Prem Rawat's "Holy Breath"
"Holy Breath" was a ritual that Prem Rawat, or Guru Maharaj Ji as he called himself before the early 1980's, considered extremely important. Every new person that had been initiated, ie taught Rawat's system of meditation and that he was the incarnation of God on the planet today, was also taught that on the first time they had his formal darshan ie line up and walk past and pranam to him and kiss his feet after they had received Knowledge they should cup their right hand behind their right ear as they approached him. So as you approached his throne during the darshan line (this was usually done in a large group in single file), Rawat would then be able to recognise that this was your first time and make a megaphone-shape with his hand and blow through it at you while make a sweeping right-to-left movement presumably into your cupped right hand and that redirected it into your right ear …
This was an important step - a necessary step - in becoming a premie according to his dogma it meant that the Perfect Master recognised and accepted you as one of his chosen. On February 10, 1979 in San Francisco, Rawat was asked,
"Can I receive Holy Breath when I haven't received Knowledge?"
He replied, "You haven't received Knowledge yet? So first receive Knowledge and you can receive the Holy Breath."
But Rawat (Maharaji) did not want to discuss "Holy Breath" publicly and when he was asked:
"Q: I'm not very clear on Holy Breath. Can you give me some satsang about it?
A: Well, why don't you ask some initiator about it. Okay?"
He did make it plain that it was to be received only once:
"And of course there is going to be a darshan program where everybody will be able to come and do pranam, and have Holy Breath. Premies who haven't had Holy Breath, they will be able to have Holy Breath."
Sometimes he even had special meetings just to give Holy Breath as he said on April 20, 1974 in Los Angeles:
"So dear premies, We have assembled here because I think yesterday I said people who wanted Holy Breath could come today. But really, before we start going and do any satsang, or before I start giving Holy Breath to premies, I think it's really important to understand the purpose, the meaning, of what all this is"
In October 1974 very few Australian premies had seen Rawat in person. "Mahatma" Padarthanand had been the driving force behind attracting new followers in Australia. So in the darshan line Rawat had to constantly give "Holy Breath" as many premies had never had the chance to kiss his feet before. Here we see details of his technique in stop motion images. A series of photos of this magical interaction between the Master and his students with indepth expert commentary is available here.
From another angle more details of this incredible process are revealed. The Master recognises the call of the first-time-foot-kissing-devotee for "Holy Breath." Does the position of the tongue matter? Only The One Being can know. He prepares the Holy Breath trumpet shape of his right hand perfectly pointing at the perfect place and then speeds His Grace on the way with an elegant follow through.
By 1979 he had aged and special lighting made his face appear golden and glowing though he was really just jowly and sweaty with bad skin. Did he know
Prem Rawat removed many of the superficial Indian trappings from his organisations in 1983 when he closed the Divine Light Mission ashrams, ended the nightly satsang meetings his followers held all over the world and renamed Divine Light Mission to Élan Vital. But while his followers were no longer allowed to call him the Lord of the Universe or Guru Maharaj Ji but only Maharaji (ie Great King) he continued with the most controversial ceremonies in secret. This image is from a video filmed at Amaroo, his cult compound near Ipswich in South East Queensland after the year 2000 and shows a young woman in a darshan line there requesting "Holy Breath."
There was considerable confusion about exactly how this should be done so in 1979 the pamphlet giving details of the 3 day festival in the Denver Coliseum (February 23, 24, 25, 1979) gave explicit Do's and Dont's for Holy Breath:
- DO: If you have not received Holy Breath, place your right hand to your right ear AS YOU APPROACH GURU MAHARAJ JI so that he can see that you are asking for it.
- DON'T: Please do not wait until you are right in front of Guru Maharaj Ji to ask for Holy Breath. Place your right hand to your right ear AS YOU APPROACH HIM.
The whole thing could be very confusing. One former premie, Brian S., recounted his experience on the internet in 2012:
What a load of Bullshit Holy breath turned out to be! In the spirit of practical experience as knowledge was purported to be rooted in, this one blew right past me.
Matter of fact, the first time I asked for holy breath I was so sure that he missed me that I went back for a second dose on my next darshan and the next several thereafter until I finally gave up on the ridiculous notion that someone breathing on me was going to empower some sort of eternal magical relationship.
The premies that I shared my extra attempts to trigger some sort of spiritual response were horrified to hear that I violated the unwritten premie code of ethical conduct by taking multiple hits of holy breath. I was told that he would know if was going for the real deal or just a cheap thrill and I would suffer uncertain consequences if I asked for it more than once. Nothing like turning into a rotten vegetable but nonetheless an unpleasant karmic ramification to be reckoned with later.
The standard issue was one holy breath per premie and I had overstepped the protocol and taken advantage of the goob and got more than my fair share of hot air.
I agreed with the possibility that goob could be all knowing notion because after all if he is the lord of the universe he would be omniscient and he would know if I was being inauthentic in my requests and would realize that somehow the procedure failed me the times before. He kept giving me Holy breath each time I asked so I assumed I was being prudent in my intention because if it had worked before he would somehow know this and compassionately refuse my request if I had already received it. What a fairy tale and a good example of magical thinking this concept holy breath is.
If just breathing on people could change lives and destiny, I wonder what impact all of this blowing about would have on humanity besides spreading germs and disease.
The crazy shit I used to believe never ceases to amaze and amuse me now.
In the 1970's before the number of Rawat's followers began to decline there were on a couple of occasions nearly 20,000 people in the darshan line. To speed up the darshan process at the Guru Puja festival in 1974 a double line was trialled. This was not a success as Rawat could not keep up with the Holy Breath as he had to observe 2 lines of people approaching and pose for photos and so he became confused. Picture printed in The Divine Times, Vol 3 Issue 4, October 15, 1974. Published by Shri Hans Publications.
On May 4, 1974 he spoke of a new 4 day long program he wanted to have: "where everybody can receive Holy Breath, can receive Darshan, can receive Knowledge Review, can get rid of the doubts, do a lot of meditation and I mean just a very cool, beautiful, lovely - as they say in English - program. Just a beautiful, just like a premie program and of course Guru Puja is a function where, you know, it's like a really premie's function it's like really a devotee's function so that they can go and worship Guru Maharaj Ji"
From the Lord of the Universe video, scenes of darshan at Millenium 73, named by Rawat as "the most Holy and significant event in human history will take place in America" and probably the biggest public, anti-climactic failure of that year from which his movement never recovered. Prem Rawat, the 16 year old Guru Maharaj Ji and Lord of the Universe, is giving Holy Breath.
People queue past to do pranam in Copenhagen in a mid-70's darshan line. Note photo on left where Maharaji has nearly finished giving Holy Breath to one of his followers .
Holy Breath was not something discussed in public very often but some early Bennington premies spoke of it in an interview in August 1972 in the Bennington Banner of August 8, 1972.
In speaking with the people of Divine Light in Bennington you sometimes get the impression that the whole thing is a put-on and that they realize that.
They tell of a grace-of-breath ceremony where the Maharaj ji quickly blows on the worshipper and then waves him or her aside with the holy words "okay, okay." But in the next moment one of the members tells of his experience with the grace-of-breath ceremony and the ecstatic feelings it caused him to have.