A BOY GURU AND HIS CASH
By MALCOLM N. CARTER
DENVER, Colo. (AP) - Guru Maharaj Ji, the 15 year-old from India, promises to reveal God and achieve world peace.
His followers compare him to Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna, but this supported link to God processes his disciples through a personnel department, keeps track of them with a computer and depends upon a public relations staff to shape his image.
The guru is a spiritual leader, a pudgy adolescent with a fondness for sweets and a business titan whose mushrooming missionary corporation includes such diverse activities as film production, education and the Cleanliness is Next to Godliness janitorial service.
Titled corporate "supreme executive" and spiritual "perfect master," the boy enjoys the benefits of both, and suffers the consequences. With status comes worldly stresses and worldly goods - a middle-age executive's ulcer, three luxury cars and as many elegant homes.
His Divine Light Mission teaches an unspecified mystical truth, experienced in part through tongue contortion and eyeball pressure. Bliss is the purported result, and the gurus claimed following is legion.
Many of them had searched through the war-stirred '60s and early '70s. Predominantly white, middle class and educated, most were uncertain about their future.
Then came the guru with a promised path to inner serenity and an answer to life's great questions. To his followers, he is God himself.
They bow before his photograph and hang on his every word.
Every night they attend “satsang," listening to testimonials, worshipping his name, singing his praise, reinforcing their beliefs.
Each conversation begins with a phrase that recalls his teaching. And each conversation ends with with it.
"What he shows us is a tool that can transform the human race," says Rennie Davis, the 33-year old peace activist who joined the guru's movement last February.
That tool is called "knowledge;" which the guru's followers say cannot be communicated in words. It is an experience, a realization of unity with the spirit of God,. they say. To receive knowledge, the guru teaches, is to reach perfection through meditation.
Peter Berger, a sociology professor at Rutgers University and author of The Homeless Mind says: "we have a society in which tens of thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people, arc desperately searching for identity."
When someone comes along who can at least "put up a front of assurance and out of this seeming assurance tell people who they are and what their life is all about, it's highly predictable he'll find followers," Bergen says.
"People are likely to believe almost anything you tell them."
He observes that those who embrace therapeutic, political action and sectarian groups - "far out religious groups” have a tendency to join several in a row.
When the guru first visited this country ten years ago he found seven disciples. Today, the mission here counts at least 30,000 followers, with six million world wide.
About 3,100 United Stated devotees are a actively involved in the mission's activities, according to Michael Donner, vice-president.
About 900 of them live in ashrams - communes for celibate living, working and discoursing about "knowledge." None of these followers is paid, nor is he or she charged for the vegetarian meals and sleeping pallet the ashram provides.
A guru since his father's death seven years ago, this plump teenager strides commandingly about the mission's headquarters here. His eyes dart darkly across the heads bowing in his path. He is a lion among cubs, giving advice with apparent assurance and conceding devotion with barely a nod.
That is the spiritual leader, but one who happens to be 15 years old and a playful adolescent as well.
He likes gimmicks and wears an electronic digital watch, flies an airplane and fiddles with quadraphonic stereo equipment to hear Hugo Montenegro or Ray Conniff.
His public relations staff met recently to talk about the guru's image, concluding he was seen as a "fat 15-year-old with pie in his face … and a Rolls-Royce … who was arrested for jewel smuggling."
The allusions were to his encounter with a pie-tossing youth in Detroit and the confiscation in India last November of $35,000 of undeclared jewelry and cash, which the mission has said was forgotten by a disciple. The case has not been settled and the guru had to post a $13,300 bond before leaving for his latest world tour.
For his part, the guru terms himself “just an ordinary humble servant of God preaching the gospel of peace in the world, preaching the knowledge of peace."
His professed humility not withstanding, Guru Maharaj Ji lives comfortably with the other members of the "Holy Family" - his three older brothers and his mother, a dominant figure, he willingly obeys.
He has a sprawling $60,000 split-level house here, plus homes in Los Angeles and India. There are two Mercedes-Benz automobiles for use in the US. and two airplanes. In London, his followers have given him a Rolls-Royce.
Weighing 160 pounds at 5 feet 5, the guru might blame his girth on an obvious sweet tooth. But his personal physician and disciple, Dr. John Horton, attributes the boy's weight to a sedentary life of making decisions.
Making decisions has left another mark, says Horton. The guru has an ulcer.
It was this intestinal ulcer that caused the guru to cancel appearances this summer in Atlanta, Denver and Kansas City. He passed up Detroit because of "fatigue," but did appear in Boston, Chicago and New York. The day after his release from hospital, where he underwent tests, the guru was back at mission headquarters in a seven-storey building in downtown Denver.
By midmorning, he was on the sixth floor, where weary but smiling "premies" - "lovers of God"- were ending a five-month renovation that provides new space for darkrooms, a computer room, executive offices, a magazine design-room, a conference room and the guru's new office.
It's a far cry from the headquarters of only last April, when the mission was paying $300 a month for a building that also housed the staff, the guru and his family.
Today, the rent is 13,500 monthly and 120 disciples work there.
Where does the mission get this kind of wealth? Donations, the executive disciples answer.
The mission is a tax exempt religious organization with a host of subsidiary corporations. In the most recent tax return available, it declared only $5,696 in total assets at the end of 1971. The growth since then has been clearly a wonder.
For example, the mission keeps track of devotees with an IBM computer it leases for $2,400 a month. It has just bought a $69,000 printing press and spends about $70, 000 monthly on publications, films and recordings. It owns about 100 automobiles and six trucks.
It has budgeted $500,000, and expects to spend twice that, for a three-day climax to the guru's third world tour in November, "Millenium '73." The mission has rented the Houston Astrodome for $75,000 and booked 35,000 beds in hotel rooms.
"This is just warming up," says president Mishler who declares that world peace is "inevitable."