The Guru Business

Copyright The New York Times
Originally published April 8, 1973
Excerpts - Prem Rawat's Divine Incarnation Explanation
by Kushwant Singh Full Text of Article

The name given to him at birth was Pratap Singh Rawat. When he succeeded his father as head of the Divine Light Mission, he came to be known both as Balyogeshwar (Child God) and Shri Guru Maharaj Ji. He is a little over 15. 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 (the blessing which flows from the sight of a saintly person)," 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.

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. "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 Bomb."

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."

The Divine Light Mission has been attracting attention from the press since Balyogeshwar started going abroad two years ago. Since his embroilment with the Indian Customs, he has been exposed to a lot of adverse publicity. Demands have been made in the Indian Parliament that he be arrested. So far, his admirers (who include many members of Parliament) have been able to protect him. But he may have to pay a heavy fine.

Though there is nothing new in the teachings of Balyogeshwar or any other of the god-men, they have received a lot of coverage in the Indian press because of what has appeared about them in the European and the American papers. Recognition abroad helps recognition at home. "Going to Phoren" (Foreign) has become a part of the Indians' one-upmanship; god-men are no exception. And foreign devotees have become an important Status symbol. They are paraded before the Indians as proof positive that at long last the materialistic West is turning to spiritual India for guidance.

The techniques recommended by Balyogeshwar and other god-men are the same as preached by gurus over the centuries. First comes the initiation. Once the neophyte is considered fit to be enrolled, Balyogeshwar gives him the diksha (spiritual gift) of a sacred mantra whispered in the ear. This may be just one word, like the name of one of the gods, Rama or Krishna, or a verse---"Repeat the name of Shiva and your difficulties will be resolved." This is the guru mantra, the secret bond between guru and disciple which must never be divulged. The devotee must thereafter meditate in absolute silence and still his wavering mind by repeating the guru mantra to himself. He should focus his inner vision on a spot between the eyes above the nose and regulate his breathing. The practice is designed to open the mystic third eye through which divine light comes flooding in. It can be a long process. But some gurus like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (onetime guru of the Beatles) claim to have evolved a mode of instant meditation. The Mahesh Yogi's technique is discounted by most practitioners of the art.

Most gurus (not Balyogeshwar) recommend practices in which the disciple can drop his or her inhibitions and let himself go. Although drugs and drink are forbidden, chanting, singing and dancing that produce a sense of euphoria leading to a trance are approved. At some of these seances, disciples discard their clothing, shriek, leap about wildly and pass out.

When he feels his end is near, a guru nominates a successor. In Indian religious terminology this is "as one lamp lights another." The man chosen is usually the closest disciple. But when money or property (ashrams, temples, land and houses) are involved, it is not unusual for the father to name his son (as in the case of Shri Guru Maharaj Ji) or relative and thus keep the guruship and the property in the family. Disputes about succession result in schisms and often come up before courts of law.

MOST successful gurus maintain large establishments with boarding and lodging facilities for hundreds-in some places, thousands-of visitors. In Northern India many have their headquarters somewhere along the holy Ganges and other residences in the cities. Thus Balyogeshwar has his Prem Nagar ashram at Hardwar where the river enters the plains, another at Delhi and smaller centers scattered over the country and abroad. The Delhi ashram can accommodate more than 100 men and women; its kitchen can on special occasions feed up to 50,000 visitors a day. The lavish use of marble, wall-to-wall carpets, chandeliers and modern furnishings are clear evidence of affluence. Balyogeshwar lives well. Some other gurus live even better. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (who claims a following of 100,000 disciples) travels by helicopter; Shri Satya Sai Baba has a cavalcade of cars following him wherever he goes. I asked Balyogeshwar's secretary where the money came from. "Mostly in offerings from Indian devotees," he maintains. Some god-men have acquired wealthy Patrons. Swami Prabhupada Bhaktivedanta of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness counts India's richest Lady, Sumati Morarji, head of the country's largest shipping firm, among his patrons. In Satya Sai Baba's clientele are many industrialists. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had the Beatles, Mia Farrow and many others; unlike other god-men he charges $30 for initiation. Balyogeshwar also bas a considerable foreign following mainly in the United States. A dollar goes a long way in India.

Tradition requires that a devotee give body (tan), mind (man) and worldly wealth (dhan) to his guru. Indians give more generously of the first two; foreigners contribute a lion's share of the third. A good example is the Gurudev (guru god) Muktananda's ashram at Ganeshpuri.

Ganeshpuri is only 50 miles from Bombay but a thousand miles from the city's noise and stench. It lies in a broad valley ringed by forested hills. The 30 acre ashram has a large marble temple. A solid silver railing demarcates the altar, which has a black marble statue of Swami Nityananda, founder of the order. A massive silver chest, one side made of glass, is crammed with currency. Pilgrims come from Bombay and Ahmedabad by the busload, do obeisance to the statue, thrust coins and notes in the box and sing hymns. (the rest of the article is about Muktananda's western devotees)

Copyright The New York Times
Originally published April 8, 1973