By ALAN GILL
Any day now a round-faced, unascetic-looking "perfect master" will descend on Sydney in the form of 15-year-old Guru Maharaj Ji.
The Australian equivalent of what the London "Times" has called the guru season is about to begi.,
Sydney's 300 premies (followers, are preparing a fitting welcome for the boy whom they consider "pure consciousness in human form" and the "embodiment of perfect truth."
Having spent several hours in the company of his followers I believe the majority are genuinely motivated, even if - as others would undoubtedly claim - tragically misled. Like many other offbeat religlons the Divine Light Mission, as it is called, has shown a growth rate in inverse proportion to its credibility.
Yet its adherents, some of whom are former hippies and drug cultists, have an austere and certainly impressive life-style which many Christian congregations would envy, Alcohol, tobacco, meat, and sexual relations between unmarried members are taboo, in the ashrams (community houses), to which about 20 per cent of members also belong, there is frequent meditation and an interior discipline born of love for the guru rather than enforced rules and regulations. Within the ashrams I found a remarkable spirit of comradeship, simplicity, tolerance for those whose views differ from their own, coupled with at times a near hypnotic love for their guru. This trance-like condition, which followers of the guru call being "blissed out," is well known to psychologists and is often found in Christian religious institutions.
A year ago the movement had only four regular adherents in Australia. Today there are about 700. In the Sydney area there are ashrams in Balmain, Chippendale, Paddineton, Surry Hills and Mosman, There is a three-storey headquarters building in Wentworth Avenue, City.
In this building, where even the telephones have photos of the beaming guru in place of the usual dialling discs, a velvet Covered armchair is permanently reserved in case their leader should suddenly drop in,
The guru himself does not claim to be God but the "revealer" of God. However, his statements on the matter appear to be ambiguous, as were those of an Indian mahatma, a kind of disciple-in-chief, whom I Interviewed in Sydney.
Ordinary Members gave answers to my questions that were straightforward, even if inclined to be contradictory.
Members believe that the guru's teachings do not necessarily conflict with the Christian, Buddhist, Moslem or other major faiths but form the natural fulfilment of hitherto existing religions.
Some members accept that Jesus Christ was indeed the Son of God but that Guru Maharaj Ji is the literal second coming.
Many followers believe categorically that the guru is God, but an earthly embodiment in a form open to permanent reincarnation. When (or if) he dies, his powers will be passed on, they believe, probably to someone nominated by the guru in advance.
Many people will find these explanations distasteful, but may agree with one statement by the Sydney mahatma, who is known only as Padarthanand.
At a satsang (truth giving) observance which I attended at the Wentworth Avenue headquarters, he complained of the modern tendency of people to wish to lead rather than to follow. He said: "The trouble is that everyone wants to he guru." At this meeting the guru's chair — discreetly covered during the day — was unveiled. The chair was surrounded by flowers, candles, and numerous portraits of the guru.
The building was crowded with about 300 people for the observance. A poster on the wall, beneath yet another portrait of the guru, said: "Buy your car in '74, build your house in '75, but serve the Lord in '73."
A show of hands revealed that the majority of those present were inquirers who had not yet "received the message," the movement's term for conversion.
A crippled girl was carried in during the meeting,and the atmosphere, althouch never severely emotional, reminded me of Jesus rallies I have attended elsewhere in Sydney.