Élan Vital and Prem Rawat (Goodbye Guru Maharaj Ji and Good …)

In a short period in late 1982/early 83, Prem Rawat made sudden and drastic changes to his organisations and in the lives of his loyal premies who believed his teaching and had publicly promoted Him as God Incarnate, the Lord of the Universe. He knew he had been an object of public ridicule and contempt and the media was a sleeping tiger (or lion) ever-ready to despise him and lie about him. In fact, the press didn't know half of the scandalous things Prem Rawat had been up to and they weren't really interested in finding out. He had tried to keep them away from him since the Millenium '73 festival press-conference and had deliberately sought to prevent any publicity while his premies led a frantic life of nightly meetings and constant travelling to worship him at festivals.

Tea ChestThe decision to make radical changes was not a spur-of-the-moment thing. Some months previously he had sent out a word-of-mouth agya that premies should destroy all Divine Light materials magazines, tapes, videos, whatever. I had been disenchanted with Rawat for some years but lived with a devoted premie and meditated and occasionally went to satsang. She came home from satsang with the startling news. I went "No way!" I collected everything and packed them in a tea chest, nailed down the lid and said this will be a wonderful historical resource in 20 years and took the kids for a swim. When I got back I found the tea chest broken open and the contents burned. I was not happy but what can you do?

  • Prem Rawat Disbanded The Divine Light Mission Ashrams
  • Prem Rawat Changed the Name and Title by Which He Had Been Known
  • Prem Rawat Changed the Name of His Organisation from Divine Light Mission to Élan Vital
  • Prem Rawat Closed the Nightly Satsang Meetings That His Premies Had Been Commanded To Attend
  • Prem Rawat Ordered His Premies To Stop Telling Anyone About Him
  • Prem Rawat No Longer Presented Himself As A Divine/Enlightened Guru Bringing Peace to the World

With hindsight Prem Rawat's wish for public respect becomes obvious. In the early 1980s he knew he was an object of public ridicule and contempt and the media was a sleeping lion ever-ready to despise him. Although it did not become obvious for some years he desperately wanted respect from society and not just adoration from his devotees who in many ways were the cause of the ridicule. The reputation attached to Divine Light Mission was a cage for Rawat and he decided to 'rebrand' his product. After nearly a decade trying to hide from the media he and his close associates decided to change his image. The Lord of the Universe and Indian Spiritual Master Guru Maharaj Ji became Maharaji "humanitarian giver of a practical way to peace." This image was used by Rawat from the 1980s through to the 1990s when he morphed into an "inspirational speaker" and later an "International Ambassador for Peace."

Prem Rawat Disbands The Divine Light Mission Ashrams and Ends Nightly Satsang Meetings

Maharaji (Prem Rawat) ordered the Divine Light Mission ashrams in Western countries be dissolved during 1982/83. According to former DLM administrators, he was becoming concerned about the financial liabilities that loomed as ashram residents aged, became unemployed, and required increasing medical and dental care.

The closures devastated many long-term ashram premies, who had abandoned university, employment, families and all they possessed to obey Prem Rawat. It is reported that Maharaji complained angrily of learning that one US ashram had handed each of its former residents US$100, with which to start new lives. Any ashram debts were to be paid by the former residents. A few ashram residents got subsistence wage jobs as Rawat's personal servants - valets, cleaners, gardeners and the like. A few others were kept on as administrators, or as instructors (formerly 'initiators' formerly 'mahatmas'). But most began new lives in "the world" - something for which few were psychologically or practically prepared. This was also the time he ordered public (and private) satsang meetings to cease and desist.

Alexei Sayl in Secret Policeman's Other Ball

This definitely occurred though there is no documentary evidence for Rawat's astonishing volte-face though academics restate the exculpatory story Élan Vital later provided. This "agya" and the prior order to destroy all the DLM materials and media were passed down the chain from Rawat to each group of premies. I can date this reasonably accurately though I have never seen any documentation referring to it. I innocently went to satsang in Brisbane one night not knowing there were any changes occurring in Divine Light Mission. The building, which was owned by a rather unusual, hyper and well-liked ashram premie known to his friends as "Ronnie The Rat", was closed and locked. There was a sign on the door. I cannot remember exactly what it said but it stated there would be no satsang there that night and there never was again. There had been no mention of this the previous night. I'd caught the train into town so I thought "Why don't I see a movie?" This was something I had very rarely done in the previous 10 years. I saw a movie titled "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball" which was released in Australia on September 23, 1982. Its unlikely that it was released in Brisbane on the same day as in Sydney but it sets the date to late 1982, early 1983. It was very funny. Peter Cook and Alexei Sayle were amazing.

In his memoire, "Without the Guru" (pp163-164) Mike Finch a long-time inner-circle premie writes:

"As it turned out, the ashrams as an institution were in their death throes, and were formally abandoned by Maharaji a year later in 1983. In those final two years, the ashrams went through a roller coaster ride, with every now and then a purge where the initiators came through and screened out those who weere not dedicated to that lifestyle. But many people could see the writing on the wall, and the ashrams were inhabited by a strange mixture of diehards who clung to the letter of the Ashram Manual, freewheelers who saw through it as a corrupt charade and acted accordingly, and those like myself, who still thought, however chaotic everything was, that Maharaji was still in charge, and that all would come out right if we just surrendered to him. … Finally, in late 1983 the ashrams closed. For those still in the ashram at the time, there were two predominant feelings - release and betrayal.

Prem Rawat Changes the Way "Knowledge" is "Revealed"

The term 'mahatma' had already been largely replaced with the term 'initiator' - referring to the task of 'initiating' new followers into the meditations that Maharaji calls 'Knowledge' in a ritual called a Knowledge Session. All the 'mahatmas' had been Indian nationals and except for a literal handful these left Rawat and returned to the Indian ashrams, now controlled by the replacement Perfect Master, Satpal Maharaj. Rawat appointed increasing numbers of Americans and Europeans as initiators. The title 'initiator' was then watered down into 'instructor'.

Three of Prem Rawat's Mahatmas

Rawat's closing of the ashrams and other changes had halved the number of Westerners involved in Rawat's knowledge. Without enough funds to maintain full time initiators and with no ashrams to use as their bases Rawat decided he must have been completely mistaken when he proclaimed that to be an initiator was a full-time job and it could not be done by part-timers. In 1986 he began a series of part-time instructors training conferences in San Antonio, Texas in 1986. These conferences, like all of Rawat's meetings, were mainly Rawat talking and everyone listening. Hundreds of instructors were soon appointed and were on hand for the Rejoice events that began in 1987 and continued up to 1993 in which Rawat taught an altered form of the meditation techniques and tried to restart his following. While these were relatively successful he has never been able to restore his pre-1983 number of followers. The times had changed but Prem Rawat was not suited, personally or physically, for the role of self-help, inspirational speaker and there was no believable explanation for his role as empowered revealer of secret and unique meditation techniques.

In his memoire, "Without the Guru" (p169) Mike Finch a long-time inner-circle premie writes:

"I remember the next three years to be a quiet time as far as Maharaji's public activities were concerned, privately, though he was building on the ashram's closure to rid his organisations of as much past baggage as he could and to remould his organisation with himself calling the shots. … More importantly, the restructuring was done so as to have Maharaji himself personally in control. … As part of the remaking of Maharaji's organisation, satsang was stopped except by initiators or those he requested to give it, so to have these venerated people come through one's town was in was important. We also had to turn in all publications - newspapers (like 'Divine Times'), magazines ('And It Is Divine') as well as audiotapes and video - for destruction.

Since that time the only recruitment success has been in India where his role as a "Godman" requires no explanation. Even in India which has undergone a staggering Hindu religious revival in the past 50 years he is small-time.

Prem Rawat Updates His Public Persona and Changes His Vocabulary

Prem Rawat 1979Prem Rawat 1982

In 1985 Rawat began to increase his public activities and one could get a better perspective on his talents in his new role as not-The-Lord-Of-The-Universe just a guy-like-you-and-me with this amazing but quite natural power to instruct and train you to the immaculate appreciation of the enjoyment that life is offering. He had metamorphosed from a dwarfish lump of lard running around ranting, raving, screaming and frothing at the mouth that everyone should surrender to him, worship him and pray to him into a what he obviously believed was a comedic and inspirational raconteur à la Garrison Keillor, Billy Connolly or Robin Williamson and a polymath showing off his enormous and erudite vocabulary as does Stephen Fry. Actually he was shiite but he was preaching to an audience of people who thought he was God … sort of, so it went pretty well.

However there had been a significant improvement in his speeches but that was coming from a very low base-line.

Prem Rawat Regroups and Restarts with a Part-Time Work-Force

In 1986 Rawat had 5 initiators still on the pay-roll, that was all he could afford. He bit the bullet and decided he'd been wrong when he said a part-time initiator was an abomination.

Rawat Begins the Rejoice Period - Updating the "Brainwashing" of His Premies