September, 1973: in a windowless room in Rome, a handful of premies lived with a mouse who disturbed their sleep. Then the mouse died of cold "because he didn't have a sleeping bag." These were the small beginnings of the Italian DLM, which later expanded to Turino, Venice, Milano, and Bologna, and to an overall membership of 1150 with the present active force of 250 people.
Valerio, an Italian premie, told another lighthearted anecdote about finding the hall for Maharaj Ji's program. A place had been booked at Lake Stresa for July, but when the program date was shifted to May, the venue fell through. The search began anew. The choices narrowed to Milano and to a "very modern, very big, very ugly" hotel called the Michelangelo. This was to be the scene of the event, but at the last moment Riva del Garda came to mind. They phoned the director of the congress hall, who said, "Why not? Come tomorrow and I will serve you lunch."
The way to Riva del Garda was an adventure, a road twisting in and out of tunnels. It took two and a half hours to make the journey, and at one point the hall-finding team, gripped by car sickness, wanted to turn back but travelled on if only to utilize their invitation to lunch, "being ashram premies and not always getting the chance to eat well."
The congress hall looked very beautiful. The team, as if in reward for its tribulation, was brought to a beautiful hotel "and ate one of the most magnificent lunches we'd had in the last three years. That convinced us." The congress hall director also informed them that travel to Riva del Garda by train was smooth, and that the hall provided four-channel simultaneous translation and five other small halls that were used for meetings and coordination offices.
Sunday afternoon, 16 May: everyone arrived and checked into a total of fifteen hotels. In the evening, all the premies gathered in the hall for a welcoming address and watched the film "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Monday began with a general presentation of the state of the Italian Mission, followed by questions and answers. The afternoon moved into an international overview of DLM by Michael Dettmers, followed again by question time. That evening - music, theatre, and inspiring satsang by Arthur Brigham.
Community was the topic of Tuesday morning, as Bruno Martino, DLM director in Italy, interviewed Jos Lammers on the subject. The afternoon was left open. Some watched films such as "Dreaming We're Awake," and special interest groups came together - the Yugoslav, Israeli, and Greek premies, ashram premies, directors, neighborhood representatives, and so on.
The big program that night began with satsang from Bob Mishler to the audience of seven to nine hundred Italians, two hundred Yugoslays, sixty-two Greeks, seventy-five Israelis, and one Russian - a "quite international" gathering. After Bob, Durga Ji spoke for ten minutes and then Guru Maharaj Ji gave "very powerful satsang" for fifty minutes, followed by darshan.
Bruno Martino felt that Maharaj Ji's satsang advised the premies to take Knowledge more seriously and be more careful and concentrated on the purpose of our life. He noted that this message was reinforced after the program by Arthur Brigham's presence in Italy: he travelled around giving Knowledge reviews in all the major communities, emphasizing that Knowledge should not be taken as a joke. Bruno continued his observations:
"It was a very beautiful sentence in Maharaj Ji's satsang where he said that before having realized Knowledge, we shouldn't try to find any other objective, and that the first goal is to realize Knowledge and everything else must come after. This was a reply to what was happening in the community before the program, where a lot of discussion was taking place on how to get together, how to become friends. And eventually this dispersed concentration. Although many premies had said that 'meditation comes first,' they said after Maharaj Ji's program that it had only been an intellectual expression. Between saying it and practicing, there's a lot of room."
And what did he think about all the premies gathering together?
"Many premies felt that gathering together for the program was something concrete and real. Eighty to one hundred premies got into service in an atmosphere of cooperation. Many premies found that in doing something without intellectual discussion, all the usual problems appear in a different perspective. They are still there, but they seem to be much easier to solve. This was feedback from many of the premies working there. They said, 'Yes, we can get together if we are really
practical and really individual in our desire to realize Knowledge."'
Three other premies who were interviewed for "And It Is Divine" were Giorgio Manzaris, a satsang monitor in Bologna, Giordano Grenzi, and Marco Indiati, the community director of the sixty-strong center of Bologna in north Italy.
What was the general feeling after the program?
Giordano: "I saw people calm, happy and thoughtful. Maharaj Ji's satsang acted as a mirror. We looked at ourselves in this mirror and Maharaj Ji showed us where we had gone. The impact of this satsang was much higher than we had expected."
Marco: "Maharaj Ji's satsang was like 'don't take this life like a joke,' and this was what premies needed to be told."
Giorgio: "Premies were more awake. They understood that Maharaj Ji's satsang had not been smiling and mellow but very direct and precise, to make us take this path more seriously.
How did you feel about all the premies gathering together?
Giordano: "It was very important for me to see the other premies, just to see who we are, what we look like, what we think about our life and the path we are following, and so on. I hope we will have the same opportunity every year."
Marco: "Italian premies are famous for not being friends. I hope that this program started a new stage in the Mission. Premies have seen that in gathering together it is possible to do something beautiful, useful, and effective at every level. The important thing is to understand the use of working together."
What has been the result of Maharaj Ji's visit?
Giordano: "We needed to stop for a while, to stay together, to talk together, and most of all we needed satsang. And frankly, I have to admit that our ideas about the community, about the understanding of this Knowledge were not completely right. I think we are now more tuned in on what Guru Maharaj Ji wants from us."
Marco: "Premies are realizing the need to overcome the lack of concentration, to put their life in such a way that it will be easier and faster to grow."