'Money means nothing' to guru
"The actual deprogramming took only 45 minutes and consisted of Ted (Patrick) asking me these obnoxious questions and then finally hitting me with the accusation that I'd been brainwashed and hypnotized without my knowledge and consent. I bought what he was saying."- Jim Ardmore, ex-devotee with the Divine Light Mission.
By STEVE WHYSALL
The Divine Light Mission, with its own special brand of religion imported from India, has been active in North America for almost a decade, and now has centres in more than 30 major cities, including Winnipeg.
Over the years, the cult has been accused of using hypnosis and brainwashing techniques to get new converts, and there have been cases of parents hiring specialists to 'deprogram' their children to free them from the mission.
Local cult members claim what they are teaching is "simple and beautiful" and has nothing to do with brainwashing or hypnotism.
'They refuse, however, to talk about their teachings because they say words cannot describe the "perfect spiritual truth" devotees are being helped to experience.
Five devotees, or "premies," as they are called, live at the Winnipeg "premie house" located at 61 Harvard Avenue.
Other premies - nobody will say exactly how many - attend the house once or twice a week for satsang, a spiritual rap session.
Two attempts were made to talk to mission members at the house, but each inquiry met with the same answer - "We can't talk to you. You'll have to contact our headquarters in Denver."
Although premies are closed mouthed, even secretive about their activities, much is known about the cult, its leaders and its techniques.
Head of the mission is Guru Maharaj Ji, the satguru, which means Perfect Master, from India, who became the sect's leader in 1968 when he was only eight years old. He says his spiritual mission is to bring peace and happiness to the world.
With an estimated six million followers in India and about 50,000 in the Western world, Guru Maharaj Ji has made a fortune out of the cult. He rides around in a $50,000 white Rolls Royce, has a home in Denver, Colorado, and an estate in Malibu, California.
In the U.S., the organization -"a religion only through legal structure", according to an executive pays no taxes on it's reported monthly revenues of $350,000.
Much of the leader's wealth comes from premies, who are expected to hand over all their possessions and all their earnings to the mission.
When questioned about the affluent lifestyle, a premie at The Winnipeg centre said, "How important is money? Do you think the rich are happy? Money means nothing to Guru Maharaj Ji."
In the cult, the ultimate spiritual experience is to receive “Knowledge" which is given by Guru Maharaj Ji, and dispensed to followers by a few handpicked disciples called mahatmas or initiators.
"The Knowledge" is supposed to involve a direct experience with God, and it consists of four key phases - seeing the Divine Light, hearing the Divine Music (music of the spheres) with the inner ear, tasting Nectar and perceiving the Word (Holy Name of God) within oneself.
According to the Guru, after receiving "the Knowledge" a premie "will be guided by God. Perfect guidance will be given to you. So just realize the perfect aim of your life, why you have come into this world."
A mahatma has been in Winnipeg to conduct "Knowledge" initiations, but many followers have had to travel to other cities to take part in the ritual.
Ex-cult member Jim Ardmore describes the ritual in the book Youth, Brainwashing and the Extremist Cults.
"As we prepared for the Knowledge session we were told we should concentrate on how much we wanted the perfect spiritual knowledge. We were not to let our minds wander. In my mind I was singing a devotional song which went like this: "I love you my Lord, your grace is overflowing. I love you my Lord, you are all-knowing, You have given me life out of your mercy and compassion. I am so grateful fur the gift of devotion.”
"All 15 of us were seated in a darkened room when all of a sudden the mahatma came in, sat down and turned on the only light in the room. Just as he entered the room I fell this strange force inside my head. I felt as if I were blasted by some kind of energy coming from somewhere in the direction of the mahatma."
Ardmore says the initiator told them to concentrate on the groove in the eyebrow ridge just above their nose. They were not to turn their eves upward.
"Then he said he would give us the knowledge. He touched us on the forehead and we would see the Light.
He turned off the one light in the room and began walking in the dark. I was sitting there with my eyes closed, waiting. Suddenly I felt him swishing by, I felt his fingers on my eyes. Instantly I was zapped with light and was seeing a figure eight of pure white light."
The mahatma then told them to meditate for one hour, and he left the room. He returned to conduct the second phase, the hearing of the Divine Music.
"We were to concentrate on whatever we heard on the right side of our head. What we heard on the left side was evil, the left side was of the body, the right side was immortal.”
"All I could hear was a ringing sound. After an hour, thee mahatma returned to teach us the Word, the Holy Name of God. We learned to pronounce the name through a series of deep breathing exercises. It involved the sound of our own breathing."
The mahatma returned one final time to teach about the tasting of Nectar. "We were told to turn our tongues back and that our tongues would naturally find the passageway to where the Nectar drips down. I didn't taste anything. Nobody tasted anything but one guy over in the corner who exclaimed how everything smelled like roses and how sweet everything was."
After receiving "the Knowledge" the new premie takes an oath, promising, "I will always implicitly obey the commands of Guru Maharaj Ji", and he is told to meditate on the Light, Music, Nectar and Word for at least two hours a day.
The new premie is also told to devote his life to four main activities - meditation, darshan (being in the presence of the Guru whenever possible), satsang (spiritual discussion with fellow premies) and service.
Ardmore says the meditation commandment caused him to lose his ability to do simple arithmetic, and he says he knew other premies who lost the ability to read.
To receive Darshan, premies have to make a special effort whenever possible to be in the presence of Guru Maharaj Ji, which often means taking time off work to travel to other cities, even other countries.
On these occasions, the Guru can give "the holy breath" which means he blows into a premie's right ear, The experience is supposed to improve spirituality. As for service, premies are expected to turn over all material possessions and earnings to the mission, and then are expected to abstain from alcohol, drugs, tobacco and sex.
Ardmore got out of the cult when his mother called in specialist deprogrammer Ted Patrick, who has deprogrammed 1,000 by his own count.
"One day after visiting the doctor's office, I returned home to find a houseful of people, including Ted Patrick. The actual deprogramming took only 45 minutes and consisted of Ted asking me these obnoxious question; and then finally hitting me with the accusation that I'd be brain-washed and hypnotized without my knowledge and consent. I finally bought what he was saying. That was it!"