The Heart of the Matter
June 06, 2023
The Name Game


I first heard about Prem Rawat in 1971. He was 13 then and known as "Maharaji." I was 24 and known as "Ditty." A long-haired, seeker of Truth, I was astounded by what this young boy from India had to say and how he said it, stunned by his clarity, wisdom, and ability to engage my attention in such a heart-opening way.

Now it is 52 years later. He is 65 and I am almost 76. I am still astounded by him.

In the early days, I used to refer to him as a "Guru" -- a Hindi word that translates as "the dispeller of darkness and the revealer of light."

I liked that word a lot. It had a nice ring to it and satisfied my need to think of myself as a deep soul on the spiritual path.

But soon I realized that word carried way too much baggage, conjuring up stereotypical images of the East: incense burning, saffron robes, and little red dots on the forehead.

My experience of Prem was none of these. But it didn't matter what I thought. The real deal was how my family, friends and neighbors related to the word and, if they didn't, the word "Guru" had to go. And so it did.

Realizing I needed a better way to refer to him, I moved on to "Master." I liked that word a lot, especially since I experienced Prem as someone with a whole lot of mastery. And besides, I reasoned, the concept of "Master" was known to many people.

Hey, there were Master carpenters, right? And Master musicians. And Master chefs. And Master mechanics, too. Using the word "Master" to describe someone with extraordinary abilities was not hype or a con job. It was both fitting and accurate.

Be that as it may, I noticed that the word sometimes made people uncomfortable. For example, they assumed I was referring to a person who thought he was superior to the average bloke -- someone who wielded mastery over others.

This was not my experience of Prem. No way. Not then. Not now.

But hey, if my choice of the word "Master" created doubt and fear in the minds of others, it was time to let it go -- or at least only use it in the company of people who were not triggered by it.

Which brought me to the word "Teacher" -- a descriptor, which, for most people, was far less polarizing than Guru or Master. Everyone, somewhere along the line, has had a teacher, no?

Then again, for some people, even my closest friends, the word "teacher" carries negative connotations -- old memories of boring Professors or cranky elders giving too much homework.

OK. No "Guru", no "Master", no "Teacher". Hmmm... anything else in the thesaurus?

Well, then, how about "Guide" -- a word that's about as non-threatening as they come -- simply a title for someone who helps you get to your destination. Is that such a bad thing? I don't think so. Unless, of course, it conjures up are images of slick tour guides quoting robotically from prepared scripts and extending their hand in your direction for a tip.

Bye-bye "Guide".

Which brings us, I guess, to the increasingly popular "Friend", or more specifically "The Friend", a phrase the Sufi poet, Rumi, often used to describe Shams of Tabriz, his ___________ (fill in the blank, folks).

Personally speaking, I've always resonated with the word "Friend", not just because I love Rumi's poetry, but because everyone knows how important it is to actually have a friend -- someone you can count on, someone who's there when you need them, someone you are so connected to that even if you don't see that person for 10 years it feels like no time has passed.

Then again, when most people think of "Friend", they usually assume it's someone you have lunch with regularly or text five times a day. Since none of these behaviors come close to describing my relationship with Prem, I guess I'll need to retire that word, as well.

For the past few years, it has become very fashionable to refer to Prem as a "Global Ambassador of Peace." This makes a lot sense to me, especially since his work is global, his message is about peace, and the position he takes is a very respected one. All true, except for the fact that many people associate the word "ambassador" with a political stance and Prem is, in no way, a political person. His message goes far beyond nations, ideologies, and governments.

Most recently, I am hearing the word "educator" or "peace educator" being used to describe Prem.

Hmm... very intriguing.

An educator, as I understand it, is a person who facilitates the process of learning, making it easier for people to acquire knowledge, skills, values, and develop their full potential. And its etymological roots are quite compelling, going all the way back to the 16th century Latin word "educare", meaning "to bring out or lead forth" -- which, for me, describes a huge aspect of Prem Rawat's value -- his ability to bring out, in people, their innate thirst to learn, grow, and experience the best of life.

Could it be, that after 52 years of looking for the perfect noun for Prem I have found it?

For some people, the answer is YES. But for others, the word "educator" is just too mental -- conjuring up an overly intellectual person in a book-lined office thinking about "pedagogy" or government grants. And while, it is true that Prem does have an approach to his work -- his approach is not "pedagogical", not lockstep, formalized, pre-cut and dried. No, his approach is way more organic than that. More emergent, spontaneous, and in-the-moment.

So there you have it. Seven imperfect nouns -- Guru, Master, Teacher, Guide, Friend, Global Ambassador of Peace and Peace Educator -- none of which really describe Prem Rawat.

When it comes right down to it, perhaps Shakespeare said it best: "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

In the end, the words used to describe Prem Rawat are secondary -- descriptors -- but not that which is being described. The menu, not the meal.

What's more important than the words is the impact he is having -- the way that he and the tools of Self-Knowledge he teaches are helping millions of people around the world live fuller, more peaceful and fulfilled lives.

Water? It doesn't matter what you call it. When you're thirsty, you drink.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at June 6, 2023 07:21 AM

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