Prem Rawat and Counterculture Ron Geaves
- 1 Introduction1
- 2 Theorizing New Age and contemporary spiritualities 15
- 3 Easternization: Indian gurus and the West 29
- 4 Prem Rawat and contextualizing Indian religions in the West 49
- 5 Festivals and music: Counterculture's religiosity? 71
- 6 The significance of Glastonbury99
- 7 Prem Rawat at Glastonbury: Occulture and Easternization? 115
- 8 The aftermath of Glastonbury Fayre: Prem Rawat and counterculture 133
- 9 Counterculture, occulture and Easternization revisited 149
- 10 Postscript 177
- Notes 183
- Bibliography 201
You're an old, retired former academic of religion and a devoted 50year follower of Prem Rawat and it's coming up to 50 years since the first Glastonbury festival. What to do? Write a book explaining Prem Rawat's spiritual importance and tie it in to his brief time in the Glastonbury spotlight. Shouldn't be hard? Not another academic tome but a book that people will actually read, at least other premies who can still see enough and haven't got dementia.
Ron admits to being desperate to have Rawat understood in the way Ron sees him, he seethes when hearing of Rawat described as "New Age." Unfortunately, 50 year old memories are a concern and in the early 1980s Rawat ordered his followers to destroy all his organisations' publications which mostly consisted of transcripts of his speeches and films and video of DLM festivals which were the only record of his teachings so as Geaves admits:
I had to undertake some interviews with those who were around at that time. I call them 'conversations' rather than interviews as they were undertaken in 2018 with people I regard as friends rather than informants.
Relying on memory after 50 years would be unsatisfactory. Even worse is that their testimonies rely on memories that in most cases have evolved over the decades as Rawat has altered his teachings, sometimes drastically even changing the techniques and practice of his Knowledge. There does not appear to be any obvious falsification in the book, but there are selective quoting, using positive quotes from people who later became public critics of Rawat and telling only one side of the story. These may occur due to the reliance on Geaves' memory.
The jump-off point is Rawat's appearance at Glastonbury in 1971. It's likely that no-one actually understood what Rawat was saying and in fact, some misunderstood and were dismissive of him, but there's no denying that the numbers of young counterculture Brits attending Satsang and being initiated rose very quickly and in 2 ½ years there were as many as 8,000 and a significant number of these were involved in DLM activities. Overall Geaves is optimistic, claiming as many as 100,000 in the West.
Geaves notes that:
Very little serious assessment has taken place of Prem Rawat's role in counterculture spirituality in the 1970s
Very little serious assessment of Rawat has taken place at all, presumably because no-one but Geaves thinks he warrants such assessment.
The key theorizing that arises from the narrative concerns the relationship between Indian spirituality (Easternization), esotericism and the creation of an occulture, which includes within it New Age spirituality.
2 Theorizing New Age and contemporary spiritualities p15
Geaves manfully attempts to write a survey and history of academic attempts to define the "New Age" which truly is, in his words, a bricolage of occulturage. As Geaves argues correctly that Prem Rawat cannot be classified as a New Age spirituality (his exclusivism alone rules him out) I will ignore most of it.
Geaves begins with a bold claim:
Prem Rawat had arrived in the West at the height of counterculture activity, overwhelmingly drawing the mainstay of his support from 'hippies' in both Britain and North America, and this had transformed his position as a 'guru' as understood in Indian terms. He had spoken from the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Fayre in the early summer of 1971 and gone on to become the most prominent counterculture guru throughout the 19705, having a profound impact on the shape and form of the counterculture itself. p16
It was obvious to everyone that being a hippie was almost the opposite of what Rawat demanded of his followers. Hippies were into consciousness expansion fashion, live and let live, go with the flow, do you dig, the vibe, whatever moves you … Premies were into schedules, regimentation, obedience, humility, asceticism, sexual abstinence, no drugs, dressing badly, worship of a young boy, being boring, etc, etc.
So immediately we can see that Rawat's first and most powerful effect on the counterculture was removing large numbers of young hippies and turning them into badly dressed regimented zombies who caught you in their gaze, invaded your personal space, bored you for hours and never blinked.
Geaves fires a metaphorical arrow into the heart of Rawat's most virulent critics - his former followers.
The decline of institutionalized NRMs, possibly as a result of the 'moral panic model' which described their membership as 'cult' indoctrination (Chryssides and Zeller, 2014: xvm), would lead to the emergence of organizations seeking to offer more informative or 'neutral' knowledge … In turn, various organizations of ex-members mainly utilizing the internet to generate 'moral panic' provided an opposition. p22
The DLM decline had begun in 1974 and was mainly caused by internal problems such as the failure of Millenium 73 and financial problems from that debt and Rawat's expenses, conceptual shocks such as the wedding of the 16 year old guru, the Holy Family break-up, the first closing of the ashrams in 76 and the general malaise that meditation did not prevent.
Radhasoami is mentioned. For some years it was wrongly thought by interested observers that Rawat's father and guru, Hans Rawat, had come from that group.
In Juergensmeyer's view … Radhasoamis would offer meditation practices based on technique and knowledge rather than piety and dogma, and meeting the demand for Hindu yoga popularized in the period. Radhasoami's ability to package their teachings as 'universal truth' would have had a particular appeal for Western seekers. By the 1980s, the popularity of the movement among Westerners declined … The issue seems to have been lifestyle, particularly drugs and promiscuity [Geaves, 2000: 175-6).
Radhasoami was a direct competitor to DLM in many areas and had the possible advantage of having respected leaders but they demanded a period of drug free living before initiation. DLM made no such demand and were not able to take advantage of the countercultural search for a guru.
3 Easternization: Indian gurus and the West p29
Click Here for an insight into the history of the movement of Eastern spirituality into the West.
Scholars like Partridge, Heelas and Tingay are aware that the history of the influence of the Orient on Western spirituality goes back several centuries p29
Geaves high-minded academic research tends to overlook the obvious.
there is little knowledge to what degree the spiritual seekers of the 1960s counterculture were aware of these previous excursions of Eastern spirituality into the West. Nor are we fully aware what stimulated a variety of Indian teachers to expand into the West in the same period. p29
The arrival in the West of many East Asian Gurus was made possible by the US government change of visa rules but the other most important factors were self-interest, status, comfort, money and commerce. Gurus required capital to travel from Asia and a source of income to remain in the West. They made speeches, boasted of their powers, gathered interested followers, taught their enlightening methods and in return enough income was provided to enable them to continue doing so. In many cases, e.g. Prem Rawat, very large amounts of money and property were accumulated. No doubt, wishing to help others was involved.
The 'Rush of Gurus' described in Harvard University's Pluralism Project was relatively short-lived. Beginning in the late 1960s, it was effectively finished by the mid-1970s, although the movements that they founded or inspired in the West remain with us to the present time even if going through several transformations p45
When the gold has been mined the prospectors stop coming. Once an ecological niche has been filled, entry becomes difficult and success uncertain. Hopeful wannabe gurus still come but they are no longer of interest to the media.
4 Prem Rawat and contextualizing Indian religions in the West p49
DLM certainly became one of the most controversial NRMs / cults of the 1970s. Whether it was influential is another matter. Only a minority of people who came into contact with DLM's 'propagation' ie conversion influencers became interested and only a minority of people initiated became committed and left the counterculture and began to live a life centered on DLM activities and practicing Rawat's Knowledge was a very time-consuming program. Its major external influences were weakening the possibiliity of a viable counterculture and inspiring considerable social criticism because of the proportionally large number of very regimented ascetic premies working hard to provide luxury for Rawat. Nearly all Millenium 73 attendees were ex-countercultural youth ie premies.
It was from this not very prepossessing origin that DLM would come into existence as one of the most influential and controversial new religious movements (NRMs) of the 1970s.1 It was only with the arrival of Prem Rawat and his subsequent appearance at the first Glastonbury festivalthat the teachings really caught on and spread like a forest fire through the milieu of the disenchanted counterculture of Britain and the United States in the early 1970s. DLM was also established in the United States and by 1972 had its international office in Denver, Colorado, where it was renamed Divine United Organization (DUO). By 1973, the movement in the United States was able to attract around twenty thousand mainly counterculture youth to the Houston Astrodome to hear Prem Rawat speak. p51-2
It should also be remembered that DLM was just one of many cults/nrms going through this explosive growth and controversy. Professor Stephen Kent did not write Slogans to Mantras (2001) about Rawat and DLM but about 10 such groups, though his criticisms of Rawat were the most extreme.
Prem Rawat announces: "the most holy and significant event in human history" - Golden Age magazine
Houston police and journalists reporting on the Millenium 73 festival estimated there were no more than 10,000 attending. Nevertheless this was pretty impressive but the hype and prior claims compared to the dispiriting performance by Rawat made it a source of ridicule. Where were the other 80 or 90,000?
5 Festivals and music: Counterculture's religiosity? p71
In 20 pages Geaves explains the history of post 1950s popular music that led to Psychedelic Rock and large-scale rock festivals and its relation to the use of drugs, mainly marijuana and LSD. Boring but accurate by my remembrance and music collection. He claims this set the scene for the importation and growth of East Asian spirituality and religion in the West and the creation of the New Age occulture. He discusses the replacement of dope and LSD use by booze, heroin, cocaine and supposedly less "consciousness raising" drugs in the counterculture festivals. On that evidence it would seem he might just as well have posited that the 1960s counterculture use of dope and LSD in a festival atmosphere causes changes in musical fashions and use of more dangerous drugs and leads to serious social problems. Rawat's 70s festivals were structured and ritualised but allowed premie intermingling and some spontaneous fun but mostly became sitting and listening to music or Rawat's speeches.
Geaves attempts to explain the counterculture, rock music, festivals, the importance of Glastonbury in the counterculture and the arrival in the West of many East Asian Gurus (without mentioning the US change of visa rules) with barely a mention of the most important factors: greed, money, commerce and profit. All countercultural expectations and prophecies of a millenial change in society fuelled by psychedelic music failed but the music concert industry continues to grow and financial hedge funds now purchase song catalogues by these very artists as high profit long-term investments.
Free festivals were basically markets for illegal drug sales. The groups playing for free and counterculture elites' distribution of free LSD and gurus making speaking tours were growing the market, creating brand recognition, advertising just like Madison Avenue's fantasies. Commerce drives the evolution of Glastonbury Festival and popular music trends seems evidence of that.
Gurus required capital to travel from Asia and a source of income to remain in the West. They made speeches, boasted of their powers, gathered interested followers, taught their enlightening methods and in return enough income was provided to enable them to continue doing so. In many cases, e.g. Prem Rawat, very large amounts of money and property were accumulated. Rawat still holds festivals and wild scenes of premie experiential immediacy still occur, like spontaneous sitting.
The most important role played by Prem Rawat's constant speaking tours is profit. It certainly can't be success in bringing outsiders into the experience of Knowledge as that has been 40 years of failure.
LSD and THC are drugs, chemicals that alter brain chemistry. After 50 years we can be quite sure that their use did not "transform the world."
The experiences offered by LSD and to a lesser extent marijuana were seen in religious terms, an insight into the infinity of the cosmos and cosmic energy underlying everything, and as with many religions, where the experiential realm of divinity is paramount, proselytizing the transformation inherent in such experiences is of prime importance. Leary, Alpert, Ginsberg and Kesey were certain that LSD and other psychedelic experiences could transform the world and users would pass on their experiences to others, offering the drug to anyone with enough sense of curiosity to experiment. Both hippies and activists would sample the psychedelic experience and as stated by McKay, 'in the views of some, acid was the tool for social revolution, for some it was the path to personal enlightenment' ('McKay, The Social and Cultural 1960s').
"proselytizing the transformation inherent in such experiences is of prime importance"
Chapter 6: The Significance of Glastonbury p99
Geaves reports a multitude of weird, contradictory and bizarre occultural and mythic reasons for the "spiritual importance" of Glastonbury though the incredibly beautiful and awe-inspiring Tor and the surrounding countryside (which surely was the initial impetus for Glastonbury's ancient importance) seems to be a compelling explanation.
Although I have treated the myths that make Glastonbury such an important site of historic and contemporary pilgrimage with a hermeneutic of suspicion, the historicity of the events is not as important as the way in which people accept them. As pointed out by Bowman, 'Glastonbury's past and its present signficance have the status of "common knowledge" or "received wisdom."
Rawat does mention the transformation of Glastonbury shops and the change in parochial attitudes to the counterculture. These were caused by the influx of trade and money brought into the town by the Occulturage industry and its buyers and sellers. Glastonbury now has no other industry but the New Age. The counterculture helped create and expand the market in occulturage and the commercialisation of spirituality and "wellness." Greed, commerce and profit.
Glastonbury was gradually transformed after the Fayre into the town that it is today, where the dominant merchandise in the high street is the paraphernalia of the New Age and the ancient Christian pilgrimage to the town is reinvented to accommodate the multiplicity of occulture that exists around the town and its origins. When Kerr first arrived at Worthy Farm and began to meet with the local people to introduce the idea of the festival he was met with resistance
There are several distinct sets of explanations for Glastonbury's significance. Occult, pseudo-scientific, religious, spiritual, historic, mythical, conspiracy theorist. They can be and are intermixed in bizarre personal ways and, as Rawat has said on another topic, "it is not a subject that can be comprehended by this mind." Alternative Archaeology, Ley Lines, Aliens, Astrology, Crop Circles, Dowsing, Flying Saucer Paths, Biodynamic Farming, feng shui. Arthurian legends, the Holy Grail, Christian Arimathean myths, Druid initiation, Celtic myths, magic, Avalon, Whatever.
The following chapter will chart the meeting of Glastonbury Fayre attendees with the 13-year-old Prem Rawat in the context of this convergence of Easternization and occultural millennial expectations while positing that by 1971 the Hippie dream was in decline and some individuals were becoming ready to embrace more disciplined spiritual paths after experiencing the consequences of mayhem caused by promiscuity and excessive drug use (Kent, 2001).
After 5 minutes the crowd had had enough and started shouting and heckling and the power was cut to the microphone.
Chapter 8: The Aftermath Of Glastonbury Fayre 137
Prem Rawat was insistent that peace could only be found by a rigorous inner journey aided by the tool of Knowledge, a gift offered by the kindness of a master, and given throughout the ages to those who longed for transformation. He was outspoken and direct in his claim that he was the master of the age
Geaves confirms his belief in a lineage of Masters throughout history and that Rawat claimed to be the one and only Master at this time but while he may have found the practice of Knowledge to be a rigorous one, Rawat had preached something quite different in the 1970s. This was the main reason so many were attracted to the Knowledge. During initiation they would be revealed the Divine Light within themselves, the Divine Music, the Holy Name vibration that was powering the universe and a divine Nectar they could drink in their throats. He claimed the Knowledge was simple, blissful and powered by his Grace:
I will give you the Knowledge that is the high-speed petrol, and you'll go forward at thousands of miles per hour. - 19 June 1971
Only people who have seen that Light, tasted that nectar, concentrated on that Word and listened to those musical instruments can understand what I am saying. … And when you have that spiritual technique, you can see God face to face … only those people who really find the true Satguru are able to realize that real supreme joy that comes from true Knowledge. … I have got true Knowledge and I have got inner consciousness; I can reveal it - Porchester Hall, 30 June 1971
This knowledge is so holy, so perfect, that wherever it goes and hits, it makes it perfect. - Central Hall Westminster, November 2, 1971
Rennie Davis (who after a few short years left DLM) was the only counterculture political heavyweight who was initiated and literally raved about Rawat and his Knowledge.
Davis would become a high-profile 'convert' to the message of inner peace in 1973 and would tour the United States promoting Prem Rawat and his organization. He would state, 'We can do what the street people sought in the sixties - abolish capitalism and other systems that oppress' (p. 49). It is highly unlikely that Prem Rawat saw his teachings, especially the practice of Knowledge, as a means to a left-wing utopian world revolution.
Geaves' memory is false, Rawat did proclaim his teachings as the means to a utopian world revolution. He called it the millennium, 1000 years of peace, both internal and worldwide and created the Divine United Organisation to commence building a grass-roots organisation. It transcended concepts of left or right.
I declare that I will establish peace in this world." …… Therefore, dear premies, the time has come. See how peace will be established in the world. There will be peace on earth. That peace which disappeared shall prevail again. … I have a plan for world peace, you see. And if we all work to it, I'm sure we can get It. I can see how its going to work out by the Grace of Almighty Lord, and the power of Knowledge, the bliss of the Knowledge, again peace in the world can be established, in the same way as people have dreamed of, and the kingdom of heaven on this Earth will be possible and is possible
9: Counterculture, occulture and Easternization revisited 149
Throughout I have argued that Prem Rawat was an unlikely candidate to appear at Glastonbury Fayre and emerge as the leading counterculture Indian guru in the early 1970s. Nothing in his outer appearance or upbringing suggested an affinity with Western counterculture … Prem Rawat was not a long-haired bearded yogi in the vein of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi or a monk of an established devotional Hindu sampradaya such as Bhaktivendanta Swami, who had both preceded Prem Rawat to the West. p149
Geaves has apparently forgotten that one of the most important factors in the early success of DLM were the Indian 'mahatmas'. They were celibate (supposedly) men and women who lived in ashrams and dedicated their lives to practise and recruitment of the "Knowledge". Young Westerners believed these people to be "enlightened", "realised souls", "yogis", "swamis", etc. They were thought to be above normal consciousness and to exist on a higher plane and they put on a pretty convincing show in this regard. Rawat called them "great souls." They provided the "street cred" so lacking in the dowdy Rawat family.
In the 1970s, the 'flower-power' counterculture was fragmenting, developing new forms, reassessing radical politics, festival culture, high culture, gender and the full range of technologies of the self. Prem Rawat … was instrumental in the direction that such transformations took. p152
Ron Geaves correctly states that Prem Rawat does not fit into a New Age category. The occult, democratic, tolerant, non-judgemental, green, free wheeling fun aspect of the New Age is alien to Rawat's teachings. He teaches an exclusivist doctrine and is a gadget-loving technocrat and his opuolent life-style, luxury automobile and Personal Jet fetishes are in opposition to "being green". As early as 1974 he began to drop the Eastern Hindu popular culture stories and parables and began to speak nearly totally about himself and his own interest as Kent observed in Rawat's late 1973 New York speech. He also revealed his lack of education and prejudices.
He does raise an interesting question. It is possible to argue that Rawat gained more counterculture members in the early 1970s that any other Eastern guru despite the near total ridicule of him and his Knowledge from the elite members and media of the counterculture. The explanation may lie in something Geaves mentions. There was no great monolithic "Woodstock Nation." There were a core of people committed to a counterculture lifestyle and then there were the great majority of "weekend hippies" who basically liked loud psychedelic rock music, getting stoned and drunk and fucking each other and what's wrong with that? Geaves doesn't seem to understand the reliance of the counterculture warriors on commerce. They largely existed by dope dealing and selling counterculture paraphernalia and fashion to the wannabes and of course selling their music. The travails of psychedelic rock band life have been so publicised that it is obvious "love and peace" was something they were selling not experiencing.
Rawat's major effect on the counterculture was removing so many people from it for a greater or lesser time, segregating them in a rigidly scheduled and structured life, encouraging them to learn organisational skills and a work ethic and providing a metaphorical half-way house back into the greater society or back to bohemia, whichever and whenever. Hey, it worked for Ron
There is no doubt that thousands of counterculture youth were convinced to be initiated into the Knowledge being touted by the young guru. Geaves seems to accept the highest possible estimate, around 100,000, as being the number initiated. How many were actually converted to the life of a premie as demanded by Rawat became evident in November 1973 when only 10,000 turned up in Houston for the "the most holy and significant event in human history" as touted by Rawat.
Easternization and essentialism 152
Sant iconoclasm p155
Geaves does a good job of fitting Rawatism into some academic conceptualisations of the remarkable complexity of Indian religion including Andrew Rawlinson's categories:
- an incarnated transcendental source
- embodiment of the truth
- authorisation from a teacher
- belonging to a Hindu sub-tradition
- living in accordance with a transcendental source
Geaves writes on page 155 that "Prem Rawat's understanding of his place in the world of Indian spirituality, is complex to unravel." Judging from Rawat's words and actions, rather than Geaves' concepts, it is simple. He is not part of Indian spirituality, he is above it.
Rawat's teachings came from his public speeches, spontaneous though repetitive. His stress on different parts of his teachings varied and his ideas evolved though the core was always satsang, service, meditation and darshan i.e. listening to his speeches and attending nightly DLM meetings, doing unpaid labour for his benefit, enduring long regular hours of meditation and worshipping him. He tended to be circumspect about the worship depending upon the occasion. He seemed to care little about individual premies' ideas, condemning all products of the Mind and all concepts. He considered other gurus to be unnecessary wastes of time and he particularly despised intellectuals.
… Prem Rawat was a minor when he inherited his father's work, his mother and senior mahatmas had developed an institutional structure with some panth characteristics, ostensibly to assist the child-master until he reached adulthood (Geaves, 2004a, 2007). His departure from India ruptured any sense of continuity from the past and provided the door for the young sant to proclaim his own authority and establish his work as he wanted it to manifest. p156/7
Rawat's career cannot be understood without acknowledging the debt he owed to his father who, even if you dismiss the hagiography, was a remarkable self-made man and prosperous religious leader. Rawat was the youngest son and learnt to be a guru from the air around him, so to speak. After his death, the early DLM taught that the Rawats were a "Holy Family" and that the mother and siblings were Masters in their own right though not to the same elevation as Prem Himself. Mata Ji and the senior mahatmas controlled the Indian infrastructure and finances but Prem quickly gained his own power-base amongst the Westerners. Some of the more roguish elements of the inner circle introduced and encouraged Rawat's secret explorations into drugs and sex, anathema to the Indians, and the opposite of his teachings.
Sant iconoclasm as counterculture p157
He quotes Charlotte Vaudeville's definition of a sant
a holy man of a rather special type, who cannot be accommodated in the traditional categories of Indian holy men - and he may just as well be a woman. The Sant is not a renunciate He is neither a yogi nor a siddha, practices no asanas, boasts of no secret bhij mantras and has no claim to magical powers. The true Sant wears no special dress or insignia, having eschewed the social consideration and material benefits which in India attach to the profession of asceticism. The Sant ideal of sanctity is a lay ideal, open to all; it is an ideal which transcends both sectarian and caste barriers. (1987: 36-7)
It is undoubtedly noble of Prem Rawat to eschew the financial benefits of asceticism. In fact, the Knowledge was originally taught with a secret mantra soham,. It doesn't take much though to see that this definition can apply to anyone at all. Geaves provides the key to differentiating a true Sant from a charlatan:
a sant is someone who has realized the ultimate truth within creation, with particular reference to the presence of the divine within the human being and therefore experiences a higher reality in daily life and as such are more often found in opposition to the variety of Hindu worldviews. p158
So, according to Ron, Rawat has realised the ultimate truth and experiences the presence of the divine within himself and experiences a higher reality in daily life and that is what He has been claiming since he was 6 years old:
"When I was six," Guru Maharaj Ji said, "my Father gave me Knowledge with my brothers in the same room. I was given Knowledge and didn't realize it right away. I knew it was my duty, and I began to meditate, and in about a month I realized it."
Rawat rigourously hewed to the party line. He faithfully echoed the DLM dogmas.
In the teachings promoted by DLM, the authority of the master was paramount and the 'solitary sant' typology was regarded as divinity … This intense gurubhakti had resulted in many in India regarding Prem Rawat as an avatar of Krishna or Ram. These views were prevalent among the mahatmas and the family members of Prem Rawat and were inculcated by the early premies, especially those who visited India to meet the guru there, but there were very early signs that Prem Rawat wanted to focus on the experience on offer rather than Indian hagiographical and mythological interpretations of guruship.
Rawat had no interest in mythological interpretations of anything but basked in the experience of being considered the satguru by thousands of people. The luxury and opulence that was showered on him would attract anyone's focus let alone the adoration and worship he received from the premies, both staid Indians and freewheeling Westerners. Rawat promoted his paramount authority, his divinity and the need for gurubhakti relentlessly while avoiding direct claims as to his exact relationship to previous avatars.
After Rawat's first visit to the West DLM began to grow phenomenally though it would be 3 or 4 years before it would be seen that much of this was illusory. This was not necessarily miraculous, there were mundane factors involved. There was the early premies' fire in the belly, they had no shame, no inhibitions, the Lord of the Universe was on the planet, he was revealling the Knowledge of God, you would see the Divine Light, see God face to face and take it now or it might be too late. Most gurus in the West (apart from the Maharishi) spoke of years of dedication, pure living and impeccable ethics that were required before being initiated and years of meditation before the spiritual benefits unfolded. Rawat was saying take it here and now with a pure heart, no strings attached. Premies surrounded you, saying "before its too late" and there was a contingent of "great souls" on hand to reveal the techniques in an appropriatedly Mystic East manner and create the plumbing down which would flow the Master's grace.
David Smith in Hinduism and Modernity:
points out that there is no 'thorough academic study of the Hindu aspect of what is often called the guru phenomenon' (2003: 168), and he goes on to list a number of characteristics, shared by some but not all gurus:
- The guru requires submission from the disciple, whose limited powers of reason might inhibit understanding of superior truth.
- A standard procedure in guru/disciple relationships is a process of initiation (diksha) in which a disciple is given a secret Sanskrit phrase (mantra) for either internal remembrance or external chanting.
- A guru may either assert his authority by simply convincing people through his charisma or alternatively lay claim to authenticity through a recognized lineage.
- Gurus are commonly held to have special powers, at least the ability to read their disciples' thoughts or possibly healing powers.
- Gurus are often renunciates belonging to one of Hinduism's principal renunciate orders.
- Gurus may claim to be an avatar of a deity, the supreme being or an avatar of a previous guru or at least the direct and immediate representative of God (167-73)
Five out of six ain't bad.
Sant synergy with 1960s counterculture p161
The phenomena of Rawat's initial success did not arise in a vacuum but within the context of the spiritual move eastwards within counterculture and the move towards the globalization of Eastern traditions that began with Vivekananda. It is not often publicised how much of this successful globalisation was conducted by charlatans.
Prem Rawat's personal charisma owed itself to a combination of factors. His young age, his ability to speak spontaneously drawing upon real-life experiences, anecdotes and his own experience, rather than scriptural interpretation, and the intense devotion of his following based upon their own inner experiences combined with an already developing hagiography led to the conviction of an individual master, uncluttered by tradition or acknowledgement of any outer authority. It is the emphasis on experience over faith that marks out Prem Rawat's message. p161
In fact, studying transcripts of Rawat's speeches sorted by date shows that the period in which there was a huge growth in Westerners applying for diksha was the time he was rehashing Hindu scriptural stories and that this increase stopped when his speeches began to lose these elements, though there were other more important factors involved. If Rawat had not been born to a successful Godman in India and inherited his mantle and an already developed hagiography which shared many features of the counterculture myth and had an organised body of followers (parampara) and a large group of ascetic 'mahatmas' who were supposedly "great saints" and if he could not attract very large crowds of Indians at DLM's festivals then it is safe to presume that no-one, let alone thousands of Western counterculture youth, would have recognised his charisma. He was in the right place at the right time with the right backstory.
Prem Rawat and his father before him were known in India for their emphasis on experiential knowledge and its transformative qualities and the lives of counterculture individuals who accepted him as their teacher were, in many cases, undoubtedly transformed.
Unfortunately, the commonest transformation that occurred in countercultural youth was ephemeral ie transformation of their concepts and beliefs and short-term changes in their life-style. The largest majority more or less quickly transformed their belief in the possibility of the Knowledge to transform their lives to belief in its uselessness. The next largest group were similar but took up to 10-15 year before they voted with their feet.
lt is the emphasis on faith over experience that marks out Prem Rawat's long term followers like Ron Geaves. There was no millenium of peace on earth, there was no liberation etc etc
Immediacy and 'High' Culture p165
Messianism, Occulture and new age p168
The Parting of the Way with Counterculturee p170
If Prem Rawat is understood as a 'solitary sant' as described by Gold, it becomes necessary to understand the type of authority that these sant masters invested themselves with. Although Gold speaks of 'personal charisma', this needs elaboration.
There were three main strands of Rawat's early preaching. Himself as an incarnated avatar to be worshipped, His meditation as being uniquely empowered to achieve God Realisation and as the leader of a social movement which will bring in the millenium, 1000 years of global peace. We know from Ron's 1969 testimony which type of follower he instantly became in his heartfelt testimony reprinted in 1996 divinetimes/1996/p18.html