Mahraz Darshan Das Charitable Trust, a non-profit group practicing and preaching spiritual enlightenment has purchased the property at 115 Jericho Turnpike in Mineola, seeking to turn the former Italian-American Civic Association headquarters into a spiritual center for its followers.
Described as a “spiritual organization,” the group was first formed in India in 1971 by Mahraz Darshan Das with a focus on “peace in humanity” and emphasizing “peace and meditation” and internal peace.
“The hatred which has been created in this world, for that he started the meditation practice with which once we will have peace inside, internally, then only we can think of peace outside,” Avtar Singh Matharoo, a guru also known as “Babagi” and who spoke before the village board during a special use hearing on Aug. 14, emphasizing that the following is not a religion but more a spiritual way of life.
Another mission was then founded in Birmingham, England, where the world-wide organization is headquartered. Das passed away in 1987 and was succeeded by guru Marajah Ghasita Ram Ji Kant who became the spiritual leader in the United States, residing in Stockton, California in 2005. The group also has followers in New York, New Jersey and Texas as well and is estimated at 1 million followers worldwide.
Matharoo was last residing in California and moved to New York to start a new congregation. Ghasita appointed Matharoo as spiritual leader in the United States approximately 18 months ago. The group used to gather at followers homes before it found the Mineola location.
“They used to call me twice or thrice... after two months,” Matharoo said of his members while he was still on the West coast. “There we were practicing the spirituality... but here the congregation, the followers, they were missing that (leadership).”
The group has reportedly already been practicing spirituality on weekends since they acquired the building on April 15.
“If they have (been practicing), we really haven’t noticed any impact,” resident John Grillo commented.
Plans for the first floor space revolve around a place to practice spirituality. The second floor has five rooms and a kitchen, where Matharoo says he and his family are living. He stated that will be serving food to followers in the basement, but not catering and that all food will be prepared in the upstairs kitchen on a convection oven and consist of tortillas and lentil soup.
The group plans to renovate the rear garage and plant a garden in between the garage and building in place of the bocce ball court. There are no renovations planned to the interior of the building and no plans to buy the residential property to the east of the location.
They also plan to use the basement area for storage initially before serving food cooked on the second floor oven to its members there.
Though the center is open every day, services are primarily held on weekends. Fridays at 7 p.m. there spiritual teachings/ sermons geared for children and youth performed in English. There are about five or six more children who attend in addition to Matharoo’s two daughters. On Saturdays and Sundays a spirituality practice in Hindi or Panjabi is held from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. where “preaching” occurs. Other days the center is open “for everybody,” but followers tend to come on weekends.
Matharoo says the group will also hold blood drives and blanket drives in winter.
“What we believe is that each and every individual, we have a responsibility for this world, for humanity,” he said.
Despite what what written in the application for a youth drug program, Matharoo said there would be no drug treatment on premises.
“The person who does not have peace inside, he tries to go to the drugs or for the violence so when we treat the spirituality,” he said. “We try to make the person feel at peace internally by meditation. It’s not like a person who was on drugs.”
The group consists of about 35-40 people but is predicted to grow up to 65-70 people in the future. Followers reportedly come from Queens and Richmond Hill in Brooklyn in addition to Long Island. The group does not conduct missionary work but instead relies on word of mouth referrals.
The building was previously used as an Italian-American Civic Association community center and rented out for birthdays, christenings and other events. Matharoo said that he has no plans to rent out the facility for other events.
The group is currently tax-exempt in California, but has already paid taxes for both the school district and village for this year as they have not yet been granted tax-exempt status from IRS in New York. The group filed paperwork for tax-exemption in March which would allow the property to come off the tax rolls.
The parishioners would primarily be using the on-street parking and nearby strip mall according to Matharoo, who said that their activity would not be expected to impact neighbors or businesses because services were “after hours.” Matharoo added that the group had not met with landlords but the shopkeepers “don’t have any problems.”
Deputy mayor Paul Pereira said that the Tae-kwon-do dojo usually stays open past normal business hours and suggested the group utilize the municipal lot to the north of Jericho Turnpike behind Willis Hobbies.
“From April until now you’ve essentially been functioning the way that you’re going to function from now until whenever... you’ve been basically been doing the same thing for the last three months that you’re going to do next week... and there haven’t been any issues, any parking problems,” he said.
Amit Kumar of New Hyde Park stated that many followers carpool with about five to six persons per car, “so it’s not like it’s going to be about 50 cars parked out there, it might be a little bit less than that. And the majority of us when we do come there usually find safe parking.”
Speaking about the traffic on Jericho Turnpike near the location, Mineola resident Richard Rosier said “I can see it going from bad to worse when drivers from someplace else don’t know where they’re going. I would suggest to this group that they should seek out a more conducive area.”
The board reserved decision on the case and would announce a determination at a future meeting.Get Mineola news on Facebook