Derek Harper: Oz DLM Honcho (Under Construction)
In many ways Derek Harper's story of how he became a premie ie a devotee of Prem Rawat's is similar to most other young Australian devotees of the 1970's. Those Australians who in the early 1970's, became "premies" of Prem Rawat, then calling himself Guru Maharaj Ji, did so after a history of extended drug abuse, mainly marijuana and LSD, and most of them had suffered mental and emotional problems caused by or intensified by this drug-taking. What made Harper somewhat different was the severity of the problems and the lack of depth and an ethical base to his life.
On his own admission, Harper wanted to maximumise his pleasure and do no study or work if at all possible. He was eventually expelled from school and began employment with his father, a wealthy Melbourne businessman. He then got a job in a stockbroking firm because it seemed to give the greatest financial reward for the least amount of effort and began regularly smoking marijuana as well as drinking whisky. His work and attitudes were unsatisfactory and he was fired. When he ran out of money he had to stop lying around in the sun and was forced to get another job. He picked copy writing in an advertising agency because it seemed easy and lucrative. The higher wages allowed him to drink more heavily and smoke more marijuana and he began to suffer from mood swings, paranoia, depression, suicidal ideation, the normal results of youthful excess by a self-obsessed immature young man.
He was influenced by the book "Be Here Now" and adopted a set of "spiritual seeker" concepts but despite cutting back on his drug use he began to spiral into depression and paranoia when he left work and began a "hippie lifestyle" in the Byron Bay area. He found some relief in "holy company" i.e. contact with premies, and after 2 days of 'satsang' he "received Knowledge" in October 1972 and returned to Byron Bay where his depression and paranoia continued until he returned to the city and involved himself completely in a Divine Light Mission belief system and ashram life. He ran Divine Sales, became Finance Director of Divine Light Mission and in mid-1975 became the chief administrator of DLM in Australia, the Australian Divine United Organisation Director (various organisational name and title changes occurred at Rawat's behest) despite his dubious employment history. The pool of talent was conspicuous for it's lack of administrative experience as Divine Light Mission's recruitment had been nearly totally from the disaffected youth of the 1960's: hippies.
In January 1975, Rawat had directed that 1975 be the year of prachar i.e. propagation but this was totally unrealistic as the disillusioned counter-culture youth had moved on, Divine Light Mission was in serious debt and had suffered terrible publicity from the failure of Millenium '73 and his dismissal and deposing from the role of spiritual head of DLM India in April 1975 had left only a handful of 'mahatmas' available to initiate interested people. In an interview in the June Golden Age Harper stated that the past propagation tactics "making huge claims about Maharaj Ji and the Mission" was unnatural and that premies must be practical examples of the benefits of meditation as proclaimed by the guru. Harper believed that really "practising Knowledge" would produce such different behavious as a constant grin from ear to ear and a peace of mind that radiates a contagious calmness. Time would tell if these concepts were based in reality.
In October 1975, the guru came to Austalia and the national and regional staffs of DLM had a one day conference with Bob Mishler, Michael Dettmers, Marino Amico. The Australians were taught the latest doctrines which in retrospect appear to be more Mishler than Maharaji though the standard text(?) that past mistakes were now being corrected and by Maharaji's grace a new and true understanding had developed/was developing. "Fortunately, most of the planning has been done for us. By working with Denver, Maharaj Ji has developed the programs and ironed out the mistakes so that we have basic blueprints on how communities can be developed. At the Hans Jayanti festival in Orlando, Florida this year, detailed conferences will present the ways which we can develop the community and further propagation. From Australia Derek Harper, the national director, and Terry MacKinnell, the finance director, will be attending the festival and bringing back with them detailed information on where our efforts have to go" The New Age Golden Age Number 24, November 1975
"The word that Guru Maharaj Ji has coined for this year is understanding," … I should be doing more, I should be doing Guru Maharaj Ji's agya more. I should be doing more service, I should be doing more meditation, I should be doing more satsang because it becomes clearer and clearer to me that this is the only source of happiness, the only source of love and satisfaction in my life. I'm slowly but surely starting to have it sink in, like even into my brain, and my mind is beginning to understand that this is where it's at, and even if my mind doesn't understand, I'm going to do it anyway. … Terry: The main personal realisation I gained from the whole trip was really understanding what Guru Maharaj was wanting each premie to do and more specifically what he wants me to do and just doing it. Like I got into a sort of rut where I wasn't reading Guru Maharaj Ji's satsangs or following what was going on, I think the main thing that must must be done is that more people should understand exactly what's involved with practising Knowledge, more people should realise that commitment, more people should understand the beauty of the gift that we've got, and then take the appropriate action. … And I sometimes think that people are doing meditation and they're getting the service, but they don't take full advantage of satsang, or they don't realise just what satsang is because there seems to be a general shying away from sharing satsang with each other. There's a tendency to stay on the level of "howya going" or "oh yeah I saw this nice movie last night" or this joking sort of thing, because there seems to be an embarrassment for people to share satsang, to really communicate that experience that they're having insideInterview Derek Harper and Terry McKinnell Golden Age Number 25, January 1976
National Headquarters Golden Age Number 27 March 1976
So it is that lately, a good portion of the NHQ staff has been asking themselves "How long has it been since I experienced Knowledge? Is practising Knowledge, as I'm doing it, the same as experiencing Knowledge? Why, if I meditate every day, do 'service' every day, and attend satsang regularly, is my life still periodically dull and my mind dissatisfied and paranoid?" We've been seeing that, obviously, the practise of service, satsang and meditation isn't enough. What was it that Maharaj Ji said about understanding? And surrender? NHQ satsang
You see, it's not that there's anything wrong with the Knowledge or the changes that take place within us but it's the useless mumbo jumbo that we create that alienates people. Self-righteousness, fanaticism, dogmatism, rigidness, and intolerance are manifestations of the mind, not of Knowledge. Confusion, depression, ignorance, lack of sensitivity and tact, nervousness and feeling ill at ease with normal people are limitations imposed on us by the mind. And unfortunately this is how a great many people see the Knowledge, the organisation and the people who support it, because people went out and tried to propagate the experience of Knowledge before they had experienced it for themselves. So naturally people began to associate DLM and Guru Maharaj Ji with these negative aspects and it's not until we, as a group, start to really experience Knowledge that we will be able to overcome these first impressions. … Each member is responsible for one eight-hundredth of the whole No one can stop you - Interview With Derek Harper Golden Age Number 30 June 1976
In the last week of May 1976 50 staff members of DLM Aus & NZ had a 6 day convention Welcome to the Autumn Conference Golden Age Number 30 June 1976
The Frankfurt Conference On November, 28 & 29, 1976 there was a conference held in Frankfurt with all international DLM administrators including Harper, where Guru Maharaj Ji (Prem Rawat) continued his effort to return Divine Light Mission to a simplistic, fundamentalist practice of obedience to his orders and total devotion to him and practice of this "Knowledge". Communicationbetween the guru and his administrators was so poor that Rawat did not even know if there were any ashrams still functioning in Australia. The excerpt from the conference transcript below shows that Harper had made a unilateral decision to close the ashtrams in Australia without seeking explicit directions from the DLM International Headquarters or requesting advice from his Perfect Master. Exactly what criteria he used to decide ashram residents were not "making progress," presumably spiritual progess, or why he thought he was qualified to make such a decision is not clarified in the transcript. Personal feelings may have played a large part in this decision as Harper married the former New Zealand co-ordinator and ashram premie shortly thereafter.
GURU MAHARAJ JI: Are there still ashrams in Australia?
DEREK: Well, 3 months ago when I was communicating with Denver to find out what the situation was with ashrams, I got the impression that you were intending to set up a new type of ashram and the other situation was proving to be sort of inadequate. Some of the premies weren't taking real advantage of the ashram, and so what I thought would be best to do was just to stop the situation in the ashram and give those people who wanted to go back into the ashram a chance to do that. But I thought that if you just allowed the ashram situation to continue, many premies just didn't seem to be progressing in that circumstance. And I thought that if you just like allowed it to go on, then they'd just stay there simply because they didn't really feel strong enough in a sense to just move out and progress in another way. And so the situation is now that those people that were in the ashram the majority of them are still living in the houses that were like the ashram and they're still living pretty much to an ashram style of living. You know, they're not confused in any way; the majority of the people who were in the ashram think there's been a real benefit in being able to get out and about and be a little bit more responsible for their own lives, in a sense, and take more of the onus on themselves. And then I guess if we started up the ashram again under the terms of what's been outlined I think maybe just at a rough guess about 60 people throughout Australia would want to get back into the ashram again. But mainly those people are aspirants and people who have only just received Knowledge who would like to take the opportunity of living in one.
Harper tried to prevent news of the ashrams opening up again in North America and Europe from reaching the general premie community but Australian premies returning from overseas spread the word and ashrams were reformed in Australia during 1977.
Divine Light Mission's core teaching was that premies should do satsang, service and meditation and meetings were held nightly in any town where enough followers lived to make this practicable. In these meetings or "formal satsangs" the format was simple. One person would sit at the front of the meeting space and talk extemperanusly, "from the heart" about the guru and the effects of the Knowledge in that person's life while the other people present would listen, concentrate without judgement and hopefully "try to understand what is being said." (see Dupertuis) Rawat made his views about satsang very clear in this discussion with a German follower on the Saturday 28th November meeting at which all conference attendees were present:
PREMIE: "I think all premies want to make a real experience of satsang, but we came to the point that in formal satsang having someone sitting at the front giving satsang, was not the form we can make this experience. So we tried to make this experience of satsang an individual talk or something.
GURU MAHARAJ JI: That's crazy. I do not understand. Satsang is satsang."