In Divine Light Mission's official publications 'Satsang' was defined as: "the company of truth. Satsangs are spiritual discourses about the Knowledge and in praise of the Perfect Master. To tell someone about Knowledge is called "giving Satsang." Until the early 1980s Divine Light Mission in the West was characterised by having nightly Satsang Meetings wherever there were enough premies to make it viable. Premies were expected to attend every night! The format was straightforward: a premie would go to the front of the room and give satsang - impromptu testimony from the heart based on their current experience of Knowledge in their lives or absence thereof. Then there would be a song in which everyone was encouraged to join in. There was always some tension between organisation and "going with the spirit" and administrators and mahatmas/initiators/instructors had more influence and time than run-of-the-mill premies. At times intense pressure was brought to bear on bongos not to give satsang.
This is a tried-and-true format that inspires the believers and evangelises interested newcomers and is the basis of 12 Step programs. Premies were expected to concentrate fully on the person speaking and/or to meditate on the Word (ie concentrate on their breathing). The atmosphere was highly charged and the personal feelings could be very intense especially if the satsang was given by the highly committed. Naturally there was always the possibility for rote practice and emotional distance, "being in your mind," was the premie jargon and this could lead to apostasy by distance.
Boredom in "satsang" presents an ongoing problem. An imaginary sore throat lures one's thoughts toward bed and sleep, or the sudden conviction that an important phone call cannot be postponed propels one out of the hall. Anything to avoid just sitting and listening, looking for the Guru where he has promised to reveal his presence. The Premie Guidebook says,
Sometimes we will not "feel like" attending satsang, feeling too tired, or bored, or that we have too many other things to do. This is the time that satsang is most important, because it is just the subtlety of the mind persuading us to stay away from that thing which inspires us and diminishes the power of the mind in our lives … It is not always necessary to be "inspired"to go to satsang. - Lucy DuPertuis
The satsang meetings often ended with the singing of Arti. Arti is the most popular Hindu ceremony performed in Indian temples. In Divine Light Mission the ceremony, simplified for Westerners, included the favoured worshippers waving a tray with candles and other auspicious articles on it in clockwise circles before Prem Rawat himself or pictures of him on a special throne. The worshippers sang the bhajan (devotional song, prayer) they called simply 'Arti' while meditating on Guru Maharaj Ji's physical form.
Rawat believed and taught that his personal satsang was far more powerful and meaningful than those of his followers despite many premies being far more intelligent, interesting and charismatic than Rawat Himself. Rawat was a boring speaker with a hideous shrill voice and until decades into his speaking career had very poor English skills. Premies did not want to openly discuss this though a short question and answer session recorded in the early 1970s is an example of real reactions to his speechifying.
Q: Why does my mind become very strong and distracting when I come to satsang, especially when I want to come here to be with you?
GMJ: A man is getting strong daily, right? Now, don't give him any food. He won't become any stronger. His mind is becoming stronger daily. Don't give food to his mind and it won't become strong. Give food to his stomach but not to his mind and it won't become strong. There is an anti-fighting medicine, which is anti-mind-strength medicine, which is always fighting against the strength of the mind, It is called anti-mindstrength medicine. That is this Knowledge. Anyone who takes it regularly, one day he will become well, through this. A man who is crazy and who never takes it at the proper times gets worse and worse and worse and worse. That anti-fighting medicine. That is it. Yes. It won't help your mind to grow but it will make your mind fresher. That is all.
Premies had various rationalisations to explain away their boredom with Rawat's speeches while never actually calling it boredom.
Once satsang meetings were banned by Rawat in the early 1980s any real growth in numbers of his followers ended. In fact, there was an initial collapse in membership with half of the premies disappearing into the general community.
Prem Rawat when he was the young Guru Maharaj Ji made exceptionally strong claims for satsang: Satsang destroys all our sufferings effortlessly.
Delhi, India, October 29 1966
Dear premies, today hundreds of thousands of people have asked for darshan. The Ramayana says that it's only through great good fortune that satsang can be attained. Satsang destroys all our sufferings effortlessly. … Those who don't try to attend satsang during this lifetime will regret it later and will blame time, fate and God for their sufferings.
Divine Times, November 1979, Volume 8, Number 6
New York USA, 10 June 1972
And today there is something very beautiful that everyone must realise. And that is that once a man takes the Knowledge - and five million people have taken Knowledge - very naturally he wants to tell other people about it. And no doubt if these five million people really try and bring two people each day to the Knowledge, in two days how many people will be there? There's no doubt in this way we can bring this Knowledge to the whole world. It is not a dream. It can be real. Many people ask me this question again and again, because they don't believe that there is going to be a Kingdom of Heaven or that this Knowledge is going to spread. For them it is not possible. But, if you try, it is possible. Because if this Knowledge belongs to God and if it is really God's Knowledge and it is true Knowledge, then there is nothing in the world that can stop it reaching the people. So do satsang. Give them open-hearted satsang. Give them this feeling that what you want to tell them is not a new religion, is not a new way, it's not a new thing. That's why I am so concerned about all the activities of the Divine Light Mission.
Divine Light magazine Volume 2, Number 4, January 1973
Jamaica, West Indies, March 17, 1974
This is what happened in America. It started out with three people. And they used to give satsang in the morning, and every night, in Los Angeles. And it's like, people were just coming. And they had never listened to satsang before. Just maybe a word or so. And they just poured in! You know, it was like, first day maybe five. The next day, you see ten. And the third day you see fifteen, and we ended up having, right from three people, to fifty people within a week. And it was completely incredible, because people were just pouring in. They wanted to listen to what was going on. … And those fifty received Knowledge and they went out, and then they went out, and you can't imagine. It's like in a year we were having the Guru Puja function there. There were thousands of people assembled.
And It Is Divine, Summer 1977, Volume 4, Issue 2
Guru Puja Festival Caracas, Venezuela, July 23, 1975
Because it's really something like this whole world one day - and this is what I am working on, that this whole world one day would realize Knowledge. And this is not a high hope, or a big dream. But I really think its possible. Because it's like bringing water to thirsty people. And if we can get them convinced that this is water, you have no idea how fast they will really come to it. And this is the reason why I go around giving satsang. And we have these programs, and this is the reason I ask for so many premies to go out and tell other people about this Knowledge. Because I know this is not only my dream, and not only is it possible, but it can happen. And it can happen now. It can happen in this century, while you and me are alive. It can happen now. And this is the time that we have to really open up to let other people smell it. Because we know that we can fill this whole world with the beautiful smell that is within inside of us, as soon as we open ourselves up.
Élan Vital, 1978, Volume II Issue 2
Holi Festival, Florida, March 20, 1977
I was watching a cartoon in Los Angeles, and it was "Bugs Bunny" cartoon. …
I'm talking about birth into that eternal eternity, where there is complete harmony, where there is complete satisfaction. And the only method that is most successful, and the only method there is, is satsang, service, and meditation. And to give it all a super dose, there is darshan, and these programs, the way they're happening. So premies, let us all really come together, let's really become one in that bond, one in that tie, one in that love, and go ahead. There's no power in this whole world that can stop us from experiencing what we want to experience. Not even mind, if you're strong enough. There's nothing. No power in this world, that can stop us. Just - all we have to do is have faith in Guru Maharaj Ji. Have faith in me. I'm here to help you, and I will help you. But sincerely have faith in me. Not in some, not in some way, not in some manner, or particular manner, but just have faith in Guru Maharaj Ji, period. And let it all happen, let it all begin.
The Golden Age, May / June 1977, Number 38
London, England at the Wembley Hall, March 3rd, 1978
It's very, very simple experience, because there is such a beautiful experience that is within inside of us that has been given, that is there. And unless we open up to it, the experience is not going to open up to us. Because the experience cannot open, cannot close. It's ever-constant. It's the experience of that incredible infinity. It's not some head trip, but that incredible, incredible experience of that Grace, of that Knowledge that Guru Maharaj Ji, by his Grace, has given us. The reason is to come, sit down, and to experience that bliss and that Grace that comes out of that satsang, of that company of Truth, of that what we experience inside when we can let that flow, and to see our brothers and sisters, to see that growth happening within inside of us, to see that bliss and to get blissed out about it. And to have Guru Maharaj Ji's darshan. And to just let go for that one moment.
As we are sitting in this hall right now, I'm pretty sure, people are either getting into trouble, or just doing crazy things out there. And here we are, having a beautiful experience of satsang. That's the power of Knowledge. And that power can make that experience manifest within inside of us all the time.
The Golden Age, May 1978, Number 45
Holi Festival, Miami Beach, Florida, April 8, 1978
I do remember that all of a sudden, before I knew, I was giving satsang. And yet I didn't know what really it could have been that I was talking about, except that people liked it. And I guess it was more of an amazement for those people to just see a little bitty boy sitting up on a stage giving satsang. People would collect -- all these people wouldn't know what's going on. It would sort of provide a good advertisement, and then Shri Maharaj Ji would come and take over. And yet, of course, there was a feeling. It wasn't like a fake thing. It wasn't just for the fun of it. But there was a feeling. And the feeling was very motivating towards something, wanted to know something, knew that something was greater. And it was like, Shri Maharaj Ji, and just a very, very incredible experience. Just so beautiful, so incredible, so radiant.
You knew that there was something there. And just going to satsang after satsang after satsang … I didn't attend every satsang, because there was Mr. School. But every time I would go, it would be an incredible experience to just see all the premies, and then to just sit down and to listen to satsang, and to see Shri Maharaj Ji.
Élan Vital, Volume II, Issue 3, Fall 1978
Durga Ji (Marolyn Rawat nee Johnson), Hans Jayanti, Kissimmee, Florida, November 10 1978
Maybe to the world, the world would think, those people are angels, they don't do anything. But we know. We know. We're not angels. We know the standard that Guru Maharaj Ji sets. And we can't fool ourselves any more, looking at the world and saying, "Well they drink and they smoke and go to bars and they fight and they have wars. Look at me. I don't do any of that. I try to go to satsang and I try to do service and I do my little meditation. Look at me compared to them. I'm really doing good." But we can't do that. I don't really know what happens, but we kind of get more out there and more out there and then these things start happening, and Guru Maharaj Ji gets very displeased and he'll say, "Gee, what are these premies doing?" And he'll come to me and say, "What are these premies doing?" And I know, at least I feel, that I'm there too. I can't excuse myself. And so it's very, very painful. And maybe it's not even painful to me sometimes. Oh yes, they are spaced out. And then sometimes, oh man, we really are spaced out.
The Golden Age, February 1979, Number 51
Hans Jayanti Festival, Kissimmee, Florida, November 11, 1978, afternoon program
When Shri Maharaj Ji was giving that satsang he said, "Here I was." And one day he locked his room. (This is an incredible story. And I even have a tape of it. It's an incredible story.) One day Shri Maharaj Ji locked himself in the room and said, "Guru Maharaj Ji, if you are really real, come here and give me darshan." (Not that this is what you guys should try. Absolutely not. I wouldn't recommend it.) This is what Shri Maharaj Ji did. He said, "Maharaj Ji, if you're really real, come and give me darshan." (In this instance "Guru Maharaj Ji" refers to Shri Swarupanand Ji, Hans Rawat's guru and Perfect Master of his time.)
Élan Vital, Volume III, Issue 2, Summer 1979
Hans Jayanti, Kissimmee, Florida, November 8, 1979, Evening
… this really reminds me of Satyalok. It would sometimes be like this. And what would happen is there would be satsang all day long, and Shri Maharaj Ji would be getting furious with the premies for not doing meditation or satsang or service - just really furious. Sometimes there'd be two or three hours worth of satsang that would be a real mind-knocker. You really don't have much option when that starts happening. I know I used to wait for that moment to come when Shri Maharaj Ji would put his crown on. And sometimes it would be very early in the night and he would put it on and then it would go on for hours. Yet it would never be enough. And it was always so incredible. It was always so blissful to hear Shri Maharaj Ji talk about his Guru Maharaj Ji, the Grace, the power and saving. There was only one reason why he would even talk about it, why he would even give satsang about it: so that the people who were listening could open their ears and perhaps somehow respond to Guru Maharaj Ji like that, too. That experience of completely getting swept away in the river and then praying to Guru Maharaj Ji, and Guru Maharaj Ji coming and picking up his devotee and that devotee then being my Guru Maharaj Ji … As Shri Maharaj Ji used to say, "Providing that you're not a gorilla or a crocodile" - and I guess he meant all the animals, but in his satsang he said "crocodile and gorilla …"
Élan Vital, Volume IV, Issue 3, Fall 1980
Miami Beach, Florida - July 25, 1980
So premies, it's wonderful to be here, to have this opportunity. I know "opportunity" is a misused word. These days everything is an opportunity. But this really is something special for all of us. This festival. What it has to signify means something. It's really a festival of premies. I know of course the name Guru Puja started in India, but I find it's really beautiful to know what it means. Just some devotee's wish: a desire to worship, to worship their Guru Maharaj Ji. And it really is a festival in which we - we - can really benefit: through that satsang, through that service, through that meditation.
Élan Vital, Volume 4, Issue 4, Winter 1980
Follow-Up Program, Washington DC, 26th November 1981
Q: Your followers seek to worship you, why do you seek that?
GMJ: Why do my followers worship me?
Q: Why do you seek their worship?
GMJ: Well, I don't seek their worship.
Satsang is a Hindi word okay, now if you like it you can use it if you don't like it you sure don't have to use it but 'sat' means truth, 'sang' means company, company of truth, it's when people come and they talk about an experience which is real period. When are people can come up and talk about a lotta experience.The thing is ah when, it's just a, it's just a word but what happens is not really a worship in many cases. Do I come and sing my own praises when I am in that environment? Certainly not.
Perfect Master Tape #216