No. 31, July 1976
As was pointed out in the "focus on Melbourne" article earlier in this edition of the Age, the place where you live while you practise Knowledge isn't of fundamental importance. But if can be a means to an end. This month, three Golden Age correspondents -Liz Gilbert in Adelaide, Bruce Parmenter in Brisbane and Rena Millikin in Sydney -take a look at some of the different situations in their communities where premies are living together.
Pre-ashram: the first three months
The past three months have seen the advent of the pre-ashram in our community. Prior to this anybody who wanted to move into the ashram did so directly, without really having a foretaste of what they were getting into.
It appears that a need came about for something prior to the ashram because many people moved in without really consciously making the decision to do so. As Andrew Avramides, a pre-ashram resident who lived in the ashram for a short time over a year ago, says: "The first time I moved into the ashram I knew very little about what living there entailed. My understanding wasn't deep enough and I couldn't cope: it presented too much of an extreme compared to my head. It was sort of like a spiritual fling - the decision didn't really come from where I was at in satsang, service and meditation, but more from an idea that that was where I wanted to live."
As a result of this lack of understanding, many premies moved into the ashram believing that it would do something for them, but it never did what they expected: "An ashram in itself can't do anything for a person,"
Sydney Community Director Paul Mayberry explains. "It's only the individual desire to experience and dedicate to Maharaj Ji that can really get someone moving. The ashram creates a circumstance where you're doing it with others -but the individual is the one who must practise Knowledge alone. In times past, the awareness of the people moving into the ashram often wasn't at that point where they could handle such a disciplined lifestyle and they would have to leave, often with a sour taste in the mouth."
So the pre-ashram came about in order to help people to understand what is involved in joining the ashram. Now, someone can move into the pre-ashram, try it, see if he likes it, and - on the basis of an understanding of the standard of awareness and dedication called for - make a decision for himself.
That step into the ashram is a big one, and one that carries responsibility with it. "In the past, the ashram was a shelter from the world," Paul says. "But Maharaj Ji won't let it remain that way: it's a shelter to get yourself strong, to be able to serve. Maharaj Ji can take the ashram away and if I can't maintain my experience of Knowledge and increase it, then the ashram will have done me no good - you can't depend on a house or rules, it's got to be your own determination."
At present the pre-ashram is located at Northbridge, on the north side of Sydney Harbour. Nine people, six of whom work full-time for the Mission, have been living there. Two of them, Bob Wright and Martin Kellock, have already moved into Mosman ashram.
Why did they decide to join the pre-ashram?
"I had the desire to experience Knowledge ever since I received it," housefather Andrew explains, "But I was always spacing off into other trips. I wasn't as single-minded as I wanted to be, so I would slip and it would be very painful because I knew I didn't want to do that, but I was weak and so I did."
Jenny Halliday, another of the original residents and secretary at the Sydney DUO offices, also came to a point where she recognised her need for assistance. "I knew that in the household where I was living we weren't practising to the best of our ability, because we weren't understanding, and actually we were
The Golden Age
hindering each other by that lack of understanding. I wanted to move into a place where everyone was as dedicated as they could be, somewhere where there was a common understanding in practising Knowledge."
From the interviews I carried out it seems that no-one regrets their move into the pre-ashram.
Andrew says: "When I finished university I wanted to do more for Maharaj Ji, Ira inspired me. Nothing was in the way - it was the opportunity for me and since being there I see that the more I put into it, the more I experience. My whole understanding of Knowledge has grown deeper and Knowledge has become more valuable to me: the more you experience it, the more precious it becomes to you and the more necessary it becomes to practise it, to become one with it. I feel I've really opened up."
And as Bob Wright told me, "Moving into the pre-ashram helped me understand Knowledge was forever and I realised I had to get stuck into it. I realised I had to practise Knowledge for me and Maharaj Ji - there's only the two of us."
In speaking with the premies it is obvious that one thing they have all come up against while living in the pre-ashram is their own limitations and the barriers which have been preventing them from surrendering to Knowledge. "It provides an intense situation where you have to confront your concepts and limitations," Andrew says. "Anywhere else I had the choice of whether to do service, satsang and meditation, but there I have no choice, no room to do what I like, so consequently I've been through many changes. Sometimes I went through so much, and all I had was meditation and Maharaj Ji. So I really dived into meditation … In times like that it is really beautiful having others around you who are also aspiring to dedicate their lives to Maharaj Ji, always sharing satsang, helping each other."
The pre-ashram has become a very beautiful and integral part of our Sydney community. It's occupants are continually seen taking part in many different services and trying ever increasingly to serve Maharaj Ji in any way they can. Even if at times they doubt their own capabilities, they're finding that Maharaj Ji has given them strength to serve him more and more. As Paul says, "The pre-ashram is a beautiful thing, it's so inspiring, even to go there for dinner. The people there are really moving. But you can see that it's not the pre-ashram that's making them move, it's their own determination that's making them move. Because it seems that first of all a person needs the desire to practise Knowledge, he needs the determination to do it, and then automatically the understanding and experience will come. It's not a function of where you live, it's just that in the pre-ashram they're single-minded, focused in that direction.
"To move into the ashram is a big step to make. It's your life but then, Knowledge is your life. Knowledge is the life of anyone who has sincerity, it doesn't matter where they live."
Editor's note :-
Since this article was written most Sydney ashram residents have moved house. The national staff now live together in three houses on the north shore, the regional premies share four houses. During the move, the pre-ashram house has ceased to exist. It's residents are continuing their apprenticeship in the different ashrams around Sydney.
The family at home
As you walk along tree-lined Abbott Street in the inner Brisbane suburb of New Farm, you're likely to notice a colonial style house framed in the brilliant reds and yellows of poinsettia flowers.
If you're early enough, you'll find the family sitting on the verandah, eating breakfast and soaking up the energy of the morning sun, as people have done here since before grandpa was a kid.
After the frantic tail-wagging and face-licking encounter with the "children", Blossom and Scruff, and the cool checkout from Fatima, you'll meet the more human members of the family. There's Hilda, Brisbane's only premie grandmother, Max, Robyn (my wife), and me.
Robyn and I received Knowledge two years ago in New Zealand, and having lived in an assortment of premie houses with from 5 to 14 occupants, we've survived some pretty freaky situations. I really feel though that it's the difficult situations which make us strong within ourselves, and less susceptible to external fluctuations.
Hilda has lived with premies since receiving Knowledge two and a half years ago. Here's what she has to say about it:
"The first 18 months were hard. I had been used to living an independent life and had brought up three children on my own resources. In those days, you weren't supposed to have any possessions and everything was very Bhole Shri!. Having had to work hard for everything I had, seeing it all wrecked by careless people upset me. Possessions have lost their importance to me now though. I've learned to laugh at my own and other premies' idiosyncrasies. Knowledge makes the age gap disappear, and now I shouldn't like to live any other way."
We've lived with Hilda for over a year, and although age and health are not on her side, the time and effort she puts into Knowledge really amazes me. Hilda uses her natural clairvoyancy to help keep body and soul together. How? By reading palms, cards and tea-cups at tearooms in the city. "Sometimes I like it, sometimes I hate it," says Hilda. "I just try to help people."
Max has been living with us for five weeks now, bringing with him Fatima the cat, walking cane and a new-found
No. 31. July 1976
determination to put everything into practising Knowledge - something which is of value to any premie household. He's convalescing from a hip replacement operation, and spends his time working around the house and garden some days. Other days you'll find him in at the office helping treasurer Simon.
Robyn has been doing office work for a long time now, and though she enjoys it, the strain of being five months pregnant and working at the same time means that she'll be finishing work next week, giving her time to get physically and mentally prepared for having a child.
I spend part of every week at Brisbane's mind factory, the University of Queensland, where I'm attempting to obtain a Dip. Ed. Please don't ask me why. Actually, when I can forget about whether or not education is a social evil, I find that studying is very centering and really helps me be in meditation.
The contact with people of widely diverse backgrounds does a lot to keep us from developing crazy concepts about Knowledge and the world. With Hilda at the tearooms, Robyn at work, Max with "responsible" premies and me at uni, a good balance of daily conditioning is obtained, shared, consolidated and dispensed with.
With just four people, we are able to spend a lot of time doing things all together. We share most expenses, travel to and from satsang and service together, and go out for dinner occasionally. And lately we've been having satellite satsang at our home.
So if you're passing through Brisbane, and you see a blue Holden cruise by with four smiling faces and a couple of dogs hanging out the windows, it just might be us.
AMP households: a movie-still
A word-picture of any facet of practising Knowledge is rather like a single frame from a movie. As our awareness grows, so our living styles change … and we wouldn't have it any other way!
So a movie-still of three Adelaide AMP households, taken on a particular day in June, 1976, may be nothing more than a frozen moment of history by the time you read it.
On this day in June, two families and two single premies are helping each other practise Knowledge in a house in Millswood. John Brannigan, housefather, explains that child-co nsciousness played a large part in the formation of the household. He and his wife Lyn have two children - Krishna, 4, and baby Jon, 18 months.
"Premies we'd lived with before often found it difficult to cope with the particular set of adjustments needed to live with children," John explains, "and so the obvious thing to do was to share our lives with another family."
John stresses that the members of the Millswood household have all chosen to live there because they want to grow in Knowledge, and not as a means of forcing themselves to grow.
"You can't force growth," John says. "If you develop a set of rules which you think will help you, then you gradually fall into the trap of just obeying the rules, and forgetting why. So the deep desire has to be there first."
About two kilometres away in Hyde Park is another AMP household, with Peter Helman, an AMP rep for couples, as housefather. It comprises five premies and Rae Shirvington, an aspirant taking advantage of the AMP situation. Rae feels at home in what she calls the "loving, supportive environment," and feels herself very much part of the community. Her housefather adds that they all benefit from the warmth, openness and simplicity which aspirants have.
I ask Peter why they formed an AMP household.
"Why?" he replies, "Because it just seemed like a good thing to do. We wanted to sync ourselves in better with the Mission. And it's working. We're all becoming more unified and more centered." Since its formation in March the household has been stable, with only one change in occupants.
"The household members were hand-picked for compatibility, and their consciousness of relating to one another in a friendly, loving way," Peter says. "Why make things harder for ourselves? So we're all aware of what we're doing. We have a fairly set routine, but people are left to follow it themselves, and generally it works very well. Trust exists amongst us, and everyone's getting it on in Knowledge, so details aren't worried about too much."
After a few birth pangs, the AMP household at St. Peters is beginning to thrive. Housefather is Helen Haywood, who recently returned from two years in England, 12 months of which she spent as Ashram Supervisor in Rugby, the equivalent position of our Community Director - a very small community, Helen hastens to add.
Here there has been no careful selection of occupants. "We all came from such different environments,"
Helen explains, "that a few problems in adjusting were inevitable. We have brand-new premies, and people who've had Knowledge for years. For myself, I'd become accustomed to living completely under direction, and I wasn't sure what to do, or how much direction there was to be. But the rough patches encouraged me to meditate."
Helen and her husband John are the household's only couple. One of the five single premies is Lynette Lambert, mother of two girls.
"At first it was a really bending experience for the kids and for me, " Lyn tells me. "People weren't used to living with noisy children, and the tension of not being able to express themselves only made them noisier! It's funny, but I really notice that everyone seemed to treat the girls the same way they were brought up themselves. But all this conditioning has been slowly overtaken by understanding. Everyone is opening up to the children more."
Helen says much the same thing: "We all treated the kids differently, and the lack of consistency bewildered them. But those kids are a real barometer … now we're all learning to accept each other and listen to each other, things are much easier for the children and for us."
… I stop the "camera" and look at the picture. It shows such a diversity of people, from so many environments and walks of life that I realise a little bit more of how strong that unifying bond of Knowledge must be. A doctor, a deliveryman, a winetaster, students, parents, teachers, clerks … superficial differences which mean nothing compared with the gathering-thread of our desire to help each other grow into a full awareness of what it means to be alive.