The Miami Herald Monday, August 1, 1977
Few Can Define Rapture, But Maharaji Packs House
Herald Staff Writer
Light, they said, spun through their minds. Hope sprang resilient as sponge. Bliss intoxicated their souls.
Some prayed, some chattered, some giggled. Some just beamed. To them, life sang. Ten thousand of them had just spent two hours Sunday with a 19-year-old they believe is the divine master of the universe.
First, Guru Maharaj Ji, the pudgy, cherub-cheeked Indian holy man they revere, gave an hourlong sermon.
"What people want to do is run from their exploding minds very, very fast," he told devotees at the Miami Beach Convention Center. "These minds have trapped them in a valley".
"There is only one thing to do. Let yourself go, and say, 'Guru Maharaj Ji, pull me out of here.' "
THEN THE GURU spent another hour silent upon a throne framed with flowers. His head barely turned, his lips never parted. The crowd, ecstatic at his mere presence, chanted rock-oriented hymns.
"He's just giving us some chance to sing love songs to him," explained a "premie," the name given
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10,000 Spend Day With Maharaji
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to those initiated with the guru's knowledge.
On Saturday, these same thousands had filed through the convention center, each getting an opportunity to kneel before their master. After Sunday's service, the close and climax of a three-day festival, few could define their rapture.
"Describe what sweet is, or love or joy. You can't do it," said premie Diana Stone, 29, of Boston. "When I try to explain what Guru Maharaj Ji has given me, words fall to the floor and shatter to pieces."
Even Bill Patterson, 27, president of the guru's Divine Light Mission, was vague. "This is an awareness inside," he said. "It's an experience, and only Guru Maharaj Ji has the power to awaken it."
MAHARAJ Ji – to some a messiah, to some a teacher, to many a charlatan – boasts four million followers worldwide.
He speaks of his power to "give knowledge," to alert people to the light and harmony they have within. He preaches peace through meditation. And, though he often alludes to the teachings of others. he claims his route is the shortcut to the sweeter stratum of consciousness.
Once a zealous recruiter, Maharaj Ji has now toned down the push for premies. He lives in Denver, and sees outsiders infrequently. The new shyness is perhaps a reaction to a remarkable, though stormy adolescence.
When Maharaj Ji's father – another guru of some repute in India died in 1966, the spark of his special presence was said to pass to his youngest son, then 8. Indeed, at the elder guru's funeral, Maharaj supposedly stunned mourners by declaring, "Why are you weeping? I am here." It is said he them captivated the grieving throng with a wellspring of wisdom.
Word of the sagacious youngster, followers say, spread like a storm. In a few years, Maharaj Ji, aided by his family's facility for showmanship, headed a swelling church and edged it across the ocean.
IN 1971, he came to an America ripe with young people eager to eyeball fashionable gurus. But while some 40,000 were said to have grasped the guru's message, most of the curious were skeptical if not hostile.
For one thing, American audiences seemed reluctant to heed a chubby teenager whose voice cracked from puberty and nervousness.
Secondly, newspaper stories seemed to allege that the guru was more interested in profits than prophets. Articles about his accumulation of worldly luxuries made him appear an unlikely guide, through the forests of the soul. Then, at 16, Maharaj Ji married a premie eight years his senior, an American stewardess. A year later his mother denounced his "despicable, nonspiritual way of life."
But present-day premies counter that Maharaj Ji's mother is jealous of her son and fend off criticism of their guru's wealth philosophically.
"PEOPLE WHO SEE Guru Maharaj Ji and only see glamor and money are people only looking for glamor and money," said Greg Edwards, 30, of Chicago. "Only people looking for purpose in life see the real Maharaj Ji."
And Sunday, a generally well-groomed mass mostly in their twenties claimed they saw the "real" Maharaj Ji. And his presence seemed to make them float.
"I'm happier," Diane Stone said, "than I ever imagined could be possible."