The Historical Dictionary Of New Religious Movements
George D. Chryssides
The Scarecrow Press
108 Divine Light Mission
DIVINE LIGHT MISSION (DLM). a.k.a.: Divya Sandesh Parishad. (sic)
Founded in 1960 by Shri Hans Ji Maharaji (d. 1965), also known as Pratap Singh Rawat-Balyogeshwar, this organization's leadership was assumed on his death by his son, Guru Maharaj Ji (q.v.) (the preferred Western spelling of "Maharaj Ji), then only eight years old. Guru Maharaj Ji visited the United States in the early 1970s and began to attract a Western following. By the mid-1970s around 30 ashrams had been established in the United States, where "premies" (or "devotees" - the name given to Maharaji's followers) could receive "the Knowledge." Maharaji was regarded as the satguru, the Perfect Master who is self-realized, and he claimed to come from a lineage of satgurus, of which only one exists for each age.
Members were expected to give up their possessions and to lead a lifestyle free from alcohol, tobacco, recreational drugs, meat, and any food brought in from external sources. Members engaged in four meditation practices ("procedures"): Divine Light (contemplation of the eternal light
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within oneself); Divine Nectar (water of life that flows within); Divine Harmony (meditation on inner sound); and Divine Word or Name (the primordial vibration which serves as an object of meditation). Fundamental to the movement was satsang (literally "company of truth") – spiritual discourses which premies receive from the satguru or one of his mahatmas.
Guru Maharaj Ji's marriage in 1974 to an American woman, without parental approval, caused controversy within his family. His mother, disapproving of Maharaji's apparent Westernizing tendencies, assumed control of the Indian branch of the organization. Maharaji dissolved the ashrams in the West and went on to deny both his divine status and status as a guru (q.v.). The Divine Light Mission continues as a movement in India, led by Maharaji's mother and elder brother, while Maharaji now leads Elan Vital (q.v.), which continues to be supported by his numerous Western followers and which is regarded more as an organization for disseminating "the Knowledge" than as a religious organization. In 1990 there were said to be 1.2 million followers of DLM worldwide, with 50,000 in the United States. See also ISHVARA.
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Following the dissolution of Guru Maharaj Ji's Divine Light Mission (DLM) (qq.v.) in the West, Elan Vital as set up in the 1980s as a nonprofit organization aiming to promote Guru Maharaj Ji and his teachings. Elan Vital insists that it is not a religion: Maharaji is not regarded as a god; DLM's ashrams no longer exist; members are no longer referred to as "premies" (devotees); and satsang (discourses given by a master or a follower) is no longer central, but is now generally maintained through listening to Maharaji rather than nightly talks by followers. Those who assist Maharaji in the process of giving "the Knowledge" are called instructors" rather than "initiators." Elan Vital has a lower profile than DLM, attracting less media publicity. However, Maharaji still delivers the four meditative techniques known as the Knowledge which featured in DLM and which afford self-understanding and self-realization, but he insists that such Knowledge is independent of culture and is by no means bound to the religious traditions of India. As well as lectures given to his supporters, dissemination of Maharaji's teachings is mainly through videotapes of his discourses around the world. Elan Vital produces little written literature, apart from brochures and information on its web sites. Some
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15,000 are estimated to practice the Knowledge in the United States and around 5,000 in Great Britain. Knowledge is practiced in over 80 countries.
A British group in the Eastern tradition, founded by John Herbert Yarr (b. 1947). Yarr encountered the Divine Light Mission (q.v.) in 1974 and claimed enlightenment soon after. When this claim was rejected, he founded his own organization, which attained a following of 500 by 1984, 46 of whom also claimed enlightenment and were authorized to initiate others. The name "Lifewave" connotes the practice of meditation on one's inner light and sound. Yarr claimed to be the Supreme Being, the Messiah, the Saviour, and the Hindu avatar Kalki, claiming the title "Divine Master Ishvara." Following a scandal in which Yarr was involved in sexual misconduct with numerous female adepts, the organization was disbanded in 1987, leaving a number of rival factions who tried unsuccessfully to continue the movement.
MAHARAJI. A.k.a.: Guru Maharaj Ji (b. 1957).
Born Prem Pal Singh Rawat in Hardwar, India, Maharaji is the son of Shri Hans Ji Maharaji (d. 1965), founder-leader of the Divine Light Mission (q.v.) in India, and is regarded as a satguru - a fully enlightened teacher, of whom it is believed that only one exists at any one time. Following his father's death, Maharaji announced himself as the new guru (q.v.), although he was only eight years old at the time and the youngest of four sons, and he became known by the media as the "boy guru."' Maharaji came into prominence in the early 1970s: in 1971 he embarked on a world tour, teaching in the United States. Great Britain, France, Germany, South Africa, and Australia, offering his followers - known as "premies" (devotees) - "the Knowledge." This Knowledge was self-understanding,
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yielding calmness, peace, and contentment, since the innermost self is identical with the divine. Knowledge is attained through initiation, which provides four techniques that allow the practitioner to go within. By the mid-1970s, Maharaji had established some 30 ashrams in the United States and 80 centers in Great Britain; around 50,000 people had received the Knowledge.
In 1973 Maharaji and his followers organized a large public rally in the Houston Astrodome; 144,000 attendees were expected, but only 20,000 came. This not only caused great disappointment, but left the Divine Light Mission in a grave financial crisis, since it had not covered its costs. Further problems occurred in 1974 when Maharaji married Marolyn Johnson - an American - without parental consent. This precipitated a split in the organization, his mother taking control of the Indian wing of the movement, with his brother Bal Bhagwanji as leader. Maharaji progressively dissolved the Divine Light Mission, closing the ashrams, affirming his own status as a master rather than a divine leader, and emphasizing that the Knowledge is universal, not Indian, in nature.
Maharaji continues to teach the Knowledge and its meditative techniques, but no longer as a religion. A new organization, Elan Vital (q.v.), was established in the 1980s, but does no more than arrange lectures by Maharaji and disseminate his teachings. Maharaji is now more a public speaker than a religious leader.