Prem Rawat and Counterculture
Glastonbury and New Spiritualities
© 2019 by Ron Geaves
'Mr. Geard has the idea, John went on, addressing himself now to Sam Dekker alone, 'of holding a sort of Pageant. A sort of Religious Fair at Midsummer. … I believe he has the 24th June in his mind, ... In the Tor Fair field, eh, Sir? His idea is to make this such an event, that people will come to it from France and Germany, as well as from all over England. It will, of course, be entirely friendly to all religious bodies. It won't be a church affair. It won't be a non-conformist affair. It'll be … I'm right in this, aren't I, Mr Geard? … A Glastonbury Revival, absolutely independent of the Churches. … '.
Powys, 1933: 161
The British novelist and esotericist John Cooper Powys, writing in 1933, was almost prophetic speaking through the mouth of his character, Mr Geard, the mayor of Glastonbury. Andrew Kerr, the main inspiration for Glastonbury Fayre in 1971, would bring the idea of a 'sort of Religious Fair ... at Midsummer' to fulfilment. Glastonbury Festival has gone on to become an event that is known by just about everyone in Britain and remains the foremost rock festival in the world. My interest in writing this book arose from my attending the Fayre in 1971 not in the crowd but standing on the famed Pyramid Stage as Prem Rawat addressed the attendees. I looked down on a large number of freaks, many completely high on various substances, as they chanted 'Hare Krishna' and wondered what was about to happen. At the time, I no longer felt that I was one of them. My life had been transformed in India on meeting Prem Rawat, and I no longer participated in psychedelic or opiate use. I was healthy in body, mind and spirit, vegetarian and considered myself a lifetime resident of the ashram established in Britain in early 1970. Many of the audience would, although they did not know it at the time, experience similar life-changing epiphanies over the next two years.
My journey with Prem Rawat began in India in the summer of 1969. I had travelled overland and encountered the Indian organization, Divine Light Mission, established by Prem Rawat's father. I didn't like it much. I had been an active anarchist for several years and had an issue with organizations. I left for Varanasi where I became a sadhu, living on the streets to the detriment of
my health. I returned and met Prem Rawat in the town of Ghaziabad where he addressed a crowd of around ten thousand. In our meeting, the 11-yearold boy would hold a short conversation with me. He asked me, 'What are you looking for?' I replied, 'Peace'. After all, I considered myself a peace movement activist. Instead of accepting my answer, he asked again, 'What kind of peace are you looking for?' I floundered. He went on to explain that peace could not be achieved in the world unless it was found within the heart of each individual. He asked me if I had found such peace. I knew the answer was 'No!' He then requested me to search throughout the length and breadth of India, meeting the countless religious and spiritual paths on offer and to return to him if I could not be satisfied. He grinned and said, 'I am young. You have time.' More than his words, I was struck by the enigma of an 11-year-old playing with a tape recorder, whose countenance shone, whose eyes radiated authority and whose atmosphere was one of profound stillness. I stayed.
With these words, I ceased to search for peace in political activism and dismissed the drug experiences I had relied upon for spiritual enlightenment. I find myself at odds with Stephen Kent, whose excellent book From Slogans to Mantras (2001), I have drawn upon extensively. Kent too was inspired to write his book after an encounter with Prem Rawat in 1974 while a 'hippie.' Like me, he went on to become a professor in religion. He considered Prem Rawat's examples to be 'banal' and unlike his companions dismissed the guru (p. xvi). Even so, the encounter led him to 'ponder this mystery for years'. The riddle would lead him to recall that 'disorientating night' and be motivated to 'interpret the crucial experiences of my generation'.
They were my generation too, and although I have never found Prem Rawat's discourse 'banal', I also find myself motivated to address the same question. Kent's moment would arise from the encounter in Philadelphia, mine would be the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Fayre. He would go on to write a number of articles on the counterculture whereas I would get there more slowly. My interest