MAHARAJ JI, 15, also known as the 'Perfect Master', has attracted thousands of youngsters to his religionby DONALD WHITE
A cherubic-looking 15-year-old guru, by the name of Maharaj Ji, has been playing Indian Pied Piper to the youth of America, much to the chagrin of their parents.
Like a Twentieth-Century Jesus Christ. the young guru, whom his followers call their "Perfect Master", promises to bring peace to the world through love. So far he has attracted 30,000 followers - mostly in their 20s - since he first came to the U.S in July, 1971, to preach his philosophy.
Anxious to be in the presence of their spiritual laader, the young followers will do anything just to be a part of the "tremendous love and spiritual joy" that Guru Maharaj Ji projects.
This past November seven chartered 707 jets left New York for Delhi, India, packed with the young disciples, who paid their own fares to attend a three-day festival held to "worship the Living Perfect Master."
In all, some one million people from various corners of the world gathered at Delhi, sitting transfixed at the feet of the young guru - whose father is also a guru - while he spoke to them of his "knowledge."
The followers of Guru Maharaj Ji say they have chosen to live their lives in total devotion to the principles he has established. As proof of this devotion each follower when entering one of the guru's numerous missions throughout the world - there are 32 in this country - takes a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience
The young followers swear total allegiance to their "Perfect Master" and promise to follow him anywhere and do whatever he asks of them. They point out, however, that they know he would never ask them to do anything "that was not good."
Living in collectives called "ashrams", the followers - divided between devotees and disciples - live a life of complete abstinence. None of them smoke - not even cigarettes - drink or engage in sex. All material possessions members had before joining an ashram are turned over to it, in return for which the ashram sees that all material necessities, such as clothing, food and shelter, are provided.
The ashrams are known collectively as Divine Light Missions, established as a non-profit organisation. Those who work outside the ashram, but live there, turn over their pay checks to the mission.
The money thus collected, plus money collected in contributions, is used," explains John Hand, a national vice-president for Divine Light Missions in America, "only to sustain the missions and to spread the knowledge I and others like me have received from the Maharaj."
In the ashrams members spend at least two hours daily in meditation. The meditation room at thc New York mission is completely bare, save for a raised platform at one end, at the topmost point of which sits a throne-type oak chair holding a gigantic picture of the guru, painted in gold, red and green. Yards of white satin are spread over this platform, and a variety of dimestore-framed pictures of the guru with members of his family, sit on either side.
Devotees enter the incense-filled room, prostrate rhemselves before the guru's portrait, kiss the floor, and then sit back in the Yoga position to meditate. Festooning the platform are flowers and loops of gold Christmas tinsel, and brightly embroidered satin pillows. However, everyone sits on the carpeted floor.
John Hand, in a recent inrerview, explained why he decided to follow Guru Maharaj Ji after he first heard him speak a year and a half ago in Denver's Divine Light Mission headquarters: "It was a very tranquil thing to be in his presence," he said "What he said he said with strength, but he was really free. He spoke with real authority bur with none of the hangups and frustrations that older people have. I asked him questions, not idle questions, but things I really wanted to know, and he answered each one wirh real authority."
Prior to taking his vow, Hand had been a real-estate agent in Denver. He lived that kind of life, he said because "It was respectable, and my family wanted me to do it." But he was not satisfied and felt he had no direction in his life. "I knew that I had to search for something. Then I could play any role I wanted because I would have an inner strength." I could be a son to them and understood what it meant.
"As far as knowing this is the direction for my life," he said. "I'm completely satisfied. I'm really into it. My awareness and knowledge keeps growing and growing."
"The basis of Guru Maharaj Ji's philosophy, as with most Eastern religions, is meditation. The particular form of meditation practiced by him and his followers is called Raj Yoga, considered the deepest, and hence highest, form of meditation.
Raj Yoga, claim its practitioners, involves certain physical manifestations, in addition to the spiritual insight which gives them answers to troubling questions of life. A "tremendous blinding of light" just between the eyes; certain sounds, such as bells, rhe ocean or music; a certain taste - described as like milk and honey, but really indescribable" - are some, said a 22-year-old college graduate and follower of the guru. The actual meditation, however, taught by mahatmas delegated and instructed by Guru Maharaj Ji, is a secret.
Asked why disciples call the guru
JOHN HAND left his job as a real-estate agent to spread the word of the "Perfect Master" to the people
their Perfect Master, Hand replied "There is no stamp of certification to tell you he is the Perfect Master. You just have to accept and seek spiritual knowledge. Maharaj says, 'Take my knowledge and meditate and then you'll know who I am.' So you take what the master gives and if it satisfies you, and keeps on satisfying, then he must be a Perfect Master."
The guru's followers attach great importance to the difference between subjective and objective reality. "Everybody is living in subjective reality," Hand said. "To get to objective reality you have to get beyond yourself, beyond ego, education. The rays of the sun or the molecules of the body - how it's happening doesn't matter. What does matter is establishing a link between the subjective and objective reality, which is transcendence."
The ultimate goal of Raj Yoga meditation, explained Hand, is to discover the knowledge of the energy of God. That energy, followers believe, actually is God.
A curious irony in the phenomenon of the 15-year-old guru's growing attraction is that, while his devoted flock elect to lead lives of poverty, he maintains a lifestyle very much different. From various admirers he has been given such lavish gifts as a $60,000 town house in London and a $22,000 Rolls-Royce, which he uses in India. This past summer, as he returned to India, customs officials were very curious about $12,000 in cash and another $8,000 in jewelry he was bringing into the country. He explained that they were simply gifts from his devoted followers, given as symbols of their love.
Perhaps Guru Maharaj Ji best explains the significance of such inconsistencies when he says, "Understanding the knowledge is not itself the knowledge. Meditation upon the knowledge is itself the knowledge. Because what does the knowledge say? Meditate upon me. Gazing at the Rolls-Royce is not gazing at the Rolls-Royce because you are gazing at the Rolls-Royce. A Rolls-Royce says drive me. And you are just gazing at it."
But Guru Maharaj Ji is driving his Rolls. Not bad for one who advocates poverty as a means of attaining spiritual enlightenment.