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Prem Rawat: An examination of his philosophy and rhetorical technique.

Prem Rawat is presented by his supporting organisations as an “Internationally-Known speaker”; this article is an examination of Prem Rawat’s philosophy and the rhetoric that Rawat employs in promoting that philosophy. The questions and answers are from material published by The Prem Rawat Foundation and are reproduced here under a presumption of fair use.

Q            A person in your position will be described or defined by many people. How would you describe yourself?

Rawat   I’m me. 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’m proud to be a human being. I am very happy that I have this life. I’m happy being me. Some people would love to put labels on me, but I am just me.

Analysis:  Avoidance is a preferred Rawat technique. Here he combines avoidance of the question with displacement of the focus of the question on to others. Instead of attempting any description of who or what he sees himself as, Rawat gives the crass truism that he is a human being. He twice makes the claim that he is happy, he uses ‘me’ five times in a mere 61 words, while 50% of his reply comprises unsupported claims that other people have said things about him, have put labels on him and have made him the object of emotional transference.

Q            What solution or help or hope do you bring?

Rawat   That we are able to be content within is the most hopeful message there is. That we can find the one thing the heart has searched for, for so long, is a very hopeful message. This is the message I bring, and it brings people hope.  This is what is important for all of us: hope, self-fulfillment, being able to have contentment in one’s life. We don’t need to be in dire straits to need to feel hope. On a perfectly beautiful, sunny, clear day when everything is going just right, you can still use hope.

Analysis:  Here, Rawat uses the simple technique of mirroring the question back as an answer. Asked what solution, help or hope he brings, he makes the unsupported claim that he brings hope, and then proceeds to support this substanceless reply with a series of unqualified justifications.

Q             What is unique about your message?

Rawat    Some teachers say, “Let’s see what you can accomplish. How can we make you a success?” I focus much more on the person. Rather than show people what they could do, I say, “You have been given the gift of life. You have been given a treasure within you. Why don’t you address your own treasure? Why don’t you address your innermost feeling?”  What are your needs? Not the needs of society, but your needs? What is your aspiration? There is a fundamental aspiration true to every human being regardless of who they are, where they live, what they do, or what they think. Every being has an innate desire to be content. What I offer is a practical way to address that deepest desire common to us all. It is an individual process for personal success in enjoying life, independent of circumstances.

Analysis:  Once again using avoidance, Rawat says nothing about uniqueness, merely displacing that question with the implication that other unnamed teachers are inadequate. Rawat makes a wholly unsupported claim to “focus much more on the person”, something which is patently untrue given that the Rawat ‘teaching’ follows a ‘one size fits all’ formula. Rawat does reveal something of his moral reference in his own question What are your needs? Not the needs of society, but your needs? Although never given explicitly, Rawat’s underlying message is that happiness is achieved through a wholly selfish egocentric obsession with the inner self.

Q             What qualifies you to be this messenger, to deliver this?

Rawat    What qualifies me? The heart. The people who listen. They’re the ones. If I’m able to deliver, then I’m qualified to deliver.

Analysis:  Here Rawat justifies his qualification on the facile circularity that if someone listens to him then he (Rawat) is qualified to be listened to. When pressed to provide a substantive response, Rawat invariably falls back upon a kind of kitchen sink mysticism, in this case he conjures the instant iconography of ‘the heart’.  Although he uses the term frequently, Rawat never explains what he means by ‘the heart’, does he mean it as a person’s emotional centre, or is Rawat invoking an esoteric meaning ?

Q             What motivates you to do this? Why are you spreading this message?

Rawat    I have been given a gift. I have had this gift since I was very young. I used to speak before my father would come out to begin his talks. Other times, my father would ask me to get up and speak, and as he looked at me, he would become very, very happy. This gift has been there for a long time.

Analysis:  More kitchen sink mysticism. This time it’s ‘the gift’; as with ‘the heart’, Rawat never defines what ‘the gift’ is. Does he mean his claimed capacity for public speaking ? Or is it some special ability to meditate ? Is it his claimed ability to ‘inspire’ or is it simply the yoga derived meditation that he claims he uniquely is qualified to teach ?

Despite the obfuscation there is something that is actually being revealed in this answer, albeit unconsciously in the words “my father would ask me to get up and speak, and as he looked at me, he would become very, very happy.”  Whatever else may motivate Rawat, it seems that the need to recapture the approval he received as a child from his now long dead father provides the psychological underpinning that compels Rawat to continue to play the role of teacher.

Q            You are known as a leading voice for peace. What do you mean by “peace”?

Rawat   Peace is innate. It is within all of us. But before we can actually feel peace, we need to feel the thirst for peace. This is something we can do—open ourselves to feeling that thirst. Once that thirst is felt, it becomes simple, and it becomes easy to understand what peace is. Otherwise, my words are just like many words we have used for centuries about what peace is and should be. Peace can only be understood once you have understood the thirst that is already within inside of you.

Analysis:  Setting aside the inaccuracy established by the question, that Rawat is known as ‘a leading voice for peace’, at least in this reply Rawat gives a definitive response, although he does not answer the question. Rawat says, without any justification or explanation that ‘peace is innate, it is within all of us’; as an opinion Rawat is entitled to it – but as an answer to what he means when uses the word ‘peace’ it is simply more avoidance.

Rawat goes on to proffer further opinions about another of his fetishised key words, this time it is ‘thirst’, and here he tells the questioner that not only is peace ‘inside’ so also is ‘thirst’. The questioner now has nowhere meaningful to go, Rawat has created another circularity.

Q            Can you describe what you mean by thirst? It is one of those elusive concepts that may be difficult for some people to grasp.

Rawat   If you start to analyze it, it becomes elusive. But thirst is fundamental. Everyone has felt a thirst for water. When you feel the thirst for water, there is no research to be done. You want to find it and drink it. The beauty of this thirst is that the water people are looking for is inside of them.

Analysis:   Here the question seems little more than a rhetorical prompt, even then Rawat is unable to provide an unambiguous answer. What Rawat does reveal is his long established antipathy to using mental acuity, when he contends that by analyzing something, it becomes elusive.  As an opinion this approach how the human mind works may be valid, but without justification it is meaningless, especially so since it contradicts almost all human experience

Q            How do I know when I’ve found peace?

Rawat   It is like drinking that glass of water and quenching your thirst. First you need to feel that thirst from within. Slow down a little bit. Try to experience the call from within you. What is the cry of the heart? What is the request of the heart? What is within inside of you that has been knocking again and again and again? Listen to that knock.

Analysis:  In this answer Rawat is engaged in a circularity of references – the seeker of peace needs to feel thirst, the thirst is a cry, the cry is from the heart, it is a knocking, listen to that knock – that is peace ? 

Q            Does a person need to renounce this world to find peace within?

Rawat   There are people who actually say: “Go and live on some mountain, in some remote place where you’re not distracted.” I don’t think it works like that. Your commitment to listening to the inner voice can be done in the noisiest city in the world; it has nothing to do with what goes on outside. The two have nothing to do with each other. The focus that you need in your life within is not going to compromise the focus on the outside. The outside focus is very loud, clear, colorful. It will always distract you—it’ll be there. The inner focus is much more silent, much more quiet. It is much more simple. And the attention needs to be paid to the inner focus.

Analysis:  The questioner may wonder why Rawat did not simply answer "No".

Q             What gets in most people’s way?

Rawat    Themselves—preconceived ideas of how this should be. You are you. You are so different from everyone else in this world that you would be shocked if you really sat down and started to look at that. You are such an individual. That is hard to imagine because you want to be like somebody else: “I want to be like that person.” Your path, your smile, your understanding, your ideas, your way of looking at things are unique to you. It is the same for everyone, and yet, it is so unique and so different for each person.

Analysis:  Rawat starts by adopting a tone of didactic instructions “you would be shocked if you really sat down and started to look at that” ….. the implication being that Rawat has sat down and really looked at it, or that he somehow has magically acquired insight into human uniqueness.
Rawat often invokes flattery, in this answer he tells the questioner how unique they are, unfortunately he is unable to maintain this notion of uniqueness while continuing to promote his ‘one size fits all’ peace solution. Having laboured the point of uniqueness he has to finish his reply by saying it is the same for everyone – and yet it is different. Clarity is not his strong point.

Q            Can we count on people finding enough inner peace to create world peace?

Rawat    What other choice do we have? All the institutions in the world are not able to bring peace. Peace starts not with governments or countries—it starts with individuals. Peace has to come from within people. It has to be people who bring that peace. Peace is a wonderful, wonderful ideal to have. As human beings, with all our intelligence, with all our technology, with all our ambitions, this is one ambition we should have—and always have. It is realistic. It is as real as every person on the face of this earth crying out for it. Somewhere there is a voice—maybe that voice has been smothered—but that voice is saying, “Peace. Peace now.”

Analysis:  In political rhetoric it is axiomatic that a difficult question is always ‘answered’ with a question; Rawat too depends heavily on this device. In this response he even goes so far as to invoke a counsel of despair “what choice do we have ?” he asks.  Inevitably Rawat does not explore any possibility other than his patent method for peace and he certainly does not address the issues of just how many people being at ‘inner peace’ actually would be enough to ‘create world peace’ and exactly how would they create it ?

Q             Does finding peace within mean that problems go away?

Rawat   Finding peace means that you feel beauty inside of you, that you feel joy inside of you. It has nothing to do with problems. Problems will come; problems will go. Remember, you are more important than your problems. You are more important than the sum of all the things that are happening around you.

Analysis:  Back to avoidance. If in doubt redefine your terms rather than answer a question head on. Peace is not peace – it is in fact feeling beauty/joy inside you. According to Rawat problems are something that are outside, this apparently includes all problems that arise from affection for friends, partners, husbands, wives and children, all notions of parental, professional and social responsibility, as well as all concepts of moral, philosophical or religious duty. To emphasise this Rawat completes his answer with an affirmation of his belief in the utter importance of selfish interest.   

Q            Would you say, then, that self-discovery may be a luxury that a person can afford only after they have secured all of life’s basic necessities?

Rawat   That certainly would not be my observation. I have seen people from one end of the spectrum to the other. It doesn’t really matter what you are doing on the outside, you can always have inner peace—regardless of where you are on the ladder of success. I have seen people who are very poor, and I have seen people who are very rich; I have seen people who have retired and people who are just starting out. Each one of them has the potential to be fulfilled. You don’t have to wait till you have taken care of all those necessities because, in a way, you will never end up taking care of them. There will always be a new necessity, a different kind of necessity. So to feel inner contentment whenever you can is the best avenue to take.

Analysis:  More avoidance and redefinition. The question is about self-discovery, Rawat says nothing about discovery. He invokes both inner-peace and fulfilment and creates a notion that these are states that are somehow divorced from ‘necessity’ of the outside world, yet he in no way explains how the experiences of poverty, malnutrition, ill health, bereavement, abuse and oppression are mitigated.

Q            Most people lead very busy lives. Does finding this inner peace and beauty take a lot of time and a special environment?

Rawat   No, it takes neither a special environment nor a lot of time. What it takes is a lot of understanding and learning. And that’s very enjoyable. Anybody, regardless of how busy they are, can do that because having understanding does not mean you have to pause everything. It doesn’t require a special room. Understanding—that light bulb going on—can happen anywhere, whatever you are doing. This is really understanding about yourself, what you have been given. And feeling that beauty inside of you, feeling that joy, and feeling that peace inside of you. This is what it is all about.

Analysis:  Another example of Rawat’s lazy contradictions – “it does not take a lot of time….. it takes a lot of understanding and learning”. For most human beings there is very strong correlation between learning and time taken. In fact Rawat is being wholly duplicitous in this reply – his Keys DVD series which form the introduction to the Rawat Knowledge meditation techniques involves over 70 hours of compulsory viewing.

Q            Many people speak of inner peace and contentment as distant and somewhat vague possibilities. Is there something practical a person can do to achieve the inner success that you describe?

Rawat   What I offer is as practical as a glass of water to a thirsty person in the desert. I offer a way of connecting with the peace and contentment that is within each of us. It is like a bridge from the outside to the inside. It is not meant to fix anything; it is for those who, out of their free will, want to enjoy peace within inside of them. This is as practical as it can ever get. If a person wants that, I can help.

Analysis:  Back to thirst. Rawat claims what he offers is equivalent to a ‘glass of water’, yet his other answers indicate that what he offers also involves inducing thirst. Again there are contradictions – if the peace is inside, and the peace is the ‘glass of water’ why is Rawat offering it when it is not his to offer ? And if he is only offering a way of connecting to what is there, what is the fuss all about – anyone can meditate and  anyone can pass on the four yoga techniques that Rawat’s father codified as the separate programme of practice that he called Knowledge. 

Q            It is a very human impulse to combine the message with the messenger. With what you offer, what is the difference between the message and the messenger?

Rawat   My analogy has always been: someone points to the moon with their finger and says, “Look how beautiful the moon is.” Everyone looks at the finger and forgets about the moon. Follow the finger. Look where it’s pointing, and move on to the moon and appreciate its beauty. When the messenger tries to make himself more than the message, he’s no longer a messenger. A messenger is a beautiful thing, but the message is far more important than he or she is. It is the message that makes the messenger a messenger, not the messenger that makes the message.

Analysis:  An excellent example of one of Rawat’s favourite rhetorical techniques, presenting a wholly unfounded claim about human behaviour as a truism. Here we have “ someone points to the moon with their finger and says, Look how beautiful the moon is. Everyone looks at the finger and forgets about the moon”. Rawat’s assertion that human attention is drawn to the finger and not the moon is patently absurd.

Q            In your view, what makes a person’s life a success?

Rawat   Well, the first question is, what is success? We can be successful in business, in our professions, in sports; we can become whatever we want. In the eyes of the world we could be perfect. But which competition can we truly win? There is one ultimate competition in which we don’t compete with anyone but ourselves—the competition to succeed in making our life complete. In this competition we succeed when we have understood the value of this life and have found fulfillment. That is when we have real success, and that is a challenge. It is not just a matter of believing in fulfillment, but of experiencing it for ourselves. If you do not feel successful within yourself, then it doesn’t matter how successful you are on the outside. There is always going to be a distinction between the two. Once you draw the distinction between you and everything else, it’s very easy to see that outward success is not what really matters.

Analysis:  If in doubt answer a question with a question, and then answer neither, instead raise a highly dubious proposition that an individual can be in a competition with themselves to complete their life. Logic would suggest that such a course is self defeating.  

Q            Is it difficult to convince people that inner success is as important as success on the outside?

Rawat   It’s not really a question of convincing them. Once you accept that success begins with you, everything else becomes secondary. People have to experience this fundamental shift for themselves, and then, rich or poor, it’s very easy for them to start grasping that what they are really looking for lies within them.

Analysis:  Rawat returns to his doctrine of egomania.

Q            So you are speaking about inner achievement. Could you describe the distinction between inner and outer achievement?

Rawat   On the outside we are very much like a hat rack. We have so many roles: parent, employer, brother, sister, worker. First there is one hat and then another and another. All day long, the hats are coming and going, all different sizes and types. That is what we are on the outside. But on the inside, there is an unchanging self. The hat rack is always changing, but on the inside our thirst to be fulfilled, our inherent desire to find peace, our quest for satisfaction, has never changed. In our lives, we learn to be responsible, to take care of our problems, but problems come and go and then come back again, like a wheel that keeps turning. When we understand the nature of the self, then we can begin to understand how beautiful it all is. Life is not about all our problems. It’s not about guilt or fear, or right and wrong. It is about an incredible response to the innate desire to be happy.

Analysis:  This answer demonstrates the scale of Rawat’s doctrine of egomania, here parent, brother and sister are relegated to mere ‘external’ roles, there is no suggestion that any human interaction can have an inner significance, not even those interactions that are founded entirely on the closest of human relationships. The only reference is to the self and self’s undeniable right to be happy.

Q           Does that mean that outer success is not important?

Rawat   Not at all! We can always be more successful. Whatever we have achieved, we can do better. We are more important than our successes. And we are also more important than our failures. We are more important than everything that happens around us and everything that won’t happen; we are more important than the histories that will unfold, the wars that will be fought, and the peace that will be made. The sum of all of that is less than the existence of each human being. And we need to become aware of that.

Analysis:  Flattery on a grand scale. “We are more important than everything that happens around us and everything that won’t happen; we are more important than the histories that will unfold, the wars that will be fought, and the peace that will be made.

Q            What type of people are most receptive to your message?

Rawat   People who are truly free. Free in what they think. People who are encased in concepts and ideas about how everything should be and how everything works have a much more difficult time understanding what I’m talking about. People who have a fear of listening to other people will not be able to understand my message. But those who feel freedom and feel at ease with themselves are the ones who are able to come and listen to me.

Analysis:  More Flattery, matched with a note of seduction for likely converts and a dose of denigration for the naysayers.  Despite his own capacity for generating the most absurd of notions Rawat does not like other people having concepts – and as he says in this answer people who have ideas have difficulty understanding what he is talking about, although he apparently considers the reason for this to be that ideas get in the way, and not that thinking people find Rawat’s notions to be false.  

Q            What would you say is the first step for a person who says, “OK, I acknowledge there is something beautiful within. Where do I start on the journey of self-discovery?"

Rawat   Well, the first thing is that we have turned up the stereo on the outside so loud that we can’t even hear what is being said on the inside. One of the things that has to happen is to turn down a little bit of that stereo on the outside so we can start listening to what the quest of the heart is. The quest of the heart isn’t about many things. The quest of the heart is very singular. The quest of the heart is to be fulfilled—to be in that joy, to be in that peace. The heart really doesn’t care about all the other trappings. It cares about reality. It cares about sincerity. And it cares about an understanding that you have that gratitude. This is what the heart wants to feel—the thankfulness and the joy of that thankfulness. And so it really begins with turning down the outside volume so you can start to hear the other spectrum. Once you can do that, you can begin to appreciate the simpler, more fundamental things in life. And that is one of the most basic and most beautiful steps that anyone can take.

Analysis:  Back to ‘the heart’ iconography. Rawat happily throws in “It cares about reality”, without the slightest attempt to discuss what reality might be, despite the vast scope of the study of philosophy, physics, cosmology, and psychology, none of which apparently matter because they involve ‘concepts’. 

Q            If a person succeeds in the process you are talking about, what would he or she have to show for it in the end?

Rawat   They may not have anything to show on the outside, but they certainly are going to know about it themselves. Knowing that you are satisfied is something that you will know yourself. Maybe our attention really needs to turn from seeking approval of the world to seeking approval of ourselves as well. This is where peace becomes very, very important. To seek approval of ourselves, the request that comes from the heart has to be fulfilled, and that request is to be content, to be in peace, to be in joy. If that can happen, maybe you won't get a certificate, but you will get something much more valuable. What you will get is that inner smile, that inner joy, that inner twinkle that a person can have in their life.

Analysis:  Rawat contends that ‘world peace’ is dependent upon individuals finding ‘personal peace’. For this contention to have substance, the individual must change from less peaceful to more peaceful, and that must have some kind of outward expression if other humans are to recognise that ‘more peaceful’ state and respond to it accordingly. Yet Rawat says, actually there is nothing to show – it’s just about what individuals feel inside themselves. 

The philosophy that Prem Rawat propounds when promoting himself as a teacher is one of extreme egotism – it is a form of monism where the self is elevated to be the whole of everything, not simply a part of everything. What the Rawat meditation actually confers on a person is open to debate as Rawat avoids making any description of the experience and his ‘students’ are forbidden to discuss it, however close examination of Rawat’s own words demonstrates his consistent recommendation of a belief that places narcissism at the very heart of the achievement of peace for the individual. How such egocentrism could ever translate into peaceful communities, societies and nations is an imponderable that Rawat seems unable or unwilling to address.

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