The Ashram Examined
A collective is more than a bunch of individuals living together. It is an opportunity to experience an intense form of day-to-day growth together. In the ashram, the additional factor of Guru Maharaj Ji's direct instructions about how to live provides a definite framework in which that kind of sharing takes place. Yet here, as with any group living situation, the collective experience must be periodically re-examined to insure that, in fact, all the individuals are actually growing in their understanding of life and in their commitment to their common goals.
In recognition of this recurring process, a series of dialogues was held among the IHQ ashram staff members in the beginning of April. These discussions stemmed from a need to examine and reevaluate the staff's commitment to ashram life and to Guru Maharaj Ji. Bob Mishler moderated, reviewing the ashram code and putting the whole situation into the general context of the history of DLM (often in his famous 'National Lampoon' style). The time was divided between Bob's presentation, questions and answers, roving microphones, and small group discussions.
Some of the issues raised:
- What is the purpose and function of the ashram? Is it a phase you enter at one stage of life and leave at another, or is it a life time commitment to a certain lifestyle? Is the ashram structure static and dictated, or should it evolve and how?
- What is Guru Maharaj Ji's relation to the ashram?
- What is the relation of the individual to the ashram? What role does surrender play versus personal initiative and discrimination? How should decisions be made regarding an individual's life and circumstances?
- Should we develop structures other than the ashram which allow for equal availability for service and communication with Maharaj Ji?
- How can the ashram fully develop and use the whole human potential of its members?
The discussions were not meant to produce clear-cut answers, but rather to help each person examine his or her own life in a way that would deepen the commitment to living life consciously. A lot of emphasis was placed on fostering an environment conducive to personal growth, and although some change in the ashram situation may occur, it will probably be minor and will occur over time at the discretion of Maharaj Ji. During one evening's session, the emphasis was on trust in the direction that Maharaj Ji gives and in the fact that he is actively guiding the Mission (and the ashram) in such a way as to make everyone's growth possible.
This kind of trust was reemphasized shortly after Maharaj Ji's visit to Denver in a satsang given by Joe Anctil, press secretary for Divine Light Mission. Joe had been planning to leave the ashram, but Maharaj Ji wanted to speak to him first. Maharaj Ji asked Joe if he trusted him, and Joe responded by saying that Maharaj Ji seemed to have a straight arrow to his heart. "I know," Maharaj Ji answered. After talking to Maharaj Ji for a long time, Joe promised him that he would try the ashram life again. Maharaj Ji remarked, "This time, really get into it."
Joe went on to explain that the IHQ staff needs to help each other get into it. He pointed out that Maharaj Ji said that no one had to live in the ashram, they could leave any time, but if they stayed, they should have an understanding of their commitment to Guru Maharaj Ji and their responsibility to inspire each other. We need to take care of each other's needs, Joe said, and if we can't take that basic care, then we can never learn to serve anyone. Maharaj Ji told Joe that when you come to the point of death, you have to review your life and see what you have done, who you have served, and what you have achieved. Then Joe rounded off his satsang with a call for "a lot more patience and a lot less nitpicking," a recognition of our stumbling and falling as a learning process and a desire to look at our lives and make them real.
What's happening at IHQ? The general atmosphere of self-assessment has placed many outgoing projects on hold while we attempt to realistically evaluate what we're doing, why and how. It is becoming clear that in some areas, too much has been attempted too soon. What, after all, is the best use of the time, personnel, and money that IHQ has as its resources? While the NAO tour team gets feedback on that question from communities around North America (see page 1), we will be examining it in depth ourselves. Meanwhile, much of the ongoing work continues:
- Guru Maharaj Ji's European tour is being coordinated by International Operations.
- A much reduced staff at North American Operations holds down the fort during the NAO tour and coordinates plans for Maharaj Ji's summer tour in the U.S.
- The Research and Development group (recently trimmed by a whopping two-thirds in number) continues publication of "And It Is Divine" and "Divine Times" and is developing an International Press Service to serve Mission publications worldwide.
- And the Personnel group is looking into the feasibility of further reductions in the number of premies working full time at IHQ, the possibilities of housing the IHQ staff in one complex in Denver, and the development of training programs to help the staff members perform their various services.
In general, the focus here is one of pulling back from the years of hectic activity and taking the time to evaluate what we really can do to best serve Maharaj Ji and how we can do that with maximum efficiency and maximum love.