ÉLAN VITAL TIMELINE
1957 (December10): Prem Rawat was born in the small village of Kankal on the opposite bank of the Ganga River to the sacred Hindu pilgrimage center of Haridwar in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India.
1960: Divine Light Mission (DLM) (Divya Sandesh Parishad) was founded as an organization to assist Shri Hans Ji Maharaj in promoting his message in India.
1966 (July 19): Shri Hans Ji Maharaj died in Alwar, North India.
1966 (July 31): Prem Rawat, the youngest son, announced that he was the successor to his father.
1971 (June 17): Prem Rawat arrived in London at the age of thirteen.
1971: Divine Light Mission was established in England.
1971 (November): A Boeing 747 was hired from Air India to transport European and North American followers to India.
1972 (November): Seven Boeing 747s were hired from Air India to transport European and North American followers to India.
1974 (May 20): Prem Rawat married Marolyn Johnson, a Californian devotee.
1983: Elan Vital was created as a new vehicle to promote Prem Rawat’s teachings globally.
2003: The Prem Rawat Foundation was established.
2008: Words of Peace Global was established.
Elan Vital existed from 1983 until 2010 as one of a number of organizations created to transmit the message of Prem Pal Singh Rawat, formerly known as Guru Maharaj Ji, and who continues to be addressed as “Maharaji” by his worldwide students. Prem Rawat, as he prefers to be known today, was born on December, 1958 in the small village of Kankal. The village is located on the opposite bank of the Ganga river from the sacred Hindu pilgrimage centre of Haridwar in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. While he was still a small child, the family moved to Dehradun, where he remained until invited to visit the West in 1971. Prem Rawat was the youngest of four sons born to Shri Hans Ji Maharaj, a well-known North Indian guru (Cagan 2007).
Only in recent years has Prem Rawat become known as “Maharaji’ to his students, or used his family name as a means of being known to the public. In his childhood, he was affectionately known as “Sant J” by his father’s followers; Balyogeshwar (born lord of Yogis) by the Indian public, on account of his young age and perceived precocious spirituality; and, after his father’s death, as “Guru Maharaj Ji” by his students. The name changes can be dated back to the 1980s, when wishing to divest himself of the identity of “guru,” he simply became known around the world as “Maharaji” or later still, Prem Rawat (Geaves 2006a).
Prem Rawat’s life was never going to be like that of other children. His father, Shri Hans Ji Maharaji was a renowned North Indiantrue teacher (satguru). Divine Light Mission, the organization founded to promote his father’s message, first came into existence in the early 1960s, when a group of followers of Shri Hans Ji Maharaj requested their teacher found a formal organization to develop and structure his growing activities across India. By this time, Shri Maharaji, as he was known to his followers, had been teaching for nearly thirty years without any formal organization, supporting the general contention that he had resisted the idea but finally had given in to growing pressures from a number of active disciples (Geaves 2013).
Behind the hagiography attached to the young Prem Rawat, it would appear that a deep mutual bond existed between father andson. Prem Rawat clearly loved his father deeply and felt the impact of his father’s charisma and teachings. From his infancy, he attended his father’s events in North India, sleeping on the stage, and he first spoke in public to amazed crowds at the age of four or five years. Prem Rawat considers these experiences to be defining moments in his life, times when he served his father by attracting to the events a public curious to hear a small child speak. At the age of six, the relationship of master/student with his father was formalised when he accepted Shri Hans Ji Maharaj’s invitation to be initiated along with his three elder brothers.
In 1966, his father died at the age of sixty, leaving a young family and tens of thousands of followers bereft. The question of Prem Rawat’s succession to his father’s position of satguru is controversial and now disputed by his eldest brother, but at the time the family accepted the decision. According to Maharaji’s own account, supported by some close followers of his father who remain alive and the movement’s history of the succession, Shri Hans Ji Maharaj had clearly indicated to senior disciples and his family that he wanted his youngest son to continue his life work. In addition, Shri Hans Ji Maharaj on numerous occasions indicated the special spiritual bond that existed between himself and his youngest son. However, Maharaj Ji’s mother and other senior
followers had reservations about this transition in leadership. His mother considered Prem Rawat to be too young for such responsibility and favored her eldest son. However, the matter was taken out of their hands after the incident in which the young Prem Rawat sat in his father’s empty seat (gaddi) and began to address the assembled gathering of grief-stricken disciples. While the family debated leadership succession with senior disciples, the crowd acknowledged the eight-year-old Prem Rawat as their new master.
Thus began a period in Prem Rawat’s life during which he attended school at St. Joseph’s Academy in Dehradun during the academic year, while touring Northern India and addressing large audiences during school holidays. The family assisted him in his efforts, his mother acting as legal controller of her husband’s assets and patron of Divine Light Mission. This situation lasted until Guru Maharaj Ji, as he was now known, reached the age of eleven. In 1969, he attracted the attention of four English travellers to India, all of whom were involved in the 1960’s counter-culture and seeking “enlightenment” in the East. Excited by his teachings, they invited him to Great Britain, an offer he responded to by sending a trusted follower, Mahatma Gurucharanand, to London in late 1969. From 1969 to 1971, North American visitors to India discovered the young guru and became his students. Meanwhile, a small group of around one hundred young men and women were initiated in London, gathering around the daily discourses of Gurucharanand in a small apartment in West Kensington and later in a house in Golders Green.
On June 17, 1971, the thirteen-year-old Guru Maharaj Ji accepted the invitation of his growing band of Western followers and came to London. His arrival at the age of thirteen attracted considerable media attention, mostly focused on the young guru’s age. In addition, the success of the movement founded in the West, then known as Divine Light Mission, attracted scholarly attention in the 1970s and, to a lesser degree, the 1980s (Geaves 2004). By the 1990s, both scholarly and media attention had moved on, and the general assumption was that the movement was in decline if not completely extinct. The story of young Prem Rawat’s early years is well documented in both visual and print media published by various organizations that have supported his activities, but the most significant event would undoubtedly be his arrival in London on June 17, 1971 and his subsequent travels in the United States in July and August of that year. The response from the counter-cultural youth of both Britain and the United States was phenomenal, and by the early 1970s large rallies had been organized in both nations. Centers of activity, focused around ashrams consisting of highly committed celibate followers, appeared in most large population centers in Western Europe, Canada, the United States, and even South America. Foss and Larkin were intrigued by the contradiction offered by the manner in which large numbers of counter-cultural young people, including “political radicals, communards, street people, rock musicians, acid-head ‘freaks,’ cultural radicals, [and] drop-outs” were participating in Divine Light Mission (Foss and Larkin 1978). Approximate estimates indicate that there were around 8,000 members in the United Kingdom and up to 50,000 in North America by 1973.
In spite of the apparent decline in appeal to counterculture milieu, Prem Rawat has continued to teach, and today his message has a truly global reach, extending into Russia, China and some parts of the Islamic world (Geaves 2006b). It would be tempting toplace Prem Rawat in the context of global Hinduism and the arrival of Indian gurus in the West, but this would be far too simplistic. The reality of the transformation of the organizational forms used to promote the message reveals a complex interweaving and opposition between charisma, globalization, innovation and tradition that needs to carefully assessed. Certainly Prem Rawat is very aware of the “global village”(McLuhan 1968) and utilizes technology extremely efficiently. The small boy who used to watch jet aircraft fly high above his house in Dehradun and yearn to fly, and who traveled alone on Air India to Britain in 1971, accompanied by one family retainer, now pilots a leased private jet traveling around a quarter of a million miles every year to speak at events around the world . This is, perhaps, as claimed by Elan Vital, the only effective way of reaching out to over eighty nations where his teachings are now promoted. However, the message goes out by satellite and cable TV, websites, video distribution and printed materials. It is still possible to find traditional methods of communication in remote parts of India, Nepal or sub-Saharan Africa. Prem Rawat undoubtedly could be described as a citizen of the “global village,” and certainly the successful communication of his message has drawn upon such globalized features of spirituality as the easternization of western spirituality and the movement of Indians throughout the world providing centers of interest in the Far East and the Pacific bowl. It would, however, be a mistake to understand the phenomenon as an extension of Indian spirituality into global centers of the Indian diaspora. Prem Rawat has a global following able to transcend ethnicity, nationality and religion of origin.
Prem Rawat has, on a number of occasions, publicly stated that he is not creating a new religion, and that his teachings cannot be defined as “spiritual.” The focus is on the inner experience achieved through the four techniques, known as “Knowledge,” which enable the student to access their own inner peace. Prem Rawat teaches that this peace is not created but is self-existent within in all human beings and only requires a certain kind of teacher who is able to show the way to enter within. Over the years, Prem Rawat has gone to great lengths to remove any outer trappings of religion that might obscure the universality of the message. He teaches that Knowledge can be practised by those who have a religion and those who have none. Over the last forty years, Prem Rawat’s imperative has been to resist institutionalisation and to avoid the processes whereby an institutionalised religion dependent on a chain of memory or ritual elements would be established around his message (Geaves 2008). Throughout the 1980s, concerted efforts were made by Prem Rawat to remove the outer trappings of Indian culture and doctrine that had accompanied the arrival of the teachings from their place of origin in North India. Prem Rawat does not see himself as bound by conventional beliefs or practices of any institutionalized religion or tradition-honored worldview. He is essentially an iconoclast who plots his route by pragmatic decisions to meet the demands and challenges that occur in his public career as a teacher striving to convince people of the value of self-knowledge. It is hard to ascertain exactly where the lines of strategic adaptation and continuation are drawn, except that they seem to lie somewhere around the inviolacy of the teacher/student relationship and Prem Rawat’s own trust in the efficacy of the techniques he teaches to provide individuals with an inner awareness of what is permanent and unchanging within human beings. Although Prem Rawat does not see himself as part of a tradition or as having to conform to the behavior of any predecessor, Geaves has argued that the best way to place him is to identify him with Vaudeville’s definition of the sant. Vaudeville (1987:36-37) describes a sant as:
a holy man of a rather special type, who cannot be accommodated in the traditional categories of Indian holy men ¾ 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 that transcends both sectarian and caste barriers.
Individual sant-founders in Vaudeville’s terms are generally not concerned with organizational forms or institutionalized religion and display considerable iconoclasm in regard to ritual and doctrinal dimensions. Prem Rawat fits most aspects of the sant categorization by Vaudeville, even though he does not use this category as a self-definition. If being a sant implies an iconoclasm that breaks the bounds of tradition while maintaining an emphasis on the inner experiential dimension, then Prem Rawat would conform to that definition. In the Indian context, both Prem Rawat and his father denied the possibility of the use of rituals or outer forms of religion to access the inner divine. In addition they initiated people from all castes and backgrounds, generally dismissive of the conventions of Hinduism. In this respect they can both be compared with the medieval sants, Kabir (1380-1460) and Nanak (1469-1539). However, Prem Rawat is insistent that he should not be categorized into any traditional definition, including that of sant.
A contemporary student of Prem Rawat would be shown the four techniques of Knowledge and requested to make a serious commitment to practice one hour a day. Prem Rawat’s discourses are available in a number of media outlets, including downloads of virtually all live events as he travels the world. The websites of The Prem Rawat Foundation (TPRF) begun in 2003 and Words of Peace Global (WOPG) founded in 2010 are the main repositories for Prem Rawat’s discourses and other resources promoting theteachings. It is not so simple as to argue that each organization replaces the other chronologically as sometimes both have functioned at the same period, and with different purposes. However, it can be argued that each organization has been simultaneously a response to new situations while at the same time being an attempt to maintain the integrity of Prem Rawat’s vision. Although it would be tempting to argue that globalization factors, especially related to technology and the impact of Prem Rawat’s teachings reaching over eighty nations, have most influenced organizational transformation, it has been argued that the dynamic tension between innovation and tradition in the context of this particular kind of charisma has had a far more significant impact (Geaves 2006b).
It is tempting to go along with the teachings of Prem Rawat and argue that no ritual is involved. In the early days of Divine Light Mission, there was considerable ritual behavior arising from the movement’s origins in India. In addition to the highly ritualized initiation into the practice of the four techniques of meditation which functioned as a ceremony of “entry’ into the movement, membership and discipleship, premies (lovers) as they were known would also have found themselves attending discourses of mahatmas (male and female renunciates, senior disciples, Guru Maharaj Ji and his family). These took place on a nightly basis and usually ended with the singing of arati to the Guru’s photograph installed on a stage or makeshift altar. Live meetings with Guru Maharaj Ji would also often incorporate darshan (ritual prostration of disciples before their Guru). The daily practice of meditation (communal or individual) took place in the early morning and at night before sleep. Each session was advised to be one hour long.
As the years passed, these ritual events became increasingly under scrutiny as a relic of the teachings’ origins in Hindu-dominated India. Today, the practices of the four techniques of meditation are recommended once a day for an hour a day whenever possible. A major change has taken place in the old initiatory style of learning the techniques. Today students are prepared for learning the techniques at their own pace via a distance learning course (The Keys) comprising mainly of recorded sessions with Prem Rawat (Guru Maharaj Ji). The learning of the techniques has also been “desacralised,” and the focus is on teaching the students correct practice. The old face-to-face satsang has largely been replaced through download technology of Prem Rawat’s live tours. Students would be unlikely to find themselves singing arati or participating in darshan unless they were to visit India where such cultural practices remain. Today it is in the main only older followers from the 1970 and 1980s who approach the teachings ritualistically and with an observable sense of the sacred charisma associated with Prem Rawat as Guru Maharaj Ji.
Initially, the early followers of Prem Rawat’s teachings in the UK established Divine Light Mission in 1971, shortly after his first arrival in the West at the age of thirteen. However, Divine Light Mission was an extension of the Indian organization first founded by the followers of Shri Hans Ji Maharaj, the father of Prem Rawat in 1960. No consideration was given to creating a new structure or a new name to promote the teachings in the West. There had been a presence in the UK since 1969, located in a basement flat in West Kensington and then in a semi-detached house in Golders Green, North London. This had come about as a result of four young British members of the counter-culture. They took the “hippy trail” to India in 1968, discovering the young Prem Rawat and his teachings and requesting that a “mahatma” be sent to London who could promote the message and show interested individuals the four techniques known as “knowledge.” Interest in the teachings had spread slowly by word of mouth through the counter-culture’s informal networks of communication. However, it was only with the arrival of Prem Rawat and his subsequent appearance at the first Glastonbury festival that the teachings caught on and spread like a forest fire through the milieu of the disenchanted counter-culture of Britain and the U.S. in the early 1970s. Divine Light Mission was also established in the United States and by 1972 had its international office in Denver, Colorado.
Although Divine Light Mission was established as an organizational vehicle for promoting Prem Rawat’s teachings, it rapidly developed into a vigorous new religious movement with its own distinctive appearance. It combined the typical characteristics of a contemporary North Indian sant panth in which nirguna bhakti was combined with intense reverence for the living satguru and millennial expectations of the western counter-culture. Many of the characteristics of the Indian movement founded by Prem Rawat’s father, who had died only in 1966, were imported wholesale into the western environment. Ashrams were established with a lifetime commitment of celibacy expected from those who joined. Members were expected to forswear drugs, alcohol and adopt a strict vegetarian diet. The teachings were primarily given by saffron-robed mahatmas who came from India and toured the West. The teachings were essentially Hindu in origin, embracing a worldview that accepted transmigration of souls, karma, human avatars and were embedded in an interpretation of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. However, a discerning listener would have recognized the more iconoclastic and antinomian voice of the North Indian nirguna sants, especially Nanak and Kabir, exemplified in the message of universalism, equality and the focus on inwardness rather than the outer forms of Hinduism.
By 1974, the movement had experienced a number of crises resulting from the marriage of Prem Rawat to Marolyn Johnson, a Californian follower; the financial crisis created by the failure to fill the Houston Astrodome for Millennium 1973; and the disillusionment of American followers. The Americans’ millennialism had always been stronger than in Europe or Britain, and they became disillusioned when their expectations of a messianic event were not fulfilled. The marriage was to prove more significant, as it caused a deep rift in Prem Rawat’s family, angered that he had not followed Indian custom and the loss of many trusted followers inherited from the time of Prem Rawat’s father. However, there was another more hidden agenda in the crisis. As Prem Rawat developed from a thirteen year-old to an adolescent, about to be married and raise his own family, he was no longer prepared to be a figurehead while others dictated the direction and management of the movement established on the basis of his teachings. Increasingly, Prem Rawat was developing his own ideas of how that vision should manifest. From 1974 to 1982 a number of new organizational forms were experimented with, including Divine United Organisation, an epithet that remained only in India where Divine Light Mission was lost to Prem Rawat’s elder brother and mother, who had been the legal guardian of the older organization on her husband’s death (Geaves 2004, 2006b).
The new organizational forms all demonstrated an embryonic vision that did not come to fruition until the 1980s with the creation of Elan Vital. As early as 1975, the ashrams were disbanded and the inherited Indian worldview was seriously challenged by a number of workshops originating in the U.S. The majority of the mahatmas returned to India and western initiators, later to be known as instructors, were appointed. There were conscious attempts to deconstruct the myth of enlightenment that had surrounded the Indian mahatmas. The new western appointments were conceived as much more functional. This first attempt by Prem Rawat to create an organization of his own failed, probably because the rapid transformation of the movement to an organizational form and the resulting loss of the Indian meta-narrative was too abrupt for many committed followers of the teachings. The period from 1977 to 1982 was marked by a re-opening of the ashrams and a series of international events. Prem Rawat inspired personal loyalty and devotion from the already committed through a number of highly charismatic appearances in which he would often dance on stage.
In 1982, the ashrams were finally closed, Divine Light Mission was deactivated throughout the world, and a series of national organizations under the umbrella title of Elan Vital were created. Each organization established itself according to local custom, laws, and culture. For example, in Britain, Elan Vital functioned as an educational charity which existed to promote the teachings of Prem Rawat. The important point to note is that strenuous efforts were undertaken to ensure that Elan Vital remained an administrative tool rather than developing into a religious movement as Divine Light Mission had undoubtedly done. There was no membership, but a small number of paid and unpaid volunteers attended to organizational matters such as Prem Rawat’s tours, finance, legal affairs, public relations, and communication.
The closing of the ashrams took away the possibility of a committed work-force and instead Prem Rawat’s activities to promote his teachings became more dependent on part-time volunteer assistance from individuals who were now raising families and creating careers for themselves. Elan Vital displayed few of the characteristics of a new religion found in Divine Light Mission. Prem Rawat increasingly used its organizational neutrality as a vehicle to promote his message of inner peace and fulfillment with a marked decrease in the trappings of the Indian heritage. Although occasionally drawing upon Indian anecdotes to use as examples for his teachings and referring to Kabir and Nanak, there was little in his revised idiom that could be linked to Hinduism. On the contrary, he openly challenged transmigration and the law of karma as belief systems that cannot be verified as fact.
However, Elan Vital itself was to grow immensely in the last two decades of the twentieth century. Although, unlike Divine Light Mission, it never displayed the characteristics of a religious movement, it had its own problems of institutionalization, lack of spontaneity and inflexibility common to bureaucratic structures. In the first years of the twentieth-first century, Prem Rawat once again began a process of deconstruction, dismantling the over-hierarchical structures of the organization, leaving it toothless except as a vehicle for dealing with official bodies on matters such as hiring of halls, legal frameworks, health and safety issues, rights of volunteers, and the financial management of donations to support the promotion of the teachings. It eventually dwindled away with the advent of WOPG and TPRF in the first decade of the new millennium.
The emphasis returned to the promotion of the message, combining in Prem Rawat’s words “the enthusiasm of the 70s with the consciousness of the 1990s.” However, the organization was not responsible for this task, which was handed over to individuals around the world who felt personally committed to organize events and publicity, even down to inviting Prem Rawat to speak in their towns and cities. A new organization was created by Prem Rawat in 2003, and named The Prem Rawat Foundation (TPRF). The Foundation has provided a range of publicity materials and seeks opportunities for Prem Rawat to speak at public engagements, such as university departments, NGOs, national government agencies and business conventions. The Foundation website states that: “The Prem Rawat Foundation is dedicated to promoting and disseminating the speeches, writings, music, art and public forums of Prem Rawat” (The Prem Rawat Foundation n.d.). In these contexts the emphasis is on Prem Rawat as an envoy of peace. In addition, The Prem Rawat Foundation strives to address fundamental human needs so that people everywhere can live their lives with “dignity, peace, and prosperity.” TPRF works to extend the outreach of Prem Rawat’s message of peace throughout the world and runs a successful program called “Food For People,” providing nutritious food and clean water to people in need by building sustainable programs within communities. It also runs eye clinics, provides disaster relief, and sponsors other humanitarian aid efforts.
In 2008, Words of Peace Global (WOPG) was incorporated as an international charitable foundation, registered in the Netherlands. It is funded by donations from sponsors and the sale of materials. Through this organzation t he work of promoting Prem Rawat’s message to the wider public is maintained globally. The organisation is composed largely of volunteers around the world who have experienced the peace and fulfillment of Prem Rawat’s message and want to help others do the same. WOPG’s only function is to make Prem Rawat’s message widely available through live events, online audio-visual materials, and written media. It also assists people to pursue the teachings further via “The Keys” (Exploring the Keys n.d.), and provide everyone with the materials and assistance they may need. WOPG hosts events with Prem Rawat ranging from small, intimate talks to international tours. It also hosts television programs on a wide range of channels across the world, and puts out regular LiveStream broadcasts and webcasts of Prem Rawat’s talks.
The succession of Prem Rawat at the age of eight was always going to be controversial. However, it did not erupt until the early 1970s when Prem Rawat married Marolyn Johnson and provoked a split in the family, with his mother and two elder brothers denouncing his claim to be Guru and accepting the eldest son. New narratives had to be established for the eldest son’s legitimacy as all the family had appeared to accept Prem Rawat from 1966 to 1974. These narratives resolved around the impact of the West on Prem Rawat’s behavior and the notion that the family had not initially accepted the young Guru but had gone along with it at the time so as not to divide the movement at a vulnerable period. It is clear that both Prem Rawat’s mother and his eldest brother preferred to maintain the teachings within a traditional Hindu framework, in some ways similar to the organization of the Radhasoami movement (Geaves 2007). Prem Rawat’s contact with the West had led him to consider a more radical break with the worldview of Hinduism and to establish structures that would enable a universalizing of the message suitable for a global outreach.
The grand narrative used in India for the shared authority of the “holy family” fell apart. This was challenging to some of the early Western students who felt that the undermining of such a significant belief in the spiritual authority of the family also challenged the authenticity of Prem Rawat. This early schism in the movement was also influenced by the apparent lack of success to fill the Huston Astrodome in 1973. Some commentators have pointed to the financial losses incurred by the group as a major setback to a movement, but it is more likely that damage was to the done to the credibility of some followers by the message as the Astrodome event was “hyped” by some of Prem Rawat’s senior followers as apocalyptic and millennial.
Other major challenges are threefold. The first resolves around claims to divinity; the second concerns Prem Rawat’s finances and lifestyle; and the third might be described as media and dissatisfied ex-members’ attribution of “cult” status to Prem Rawat’s activities. Prem Rawat’s young age and perceived status as a spiritual prodigy, allied to the Hindu propensity to endow a guru with divinity, established a narrative of the “God-child.” In India, these could be always accommodated within a worldview that has traditionally venerated the Guru as divine incarnation. This doctrine is firmly established in the Sant narratives of the Satguru and the debates concerning the humanity or divinity of a Satguru have divided Indian devotional traditions (Gold 1987). However, the Hindu derived doctrine found a heady reception among the counterculture youth of the 1970s who grafted onto it Christian expectations of a messianic return and their own fears of an impending apocalyptic event. Contemporary detractors have returned to early discourses to demonstrate that Prem Rawat had initially accepted his divinity and argue that his more recent attempts to assure his humanity only arise as a strategy for dealing with accusations of cult status. Allied to this debate are arguments concerning the exclusivity of Knowledge as a path to self-knowledge. As stated on the detractor’s website a “major part of the myth upon which Maharaji’s cult has been built is based in the following claims: Maharaji (Prempal Rawat) is the one and only “Master” or “Satguru” on the planet today; The legitimacy of Maharaji’s claim to be the only “Master” is unquestionable; ‘Knowledge’ is the ultimate Truth, and its techniques can be revealed by Maharaji only (“The Indian Background…” n.d.).
It is indisputable that when Prem Rawat first began to teach in the West, these claims were made by his followers. However, such claims are not made today, and the exclusion of them has been at Prem Rawat’s request. Loyal followers would claim that this is part and parcel of his attempt to remove the original Indian worldview from the message. Opponents declare that the motives are more calculated.
Prem Rawat has always attracted criticism over his lifestyle. There is no doubt that those seeking a traditional ascetic figure would be disappointed. Prem Rawat has been successful, wealthy and married with four children. He is a licensed pilot, expert with technology and more likely to be dressed in a business suit than a monk’s robe. His lifestyle is likely to be defended on the grounds that peace is required by the affluent as well as the poor. Supporters will point to his charity work, his exceptional work load, traveling endlessly around the world to promote peace, free entry to events worldwide, the lack of a fee to receive Knowledge and the fact that no criminal charges have been brought against him or his organizations for financial irregularities. Detractors will argue that he benefits personally from the donations given by millions of followers and point to the various evidences of personal wealth.
The notoriety of certain new religious movements, especially those that led to death or exploitation of followers and the rise of “cult” discourse from the media and the “anti-cult” organizations has provided a framework of critique for Prem Rawat’s detractors. Some ex-followers, disenchanted by some of the above criticisms or personal experiences of living in the intense environment of the ashrams in the 1960s and 1970s, have attempted to undermine the work of Prem Rawat through a campaign of exposing his activities as those of a cult leader (Finch 2009; “Welcome” n.d.). Their numbers are relatively small and to date Prem Rawat has been able to continue his work successfully throughout the world for six decades, gradually increasing his public profile as a peacemaker with a number of governments, NGOs and international bodies including the European Parliament and the UN.
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