Guru Ram Das Ashram, Millis, MA
Jiwan Mukta Singh Khalsa, Executive Secretary of the Millis community
Guru Ram Das Ashram in Millis, MA, has very actively accepted the challenge of decision making by constituency. When the Siri Singh Sahib gave us the Constitution in 1991, the existing ashram leadership moved swiftly to implement it. A primary accomplishment of the ‘91 - ‘93 Khalsa Administrative Council (KAC) was the establishment of structures to replace or supplement the existing ones. This article briefly describes these structures.
Most of our members live on the main ashram "campus," renting townhouses from Sikh Dharma. Much time is spent by the sangat on property and community issues. After hours of discussion in constituencies, the KAC created four committees. Each committee is largely self-determining. Committees have been authorized by the Sangat to set ashram policy. Originally, all committee decisions required constituency review. After a few months, as trust grew, the Sangat decided to have constituency review only on more major or controversial items. This has streamlined our process. The committees are as follows:
Agenda Committee: prioritizes agenda items and sets the agendas of constituency, KAC and all-ashram meetings. Co-ordinates topics so that we talk about the same thing at the same time. This is essential for success. Members are the elected Reps, the Speaker and the Executive Secretary.
Outreach Committee: public relations and promotion of "the teachings" through yoga classes, White Tantric, special events and teacher’s organizations.
Physical Plane Committee: repair, maintenance and capital improvements.
Sikh Dharma / Spiritual Life Committee: responsible for everything else! This committee deals with the spiritual and social aspects of living in a community. It has created sub-committees that oversee applicants for membership and the Gurdwara and Sadhana activities.
In addition to the above committees, the Sikh Dharma Board of Directors (Mass.) created a Finance Committee that oversees the finances, including rent collection.
The ashram has also spent considerable time dealing with conflicts between ashram members. We have established two formal ways of dealing with conflicts:
1) Arbitration: Two Arbitration Coordinators were elected by the Sangat. They try to resolve the conflict directly.
If this fails the matter goes to a binding arbitration panel.
2) Spokespersons: These individuals have been authorized by the Sangat to speak for it and to intervene in situations where we can’t wait for a KAC meeting or other process to happen. The decision of a Spokesperson is immediate, binding and cannot be appealed.
While the KAC is responsible for the committees, the Corps of Volunteers oversees their day-to-day management. All the committee heads (among others) participate in the Corps of Volunteers. The Corps of Volunteers assists committees to overcome hurdles by problem solving strategies for success. If the Corps of Volunteers is unable to assist the committees, the matter is referred to the KAC.
Our various "agencies" (KAC, Corps of Volunteers, committees) meet frequently. The KAC and Corps of Volunteers meet once a month and committees meet at least that often. Constituencies also meet once a month. Every other month we have an all-ashram meeting. At the the all-ashram meeting we break up into constituency meetings for about an hour and then reconvene as an entire Sangat.
Constituency participation is fairly good, but a concern. I would estimate that about 75% of the ashram participates in constituencies with about 50% attendance at any one meeting. Attendance at the all-ashram meetings (which, remember, also contains constituency meeting) is very good.
In the midst of establishing these structures, the community entered a period of legislative frenzy where we attempted to resolve every situation through legislation. After some time, however, we realized that legislation is ineffective for those things that most of us hold most dear: love of one another, living in grace and harmony, Sadhana and Guru. Since then the Khalsa Administrative Council has become much more aware of the difference between tasks that are administrative and those that are ministerial. Patience wins the day!