Divine Light Mission - Members

Members

In a comparison of new religious movements, Gartrell and Shannon noted that people appeared to seek out such religious organizations to get answers to questions about ultimate meaning as well as answers to more prosaic issues. In discussing the differences in recruiting tactics employed by these groups, they placed the Divine Light Mission in the middle ground between movements in which recruits were love bombed, or overwhelmed by waves of intense sentiment, and those in which affective bonds were discouraged. They reported that close ties between newcomers and DLM members developed gradually over a period of three to four months, between initial contact and their attending a "Knowledge session", and the emergent friendships were an important forum in which recruits aired doubts and discussed DLM beliefs. These relationships thus supplemented a very cognitive conversion process, in which active consideration of the movement's ideas and beliefs was encouraged from the outset. They found little evidence to suggest that social rewards were orchestrated by the movement, either in degree or timing.

The sociologist James V. Downton, who studied the DLM for five years, reported that the "idealism of these premies was one of the motivating forces behind their conversion . They wanted to create a more caring world". Five years after the subjects of his study became premies he wrote:

"There is little doubt in my mind that these premies have changed in a positive way. Today, they seem less alienated, aimless, worried, afraid, and more peaceful, loving, confident, and appreciative of life. We could attribute these changes to surrender, devotion, and their involvement in the premie community. Each of these undoubtedly had a positive impact, but, if we accept what premies say, none were as critical as their experience of the universal spirit. Meditating on the life-energy for five years, they report having more positive attitudes about themselves."

According to Carroll Stoner and Jo Anne Parke, when they visited an ashram the premies "appeared to be in control of their own lives and seemed to be achieving some measure of peace as a by-product of a lifestyle they feel is constructive and healthy". When the same members attended an appearance by Prem Rawat a week later, "they lost control, sobbed and swayed and knelt to kiss his feet."

According to Foss and van der Lans, members who joined before 1975 tended to be young people from the counterculture who had used psychedelic drugs. Later members, they asserted, were older and more responsible with ordinary jobs who were disillusioned with conventional religions or other Eastern movements.

A study of group cohesiveness carried out by Marc Galanter in 1974, based on questionnaire responses given by 119 DLM members randomly chosen from festival registration lines, found that after two years involvement with DLM, members reported a considerable decline in psychological distress and drug use compared to their pre membership status. The study found that 45% of those surveyed had used marijuana daily before joining, while only 7% did so at the time of the study. Seventy-one percent reported psychological stress before joining compared to 37% at the time of the study. Overall, 38% had sought professional help for psychological problems before joining. These observations led to what Galanter's describes as "an apparent overall improvement in psychiatric state derived from conversion and its retention through continued membership", and that members, whether they were seriously distressed or not before joining, reported an improved emotional state after joining. Galanter reports that 82% of members surveyed were single, 97% were white, and 73% were in their twenties. The percentage of these with Catholic or Protestant backgrounds mirrored the general population, while there were ten times as many members with Jewish backgrounds as in the general population (21% versus 2%). Three-quarters of them had attended college.

James V. Downton conducted a comparative study of 41 DLM members from three US cities, 29 members of the Hare Krishna movement and 40 college students. Among the DLM members the average age was 23 and ranged from 19 to 29. They came from middle-class backgrounds, all were white and had attended an average of 1.5 years of college, similar to the Hare Krishna sample, though DLM members were less likely to have come from broken homes. Sixty-five percent of DLM members reported having religious experiences while tripping on LSD. Overall, 95% of DLM members had used psychedelic drugs, compared to 89% of Hare Krishna and 67% of the college student cohort. Compared to the college students, fewer DLM members had had religious upbringings and they tended to have had worse family experiences though only 17% came from "broken homes".

One member, writing in the 1970s said that followers were "nagged to donate funds of their own" and some devotees signed pledges to donate a dollar a day to provide the Mission with some reliable income. One former accountant for the DLM said that new followers were asked to turn over their entire savings, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars, and in several cases their families contested the donations. He was quoted as saying "it takes a lot of money to keep a guru." Bob Mishler, the mission's executive director, talked one person into signing over power of attorney shortly after she joined. Mishler was sacked by Rawat in 1976.

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