It is often overlooked that Prem Rawat (known as Maharaji to his students) was eight years old when he started speaking to audiences, and thirteen years old when he came to the West. As a young boy, the presentation of "Knowledge" and his public persona were handled by Indian adults steeped in Indian ways. This resulted in an environment that now seems anachronistic, but was culturally accepted in the 1970s, where many Indian rituals and cultural traditions were being embraced by the younger generation. Living in ashrams and vegetarianism are two examples. As a teenager, Rawat often wore traditional Indian garb. People teaching the techniques of Knowledge were called mahatmas.
As Prem Rawat matured from boyhood to adulthood, he made it clear that his message had nothing to do with Indian culture. In the early 1980s, he began to dismantle the remnants of Indian culture and adopted an approach more western in style. The ashrams were closed. He asked to be referred to as “Maharaji” instead of “Guru Maharaji.” The organization created by the Indian heritage, Divine Light Mission, evolved into Elan Vital.
See also Current teachings of Prem Rawat.
- 1 The message
- 2 The teachings
- 3 The Knowledge process and the teaching of the techniques
- 4 Indian customs around Prem Rawat
- 4.1 “Lord of the Universe” and other flowery words used in the ‘70s
- 4.2 Arti and other Indian songs
- 4.3 Darshan
- 4.4 Allegations of Divinity and their cultural context
- 4.5 Veneration for the Guru
- 4.6 “Guru is Greater than God" cultural context
- 4.7 Holy breath
- 4.8 The five commandments
- 4.9 Ashram life
- 4.10 Mind and heart
- 5 Indian aspects in the presentation of the teachings
- 6 External Links
Early days: less emphasis on the message and more emphasis on Knowledge
Supporters say that today, Prem Rawat's message is the same as it always was, albeit presented without the Indian cultural overtones. In essence, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the emphasis was less on message and more on experience and practice.
There was less distinction between the message and the teachings in the ‘70s and ‘80s than there is now. The initial focus was on his practical teachings in the form of inspiration and guidance to practice four techniques for finding peace within. He calls these techniques of Knowledge. In the ‘70s, there was more public interest in an experience and a spiritual discipline—an entire generation was interested in inner experiences. Twenty-first century audiences have less time and tend to be less interested in a spiritual discipline or practice than in inspiration and guidance to help them lead a life fulfilled. Many of those who were initially attracted ended up not having sufficient affinity or ability to studiously follow the lifelong discipline which the practice of Knowledge requires. Some people left the practice and remained interested in the message.
According to the foundation that carries his name , the number of people attracted to Rawat’s message has grown over the years. These people are not interested in a practice and are not interested to learn the techniques of Knowledge. They find inspiration in listening to his addresses and in reading his prose and poetry.
Rawat has emphasized that he welcomes people who have an interest in his message only. In many of his recent addresses in public forums or universities, he did not mention the word “Knowledge,” and his message was praised by leading academics and public servants as “unique” or “noble.”
The possibility of peace within as offered by Prem Rawat
The foundation of Prem Rawat’s message has always been about the possibility that he says exists for each person to find peace within, about his having a gift and being able to help people get in touch with it, and about the possibility for each person to have their life transformed by this experience, providing they follow his guidance and allow the transformation to take place. This was the foundation of his message when he was eight years old, and it remains so to this day.
In 2003 he was offered the opportunity to communicate the essence of his message via a 30-second video clip to people in the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, Spain at the occasion of the worldwide launch of the Universal Forum of Cultures. This message, in its essential form, is the same as it always was. What he said that day was congruent with his early message:
- “Peace begins with every person.
- To establish peace on the outside, peace has to be established on the inside.
- And it is the individual effort that will make peace possible.
- The time for peace is now.”
Barcelona, Spain: July 8 , 2002
World peace versus inner peace
Prem Rawat did express when he was a child that he would bring peace to the world, and this was understood as promising world peace. At the same time, he also made it clear that what he was speaking about was his offering the possibility for each person to find inner peace. Over the years, Rawat has reiterated many times his views on the relationship between world peace and personal peace.
- Dick Cavett: "You are described as the bringer of peace to the world. Now, how are you going to do that?"
- Prem Rawat: "As a matter of fact I am doing that right now. Around the world, this peace is being given to people."
- 1973, Dick Cavett Show
- “Peace needs to be in everyone’s life. Of all the things we have tried in this world, there is one thing we have never given a chance. That one thing is peace. The peace that we are looking for is within. It is in the heart, waiting to be felt, and I can help you get in touch with it. It is not the world that needs peace; it is people. When people in the world are at peace within, the world will be at peace.”
- Prem Rawat, United Nations Conference Center, Bangkok, Thailand: September 12, 2002
- “People used to ask me, ‘Can you really bring world peace?’ My answer to that is, world doesn’t need the peace, people do. Wherever they are, whoever they are.”
- “The subject here is not the world. The subject here is you. I have never claimed that I am here to save the world. World doesn’t need saving. We do.”
- Madrid, Spain: June 22, 2003
While labels, religious and cultural trappings, and the environment of presentation have evolved or dropped away over the years, the fundamental message and teachings have endured.
Conditions for the practice of Knowledge to bear fruit
Since the 1970s, Prem Rawat has emphasized a number of factors which are necessary for the practice of Knowledge to deliver lifelong benefits.
These include developing and sustaining the right understanding, a daily practice of the techniques of Knowledge, allowing oneself to be transformed, a relationship of trust with the teacher, and making a commitment for a lifetime. A person who has these five factors in place, he says, will undoubtedly experience for their lifetime the profound peace that resides within.
Rawat has consistently emphasized that just practicing the techniques by themselves does not bring inner peace. The proper understanding needs to be in place, together with the willingness to have one’s life transformed, and possibly most importantly in his view, a relationship of trust with the teacher.
Rawat’s supporters explain that many of those who were dissatisfied with his teachings were just looking for a quick spiritual fix. They practiced the techniques with the hope of resolving some personal problems and were subsequently disenchanted, as this is not what the techniques were designed to do. The above five criteria for a successful life with Knowledge have remained stable since the very early days of Rawat’s work. See Techniques of Knowledge as taught by Prem Rawat.
What was and is now understood by “the practice of Knowledge”
Prem Rawat has always encouraged his students to keep listening to his addresses and help make his message available to people around the world. These activities were referred to in the 1970s and 1980s as “satsang” and “service,” two words widely used in India.
Throughout the years, Prem Rawat has encouraged his students to keep listening to his addresses via video, audio, or in person whenever possible so as to benefit from his inspiration and guidance on an ongoing basis. He has always said that Knowledge is not a static thing. Growing in one’s understanding of Knowledge, he says, needs to be a lifelong process, and the student needs to keep listening to the teacher for this process to be furthered.
Helping out, participating
Prem Rawat and his students have consistently emphasized that helping to make his message and Knowledge available to all people around the world is an intrinsic part of living a life with Knowledge. The fulfillment that Knowledge brings, Rawat says, naturally elicits a feeling of gratitude. This kind of participation, his students say, is an intrinsic part of the giving and receiving that is at the heart of the experience of Knowledge.
This participation need not be a contribution of financial or other material resources. He emphasizes that students can contribute whatever time, energy, and skills they have to help on a variety of projects to make his message available to more people.
Importance of the living teacher
An important part of Prem Rawat’s teachings from the beginning has been that a living teacher is necessary in order for an individual to be able to access the experience of peace through Knowledge. Rawat has explained many times that, just as a deceased doctor cannot help a patient, it takes a living teacher to help students. He says that to progress on this path, students need to maintain a relationship of trust with the teacher that is fresh and fruitful, and that without such a relationship, the benefits of Knowledge cannot be obtained.
Supporters say that their progress on the path of Knowledge comes from maintaining a rich inner connection with Maharaji, as much as from steadily practicing the techniques of Knowledge.
Allegiance to the teacher
Critics of Prem Rawat say that “surrendering one’s life” was an integral part of Prem Rawat’s message, intended to help him gain control over students’ lives and thus enrich himself. Detractors assert that this trust in the teacher and in his guidance involves some surrendering that is not congruent with western culture. Supporters, on the other hand, point out that Rawat encourages would-be students to “find the one you can trust to help you get where you want to go and stick with him.” He has explicitly denied wanting to take responsibility for anyone’s life.
Rawat used to ask that students have no conflict with having himself as their only teacher for the purpose of finding peace within, but this is no longer a requirement. He recently acknowledged his very early statements about his ability to bring peace to those who would give him their trust and love, and he reiterated this promise:
- “I know that a long time ago when I started, this is what it was: ‘Give me love and I will give you peace.’ This was my very famous statement in India Gate. I was a little kid and I said, ‘Give me love. I will give you peace.’ I stand by it.”
- Miami Beach, Florida: April 20, 2003
The Knowledge process and the teaching of the techniques
The manner in which Prem Rawat has gone about teaching the techniques of Knowledge has significantly changed from 1970 to the present.
The preparation and the Knowledge session
When Prem Rawat first came to the West, people were only able to hear about Knowledge from him or from Indian instructors (called “mahatmas”) who would teach the techniques of Knowledge. As more westerners received Knowledge, the followers of Rawat held nightly meetings for the purpose of spreading information about Rawat’s teachings. In the early 1970s, it was the mahatmas who conducted meetings where interested people—“aspirants”—could prepare and, when ready, ask to learn the techniques of Knowledge. Mahatmas also conducted the sessions where the techniques were taught.
Another change during the 1970s was that Rawat taught and gave some westerners the authority to teach the techniques of Knowledge by making them initiators, a title he later changed to instructor. See main article, Establishment in the West.
Criteria for being taught the techniques
A sincere interest in Knowledge and a commitment to lifelong practice were the main criteria for being invited to learn the techniques of Knowledge. In selecting candidates, how long someone had been listening to the message and whether or not they had participated were viewed as indications of their interest. Mahatmas used criteria that were largely subjective to assess the willingness of aspirants to continue practicing, listening, and helping out after receiving Knowledge.
With the advent of western initiators and instructors in the late 1970s and early 1980s, those processes took on a more western flavor, but they were still based upon largely subjective criteria.
In the late 1980s, a major evolution occurred when Rawat personally began conducting meetings for aspirants, including selections for receiving Knowledge and Knowledge sessions.
Then in the 1990s, increasing emphasis was placed on aspirants’ self-assessment of their readiness to receive Knowledge. More measurable requirements and considerations to be met before asking to receive Knowledge were also introduced at this time.
Technology used for teaching the techniques
In the 1970s and ‘80s, the techniques were shown to people by authorized mahatmas or instructors on Prem Rawat’s behalf. Later, Rawat himself conducted these Knowledge sessions and showed the techniques to participants.
Since 2000, the techniques are taught via a multimedia presentation made by Rawat. In this presentation, he explains the techniques step-by-step, demonstrating them one by one in ample detail, to ensure that these are understood and practiced correctly. Most recently Rawat has developed the Keys, a comprehensive video-based representation of all aspects of his teachings. See Maharaji's Keys.
Indian customs around Prem Rawat
“Lord of the Universe” and other flowery words used in the ‘70s
When Prem Rawat arrived in the West he was widely called “Lord of the Universe.” In western culture, when a title is given to a person, it comes with a position. In India, by contrast, such grand labels as “His Holiness” or “Lord of the Universe” are given on the basis of affection or admiration and are rather common. Processed through the filter of Cartesian thinking, they take on an entirely different, distorted meaning. This title—which was used only in the ‘70s, an era of love for all things Indian—did not imply any claim that the person is holy, any more than the use of “His Excellence” means that the person is an embodiment of excellence. “I am a human being, and you are a human being,” says Prem Rawat, “and that is the basis of this relationship.” Other people in India have also been called “Lord of the Universe” well before Rawat, without its ever implying that they claimed to rule the universe or have anything to do with its creation.
This is understood if one just looks at the list of guest speakers of the Chamber of Commerce in Delhi. Each week there is at least one new person with a title like “Divine, realized soul” or “Supreme Holiness” or “Lord of the Yogis” invited to address the distinguished members. The corporate attendees find such titles perfectly normal.
Arti and other Indian songs
Another little-understood practice that came from India with Prem Rawat in the ‘70s is Arti, a song sung to the teacher or to members of his family. Arti is performed not only in front of a teacher or master, but also on many other auspicious occasions. On a handful of occasions in the past decade, students in the West have sung Arti.
The words used in Arti sung to Prem Rawat were written by Brahmanand, an Indian saint known for having composed thousands of poems. The music of Arti usually remains the same, with a few variations. The lyrics vary. There are many Arti lyrics, including Brahmanand lyrics, Krishna lyrics, and many more. Arti is sung both to deities and to living gurus. For example, Indians going to a temple will sing Arti to a deity and then to the living guru residing in the temple.
The lyrics are inevitably flowery: “You are the protector, you are the destroyer, you are everything.” It is important to understand that in Indian culture these words are spoken, not to the mortal person, but to the divine within them. Every day in India, thousands of living gurus have the Brahmanand or Krishna or similar Arti lyrics sung to them by students, and this is perfectly accepted in the cultural context.
The practice of darshan arrived from India with Prem Rawat and also needs to be put into context. Expressing respect is not unique to students of Prem Rawat. Asian teachers of all disciplines, including martial arts, music, and philosophy, to this day conduct a procession where students line up and pass by their teacher, bowing or touching his feet as a sign of respect and gratitude. Many Catholics express similar respect to their Cardinals and Bishops by kissing their rings.
There is no great secret about this: Maharaji sits in a chair while people file by and pay their respects. Many simply walk by and smile; others simply say “thank you;” some bow; and others choose to briefly touch his feet. In the ‘70s, some kissed his feet. This practice, even though it is culturally acceptable in India, has stopped. People are actually asked not to do so anymore. In the 1970s, the reception line called “darshan” was common in the West, but this practice is now only conducted on rare occasions, mostly in the Indian subcontinent where it is culturally accepted.
There is no admission charge or fee connected to the reception line, and there is no recommendation or obligation in any way to participate.
Allegations of Divinity and their cultural context
Since the '70s, allegations of claims of divinity have surrounded Prem Rawat, and in many ways, they have remained. It is important to put these claims in the proper cultural context. While many westerners and Indians agree on the statement that “God is within,” the implications of this statement vary markedly between western and eastern culture. In the West, such a statement does not make the person divine. In the East it does, providing the person seeks to realize this God within. “Men of God,” or more generally, all people seeking to realize the divine within, are commonly called “divine” or “holy” in the East. In Western culture, a saint or holy person is usually a dead person, many of whom were persecuted during their lifetime.
On any given evening in Delhi, there are a few dozen people called “His Divine Grace” or “His Divine Holiness” giving lectures. These people are part of mainstream society, and there are no implications in these titles comparable to what is understood in the West as ‘claims of divinity,” because, in India, anyone seeking to realize the God within is seen as being divine. Hence, it is important to put into this context any claim of divinity that has surrounded Maharaji. “Divine” in India does not have the abnormal connotation that it has in the West. It is seen as a normal way to address a person seeking God.
Veneration for the Guru
In the ‘70s, Prem Rawat was surrounded by displays of veneration typically given to Masters in the Orient. These have largely dissipated. To this day, some see him as a friend, some as a teacher, and some as a Guru or Master.
What does he now claim to be? He recently told a journalist:
- “People used to call me Guru. I speak from my heart, and what happens is from one heart to another. I’m not trying to place myself above people. I am a human being. Many things have been said about me. Many of these things have come from people’s own emotions, good or bad. I am proud to be a human being. I am very happy that I have this life. I am also happy that I can feel joy and pain like everyone else. Some people would love to put labels on me, but I am just me.”
“Guru is Greater than God" cultural context
Such statements were made in the ‘70s at a time of affinity for all terms Indian. People in India routinely refer to a Guru as God or even greater than God. The famous poet Kabir openly called his Guru “Greater than God.” To the man on the street in India, “Guru is greater than God” is a normal statement. Such statements have been taken out of context in western countries. In India, however, they are part of the mainstream culture.
This custom arrived from India with Prem Rawat. The teacher gives a blessing in the form of blowing a breath to a student, much like someone would blow a kiss to another person. There are no signs that this is practiced anymore.
The five commandments
In the ‘70s, before receiving Knowledge, students were told of five “commandments” which they needed to follow in order to progress on the path of Knowledge:
- Never leave room for doubt in your mind
- Never delay in attending satsang (listening)
- Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today
- Constantly meditate and remember the Holy Name
- Always have faith in God
Supporters claim these were meant as reminders about the practice of Knowledge and simple advice. Doubts can overshadow an experience. Satsang (listening), meditating and remembering the Holy Name (refers to one of the techniques) are aspects of the practice of Knowledge that provide reminders of the possibility of inner peace and, potentially, a direct experience of it.
These five commandments were phased out in the early 1980s.
“Ashram” is a Hindi word that means “shelter.” Ashrams are to this day very much part of the Indian culture. In the Orient, people choose to live in ashrams essentially to dedicate themselves fully to the practice of a spiritual discipline, and Prem Rawat’s ashrams were no exception. In the ‘70s, ashrams became the center of activity for Prem Rawat’s message and teachings.
These ashrams were structured, communal living situations focused on opportunities to practice Knowledge, listen to discourses about Knowledge, usually every evening, and participate in helping to promote Rawat's message. On entering the ashram, students voluntarily took vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience.
Besides being a residence, the ashrams usually served as centers of community activity where people interested in hearing about Knowledge came, listened to talks about Maharaji and Knowledge, and participated in activities that supported the spreading of Knowledge.
Living in an ashram was voluntary, and less than 1% of Rawat’s students chose to do so. People freely entered and left ashrams if they found it did not suit them. Especially in 1983 and 1984, many residents came to prefer creating their own lifestyles. Many who left the ashrams continued to practice the techniques of Knowledge.
In the ‘70s, there was a perception that embracing the teachings of Prem Rawat meant accepting or condoning the ashram lifestyle and the various customs associated with it. Rawat decided that what he wanted to offer was an experience and not a lifestyle, and a decision was made to close the ashrams in 1983-1984. Some of the students who felt they had made a lifelong commitment were upset by the closure.
Mind and heart
The first posters about Prem Rawat in the early 1970s said, “Meditation is not what you think.” This message has remained consistent. Indian culture makes a strong case about the dangers of the mind, and by that it means not the reasoning ability of a person, but the possibly self-destructive aspects of the psyche. At that time Rawat was already making a distinction between the "mind", which he described as including the dark or negative thoughts that a person may have; and "heart", the place within each person where peace can be found.
In the 1980s and 1990s, ] Rawat started speaking more and more about the positive aspects of the thinking process, and developed at length the theme of the importance of thinking for oneself.
His emphasis on the heart and on listening to the “call of the heart” to find guidance is core to his views and has remained constant. He encourages students to listen to the voice of their heart as a means to progress on the path to inner fulfillment.
Indian aspects in the presentation of the teachings
Since the mid 1970s, Prem Rawat has made a sustained, organized effort to universalize his message and to drop the cultural trappings—Hindu and otherwise. This effort included the appointment of western initiators (later called instructors) to replace many of the Indian mahatmas in presenting his message, as well as a shift away from Hindu examples toward those more understandable to western audiences.
In the early years, because Rawat was still a child and came from India, a mostly-Indian contingent of aides, including mahatmas, traveled with him and helped present his message in the West. These people brought with them Indian and Hindu trappings which took the focus away from his core message. The group mahatmas was dissolved let go in the early 90s and are no more.
People speaking in his name
In the 1970s and 1980s, initiators (or instructors) and mahatmas spoke on Prem Rawat’s behalf, presenting the message and teaching. Often, their claims as to what Knowledge would and would not do differed significantly in content from what Prem Rawat said. Early students also spoke publicly of their own experience or view of Knowledge.
Exaggerated and erroneous claims were made about how the practice of Knowledge would enhance aspects of one’s life, such as “practicing Knowledge will lower your blood pressure” or “it will get you a better job,” etc. Rawat publicly refuted these claims and consistently reiterated that Knowledge only brings one thing: the possibility of finding peace within for a person willing to allow their life to be transformed.
- “If you really want this experience, all you do is ask. You have to be ready, as well, to receive the key. I can’t just toss it to you and you say, ‘What’s this for? What am I going to do with it? Doesn’t ir make my oranges grow better? It hasn’t really straightened out my back problem yet.. It hasn’t reduced my blood pressure. Does this happen? Yes it does.”
- London, England: October 5, 1982
Communication through ashrams replaced by internet and satellite
During the early 1970s, the ashrams established by his students served as centers for local activities and as a place where students could focus on the practice of Knowledge. By the early 1980s, the ashrams were no longer seen as useful for disseminating a universal message to non-Indian cultures throughout the world, and they were subsequently closed.
- “When ashrams were open, nobody asked me. Nobody asked me, ‘Should we open this ashram?’ And one of the things I used to say is, there are a lot of people saying things that I’m not saying. My responsibility is not running the organization. Never has been, never will be. My responsibility is to those people who come to me. Who come to me. When I was very young, I gave an event at India Gate. And this is what I said, ‘Give me love and I will give you peace.’ I still stand behind that. I still stand behind that. That’s all there is. That’s all there ever will be. That’s all there ever was. I’m not here to run an organization. And if that was the issue, then that’s what I would have said: ‘Come to my organization and I’ll give you peace.’ I’m going to take my message to as many people as I can. Till this breath runs in this body, that’s what I intend to be doing. And not only that, to make it as simple as possible for people to receive the gift of this Knowledge.”
- London, England: July 28, 2003
In the late 1980s and 1990s, with the advent of better electronic communications, videotapes, and other media, people with an interest in Rawat’s message could gather and listen to Rawat speak on the topics of Knowledge and inner peace, and there was no need for intermediaries to present his message. Since the 1990s, his message has been available in a more personal and direct manner, such as internet  and satellite broadcasting . Videos of Rawat speaking replaced the presentations by instructors and others. During this time, Rawat himself became directly involved in developing the process of learning about Knowledge and instructing interested people in the techniques.
Distance from Hinduism
Upon his arrival in the West in 1971, 13-year-old Prem Rawat attracted many young “seekers” who were fascinated by the contrast between his youth and his wisdom. They asked him many questions about Hindu-centric concepts that were at the forefront of the interest of youth in the ‘70s: karma, mukti, guru, Hindu religion, reincarnation, etc. During these early question-and-answer sessions, he would respond to all questions asked to him.
His supporters say that his answers to people’s questions about topics related to Hinduism were indicative of the interest of the public at that time in Indian spirituality, and that his answers to many of their questions were not part of his core message.
Compatibility with other religions
Prem Rawat has repeatedly said since the ‘70s that he is not a Hindu and that the only tradition that he recognized himself as belonging to is the tradition of the heart. He used to say, and still says, that Knowledge is independent of and compatible with all religions. Even in the ‘70s, his students came from many religious backgrounds, and many continued practicing their religion along with the techniques of Knowledge.