Page 4 * Section 5 * The Indianapolis Star * Sunday, April Sixth, 1980
Urges parents to warn offspring
Ex-Cultist Describes His 'Kidnapping,' Deprogramming
By Karla Taylor
This is a second of two articles about Jay Cohen, a 26-year-old Indianapolis resident who in 1975 became a fervent follower of the Divine Light Mission, a religious sect from India led by youthful Guru Maharaj Ji. Although he managed to finish medical school during his 4 1/2 years of involvement with the Mission, Cohen forsook his family and normal life to live with other local devotees and dedicate himself to the guru's causes. This story examines his intensive session of "deprogramming" from the Mission, Cohen tells what happened to convince him to renounce the guru, and how he thinks others could be protected from religious cults.
In July 1979, a month after he graduated from Indiana University School of Medicine, Jay Cohen's mother called to say that he'd received $100 worth of graduation presents from relatives. She wanted to deliver them to him personally.
"My first response was, 'just mail them. I'm busy. I don't have time to see you," Cohen says.
But she was insistent. It had been a long time since they'd seen each other, and she wanted to meet him for lunch. He gave in.
"I thought, 'Okay, it's 100 bucks for an hour's work - really, that's exactly what went through my head. Besides, what could they do to me in broad daylight in a public restaurant?
The day they met, Cohen noticed his mother was extraordinarily nervous and joked that she needed meditation to calm down. She told him that she just returned from a trip to New York and was tied.
I Thought, My God. My Mother Is Kidnapping Me
As they walked back to her car after lunch, Cohen saw two men approaching rapidly from the side. One came round behind him and grabbed his waist, as an old friend might do as a prank. Then the other man grabbed him, and Cohen knew it was no joke, he thought he and his mother were being kidnapped.
In a flash of recognition, he realised it wasn't his mother they wanted, "I thought, 'My God, my mother is kidnapping me and they're going to deprogram me.'"
He'd heard all about the process of deprogramming. Usually done at the request of a cult member's parents, it involves holding the member against his will while submitting him to intense psychological pressure to renounce his beliefs. One of the other ashram members had been deprogrammed just six weeks before, and he didn't return to the fold. Cohen was terrified.
"I started kicking, biting and screaming bloody murder, because I knew that I had to get away, because I knew that deprogramming worked. I bit one of the men and pulled a handful of hair from the other. My brother was watching from across the street, and he came up and helped squish me into the car.
"I really got hurt very badly. I injured my back and I was bleeding where I was cut in a few places. I was mad as hell. These people were abusing me, and they were wrong. I looked at my brother and said, 'Is this right?' I swear I could have killed them. I streaked my blood across my mother's arm and said, 'Do you like that, Mom? Does that make you happy? It was so intense, so emotion packed.'"
They drove them to the home of a family friend in Indianapolis, locked him in with them and told him he wouldn't be hurt. At various times during his stay, his entire family participated in the deprogramming.
They said, 'You don't have to do anything. You don't have to eat or talk if you don't want to, but you're not going anywhere and you're going to be here until you start thinking for yourself looking at what you're doing objectively."
Within a couple of hours Ted Patrick arrived. Patrick is a former middleweight fighter from San Diego who is nationally known for deprogramming followers of a variety of cults, despite their highly questionable legality of kidnapping someone and holding him against his will. His fees are said to range up to $10,000.
For two days Cohen refused to talk to anyone preferring instead to pray to the guru for salvation and "meditate for dear life." So those same two days, Patrick taunted and confronted him.
'My Whole Insides Were On The Brink Of Shattering'
Patrick started out by asking questions. He asked about the religious festivals Cohen had attended around the world reminding Cohen that he'd paid $30 to $100 to sleep in a tent for a week and they even had to give more money before he had the privilege of kissing the guru's feet. Cohen didn't reply.
Patrick taunted him about the omnipotent guru's apparent lack of interest in helping him. He urged Cohen to call the guru's headquarters in Miami and ask for his help. Cohen didn't try; he knew the guru wouldn't come to the phone.
Patrick berated him about why the guru didn't strike Patrick dead if he cared about his followers, since someone who was the Lord obviously had the power. "That was a very confronting thing," Cohen says. "I knew that he is the Lord, and I knew that he does have the power to strike him dead, and that he loves me and doesn't want me to be deprogrammed - but why wasn't he saving me?"
Then Patrick brought in Cohen's mother. While Cohen sat quietly, Patrick told her he knew that if the guru had told Cohen to, he would kill his own mother.
"He said 'Isn't that right, Jay?' My mother was sitting there crying and saying, 'That's not true, is it, Jay? And I was thinking, 'You're damn straight it's true.'
He just sat there and let her ask me six or seven times. 'Jay, tell me that's not true.' You can't imagine how assaulting that was to me , a being that loved his mother and yet he was being controlled. That didn't sound like God to me - kill your mother if somebody tells you to? Did not make sense.
"My whole insides were on the brink of shattering. I was so upset that I almost yelled at her to get out of there. And of course that was Ted's plan. That was just exactly what he wanted to happen."
But Cohen managed to maintain his silence.
On the second day the deprogrammer brought in Peter, the young Mission member who'd been kidnapped and deprogrammed six weeks before. He'd lived with Cohen in the ashram, and Cohen knew him well. Peter talked for two hours while Cohen said nothing.
But Cohen was thinking. While in the Mission, he says, disciples of the Maharaj Ji are taught the only one thing is worse than never receiving knowledge: receiving knowledge and then forsaking it. A person who knows the meditation but doesn't meditate upon it, he was also told, is like a pile of vegetables that sits and rots.
Peter had forsaken the meditation and the knowledge, but he was not rotting. In fact he was healthier and happier than Cohen had ever seen him.
Cohen couldn't ignore that.
Patrick continued his running monologue during and after dinner but Cohen wasn't listening. He finally broke his silence, asking to see Peter alone.
I knew that I was ready to open up. I knew that no one could understand how frightening and devastating that was going to be except Peter, because he'd been through it just six weeks before.
Everyone else left the room. Peter was clearly nervous. Cohen remembers that he walked up to me, chuckled uncomfortably and said, 'So what's happening?'
"And I said, 'No, you tell me what's happening.' Because I really wanted to know at that point.
It was such a traumatic moment in my life. I remember taking a step off a cliff. I stepped out of the security of believing that Guru Maharaj Ji was the Lord, and that I was protected by his grace no matter what these people tried to do to me, if only I would have faith in him and continue to meditate and pray.
'I Remember Choosing To Go Ahead And Open Up'
I was at the point where what they were saying was making enough sense that I wanted to let it in, but I knew it didn't have to. I coulld continue to meditate, and I could continue to deny, just that I had for the past four years, everything I knew to be true.
At that point I remember choosing to go ahead and open up, to let them tell me. I remember a feeling of falling, and of not knowing how many millions of pieces I was going to splatter into.
"I was saying, 'I'm opening the door to your reality. I'm opening the door to the possibility that the reality I've been living for the past four years is a lie. Give me the proof'"
Although Cohen was still utterly disoriented, the "fall off the cliff" was a turning point in his deprogramming experience. He began to talk to Patrick, who stayed for two more days, left and then returned a week later to talk some more.
Throughout this period someone from his family or deprogramming staff stayed with him at all times, helping him "put some semblance of reality back together again. I'd gone through four years of programming that the whole world is illusion and that I was living a reality by devoting myself to Guru Maharaj Ji. In two days, three days, that whole reality was taken away from me. I didn't have a reality any more."
He then went through what deprogrammers call "rehab," a buffer period during which, as he says, the reins of his life were gradually returned to him.
Cohen took a leave of absence from the hospital where he was a resident and travelled to Lake Tahoe and San Diego for 2 1/2 weeks. With the encouragement of his travelling companions, he learned again how to buy clothes for himself, have a drink in a bar and dance with a woman.
He also struggled with intense guilt about his reimmersion into worldly pleasures. He says that he still feels that guilt, and he expects to feel it for a long time to come, in a variety of ways.
"For two years I was a monk living under the dogma, the pressure and the guilt of not having any desire for pleasure in this world - not even the beauty of a sunset, not even a conversation with another human being. It's going to be a long time before I overcome the things that have been ingrained in me so deeply."
Inform (Children) Before Someone Deceives Them
Cohen believes that his indoctrination damaged his philosophy about the value of his work and his desire to master anything in the human realm. It would be a long time, he thinks, before he's able to become deeply emotionally involved with a woman. And, although he says he maintains a very personal relationship with God, he doesn't expect to become involved in organised religion ever again.
Because of his conviction that he and others have been and will be damaged by involvement with religious sects, Cohen now denounces the Divine Light Mission in the same fervent tones in which he once espoused it.
Ge does so because he's convinced that one thing will prevent other people from being converted: knowledge.
"Most people want to know how to protect their children from religious cults," he says. "Inform them. Give them the information about religious cults and deprogramming before someone has a chance to deceive them." He recommends the books Let Our Children Go by Ted Patrick, Crazy for God by Christopher Edwards, and Snapping about sudden personally personality changes in people who become involved in religious cults, by Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman.
In addition to dispensing intimation through classes in the current and next session of Free University, Cohen also talks about his experiences openly to non-disciples and works with other people who have been deprogrammed.
He admits that there are parallels between his work in the in the deep deprogrammers' cause and his former role as a recruiter for the Divine Light Mission - but insists that the similarities are highly superficial.
Deprogramming is mainly the presentation of facts in a controlled environment. The difference in programming and deprogramming lies not in the techniques they use - the difference lies in what it's like after the experience.
In the cult, you're perpetually reinforced, perpetually reprogrammed. They force you to shut out external stimulation - normal stimulation. Newspapers and TV are scorned. They shut out all other input besides their propaganda.
'The Divine Light Mission Lies - It Misrepresents'
"After deprogramming you're completely free, and you can talk to whomever you wish. I talk to the Divine Light Mission members. Sometimes thye call me and say, 'Something's not making sense.' They want to know what it was that deprogrammed me.
He's certain about the answer to that question.
"The Divine Light Mission lies to you. It misrepresents itself. The whole thing is a lie. I f it were true, it would be great, incredible, and I would go back in a minute, and I would live that life and sacrifice.
"But that's why it was easy to give it up. Because when you believe it was true, you believed that the Guru Maharaj Ji was the living Lord, and that you were giving everything to him, sacrificing your family, your career, your comforts - even sleeping on an inch thick foam rubber cushion.
"But big stinkin' deal! I'd been saved!
"But then I found out - he's not the Lord. Once you find that out, why would you ever do that stupid stuff again? Who would want to waste a single minute at one of those stupid meetings? It didn't make sense anymore. The spiritual conflicts that led Cohen to the Divine Light Mission five years ago have not gone away. Moral issues that confronted him before still pre-occupy him. He still doesn't have any answers.
He admits that there are times, every now and then, when he wonders if he's spiritually better off now than while he was involved in the Mission. Then, at least, he had moral absolutes to guide him. N
"The answer comes very quickly," he says. "Then I was living a lie."
"Now I'm not. My life now is not morally perfect, but it is not a lie."
The Indianapolis Star * Sun, Apr 6, 1980 * Page 72
Blissed-Out Smiles Typical Of Followers
The first thing you notice are the smiles.
The smiles are serence, imperturbable and ever-present on the faces of each of the 10 or so people at a recent introductory program about Guru Maharaj Ji and the Divine Light Mission.
The meeting is in the Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, Student Union. At the front of the room is a color photograph of Guru Maharaj Ji showing that he too, smiles serenely. It's impossible to tell how many of the audience members, who are mostly in their mid or late 20s, are there for the first time.
The first two speakers, both women, speak in soft voices about the beautiful experiences that they've had since encountering a Guru Maharaj Ji. The third speaker, 31-year-old Steve Wallach, also gives testimony about his gratitude to the guru.
"The experience that Guru Maharaj Ji offers is practical," he says. "It's not a theory. You can read that God is love but how far does that get anybody? Guru Maharaj Ji delivers the experience that other people only talk about. It's an experience of truth, peace and love, a feeling of something beautiful revealed within.
"It's much more simple than anything we could say, and yet much more profound. The experience is not physical. You don't have to have words. You just need to have an open heart and the Guru Maharaj Ji will reveal and really take you to that Kingdom of heaven.
"I just really hope that everyone takes advantage of what Guru Maharaj Ji has to offer."
Followers of Guru Maharaj Ji have been spreading this message in Indianapolis since at least 1973, when the guru's local followers announced in a press release that they'd organised a Divine Light Center to enlighten others about "The Living Perfect Master."
Even though Maharaj Ji was only 16 at that time, he'd already been the Living Perfect Master for eight years. The previous one was his father who died in India in 1966. Young Maharaj Ji brought his vision to the United States about 1971.
Wallack, who's been a disciple of Maharaj Ji for seven years, declines to say that has a position in the Mission organisation ,although he came to Indianapolis about the time that former community coordinator Jay Cohen was kidnapped and deprogrammed last summer. He will say, however, that the guru has a local follower of about 30 people. Dennis Marciniak, President of Divine Light Mission Inc., tells why the disciples such as Wallak, and even national officials, don't like to talk about the Mission's details.
"We've gotten such mistreatment from the press," he says in a telephone interview from national headquarters in Miami Fla. We constantly get mosquitoes about our heads."
But when questioned about the guru and the mission, Marciniak is never evasive. There are about 8,000 active followers of the guru in the United States, he says and 10,000 in Europe. 2,500 in South America and 10,000 in India. Fewer than 10 percent live in ashrams.
The Guru, who's married and has three children, has homes in Malibu Calif., and Miami Fla., to which the national organization moved after leaving Denver, Colo., about a year ago. Maharaj Ji has several Rolls-Royces and a Mercedes Benz.
Maharaj Ji and his mother, formerly called "the Revered Mother" of the movement have been involved in a still unsettled court dispute in India since 1975, when she declared him a playboy who'd fallen from the path.
The suit arises from his mother's seizure of assets in India and "In one way we don't care about it, because that's not what Maharaj Ji's all about, Marciniak says. "But - those pieces of property were given to Maharaj Ji, not his mother.
The Mission no longer has business interests in the United States, he says. "There was a period in 1974 and '75 when we got into a rash of different types of businesses, but then we decided we'd gotten away from our real mission." The unprofitable ones folded and the rest were sold.
The Divine Light Mission is classified by the Internal Revenue as a tax-exempt religious organization. The organizational structure, Marciniak says, is merely a format through which Guru Maharaj Ji's followers can operate on a national basis.
The Divine Light Mission is not necessary for Maharaj Ji to do his work. A devotee would still be a devotee without it. Maharaj Ji comes not to start a religion but to give a practical experience of knowledge. It's convenient - or necessary - to come together under an organized name.
"Even if there were no corporation or church status, it wouldn't hinder what the Perfect Master has come to accomplish. What is giving us is of the essence."
In addition to speaking frankly about the Mission, Marciniak also says why he believes that the Mission's cult image persists, despite the guru's promise of freely revealed knowledge of God.
It's because of ignorance, and I'm not trying to be facetious.
There's something inside, when you're faced with something new and different that makes it easier to stand apart from it. The new and different thing is threatening, because it might confront something you hold to be of value.
The fact that Maharaji exists gives a real challenge - and of course, it's easier to lash out against that challenge and try to pretend it's not there.
For those who are really interested, we have public programs. People who are sincere can come by their own sincerity.
Maharaj Ji holds out his hands to everyone. He knows that a lot of people are just looking for a religion - a bandwagon. We've seen them commit themselves, even for a number of years, and when they leave they have hard feelings.
But Maharaj Ji gives is real. Those who look for it will see it. As for those who are deprogrammed - that's fine, I'm glad they were. They missed the boat.
- Karla Taylor