When Ms Dupertuis wrote her thesis, knowledge of the Indian roots of Divine Light Mission was sparse. Professor David Lane's statements about the initiation of Hans Rawat by a Radhasoami guru were based on ashram gossip and have not been validated. I have struck out the information that (I believe) is incorrect.



Since Emerson's time Hindu ideas have filtered into American intellectual thought. Popularized by Theosophy in the late nineteenth century and articulated early in the twentieth by Yogananda and the Vedantists, Hindu ideas blossomed with the widespread practice of Hatha Yoga and various meditations in the 1950's and 60's, and the emergence of a number of sects.

The Hinduism from which these influences emerged was not a monolith but a many-faceted relgious culture from which a number of different strains have found their way to the West. Further, much of the Hinduism which reached the West had long since been influenced by Western thought already, through the influence of the British presence in India. NeoHinduism tended to incorporate within its revival of ancient Hindu ideas innovations which answered the more vehement Western critiques. Divine Light Mission thus arose from a specific Indian religious tradition rooted in medieval times but oriented toward modern thought and internationalism.


The Divine Light Mission emerged in India from a loose-knit movement called Radhasoami, which began in the 1860's. According to Juergensmeyer (1978) and Lane (1981), Radhasoami recalled the "Sant Mat" ("the way of the saints") teachings of a group of "bhakti"


(devotional) poets of medieval India, among them Kabir (1440-1518) and Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion. Lane defines three distinctive precepts of the "Sant Mat" tradition:

1) "Satguru," both as the Absolute Lord ("Nirguna") and the living human master ("saguna");
2) "Shabd" (sound or melody), which encompasses both "varnatmak" (that which is spoken or written) and "Dhwanyatmak" (inner or spiritual sound which is beyond expression,) the primal current of the Supreme Lord ("Sat Purush"); and
3) "Satsang," the congregation of earnest devotees of the truth. (1981,p.12)

In the late eighteenth century the "Sant Mat" teachings found a voice in Tulsi Sahib, author of Ghat Ramayana, who re-emphasized the importance of "purification of the soul (Surat) by means of 'Surat Shabd Yoga' [sound current yoga] so that 'moksha' (liberation) could be secured." (Lane, 1981, p. 18) Tulsi Sahib's followers worshipped him devotedly in the true "Bhakti" spirit:

Tulsi Sahib happened to reach Seth Dilwali Singh's house when precious silk garments embroidered with gold and silver lace, expensive shawls and woolens had been laid out in the sun on the terrace … Tulsi Sahib walked over them with muddy feet and sat down. The ladies of the household, lost in love and devotion for their Master, did not mind at all, in fact, they were delighted. Tulsi Sahib said, "Oh, I am sorry, I have spoiled your precious garments." At this Seth Dilwali Singh's mother humbly replied, "No, Sahibji, nothing has been spoiled. Rather, you have blessed us with your 'darshan.' Everything belongs to you; what is ours in them?' (Lane, 1981, p. 21)

Pleased with this woman's devotion, he fulfilled her daughter-in-law's wish; "Yes, she will have a son. But do not look upon the child as a mere human being." (p. 21) The son, born in 1818, was Shiv Dayal Singh, the first Radhasoami guru. Initiated by Tulsi Sahib at a very young age1 he apparently began to preach and meditate at the age of six.

Rai Saligram, the first Indian Postmaster General of the Indian United Provinces, succeeded Shiv Dayal Singh. (Juergensmeyer, 1978, p. 191). He began to internationalize his movement both by initiating British Civil Service colleagues and by introducing the "foreign ideas"


now of "science, managerial organization and developmental progress." (Juergensmeyer, 1978, p. 191) They incorporated social services with their teachings and were soon publishing most of their literature in English. Eventually his successors splintered into a number of sects which, according to Juergensmeyer, formed a distinctive religious movement within India. Several of these eventually established outposts abroad, the first in the United States as early as 1910. The Beas branch of Radhasoami had become by the 1970's "a vast international organization, by virtue of 120 local centers in some forty different countries. The number of foreign initiates is probably about twenty thousand; the largest numbers are in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and the United States." (Juergensmeyer, 1978, p. 193) According to Lane2 Guru Maharaj Ji's father Shri Hans Ji Maharaj was initiated by Sawan Singh of the Beas Radhasoami tradition.

While with the Divine Light Mission I never heard any reference to the Beas or the Radhasoami lineage, though the "Sant Mat" teachers, Kabir, Guru Nanak and the other Sikh gurus, and Tulsidas were quoted in great profusion. True to Radhasoami tradition, Guru Maharaj Ji emphasized the importance of concentration on an internal "sound" or "Word," stressed (following the Beas idea) that initiation must be received from a living "Perfect Master," taught the notion of a formless and attribute-less Absolute, emphasized "satsang" and the family-like collection of followers (Juergensmeyer, 1978, p. 197), and the scientific claims of the teaching. His claim to exclusive possession of the truth echoed that of some earlier Radhasoami branches, as did his incorporation of leaders of all religions into his list of former "Perfect Masters." His father's Mission had created a large organization in India which published literature in English, and had railed against the


Hindu caste system and Brahamanic ritual and scriptural erudition.

Though insisting that spiritual teachings must pass in a lineage from one living master to the next, GMJ did not teach his American followers much about his own lineage. When the Denver Headquarters writing staff tried periodically to gather such information from Indian Mahatmas, they received only vague and contradictory replies. The only articulate claim suggested that the guru of Guru Maharaj Ji's father had succeeded the successor of a Shri Brahmanand, one of the chief disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, the late nineteenth century saint of Bengal who greatly influenced the Neo-Hindu thrust during the past century. Guru Maharaj Ji's American followers never pursued the matter, following what is, according to Juergensmeyer, a typical lack of interest among American Radhasoami followers in Indian culture (1981, p. 195).

Even the life of Shri Hans Ji Maharaj was rather sketchily communicated, de-emphasizing the heavy opposition his movement eventually gathered. A miraculous story circulated about the way Shri Hans Ji Maharaj had met his guru, but who that guru was, or who had been his guru was never made clear. In a commemorative book published by the Indian Divine Light Mission in 1970 in honor of Shri Hans Ji Maharaj, his guru's name appears only once, as "Dada Guru." (Divine Light Mission, 1970, p. 3.) The succession from "Dada Guru" to Shri Hans Ji Maharaj aroused considerable dispute:

Once, all the disciples of Dada Guru were sitting together in the presence of their master. The Dada Guru lifted Shri Maharaj Ji's hand and declared to his disciples that they should follow "Hans" after his death. The story had an ironic ending. A small group dominated by one Varaganand disobeyed their Master and after his death declined to follow Shri Maharaj Ji. Varaganand claimed the property of his late Guru and set himself up as Guru in his own right Shri Hans Ji Maharaj was not attracted to the perishable


wealth of this world, having already been bestowed with the divine property of Ram Nam. So, according to the commandment of his Master, he started propagating the Holy Name. (DLM, 1970, p.3)

Despite this setback, the biography claims that Shri Hans Ji Maharaj went on to gather hundreds of thousands of disciples, first in Sind and Lahore and then in Delhi, beginning among workers at the Delhi Cloth Mill, and finally in much of North India:

By 1960 [Shri Hans Ji] Maharaj Ji's mission had spread to all the northern states of India. He had large numbers of followers in Gujarat, in Bombay, Maharashtra, Bihar, Calcutta and even in Nepal and Kashmir …

… He was taken out in processions in Allahabad and Lucknow, followed by thousands of people. …

… Because of the enormous numbers of the devotees and their presence throughout northern India, the necessity was felt for the creation of some link between the devotees of different areas. The possibility of beginning an organized mission was entertained. Ultimately, after discussions and deliberations between the disciples the mission was named Divya Sandesh Parishad or The Divine Light Mission and registered under the Registration Act in the year 1960. (DLM, 1970, pp. 9-10)

Shri Hans Ji Maharaj's Indian following, according to the biography, consisted generally of devotees "of the lower middle class living in the cities, as well as workers, labourers, and farmers from the villages. Maharaj Ji glorified the innocence and humility of the poor." (1970, p. 10) The higher classes apparently shunned his teaching:

The priestly class, the Brahmins, regarded Maharaj Ji with supercilious indifference, thinking they had nothing to gain from Maharaj Ji, since he had no formal knowledge of Sanskrit nor displayed any form of erudition. As he criticized the traditional modes of worship, more specifically their own practices and false pride in bookish knowledge, their numbers in the Mission were few.

The western educated, sophisticated, aristocratic class were also not attracted to Maharaj Ji, because they were engrossed in the pursuit of material happiness and were sceptical about the very existence of God. Moreover, they were against the idea of Guru." (DLM, 1970, pp. 9-10)

Strong opposition, in fact, eventually arose from both these groups:


Surprisingly, the first opposition against him was made by Hindu oganisations and the Hindu priestly class. Mandaleshwars and Maha Mandeleshwars as well as the Shankaracharya Gurus, the masters of the traditional Hindu religion, were upset by his frank but valid criticism that they were only following the traditional aspect of religion and not the spirit of it …

… Many people who came to him for knowledge left their traditional religion, their family gurus, their old mode of worship and followed him with a religious devotion which disturbed the leaders of the traditional religion. If any member of a family was initiated by Maharaj Ji the other family members found a distinct change in his attitude. Casting aside the visiting of temples, pilgrimages, he devoted himself to the service and the worship of the Guru … Gradually it seemed that all the pujaris and Mandeleshwars joined together to oppose Maharaj Ji. (DLM, 1970, p. 28-9)

Shri Maharaj Ji seemed, therefore, to be threatening not only traditional priestly authority but also, as his son was later to do in the West, traditional family allegiances. Shri Hans Ji Maharaj was also attacked by the Arya Samaj, a nationalistic religious reform movement "known for its condemnation of all the prevailing religious sects in India." (p. 31) He had apparently briefly joined this organization in his youth, but had abandoned it for his religious calling. The Arya Samaj

Published pamphlets and handbills against Shri Maharaj Ji, … organized public meetings against Maharaj Ji, … tried to mobilize public opinion against Maharaj Ji and tried to involve Maharaj Ji in court cases simply in order to defame him … [they asked] how he could call himself an enlightened soul when he had no familiarity with the Vedas and the Upanishads. The criticised that his devotees worshipped him as an incarnation of God and objected to the fact that women were being initiated. They also criticized Maharaj Ji for creating a separate sect and misleading the ignorant but innocent people. They also imputed that Maharaj Ji's Mission was an agent of Christianity… (DLM. 1970, pp. 31-32)

Despite these problems, the Indian Divine Light Mission was apparently still flourishing at the time of the death of Shri Hans Ji Maharaj in 1966, and his last years passed happily:

In the last two to three years of his life, Majaraj Ji was all dance and bliss. Taking the tamboura in his hands, he would sing and dance on the platform, giving peace and bliss to the devotees


who delighted in these lilas. Like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, he was in a state of divine ecstasy. (DLM, 1970, p. 12)

He was succeeded by Guru Maharaj Ji (named Shri Sant Si Maharaj) who was then eight years old, the youngest of four sons. Guru Maharaj Ji immediately began giving satsangs, apparently convincing much of his father's following that he was the new "Perfect Master" by dancing before them "as his father so often danced… All were amazed to see his every gesture and movement to be that of his father, Shri Hans Ji Maharaj." ("And It Is Divine, 11/73, p. 64) The young guru's mother and top organizers held the Mission together for several years, and by 1969-70 the first Western hippies were drifting by. GMJ sent them home to spread his teachings and at the age of twelve in 1970 delivered a famous "Peace Bomb" "satsang" in New Delhi, to "hundreds of thousands of people," in which he said, "Give me your love, and I will give you peace … Give me the reins of your life and I will show you the way to liberation." (AIID, 11/73, p. 12) Then "he proclaimed that he was going to establish peace on the earth." A year later, in 1971, he went to London and Los Angeles and the Western Divine Light Mission was born.

* * * * *

The DLM movement in the United States differs in some fundamental ways from its Indian parent; because the cultural and social milieu is very different and because a different socio-economic group has been attracted to it, the American devotees have taken what they needed, emphasizing some and ignoring other aspects of the teaching. They appear to have converted to something very exotic and alien to American cultural and religious tradition, but they are not much like Indian premies


and even less do they resemble Indian Hindus. Like the premies, Americans who follow other Radhasoami teachings, Vedanta, the teachings of Caitanya,3 the Sikh tradition or any other Indian practice and philosophy have also only picked and chosen from the bewilderingly vast and varied offerings of Indian religion. Still, "American Hindus," as I shall call this motley collection, tend to embrace high hopes - and their critics equally great fears - that their gleanings will somehow transform our society. On the other hand, quite possibly this much- touted but selectively chosen Indian influence will serve simply to gloss over, perhaps even further entrench, our present condition. The analysis of just what parts of Hinduism Americans have and have not accepted, and why, may help elucidate the actual impact of Hinduism in America. This analysis can be carried out on three levels: the American adaptation of Hindu beliefs and symbols, Hindu practices, and Hindu social forms.


Though largely ignored by premies, reincarnation is the Hindu belief which has survived most successfully in America. Beyond specifically Hindu religious groups, reincarnation has pervaded the popular occult, become a pillar of spiritualism, and even found its way into our humor. Reincarnation comforts the American anxieties about time. On the one hand it gives the American a past. Largely cut off from his own cultural and historical tradition, the American privately reinvents an exotic international past: the bland shop-girl emerges in her reincarnational fantasies as an ex-princess, and ex-medicine woman, an ex-general leading the cavalry off to holy war. Through reincarnation, present

pp317 - 320: Irrelevant to discussion of Divine Light Mission and Prem Rawat


Americans use meditation, their other favorite Hindu practice, for a number of reasons. Advertisements for "Transcendental Meditation" and bio-feedback, its technological cousin, attract many with simple promises of relaxation and peace of mind. As a panacea for the stressful ills of modern urban civilization, this sort of meditation emerges as a healthy alternative to tranquilizers and promises relief from contemporary problems without the bother of changing one's lifestyle or abandoning any of one's wishes. For the more adventurous, meditation offers novel and ecstatic experiences. Guru Maharaj Ji is not the only guru to have insisted that meditation is better than drugs because it lasts longer, does not damage the body, and can even get you higher:

Stay high forever. No more coming down. Practice Krishna Consciousness … Turn on throgh music, dance, philosophy, … Tune in. Awaken your Transcendental Nature! Rejoice in the Ocean of Bliss! … Drop out of movements employing artificially induced states of self-realization and expanded consciousness. (Johnson, 1976, p. 36)

These ecstacies sometimes come relatively easily, but they are not instant gratification, and sometimes one must practice long and hard for them, as some premies do. American Hindus are not all just seeking lazily just for short-cut methods to instant enlightenment; some perhaps even work at it too hard, waxing extremely technical and manipulative with their bodies and minds. Their tendency, especially if they have not embraced a sect or explicit theology, is to reduce yoga and meditation not to the neo-Hindu "divine science," but to a mere science, a fascination with categories, analysis, and experimentation which, like other Western science, has no clear goal beyond collecting bits of knowledge or exploiting that knowledge for profitable - and perhaps humanitarian - ends. Thus meditative practice is found - as Hindus have known all along - to reveal "siddhis," or mental powers


with which one can reputedly pass exams, attract lovers, money and perhaps even a large following among lovers of the occult. But true yogic adepts warn us, as they warn their fellow Indians, that pursuit of such powers for their own sake traps one in the volitional round of existence, further than ever from spiritual goals.

The other popular use of meditation is in the service of psychology. One meditates to raise self-esteem, increase "personal power," round out the personality, adjust oneself to the powers and situations that be. Often enough, "finding oneself" with meditation means relaxing or distracting oneself out of further existential or even political questioning. Meditative psychology thus helps reintegrate "misfits" into "normal" lives and relationships, but there it leaves them, Jung and Maslow notwithstanding. Whether or not the original "spiritual search" of many "misfits" was ingenuine, meditation viewed as Western psychological tool tends to reinforce the idea that existential and spiritual concerns are symptoms not of an immature, shallow culture, not of an innate yearning for completion and transcendence, but simply of individual neurosis. Therapeutic meditation all too often helps the meditator forget rather than pursue his questions; the therapists themselves cannot distinguish between neurotic and genuine existential concerns. The therapist who is a "true believer" in Eastern lore thus risks pulling his patient away from problems he ought to be facing, while the true non-believer, who tends to view meditation as yet another technique completely isolated from context, fails to re-orient the patient who has genuine spiritual concerns toward an "atman"-like sense of self.

Despite these problems, however, meditation is a powerful practice which can show Americans new modes of awareness and novel, trans-


lingual, trans-historical perceptions of "reality." It can trigger mystical experience which may forever change one's understanding of one's life and world. But meditation sometimes escapes the control of one who wants to use it to gain powers or for therapy, and even the beginner or the half-hearted meditator may find it all too powerful. And then one is hard-put to find someone who understands what has happened well enough to guide one back. Most such dabblers eventually recover by themselves, but terror prevents further meditative exploration. We have trouble finding teachers who can teach us to use meditation's indisputable potential for spiritual discovery while guiding us through its perplexities and minimizing the dangers. Utterly naive in spiritual matters, we have no way to distinguish who does "know" from who doesn't. Neither impressive degrees and titles, a radiant smile, nor "what feels good" is a reliable guide. Even those teachers who have mastered meditation may have trouble communicating it to Westerners; making them see the goal, leading them past indulgences, temptations and dangers, and finally the ambition, self-satisfaction and laziness which comes with initial accomplishments. We don't understand their words, we don't know what of their teaching is cultural trapping and what is essential, and finally, we are so little experienced in this realm that the slightest unusual sensation fascinates us out of all proportion and convinces us we are already seeing Cod. A wise teacher notwithstanding, we suddenly make ourselves teachers long before we have even become true students. Fascination and greed dull our powers of discrimination and awareness. Perhaps if we begin to understand such elementary dilemmas we will finally learn the meditative lessons of seeing clearly where we are and starting from there.

pp324 - 327: Irrelevant to discussion of Divine Light Mission and Prem Rawat


practice only middle economic groups are represented in them. Vedanta and Radhasoami anti-caste rhetoric, though very popular among Americans, seemed only to alert them to the injustices of the Indian situation, to which they patriotically compared the American system. One rarely heard them draw an analogy between American and India and criticize the caste-like ethnic stratification. Widespread interest in non-violence and the example of Gandhi did, of course, address the American racial situation, but it seems that this was a very different group who paid little attention to other Hindu practices and ideas and certainly did not join Hindu sects. The self-avowed American Hindu retreats from the political arena perhaps because, like premies, he regards the world as illusory and not worth wasting one's energy on. Sometimes one even glimpses hints of a caste mentality among the American Hindu sects. Premies assured me on several occasions that hardly any black people had become premies because "they aren't ready yet." And within the organization one sensed an approval of the idea that rank results from spiritual merits. The leaders tended to withdraw themselves, and the Indian Mahatmas and even later the American initiators were set apart, during some phases even fed special food on special dishes. And, of course, the Guru himself occupied an unassailable position, unreachable by ordinary folk.

Guru-worship is the most undeniably undemocratic Hindu social form embraced by Americans, though the idea of the special purity - and consequent privileges - of saints and religious leaders is by no means new to us. But the notion of a spiritual teacher still confuses us. Is a "realized soul" innately better in every way or is he just talented in one field like a tennis star? Has he achieved his abilities


through hard work or innate superiority, and in the latter case was he "created equal?" How should he be treated; is his every gesture a teaching to be revered and his every whim a solemn command and spiritual "test" to his devotees? We don't understand how Indians treat their teachers, we wonder "who they really are," we don't know quite what we want from them. And even if they are innately superior incarnations, we haven't yet learned how to sort out our intense projections upon them from any genuine qualities they may have. What American Hindus have contributed to our ambivalent tendency toward hero-worship is not so much understanding as the spelling-out or definition of its various qualities. What others have taken for granted in their reverence for politicians, rock stars, sports and film heroes the American Hindu has begun to inspect and explore. Rather than denying that "charisma" ought to exist on the grounds of egalitarian ideology, American Hindus accept it and speculate about the phenomenon. They discover mechanisms for capitalizing on its effects and for spreading it to others. And they begin to integrate it with routine, fitting a leader with alleged spiritual powers into a smoothly-functioning organizagion which does little to disrupt the surrounding society. Even the most notorious of our "new religious" leaders have really posed no threat to American social structures nor created an angry following bent on violent change. Thus charisma-like spiritual power is not lost with routinization but only tamed, so that more may partake of its benefits while it is contained within pre-existing social forms. Perhaps when they have understood more about charisma American Hindus will also understand how it could be used to change social forms which have become oppressive.


Belief in spiritual charisma can lead to authoritarianism and the frightening aspects of guru-worship, but it need not always for at its best, as even among premies, "darshan" is understood as communication. Charisma is shared, and one is taught to develop one's own. It need not be thought of as a limited quantity. This sharing of charisma becomes a novel form of communication with which American Hindus experiment. Premies have singled it out and called it "satsang," but one senses it in other Hindu and non-Hindu religious groups. Just as Hindus can lay no exclusive claim to mystical states and practices, they cannot exclusively claim the sharing of charisma, or transpersonal communication, or the fellowship of believers. But this phenomenon, like mysticism, has been widely ignored in recent times and American Hindus are simply rediscovering it. For Americans now preoccupy themselves, in therapies and encounters, with "relationship," a sort of contract between individuals who want to exchange something or help each other but insist on keeping themselves intact as individuals. "Relationship" thus has no solid basis other than happenstance meshing of interpersonal qualities, and one "works at relationship" by working at compromise. Transpersonal communication of the sort premies call "satsang," on the other hand, is supposed to center on something other than individual personality, whether one calls it God, Guru, truth, etc. One does not lose one's individuality but finds instead one's commonality with others through symbol, common practices, or altered states. Because one does not compromise or deny a part of one's self in doing this, but merely shifts the accent of identity, one feels no loss or cramping. Instead, one feels expanded. Through "satsang"-like communication, the most moving part of religion emerges from exclusive privacy and can be experienced together in ritual, casual or formal, which moves beyond form


through symbol to spirituality.

American Hindus display the same ignorance toward transpersonal communication that they display toward meditation and charisma, discovering great difficulty in distinguishing between it and ordinary group pressure and coercion. As with meditation, transpersonal communication is powerful and can easily be misused or get out of hand. And yet experimentation seems worthwhile. Gradually a few premies developed the ability to sustain meaningful ritual while guarding against the worst abuses of group life.

In the American horror of group power people retain their individuality at the expense of finding themselves extremely isolated. Those who cannot "make relationships work" may, in their desperate need for human exchange, surrender easily to dangerously coercive situations - and most of these are not religious - because they have no notion of even healthy group consciousness, let alone genuine transpersonal communication and religious ritual. Hinduism - and other religious traditions as well - has given Americans a way at least to look at the problems of communication and group relations which sidesteps our fears and may lead some day to genuine understanding and healthier ways to live together.



1) Lane describes in detail a controversy over the nature of the connection between Shiv Dayal Singh and Tulsi Sahib. For some, Tulsi Sahib was simply a divine incarnation and thus needed no guru; those who embraced this persuasion became known as the "Agra" school. For others initiation from a living master was all-important; thus the claim that Tulsi Sahib had initiated Shiv Dayal Singh at a young age. This group became known as the "Beas" school; Guru Maharaj Ji tended toward this teaching. (1981, pp. 22 ff)

2) Private communication from David Lane.

3) Devotees of "Krishna Consciousness" claim inspiration from Caitanya, whom they claim to have been Kalki, the tenth incarnation of Vishnu.

4) Ling (1973) draws a distinction between a (religious) "civilization" and a "religion." A "civilization" to him is "a total view of the world and man's place in it, and a total prescription for the ordering of human affairs in all the various dimensions which in the modern world are separated and distinguished from one another…" "Religion," then, is a "reductionist term" meaning " institutionalized systems of private comfort and salvation which have no business to concern themselves with 'politics.'" (1973, p. 29)

5) According to Juergensmeyer, the Indian Radhasoami groups espoused a kind of "spiritual socialism" with a "strong egalitarian strain." "All property is owned by the organization, tasks are assigned in teams according to ability, wages are regulated accordingly, and meals are taken in common." (1978, p. 198)