9 Gurus, Godmen and Good People
Guru Maharaj Ji, 16, with his bride, the former Marolyn Lois Johnson,24 Balyogeshwar
Guru Maharaj Ji

Kushwant Singh

BOMBAY. The Delhi headquarters of the Divine Light Mission is like a fortress: an 8-foot-high wall with an iron-grilled gate encloses a courtyard and a complex of buildings consisting of offices, reception rooms, kitchen, refectory, dormitories, a temple and the residential Suite of Balyogeshwar, the Child God.

"God is great but greater is Guru because He reveals God" runs the legend on the poster adorning the gatekeeper's shack. I enter my name, address, profession and purpose in the visitors' book. The gatekeeper asks me to wait and takes the book indoors for scrutiny.

A stocky man with a shawl wrapped about his shoulders emerges and introduces himself as the personal private secretary of Shri Guru Maharaj Ji, the title by which devotees refer to Balyogeshwar. He leads me through an office where three American girls in white saris sit on the floor hammering away on their typewriters. The reception room is furnished with sofas and chairs. An armchair with multicolored cushions is set apart from the others. There is a projector on one side; a portable screen facing it on the other. In a niche above the sofa on which I am told to sit are two large pictures of Balyogeshwar. One bears the message, "Maharaj Ji, Light of Lights"; the other asks: "Do you know the aim of life?"

Balyogeshwar's Divine Light Mission is only one of the innumerable religious organizations that proliferate in the country. There are many other self-styled bhagwans (gods), swamis (lords), rishis (sages), maharishis (great sages), acharyas (teachers) and sants (saints) and gurus who have larger followings. It is not possible to make an estimate of the number of their followers because wildly exaggerated claims are made by each holy man. But it can be assumed that most religious Hindus and Sikhs (together making 85 per cent of the population of India) and some Moslems, Christians and Parsis as well, pay homage to one live saint or the other whom they regard as God incarnate.

Balyogeshwar's private secretary goes out and comes back. He tells me that Shri Guru Maharaj Ji is busy. There has been a spot of trouble with Customs. On the guru's return from a world tour last November, accompanied by 400 foreign devotees, U.S. currency and goods with a total value of $27,000 were seized from the entourage.

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While thumbing through the pages of And It Is Divine, I ask the private secretary how he came to join the mission and what it has meant to him.

"I belonged to a family of Brahmin priests attached to the Court of Maharajahs of Kashmir. Although I was brought up in a religious atmosphere, I did not find any satisfaction in temple ritual and chanting of mantras. I was looking for a guru who could give me real knowledge. Someone gave me the address of an ashram (hermitage) in Hardwar. Although I was only 16 when I arrived there, I knew I had found the one I had been seeking. This was our present Maharaj Ji's father. I attached myself to his lotus feet and served him to the day he left his body on July 19, 1966. Now I serve the new Guru Maharaj Ji. I have dedicated my life to the mission."

At 32, Sampurnanand holds the seniormost in the hierarchy of the Divine Light Mission. Apart from being Personal secretary to Balyogeshwar, he is a Mahatma (great soul) In his own rights. Though celibacy is not compulsory, Mahatma Sampurnanand and almost a thousand others who have likewise dedicated their lives to the spread of Divine Light keep themselves free of family entanglements.

"What is your estimate of the following of your mission?" I ask.

"In the world? About four million spread over 63 countries. It is catching on like wildfire."

"And so it should," remarks another, taking up the thread. "I have been with the holy family since I was this much," he says, lowering the palm of his hand to knee level. "I was at Prem Nagar Ashram in Hardwar when our Guru Maharaj Ji was born on December 10, 1957. I remember his father saying, "this child will be the world's greatest saint. There has never been one so great as he; there never will be." This is Bihari Singh, who has been chauffeur in the family. It is hard to tell his age as his hair and mustache are dyed jet black and his eyes sparkle with enthusiasm.

More people slip in and sit quietly on the floor. Among them are some white foreigners. Before I can talk to them, all eyes turn expectantly toward the door. Two men hold the curtains on either side. Balyogeshwar makes his entrance.

The name given to him at birth was Pratap Singh Rawat. When he succeeded his father as head of the Divine Light

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Mission, he came to be known both as Balyogeshwar and Shri Guru Maharaj Ji. He is a little over fifteen. He is the youngest of a family of five consisting of three brothers and a married sister. His late father, generally regarded as the founder of the Mission, is alluded to by his full title: Yogiraj (King of Yogis) Param Sant (First and Supreme Saint) Satgurudev (True Worshipful Teacher) Shri Hansji Maharaj. Balyogeshwar's mother is addressed as Shri Mataji (revered holy mother). She is a buxom, good-looking woman with chocolate-brown complexion and high cheekbones. She blushes as easily as she smiles. Her row of sparkling teeth are outdone in their luster only by the diamonds in her nose and ears. Balyogeshwar resembles his mother. He has the same dark brown, smooth, mahogany skin, with slanting eyes and a tendency to fatness. He looks a brown cherub. His hair is well oiled. He wears a black waistcoat over a starched white shirt, white pajamas and ankle-high Western boots. As he enters, the devotees go down on their knees and press their foreheads on the floor. He takes the cushioned armchair.

He looks uncomfortable, fidgets and eyes me with suspicion. He has had his fill of journalists questioning him about his brush with Customs.

"I came for your darshan" I say in Hindi. "I read in American and English papers that your tour was a great success."

He smiles. His narrow eyes close when he does so.

"Will you be going abroad again?"

The smile freezes; the look of suspicion comes back. I realize I have committed a faux pas: the police have impounded his passport. I quickly make amends. "I believe your English disciples gave you a Rolls-Royce."

He smiles again. I cash in on the changed mood. "I've read a lot about your holiness, but I haven't discovered why your father chose you instead of your elder brothers to be his successor."

"I can tell you that," he replies, leaning back in his armchair. "I was only 8 when the late Maharaj Ji left his body. I was at school in Dehra Dun. The chauffeur came to fetch me. I went home. Everyone was weeping. I was just sitting there, not weeping. Something began to happen to me. I began to feel that I am not this body; that I could not move these lips." He points to his lips.

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"I always thought that the soul would leave by the mouth, but my mouth was shut. Still, I felt I was leaving my body and my soul was everywhere going out. And this voice came to me saying: 'You are He, you are the one to continue.' He pauses and Looks around to see what impact his words have made on his audience. They are listening with rapt attention. Some have shut their eyes as if meditating. Somebody pushes a tape recorder nearer his feet. He continues. "I puzzled over this voice. Thirteen days later, when I was going to immerse my father's ashes in the Ganges, the voice came again: 'You are He. You are the one to go and give this to the world.' I didn't want to be Satguru. I would have been satisfied to be a mischievous little boy. But the late Maharaj Ji had left a letter in which he sent his love to his oldest three sons and obeisances to his youngest. So they crowned me with the crown of Rama and Krishna and put the saffron mark of succession on my forehead."

A few days later Balyogeshar spoke at a condolence meeting. He said, "Dear children of God, why are you weeping? The Perfect Master never dies. Maharaj Ji is here among you now. Recognize Him, obey Him, and worship Him."

It is obvious he has made this speech many times. His words are well chosen. His Hindi is impeccable. His manner of delivery and the gestures he makes are those of an accomplished orator. He pauses to heighten expectation before he delivers the punch line. He tells me how on Nov. 8, 1970, before a million devotees gathered in Delhi, he announced his plan to take the message to foreign lands and thus "explode the Peace Bombs."

Though his eyes are focused on me, he is addressing everyone in the room, and perhaps an unseen multitude beyond.

"Why do people come to you? What do they get from you?" I ask him.

"Why do people come to me?" he asks, repeating my question. "They come to me because they are unhappy, restless. They want peace. What do they get from me? They get this knowledge that I have."

"Knowledge? What knowledge? Do you give them the guru mantra (the sacred formula whispered by a guru in the ear of the disciple on initiation)?"

"I give them the Maha (the great) mantra," he says emphatically.

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"I tell them of the true aim of human life. It is not to eat, drink and be merry; it is realisation, the true realisation of God."

"Surely it is for everyone to make his own equation with himself and with God. Why must a person have a Guru?"

"Why must a person have a Guru? Because without a Guru no one can achieve salvation." Seeing I am a Sikh, he quotes the Sikh scriptures to me: "Were a hundred moons to rise and a thousand suns as well, without the Guru the world would still be in utter darkness." He likes to illustrate his points with parables. He breaks into English: "Divine knowledge is like money in a bank, it is my money. I have the checkbook. But only after I write on that check and sign it can you draw the money. See?"

His English is not very good. He speaks it with an American accent with the query "see?" at the end of the sentence. "There is this special technique I have Raja Yoga: yoga of the mind, not of the body which is Hatha Yoga. The yoga of the mind that I teach, Krishna taught in his sermon in the Gita, see?".

"One of your posters says Guru is greater than God. This would be considered blasphemous by Jews, Christians, Moslems and many others."

"The Guru is the only one who can open the third eye through which a person can see Divine Light. The Guru is the only one who can give the word. It is the same word which the Bible speaks of: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Having said that, he quickly corrects himself, "I am not God; I am only His servant."

The dialogue becomes a little confusing. At one time he says the preacher is more important than the Bible - apparently equating the preacher with the Guru; then retracts the statement and says that the function of the Guru is exactly what the word means. It is composed of two syllables: gu meaning dark and ru meaning light - therefore, one who dispels darkness and gives light.

Balyogeshwar has coined a number of acronyms to serve as aide memoires for his disciples. He sums up his mission as DODREL - he is the Dispeller of Darkness, Revealer of Light. Even GOD has been mnemonicised as Generator, Operator, Destroyer. When I draw his attention to the fact that this is precisely the Hindu concept of God as the trinity composed of

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Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, he repeats his own variation of the theme. "Generator, Operator, Destroyer."

"The world is turning against God," I tell him. "In Russia and other Communist countries, they have abolished religion."

"The world is not so much turning against God as toward materialism," he corrects me. "One may deny God, but no one can abolish Him. It is like refusing to see that a man has two legs, a goat has four. Really, these materialistic things can give us very little satisfaction. Suppose I want to sit on a chair and I am not getting a chair. I am frustrated. As soon as I get a chair, I will feel some satisfaction of mind. But then I will need a table, then a pad over it, then pen and ink, then my name on that pad, and so on goes the extension of the mind." The mind has such strong vibrations that they are multiplied. What we have to do is to put a divisional sign. We have to divide our desires by two. Half to complete the needs of the body; the other half to give to the Supreme Master for the realization of God. For that realization.."

"I am an agnostic," I interrupt him. "I don't believe or disbelieve in God. I simply say, 'I don't know'. What is more, I don't think whether there is or there is not a God is very important in human affairs. There are many people like me."

"Are you not seeking for something?" he asks.


"Then why are you here?" he asks, pointing his finger at me.

"Because I am curious."

"Curious? Curiosity is a vacuum. You have a vacuum in your mind and want to fill it. That's why you have come to see me." He snaps his thumb and finger triumphantly.

I maintain my ground. "No! Curiosity is my profession. I am a journalist. I have come to see you to find out what you have to say and what your followers get out of you."

An uneasy silence pervades the room. One of the foreigners breaks in. "I, too, was an agnostic once. But I knew I was missing something. Then I came to the Guru Maharaj Ji and he gave me this knowledge."

"What knowledge?" I ask the young man.

Bob Misheler (sic) is a thin, pale, flaxen-haired, gray-eyed youth who

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was teaching yoga in Denver. He tells me of his disappointment with the Protestant faith and how agnosticism had left a void in his heart. It was only when he met Guru Maharaj Ji and was given knowledge that he found a sense of fulfillment.

I don't understand what the word knowledge means to these people. It sounds like a trinket; you don't have it, then you have it.

I turn to another young man. He is Gary Girard from Los Angeles. He was Jewish "My search brought me to India," he says. "I became a sadhu and walked barefoot on dusty roads along the Ganges from one place of pilgrimage to another. I did not find what I was looking for. Then I met Guru Maharaj Ji. He gave me this knowledge."

The knowledge continues to elude me. So does the quest. I thank Balyogeshwar for sparing an hour for me. He stands up. His devotees make obeisance. He smiles, nods a farewell and walks out.