Bob Mishler, President of Divine Light Mission
Bob Mishler 1945-1979, a 26 year old yoga teacher in Boulder Colorado, met the much younger Prem Rawat in August 1971 because a former student of Bob's, Bill Patterson, returned from India as a committed premie and tried to convert him. Mishler was impressed by the young guru's combination of "wisdom and innocence": "… when Bob showed him the house, Maharaj Ji asked if he could move in himself and make it DLM headquarters. From that time until late in 1976 Bob was the president of DLM and an intimate associate of Maharaj Ji."
Mishler with the chubby Guru Maharaj Ji in the darshan line in Great Britain 1972
Mishler was President of Divine Light Mission and/or Divine United Organisation International Director and during those years, he acted in the capacity of Prem Rawat's major administrator and later his confidante. He was the first speaker in the first evening session of Millenium '73 where his theme was the importance of Millennium to America and the world. He made the final presentation of gifts to Rawat at it's conclusion: a plaque depicting a lion and a lamb lying down together and a gold-plated statue of a swan. According to Sophia Collier, he did not believe that there was going to be any sudden miraculous millenial makeover of the world. He already knew that Rawat was drinking alcohol and he saw that Rawat was "sloshed" during the festival. At this time Mishler was working on trying to set up the Divine United Organisation, firstly to create an efficient distribution system to provide the basic needs of premies cheaply and to create a communication system for Divine Light Mission internationally. Attempts to create a City of Love and Light failed but he and Rennie Davis attempted to create a social agency "to do some good work for humanity." This was a forlorn hope with a community that was far too immature, small, disorganised and uncommitted to provide any real help - they did not even adequately support DLM financially.
Mishler did not reveal the news of Rawat's drug taking or secret affair with his "secretary" and future wife to the premie community even though this seems to have been extremely important information for them to understand their guru. When Matthew Austin, the Divine Times editor, decided to publish a series on Rawat's family situation at the beginning of 1974 Mishler forbade it, saying, "It would confuse the premies; besides, it is not what Maharaj Ji wants." After Rawat's older brother married a devotee and former model, Claudia Littman, Rawat ordered Mishler to send his mother and eldest brother back to India. By this point Mishler was completely enmeshed in hiding Rawat's disreputable secrets and creating a false picture of him to both the followers and to the society in general. He seems to have justified his position by thinking:
"You don't evaluate a great man by his personal activity but by the effect he has on the world. Maharaj Ji has completely renovated our social understanding."
Events would prove that this effect did not exist. By April 1974, DLM administrators had to provide a new myth for what was actually occurring in the premies' lives. As they admitted in this "interview" in the Divine times "I know premies who, because of their expectations of meditation, rather than their practice of meditation, are miserable most of the time. … For many premies, hyping was an experience they needed. … Most of us imitated Indian Mahatmas as devotees of Guru Maharaj Ji." After admitting that the first two successful years of DLM had been based on pretense they then confirmed Rawat's new teachings that premies needed an organisation to provide a foundation for their 'experience'. This directly contradicted Rawat's earlier preaching that the "Knowledge" itself was so perfect and powerful that it transformed premies and would usher in a new millenium. They did their best to "practise the Knowledge" and make Divine Light Mission a reality and continued to paint the best possible picture of Rawat and his "Knowledge" despite their knowledge of his dissolute lifestyle, character and behaviour. Mishler lasted 6 years before his final disillusionment and Mike Donner lasted 15 years as a close disciple and servant.
On May 21, 1974 Rawat and Marolyn Johnson were married. Mishler was married by Prem Rawat himself to Eileen Wiesen on the next day in the "Perfect Master's" first marital officiation as spiritual leader of Divine Light Mission. The sisyphean task of managing DLM was apparent when he spoke at a departmental staff meeting on June 10, 1974:
Today 69% of the Divine Light Mission cash flow comes from the Ashrams. They spend about 29% of that to maintain themselves and the rest goes to support the mission. 40% that is left over amounts to over a half of the support of the entire movement. When you see this, you can understand why the people in DUO are overworked and that some of the ashram premies feel really, really tired. They've been carrying the burden - one out of sixty premies - has been carrying the burden for over half of the movement. This has been going on for over a year or so.
Mishler accompanied Rawat on his trip to Australia in October, 1974. Mishler with the very short, fat and stylishly dressed Prem Rawat on Sydney Harbour.
I really had very little idea what would happen the first time I saw Bob Mishler, the President of Divine Light Mission, as I didn't know he would be there and I was really going to see Prem Rawat or Guru Maharaj Ji, the Lord of the Universe as he proclaimed himself. This turned out to be the only time I saw Rawat reasonably close-up as well except in a darshan line. It was a smallish meeting room in a Sydney hotel and the Sydney premies had gathered for a surprise birthday party for Rawat's new wife. By the time Rawat and his court finally arrived the feeling in the room (as far as I could tell) was flat and the party never got off the ground though that was not how it was reported. Mrs Rawat was charming but Rawat himself was odd: short, fat, badly proportioned, chewing something and definitely ill at ease. Now it was one thing for an inexperienced premie like myself being nervous on such an occasion but as far as I was concerned it was not okay for the Perfect Master, Satguru, Lord of the Universe and the only person alive who had realised the "Knowledge of God" to be nervous and it was here that I failed a, if not the, major test of being a guru's devotee. I found fault in the guru rather than castigating myself for being unable to recognise the Master's glory. I don't recall anything about Mishler himself though his beautful wife (not that I knew who she was) certainly caught my eye.
I can't remember if the guru said anything there that night but I remember the first time I heard him speak in person. Before he began, Mishler or some other American spoke and said something similar to what he said a few days later in Melbourne "that we often become so blissed out that we miss everything profound and meaningful that he (Rawat) says for our own spiritual development. Maharaj Ji puts things so simply, he said, that sometimes it goes right by us; for instance, when he makes a point inside a joke. He then described how the public's reaction makes no difference to the devotee. "That's the way the world probably sees us, as people playing a long shot. Or maybe they think we're completely deluded, but actually we know this isn't a long shot, this is a sure thing. And we know it's a sure thing because he's given us an experience that proves it to us." With hindsight we can see Mishler's public certainty was exaggerated and deluded and I was not then certain about my experience of being initiated or meditating at all. Actually I was nervous and expectant but was mortified to hear that it was considered that the Perfect Master's incoherence and simplistic speeches needed explaining away. And that turned out to be the high point of the speeches that night. At the end I could clearly see why Mishler had made that comment.
While in Australia, Mishler spoke at a DUO conference and stressed the need for meditation which puts you in harmony with God and makes you a servant of the life-force and is an actual shift in consciousness. How he thought this was true when he could see the guru's consciousness was nowhere is inexplicable:
this movement is the movement from one era to the next. It's an actual shift in human consciousness and that change in human consciousness is called the Divine Light movement. And those of us who are making that leap, it's not like we can get to the edge and hang there. You've got to make that jump. You've got to make that leap of consciousness yourself. If you don't do it, there's no way you're going to fool anybody. You're not going to be able to go out and say all the right words to everyone, because there's a feeling that gets conveyed as well. That feeling comes in an expression of clarity and understanding.
In March 1975, Mishler brought Michael Dettmers to Denver from Canada to put DLM's finances in order as most of the $600,000 debt incurred in the Astrodome debacle was still owed. Mishler's role in pressuring a naive heiress to give her fortune to Divine Light Mission was revealed in a Canadian court along with embarassing insider information about Rawat's spending of 60% of DLM funds on himself. On April 1st, Rawat's mother announced to the press that she and the Indian DLM administrators had "removed him as spiritual leader and renounced all responsibility for his despicable decline from vegetarianism, celibacy, abstinence from alcohol and other austerities." He was part of the group that accompanied Rawat to India in May 1975 where Rawat failed in his legal bid to gain control of the Indian Divine Light Mission, Divya Sandesh Parishad, that his father had created. There Mishler appeared as Marolyn Rawat's "father" in the Rawat boys' double wedding in India. Further deception occurred when Rawat's entourage returned to the US claiming the visit had been a great success. The truth behind this is revealed in Soul Rush by Sophia Collier the Divine Light Mission journalist who recorded the interview.
In 1979 Mishler recalled that by mid 1975 he "couldn't agree with what the guru was doing" and that sometime in the next 6 months Rawat had agreed to publicly deny that he was God. However, there is no corroborative evidence in their available published statements during this time. Quite the reverse. On July 23 Rawat publicly spoke of the Perfect Masters' omnipotence and during the following 6 months he continued his normal style of speech-making, interspersing occasional "humble" statements with numerous vainglorious ones. In South America in July, in Germany in August, in Australia in October and in the USA in November, Rawat dressed as Krishna. The 'Peace Bomb' speech was reprinted in the November 8 Divine Times magazine. In the Sydney Opera House Mishler, while harping on the difficulties of practising Knowledge, spoke of Rawat as God incarnate. (see quote below) There were no photos of Rawat dressed as Krishna in the Divine Times from January 1976 until June 1977.
Mishler accompanied Rawat to Australia in October 1975. In his "satsang" at the Sydney Opera House on 19 October 1975 he repeated what he said in 1974 that the things Rawat "says goes right by us". He reiterated that practising Knowledge is difficult. "It's difficult to persevere". He discussed Rawat's apocalyptic rant at Montrose in 1972 and reassured the crowd:
"things are so bad in this world that if God is really, truly our father, our creator; and he's watching and we're all his children; and things have got to the point where we have the capacity to literally, to completely annihilate life on this planet, don't you think that if he's the father, he's going to do something about it? Isn't he going to take some measure to make sure that that's not going to happen? And in fact, Guru Maharaj Ji stated at the time that he already has. There is a power that's holding back the force of destruction, that's ready to destroy all human creation. And that power is here in this world."
In a conference with Australian administrators his remarks were revealing: "And so really it takes a lot of effort" & "And over the past couple of years Guru Maharaj Ji has done just about everything to break down every conception about what is the outward model of behaviour for being a devotee." Translated this means Rawat's behaviour was so greedy, unfilial, materialistic and superficial that he was not a role model for his devotees. Mishler still claimed to believe that the purpose of Knowledge was experiencing Truth and obtaining liberation but, though personal effort was required, it all depended upon Guru Maharaj Ji's Grace.
At the end of 1975 the administrators of Divine Light Mission began a series workshops on the theme of understanding. Rawat used the word regularly but examining his available speeches from the last half of 1975 shows he meant it in his normal way, that premies should understand that they should obey him, worship him and dedicate their lives to him through satsang, service and meditation. In his speech on 7th December titled 'Understanding' Rawat spoke of the 5 very important things: darshan, satsang, service and meditation and the understanding of what we are doing here which is by Guru Maharaj Ji's Grace we have really experienced the Truth within inside of us. The workshops began a period of turmoil and upheaval in Divine Light Mission as people examined their beliefs and their experience and compared them with the guru's promises. Mishler wrote a message to premies published in the January 1976 Divine Times. Despite his doubts and private concerns about Rawat's behaviour he extolled Rawat's vision, foresight, patience and guidance in his public message. Most of the top administrators in Denver were in relationships even though they were supposedly celibate in the ashram and once honest and open discussion began about their real experience of life and Knowledge, people left the ashram and Divine Light Mission in droves and DLM and Rawat suffered a major fall in income.
After the terrible publicity over the fiasco of Millenium '73 a decision was made by Mishler and his fellow administrators that the best way to present Maharaji was as a "humanitarian leader" and the instructions to premies and the public relations campaign began. Newspaper articles were reporting Public Relations Director Joe Anctil's claims that they were throwing out portrayals of Rawat as "the one, perfect manifestation and channel of divinity in this age." Mishler believed Rawat had agreed to these changes. This was truly bizarre as Rawat had been promoted as the boy God, the Lord of the Universe, the Lord of Universal Peace, who proclaimed he had come to rule the world with more power than any Perfect Master before him. While premies were obedient and changed the way they spoke about Rawat publicly (while not changing their beliefs) the media were, understandably, not so obedient. As Bob Mackenzie had written "The 16 year-old guru Maharaj Ji has decided he is God, I understand. That is not a bad job for a 16 year-old kid, except that there's no chance for advancement." There also is no possiblility of an acceptable and reasonable demotion.
In this interview with a Denver journalist in May 1976 Mishler attempts to explain the changes in Divine Light Mission in the most positive way. Membership was falling so he explained the Mission was no longer proselytising but working with the current membership of which only 8 to 10,000 of the 50,000 initiated had maintained any activity in DLM, to raise their consciousness. He was very respectful of Rawat stating his teaching and guidance was central to DLM but he ignored theobvious question: how does God incarnante morph into a humanitarian leader? It is illuminating to compare Rawat's proposed itinerary with his actual activities. Man proposes but if God is lazy or funds are not available what can you do?
Mishler and Jos Lammers accompanied Rawat on a European tour in May 1976 and Bob rang Denver talking about the pain of growth though he did not mention Rawat's shopping expeditions trailed by a loyal court of premies to pay for the watches and other paraphernalia he coveted. Mishler quoted Rawat saying "when he goes to the United Nations it won't be just for a tour. It will be to really show people that now that we have detente we also have to detente with our own being." Rawat has been to the United Nations building to accept an award for donating money to a water in the third world program. He has also rented a room to make a speech in the United Nations Conference Centre in Bangkok but the possibility of Rawat being asked to address the United Nations is just too ridiculous.
Michael Dettmers recalled that from his arrival in Denver to late 1976 Mishler spent most of his time with Rawat only coming to Denver once or twice a month but that he and Rawat fully concurred with the 1976 changes that were developing in IHQ in Denver. Dettmers realised that relations between them were strained when he joined the European tour. Mishler said that although Rawat had agreed with changes beforehand he was very unhappy once they began. DLM were facing an IRS audit and legal advice was that the enormous percentage of DLM funds spent by Rawat personally was illegal. The lawyer "was afraid that DLM may be perceived by the IRS, not as a church, but more like a scam set up to benefit a private individual. He frankly told me that he did not see how we could survive the audit which was now only a few months away." It was this legal advice, especially that the Malibu estate was unjustifiable, that caused Mishler to inform Rawat that the Malibu residence would have to be sold. Dettmer's recall of the Denver meeting differs somewhat from Lammer's though they can be reconciled. Mishler was out and Dettmers became Rawat's personal manager and IHQ was disbanded.
As late as 24th September Mishler co-signed a letter to the international DUO's describing Rawat's 30 hour visit to Denver on the 18th/19th as accomplishing a great deal and that there would be no cutback of essential DLM programs. No mention was made of the refusal of Rawat to cut back his expenditure or allow his personal allowance to be halved from $500 a day or his firing all the DLM administrators and their re-hiring the next day after further "discussion" with Mishler. Even then, despite everything that had happened in the preceding years, Mishler pranamed and kissed Rawat's feet.
In Andrea Cagan's sleazy "biography" Prem Rawat is quoted as asking Eileen (Mishler) whether Bob Mishler ever meditated and being told he claimed to meditate 24 hours a day but never actually sat down to do the "techniques" in "formal meditation". This is typical of the ad hominem attacks on anyone criticising Prem Rawat and as both the Mishlers died tragically in 1979 they cannot refute the slurs - not that most people consider never meditating being a slur on your character. Ironically it is the very thing that Mishler said about Rawat - he never meditated. Many followers knew Mishler as a hard-working, responsible person so this, provides a reason that premies will accept. Mishler didn't meditate so he "got in his mind." It is an explanation that is meaningless to non-devotees. In retrospect, Mishler would have shown far more discrimination and intelligence if he had stopped meditating and while the amount of meditation he did is not known, he did eventually leave Divine Light Mission and after the Jonestown tragedy Mishler and John Hand Jr attempted to alert the public to the dangers of "Rawatism" and Rawat's character through newspaper interviews:
- Cults - faith or foolhardiness?
- Two ex-cult officers see possible Guyana repeat
- Mishler quoted in Prison Or Paradise? The New Religious Cults by Ross and Marcia Rudin
There is also a recording and transcript of Mishler speaking in a radio interview in February 1979 which is very informative and a recording and transcript of a telephone conversation with some concerned "de-programmed" former premies.
In the end Mishler's attempts to change the Mission into an organisation with integrity proved fruitless and Rawat seeing his position being undermined fired him. He should have attempted to inform followers of Rawat's drunkeness and hypocrisy earlier though how he could have done this is not clear as this message could not have been publicised through Divine Light Mission channels. After the Jonestown massacre Mishler went to the media and tried to alert people to the dangers inherent in Divine Light Mission's control by a selfish, debauched young man. However, the chances of the sybaritic, ordinary and unimaginative Rawat creating a small scale apocalypse were zilch. Unfortunately Mishler indulged in the same revisionism that Rawat's followers have continued, he rewrote his own involvement in DLM as Rawat's chief administrator as an heroic struggle for truth where the published evidence shows Mishler publicly extolling Rawat until his role was terminated. He was in an invidious situation and unfortunately he died tragically but at least he left a body of evidence about Rawat's private persona which has been confirmed by Michael Dettmers and Mike Donner and Mike Finch who remained loyal to their "Perfect Master" for years thereafter.
It is quite enlightening to compare Mishler's recorded interview which exudes intelligence and integrity to Rawat's stoned or drunk "satsang" of the same period.
The information in this article was based on the following sources.
Divine Light Mission publications:
- Divine United Organization How this new agency for social action and awareness was born - an interview with the president of Divine Light Mission; North America
- Excerpt from satsang Departmental staff meeting, June 10 1974
- Excerpt from satsang national DUO Conference, Melbourne, October 30, 1974
- Excerpt from satsang to Staff Sydney Australia October 1975
- Divine Light Mission President Bob Mishler at the Sydney Opera House on 19 October 1975
- Message from Bob Mishler January 1976
- Guru Puja message April 1976
- Interview With Debbie Frazier United Press International wire service May 1976 which was reprinted in the Australian Golden Age of May 1976
- On 20 May 1976 Bob Mishler, who is accompanying Maharaj Ji on his European tour, telephoned International Headquarters from Geneva, Switzerland
- Cover Letter for international mailing from Bob Mishler and Michael Dettmers in Denver, 24 September 1976
- Cover Letter monthly National Directors' mailing re Initiators and Ashrams from Bob Mishler in Denver, 27 October 1976
Newspaper stories often mentioned Mishler or quoted him trying to explain Rawat's 'lilas' eg "this illness is going to make Guru Maharaj Ji more human to people," "The significance of this event is not to be measured in the number of people who attend" or spouting nonsense such as "This is just warming up … world peace is inevitable."
- Followers Want Airplane for Indian Guru Associated Press, Sat. August 10, 1972
- Fast Pace Hits Teenage Guru Associated Press, Mon. Sept. 3, 1973
- The 'Perfect Master' from India has an ulcer Associated Press, Tuesday, September 4, 1973
- Guru Keeps Track Of Subjects With Computer Associated Press, Sunday, September 23, 1973
- A Boy Guru And His Cash Associated Press, Tuesday, September 25, 1973
- Following the Guru To the Astrodome Washington Post, November 9, 1973
- Guru Performs First Wedding Associated Press, May 23, 1974
Mishler was named as one of the conspirators attempting to get heiress Darby McLean to sign over her inheritance to Divine Light Mission.
- Gift To Guru frozen by Canadian court action Associated Press, Wed. November 20, 1974
- It Takes A Lot Of Money To Keep A Guru United Press International, March 23, 1975
He was blamed by Rawat's family for preventing them seeing the young Prem, little did they know.
- Gurus Told To Settle Dispute Out Of Court Associated Press, May 23, 1975
- Rival Gurus Call Off Courtroom Battle Los Angeles Times, May 24, 1975
- Notes on People The New York Times, May 24, 1975
- Guru disowned by mother because he liked to live it up United Press International, February 7, 1976
DLM's leader and administrators apparently believed that they could just say that they were no longer going to say Prem Rawat was the "Lord of the Universe" and hard nosed reporters would accept this as meaningful even though premies were still bowing down to his photos.
- Spiritual group's claims, practices are changing EVENING CAPITAL Sat., March 6, 1976
- Teenage Guru to Change Style THE TIMES RECORDER FRI., MAR 5, 1976
- Maharaji group changing style to tone down Eastern ritualism Fri., Mar 6, 1976 GREELEY (Colo.) TRIBUNE
- Tour Postponed Due To Insufficient Funds THE GETTYSBURG TIMES, Saturday, March 27, 1976
- Lack of funds postpones Guru's N. American tour GREELEY (Colo.) TRIBUNE Sat., Mar 27, 1976
Mishler tried to explain the changes in DLM in late 1976 in a positive way though he claimed he had already decided to leave DLM.
- Declining Donations Dim Divine Light Mission Associated Press, November 22, 1976
- Guru Following Down, Tactics Changing Associated Press, November 25, 1976
- Followers Fewer, Church Retrenching for Maharaj Ji Associated Press, November 26, 1976
- Guru's following is falling away Associated Press, November 27, 1976
Mishler goes to the media after Jonestown:
- Cults - faith or foolhardiness? Maharaj Ji has Jones-like traits United Press International, Nov. 25, 1978
- Two ex-cult officers see possible Guyana repeat United Press International, Saturday, Nov. 25, 1978
- Malibu Guru Maintains Following Despite Rising Mistrust of Cults Los Angeles Times, January 12, 1979
- Mishler speaking in a radio interview in February 1979 which is very informative
- A recording and transcript of a telephone conversation with some concerned "de-programmed" former premies.
- Mishler quoted in Prison Or Paradise? The New Religious Cults by Ross and Marcia Rudin
- Mishler discussed in World Rejection, World Affirmation, and Goal Displacement: Some aspects of change in three New Religious Movements of Hindu origin. by Bjorkvist