By Adam Bogacki, Psychologist, Sydney, Australia.
Children coming out of the education system today will
(hopefully) have more knowledge of the countries to our
North than we ever had. The emphasis of these courses
however seems to be on North and South-East Asia, rather
than on India.
There have been Asian influences on western culture for many
years, such as the influence of Japanese painting on the
French Impressionists. Some have been religious. Because the
US was the wealthiest country in the late 60's, and the
counter-culture was open to influences from Asia due to its
opposition to the Vietnam war, many Asian religious
entrepreneurs seized the opportunity to go there. Some now
promote Americanised versions of belief- systems which are
very old but unfamiliar to many people in our society.
Although part of many old cultures, meditation can be more
scientifically described as self-hypnosis. There is nothing
harmful in it on its own, but the potential for abuse lies
in the personality of a leader who may exploit a subject's
heightened suggestibility and lack of critical thought.
The Divine Light Mission (DLM) was introduced to the US from
India in 1971. Maharaji at 14 saw himself as a religious
leader and teacher of meditation giving people 'knowledge' -
exercises stimulating the eyes, ears, hearing and tongue to
provide an experience of Divine 'Light', 'Word', 'Music',
It drew broadly on the Bhakti tradition of Hinduism which
emphasises emotional attachment and devotion rather than
reason; devotion to Maharaji.
The DLM once had 45 ashrams, and information centres in 110
cities in the US. Income from these sources allowed Maharaji
to buy an US$80,000 building in Denver, land worth
US$400,000 in Malibu (Los Angeles), limousines, racing-cars,
and helicopters, while his devotees led simple lives.
Incorporated as a nonprofit tax-exempt church in Colorado,
it became a a multi-million dollar operation ( Los Angeles
Times , 12/1/1979).
But everything did not run smoothly. Even with increasing
income, it was not easy to pay off US$206,000 in debts for
renting the Houston Astrodome for a 1973 rally proclaimed as
"the most significant event in the history of humanity"
where, instead of 100,000, only 20,000 people turned up.
Worst of all, Maharaji's sanctity, perhaps even his
solvency, was threatened by a family argument; in India his
Mother Mataji, who claimed to be the ultimate authority in
the Divine Light Movement, ousted him for "falling from the
path" ( Spiritual Counterfeits Project Newsletter , Vol.10,
No. 4, July-August 1984).
Mataji ('Reverend Mother'), announced that the 17 yr. old
'guru' had been replaced by his eldest brother Sat Pal, who
would become the spiritual leader of the movement started in
1930 by their father, Shri Hansji Maharaj. According to
Mataji, the eldest brother had originally been designated as
the Bal Bhagwanji (God Incarnate) by his father before
Maharaji was born. But when the father died in 1966, and
Mission control passed to Mataji, she named her eight year
old son as the only 'Perfect Master', or unique incarnation
of God for his age. Possibly because the cherubic little
guru was superior at attracting followers - in a country
where child labour is still widely used - the 'God
Incarnate' quietly agreed.
Tensions within the family began building when Maharaji,
helped by newly found American managers, took personal
control of the U.S. empire when he turned 16 in 1973. Later,
he married his secretary, Marolyn Johnson, a non-Hindu
former airline stewardess, and declared her to be the
incarnation of the ten- armed, tiger-riding Goddess of
Traditionally, a Hindu mother-in-law expects obeisance from
her son's wife; instead photos of the newlyweds began
replacing those of Mataji in US ashrams. When the Reverend
Mother invited herself to the U.S. for a visit, Maharaji and
Marolyn would not allow her to stay at the Malibu
An outraged Divine Light Mission spokesman in India charged
the young guru with, among other things, "haunting
nightclubs, drinking, dancing". He was also said to have
begun eating meat which is offensive to vegetarian
Maharaji returned to India to confront his mother and
brother. Legal action over control of the organisation was
taken in the U.S., and the case was quietly settled out of
When he became an American citizen, the Divine Light Mission
took a low public profile. According to its own estimates
membership had shrunk from 6 million worldwide and 50,000 in
the U.S. in 1975 to 1.2 million worldwide and 10,000 in the
U.S. in 1979. The events at Jonestown in November 1978 when
Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple led 910 followers in an
apparent suicide pact in Guyana caused an even lower
Two of his early American managers - Robert Mishler and John
Hand Jr. resigned from the DLM in 1977 saying later that
they had seen in Maharaji behaviour similar to that of Jim
Jones. They said that he was fascinated by weapons and by
American gangsters (Jewish Meridian 20/4/1979). He now often
travels in his own executive Falcon jet to Malaysia, Taiwan,
and Japan. It is possible that he is in contact with similar
people in those countries.
Most public information about the DLM is now quite old. Much
has undoubtedly changed since 1979 - including a name change
to 'Elan Vital' to avoid these unfortunate associations.