The Mishler Myth

On February 12, 1979 Bob Mishler was interviewed on the KOA Denver radio station by Gary Tesler. A transcript of this interview is available here. In 2006 there was considerable effort by "students" of Rawat to have this tape and transcript declared a forgery so that it would not allowable as a resource on Wikipedia. A description of this dispute and a copy of an email from the former radio station chief authenticating the transcript is available here. Most of what Mishler said is true and can easily be confirmed by anyone who was involved in DLM in the 1970's. Some disreputable aspects of Prem Rawat's life ie his drunkenness, dope-smoking, ignorance about the meditation he espoused, his high levels of anxiety and the hypocrisy of hiding his private life from his followers have been confirmed by other devotees of Rawat's.

Details of Mishler's public career in DLM are available here. His five years as President of DLM (the titles changed at times) must have been exciting, exhilarating, exhausting and depressing. He saw both the best and the worst of the early enthusiastic growth stage of Divine Light Mission. The stresses he was under during this time, expecially 1975 and 1976, must have been extreme as he tried to balance his work, marriage, spirituality and his disillusionment with his guru and his attempts to move DLM into an ethical path.

However the story he evolved and repeated in this radio interview to explain his beliefs and actions during those years is impossible for me to fully accept. Rawat's teachings were always given in extempore speeches and contained different stories, sometimes complementary, sometimes contradictory so I do not know if Mishler concocted this version of events to exculpate himself, whether he simply recalled the memories he preferred in the years 1977 & 1978 or whether he actually always believed this view of events from the beginning in 1971. It is too late to know his motives but the story is false. The text in italics are quotes from Mishler's words in that interview. Mishler uses 'Guru Maharaj Ji' or 'Maharaji' which means Ultimate Ruler to denote Prem Rawat. I don't.

When he first arrived, his message was that he knew the truth and that the truth was within each and every individual. He sometimes used to talk about that truth, whether you called it God or something else, as the perfect energy within each individual. He said that this was something he could reveal to everyone. That, in fact, was his purpose. He was called a perfect master because he had mastered something that was perfect; presumably this perfect energy inside us which was responsible for life. In revealing that to other people, he was revealing the only thing which could claim to be perfection, the primordial energy of the universe.
He billed himself as a humble servant of God who was essentially in charge with the responsibility of revealing this knowledge to people by his father who was his guru. At the same time, although there were some people who would say, well, he has to be a god himself in order to be able to reveal God, he would always deny this.

Mishler minimised the religious aspects of early Divine Light Mission and exaggerated its evolution into outright worship and adoration of Rawat as God Incarnate from a beginning where Rawat simply offered to reveal truth within each individual. The young Rawat did publicly call himself a humble servant of God and belief in his divinity though central to DLM was not a necessary prerequisite to being initiated. It was expected that premies would grow into this understanding, belief and "experience". In 1971 Rawat also spoke of himself as having uniquely and fully realised this Knowledge of God and he also spoke of himself as being the Perfect Master in a line of Incarnations of God and having more power than all prior incarnations and that he would initiate a thousand years of peace, rule the world, and that everybody would know he was God and that he would prevent an apocalypse. Mishler heard most of this and only a year before he apostasised he approvingly quoted one of Rawat's most apocalyptic messianic speeches.

I was impressed with him as he spoke with a great deal of confidence and authority. For the most part, I felt that unlike a lot of other Yogis who had come to the West and were essentially commercialising the Yogi tradition in my opinion, he put no price tag on the meditation. He used to say that you can't put a price on something that's priceless.

Rawat did speak with confidence and authority but these were based on his childhood conditioning and his ignorance. His history as a child acclaimed by thousands of his father's followers as the Satguru, Perfect Master and Lord of the Universe was well known to Mishler, was part of the DLM doctrine and Rawat's ignorance was obvious in his crude and simple speeches. There was no upfront cost to be initiated but the Maharishi of TM was the only Eastern guru demanding money before initiation. From the beginning Rawat demanded obedience and donations of money and free volunteer labour and vows of obedience and worship from initiates and in the case of the ashram premies their whole lives and indeed for many years that is what Mishler gave so he knew how spurious this claim was.

Well, I don't think I was ever really looking for divinity except within myself. Essentially, Maharaji was teaching that in the very beginning himself. It's only over the course of time that it has changed and become an idol worship cult.
Caller #1: I remember in 1971 back in New York, from the very first, the impression of the advertising was that the guru was God, yet he didn't say that himself, everyone else around him said that he was God.
Well, again, that just shows the latitude that there was. You could believe he was God if you wanted to. I didn't really want to believe that he was God, and so I didn't.

Mishler was put on the spot over this white washing by the first call-in listener. Mishler responds well for a debater but not for someone trying to be truthful. He has not been talking about his personal beliefs, he has been talking about Divine Light Mission and Rawat's teachings. Mishler headed an organisation that preached the "Rawat is God" doctrine for years, albeit he did it in an articulate and reasonable manner. Was he mis-remembering his presidency of DLM and DUO or had he been an outrageous hypocrite from 1971 to 1977?

It's just that in the early days, Maharaji was very adamant about how he had not come to start another religion. In fact, he felt that what he was offering should not interfere with your present religious beliefs at all.

There was and is a disparity between what Rawat taught publicly i.e. when he thought there were people present that weren't devotees of his, and what he said when speaking to followers. In front of his premies he disparaged religions. At worst he blamed them for the evils of the world. At best, they were irrelevant. The Rawatism religion was present and central from Gurucharanand's arrival in London.

In the meantime, it has become a religion in its own right. I don't think that anybody could deny that. They have a whole body of dogma; a complete lifestyle, a way of life which they call Knowledge. It's not simply a singular kind of experience that you translate into your everyday life, as it was purported to be in the beginning, it's a whole system of idol worship where you must accept the guru as God.
Host: Today, what they are saying is that the guru is the reincarnation of God. He is God. He is not simply a messenger; he is, as the Christians, or other religions would say, a Messiah. In the Christian sense, he is like Jesus.
I think that would be pretty much what they would say. He is an embodiment of that power, and that power is God. That's what we have come to know as God. …we tend to interpret the word God as being that which is all-powerful. That's how they see him, as an embodiment of that all-powerful force which created and sustains and enlightens all being.

There always had been a dogma and a way of life. When trying to attract new members the dogma was de-emphasised and the purported rewards of meditation emphasised. From 1971 Rawat taught he was the embodiment of God, he was God, the reincarnation of Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, etc, the Master, the Savio(u)r, Guru Maharaj Ji - the Revealer of Light and Ultimate Ruler, the Perfect Master, the Lord, the Living Master, the Incarnation of God who come(s) in(to) the world again and again.

Well, it was a little bit more complex for me in terms of the changes I went through during that period myself. In general, it affected me in that I felt that we had a responsibility to be what we purported ourselves to be. To change it into something else was not something that I agreed with. Ultimately, my disagreement with Maharaji, particularly on this basis, led to my resignation. During a large part of the period that I was involved, I essentially went along the prevailing belief structure. Whether Guru Maharaj Ji was God or not really wasn't important. The important thing was that if you were devoted to him, you followed him absolutely. Whatever he said, even if it didn't make sense to you, you would find a way to make sense of it. I used to do that myself as well. I certainly did that a great deal for the devotees as well. I was one of the major spokespeople of the movement.

It was of the utmost importance whether Rawat was God or not. If he wasn't God then why would you follow him absolutely? If he wasn't God why would you accept what he said that didn't make sense? If he wasn't God why would you be one of his major spokespeople thereby implicitly validating the claims that he was God?

First of all, let me explain my reasoning there. When I left the Divine Light Mission in 1977, I felt that I personally couldn't agree with what the guru was doing. I had come to that conclusion probably a year and a half before that. I never really lived with the guru except that I travelled in the same circle as him. I never really lived with him or became the kind of personal confidant that I was to him until after he split with his family. There was a period during 1974 when there was an outright war, really, in the Divine Light Mission, between his mother and elder brother, whom you met. Maharaji took control of the mission. During this time, he began to rely on me very heavily, and then after that I lived with him. In living with him, I began to see a lot of the excesses in the devotion and practices that I felt were detrimental to the spiritual development of the devotees. I had attributed these to his mother and brother, and with them out of the way, that didn't necessarily need to be the case any longer. This was in my opinion, at least, as I had always found Maharaji to be very sincere and reasonable.

The dispute between the young Rawat and the Indian hierarchy including his mother and elder brothers was caused by their refusal to accept the young Rawat could be the Satguru and get drunk, stoned, eat meat and be as greedy and materialistic as he had become. They believed his inner circle of Western followers had corrupted and debauched him and somebody must have been buying him his booze and dope. Mishler already knew about the detrimental excesses in devotion and practices, they were occurring in the premie communities not in Rawat's residences. What he then discovered was the extent of Rawat's dissolute behaviour and personal shortcomings.

I'd see Maharaji go through a tremendous psychological deterioration during the time that I lived with him. These things were, I felt, his private affairs on one level. I also felt that the premies' beliefs were their own private affairs on another level. That means that, to my own way of thinking, it is very hypocritical to teach one lifestyle as a means of fulfilment to people, as a spiritual truth, and then live entirely opposite to that yourself. That becomes even more hypocritical, when in fact you don't just do the opposite, but you also make a great deal of effort and take a great deal of care in making sure that nobody knows this either. … Well, I essentially saw that the guru wasn't what he was being purported to be. In fact, not only was he not God or divine in any way, but he wasn't really even capable of guiding his followers. He didn't know enough about the meditation himself really to be able to even instruct the disciples that were teaching meditation on his behalf, when critical questions came up. Even though he was supposedly revealing the means to perfect peace to all of his following, he himself had tremendous problems of anxiety which he combated with alcohol. It even developed into a high blood pressure condition caused by essential hypertension, which is a form of internalising anxiety. So here was a man who was supposedly revealing perfect peace to everyone else, and I figured he couldn't even guide his own life, let alone guide others.

Mishler's argument here is very self-serving. Firstly Mishler was already aware of Rawat's drunkenness at least as early as November, 1973 and, according to Mike Donner, Mishler knew from August 1971 when Rawat was only 14. Rawat was also hospitalised with an ulcer in September 1973. It was publicly taught by Rawat and Mishler that "practising Knowledge" would create psychological growth and health and Mishler taught that Rawat was incredibly wise, had amazing foresight, etc, etc and yet he saw that in reality Rawat went though "psychological deterioration" and drug abuse. It was incumbent upon him to tell the truth and try to alert the other premies.

Also remember that Maharaji puts on a good show, and the theatrics involved are very appealing to the kind of mass consciousness that you get in the crowds he appears in. Most of the members have never really seen him as he actually is. They have only seen him under very well-staged and planned conditions.

It's a pretty poor show. Rawat not only looks awful, his public speaking was woeful.

What actually happened was that when the guru died, there were some very dubious circumstances surrounding his death, but that's another story as well.

Mishler has no personal knowledge of events in India in 1966. He is repeating tales and doesn't even say the stories are second or third hand and doesn't supply the sources. While they are interesting and seem to fit that facts that are known they have no evidentiary value.

In fact, during that period, we did decide to make some changes. At the beginning, well, around the end of 1975, we started what I would call a major change of emphasis in the Divine Light Mission. This was something that Maharaji and I arrived at as being necessary not only for the devotees but also for his own welfare as well. That was to change this belief that he was God, by actually coming out and denying it, and by taking some responsibility to de-program our own membership away from this belief.

In mid 1976 the DLM management decided on a major change of emphasis in presentation of Rawat, premies and Knowledge. This was announced to the premies who paid lip service to it and to the press who greeted it with cynicism. I recall an announcement being made in satsang about this by one of the Australian DLM administrators. I thought it was pretty silly. It was purely a difference in the way Rawat was to be presented to the general public, there was nothing said about him renouncing his divinity.

This was so that he wouldn't become the kind of cult leader that in fact he has become today.

This is nonsense. He was already the type of cult leader in 1975 that he was in 1979.

About half way through 1976, Maharaji got very insecure about what was going to happen to him if we continued with this. He realised that he was going to lose his automatic hold over the devotees that he had had up until that point.

This was a very conscious thing. We discussed it, and we outlined all the different perspectives that would be involved. At the time, what I had planned for him and with him, and up to the middle of 1976 he was largely agreeing with, was to use a lot of the money that had come to him in the form of gifts from his followers, to set up some investments. This would enable him to become financially independent from the continued support of the devotees. He had grown accustomed to a very luxurious lifestyle. A lot of the necessity of keeping the members believing that he was God was to ensure that they would continue to support him in this lifestyle. If it meant that he was going to have to make any sacrifices in this lifestyle (and it had become apparent by the middle of 1976 that this was going to be the case) then he didn't really want to have to do that.

A full discussion of the events of 1976 is available here. The catastrophic fall in DLM's finances occurred because of the fall-out from the workshops in which premies openly discussed their actual experiences and beliefs and the exodus from the ashrams and fall in membership and commitment that followed. Managers were able to influence the ways it was considered appropriate to discuss Rawat's role and change the rituals at Rawat's speeches and festivals which dampened overt displays of emotion but there was no denial of Rawat's divinity. Their authority to make these changes relied upon the belief by premies that they were acting on Rawat's orders.

As a result of that, I just left, because I recognised that I couldn't change him. If he wanted to change on his own, then that was something I was very willing to assist with. If he wasn't going to change, then I certainly wasn't going to continue to stay while he turned what was originally a mission to spread meditation to people freely into something that solicited donations to do this type of work and had all of its funds essentially going to support his luxurious lifestyle.

Funds had always been solicited to "spread this Knowledge" and Mishler had been part of this process and Rawat wasn't using all the donations to support his luxurious lifestyle, only about 60% of it.

So I resigned from the Divine Light Mission in January 1977, but for the last month or so of 1976 I really wasn't involved. It was understood that I was resigning. I didn't say anything, because at the time, I felt that a lot of the things that I knew really wouldn't be that well received. I had been the head of the Mission, after all, during that whole period, and people had all sorts of different conceptions about me. Really, I didn't feel that it was of any interest to people other than the present members, and most of them really didn't want to know the kind of things that I knew.

Well, taking advantage is a matter of interpretation. I know that any criticism you make of Guru Maharaj Ji can be rationalised by his very devoted followers, simply because they give all matter of license to him in that if he is God, well, he can do anything.

His own doubts? Oh yes, on a number of occasions. He is a pathetic person in this respect. Earlier in the show, I made reference to his own psychological degeneration. The anxiety that is caused to him by the role that he is in is tremendous. Unlike what he advocates, he is not capable of dealing with it by means of meditation. He ends up drinking excessively in order to cope with the stress. It was very sad to see him drinking himself into a stupor day after day. I don't think he ever really meditated. He talks about how, when he was 8 years old, he meditated for a few minutes and realised the knowledge. Presumably, that was all he needed. But he doesn't really use it.

Meditation, at least as Rawat teaches it, is grossly overrated.

At the beginning of 1976, we had agreed that we would in fact change his image. I had persuaded him to see that he was going to lose his popularity and ability to do any good at all in this country, if he became a cult leader. If he continued to allow his devotees to believe that he was God, that was inevitable. He agreed, and we started de-programming our own membership and telling them to see Maharaji as only a human being who had a great concern for humanity.

Rawat wasn't going to become a cult leader, he was a cult leader and he was seen by outsiders as a cult leader. Mishler may have believed that Rawat would lose his popularity but he had no evidence for this belief and events proved it was wrong. His followers had claimed that they experienced Rawat was the Perfect Master, not that they had a belief that could be changed on demand. There is evidence that Mishler attempted to have DLM membership present Rawat as only a human being, none that Mishler attempted to have them believe he was only a human being.

In fact, he went along with this image change for about half a year. Then, when he saw that he wouldn't have the same kind of ascribed status that he had as the guru being God, he suddenly realised he wouldn't have the same kind of control over people. He started worrying about what was going to happen to him in terms of his finances. … I think the self-doubt was there all along. At that point, he got out the picture of his father and put it up on the wall. He started worshipping it the way his devotees worshipped the pictures of him. That really made me feel sorry for him.

Premies did not worship photos of Rawat, they worshipped Rawat and used photos of him as a stand-in and focus in the absence of the physical form of the guru. At least I think that's what they were doing. I didn't 'progress' to actually worshipping Rawat so I used the photos as a focus for worshipping God.