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An odd little new religious group/cult which briefly flourished in America in the 70s. The usual trappings. Funny old men in saffron robes saying funny things. A few famous celebrities briefly converting. Meditation techniques which, when used properly, will bring about the advent of a new era of world peace. Nothing to write home about, not really. Oh, both of my parents are members.

Guru Maharaj Ji got his start as Prempal Rawat in the little town of Beas, India. Became the hereditary leader of a little heretical offshoot of a heretical offshoot: a neo-Sikh group called Radhasoami Satsang Beas. This being the late 60s, some bright PR-type decided that America was ripe for the message. Yeah, America was ripe. By the mid-70s, there were hundreds of thousands of American converts, many of them living in communal ashrams, practicing their four techniques of meditation together, and all tithing quite heavilly (it's voluntary, of course). The most famous convert was probably Rennie Davis, one of the Chicago Seven; I've heard all sorts of crazy staries about him.

Eventually, it all came crashing down; not spectacularly or totally, but enough. The newspapers started running stories about Maharaj Ji's fleet of Rolls Royces, his mansion in Long Beach, the fact that he had married his 17 year old secretary (she's a friend of my mother's, matter of fact), and his family in India had more or less disowned and disavowed him. As a last-ditch effort, the DLM rented out the Houston Astrodome for a mass meditation session, which was to bring about the immediate dawn of world peace. They got it maybe a third full, and if you've been keeping up on the papers, you'll note that war still exists.

So things started to go downhill. They closed up the ashrams, retired the Rolls Royces, changed names about half-a-dozen times. Guru Maharaj Ji is simply Maharaji now, and you want to find his Divine Light Mission, best to look in the phone books under Elan Vitale International, a Non-Profit Organization. The mansion in Long Beach is still there, my parents still give him money every year, and so do enough other people that they manage to stay in the black. There's an IT company in Northern Virginia, a publicly traded one, whose upper management consists entirely of initiates of the old-school DLM. Don't ask me to name names, Elan Vitale still knows how to toss out the good libel lawsuit, just for old times' sake.

My mother continues to insist that the most spiritually fulfilling moment of her life was performing the ancient ceremony of arti on Maharaji; to those un-versed, you can read that as ritually kissing his feet. I try not to read symbolism into that, but it's hard sometimes. A lot of my childhood was taken up with functions of the newly-reconstituted Elan Vitale. See the guru speak, watch a nifty laser light-show. Watch a video of the guru speaking, backed with a nifty laser light-show, in a rented hotel ballroom or public library AV room, and spend time with terribly earnest and terribly flakey people. Childhood memories.

It was a weird way to grow up, but probably not all that much weirder than than going to church on Sunday - it's all the same when you're a kid. If you don't understand, you learn to tune it out. That's just the way it is.

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