Maharaji's Ashrams - Monasteries for Young Hippies
In 1996, Professor Ron Geaves recalled the day 27 years before in India when he realised the Glory and Divinity of Prem Rawat aka Maharaji:
"In a second I understood all the actions of my life to that point. My heart knew that from then on everything was going to be fine because I was home. I cried the most beautiful tears of my life and prayed that I would never be cast adrift in the world alone again. I returned to England with Sandy at the end of 1969 intent on establishing an ashram as a centre to tell everyone about Maharaji and Knowledge."
An ashram was a place to live in Guru Maharaj Ji's (Prem Rawat) shelter, in "the perfect freedom of His service". On a more mundane level, it was a communal house populated by a group of Maharaji's followers who had taken vows of poverty, chastity, vegetarianism and obedience, similar to a co-ed monastery or convent though the sexes were separated where possible. All money was pooled, the minimum required to sustain life was kept and the rest was divided, 50% sent directly to Prem Rawat to support his luxurious lifestyle and 50% passed on to Divine Light Mission administrators to support the Mission's activities and a major part of that went to Rawat as well. Rawat often spoke about the ashram in his public speeches and wrote the rules for life in the ashram. All activities were regimented and scheduled as defined in the Ashram Code with a maximum of 6 hours 45 minutes sleep a night.
This was the opposite to Rawat's own lifestyle as his wife discussed which featured long sessions of playing pinball with lots of incredibly loud music for hours, days spent making up nasty practical jokes, was always late for meetings and was very lazy with drunkeness, dope smoking and meat eating and when he drove his luxury cars he drove very fast. Life there was full of crazy people getting drunk and stoned and spaced out:
But sometimes things get really spaced out in Guru Maharaj Ji's own residence. And it's very painful when it really starts manifesting, when things are so obvious. Because maybe it started out with a beautiful program, everybody's together, everybody's really in a beautiful place, making effort, really trying to re-dedicate our life. And then slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly we just kind of get further and further away. And then these really crazy things start happening. In Maharaj Ji's own home. Really very unconscious things. - Durga Ji Rawat, Kissimmee Florida, on November 10, 1978
The ashrams provided the personnel required to organise Divine Light Mission activities and the finances to support those organisers. The ashram premies also provided the inspirational core of the nightly satsang meetings that was the main source of recruitment for new members and the inspiration for the current members to maintain interest and continue to meditate, to do service (ie volunteer labour) and financially support Rawat himself and the Divine Light Mission organisation. Throughout the 1970's the ashrams provided over 50% of Divine Light Mission funds.
Maeve Price in The Divine Light Mission as a social organization reports:
From the small beginning of one mahatma in London and a handful of premies, the mission grew, with up to half a dozen mahatmas at any one time giving knowledge, the establishment of Divine Information Centres in most major towns and cities and the setting up of about forty ashrams (designated premie households) throughout Britain by the end of 1973. (9) Ashrams played an important part in the mission's structure. Here premies had chosen to live in small communal households, under vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. In practice they were under the direct supervision of head office and acted as cadres for the whole movement. A large membership had grown up very rapidly but the organizers had no clear idea where to lead the following, nor did they have the financial resources to maintain so many full-time workers. (13)
The ashram system in the West full of young single people had not been without problems. There was an exodus of people from the ashrams after the failure of Millenium '73 when Rawat got married at 16 years old thereby putting the concept of celibacy in question. All but one ashram in India came under the control of Rawat's mother and eldest brother when the young guru was deposed for his drug abuse and "playboy lifestyle." Premies put on a happy face in public most of the time but their disappointment became obvious in 1976 when the majority fled the ashrams once they began the journey to 'understanding'.
This major exodus occurred in 1976 when a wave of open and honest questioning and debate begun by DLM management swept the ashrams. In Australia all the ashrams were summarily closed by the DUO Co-ordinator(?). At the end of 1976 Rawat made his unhappiness with premies leaving the ashram explicit in several conferences and satsangs and with this agya ashrams were reopened and ashram membership grew over the next 6 years until all the Western ashrams were summarily closed circa 1982, see Dettmers, etc
Rawat often spoke to the ashram members in special closed meetings. We have transcripts of 4 of those meetings, 3 from videos and one from an audio tape. Up to the very time (circa 1982/83) the ashrams were summarily closed, Rawat continued to preach the necessity of the ashrams and that he wanted his most devoted, obedient followers to live in these ashrams.
- Atlantic City Conference, December 20, 1976
- Ashram Satsang, Malibu, January 7, 1979
- Ashram Satsang, Guru Puja Lingfield, England, June, 1979
- Ashram Satsang, Rome 1980
- Article About the Ashrams and Initiator Development Program Golden Age Magazine No 34 November 1976
- The Divine Light Mission As A Social Organization
Phoenix, Arizona, January 21, 1974
But the premies who are working in ashram, who are living in ashram, for them the thing is that, look: you have to understand. You have to take the right decision. Because the opportunity of service you are getting now, you will not get it later. If you leave it now, then it's going to be like you are progressing, you are just completely progressing, and then you drop down. Because then you are looking for something else which is completely external. And then one day it's going to die out and then again you would like to come back and be in the ashram and do service! You understand? Because, it's much better, you know, for a man to be completely, like, in a whole circumstance where he can get satsang all the time and be able to do service all the time.
Élan Vital, Autumn 1977, Volume I, Issue 1
Atlantic City Conference, December 20, 1976
Q: Guru Maharaj Ji, could you give me … us …a really simple definition of ashram? Please?
GMJ: I did - intensive care. Ashram is a shelter - provided by Guru Maharaj Ji, unto which we can come, unto which Guru Maharaj Ji can really work at us, really operate at us, really … because he is the surgeon, and he knows what's wrong. And it's just like, just like, we get hit by a disease, and we start to receive medication - which is good, which is Knowledge - and we start to receive medication for it, but what we need is an intensive care because our situation deteriorates so fast that for a recovery we need - just for a recovery, from the disease - we need a place to be at, where we can, we can be restored. And so Guru Maharaj Ji, this is how Guru Maharaj Ji works, this is like Guru Maharaj Ji's hospital, y'know?
But if you look at it from the angle of that this life is really to, to understand Knowledge, is really to understand that experience, then ashram really makes a lot of sense. Then ashram is really required, it's really needed.
Well, first of all we need a backbone. And the backbone is - ashram for people who want to be there always. That's what we have to do. To me, that is the way I forsee it. For the premies who want to move there for the lifetime - that's the first priority, and that's the first - ashram
There's a lot of, there's a lot of people who drink bhang, in India. And I know them, you know? It's just like bhang - y'know, everybody used to drink bhang in ashram. In India. And all of a sudden they would get just … the eye would, the eyes would be glowing red, and you couldn't even talk to them. Y'know, they would be just … somewhere else, in their own little world, y'know, diving in some cove or something. And you walk right past by them and say: "Listen. You know what's happening?" Y'know? And people would just sit there and go to sleep, or do this. And it's just like - there's a Knowledge - see, this is Knowledge that's been revealed to us, this has been given to us - it's more fantastic. Whatever can we ever substitute it for? Why don't we do that, why don't we understand that, why don't we progress in that part? Y'know? Because I know that a person who is stoned cannot really do meditation. For all the (?) every time he sits down for it he'll fall off. When you … that's when … all your horses go wild. And that's the way it is. Because it's just like … there's no control over anything. And I've seen that, I've seen that.
Atlantic City Conference Audio Tape
San Francisco, California, February 10 1979
Oh sure! I am saying that if you - if there is a necessity of some people to move into an ashram, then they should move into an ashram. And secondly, if they are into an ashram, then they are there for a definite purpose and they should not leave the ashram until that definite purpose is completed. That is my statement towards people leaving the ashram.
Divine Times, July/August 1979, Page 10
Marbella, Spain, 29 April 1979
There are about seventy-five, seventy-six applicants who have applied to be initiators. I was going through these files. And one after another - and this is only from Europe - it's such a sad story. Because there are these premies, living in the ashram, having a beautiful experience. All of a sudden the mind comes in, kicks them out, even for three days. You know what I look for in an application ? The section that I look for when I am looking at the application is where it says, "Have you ever left the ashram since first moving in ?" I almost feel like closing it when it says yes. I mean why ? How many times, for how many ages, for how many centuries, are you going to let that mind dominate you? This obscene thing can't always keep on going. And Guru Maharaj Ji has given us everything to stop it. Stop it right now. He has given us knowledge, he has given us opportunity, he has given us grace to do satsang, service, and meditation. And we have to all get together an do service and meditation. Everyone of us. Individually. Really just submerge in Guru Maharaj Ji's world. Really just let go to Guru Maharaj Ji.
Divine Times, July/August 1979, Page 10
Guru Puja Festival, Miami Beach, Florida, July 19 1979
Sometimes people even say, "And I moved out of the ashram, and it was so much Guru Maharaj Ji's Grace that he made me understand that I shouldn't have walked out of the ashram in the first place." That's not Guru Maharaj Ji's Grace. What inspired you to move out is Mr. M-i-n-d. And that's it. Period
Élan Vital, Winter 1979, Volume III, Issue 4
Hans Jayanti, Kissimmee, Florida, Evening November 8, 1979
Mind lulls us away into this "everything" that looks so beautiful, that looks so incredible. Mind lulls us away into something, but everything's here, like that example, that story of this premie who came to Guru Maharaj Ji's ashram to dedicate his life. You might say he did dedicate his life. He moved into Guru Maharaj Ji's ashram and stayed there and he would do service every day. One day he decided he wanted to go off and get married. And to me it's so real; Guru Maharaj Ji's Grace, saving us every moment. He went off to be married. … "There is a letter from Guru Maharaj Ji." … What it said is you came into this world to surrender to me, to completely focus yourself on me, to completely let go to me. And now you are wearing this whole costume of a bridegroom, and are going to get entrapped into this world. You came to get away from this world and now you're going right back into this world. You came from that place of misery to an incredible satisfaction and now you're going back to misery. And I guess it really did him in. It was "the right place at the right time," plus a lot of Grace from Guru Maharaj Ji. He really realized. He took his horse and headed right to the ashram. And he went there and then he really realized, he really could see.
Élan Vital, Spring 1980, Volume IV, Issue 1
Rome, Italy, 1980
"Someday, with Guru Maharaj Ji's grace, there'll be ashram everywhere is what because I just, you know, just see that there has to be a necessity for an ashram, it isn't just like, hah, that's a good plot, nobody lives in it, how about opening up an ashram? You know. But a necessity, yes there is something to back the ashram up and yes that there is something happening in that area that the ashram can back it up. Then I can see that, yes, there will be it. A good reason, you know."
Within 2 or 3 years Rawat ordered all the ashrams closed.
* 'Bhang' is a Hindi word for various intoxicating narcotics derived from the plant cannabis sattiva. (OED) The word is commonly used to describe a beverage laced with hashish (cannabis resin), such as "Bhang lassi", a drink of watered-down yoghurt laced with the drug).