Maharaji and The Great DLM Space-Out of 1976
Divine Light Mission finished it's early, rapid growth period by the end of 1973. It had large debts following the Millenium 73 festival. It suffered terrible publicity following the 16 year old guru's wedding to his 23 year old "secretary," his disowning, disinheriting and deposing of him as the Satguru by his family and Indian followers and the young guru's opulent lifestyle. It is possible that his greed and materialism and his personal use of the majority of DLM's financial resources were as detrimental as the bad publicity as it severely hampered the organisation's ability to function with up to 60% of the total income going to Rawat personally. By the end of 1975 the initial enthusiasm of conversion, millenial expectations and hope of spiritual enlightenment had faded and many if not most Denver premie administrators had compromised their ashram lifestyle. It was then that Maharaji made one of his big mistakes. He told the premies: "The last thing, the fifth thing * that all the premies have to share amongst each other is the understanding of what we are doing here."
In an unlikely scenario, an extreme right-wing lobby group, The Citizens' Congress, that was well-known at the time for their strong support of President Nixon, invited the Guru Maharaj Ji to speak at a Bi-Centenary function at the Mayflower Hotel. Speakers at the luncheon included infamous far-right segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz who was convicted of tax-evasion in 1981 and who resigned in disgrace after making his most famous speech: "I'll tell you what the coloreds want. It's three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit." Rennie Davis would have rolled over in his grave had he been dead.
A decision was made by the DLM leaders that the best way to present Maharaji was as a "humanitarian leader" who had matured along with his devotees who formerly had been hyping the Knowledge rather than actually experiencing it's joy and bliss. In January 1976 Rawat proclaimed that 'mahatmas' would now dress in Western fashion, be called 'initiators' and present themselves as normal premies without "spiritual" pretensions.
The reports to the press began in March 1976 though responses were were frankly dubious in accepting this volte face. An article appeared in the May 1976 Divine Times called "Part of the Mainstream" explaining to premies their new ideology. Mishler later claimed Rawat had agreed to these changes. This was truly bizarre as Rawat had been promoted as the boy God, the Lord of the Universe and the Lord of Universal Peace, who proclaimed he had come to rule the world with more power than any Perfect Master before him. While premies were obedient and changed the way they spoke about Rawat publicly (most of those who didn't think he was God had left) the media were, understandably, not so obedient. As Bob Mackenzie had written "The 16 year-old guru Maharaj Ji has decided he is God, I understand. That is not a bad job for a 16 year-old kid, except that there's no chance for advancement." There also is no possiblility of an acceptable and reasonable demotion.
Ashram?: Golden Age No. 33 (October 1976)
Excerpts from a tape recorded by English national director David Lovejoy, summarising a meeting held in Leicester during Guru Maharaj Ji's visit there, with members of DLM in Britain, Bob Mishler and Jos Lammers.
Well, I guess the largest part of the time was taken up with the question of the ashram. We've had a generation of ashram premies, some of whom have been in the ashram for five years now, and in many cases their development seems to have gone contrary to what we would like to see in the development of ashram premies-counter to what Maharaj Ji has expressed that he would like to see in the development of responsibility and maturity as we practise Knowledge for a long period of time. It just seems that the very controlled environment of the ashram, by reducing choice and reducing initiative, has in fact had the opposite effect on many premies - that they've not increased in maturity and they've not increased in responsibility.
Jos Lammers discussed life for the top DLM administrators:
Exactly there, right in the centre of the Divine Light Mission, other matters too were, to a growing extent, just like the rest of the world. Nobody except his security people, his personal aids and 'president' Bob Mishler ever got to see Maharaj ji himself. But his lifestyle did affect the people that had to arrange it all for him. The job of my ashram mate Joe Schwartz for instance, was to rent films for Maharaj ji whenever he exchanged his 'divine residence' in Malibu California for Denver to discuss business with Bob. As soon as he left for Malibu again, Joe dragged projector, screen and rented films into our ashram, where we in all secrecy and taunted by the strangling question of whether we had now definitely fallen of the path watched Little Big Man and the Godfather. Two favorites of Maharaj ji, Joe assured. And while watching a rented movie apparently was all right, then why not in a theater, Tom White, another house-mate of the ashram in Franklin Street wondered. He worked at the 'petty cash' on Finance and because of this could always get his hands on some money. So together we went to Denver's fifty cent theater … And because Maharaj ji had a motor home as huge as a public bus in order to see America, with a kitchen, bathroom, sleeping room and all, Tom figured we could take the Ford Capri of Finance to Aspen … More mistakes together were hardly possible.
Sophia Collier's recollections are similar:
Even though Matthew had, like me, adopted the ashram lifestyle, which did not allow drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes, he had never quite adjusted. Sometimes in the office he smelled of Scotch, and he kept a stash of marihuana tucked away up in the Divine Times office's false ceiling to enjoy late at night with some of the other people on the Divine Times staff. … I was having a less serious love affair. Although in coming to Denver I had agreed to live in a monastic way, I found it rather difficult to do so. From my short experience, there was no substitute for the deep and happy satisfaction of making love. On a few occasions during that cold winter of '73-'74, I broke my monastic commitment. … he (Raja Rawat) began expanding his existing fascination for guns and violence. Like Maharaj Ji, Raja Ji had started to drink. Though I love to drink from time to time, I never do so before the end of the afternoon. Raja Ji sometimes started much earlier than that. One evening I sat with him and Claudia as they drank. Slowly the conversation turned from an interesting discussion to a series of slurred comments about where do the bubbles come from in champagne. This is spirituality? I thought to myself.
In the letters I received from my national news correspondents I sensed a mood of dissatisfaction in the DLM membership. Not only were they dissatisfied with the way the Mission was being run, but also with the quality of their own spiritual experience. I remember one particular letter from the retired financial director whom Michael Dettmers replaced. He was working in the Portland, Oregon, DLM office as a part-time volunteer. (Unfortunately I have had to reconstruct this letter from memory, as I lost the original; it is impossible to duplicate his charming style.) We started by asking each other, "Why did you join DLM?" From this beginning we have traced through our whole DLM experience. Immediately it is evident that many of us have deeply entrenched religious concepts, almost totally without basis in experience. The people working in the local DLM office translate these baseless concepts into programs that encourage guilt and fear as the primary motivators, rather than love and clarity. Sometimes I wonder if it might just be better to cancel DLM and start again. I've heard several people say this here in Portland. Soul Rush p224
To a person with no involvement with Prem Rawat and his Knowledge the explanation for this paradox is simple. The Knowledge doesn't work.
Michael Dettmers became involved in the administration as he was one of the few premies with management experience in a large organisation. In response to Rawat's call for understanding, he arranged focus groups amongst DLM administrators to determine exactly how they felt about their roles, Rawat's role and their lives. Sophia Collier wrote:
It had all started the month before, when Maharaj Ji came to the Sunday Community Meeting in Denver on the 7th December 1975 and said that all the people in DLM should have "understanding." He seemed very emphatic about this, although it was rather vague just exactly what he wanted people to understand. Each person, according to her/his nature, interpreted Maharaj Ji's statement differently. Michael Dettmers and some of the other executives assumed people on the HQ staff needed to understand the organization and their commitment to it more fully. To this end, in the middle of December (1976), they set up a large conference for the entire staff at the Hilton Hotel. They secured the services of a premie who was a professional in group dynamics. Maharaj Ji came to the conference and told everybody that he was completely behind this effort and the premies should relax, cooperate, and "not be paranoid."
In the course of this it was impossible not to get into why each person had joined the Mission and what their experiences and frustrations had been; it even provided the opportunity to broach the very delicate issue of whether Guru Maharaj Ji had powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. … When my group got around to this touchy issue, I found nobody wanted to be the little child who announced the emperor's nakedness. Even I didn't want to open the can of worms. … Slowly, in the course of the team's functioning, I realized there was something I was not facing. Okay, I knew Maharaj Ji was not the hottest thing going, but I enjoyed being in the mission, personally and professionally. … Yet over the past year I had begun to suspect the worst. Inside I was straining to resolve my doubts. Today, in the Hilton, I knew I would begin. "I don't think he's God," I announced. "I don't think he's even got any special insight." "But what are we doing here then?" someone else in my group asked me. It was an obvious question. A debate ensued.
In Divine Disenchantment: Deconverting from New Religions, a young married couple, premies for 5 years, recall their involvement:
At the time they started all these workshops, they were questioning-type workshops. Who was Guru Maharaj Ji? What is knowledge? We would get into these groups and try to solve it as a problem, using these problem-solving techniques. What began to happen was that Maharaj Ji began to lose people; premies were leaving the ashrams.
Aware of the declining number of devotees, a new power faction emerged within the movement which challenged the liberalization program. These members of the administrative hierarchy supported a more rigid and doctrinaire approach to conversion, and a return to the authoritative structure in which the Mission had thus far flourished in the United States.
Collier and others who weren't paying close attention to what he was saying may have thought Rawat was in favour of these workshops but this was not the case as Downton explains:
Actually, Guru Maharaj Ji had not liked the idea of the workshops and had not supported them. This came out later when he said he felt the workshops were not of any real benefit to a person seeking an experience of the Truth, then reaffirmed the necessity of satsang for that purpose. In fact, he had been saying that premies should be seeking "real understanding" of their experience and that satsang was the key. - Sacred Journeys, p193
Downton received much of his information from Lucy Dupertuis and other DLM staff in Denver IHQ and so much of it was DLM propaganda but in this case he has been able to use the benefit of hindsight. It's unlikely that Rawat was in favour of the workshops as he condemned "chit-chat" at Hans Jayanti and during his surprise visit to the Denver Community Meeting but he did not prevent the workshops going ahead. He probably did not understand what was happening as he usually only spent a day or two in Denver at a time. His understanding of his followers, at this time if not others, was poor. Rawat used the word 'understanding' regularly but examining his available speeches from the last half of 1975 shows he meant it in his usual way, that premies should understand the importance of the Knowledge and prachar and that they should obey him, worship him and dedicate their lives to him through satsang, service and meditation. While Downton's version of the events of 1976 is correct much of Downton's comments about premies beliefs in 1976 is overly credulous. He believed that what he was being told by his sources was a reflection of their actual 'experience' when it was more likely their parrotting of the official line being propagated by DLM administrators. As soon as Rawat reverted to his normal public divine persona wearing a Krishna costume premies reverted to enthusiastically worshipping him publicly.
These "training workshops" used basic brainstorming and synthesizing techniques to get members to think about what the organization was actually trying to accomplish. They were told to reflect on their experience of "Guru Maharaj Ji" and Knowledge and what is Rawat's role in spreading knowledge, what is the best way to "spread this Knowledge", the ashrams, etc. The administrators encouraged people to leave the ashram as they and most others were not actually "experiencing" the bliss that that had been promised to them. Many of the administrators were in illicit sexual relationships (illicit for ashram residents that is) and they wanted out. It was already obvious to them that Maharaji's "Knowledge" was not producing the results he had originally and so blithely promised and many administrators thought the ashrams were creating problems in their members. David Lovejoy head of DLM, Great Britain reported that ashram premies had failed "in the development of responsibility and maturity as we practise Knowledge for a long period of time" except for people like himself who believed they didn't require "intensive care" any longer. Lovejoy returned to Australia shortly thereafter and turned his attention to a career and chess.
And by then there was a crisis at the IHQ. More and more people left the ashrams to, just like Maharaj ji, get married and have children. As a result the revenues dropped, while only a few years back the organization had built up a mega debt by renting the Houston Astrodome. The worlds largest indoor stadium, at that time, where Maharaj ji was going to announce his thousand year kingdom of peace. Which he did, but the tens of thousands of followers that came to listen to that and kiss his feet, didn't bring enough money to pay the rent of the stadium and the thousands of hotel rooms around it. Everything would work out, was the idea, until one property after another became vacant and it became a hassle to even pay the grocer that supplied the ashrams with food. The management team, of which I was a member, had meeting after meeting, until we saw only one solution: Maharaj ji. His allowance of five hundred dollars a day had to be cut in half. Cars and houses had to be sold. Maybe even his motor home. Bob Mishler would fly over to Malibu to tell him. - Abandoned Roads by Jos Lammers
As Dettmers explained DLM were going to be audited by the IRS due to the publicity re Prem Rawat's luxuries. DLM was incorporated as a church and the spending on and by Rawat as the church leader was far beyond the amount acceptable to the IRS. Bob Mishler, who had come to see Rawat up close and personal from the time of the "family feud" was completely fed up with Rawat's alcohol abuse and out of control spending that was destroying the organization, decided to sell the Malibu mansion and haul in the reins of Rawat's spending binges. In public Mishler continued to extol Rawat's brilliance.
Plans to create an investment fund to allow Rawat to maintain his opulent lifestyle were decided upon but the DLM cash flow dropped enormously as people left the ashrams and stopped donating their entire salaries and premies became involved in a more normal life. Rawat came to Denver to meet the Executive Committee of DLM, fired the non-sycophants (as Downton so quaintly phrases it: "the guru took the initiative halfway through 1976 by asking two members of the Board of Directors, including the President, to step down from their posts and to assume a different form of service within the movement.") and installed Dettmers as his Personal Manager. Rawat stated "Knowledge without devotion to Maharaji is nothing". He took steps to ensure that his total control would never again be challenged and changed his direction, made a comeback surprising to observers who had been accepting at face value what premies had been saying and began a new era of devotion, along with a reinstatement of the ashrams.
In Andrea Cagan's sleazy "biography" of Prem Rawat she writes that by July 1976, the organisation's administrators' had so little respect for him they were saying that he should have only a figurehead role. She also wrote that Rawat claimed that during the summer tour he had given Bob Mishler a place of honour and asked him to speak first. However, Mishler often toured with Rawat and it was common for Western premies or his wife to speak first and remind everyone of the need to pay attention to the young Rawat's "satsang" as he was so simplistic and his English so poor that his "incredible depth and wisdom" might be missed.
From an article in the Golden Age magazine it can be seen that 20% of ashram finances went to the help defray DLM administration costs. While it would never be published we know from ashram residents that a percentage was sent directly to Rawat to help pay for his opulent lifestyle and the remaining went to support the ashram residents themselves. In figures provided by Bob Mishler to the press, the percentage ashram residents used to support themselves was 30%. In Australia ashram income was $AU600,000 pa so we can deduce that the US figure would be (ballpark) $US6,000,000 so from there alone Rawat's annual income would have dropped $US1,200,00 as would DLM's.
Things got worse when Virginia Culver, the Religious Editor of the Denver Post was passed some documentation, evocatively called the "Martian Chronicle" (presumably based on the Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury a series of short stories detailing the colonization of Mars by humans fleeing from a devastated Earth) which presumably detailed the ongoing collapse of the ashram system and financial woes to DLM and Maharaji following from this. This prompted only the second conversation Joe Anctil, the DLM Press Secretary, had ever had with Maharaji who pretended he was in charge and everything was all right though it obviously wasn't. Now the press was able to report Rawat's woes.
In November, of 1976 at the "Frankfurt Conference" Rawat shocked his administrators by reinforcing the simplistic, fundamentalist view of himself as the Lord of the Universe and only source of true Knowledge in the world and holding them responsible for the state of the Mission in their countries. All the National Co-ordinators reported much the same sad story. Virtually no satsang, no service or meditation was going on. Those followers who found a broader view of life more attractive than Rawat's voted with their feet. Rawat said in a satsang to his German followers on 29th November, 1976 in Frankfurt: "Basic thing right now a lot or things are happening in premies' lives, a lot of things are happening in the organisation. There were all these changes brought forth, and I'm taking all these changes right back to where they belong. Taking premies to where they belong, taking everything and putting it back in its place. Right now it's just like a big mess, somebody really threw up and that was mind - it really threw up bad. And so right now I would just like a lot of premies to get strong in their experience of Knowledge. That's about it."
In space-out it's always darkest just before the comeback!
This appraisal of the changes in DLM in 1976 is based upon:
- "Sacred Journeys: The Conversion of Young Americans to Divine Light Mission" by James V. Downton
- "Soul Rush" by Sophia Collier
- "Mescaline, Maharaj Ji and the Mojave Desert: Abandoned Roads" by Jos Lammers
- "Peace Is Possible" by Andrea Cagan
- articles in The Golden Age and Divine Times magazines
- a radio interview with Bob Mishler
- internet postings by Michael Dettmers
- Between Dark and Dark by David Lovejoy
- Effort In The Right Direction 29th November, 1976 in Frankfurt published in The Golden Age
- The Frankfurt Conference 25th - 29th November, 1976
- Notes On People New York Times, December 21 1976
- Divine Disenchantment: Deconverting from New Religions Janet Liebman Jacob
Articles in issues of 1976 Divine Times magazines
- Divine Times - Volume 5, Number 1, January 31, 1976
- With Jos Lammers January 1976
- Satsang has been new-born, these last few weeks.
- Part of the Mainstream - May 1976, Interview with Bob Mishler
- Spiritual group's claims, practices are changing EVENING CAPITAL Sat., March 6, 1976
- Teenage Guru to Change Style THE TIMES RECORDER FRI., MAR 5, 1976
- Maharaji group changing style to tone down Eastern ritualism Fri., Mar 6, 1976 GREELEY (Colo.) TRIBUNE
- Tour Postponed Due To Insufficient Funds THE GETTYSBURG TIMES, Saturday, March 27, 1976
- About People SYRACUSE HERALD-JOURNAL, March 27, 1976
- Guru Changes Touring Plans HIGH POINT ENTERPRISE, Saturday, March 27, 1976
- Lack of funds postpones Guru's N. American tour GREELEY (Colo.) TRIBUNE Sat., Mar 27, 1976
- Times have changed for Guru Mon., November 22, 1976 GREELEY (Colo.) TRIBUNE
- Declining Donations Dim Divine Light Mission The Lima News Monday, November 22, 1976
- Followers Fewer, Church Retrenching for Maharaj Ji The Charleston Gazette Friday, November 26, 1976
- Teenage Guru Having Tough Days FLORENCE MORNING NEWS Monday, November 22, 1976
- Guru Following Down, Tactics Changing Waterloo Courier, Thurs., Nov. 25, 1976
- Guru's following is falling away AP: EVENING CAPITAL Sat., Nov 27, 1976
- Guru's following is falling away AP: ALBERQUERQUE JOURNAL, Saturday Nov 27, 1976
- Ecstasy and agony Sunday, Dec. 12, 1976 THE LIMA NEWS
- BIZ BEFORE BLISS Columbus Telegram December 20, 1976
- Notes On People The New York Times December 21 1976
- Newsmakers The Los Angeles Times December 21 1976
and the newspaper articles listed above and personal memories.