Fund Raising by Prem Rawat (Maharaji)
Fund raising is a necessary part of any cult or New Religious Movement and it has been especially important in Prem Rawat's organisations because of the opulent lifestyle he has demanded since arriving in the West. Donations are encouraged from converts by the use of "spiritual blackmail." As Guru Maharaj Ji was the Lord of the Universe he should live in opulent splendour and all efforts should be made to attract new devotees before it is too late. Once Divine Light Mission was operating successfully the young Rawat took over half the cash flow for his personal use. In the beginning fund raising was as unsophisticated as requesting his followers to give cash rather than their most valued and "spiritually meaningful" possessions in darshan lines. Below are scenes from a DLM film showing Rawat's bodyguard collecting valuables as they are presented to the young Maharaji. By 1973 Rawat was receiving $60,000 per month. In the early days in England wealthy followers were encouraged to accompany Rawat to Harrods to purchase whatever took his fancy. By the 1990's Elan Vital was sending regular reqests for donation to everyone on their mailing list. Here is a sample of those requests.
The evidence of Michael Garson, a former premie who worked in the Denver headquarters during the 'Darby McLean' case revealed that a major method of financing DLM was peer pressure exerted on those young recruits with inheritances. Michael Bergman was the executive accountant for the Divine Light Mission in 1973. He allowed Ken Kelley, a journalist for Ramparts magazine, to inspect the organization's books and interview donors. Most of the donations came from inheritances. In 1972 five premies together gave over $110,000, in early 1973 another three had given $60,000 and DLM was expecting another $200,000 each from 2 premies by July. Scores of new converts had donated gifts of $1,000 to $10,000 and the largest contribution had been $40,000. Sophia Collier also mentions a $350,000 inheritance donated to the Mission in 1974 that allowed (among other things) magazine publication to restart. Ted Patrick, the (in)famous "de-programmer," wrote in his book Let Our Children Go that donations of $50,000 were not uncommon and one woman he was deprogramming had signed over an inheritance of half a million dollars to the cult. Jos Lammers, who in 1976 was an administrator in DLM IHQ (International Headquarters in Denver) related how he saw Rawat touring European Jewellery stores being followed by local premies who were there to pay for his purchases.
Rennie Davis explained that the Mission's success depended wholly on the "incidence of coincidence" and that the fortuitous donations that arrived when necessary could only be construed as proof of divine grace. Jeanne Messer wrote in an article in The New Religious Consciousness that the Mission managed to stay solvent because the number of supporting members increased so rapidly but that this could continue only so long as it expanded. This expansion slowed or ceased in 1974 leaving Bob Mishler and Rick Berman to explain at Guru Puja '74 in Amherst that unless the other 12,000 active members of DLM at that festival began to make regular donations of 10% of their income the 800 ashram premies currently keeping it afloat would go crazy. This message was also the theme of the Divine Times of July 1974. However in an interview in the January 1976 issue of Divine Times magazine Michael Dettmers, then vice-president of Divine Light Mission, explained that only some extremely large donations from a handful of premies had made up the $500,000 shortfall in DLM's 1975 finances. DLM administrators attempted to increase funding through requesting all premies begin tithing, the Active Membership Program or AMP.
On March 31, 1975 a letter of thanks was sent to DLM contibutors. It contained a very upbeat review of the Mission's activities in 1974 and Rawat's Proclamation For 1975. He told a meeting of DLM directors that premies "are spiritually ready and that they can communicate the message of Knowledge more effectively." He prophesised that 1975 will be a year of propagation. He also demanded strong local communities which can serve as propagational centers in each region; a sound financial base within the Mission and satsang, service and meditation for every individual premie while feeding the world through DUO, WWA and Project Love. In November 1973, 15 to 20,000 premies attended Millenium '73 festival in Houston, Texas. In July 1974, 12,000 premies attended the Guru Puja festival in Amherst, Massachsetts but by December 1975, only 9,000 premies attended Hans Jayanti in Orlando, Florida and only 2,500 premies were part of the AMP. None of Maharaji's plans for 1975 eventuated and by the end of 1975 there were only 572 ashram residents left in 24 cities but 1975 was a raging success compared to 1976.
Divine Sales operated under different names but throughout the 1970s and early 1980's continued sales of photos, audio tapes, magazines and even films. These were available through catalogues and were regularly advertised in DLM newsapers and magazines. We have a printout of the fund raising by the Washington DC community in 1975.
As times change so do the form of the fund-raising methods. In the early 1970s funds were raised by spiritual blackmail, demanding all a new converts' worldy goods, especially any inheritances they had received. Inheritances were pretty well the only valuable worldly goods they had to give apart from their free labour As the overwhelming majority of the new devotees were ex-hippies though there were always rumours that DLM had been partly bank-rolled through drug-smuggling. The major secondary method was 'jumbling' - leafletting areas requesting second hand goods for "charity", and then collecting and selling the goods in "Divine Sales" shops and small businesses using free labour. However these methods were inefficient and unsuccessful if there wasn't a natural leader with business smarts to organise them.
In Australia jumbling was so important in 1973 that premies would go jumbling rather than go to satsang: "Jumbling is very selfless service, especially when we have to miss the bliss of Satsang - but then we get the bliss of jumbling." - Divine News, Volume 1, 1973
- Guru Maharaj Ji and the The Divine Light Mission - Jeanne Messer
- New England Peace Sale: For weeks before the rummage sale-festival, the Cape Cod premies and Divine Sales collected jumble from throughout New England and arranged for the premie accomodations (i.e. the National Guard provided the use of large military tents and water tanks) … "Everyone we contacted remembered us from last year and was most enthusiastic to help us" - commented Larry Shea a Cape Cod premie.
- Halifax Jumbling: You know when we get our energies 'together and do service; amazing things happen. Way back in May we started Divine Sales. The fun began - jumping in the van, piling out, and sprinting up and down the hills of Halifax. That's jumbling. A night of leafletting and then one of collecting rummage. That old van sure does get packed full, too! For the weekend sales, there's lots of sorting and setting up. Great quality, quantity, prices, and vibes keep bringing us more and more customers. Makes good sense don't it? It's really fine to see clutter going from homes and basements to be used again. What can't be sold in the store is ragged and used by companies. Recycling in practice! So great to know all the profits are going to a worthwhile cause. Back to the people of this world. Helping us all better conditions. But what 'bout us, the premies and the folks who help us? Blissful service, let me tell you! Working together, meeting our neighbors and spreading the Knowledge. Guru Maharaj Ji's idea to have rummage sales is perfect!
- Lou Schwartz, National Director of DLM: I took Knowledge in London in May of 1972. The first real service I did was Divine Sales. I was travelling around about a month after I took Knowledge when I met a brother named Milky Cole. We started Divine Sales by going down to Portobello Road, the market place in downtown London, at five o'clock in the morning and selling jumble. A little while later, Maharaj Ji called Milky to America and I stayed on to manage Divine Sales. After the premies came back from India in 1972, Milky called and asked me to come to America to join him. I came over and travelled around the country opening up Divine Sales stores. (Only to have Jeff Grossberg come around two months later to close them all.)