Lewis: CULTS Élan Vital (Divine Light Mission)

Elan Vital grew out of Sant Mat (literally, "the way of the saints"), a nineteenth-century spiritual tradition that developed in northern India. One of the goals of the movement was the instruction of the world in a type of yogic meditation technique that was said to connect the devotee to the universal primordial Force through meditation on the Holy Name (Word) and on the Divine Light that pervades everything.

The Divine Light Mission was founded by Shri Hans Maharaj Ji. When Hans Maharaj Ji died (1966), he was succeeded by his youngest son, Prem Pal Singh Rawat, who was initiated at the age of six and who, two years later, was recognized as the new "perfect master," an embodiment of God on earth and hence an object of worship and veneration, assuming the title of Maharaj Ji. When his father died, he was commissioned as the one to take the knowledge to the world. Although he became officially the autocratic leader of the mission, his whole family shared the authority because of his young age.

In 1971, Maharaj Ji made his first visit to the West, after having been invited by some Americans who became initiates while

122 Controversial Groups and Movements

in India searching for spiritual guidance. Against his mother's wishes, he went to Colorado, where a large crowd heard his first set of discourses given in the United States. A considerable number of people were initiated, and the U.S. headquarters of the mission was established in Denver. By the end of 1973, several hundred centers as well as more than twenty ashrams had emerged, and two periodicals, And It Is Divine and Divine Times, were begun. However, in November 1973, the Divine Light Mission suffered a major reverse because of the failure of "Millennium '73," an event organized to celebrate the birthday of Maharaj Ji's father and the beginning of a thousand years of peace and prosperity. The event had been scheduled to take place at the Houston Astrodome, and all of the movement's resources were invested in the event. When the anticipated large crowds of people failed to manifest, the movement fell into deep debt, which effectively crippled it.

After the Millennium '73 fiasco, the Divine Light Mission gradually withdrew from the public scene. Many followers left the movement, and many ashrams were discontinued. A number of ex-members became critics of the movement, attacking it with charges of brainwashing and mind control. Maharaj Ji himself was described by the an ticultists as immature and unfit to be a religious leader, and his teachings were condemned as lacking in substance.

The movement also suffered from problems within Maharaj Ji's family. Mataji, Maharaj Ji's mother, disapproved of his lifestyle and of his marriage to his secretary, Marolyn Johnson, whom he declared to be the incarnation of the goddess Durga. After accusing her son of breaking his spiritual disciplines, she took control of the mission in India by replacing him with his oldest brother. In 1975, Maharaj Ji took his family to court. He received control of the movement everywhere but in India, where his brother remained the leader. By the end of the 1970s, an estimated 80 percent of the followers had left the mission. In the early 1980s, Maharaj Ji ordered that all of the ashrams be disbanded and that he was no longer to be venerated as God.

When the Divine Light Mission was disbanded, the organization Elan Vital was created in order to relate Maharaj Ji to his students on a one-to-one basis and to support his travels in thirty-four countries worldwide.

The group's Web site is http://www.maharaji.org.