Child Guru A Grown Up Friends Say
DENVER (UPI) - With close associates extolling his new maturity. Guru Maharaj Ji plans a worldwide tour this year to fatten the bankroll of his Divine Light Mission, strengthen membership rolls and prove his group is not a cult.
"He will visit every continent in 1976," said Bob Mischler, the guru's executive director. "He s able to give that personal touch which provides great inspiration.
"He's grown, but he's the same. I have always been awed by his wisdom and awareness of the human condition. In the beginning, he used childlike examples, but now he has grown in his ability to communicate."
Formed in 1970 by the then 13 year-old Indian youth, the Divine Light Mission has weathered a financial crisis, a family battle for control and slackened membership figures.
Maharaj Ji, now 18, is married to his former secretary, Marolyn Lois Johnson, once an airline stewardess. They have a daughter, Premulata, and maintain a home in Denver and an estate at Malibu, Calif.
He has changed his lifestyle, his associates said, and no longer shoots followers with a water pistol or makes gadget-grabbing shopping trips.
The guru doesn't talk to reporters since he was once asked about his sex life. He appointed Joe Anctil as his press secretary and hasn't held a news conference in four years.
Anctil said much of the financial crisis was due to poorly-planned festivals and mismanagement by Maharaj Ji's family. The debt mounted to $650,000 at one point, but Anctil said it is now below $80,000.
According to Anctil this year's tour which was originally to begin in the summer has been postponed until fall because of the financial problem.
Maharaj Ji's mother, Rajeshwari Devi, disowned him for his renowned lifestyle and attempted to take control of the several million member mission. However, Anctil said a threatened lawsuit dissuaded her and the guru now is undisputed leader.
As for membership, which has dropped to under 15,000 in the United States, Anctil said record keeping was a fault for the original figures which were inflated.
In 1976, Maharaj Ji will emphasize personal contact with as many members as possible, Mischler said, as opposed to the earlier stress on converting thousands. Ten per cent of the tour receipts go to international headquarters in Denver, while the balance remains with the host.
The guru's early years in the United States were marked by mass gatherings where "Knowledge," Maharaj Ji's method for understanding the universe, was dispensed.
"We don't want to reach more people than we are capable of taking on," said Mischler. "We once thought the more people the better. Now we find that people were just joining the latest cult.
"Now we are making sure people that have joined are progressing and being more effective as persons and therefore more effective as a result of the program."
Cults have plagued the mission. Mischler said, because Maharaj Ji was frequently linked with the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, Hare Krishna and other more exotic religious groups. "People had a strange idea of what we are." he said.
In fact, Mischler said, Divine Light Mission does not consider itself a religion except for tax purposes. As a religion, the mission pays no taxes on revenues of $355,000 a month.