IS MAHARAJI REALLY THE BEST MEDICINE?
Conventional medicine on the NHS is a hit-and-miss affair. You may be
privileged to receive the skilled attention of a brilliant
medic, or you may come out feeling worse than when you went
It is no surprise that alternative therapies and soothing techniques
for the psyche are becoming increasingly popular, with a huge
range of complementary healing available for those who fancy
trying something outside the range of conventional
At St Mary's Hospital, Healing Arts plays an
important part in the concept of holistic treatment by
providing programmes that link art and healthcare. It has
published a booklet which describes how "active involvement in
making music, singing, dancing, reading and writing poetry
offer a positive way forward through the trauma of
It also "commissions artists and designers to
create environments on wards and in clinics where doctors and
nurses deliver healthcare that are the most beneficial for
patients to recover in and speedily recover their
Nothing to worry about there, then. Physical and
mental health are inextricably linked, so if your fevered brow
can be soothed and your recovery aided by art, poetry or even
singing and dancing, then every encouragement should surely be
given to Healing Arts.
The photographic exhibition that is
currently on view in the hospital's first-floor lounge area is
called Feeling4Life. A tiny warning bell tinkles in my own
mind at the absurdly pretentious solecism — why use four when
you mean for? — but I'll try to ignore it. Once people have
got addicted to senseless illiteracy, you might as well save
The exhibition has been put together, with the
endorsement of Healing Arts, by Dorri Jones, who lives in
Cowes. And although she is an amateur photographer, it is
obvious that she is no slouch. She has an eye for composition
and subject matter and her pictures have been considerably
enhanced using the wizardry that is now available by digital
and computer technology.
Dorri Jones with one of her paintings
at the Feeling4Life exhibition.
Picture by PETER BOAM
If you take a stroll down the line
of Dorri's photographs, you may well feel soothed. Some of
them are unchallengingly innocuous — soft-focus apple blossom
and bobbing boats — but there are also urban and cosmopolitan
studies, which, if not exactly ground-breaking, could provide
a useful way of using up a few minutes of your time while you
wait for your stitches to be removed.
But there is
something else about this show. It is billed as 'an exhibition
in words and photographs' and while the pictures may be
pleasant but unremarkable, the words are definitely worth
The exhibition has been inspired by Dorri
Jones's association with the activities of a man called Prem
Rawat, known to his devotees as Maharaji. That warning bell
tinkles just a little bit louder in my head. Maharaji, eh?
There are going to be clouds and cuckoos before the day is
out, mark my words.
But it is not my words that Dorri would
like us to mark. She would like us to receive a taste of her
hero's take on life and examples abound, both printed on her
photographs and in numerous leaflets strewn around the
hospital's lounge area.
When a Maharaji starts rambling,
it's time to play word bingo. I bet the word 'fulfilment' is
in there. Ah, yes, here we are, we can cross that one off.
"Here comes this moment full of the most beautiful
fulfilment," Marharaji tells us. What about 'thirst'? That
one's bound to come up.
"Not a day goes by — not a single
day goes by — when the pang, the pain, the want, the thirst,
the wish to be happy doesn't knock." Bingo! After that, the
Maharaji's drivel produces trigger-words at the speed of a
whirling dervish. Contentment, promise, blossom, peace, seed,
there they are, wrapped up in a cosy blanket of nothingness.
"Inside each one of us, peace is like a seed waiting to
blossom. We need to go to the seed to learn trust." Yeah,
Maharaji is also very keen on something he calls the
'feeling.' According to him, "We are feeling machines. We can
feel fulfilment. We don't have to imagine it, we don't have to
think it — we can feel it."
Dorri Jones and her husband,
Graham, call themselves 'students' of Maharaji. "He teaches
you to find a feeling inside you, which is always inside,"
says Dorri, who has quite a line in Maharaji-speak herself.
"Before this came along I was living from the outside in. But
you can live from the inside out. Everybody has the potential
to achieve this."
Dorri assures me that being a student of
Maharaji has done wonders for her. I'm sure it has, though I
can't help noticing that she does look a little angst-ridden
and is not exactly a barrel of laughs. If you're thinking of
doing the rounds of the Glasgow comedy circuit on a Saturday
night, I wouldn't advise taking Dorri with you.
husband, Graham, also a seed and fulfilment enthusiast, is as
vague as his wife when it comes to explaining what it is all
about. "I have a feeling and I rely on that." What sort of
feeling, is it, Graham? "I can't tell you. Some questions
don't come with answers that fit into words. Some answers are
I am none the wiser. Graham has a feeling
within him, which may or may not be indigestion, but it is
central to the teaching of this Maharaji. "He provides four
techniques which reveal an experience inside you." What are
the techniques? "I can't tell you."
Do you know, I have a
feeling, too. I have a feeling that the ophthalmic department
is not the only place at St Mary's where you will find
eyewash. This feeling intensifies when Ros Ffitch, who has
helped Dorri set up the exhibition, inquires how I came to
know about it. "Because we didn't send anything to the
County Press." That is surely a little odd. A public
exhibition, with tracts of publicity material for the Prem
Rawat Foundation and its UK educational organisation, Elan
Vital, and you don't tell the local newspaper?
It may be,
of course, that people like Ros are wary of provincial media
in this country ever since Prem Rawat, who constantly tours
the world garnering followers, addressed audiences in Bristol
two years ago. The Bristol Evening Post revealed that
Elan Vital had formerly been known as the Divine Light Mission
and a senior church leader in Bristol, Canon Peter Bailey,
urged people not to get involved with the
"People must make up their own minds," he
said at the time. "But we would warn people to be careful to
ensure that they are not being deceived. We believe the aim of
such groups is to make money off their followers." A change of
name has usefully sanitised the Divine Light Mission. But it
is still the same organisation, which a few years ago referred
to Prem Rawat as Guru Maharj Ji.
His followers also called
him Lord of the Universe and would line up to kiss his feet.
Ian Haworth, who heads the educational charity, Cult
Information Centre, knows all about the Prem Rawat Foundation
and Elan Vital. "When Elan Vital was the Divine Light Mission,
it would always be there in standard textbooks alongside such
movements as Moonies and Scientologists. It has gone through a
name change but it is still serious stuff.
"I would see any influence with the group and Elan Vital as a serious matter.
We are concerned about their activities and we get regular
calls from people who are worried about them. We don't hear so
frequently, though, because what they do is far less
identifiable than it was. It tends to be underground
Or in hospitals. Ian Haworth is astonished that St
Mary's has given its endorsement to the exhibition. "The last
thing one would recommend for anyone's health is getting into
something like this. I have dealt for 26 years with families
who have lost loved ones to this group. I would advise people
to ask themselves if it is the kind of organisation they want
promoted in a hospital. I would equate it with the
Dorri Jones is indignant at this criticisim. "No
way," she says of Ian Haworth's warnings. "In the 30 years I
have been involved, nobody has ever tried to make money off
me. I have donated money to Elan Vital, to use on UK
educational activities, but I have not been bamboozled by a
cult. What Prem Rawat seeks to do is to show people something
very sweet and gentle and beautiful, that is already part of
you. He is not trying to take money off people. The foundation
and Elan Vital may be multi-million pound organisations, but
so is the Red Cross, and nobody makes a fuss about it."
It is not quite the same thing, though, is it? Elan Vital is
rather less tangible than the Red Cross.
Guy Eades is director of Healing Arts, which gave Dorri Jones permission
and facilities to put on her exhibition. "I know nothing about
the Prem Rawat Foundation or Elan Vital," he says. Well,
perhaps he should. Perhaps he should look at the testimonies
of people who wrote to the Bristol Evening Post with
disturbing experiences of Elan Vital. Perhaps he should also
know that the Charities Commission has received complaints
about Elan Vital and is currently considering the information
to establish whether there is any need for a formal
investigation. Perhaps, too, St Mary's should be aware of what
their premises are being used for.
On April 24 they will provide their conference room for an event called "Inner
Journey" that will further publicise the mysterious world of
Prem Rawat. No doubt it will be full of intangibles and
meanderings through the hippy-dippy vocabulary of the
charismatic Maharaji. And if you're feeling vulnerable and not
very well, you might think that this promise of lovely
feelings sounds just the ticket. But the only feeling I have
is that the multi-million pound Prem Rawat Foundation and Elan
Vital know just what they're doing when they come, disguised
in beautiful photographs, to a hospital.
01 April 2005