Michael Dettmers, Former Personal Assistant to Prem Rawat Internet Revelations
Date: Mon, Oct 30, 2000 at 22:25:48 (GMT)
From: Michael Dettmers
Subject: Response to Joe, Janet and Rob - Part I
Notice: The following response to Joe, Janet and Rob could not fit in one post so I have issued it in two parts. This is Part I. Part II follows below this post.
Joe, Janet and Rob
I am going to answer all of your questions in this one post. If I understand the questions, Joe is interested in my perspective on what took place between 1975 through 1980 with specific emphasis on the changes that were initiated in 1976 and then abruptly reversed. Rob wants to know if and why Élan Vital qualifies for church status in the USA. Rob, I do not know what status Élan Vital currently holds. I will address Élan Vital's, then known as Divine Light Mission (DLM), status as a church and why it qualified during the period from 1975 through 1980. Janet is interested in learning more about "the chilling mood of brute efficiency" that she experienced, and Sophia Collier wrote about, concomitant with my arrival in Denver in 1975. She is also interested in what I learned and what I would do differently based on the organizational experience I have gained in the past 25 years. Other than not getting involved in a cult in the first place, I will address that point at the end of Part II of this two-part post.
Bob Mishler brought me to Denver from Canada in March of 1975, principally to get on top of DLM's finances. DLM had incurred huge debts following the Astrodome debacle and, more than one year later, it still carried much of that burden. To gain control of the situation, I immediately instituted a budget system. That involved segmenting the organization into departments and assigning one person in each department as a manager responsible for all of its activities and expenditures. I held meetings with each of the new departments and explained how this new system worked using organization charts and procedures manuals as aids. Final responsibility for setting priorities and approving the budget rested with a newly constituted Executive Committee, chaired by Bob Mishler. There was a degree of urgency to implement these changes, not just because our financial situation was perilous, but also because the IRS (the Internal Revenue Service for our non-American readers) had notified us that we were going to be audited. At the time, DLM's books and records were a mess and we weren't in a position to respond to their initial requests for information. That pretty much explains the reason for the top-down manner in which I implemented the financial control mechanisms at DLM International Headquarters or IHQ, as it was then known. I can appreciate that many people reacted negatively to this rather draconian and somewhat unfeeling approach to wresting financial control of a "spiritual' organization that had previously operated in a more relaxed and often unaccountable manner.
There was, however, a bottom-up component to our strategy. For the Executive Committee to set overall priorities, we needed to articulate a clear mission that could be understood by everyone. The mission provided a focal point against which departmental goals and objectives could be established, thereby enabling all of us to focus our efforts in the same direction. But I knew that it would not be very effective to impose a mission and assume that everyone would understand it and, more importantly, buy into it. To address this concern, we engaged the services of a premie named Jerry T. who was also a professional trainer in organizational development, and a graduate of the National Training Lab, better known as NTL. Jerry instituted a series of workshops throughout the organization, using basic brainstorming and synthesizing techniques to engage everyone in the process of "thinking" about what we were actually trying to accomplish as an organization.
As constricting as my budgeting procedures were, these workshops proved to be a breath of fresh air and struck a chord in most everyone who participated in them. Perhaps for the first time, people began to reflect on their experience of Maharaji and knowledge and several questions began to emerge including what is Maharaji's role in spreading knowledge, what is the best way let new people learn about Maharaji and knowledge, why is it necessary to be in the ashram to do service, etc. Many people decided to leave that ashram during this time of questioning and reflection and we encouraged them to do so. Although everyone on the Executive Committee except Bob was an ashram resident, most, including myself, were involved in relationships and we were confident that it was just a matter of time before Maharaji abandoned the ashram structure all together. In short, a cultural revolution had been unleashed throughout DLM in 1976.
It was out of this process that a consensus began to emerge that the best way to present Maharaji was as a humanitarian leader. I remember experiencing resistance to this idea, but Jerry coached me to trust the process and not try to control the outcome. My resistance was based on my belief that our purpose was to promote "higher consciousness" or "god realization." If we presented Maharaji as a humanitarian leader, I felt we would be in the same business as the United Way. Although I had great respect and love for Maharaji at that time, he never struck me as the humanitarian type. Eventually, the humanitarian leader approach won out and I acquiesced to that consensus of opinion.
During 1975 and 1976, I had very little personal contact with Maharaji. I spent most of my time in Denver and attended some programs in the USA, Europe and Australia. Bob spent most of his time with Maharaji and came to Denver once or twice a month. He approved and supported our efforts to shift the culture of the organization (that's what I call it now. I don't know what, if anything we called it then). Bob leaned towards the humanitarian leader approach and strongly advocated that we do whatever was necessary to dismantle the perception of Maharaji and his mission as a cult of personality. Our understanding was that I would handle the finances and organizational changes and he would make sure that Maharaji was informed about what was going on and garner his support.
My first inkling that Maharaji was not happy with the changes that had been launched in Denver and ultimately throughout the USA and Europe came during his tour of Europe in the summer of 1976. I got to spend some time with Maharaji on that tour and it was clear to me that his relationship with Bob was very strained. Bob expressed to me his totally frustration with Maharaji. Even though Maharaji had agreed to the changes in their discussions, he did not feel comfortable with them when they were actually implemented on tour. Nevertheless, Bob told me to keep my focus on the audit and he would work out whatever difficulties he was having with Maharaji.
As part of my preparations for the audit, I worked with a lawyer who was well versed in the principles and practices that must be adhered to by organizations that are incorporated as churches in the USA. As we analyzed DLM's operating procedures it became clear that DLM had not been paying much attention to those principles and practices, not out of any nefarious intent at wrongdoing, but simply out of ignorance of the rules of the game. The issue was not so much a question of DLM qualifying as a church. It was easy enough to deconstruct DLM activities and practices as a set of beliefs with a group of believers who supported the church financially and engaged in its specific religious practices. As a practical matter, the strict separation of Church and State in the USA makes it very difficult for the US government to challenge the legitimacy of any religious practices unless they are extremely bizarre, anti-social, and/or unlawful. I realized that deconstructing Maharaji and knowledge in these terms completely contradicted his claim that knowledge was not a religion nor was he instituting a belief system, but I was in no position to worry about such technicalities then. It was clear that the implications of setting up DLM as a church had not been carefully thought out at the beginning, but at that moment, I had to deal with the consequences of that choice.
My real difficulty centered on Maharaji's role in this church and specifically the manner in which it supported him. Let me put this in context. In 1976, Maharaji was a US permanent resident. Because he married an American in 1974, he became eligible for US citizenship in 1977. In the interim, he had to spend at least six months out of every year in the USA. To satisfy that requirement, DLM purchased a small three-bedroom bungalow in a residential community in Denver for Maharaji. It also purchased an estate in Malibu as well as a motorhome and several automobiles including a Rolls Royce for his personal use. And it paid for the food and clothing for him and his family as well as anything else he needed or wanted.
After reviewing all of the numbers we had compiled, our lawyer became very concerned that the Chief Minister, which is what Maharaji was in this structure, consumed a disproportionate amount of the church funds, according to IRS guidelines. Applying the rules that govern churches, Maharaji's residences were classified as "parsonages". Our lawyer opined that the bungalow in Denver was appropriate under the circumstances. However, he could not see how DLM could justify the Malibu estate. He also felt that a Chevrolet better suited the position of Chief Minister, and certainly not an expensive motorhome or a Rolls Royce. Finally, he said that Maharaji should have been paid a salary by the church, and that he should have paid for his and his family's personal expenses, including food and clothing, out of his salary. He 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. Clearly, a crisis was upon us and I immediately called Bob in Malibu to inform him of my findings. As I told him of our situation, I was aware that Bob, as the President of DLM, as well as the other Officers and Directors would be held responsible if the IRS established any wrongdoing.
A day later, Bob came to Denver and notified the Executive Committee that Maharaji was coming to Denver in two days. He informed us that he had met with Maharaji, told him of the situation, and gave him an ultimatum to move out of the Malibu residence. He told Maharaji that he would have to relocate himself and his family to Denver within two weeks because DLM was selling the Malibu residence. He said that Maharaji was shocked and very angry, and that he was coming to Denver to find out for himself what was going on.
I, too, was shocked that Bob had given Maharaji such an ultimatum because that decision had never been part of our conversations. Bob explained that the issues that were brought to the surface by the pending audit finally gave him the courage to tell Maharaji exactly how he felt - that Maharaji was out of control and that his spending was destroying his organization and making it impossible to fulfill its mission.
To be continued in Part II (below)
Date: Mon, Oct 30, 2000 at 22:27:19 (GMT)
From: Michael Dettmers
Subject: Response to Joe, Janet and Rob - Part II
My response to Joe, Janet and Rob - Part II
Needless to say, the mood was very somber when Maharaji came to Denver two days later. He immediately assembled the Executive Committee and told us in no uncertain terms how disappointed he was in all of us and that he was in Denver to get to the bottom of the situation. He made it clear that no one should take their positions for granted and that before he left, there would be changes. He then scheduled individual meetings with each member of the Executive Committee. We knew he meant business when he fired the first two people he met with. I was the last person to meet with him and I fully expected to be fired as well. Much to my surprise, that is not what happened. His first question to me was, in effect, what the hell is going on around here? And he wanted me to fully explain my findings regarding the audit. I responded by carefully recounting all I had done to assemble a credible set of financials and the interpretation our lawyer had made of them. He listened carefully, periodically asking questions.
When I finished, he commented on how Shri Maharaj Ji (his father) had always hated DLM. He went on to explain that DLM was not the same as Maharaji - that Maharaji was the focus of knowledge and that if DLM had any role it was to be at the service of Maharaji, not visa versa. He said he realized that we had lost our focus based on the changes that were implemented during his summer tours. He explained that knowledge without devotion to Maharaji is nothing and that all of us have forgotten that. He asked me what I thought about our current dilemma. I told him that we faced a serious problem. I also acknowledged that it was absurd that he should find himself in a situation where he is considered to be the Chief Minister of a Denver-based church. I also added that, based on his views of DLM, his entire organizational structure needed re-thinking. He said he agreed and he asked me if I would like to take on that task. I must admit I was amazed that I was having this conversation with Maharaji and I readily accepted. "Good", he said. "You're fired from your current position in DLM but you're hired as my personal manager." So, in a sense, I was fired but not with the consequences I had anticipated.
In my newly created position, Maharaji gave me two priorities. The first was to meet with Bob and tell him that Maharaji had no intention of moving out of the Malibu residence. As far as Maharaji was concerned, the Malibu residence had been a gift from his premies. He felt the same way about the motorhome and the cars as well. I can vouch for his claim about the motorhome, because it was a gift from the Canadian premies at the time when I was the National Organizer in Canada. He added that if Bob was so enamored with the Denver residence, he could live there himself as the President of DLM. Meeting with Bob was no easy task because I considered him a friend. When I told him what Maharaji had said, he bore no ill will towards me. He was obviously saddened that all of his efforts to serve Maharaji had come to this. Clearly, he had no interest in heading up an organization that Maharaji was now bashing at every opportunity and he decided to leave shortly thereafter.
My other priority was to continue dealing with the audit. To help me with that challenge, Maharaji instructed me to fly to London and meet with a premie named Aubrey West, (Aubrey passed away a few years ago) and to tell him about our problem. He was confident that Aubrey would be very helpful in dealing with the situation. His daughter had introduced Aubrey to knowledge and Maharaji came to know him because he was the principal architect of the strategy that successfully wrested control of DLM in the UK from Maharaji's mother. Aubrey was one of the most brilliant and interesting people I have ever met. In 1976, he was probably in his late 50's. He was educated in the law at Cambridge and had established a very exclusive and successful investment banking practice. He was also a published and world-renowned calligrapher.
I met with Aubrey over the course of several days where he interrogated me over every detail of my findings when preparing for the audit. Eventually, he latched onto a single detail that I had never given much thought to. When I first came to Denver, the person who had been handling the finances handed over to me all of his files and records. Included in the transfer was a small endorsement stamp with the facsimile signature Prem Pal Singh Rawat aka Guru Maharaj Ji. It had been the standard practice at DLM to deposit all checks into a DLM bank account including all of the checks that had been made payable to Guru Maharaj Ji. Those particular checks were recorded on a separate deposit slip and endorsed over to DLM with the endorsement stamp bearing Maharaji's legal signature. Aubrey made that fact the cornerstone of his strategy to deal with our problem. In Aubrey's opinion, there was a fundamental and legal difference between gifts of love made out of devotion to one's guru, and donations made to an organization created to spread the guru's message. He argued that those two different and distinct sources of funds should never have been co-mingled within DLM donations.
Aubrey, through me, instructed Maharaji's lawyer and accountant to re-classify all of the checks that had been made out to Maharaji, but deposited into DLM's bank account, as Maharaji's personal funds that were simply being held in trust for his personal use by DLM. When the financial records were re-categorized in this manner, the records clearly showed that Maharaji had more than enough funds to personally pay for the Malibu residence, the cars, and his personal expenses with his own money. During the audit, we acknowledged to the IRS that, after consulting with our lawyers, we realized that it was not a good idea to have had DLM act as a trustee in this manner, and that we were in the process of transferring all of the assets that were rightfully Maharaji's into a separate structure that properly reflected his beneficial interest in them. The IRS was completely satisfied with this explanation, confirmed the principle that Maharaji and DLM were two distinct entities, and that gifts to Maharaji qualified as such under IRS codes. With that issue settled, we sailed through that audit without difficulty or incident.
In the meantime, Maharaji was busy consolidating his base. He moved with a vengeance to undo all of our efforts to present him as a humanitarian leader by making it abundantly clear to all premies that knowledge and devotion to Maharaji were inseparable. He was determined that he would never again find himself in the position where he would be given an ultimatum by anyone. DLM in Denver was disbanded as an IHQ, with instructions from Maharaji not to re-constitute it anywhere else. As Maharaji explained to me and other organizers, he was the headquarters of his mission. Wherever he was, that was where the headquarters was. To that end, he secured residences in the UK, Australia and India to emphasize that, just because he was now an American did not mean that American premies should feel they had any special rights on his time or his person. With that, a new era of devotion, along with a reinstatement of the ashrams, was launched.
Janet asked me what I have learned and what I would do differently based on the organizational experience I have gained in the past 25 years. Forgetting for the moment that we are talking about a cult, here's what I would have done differently. First, I would not have begun the organizational changes without first ensuring that the CEO (in this case, Maharaji) was fully committed to the process. Today, I will not work with an organization unless the CEO and his/her Executive Team are fully committed to, and participate in, the process of transformation. Second, I would have taken more time to build relationships. I came to Denver as an outsider and it was foolish of me to move forward as aggressively as I did without taking the time to build bridges and establish trust. Third, I would have put more women in positions of responsibility. There were several outstanding women at IHQ at the time but I was too blind to see how much easier the process would have been if I had cultivated their trust and support and positioned them handle much of the implementation. This blindness was further reflected in an all male Executive Committee. Finally, I would not have lived in the "executive ashram" thereby lending credibility to the charges of elitism and fostering and "us and "them" mentality.