From the late 1960's onwards many young Western "hippies" travelled to India searching for a guru that could impart wisdom and enlightenment. This trek, which in hindsight appears to have been a nearly total failure, was an opening for the young Prem Rawat. A few of these "not-so-sincere seekers" arrived to check out the young Guru Maharaj Ji (now known as Maharaji or Prem Rawat) though only very few of these stayed to worship at his feet.
Prem Rawat, was then and is now, seriously "uncool". He was very short, pudgy to grossly obese, jowly and sweaty and spoke in squeaky platitudes based on his fascination with Western technology rather than Eastern mysticism and was unable to maintain even a pretense of asceticism or "god-consciousness". He thought James Last was the cool and groovy "now music." However, he had considerable infrastructure in Haridwar on the Ganges, he could attract crowds of hundreds of thousands of exotic Indian devotees and appeared to have thousands of renunciate "Mahatmas" who at first glance appeared to the young Westerners to be enlightened or realised souls whatever that actually meant. He was dismissed and ridiculed by nearly all who had a deeper knowledge of Indian spirituality than can be learnt from reading "Be Here Now" and "The Autobiography of a Yogi" and smoking a lot of charas (marijuana).
It may be that in many ashrams young Westerners were initiated into practices that produced powerful spiritual experiences and deep and long meditations but this was not the case with the Divine Light Mission premies. A good feel for the experiences of many of the early Western premies can be had by reading this excerpt from "Between Dark And Dark" by David Lovejoy, the former President of Divine Light Mission in Australian and Great Britain. Mr Lovejoy fails to mention that many of the premies he praises in his book, including Suzy Bai Whitten, Mike Donner (ex-President Divine Light Mission, USA) and the "Western" Mahatma Saphlanand later rejected Prem Rawat and became strong, public critics of him despite what they had thought when they were young and inexperienced "true believers".
Their is little doubt that Rawat's early success was based on the enthusiasm and preaching these early followers took back to their countries of origin and it must be said because of the grossly inflated, if not completely false, claims they made for the cosmic results of the meditation.
(left) The western pilgrims at Prem Nagar ashram: Peter Lee is on the far right in a blanket. Lovejoy is fourth from the right clutching his hands. Glen stands next to me, Suzie Bai sits at Lovejoy's feet and on her right is Jeannette and next to Jeannette is Anne Lancaster. Next to Glen is Patrick and next to him Saphalanand. On the far left is Venetia Stanley-Smith, second from her left is Peter Potter and third from his left is George. David Thorp can he glimpsed behind Saphalanand. Notice how only Saphalanand seems to be really enjoying himself.
Venetia Stanley-Smith has become an international media personality through her appearances on NHK or Japan Broadcasting Corporation which is Japan's national public broadcasting organization. It's ironic to think she is known to and admired by far more people than is Prem Rawat. This could be because she is not trying to portray herself as anything but what she is.
Further insights into these early premies' condition of confusion as they wandered around India - stoned and depressed - can be seen in this testimony by some of Prem Rawat's most fervent devotees, Joan Apter and Gary Girard from the book "Who Is Guru Maharaj Ji?".
Dr. John Horton, Prem Rawat's personal physician, wrote in Who Is Guru Maharaj Ji? about the early Western premies and the failure of meditation to live up to Rawat's promise - "Wherever one spark of this Knowledge shines up, there is absolute perfection":
It was hard and I was always thinking about going off into the mountains and meditating. When I'd go into town to get drugs, I'd see all these sadhus, all these saffroned holy men, walking along the streets and they all looked very beautiful, very mellow and lovely. Then I'd look at people in the ashram and none of the premies struck me as very together. I'd wonder, if this guy was supposed to be Satguru, then what are these freaky people doing here? Why aren't the beautiful sadhus here?
Jeanne Messer's experience in India was so bad that she wrote:
When I returned from a month in India in 1972, I asserted that the most important lesson learned there was "to never let Divine Light Mission have control over my life again."
Despite becoming devotees of the Perfect Master and meditating on the Divine Knowledge these new Western devotees found they could not give up their cigarettes or marijuana (Lucy Dupertuis reported that "the reputation-conscious Mission, worried about customs, offended my counter-culture sensibilities by conducting a heavy-handed "dope raid" - in my tent among others - to confiscate hashish" 1) despite the promises of total and instant perfection they were promised by the young guru. In 1972 Dr. Edward Hanzelik, long-term devotee and physican to Rawat and Secretary of The Prem Rawat Foundation in 2012 reported that the guru's followers have "a lot of dysentery and colds and emotional problems, mostly in people who want to get closer to the perfect knowledge. When they are not close to the knowledge, they get depressed and unhappy." In 1996 Giorgio Benoffi confessed that he overcame the prohibition on smoking by leaving the ashram to smoke. Ah what sweet relief the nicotine must have given him, so holy, so blissful.
In just a few years the "hippies" were looking like public servants and office staff though these British premies were a pretty unattractive lot. (David Lovejoy, standing 3rd from right)
Further Reading: "The Company Of Truth" - Lucy Duperuis, Ph.D