DLM on a Diet
Like people, corporations sometimes get overweight. And when that happens, they begin to malfunction. A lot of talk has been going around premie circles over the past several months about the malfunctioning of Divine Light Mission: Is it achieving its goals? What are its goals? Does the structure we have built up over the past five years really help Guru Maharaj Ji spread Knowledge … or does it hurt? The need to confront these issues - and deal with them - is obvious. But now two economic factors have made the resolution of our self-examination not just a good idea, but essential.
In the beginning of June, regular donations to DLM began to fall off sharply. Because the Mission has always relied almost completely upon such donations, the effect was felt immediately. Since 1974, a steady program of putting the Mission on a firm financial footing has been underway. That program had achieved a good deal of success. However, continued success was and still is dependent on a constant in-flow of AMP donations. When, through July and August, those donations continued to fall, from a high level of $111,000 per month in the first quarter of 1976 to a low of $70,000 in August, it became apparent that something was going to have to change.
Coupled with the drop in donations, is a trend over the past few months for many ashram residents who are working at full-time paying jobs to leave the ashram. The ashram is more and more coming to be seen as a temporary lifestyle which can be used by premies to help themselves become strong in satsang, service and meditation. As people grow and mature, and as that purpose is fulfilled, they are encouraged to leave the ashram and continue their normal lives. This has been taking place, and it is a healthy sign, but the number of people that have decided to leave the ashram in the past few months has been so high that the corresponding drop in ashram income is severe. In January, there were close to 600 ashram residents in the U.S. As of this writing, there are 395. The resulting drop in income is $16,000 per month, or approximately 20%. Yet costs cannot be reduced as quickly. For example, the leases on housing for all those people must still be paid.
The combined effect of the drop in AMP donations and the loss of ashram income has been to intensify an evaluation of DLM that was already going on. This evaluation is not essentially a financial matter - although that is a crucial factor - but one of consciousness. As our awareness of this path grows, our desire to create and work within structures that clearly reflect our experience also grows. And this is the challenge we're facing now.
The general consensus is that we are top heavy - overweight. The organization has become too big and too complex for the nature of the work that really needs to be done and for the amount of premie support that actually exists for it. By becoming "big" we sometimes obscure Maharaj Ji's real message and find ourselves trapped in a maze of bureaucracy. We are seeing that simplicity and openness are fundamental qualities of this path. Our structures, therefore, whatever we need to help us continue experiencing and spreading Knowledge, should be simple and open. They have not been, and that's a major reason for whatever malfunctioning we have experienced in the past. It's time to go on a diet and get things back in shape.
The money that is donated to Divine Light Mission is distributed basically between four areas: International Headquarters, the support of Guru Maharaj Ji and his family, the ashrams, and community activities and properties. A comprehensive diet means finding out what we are doing in those four areas that is necessary - what helps the evolution of our consciousness and what does not.
For a few years now, the International Headquarters has been growing in size and importance within DLM. More and more responsibility for developing long-range programs and coordinating activities has been given to the premies working there, and in the U.S., more and more money has been channelled into its operation. That kind of growth has a certain inertia to it. It's hard to monitor or keep in check once it's begun. It takes something like not having any funds to stop it.
So when the funds got real tight these past couple of months, the inertia was broken. Now the clarity to see what actually needs to be done from IHQ is being emphasized. The result is a full-scale reorganization in which Maharaj Ji himself is taking a highly active role.
It costs $32,000 a month above and beyond revenues and takes 45 people to operate Shri Hans Productions (producers of any publications, photos, etc.) out of IHQ. By the end of September, that staff will be reduced to 10 and the activity and costs will also be greatly scaled down. Whereas a few years ago it was necessary to provide the many production needs of DLM within the organization, it is now possible through the use of outside firms, such as a premie-owned film company in Wyoming to produce any needed films, and possibly a premie printing company in Denver to print our publications. This is the kind of reorganization that we're talking about. Rather than supporting a very large full-time staff at IHQ, we will be using outside help where it exists and simply eliminating a lot of the non-essential work that has been going on. This means that we are also able to sell a lot of our production equipment as well as reduce our office space. In January, the IHQ staff was 220. As of this writing it is 150, and plans are being made to reduce it to 110 by October 1. Only that activity which is seen as directly beneficial to the work of Maharaj Ji and which cannot be handled by the communities themselves will continue at IHQ.
A major reason why such a reduction is possible is the emphasis on communities taking responsibility for their own organization, activities and support. In the past, funds raised in a community have been split, on the average, with 75% remaining in IHQ and 25% being channelled back to the community. As IHQ is reorganized and reduced, more and more funds will become available directly to the community that raises them, and each community will be encouraged to develop itself according to its own needs. A questionnaire was sent out to every community director and to the participants of the Development '76 conferences asking them what they
thought were the causes for the sharp drop in donations. In the responses, the most important reasons given were the costs surrounding Maharaj Ji's program combined with the seasonal effect of vacations planned before and after the tour. Also, in many communities AMP was not defined and emphasized. But another reason given was the desire for communities to be able to use the funds they raise within the community itself, rather than sending most of it to IHQ. Again, it was seen that the organization of DLM has become top heavy and needs to develop itself more on a grass roots level.
Another major area of expense is the support of Guru Maharaj Ji, his family, and the retreat at Malibu. In the past, the retreat property was being developed and for all practical purposes was free of tight budgetary controls. However, recently, a ceiling was agreed upon for funds available to the staff at Malibu. The large sums of money which have gone into improving the house (e.g. acquiring additional acreage, the piping in of city water, and necessary remodeling) will no longer be required since most of the improvements have been finished.
The final area scheduled for slimming down is the ashram. As stated previously, the ashram is in the process of being redefined to better coincide with our growing consciousness of how to live life and experience Knowledge. Plans are being considered to establish the ashram as a separate financial and legalentity from the corporation of DLM. In this way, the true function of the ashram - to provide an environment where premies can become strong in satsang, service and meditation - can take place, and the use of the ashram as a labor pool for the business of DLM will be eliminated. Instead, volunteer and sometimes paid staff can do the work of DLM around the country. All of this probably means a continued reduction in the number of people living in the ashram. Consequently, the ashrams in Portland, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and New Haven are scheduled to be closed, and possibly a few other ashrams in the near future.
So the diet - the effort to get down to basics, both in our relationships to Knowledge and the organization that we build up around it - is underway. But all of this takes time. The process can't be frenzied or haphazard or the resultwon't be what we need. And during all the time that it takes to make DLM what we want it to be, there is going to be a great need for all of us to share love and trust, to be patient, and to give our support. The loss of ashram income and the severe drop in donations have happened too suddenly for the slow grinding gears of the world. We can reorganize the Mission so that it works simply and clearly to help Maharaj Ji, but not if we do not have any resources with which to do it.
Right now we are beginning to stockpile bills - to delay payment. IHQ still has to pay for rents around the country until it can be worked out for each community to handle its own finances. We are selling some properties (like a building in Seattle, some land in Washington, a house in Denver), but these also take time. Once the reorganization has taken place, it will take a lot less money to operate DLM, especially at IHQ, but in the meantime, continued AMP donations are vital. If a train that is moving very fast tries to stop on a dime, you know what'll happen.
But enough of that. What is beautiful is that something which is long overdue is taking place: our movement has recognized that it is out of shape, and we are all taking whatever steps we cart to get it back together, to make it a real and honest expression of the understanding that we have reached through Knowledge. And that makes me feel good.
- Paul Starr