Letting Life Happen, Chapter 13 - Donald de Laski
Donald de Laski, CPA, businessman, philanthropist and spiritual seeker was a premie for 2 decades from 1975. One chapter of his autobiography concentrates on this period. "Seekers" rarely criticise any part of their spiritual journey or a teacher they may have had no matter how unwarranted their trust and faith. De Laski is no different in this regard but it is obvious from his memoires that after 1990 his focus was elsewhere and his involvement with Maharaji didn't warrant further mention. His focus returned to alternative health therapies and the teachings of Edgar Cayce through the auspices of the A. R. E. He even took up golf again.
The Guru Finds Me
Along his or her life's Journey, a seeker will be fortunate enough to experience pivotal moments that make possible new levels of understanding and purposefulness in life. Don's life has been blessed with several such episodes, including his discovery of the Cayce teachings. But none was more powerful and influential than finding a personal spiritual teacher, Maharaji.
To meet a teacher or guru means to have the opportunity to make commitments of service and devotion, putting aside one's own ego and personal agenda. It means to make a commitment to something bigger than oneself—even to work in a spiritual community for common purposes. But perhaps what is most important, a personal Master can lead the seeker to a deeper understanding and experience of meditation—coming to know an inner peace that allows him or her to "be in the world but not of it"—to work hard but not be attached to the results, and simply allow things to unfold as they are meant to do.
In 1973 I attended a lecture sponsored by the Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.) at which the principal speaker was a fascinating man, Dr. Raynor Johnson. He was born in England and educated at Oxford and London Universities, earning a Ph.D. in physics, the field in which he then taught in Belfast, Northern Ireland and in Melbourne, Australia, for many decades. After his retirement he began to write books about spirituality—books that wove together the practical scientist in him, along with the mystical side of himself that he had discovered.
The topic of his talk the night I heard him speak was having a spiritual teacher or guru as an indispensable part of a personal spiritual quest. My Webster's Dictionary defines "guru" as a personal
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spiritual teacher, but Johnson and millions of others from Hinduism and other Eastern religions have a somewhat different point of view. They see the guru as a perfect spiritual being sent to you by God.
In his book The Spiritual Path, Raynor Johnson makes even more explicit what he was talking about that night. Anyone who hopes to truly experience Enlightenment must have a guru or Master.
It is true that through earnest seeking and aspiration in many lives, individuals find their way to the foothills of the mountain of God. Those who arrive there know that it is quite impossible to climb this great mountain without a Guide who knows the path. Whatever his other tasks maybe, a Master's chief task appears to be calling souls to Him who are ready to make the climb … (pp. 78-79)
What was most memorable for me in that evening's lecture was Johnson's answer to a question posed to him: "How do you find this guru?" He replied, "The guru will find you."
My Introductions to the Teachings of Maharaji
A few weeks later I was reading an article in my Duke Alumni Register by a Duke Medical School graduate, Dr. John Horton. He explained how he had been following Guru Maharaji for a number of years and had been practicing his meditation techniques. Horton went on to enumerate some of the benefits of meditation, and he wrote that he had found that asthmatics received considerable relief from meditation. He then mentioned that he had just opened an office in Bethesda, Maryland, which was about a half hour's drive from my house.
The next week I was in Dr. Horton's office. But rather than discussing my asthma, we ended up talking about Maharaji, who was just sixteen years old and had been preaching in India since he was three. His father had been a guru in India, and Maharaji was the youngest of four boys. Maharaji had been in the United
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States for several years now, and he was being sponsored by an organization called Divine Light Mission. I found this to be somewhat synchronistic because when Hugh Lynn Cayce was asked how long one should meditate he replied "until you see the light."
Maharaji went all over the world giving programs, and Dr. Horton told me that the next event would be in Toronto in a couple of weeks. Naturally I went. I figured the guru had found me.
There were about 7,000 people at the conference center in Toronto. The first thing I noticed upon entering the hall was that almost everyone was in their mid-twenties or younger. The air was full of incense, and there were hundreds of devotees—known as "premies"—sitting on the floor in a lotus position with sheets over their heads, meditating. Maharaji's mother, Mata-ji, was on the stage along with one of his brothers, Raja-ji. Another brother was directing the orchestra. None of these relatives made a presentation to the group, but there were several speakers who were referred to as mahatmas, each presenting some spiritual teachings in preparation for Maharaji's arrival on stage.
After a couple of hours Maharaji came out on the stage and gave "satsang" for about an hour. Satsang is a Hindu word meaning "speaking from within' Maharaji's main message was the importance of going inside of ourselves and being able to live in the present moment. He was a very inspirational speaker who would always look straight out at the audience and speak without any notes. In Maharaji's teachings, as I heard them here at my first program, the most important discipline is what he calls the practice of Knowledge (with a capital K), and it has three basic elements: Satsang, Service, and Meditation.
Satsang is the listening to or speaking about the joys and benefits of practicing Knowledge and going within. It is always given without notes or advance planning, and there is very little religious dogma involved. For example, whenever Maharaji was asked about reincarnation, he would typically reply, "Don't worry about your past life or your next life, but focus on this life. He never compared any religions, although he sometimes quoted from the sayings of Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita, as well as passages from
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the Bible. In the early years that I was involved with Maharaji, any premie could give satsang, whether it was at a major program or to small groups. About twenty years ago, however, Maharaji decided that the premies were confusing each other, and so he decided that he would be the only one to give satsang—in person, on audiotape, or on video.
Service is the giving of one's time and/or resources to help Maharaji do his work in propagating Knowledge. Each program required a lot of volunteer help for ushering, food service, planning, etc. In addition to giving of our time in this way, all of us were also encouraged to make donations to The Divine Light Mission. Tithing was recommended, and several times Maharaji quoted from the Bible and from Krishna, saying, "For every bag of rice you give me for my work, I will give you back ten fold." My annual income at that time was about $60,000, so I donated about $6,000 a year. In the years that followed, I certainly ended up getting a lot more than ten times that back.
Meditation is the third element of Knowledge, and the meditation techniques which Maharaji gave were to be kept secret. An aspirant would go to satsang programs in his or her community for three or four months, and then receive the meditation techniques by Maharaji directly (or, in later years, by a visiting mahatma). The recommended time for doing meditation was one hour daily, preferably in the early morning.
Making Deeper Commitments to Maharaji
My introduction to Maharaji in Toronto was just the start of many trips to attend his presentations. In the late 1970's I went to Maharaji programs in Florida, New York, Philadelphia, Toronto, Montreal, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Australia, England, and Italy. Many people went to India from time to time, but I didn't go because I had heard how often Americans would get sick while they were in India. The programs I attended with Maharaji were very exciting and invigorating experiences. I found that it was a good idea while at a program to first meditate in the morning,
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even though we would also be meditating with Maharaji at the program in what was called a "Knowledge Session' Generally, at a program Maharaji would give satsang in the morning and then in the early evening. We would receive the rite of "darshan" which involved walking by Maharaji while he was meditating, and kissing his feet. There was also a wonderful playful side of Maharaji, and occasionally he would put on his Krishna outfit and dance on the stage while we all sang. The music at these programs was fabulous, and we always had an outstanding orchestra with singers.
Several programs especially stand out in my memory because of their celebratory flavor. In Ocala, Florida, the program was outside and it lasted until two o'clock in the morning. It coincided with an annual celebration of Maharaji's father's birthday, and the ceremony was called "Holi." Maharaji would squirt water over everyone with huge fire hoses. Another year we had a Holi festival at the Polo Grounds in New York City, and Life Magazine did a big article on it with a double page picture. One thing was sure to happen when attending any of these programs—whether it was a Holi festival or not. Any problems which you thought you had when you arrived would disappear, and life would become beautiful in every way. It wasn't an intellectual thing—it was an experience. In fact, when trying to tell people afterwards about a program, it was frequently difficult to remember exactly what Maharaji had said. The impact of being with him at the program was the way it took us inside of ourselves, not how we mulled over his words.
During the 70's and early 80's many premies lived in ashrams in a communal fashion and shared all of their income. In the Chevy Chase, Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. there was a men's ashram and a women's ashram. Sometimes the men would share some money with the women, and the women might help out with some of the cooking for the men. I would go to the ashram several evenings a week to listen to or give satsang.
Service to Maharaji
Around 1980 I went to see one of the mahatmas, a man named
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Randy Proudy, and asked him how I could become more dedicated to Maharaji's work. I was really hooked on this work, and I wanted to do more things to serve Maharaji. Randy put me in touch with Jim Emerson, who would become my mentor for quite a few years. Jim said that Maharaji needed an accountant for various businesses, some of which were providing him with part of his personal support, since Maharaji never received a salary from Divine Light Mission for any of his services. He thought it was important for him to have his own ways of supporting himself.
My first assignment was to do a certified audit for a company in Miami named Decca that was, among other things, refurbishing an old Boeing 707 to be used by Maharaji. I was provided with several accountants from a local ashram to help out. One of these accountants was a good tax man named Larry Thomas.
After the Miami audit had been completed, I asked Larry to come to Washington, live at my house, and help me during tax season. I needed help, since the CPA I had hired previously had quit suddenly over religious objections. It turned out that he was a "Born Again Christian" and didn't want to work for someone who was chasing after a guru. But with Larry on board at my accounting firm, it turned out to be my easiest tax season ever, and it was so wonderful having a premie living with me. While practicing Knowledge it seemed that problems like being short-staffed at the accounting firm always worked themselves out.
Finding good people to work at my firm continued to happen through connections with other premies. I met one named Fletcher Drake, who was a masseur at Dr. Horton's office. One day while he was giving me a massage, we were talking about my accounting practice, and he indicated that he was a part-time bookkeeper and would like to become my employee. I said I would give it a try, and it worked out exceedingly well.
Then, I met a woman at satsang one night named Mary Moore, and she wanted to become my secretary and office manager. After I had hired her, I started to occasionally give her some accounting work to do at her desk in her spare time. This kind of accounting write-up work grew very fast, and she did such a good job that I
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had to hire someone else to be my secretary. Both Fletcher and Mary were very dedicated and learned very quickly, and they ended up working for me for many years. Another premie, an experienced accountant named Midge O'Mahoney, showed up one day and she focused on working with some of my government contractors. She had a lot of executive talent, and after about two years she went to work for one of my clients. From 1978 to 1982 my full time staff (including myself) went from two to five. All of my new employees were premies and, except for Midge, all of them lived in the ashram. It was out of this core group—plus my son Ken—that a new company, Deltek, emerged in 1983. But that's another story, and it's told in Chapter 14.
Even though all the premies were very dedicated to their work, a Maharaji program would always take priority. One year a big program was scheduled for mid-April, right in the middle of tax season. I naturally said that some of us would have to skip the program, but against my better judgment, other plans were made. We told all our tax clients that if their tax information was not in by April 5th, we would file for an extension. None of our clients seemed to mind. We turned all of our tax returns over to Computax on April 9th, and off we went. When we returned on April 12th, we discovered that Computax had had a big delay in processing the returns for all their clients, but we weren't affected because we had gotten ours in early. Here was another example of how, by practicing Knowledge, problems seemed to work themselves out.
It's a good thing I had a larger staff because I was doing quite a bit of traveling—both for Maharaji-related accounting work and also for my other clientele. I frequently met with Maharaji's lawyer in New York and was also privileged to meet with Maharaji on several occasions. Many people get very nervous when they first meet Maharaji, and they find it difficult to speak. I had this problem for a couple of minutes at my first meeting, but I soon got over it. Altogether I met Maharaji on five occasions—two of which involved me giving a status report on business matters. Maharaji was very easy to talk to and always put me at ease. I think that when Maharaji is on-stage giving satsang he is experiencing a
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high level of spiritual energy, which is not present when he is at a social or business meeting.
One Maharaji-owned business I spent a lot of time on was a wholesale natural foods company in Denver. Maharaji also had three retail food stores in Seattle, Kansas City, and Denver. I flew out to the headquarters in Denver about once every six weeks, but there were problems with what was going on there. Other people were in charge, and I didn't agree with what was being done. The business was almost bankrupt yet no one seemed to be taking things seriously.
In 1984 I finally let Maharaji know how bad things were, and I said that I would lend the company $300,000 if he would let me take over. He personally called me a few days later and told me to go ahead. I was president for a few months, and then I noticed a premie named David Cohen who was keeping me up to date on all the payables and how to keep all the unpaid vendors happy. Soon I appointed David president, and I became the Chairman of the Board. Under this new management team, the company grew considerably, and we bought a new building which added quite a bit to our efficiency. But eventually we realized that competition in the wholesale food business was getting pretty fierce, and so we sold the company in 1988 for ten million dollars. This was like the shrimp boat business in the "Forest Gump" story. I was just watching things play out. In retrospect I see how being a regular meditator helped me to stay unattached to what was going on. I certainly cared about the business and I was working hard to make it succeed, but meditation was helping me get myself out of the way and to just let things happen.
My Family and Maharaji
My deep involvement with Maharaji's work certainly had an impact on my family. Of all my family members, it was our son Kenneth who eventually became as committed as I have been to Maharaji. Ken graduated from Duke University in 1979 with a major in accounting. First he took a job for the large accounting
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firm Arthur Andersen for three years. But when I gave each of our children $3,000, Ken quit his job and took a three month-trip to Europe, with my encouragement.
Right after he returned from Europe, he showed up at the ashram during satsang with his girlfriend, Tena. The leader asked if anyone was interested in receiving Knowledge, and Ken raised his hand. And a few months later he, in fact, did receive Knowledge. He moved to Seattle and worked as a clerk at the retail health food store that was part of the Maharaji business that was based in Denver. For a while Ken lived in the ashram in Seattle and spent a lot of time having satsang with several mahatmas. Later he bought a little house of his own there.
Our younger son David also had some direct contact with Maharaji, going to many Maharaji programs with me, including a Holi festival. He always loved music, and while I was at satsang, he would take guitar lessons from one of the premies. He got to know many of the premies quite well. They were a good influence on him because many of them were ex-potheads, and they would tell him about how screwed up they used to be. When David was about sixteen, he received Knowledge, and he enjoyed attending satsang which we were having on a regular basis at our house.
Eventually Ken married Tena, who received Knowledge; and, David's wife Syd also received Knowledge. Although Nancy enjoyed going to formal satsang with me and got along well with all my premie friends, she was never interested in meditation or receiving Knowledge. She would always say that she didn't need it. Our daughter Kathleen was very busy with her career, and she was definitely very different from the typical premie.
Things Change within the Community
In the mid-eighties things were changing in the premie community. Maharaji had married and was starting a family. Premies were moving out of the ashrams, getting married, and pursuing careers. Since there were not many new people receiving Knowledge anymore, Maharaji decided to make the practice of Knowl-
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edge less oriented toward Indian culture. Accordingly, the leaders became known as instructors instead of mahatmas; Divine Light Mission became Elan Vital; and the ceremonies of darshan and Holi were no longer done in North America. During this period of transition, Maharaji was starting to spend a great deal of his time in India. In fact, nowadays there are very few programs in North America, and most of those are only a one-hour appearance by Maharaji.
Although many of my old premie friends have become less involved, there is still a significant group who have regular meetings and watch videos of Maharaji. In 2004, Maharaji started a new program called "The Keys"—a series of DVD instructional videos with Maharaji giving satsang for over twenty hours. These Keys can be used for receiving Knowledge, or for someone like me, to get re-inspired.
Maharaji did a great deal for me, uppermost being to help me find a sense of purposefulness, peace, and ultimately prosperity. Whereas I had learned about meditation from the Cayce material and even tried to practice meditation as regularly as possible, once I became a dedicated follower of Maharaji, my devotion to meditation became much deeper. I also found in Maharaji's work a feeling of community that I had never experienced before in my spiritual studies. As Maharaji began to focus his efforts more and more on other places in the world and come to the United States much less frequently, much of that sense of community began to fade for me. And yet, looking back, I have a renewed feeling for just how important those two decades were for my spiritual growth, and I have decided in the process of reviewing this part of my life that I want to watch all of the Keys so that I can remember his inspirational messages. A few samples of his teachings—not from "The Keys" themselves, but from other of his published satsang sessions—are included in Appendix 3 at the end of this book
Building a Company
By Going with the Flow
Creating a business organization is as much an art as it is a science. An entrepreneur can follow a model or system, but ultimately the art of building an organization from the ground up takes courage, intuition, and faith. The remarkable story of Deltek's inception, steady growth, and fabulous success is a mixture of many crucial ingredients and principles—elements that Don had already been nurturing in himself since he was a youngster finding creative ways as a boy to make money for his family.
As you read the account of how Deltek came into being and thrived, be sure to read between the lines and see the heart of what was going on. This was not a matter of luck. Nor was it solely from dedicated hard work, although there was plenty of that, too.
First of all, the storyshows how Don's career has always been able to flow with what comes naturally for him. He has not tried to be something that he is not. He knows where his strengths lie, and he patiently allows things to unfold around those strengths. This capacity to flow naturally also means "using what is at hand," being grateful for whatever resources are available and working creatively with them.
Second, there is a commitment to really serving clients and customers. Prosperity will be the likely result if service is the prime intention. Related to service is a third ingredient—to dedicate one's endeavors to something bigger than oneself In this case, Don and his son Ken were spiritually devoted to their teacher and guru Maharaji, and they dedicated the new business to him. Simply with that intention the company itself was impacted. This commitment was heightened by the way in which other people who shared this spiritual dedication were given key spots in the organization. Others who had "received Knowledge" from Maharaji—that is, "premies"—were a vital part of the leadership of Deltek.