Bristol Evening Post (England), June 16, 2003
A Senior church leader in Bristol has issued a stark warning after a speaker on spiritual enlightenment packed the Colston Hall with two recruitment conferences at the weekend. Canon Peter Bailey, a close advisor to the Bishop of Bristol, said people should be free to make their own minds up about the controversial organisation Elan Vital and its leader Prem Rawat, once called Lord of the Universe by followers.
Despite the warning, Elan Vital denies it is a sect or religious movement.
Father Bailey warned that those who did not question the movement’s promises of ‘inner peace’ risked being deceived and ‘wasting years of their lives’.
About 1,000 people from across the country packed the Colston Hall in Bristol’s city centre on Saturday and Sunday to listen to Mr Rawat.
He was billed as a motivational speaker, but until just a few years ago was known as the Guru Maharaj Ji, head of the Divine Light Mission, a movement founded in India which attracted thousands of followers.
Elan Vital is a registered charity, set up to support the work of Mr Rawat. He has been accused of using the organisation to fund a lavish lifestyle.
In a carefully worded warning, Father Bailey urged people not to get involved with Elan Vital.
He said: “Of course the Church rejects entirely the claims of Divine Light Mission. But the Church can not tell people what to do. They must make up their own minds.
“But we would warn people to be careful to ensure that they are not being deceived. They must question what they are told, and ask ‘what evidence is there to support this?’ We believe the aim of such groups is to make money off their followers . ” Father Bailey, rector of St Andrew’s and Bishopston, said some religious organisations were notorious.
He said: “Typically such groups preach a lesson which is not too far from the truth, but they twist the meaning to suit their own ends. It is a type of financial manipultion. ” Tickets for the sell-out events at Colston Hall were priced £16 each.
Many people bought tickets for both days.
Protesting outside the talks was Karen Ringrose who became a Divine Light Mission follower when she met Mr Rawat at the Glastonbury Festival in 1971. He was just 13 at the time.
The 55-year-old said that although his present talks might seem innocuous, they were ‘world’s apart’ from the words spoken by the then Guru in the 1970s and 1980s.
In protest, Mrs Ringrose, from Pembrokeshire, handed out dozens of leaflets to people queuing for the event, but was forced to leave after 30 minutes.
“People were tearing up the leaflets and telling me to leave. They did not want to hear what I had to say, ” she said.
Elan Vital denies it is a religious movement.
A spokesman said: “We would like to counter the suggestion that this is a religious movement.
“Prem Rawat teaches no code, creed or dogma.
He merely teaches a practical path to inner happiness. ” The spokesman said Mr Rawat got no fee from his speaking engagements other than travel expenses.