Its paradoxical that most of the young people who became followers of Prem Rawat, then known as Guru Maharaj Ji, were associated to a greater or lesser degree to the much publicised "counter-culture" of the 1960s and yet his most vociferous critics were the elite members of that very movement. However, such association could be tenuous and mean little more than wearing the fashions, mouthing empty phrases, smoking dope and to épater les bourgeois, especially les anciens. The "Woodstock Nation" is probably the most over-hyped media cliché of all time.
Most people who ever attended a speech by Guru Maharaj Ji, or Prem Rawat as he later renamed himself, certainly didn't bother to write about it. No doubt, they just wanted to forget it as quickly as possible. Stephen Kent, a Professor of Sociology, recalled it 25 years later in a study of the people who moved from anti-war politics to Eastern spiritual groups.
One night in 1974, I watched in disbelief as men and women of my generation paid homage to an unimpressive guru who equated levels of spiritual knowledge with increasingly large sizes of planes. I was somewhere in Philadelphia, packed so tightly into a church pew that I literally was sitting on top of myself - one leg had to be turned sideways in order to fit between the people on either side of me. As a twenty two year old hippie, I noticed that many others in the audience looked like "freaks" (as we called ourselves) and that there was little discernible difference between the "freak" women and the "earth mother" appearance of the guru's female devotees. In sharp contrast, the male devotees looked like business school aspirants but I realized that, not long before, they probably had been scruffy and long haired like me.
The Young Rawat aka Guru Maharaj Ji Was Too Uncool For the Hip Hippies
There was a near total antithesis of life attitudes between the hippies and the premies though that is not to say that all premies actually fully lived the regimented, dedicated and selfless path of Knowledge that the young Rawat preached. Neither did He.
Rennie Davis Is Pilloried by Counter-Culture Intellectuals
People had come to view Rennie Davis as better, more dedicated than the rest of us, and now, suddenly, he was telling us to surrender our hearts and minds to a barely pubescent self-proclaimed Perfect Master from India and waltz into Nirvana. It was as if Che Guevara had returned to recruit for the Campfire Girls: the anomaly was as profound as the amazement. - Ramparts magazine
Professor of Religion Stephen Kent's excellent book, From Slogans to Mantras (2001), explains the Counter Culture's response to Prem Rawat, then being billed as Guru Maharaj Ji the Lord of the Universe succinctly. The Counter Culture despised, ridiculed and reviled Him for a brief period and then ignored Him. He was of no consequence, he had no spiritual authority, he was the scum floating on the wave of Eastern Spiritual Masters arriving in the USA once immigration restrictions were eased. At least some of Rawat's most prominent followers and a major Mahatma felt the reverse disgust and took one of the chief hippie provocateurs down, With a hammer. A Hammer Blow To The Head for a Pie In the Face.
- Pat Halley Gives Rawat a Pie In God's Face
- Prem Rawat's Premies Give the Heavenly Hammer
- Ken Kelley, Counter Culture Journo Investigates
Kent, like the overwhelming majority of people, considered Prem Rawat's "satsangs" ie speeches to be 'banal' and dismissed the guru (p. xvi) out of hand. He was surprised and puzzled that an intelligent friend could become involved in Divine Light Mission but she was the only one of his many friends who did. In fact the one thing the Counter Culture had in common with the "straight press" was their disdain and disgust for Prem Rawat.
A quote from Kent's book
High upon the Movement's list of "spiritual con men" or in this case, boys was Guru Maharaj Ji. Caricatured in the Ann Arbor Sun as "Fifteen-year old Perfect Body, Satnudu Haharaz, Jr.," Maharaj Ji's ownership of two Lear jets and three Rolls Royces led Madison, Wisconsin's Free For All to label him "Guru Maha Ripoff" (see Haines 1973 174, 8; "Guru Maha Ripoff" 1973,18 ).14 An especially vitriolic attack against Maharaj Ji and premie Rennie Davis appeared in an anarchist magazine in Tucson, Arizona, which spoke about the "hocus pocus artists" who "are the direct descendants of the carnival rip off snake oil sellers and other mountebanks…. Some, like two ton butterball boy 'avatar' Guru Mararaji Gee whiz, even have the effrontery to state that since they are 'God' themselves, they deserve to ride in Rolls Royce automobiles and live like kings"… . The "very vocal barker" for the guru was Davis himself, who "enjoys an extension of his time in the limelight and his role of apologist for the Gooroo and his various enterprises. Some people have an insatiable need for power trips and publicity and the more absurd the proposition, the more challenging their ability to rationalize their involvement and explain it. Anything so long as they are at or near the center of vast attention" (McNamara 1974, 6-7).
Other articles were critical of him in a more ominous tone, as they spoke about the fascism or Nazism that reporters felt within his organization. After noting that the "Guru's pig [i.e., police] force" bore the Orwellian "newspeak" tide "World Peace Corps," Ann Arbor Sun reporter Steve Haines:
… 15,000 gurunoids shouting their praise of the boy god Groomraji with their arms high in the air sound just like the Nuremburg [sic] rally flicks of the '30s that used to chill my spine in college (Haines 1973-74, 9).15
Similarly, an Augur reporter confessed that
… his followers alarmed me. I was frightened by the total abdication of self direction, free will, and thought that they displayed. Like automatons they hook into a chant started by a leader and end with their arms shooting upwards in salute (Massoglia 1974, 7).
A few days after a reporter from Detroit's underground newspaper Fifth Estate took inspiration from the Yippies and "pie killed" Guru Maharaj Ji, two irate premies shattered the writer's skull with what probably was a blackjack (see Kelley 1973c, 1974b).