Davis, told a Harvard audience this June. "But it is happening."
There is appreciative laughter at the incongruous Americanisms which find their way into the Indian Mahatmas' discourses--words like "freaked out," "far out," "A-OK," and "out of sight." More than any other of the guru's sales techniques, these phrases pinpoint the incongruity of the entry of a 15-year-old saint into middle class American life. Their laughter rises with the blissful knowledge that they have attained a freedom from doubt so robust that this pudgy 15-year-old boy appears unquestionably to be God's medium on earth.
The bulk of the guru's devotees are young and middle class, although there are some older members of the Divine Light Mission. The movement counts few blacks in its ranks: one observer noted only one black in an audiece of nearly 500 at MIT Friday night, and could find only six at the mass meeting in Boston on Saturday. No blacks were among the Divine Light officials at the Boston gathering.
The devotees fit their leader's description of them well: people in search of peace, in search of a respite.
Pat Bonati, a 19-year-old who attended the University of Hartford, in Conn., is typical of many devotees in that she traveled the "guru circuit" before becoming a member of Divine Light Mission. "I tried yoga, and a lot of different kinds of meditation," she said. "They were relaxing, but this is so much more--there is so much love in it."
Bonati, who will be going to Houston with other devotees in November, called the mind "an obstacle, full of fear, doubts, and skepticism." Bonati meditates at least two hours a day. She said that the energy revealed to her through Maharaj Ji is "higher than the mind: It provides a resting place for the mind."
Marshall Lentini, who joined Divine Light after working with the Vietnam Vetrans Against the War (VVAW), urged people in "the movement" to "check out Maharaj Ji."
Lentini said that he was disillusioned with VVAW. "We had no plan. We didn't know where we were going," he said of his time with the veterans' organization. Lentini stressed the professionalism he finds in Divine Light Mission. "We had no feedback in the movement," he said. "Now we always know what's going on with the people outside."
"Maharaj Ji has a practical plan to bring about world peace by providing the necessities of food, clothing and shelter along with the Knowledge," he said. Lentini said he respects Rennie Davis for joining Divine Light. He said that Davis is performing "top-notch, professional work" for the Guru. Lentini said he believes that Davis is "a saint, who was around at the time of Christ."
"In Vietnam," Lentini added, "a joint is peace. But Maharaj Ji is peace."
A middle-aged Brooklyn woman, a devotee who came to Boston to see the guru again, after having seen him in New York last week, said that her children, both devotees, had introduced her to Divine Light. She had just gone through a divorce, she said, and her children felt that she "needed some help."
She said that receiving knowledge had improved her relations with her children. She uses the guru's Knowledge "instead of a psychiatrist," she added. Divine Light "is not a religion," she said. "I still go to temple every week." "It takes an intelligent person to realize the truth behind the guru's teachings," she said.
She turned to one of the non-believers in the Saturday night audience, and quoted one of Maharaj Ji's Mahatmas. "How do you react to this statement: Truth is the consciousness of bliss," she asked. "Is truth bliss?" he replied.
"Maybe not," she said. "But wouldn't it be nice if it was?