Sowing The Good Seed
Denver Premies Receive Federal Funding for Garden Project
Every now and then we caught an almost mischievous sparkle dancing in John Steinert's eye, as he sat in the Divine Times office talking quite seriously about the hugely successful Denver Garden Project that he has been involved in since January. It was the look that premies get when Maharaj Ji's grace is making everything go right. They know it could all disappear in a minute and they'd still be the luckiest person in the world.
"Here in Denver," John began, there have been groups working on garden projects for years: garden clubs with women interested in making Denver beautiful by planting flowers near bus stops; radical groups wanting to 'feed the people;' individuals growing vegetables in their backyards just to keep food on the table; senior citizens working in little garden plots for recreation; and many DLM households growing gardens in their backyards for a combination of all of those reasons. But none of the groups were working together until this year."
In January, Finnegan (as John Steinert is more popularly known) started attending a class held by Jim Fowler at the Denver Free University. Jim Fowler, a 20-year advocate of organic gardening, is more vital at 65 than many people at thirty. Organic gardening, Jim claims, can put more protein in any food and make it taste better too. It can even prevent Dutch Elm disease. He is the authority on organic gardening in Colorado. So it was natural that a whole variety of Denver city gardeners signed up for his class. It was in Jim's class that Finnegan - who had helped organize the DLM community gardens - met Nancy Good, who had set up at least thirty gardens the year before in senior citizens centers. People from another more radical group, "Dirty Thumb" were there too. They had created six productive gardens in vacant lots around the city.
"Jim's class," Finnegan remembers, "rapidly became an open forum for all our groups to come together. Denver's mayor had just announced that unused city property would be given to any person or group of people who wanted to organize a community garden. He called a public meeting with the Parks Department, the Youth Commission, the Denver Planning Office and someone from Public Works. Me and some other premies went too. Nancy Good, who had worked closely with the Mayor before on her project with the senior citizens, introduced us to the Mayor, and right away, he liked us and our whole approach to community organizing."
From that meeting in February Finnegan and friends started locating possible garden sites, negotiating with the public works department to get free city water (Denver is built in a desert), free manure, sludge and use of their trucks. "Nobody had any money so we had to ask the city. They were helpful, and there wasn't much problem getting the OK to use these resources. Then we started the 'Denver Garden Project,' and because I was the most into it, I became the director."
Of all the community projects in Denver the garden project has drawn the widest range of support.
On May third the Denver Garden Project had a ground breaking ceremony followed by a potluck supper and a huge square dance with the premie Supernatural Family Band. "When the mayor got up to speak,'' said Finnegan, "he spoke to premies, radicals, mothers and grandmothers - none of whom he had ever met before, and most of whom might not have met each other in any other situation. Later, when the band got up to play, everyone broke through their walls and began to dance."
Talking about the diversity, Finnegan said, "I feel our role as premies isn't so much as experts in any technical area but in bringing people together. We have a neutral place of meditation inside so we can be the hub through which the Black Panthers and the PTA can interconnect and begin to communicate - and cooperate.'"
In the past, most premie efforts to bring community factions together have been successful, but limited by the lack of money needed to support the individual premies. Here again, Nancy Good was helpful. She suggested to Finnegan and his group that they apply to the manpower administration of the Federal with the Manpower employment agency) for funding. Every summer they give out hundreds of thousands of dollars to create jobs for neighborhood youths. "In the past what has happened," Finnegan said, "is that they'd hire these kids and send them down to 'action centers' where often there would be nothing for them to do, so the kids would either go home and collect paychecks every two weeks or end up scrubbing floors. We proposed a program for the kids to work in the gardens and learn about gardening, carpentry and nutrition. Our program provided for salaries for the supervisors too. This was new for the Manpower people, but after we talked about it a little they loved it. We asked for 6 supervisor salaries and 30 students. We ended up with 13 premie supervisors and 78 kids."
All the while Guru Maharaj Ji was giving the premies working in the garden project more and more energy, he was also teaching them not to let it go to their heads, and to trust him to run things according to his plan. "The very afternoon I was sitting in the Manpower offices, working out all the final details to get the program funded," Finnegan said, "there was an incredible hail storm outside that completely wiped out all the gardens. I ran back to our basement office in the Divine Shelter but before I could ask how the plants were taking the storm I found out that some greenhouses had just closed, giving us their whole inventory of vegetables and flowers. On one hand, God destroyed the gardens and on the other hand he had given us 4000% more manpower and money and new plants to start all over with. I learned complete non-attachment knowing that he could destroy us and rebuild us just like that."
In all, the Garden Project is managing 140 gardens throughout Denver. Fall is harvest time and there will soon be another big get together with all the different groups who participated in the project.
Plans for the winter? "Lots," Finnegan says. "Manpower has agreed to continue four of the supervisors salaries over the winter so we've started a Grassroots Community Coalition to work out of. The Bicentennial Commission is giving us $1000 to do a whole media show about cooperation among people in communities, and another group has funded usto do a museum display. Manpower is just one agency we can work with. There's LEAA, an anti-crime agency, and we're putting together a program to set up some group homes for juvenile offenders instead of incarcerating them.
"One of the most interesting aspects of this project is that since we're working with the Federal Government, our programs can easily expand to other cities. It's possible that next year other premies could get paid for doing what they love - making the world into Guru Maharaj Ji's garden."
Mahatma Ji On Tour
Mahatma Gurupujanand's (formerly Ira Woods) visit to Washington D.C. was unlike any mahatma visit the premies had ever experienced. Andy Ludwig, Divine Times correspondent in Washington, tells about his experience: "The day after Mahatma Ji arrived, utilizing my annual vacation wisely, I reported to the ashram to do service during the selection for Knowledge. By 10:00 a.m. there were more than a hundred people packed into the satsang hall listening to our DUO director tell them, 'Listen, this is something serious. If you're just spiritual window-shopping, forget it. If you just want a meditation, there's lots of them. But this Knowledge is your life.' - Nobody left.
"Mahatma Ji came downstairs and handed out a questionnaire to all of the aspirants. 'Now just answer the questions truthfully," he said. 'This isn't a test, so don't worry about passing or failing. I just want to know you, okay?' I looked over one of the questionnaires. It started off simple with questions like: 'How many formal satsangs have you attended?' and, 'Have you seen any Divine Light Mission movies?' and then led into things like: 'If Guru Maharaj Ji reveals Knowledge, what is the use of devotion to him after we have received Knowledge?' and, 'What do you think receiving Knowledge is?' and 'Why do service for Guru Maharaj Ji?'
"All morning Mahatma Ji helped people fill out the questionnaires and gave satsang to the whole group. He didn't talk to any individuals until after lunch.
"While Mahatma Ji was passing out the questionnaires, a premie came up to his chair and asked if he could sit in on a Knowledge session. 'Well, do you really think you need to?' asked Mahatma Ji. 'There's going to be a Knowledge review later.' 'I'd really like to,' said the premie. 'Okay,' said Mahatma Ji, 'but I don't even know if any of these people are ready to receive Knowledge.' That amazed me. There he was, surrounded by a hundred people asking for Knowledge, and he was honestly saying that maybe not one of them was ready to receive it.
"After lunch, Mahatma Ji started talking with each person individually. He told many people to wait, particularly if they had not gone through the Knowledge seminar. Others he would talk to and discuss their answers on the questionnaire.
"At the end of the first day, Mahatma Ji had chosen only two possibilities' for Knowledge.
"All this time I had been thinking, 'What a hard line. I wonder if I would've ever gotten Knowledge if it had been like this?" Both of those thoughts were answered on Tuesday within the space of ten minutes.
"After the main crowd had broken up for lunch, a few people were hanging around Mahatma Ji explaining why they should get Knowledge, or asking why they couldn't. One woman was really upset. She was going to jail soon and 'really needed Knowledge.' At one point, she broke down and cried. After giving her a little satsang, Mahatma Ji - really lovingly - said, Alright, go wash your face, get something to eat, and come back at two-thirty.' He was beautiful with her.
"On Wednesday, Mahatma Ji gave Knowledge to sixteen people (I don't know how it grew to that from the two possibilities), and on Wednesday night, he had the fourth public program of his visit. The hall was absolutely packed. People in the seats, in the aisles, in the wings. In Mahatma Ji's satsang, he gave an example of the mind's craziness from his childhood: 'When I was six, I watched a lot of television … and then one day, a horrible thing happened to me. The Wrigley's Spearmint Gum commercial started playing over and over in my imagination." He told us of the sad saga of having the jingle go through his head and only get louder and louder until he learned to use that same TV to blot it out - that is, he would get up early, turn on the television, 'and at that time of the morning, all that was on was this pattern and one blaring note, kind of a I 'whoooo'.' He would turn the TV up really loud, get close to the speaker and concentrate all of his attention on the screen. It quieted the Wrigley's Spearmint Gum commercial in his mind. 'It really relieved my pain,' he said, '… until the National Anthem came on.'
"Friday night was the night all the premies had been waiting for … the Knowledge review.
"Randy Stein had told us a week before that he wanted Mahatma Ji to give us not only a meditation review, but a review of satsang and service also - and that's what he did.
"When Mahatma Ji came in, he said, 'If you want the surest way not to realize this Knowledge, don't do satsang or service. You won't even have to worry about meditation. If you don't do those, you won't be able to meditate anyway. A Knowledge review doesn't mean, 'Oh good, a Knowledge review - I'll see a lot of light and go home and burn-out until the next one." A Knowledge review should give you the understanding of how to practice Knowledge all of the time.' "
This summer the premies stayed home.
"In Tucson, Arizona most of our news is internal."
"For the longest time, we have been trying to get our Information Center together. But somehow every summer all of our winter efforts come to a finish. Everyone, except for a few premies, leaves Tucson, fleeing in fear of the summer heat. But this summer something amazing has occured.
"Ever since Guru Maharaj Ji gave his proclamation for 1975, Tucson has come together like never before. We had just moved into the new center and already people were coming for satsang, service and meditation. The first night we held satsang, we had a full house with mostly newfaces. I remember all of us wondering who was propagating, because we just moved into the house and we thought nobody knew we were there.
"A week later, we found out a mahatma was coming in two weeks. It was so beautiful seeing the premies postering together. We hadn't had a mahatma visit Tucson for a long time.
"Soon we had our first generation of new premies, and later the second generation, and the third. More premies have received Knowledge here in 1975 than in any previous time. Then at the end of spring we moved to a new house. It's unbelievable what is happening here. Just like most premie communities, we have a DIC representative, an assistant representative, a satsang coordinator, a daycare coordinator, and premies that carry out other services. But as Lee Jester, our DIC representative, has said, the funny thing is that these so-called responsibilities are just excuses to let Guru Maharaj Ji's grace manifest through us as channels. Because when we take responsibility, we open the door for grace to reveal itself to us.
"We now have an organized satsang program every night. On Sundays we have our pre-Knowledge seminar, which is becoming very crowded. We hold a dinner after the seminar and then have satsang again that evening.
"This summer we have done more than ever before. Every month we hold a public program at the 'Truth Chapel' where we give satsang, a skit and the music is supplied by The Light Brothers Band, our own premie band. The band has started to visit old folks homes, clearing away wrinkles with smiles and laughter. The old folks continuously request songs our band has never even heard of, yet with a few clues from the audience, they usually play the song as well as the original tune.
"It's almost the end of the summer now and it seems an eternity since that first day in January when our center came together and that very first satsang was held, full of beautiful faces."
Many Loret de Mola
Divine Information Center
The voice from the car's loudspeaker was saying: "The Divine Light Band, A 12-Piece Band, is Playing Tonight at Lexington Avenue School" as it travelled through the streets in Providence's West End. It was a bit of a thrill. Especially since the announcement wasn't being made by premies, but by organizers of a widespread grassroots social action group called "PACE" (People Acting Through Community Effort).
Not long ago if someone had told us that local community organizers, trying to improve deteriorating neighborhoods through confrontation politics, would be helping us do propagation our jaws would have dropped in disbelief. Only two years back, when the ashram first moved into an "organized" Providence neighborhood, PACE people were up in arms, circulating irate leaflets about the "ga-roo" people to the neighbors ("Do you want beer parties and sex orgies in your neighborhoods?"). But then, a guest appearance by the ashram's general secretary and public information officer at a local PACE meeting squelched the rumors and marked the beginning of an alliance between PACE and the "people from Divine Light." The way that this first uneasy alliance blossomed into a friendship alive with satsang was a slow and amazing process - and attests to the power of grace to creep into the most unlikely places, including political caucuses …
It started off so casually that no one really had any idea what was happening. Premie Richard Azzarone, who has coordinated our participation in PACE now for over a year, shrugs and grins when asked how a closet yogi like him got involved in a political organization like PACE. "John Paul,", said, "who was public information officer two years ago, began going to PACE meetings just to keep the lines of communication open. He would just sort of sit around, listen to people debate and wonder what he was doing. After a few meetings like this he decided the thing was not to give up on this in resigned silence but to bring some more holy company along. So he asked me to come with him.
"At that time PACE was a heavy organization. People were unruly and outspoken. Organizers were belligerent - trying to get people hot about anything. Our initial involvement was just to sit at meetings and meditate. Lots of times JP and I felt like getting up and telling people that they could have peace even if their neighborhoods were destroyed, but we contained ourselves until the opportunity arose to give satsang."
Or almost contained themselves. Richard tells the story of one memorable PACE meeting when the proposed agenda for PACE's fourth annual election Congress was being heavily debated. "In the midst of it all, John Paul stood up and said: 'Brothers and sisters, couldn't we have a few poems? Couldn't we have some poetry readings? Sing some devotional songs?' At that point the room became silent. The political rhetoric quieted. I had to do all I could within my power - with the power of Holy Name - to stop from laughing my head off. John Paul sat there red-faced with twenty people staring at him in disbelief."
But the disbelief has changed to respect as premies began playing a more active role in PACE, showing the caucus and the neighbors that we are capable of responsible, committed action, and not just "spiritual butterflies." For instance: acting under the suggestion of PACE organizers, premies living on Ontario Street, where the Information Center is located, organized a block meeting and invited the head of Providence's engineering department to discuss the inadequate sewer system that plagued their street.
"When the engineer first showed up, he was defensive, expecting the political antagonism that has characterized PACE. Instead, he was greeted by a roomful of blissful premies, homemade chocolate chip cookies and coffee. He had nothing to do but relax and enjoy himself. "He also agreed to do everything we asked - to the surprise of the one PACE organizer present, who continually tried to use us to badger the poor engineer. After the engineer left, the PACE organizer sat stunned, saying, 'Wow. I can't believe it. I just can't believe it.' "
As a result of the meeting, the sewers on Ontario Street were royally overhauled, the premies no longer had to wade their way to satsang on a rainy night. But the meetings bore a more subtle fruit as well: the people at PACE began seeing how even the service of getting public officials to act on community issues can be done with love and without the separatist vibe of "us" and "them". "That sewer meeting showed me I could be really outspoken." said Richard, "I used to shy away from saying what I really felt, but Maharaj Ji showed me that anything works with love. From that meeting it was clear sailing. I could participate and meditate. And when necessary, premies can now take responsibility and give satsang."
Tangible evidence of how PACE policies are changing came at this May's annual election Congress, attended by thousands of people, including Providence's new mayor, Buddy Cianci. Two years after John Paul had embarrassed everybody, including himself, by suggesting that there be music and poetry at the Congress, PACE members unanimously decided to make the Congress a podium for a "community celebration," and to keep political rhetoric to a minimum.
For the third year in a row, premies participated in the event: a premie band played, premies served coffee and refreshments and gave informal satsang to the milling voters, and propagation for the next day's public program with Mahatma Jagdeo went
full blast. Leaflets about the program were put in voters' registration packets; posters of Mahatma Jagdeo were up throughout the building; and a "Divine Information Center" banner hung from balloons in the cafeteria where the night's festivities took place. By the end of the evening Richard had been elected to PACE's policy-making executive board by a landslide vote, and premies had been publicly awarded a certificate of thanks by the president of PACE for their "important behind the scenes work."
About three hundred people came to the next night's mahatma program at a neighboring church, at least one hundred of them neighbors from the community who had never been to satsang before. And, as a result of community exposure, the opportunities for propagation keep coming. Not long after the program, the Center was contacted to put on outdoor programs (music, clowns, skits, satsang) for a solid week in downtown Providence as part of a "Mayor's City Celebration."
More recently, as part of PACE's campaign to discourage young would-be arsonists from burning down neighborhoods on the third and fourth of July, premies organized an
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On a Thursday night somewhere near the end of every month, a lone premie comes up to the microphone at the Denver satsang hall asking for volunteers. The shuttle bus is parked and waiting outside, and within 20 minutes an incredible little service party has begun: it is the evening to collate Divine Times down at the warehouse. The premies arrive, the radio is tuned to a good FM station and the service begins. Listening to the music, laughing, sipping tea and eating cookies, thirty premies take each page of 8,000 issues of Maharaj Ji's paper and fold them together so they can be shipped to 8,000 premies in the U.S. and around the world. "Oh my God," someone will inevitably say, "I just realized that each one of these papers is someone who loves Guru Maharaj Ji too."
Managing Editor Sharon Stokke
Editor Dan Hinckley
Assistant Editor Sophia Collier
Designer David Davis
Divine Times is published monthly by Divine Light Mission, 511 1 6th St., Denver, Colorado 80202. © 1975 Divine Light Mission, Inc. All rights reserved. Subscription available for $5.00 per year, checks payable to Divine Light Mission. Send all changes of address and subscription correspondence to Divine Light Mission, Box 2997, Denver, Colorado 80201.