A spiritual guru, who has been accused of being a cult leader, spoke to an eager audience at UC Berkeley last night, stressing the need to find personal fulfillment in life.
Prem Rawat, greeted with a standing ovation and loud cheers at Zellerbach Hall, was accused of banning former followers from the event.
During the speech, he avoided talk of religion and instead encouraged audience members to appreciate the simple things in life.
"I'm not here to tell you to walk three miles backward and you'll be fine," Rawat said. "I'm not even telling you to lower your cholesterol. But recognize what you have been given."
Rawat has been preaching his ideas internationally since he was 13 and has a steady following in the Bay Area.
"Prem Rawat's inspiration and guidance is what gets me through school," said UC Berkeley sophomore Shivani Naresh, who practices his techniques. "I used to think I'd never be truly content until I graduated college and fulfilled all my goals."
More than 30 years ago, a group sprouted up to spread Rawat's message. They called him Guru Maharaj Ji, "Lord of the Universe" and "Perfect Master."
Throughout the event, Rawat told audience members his message was not a religion but a supplement to daily living.
"I'm here to hopefully put you in touch with a thirst you have in your life," Rawat said. "A thirst for fulfillment, for beauty. A thirst that you have always had."
Many of his followers were upset by allegations that Rawat is a cult leader.
"I don't see any connection between Mr. Rawat and a cult," said Linda Gross, a long-time follower and spokesperson for the organization devoted to Rawat. "He doesn't tell you how to live."
Throughout the event Rawat emphasized the importance of recognizing one's innate desire to be happy.
"This treasure called life is not an unlimited resource," Rawat said. "It is a limited resource. What has to be done has to be done now."
The majority of the audience was extremely enthusiastic. Some traveled from Los Angeles to hear Rawat's speech.
"His message was really down-to-earth, something not hard to follow," said UC Berkeley junior Bhavik Khatri, who heard Rawat for the first time last night. "Doing simple things, you can change your life for the better."
When Rawat finished speaking some audience members begged him to continue, but he left the stage immediately.
The event was sponsored by Elan Vital, Inc., which replaced Divine Light Mission in the 1990s.