Is Knowledge Portable?
Premie communities are changing, in consciousness and in appearance. In this article Dan Hinckley writes about our communities: their history and growth.
When things don't go so well for a premie, we tend to look in the mirror, to try to find the problem in ourselves and solve it there, through meditation. We hardly ever look at our environment to see what effect it is having on our spiritual growth.
IS Knowledge a portable experience? Can it be taken, practiced and integrated into a person's life, no matter where they are, regardless of how many premies there are around them, trying to achieve the same goals?
When Guru Maharaj Ji spoke to the North American community directors after Hans Jayanti, last November, he spent a good block of time explaining his understanding of community to them. Community, he said, is a friendship among premies dedicated to Guru Maharaj Ji; community, he said, is something few people know the meaning of …
Community. Since the time Maharaj Ji first came to the West, and even before, he has repeatedly expressed his desire to see that people not only become initiated into Knowledge, but also have the opportunity to practice it, to take their experience and try to incorporate it into their lives.
But if we take an honest look at the way we have approached the experience of Knowledge in the past, we can see that we spent most of our time propagating Knowledge sessions, and we spent very little energy attempting to build an environment that would help a person practice that experience in his life. The inevitable result has been that the numbers of people who have been initiated, but have since stopped practicing Knowledge, have been very large - some three out of every five in this country alone.
Let's go back a ways
Let's go back a ways: back to 1971 or 1972. In Boston, New York, Los Angeles, in cities all over the United States and around the world, hundreds of people were receiving Knowledge every week; thousands were being initiated every month. People off the streets, people out of the woods, people who had bumped into week-old premies, and people "coincidentally" happening by a freshly wheat-pasted poster bearing Guru Maharaj Ji's picture. The posters read: "Give Me Your Love and I Will Give You Peace." They read: "In this Age of Darkness I Have Come to Reveal the Light." And people came in droves to find out what Maharaj Ji was all about. Then, as people left, just hours old from a mind-blowing experience, they took an armful of posters with them and went to their city to "propagate."
As a means of getting a brush fire started, this phenomenon was successful, but as more and more people came, there was less chance for any one individual to get some clarity about how to continue practicing Knowledge once he had been initiated. There were only a handful of people who had practiced Knowledge for any length of time at all, only a handful who had a taste of what was really involved. "I received Knowledge in Cambridge," Mimsy Kessler, an early Boston premie, recalled. "I walked into a room where people had been listening to satsang for hours, cramped and aching from sitting cross legged on the floor. I hadn't been there ten minutes when the mahatma (initiator) asked: 'So who wants this experience?' I raised my hand and was sent to the church across the street to await my turn. That's all there was to it." People would come to the Concord ashram on the outskirts of Boston from miles around in those days just to try to piece together their experience after receiving Knowledge. Hundreds more, thousands more, didn't make it to Concord, New York or L.A. They were "given Knowledge" and left to sort out the experience for themselves. Most didn't make the transition.
It was only in late 1972 and 1973 that the premies working in the embryonic Divine Light Mission first began to get a handle on our spreading movement: the pace had been too fast and hectic; we had to start getting ourselves together in a little more responsible way. In many cities, premies had already banded together, forming ashrams; and Maharaj Ji had held his first "General Secretaries Conference" in July 1972, to give these premies some personal direction. However, the bulk of the premies were still separated from each other, having to devise their own means for fulfilling Guru Maharaj Ji's agya of satsang and service. Then, in September 1973, Guru Maharaj Ji wrote a letter to all premies in the United States, saying that, if they wanted to tell people about Knowledge or Guru Maharaj Ji, or act in the name of Divine Light Mission, they should get in contact with the National Headquarters which had been started in Denver, Colorado.
Enter: the centers
This was the beginning of what for the last three years has been called the centers program of Divine Light Mission. No matter where you lived, no matter how many - or how few - premies you had together to help out, if you had a desire to serve Maharaj Ji by trying to tell people about Knowledge, you could be a center for Divine Light Mission. All you had to do was call Denver and they would try to work with you, to help to guide you, and most importantly, to keep you in touch with Guru Maharaj Ji. It was the first major step in bringing our family together.
But at the time, the omniscient "they" - ever on the phones to give any premie center advice and direction on every matter - consisted of one premie who literally talked on the telephone for hours a week straight. She had other premies backing her, of course, but the myth of omniscience was severely defused for the person who saw the operation in its reality.
During the months ahead, the Mission began to solidify and communities began to grow around the hub that the ashram formed in several cities. The centers program continued as an attempt to link Maharaj Ji's organization with the premies who had fanned across the country, but the program had problems. The premies who had stepped forward did have the desire to share their experience, but they often had very little knowledge of how to go about it. The centers department (she finally got some help), their heads wired to WATS lines, couldn't put in nearly the amount of energy the centers seemed to need for their development. There were problems with leases, problems with the local authorities allowing posters on their city's property, and there was one problem which overrode all these - a problem Denver had no real answer for.
The centers were almost always very small, and almost always slightly less than stable. At one point, there were over 280 centers throughout the U.S., but the drop out rate was running as high as two a week. Even since Amherst Guru Puja, as stable as the program has attempted to become, over sixty centers have closed; and twenty more have closed and reopened again.
The problem seems to be one of portability, of where and how the Knowledge can work best, and this leads us right back to our theme. In Orlando, when Maharaj Ji talked about this situation, he said: "… A couple of years ago, we did not exactly realize the importance of community. Premies would receive Knowledge and then there would be one premie in Maine, one premie in Orlando, one premie in California, and one premie in Texas. But they could never really come together."
But what does it mean to really come together? Its meaning obviously hits on more than one level. At least two of those levels apply to the centers: one is a question of physical location, but the other hits deeper. "During the months I was traveling around, I saw a lot of premies making the effort to practice Knowledge and achieve community, no matter how small their center was, but there was something - something that had nothing to do with their sincerity - that held these small groups of willing premies back," said Carl Hebler, a onetime field rep, who spent from July till November '75 visiting centers throughout the South. "The smallness of their community and their relative isolation was enough to keep them from really experiencing the level of unity and enthusiasm happening in the larger premie communities."
The reason was actually easy to see: in the centers where there were only a marginal number of premies living together, the community couldn't sustain its own momentum. Premies, soon used to hearing each other's satsang every night, stopped hearing those words as a fresh and inspiring experience; the premies' relationships had a tendency to become ingrown and they had a difficult time realizing that they were a part of something bigger than the experiences they had had and were able to share.
And coming together in larger communities turns out to be important not only for each premie's need to experience Knowledge, but also for a group of premies trying to share that experience with other people. Lacking an on-going community, the centers also lacked the means to really help people follow through with their experience once they were initiated. When the person needed a dynamic, alive and supportive environment the most - in those first few weeks and months of trying to practice Knowledge most centers' communities, because of their predicament, could not provide it.
Something had to change
By the time Hans Jayanti rolled around, with the field reps' experiences, with the centers' conference that happened at the festival and with Maharaj Ji's satsang at the community conference that followed, it was fast becoming clear that something had to change. For four weeks after the festival, the premies at IHQ who are responsible for the centers program met together to brainstorm the issues. Over and over again, the program itself, the community, the need for premies to come together and have a deep, valid experience of Knowledge - everything - underwent the scrutiny of the group.
However, only half the group was there. Even with the experiences of two years' WATS conversations, their own insights as premies, and the field reps' experiences, the premies at IHQ became increasingly aware that any decision about the future of the centers
program or the role of communities couldn't be made without the active participation of the centers themselves.
So, last month, in four locations around the country, representatives from all the premie centers in North America met in regional conferences. Though the business of the different conferences varied some, the theme remained the same for every group of premies who got together: After we have been initiated into the techniques of meditation, what do we need to be able to practice the disciplines of Knowledge? What is a community, and what is its value in a person's life:
We need each other
What it came down to at these conferences is the reality that we need each other along this path. There are always situations where this is impossible - there are premies who are isolated, or have obligations holding them in one place, premies in prison or in countries where the Mission is either just beginning or is kept from growing further, and they are doing fine - but the sum total of our experiences with the communities and with the premies who aren't in stable communities adds up to this fact: that the more people who've been initiated band together to help each other stick with it and actually practice Knowledge - to get together for satsang, to actually do some service together and to inspire each other to do meditation - the more the process of growing is a joy rather than a burden.