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Media Perspective
Prem Rawat AKA Maharaji

Media Perspective

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Prem Rawat was one of a number of Indian 'gurus' who during the 1960s and early 1970s extended their activities to Europe, the Americas and Australasia. What sets Prem Rawat apart from Maharishi Yogi, Sai Baba and Shri Rajneesh (Osho) is that Rawat was just a child when he inherited a ready made religious vehicle for his activities - the Divine Light Mission and was anointed its Satguru


It has been a consistent contention of Prem Rawat and his followers that what Rawat teaches has nothing to do with 'belief' but that it is wholly 'experiential'. Despite this claim of no belief, prior to initiation anyone seeking to be taught the Knowledge meditation techniques must adopt many beliefs about Prem Rawat in order to negotiate the aspirant process tat Rawat call 'The Keys'. The Keys are only part of a very comprehensive belief system does exist within the Prem Rawat movement, although outside of Prem Rawat's often contradictory speeches, it has no supporting liturgy, prescribed text or publicly acknowledged historical reference.


The acquisition of wealth, particularly items of demonstrable value is important to Prem Rawat. In the early days Rawat's western followers justified this acquisitive behaviour in two ways - firstly as a 'realised soul' Prem Rawat was above attachment to the 'baubles' of materialism, secondly that as the Lord of the Universe it was only right that Prem Rawat should have the best of everything. The question of Prem Rawat's personal wealth is currently explained by his followers in terms that Prem Rawat is a 'successful private investor'. The actual sources of Prem Rawat's wealth are threefold:

Personal donations from a broad follower base in the years 1971-76

Personal gifts from wealthy followers, including transfers of substantial business interests.

A consistent flow of maintenance support provided via the DLM, Elan Vital and latterly Words of Peace Global organisations in respect of Prem Rawat's promotional activities.


Prem Rawat lives a life that is at complete variance to the renunciate style that he once recommended for his followers. It is tempting to compare the way that Prem Rawat conducts his life with that of a wealthy and reclusive celebrity, however Rawat's own self image suggests something closer to a 'Captain of Industry' - someone for whom the rewards of decision making brings an entitlement to Rolls Royces, an executive jet, an ocean going 'mega yacht', a personal chef, a branded watch collection and a mansion on every continent.


Prem Rawat has been able to ride out media criticism of his lifestyle because the vast majority of his followers have simply not acknowledged it. Over time however a canon of more serious allegations has served to raise doubts, not only about Prem Rawat personally but also about the veracity of his teaching and the validity of the organisations that support him. The most consistent and seemingly unshakeable allegation is that Prem Rawat is a charismatic leader of a harmful cult.


Although Prem Rawat and his supporting organisations now deny the religious content of Rawat's earlier teaching, there has been no attempt by Rawat to renounce the process of religious ascendency that saw him titled 'guru'. Indeed without his religious Ascendency it seems unlikely that Prem Rawat would have had success as a secular 'inspirational speaker'. 



Prem Rawat is a child of post Imperial rule India, he was born in 1957, just ten years after Independence from Britain. His schooling was in the English style and while his father pursued the very Indian career of 'religious teacher' the aspirations of the Rawat family seem to have been strongly informed by middle class Anglo/Indian attitudes. Prem was not only his father's favourite son, he was also a favourite of his father's followers and crucially of certain senior Mahatmas. The conferring of his father's 'guru' mantle onto the eight year old Prem in 1966 was as much a political decision within the Divine Light Mission as it was a religious consequence.


In 1971, some six months before his fourteenth birthday Prem Rawat(as Guru Maharaj Ji) travelled to England in the company of Mahatma Gurucharnanand, ostensibly to follow up on Gurucharnanand's earlier evangelism amongst Hindus in London. Supported by a few 'hippy' followers Rawat gained celebrity style exposure within the New Age movement and buoyed by this success and, inexplicably, in the light of his mother's objections, Rawat applied for and was granted a visa to visit the USA. Within months further young 'new agers' had been recruited and a Divine Light Mission organisation able to widely promote Rawat was in existence. What followed was four years of considerable expansion of the promotion of Prem Rawat and his western Divine Light Mission.


The many contradictions of the western Divine Light Mission inevitably led to conflict not only for the organisation, but for its adolescent 'leader'. As Rawat grew to adulthood he looked to fashion an image for himself and the Mission that was more to his liking. The religious aspects of the early days became an encumbrance for Rawat and he sought the creation of an organisation that could deliver him as the 'branded' product. Spiritual teacher Guru Maharaj Ji became Maharaji 'humanitarian giver of a practical way to peace', this image served Rawat from the late 1970s through to the early 1990s when the 'inspirational speaker' label was subtly introduced.


From 1976 onwards Prem Rawat was able to rest on the 'success' of his first five years in the west. The number of early recruits provided a resource large enough to keep the Mission operating and a few wealthy contributors kept Rawat in a style to which he was by then accustomed. The DECA project provided an effective fund raising model and Rawat's promotional activities increased during the 1980s in proportion to the growth of fund raising income. It was not however until the early 1990s that any significant reinvigoration of the 'mission' was attempted, when Rawat sought several costly transport and property acquisitions. The buying of planes and land was predicated on a re commitment to an energetic propagation of the 'Knowledge' and the promise of a 'great leaps forward' in the promotion of Rawat's message.


Prem Rawat's success has been founded on his ability to distance himself from any criticism; in his 'child god' incarnation this was easily achieved but has been far more problematic for him in adulthood. The contradictions in his transformation from 'guru' to 'inspirational speaker' are obvious to impartial observers, yet many premies seem oblivious to the inconsistencies of Rawat's message. The response of Rawat to what is in effect a replay of the conflicts that plagued him and his mission in the 1970s, has been to pursue elaborate revisionism and to avoid even the most benign public interrogation.


Prem Rawat's autocratic leadership has impeded any expression of dissent within the Prem Rawat movement. Even as a mere 'inspirational speaker' he is presented as being beyond challenge. Although Prem Rawat frequently side steps religious matters, in the face of criticism, his organisations have adopted defensive responses pioneered by openly religious organisations such as Scientology and The Family.



Knowledge, The Knowledge and Self Knowledge are interchangeable terms in the language of Prem Rawat and his followers. Understanding what is meant by these terms is unfortunately not a simple matter of definition, rather Knowledge, (or The Knowledge or Self Knowledge) has a spectrum of meaning which provides a level of ambiguity that is actively resistant to definition. In the most reductive sense 'Knowledge' refers to the meditation that Prem Rawat prescribes.


At the heart of what Prem Rawat presents as his 'message' lays the concept of 'an achievement through meditation', the meditation is a gateway to an experience, and Prem Rawat is presented as a uniquely able gatekeeper. Prem Rawat prescribes four techniques of meditation, these are unexceptional and part of the wider canon of yoga; although the processes of preparation and teaching the techniques are elaborate they are taught without cultural reference.


The term 'preparation' when used in relation to Prem Rawat's 'Knowledge' defines an active process by which the 'aspirant' is made 'receptive'. In the regime dictated by Shri Hans Ji, and which was followed in the early part of Prem Rawat's western mission - preparation was achieved by listening to satsang - sermons and speeches given by Mahatmas and sometimes by the Guru himself. Today, preparation is achieved by watching a succession of DVD recordings of Prem Rawat speaking.


Current followers of Prem Rawat attest to the benefits they have received as a result of their practice of the four techniques of meditation which Rawat refers to as 'Knowledge'. Many say that 'Knowledge' and the continued guidance of Prem Rawat has created a profound transformation in their lives for which they are eternally grateful.


No human activity is completely without risk of harmful outcome, nor is there any human activity that is wholly beneficial to every individual in every circumstance. Meditation is not an exception and suspending normal judgement about the effects of any meditational practice is not warranted, no matter how strongly the claimed benefits are promoted. Prem Rawat does not offer any caution about the meditation that he prescribes.



The religious origin of Prem Rawat's western Mission has served to obscure what has been a consistent and energetic impetus to promote Prem Rawat, firstly in his role as Guru and subsequently as an Inspirational Speaker. Setting aside questions of the validity of Rawat's Mission, his career has been founded upon a single strategy - he is the Brand and effective promotion of the Brand, especially promotion designed to maintain Brand loyalty, is the source of his success.


The Divine Light Mission created by followers of Hans Rawat was Prem Rawat's first promotional base; DLM India provided the infrastructure for the events at which Rawat spoke in the years following his father's death, prior to Rawat's move westward. Subsequently the Divine United Organisation, recently renamed Raj Vidya Kender, became Rawat's Indian base. While RVK continues to promote Prem Rawat in India, it is notable that the funding of charitable activities held in concert with Events attended by Rawat in India, is claimed by the US based The Prem Rawat Foundation, and that TPRF also controls Public Relations relating to Rawat's Indian Events.


The founding of the US Divine Light Mission Incorporated provided the material base upon which all of Prem Rawat's subsequent success was built. The combination of a large cash rich group of followers and the felicitous legal arrangements for US charitable religious organisations made the US DLM Inc. the ideal vehicle for the rapid development of a programme of promotion suited to the authoritarian but still adolescent Prem Rawat. Re named Elan Vital Incorporated, the organisation served Prem Rawat's purposes for nearly 40 years until it was announced in 2010 that it was to be replaced by Words of Peace International which is described as an educational organisation.


In terms of income generation Europe has been second only to the US for those organisations which promote Prem Rawat, more pertinently Europe has proved a net generator of funds which have been channelled for use to the US, Australia and other non European countries. The primary channel for International funding of Prem Rawat's promotional activities has been the Swiss based Elan Vital Foundation.


Australia's significance to the promotion of Prem Rawat dates from the early 1990s when the 'Amaroo' development was begun. The huge commitment of funds and human resources involved has seen Amaroo become the greatest controversy for Prem Rawat since the exploitational DECA project, and it is certainly the longest running and most damaging controversy that Rawat has ever had to face. The Australian Elan Vital Incorporated and its commercial subsidiary Ivory's Rock Conference Centre Pty Ltd have become notable as an aggressive agency of 'defensive promotion' of Prem Rawat in the face of sustained criticism.


In stark contrast to their history of disastrous resource management, the western Divine Light Missions rapidly developed an effective capacity to garner funds. The willingness of Prem Rawat's followers to part with cash, personal property and even inheritances has been of remarkable proportions and 'giving' remains the basis of funding Rawat's promotion.



The 'cult' accusation, with all its profoundly negative connotations, has been levelled against Prem Rawat and his supporting organisations ever since Divine Light Mission was set up outside of India. An accusation of course does not constitute a fact and it is important to understand why such accusations have been made, what have been their sources, what have been the motivations behind them and what is the evidence upon which they are based.


The word cult is in itself quite neutral, it does not signify something that is bad or dangerous, however when applied to organisations of very particular religious or political belief, 'cult' is now widely understood to indicate something potentially harmful. Rather like the term 'terrorist' acceptance of the label frequently depends upon whether one is on the 'inside' or the 'outside'. Indeed, the very existence of an 'inside' and an 'outside' is the point at which the 'cult question' must be addressed.


It is perhaps only fair to first ask: Why should the 'cult question' be put in relation to Prem Rawat ? In the early days of the western Divine Light Mission the cult label was largely a response by a sceptical media and distressed family members toward an individual and organisation that were quite literally, foreign to them. Forty years on Prem Rawat and the organisations that support him, have four decades of activity on which to be judged and which provides a 'case to answer'.


Apologism, also known as Apologetics, is historically specific to Christianity, it should not be confused with any expression of regret - Apologism is about justification. Apologism has become important to the presentation of Prem Rawat, it is inextricably linked to the recasting of Rawat as an 'inspirational speaker' and underlies what Rawat's critics claim is a process of blatant and dishonest revisionism.



It is not surprising that someone such as Prem Rawat who was treated as 'divine' in his formative years, would develop inconsistencies of character that cause contradictions in both public and private life. The difficulty for Prem Rawat and his followers is that Rawat is so closely identified with his mission and message, that his personal contradictions seem to colour the whole of his public presentation. The question that arises is: If the teaching is unique to the teacher, and the teacher is terribly flawed, then how sound is the teaching ?


Prem Rawat's 'message' as 'an 'inspirational speaker' seems intractably linked to his earlier 'message' as 'spiritual teacher'. The problem arises because while Rawat has comfortably made a presentational transition, he has been unable to find a linguistic alternative with which to deliver the new 'inspirational' message. Although subject to a degree of revisionism Rawat's core references are still to the 'falsity of the human mind, to a fear of 'inner decay' and to the inadequacy of the physical world and human relationships.


In addition to the very public fact that Elan Vital (previously Divine Light Mission) was for nearly 40 years, registered under US Government IRS Codes as, operating for Religious Purpose, there remain many aspects of Prem Rawat's presentation that appear religious. Prem Rawat frequently makes reference to religious texts and iconography, he talks about an inner self or 'heart' in a way that suggests a non material reality - something comparable to 'soul', and Rawat himself seeks and receives a degree of adulation that is common only to those holding elevated religious positions.


It has always been Prem Rawat's strategy to withdraw from the challenge of facing incisive questioning, this strategy is followed by the other organisations that promote Prem Rawat. Subjects that appear to cause Prem Rawat particular discomfort include the issue of his supposed divinity, his uniqueness as a 'master', his personal role in the 'gifting' of the meditational experience of 'Knowledge' to the individual meditator and the sources of misapprehension and misunderstanding about Prem Rawat.


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Prem Rawat during 2004




Shri Hansji, Prem Rawat's father