Due to copyright restrictions the full text of this article cannot be published.

Geaves' original text is indented in the smaller font, my paraphrases are gray and my comments are not indented in a larger font.

From Divine Light Mission to Élan Vital and Beyond:
An Exploration of Change and Adaptation

Ron Geaves
Nova Religio; Mar 2004; 7, 3; pg. 45

Abstract (Article Summary)
The following article will put forward the argument that it is necessary to take into account the worldview of the insider in order to appreciate the coherence or "rationality" of actions of a religious-spiritual teacher or organization.

It is very important to take the insider (emic) viewpoint into consideration especially in a case like this where Ron Geaves is aspiring to a researcher's (edic) viewpoint when he has been a devotee of Prem Rawat's for over 35 years

As a case study, the article examines the transformations that have occurred in the organizational forms utilized by Prem Rawat (a.k.a. Maharaji). While bringing readers up to date with Maharaji's activities since the 1980s, I argue that these developments owe more to Maharaji's self-perception of his role as a master and his wish to universalize the message historically located in the teachings of individual sant iconoclasts, than to external or internal pressures brought to bear upon the organizational forms themselves.

Full Text (7790 words)
Copyright University of California Press Mar 2004 This article intends to explore the nature of change and continuity involved in the various organizational structures that have been developed to promote the teaching of Prem Rawat (a.k.a. Maharaji), and to suggest that the organizational adaptations that have taken place, and continue to develop, are not as influenced by internal and external crises as by the dynamics of the message itself embodied in the messenger. In addition, sociologists of religion who focus on "cult" and "sect" formation need to take into account a religious movement's unique worldview, as this can be the key to understanding motivation for change. In this regard, ethnography needs to develop an interpretive framework that takes into account emic reality constructions as well as edic understandings that often involve impositions of one worldview onto another. For this reason, the article provides an overview and critique of a selection of the early scholarly interpretations of Divine Light Mission published in the 1970s. Even though that organization ceased to exist in the early 1980s, any literature review requires examining these early articles. Since more recent scholarly attention to Maharaji's movement is notable by its absence, there is a need for a current reassessment of Maharaji's teachings and their growth worldwide.


Pr. Geaves gives a brief history of 'Divine Light Mission' an organisation created by Prem Rawat's father who had a moderately successful 30 year career as a guru in India. A short, hagiographical history is available at his second eldest son, Bhole Ji's internet site. A full, hagiographical history published by the Indian DLM in 1970 is available on the net. His major book, Hans Yog Prakash is available on the Internet. Ron claims that he had resisted the idea of creating an organisation but presents no evidence. In 1966 Shri Maharaji died and was succeeded by his youngest son, Prem Pal Singh Rawat, who was then eight.

The story of young Prem Rawat's early years is well documented in both visual and print media published by various organizations that have supported his activities

This is not correct. In the early 1980s, following the Jonestown massacre and the gaoling of Sun Myung Moon the leader of the "Moonies cult", instructions were sent from Prem Rawat's headquarters to Divine Light Mission administrators around the world ordering the destruction of all existing Divine Light Mission publications. These orders were relayed to all his followers and to a large extent they were obeyed. The only copies now available to the public are those published on the Ex-Premie internet site or any that might be kept in public libraries, etc. A "revisionist" version of the events has been created by Élan Vital.

The response from the countercultural youth of both Britain and the United States was phenomenal, and by the early 1970s large rallies had been organized in both nations. Centers of activity, focused around ashrams consisting of highly committed celibate followers, appeared in most large population centers … Approximate estimates indicate that there were around 8,000 members in the United Kingdom and up to 50,000 in North America by 1973.

As young Prem, his followers and his 'mahatmas' were claiming divine status for family members and that they were able to "reveal God" to anyone interested ("by the grace of Guru Maharaj Ji") there was a strong, ephemeral interest by a small minority of countercultural youth. By December 1973 the organisation was only able to attract 10,000 people to it's Millenium 73 gathering despite young Prem stating it was the most Holy and significant event in human history.

Geaves goes on to rebut a paper by Daniel Foss and Ralph Larkin published in a Sociological Review of 1978 for stating that Maharaji's message possessed no "substantive content" and to suggest that the organization was "functionally rational but substantively irrational." Maharaji's own behavior was described as "nonsensical" and "unpredictable." Geaves argues that the motivations and interpretations of the followers of Guru Maharaj Ji (as he was known at the time) must be taken into account when determining their degree of rationality or reasonableness. He quotes a young Sophia Collier from her 1978 book "Soul Rush":

"After my initiation into Knowledge I found myself in an uncompromised state of bliss that lasted almost eight weeks without pause for a tear or a sad thought. Day after day I woke up to discover I was still overjoyed. The smallest things-walking to the Good Day Market with the cold on my face; drinking a cup of hot tea, smelling the steam; or seeing a tiny place where the ice on the street was melting, making beautiful colors as the light came through it-all were rich, precious experiences for me."

Although Collier was speaking of an experience that transcends the rational, it can be argued that there is nothing irrational about desiring or enjoying "an uncompromised state of bliss." Collier was, however, aware of the inability of outsiders to comprehend her experience …

A 16 year old Sophie Collier could hardly be expected to know that her experience was a normal one for a person undergoing a conversion experience into a "faith journey". An academic of religion though should know it is common and here he begs the question of the "transcendence of the rational". Ms Collier did not "transcend" rationality and within a short period was no longer in "a state of bliss" and within a few years left the movement because of her disillusion with it's evolution into Prem Rawat's "little religion" and his drunkeness. oss and Larkin had no problem understanding her motivations, they spent 2 ½ years closely observing and participating in DLM activities.

Foss and Larkin's inability to acknowledge or comprehend the internal logic of the insider's motivations resulted in a failure to see a crucial aspect of the relationship between those inspired by Maharaji's message, enough to commit themselves to initiation and practice, and active involvement with Divine Light Mission. There is, however, a paradox. Formal organizational structures replicated by Divine Light Mission appeared to echo hierarchical, bureaucratic forms of management and aspects of Indian religious organization similar to those found in Sant Mat lineages, which appeared incongruent to Maharaji's own focus on spontaneity and imminent millennial transformation and his firm denial of creating a new religion. When coupled with the alternative culture background of most of the original followers, who had rejected the morality and organizational forms associated with institutional religion and conventional society, it seems unlikely that the strictures and structures of Divine Light Mission would have been readily accepted by all.

Geaves provides no evidence that young Rawat's focus was on spontaneity and imminent millennial transformation. An examination of his public discourses of the time give no evidence of spontaneity. They were boring, predictable mixtures of popular Indian religious stories, a claim that the "Knowledge" was the highest expression of all religions supported by repeats of a few quotes from different religious texts and homilies fixated on his obvious pubescent fascination with Western technology, especially watches, cars, comics and aeroplanes. He believed he was the Lord, the true Guru Maharaj Ji incarnated in the world to initiate the Satyuga. However, there is a great difference between spontaneity and irresponsibility and see also the numerous newspaper articles about Prem Rawat from the early 1970s.

Foss and Larkin seemed to recognize that the motivations of insiders needed to be taken into account when they suggested that this anomaly was accepted by Divine Light Mission volunteers because they were pursuing the same goals by other means. Namely, many of the devotees had crossed over from alternative political discourse, where they espoused a strong commitment to world peace, now rendered possible by the ideal of internal individual transformation leading to better societies. However, the two authors failed to recognize the element of cognitive dissonance involved in a problematic relationship with the organizational structures of Divine Light Mission. Volunteers used the organization as an outlet for their enthusiasm to commit themselves to their individual spiritual practice and to tell others of their experience. In many, a tension developed between the inner experience and the inspiration of the message offered by Maharaji, and the increasing institutionalization of Divine Light Mission as a bureaucratic organization and a developing new religion. If the dissatisfaction created by one became greater than the satisfaction offered by the other, it was likely that the individuals affected would cease their organizational activities or even their involvement with Maharaji and his teachings. Many chose to separate the two by blaming the shortcomings of the organization on its managers rather than Maharaji.

Geaves' last sentence can be extended further. For 30 years followers of Rawat have excused the extraordinary level of incompetence, infighting and inexplicable management decisions in DLM/Élan Vital by blaming the managers rather than Rawat despite his having complete control over any facet of the organisation should he choose to exercise that control. Some management memos leaked from Ivory's Rock Conference Centre in 2003 showed the managers of Rawat's single greatest investment property beginning letters seeking decisions from Rawat with ritual prostrations.

There is a body of evidence that suggests that Maharaji himself maintained a strong antipathy to organizational structures, or at least he was aware of the tension between his own inclination to function without any formal organization and the requirement of an organization to promote his message and retain his following.

Geaves produces no evidence whatsoever for this statement. In DLM publications and films of the time young Rawat seemed to revel in the creation of hierarchical administrative structures DLM, Divine United Organization, World Peace Corps, City of Love, etc that had no actual, practical basis. The various national 'Élan Vital' organisations also were models of over administration as attempts were made to ensure complete compliance to "synchronisation" with the "Speaker's" (Rawat) direction and conformity so that all publications, "low key advertising" and signage required administrative approval from the authorised officer.

Maeve Price argued that young Rawat had to contend with other forces:

1. The beliefs and practices of the devotees;
2. The social composition and attitudes of the following;
3. The leader's degree of competence;
4. The wider cultural context within which the mission functions.
Thus, Price set up the possibility of a conflict between Maharaji's attempts to balance his own commitment to the ideal of no structural organization and the need to continue teaching, on one hand, and the constraints or pressures arising from the above four factors, on the other.

Geaves continues to state that Rawat had this committment to an "ideal of no structural organization" though evidence from former administrators of his organisations, Bob Mishler and Michael Dettmers, and the administrative history of DLM/EV provide evidence that this is false. Geaves agrees with Price's correct analysis that Divine Light Mission transformed itself into a "sect" throughout the early 1970s marked by a growing degree of "epistemological authoritarianism". Geaves then claims that the beliefs of DLM devotees based on "Sant" forms of Hinduism which included a very strong exclusivist claim to salvation, ideals of monasticism, celibacy, and vegetarianism, perfectionism through four techniques of meditation and millenialism based on a belief in Rawat's divinity ("a powerful emotive epistemology of incarnation in regard to Maharaji" as Geaves puts it) were mistakenly created by Rawat's family and senior disciples. However these were also the views forcefully expressed by young Rawat as well and were even more strongly expressed after his mother, elder brothers and nearly all the 'mahatmas' rejected his claims to inheritance of his father's spiritual and temporal power.

It is Price's third factor, the leader's competence, which is significant in understanding the relationship between continuity and adaptation in the global promotion of Maharaji's message since the 1970s. As a child selected by his father as the most able person to take the teachings forward, Maharaji had not been particularly concerned with the organizational structures of Divine Light Mission in India. He toured the country speaking at large events during his school vacations, and he left the responsibility for running the Mission to his mother, elder brother and senior followers. The mahatmas, or members of the renunciate order begun by his father, were largely responsible for teaching the four techniques of self-knowledge to those interested.

There is considerable controversy over the succession and how it happened. After the fanily breakup and the concomitant revisionism it would be difficult to determine exactly how young Prem was initially chosen. NB the term "Self-Knowledge" was used by Élan Vital and its members for a brief period circa 2004 until Rawat vetoed it (not enough differentiation from many other groups) and they reverted to "Knowledge".


It is certain that tension would have eventually appeared as Maharaji achieved adulthood and began to express his own vision.

There was no need for tension to have arisen as Rawat took control of his organisation. The tensions that invariably arise in the "Sant" tradition when a guru dies are caused by the refusal to accept the new leader, either designated by the previous guru or chosen by a majority of the senior followers by dissatisfied followers. This was the case when Rawat's father's guru died, Rawat's father was himself a minor follower of Sri Swarupanand and was not recognised as a guru by Swarupanand's devotees. Ron Geaves has been active in attempting to provide credibliity for that parampara also.

In fact, these divisions had begun to appear even earlier, when Maharaji decided to accept the invitation to tour in Britain, Europe and the United States. The Western following had from the beginning given allegiance to Maharaji rather than to his family members.

At that time Rawat's family members were preaching allegiance to him also so there was nothing else for new Western followers to believe. When Rawat's mother who was disgusted by his meat eating, drug and alcohol abuse and marriage to a 25 year old Californian disowned and disinherited him the Western followers logically enough stayed loyal to him as the information they were receiving was coming through Rawat's channels and divinity was not something that could disappear merely by an angry mother's command.

The extraordinary success and adulation with which he was received by the predominantly counterculture youth, including speaking from the main stage at the first Glastonbury Festival, resulted in his decision to discontinue his education and commit himself fully to the task of spreading the teachings worldwide.

Geaves repeats some of his most cherished youthful fantasies. The "success" that he remembers so fondly was ephemeral and grossly exaggerated by DLM and its devotees. Yes Rawat spoke at Glastonbury with Ron by his side but the appearance was something of a failure. Yes, over the next few years, tens of thousands of people were initiated into the Divine Light, Celestial Harmonies, Holy Name and Divine Nectar (now renamed 1st technique, 2nd technique, etc) but their allegiance was mostly either non-existent or short-lived. DLM and its members were considered ignorant, deluded fundamentalists by most other counter-cultural groups and never achieved any social cachet. The number of followers committed enough to travel to receive his "darshan" at "events" at which all devotees were implored to attend peaked at around 20,000 around 1980. Not all of these were devoted enough to provide regular financial support or voluntary labour for DLM and Rawat.

The young Prem Rawat quite understandably decided not to return to India and an overbearing mother and stifling social constraints when in the "West" he had access to followers who obeyed his every whim, all the technological toys - fast cars, speedboats, watches, etc - he desired and access to drugs and sex. What teenage boy would have gone back to India?

Geaves then puts forward a very upbeat thesis explaining the constant turmoil in "Sant" lineages ("parampara") explaining their inability to maintain orderly, amenable successions in a positive fashion due to

"each master's iconoclasm and insistence upon retaining primary commitment to the value of personal experience and their focus on spontaneity".

Why this iconoclasm and spontaneity must always manifest in dissension, disagreement and disowning of spiritual family members (and in Rawat's case actual family members) is not made plain. He states that a sophisticated analysis of "Sant parampara" is required and quotes Gold's analysis but says it is not appropriate to the Advait Mat lineage of Rawat's father. Geaves says each "new master derived his authority from his charisma, his desire to promote the teachings, and the authorization and blessings of the previous master.19 Authority was based on the charisma of the living master, his success in promoting the message, and the student's personal experience.

The most useful theory to elucidate the relation between Maharaji's charismatic authority and his institutions are those provided by post-Weberian discourse of sociologists such as Thomas O'Dea,20 combined with the work of Indian religion scholars focused specifically on the sant tradition, such as Charlotte Vaudeville and Daniel Gold. Maharaji does not see himself as bound by conventional beliefs or practices of any institutionalized religion or tradition-honored worldview. He is essentially an iconoclast who plots his route by pragmatic decisions to meet the demands and challenges that occur in his public career as a teacher striving to convince people of the value of self-knowledge. It is hard to ascertain exactly where the lines of strategic adaptation and continuation are drawn, except that they seem to lie somewhere around the inviolacy of the teacher/student relationship and Maharaji's own trust in the efficacy of the techniques to provide individuals with an inner awareness of what is permanent and unchanging within human beings. Although Maharaji does not see himself as part of a tradition or as having to conform to the behavior of any predecessor, in my view, the best way to place him is to identify him with Vaudeville's definition of the sant. Vaudeville describes a sant as

a holy man of a rather special type, who cannot be accommodated in the traditional categories of Indian holy men-and he may just as well be a woman. The sant is not a renunciate.… He is neither a yogi nor a siddha, practices no asanas, boasts of no secret bhij mantras and has no claim to magical powers. The true sant wears no special dress or insignia, having eschewed the social consideration and material benefits which in India attach to the profession of asceticism.… The sant ideal of sanctity is a lay ideal, open to all; it is an ideal that transcends both sectarian and caste barriers.21

By now we can see the major thrust of Geaves paper. Early researchers categorised DLM as an organisation in deep trouble with a nonsensical and unpredictable leader who was considered divine by his followers and himself. The obvious, barebones history of Rawat and his organisations certainly support those predictions. Numbers have fallen steadily over 30 years, the devotees are basically age invariant, lackadaisacal and showing no signs of meditational uplift. Rawat has complete dictatorial control of his organisations that are registered as religions, charities or whatever legal structure is most convenient. To allow a positive spin to be put on this history we must posit a spontaneous, iconoclastic Master always in conflict with the stultifying tendencies in humanity and even, or especially, his followers.

However, I wish to make a clear distinction between Sant Mat, often associated with Radhasoami lineages, and individual founder-sants. Although early scholars often identified Maharaji with Sant Mat and even Radhasoami lineages, there is no evidence to link Maharaji or his predecessors with that tradition.22 Sant Mat lineages usually display organizational forms that conform to Gold's categorization of parampara or panth. Individual sant-founders in Vaudeville's terms are generally not concerned with organizational forms or institutionalized religion and display considerable iconoclasm in regard to ritual and doctrinal dimensions. Maharaji fits most aspects of the sant categorization by Vaudeville, even though he does not use this category as a self-definition. If being a sant implies an iconoclasm that breaks the bounds of tradition while maintaining an emphasis on the inner experiential dimension, then Maharaji would conform to that definition. However, Maharaji is insistent that he should not be categorized into any traditional definition, including that of sant. Yet it could be argued that ideal-type sants such as Nanak (1469-1539) and Kabir (1380-1460) would also have eschewed any attempt to label or categorize them or place them within an established tradition.

Geaves now attempts to distance Rawat from any of the better organised traditions as if organisation and tradition are incompatible with spiritual experience and links Rawat to famous historical gurus Nanak and Kabir. Kabir, especially, has had something of a vogue amongst Élan Vital devotees presumably because Rawat quotes him positively on occasion in his discourses.

A close analysis of Maharaji's discourse reveals a more tactful approach, but there is nonetheless a clear distinction between the realm of religion as manifested in dogma, doctrine and ritual practice, and the experiential dimension of self-knowledge for which prior commitment to any of the world religions is irrelevant.25 Once this is understood, post-Weberian sociological analysis can be utilized to elucidate motivation in the formation of the institutions to disseminate Maharaji's teachings.

Here Geaves describes the single most important dogma in Élan Vital. To an outsider or to followers who have become disillusioned it is obvious that Élan Vital is a religion and the "experience" that followers have is identical in essence to that of other religious believers, Christians, Hindus, etc. Élan Vital members are continually told that they are having an "experience" not available to other people.


Maharaji's 1974 marriage to Marolyn Johnson, a California follower, caused his mother, eldest brother and several senior mahatmas to break away and establish their own movement in India. By the decade's end, Maharaji had begun a process of removing his teachings from any association with Indian culture, instead focusing on universalizing the message. In the early 1980s, the community houses or ashrams were closed and the Indian mahatmas largely disappeared from the West. In addition, Maharaji was becoming aware of the inherent difficulties caused by Western followers translating the avatar concept in Hinduism into a messiah concept. It does not appear that he ever seriously considered the repercussions of Indian followers believing him to be an avatar, as this perspective is almost customary among bhakti (devotional) movements in India.26 Maharaji and his predecessors in India had always been known as Satguru (divine guru) in the sant idiom, and both the nirguna (formless aspect of the divine) and saguna (the divine in personal form) versions of the bhakti tradition had historically debated the divinity and the humanity of the guru. However, these debates are distinctly different from those concerning the nature of Jesus Christ and do not correlate easily, since the nature of divinity and the role of incarnation in Christianity and Hinduism arise from very different assumptions. To put it simply, it is almost commonplace for a Hindu to claim the divinity of a guru, whereas such a claim for a religious leader in a Christian milieu is highly controversial.

It was not several senior 'mahatmas' that broke away but several 'mahatmas' who remained loyal to Prem Rawat. It was Rawat who had to create a new organisation in India as it was his mother and brother who won the legal battles in India. From 1974 Rawat began a process of increasing 'Hinduisation' of his movement which can be confirmed by studying the cult/sect/new religious movement's publications of the 1970's. There was an interlude in the mid-70's when Rawat allowed the president of DLM, Bob Mishler, and other officers to close the ashrams and try to change DLM into a secular consciousness raising organisation promoting Rawat as a "humanitarian leader". Alarmed at this direction and the falling off in numbers and finances Rawat began a campaign that lasted through to 1982 of increasing displays of his Divinity and increasing demands for total devotion to his divine Being. These demands were passed to the followers through the new Western initiators who spent time with Rawat and then returned to their countries to spread the latest gospel and movies and cassette tapes. By now every speech given by Rawat was being filmed where possible and recorded and distributed and stored but very spontaneously.

There was another channel through which devotees were informed and taught: popular music. During this period two main bands performed at his at his "festivals" and recorded albums sold through Élan Vital channels, "One Foundation" and the "Holi Band". There music was inspired by and directed by Rawat personally and their music became increasingly devotional and worshipful particularly once he added an American "initiater/singer" called Rich Neel whose musical talents did not match his bombastic devotion. In the early 80's DLM music became even more Hinduised when they began recording and distributing bhajans (Indian devotional songs) sung by, among others, Rawat's senior Indian devotee, the former Mahatma Gurucharanand.

Then came the Jonestown massacres in 1978. Orders were given that devotees were not to talk to the press. In June, 1982 Sun Myung Moon Divine leader of the Unification Church and infamous guru whose name was often linked in articles with Guru Maharaj Ji was convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to an 18 month gaol term. Suddenly orders were sent out to destroy all Divine Light Mission publications, movies and recordings. The ashrams were closed for good, nightly meetings which had been going on for over a decade were cancelled. Divine Light Mission was renamed Élan Vital and Rawat spent a few years "laying low".

Although Maharaji had referred to his own humanity even during his childhood years, both Eastern and Western followers with their respective doctrines of avatar and messiah tended to interpret these statements as signs of humility, or even as the divine incarnation wishing to hide himself except to recipients of grace.27 From the 1980s forward, Maharaji consciously attempted to remove himself from identification with the divine, even dropping the title "Guru" from the publicly known epithet "Guru Maharaj Ji."

Is there a meaningful difference between the Indian concept of 'avatar' and the Judeo-Christian one of 'Messiah? Most people would think that Rawat might have made a more convincing attempt to "remove himself from identification with the divine" by removing the "Maharaji" from his title than the 'Guru'. It is no longer possible to believe that Ron Geaves who was a committed devotee is not being conpletely deceitful here. From the beginning of Élan Vital there was no change of focus within the devotees. Rawat continued to be the Divine Leader and controversial rituals such as pranam and darshan continued in secret. Élan Vital publicly denied this until 2004 when they admitted the practice continued "where culturally appropriate" even though the USA, Europe and Australia are definitely not places where this is culturally appropriate. Élan Vital spokespeople attempted to play down the significance of followers kissing Rawat's feet.

As Maharaji began the period of reassessing the way in which he and his teachings were represented, the academic world began to predict the decline of Divine Light Mission. Thomas Pilarzyk argued in 1978 that the decline was caused by a number of factors: internal dissent between Maharaji and his family, most notably over his marriage; financial problems caused by the debts incurred from the 1973 Houston Astrodome event and attempts to internationalize the movement from an American financial base; the loss of fully committed volunteers after the mass exodus of celibate ashram members following Maharaji's marriage; the shift away from Indian modes of expression; and power shifts as the now adult Maharaji increasingly intervened to shape the movement to his own vision.28 Maeve Price also argued that the decline of Divine Light Mission was inevitable unless the movement could resolve a number of problems with recruitment, membership commitment, and financial stability. Price concluded that problems would continue to occur regarding organizational structures within Divine Light Mission, because its following was comprised mainly of counterculture youth opposed to formal rules and bureaucratic disciplines; recruitment was limited to the victims of drug culture and friendship circles; and Maharaji, although he had gained sole control of Divine Light Mission, still needed to discover "how to manipulate the movement to achieve the ends" he manifestly sought. She argued that charisma was not enough.29

Ironically, Price admitted that Maharaji's style of leadership-preferring not to issue orders but to focus on providing inspiration to develop the ability to maximize the potential for self-knowledge-was likely to be problematic, since evidence from other newly established religious movements indicated that strict control over members by asserting a body of definitive rules for behavior was more likely to achieve success in organization building.30 Price concluded by suggesting that at the time of her writing, the movement had entered a new phase in which it concentrated upon the morale and well being of its existing members and "their salvation"; the earlier phases of rapid expansion and conflict were over.31

If Ms Price believed that Rawat preferred not to issue orders she was mistaken. Any humility Rawat might have had in his first month in the "West" disappeared very quickly. For examples of his interactions with his devotees in 1999 see which contain video clips from some of his "Training Sessions".

As far as the wider society knew the organisation had disappeared.

Yet, he has continued to promote the benefits of the experience of self-knowledge throughout the world and now has succeeded in establishing his message in over eighty countries. Throughout the late 1990s, more people were receiving the techniques of self-knowledge worldwide than in the heady days of the early 1970s.33

Geaves' claims re the number of people going through Élan Vital indoctrination procedures in the 90s may be correct but only if India is included. India is a country of 1 billion people with a unique religious and cultural history. In areas of European/US culture Élan Vital numbers appear to have fallen in the 1990s as new recruits have not balanced the disillusioned. Another interesting field of research for Mr Geaves would be comparing the numbers of people "receiving the techniques of self-knowledge" in India as Prem Rawat's followers and as followers of his elder brother, Satpal Rawat. He could also attempt to determine the "experience" (blissful or otherwise) of both sets of meditators and the inspirational quotient provided by the brothers who do not communicate or co-operate with each other.

Although the anticult movement tended to see name changes as indicative of a deceitful recruitment strategy, the shift from Divine Light Mission to Élan Vital was substantive. First, it reflected Maharaji's continued suspicion of allowing a process of reification and institutionalization that would dilute his message or take the focus away from individual experience. Divine Light Mission had undoubtedly taken on the characteristics of a sect with definite borders that differentiated insiders from outsiders. Élan Vital was organized, wherever possible, as an educational charity or trust responsible for promoting Maharaji's teachings. Its main activity was the dissemination of Maharaji's message through the organization of various types of events, including national and international venues where Maharaji spoke in person, and smaller, local venues where his discourses were presented by video. It was also involved in sustaining the necessary financial base through donations to make these activities possible. The final closure of the ashrams in 1982 meant that there was no longer a pool of full-time volunteers to draw upon. Democratization followed closure of the ashrams, and the status of full-time mahatmas was demystified as they became instructors showing interested people the techniques of self-knowledge. The result was a wider active participation from the majority of followers who were now married and employed. The small numbers who were required to staff Élan Vital full time were paid salaries. The important shift resulting from these changes was that those who received the techniques of self-knowledge no longer felt themselves to be part of a sectarian movement known as Divine Light Mission. They were individuals who benefited from the teachings, but who came together on occasion to receive inspiration from their teacher.

In addition, the video events resolved a problem that had concerned Maharaji for some time. Although Price was correct to surmise that the young teacher did not want to be the kind of charismatic leader who controlled the lifestyles, morals and behavior of his students, Maharaji was concerned that his teachings should be conveyed without distortion from others' interpretations, especially influenced by particular cultures or religious worldviews. Maharaji solved this by considerably upping the tempo of his own world tours through a leased executive jet that he flew himself, spending less and less time at his home in California. At each event around the world, his speeches were videotaped and distributed down to the grassroots level. In this way, Maharaji freed himself from reliance on others to interpret his message. In addition, he took it upon himself to teach people the techniques of self-knowledge with the instructors providing support services. In this way, although open to criticism from opponents of increasing centralized control, Maharaji resolved the problem identified by Price of establishing his teaching without creating a "radical meditation sect," but still "maintaining loosely formulated objectives and unspecific demands."34 Thus the need for strict control was developed not in organizational terms, but to maintain the teachings in a form fully reflecting Maharaji's own perspective.

From the beginning of Divine Light Mission in the "West" meetings at which group meditation and 'satsang' - spontaneous testimony about the effects of practising Knowledge and devotion to Mahahraji - had been a nightly occurrence in any urban centre with enough devotees. During the late 1970s and early 1980s central direction and group pressure had created a certain conformity in these meetings with the most disruptive individuals eased out. Rawat's "teachings" are so simple and slight that a five year old child could repeat them distortion free with a few minutes' coaching. Geaves provides no evidence that Rawat "upped the tempo of his world tours" though research into Rawat's workload and the amount of time he actually spends making speeches to his followers and in public forums would also be instructive.

In addition, the language used to communicate the teachings began to change. Maharaji's own emphasis had always been on the centrality of experiential self-knowledge and the role of the master in providing inspirational guidance to his students. In his highly idiomatic discourses, Maharaji draws upon life experiences and a practical life-wisdom to illustrate his central message. As with his predecessors, he has not identified the teachings with a sampradaya (particular branch of Hinduism). In fact, he proclaimed that the teachings were independent of any religious tradition.35 In Maharaji's case, this has resulted in the disassociation of the techniques from any Indian location and the conscious loss of the North Indian sant idiom in his discourse. A close examination of the language, however, demonstrates that the key features of sant idiom have not been displaced but transformed. Satsang is now referred to as "keeping in touch"; satguru is translated as "master"; satnam has disappeared from usage but is refigured as "breath"; any reference to an unchangeable divine reality reemerges as "Life." Although it is arguable that the message has remained the same, Maharaji has recoded his language to meet the multicultural requirements of teaching in over eighty nations.

Examination of the transcripts of Rawat's late 1970's 'satsangs' shows his emphasis was on Himself. What Geaves terms "highly idomatic" would normally be considered extemely poor English and a better description of "practical life-wisdom" is "mean-spirited, shallow and venal". eg "It's not easy to be rich. It isn't … Once you've made your first million, you need another to protect it. Then you have two million, and you'll need another two million to protect those two million. Then you'll have four million and you'll need another four million to protect those four million, and then you'll have eight million. Of course then you'll need another 8 million to protect those eight million and then you'll have 16 million… it isn't easy, it's not what you think." (- Maharaji at Long Beach '95)

It certainly is true that Rawat has "recoded" his language and the message has remained the same but it is now hidden. The earlier language and methods of recruitment were open and direct.


Maharaji is again showing his innovative and flexible approach to organization. New technology has made it possible to individualize further the impact of the teaching and move away from community structures to an increased focus on the teacher-student relationship. Recently, Maharaji has moved away from complete dependence on Élan Vital to promote his teachings.

Ron Geaves considers Rawat's attempts to "technologise" his outreach to be attempts to "individualize" his teaching and the "teacher-student relationship". However, Rawat has no relationship with his "students". The "relationship" consists of "students" watching edited videos of Rawat on television sets and very occasionally (if they can afford it) listening in halls while he sits on a throne-like chair on a raised stage or being shuffled past another throne so his feet can be kissed. Unlike his father and the majority of "Sant" gurus Rawat has virtually no personal meetings with his devotees, it is a virtual "relationship".

The creation of the Prem Rawat Foundation in 2002 provides a new vehicle by which Maharaji can represent himself to the world without the intermediary of an organization. Efforts have been made to ensure that the Foundation cannot merely replace the bureaucracy of Élan Vital. The board members are volunteers who work with a number of part-time consultants, many of whom are independent from the student/teacher relationship with Maharaji himself.

As Élan Vital has always depended upon volunteer labour the creation of TPRF produces yet more levels of bureaucracy.

The Foundation concerns itself only with creation of materials to promote the message and appears to be seeking ways to allow Maharaji's message to reach new audiences.

While the majority of Rawat's wealth has come from personal donations from his devotees there has been a significant input from the sale and rental of materials to Élan Vital and it's individual members. Élan Vital has been indebted to companies like "Visions International" and "Dunrite Productions" for supply of videos and published materials of Rawat that are used for "propagation".

This move away from representation by an organization or movement is further enhanced by the use of satellite technology providing an alternative communication to video presentations. The broadcasts are originally made by a commercial company and are picked up by a variety of audiences worldwide. In many countries it is possible for any member of the public to find the channel as long as they have access to satellite TV. However, it is more likely that only those who are committed to the teachings regularly access these programs. The broadcasts are not advertised and members of the public would only discover them by accidentally coming across them or by being informed by a practitioner.

VCR tapes are now being phased out in the "West" in favour of DVDs. (written in 2005) In Australia the cost of satellite communication has been too great for the diminishing community and is now defunct. The commercial company producing the broadcast videos was of course one controlled by Rawat. Rawat's organisations in Australia are now attempting to find a new membership through "low key advertising" and the use of low cost government supported "community television". It remains to be seen if attempts to raise a public profile will engender public protest or if public recruitment will be so unsuccessful that it will be dropped like all the other "propagation initiatives" of the past.

The satellite programs, broadcast seven days a week, consist of edited highlights of Maharaji's recent tours. As a result, the dependence on any organization is further reduced, as is the need for community or group identity. Many can now tune into Maharaji's discourses in the comfort of their own homes, and if they wish to have no contact with other practitioners, they can see others only when they attend Maharaji's live events. Websites provide the means for those who wish to communicate the message to download and create their own publicity materials.36 Increasingly, persons interested in Maharaji's teachings to the point of learning the techniques for inner focus will be able to pursue their own individual learning without leaving their homes. Consequently, Maharaji's audiences are more likely to be strangers to each other, rather than the close-knit "insider" gatherings of the Divine Light Mission or even Élan Vital periods. However, considerable networking takes place through email conferencing, local and national meetings of active volunteers, informal friendship circles, and, where technology is underdeveloped or unavailable, use of printed materials and video events.

The challenges of the latest period are different from those presented by the Divine Light Mission. The problem of promoting and financing the expansion of the teachings worldwide will remain. Maharaji's insistence on providing the techniques free of charge will always mean that promoting the teachings will rely on voluntary donations.

The major problem of DLM/EV finance in the last century was caused by Rawat's use of his followers' financial donations to fund a lifestyle that can only be described as vulgarly opulent. It is now claimed that his income derives totally from self-funded investments and vague claims of patents and inventions. This may now be true but all of the funds to create that investment pool originally came from devotee donations, either above board or below the counter.

It is hard to assess the impact that increased individualization will have on cash flow. In addition, the period of introversion and transformation that took place during the Élan Vital years has diluted the once-powerful impetus to promote the teachings. Many early followers from the counterculture milieu, who long ago told their friends and families about the benefits of self-knowledge, are now older and more respectable with families and careers.

And the results of the "teachings" and the long term practice of the four meditation techniques are now available for anyone to see. Where the early "once-powerful impetus to promote the teachings" was based on the initial "bliss" of a conversion experience and the belief that the "practice of Knowledge" would have "enlightening effects" that would be obvious for the world to see. Sadly this is not the case and premies are now an aging remnant of their younger selves (with an extraordinarily high ratio of tobacco dependance) whose only distinguishing feature is worship of their Danny DeVito lookalike "inspirational teacher".

Maharaji will face the problem of renewing inspiration to support his efforts to reach out to a wider audience.

His current solution seems to be attempting to use low key local advertising and cheaper non mainstream media publicity to get people to small public meetings where they watch edited versions of his speeches concentrating on vague promises reinforced by followers on their best behaviour. This strategy is probably Élan Vital's best option as it may keep any public controversy and opposition from arising while bringing in enough new followers to maintain the minimum number required to support him in his current lifestyle.

In addition, he now faces the added difficulties of the cultural suspicion of new movements in the face of over twenty-five years of anticult publicity from the Western media. Although not attracting media coverage himself, a small but vociferous minority of ex-followers, unable to accommodate change and showing signs of considerable cognitive dissonance, has cornered the market as Maharaji's opposition, determined to destroy his reputation through public denunciation on their website.37

The anticult publicity in the Western media is not new and has not been caused by unreasonable prejudice but in response to the actions of many of the cults and their negative effects on cult members, family and the wider society. Let us examine the language Geaves uses in discussing opposition to Rawat centered on www.ex-premie.org:
"small but vociferous minority of ex-followers" - Those ex-followers who participate for any length of time are a small minority of people who have been involved in Rawat's organisations over the last 3 decades. Understandably only those who feel particularly aggrieved or morally outraged will continue to involve themselves in anti-Rawat discussion. After all, under existing legal structures and social conditions there is very little that can be done but publicise the discrepancies between Élan Vital/TPRF propaganda and the actuality of the cult. While Élan Vital does not publish any real statistics nor make them available for study it is well known amongst ex-followers who participate in public discussion about Rawat that the great majority of people who become involved to the point of being "initiated" in the West eventually leave after a shorter or longer time. Since the early 1980's numbers have been static or falling despite Rawat's constant calls for "propagation" ie recruitment. Most people introduced to Rawat and his devotees are repelled by his unpleasant appearance and his very "individual" method of public discourse. The majority of those who are intrigued or encouraged enough to become involved eventually leave as they become aware of the "cognitive dissonance" inherent in an organisation purporting to reveal "peace within" but never actually having it come to fruition. Embarrassment and secrecy are the normal experiences of these ex-followers.
"unable to accommodate change" - The reverse is actually true, "ex-premies" are people who have changed. They have spent periods from a few months to a few decades as devotees and left the cult group - a decision approved of by their societies - thereby proving they can accomodate change.

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon which refers to the discomfort felt at a discrepancy between what you already know or believe, and new information or interpretation. It therefore occurs when there is a need to accommodate new ideas

Beyond this benign if uncomfortable aspect, however, dissonance can go "over the top", leading to two interesting side-effects for learning:
* if someone is called upon to learn something which contradicts what they already think they know — particularly if they are committed to that prior knowledge — they are likely to resist the new learning.
* if learning something has been difficult, uncomfortable, or even humiliating enough, people are not likely to admit that the content of what has been learned is not valuable. To do so would be to admit that one has been "had", or "conned".

Cognitive dissonance was first investigated by Leon Festinger and associates, arising out of a participant observation study of a cult which believed that the earth was going to be destroyed by a flood, and what happened to its members — particularly the really committed ones who had given up their homes and jobs to work for the cult — when the flood did not happen. While fringe members were more inclined to recognise that they had made fools of themselves and to "put it down to experience", committed members were more likely to re-interpret the evidence to show that they were right all along (the earth was not destroyed because of the faithfulness of the cult members). for more information about Cognitive Dissonance

"showing signs of considerable cognitive dissonance" - this is a figment of Geaves' imagination. 'Cognitive dissonance' is what the cult members would feel if the radically altered appearance of their cult had been matched by substantive real changes. However, Rawat is still the divine cult leader, just watch the videos of Ron, as those who work with him will know he isn't always that ecstatic. But give him a chance to reminisce about his guru for an emic audience and he becomes blissfully thrilled. Those devotees who have experienced cognitive dissonance because of the public lies about Rawat's position within the cult have left the cult and thereby resolved the cognitive dissonance. Certainly the ex-premie Forum displays a group of individuals who have their own, often differing, viewpoints unlike the internet presence of Rawat's followers who use Élan Vital jargon and toe the party line in their "Expressions".
"has cornered the market as Maharaji's opposition" - this seems an attempt to make the opposition sound ridiculous, it is otherwise pretty well meaningless
"determined to destroy his reputation" - Actually Rawat does not have a reputation to destroy. He was considered the most ludicrous of the 1970's countercultural gurus, the Baskin-Robbins ice-cream guzzling fat boy with an ulcer. He married a beautiful Western devotee twice his height and half his weight and disappeared from public view after his mother disowned him. New Religious Movements' cognoscenti might also be aware that the half-naked obese older Rawat shuffles around the stage out of time and flapping his arms in the air while his devotees weep ecstatic tears. danceon4va (26K)
Geaves is assuming the motives of the participants and has not questioned any of them as to their motives though he has been called on to respond to some of his past pronouncements. Until now he has not responded.
"public denunciation on their website" - this denunciation has considerable documentary evidence unlike Geaves' writing about Rawat which provides no documentation or evidence for his explanations of Rawat's ideas and behaviour.

The shift away from Élan Vital could be viewed as a response to these new challenges, as previous writers regarded the dissolution of Divine Light Mission and the emergence of Élan Vital. However, I challenge complete dependence on this kind of analysis, as it leaves out the primary motivation that needs to be located in the kind of charisma represented by Maharaji and his single-minded determination to maintain his message. Any critical reflection on understanding the development of Maharaji from child guru to adult maturity and the corresponding organizational changes that have taken place needs to consider carefully his perceptions of himself as a teacher and his students' perceptions of both Maharaji and themselves in the wider realm of the "spiritual" or "religious" in both historical and contemporary terms.

I wish Ron would define what he refers to as Rawat's "charisma", he seems devoid of it to me. Ron Geaves has not presented any evidence that Rawat has a "single-minded determination to maintain his message" nor has he even explained what that message is. He has provided no evidence as to what Rawat's "perceptions of himself as a teacher" are. He has provided ample evidence of his own singleminded determination to maintain the most positive possible viewpoint about his guru and Master and to fraudulently present that to the world as academic research.

Those with a more skeptical outlook than Ron (nearly everybody else in the world) would probably consider the creation of the Prem Rawat Foundation evidence of both egomania and a desire to distance himself legally from his followers especially in the light of the growing legal requirements in the fields of workplace health and safety placed on organisations outreaching to the public. These have already caused the creation of new legal entities, independant from Élan Vital, for all groups of Rawat's followers holding public meetings in Australia. I reiterate that for the great majority of long term followers there has been no change in perceptions of Rawat, only changes in public presentation. Their public statements about their viewpoints are both remarkably similar and extremely vague.


Building on the analysis of Gold and Vaudeville of the sant tradition, it could be argued that Maharaji perceives himself as the solitary sant whose authority derives from his personal charisma and is not part of any overarching formal organization, and does not have to subscribe to any particular worldview. Maharaji's students echo this position and are united with their teacher on the primary value of personal experience.

The definitive article of Rawatist dogma is not just the primacy of personal experience but a claim (now no longer publicly proclaimed) of the uniqueness of the "premie personal experience". They claim that they do not just believe in the efficacy of Rawat's teachings they "experience it" and that this "experience" is qualitatively different from that of other human beings. This has evolved from an earlier teaching that the "mind" is the major human problem which saw the first person singular of the verb "to think" disappear from their vocabulary for decades.

Gold argues that such figures have little inclination to establish a panth or sectarian institution,38 although these may develop later. Thus, any understanding of Maharaji's motivations would have to take into account the challenge to maintain the purity of his teachings from any sign of institutionalization. In Thomas O'Dea's terms, this is a classic confrontation between charisma and institutionalization. O'Dea argued that the founder-innovator is only concerned with communicating the message and maintaining the spontaneity of the transcendental experience.39

Rawat has already created numerous organisations, many companies and has spent 25 years trying to make his followers more efficient (=more obedient). See the transcripts of his "training sessions" to see how angry their poor institutional practices make him. Furthermore, Prem Rawat is not the founder-innovator of his "mission". His father had already done the hard work of creating a large, viable organisation from scratch which allowed the development of DLM and EV in the West. Prem Rawat has dissipated the energy and damaged his father's legacy.

Although O'Dea perceived these conflicts and tensions chronologically as a way of exploring the development of charismatic authority to institutional authority, an analysis of this new sant phenomenon still at the first stage of development provides an example of how a contemporary sant master, the first to globalize fully his teachings, grapples with and seeks innovative solutions to the problems of institutionalization. Although there may be pragmatic problems, such as financial stability, the attitudes of the wider society, and the opposition of former practitioners, focusing on these as the prime factors of change and adaptation misses the opportunity for far more significant study of the relationship between charisma and institutionalization. In particular, Maharaji's movement promises fascinating insights into the fine balance of maintaining the integrity of teaching and experience over the apparently inevitable processes of organizational and sectarian development wherever a sant figure has gathered students around the experience of "self-knowledge" or inner realization of "truth." Maharaji has chosen a route of perpetual transformation in which organizational forms are created and utilized and then destroyed, thus providing flexibility to deal with rapidly changing social attitudes, to provide pragmatic solutions to internal problems, and above all to keep his students focused on the core message rather than the peripheral requirements of organizational forms.

In 2004 Rawat had spent 38 years as the leader of this "sant phenomenon". It could hardly be still at the first stage of development. Rawat has certainly had to grapple with problems but the problems of institutionalisation are not amongst them. There is a difference between choosing a route of perpetual transformation and responding to events in an ad-hoc, incompetent manner. Why do Rawat's students still require this so-called constant re-focussing on the core message and "experience"? Ron should address this question and attempt some real research.

Rawat has chosen to use the base of followers he initially received in the 1970's because of his father's work to maximise a vulgarly opulent lifestyle and gobble up the majority of the financial resurces his followers could provide for himself and not for his organisations or any worthwhile charity work. This has created ongoing publicity problems and damaged his followers' ability to proselytise and create new members. Some long term members, such as Ron Geaves, attempt to explain this straightforward scenario in the most positive manner and that is their right but not when masquerading as "research" and publishing in an academic journal.

1 Daniel Foss and Ralph Larkin, "Worshipping the Absurd: The Negation of Social Causality Among the Followers of Guru Maharaj Ji," Sociological Analysis 39, no. 2 (Summer 1978): 159.
2 Foss and Larkin, "Worshipping the Absurd," 157.
3 Foss and Larkin, "Worshipping the Absurd," 158.
4 Foss and Larkin, "Worshipping the Absurd," 159.
5 Foss and Larkin, "Worshipping the Absurd," 158.
6 Rodney Stark, "Rationality," in Guide to the Study of Religion, ed. Willi Braun and Russell T. McCutcheon (London: Cassell, 2000), 252.
7 Stark, "Rationality," 242, 246-50.
8 Sophie Collier, Soul Rush: An Odyssey of a Young Woman in the 70s (New York: William Mor row, 1975), 118.
9 Collier, Soul Rush, 119.
10 Maeve Price, "Divine Light Mission as a Social Organization," Sociological Review (Feb ruary 1979): 280.
11 Price, "Divine Light Mission," 280.
12 Price, "Divine Light Mission," 280.
13 Price, "Divine Light Mission," 279.
14 I have deliberately avoided the use of "Sant Mat" (path of the sants) as it is used more specifically to describe the Radhasoami lineage, which has no connection to Maharaji's lineage of masters. Thus, I have used the non-specific term "sant." Charlotte Vaudeville defines a sant as a teacher or holy man who stresses "the necessity of devotion to and practice of the divine name (satnama), devotion to the divine Guru (satguru) and the great importance of the company of the Sants (satsang). The Name, the divine Guru and the sat-sang are the three pillars of the Sant sadhana." See Charlotte Vaudeville, "Sant Mat: Santism as the Universal Path to Sanctity," in The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India, ed. Karine Schomer and W. H. McLeod (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1987), 31.
15 Many Indian followers drew upon the teachings contained in the Ramayana or Tulsidas' Ramcharitmanas to find parallels for their particular mode of bhakti (devotion). It was a coincidence that Shri Hans Ji Maharaj had four sons as did Rama's father, thus the mythology of Rama provided a parallel of four avatars being born in the same family.
16 Ron Geaves, "From Totapuri to Maharaji: Reflections on a Lineage (Parampara)," unpublished paper delivered to the 27th Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions, Regents Park College, Oxford, 22-24 March 2002.
17 Gold suggested that the various forms that sant lineages have taken are affected by their relationship to the charisma of the founder sant. He posited three stages in the life of a sant lineage: 1) It begins with a solitary figure such as Kabir, Nanak, or Ravi-das. Authority is derived from personal charisma, and it is highly unlikely that there is any intention of beginning a panth (sectarian institution). The followers of an individual sant are part of no overarching formal organization, but are united with their teacher in being committed to the value of personal experience. 2) A lineage is continued by disciples who became noteworthy sants in their own right. Usually a disciple is chosen to continue as the guru by the original sant. A sant lineage is called a parampara as long as the dominant focus of spiritual power is still contained in the living holy person. Sikhism, for example, was a parampara until the death of the tenth and last guru, Gobind Singh. 3) The term panth is used for the final phase of a sant lineage, when it has become a sectarian institution. A panth claims to spread the teachings of the past sant(s), but the dominant focus of spiritual power now resides in ritual forms and scripture. A panth is usually headed by a mahant who looks after the ritual and administration. Often even the mahant is overseen by a committee of eminent followers as the panth becomes progressively institutionalized. The mahant's charisma is clearly derived from his position and his traditional connection to the original sant. See Daniel Gold, The Lord as Guru: Hindu Sants in the Northern Indian Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 85.
18 Although the two gurus, Advaitanand Ji and Swarupanand Ji, did not use the term Advait Mat themselves, a panth-type movement has been formed after the death of the latter. However, Shri Hans Ji Maharaj was not interested in receiving the material inheritance of the developing panth and branched out on his own with his master's blessing to continue the teachings. See Geaves, "From Totapuri to Maharaji."
19 Geaves, "From Totapuri to Maharaji." My discussion of the issue of inheritance is based on an interview with Akhand Yoganandji, a direct disciple of Swarupanand Ji Maharaj, at Nangli Sahib, Uttar Pradesh in February 2001, and study of the biography of Swarupanand Ji, Sri Swami Sar Shabdanand Ji, Shri Swarup Darshan (New Delhi: Sar Shabd Mission, 1998).
20 Thomas F. O'Dea, "Sociological Dilemmas: Five Paradoxes of Institutionalisation" in Man's Religious Quest, ed. Whitfield Foy (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1978), 298-305.
21 Charlotte Vaudeville, "Sant Mat," 36-37. Vaudeville here uses a number of technical terms that would be familiar to any student of Hinduism. In general terms like yogi (one who practices spiritual disciplines), siddha (perfected saint), asanas (special postures used in the practice of hatha yoga), and bhij mantras (words and formulas believed to contain special powers) refer to the general milieu of Hindu renunciate traditions. Vaudeville's point is that the sant figure cannot be assimilated into these traditions.
22 See Geaves, "Totapuri to Maharaji," for a detailed analysis of the claim that Maharaji's lineage was connected to Sant Mat or Radhasoami lineages.
23 Rabindranath Tagore, trans., Songs of Kabir (Boston: Weiser Books, 2002), 108.
24 Trilochan Singh, Jodh Singh, Kapur Singh, Bawa Harkishen Singh, Khushwant Singh, trans. The Sacred Writings of the Sikhs, 3rd ed. (London: George Allen &Unwin, 1973), 74-75.
25 This viewpoint is exemplified in the short statement that appeared at the end of many of Maharaji's satellite transmissions throughout 2002: "Knowledge is not a religion, a spiritual practice or a lifestyle. It is a practical way of experiencing a feeling that is already inside of you."
26 Gold, The Lord as Guru, 85.
27 Maharaji has commented consistently in public discourse on his humanity. His most common analogy is one that compares himself with the "light bulb filament" rather than the generator. In a public discourse delivered at Maharaji's center, Raj Vidya Kendra, in Mehrrauli, South Delhi, on 15 April 1994, Maharaji declared to an Indian audience of around 40,000 that one of the biggest problems he had faced in his life was caused by peo ple who insisted upon calling him God.
28 Thomas Pilarzyk, "The Origin, Development, and Decline of a Youth Culture Religion: An Application of Sectarianization Theory," Review of Religious Research 20, no.1 (1978): 36-8.
29 Price, "Divine Light Mission," 293.
30 Price, "Divine Light Mission," 291-92.
31 Price, "Divine Light Mission," 283.
32 Pilarzyk, "Origin, Development and Decline," 23-43.
33 Although it is difficult to find accurate figures for the earlier period, those receiving the techniques were always recorded by the mahatmas. This was by no means an accurate process, as it depended upon the efficiency of each mahatma. Throughout the 1990s, Maharaji took sole responsibility for showing the techniques. He kept accurate statistics, giving them in annual reports to international gatherings. The figures are broken down to reveal national progress and show clearly the growth worldwide, especially in India. The techniques are now taught by utilizing the latest developments in technology, and a newly devised "auto-knowledge session" using video or DVD liberates Maharaji or other "experts" from the task of personally teaching the techniques. This is hoped to keep up with demands from around the world. For example, the organization estimates that 50,000 peo ple in India are waiting to be shown the techniques.
34 Price, "Divine Light Mission," 291.
35 Certainly by the time of Swarapanand Ji (1884-1936), the guru of Maharaji's father, a universalism was implicit in the teachings. People of all faiths were initiated and the teachings were promoted to all of India's religious communities. In a meeting with a group of Muslim peasants, Swarapanand Ji stated: "A faqir has no particular religion: he is com mon to all. Wherever I go there will be no dearth of devotees, as I belong to all, and all belong to me." See Sri Swami Sar Shabdanand Ji, Shri Swarup Darshan, 215-16.
36 The principal website used at the time of writing (April 2002) was . The newly created represents the new Foundation and provides materials for downloading. Élan Vital, wherever it is still maintained for legal reasons, has a number of national websites, e.g. .
37 For the perspective of this group of dissatisfied ex-followers see , accessed April 2002.
38 Gold, The Lord as Guru, 85.
39 O'Dea, "Sociological Dilemmas," 299.