A Psychologist's View

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', and 'Nectar'.

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 Destruction, Kali.

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 mansion.

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 Hindus.

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 court.

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 profile.

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.

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