Six thousand ecstatic young disciples of fifteen-year-old Guru Maharaj Ji burst into cheers and chants as “the perfect Master” ascended his throne at the Summer Festival of Love and Light in London’s Alexandra Palace. Perched atop a color-bedecked, canopied dais twenty-five feet above the speaker’s platform, the boy messiah was hailed as “Lord of the universe,” “king of peace,” and “divine incarnation.” Followers shouted joyfully, “Bodie Shri Satgurudev Maharaj Ki Jai” (Praise the name of the Lord, the true revealer of light and great king).
Such has been the scene at rallies in a number of cities across the world in the past two years. In November, 80,000 are expected to be on hand in Houston’s Astrodome to pay their respects to the guru from India in a three-day teach-in billed as “Millennium ’73.”
The boy guru (in its native meaning, one who leads from darkness to light) now claims a world following of six million, including about 50,000 in the United States (there were only six in 1971). The U. S. headquarters is in Denver, with branches in thirty cities. There are publications, record albums, even movies to help promote the guru’s teachings.
While the Maharaj Ji himself does not overtly claim to be God, his followers are convinced he is the Christ for our day. He became “the perfect master”—one who teaches perfect truth (there can only be one at a time)—at eight years of age in 1966 when his father, Shri Hans Ji Maharaj, founder of the Divine Light Mission, died. At the funeral the boy exhorted: “Children of God, why are you weeping?… The perfect master never dies. Guru Maharaj Ji is here amongst you. Recognize him, obey him, and adore him.” (Some observers believe he gets most of his ideas—and cues—from his mother, who often accompanies him.)
In 1970, a reported one million people in Delhi heard him implore:
Give me your love; I will give you eternal peace. Surrender the reins of your life to me; I will give you salvation. I am the source of peace in this world, but what can I do unless men come to me with love in their hearts and a sincere desire to know God?
What is this peace, this satisfaction of mind? It’s infinite and therefore cannot be explained, it can only be experienced, the Maharaj replies evasively to reporters. He calls his faithful to become involved in four practices: meditation, Satsang (“holy discourse”), service (fund-raising, literature distribution), and Darshan (abiding in his physical presence). Followers are taught that to receive knowledge from him is to experience energy through Nectar (living water that heals the body), Celestial Music (divine music as in Revelation 22), Light (seeing with the “third eye”), and the Word of God (receiving the primordial vibrations of life). They are encouraged to live and learn in special residences run by the mission.
The boy guru’s disciples testify readily of their faith in him, of having “received knowledge.” At the London festival Angus Jenkinson, 23, an Oxford University graduate in English and the son of Christian parents, explained the relationship:
He is the perfect master. Only God is perfect. Only one who is perfect is able to reveal perfection. Therefore, Maharaj Ji is one with God in the same sense that Jesus was. He is the same as Christ. He is doing the same work. If you respect Christ, and do not respect Maharaj Ji, you are being hypocritical.
Rennie Davis, best remembered as one of the Chicago Seven and the anti-war activist who tried to shut down the nation’s capital but who is now a rather gentle-appearing top aide to the guru, proclaimed: “We will march through the streets of Washington saying ‘He is here!’ We will invite [President Nixon] to receive Maharaj Ji.… We will shout it in the streets, in the ghettoes, in the laundromats, that Maharaj Ji has come.”
Missionaries carry the guru’s message around the world. Correspondent Leroy Birney reports from Colombia that even though the guru hasn’t visited that land there may be hundreds of converts. Missionary Will Kinney of Colorado says he found about 200 at a Satsang in Cali, Colombia’s third largest city, and saw thirty walk forward to seek “knowledge.” Many in the audience testified they had received peace and joy through the guru, adds Kinney.
Why the apparently big response among young people around the world? Critical reviewer Melvin Maddocks, writing in The Christian Science Monitor, observed: “Behind the rock-star trappings, behind the simplifications of Oriental mysticism, there is at least one reality: spiritual hunger.”
There is a distinctly material side to the guru’s life and work. He is said to own three airplanes, TV and radio stations, his own IBM computer, luxury cars, including a $50,000 Mercedes 600, and several mansions. Chartered jets fly large contingents of disciples across continents and oceans to be with the Maharaj Ji in his personal appearances. A spokesman says donations to the work amount to about $250,000 monthly. The guru insists he is unaffected by all this opulence—“it’s just there.” (He is under investigation by the Indian government, which seized $80,000 of undeclared goods when he returned home for a visit months ago.)
There may be some kinks in the doctrine of perfection. Maharaj Ji recently missed a big date in Atlanta. The King of kings and Lord of the universe was confined in a Denver hospital with an intestinal ulcer, the kind that middle-aged businessmen get from too much stress.
Episcopal clergyman Robert Gunn Hetherington of Trinity Episcopal Parish in Buffalo, New York, had arranged for a substitute to conduct the Sunday-morning service while he was involved in the National Public Parks singles tennis competition in Pittsburgh. But the replacement couldn’t make it. So, after winning the semi-final match on Saturday, Hetherington drove the 220 miles back to Buffalo, officiated at the service, hopped on a plane, and arrived back in Pittsburgh in time to win the national championship.
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