'It Does Take a Lot of Money To Keep a Guru'
Guru Maharaj Ji Pizza Sports Cars and Millions of Followers
By Deborah Frazier
DENVER (API) - The guru Maharaj Ji is 17 years old, likes pizza, drives a Maserati, sports a mustache and is Master of the universe to millions of followers.
Groomed to lead since birth, Pratap Singh Rawat Balyogeshwar Satguru Shri Maharaj Ji picked up his taste for sports car and gold watches since bringing the Divine Light Mission to the united States in 1971.
“A wealthy Boston premie (a term for the guru's followers) gave Maharaj Ji the Maserati for his wedding, just as you or I would give an apple,” said Joe Anctil, a former Houston, Texas, public relations man who now is the guru's press secretary.
Anctil said he was hired after reporters asked the guru about his sex life.
Anctil said the pudgy guru gives back more than he receives to his followers. What he gives is "knowledge” - an understanding of the universe.
"The knowledge gives you a tool to understand the universe if you practice it,” Anctil said. "Everyone has it within, it just has to be unlocked. Its like having a lollipop and not eating it.”
"It's the greatest high there is," said Rennie Davis a former anti-war activist, now the guru's director of program development. “He is here to change the world and bring peace.”
“I do not claim to be God,” the guru once said. “But I do claim I can establish peace on this earth by our Lord's grace and everyone's joint effort. I think this knowledge which I have to offer this world, free of charge, is the answer."
The Mission claims at least 17,000 followers in America. Anctil said the worldwide following of the teenaged leader peaks at 6 million.
The guru is a ninth - grade dropout who led an austere life in India and was governed by his family until 1970 when he rode through New Delhi in a golden chariot to kick off an international tour promoting the Mission.
He arrived in the United States one year later and settled in Denver where he set up Divine Light Mission headquarters and received a key to the city.
“He came to a young group of kids who were strung out on this and that and he saved a lot of them.” Anctil said. “And he did learn to live in the west."
The lifestyle he acquired has drawn criticism from former followers -- and his mother. Earlier this year the guru flew back to India in an effort to maintain control of the Mission there.
“It does take a tot of money to keep a guru and he does live well but what he teaches I will believe in for the rest of my life," said Michael Garson, the gurus former financial analyst who left the Mission because of management disputes.
In his first three years in the United States, new converts were common and their contributions led to the Maharaj Ji's homes in three states, a fleet of cars, a wardrobe of flashy clothes and two airplanes.
Followers are encouraged to live in ashrams communal houses where the virtues of celibacy, poverty and meditation are practiced.
"If I gave poor people my Rolls-Royce, they would need more tomorrow and I don't have any more Rolls-Royces to give them," the guru once said in defense of his worldly goods.
"The guru has had money problems. By 1973 the mission was $568,000 in debt, disorganization was thinning the ranks of the faithful and worldwide criticism was beginning to sting.
The guru's mother. Shri Mataji, and his older brother, Sat Pal, had been managing the affairs of the world wide Divine Light Mission, but on his 16th birthday, Maharaj Ji took control.
Shri Mataji and Sat Pal returned to India leaving the guru to “remold the world as a humanistic society basing their lives upon service rather than selfishness.”