WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, MONDAY, MARCH 24, 1975
RICHES CALLED GOAL OF DIVINE LIGHT
VANCOUVER (AP) - A former unpaid financial analyst at the Denver, Colo., headquarters of the Divine Light Mission, Michael Garson, 35, testified Thursday, "So far as I could see, the whole function of the organization was to provide an opulent existence for the Maharaj Ji."
Mr. Garson was giving evidence on the final day of an action brought in British Columbia Supreme Court seeking a mental competency hearing for a United States heiress who wants to give her fortune of more than $400,000 to the Divine Tight Mission.
Mr. Justice H. E. Hutcheon reserved judgment on the application.
Darby McNeal, 31, formerly of Louisville, Ky., but now resident in Nelson, B.C., is the subject of the action brought by her older sister, Sarah McNeal Pew of Louisville, who claims Miss Darby will become destitute if she continues to handle her own financial affairs.
The considerable assets of Miss Darby have been frozen by two U.S. court injunctions pending the outcome of the B.C. hearing. She is restricted to living on the interest of a Chicago-based trust fund in the meantime.
Mr. Garson became Miss Darby's business adviser last summer and accompanied her on trips to Chicago and Louisville in an attempt to secure her funds for the Divine Light Mission.
He said Thursday there were no documents to protect her interests if she had in fact obtained the cash value of her assets and handed them over to him as she had intended. The injunctions, obtained in September, prevented this.
In a sworn affidavit, Mr. Garson testified: "My analysis of the accounts (of the Divine Light Mission) indicated that approximately 60 per cent of the gross receipts are directed to maintain the life style of the Maharaj Ji and those close to him.
Photostats of financial records appended to Mr. Carson's affidavit show a "typical" average weekly earned income by the Mission of $24,000 plus $11,500 in donations.
An entry of $139,925 entitled "special projects" indicates the balance as of Jan. 31, 1974, "advanced directly to the Maharaj Ji for purposes related directly to his own maintenance," Mr. Garson said.
He said he was a "premie" or follower of the guru and began work at mission headquarters last August.
"I discovered that there was something of the order of $300,000 owed by the Mission. The majority of these accounts, something in excess of $240,000, had been owing for in excess of 12 months.
"A good proportion of these accounts payable arrears were attributable to a festival held at the Astrodome at Houston, Texas, called Millenium '73."
Mr. Garson said the mission "spent millions of dollars, a lot of it unnecessarily" and at one point owned a fleet of cars in excess of 200.
"The donations received by the mission are falling off. The expenses do not show any sign of being reduced or managed such that they stay within cash receipts or expected cash receipts," Garson said.
Divine Light Mission press releases that claim a U.S. membership of 50,000 and a worldwide membership of six million "are crossly exaggerated," Mr. Garson said.
"I can say from having recently examined membership records … that there are no more than 17,000 names recorded as followers of which, at the very best, 10,000 are active in any way.
"There is what is referred to as the Renunciate Order, that is, followers of Guru Maharaj Ji who have taken vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. The membership in this order is 572," he said.
Mr. Garson said he decided to come to court and give testimony as "a matter of conscience." He said he left the mission in February but was still a follower of the guru's teachings.
Miss McNeal's lawyer in the case, Irwin Nathanson, submitted that Mr. Garson had left the mission after being offered $200,000 by persons who wanted him to do an expose of the Maharaj Ji.
Mr. Garson made no outright denial but said be had not signed any contract.
Mr. Justice Hutcheon also heard evidence from an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of B.C. Joseph I. Richardson, who spent 13 years as a lecturer at a theological college in India and has numerous other academic credentials, described the Divine Light Mission as an organization "based solidly in North America which has adopted much of the modus operandi of a business promotion."
He said there is "a radical difference" between the mission and traditional Hindu organizations.
"The mission is one of the many contemporary eclectic "religious" movements which depends for its existence and growth upon the exploitation of the confusion and disillusionment of largely middle class young people estranged from their families and disaffected with society in general," Mr. Richardson said.
"The Guru Maharaj Ji apparently does not have a lifestyle which in any way corresponds to the ideals of the traditional Indian guru. His teaching is an eclectic melange of Hindu and Christian cliches.
"His assertions about his perfection .. disqualify him as a religious teacher, according to both Hindu and Christian traditions," the professor said.
Richard Vogel, lawyer for the applicant Mrs. Pew, pleaded for the judge to grant the order to protect Miss McNeal, whom, he said, "has become a vassal to this fortune."
Mr. Nathanson argued there was no evidence of mental incompetency and he had not produced Miss McNeal in court because there was nothing for her to answer to.
"This woman's life has been in a fish bowl," Mr. Nathanson said. "Testimony in this case has ranged from the sexual life of this young woman to her personal life with her husband, her financial affairs and her consultations with psychiatrists."
Mr. Garson said that as of his last talk with Miss McNeal, she still intended to make the proposed gifts to the mission and said "when and if the money was gone there was always her house, her garden and welfare."