The Golden Age
Just before Guru Maharaj Ji announced the changes to the ashram program (see Jos Lammers' letter, P. 5), we received in a mailing from Denver a number of reports from different countries. In these reports, national directors were talking about the place of the ashram in their communities, and the reasons they believed changes were desirable. We have included some excerpts from two of these reports here - further excerpts can be found in the last issue of "Gurigunya".
Excerpts from a tape recorded by English national director David Lovejoy, summarising a meeting held in Leicester during Guru Maharaj Ji's visit there, with members of DLM in Britain, Bob Mishler and Jos Lammers.
Well, I guess the largest part of the time was taken up with the question of the ashram. We've had a generation of ashram premies, some of whom have been in the ashram for five years now, and in many cases their development seems to have gone contrary to what we would like to see in the development of ashram premies-counter to what Maharaj Ji has expressed that he would like to see in the development of responsibility and maturity as we practise Knowledge for a long period of time. It just seems that the very controlled environment of the ashram, by reducing choice and reducing initiative, has in fact had the opposite effect on many premies - that they've not increased in maturity and they've not increased in responsibility.
On the other hand, there are those ashram premies that have survived, intact, the rigors of the ashram system, who are maybe in positions of direct service and coordination and who do feel that they've got their discipline together internally. They have more or less been in what Maharaj Ji called the intensive care unit for four or five years now, perhaps, and they are just beginning to wonder why they need to be in such an intensive situation when they have got their practise of Knowledge pretty much together. They are committed to serving the movement, to serving Maharaj Ji, and yet the contradictions, the paradoxes of the lifestyle of the ashram are beginning to build up on them. It's like, 'Are these chaps going to continue in this exact same lifestyle for another five, ten, or fifty years?'
And then, there's the intensive care aspect of the ashram. And here it's very clear that we need a disciplined environment for people to come and get their practice of Knowledge together, get some discipline. The salient point is that it needs to be a short-term thing, and that they will finally, after a period, rejoin the community, much stronger, one hopes, and having benefitted from the stay in the ashram.
So on the one hand, there's the intensive care aspect, and on the other side there's just housing those people who actually make DUO possible in its present form. We have to have staff and at present they come from the ashram and they're beginning to feel a little bit uncomfortable because there's a complete confusion between that function and the function of intensive care-a short period of highly disciplined life in order to get one's self together.
So that's the feeling about the ashram at the moment. It's not like people are really wanting Maharaj Ji to say, 'Okay, we'll change this or that to suit our minds, to suit our concepts.' It is a real problem….
From a report from Christina Aaby in Sweden, entitled "Notes on development of community without ashram or with the role of ashram reduced"
In the "early days" the ashram was all there was in a city or a country-a situation I'm sure still exists in countries where Knowledge is just beginning to be spread. At that time the ashram was where it all happened-service, initiators came there and Knowledge sessions were held there. We know the story: other premies looked to the ashram. Then in 1975 we had something called community development happening, and a lot of strong premies began to emerge outside the ashram.
The situation developed where ashram premies started looking "out" to the community for things to happen. Office and satsang functions also moved out from the ashram to a community centre. More than ever the ashram became a sleeping place, and ashram premies in the beginning of 1976 really had to start questioning their own situation and the role of the ashram in the community. This still goes on.
The meaning of ashram has undergone a shift from having been external-a practical arrangement to spread Knowledge by people committed to the task (still many times on a small basis of understanding but with a lot of sincerity). We used to call the ashram the spiritual nucleus of the community, and the ashram premies were some sort of avant-garde in the spiritual revolutionary work. Then we understood that everyone is a spiritual nucleus himself, and that every practising, active premie belonged to the avant garde of human-kind. The shift went from external arrangements to internal understanding on an individual basis. In that process many ashram premies had to face their passivity and reevaluate themselves and their living situation. Many took the consequences of that. Many still have to follow through with this reevaluation, I believe.
To speak in bicentennial terms, the frontier which was once the ashram on an outreach level has developed into an internal frontier-to be stretched, of course, ad infinitum.