This article is not based upon academic research but is an idealised portrait of Divine Light Mission and it's members in the early 1970's by a devoted "premie" and committed member of the organisation who was for many years at least, one of Prem Rawat's, or as he was then known, Guru Maharaj Ji's inner circle. It was written in 1974 before the major controversies about Rawat and his family and luxurious lifestyle began in earnest. It is a useful reference as the public exposition of idealised beliefs of Rawat's followers of the time.
Guru Maharaj Ji and the The Divine Light Mission
WHO IS GURU MAHARAJ JI?
Who Is Guru Maharaj Ji? is the title of a book and a popular topic of conversation for thousands of Americans, most of whom either have or intend to have a firm opinion. Guru Maharaj Ji is most easily described as a boy guru, successor to his father's disciples, who was persuaded to bring his movement to the West by a handful of Western devotees who had discovered him in India. Since August 9, 1971, more than eighty thousand Americans have become his devotees. East and West, the movement itself is called the Divine Light Mission.
Maharaj Ji's masterhood at the age of eight (when his father died) seems no less presumptuous to the average Indian than it does to the average Westerner. We have at least the example of Christ preaching in the synagogues at the age of twelve to inhibit spontaneous dismissal of his claims. But we share the habit of expecting holy men to have renounced material pleasures - witness what we pay our preachers - and to be aged and erudite. This leader of some five million devotees is really a child and a lover of machine-age toys: cars, airplanes, stereos, rock band equipment, even computers, which fascinate him.
What he teaches, however, is not new. I first saw him when he was thirteen, sitting in a white satin-covered chair, surrounded by roses and prostrating devotees, in a Unitarian church in San Francisco. On the walls of the sanctuary were inscribed the verses "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you" and "What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" And Maharaj Ji's short speech was a succinct version of the Gospels. "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you. And I can reveal it to you." That was sum and substance,
followed by an invitation to see him the following day if one was interested - a possibility to which I did not admit for months afterward. He only said of other religions that he had come not to start a new church but to make perfect Christians, Buddhists, or Moslems. He denied that he himself was perfect, asserting only that he could show one perfection. "If you want to learn about mathematics, you go to a mathematics master. If you want to learn about perfection, you go to a Perfect Master." And he urged anyone who felt he had a way to know God to pursue that way and to keep him in reserve. "If you cannot find God any other way, then come to me." A substantial percentage of his devotees are, in fact, people who have seriously sought God or God realization on other paths, whether as devout Christians or Jews or as followers of other Eastern teachers.
KNOWLEDGE VERSUS BELIEF
Suppose that modern "rational" man's greatest presumption - and greatest error - has been to treat the scriptures of the world's major religions as records of primitive mythologies. In rejecting the premise that we live in a teleological universe, many have given themselves no "rational" alternative but to reject the underpinnings of history's great religions.
What Guru Maharaj Ji's devotees claim to have is a direct experience of that teleological center, the force that operates the cosmos. Rennie Davis, one of the Chicago Seven defendants and now a devotee of Maharaj Ji, told his fellow radicals in Berkeley that "God is that energy which physicists tell us cannot be created and cannot be destroyed. What the physicists don't tell us is that that energy is conscious."
Guru Maharaj Ji's claim is that God is that entity which unifies the cosmos, and that one can know God directly - a superb promise to make to a rationalist who cannot meet the requirements of faith or conviction. His teaching consists simply of what he calls "giving Knowledge," not of any extensive set of moral precepts. Unlike most Eastern religious teachers, he generally refuses to give concrete instructions regarding what one should eat, how one should make a living, or what one's disciplehood should involve. All of truth is in the Knowledge."
"The Knowledge" is really two different experiences, neither of which can be empirically demonstrated to involve Guru Maharaj Ji. Those who agree to become his devotees are permitted to "receive Knowledge." This first experience of the Knowledge consists of four
events which take place in a "Knowledge session" conducted by a mahatma (at this writing, all but one of Guru Maharaj Ji's some two thousand mahatmas are from India or Tibet) with a group of fifteen to twenty-five initiates.
1. "If thine eye be single, thy whole body will be filled with light" (Jesus of Nazareth, Matt. 6:22). Indians of many sects believe this to be a literal truth, that one can see inward with what is called the "third eye" and perceive God in the form of light within the self. Guru Maharaj Ji's devotees are shown individually an intense light within themselves, and then are shown how to meditate on that light independently. This light is described in all scriptures and in many accounts of ecstatic drug experiences, but few people see it with any frequency or predictability. After a Knowledge session, devotees report seeing that light regularly in meditation, and with increasing intensity over time. At its most intense, it is brilliant white light; it can also be a many-hued light show. Many devotees also report seeing images or pictures in the light.
2. The "music of the spheres" or "sound of sounds" appears in all scriptures. Maharaj Ji's devotees are made aware of its presence and are shown how to listen for it in their private meditations. The sounds devotees report hearing range from water sounds - similar to, but richer and more varied than, those heard in a seashell or conch - to crickets in the grass on a summer night to stringed instruments and choirs.
3. Devotees are told of a nectar flowing in the body which they can taste, and they are instructed to meditate by tasting that nectar at all possible times. The nectar has been described as tasting like a combination of butter and honey.
4. Devotees are made aware of an internal vibration and are told to meditate on it at all times, waking or sleeping. This is said to be the Word or Name of God, as in the verse "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1).
What occurs in a Knowledge session beyond these four events is not clear even to an initiate. The existence of light, music, nectar, and the vibration is no secret to either Eastern teachers or scriptural scholars. In the East, however, disciples are usually taught that these experiences will occur, with the grace of God, after many years of patient meditation, devotion, and service to God. In the West, they are generally treated as metaphor. Yet they occur unmistakably in the Knowledge session and thereafter (but with less intensity) for Maharaj Ji's devotees. What creates the intensity in
that session is unclear, but there is no obvious autosuggestion or other accompanying ritual or activity to account for it. A few weeks after such a session, most new devotees report the discovery from their own meditation that the experience is addictive, that is, one thirsts for more of it, and that they cannot create that experience with the same intensity for themselves. The few who have tried have apparently failed to reveal anything to nondevotees beyond the form of the meditation technique.
Devotees are also asked to attend Sat Sang regularly - informal and leaderless discussions among devotees of their experiences - and to do "service" for Guru Maharaj Ji. The nature of such service is unspecified. It is clear that it includes letting others know that the Knowledge is available; but one would do that, if satisfied, without instruction. Otherwise it appears at first to be a matter of choice. One might arrange speaking tours for mahatmas - disciples who are authorized to conduct Knowledge sessions - or chat in coffee shops with strangers or simply tell one's friends.
"This Knowledge," says Guru Maharaj Ji, "is not the Knowledge. The Knowledge is in the meditation." That tells new initiates very little and the uninitiated less. But devotees report a remarkable transformation of consciousness in a very short period of time. I have tried below to describe that transformation fairly and to avoid any generalization that does not apply to all practicing devotees, but the sequence of events should not be taken as fixed. I was a thoroughgoing atheist at the time of initiation and was looking for a tranquilizer, not God. But for the many who require no convincing, that stage in the transformation is experienced simply as confirmation, not as transformation. There may be other similar variations from devotee to devotee.
The first obvious change is the discovery that meditation is a source of energy - a discovery common among those engaged in many forms of meditation. Devotees are simply less fatigued, less easily disoriented when they meditate regularly, and they become rapidly dependent on the meditation as a source of rest, energy, and personal integration. Fifteen minutes of meditation - even with poor concentration - is a healthy substitute for an afternoon nap and is often more restful psychologically than sleep.
The second change is an increasing awareness of what Rennie Davis calls "that remarkable series of coincidences on which Divine Light Mission runs." It is the beginning of an awareness of cause and effect as different from what they once seemed to be. One begins to feel that events in one's life are being arranged for the sole
purpose of getting one's attention-as if the external and internal worlds were working together without one's conscious cooperation. One devotee reports feeling "directed" to pick up hitchhikers, who turn out to be devotees. Another devotee's car window exploded inside the car door and rained glass all over her, with no injuries and no apparent cause, and she experienced the event as a demand that she meditate. Most devotees are not consciously looking for signs; they feel confronted by signs requesting their cooperation. For some, these experiences begin shortly before they actually receive the Knowledge, though after they began to consider it.
What follows, ranging in time from six weeks to a year, is an increasing awareness that reality is not quite the way it looks and that it is arranged to look the way it does for the one who sees it. With this is a growing and unshakable conviction that one is accompanied, tended, loved, and taught by God, and that the God within is remarkably like the child guru: happy, playful, insistent, unpredictable, loving, and perfectly benevolent.
Guru Maharaj Ji tells his devotees that "everything this Knowledge touches becomes perfect," and devotees report that things do. Their marriages, their work, their finances, their relations with family and peers - all improve in a manner conspicuous to everyone around them. Devotees become lighthearted and lose much of their tendency to depression or despondency. Many report a change in their relation to right and wrong. A fixed moral code becomes a desire to respond to the internal cues without reference to any existing standard. With that change, devotees indicate that guilt disappears; that is, there is no pool of guilt that is evoked by wrongdoing. One regrets a lack of "responsibility" in its generic sense, but the self-hatred associated with shame is lacking. One begins to feel and act toward one's self and others as one experiences God acting within the self: playful, loving, and benevolent. What comes out of this whole area of changing consciousness is an extraordinary dialogue among devotees. Miracle stories - from pure trivia to the really remarkable - are exchanged by the hundreds and with delight and laughter. Everyone is overcome by the irony that seems to fill their lives: nothing they ever thought was true. This leads inevitably to much talk about the nature of thought and of the mind.
THE MIND, IN THE EAST AND IN THE KNOWLEDGE
Westerners approaching Eastern teachers from any school are confronted with constant reiteration that the mind is the barrier to
enlightenment, whether enlightenment is described as complete nothingness or as perfect bliss or as Knowledge of God. Needless to say, that truth could not be accessible to the mind. Westerners are generally accustomed to identifying themselves with the boundaries of their bodies, the thoughts in their minds, and with their emotions, such as depression or ecstasy; to be told that their identity is essentially different is to be informed of nothing. Maharaj Ji's devotees claim, however, that it is possible to experience that fact, whether or not the mind is willing to acquiesce. There is no way - functionally at least - to bypass the premises of rationalism except to introduce experience where the mind says experience is not possible - that is, to provide incontrovertible evidence to which the mind has no alternative but to acquiesce. To assert that the mind cannot comprehend God is not to assert that the man cannot, if one is accustomed to that distinction; but many of us are not so accustomed, and have long asserted that God is an entity in whom one believes, an entity, that is, beyond experience.
I raise this here as a purely pragmatic question, not as one involving philosophical distinctions. If it is true that one can know God, can engage in dialogue with God, then the assumptions on which Westerners commonly lead their lives are called into question. In describing the experiences of Guru Maharj Ji's devotees below, I am necessarily limited to description, from the same root as the word scripture, and can transmit none of the experience itself. But the question of what impact this movement might have on Western social order rests entirely on the nature of the experience and the consequences of the experience, and not on the nature of any beliefs.
There are, of course, other religious sects in the West that stress experience as well as belief, and that are probably seeking and perhaps finding the same experience that Maharaj Ji's devotees report. Nevertheless, the larger Christian denominations stress belief, not experience, and morality, not obedience to God in the direct sense of responding to commands. Prayer, for instance, is a one-way conversation, which God is assumed to hear and to answer; but it is not common for Westerners to report hearing God's response. Most Westerners point to the beauty of nature or of infants to demonstrate God's love; it is rarer for them to report feeling loved, feeling fathered with all that that implies, feeling guided or directed in the moment rather than in the abstract. And most base what we call "conscientious" behavior on fixed moral precepts - the Ten Commandments, perhaps, or the Golden Rule, or local cultural
norms. There exists a set of rules about right behavior to which one can refer.
For Maharaj Ji's devotees, fixed referents begin to dissolve as they practice meditation. New initiates are caught up in the same dogmatic and philosophical questions that most of us are. "Who is Guru Maharaj Ji?" is answered in terms of new cosmologies designed to fit this young man into the universe, into history, and into the major religions as well as one's own experience and philosophy. Common answers from new initiates, for example, are that Guru Maharaj Ji is Christ, that Christ has been on the earth many times, as Jesus, as Buddha, as Mohammed, as Krishna, or that Christ has always been on the earth (this inferred from Guru Maharaj Ji's assertion that there is always a Perfect Master on the earth). Others assert that he is God himself, but still others that he is simply a guru, of whom there are many, with remarkable power. All devotees try to deal with the fact that Maharaj Ji comes from India, and they absorb great quantities of what they understand to be Hindu dogma, though Maharaj Ji gives little suggestion of being Hindu in religion.
New devotees spend hours trying to "figure out" the Knowledge. It is obvious that the four objects of meditation block the sensory apparatus of the body. That is, the internal light is experienced as light seen with the eyes, even though the eyes are designed to pick up external images only, and the blind perceive only the internal light. Sound, which seems to be perceived with the ears, is heard also by the deaf. The nectar occupies taste and smell; the vibration, touch or feeling. Devotees amuse themselves by discussing this novel approach to undermining "illusion" as recorded by external senses, and by otherwise making up conceptual frameworks or reality structures into which they can fit this new activity.
All theories begin to dissolve in short order, however, as they are replaced by an awareness that simply bypasses language and the mind. It is not that one cannot think any more; it is just that one cannot think of any way to articulate the experience accurately or to explain it. God is not experienced as "energy"; one mahatma suggests that "energy" is simply a twentieth-century handle for the subject-that-cannot-be-discussed, and that is how it begins to seem. None of the experience gives one a sense that Maharaj Ji is a series of manifestations of Christ. One's notions of right and wrong are neither confirmed nor undermined by the experience; they are simply replaced by a sense that one is being instructed constantly, and the notion of an unchanging code of behavior fades into the
background. The only fixed referent becomes the meditation itself. If one is not sure what to do next, one is probably not meditating on t e Holy Name, the vibration; and uncertainty becomes a reminder to meditate, not a reality of any duration. The devotee resumes meditating, and his next move becomes "obvious," that is, he feels inclined to do thus and so with no admixture from any other inclination.
Although what devotees feel compelled to do looks increasingly like what the New Testament suggests is right behavior, the behavior feels spontaneous or responsive, not righteous. Maharaj Ji's devotees report, for instance, feeling as if they were overflowing with love, as if there were not enough love objects available when they are meditating. Brotherly love then becomes an experience, of a righteous idea. Devotees also report that giving Sat Sang (that is, talking to others about one's experience) and listening to Sat Sang (listening to others talk about their experience) become irresistibly delightful, a way to "get high," in contemporary parlance. Acts of service become extraordinarily rewarding, but the reward is not to the ego or a sense of right action; it is simply the reward of happiness. When practicing devotees leave off meditating or service for whatever reasons, happiness is displaced by despair or depression accompanied by a strong desire to "get happy" again.
The happiness devotees report bears no resemblance to the amiability of the oblivious. Devotees, though decreasingly inclined to be anxious about the future and less able to remember an unhappy past clearly, are prey to all the difficulties of a day-to-day existence, and days go up and down as emotions do. It is the foundation of one's self-experience that is altered; where there was chaos or an abyss there is a good feeling toward the self and towards the world, which is unaffected by day-to-day ups and downs, a kind of indestructible happiness that is not easily contaminated by difficulty or sorrow.
A tale passed along by devotees seems to epitomize their experience of their minds after some months of meditation. The story is a once-upon-a-time tale, in which a man travels through most of his life with a lizard on his shoulder, whose opinion he respects above all else. For years he goes where the lizard suggests and shifts course with the lizard's whims. If they go to the city, the lizard acquires a quick dislike of cities and demands that they go to the country; if they go to the country, the lizard becomes bored.
One day the lizard tells the man that he's heard of a great train ride one can take to a place called Heaven, a perfect place. "Let's
catch that train," says the lizard, "I'm tired of this place." The man agrees, as is his habit. As they begin to board the train, the conductor stops them. "No lizards allowed on this train," he says; "you'll have to leave that lizard behind if you want to come." The man steps off the train unhappily and the lizard protests. "Hide me in your breast pocket," hisses the lizard; "I want to take this train." So the man hides the lizard and boards the train. When the train is well under way, and the man is thoroughly and happily engrossed by the scenery, the lizard slips out of his pocket and onto his shoulder. "This isn't so great," complains the lizard. "Is this all you've seen so far?" "I like it," says the man firmly. "Well, I don't," frets the lizard. "Let's get off at the next stop." They are still arguing when the conductor pops up and spots the lizard on the man's shoulder. "We don't allow lizards on this train," he reminds the man. "Either get rid of that thing or get off the train." The lizard suggests they get off, happy that the confrontation suits his purpose; but the man hesitates, then looks defeated and unable to reject the companion to which he is so habituated. He looks despairingly at the conductor, who tears the lizard from his shoulder and flings it from the train. The lizard's back breaks and he turns into a beautiful white stallion. The conductor places the man on the stallion and gives it a hit on the rear, and the man rides off to Heaven on its back.
Not too subtly, the lizard is the mind, the train is Maharaj Ji's Knowledge, and the conductor is Maharaj Ji. Devotees love this tale, particularly the part where the man tries to hide the lizard and take it with him on the ride. The joke is on themselves, since they have certainly not broken any lizard backs yet; and they love it, presumably because they can at least dimly comprehend the distinction between the mind and the man, a liberating comprehension once one begins to enjoy it. The suggestion that the mind should serve the man, like a stallion, and not the reverse, has also become comprehensible to practicing devotees, most of whom have begun to understand their goal in similar terms. All are convinced, because they experience it intermittently, that it is possible to become a perfect instrument of God, a perfect servant, if one can only shut the lizard up long enough to hear the Father calling. Response to the Father, they insist, is natural and spontaneous, if one hears his voice over the static in the mind. Meditation, then, becomes at minimum a technique for quieting the mind so that one can hear the truth from its Creator and then obey. In hearing and obeying is the "bliss" of which the scriptures speak, but which they cannot transmit, because words transmit information about experience, not the experience itself.
"MANIFESTING" THE KNOWLEDGE
that happens to any one individual consciousness is, of course, of concern only to the immediate beneficiary or to someone who observes the outward manifestations and is attracted to them or interested in their origins. If this particular guru and his meditation techniques make a lot of people privately content, yet affect their behavior not at all, it is of little interest to anyone else and of no interest to social scientists.
It is what is manifest, therefore, that is of concern here. I choose that word deliberately because it is also part of the argot of devotees. Devotees maintain that just as one can know God, rather than simply believe in him, one can also manifest his activity in one's self and one's relationship to him in one's behavior. That is, it s the activities of Maharaj Ji and his devotees that will bring others o the movement, not a set of convincing precepts or conceptual schema. That does not mean that enthusiastic devotees do not go around trying to present convincing arguments for conversion, for hey do. It does mean that they consider those arguments a poor substitute for the reality of manifest God realization.
What is first visible to others about a devotee is undoubtedly his increasing happiness, manifested as amiability, greater flexibility in interaction, evenness of temper, and an ability to hear the truth about himself and to tell the truth about what he himself sees. Many devotees, especially those who are deeply involved in organizational activity from the beginning, become aggressively dogmatic during the first months of meditation, which certainly covers and slows these changes.) That is, happiness is linked closely to a sense of security which permits devotees to be open where they were previously vulnerable and therefore closed. Most agree that in :heir first few months of meditation they feel progressively better, but only half consciously, until they begin to experience what they describe as an overflowing of good feeling and joy, a sense that the source of this good feeling is limitless. The more convinced they become that there is no limit to this feeling, the less vulnerable they Feel, and the more open to further personal changes they become.
There follows an increasing willingness to rejoin the mainstream of society, in whatever area they felt alienated or separated. Many keep their distance from both Guru Maharaj Ji and Divine Light Mission for months, until they feel secure enough to approach more closely the question of where their new experiences originate and to deal with social pressures from fellow devotees which are concentrated in the person of the Mission itself. At this point it becomes
difficult to distinguish changes stemming from the Knowledge in its pure sense from changes linked to an increasing group consciousness. Devotees are told from the beginning that Sat Sang and service are as necessary as the meditation to the realization of the Knowledge. At this juncture all three activities begin to overlap, and in this context one is able to observe the activities of this burgeoning religious movement as a social movement with potential implications for the rest of the social order. This, then, is where one begins to look at "manifestations of the Knowledge" on the group level.
I once watched a reporter interview a mahatma and devotees at the San Francisco Divine Light Mission ashram; the reporter set out to identify significant characteristics of the group of about two hundred persons. Using only a show of hands, he concluded that every age group was represented, as well as every occupational and education group. This writer's impression was that the group was predominantly young (twenty to thirty years) and middle class in origin, though a surprising number of older adults were present.
Most devotees, whatever their background, are employed full time, have short hair and own suits if they are male, and generally present a conventional face to the world. They do this deliberately and self-consciously to avoid alienating the world at large from Guru Maharaj Ji for the sake of some earlier social identity of their own. There are young devotees whose parents became interested in tie Knowledge because "Anybody who can get that kid to cut his hair can't be all bad." But having made their physical appearance uninteresting, they make more significant the substance of their organizational activity, and that is precisely their aim.
DIVINE LIGHT MISSION
Divine Light Mission is a worldwide organization dedicated to the propagation of Guru Maharaj Ji's Knowledge. It operates as a cluster of organizations engaged in innumerable activities; these are tied together financially (sometimes) and by their general aim of "service to Maharaj Ji" (always). There is nothing tidy or systematic about the operations of the Mission as a whole, and at present (1974) it is difficult to divide it into meaningful sectors even for discussion purposes.
Divine Light Mission (DLM) maintains all ashrams (coeducational households of devotees who have devoted all their time and possessions to service) and their activities: promotion of public programs; hosting mahatmas, members of Maharaj Ji's family, or
Maharaj Ji's maintenance of a center devoted to the giving of Knowledge, meditation, and Satsang. The Mission also coordinates the itineraries of mahatmas and Maharaj Ji and his family and the periodic national or international gatherings of devotees.
Since all countries share Maharaj Ji, those few mahatmas he has permitted to leave India, and Maharaj Ji's family, there is continuous cooperation with respect to itineraries (though this is one area dominated by Maharaj Ji's personal decisions), travel and housing sing arrangements, and presentation of programs. Since 1971, there has been a festival each year to which all devotees were invited, which required months of cooperation in the organization of charter flights, housing, and finances. In 1972, for instance, American devotees chartered six 747s to fly to India, and the price per seat was set so that South American devotees could fly from New York to India free of charge. Other countries made similar arrangements to accommodate the poor. Millenium '73, to which devotees throughout the world were invited, was held in November 1973 at the Houston Astrodome. Seven international flights flew devotees to Houston. Divine Light Mission International paid for many of the flights.
Otherwise, Divine Light Mission is separately incorporated and operates independently from country to country. All ties between countries are cooperative rather than formal.
The Divine Light Mission's national headquarters in the United States are in Denver, Colorado - the fiscal center for the country and the bureaucratic hub of all Mission activity. All ashram residents are assigned to their residences by Denver. Anyone needing funds applies to Denver; most of those contributing send funds to Denver (though some local activities are locally supported).
About 4 percent of the practicing American devotees are engaged in full-time service for the Mission. Perhaps half of these are in local ashrams or other devotee centers. The balance, perhaps five hundred, work with or through the national headquarters in Denver and are recruited from all over the United States. These people are invoIved in organizational activity, which has been centralized, partly because this is more efficient and partly because the activity is so young (it began in mid-1972) that there are too few in any one city to support it adequately.
Denver itself houses most of the centralized activities. Shri Hans Educational is an organization of devotees with teaching interests and credentials working to establish boarding schools and child-care centers across the country. In cities with interested devotees who do not want to join the effort in Denver, there are collaborative groups working locally. Denver also houses Shri Hans Publications, which published and promoted the Mission's monthly magazine, And It Is Divine, and the international semimonthly newspaper, Divine Times, until publication was suspended after Millennium '73. Also in Denver is Divine Travel Services, which handles all travel arrangements for Maharaj Ji, his family, mahatmas, and devotees on Mission business, as well as the charters for national and international gatherings. There is a Women's Spiritual Right Organization dedicated to reaching out to persons in prisons, mental institutions, and hospitals. Groups of devotees in Denver operate such businesses as gas stations, restaurants, and stores. Other cities also have centralized operations. Los Angeles, for instance, is the home of the Shri Hans Productions, Inc., the film and recording studios operated by the Mission.
Since the number of American devotees continually increases, the manpower pool for full-time service has grown from six people in 1971 to over one thousand in early 1974. Because both manpower and income are (in theory) increasing geometrically (through propagation), every project has its sights set far beyond its immediate capabilities; for DLM hopes to include all humanity in its membership.
All local activity is supportive or propagational. In the San Francisco Bay Area there is one ashram (in two households) which has about thirty residents. Ashram residents are celibate; eat no meat, fish, or eggs; drink no alcohol; and smoke no cigarettes. They are expected to obey their general secretary (assigned from Denver), to be ready to transfer to another area at any time, and to do whatever work is assigned. Most hold full-time jobs outside the ashram and put in two hours of service in the evening; all adhere to a rigid schedule of Sat Sang, service, and meditation from 5:30 to 10:30.
Despite the apparent severity of ashram regulations, the house-hold operates as a brotherhood (housing both men and women), though the general secretary has the final word. A good general secretary is a good brother and a good administrator in the business sense.
Most ashram residents are either employed outside full time or self-employed. Residents operate a small business called Divine Services Company, which provides such miscellaneous services to households as hauling, painting, plumbing, and electrical repair. The ashram also coordinates maintenance activities for Divine Sales, a used-goods store in a poor district in San Francisco. Maintenance includes manning the store and "jumbling," or going from door to door soliciting donations for the store's inventory.
The ashram is responsible for coordinating the service of all devotees in the Bay Area, for keeping all devotees informed of financial needs or scheduled programs, for housing mahatmas and other distinguished visitors and Maharaj Ji, for preparing all public programs, for coordinating child care for devotees engaged in service or attending Sat Sang in the ashram, and for any other task that might be assigned from Denver.
There are ashrams operating similarly in almost every state in the Jnited States and in over fifty countries. Almost all the United States ashrams operate a Divine Sales outlet and a Divine Services Company. There are two ashrams in California, in San Francisco and in Los Angeles.
"Premie Centers" are communal households of devotees which are subject to moderate regulation by Denver, primarily through the local ashram. These may have married, noncelibate couples, and children residing in them. They turn over at least 30 percent of he household income to national headquarters, must keep a "presentable" household, and must not eat meat, eggs, or fish, or smoke or drink on the premises. Although they are not otherwise subject to orders from the Mission, they have obviously made a serious commitment to service to the Mission and to cooperation with its activity.
A "premie house" is simply a household of devotees. It may have only a husband and wife or as many as thirty individuals living together. Such households are not subject to external regulation and are held together by a common commitment and cooperation. Devotees seem inclined to combine households as their devotion increases, and these households are natural clusters of devotees, often with strong personal attachments to one another.
The Bay Area has two formal Premie Centers, another five premie houses with seven or more residents each, and over one thousand practicing devotees, many of them in smaller premie houses. Devotees who are not in one of the more formal households are hard to keep track of, and estimates of their number vary. The best estimates are based on attendance at unadvertised programs
when Guru Maharaj Ji or one of his mahatmas is in town. Since many new devotees will appear only for programs, it is some time before the ashram can actually identify those who practice the Knowledge after receiving it.
Activities and numbers have developed more slowly in San Francisco than in many other American cities. Other cities operate numerous small businesses and have specialized households of painters or musicians or others of similar interest organizing to earn funds for the Mission cooperatively.
In spite of the superficial order of DLM bureaucracy and organization, the Mission runs on the energy generated by devotion and what devotees call "grace." Since the first order of business is to spread the Knowledge, only a small percentage of the Mission's operations are profitable because the scope of activity is always larger than resources can technically afford. And It Is Divine, for instance, sold for a dollar a copy; but many thousands more copies were given away than were sold, because it was a primary vehicle of propagation. It was a full-color, slick, seventy-page magazine with international news; features on subjects of humanitarian interest like old age, ecology, or the history of Arab-Israeli conflict; and Sat Sang. The October 1973 issue had full-page color advertisements for Natural Resources Defense Council, Humane Society of America, and Organic Gardening magazine-all donated by the Mission. Advertising was not sold.
Divine Light Mission operates almost entirely without capital, and this is the source of great numbers of "grace" stories. In 1972, for example, the Mission wanted to buy a small plane to transport Guru Maharaj Ji and his family around the United States. They had negotiated a price and secured a loan from the bank. The down payment was nearly $18,000, with no serious chance of generating it even in donations. The owner of the plane eventually put up the money himself, to satisfy the bank, because he "liked Guru Maharaj Ji." That is not a common reason for such unbusinesslike behavior. The owner of DLM's national headquarters building has repeatedly paid for extensive alterations to the building as activities burgeoned, though he ostensibly has no relation to the Mission other than landlord. To devotees these are miracle stories, and there are hundreds of them.
Grace operates at all levels. Devotees are agreed that anyone who decides to go to India, for instance, will come up with the money to go; and devotees report finding hundreds of dollars in kitchen
drawers, being approached by strangers and offered unsolicited motley, and other bizarre tales of money being generated by devotion. This alters the premise on which most of us operate, that financially we are on our own; neither devotees nor the Mission itself are bound by that notion. The Mission decided to hold Millenium '73 in the Houston Astrodome, to house all devotees in hotels and motels, to feed all attenders, and to fly people from poorer nations like India free of charge and made arrangements for all activities on the assumption that the necessary funds would be forthcoming. At this writing, DLM is still heavily in debt from that function, is restricting some operations, like And It Is Divine, but is no less optimistic.
1. All income of ashrams and businesses belong to the Mission, which in turn provides each ashram with a household budget. Presumably, the income of an ashram or household operating a business in the Mission's name is greater than the funds needed to support the local unit. This does not account for the costs of supporting new businesses and new ashrams that do not yet operate in the black; and since DLM is above all a growing concern, it is hard to estimate how these balance out.
2. All devotees are encouraged and nagged to donate funds of their own. They are also encouraged, on rare occasion, to solicit funds from nonmembers. Some devotees have signed pledges to donate a dollar a day to provide the Mission with some reliable income.
3. Premie Centers turn over 30 percent of their household income to the Mission. This provides the Mission with a regular income, though centers are not yet numerous.
4. Periodic crises require fund raising across the country. To pay the debts remaining from the Houston event, devotees all over the country turned over their own possessions to Divine Sales, which had crash garage sales, attended flea markets, and invented numerous activities to dispose of the goods.
Efforts to get more concrete information on funds is futile, since all emergencies are covered somehow and the pending emergencies are expected to be resolved by devotion and grace. Since that is the usual outcome, there is no empirical reason for devotees to question their faith. The simplest economic explanation of how the Mission manages to stay solvent is that, because the number of supporting members increases so rapidly, it is always possible to pay yesterday's debts, even though it seems impossible that tomorrow's will
be paid. Like an inflating economy, the Mission is protected only so long as it expands.
All Mission activities depend entirely on volunteered labor and funds. The Knowledge itself, the primary source of satisfaction to devotees, is independent of the Mission proper, and DLM has no power to discipline or enforce agreements. Devotees move in and out of service roles or financial commitments, and DLM has little chance to predict or control income or staffing.
Nevertheless, most ashrams are crowded, as are most premie houses, which cannot find suitable housing as quickly as needed. Volunteers for full-time service arrive in Denver every day, and those who will go anywhere or do anything can be assigned to areas where manpower is needed. These numbers depend entirely on the success of the propagation effort. Their willingness to be assigned anywhere is generally a consequence of their relation to the Knowledge and to Guru Maharaj Ji.
Devotees find Divine Light Mission to be unreliable and unpredictable, and usually unreasonable. No devotee goes to work for DLM because the Mission makes a good employer. One loses control over where one lives, what one eats, whether one gets medical care or a new shirt when needed, and whether one gets the kind of work one prefers. The Mission encourages devotees to feel that they should not need such control and that the apparent chaos is really God's order working through them; their role is to surrender and flow with the reality. To many, DLM is a discouragingly unresponsive employer. But they donate their services anyway, whether from extra time or full time, and do whatever work is assigned, rarely with any grumbling once they have begun. When I returned from a month in India in 1972, I asserted that the most important lesson learned there was "to never let Divine Light Mission have control over my life again." That feeling quickly faded, as it did for most of the four thousand who had made that trip, and was replaced by a strong sense that the entire trip was grace. Why?
It was stated earlier that the impact of this movement on Western social order rests entirely on the nature of the religious experience and on the consequences of that experience, not on the nature of any beliefs. Devotees consistently claim that it is the experience that moves them, not Divine Light Mission and not conviction,
which is sometimes quite unstable. Guru Maharaj Ji's devotees have met God in the flesh, as many understand their experience, and their gratitude and enthusiasm dominate their lives and activity.
The first and most concrete consequence of the meditation is an increase in energy and in personal integration, which permits devotes to invest tremendous time and effort in Mission activity and in propagation without fatigue or disorientation. For a rapidly growing, multipurpose organization with executive power concentrated in the hands of youth, these are invaluable attributes to the labor force. It does not explain why devotees engage in service, but it does explain how they have managed to do as much as they have in less than two years and with no real letup in pace.
The growing sense of devotees that reality is not quite what it has always seemed produces an extraordinary tolerance of irrational behavior and contributes to their ability to live in chaotic, constantly re-forming communities and activities with peers who are themselves in the midst of great personal change. Devotees claim that what seems absurd is simply the Creator's trying to call one's attention to something, that conflict is a vehicle for expanding one's awarerness.
It is in the experience of Christ as the intercessor - the real medium of communication between man and God, and man and man - that devotees become oriented toward the call of the Creator rather than the irritations of the immediate context. All experiences, then, become lessons with cosmic significance, and the devotee's role is to surrender to the lesson. To become wrapped up in anger or intolerance is to refuse to listen to the lesson, to become so occupied with one's own definition of the situation that one cannot learn the Lord's.
The rest of the power of the movement is the power of happiness itself: where it is indestructible the individual becomes a less demanding person, and it is contagious. A great amount of unskilled labor is required of devotees, though devotees are often quite well educated and middle class enough to prefer more demanding work. The Mission could not function if it used only the best-sharpened skills of each devotee, if only because it is not efficient enough to arrange that. All activities depend on a large group willing to do whatever needs doing, and ego satisfaction must come from some source other than work, or place of residence, or physical comfort. Devotees explain that they will do anything they can to express their love for Guru Maharaj Ji, and nothing they can
do will ever express it fully. Perhaps their general sense of wellbeing alleviates any need for the more conventional rewards of American life, and meditation is in fact a substitute for these.
One possible explanation of unconditional devotion is that Maharaj Ji's devotees are so rewarded by God himself that other potential rewards pale in significance. Another involves the nature of "worship" among devotees, most of whom had a normal young adult reluctance to be dependent on anyone or to prostrate themselves before another human being or to let anybody tell them what to do, and all of whom rapidly lose that reluctance when they practice meditation. One devotee, a near-Ph.D. in sociology and very skeptical of the Knowledge for some time after receiving it, said, " I once thought I could never prostrate myself before any man, that it was obscene. Now I find it difficult to pass his picture without falling on my face with gratitude." The gratitude is the primary key, perhaps, together with the sense that devotees share that the God within and the guru without are not distinguishable, and that he runs this universe with no other object than to love and reward them. That is a powerful experience, whatever its foundation, and unconditional service is a small return.
Since the primary business of Divine Light Mission is propagation, and since its activities seem to rely on constant increase in numbers, the giving of Sat Sang is the primary service of every devotee. There are devotees who heard about Maharaj Ji from strangers in bars and coffee shops, who came through friends or relatives, who read the magazine or the newspaper, who stumbled on a campus or other public program and were fascinated. But most simply become acquainted with some happy person who convinced :hem that the happiness was available for the asking from that boy guru, whoever he is.
If one believes he has met God in a house across town, he is going to drag every friend he can find to share the experience. This is the prime mover of the propagation effort, and it is a bit different from more traditional propagation movements. It is very common for a group of converts - whether to Communism or Christianity - to seek company and increase of their numbers, but such groups usually are held together by their belief that they will see perfection. Maharaj Ji's devotees are moved by the sense that they have seen it, that the kingdom is "at hand." While they do not claim to be instant buddhas themselves, they do claim to be living in perfect happiness, and they have a strong desire to share it.
It is that overflow of good feeling that makes this movement so
contagious around the world. Particularly for a generation exhausted by conflict, the idea that one can fall in love with the world and know it to be perfect is a compelling one. Guru Maharaj Ji sets out little dogma to attract followers. For those who find asceticism attractive, there are mahatmas telling them that all activities are right in moderation; for those who think everyone should live in an ashram, there is Maharaj Ji's mother telling them that the householder performs the highest service, that of providing shelter and training for the children of God; and for those who are attracted to Eastern mysticism and alienated from Christianity, there is Maharaj Ji himself asserting that Jesus was the Word made Flesh, and therefore God, and therefore always here in the human heart, in the Spirit. The promise is a simple one, and all efforts of devotees and nondevotees alike to complicate it backfire rapidly.
Maharaj Ji says, "Give me your love and I will give you peace. Give me the reins of your life, and I will give you salvation. I am the source of peace in this world." He says only that, and devotees propagate by swearing that he can prove it to any who receive his Knowledge and meditate on it for a few months at most.
THE KNOWLEDGE IN THE FUTURE
Where this movement fits into companion movements throughout the West, and whether it will endure and expand to affect the social order, are big questions. People are unlikely to abandon experiences where they feel the potential of their actions is being fully met, which differentiates this movement from unsuccessful political movements, for instance, and which may also differentiate it from contemporary millennial movements that require external miracles to come to fruition. Though many of Maharaj Ji's devotees are convinced that Maharaj Ji himself is the promise of Revelation, and the very Christ that many await, their conviction is simply the icing on the cake. If Maharaj Ji told them that Jesus was coming soon, they would be delighted at the new revelation and would modify theology to fit their experience.
Although Maharaj Ji is himself from India, is a guru, and offers a meditation technique, he is not clearly Eastern and is a subject of great controversy in India, where he is also a major heretic. Any man who says that all scriptures are true, that Buddha, Mohammed, Moses, Jesus, Krishna, and a host of others were all Christ, is a heretic everywhere. To many Western devotees he is plainly a Christian, but there is no clear definition there either. As a conse-
sequence, it is difficult to place Divine Light Mission among the religious movements in the West, and it operates as a bit of an outcast, refusing to join associations of different groups and simultaneously refusing to admit that they are not also "premies, though rhey don't know it." Devotees will listen to Sat Sang from anyone and will give it to anyone, treating none who are not also devotees as if they had the whole truth and none as if they had missed the boat entirely. It is disconcerting to a Jehovah's Witness, for instance, to hear a devotee agree with every word he says and then respond with, "Except that He's already here; I know what you say is true because I've seen it."
That is always the sticker: if Maharaj Ji's devotees are experiencing what they say they are, then this movement is nowhere near its end; if they are not, it may reach its limits at any time. Devotees agree to that and recommend to the skeptic that he "try it." Always the issue is reduced to the question of proof, since this particular novement asserts that evidence is available for the asking and that to demand it is legitimate. That often puts critics on the defensive, which may partly explain the hostile media treatment of this movement.
I doubt that the entire world population will be caught up in this movement, but the intensity of feeling many seem to have about it - whether for or against - suggests that it poses some issues important to this culture. The most basic issue is tied up with the worship by seemingly sane, educated, and articulate youth of a fellow human being rather than some less tangible deity. I have heard horror expressed by Christians who were unmoved by the suggestion that Christ had worshippers in his lifetime. Complete humility before a fellow mortal seems difficult to swallow.
On whether this movement will visibly and independently affect the social order, I can offer no opinion. It is distinguishable from popular American movements like est or Transcendental Meditation or Scientology by the emphasis on worship. But other Eastern movements, like 3HO, carry the same component, though not the suggestion that the master is indistinguishable from the deity. The outcome of any one movement seems clearly tied up with the futures of the other contemporary movements, both because there is obviously some competition for membership and because we do not yet know whether people will progress into more deeply religious movements and experiences if they begin with the more secular ones. Perhaps most will simply return to old business from their present involvement and pursue no further the questions raised by the wave of self-realization efforts.