DLM of the Future: Rethinking the Vision
- Guru Maharaj Ji, 25 January 1976
Can you feel it? There is a change in the air. And Divine Light Mission, after years of spiritual bureaucracy is finally owning up to its original destiny as a real tool all of us can use to share this experience of _____________ we are having.
Another cry of wolf? I quote you from Divine Times, volume 4, issue 7 (exactly a year ago):
"When Guru Maharaj Ji arrived in Denver last month, he made it clear that he had come with a definite purpose. He had come to see exactly how his mission was progressing, how it had been reorganized.
"The Mission directors first planned an intensive agenda and then took Maharaj Ji through a complete overview of the Mission and all its activities. They spent hours reviewing the organization; how it has evolved, and the changes it has gone through since Maharaj Ji met with the directors last. He would listen carefully, and then give a little satsang, saying things like: although the organization is working now, an organizational model is only good for a limited amount of time, and the Mission will grow beyond all our ideas for it."
That was a year ago. Then last month Guru Maharaj Ji arrived in Denver again, to review the organization of the Mission again. And we could write much the same account of his visit this year. Maharaj Ji came to Denver for a definite purpose. Maharaj Ji wanted to see exactly how the Mission was progressing; Maharaj Ji wanted to see how well Divine Light Mission was really set up to do its real work, to help us spread Knowledge. Deja vu.
Yet eyewitness observers say - despite all its apparent similarities - Guru Maharaj Ji's visit to Denver from August 18th-22nd this year was unlike any in the past. As a result of his meetings with the directors, Maharaj Ji made plans for some very concrete changes in the way Divine Light Mission is set up. He saw an explicit need for himself to become closer and more familiar to each one of us - but to do so he will have to clarity his relationship to the organization and to the people he seeks to inspire. The following article is an attempt to preview some of the fundamental changes Guru Maharaj Ji wants us to initiate for the future of our movement, Divine Light Mission.
Michael Dettmers, vice president of the Mission: "In looking at the Mission, and especially at the role of international Headquarters - and I think we have all been aware that this danger existed - we saw that the organization has become more complex than it needs to be, more bureaucratic than is consistent with our purpose."
Last December Guru Maharaj Ji wrote a letter and then later gave an impromptu address. The predominant theme of both was something Maharaj Ji called, "understanding." Understanding what Knowledge is for ourselves is something we should pursue as actively as any of the other disciplines of Knowledge. At that time, however, no one knew how deeply our attempts to come to our own understanding of Knowledge would change our basic attitudes about our lives, about Knowledge, and about Divine Light Mission and Guru Maharaj Ji.
Yet organizations have a bad habit of responding to change more slowly than do the people who involve themselves in the organization's activities. That's true for Divine Light Mission just like any other organization. Each of us, in our own ways and in our own turn, has become aware - and at times acutely aware - of the inconsistencies that have, and do, exist in the organization of Divine Light Mission. And in every community, in each country and around the world as a whole, these realizations about the nature of our experience have contributed to what last month became a critical phase in the development, and survival, of Divine Light Mission as a useable tool for the fulfillment of our common purpose.
So now Maharaj Ji is taking action to update the Mission, to keep it in tune with our understanding. In the series of meetings with the Mission directors, Maharaj Ji discussed three major areas of concern and offered his suggestions for changes that could occur in each. These are: 1) The organization of Divine Light Mission, 2) the ashram and its role, and 3) the process of initiation and the role each of us plays in it.
But before the meetings began, the directors expressed that they were having difficulty relating to Guru Maharaj Ji in a way they felt was necessary. Some felt that their relationship was tinged with some of their past conceptions of who Guru Maharaj Ji is, and that without getting to know Maharaj Ji, the person, better it would be difficult to relax and open up to him with what they were feeling about the current situation of the Mission. Maharaj Ji agreed and took time to meet with each of them personally before plunging into the larger meetings. Later, the meetings proceeded with an even more informal manner. The people involved began to feel at ease to speak their minds. To disagree. To challenge established ideas and to try to think of new possibilities. In the course of a day, Maharaj Ji would roll up his sleeves, loosen his tie. He would sometimes express surprise, sometimes delight, sometimes anger with the proceedings.
Maharaj Ji first defined his role in DLM. And the role he defined for the future puts Maharaj Ji's involvement in the Mission on a different level than we have seen in the past. Previously we have looked to Guru Maharaj Ji as our leader on every, level. Maharaj Ji was not only looked to for his insights into the process of realizing Knowledge, but also for his direction on many aspects of the day-to-day operation of Divine Light Mission, including many management hassles, questions about lifestyle, about careers, about marriage. Yet, meeting on these issues this time, Guru Maharaj Ji sought to make his role more clear: I do not intend to be a "chief executive" for the day-to-day activities of Divine Light Mission, he said; I want to work where I can really be of the most use, as a person who is always available to inspire people to pursue this path of Knowledge.
As Maharaj Ji says in his letter, (see page 1) he wants to open up more and more communication with every person. One of the major drawbacks of the present structure of the Mission is its proclivity for hampering the clarity and timeliness of Guru Maharaj Ji's communication. Although the intended purpose of DLM's channels is to facilitate that communication, many people have become aware of the way in which the system, as it has become over-organized, tends to institutionalize and make less human Guru Maharaj Ji's very human and very relatable message. Guru Maharaj Ji made it clear that he doesn't intend to be seen as someone who has to filter his inspiration and guidance through an organizational superstructure. Because somehow the sense of why we're here in the first place seems to get lost when it goes through such a system. Although channels are necessary for many of our needs - just as an organization is necessary for many practical needs - Maharaj Ji indicated that he wants to make his communication with every person as direct as possible, and whenever he sees a channel being ineffective or an impediment to that directness, he would cease using that channel. No thing, said Maharaj Ji is worth accomplishing if it is done at the expense of the personal growth of the people involved. Good point. And it is Maharaj Ji's major consideration in investigating any future plans …
Next on the agenda was the ashram. Maharaj Ji sees the ashram as something that - for many reasons - has strayed from the original purpose he intended for it, and he made several fundamental changes in its future design.
For a long time the ashram has taken on the perhaps unfortunate, but expedient role of a labor resource for the early development of the Mission. The earnings from people who have held jobs in the ashram have created a financial base that the organization could depend on. However, over time, this association has led to a misconception of the basic purpose of the ashram.
The purpose of the ashram is to provide a controlled environment for a person to grow more successfully in the practice of Knowledge. "Why is it even necessary to have an ashram?" Maharaj Ji asked rhetorically. He answered: to have a place where people come so they can become able to practice the disciplines of Knowledge at any time and in any circumstance.
Along these lines the ashram will no longer be a place for a person to spend his or her whole life. It will instead be a place where an individual will have to make a commitment for a minimum period of time (say six months to a year), but when the time comes that he no longer needs the support of the ashram as a controlled environment to do satsang, service and meditation, he will be asked - and if necessary even told - to move on.
The ashram in the future will be open to everyone, though there will be no "family" ashrams. To accomodate for this, we will look toward situations where a retreat facility can be set up so that someone who has a two-week or month vacation can come up and spend that time in an environment that increases the opportunities for the practice of satsang, service and meditation.
Maharaj Ji sees the ashram as a place where people can be monitored, and really be helped with the problems they are having in the practice of Knowledge. Coordinators of the program should be available to give Knowledge reviews, and if necessary individuals should have access to Maharaj Ji.
For the period of time a person enrolls him/ herself in the ashram, the simple practice of Knowledge will be the predominant activity. In line with this, people who are in the ashram will probably not be involved with the organization of the Mission, and living facilities will be separated by sexes.
However, because the future ashram will not be a thing a person will be involved in for his whole life, the so-called ashram code will be restated as a code of ethics rather than a set of rules. Leaving the ashram, a person won't continue to practice the lifestyle of the ashram, but hopefully a deeper aspect of the practice of Knowledge he learned
while living in this controlled environment. Services (e.g. housemother) would no longer be specialized but shared, to avoid people becoming dependent on having responsibilities "taken care of for them. The whole program would be designed to allow a person to develop the self-discipline needed to practice Knowledge consistently in his normal life.
Lastly, Maharaj Ji hopes we can dispense with the word "ashram" and think of a new name soon.
The Initiation Process
While Maharaj Ji gave specific instructions to simplify the structure of the organization, and suggested proposals for the future of the ashram to be developed over the coming months, the initiation process is a pandora's box that Maharaj Ji opened only long enough to demonstrate to everyone just how much attention the issue requires.
Somewhere along the line the red tape of the Mission has gotten so thick that it has even become difficult for a person to receive Knowledge. The issue is a complex one, and there are good reasons why less people have been initiated - there has been a growing concern, for example, that the way Knowledge is presented and the way Knowledge sessions are conducted continues to contradict our real experiences of Knowledge. Nevertheless, Maharaj Ji stressed how important he feels this activity to be in the work of the Mission. In going over the initiation process with the directors, and then later with the initiators who were in Denver at that time, Maharaj Ji said he considered the entire period - from the time a person first becomes interested in Knowledge up to the time he is initiated and then follows through in the consistent practice of Knowledge - as one continuous process. And no phase of that process can be neglected.
In the future, Maharaj Ji envisions every major community having its own initiator. Currently there are only a very few initiators who travel to different communities and countries. This creates a number of problems. An initiator living and working in one community would be able to work with each person from the time he first becomes interested in Knowledge and at every step in the process. In this way an initiator would be able to tell when a person really had the "right understanding" to receive Knowledge through his relationship with the person rather than by arbitrary guidelines such as the number of "satsangs" he has attended, or the "amount" of service he's done.
Maharaj Ji said that one major source of misunderstanding - especially when dealing with a large number of people - is the tendency for people to take one person's experience and set that as the standard of experience. It is a problem for premies and aspirants alike. Too often, we take an experience we are having and think that it must be true for everyone. Yet this is almost never the case. He pointed out that our experiences will always be different, and that instead of making invalid comparisons, we should encourage each other only to concentrate on the experiences we have that bring us personal growth. This is an important consideration as we design the future Divine Light Mission.
Where do we go from here? First, understand that there are only a few proposals for the future which are now completed, and although Maharaj Ji has outlined a number of changes he wants to see as a beginning, I am reminded of something Maharaj Ji told one director regarding a problem they were discussing: "That [problem] is only the bullet. I'm talking about the gun the bullet came from."
In the coming weeks and months, many more changes may begin to take place in the structure of the Mission, of IHQ, of the ashram and in the process of initiation. If Guru Maharaj Ji feels that the style of DLM is no longer compatible with his purpose, then we have to be ready to look very deeply at the basic needs we all have as individuals and as a collective of people, and be ready to change anything - and everything - that stands in the way of those needs.
See you next issue for more developments.
- Dan Hinckley