Élan Vital and Prem Rawat
In a short period in September/October 1982, Prem Rawat made sudden and drastic changes to his organisations and in the lives of his loyal premies who believed his teaching and had publicly promoted Him as God Incarnate, the Lord of the Universe. He knew he had been an object of public ridicule and contempt and the media was a sleeping tiger (or lion) ever-ready to despise him. He had tried to keep them away from him since the Millenium '73 festival press-conference and had deliberately sought to prevent any publicity while his premies led a frantic life of nightly meetings and constant travelling to worship him at festivals.
The decision to make radical changes was not a spur-of-the-moment thing. Some months previously he had sent out a word-of-mouth agya that premies should destroy all Divine Light materials magazines, tapes, videos, whatever. I had been disenchanted with Rawat for some years but lived with a devoted premie and meditated and occasionally went to satsang. She came home from satsang with the startling news. I went "No way!" I collected everything and packed them in a tea chest, nailed down the lid and said this will be a wonderful historical resource in 20 years and took the kids for a swim. When I got back I found the tea chest broken open and the contents burned. I was not happy but what can you do?
- Prem Rawat Disbanded The Divine Light Mission Ashrams
- Prem Rawat Changed the Name and Title by Which He Had Been Known
- Prem Rawat Changed the Name of His Organisation from Divine Light Mission to Elan Vital
- Prem Rawat Closed the Nightly Satsang Meetings That His Premies Had Been Commanded To Attend
- Prem Rawat Ordered His Premies To Stop Telling Anyone About Him
- Prem Rawat No Longer Presented Himself As A Divine/Enlightened Guru Bringing Peace to the World
With hind-sight Prem Rawat's wish for public respect becomes obvious. In the early 1980s he knew he was an object of public ridicule and contempt and the media was a sleeping lion ever-ready to despise him. Although it did not become obvious for some years he desperately wanted respect from society and not just adoration from his devotees who in many ways were the cause of the ridicule. The reputation attached to Divine Light Mission was a cage for Rawat and he decided to 'rebrand' his product. After nearly a decade trying to hide from the media he and his close associates decided to change his image. The Lord of the Universe and Indian Spiritual Master Guru Maharaj Ji became Maharaji "humanitarian giver of a practical way to peace." This image was used by Rawat from the 1980s through to the 1990s when he morphed into an "inspirational speaker" and later an "International Ambassador for Peace."
Prem Rawat Disbands The Divine Light Mission Ashrams
Maharaji (Prem Rawat) ordered the Divine Light Mission ashrams in Western countries be dissolved during 1982/83. According to former DLM administrators, he was becoming concerned about the financial liabilities that loomed as ashram residents aged, became unemployed, and required increasing medical and dental care.
The closures devastated many long-term ashram premies, who had abandoned university, employment, families and all they possessed to obey Prem Rawat. It is reported that Maharaji complained angrily of learning that one US ashram had handed each of its former residents US$100, with which to start new lives. Any ashram debts were to be paid by the former residents. A few ashram residents got subsistence wage jobs as Rawat's personal servants - valets, cleaners, gardeners and the like. A few others were kept on as administrators, or as instructors (formerly 'initiators' formerly 'mahatmas'). But most began new lives in "the world" - something for which few were psychologically or practically prepared. This was also the time he ordered public (and private) satsang meetings to cease and desist.
This definitely occurred though there is no documentary evidence for Rawat's astonishing volte-face though academics restate the exculpatory story Elan Vital later provided. I can date this accurately though I have never seen any documentation referring to it. I innocently went to satsang in Brisbane one night not knowing there were any changes occurring in Divine Light Mission. The building, which was owned by a rather unusual, hyper and well-liked ashram premie known to his friends as "Ronnie The Rat", was closed and locked. There was a sign on the door. I cannot remember exactly what it said but it stated there would be no satsang there that night - at least. I'd caught the train into town so I thought "Why don't I see a movie?" This was something I had very rarely done in the previous 10 years. I saw a movie titled "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball" which was released in Australia on September 23, 1982. Its unlikely that it was released in Brisbane on the same day as in Sydney but it sets the date to late September or October 1982. It was very funny. Peter Cook and Alexei Sayle were amazing.
Prem Rawat Changes the Way "Knowledge" is "Revealed"
The term 'mahatma' had already been largely replaced with the term 'initiator' - referring to the task of 'initiating' new followers into the meditations that Maharaji calls 'Knowledge' in a ritual called a Knowledge Session. All the 'mahatmas' had been Indian nationals and except for a literal handful these left Rawat and returned to the Indian ashrams, now controlled by the replacement Perfect Master, Satpal Maharaj. Rawat appointed increasing numbers of Americans and Europeans as initiators. The title 'initiator' was then watered down into 'instructor'.
Rawat's closing of the ashrams and other changes had halved the number of Westerners involved in Rawat's knowledge. Without enough funds to maintain full time initiators and with no ashrams to use as their bases Rawat decided he must heve been completely mistaken when he proclaimed that to be an initiator was a full-time job and it could not be done by part-timers. In 1986 he began a series of part-time instructors training conferences in San Antonio, Texas in 1986. These conferences, like all of Rawat's meetings, were mainly Rawat talking and everyone listening. Hundreds of instructors were soon appointed and were on hand for the Rejoice events that began in 1987 and continued up to 1993 in which Rawat taught an altered form of the meditation techniques and tried to restart his following. While these were relatively successful he has never been able to restore his pre-1983 number of followers. The times had changed but Prem Rawat was not suited, personally or physically, for the role of self-help, inspirational speaker and there was no believable explanation for his role as empowered revealer of secret and unique meditation techniques.
Since that time the only recruitment success has been in India where his role as a "Godman" requires no explanation. Even in India which has undergone a staggering Hindu religious revival in the past 50 years he is small-time.
Prem Rawat Updates His Public Persona and Changes His Vocabulary
In 1985 Rawat began to increase his public activities and one could get a better perspective on his talents in his new role as not-The-Lord-Of-The-Universe just a guy-like-you-and-me with this amazing but quite natural power to instruct and train you to the immaculate appreciation of the enjoyment that life is offerins. He had metamorphosed from a dwarfish lump of lard running around ranting, raving, screaming and frothing at the mouth that everyone should surrender to him, worship him and pray to him into a what he obviously believed was a comedic and inspirational raconteur à la Garrison Keillor, Billy Connolly or Robin Williamson and a polymath showing off his enormous and erudite vocabulary as does Stephen Fry. Actually he was shiite but he was preaching to an audience of people who thought he was God … sort of, so it went pretty well.
However there had been a significant improvement in his speeches.
Rejoice 87, 88 & so on: Prem Rawat Gathers His True Believers & Changes "His" Meditation Techniques
The rationale given for the Rejoice 87 series of premie "knowledge reviews" was given as:
The idea for the Rejoice '87 series stemmed from Maharaji's realization that many people were practicing the techniques incorrectly. Some were deviating from the way they were originally instructed, while others were confusing Knowledge With cultural habits learned from early instructors. - In View 87
There were still 9,000 people on the U.K. mailing list left over from the 1970s. Less than 10% donated money during 1986, and only 5% (about 450) were regular contributors. 4,000 British people with Knowledge (PWiKs) attended the first Rejoice Programs in the U.K in July, 1988
The rationale was nonsense. How could Rawat know what thousands of his followers were doing in the dark under a blanket? Furthermore the techniques and instructions were changed, not restated. Rejoice '87 & follow-ups were the most important events of Rawat's career in the 1980's since the major shakeup of 1982. Only half of the people still on the US Elan Vital mailing list attended one of these events. Only these could be considered even fringe members. Losing half of Rawat's followers could have been disastrous but the majority of 1970s premies were not financially positive for DLM. Clearing out the non-tithers and the "bongos" could be good for Rawat's future direction. Only time would tell.
Knowledge reviews have been a regular feature for Rawat's students which is strange considering the techniques are so simple they can be taught to anyone in less than 5 minutes but this was the first one in which Rawat had a direct hand (except for one in 1970) and so far the only one in which the techniques have been altered. I have attended quite a few Knowledge Reviews myself and the one constant was that the actual techniques were always identical.
In July 1989 a "Festival of Knowledge" (Guru Puja dates) - a three-day convention was held in Miami. 9,000 people came from 40 countries, 7,200 from North America and 1,800 from other countries. It was the first international festival in 10 years and set a benchmark for gatherings of Rawat's Western devotees.
Prem Rawat Ordered His Premies To Stop Telling Anyone About the "Knowledge"
In 1987 Rawat decided that none but a handful of his devotees could be trusted to talk about the Knowledge which most of them had been practising for 15 years. This seems to be very strong evidence that the Knowledge, the students and/or Rawat as the Teacher were rubbish. Well the Knowledge and Rawat are pretty rubbish but there was certainly a good reason for the order. Firstly the effects of this practice did not impress many outsiders nor the great majority of people initiated in the 1970s who had gone by the wayside so keeping it mysterious was the best option. Rawat put his followers into a bind. He told them to present themselves honestly and that this would attract new people but they knew it hadn't but hoped it would. It didn't. Secondly The Knowledge and Rawat were now without a credible backstory. Rawat the grown-up Indian boy God, the incarnated Avatar of the Age is incredible but it is a story with a "Secrets of the Mystic East" background that nearly everyone has heard of. Thirdly the premies of the 70s had been socialised to exaggerate, to hype and to embellish, extras Rawat no longer wanted. They were given cards with an instructor's phone number. - North American Convention 1986
The British newsletter, Newline, paraphrased his instructions at a session on "Communicating about Knowledge":
So Maharaji's message was a simple one – don't set yourself up as a spreader of the Knowledge. Just let the experience Knowledge brings work for you in your life. And if someone we know expresses an interest, merely set them on the path towards discovering that experience for themselves by putting them in touch with an instructor.
Thirteen years later in 2000 he apparently decided to end the "stopgap" measure but only for "students" who passed his training session.
"I I like I'm not I'm not really trying to say here what you should say and you shouldn't say I'm trying just bring out some understanding this time around because a long time ago I did say to people "Please don't say anything" and it was really a stop-gap measure and I'm revisiting that whole scene and I'm saying OK it is time to be actively involved and let's have this training and in this training what I'm trying to do is not put words in your mouth but try to give you some understanding so that you will understand there is no necessity to go out and say things that are bfsst"
On January 26, 1988 Rawat held a meeting with a small group of "aspirants." It was reported in the Newsline newsletter:
One of his aims here was to help them (ie his long-term devotees) move forward from any unhelpful ideas and attitudes to a place where they could have more growth and experience. … he talked of the challenge that faced him in grappling with the religion that had grown up alongside all his earlier efforts to spread Knowledge. "I could write a book about it," he said. It might have been easier to let things ride, but he had decided to tackle the religion and fight for a situation whereby Knowledge could be presented free of unnecessary trappings to the people of all cultures.
No doubt Rawat thought he could tell such outright lies because his followers had destroyed all the publications, tapes, records, videos and movies proving the he was the instigator of all the "unhelpful ideas and attitudes" and "unnecessary trappings" he now derides and condemns. Fortunately he was wrong.
The Grass Is Always Greener for Prem Rawat
In this second phase of Prem Rawat's career he was usually very upbeat and openly berating his premies for their shortcomings was no longer part of his spiel. He used a snide way of demeaning his long-term premies, the ones who are still financing him. He regularly spoke of the great number of people wanting Knowledge - people who did not carry the baggage of his long-term devotees, people who unlike the long-term devotees did not bring a lot of "Eastern" baggage with them.
There's a lot of people out there waiting for Knowledge. In fact, the demand for Knowledge has never been as great as it is now. Never. And what's so beautiful is that people are not looking for a religion or a cult. They're looking for something simple and pure. You don't have to go out there and tell people about Knowledge. I know a lot of you think I'm taking something away from you, but I'm not - Birmingham, England, August 17 1986
Q: "Maharaji recently you've been meeting groups of people who want to learn the Knowledge. What type of people are they and what attributes are you looking for in your students?"
A: "Well, these are people who want to know, who want to learn. That's the quality that I'm looking for in them, that their search is real for them and that's the only thing that I look for in people. I don't care who they are if they want to know and then that's a heartfelt feeling that they want to know and if I can convince myself that yes that is a heartfelt feeling not coming from just because they're curious then that interaction goes on further and further till the point that they can receive this Knowledge.
He also implictly criticises his long-term Western and Indian followers by extolling the enthusiam and dedication of people from other areas (and they believe it). Apparently they've forgotten all the times Rawat used the cliché the grass is always greener:
It's always amazing whenever I go to Ecuador. They just let anybody come whether the people have Knowledge or not. One day I was there and those wanting to be instructors were supposed to show up the next morning. And a whole bunch of people showed up who didn't even have Knowledge and they wanted to be instructors. They were serious. They just said, What do we have to do?" There's just a wonderful enthusiasm for it and for that growth. - Newsline