- (Guru Maharaj Ji)(1957– )head of Divine Light Mission and creator of Elan VitalPrem Rawat, or Guru Maharaj Ji, is a teacher in the Sant Mat tradition who won a large follow-ing in the United States in the 1960s and early 1970s.Prem Rawat was born on December 10, 1957, near Dehra Dun in Uttaranchal state, India, the youngest son of Sri Han Maharaj Ji, an established spiritual teacher. Prem received formal education at St. Joseph’s Academy, but his spiritual direction was from his father. At age three, he began speak-ing to audiences about inner peace. When his father died in 1966 he became spiritual leader of the Divine Light Mission (DLM), a foundation Sri Han had established in the 1930s.Under his leadership the mission continued to teach his father’s main techniques, derived from the SANT MAT tradition. The tradition teaches that knowledge, as the energy and source of life, is obtained through four forms of MEDITATION, each of which focuses attention on inner life. Maharaj Ji presented the teaching as a cultiva-tion of inner peace through maintaining silence, watching the process of breathing, and focusing the senses inward. Devotees who take initiation into DLM are said to “gain knowledge” and are called “premies.”Many members of the counterculture in the United States were impressed by Maharaj Ji’s mes-sage of peace during his tours in the later 1960s, when he was still a teenager. In 1971, after his visits to Los Angeles and Boulder, Colorado, the United States DLM was established in Denver, Colorado. By 1972 the movement spread across the country. Ashrams were established in major cities and the publications Divine Times and It is Divine distributed.In 1973 the DLM rented the Houston Astro-dome for a gathering of peace coinciding with the birthday of Sri Han. The event failed to generate large attendance and became a financial loss. Pro-grams and ASHRAMS were soon closed in order to pay off debt and many premies began to leave the movement. In 1974 Guru Maharaj Ji married a Western premie named Marolyn Johnson, a mar-riage that created conflict between Maharaj Ji and his mother. The fracture caused further troubles for the DLM when his mother returned to India and reestablished the DLM under her eldest son’s name.In the late 1970s the DLM reorganized and moved its headquarters to Miami, Florida. Maha-raj Ji distanced himself from the religious asso-ciation to make his teachings more universal. In the 1980s he encouraged followers to leave the monastic life and to regard him simply as a humanitarian leader. By 1983, he had ordered all Western ashrams to close.In the mid-1980s, the DLM was renamed the Elan Vital and discarded all religious affilia-tion. Guru Maharaj Ji changed his name to Prem Rawat, believing that the divinity ascribed to him obstructed his message. Elan Vital became a much smaller organization. He increased his speaking engagements and produced video and sound recordings to spread his ideas.Elan Vital, now headquartered in Agoura Hills, California, retains its status as a charitable organi-zation, organizing events for Prem Rawat, raising funds, producing and distributing tapes of his messages, and archiving the history of his work. Rawat, Prem 363 JSupported largely by volunteer staff and sales of his products, Elan Vital is active in the United States, Britain, and Australia.At present, Rawat continues to give talks on knowledge throughout the world. According to the Elan Vital, his teachings have spread to more than 80 countries and its publications are avail-able in 60 languages.Prem Rawat lives with his wife in Malibu, California.Further reading: Charles Cameron, Who Is Guru Maha-raj Ji? (New York: Bantam Books, 1973); Sophia Col-lier, Soul Rush: The Odyssey of a Young Woman of the ’70s (New York: Morrow, 1978); James V. Downton, Sacred Journeys: The Conversion of Young Americans to Divine Light Mission (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979); Guru Maharaj Ji, The Living Master: Quotes from Guru Maharaj Ji (Denver: Divine Light Mission, 1978).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.
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