Some Alternative and Indigenous Religions Chapter 8
Some Alternative and Indigenous Religions


"Don't make a problem where there's no problem, or then you've got a real problem." Maharaj Ji

"If you win the rat race, you're still a rat." Maharaj Ji,

Elan Vital came from the Hindu Santa Mat (the way of the saints) tradition, a nineteenth-century spiritual movement that developed in Northern India. One of its goals was to instruct the world in a type of yogic meditation technique that was said to connect the devotee to the universal primordial force. This was achieved through meditation on the Holy Name (Word) and on the Divine Light, which pervade everything.

Founding and Development

The Divine Light Mission was founded by Shri Hans Maharaj Ji. He died in 1966 and was succeeded by his youngest son, Prem Pal Singh Rawat who is reported to have said at his funeral, "You have been deceived by maya (illusion): Maharaj Ji is here in your midst: recognize him, worship him, and obey him." Maharaj Ji had already become a spiritual adept at the age of six, and at age nine he gave himself the title of Perfect Master at his father's funeral. He was two years later

278 A Brief Guide to Beliefs

recognized as the new "Perfect Master," an embodiment of God on earth and therefore worthy of veneration. He assumed the title of Maharaj Ji. In 1971 an American who had begun to worship Maharaj Ji invited him to the United States. The same year he also made his first visit to Britain. In Colorado, a number of people were initiated, and the American headquarters of the Mission was established in Denver. After only two years, several hundred centers and over twenty ashrams had been founded, but in November 1973 the Mission suffered the failure of "Millenium 73," which had cost thousands of dollars and had been organized to celebrate the birthday of Maharaj Ji's father and the commencement of a thousand years of peace. The movement is reported to have suffered deep debt and the loss of many people from the movement. Ex-members became critical, and accusations of brainwashing and mind control were levied.

The movement also suffered from family problems. The guru's mother, Mata Ji, disapproved of his marriage to his twenty-four-year-old secretary Marolyn Johnson in 1974, who presented a challenge to her. Maharaj Ji had claimed that she was the incarnation of the Hindu goddess Durga. Press reports of the day also said his mother disapproved of his lifestyle, which included a number of Rolls-Royces and luxury homes. Mataji accused her son of breaking his Hindu spiritual disciplines, and she took control of the mission in India by replacing with his oldest brother. In 1975 Maharaj took his family to court. As a result, he was able to control the movement worldwide, except in India, where his brother remained in authority. In the early 1980s Maharaj Ji ordered all ashrams to be disbanded, and he renounced his almost divine status. His teaching had become increasingly universal rather than reflecting Indian religious tradition. After this action, the organization Elan Vital was created to support Maharaj Ji's ongoing teaching of his students on a one-to-one basis and worldwide travel. The instructors ceased to be called mahatmas. Today the group maintains a low profile, publishing two newsletters and continuing the initiation rituals. In its earlier existence Divine Light teaching derived mainly from Hinduism. Maharaj Ji, as the guru, imparted wisdom upon his followers. Devotees practiced siddha yoga and sometimes use a T-shaped baragon as an aid to meditation. In the Divine Light Mission the guru taught that humanity is inherently divine. For people to attain this divinity, they must gain knowledge, which came from the teachings of the Guru Maharaj Ji, who is of the line of Perfect Masters.

Teaching, Beliefs, and Practices

The movement that originally started as the Divine Light Mission is now reformed in its beliefs and teachings. Elan Vital bears little or no similarity to traditional Indian religious concepts such as reincarnation or heaven. The emphasis is on present-tense experience of life in the here and now. At the heart of his teaching, Maharaj Ji believes that great masters such as Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, and other lesser masters have all taught what is known as Knowledge.

Some Alternative and Idigenous Religions 279

Maharaj Ji now teaches a simple self-discovery, process, involving four simple techniques to turn the senses within and appreciate the joyful basis of existence beyond thoughts and ideas. He denies the criticism that his teachings represent instant gratification, but he sees it instead as an ongoing learning process that can enrich an individual's life.

The four secret meditation procedures involved in the journey to Knowledge are





The emphasis is on seeking what is already within.

A preparation time of several months is suggested for those (the premies) who wish to understand Knowledge. Maharaj talks are videotaped and made available through screenings in many locations around the world as well through direct sales. The movement enjoys favorable tax conditions in various parts of the world as it is registered as a charity. The British organization of Elan Vital was established in 1991 and registered as an educational charity in 1992. According to Elan Vital in the United Kingdom, roughly ten thousand people "practice the techniques of Knowledge" (Barrett [1996]). Outside of India, at the time of this writing, Elan Vital claims some seventy-five thousand followers in the rest of the world.