On the Golden Road: Part II
By Dan Hinckley
Last month, Dan traveled to Missoula, Montana and its next door neighbor St. Ignatius. After a brief stop to write and make plans in Denver, he headed out on the road again, this time up north to Canada.
Walking along Avenue Road from the ashram to the national offices, Gary Ockenden (DLM Canada's director) and I began to talk about the Canadian Mission, its premier scattered across 4500 miles, its communities, and his attempt to help tie them all together.
Gary was happy to talk, and he seemed to be crystallizing his thoughts as he spoke - and only now because he had to put them into words. DLM Canada, he said, "is in the midst of a real rebirth of practicing Knowledge …"
"Maybe I'm being surprised because I haven't been exposed to too many people for a while, but when I meet people in the communities, like say a husband and a wife with a few kids, and they share satsang with me about what they're experiencing in their lives, I've just been really impressed with the amount of, I guess we've been calling it understanding and maturity that people have. Knowledge is really integrated into their lives; it's an important part of their lives, and they're experiencing a lot with it. People are understanding the importance of Knowledge and how to practice it; I felt a lot of strength and clarity."
The Long Winter
But this rebirth took place only after what Gary calls the "Long Winter," a term I'm now familiar with - a time when almost a quarter of the residents left the Canadian ashram, and when DLM Canada experienced its first financial crisis in its otherwise affluent history. A time when, even two months ago, there would be meetings where "just the idea of having satsang wouldn't be accepted."
"Many activities stopped," Gary told me, "or crumbled or just fell into a lull. But to me, it was because they probably weren't needed. Most communities I've been to are almost at step one again. This is a generalization, because it varies from community to community, but in most places, a lot of things used to be happening that people, out of their own motivation, weren't really into. So all these things sort of stopped or collapsed. Now people are rebuilding, but on a really basic level, out of what their real needs are. Usually, that begins with the need to have inspiring satsang for themselves and for other people. Where that's happening, there's a really strong social bond; the premies are very close to each other. In a lot of communities, everyone knows each other intimately. I mean, there's a small number of people in the communities in Canada (usually between 10 and 50 people), but there's a strong social bond. A lot of growth happens just through the natural getting together that premier are doing in their families and with their friends. Community organizing isn't happening so much any more. Growth is just taking place really naturally."
The Simple Needs
This scaling down of activity and emphasis on the basics is happening at the National Headquarters in Toronto, as well as in each community and each premie's life. The Long Winter forced Gary and his friends to reassess their own situation: "It used to be that the level of activity in the Mission was determined not by the activity of the members, but by the funds available to the director. We used to sit and think, 'When are the premies going to understand and support us?' And all the while they were thinking, 'When is DLM going to come down to earth?'
"Then last winter, we started to recognize that we had never really looked at what was needed and built from that. Instead, what we did was based on how much money we had and how many people. My feeling was that we really have to look at what the communities actually need from us and what we're capable of doing.
"What we've discovered is that, basically, premies have pretty simple needs in relation to DLM. Say there's 50 people who have received Knowledge in a community. Well, what do they need to do as a group to really experience it; what do they need to do as a group to really be fulfilling their purpose individually and together? Basically, they need to meditate, which they can do without National Headquarters. And they need to have satsang together, which means they have to come together and have a place to do it. Service in most places just means people getting involved in helping to do that and in having satsang programs. Then the next step might be a community being able to expand, to be able to have things for people who are interested in receiving Knowledge so they can get involved in the community and be able to have initiators come and initiate those people.
"When you look at it that simply, just seeing what those people need to do to experience Knowledge, then you see that the communities can pretty much develop their own programs based on what's happening in the community and who's there to help develop them. The purpose of any larger organization seems to be just communication as to what Maharaj Ji's doing, what he's saying, guidelines or policies that might come from Guru Maharaj Ji through the organization, and festivals or some way of getting darshan.
"My feeling is that communities should look to a national office as a resource to help them do what they have to do, and a national office should look to International Headquarters the same way. But not that much needs to go down the channels except policies and guidelines that are necessary, and the coordination of tours, etc. Beyond that. most of what needs to be done can be initiated by the communities themselves."
As a result of this kind of discovery, the National Headquarters staff was recently cut in half from 24 full-time workers to twelve. And Gary has begun to spend more and more of his time where he feels he can be useful - out in the communities.
The reduction in the role of the head-quarters has fostered a corresponding development of responsibility within the communities: "The communities are autonomous in the sense that the finances are kept in the community, except fora portion which is sent to IHQ and NHQ. So they have autonomy because they determine what they're going to do with their money. People taking the responsibility to develop their community is something that we've just decided to do. It's developing really naturally. It's natural that the individuals in the community create their own community, and the degree that they're committed to doing something in that community and working together is what's going to determine what happens."
The Long Winter caused people in Canada to throw out a lot of trips (everyone agrees all of it had to go) and now premies are beginning to concentrate on what the process has left them rather than what it caused them to throw away. DLM in Canada is small, but that is turning out to be one of its major assets. Everybody knows just about everybody else, and that enables people to build communities based on trust rather than pre-defined organizational structures. As Gary put it, "We might even go less organized than we already are, but there are so many people who are really having a deep experience of Knowledge in every place that I've been that it just seems like, whatever form it takes, things can only go forward."
Next Month: A report on some of the communities Gary, and his sidekick Ken Le Tourneau, have been visiting.