Followers surround spiritual leader Maharaj Ji, left foreground, on his arrival at New York's Kennedy airport in July, 1973, Maharaj Ji, 21, also known to followers as the "Perfect Master," lives a life far more elegant than that of previous eastern gurus, taking helicopters and limosines to travel from palatial homes to religious festivals -- prompting suspicion of the leader's true nature. (AP Laserphoto)
Guru becomes object of veneration
MALIBU, Calif. (AP) -- The Maharaj Ji, who came to the United States as a child guru, has become an object of veneration instead o£ a teacher of truth, a critic says.
"He has bastardized the teaching of the gurus," said Robert Mishler, worldwide president of the Maharaj Ji's Divine Light Missions until 1976.
"Now people are taught to learn the truth about him (the Maharaj Ji), instead of themselves," added Mishler, who began speaking out after the Peoples Temple cult suicides in Guyana.
The 21-year-old guru came to the United States eight years ago and lives in a guarded palace atop a Malibu hill with his 29-year-old wife, a former airline stewardess, and his children. Followers call them "The Holy Family," and many believe the Maharaj Ji has godlike qualities or is himself God.
"That kind of absolute dominion over people provides a corrupting influence," said Mishler, claiming the guru's followers, "will literally do anything he tells them."
A mission spokesman estimated membership in the United States is about 12,000, with 1.2 million members worldwide, mostly in India.
While followers flock to this plush Los Angeles suburb to be near their spiritual leader, the Maharaj Ji limits himself to speeches at national festivals and world tours. He travels to and from his estate by limousine or private helicopter.
Mishler said he left the group after trying to get the Maharaj Ji to tell his followers plainly that he was not God, and to live only off his own tax-free gifts, instead of income from the missions. He said the mission took in over $5 million in 1976.
"When proposed that, I remember his exact words." Mishler said, "the Maharaj Ji asked, "What about me?"
Joe Anctil, a spokesman for the Divine Light Missions based in Denver, said Mishler "freaked out" because his job as International director was discontinued.