Divine Light Mission

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Divine Light Mission

The Divine Light Mission (DLM) was one of the more controversial and colorful Indian-based new religions that flourished in the United States during the 1970s. The mission had its roots in the Sant Mat tradition of northern India. This Sikh-based religion emphasizes a cosmic sound current that sustains all life and teaches meditation techniques that allow initiates to experience this inner current and thereby gain spiritual liberation. Shri Hans Ji Maharaj, an initiate of both the Advait Mat and Radhasoami branches of Sant Mat, established the Divine Light Mission in about 1960 in India. The movement gained a growing Indian membership during the 1960s, and after Shri Hans's death in 1966 continued under the leadership of his wife, Mata Ji, and their four sons, Bal Bhagwan Ji, Bhole Ji, Raja Ji, and Maharaji. Maharaji (b. December 10, 1959), the youngest son, soon gained recognition as Shri Hans's successor. In late 1969 Maharaji sent a representative to London to found the mission's first Western ashram. The mission grew slowly until 1971, when the "boy guru" traveled to England, Canada, and the United States. In his many appearances, Maharaji taught a simple message of universal love, peace, and devotion to himself as "Satguru" (literally, teacher of truth), this era's divine incarnation. Maharaji's siblings and mother were also accorded exalted spiritual status and called "the divine family."

Maharaji offered his devotees (called "premies") four secret meditation techniques, collectively called "knowledge." The devotee, after pledging never to reveal the techniques to nonmembers, received initiation in a "knowledge session" from one of the guru's specially trained teachers, or "mahatmas." The techniques consisted, generally speaking, of traditional yogic practices, including: (1) focusing one's closed eyes toward a point in the middle of the eyebrows and meditating on the divine light; (2) closing one's ears with both hands and listening to the divine sound of creation—often using a beragon, or small support stool; (3) a simple meditation on one's breath, sometimes using a mantra; and (4) tasting the divine nectar by rolling one's tongue backward into the cavity of the cranium.

During the early and mid-1970s, thousands of Westerners received "knowledge" and set up ashrams—intentional spiritual communities—in major cities. DLM was incorporated in the United States in Denver in 1972 and soon was holding festivals in both the United States and India that regularly attracted thousands of seekers. The former student radical Rennie Davis became a prominent spokesperson for the mission. Premies took vows of obedience, poverty, and celibacy, practiced meditation, and sang devotional songs to a large image of Maharaji each morning and evening.

The mission underwent major upheavals during the 1970s, mostly related to Maharaji's marriage in 1974 to a California airline stewardess. The marriage prompted his mother to reject him and to attempt to install Bal Bhagwan Ji as the head of the DLM in India. Meanwhile, Maharaji built up a small financial empire and lived in luxurious homes in Malibu and Miami Beach. After closing the DLM's ashrams in 1983, Maharaji changed his movement's name to Elan Vital and became the sole transmitter of "knowledge." Elan Vital organizes Maharaji's teaching tours around the world and distributes videos, audiotapes, and publications under its Visions International subsidiary.

See alsoAshram; Guru; Sikhism; Yoga.


Juergensmeyer, Mark. Radhasoami Reality. 1991.

Messer, Jeanne. "Guru Maharaji and the Divine Light Mission." In The New Religious Consciousness, edited by Robert Bellah and Charles Glock. 1976.

Phillip Charles Lucas

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