Deprogramming Prem Rawat's Followers (Premies)
Deprogramming, for our purposes, is the attempt to convince a person to abandon allegiance to the Rawatism "cult", whether the organisation was Divine Light Mission or Élan Vital. The practice typically involved the kidnapping of adult children by persons acting for their parents and the attempt to convince them of their mistaken allegiance to Rawat while holding them prisoner, usually with family members present to allay their fears. This often worked surprisingly well. Similar practices, when done without force, are called "exit counseling".
This practice became extremely controversial because of the illegality of the kidnapping and the arguments over freedom of religion, civil rights and "brainwashing". It was discontinued as the courts in the USA began to jail the people involved or award significant fines in civil cases against them. Prominent deprogrammers the courts disciplined include Ted Patrick and Rick Ross. Critics of the practice focus on the often illegal and violent activities by untrained and unlicensed practitioners while supporters of deprogramming, who were mainly concerned relatives of members, highlight the deceptive, even coercive, religious conversion practices by those groups they considered cults.
According to Rawatism dogma, premies (ie "lovers" - followers of Rawat) could not be deprogrammed because they had an "experience of life" qualitatively beyond normal consciousness and not just a set of beliefs in Prem Rawat and the efficacy of practising his "Knowledge." However, deprogramming premies turned out to be much the same as deprogramming members of other New Religious Movements commonly considered cults such as the Hare Krishnas and the Moonies. "Jim Ardmore" was deprogrammed in 45 minutes of conversation with Ted Patrick and went on to detail his involvement and subsequent deprogramming in Youth, brainwashing, and the extremist cults. He had been slicing tomatoes for 6 hours using an electric meat slicer as part of a team making 20,000 cheese and tomato sandwiches at Millenium '73 (which Prem Rawat then known as Guru Maharaj Ji called the "most Holy and significant event in human history") when he severely damaged his fingers. His mother contacted Ted Patrick to come and talk to him while he was at his parents' home recovering.
Joanie Ross was deprogrammed around the beginning of 1979. She spoke to a reporter from the Washington Post shortly afterwards about returning to Stamford, Connecticut to see her parents for Thanksgiving. She'd been a disciple of the Divine Light Mission since 1973 but had been been brought to Patrick by her parents who said: 'We brought somebody to talk to you about the Divine Light Mission.' "I was scared to death. I tried to meditate, to sing songs, I felt he was trying to take away everything I had. All he did was ask questions I couldn't answer," she says. She lights a cigarette. She is wearing a powder-blue angora sweater. "He was with me for five days. He said, 'What if the guru asked you to kill yourself, would you do it?' I said - do you believe this? - I said I hoped I'd be devoted enough to do it. Then he asked me if I'd kill my parents. I knew I was supposed to say yes, but I knew that was wrong, too. Later on, I realized that no, I didn't believe 100 percent that Guru Maharaj Ji was God. I really didn't."
Hillel "Hilly" Zeitlin's parents paid Ted Patrick $10,000 to deprogram their son in October 1979 and he later said it was "the best investment they ever made." He became involved in Divine Light Mission in April 1973 as a sophomore at Prescott College in Arizona and was attracted by his concern for spiritual enlightenment and the need for community - aspirations shared by the majority of the premies of the time though not, with hindsight, by the guru Himself. From the time of his intense and uplifting initiation his committment increased and he joined the ashram though unlike most committed premies of the time, Zeitlin continued in college and obtained a master's degree. The final straw for his parents came in September 1979 when Hilly informed his parents he had applied to become an "initiator" and would soon be leading other recruits along the path that he had taken. After his deprogramming he became an exit counsellor and was involved in deprogramming Maggie Shivers and some other premies. He is a descendant of a famous Polish rabbi and mystic and he returned to Judaism. His post-premie career involved family therapy, complementary medicine, NLP and "Cults' Use of Hypnotic Communication Patterns" and "Cult Induction: Hypnotic Communication Patterns in Contemporary Cults.
In December 1979 Patrick deprogrammed Barbara Fabe, a 24 year old Cincinnati secretary, and her younger sister. Ms Fabe had been a follower of Guru Maharaj Ji for two years. "THEY GOT me to believe that Guru Maharaj Ji was the lord. I would have killed for him," she said though this is incredibly unlikely to actually be true. She gave the sect her $2,000 savings on joining and a portion of each paycheck.
Maggie Shivers was successfully deprogrammed and when 28 and a student at Yale university gave testimony before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Delegates in Maryland considering a bill, introduced by Del. Ida G. Ruben (Democrat-Montgomery) which would allow a court to appoint a guardian for 45 days when families could produce evidence that a family member was under some kind of "mind control". She had joined the Divine Light Mission when she was 19 and rose through the ranks to become an administrator at the Divine Light Mission International Headquarters in Denver. During her deprogramming she was told "You know Maharaji has a half dozen expensive cars around the country", and she said, "Hell with you, I'm his accountant and he's got 32 of them, if you really want to know!" Nevertheless her deprogramming was successful and she gave evidence about Rawat's gold plated fittings in his Boeing 707 and his teaching that "premies would shatter into a million pieces if they left".
- Parents eye legal removal of children from cults Associated Press: THE POST, Frederick, Md. Thursday, March 11, 1982
- Bill on Guardians for Cult Members Elicits Emotional Testimony on Both Sides of Issue Washington Post, March 12, 1982
- Ex-Premie Forum Archives Mar 13, 2001 to: Mar 17, 2001
Richard Cooper was kidnapped on Feb. 2, 1979 by Ted Patrick and men working for him after Patrick was paid $6,000 by Cooper's mother when she learnt her son drank water in which Prem Rawat's feet had been washed (charanamrit). Cooper was held for 19 days before he escaped from the Harry G. Fabe home in Cincinnati by climbing out a third story window. He suffered a fractured hip in the fall, he said. He sued for $8 million for violation of his constitutional rights. He was awarded $50,000 but Patrick had already been bankrupted by litigation and was unable to pay. Cooper testified he was no longer a celibate monastic in the Divine Light Mission ashram but did not explain that this was a unilateral decision by Rawat to close the ashram and not by Cooper's choice.
Cooper remained a devotee until his death in October, 2006 and shilled for Rawat in vanity publishing ("Leaders magazine") and he headed the so-called "Legitimacy Project" in which Rawat's followers attempted to rewrite his career and present him as a renowned international teacher of peace and philanthropist through the use of maximum publicity for the Prem Rawat Foundation's relatively meager donations to charity and the hiring of halls in prestigious institutions to connect Rawat's speeches to them eg Oxford University, Harvard, the United Nations.
- Man Cured of Cult Suing Deprogrammer JOURNAL-TRIBUNE Marysville, Ohio, Thursday, November 29, 1983
- Deprogrammer Testifies Cults Destroy Minds JOURNAL-TRIBUNE Marysville, Ohio, Thursday, November 30, 1983
- Jury Fines Opponent of Cults $50,000 in Civil Rights Case New York Times December 2, 1983
The Emily Deitz case received significant press during the trial of her father and stepmother, deprogrammer Joe Alexander Jr and others for kidnapping her on April 8, kidnapping and holding her prisoner for 14 days until she jumped from a second-story window at night and hitchhiked to a truck stop. When she originally told her parents, "I'm going to a 'Knowledge' session, I'll be gone all day," they paid little attention. Ms. Deitz was a straight-A student who dropped out of college after joining the followers of Guru Maharaj Ji. Mrs Deitz became an anti-cult activist and testified at Maryland Judiciary Committee of the House of Delegates hearing. Though it would be conducted under the shadow of coercion, the deprogramming planned was a simple matter of talking and reasoning with Emily to help her overcome the psychological and emotional control of the cult. If the process was a success, Emily possibly would thank her parents as many successfully deprogrammed cult members have afterward. Their aim, the Deitzes said, was not to dissuade Emily from her beliefs, but to restore her ability to think critically and exercise her own free will. But Emily believed, "I have experiened truth, I have experienced the real, practical experience of the source and essence of this creation."
- Denver policeman, parents indicted in cult kidnap THE NEWS, Frederick, Md. Friday, June 12, 1981
- Couple pleads guilty in daughter's abduction THE NEWS, Frederick, Md. Friday, June 12, 1981
- Warrant issued for state couple THE NEWS, Frederick, Md. Tuesday, June 23, 1981
- Parents eye legal removal of children from cults THE NEWS, Frederick, Md. Saturday, December 5, 1981
- Defense lawyers are trying to have woman found incompetent in cult case THE POST, Frederick, Md. Tuesday, May 25, 1982
- It was extensively reported in the Washington Post
Here is the personal story of a former premie who joined Divine Light Mission in 1975 and was deprogrammed in 1978 by Ted Patrick. His parents were moved to arrange the deprogramming once Peter told them he was going to enter a Divine Light Mission ashram and would only be able to see them with the permission of the ashram supervisor.
Here is the story of how I entered and ultimately exited Divine Light Mission (DLM).
I entered DLM in the fall of 1975, at age 18. I had just moved from N.J. to Florida about a year earlier. I was in my first month of college at the University of South Florida in Tampa. I remember reading a pamphlet about campus activities that listed a Divine Light meditation club.
I remember thinking at that time that I would like to learn more about meditation. So when I saw a poster on campus with Guru Maharaj Ji's (GMJ) picture and learned that the meditation club was hosting the event, I decided to attend. I was surprised to learn that GMJ would not be there to offer instruction in meditation. So I attended a "club" meeting on campus a week or so later. At that meeting I still didn't learn meditation but learned that there was a process of preparation in order to receive Knowledge (receive grace and initiation).
Although I was disappointed, the people seemed to share a love for each other. There appeared to be a real communal spirit. So I continued attending meetings. About that time, I remember hearing stories about GMJ's vast worldly possessions and this caused serious doubts for me.
The answers I received went something to the effect: "Theses are all gifts from his grateful devotees, and GMJ certainly can't refuse them. Besides, GMJ is not attached to these things. All this is Maya (temporal reality, as opposed to ultimate reality) and GMJ is just showing us how to enjoy worldly things with out attachment." I was raised catholic, and that certainly wasn't what Jesus did. It seemed to me that if GMJ were the Perfect Master (one who reveals God) in a direct lineage that includes Jesus, GMJ would live the same way. Still, I continued to attend meetings.
Looking back, I think there are three primary reasons that DLM was attractive to me, in spite of my doubts about GMJ: First, I was only 18, in a new environment, and far away from my closest friends. Second, I was -- from about 16 on -- intensely curious about philosophical issues. Third, I realize now that I must have been quite naïve.
Over the next year and a half of being an aspirant, I became very serious in my commitment. I attended satsang (spiritual discourse) every night and listened to tapes of GMJ often. I read as much as I could of his satsangs. I absorbed all of the doctrine and internalized it completely. In 1977 I received Knowledge. We were in the midst of the heavy devotional period. The indoctrination and demands of devotion to GMJ took its toll on me. I dropped out of college and worked part-time jobs in order to earn money to attend festivals. I gave 10% of my earnings and virtually all of my spare time. I moved back home to live with my parents. I broke off all of my friendships from my good high school friends in NJ. I stopped watching TV, reading magazines, listening to the radio. I dropped my former activities like long-distance running. It's funny that no one ever specifically forbade me to engage in these activities and relationships. Avoiding all outside influences was simply a logical consequence of DML doctrine regarding the mind and the outside world. It is this doctrine that makes DLM such an exploitive and destructive cult.
In DLM doctrine, the mind was cast as a separate, insidious entity with its own will, very much like Satan in the Judeo/Christian tradition. Except with this doctrine, the horrible reality was that our mind was with us all the time. We were under constant attack.
When I received Knowledge, following my Knowledge session I received a letter from GMJ that said, now that you've received knowledge your mind is "really going to freak out." That is, the mind could be expected to wage war on me in order to prevent me from realizing Knowledge (attaining bliss and knowledge of God and self, via meditation). Furthermore, the outside world was under the influence of the mind, "in their minds." Premies that stopped practicing were "in their minds" and "spaced out." This meant something much more than lazy; it meant lured by falsehood into neglecting the sole purpose of life. So avoiding all of my former friends and interests was simply part of that battle with the mind and part of that total commitment to realizing Knowledge.
I developed severe headaches when I meditated. When I began meditating the headache would start; when I stopped meditating the headache would stop. When I entered satsang the headache would start; when I left satsang the headache would stop. The battle was on. As a premie, my doubts about GMJ still plagued me. And what was the source of those doubts? You guessed it, the mind.
So instead of realizing peace and enlightenment as I was originally promised, I was daily learning a type of mental illness, with exploitation as the ultimate goal. In effect, everything in DLM (satsang, service, mediation and so on) was absolutely true and good and everything in the outside world (family, friends, relationships and so on) was absolutely false and evil.
Not surprisingly, I was not a happy premie. However, I did make a few very good friends among the premies in my community, friends that I loved and remember to this day.
In 1978 the devotional period in DLM was quite intense. I decided to dedicate my life by living in an ashram in Gainesville, about two hours from Tampa. I told my parents about it in a Taco Bell-type restaurant. My father asked me about the obedience part. Would I be allowed to see my family? I answered that it would depend on the decision of the person running the ashram; I might not.
My father, a man in his 50s, just began to cry -- right there in public. He pleaded with me not to do it. However, this did not dissuade me in any way. All of this was Maya, and thus was only a test of my faith and commitment. The time for me to move to the ashram approached.
One day not long after, I was in my bedroom meditating when my father knocked on the door. He said that someone was here to see me. With that Ted Patrick and several other "deprogrammers" confronted me. I knew immediately what was happening: I was being persecuted and the former premies on the team were just spaced-out premies and in their minds. They were going to try to take ultimate Truth away from me. Nothing could be worse than that, nothing! I was not going to let that happen to me. I fought, shouted and threatened, but they would not let me go. They restrained me and kept me in my room.
On the second or third day of my "deprogramming" I developed a plan. I would pretend to be agreeing with them and act like I was being deprogrammed. Then when I could get my chance, I would escape. Actually my plan worked quite well at first. The next day I was not restrained. In a few days, I flew out for a rehab with the deprogrammers to get out of my DLM environment and to complete the deprogramming process.
Mind you, at this point I was still 99% indoctrinated. I only pretended otherwise. But when I was on my rehab two turning points occurred. The first was an experience I had in the shower. I recall that the quality of my thoughts, my inner dialogue changed suddenly. I remember thinking "This is the old me returning. All this time, there has been some other identity grafted over mine." That realization made a deep impression on me.
The second turning point occurred when I went to the beach with my deprogrammers. At one point they went to get something and left me completely alone. I thought, "Here is the chance I've been waiting for! All I have to do is to go to the gas station about 50 yards away, ask to use the phone, look up DLM in the phone book and call for someone to come and rescue me. Neither the deprogrammers, nor my parents will ever hear from me again." I knew that my entire life was being decided right there. Yet for some reason, I didn't have the will to carry it out. Something deep within me knew the truth.
In spite of the deprogrammers' best efforts, breaking through the indoctrination was very slow for me. Perhaps the most helpful thing was just their friendship, especially that of Teddy Patrick, Ted's son. I think that sustained me. I also recall a reunion I had with my friends from N.J. All my friends turned out for a get together and I clearly remember thinking that "This love is real."
The next 10 years were quite difficult ones for me. When I was deprogrammed, I was 21. My best friends from NJ were finishing college and starting careers. I, on the other hand, had little post-secondary education, no friends, and no experience in dating past high school, no career direction, no philosophy of life, and no sense of personal identity. Moreover, my cognitive functioning was severely damaged. At times, my mind still operated as the evil mind of DLM doctrine. My inner dialogue seemed foreign and tormented me. My severe headaches persisted. I was alone, and terribly confused, and no one understood what was wrong with me, or how to help me. I guess I felt a little like Humpty Dumpty. "All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty back together again."
At this time, probably the most helpful experience was reading Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism by Robert Jay Lifton, which finally broke through the indoctrination. Another big help was meeting with some ex-cult members in my area, which gave me someone I could talk to. I also read I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. In this novel a teenage girl suffers from Schizophrenia. She is sent to an institution. She learns something there that helps her to go on: "the little maybe." That is, the little maybe that someday I might get better. Someday I might be made whole and live like other people. At this time, that's what I was hanging on to: the little maybe.
The years past and slowly I rebuilt my life. Decision-making was difficult and life itself was very difficult, but I did make progress. Eventually, my cognitive functioning healed and I understood that my mind was not something separate or evil. I found a career path studying mathematics. Religion was something I avoided. Still the DLM experience in some way affected my outlook so that religion still held much interest to me, even if I distanced myself from it.
Once I saw a commercial on television for a local charity. A pro football player was standing beside a crippled child. The football player said, "Sometimes in life, it's not what you achieve, but what you overcome." It's been over 20 years now since my exit from DLM. Today I am blessed with a wife and children. I earned a masters degree in mathematical statistics. I have a challenging and rewarding career as a statistical analyst.
But best of all, I found the Truth I was seeking. I found it in the Lord. Today I'd say that DLM focused my interest on religion and taught me what NOT to do in matters of personal faith. This time, my mind is awake and engaged. Music, art, sports, movies, science, history, world events, family and friends, both past and present, are all in harmony with my spiritual outlook. This time my religious faith consists of loving the Lord, my God, with all my heart, with all my MIND, with all my strength, and in loving my neighbor as myself.
My heart goes out to all premies, both past and present. In my experience, most are sincere seekers of truth. If I may be of help to any ex-premie struggling to free themselves, write to me and I will listen (read). I will help in any way I can.