Prem Rawat, The Numbers Game
Prem Rawat, or Maharaji ("Great King") as he calls himself, rarely, if ever, specified the number of his followers after his early initial, successful phase of recruitment in the West when he boasted of his methods. Why Rawat and his organisations do not publish actual membership statistics is uncertain especially as they have sophisticated methods of counting his followers' activities through the use of obligatory "smart cards" (see www.smartcardoffice.org) but it is probably because the number has halved from it's height and it appears to be a strict policy of his organisations only to print positive things about Rawat and his activities. Rawat has occasionally publicly claimed numbers do not matter to him but it that was true why the decades long attempts at recruitmen?
As far as can be ascertained he would appear to have about 10,000 'students' * in Europe, North America and Australasia - about half of the maximum figure of circa 1980 despite constant efforts in recruitment or "propagation" as he called it in the 1970s.
Prem Rawat Originally Expected Exponential Growth and He Needed It
When Rawat began his Western recruitment drive only small groups would listen to him. If the "Knowledge" that Rawat claims is his unique gift actually had the positive effects he says then it should spread from person to person exponentially as more and more people come into contact with his followers. And this is exactly what he predicted would happen in 1973 when he was in the short-lived optimistic, growth phase of his early career in the West.
"I have a plan for world peace, you see. And if we all work to it, I'm sure we can get It. I can see how its going to work out. It wasn't very hard reaching the hearts of six million people, right? So it's not going to be hard for six million people to reach the hearts or one person each -- and that makes it 12 million. And it's not going to be hard for 12 million people to reach the hearts of one person each and that's going to be -- go ahead multiply it! And that's it, there you are."
On April 9, 1978 in Miami, Florida when he addressed a crowd of 10,000 he was still talking big:"
"It'll be something that'll take time. And I mean you can understand it taking time. Because we don't want to build it for only 10,000 people. We don't want to build it for 20,000. We want to build something that will accomodate up to 100,000 people at a time, and grow in that facility. Maybe one year, it'll be 20,000 people, second year maybe 30, and then maybe 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90. And then we'll just grow out of that facility and just hold little programs there. And we'll get another facility to hold the big ones. "
On June 10, 1978 he said,
"And like this Hans Jayanti that we have already started to plan for is a really incredible thing. Because not only do we want it a five-day Hans Jayanti; we want a seven-day Hans Jayanti! Not only are we looking at only 15,000 premies which were there last year in Rome; we are looking at 20,000 premies!"
In that year in 1978 at Hans Jayanti at Kissimmee, Florida, which I attended, it was announced that over 20,000 people had attended. It was at this time that he could attract his largest crowds in the West. These were mostly committed premies with few onlookers.
In the Elan Vital period their local administrators were instructed to stop counting individual attendees at meetings but only ever the attendances. Obviously as time goes on the sum of these attendances will always increase. At that time the euphemism for being a 'premie' was "being in touch."
I make this approximation of 10,000 committed, students of Rawat based on a number of reasons.
- An official document (see below) faxed to local community co-ordinators (there were still such things) in Australia in 2003 or 2004 detailing the money their local supporters were expected to donate to pay for the creation of "the Keys programme." This document gave Elan Vital's estimate of the numbers of people who were committed enough to make the required donation. 560 Australians to donate app. $AUS30 each
- In the 2014 WOPG (Words of Peace Global) annual report (the first) it was printed that donations were received from over 10,000 supporters. The creation of WOPG had been portrayed as a major breakthrough in the presentation of Maharaji's Message and so the maximum number of supporters donated.
- There have been annual events at Amaroo in September at which Rawat has appeared and stayed there since the mid 1990s. These are the highlight of Rawat's annual activities. Apart froma few "very special" years such as 2016 his 50th Anniversary Year, at which 4,500 attended, the numbers have been around 3,500. They have not been increasing and anyone who attends can see that nearly all the attendees have aged and are now in the 60s ot 70s or dead.
In 1976 there were 1,000 Australian premies actively supporting Divine Light Mission. In 1978 Rawat called for each of his followers to come to the November Hans Jayanti Festival in Kissimmee Florida and despite the considerable expense about 1200 Australian premies did just that. I went to the USA with my ticket and expenses paid and $7 in my pocket and every premie I knew also went. We were told that over 20,000 premies attended that 5 day festival camping out in an abandoned Florida Orange Grove very close to Disney World. Assuming that the fall in numbers is consistent over Europe, North America and Australia then that means there are approximately 10,000 followers of Rawat's left in those areas as of 2004.
Details published in the 1998 Connect magazine showed that 9,386 people "received Knowledge" in 1996 and 17,113 people "received Knowledge during 1997 in a total of 21 Knowledge sessions in every region of the world". This shows that "Westerners" were only 5% of this total. This percentage would be even smaller as large scale (but minor in the Indian culture) initiation sessions in India were begun. Rawat had twice the success per head of people of Indian descent in Malaysia compared to South Africa. This is probably because his eldest brother, Satpal Maharaj, has a significant presence in South Africa.
Figures were also given for European "Aspirants" i.e. people who had shown some interest in "recieving Knowledge." There is a significant disparity between interest in England compared to France and Germany, basically 8 times more interest in England. However this still means that only one in 71,006 English people had elicited interest in 1998 despite the thousands of people with Knowledge already living in England since 1970. In Germany only 1 in 689,655 people aspired towards Rawat. Looks like it had to be: "first we take London, then we take Berlin."
The Connect magazine stated: "The 1997 series of Knowledge sessions represent an impressive tour de force, made possible not only by his indefatigable traveling and effort …" In fact it shows that Rawat's indefatigability (what there was of it) was receiving a pathetic response, his current followers were unable to even inspire their own number of people to become aspirants and all that Rawat could achieve was a lot of flying time and a pretty good income.
So much for Prem's exponential pass-on-a-DVD-of-Maharaji-to-a-neighbour approach. It works even less well then the old mouth to mouth exponential Peace to the World method.
Document Faxed to Australian Local Communities of Prem Rawat's Followers
At that time on the Gold Coast the local co-ordinator was my wife (now ex-wife) and when I saw this faxed document one morning in the kitchen I scanned it hoping it would give a true indication of the number of people Rawat believed were committed to him. Premies were informed that donations were necessary to pay for the KEYS project and that the followers in each each country and each community had been set a target to raise based upon the number of premies "in touch" in each country and the number of premies in each country as a percentage overall proportional to the standard of living in that country. This figure was 560 people for Australia who should donate $AU17,660.
It is quite astonishing that there were only 65 people regularly "in touch" in Sydney and Newcastle which have a population of 4½ million. Brisbane, Ipswich and Toowoomba have 148 premies despite having relatively small populations because they are the closest cities to Rawat's Amaroo cult compound and super-villain lair. Many premies moved to be closer to it. Byron Bay and Bellingen have 60 premies because they are the "hippie" capitals of Australia where many graying "once-were-hippie" followers of Rawat have clustered.
* 'Premie' is the original word given to people who were initiated by a mahatma and obeyed Rawat's instructions. Rawat stopped using this word circa 1982. I generally use 'follower', 'student', "true believer," etc depending on whim.