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Readers' quotes from
Sacred Journeys: 'The Conversion of Young Americans to Divine Light Mission',
by James V. Downton Jr., Columbia University Press, 1979.

Here is a first selection, concerning an young man referred to simply as 'Walt':

"Walt felt so far from his spiritual goals, he was afraid. This sense of dread was nourished by Guru Maharaj Ji's satsang during the (birthday) party (ca 1973). 'I got really bummed out on his satsang. The only thing I heard him say was 'Those people who do not realize this Knowledge will go to hell and never return' That's the only phrase I remember and I was going 'Oh, no! I'm going to hell because I'm not realizing his Knowledge."

His whole 'journey' is quite sad, yet at the same time very typical and relatable.

Here is another excerpt:

"Many of the luxuries surrounding America's new gurus are gifts from their followers. Guru Maharaj Ji's not alone among the new gurus who are surrounded by material comforts. A casual glance at the lifestyles of other gurus in America does not turn up any signs of poverty. This raises an obvious question: Why is it that gurus insist on their followers becoming detached from the material world, while they seem to be completely immersed in it?


Yet, while many people feel gurus have accumulated more than their share of wealth, their followers believe they are getting no more than they deserve. From the premie point of view, for instance, Guru Maharaj Ji's opulent lifestyle seems in harmony with their view of him as the Lord. They want him to live like the king they feel he is. Idealizing him as they do, they are more than happy to supply him with luxuries.

From this perspective, Guru Maharaj Ji's opulence can be understood as a natural outgrowth of his followers' need to idealize him and to set him at a sufficiently great distance so that beliefs in his extraordinary powers are preserved. In short, premies have a stake in maintaining his luxurious lifestyle.


While we can partially explain Guru Maharaj Ji's lifestyle in terms of collective dynamics, another point of view would question why he has accepted the luxuries premies have gladly given to him. Several explanations could be offered: that he is following tradition; that he recognizes his followers' needs to elevate him to a point where he becomes the ideal to emulate; that he sees no conflict between his lifestyle and his spiritual mission; and that he is not attached to the comforts surrounding him. Of course, there is also the possibility that he is ambitious and materialistic, as so many people believe."

And another one:

"Believing the guru to be a saint, premies were ready to conform to his wishes (as well as they could), while many lost the capacity to criticize him. Even during the height of the public scandals which hit the Mission in its formative period, I did not hear premies express even one critical comment about the guru. Given their views of him as the Lord, it was as clearly outside of the realm of possibility for them to oppose or criticize him in any way, as for Moses to have told God that he wanted him to edit the Ten Commandments.

Devotion to Guru Maharaji seems similar to the type of unquestioning affection children feel for their parents during the time before adoloscence when they are emotionally merged with them. This is one of the reasons that, once formed, a follower's strong emotional bond with a leader is so hard to break, especially when the leader is viewed as Divine.


I believe there is a time when the devotee's autonomy from a guru, like independence from one's parents, should be achieved, otherwise surrender remains only an instrument of social control to serve the guru's ends, rather than a means of bringing the person into an individual relationship to God and the world.

The emotional disengagement of children from their parents seems to take a natural course, but for the adults who have emotionally merged with a guru becoming more independent must be more conscious and deliberate, A danger is that, by idealizing the guru, the devotee preserves the distance between them so that it always appears as if more needs to be done. This of course provides the devotee with the rationale for the continuation of dependence on him. Some followers may be able to face the trauma of separation, while others may have to be pushed away when the time is right.

If both the guru and devotee are psychologically or socially dependent on the relationship, then neither are likely to initiate a rift and the devotee may become permanently fixed in that regressive state, never to go beyond the role of obediant child."

This was written around 1977/78. How little things have changed in 20 years!

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