July 1973, Page 32-34
Blissed Out With The Perfect Master
Divine Imperialism Section dealing with Money
by Ken Kelley, cofounder of SunDance magazine, is now managing editor of the Berkeley Barb, and a free-lance journalist.
The Divine Light Mission is growing like a mushroom on a spring day," says Rennie Davis, and figures supplied by the organization tend to bear him out-even allowing for a tendency to exaggerate its own momentum. From Joan Apter and her two friends in 1971, the North American branch has grown to some 35,000 devotees. Only two Mahatmas-instillers of Knowledge-work the States, and each conducts one or two daily sessions with at least 15 initiates. They are followed wherever they go by scores of disciples seeking to prepare themselves for receiving Knowledge.
Coast to coast, the DLM has some 35 ashrams, and 30 premie houses will soon become ashrams. In additions there are at least 300 other premie houses, and they too will one day blossom. The Satguru's burgeoning empire of services and projects falls under the aegis of the Divine Light Mission, Inc., a non-profit organization. The new Divine United Organization, however, will soon take over the material end of the Mission's work, leaving the DLM free to concentrate on "spiritual propagation." In addition, the World Peace Organization repairs cars, runs print shops, supervises thrift shops, builds sound systems, provides babysitters and carpentry work to anyone who needs them, all profits going back into the parent organization.
A prison program gives satsang in six states, and a drug program operates in eight states. Shri Hans Productions publishes a slick magazine, And It Is Divine, whose circulation has risen from 20,000 to 130,000 in four issues. It also puts out a weekly tabloid, Divine Times, which claims a nationwide circulation of 30,000. Thirty radio stations around the country carry a regular half-hour show about Guru Maharaj Ji, and the programming is adjusted to mesh with the station format. Recently, the Mission has sponsored a syndicated television show which originates in Minneapolis.
Then there's Shri Hans Humanitarian, which operates a New York health clinic-staffed by 20 doctors and seven nurses-to provide free health care to anyone needing it. Starting this fall, the Mission will launch an elementary school in Denver for 100 premie children who have received Knowledge. Eventually, this operation will be expanded to include kindergarten through high school.
Equally impressive are what Guru Maharaj Ji describes as his technological toys:
- a Cessna Cardinal single-engine plane worth $30,000
- a Cessna twin engine worth $190,000
- a Mercedes Benz in New York worth $12,000
- a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud in Los Angeles worth $26,000
- a $12,000 mobile home in Montrose, Colorado
- a movie camera worth $12,000 and numerous related sound devices.
- DLM's property holdings do not yet rival those of the Catholic Church, but they are numerous and growing.
- Divine residence in Los Angeles worth $76,000
- an ashram in Denver worth $41,000
- an ashram in Hyattsville, Md. valued at $55,000
- several hundred acres of property in New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Maine, donated by premies and their friends.
[THE GURU'S BENEFACTORS]
Michael Bergman, 26, keeps track of all this wealth in his capacity as executive accountant for the Divine Light Mission. He defies the stereotype of the hard-nosed, close-mouthed bookkeeper, and he allowed me to inspect the organization's records and interview its donors. Most, he says, are premies who have inherited money and have been inspired to support the word of Guru Maharaj Ji with their own worldly goods. Last year, five premies together gave over $110,000. So far this year three more have given $60,000 and in all likelihood two financial angels will contribute close to $200,000 each by the time this article appears. Also, he says that "dozens and dozens" of cherubs have donated gifts of $1,000 to $10,000.
A Houston premie, whom we will call Cliff, has made the largest contribution to date: $40,000. "I couldn't see how I was ever going to use that money," he told me, "It was a real weight on me. I never really considered it mine. And the dividends and interest were so high that I had to pay income tax even though I was unemployed." After receiving Knowledge, Cliff traveled to India last November as part of an excursion of 3,500 premies to hang out in Prem Nagar and witness the antics of Guru Maharaj Ji. "After experiencing His Divine Love, there was no doubt in my mind what to do with the money. He has converted the medium of exchange from dollars to love." His father disowned him, but Cliff says, "We communicate now. We just don't talk about the money." The parents of a Wisconsin premie reacted less benevolently on learning that their daughter had given the DLM her $20,000-plus inheritance. They hired the notorious Frecog-"Free Our Children from the Children of God"-to kidnap her. (These thugs have become infamous for the heavy-handed tactics they use to convince Jesus freaks to renounce their fervor.)
The total bill for last November's trip to India was $638,000, as while the spiritual aspects of the sojourn may have been perfect, the logistics were something less. In Delhi, Indian customs officials confiscated Joan Apter's suitcase containing some $28,000 in cash, traveler's checks and jewelry, creating a minor international incident. (She did not declare it properly.) It has yet to be returned.