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Prem Rawat in Lisbon, Portugal 2007
|Born|| 10 December 1957 |
|Parents||Shri Hans Ji Maharaj, Rajeshwari Devi|
Prem Rawat in Lisbon, Portugal 2007
|Born|| 10 December 1957 |
|Parents||Shri Hans Ji Maharaj, Rajeshwari Devi|
Prem Pal Singh Rawat (Hindi: प्रेम पाल सिंह रावत), born on 10 December 1957, is an Indian American also known as Maharaji, and formerly as Guru Maharaj Ji and Balyogeshwar. Rawat teaches a meditation practice he calls "Knowledge". He came to early prominence leading the Divine Light Mission (DLM), which has been described as a new religious movement, a cult, a charismatic religious sect and an alternative religion. Rawat has been called a cult leader in popular press reports and in anti-cult writings. He has been criticized for a lack of intellectual content in his public discourses, and for leading an opulent lifestyle.
Rawat is the youngest son of Hans Ji Maharaj, an Indian guru and the founder of the Divya Sandesh Parishad (DLM's native name.) After his father's death, eight-year-old Rawat, became the new "Satguru" (True Master) at the center of the organization his father had founded. At age 13 Rawat travelled to the West, soon taking up residence in the United States. Many young adults were attracted to DLM, taking interest, for instance, in the claim that Rawat could impart direct knowledge of God to his followers. News media were nonplussed by his youth and supposed divine status. Tens of thousands were initiated in Knowledge techniques, and hundreds of DLM centers opened worldwide. Some Western followers took up communal life in dozens of ashrams, guided by DLM "Mahatmas".
In November 1973 the Millennium '73 festival was held in the Houston Astrodome, centered around Rawat's addresses. Although media attention was peaking, attendance to the festival was much lower than the expected 100,000. Within half a year — Rawat had turned sixteen, married, and had severed ties with his mother and eldest brother — he had gained an active control of the DLM (by now established in 55 countries), except its Indian severed stem. From the early 80s he discarded ostensible references to religion. Ashrams were closed and the part of DLM he controlled was replaced by Elan Vital.
Rawat toured extensively in the 80s and 90s. In 2001 he established "The Prem Rawat Foundation" to fund his work and humanitarian efforts. By the 2010s more organizations were put to the front and Elan Vital was eventually replaced by a complex of them. Rawat continues to speak for large and/or select audiences worldwide, and on several occasions has received significant recognition for his work and message of peace.
Rawat was born in Haridwar, northern India, on 10 December 1957, the fourth and youngest son of guru Shri Hans Ji Maharaj and his second wife, Jagat Janani Mata Shri Rajeshwari Devi. Rawat attended St. Joseph's Academy elementary school in his hometown of Dehra Dun. At the age of three he began speaking at his father's meetings, and at six his father taught him the "techniques of Knowledge." His father died in 1966, and during the customary 13 days of mourning his mother and senior officials of the organization discussed the succession. Both his mother, Mata Ji, and eldest brother, Satpal Rawat (known then as Bal Bhagwan Ji, and currently as Satpal Maharaj), were suggested as potential successors, but before either could be nominated, Rawat addressed the crowd of mourners, reminding them that their master was immortal and was still among them. In response, his mother, brother and the senior disciples accepted Rawat as their Satguru, bowed to his feet and received his blessing. Previously known to his father's followers as Sant Ji, Rawat now assumed the title "Guru Maharaj Ji" and was called "Balyogeshwar" by others (roughly "born saint" or "born lord of Yogis") on account of his youth and spiritual precocity. From that time, Rawat spent his weekends and school holidays travelling as his father had, addressing audiences on the subject of Knowledge and inner peace. Because of his youth, effective control of the DLM was shared by the whole family.
During the 1960s, Westerners in India searching for spiritual guidance met members of his father's Divine Light Mission and a few became initiates or premies (from the Hindi prem, meaning "love".) British initiates invited him to visit the West, and in 1969 he sent one of his closest Indian students (known as Mahatmas) to London to teach on his behalf. In 1970, many of his new Western followers flew to India to see him, and were present at India Gate, Delhi, when, still only twelve years old, he delivered an address known as the "Peace Bomb," which marked the start of his international work.
In 1971, Rawat travelled to the West against his mother’s wishes. His first western address was given in June 1971 at the first Glastonbury Fayre, he then went to Los Angeles, New York, Washington, Canada and South Africa. His arrival in the United States was met with some ridicule, as the teenaged Rawat was seen as immature and hence unfit to be a religious leader. But he also created an extraordinary amount of interest among young adults who were willing to examine his claimed ability to give a direct experience of God. Many were attracted by the sense of joy, peace and commitment shown by Rawat's followers. One witness said that Rawat "played the whole time he was there ... he played with squirt guns, flashed pictures of himself for all to see, and took movies of everybody ... Love flowed back and forth between him and his devotees." Enthusiastic new members spread the message that the 13-year-old Rawat could reveal God. He returned to India later that year with 300 westerners, who chartered an Air India Boeing 747 to accompany him and stayed in the mission's ashrams.
Rawat took flying lessons beginning when he was 13, and had begun training in a jet by age 15. In 1972 two Cessna airplanes were obtained for his use. Travelling almost constantly, he was reported to have residences in London, New York, Colorado, California, India, and Australia.
The 1972 Hans Jayanti, an annual festival celebrating the birthday of Rawat's guru was attended by over 500,000 people. Six Jumbo jets were chartered by American followers who paid extra so that South Americans could fly from New York to India for free. Other countries made similar arrangements to help the less financially able. On arrival, Indian customs impounded a suitcase containing cash, jewelry and wristwatches worth between US$27,000 and $80,000 which they said had not been properly declared. Rawat said, "It has nothing to do with me, it is an attempt to harm the Divine Light Mission. When someone grows, others get jealous of him, and the Divine Light Mission has just blasted like an atomic bomb all over the world.” A DLM spokesman said that the money had been pooled by 3,000 followers to cover expenses, and that the valuables were gifts. The finances of Rawat and the DLM in India and overseas were investigated by the Indian government. In June 1973 the investigation was still under way, and Rawat had to post a $13,300 bond in order to leave the country. Charges were never filed, and the Indian government later issued an apology.
A reporter who attended an event in Boston in August 1973 which drew 9,000 attendees wrote that Rawat appeared humble and human, and seemed to intentionally undercut the claims of divinity made by followers. Sociologist James Downton said that from his beginnings Rawat appealed to his followers to give up concepts and beliefs that might impede them from fully experiencing the Knowledge (or life force), but this did not prevent them from adopting a fairly rigid set of ideas about his divinity, and to project millennial preconceptions onto him and the movement.
Followers stressed "love, peace and happiness" in their lives, but public attitudes were often unsympathetic. Sociologist Stephen A. Kent wrote that as a 22-year-old hippie, he found Rawat's message to be banal and poorly delivered, though his companions spoke about it glowingly.
In August 1973 while Rawat was in Detroit to receive an award, he was slapped in the face with a shaving cream pie by Pat Halley, a radical journalist. Rawat said that he did not want his attacker arrested or hurt, but Halley was himself attacked a few days later and seriously injured. When local members heard of the incident they notified Rawat who requested that DLM conduct a full investigation. Two followers were identified as the assailants and the police were immediately notified but the Detroit police declined to initiate extradition proceedings. There was speculation that the lack of action by the Detroit police may have been connected with Halley's radical politics.
Rawat's publicity campaign was unparalleled. One journalist reported,
Thousands of people follow him wherever he goes; posters of his round, cheerful face adorn the walls of buildings in every major Western city; newspaper reporters and TV cameras cover his every public appearance – particularly his mass rallies, which attract hundreds of thousands of followers each.
A tour of US cities was cut short in early September 1973, when Rawat was hospitalized with an intestinal ulcer. His personal physician said that his body, weakened by the pace of continual travel, showed the stresses of a middle-aged executive.
The Hans Jayanti of 1973, which was named "Millennium '73", was held in the Houston Astrodome. Press releases said that the event would mark the beginning of "a thousand years of peace for people who want peace." The main organizers were Rawat's eldest brother Satpal and activist Rennie Davis, who predicted an attendance of 100,000 or more. The event attracted only about 20,000. It was not covered by the national television news, although it received extensive coverage in the print media and was depicted in the award-winning US documentary "Lord of the Universe". The premies were described as "cheerful, friendly and unruffled" and seeming "nourished by their faith". To the 400 premie parents who attended, Rawat was "a rehabilitator of prodigal sons and daughters", though some reporters found "a confused jumble of inarticulately expressed ideas." The event was called the "youth culture event of the year".
The failure of the event to meet expectations hurt the Divine Light Mission and left it heavily in debt, forcing changes within the movement. By 1976, the DLM was able to reduce the debt to $80,000. According to Thomas Pilarzyk, the Millennium economic deficit was partly the result of poor management by the "holy family" (Rawat's mother and three older brothers), and partly the much lower than anticipated attendance.
Because of Prem Rawat's youth, his mother, Mata Ji, and eldest brother, Satpal, managed the affairs of the worldwide DLM. When Rawat reached sixteen years of age he wanted to take a more active part in guiding the movement. According to the sociologist James V. Downton, this meant he "had to encroach on his mother's territory and, given the fact that she was accustomed to having control, a fight was inevitable". In December 1973, Rawat took administrative control of the Mission's US branch, and his mother and Satpal returned to India.
By the end of 1973, the DLM was active in 55 countries. Tens of thousands had been initiated, and several hundred centers and dozens of ashrams formed. 1973 has been called the "peak of the Mission's success".
Rawat's affluent lifestyle was a source of controversy in the early 1970s. Some media reports said that Rawat "lived more like a king than a Messiah". Critics said that his lifestyle was supported by the donations of followers and that the movement appeared to exist only to support Rawat's "opulent existence". Supporters said there is no conflict between worldly and spiritual riches, and that Rawat did not advise anyone to "abandon the material world", but said it is our attachment to it that is wrong. Press reports listed expensive automobiles such as Rolls-Royces, Mercedes-Benz limousines and sports cars, some of them gifts. Rawat said, "I have something far more precious to give them than money and material things – I give peace". "Maharaj Ji's luxuries are gifts from a Western culture whose fruits are watches and Cadillacs," a spokesman said. Some premies said that he did not want the gifts, but that people gave them out of their love for him. They saw Rawat's lifestyle as an example of a lila, or divine play, which held a mirror to the "money-crazed and contraption-collecting society" of the West.
In May 1974, a judge gave Rawat his consent to marry without parental permission. His marriage to Marolyn Johnson, a 24-year-old follower from San Diego, California, was celebrated at a non-denominational church in Golden, Colorado. Rawat's mother, Mata Ji, had not been invited.
Rawat's marriage to a non-Indian finally severed his relationship with his mother. She retained control of the Indian DLM and appointed Satpal as its leader. Mata Ji said she was removing Rawat as Perfect Master because of his "unspiritual" lifestyle and lack of respect for her wishes. Rawat retained the support of the Western disciples. Most of the mahatmas either returned to India or were dismissed. Rawat had become wealthy as a result of contributions from his Western devotees, and led the life of an American millionaire. He ran a household for his wife, his brother (Raja Ji) and his sister-in-law (Claudia), and financed travel for the close officials and mahatmas who accompanied him on his frequent trips around the globe to attend the Mission's festivals. By early 1974 the number of full-time DLM staff had increased from six to over one thousand.
In November 1974, seeking more privacy for himself, his wife and his entourage following security concerns, Rawat moved to a 4-acre (16,000 m2) property in Malibu, California. Purchased by the DLM for $400,000, the property served as the DLM's West Coast headquarters. Controversy around a helipad on the property was resolved by installing emergency water storage for the Los Angeles County Fire Department and by limiting the number of permitted flights.
By 1976, most students viewed Rawat primarily as a spiritual teacher, guide and inspiration. In January 1976 Rawat encouraged them to leave the ashrams and discard Indian customs and terminology. He said that the organization had come between his devotees and himself. He decentralized some decision making to local premie communities, while he maintained his status as the ultimate authority over spiritual and secular matters. The staff at the Denver headquarters were reduced from 250 to 80. He described the managerial mentality that had grown in the Mission as "only cosmetic and totally unnecessary. It's like trying to take a cow and put lipstick on it. You can do it, but it's unnecessary in practical terms".
His appearance on 20 December 1976 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, wearing a traditional Krishna costume for the first time since 1975, signaled a resurgence of Indian influence and devotion. During 1977, many returned to ashram life, and there was a shift back from secular tendencies towards ritual and messianic beliefs. In 1977 Rawat became a US citizen.
In October 1978, the hillsides surrounding Rawat's Malibu estate were burned by a brushfire. His family and the DLM headquarters subsequently moved to Miami Beach, Florida. The family, which grew to four children, returned to Malibu in 1984.
In January 1979 the Los Angeles Times reported that Rawat was maintaining his Malibu following despite a rising mistrust of cults. Bob Mishler and Robert Hand, a former vice president of the movement, complained that money was increasingly diverted to Rawat's personal use and that the ideals of the group had become impossible to fulfill. The charges found little support and did not affect the progress of the Mission.
In 1980, Rawat removed all the "religious" aspects of the movement and declared he now wanted "no movement whatsoever". The Hindu references and religious parables that had been prominent in his teachings gave way to a focus on the meditation techniques. Once called "Perfect Master", Rawat abandoned his "almost divine status as guru"  but affirmed his status as a master. Scholars such as Kranenborg and Chryssides describe the departure from divine connotations. In 1983 the Divine Light Mission was renamed Elan Vital and Rawat closed the last western ashrams, marking the end of his use of Indian methods for international objectives.
In the 1980s and 1990s Rawat toured extensively. In one two-year period he spoke at over 100 programs in 37 international cities, including New York, London, Paris, Kuala Lumpur, Rome, Delhi, Sydney, Tokyo, Caracas and Los Angeles.
In 1990 there were said to be 1.2 million followers worldwide, with 50,000 in the United States. 1999 saw the commencement of regular satellite broadcasts to North America and other countries.
In 2001, Rawat founded The Prem Rawat Foundation (TPRF), a Public Charitable Organization for the production and distribution of materials promoting his message, and also for funding worldwide humanitarian efforts. TPRF has provided food, water and medical help to war-torn and impoverished areas.
Between January 2004 and June 2005, Rawat delivered 117 addresses in Asia, Europe, and North America focusing on a universal message of peace and self-fulfillment. His message is currently distributed in eighty-eight countries in print and on video, and his program "Words of Peace" is broadcast on TV channels such as Canal Infinito in South America, Channel 31 in Australia, and Dish Network in the USA.
Elan Vital states that the only effective way of reaching out to the over 80 countries where his message is now promoted is by leased private jet, which Rawat self-pilots, flying around a quarter million miles a year. In 2007 during a two-month tour of India, Sri Lanka and Nepal, Rawat spoke at 36 events, addressing over 800,000 people, and by live satellite broadcasts reached an additional 2.25 million.
A biography of Rawat, Peace is Possible, by Andrea Cagan, was published in 2006 with a foreword by Emilio Colombo, a former President of the European Parliament and former Prime Minister of Italy. In 2007 Rawat started the Peace Education Program for inmates which, as of 2012, operates in 25 prisons across 10 countries. Michael Gilbert, UTSA associate professor of criminal justice, stated that "The constructive changes in behavior among participants have been noticed in our local Dominguez prison".
In 2009, Rawat was made "Ambassador of Peace" for the Basilicata region of Italy. In 2010, he spoke at the "Words of Peace for Europe" conference in Brussels, at the invitation of European Parliament Vice-President Gianni Pittella. In 2011, he again spoke in Brussels at the conference, "Peace and Prosperity. Founding Values of the European Union." In September 2012, in Malaysia, Rawat was awarded the Asia Pacific Brands Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, "for his contributions in championing and promoting global peace."
On 2 February 2014, Prem Rawat addressed a crowd of more than 200,000 young people at the 9th Youth Peace Fest in Delhi.
The core of Prem Rawat's teaching is that the individual’s need for fulfillment can be satisfied by turning within to contact a constant source of peace and joy. Rather than a body of dogma, he emphasizes a direct experience of transcendence that he says is accessible through the meditation techniques he teaches.
A number of scholars have said that Rawat's teachings began in the North Indian Sant Mat or Radhasoami tradition, which dismisses ritual and claims that true religion is a matter of loving and surrendering to God who dwells in the heart. Geaves argues that this is not quite correct; referring to Rawat's own statements about his lineage, he places Rawat and his father within the tradition established by Totapuri, which also gave rise to the Advait Mat movement. Geaves argues that while the teachings within Totapuri's lineage have similarities with those of the Radhasoami tradition and developed in the same geographical area, they are nevertheless distinct. He adds that Rawat "is unusual in that he does not consider his lineage to be significant and does not perceive his authority as resting in a tradition."
Prem Rawat claims that light, love, wisdom and clarity exist within each individual, and that the meditation techniques which he teaches, and which he learned from his teacher, are a way of accessing them. These techniques are known as the 'Knowledge'. In his public talks he quotes from Hindu, Muslim and Christian scriptures, but he relies on this inner experience for his inspiration and guidance.
Before they receive the "Knowledge", Rawat asks practitioners to promise to give it a fair chance and to stay in touch with him. He also asks that they not reveal the techniques to anyone else, but allow others to prepare to receive the experience for themselves.
Practitioners describe "Knowledge" as internal and highly individual, with no associated social structure, liturgy, ethical practices or articles of faith. According to sociologist Alan E. Aldridge, Rawat says he offers practical ways to achieve spiritual tranquillity that can be used by anyone. Aldridge writes that Rawat originally aspired to bring about world peace, but now he places his attention on helping individuals rather than society.
Rawat has been described in multiple ways. He has been termed a cult leader in popular press reports and anti-cult writings. Biographer Andrea Cagan described Rawat as a man who loves life and is focused "on spreading the message of peace."
From Rawat's first travels in the West, he and his followers attracted media attention. In an interview in Der Spiegel in 1973, Rawat said, "I have lost confidence in newspapers. I talk with them [about this] and the next day something completely different is printed." In 1973, the Divine Light Mission's 50-member public relations team concluded that Rawat's credibility had been compromised by his youth, his physical appearance, and the Rolls Royce, as well as the Detroit "pieing" incident and an allegation of smuggling (which was never prosecuted). The head of the team said that they needed to get the public to look past these factors to judge Rawat's credibility.
Thomas Pilarzyk, a sociologist, wrote in a 1978 paper that the distribution of power and authority in the DLM was officially based on the charismatic appeal of Maharaj Ji, which he described as being somewhat ambiguous, and that many followers were not certain about his position in the organizational scheme of the movement, or the claim that he was the only true spiritual master.
By the early 1980s Meredith McGuire, a professor of sociology and anthropology, saw a process of formalization (transition of charismatic to rational management), resulting from Rawat's desire to consolidate his power and authority over the movement in the United States.
Around the same time, Paul Schnabel, a sociologist, described Rawat as a pure example of a charismatic leader. He characterized Rawat as materialistic, pampered and intellectually unremarkable compared to Osho, but no less charismatic.
Lucy DuPertuis, a sociologist and one-time follower who assisted James V. Downton with his book about the Divine Light Mission, described Rawat's role as a Master as emerging from three interrelated phenomena: traditional or theological definitions of Satguru; adherents' first-hand experiences of the Master; and communal accounts and discussions of the Master among devotees.
David G. Bromley described Prem Rawat and other founders of new religions as being held in awe by their early followers, who ascribe extraordinary powers to them that set them apart from other human beings. When describing the difficulty of charismatic leaders in proving to be above normal human failings such as not to suffer ill health or indulge in worldly pursuits, he used Rawat's marriage as an example.
Stephen J. Hunt described Rawat's major focus as being on stillness, peace and contentment within the individual, with his 'Knowledge' consisting of the techniques to obtain these. According to Hunt, in Rawat's case the notion of spiritual growth is not derived — as is traditionally the case with other gurus — from his personal charisma, but from the nature of his teachings and the benefits to the individuals applying them.
Ron Geaves, a professor in various fields of religion and long-time adherent of Rawat, wrote that Rawat is not a renunciate, and that he has made great efforts to assert his humanity and take apart the hagiography that has developed around him. According to Geaves Rawat, rather than considering himself a charismatic leader, deemphasizes the sealing of the master disciple relationship, and focuses on correct practice and staying in touch through participation or listening.
Estimates of the number of Rawat's adherents have varied widely over time. Petersen stated that Rawat claimed 7 million disciples worldwide in 1973, with 60,000 in the US. Rudin & Rudin gave a worldwide following of 6 million in 1974, of which 50,000 were in the US. According to these authors, the adherents had fallen to 1.2 million for Prem Rawat's personal worldwide following in 1980, with 15,000 in the US. Spencer J. Palmer and Roger R. Keller published a general DLM membership of 1.2 million worldwide, with 50,000 in the US, in 1990 and 1997.
James V. Downton, who studied Rawat's followers for five years in the 70s, said "these young people had a spiritual experience which deeply affected them and changed the course of their lives. It was an experience which moved many to tears of joy, for they had found the answer they had been seeking". Downton said by 1976 the vast majority of students viewed Rawat "as their spiritual teacher, guide and inspiration". Quoting a student he had studied, Downton said a typical view was that "the only thing he (Rawat) wants is to see people living happily and harmoniously together". Downton concluded that the students had changed in a positive way, "more peaceful, loving, confident and appreciative of life".
Paul Schnabel referenced professor in the psychology of religion Van der Lans saying that among his Western students, Rawat appeared to stimulate an uncritical attitude, which gave them an opportunity to project their fantasies of divinity onto his person. According to Schnabel, the divine nature of the guru is a standard element of Eastern religion, but removed from its cultural context, and confounded with the Western understanding of God as a father, what is lost is the difference between the guru's person and that which the guru symbolizes—resulting in what was described as limitless personality worship.
Stephen Hunt wrote that Western followers do not see themselves as members of a religion, but rather as adherents of a system of teachings focused on the goal of enjoying life to the full.
Former followers became known as "ex-premies", and Elan Vital has characterised the vocal critics among them as disgruntled former employees. Based on an analysis of Sophia Collier's Soul Rush, John Barbour, a professor of religion, concluded that Collier's deconversion from DLM was uncharacteristic compared to other deconversions from other movements, in that her deconversion brought her no emotional suffering.
According to Prem Rawat's official website, in the eight years prior to May 2008, Key Six sessions were attended by 365,237 people in 67 countries. These are the video sessions where the techniques of Knowledge are taught by Rawat.
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