Donald de Laski
Donald de Laski was a CPA, businessman, philanthropist, seeker and premie of Maharaji's who built up an extremely successful business, Deltek, providing accounting software to government contractors. When it went public in 2005 it was valued at $1 billion. He wrote an autobiography published in 2010 called Letting Life Happen. He wrote this when he was nearly 80 years and he made a few errors in remembering his time involved in Divine Light Mission in the 1970s and 1980s.
As his son and fellow premie, Ken (formerly a Treasurer of The Prem Rawat Foundation), told the Washington Post "Dad was a real seeker-of-truth kind of guy," and "He was not that happy of a person." Near the end of his life de Laski's own summing up displays a wistful regret and the failure of his "spiritual seeking" to provide the happiness and peace of mind for which he yearned. His lifelong health problems which included rickets, asthma (despite which he was a smoker for 22 years), gout, allergies, emphysema and others gave him a particular interest in "alternative therapies." It was his early life he recalled as the happiest and that he had spent his life worrying rather than rejoicing.
In looking back, I feel I've had a very happy and meaningful life. I think the happiest times were childhood, college years, and early married life. When I was older, many wonderful things happened. I started a business which generated a lot of money for me, my family, and the De Laski Family Foundation. We bought beautiful houses, and we took a lot of wonderful trips. But something about me didn't really appreciate all of this because I was always worrying about details. For example, if I was on a cruise, I was always thinking about our schedule, or our beautiful homes always needed some work or improvements. I was constantly thinking about the stock market, even if I was doing well.
De Laski was a "spiritual searcher" with a yen for the occult - a type often ridiculed by Rawat. He was a C+ average guy but an A++ go-getter who could have been the hero of an Horatio Alger story. He began his business career at an early age and supported his family through lean times by small scale commerce: paper routes, selling magazine subscriptions, selling eggs, vegetables, whatever. He believed Maharaji helped him achieve prosperity and that he received "a lot of help from my angels in all of these business activities" but I don't think he needed any supernatural help.
His interest in Eastern religions and reincarnation began during a year he lived in Japan in 1949 and was crystallised when he did a graduate course on Eastern religions at Duke University. He joined the Providence Presbyterian Church in 1965 but actively read about other religions, reincarnation, and extra-sensory perception (ESP). He was particularly inspired by reading about the "sleeping psychic" Edgar Cayce. Cayce was slightly famous for providing diagnoses and cures for sick people while "asleep". De Laski considered these clairvoyant discourses "were obviously from a higher source" though most people who heard of Cayce thought they were the ravings of a crackpot or lunatic. Cayce expanded the topics of his messages to include Atlantis, man’s creation, the birth and life of Jesus, Genesis and the Book of Revelations, as well as prophesying the future. Cayce died at the relatively young age of 67 apparently being unable to diagnose and cure himself. His legacy is continued by the Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.) with which de Laski became involved.
There were very few alternative therapies and spiritual and occult practices with which he came into contact that he did not join though he was "somewhat negligent" about meditating. He was particularly inspired by the Aquarian Gospel and the writings of Rabindranath Tagore. The therapies he tried were too many to list here and his macrobiotic iridologist's care culminated in 1982 with an emergency gall bladder removal that saved his life … just. One of his major spiritual influences was Dr Don Raynor, an academic interested in mysticism, who formed Australia's only home-grown really weird and evil cult (I hope it's the only one), the Family with self-proclaimed "living god" Sarah Hamilton-Byrne. The cult's abuse of children was so reprehensible that it was even featured in exposés on 60 Minutes, a top-rating TV show. De Laski knew nothing about this and heard Raynor give a speech in 1973 where he explained the guru is a perfect spiritual being sent to you by God and that anyone "who hopes to truly experience Enlightenment must have a guru or Master." In answer to a question Raynor said "The guru will find you."
"A few weeks later I was reading an article in my Duke Alumni Register" - In this article Dr John Horton made many of the spurious claims for Maharaji's meditation he was making at that time including "asthmatics received considerable relief from meditation." He went to Horton's office in October 1974 and was convinced to attend the Hans Jayanti festival in Toronto. De Laski was hooked. He even resigned from the country club and left his passion for golf behind. He especially loved the DLM festivals:
Generally, at a program Maharaji would give satsang in the morning and then in the early evening. We would receive the rite of "darshan" which involved walking by Maharaji while he was meditating, and kissing his feet. There was also a wonderful playful side of Maharaji, and occasionally he would put on his Krishna outfit and dance on the stage while we all sang. The music at these programs was fabulous, and we always had an outstanding orchestra with singers.
Most of his children became involved in Divine Light Mission (and have been important contributors) except for his wife who was in the best position to assess the effect that meditation had on him and decided she didn't need it and that it wasn't worth the time and effort involved though she enjoyed the DLM social life.
Nancy enjoyed going to formal satsang with me and got along well with all my premie friends, she was never interested in meditation or receiving Knowledge. She would always say that she didn’t need it.
De Laski made a number of mistakes in discussing the sweeping changes that Maharaji made in the early to mid-1980's but the following points are accurate:
I also found in Maharaji’s work a feeling of community that I had never experienced before in my spiritual studies. … In the mid-eighties things were changing in the premie community. … there were not many new people receiving Knowledge anymore, Maharaji decided to make the practice of Knowledge less oriented toward Indian culture. … Divine Light Mission became Elan Vital; and the ceremonies of darshan and Holi were no longer done in North America. … Although many of my old premie friends have become less involved, there is still a significant group who have regular meetings and watch videos of Maharaji.
De Laski was an important financial source and business adviser for Rawat. From the beginning he obeyed Maharaji's agya to donate 10% of his $60K salary though this was small time compared to his later donations. In 1983 he formed a company called Deltek which offered computerised services to US government contractors which became the premiere company in that field. Around 1985 de Laski divided the stock in Deltek, he kept 38%, Ken de Laski 36%, Prem Rawat was given 10% and the rest went to key staff members. At that time the stock had a very low appraised value. In 1996 the company went public at $11 with 16 million shares issued making Rawat's 1,600,000 shares worth $17.6 million. Rawat gained from this gift somewhere between $8 million and $40 million as shares rose as high as $25 depending upon when he sold. The shares fell as low as $5 due to the Year 2K bug and in 2002 the company went private buying back the shares at $7.33. In 2005 Deltek again went public with shares valued at $35 and a private equity company bought 75% of the company for $180 million while the current shareholders kept 25%. Deltek was sold in 2012 for $1.1 billion. No mention is made in the book or Washington Post article if Rawat had any shares at that time or received any benefit from the 2005 and 2012 sales.
New Age "seekers" like de Laski rarely criticise any part of their spiritual journey or a teacher they may have had no matter how unwarranted their trust and faith. However, from this point in his memoire de Laski no longer mentions involvement in Élan Vital activities or the "Knowledge" but discusses his involvement in and commitment to and enjoyment of other paths especially centered around Cayce's A.R.C. He makes no mention of the Rejoice series of events in the late 1980's that rekindled a greater involvement in the premies still left after the ashram closure bloodbath of 1982/3. In fact he joined a country club and took up golf again in 1988.
The final third of the book concentrates on his post-Deltek life dealing mainly with their homes, family, travels and philanthropy. He doesn't mention Prem Rawat or associated organisations though he made significant donations to the controversial Rajneeshi sannyasin, author of The Golden Guru and "alternative therapies guru" Dr Jim Gordon of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine. He showed he hadn't lost his business skills by negotiating a 50% discount on some of Gordon's debts and paying them off with $100,000 of his own cash. Among other things Gordon teaches a "4-minute breathing meditation" which "instantly connects each of us with our mind-body". Certainly makes Maharaji's meditation seem weak in comparison.
In 2005 he again became involved with the A.R.E. and especially Mark Thurston with whom he began to study and for whom he funded a Center for Consciousness and Transformation with a committment of $10 million. He funded a Division of Perceptual Studies at Virginia University which does not study perception but reincarnation. He sampled a bewildering number of alternative therapies, healers, clairvoyants, etc and even voted Democrat for the first time. From going door to door for Goldwater to voting for Obama was a journey that took most of his life. He found this all wonderfully entertaining, inspiring and enjoyable and he met a lot of interesting people. Meanwhile followers of Rawat get older with nothing but the same old boring Rawat speeches.
Prem Rawat announced the Keys in 2004 and de Laski thought it would be a good idea if he went through the lengthy process of watching them but he didn't. Apparently he found meditating using Prem Rawat's techniques for however many years still left him with a lot to learn about meditation:
In January of 2010 I signed up for Mark’s next undergraduate course which was called "Meditation and Mysteries of the Mind," and it had about the same number of students as the previous course. We all learned a lot about the practice of meditation and research findings about its value
Another person who took the one semester 3 hours a week course said it was a priceless gift that opened up to new horizons in his practice and he became like a child free of worry. Worry was something Maharaji's meditaion didn't free de Laski of no matter how many years he practised or how much money he donated. Which one of these three would you trust with your soul?
James Gordon MD
Prem Rawat, school dropout
Mark Thurston PhD
Donald de Laski died on March 9th 2012. It appears the family now refer to themselves as deLaski.
De Laski wrote his memoire/autobiography when he was nearly 80 years old and he made some errors in remembering his time in Divine Light Mission in the 1970s and 1980s.
- If he heard Don Raynor give a speech in 1973 he could not have read Horton's article in the Duke Alumni Register a few weeks later and then gone to see Horton and then attended Hans Jayanti in Toronto. He saw Horton in October 1974.
- Maharaji’s mother, Mata-ji, was not on the stage in Toronto in November 1974. It was his wife, whom he had designated Durga-ji, as his mother was in India and was already taking steps to have him deposed as guru due to his lifestyle.
- "None of these relatives made a presentation to the group" - Both his wife, brother and sister-in-law gave "satsang."
- "An aspirant would go to satsang programs in his or her community for three or four months, and then receive the meditation techniques by Maharaji directly (or, in later years, by a visiting mahatma). The recommended time for doing meditation was one hour daily, preferably in the early morning." - People were taught the meditation techniques by mahatmas/initiators/instructors in the 1970s and 80s. Maharaji taught the techniques in the period 199x - 20xx until he replaced himself with a computer. The recommended time for meditation was 2 hours per day, morning and evening until the late 1980's.
- "It coincided with an annual celebration of Maharaji's father's birthday, and the ceremony was called "Holi." Maharaji would squirt water over everyone with huge fire hoses." - Holi was an Hindu festival held on the full moon in March though it was often held by DLM in April and the festival in honour of Maharaji's father was Hans Jayanti held in November
- "We would receive the rite of "darshan" which involved walking by Maharaji while he was meditating, and kissing his feet." - de Laski has no evidence that Rawat was meditating
- "Around 1980 I went to see one of the mahatmas, a man named Randy Proudy" - His name was Prouty and he was an initiator/instructor not a mahatma.
- "Maharaji never received a salary from Divine Light Mission for any of his services" - It may not have been called a 'salary' but it was a lot of money.
- "My first assignment was to do a certified audit for a company in Miami named Decca that was, among other things, refurbishing an old Boeing 707 to be used by Maharaji." - It was called DECA.
- "In the mid-eighties things were changing in the premie community. Maharaji had married and was starting a family." - In fact Maharaji had his first child in 1975 and his last child in 1981.
- In the mid-eighties … "Premies were moving out of the ashrams, getting married, and pursuing careers." - The ashrams were arbitrarily closed by Maharaji in 1982/83.
- In the mid-eighties … "the leaders became known as instructors instead of mahatmas" 'mahatmas' had become 'initiators' in 1975
- In the mid-eighties … "Maharaji was starting to spend a great deal of his time in India." - While Maharaji travelled out of the USA more often he did not spend a great deal of time in India
- "In 2004, Maharaji started a new program called “The Keys"…a series of DVD instructional videos with Maharaji giving satsang for over twenty hours." - Over 70 hours