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“You all must work hard to organize the work after I am gone,” Master had said. “Otherwise you won’t be able to handle all those who will be coming to you.”
It was never Master’s task to organize the work in the sense here implied. His spirit was too free to be tied down to earthly systems. But what he offered as a general exhortation I took as a personal summons also.
Once I put my mind to it, I discovered that I had a natural flair for organizing. I was able to see instantly what was needed, and what consequences, whether good or bad, would accrue even years later from any decisions taken today. People, I realized, were important to any working system. The highest priority was to enlist their willing cooperation and support.
I had already done much in the way of organizing through my work with the monks. Most of them were now attending the morning and evening meditations. We kept silence together at the dining table in accordance with Master’s wishes. Also in accordance with his wishes, I had organized a series of classes in discipleship, and had written elaborate notes for them so that others would be able to cover the same subjects in future, benefiting from the preparation I’d done for them.
I accepted frankly that, whereas monks on fire for God might find it onerous to have to attend relatively short daily meditations with the others, at least the others’ meditations would become regular. Even racehorses, I reasoned, could be slowed down by reluctant nags in the community who hardly meditated at all. And the over-all morale, I felt, would greatly improve if fewer novices left the monastery to return to a worldly life.
For it caused me deep anguish to see so many promising young men leave the monastery, all because we lacked a sufficiently strong group magnetism to hold them. Master himself was too seldom with the men to give them a sense of abiding reality in their way of life there. He was busy finishing his writings.
The classes in discipleship I now held regularly would also, I felt, be a strong factor in strengthening the group magnetism. Another factor would be faithfulness to our few rules. How often, just to ensure that silence was kept, I had to give up my own meditations and come early to the dining room, to sit there until everyone had finished eating and left. Even so, to get the monks to maintain silence proved impossible at first. Their old habit of talking at the table was deeply entrenched.
Finally, I hit on the idea of keeping silence only at breakfast, which immediately followed the morning meditation. This practice proved relatively easy for people to abide by. After some time, I suggested we keep silence at the table in the evening also, after the evening meditation. Having grown accustomed to not speaking at breakfast, the monks found little difficulty in adjusting themselves to this extension of the rule. I was pleased, finally, to see that they had come to enjoy the silence so much that there was no need to propose we all keep it at lunchtime as well. By then, lunch was already being eaten in silence.
Another problem we had concerned the monks’ accommodations. So many were coming that there was no place to put them except in a single crowded room in what was known as the monks’ cottage. These were new monks, remember, entering a monastery that had never been organized before, and for which no real models existed. The newcomers who slept in the large room, strangers to group discipline, talked, argued, and joked half the night, their exuberance preventing even those who wanted to meditate from pursuing their spiritual practices.
My room was in another cottage, with a basement that I’d converted into a meditation room. To keep the cottage discipline from breaking down, however, I moved into the large dormitory room with the new monks. There I lived for a year and a half, until the situation became stabilized.
By this time I had the satisfaction of seeing monks come, and not, for the most part, leave. From our prior resemblance to a loosely organized camp, we began to become a true monastery.
The women, meanwhile, growingly aware of my efforts with the men, began to organize themselves also, following more or less closely the system I’d started. Sister Shraddha borrowed my class notes and used them in classes she developed for the nuns. My notes finally became known as Shraddha’s notes-a point that wouldn’t even deserve mention were it not for the subsequent effort to discredit everything I did, actually to the point of Tara’s insisting that I was never even a disciple.
Master’s words to me, “You have a great work to do,” meant to me only one thing: that I must apply myself energetically to whatever that work was. I had no interest in drawing credit to myself, but only in getting the work done. But I was confident that if I put forth good energy and enthusiasm, the path to accomplishment would open before me. Enthusiastically I set forth to organize whatever needed organizing, since organizing was evidently what was needed, and since I found I did have a certain flair for it.
Still, I wondered why Master hadn’t mentioned organizing among the things he wanted me to do.
Two weeks after Master’s mahasamadhi, I was taking seclusion with Andrew Selz, a fellow monk, at the monks’ retreat at Twenty-Nine Palms. Andy, who normally worked with me in answering letters, remarked one day, “Our correspondents aren’t getting the prompt attention they have a right to expect. Two months sometimes pass before they get our replies! Their letters get routed through department after department-for book orders, for lessons requests, and so on-before we even get to see them. There should be a system for getting the letters to us first so we can answer them immediately.”
I at once recognized the truth of what he was saying. Daily thereafter we discussed enthusiastically how the system might be improved. On our return to Mt. Washington, we were confident that our suggestions would be met with kindred enthusiasm.
They weren’t. Habit conspired against me as much here as it had in my first efforts to organize the monks. Fortunately, Faye (Daya Mata now) saw the merit in our arguments. Ever one to pacify opposing sides, however, she felt constrained to heed the objections of certain office old-timers. Finally she requested me to take the matter to Rajarsi Janakananda, our new president. Rajarsi listened calmly to the arguments, then concluded, “These changes are necessary. Please implement them.”
And so began a project that took, not the two weeks I’d expected, but a year and a half of intensive effort. For I discovered that the proposed changes in the Correspondence Department required commensurate changes in other departments, and that those changes required changes in still other departments. I ended up having to reorganize virtually the entire office.
The Center Department
A concern of mine continued to be for the future of the monks. Obviously, the work was destined to be guided more and more from the main office. But all the workers in that office except for Andy and me, who worked in another building, were women. The men did the manual labor: building, carpentry, and maintenance. I myself did much of this kind of work also, though not very effectively; I lacked both training and talent. It seemed obvious to me that to have the work run primarily by women was a one-sided arrangement that would keep the men forever subordinate to the women, and their job of teaching forever viewed with that kind of mild disfavor which does little to foster group morale.
In my work of reorganizing the main office I realized that there was one department that might legitimately come under the supervision of the monks: the Center Department.
Our centers constituted our main outreach. Viola Como, who was in charge of the Center Department at that time, had never lectured, and had little or no contact with the public except through the occasional visits to Mt. Washington by the center leaders. Surely the disciples most personally involved with the public-that is to say, the monks-were properly the ones to direct center activities.
I made this proposal to the Board of Directors, who, after consultation with Rajarsi, approved the idea. To implement this change, I wrote a set of rules intended to tie together our centers throughout the world into one coherent system. The year I wrote those rules was 1953. By 1962, when my separation from SRF occurred, the Board of Directors had not yet met to consider the merits of the rules.
It was frustrating to try to develop the Center Department without this minimal guideline for the centers’ activities. Meanwhile, sweeping changes were taking place in Self-Realization Fellowship. In 1953 Rajarsi Janakananda became seriously ill with a tumor of the brain, which incapacitated him from addressing the problems of the work. No one felt competent, meanwhile, to make major decisions regarding any department. I tried to persuade the Board that any set of rules for the centers would at least enable us to develop some provisional system for their guidance, but my plea fell, not on deaf ears so much as on heads too bowed down with unexpected responsibility even to consider the needs of the Center Department.
Meanwhile, I toured some of our centers. In 1954 I went to Mexico City and Mérida, YucatTn. In 1955 I visited our centers in North America and in Europe, where Mme. Helen Erba-Tissot was doing a wonderful job of spreading Master’s teachings in France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and Italy.
I also developed a new system that would enable the center leaders, if they so desired, to follow a standard outline for their talks on Sunday mornings. Apart from proposing to them an idea Master had liked, that they all have the same topic every Sunday, the outline I developed was not intended to force anyone into a mold, but only to offer guidelines that some of them might find helpful. In time, this loose system of guidelines became hardened into one of fixed readings that the centers were required to follow verbatim every Sunday. This new system, which became the rule after my departure from SRF, deprived the centers of spontaneity and discouraged them from making any personal contribution to the development of their activities.
Indeed, a trend gradually developed to formalize everything. At first, at Mt. Washington there was resistance to change. Then came the thought, generally embraced, “How wonderful that we’re getting organized at last!” Finally, organizing was embraced for organizing’s sake. Hardly a week passed, it seemed to me, that some new rule wasn’t posted on the bulletin boards. My own plan had been only to simplify matters, that we might give optimum service to our members. The new wave of energy, however, which had (to my subsequent regret) been started by me, held that rules represented discipline, that discipline demonstrated our spiritual sincerity, and that rules therefore were in themselves a good thing.
When Master put me in charge of the monks he told me, “Don’t make too many rules. It destroys the spirit.” As years passed, I couldn’t help feeling that a plethora of rules was suffocating the earlier spirit of spontaneity, freedom, and devotion. There began a conscious effort to model our way of life on the Roman Catholic monastic rule, and our work on the efficiency of big business. The effort went beyond both these models, however, in the pride that certain disciples took in rules for rules’ sake. Because this pride was uncongenial to most of us, it became a proof of our loyalty to embrace them unquestioningly. To protest against them came to be seen as evidence of disloyalty. The newer monks mostly accepted the system as the established order of things-indeed, as “the way Master wanted them.” I, with my resistance to too many rules, found myself being looked upon with certain reservations by some of these monks. For me, their disfavor seemed almost an omen-like the blowing of a conch shell to announce the approach of twilight, then nightfall.
A Lay Disciple Order
As an extension of my work in the Center Department, I also organized a lay disciple order, and developed certain ceremonies, notably for the birthdays and mahasamadhis (a great yogi’s final exit from the body) of the gurus.
In 1955 I was put in charge of the SRF church in Hollywood. An important way to deepen people’s commitment to the teachings, I realized, was to give as many of them as possible an opportunity to serve. More could be accomplished, moreover, by many willing coworkers. We have a song at Ananda that expresses this point: “Many Hands Make a Miracle.” There had been, I realized, too much emphasis on presenting the teachings to people, too little on people’s actual involvement with the teachings. The best thing for everyone, in terms also of the work accomplished, would be to get people not only meditating together, but working together. Thus, I developed a church committee to greet newcomers and answer their questions. I worked with the committee members to help them with the questions. New members, I had already discovered, were often the ones most eager to approach the latest comers. Finding a constructive outlet for their energies, they were less likely to fragment into little carping cliques. While wrong answers were sometimes given to newcomers, on the whole much good resulted from the committee’s activities, and even those wrong answers provided an opportunity for learning the right ones. One’s failures are necessary steppingstones to ultimate success. For myself, there was no diminution in my ability to work responsibly. Rather, by delegating authority I found my own ability to serve effectively greatly enhanced. For there is only so much that one person can do.
The Central Committee
There was a committee at Mt. Washington that functioned under the Board of Directors. It was empowered to make many day-to-day decisions. There were several directors on this committee. I also was a member.
As I sat at the meetings, it gradually dawned on me that a vast amount of time was being spent in discussing the pros and cons of every issue. The less personally involved in a particular matter a committee member was, the greater the need, it seemed, to demonstrate a sense of responsibility by talking about it.
It occurred to me that the best way to shorten the meetings and make them more effective would be to assign to each member the responsibility for one aspect of the work. Thus, if a matter was to be brought to the attention of the committee, it would be submitted first to the relevant member. That member would be expected to study the matter in depth, perhaps with outside help, and then submit it to the other members. He or she (actually, I was the only male member) would answer questions, give recommendations, but leave it up to the committee as a whole to consider the matter and decide. Decisions could be reached, this way, in a fraction of the time. My suggestion was never followed, but I always believed it would have spared us endless unnecessary talk.
One summer we were preparing for the annual SRF convocation. The discussion, for and against every suggestion, seemed interminable. When the subject turned to the final garden party and public activities at our Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades, I could see weeks of discussion ahead of us.
“May I make a suggestion?” I asked. “I have formed a committee at Hollywood Church. They’d love to take on a project like this. Why don’t you all let me organize it with their help?” Relief was apparent as all agreed to let me give it a try.
During my service the following Sunday, I invited participation in organizing the garden party, and asked anyone interested to remain after service. To those who stayed later, I read a list of the things we’d need: tables, chairs, water bottles, drinks, food for a potluck picnic, and so on. I asked for volunteers for each area of responsibility, and got the hoped-for response. Later, I phoned everyone to see how things were progressing.
The garden party went like clockwork. Delicious food was brought, in sufficient quantity. Chairs were put out for people to sit on. When the time came for the chairs to be removed and carried over for the public function, I walked around and casually asked a few of the men to help with the job under the direction of the man whose duty it was to see that the process was carried out efficiently. It seemed to me unnecessary to intrude on the way this part of the proceedings was handled. By expecting competence, one is more apt to get it. At the end of the day, a clean-up crew removed chairs and tables and left everything spotless.
“How wonderfully everything went!” exclaimed Sister Shraddha afterward.
“And you know,” I replied, “it took almost no work.” I was trying to make a point.
“No work for you, no doubt,” she retorted. “But plenty of work for those who organized it.”
“But I organized the whole thing myself!”
My point was not taken, because it was not believed. The assumption, I suppose, was that I was trying to deny a team of willing workers the credit they deserved.
I’d given free rein to their suggestions, however. My main contribution had been to keep clearly in mind where each discussion needed to go. In this way I acted the part, in a sense, of the single committee member of my earlier proposal, responsible for a certain activity. Such a person needs to be in command of his own information, and then to listen openly to counter-arguments and alternate suggestions, changing his opinion where necessary, but never relinquishing the reins of the discussion.
This was the way, as we shall see, that I developed Ananda.
Organizations and organizing were to me then, and have been ever since, necessary evils. They are necessary, for without them nothing could function in this world. Our very bodies are supreme examples of efficient organization. Organizations are also an evil, however, in the sense that they too easily become ends in themselves.
For me, the only justification for getting involved in organizing was the conviction that it would enable us to help people more effectively, spiritually.
© Ananda Sangha Worldwide 2013