Tithes for the Guru
Within four years after Indian guru Maharaj Ji brought his Divine Light Mission to the U.S. in 1971, the pudgy teenager had acquired 50,000 American followers, a wife who was once an airline stewardess, a fleet of cars and a $400,000 retreat in Malibu, Calif. His organization, meanwhile, was running up a $650,000 deficit, and in 1975 the Perfect Master was nearly toppled from power. His mother, disgusted with her son's "playboy" life-style, announced that she had ousted Maharaj Ji as leader of the movement and awarded the title to one of his brothers. The family feud is now being fought in the courts of India, but most of the Divine Light Mission's 1.2 million adherents throughout the world have remained faithful to Maharaj Ji.
Fewer Americans are joining up these days, but more members are donating 10 per cent of their incomes in the mission's coffers. Such tithing bas reduced the debt to $80,000 and kept Maharaj Ji living in style. Now 18 and the father of a year-old daughter named Premlata, the guru generally keeps a low public profile, but he turned up in Washington last week to speak at a luncheon sponsored by the United States Citizens Congress, whose founder is a controversial religious leader himself: Rabbi Baruch Korff, Richard Nixon's die-hard defender.