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Prem Rawat's House of Maharaji Drek
You've been on the operating table just long enough to realize that the patient is you.
(Maharaji - Prem Rawat, date unknown)
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Note: This article was originally published by the Isle of Wight County Press on April 1, 2005. Even though it was published on April 1st it's no April Fool's joke. It's real.

I am taking the liberty of copying the article in it's entirety in the event that at some point in time the article is no longer available via the Isle of Wight County Press as is frequently the case. I believe that this is an important article about Maharaji (Prem Rawat) that needs to be available to the public.

I'd like to thank author Charlotte Hofton for a job well done.

Charlotte Hofton


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 in.

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 medicine.

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 illness".

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 health".

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 your breath.

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.
picture of artist Dorri Jones with one of her paintings at the Feeling4Life exhibition
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 investigating.

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, right.

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.

Her 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 a feeling."

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 organisation.

"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 now."

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 Moonies."

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

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