BOOK REVIEW Ė ANDREA CAGAN Ė PEACE IS POSSIBLE. (THE LIFE AND MESSAGE OF PREM RAWAT). 2006. Mighty River Press.
Dull propaganda for the Divine Light Mission (aka, Elan Vital) cult of Guru Maharaj Ji, now known by the name Prem Pal. The extremely one sided semi-official biography of the 49 year old leader of the movement dilutes some of the countless criticisms of his leadership and completely bi-passes many well documented challenges to his message. My own summary of the cultís history is online at http://cults-divine.light.mission.htm the story of my own experiences as a member of the cult (1981-1985) is given at http://cults-brainwashing.htm
The official story, which I will discredit in later paragraphs, is relatively simple. Prem Rawat was the youngest son of an established religious leader, Shri Hans Maharaji in India. When his father died, Prem took over from his father, even though everyone expected the oldest of the four sons, rather than the youngest (Prem) to be the successor. Prem was just eight years old. At thirteen, he flew to London, and established a following in England, moving quickly on to Europe and the US. For a few years he seemed to do no wrong, until he ran into conflict with his mother, Mataji in 1973-4, who objected to his wedding to an airhostess called Marolyn Johnson. His mother disowned him and denounced him as a false teacher. Other critics spoke out against him too, though only ever out of personal malice, but gradually, Maharaji was able to rebuild his following, and became a leading advocate of peace with UNESCO, and a philanthropist, bringing aid to famine and earthquake victims worldwide.†
Thatís the book in a nutshell, but what Cagan misses out speaks volumes about the purpose of the study.
Though hers is the story of Maharajiís movement, Divine Light Mission, Cagan never once refers to it by name. Shri Hans Maharaj Ji founded the Divine Light Mission (DLM) in the 1960ís. Maharaji, (Prem Rawat) maintained the name until the early 1980ís when it was phased out in favour of the French sounding title Elan Vital, to avoid controversial embarrassing media memories of controversies affecting DLM. Cagan mentions neither DLM nor Elan Vital at all. Nowadays, Elan Vital is being phased down as an organization in favour of the new Prem Rawat Foundation label.
The exact structure of the organization has never been clear. The Divine Light Mission was officially created in 1960. Whether Shri Hans had a direct control of its structure or finances is largely unknown. Today, it is unlikely that his son, Maharaji has total knowledge of much of the empire he leads. To make things worse, followers of his breakaway guru brother in India also have Divine Light Mission companies and the various groups, which operate independently of one another often inevitably, get mistaken for one another. All of this renders complete understanding of Prem and Elan Vital's true financial worth nigh on impossible. It also keeps the business side of Prem's operation away from the organized cult itself as it affects Maharaji's followers, who are known as Premies. (A word meaning lovers in Hinduism, and the association of Premie and Prem is obvious. Cagan never once refers to Maharaji's followers as Premies though.
Cagan goes on to fail to mention Maharajiís various name changes and even alterations in how his name is spelt She calls him Maharaji or Prem Rawat (believed to be his name from birth), but he is also known as Guru Maharaj Ji, and Goomradgie. She even spells Shri Hansís name as Shri Hans Maharaji. In fact he always spelt his title (Great King) as Shri Hans Maharaj Ji. Similarly with the motherís name which should be spelt Mata Ji. Such revisionism and ignorance runs throughout Caganís study.† The additional entitling words like Guru and Satguru are seldom mentioned. This is also extremely misleading.
Cagan says that Shri Hansís tendency to hit followers with a stick was always playful and gentle but other commentators describe it as much more brutal and sadistic.
A crucial practice in the DLM cult is Darshan where followers kiss the feet of their leader Ė Cagan makes no reference to Maharaji encouraging his followers to fly round the world after him to kiss his feet.†
Her carefully selected photos of him show him only in business suits or in early images in his Hindi robes and Nehru outfits. She uses none of the many pictures of him dancing bare-bellied in his Kryshna crown as this contradicts her claim that he is a humble Eastern philosopher rather than a man willing to let people believe he is a living god.
Cagan talks about Maharajiís mother Mataji and her increasing hostility to her sonís teachings, especially after his marriage. Cagan attributes Matajiís challenge to her reluctance to abandon the teachings of orthodox strict Hinduism. However, this never proved to be an issue between herself and her husband Shri Hans, who used elements of Sikhism in his teachings and blatantly disregarded the Hindu Caste system. Mata Ji was truly devoted to Shri Hans even though his teachings were very much a departure from, mainstream Hinduism too. Her growing anger towards her son had nothing to do with his version of Hinduism, but his increasing failure to set himself up as a good example - he was and is a playboy and a hedonist. That was too much for his mother who took his mission more seriously.
Mataj Ji was particularly disturbed by Maharaj Ji calling his new bride, Durga Ji, (She who rides tigers) after a powerful Hindu fertility Goddess, identifying her to all as someone great to have sex with. Cagan just says Durga Ji was a cute term of affection Maharaj Ji bestowed on his bride as a romantic gesture. It was actually a trivialization of a widely worshipped Hindu deity that offended many in India, including Premís mother, as she was devoted to her country and religion. As she ran the sectís Hindu operations, her loyalties were torn between her religion and her sonís own bastardised variation of it Ė she chose the mainstream faith. It is unlikely that Shri Hans, had he lived, would have approved of the relationship between Maharaj Ji and Marolyn Durga Ji Johnson either. Marolyn was nine years Maharaj Jiís senior, and married him as soon as he was legally old enough to wed.
Maharajiís association with the UN and various charity projects are largely just good PR exercises. Having a vast fortune makes it relatively easy to be seen being humanitarian Ė while the famine and earthquake victims of the world are getting something, for which we should all be grateful, the sources of the income which Maharaji redistributes to buy himself a Mother Teresa status should be seriously investigated. A number of people in West Africa are however expressing increasing concern about the roles of cults and new religious movements like Elan Vital in their national affairs.
Cagan points out that Maharaji never charges followers for giving out the Knowledge Ė see http://cults-divine.light.mission.meditations.html However, his followers are under intense pressure to offer donations and financial dedications to maintaining his mission and personal millionaire lifestyle. Those less willing or unable to afford to give find themselves facing severe alienation and privation from the followers willing and able to give more, and few can ever give Ďenoughí. Knowledge is an extremely expensive free gift. Members are encouraged to donate a tithe of 10 percent of their income or more to the cult. That hardly makes the Knowledge a free gift. Many unable or refusing to pay are simply sent away until they change their minds.
She refers to Maharaji as once living the life of a vegetarian, implying that he abandoned the practice Ė it is not clear if the many followers who follow the cultís suggested vegan lifestyle (Not universal Ė I myself was never a vegan) are aware that he may have abandoned this practice in his own life. Claims that he has been seen eating meat have surfaced over the years.
Cagan apologizes in her introduction for failing to interview Maharaji due to his busy schedule. Why was time not set aside for her, especially as Maharaji has given interviews recently in the media, but only to media pundits he knows will not criticize him. Despite not interviewing him, she quotes his trite aphorisms and half-baked parables so often that he should be able to claim co-authorship of the book.
She really stretches and strains credibility with a p.202 reference to Maharajiís Ďlittle houseí in Malibu. Here are some photos of said little house, which makes Scarlet OíHaraís Tara look decidedly small and tawdry by comparison. http://ex-premie.org/pages/finance1.htm#REZ
Cagan is a professional biographer, who ought to know better than this. Given her gushing enthusiasm for the Knowledge she never indicates whether or not she herself has received it, and if so, whether it lives up to her own expectations based on the testimonies she has listened too.†
Unfortunately, there are no testimonies from Maharajiís dissatisfied customers and ex-members, in her book to give the slightest hint of balance. The many serious challenges rose by the distressed families of practicing followers, about cultism, mind control and brainwashing receive no attention at all. The only references to ex-members at all denounce them wholesale as a vocal minority who operate through false IDís and a limited Internet flame war group. This astonishingly inaccurate and quite blatantly libellous claim is borrowed verbatim, without acknowledgement from the Elan Vital movementís own Australian website at http://www.elanvital.com.au/faq/idx/11/0/
Cagan, in drawing on this source, claims that Maharajiís detractors are a handful of individuals using a variety of alias are to make their numbers sound bigger for an unmotivated hate campaign. . I find this sweeping generalization offensive to me personally, though no mention is made of me in her study. I only ever use my own name in any of my growing body of generally well-received postings or website features about Maharaji.† She is dismissive of the fact that a leading ex-follower web site is run by a man called John Brauns from Latvia. (He really does come from there). Quite why him living in Latvia is an issue is not made clear. Maharaji has his followers and ex-followers and opponents in Latvia as well as in many other parts of the world. Not having been there personally, I have no reason to think Latvia is a worse place to live than anywhere else, including my native Manchester, England. There is an excellent response to the allegations against Maharajiís many critics at the web site of ex-follower Mike Finch - http://www.mikefinch.com/mj/art.htm
That many ex-cult members use pseudonyms and avatars in posting is not unusual or sinister, as Cagan claims; the internet makes it difficult for people with common names, i.e. John Smith, to use their own names in websites and e-mail addresses, and many people do not want spamming or flaming so avoid this through IDís that make identification less possible. Others wish to avoid possible hostility from active members of the cult they have now left, or fear ridicule from friends and employers who may not know that they were once followers of the cult of Maharaji.
There are also many ex-Premies (followers of Maharaji) who freely use their own identities online and everywhere else including me. The cult itself, in contrast is much more difficult to find. Even the author couldnít get through to Maharaj Ji personally. The organization and its leader try to cover their trail constantly, changing names more often than most people change light bulbs.
In truth, the bulk of Maharajiís opposition comes from ex-members of the Divine Light Mission cult who wish to use their own testimonies as a warning to others against getting involved in the dangerous movement. The meditation that gives the 'Knowledge' that is Maharaji's inner Ďpeaceí is extremely addictive, and many who practiced found that their ability to do simple arithmetic or concentrate on textbooks was seriously affected. People saw that their sons and daughters in the cult were becoming glassy eyed, and virtually catatonic (as I was). The trances could kick in involuntarily†† often in mid-conversation with others or while driving, operating machinery, etc. There is also strong opposition from cult monitoring organizations and established churches, as well as from the mainstream media.
Cagan is quick to deal with the few extreme and ridiculous media claims that can be easily dismissed, i.e., those that say Maharaji is much older than he claims to be. She avoids so much as mentioning the more damming challenges to his activity and his teachings; At one point, she mentions an event where someone threw a custard pie into his face, angering his followers who witnessed the event, but shows Maharaji calming the situation and insisting that no reprisals be giver to the culprit responsible. Tragically, that is not the whole story. In this, or another similar custard pie in the face incident, a reporter called Pat Halley was chased, captured and beaten up so badly by Maharajiís followers that he had to have a metal plate inserted into his skull Ė The culprits responsible, including Mahatma Fakiranand, a close and powerful ally to Maharaj Ji, who had hit the reporter with a hammer, were never disciplined or ejected from the cult by Maharaj Ji. He quickly moved them abroad so that they could avoid legal prosecution. For more on this story see http://ex-premie.org/pages/penth_article.htm Cagan makes no mention of this widely reported incident. .
Maharaj Ji was often accused of womanising and cavorting in nightclubs. At least one such incident at led to photos being released to the media of him doing so. Cagan comes up with a bizarre story in which Maharaji and his new wife had a photo of themselves together, kissing, stolen from his house, and that this picture was the basis for a claim that he was a womaniser. She sees it as an innocent image of an innocent youngster and his bride to be. As she doesnít show the photo, itís impossible to judge for us.
The beginning of the decline of Maharaj Ji and Divine Light Mission really begins with the failed Millennium 1973 event when a fraction of expected attendees turned up. Maharaj Ji had made claims that even UFOís would land there, but Cagan ignores such outlandish claims, in favour of his apparent humble message of inner peace. She treats the Millennium fiasco as a modest success rather than the catastrophe that it really was.
Another central tenet of Maharajiís teachings that she totally fails to mention is that of the mind as being anathema to the Knowledge. Thinking detracts from the pleasure of meditation therefore thinking is evil therefore do not think Ė just feel the truth. Maharajiís teachings are anti-rational Ė they are not compatible with logic or reason on any level. For the cult, this is a powerful weapon as anyone airing doubts or questions about Maharaji will be told that they are listening to their mind affecting them like Adam & Eve were affected by the serpent in Eden. The doubtful follower will be advised to meditate intensely until the doubts are erased. It is a meditational way of sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling Ďla la laí until the truth goes away. Maharaj Jiís attacks on the mind are as easy to find as his glib quotations on peace, but Cagan uses none at all.
Cagan says that Maharaj Ji gives Knowledge to all who ask for it but in fact followers can be kept on ice for months or even years until they are desperate for the Knowledge Ė just asking is likely to lead to excuses and delays and invitations to listen to, and pay more money to the cult first.
Cagan talks several times of friendly Ďwater pistolí fights at Maharajiís house but she doesnít mention his spectacular Holi festival at which he turns high pressure airport fire fighting hoses on his followers, often blasting them violently to the ground, and in some cases, making the water jets spray gravel and stones at his soaked followers too. Such events were later reduced in scale due to the number of injuries caused.
Maharaj Jiís followers are encouraged to travel to see him anywhere in the World at any cost, so many drop everything to follow him until they run out of money and end up marooned in another country without any means of support.
Another well-documented accusation Cagan totally fails to discuss involved Maharajiís involvement in a hit and run car crash where he allegedly ran over and killed a cyclist in India. It is widely believed that he got one of his followers to claim to have been at the wheel of the car while he fled the scene and created a false alibi for himself, and flew out of the country. If the story is true, Maharaji is guilty of manslaughter or worse. http://www.ex-premie.org/best/bof12252000224417.htm#P_112I
Maharaj Ji has also been protective towards a controversial India based Knowledge Instructor and follower, Mahatma Jagdeo, despite the man facing multiple paedophilia allegations. Jagdeo has never faced court proceedings over the allegations, and he is widely believed to have never been stripped of office in the cultís Indian operations. http://www.prem-rawat-maharaji.info/index.php?id=25 This also gets totally ignored in the book.
Cagan claims that Maharajiís finances have always proved to be in order when audited† - often under pressure from his detractors, as she notes, but in reality his assets have been held in question successfully more of then than she states. http://www.prem-rawat-maharaji.info/index.php?id=33 In Delhi in 2005, a legal tax case was established to ascertain whether money obtained from those receiving the Knowledge was a Ďvoluntary donationí or not. The findings read as follows:
contributions within the meaning of Section 12 C.I.T Vs. Divine Light
Mission 04/21/2004 (2005) 146 Taxman653 (Delhi)
Case Fact: Whether membership fee received by the society from its members can be treated as voluntary contribution u/s 12?
Decision: Held by honíble court that voluntary contribution means payment made without any compulsion. Whereas in this case, member is under an obligation to pay the fee. Hence, it could not be treated as voluntary contribution u/s 12.† http://www.nirc-icai.org/vicechairman.htm
Caganís book presents Maharaji as a humble man of peace spreading a simple message despite some adversity and gaining admirers in high places. The truth is very different, and the case against him is not the work of a handful of hate-mongers operating anonymously but people who have seen a very different truth to that which Maharaj Ji wants to promote.
At present, mass purchasing by established Premies is making the book sell well via Amazon and similar online markets, but outsiders are likely to be decidedly less impressed, and ex-members of the cult are going to feel rather angry as and when they read it. I know I feel very angry about it right now. †
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Arthur Chappell
I have added a link to this
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The review has also provoked a flourish of messages from still practicing members on the Amazon Books notice boards - you can follow the battle royal at http://www.amazon.com/gp/discussionboard/cd/discussion.html/ref=cm_cd_et_up_redir/002-3997538-3736832?ie=UTF8&cdForum=Fx3EB0EB2M2CDK1&cdPage=1&asin=0978869494&cdThread=Tx23FPVNT8EF21M&newContentID=Mx2XVP67D7YDTF7#MxWON6QWHAJS0A
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