An Encyclopedia Of Religions In The United States
William B. Williamson
Organization AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGIONS IN THE UNITED STATES 100 Religious Groups Speak For Themselves Edited by WILLIAM B. WILLIAMSON Crossroad New York 1992 The Crossroad Publishing Company 370 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Copyright @. 1992 by William B. Williamson All rights served. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written permission of The Crossroad Publishing Company. Printed in the United States of America Library of Congess Cataloging-in-Publication Data An Encyclopedia of religions in the United States: one hundred religious groups speak for themselves / edited by William B. Williamson. p. cm. Includes index. ISBN 0-8245-1094-1 1. United States-Religion-Dictionaries. 2. Christian sects-United States-Dictionaries I Williamson, William Bedford, 1918- BL2520.E53 1991 291'.0973-dc20 91-14252 CIP
DIVINE LIGHT MISSION
The Divine Light Mission was founded in India by Shri Hans Ji Maharaj. The founder designated the youngest of his four sons, Sant Ji, his successor. Therefore, at the founder's death. Guru Maharaj became the next perfect master and head of the Divine Light Mission. The result was that this religious group born in India became a worldwide movement under the inspired leadership of Guru Maharaj Ji and is active in fifty-nine countries.
In 1970 Maharaj Ji announced that he would take his mission to the West, and in 1971 he came to the United States for a lecture tour in hopes of establishing the Divine Light Mission in America. Indeed, in 1971 the Divine Light Mission was formally established as a religious organization (incorporated in Colorado) and ultimately recognized as a church by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service in 1974. Shortly afterward, in 1977, some 50,000 members were reported with 23 churches or centers in the United States.
Beliefs and Doctrines
Specific information on the content of the mission's beliefs are not available, but the literature insists that the reason for the existence of this religious group is simply to present and encourage the appropriation of the teachings of Guru Maharaj Ji.
Disciples believe that Guru Maharaj Ji revealed knowledge that they suggest cannot be adequately described in words but that can be experienced through satsang (a discourse of believers), meditation, and service, the fundamental practices of the mission's worship. The authoritative teachings of Guru Maharaj Ji are given in satsang programs in the form of readings. Such materials are circulated and read throughout the organization in its many branches or centers. Films and tapes are also available. Disciples believe that such active participation in satsang meditation and service is a living program that will dispel inner conflict and give the individual inner peace and light.
The Divine Light Mission teaches some dietary laws and restrictions. Members are encouraged to be vegetarians, although they are given individual
332 Encyclopedia of Religions in the United States
choice on this restriction. However, ministers or members in the Monastic Order of the church must adhere to vegetarian dietary laws, refraining from the eating of meat, fish, or eggs.
Forms of Worship
The spiritual teachings of Guru Maharaj Ji translate readily into the worship activities of the Divine Light Mission. Indeed, the spiritual discourse of services (satsang, meditation, and service) are the basic activities of the church. Ministers are the only members authorized to teach meditation, although "Community Coordinators" (formally appointed by the mission) may conduct satsang programs nightly. In case there is no church or formal community, two or more members may hold nightly courses, since this worship activity is required of every member, as is daily meditation.
Each of the branches maintains a center or a private, quiet room for this purpose, although services may be held in a member's home. One unique feature of Divine Light Mission's worship is the wearing by some meditators of a blanket to cover them and conceal their special meditation techniques. Each member is also asked to do "service" - performing deeds for others and the special service of giving 10 percent to one's church.
Three religious holidays are observed by the Divine Light Mission, and each one lasts for one full week. Attendance is required for active members, as these holidays are said to be of great assistance to an individual's spiritual growth. The holidays fall in March (Holi Festival), in July (Guru's Puja), and in November (Hans Jayanti). Other festivals and holidays may be declared by Guru Maharaj Ji, which members are also expected to attend. Members may also participate in the religious holidays and programs of their families' faith.
The spiritual master and head of the Divine Light Mission is Guru Maharaj Ji - both in the international movement and in the U.S. Mission's which is managed by a board of directors with headquarters in Colorado. The board is responsible for the supervision of the more than twenty-three branches in the United States.
The ministers of Divine Light Mission (also called Maharmes, or initiators) are deputy spiritual heads of the mission's branches or communities throughout the world. Interestingly enough, many ministers are missionaries who travel from branch to branch mainly to check on the faithfulness of churches to the spiritual teachings of Guru Maharaj Ji. They also conduct the initiation of new disciples into the branches and more specifically into the experience of meditation as the means of self-realization and peace.
Appendix A. Hindu Heritage 333
Contributions and Influence
One positive influence of the Divine Light Mission is its benign relation with other religions. Because the mission insists that the teachings of Guru Maharaj Ji involve members in an experience and do not require a creed or specific belief, there is therefore no conflict between the Divine Light Mission and other faiths.
Another positive contribution is the mild recruitment program of the mission. While the Divine Light Mission does hold and advertise introductory lectures and programs, most members are brought to the mission by friends or family members who invite them to investigate the mission's programs. No doubt this is a good reason why this religious group has survived the decline seen in the influence of other groups.
Baragon. A T-shaped device used by a meditator to aid in meditation.
Mahatman. An Indian term meaning "greater soul," which may be applied to outstanding spiritual leaders.
Satsang. A basic (and required) Divine Light Mission service, or meeting, in which spiritual discourses are presented.
(No formal bibliography seems to be available. However, two periodicals are published: Divine Times and Elan Vital, which are available from the International Headquarters [in Colorado] or from the North American Headquarters [in Miami Beach, Fla.]. Films, tapes, and pamphlets are also available.)