Mr Jain has used sections from 2 websites (with permission) to create a chapter in his book. This is that text.
Biography of False Gurus from East to West
Prem Rawat is very rich. He left India in 1971 at the age of thirteen, with no money, no education, and was disowned by his mother three years later. He has never had a paying job, never run a business, and does not own the patents to any successful inventions (contrary to rumors amongst his followers). His money has come from donations from his followers, including inheritances, trust funds, and shares in some very successful businesses. The statements on Elan Vital and Prem Rawat Foundation web sites that he supports himself and his family by independent means, and that he is a successful private investor, are lies. All his money has come from the guru business.
The question is, if Rawat was a fraud, who continued playing the guru after he grew up because he realised he could make a lot of money, he would be behaving exactly like he does. So, if he is genuine, he is deliberately acting like a fraud in order to … what? … test his devotees? … ensure that only the true students will find him?
The fact is, if Rawat was sincere in trying to reach as many people as possible, he would remove all obstacles, especially the appearance that he is obsessed with – material possessions. He could also use his wealth to advertise his message, instead of constantly soliciting funds from his followers to pay for every propagation initiative.
In fact, even when Rawat conducts discourses, the emphasis is on ensuring that he, his family including his mistress are kept in levels of luxury usually reserved for heads of states, all at the expense of the premies.
Fundraising has always been an important activity in Divine Light Mission and Elan Vital. Although 'Knowledge' is free, there is a constant need for cash to maintain expensive properties around the world and the expensive lifestyle of Maharaji and his family. Expenses, which include a US$ 40 million private jet, two helicopters (a Bell 206L and a Bell 430 worth over US$ 4.5 million), a US$ 7 million yacht, a multi-million dollar home in Malibu, a large house and grounds in Surrey, England, land and a home at the Ivorys Rock Conference Centre in Australia, as well as a 'residence' at Fig Tree Pocket (Brisbane suburb) in Queensland, Australia, have been justified by saying they help spread Maharaji's teachings. The ownership of these assets has always been clouded in mystery, but some curious ex-premies have been doing some research.
You know some people don't like rich people. They have this idea or that idea of what it is to be rich. But they really don't know. It's not easy to be rich. It isn't. Once you've made your first million, you need another to protect it. Then you have two million, and you'll need another two million to protect those two million. Then you'll have four million and you'll need another four million to protect those four million, and then you'll have eight million. Of course then you'll need another eight million to protect those eight million and then you'll have sixteen million … it isn't easy, it's not what you think.
Maharaji – Long Beach, December 1995
Prem Rawat's 'Teachings'
Prem Rawat and his followers have developed a jargon in which many English words have a meaning that is different to the norm, and in some cases, its meaning has even changed considerably over the decades. He has never written anything, all his teachings are through speeches, mainly extemperaneous but very repetitive, that he makes from thrones or stages. His teachings are based on those of his father, a guru in a Sant Mat tradition, but his father died when he was eight years old and he has been developing his own teachings for over fifty years. He claims his knowledge is concept-free, that it is an experience beyond words, that is unable to be understood by the mind, only by the heart. He regularly repeats 'concepts' as being products of 'the Mind' and does not seem to realise that his teachings are also concepts. Over the decades, his language has become vaguer and his speeches devoid of data except for morality fables from his own life.
Worship of a Divine Child
Prem Rawat was one of a number of Indian 'gurus' who during the 1960s and early 1970s extend their activities to Europe, the Americas and Australasia. What set Prem Rawat apart from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Sai Baba and Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh (Osho) is that Rawat was just a child when he inherited a ready-made religious vehicle – the Divine Light Mission and was anointed its Satguru.
Prem Rawat was born near Haridwar in northern India in 1957, the youngest of four brothers. His father, Hans Ram Singh Rawat, was a well-known guru who taught a system of four meditation techniques, which he called 'the Knowledge'. These four techniques were claimed to reveal 'divine light', 'divine music', 'the primordial vibration' and 'divine nectar', and were taught in a secret initiation ceremony.
On his father's death in 1966, and following possible discussions and disagreements amongst the Rawat family and Rawat's senior followers (mahatmas), the eight-year-old Prem was given his father's honorific title of Guru Maharaj Ji, and the spirit of the Incarnation of God on earth was believed to have entered him. Prem Rawat then pronounced himself Lord of the Universe.
Prem Rawat inherited a following from his father of reputedly one million devotees, who were known as premies, a term meaning 'giver of love' in Hindi. The overwhelming majority of Rawat's current devotees live in India but even there the numbers are a fraction of what they once were as his eldest brother, Satpal Maharaj, has the loyalty of the majority of his father's devotees as well as the ashrams, mahatmas and the assets. With all the power of Western money and technology, Rawat can still only attract a crowd – a quarter the size of what he was able to do as a homegrown Godboy. Prem Rawat is still known as Guru Maharaj Ji in India, where he continues to promote himself in distinctly religious terms.
At the age of twelve in 1970, Prem Rawat addressed one of the largest rallies ever held anywhere in the world, with contemporary sources claiming that over one million people attended the gathering in Delhi. In front of this vast crowd, Rawat proclaimed his personal divinity and stated that he had come to deliver India from its materialism and rule the world, the speech becoming known as Rawat's 'Peace Bomb'.
In mid 1971, Prem Rawat then aged only thirteen travelled to London, where he was accommodated by several English followers who had been taught the Knowledge techniques of meditation in India. While Rawat was in the United Kingdom, funds were raised to enable Rawat to fly to the United States, which he eventually did before returning home to India. In the Autumn of 1971, American initiates registered an organisation called Divine Light Mission Incorporated (DLM Inc.) as a non-profit Church, listing Guru Maharaj Ji as its chief minister. A separate Divine Light Mission was created in the United Kingdom in 1972 and subsequently other Divine Light Missions were created in Australia, South Africa and Canada, as well as in several European and South American countries. Rawat's senior disciples, saffron-robed 'mahatmas', were sent to support the fledgling missions and a system of ashrams, houses where Rawat's devotees observed a monastic rule, was instigated.
At age fourteen, against his mother's wishes Prem Rawat left India, and in 1972 once again travelled westward where he attracted large numbers of aspiring followers (I mean we're not talking Karbala on Arba'een or the Pope in the Phillipines or the Khumb Mela here). At a single event in Montrose, Colorado, 2,000 people were initiated into the 'Knowledge' and in total in the years 1971 to 1974, between 50,000 and 60,000 people underwent the Knowledge initiation in the United States.
In mid 1973, Prem Rawat stated that his coming November gathering at the Houston Astrodome – Millennium 73 – would be the most holy and significant event in human history. In the end, Millennium 73 attracted only 15,000 of the planned 144,000 attendees. Despite the abysmal failure of Millennium 73, Rawat continued to attract some new followers thanks to energetic propagation by his already committed devotees. There was considerable media interest in the 'teenage guru' though much of it drew sceptical attention to the luxury that was being demanded by the young Rawat.
By 1974, Prem Rawat was living in a hill top property at Malibu Beach, California. This mansion was in the ownership of DLM Inc. although following the financial restructuring of 1975–6, it came to be owned by SEVA Corporation of America. In the same year, at the age of sixteen, Rawat married an airline stewardess from San Diego named Marolyn Johnson. Devotees of Rawat's have always claimed that as a result of this marriage, there was a second family schism. However, Rawat's mother and Indian mahatmas and DLM administrators were explicit that he was denounced, deposed and disinherited because of his 'despicable lifestyle', which include drunkenness, meat-eating, smoking of marihuana and night-clubbing. Rawat refused to answer these accusations when questioned by journalists, but they were later confirmed by a bevy of Rawat's close administrators and aides. The eldest brother, Bal Bhagwan Ji (now known as Satpal Maharaj), after being ceremonially crowned by his mother, was recognised by the majority of Indian premies as the 'true' Guru Maharaji and rightful inheritor of the mantle of the Rawat brothers' late father, Hans Rawat. All but a handful of Divya Sandesh Parishad administrators and mahatmas followed them, and Prem Rawat was left without access to his father's movement.
Although no published figures exist, at some point in the mid 1970s, the number of new followers ceased to grow and the numbers leaving the movement increased. This is undoubtedly why there are no published figures. As James Downton explained, the pool of ex-hippies looking for enlightenment had dried up and there was no longer a large number of people interested in becoming converted and committed to any Eastern New Religious Movement. The source of the disaffection in Divine Light Mission and later Élan Vital is straightforward. Prem Rawat like other 1970s New Religious Movement leaders promised far more than he could deliver and so most people intrigued by what he offered eventually become disillusioned. This is not unusual. In Rawat's case, though there were a series of scandals and poor decisions that exacerbated this trend.
In 1975–6, the relationship between Prem Rawat and the US DLM Inc. was radically altered with consequences for the Divine Light Mission movement worldwide. In response to an impending IRS audit of DLM Inc., considerable assets held by the DLM church were transferred to Rawat's personal possession. Rawat ceased to be named as having any legal interest in the U.S. Divine Light Mission and was no longer listed as its chief minister. The DLM administration in Denver attempted to change its public perception and to downplay the Eastern rituals and Rawat's public status and cut back his spending. A series of workshops begun in December 1975 amongst administrators and the ashram and general members which focused on questioning the individual premie's understanding. Once this began, many premies took stock of their involvement, their beliefs and their 'experience' and left the ashrams for a more normal life, and in many cases, the movement as well.
In 1977, Prem Rawat reasserted his role as Guru, Perfect Master and Divine Incarnation and energetically restated the central importance of devotion to him personally as the prime prerequisite for achieving spiritual progress or living a life that had any real meaning and purpose. As part of this restatement of devotion, the ashram system was reinvigorated after a period of decline. A new, though barely altered, set of rules for ashram living was imposed, though how closely it was complied with was still variable and all of Rawat's followers were subject to stronger encouragement to enter the ashram system and especially to embark on a life in which attending the many Divine Light Mission festivals which were mainly held across the United States and Europe was the chief driving force of their lives. Rawat began a series of regular festivals that first occurred on three week intervals in Portland Oregon, Denver Colorado and Miami Florida. For the next three or four years, committed premies' lives became chaotic and exhausting, and fledgling communities fell apart under the strain.
The DECA project, begun in 1979, was set up to provide Prem Rawat with a customised Boeing 707 for his personal use. As an adjunct to the ashram system, DECA was reliant on unpaid labour and donated funds; the business model that developed within DECA served as the basis for subsequent projects designed to provide personal benefit to Prem Rawat such as the major upgrading of his Malibu home into the Malibu Mahal.
In 1982, without prior warning, Prem Rawat announced that the Divine Light Mission ashrams must close, the abruptness of the announcement was matched by the rapidity of the closure programme which was complete by the end of 1983. This period was marked by a sense of crisis in the wider movement, a reflection of the ongoing difficulties Rawat was experiencing in his personal life. The DUO ashrams in India were treated separately and remain to this day as largely monastic in character under the name Raj Vidya Kender.
With the Divine Light Mission ashrams closed, there were various attempts to recast the Rawat movement as non-religious, and through the 1980s and 1990s, the name Elan Vital progressively replaced that of Divine Light Mission as the title of the various national organisations, with the movement as a whole taking on a corporate veneer. The presentation of Rawat's 'message' was revised dramatically, becoming almost entirely secular, and Rawat began restricting his claims of personal divinity to his appearances in India and to closed meetings for devotees only outside of India. Following this image change, Maharaji, the name under which Rawat was by then being promoted, commenced an annual cycle of world tours visiting major cities to speak at events attended by devotees and newly interested people. A series of ever more expensive jets were purchased for Rawat's sole use, the costs justified on the grounds that the planes were essential to support Rawat's international mission. Rawat had been obsessed with planes and cars since he was a child. The rationale for any organisation to have an executive jet is that the executives can work or rest while travelling without the discomfort and distractions of commercial flight, but Rawat flies the plane himself, thereby having no time for work, and arrives needing rest. The cost/benefit ratio of cost of a personal jet divided by number of new students is extraordinarily high, and as numbers of followers are decreasing, the cost of each new student is astronomical. The cost of gasoline for a flight from Malibu to London (figures from 2008) exceeds US$ 30,000, i.e. thirty to fifty times the cost of a commercial flight. Maybe Rawat is frugal in other areas of his life.
New initiations into the 'Knowledge' continued through the 1980s and 1990s, although the number of new recruits failed to replace the tens of thousands of followers who abandoned Prem Rawat from 1973 onwards. Since the 1990s, the incoming new premies have about balanced the outgoing in the West. No matter how he tries, Rawat cannot come up with a process that will allow him to create 'true believers' that will stay loyal to him. He'd have to be charismatic and to have a 'Knowledge' that 'works' considerably better than the only one he has to achieve that goal. Following the failure of the Millennium '73 festival, Prem Rawat kept a very low public profile and it was not until the arrival of web sites created by critical followers that the names Guru Maharaj Ji and Divine Light Mission once again attracted media attention. Subsequently, Rawat's remaining supporters have provided him with an uncritical presence on the Internet and the corporate presentation of Rawat includes a plethora of web sites offering DVDs and printed materials and attempting to flood the Internet with Rawat propaganda making the truth about him difficult to google.
Denials of Belief
In the late 1990s, annual gatherings in Long Beach, California, attracted up to 8,000 followers from around the world, more recent events (2005) in Florida and California have been attended by less than 2,500. Since 1996, claims of sexual abuse and financial malfeasance have caused a steady stream of followers to part company with Rawat, such that by 2010, outside of India, he retains only a few thousand followers.
Prem Rawat still lives at Malibu. Assets worth over US$ 80 million, including a US$ 60 million GulfStream jet (leased), are available for Prem Rawat's personal use. These are held via a number of administrative companies, including the SEVA Corporation of America. Prem Rawat continues to announce that he can relieve people of their suffering by teaching them four meditation techniques. The name Elan Vital as the marque for organisations which support Prem Rawat is being replaced by names employing the corporate term Words of Peace.
Prem Rawat's speeches are recorded on DVDs and shown around the world at small public venues, as well as being made available to individuals, while increasing use was being made of satellite and cable television programming to give Rawat a larger audience. The Internet now seems to be the focus of Prem Rawat's outreach.
It has been a consistent contention of Prem Rawat and his followers that what Rawat teaches has nothing to do with 'belief' that it is wholly 'experiential'. Despite this claim of 'no belief', prior to initiation, anyone seeking to be taught the Knowledge meditation techniques must adopt many beliefs about Prem Rawat in order to negotiate the 'aspirant' process that Rawat calls 'The Keys'. The Keys are only part of a very comprehensive belief system which exists throughout the Prem Rawat movement, although outside of Prem Rawat's often contradictory speeches, it has no supporting liturgy, prescribed text or publicly acknowledged historical reference but has a large body of concepts that Rawat has repeatedly mentioned in his speeches.
To become a follower of Prem Rawat, it is necessary to hold two incontrovertible beliefs.
- The first belief is that each individual has an 'inner world', which is a source of secret reward. Prem Rawat most frequently refers to this 'inner world' as your heart, by which he means not the emotional centre of a person but rather an ill-defined mystical reality.
- The second belief is that Prem Rawat, uniquely, has the power to take the individual to that 'inner world' and that it is impossible for a person to find their heart unaided by Prem Rawat.
The message contained within these two core beliefs can be summarised as: The essence of your own humanity lies within yourself (the heart) but that you are blocked from touching that heart by the everyday chatter and uncontrolled thoughts and feelings that swirl about inside you. Prem Rawat refers to this chatter as the mind and the doubt maker and often infers a Manichean malignity to it.
To overcome this 'block' to your 'inner world', to be able to find your heart, Prem Rawat prescribes a long process called the Keys (Since 2004, watching seventy hours of videos of him talking, since 2014 less than eight hours). Quite a remarkable improvement in efficiency. There is then a meeting at which the secret techniques are revealed. From then on, there are daily one hour personal and private meditation sessions. He calls this system Knowledge, or Self-Knowledge, and frequent times of 'keeping in touch' either by listening to him speak in person at 'events' or videos of him speaking at these events is needed to keep the inspiration and gratitude flowing. All contact is through the Internet. No personal contact with others following these guidelines is required. The meditation is described under the Four Techniques.
Once an individual has adopted these basic beliefs and lifestyle, they may further adopt a series of consequent beliefs which can be characterised as Rawatism. Predominant amongst the beliefs of Rawatism is the doctrine of 'the master is always needed'. This belief follows from the mind problem where the follower finds that even the Rawat meditation is inadequate to the task of permanently stilling conscious thought and that only listening to the words of the master (Prem Rawat), provides the impetus to reach the peace of one's heart.
Although the religious practices that once supported the Rawat belief system have been excised from public presentation, most, if not all, of Prem Rawat's remaining followers continue to pursue a devotional attachment to Rawat in private, which he now calls gratitude. Organisations which promote Prem Rawat sell 'inspirational' photographs of Prem Rawat as well as recorded music which is 'devotional' in style. The use of pictures of Prem Rawat as 'altar pieces' and the playing of devotional style songs as a liturgy still is a current practice among Rawat's followers. In addition, many followers continue to rely on the 'history' of the transference of 'guruship' to Prem Rawat from his father as an explanation of Prem Rawat's special status.
Prem Rawat's followers maintain that they follow no belief system whatsoever, that theirs is a wholly empirical approach based on the truth of the experience of meditation and, although this is less frequently specified, the experience of Prem Rawat's presence and words. Thus, when asked what do you believe? a Rawat follower may well answer that they do not believe in Prem Rawat or his 'Knowledge' but rather that 'they Know'.
The acquisition of wealth, particularly items of demonstrable value is important to Prem Rawat. In the early days, Rawat's Western followers justified this acquisitive behaviour in two ways – firstly as a 'realised soul' Prem Rawat was above attachment to the 'baubles' of materialism, secondly that as the Lord of the Universe, it was only right that Prem Rawat should have the best of everything. The question of Prem Rawat's personal wealth is currently explained by his followers in terms that he is a 'successful private investor'. The actual sources of Rawat's wealth are threefold:
- Personal donations from a broad follower base in the years 1971–76.
- Personal gifts from wealthy followers, including transfers of substantial business interests.
- A consistent flow of maintenance support provided via the DLM, Elan Vital and latterly Words of Peace Global organisations in respect of Prem Rawat's promotional activities.
From 1971 to the present, raising funds to support Prem Rawat's lifestyle appears to have been a primary objective of the organisations he created. Michael Donner, former National Co-ordinator of the U.S. Divine Light Mission Incorporated, told Good Weekend, an Australian magazine, in September 2002:
'There were special fund-raisers for the extravagant birthday gifts. People flying around collecting bags of cash – often over US$ 100,000 – for a new car or whatever. The use of the organisation to collect and solicit this money was no doubt not too legal'.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Rawat's followers deposited money and gifts such as tape recorders and cameras at the entrance to darshan lines, where Rawat's feet were ritually kissed. According to senior organisers from this era, these efforts frequently saw suitcases of cash transported out of the United States, Australia and other countries, for deposit in Prem Rawat's Swiss bank accounts. The amounts in these transfers were as high as US$ 300,000. And another former organiser has written:
'I was deeply involved in the formation of Elan Vital [Prem Rawat's organisation] in Australia and the Pacific and I was personally aware of the guiding principles behind the formation of EV which were essentially to create an arm's length vehicle for MJ's [Rawat's] work which would support him, his family, his tours, aircraft and anything else he might want and need but in such a way as to allow him maximum legal flexibility and protection … It was well known amongst the higher echelon of premies what EV was all about … You didn't have to be Einstein to work out that everything revolved around supporting MJ's lifestyle at whatever cost'.
Today's climate of stricter governance of non-profit organisations has meant that Prem Rawat's organisations should no longer raise funds to support Rawat's lifestyle. However, the lack of impartial and independent appointees in the administration of the organisations that support Rawat continues to raise apprehension about the potential for the misapplication of funds. In the late 1990s, the majority of the directors of the Australian Elan Vital Incorporated resigned as a result of concerns that Prem Rawat's beneficial ownership of the Amaroo development in Queensland would place the directors at legal risk.
Direct ownership of the high-value assets available for Prem Rawat's exclusive use is achieved via a number of companies controlled by boards of directors comprised of committed followers of Prem Rawat. In the United States, the primary holding vehicle has been SEVA Corporation of America – Corporation and its many subsidiaries are or have been the owners of Rawat's numerous residences, including Anacapa View, Malibu USA, and Swiss House, Reigate, Surrey, United Kingdom, as well as the mega yacht Serenity (Serenity was sold in 2004) plus several helicopters and executive aircrafts. The Gulfstream G550 executive jet – registration number N550PR, which is flown personally by Prem Rawat is 'dry leased' from a bank (the Wilmington Trust) and is operated by 'Prem Rawat and the Priyan Foundation'.
The legal structuring of Prem Rawat's financial interests was conducted by tax lawyer Robert Jacobs, whose was the only non 'premie' name to appear on SEVA documents. From 1975, the legal and financial relationship between Prem Rawat and Divine Light Mission was overseen by Michael Dettmers who split with Rawat in 1987. Subsequently, the name of media lawyer Alvaro Pascotto has appeared on the documents of corporate recipients of funds donated to support Rawat's activities.
Rawat has established a formal network of 'major donors', who fund his lifestyle via bank deposits, by making him (or companies he controls) a shareholder in their businesses. The 'major donors' are invited to special conferences with Rawat and also receive front row seats and premium accommodation at his larger events. At one stage in the late 1990s, the major donors numbered over 400 but the global membership of the major donors group has fallen significantly as a result of both disaffection from Rawat and personal financial loss in the 2008 economic down turn.
Prem Rawat has been gifted shares in a number of businesses and corporations owned by his followers, the two most notable are the U.S.-based Sterling Educational Media and the Deltek Corporation. Sterling Educational Media is the trading name of Amtext an academic book buying business which reportedly underwrote the building of Rawat's US$ 25 million mansion. The founder of the company, Charles Nathan is said to have gifted 100 per cent of the company shares to Rawat. Don Delaski an eccentric accountant and philanthropist who created the Deltek company also gifted shares to Rawat with totals worth US$10 to US$ 20 million dollars transferred to Rawat via a corporate vehicle named the Onae Trust. Onae Trust has the same service address as the SEVA Corporation of America.
Many of Prem Rawat's former premie aides and financial advisors have become disaffected from him; their testimony provides evidence of the assets that Rawat enjoys. These include:
- His home, a US$ 25 million mansion at 31334 Anacapa View Drive, Malibu Beach, California (which replaced an earlier one on the same site). The mansion was re-built (chiefly by premies) in the late 1990s. Rawat controls via the SEVA Corporation nine other land titles in Los Angeles, with total land values of more than US$ 2 million.
- His Australian mansion is on 5 acres at 236 Jesmond Road in the Brisbane suburb of Fig Tree Pocket.
- He also has mansions in Reigate, Surrey (UK), Mauritius and Delhi, and a luxury apartment in South America.
- In 2007, a Gulfstream G550, at US$ 60 million the world's most expensive executive jet. Rawat's G550 is 'dry leased' and requires expenditures exceeding US$ 300,000 a month in leasing and maintenance costs. In 2013, he upgraded to a G650, but in 2015, he downgraded from the G650 back to a G550.
- Numerous luxury vehicles (including a Jaguar with the Californian license plate ENTELECHY).
- A Stemme S10-VT aircraft
- A G103 Twin II glider
- A Bell 206L helicopter
- A 106-foot mega yacht, Serenity, valued at US$ 7 million, but sold in 2004 for something less that $US 4 million.
Prem Rawat has a preference for lavish accommodation. His backstage area at Ivory's Rock Conference Centre (Amaroo) is essentially a two-storey luxury apartment and his campsite there has a 'space age' barbecue which rises hydraulically with an elaborate 'command system'. His toilet in the same campsite has a bank of electronic controls, and in a previously acquired private jet – a 707 in the early 1980s – he had his followers installed a gold toilet.
Behind the Scenes
Prem Rawat lives a life that is at complete variance to the renunciate style that he once recommended for his followers. It is tempting to compare the way that Prem Rawat conducts his life with that of a wealthy and reclusive celebrity; however, Rawat's own self-image suggests something closer to a 'Captain of Industry' – someone for whom the rewards of decision-making brings an entitlement to Rolls-Royces, an executive jet, an ocean going 'mega yacht', a personal chef, a branded watch collection and a mansion on every continent.
Prior to the inception of the Internet, most criticism made of Prem Rawat had come from the mainstream media and centered on Rawat's lifestyle. This criticism began in the early 1970s, when the press drew attention to Prem Rawat's liking for Baskin Robbins ice cream, cowboy boots and luxury cars.
The first 'inside' reports on Prem Rawat's lifestyle came in the year 1979. Bob Mishler, who had been fired as the President of the US Divine Light Mission Incorporated in January 1977 claimed in a radio interview that Prem Rawat had put his (Rawat's) own financial well-being ahead of his mission. His mental and physical health were intimately tied to his materialism and over-eating and the strain of acting out his role even hospitalised him with an ulcer when he was fifteen years old.
And for a few months, we tried to change things, and what it really came down to was that Maharaj Ji was not willing to take the financial risk involved. I had set up a programme to use the tax-free income that he was getting in gifts from the premies to create a programme of investments for him, so that ultimately he could live off his invested capital and no need to have the premies keep making incredible contributions to him – not need to have Divine Light Mission give so much of its money to him to maintain his lifestyle. … The programme never really got off the ground, because he was too worried about it. It meant that he would have to really compromise his lifestyle.
'By the time I left', Mishler said, 'he must have had at least three Mercedes, a couple of Rolls-Royces, and least three or four other luxurious automobiles in the 30 or 40,000 dollar range … Materialism is like a disease with him'.
Mike Finch writes of Rawat's first years in England: I drove him to Harrod's often, which was his favourite destination, and several times we were there all day. He had a fascination for the watches department (Without the Guru). Jos Lammers writes of Rawat's tours of Europe in the mid 1970s:
'He didn't have contact with the premies that welcomed him to their country, but if he went to see the city, which he liked to do, they had to come along. To pay. The watches in Switzerland, I still remember well. One shop after another. Together with the national general secretary I followed the small group that hung around Maharaj ji like a cloud on his tour of the shiny showcases. We didn't see much of him at all. We heard his voice though when he asked a shop assistant to get a watch from behind the bullet-proof glass. When he liked what he saw, Bob Mishler signaled in our direction. Pay. While we were still finishing up doing that, the cloud had already drifted into the next jewelry shop'. – (p. 69 Abandoned Roads)
Mishler also claimed Rawat had a serious drinking problem, an accusation corroborated by many others:
'Rawat drank heavily, to the point that he was stewed every evening. There was more than one occasion where we had to carry him to bed after he had passed out'.
By 1976, Rawat (then still known as Guru Maharaj Ji) had degenerated physically to the point that he was having these fainting spells, and we had had it diagnosed and found out that there was no physical cause for it, it was psychosomatic. It was just obvious that he was living with too much stress. He hated to hear about the premies. I felt that this burden of playing God for people was killing him, as well as being injurious to the premies, and we had agreed essentially to change things.
Mishler's claims had little effect on premies at the time, as few read the newspapers or listened to the radio programmes on which they were aired. Other close followers have confirmed Rawat's greed.
Prior to Mishler's departure from DLM, Canadian Michael Dettmers was appointed his deputy, Dettmer's was summarily sacked by Rawat as Mishler's deputy (despite Rawat having no legal power over DLM employment issues) but immediately given the position of Rawat's personal manager, a post he held until 1987. Dettmer's position as Rawat's 'right hand' brought with it the effective position of Divine Light Mission 'International President', a role previously accorded to Bob Mishler on the basis of his holding the joint positions of US DLM President and Prem Rawat's personal assistant. As the various National Divine Light Missions were separately constituted under differing legal regimes, no legally constituted positions of 'International President' in fact ever existed. Once Mishler had left, the role of President of the US DLM was downgraded, none of the subsequent incumbents ever having organisational primacy over Michael Dettmers.
Mishler died in a helicopter accident in 1979. But in 2002, Dettmers (by then no longer working for Rawat) went public with his recollections of their time together. He supported Mishler's view that Rawat was 'an alcoholic'. When he gets drunk, he stated, he becomes very negative. He becomes abusive in the sense that he verbally trashes certain people. Rawat, Dettmers added, had also been in the habit of smoking pot four or five nights a week. Dettmers arranged with premie women to provide Rawat with sexual favours. The women, he said, were invariably promptly dropped, which resulted in 'upset and confusion'.
According to Dettmers and other close aides from this period such as Michael Donner, North American DLM National Co-ordinator, Prem Rawat's lifestyle was shielded from premies by a system known as X-Rating. 'X-Rated' premies were those 'cleared' to become privy to Rawat's drinking, drug-taking, cigarette-smoking and sexual liaisons. But they were to keep their knowledge of these activities from Rawat's other devotees (most of whom were on low incomes or living monastic lifestyles – and frequently both).
'After a while', Dettmers said, I concluded that there was a strong correlation between his failing mission and the fact that he was slightly inebriated, if not out-and-out drunk, five out of seven days of every week for years on end. After twelve years as his right hand man, Dettmers left Rawat's service in 1987.
Although premies are not generally appraised of the extent of his assets, Rawat has never tried to hide that he lives very well. Most of Rawat's remaining followers believe he more than deserves his lifestyle, indeed some even express gratitude for the opportunity to give him money and gifts, believing the 'Knowledge' he has given them is priceless – something he has told them again and again.
The level of care afforded Prem Rawat by his personal staff, who must always strive to be impeccable, is exceptional and those working in the Rawat residences endeavour to move any object that Rawat might touch as close as possible to where he might be passing, to reduce his levels of exertion. According to a 2002 newspaper article, a team of women regarded as especially trustworthy 'shower and meditate' before scrubbing clean every inch of the backstage area used by Prem Rawat at the Ivory's Rock Conference Centre in Australia when he is in residence there.
The meat for Rawat's Amaroo barbecues comes from a calf chosen by premies as 'the one with the nicest nature' of the herd and is massaged before being slaughtered, to ensure maximum tenderness. The wood for the barbecue is stacked, with excruciating neatness, over several hours – including a heart-shaped hollow in the middle of the pile.
Sources of Criticism
Prem Rawat has been able to ride out media criticism of his lifestyle because the vast majority of his followers have simply not acknowledged it. Over time however a canon of more serious allegations has served to raise doubts, not only about Prem Rawat personally but also about the veracity of his teaching and the validity of the organisations that support him. The most consistent and seemingly unshakeable allegation is that Prem Rawat is a charismatic leader of a harmful cult.
Criticism of Prem Rawat has come from four broad sources:
- Family members of his devotees, who believe their loved ones have been exploited and 'brainwashed'.
- Media. Originally media criticism centered around Rawat's luxurious lifestyle and the attempted murder of an activist by a senior devotee in 1974. Since 2001, the media critique of Prem Rawat has become more comprehensive.
- Cult experts and psychologists, who claim Prem Rawat heads a personality cult.
- Former followers.
The first criticisms of Prem Rawat surfaced almost as soon as he had arrived in the West. Newspapers published stories sceptical of his claims to godhood, pointing to his ostentatious lifestyle and rapid accumulation of assets.
The Millennium '73 event, and its ensuing debts, created media interest which even reached to national magazines such as Newsweek. Following the Millennium fiasco, a mahatma named Fakiranand assisted by an American premie, carried out a near fatal attack on one of Rawat's media critics, a journalist named Pat Halley. ('Mahatmas' were Rawat's senior disciples and were regarded as holy men.) The attack created ugly headlines, as did a mass murder by a premie in Tallahassee, Florida, the following year. Michael Donner was a senior officer of the U.S. Divine Light Mission at the time of the Fakiranand attack. In 2002, he revealed that Prem Rawat, while ostensibly co-operating with the authorities over the Halley attack, had in fact ordered that Fakiranand should leave the United States, before any charges could be brought.
During 1976, Bob Mishler, a founding member of the US Divine Light Mission, and at the time President of the U.S. organisation, attempted to persuade Prem Rawat to devote less energy to accumulating assets and to scale down the personal 'idol worship' (as he described it) that Rawat was insisting upon. Rawat refused, and in January 1977, Mishler (who had often lived under the same roof as Rawat up to that point) was fired and parted company with Rawat and his organisations.
In 1979, Mishler spoke to the media after the Jonestown massacre when newspapers were interested in stories about cults. He claimed that Rawat had undergone a 'tremendous psychological deterioration' since 1971. Whilst the 'Perfect Master' had, he claimed, insisted on a renunciate lifestyle for many of his devotees, he had hidden his own growing opulence, drinking alcohol, anxiety and louche lifestyle. Mishler also drew attention to Rawat's bullying of his family and devotees and made public mention of his drinking:
He himself had tremendous problems of anxiety which he combated with alcohol … Unlike what he advocates, he is not capable of dealing with it by means of meditation. He ends up drinking excessively in order to cope with the stress. It was very sad to see him drinking himself into a stupor day after day.
By early afternoon, on a typical day, he was already drinking. And he drank heavily, not just beer or wine – he drank cognac, and he drank it to the point that he was stewed every evening. There was more than one occasion where we had to pick him up and carry him to bed after he had passed out … He used to have fainting spells sometimes, because his blood pressure would be so high – and he would just black out. Things like this to me were indicative of some deeper problems'.
Mishler was also concerned about the plight of the ashram premies, who were living on the edge of destitution – really out of the result of policies that he [Prem Rawat] dictated. Ashram premies were becoming socially and culturally inept, and the victims of economic exploitation, just because of his gluttonous appetite.
Many people – not everyone, but many people – were becoming less capable as individuals rather than becoming more capable, as we had purported that they would be as a result of realising this Knowledge. There were people who were being essentially psychologically and economically exploited. And I would bring these things to his attention, and he wouldn't want to deal with it. He would put it off for weeks, months – sometimes just not deal with it at all – and he would go and get drunk instead, almost on a daily basis.
Mishler also revealed that Divine Light Mission's religious status (it had been classed as a religion by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service) was used as a cover to garner personal funds and assets for Rawat. These were the charges made by Michael Garson that the DLM had attacked only a few years before:
He has all these material belongings … He would find ways to charge off things that we'd bought – for him – to various Divine Light Mission departments so that they could be hidden within our financial status.
Consumerism is like a disease with him. He no sooner has the object of his desire, whether it's a new Maserati or Rolls Royce or whatever – Aston Martin – he's thinking about the next thing: it's got to be a helicopter, it's got to be a Grumman Gulfstream 2, it's got to be this or that.
Mishler also disclosed that Rawat was sometimes abusive to those around him, including his wife:
'He would just verbally assault her for, like, an hour – and she would be reduced to tears. And it would be terrible, because she really wasn't guilty – of anything. But he would play upon that … that kind of propensity she had to be vulnerable at that level'.
The Mishler claims created a brief flurry of media interest. But Mishler died in a helicopter accident shortly afterwards, and public interest in Prem Rawat died with him. Though there was occasional criticism over the next two decades by the media, church groups and cult observing psychologists, Rawat managed to avoid prolonged scrutiny by keeping a low (indeed virtually non-existent) public profile for twenty years.
Then Came the Internet.
Ex-premie.org was born in 1996, and for the first time, ex-premies were able to rebuild old connections and share their experiences. Information flooded in, beginning with the Mishler media interviews, which an ex-premie patiently transcribed from old audio tapes.
Considerable interest was created in 2001, when Michael Dettmers – Bob Mishler's successor as Prem Rawat's chief assistant – answered questions on an Internet Forum – both confirming and expanding on everything Mishler had claimed. Dettmers added that the 'Perfect Master' had instructed him to procure premie women to provide him with sexual favours. Rawat had quickly abandoned the women, he said, causing 'upset and confusion'.
Dettmers also described the process of X-Rating: where 'inner circle' premies were introduced to Rawat's lifestyle excesses but sworn to keep the information from the mass of premies. He also provided a description of how Rawat, whilst driving had caused the death of a cyclist in Delhi in the mid-1980s, and the subsequent arrangement that an Indian premie – a senior mahatma's house boy – took the blame.
In 2001, Prem Rawat's claim to a spiritual 'lineage' came under scrutiny and its authenticity was brought into doubt. Professor Ron Geaves, a long time devotee of Prem Rawat's confirmed Hans Rawat was part of the Advait Mat lineage from which the Rawat father and sons have sourced elements of their respective claims to spiritual authority in the Sant Mat traditions.
The issue raised on the ex-premie web site which caused Prem Rawat the most difficulty was the emotive subject of child sexual abuse. Mahatma Jagdeo, who had been one of Prem Rawat's closest advisers in the 1970s and 1980s, was claimed to have raped male and female children of premies. Some of the victims spoke out via the ex-premie web forums in 2000 and 2001.
Many of those still following Prem Rawat became deeply disillusioned when it emerged, that despite attempts by victims and their parents to alert Rawat to Jagdeo's paedophilia, Jagdeo had been left in a position of trust. Although Rawat's closest advisors and senior organisational officials were informed of Jagdeo's attacks over many years, Prem Rawat denied all knowledge of the issue prior to it being made public on the Internet. Jagdeo has never been brought to any trial and is apparently living freely in India.
Compounding this difficult phase, Prem Rawat's supporters put up web sites defaming Rawat's critics, characterising them variously as kidnappers, drug dealers and being mentally unstable, the latter being an attack returned to on various Elan Vital web sites in 2004.
In 2001, several Australian followers left Rawat, partly as a result of the 'trainings' that he had overseen at Amaroo and other places. It was reported that the trainings had been emotionally violent and manipulative, and that Rawat had 'descended into violent rages on small provocation'. One of the participants later wrote of his experience:
'I finally grasped that Maharaji thrives on the mixed message: independence/devotion, honesty/secrecy, trust yourself/trust the master. One half of the mixed message empowers and expands, the other half intimidates and reduces; one half provokes love, the other half fears; one half liberates, the other half enslaves. The mixed message thus strategically confuses'.
Critics of Rawat also complain, of his 'exclusive' meditation techniques, that they are available from hundreds of other teachers, and are from books. The unduly harsh treatment meted out to ashram residents when the ashrams were closed in 1982 and 1983 also comes in for criticism, chiefly from those who endured it.
Prem Rawat's personal philosophy has come in for as many attacks as his actions – most notably his belittling of human relationships and his claim to be the only source of real and true love in the world. Many ex-followers believe this undermining of 'normal' relationships has been either a deliberate or perhaps unconscious ploy to bolster his apparent 'personality cult', it certainly adds credence to the views about Rawat's own dysfunctionality. Key to the development of what serves as the Rawat 'cult of personality' are the claims to divinity, which Rawat expressly made in the early part of his career. These claims no longer form part of Rawat's public presentation and the blame for the 'misapprehensions' about Prem Rawat's 'godhood' is placed upon Rawat's first followers, but Prem Rawat has never addressed the issue directly and regularly states that he is in fact a unique person who can empower others in a way only possible if he is divine. He continually gives mixed messages.
The institutional burning of Divine Light Mission's magazines and promotional materials at the end in the early 1980s suggests to some sceptics that the organisation is prone to 'rewriting' its past, and to secrecy. The impression of secrecy was strengthened when darshan (foot-kissing) lines were revived in the late 1990s, but with Rawat instructing that the news be kept from outsiders and media. Elan Vital meetings, workshops and written materials now emphasise the ethic of 'confidentiality', and for the most part, information is now only shared among premies on a 'need to know' basis.
Many ex-premies see the sex and money scandals associated with Prem Rawat as only symptomatic of a larger problem – that of the emotional manipulation of vulnerable people. Most cult observing psychologists class Elan Vital as an 'exploitative cult', alongside Scientology and ISKCON (the Hare Krishna movement).
In one of his 1979 interviews, Bob Mishler said he believed Prem Rawat employed systematic 'thought reform'. He added:
'I don't even think that he is sincerely wrong. I think that he is deliberately deceiving people'.
Prem Rawat's Claim to Spiritual Ascendency.
Although Prem Rawat and his supporting organisations now deny the religious content of Rawat's earlier teaching, there has been no attempt by Rawat to renounce the process of religious ascendancy that saw him titled 'Guru Maharaj Ji'. Indeed without his inheritance of his religious ascendancy, it seems certain that Prem Rawat would have had no ability to create the basis of his success as the teenage 'Perfect Master' of Divine Light Mission and without that devoted following, it is certain that Prem Rawat would have had no success as a secular 'inspirational speaker' of 'Elan Vital' nor as the internationally respected Master of Peace or 'Words of Peace Global' he is trying to become.
Since the age of eight, Prem Rawat has claimed that he can show every human being the peace that you are looking for, within yourself, this peace being accessed via initiation into the practice of 'Knowledge'. In the early years of his 'mission', Prem Rawat employed the system of initiation developed by his father, in which the ritualistic transmission of meditation techniques was carried out by intermediaries who were initially supposed to be advanced 'great souls' called mahatmas, and later referred to as 'initiators', and were chosen from Rawat's most dedicated Western devotees and were believed to have some spiritual cachet and finally called 'instructors' and were no longer expected to have extra spiritual attainments.
Currently, Prem Rawat maintains an exclusive right to show the techniques of meditation and even forbids his followers from talking in any depth about 'Knowledge'. To learn about the meditation, interested people are instructed to watch videos of Prem Rawat speaking. The system is one in which there is a single teacher, Prem Rawat, and all others are students, to whom Prem Rawat ministers in didactic fashion.
The Perfect Master: An Ideology
By what authority does Prem Rawat claim qualification as a 'teacher', why is he the sole source of 'learning' and what special understanding did he possess at age eight that entitled him to embark upon the role of 'Guru'?
When Prem Rawat was eight years old, his father, self-proclaimed 'Perfect Master' Hans Ram Singh Rawat, known as Shri Hans Ji Maharaj, died. Despite general expectations that the eldest Rawat son, Bal Bhagwan Ji, would become the new master and despite much debate within the Rawat family and the senior followers of Shri Hans, the mantle of 'Perfect Master' or 'Satguru' was passed by some process of agreement to the youngest son, Prem Pal Singh Rawat then known as Balyogeshwar (born king of the yogis) or Sant Ji in the family circle.
Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s followers of the then Guru Maharaj Ji, were taught that there is always a Perfect Master walking the Earth. This perfect master is supposed to possess some special powers and is even considered to be God in human form. The reason for the perfect master's presence on earth is to reveal the sacred 'Knowledge' to human kind and thus offer salvation from a presupposed human condition of suffering, a condition often believed to exist by the young. Furthermore, all the past perfect masters are alive now and all their powers are united in the one person and power, Prem Rawat and a new world is coming:
'Jesus is living now, Ram is living now, Krishna is living now, Buddha is living now, but they all have been united. All their powers have been united into one very, very, very, very powerful power. And when this power spreads its hand, you know, something is going to happen. All the things that are going on wrong in this world are going to be abolished'. – The Sayings of Guru Maharaj Ji
Prem Rawat as Guru Maharaj Ji was claimed to be the perfect master of the time. Prem Rawat explicitly taught in his perfect master ideology that such great religious leaders and icons as Jesus Christ, Krishna and Buddha were also perfect masters and each in their own time revealed the same 'Knowledge' as that taught by Prem Rawat. From this point of view, the Perfect Master and his 'Knowledge' are considered in themselves not to be a religion but rather the source of and inspiration for all true religion.
Amongst the followers of Prem Rawat, the ideology was further developed to incorporate a critique of established religions which were judged as mere 'beliefs', lacking the one true motivating spiritual 'experience':
- that it is possible to 'know God' rather than just believe in God
- that belief is inferior to experience
- that religion is merely concerned with belief
These propositions provide the rationale behind Prem Rawat's much repeated claim that he teaches an experience and not a set of beliefs or a religion.
Once these filters of ideology and proposition are made explicit, it becomes easier to understand how Prem Rawat holds such complete control over all aspects of his teachings, the meditation and the organisations that support him.
Although Prem Rawat has publicly distanced himself from the perfect master ideology, understanding that ideology and the contexts in which it was previously presented is essential to answering the questions about Prem Rawat's qualification as a 'teacher', why is he the sole source of 'learning' and what special understanding he possessed on his assumption of the mantle of Satguru?
The perfect master ideology is by no means exclusively a Prem Rawat conception, it is common to many Indian belief systems and to New Age style beliefs in the West and was given some intellectual credibility by Aldous Huxley in his book The Perennial Philosophy. It is essentially a syncretic, and by allusion at least, mystical concept. The powers of the perfect master are rarely specified and although the 'living master' may be ascribed many fantastical qualities the process of transmission of his 'teaching' always remains vague. In this respect, Prem Rawat's story is typical of other perfect master ideologies.
To understand how the perfect master ideology provided Prem Rawat with his initial qualification as a teacher and how it continues to provide him with the authority to lead his followers it is useful to begin by asking, 'What exactly happened to Rawat at age eight when his father died? For instance, did some magical or divine power enter his body?' A belief that this was literally true was widely held by both Indian and Western followers in the 1970s, and Prem Rawat did nothing to dispel this belief. In fact, he told and retold a well-rehearsed story detailing the process and providing unusual and supernatural details including receiving instructions from the resurrected body of his father. A further compounding of the view of Prem Rawat's specialness is that the 'Knowledge' was considered to be intrinsically bound with Prem Rawat's person. He insisted upon this throughout his career.
This is the Knowledge that Jesus Christ gave, that Guru Nanak gave, that Krishna gave, that Ram gave, that Mohammed gave. And I am giving it. Supreme Knowledge. It is sacred. Top sacred! And it dwells within all of us. All human beings. And we are unable to know it without the help of the true master. – Prem Rawat, 11 August 1971
Because without Guru Maharaj Ji's Grace, you cannot understand Knowledge. – Prem Rawat, 7 January 1978
'you can experience the joy that is inside of you. And that transformation is not possible without Knowledge, and Knowledge is not possible without the Master'. – Prem Rawat, Long Beach, 5 December 1997
Whatever actually happened to Prem Rawat following his father's death, from the perspective of his followers and especially in relation to the authority that Prem Rawat holds over them, it is enough to note that many believed, and indeed many still believe, that Prem Rawat was divinely incarnated, manifested, and he is the embodiment of the formless Creator in a human form.
Krishna and Hinduism: An Abiding Reference
With the inception in 2002 of The Prem Rawat Foundation web site as the primary presentation of Prem Rawat's public image, the grounds seem to have been set for a total break with past imagery and Prem Rawat's transformation from Guru to 'inspirational speaker' made complete. However, Prem Rawat the 'inspirational teacher' continues to make reference in his speeches to supposed past perfect masters, the Hindu demigod Krishna and the Sant Mat Master Kabir.
The story of Krishna appears in an ancient scripture called the Bhagavad Gita, which is held by many to be the most sacred of Hindu religious writings. Within this scripture, Krishna reveals himself as the almighty creator of the universe, thus Krishna is characterised as an Avatar, a representation of God in human form. In the light of Prem Rawat's contention that he is not concerned with religion, the choice of Krishna and Hindu scripture as points of reference seems somewhat surprising, particularly given that the story of Krishna reintroduces the perfect master ideology. Even more contentious is the fact that in his earlier explicitly religious phase as Guru Maharaj Ji, Prem Rawat frequently dressed in a stylised Krishna costume while celebrating Hindu festivals with his followers.
Prem Rawat's consistent return to Hindu imagery begs a number of questions: Is Prem Rawat suggesting that Krishna really existed? Is he, as he sometime seems to be, comparing himself with Krishna? Is this a surreptitious attempt to introduce a religious theme where to be explicit has been deemed not 'business savvy'? It is difficult not to conclude that Prem Rawat is making an unequivocal link between himself as a revealer of 'Knowledge' and Krishna who reveals himself to be 'God'. Prem Rawat's desire to make this link should not be a surprise, it was explicit in the earlier and more successful days of his 'mission' and to reassert his 'lineage' would certainly serve to maintain his position as absolute and unquestioned spiritual leader of his remaining followers and the effective head of the organisations that support him.
A Tradition Is Passed On
Prem Rawat is a child of post-Imperial rule India, he was born in 1957, just ten years after independence from Britain. His schooling was in the English style and while his father pursued the very Indian career of 'religious teacher', the aspirations of the Rawat family seem to have been strongly informed by middle class Anglo/Indian attitudes. Prem was not only his father's favourite son, he was also a favourite of his father's followers and crucially of certain senior mahatmas. The conferring of his father's 'guru' mantle onto the eight-year-old Prem in 1966 was as much a political decision within the Divine Light Mission as it was a religious consequence.
Prem Rawat's work and mission were inherited in 1966 from his father, Shri Hans Ji Maharaj.
Hans Rawat began his career as a guru in the 1920s, in what is now Pakistan and began preaching in Delhi in 1930. Hans Rawat rejected India's caste system, and India's Brahmins (the priestly caste) tended to ignore him, as did Western-educated Indians. Hans Rawat placed great emphasis on the experience of the 'Knowledge' meditation techniques and little on rituals or learning. His devotees were chiefly from the urban middle classes.
Like his son after him, Hans Rawat laid down the three daily aspects of a devotee's life: satsang (sessions where premies gathered to talk of their experiences of 'Knowledge' and their devotion to their master), service (selfless voluntary work for the master), and meditation (upon the four techniques of 'Knowledge'). A fourth aspect – darshan, or seeing the master – was an occasional 'extra' and highly prized.
Hans Rawat established his promotional organisation, Divine Light Mission, in India in 1960. After a career lasting more than three decades, Hans Ji died in 1966.
According to former US Divine Light Mission President, Bob Mishler, Hans Rawat's widow had wanted her eldest son (now known as Satpal Maharaj) to inherit her husband's mantle. However, Mishler says, a group of mahatmas (senior devotees) loyal to Prem, her youngest son, crowned and enthroned him in the midst of discussions – thus pre-empting any decision by the family.
Prem Rawat claims to have been nominated by his father as his successor, by means of a letter written shortly before Hans Rawat's death, although this document has never been produced.
Claims that Hans Rawat bequeathed six million devotees to Prem have never been verified and in any event, the Indian adherents of both Hans and Prem Rawat should not be seen as an homogenous group, nor even as followers of a single teaching. Hans Rawat may have been the favourite guru of many Indian citizens but other traditions and practices, both local and regional in character, are likely to have informed their spiritual and philosophical outlook. In contrast, the Western Mission of Prem Rawat was defined by its character of exclusive attachment to its master.
Prem Rawat inherited the role of 'Perfect Master' at the age of eight. It was very much a part-time role for five years or so, whilst he pursued his schooling, at the Catholic St Joseph's Academy in Dehra Dun, now the capital of Uttarakhand state.
By 1969, several Westerners had visited Prem Rawat at Prem Nagar Ashram in Haridwar and had been taught the 'Knowledge' meditation techniques. In October of that year, a senior disciple, Mahatma Gurucharnanand, was sent to London to proselytise amongst the Indian expatriate community.
In 1970, Rawat, at the age of thirteen, held a massive public event he called the 'Peace Bomb' at India Gate, Delhi. A million people attended. This programme marked the peak of his popularity.
The Young Guru Maharaj Ji goes West
In 1971, some six months before his fourteenth birthday, Prem Rawat (Guru Maharaj Ji) travelled to England in the company of Mahatma Gurucharanand, ostensibly to follow up on Gurucharanand's earlier evangelism amongst Hindus in London. Supported by a few 'hippie' followers, Rawat gained some exposure within disaffected youth. Buoyed by this success Rawat applied for and was granted a visa to visit the United States after much waiting round in the US Consulate by Rawat, Bihari Singh and Mike Finch, who handled the bureaucratic badgering. Within months, further young refugees from the dying hippie movement had been recruited and a Divine Light Mission organisation able to widely promote Rawat was in existence. What followed was three years of considerable expansion of the promotion of Prem Rawat and his Western Divine Light Mission.
Prem Rawat (then known as Guru Maharaj Ji) first visited the West, to the surprise of a tiny band of Western followers, during his school holidays in June 1971. After a month in London, he went to the US west coast.
At the end of 1971, an organisation called Divine Light Mission Incorporated was registered in the United States as a non-profit Church, with Guru Maharaj Ji listed as its chief minister. A separate Divine Light Mission was created as a charity in the United Kingdom in 1972 and subsequently other Divine Light missions were created in Australia, South Africa and Canada, as well as in several European and South American countries. Rawat's senior Indian disciples – saffron-robed 'mahatmas' – were sent to support the fledgling organisations and a system of ashrams (houses where Rawat's devotees followed a monastic rule) was instigated.
At age fourteen, against his mother's wishes, Guru Maharaj Ji left school and in 1972, once again travelled westward where he attracted an increasing number of followers. At a single event in Montrose Colorado, 2,000 people were initiated into the 'Knowledge', according to Divine Light Mission statements at that time. The exact number of new followers during this period is unknown, although by 1975 the US DLM was claiming over 50,000 initiates.
His mother, Mata Ji, as she was known, and her three older sons known as the Holy Family duly followed Prem Rawat to the West. Within the evolving quasi hippified Hindu belief system of the Western Divine Light Mission Prem Rawat's brothers were considered incarnations of the three aspects of the supreme Hindu deity, while Prem embodied the whole though this was hardly a system developed with Jesuit rigour.
Amongst some premies, the eldest brother, Bal Bhagwan Ji (now known as Satpal Maharaj) was supposedly Vishnu, the 'operator' of the Universe. He was also claimed to be Jesus Christ. The second brother, Raja Ji, was supposedly Brahma, the 'creator' – as well as being the 'king of the world'. And the third, Bhole Ji, was meant to be Shiva, the 'destroyer'.
Guru Maharaj Ji himself was considered to be the Satguru or Perfect Master of the time. According to the Divine Light Mission belief system, there is always a perfect master who comes to Earth to reveal the 'Knowledge of all knowledges'. Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, and Rama were all claimed to be have been perfect masters, as was Prem Rawat's father, Hans Rawat and his guru, Swarupanand as well.
By the end of 1972, there were 45 Divine Light Mission centres across the United States catering to a claimed 15,000 members. The national headquarters was in Denver, Colorado. Growth was very fast. Early the following year, one author noted:
The way Maharaj Ji's converts kept multiplying was almost unbelievable. By spring of 1973, there were 480 Divine Light Centres around the world and in every continent. The US membership had now grown to 35,000. By the end of the year, US membership had increased to 50,000. Similar patterns were observed around the West. – Those Curious New Cults in the 1980s by William J. Petersen, pp. 149–150.
In 1974, Guru Maharaj Ji, then aged sixteen, was living in a luxury property, at Malibu Beach, California, and in May 1974, he married twenty-five-year-old Marolyn Johnson, an American airline stewardess and a premie after conducting an affair known only to his inner circle. His new secret lifestyle included meat-eating and drunkenness. The marriage was very much against the wishes of Prem Rawat's mother and eldest brother, and his new lifestyle was unacceptable to his family and Indian DLM administrators and mahatmas who believed he had been corrupted by his inner circle of Western devotees. Professor Tandon and Mata Ji even tried 'to rescue and free him' with the help of the Malibu police on the night of 23 November 1974. Donner, Dettmers and Mishler were at the centre of deceiving the premies about Rawat's lifestyle while his mother and his deceased father's senior devotees were telling the truth as the trio acknowledged years later. The dispute culminated in Mata Ji and two of Rawat's brothers and the Indian DLM administrators and mahatmas disinheriting him and deposing him as Satguru. In India, Mata Ji crowned Bal Bhagwan Ji (Satpal Maharaj) as the new 'Guru Maharaj Ji' leaving him the option of repenting and returning to the family but not as Satguru.
Virtually, all of the Indian premies went with Mata Ji and Bal Bhagwan Ji (who, after a protracted court case, won control of the name and property of Divine Light Mission in India). Outside of India, the split had little effect: premies wrote it off as a Prem Rawat lila – literally 'game of God', something which was beyond their mortal understanding.
Rawat renamed his wife Durga Ji, after an Indian goddess, and premies were told to call her 'Mom' and embarrassingly, many did. Over the next few years, four children were born to Prem and Marolyn Rawat – two boys and two girls.
From the early to mid-1970s period, Rawat had a high public profile. There was some praise – he received the keys to several U.S. cities though this is a meaningless honour and one such ceremony caused a lot of damaging media when an anarchist threw a shaving cream pie in Rawat's face and some high-status premies then tried to beat him to death with a hammer. Rawat was invited to speak to an extreme right wing lobby group at a bi-centenary dinner – hardly a high point on his resumé. The overwhelming numbers of media stories were highly critical. There were mostly sceptical articles in the press (especially the alternative press), and some well-publicised cases where premies were kidnappedy and 'deprogrammed' by distraught parents.
A sizeable minority of premies throughout North and South America, Europe, Africa and Australia moved into ashrams (group homes where a monastic rule was followed) and forswore drugs, alcohol, sex, 'idle talk or gossip', relationships and money. These rules were not always obeyed to the letter. Although many former residents today believe the ashrams deprived them of a normal youth, some others acknowledge that they did at least remove them from the era's drug culture though leaving the drug culture was a normal progression in non-DLM young people of the times. In fact, according to Rawat himself, the rules were hardly ever observed:
Because I know, quite well that ashram rules, ashram guidelines, are really not being followed – that is an understatement. People are doing whatever they want to, you know. They go out; people go out, maybe get drunk. That is the time they should be sitting down and doing meditation. They come home to the ashram, they're zonked, and then they get up in the morning and say, 'Guru Maharaj Ji, I'm confused' – The Frankfurt Conference November 1976.
In this period of furious activity for Prem Rawat's devotees, numerous sub-organisations came and went:
The World Peace Corps (WPC), begun in the West in 1972 and run by Rawat's brother Raja Ji, built stages for Rawat's programmes, painted newly rented ashrams and formed security teams for Rawat's protection. In London, the WPC bugged what it considered rival power bases within the Divine Light Mission and even undertook marching drills, taking on a decidedly paramilitary character. The WPC eventually drifted out of existence, although its culture of self-importance and propensity for intimidation was transmitted to the personal security team that became attached to Prem Rawat.
In 1973, Rawat announced the creation of Divine United Organization. This was supposedly a worldwide philanthropy project that would feed the world. Rawat's DUO Proclamation was as grandiose, as his acompanying speech was confused and incoherent.
Whereas, Knowledge of the aim of human life is being revealed to all people of the world by the living perfect master and spiritual head of Divine Light Mission, Paramhans Satgurudev Shri Sant Ji Maharaji, thus eliminating the cause of ignorance and misery. Therefore, the people who have experienced the Knowledge of Shri Santji Maharaj, with full awareness of the difficulties of living without knowing the aim of human life, are compelled to reach out to the rest of the struggling humanity to spread the solution to strife and suffering by a commitment to work in all fields of endeavour for the elevation of humanity, manifesting an exemplary alternative to be known as the Divine United Organization or DUO.
Numerous small companies did adopt the DUO name although few had any legal relationship to each other. Most existed only on paper or ceased to trade within a few years. DUO was the name of Prem Rawat's Delhi base, which he managed to retain control of in the feud with his brother Sat Pal. The Indian DUO has recently (2005) been renamed Raj Vidya Kender.
The World Welfare Association was supposedly founded to bring practical, charitable relief to the underprivileged – though it, too, quickly overreached itself and folded.
These various projects were funded by tithing through the 'Active Membership Programme' (AMP), through the collected wages of the ashram premies and through various business ventures such as 'Divine Sales', which sold second-hand goods collected door-to-door. Special cash collections raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for gifts to Rawat, such as a new Aston Martin car in 1976, and later the first of his many jets. 'Darshan lines' – a ritual where premies queued to kiss Rawat's feet and deposit a gift of cash or goods – also raised large sums.
Following the legal changes which saw Prem Rawat gain control of substantial personal wealth, in 1977 he embarked on a reassertion of his role as Guru, restating the importance of devotion to the 'Master' in the Hindu Bhakti tradition. As part of this restatement of devotion, the ashram system was reinvigorated after a period of decline; the restrictive life in an ashram was codified in the 'Ashram Manual' which required that members must 'observe a vow of poverty … personally possessing nothing'. All of Rawat's followers, even those with family commitments, were subject to stronger encouragement to enter the ashram system.
In 1979, the acquisition and customisation of a Boeing 707 for Prem Rawat's exclusive use became a dominant drive within the then Divine Light Mission. A 1961 vintage aircraft was acquired for US$ 1 million from an American Football Team. A business operation called the DECA Project based in Florida was set up with ashram residents drafted into all aspects of work on the plane itself as well as project management, most significantly – fund raising.
Like other expansive projects undertaken by Rawat's followers, DECA had no beneficial impact on the Rawat movement or its participants; however, DECA did provide a model for income generation, which was free of the costs and other considerations of the ashram system. Although dependant on the ashrams for its existence, DECA, or at least the funding expertise that it generated, can be seen as the development which allowed Rawat to dissolve the ashram system in 1982 and 1983 and to still maintain an income flow to his organisations.
Within the DECA facility, a range of activities took place that were focused on Prem Guru Maharaj Ji's interests – servicing of his Rolls Royces was undertaken there. The financial structure seems to have lacked commonly expected controls, and there have been accusations of inadequate and illegal work practices. Work on the Boeing 707 was completed in 1980 but the plane was only briefly used by Guru Maharaj Ji before being sold to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who had it flown to Malaysia where it rapidly fell into disuse because its emissions exceeded legal limits.
The DECA business sought development as a corporate jet customisation operation but proved unviable and was soon sold, being renamed Aircraft Modular Products (AMP). Some of Prem Rawat's followers gained employment with AMP but the company had no other links with Rawat or his organisations. AMP prospered and was sold for over US$ 100 million in 1998 by its then owner Roger Koch who had begun work as an unpaid premie volunteer in DECA in 1978. Roger made a US$ 5.5 million donation to Rawat in 2008 (though he was never informed how it was spent) and this gave him Major Donor status and the chance to get to know the Rawats better. In 2011, he apostatised and wrote a highly entertaining story of his journey.
It is unclear what happened to the receipts from the sale of the Boeing 707 and the DECA business. There appears to have been a chronic incapacity within Divine Light Mission to protect either its interests as a charity or the interests of those who voluntarily assisted it. Numerous business operations started by Prem Rawat's followers seem to have become absorbed into a quasi-corporate structure ostensibly to the benefit of Divine Light Mission, only to be 'demerged' to the sole benefit of subsequent owners.
Those individuals who achieved ownership of businesses started under the aegis of Divine Light Mission frequently retained close personal contact with Prem Rawat, and Rawat appears to have benefited financially from those contacts.
Maharaji and Elan Vital, the 1980s Image Makeover
The many contradictions of the Western Divine Light Mission inevitably led to conflict not only for the organisation but also for its adolescent 'leader'. As Prem Rawat grew to adulthood, he looked to fashion an image for himself and the mission that was more to his liking. The religious aspects of the early days became an encumbrance for Rawat and he sought the creation of an organisation that could deliver him as the 'branded' product. Spiritual teacher Guru Maharaj Ji became Maharaji 'humanitarian giver of a practical way to peace', this image served Rawat from the late 1970s through to the early 1990s when the 'inspirational speaker' label was subtly introduced.
Although it exists to this day in India as part of the Raj Vidya Kender organisation, at Maharaji's (Prem Rawat's) instruction the Divine Light Mission ashram structure in Western countries was dissolved during 1982 and 1983. According to former DLM administrators, Maharaji was becoming concerned about the financial liabilities that loomed as ashram residents aged, became unemployed and required increasing medical and dental care.
The closures caused considerable dislocation to many ashram premies, who had abandoned university, employment training and families to serve Prem Rawat. In one address, Maharaji complained angrily of learning that a U.S. ashram had handed each of its former residents US$ 100, with which to start new lives. 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 which few were psychologically or practically prepared.
During the 1980s, Maharaji effected other transitions. The term mahatma had already been largely replaced with the term 'initiator' – referring to the task of 'initiating' new followers into the meditational practice that Maharaji calls 'Knowledge' in a ritualised Knowledge Session. All the 'mahatmas' had been Indian nationals except one British national, Mahatma Param Saphlanand but except for a handful these left Rawat and returned to the more familiar environment of 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 dropped in favour of 'instructor'.
The closing of the ashrams and the other changes Rawat had made 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 conference 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 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.
In late 1980s and early 1990s, Maharaji to and froed with part-time and full-time initiators and no initiators, hiring and firing initiators at will. He had taken over the teaching of the meditation techniques exclusively. In 2000, he introduced his computer-based presentation of the techniques of Knowledge. It soon began to be used to teach the Knowledge techniques to new students. Rawat has always appeared to believe that only he has the charisma and skills and power to spread the Knowledge, he or a machine. Sometimes he tells his followers they are unnecessary and even a problem, other times he says the opposite. But in the end, he has an insatiable need for money so the fund-raising always has to continue.
Now there can be a happy culmination of both by merely having an instructor's phone number on a card that you can give to an interested person.
So then came a time when I said 'Please you know do me a favour don't say anything just pass on a video or something'.
'When it is my ball, why do I need you?' But I'm saying I need that support and I need that help'.
'I'll tell you this story that happened with Shri Maharaj Ji'. There were a few premies, and they said, 'Maharaj Ji, you cannot function without us', you know, 'we helped you a lot'. And he said, 'Oh yeah? That's what you think? I'll tell you', he says, 'all of you stay here, and let me go out'. – And It Is Divine, Volume 2, Issue 5
'From the time of Shri Maharaji whether he was sitting by his instructors, whether he's giving an event, it always took a team, it took a team effort to do it so let's not con ourselves into thinking it doesn't take a team'.
Although the name continued to be attached to a United Kingdom-based charity until 1995, from the early 1980s onwards, the various nationally based Divine Light Missions were progressively renamed as Elan Vital. Prem Rawat said the name Elan Vital had been given to him by his father, in a dream. In addition to changing the name of the organisation, Prem Rawat ceased to use the name 'Guru Maharaj Ji' and instead had himself styled 'Maharaji'. Westerners hearing this term for the first time would quickly relate it to 'Maharaja' but would not realise that Maharaji himself translates it as the Ultimate Ruler, which certainly shows what he thinks of himself or what he aspires to.
Maharaji also instigated changes both to the presentation of his message and to his relationship to his followers. Whilst teaching that devotion was the path to a joyful, fulfilled life, he now publicly denied that he personally was divine, blaming the mahatmas for introducing this 'misunderstanding' in the 1970s. Around the world, the nightly gatherings, called satsang, at which premies described their experiences and sang devotional songs were abolished. Thereafter, premies only gathered at events attended by Rawat or to watch videos of Prem Rawat speaking. Premies were instructed to hand in their 'devotional' magazines, books and tapes, which were then destroyed.
Maharaji's views about premies' lifestyles remained unchanged despite the abolition of the ashrams. In an interview, Rawat's personal assistant, Michael Dettmers, said:
Dettmers: Even as late as '85 he was still very strict about being vegetarian and abstaining from sex. He was very strict about that and absolutely believed in it.
Interviewer: But didn't follow any of that himself?
Dettmers: Oh no, of course not.
Michael Dettmers replaced the departing Bob Mishler in 1976 and had become Maharaji's personal assistant and Rawat's voice to the wider Divine Light Mission/Elan Vital. Dettmers managed Rawat's assets, personal affairs and 'presentation to the world' from 1975 till 1987. More than anyone else, Dettmers has provided detailed testimony of what Prem Rawat is really like.
Although unknown to all but a select few 'inner circle X-rated' followers, Prem Rawat was drinking and smoking cigarettes and marihuana regularly in private and by 1985 with an 'open marriage'. On an Internet forum on 17 December 2000, Dettmers wrote:
He told me that there was a particular premie woman he had in mind, and he asked me to arrange that they meet, which I did. Soon, thereafter, he asked me to arrange a meeting with another woman. In the meantime, the first person was left high and dry wondering what was going on. He cut off communication with her, and her only recourse was to contact me …
After three such incidents, I told him that his reckless behaviour was backfiring, and that I did not have the time to take care of the negative consequences it produced. He responded by agreeing that I had more important things to handle for him than procuring women, and that he would now take care of that task himself – meaning that he simply delegated the task to someone who was more amenable to it. He continued to have numerous 'affairs' of which I am aware'.
Roger Koch reported that his final disillusionment came closer when he heard about the sexual conquest of an old acquaintance by Mr Rawat. The idea that Rawat could seduce anyone who wasn't a devoted premie is so ludicrous as to not require any thought.
Gail Benton, an instructor, had witnessed Maharaji's drinking, smoking and the fact that he had a mistress and never disclosed any of it to anyone. She drew the line over his drug taking and getting his aides to procure premie women for sex. She thought that the Lord Incarnate who is giving the Knowledge of all knowledges to transcend worldly attachment shouldn't be doing such things. Most people would have thought the drinking, smoking and mistress were enough.
Until their closure, the Divine Light Mission ashrams had served as local centres for promoting Prem Rawat. There appears to have been no planned replacement for this promotion function and on an ad hoc basis, promotion devolved to small national offices of Elan Vital. Until Prem Rawat claimed the role exclusively for himself or at least a video of himself, instructors (most of whom were only part-time) revealed the four meditation techniques (the 'Knowledge') to small numbers of 'aspirants'.
Instructors were also now the only people authorised to speak publicly about Maharaji and his teachings. This ruling was soon applied even to private conversations: Rawat instructed that premies should not tell new people about him or the 'Knowledge' – but instead 'take them to a video event'. These 'video events', held in small local halls with no or minimal 'low key' advertising – which began in the mid-1980s – were still the staple for 'coming together' and 'propagation' for twenty years but have been progressively superseded by the Internet.
One of Maharaji's senior instructors in this period was Jagdeo, one of the original mahatmas from India, who conducted special 'children's satsangs' throughout the West. Several premie children of this era (now grown) attest that Jagdeo raped or otherwise sexually abused them. Their parents have stated that they sent word to Rawat of the abuse and were ignored. Jagdeo's misdeeds against children were fairly well-known within senior Elan Vital circles at the time. Prem Rawat's critics believe it is difficult to credit his claim that he knew nothing of them. It is important to emphasise that there is no evidence of widespread systemic child abuse in Prem Rawat's supporting organisations. Indeed, Jagdeo is the only 'senior' offender who has come to light. But because the paedophilia reports were apparently ignored by Rawat or at least those who advised Rawat, when the reports did surface in 2000, they caused enormous damage to Prem Rawat's standing among the small number of premies who heard about it.
While the abuse of children appears thankfully to have been rare within the Rawat organisations, there have been many reports of abusive behaviours by Mahraji himself, mahatmas, initiators and administrators against adult devotees. In the 1970s and 1980s, there was clearly inadequate protection of vulnerable people within Divine Light Mission/Elan Vital and associated organisations.
One of Prem Rawat's most remarkable claims was that you could meditate on this word twenty-four hours a day, sleeping, driving, walking and presumably doing anything as everyone had been in the womb before birth. Two days before he was acclaimed as the new Satguru, the young Rawat denounced Pandits as hypocrites, because they could not chant mantras while asleep as he claimed you could meditate on the Holy Name he revealed. He did teach that though Knowledge was free, there was one group of people who couldn't meditate constantly but needed to be alone in a quiet place: mothers with young children. Maharaji loves cars so it is perfect for him that this meditation can be done driving as he explained in Denmark:
'Because you can be eating, you can be driving, you can be sleeping – I mean, that sounds a little peculiar but you can be sleeping – and still meditate on this Name. It's so fantastic. I mean, people talk about concentration. And for reasons such as driving race cars their concentration should be completely straight. (I'll tell you one thing. There is one car that has been given to me by a premie in Boston. It's a real fast car. And it really needs good concentration.) But when you start meditating on this Knowledge, you could be going a hundred miles an hour in rush hour without hitting a car. It's so good. It's so beautiful. But then there's the crazy mind'.
It seems that only the crazy mind is preventing people driving 100 mph in rush hour traffic, such a shame the problems the mind causes. It's a scary thought. That fat little toad who had the muscles of a blancmange sitting on a cushion behind the wheel of a very fast car and finally feeling the power flowing through him as he presses his flabby foot on the accelerator pedal.
In her Ph.D. thesis, Lucy Dupertuis recorded that many 1970s premies worked in mundane repetitive jobs so that they could keep concentrating on their breath as much as possible. Belief in the possibility that this would have dramatic effects in expanding consciousness waned after some years and in the 1980s, Rejoice meetings an older Rawat told his followers to stop trying to constantly meditate and to cut back their formal meditation to one hour a day from the two they were supposed to do but which they aspired to but which many never attained. The effect of this decade attempting to obey Rawat's instructions to constantly meditate and working in menial jobs could have terrible effects on their life-long prosperity. Rawat has never given the slightest appearance of knowing anything about meditation.
There are no published studies of Prem Rawat's followers as practitioners of meditation; however, investigations of comparable practices have relevance and certainly raise concerns. There have been a number of studies of the practitioners of Transcendental Meditation as taught by the Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi. TM is comparable to Prem Rawat's prescribed techniques, both have a transcendental objective, both are described in mystical terms separated from religious context and both involve techniques of inward concentration. In the case of TM, this involves concentration on a mantra while in the Prem Rawat process, concentration is upon a set of physiological processes.
Although TM, along with other meditational practices are ascribed numerous beneficial outcomes there is now a substantial body of evidence for negative outcomes, chief amongst these are psychological changes typified by depersonalisation and dissociation. The characteristics of these psychological states are familiar to many who formerly followed Prem Rawat and are particularly and unhappily familiar to family and friends of those who continue to pursue the Prem Rawat techniques.
Of studies carried out on meditators, primarily TM practitioners, symptoms of depersonalisation, derealisation and dissociation have been widely reported. In a 1990 study, Richard J. Costello records:
Individuals who practice the type of meditation designed to alter their consciousness may suffer depersonalization (loss of one's own reality or a loss of his own identity in relation to others around him) and derealization (change in one's perception of his environment) during meditation. Deikman (1963, 1966a) and Kennedy (1976) reported cases in which depersonalization and derealization occurred in individuals practising meditative techniques designed to alter consciousness (Costello R. J. Psychiatry, Vol. 53, May 1990, pp. 158–167 Depersonalization and Meditation.) Article available online at minet.org/Documents/research.1990.castillo