Who Da Man?
Gandhi is quoted as saying, “I have nothing new to teach: peace and nonviolence are as old as the hills.” Likewise, Stephen always said that his ideas were not new, just seen with a modern perspective. All religions have certain similarities, he would say, certain basic understandings about life upon which they agree. For example, just about every religion has some version of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Another common tenet is “As ye sow, so shall ye reap,” which, translated into modern hippie street talk sounds like, “Whatever you put out is what you’ll get back.” People “create their own karma” through their own actions. Put all these ideas on computer cards, said Stephen (showing the state of the technology at the time and how quickly it has changed since then), hold the stack of them up to the light, and the ones where the light comes all the way through are the principles that work in ANY religion.
To start with, We Are All One. This is an integral belief of all religions. Modern science tells us the same thing: we are all made of the same elements and in the same fashion as all other humans, all other life on Earth, and the Earth itself. Whatever we do affects the world around us. We are all part of the same system, referred to as “the Universe” by Stephen and the class, although different cultures and religions have different names for it. This Universe was created by something much larger than any one of us, something too vast for us to comprehend with our rational mind.
The effort by individual humans and by societies to relate to this “All” is a natural function of human existence. It could be called “spirituality” or “religiousness.” It is part of human existence; everyone is born with it, although some develop it more than others. Thus, there is ultimately only one big Church, made up of all human effort to relate to the All. We are all members of this Church, whether we acknowledge it or not; your membership button in this Church is your belly button.
Each of us has a “higher self,” an inner self that knows what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s going on, that knows it is part of something bigger. An individual consciousness can slip in and out of being in touch with this self. If you are in touch with your higher self, calm and alert, not hung up on a bunch of unfinished business or some personal agenda, you can see spontaneously how to handle a situation. If you come into a situation already uptight, your decisions will not be good ones, because you will be insensitive to the other person or to the situation.
Church services, prayer, confession, meditation, and in the case of the hippies, making love with your partner and/or taking psychedelics are all supposed to be exercises to help you get back in touch with your higher self, regain your perspective, see things in their relative importance, so as to be centered in your future interactions. Every interaction is important. If you interact with someone in such a way as to make that person “smarter,” meaning happier, more relaxed, more open, more knowledgeable, then that will reflect on others in a ripple effect and make things better in ways you might not even know.
Change comes from the spiritual plane, from decisions made in touch with your highest spiritual values. Anything else is just “moving the furniture around.” Wars and economic competition are just moving the furniture around. The real changes, the ones that stick, that make things better both in personal life and in the life of the community, happen from spiritual decisions.
In making decisions, an individual can choose to help the “big picture,” keeping in mind at all times the precarious position of human life, its preciousness, and the need for making choices based upon this understanding. Whole cultures and societies can lose touch with these realities, as for example Nazi Germany. On the other hand, groups of people and entire cultures can sometimes reach a high spiritual level together and accomplish seeming miracles. For example, in the 1950s and '60s, much was accomplished and many people were inspired to action through the spiritual non-violence of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement.
People can make agreements at different levels of consciousness. Although “an ego agreement beats no agreement at all,” a spiritual agreement is the most powerful agreement of all, because it is the agreement that people most desire in their heart of hearts: to be treated equally and with respect, to love and be loved, to have honest, fulfilling work and a clean environment and a chance to make a personal connection with the Deity / Universe / God, each in his or her own way. Any lesser agreements will leave strife and heartache, people falling through the cracks, people trying to rebel.
The community that sprang up around Stephen grew directly out of this philosophy, and was a conscious, up-front agreement to try to better the world through living the philosophy.
When people get together, they generate a group mind, or “group head” as it was called in Monday Night Class, which reflects the inner voices of all the participants. At the time the class was getting together, the group head of the world was in turmoil, reeling from the combined effects of World War II, the Cold War, the possibility of nuclear destruction, the degradation of the environment, the extinction of plant and animal species, the genocide of whole human societies and the incredible growth of the world’s human population. (It can actually be seen in much the same way today.)
And yet, the class believed, there is a way to do something about the situation. The group head of the world also contains a great deal of information about how we can get along with each other, survive and thrive using fewer resources and producing clean energy. If enough of us have access to this information and are able to use it, a critical mass of intelligence could be reached that could affect and change the world mind in the years to come. The idea was to create a community based upon the principles Stephen and the class had come up with, experiment with it, see what works, and then use that as an example for others seeking community, and as a base to work for change in society at large. Monday Night Class, and the community called the Farm that followed it, were committed to raising the level of consciousness in the world by sending out as strong a signal of love and intelligence and tolerance and hope as possible, in as many ways as possible.
— Michael Traugot, A Short History of The Farm
Constructing a new religious movement asks more of a charismatic leader than just his capacity to . . . tell of his vision; finally, it asks for the creation of a people who realize in their living the sacredness they met in him.
Tim Hodgdon, Manhood in the Age of Aquarius:
In March 1966 [Stephen] Gaskin began to offer informal courses in San Francisco State's new Experimental College. Listed under titles such as "North American White Witchcraft," "Magic, Einstein, and God," "Group Experiments in Unified Field Theory," and "Meta-PE," these courses blended literature on mysticism, magic, popular philosophy and psychology, and hallucinogenic experience. By his own account, Gaskin was no longer maintaining the grooming and behavior of a professor- in-training; the literature department chose not to renew his teaching contract in the fall. Initially unsure of what to do next, he gradually realized that his true calling had already found him, as youthful trippers approached, drawn by word of mouth. His bearing and experience helped qualify him as an "acid preacher:” his time in the classroom and study of literature and semantics had honed a native gift for teaching and speaking, and his age (about a decade older than most young heads), imposing stature, and resonant voice added to the authority of his pronouncements. When necessary, he could even draw on his military experience to make quick decisions and organize people for specific tasks.
In February 1967 Gaskin began to meet informally with a small group in the Gallery Lounge at San Francisco State. In December 1968 they moved away from the campus, which was embroiled in the Third-World Strike, to the basement of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in the Tenderloin district. The group that met there numbered initially about a dozen co-discussants, but grew steadily. When weekly attendance surpassed five hundred, in March 1969, they relocated to the Straight Theater on Haight Street, an area that, after the influx of young seekers during the Summer of Love, had become the site of a serious epidemic of heroin use and crime. Nine weeks later, with over a thousand in attendance, the Monday Night Class, as it came to be called, relocated again, this time to a dance hall on the Pacific Coast Highway operated by the Family Dog. In October 1969 Gaskin initiated "services" at sunrise on Sundays for a smaller, more dedicated group of seekers, at Family Dog facilities in Lindley Meadow and Pompano Beach, and on Mount Tamalpais.
An informal structure evolved for the Class. Gaskin usually opened the proceedings with a monologue on a topic of his own choosing; then, perhaps in a nod to the ancient Buddhist teaching practice of mondo (a rapid-fire question-and-answer session between a Zen master and his monks), he would invite the audience to ask questions. At times, this question-and- answer evolved into a discussion among audience members, with Gaskin involved only as moderator.
In a 1991 interview, Gaskin said that his presence on the stage was contingent on a tacit agreement with his audience that his authority derived from the truthfulness of his words and the humility of his comportment. He claims that he never stood on the stage and never mounted it from the front. Rather, he entered from the rear—presumably, to make the stage a meeting ground of equals, rather than a place that elevated speaker above audience. He always sat, cross-legged, on a cushion, and spoke without a microphone. At the Family Dog facility, the stage was a makeshift wooden platform that sat in the middle of what had once been a roller-skating rink. The audience sat in a semicircle around the platform, and the house lights were not dimmed; both teacher and audience were equally illuminated. Gaskin believed that the heightened consciousness of those in attendance—many of whom were tripping during the Class, as he sometimes was—made them quick to spot false teaching. He suggests that even the twitch of a muscle could alienate this highly sensitized audience.
Some of the sessions of the Class were transcribed and became the text of Gaskin's first book, Monday Night Class, which preserves a statement of Gaskin's Buddhist-inspired philosophy of social change at an early stage of its maturity. Hundreds of "trips" had confirmed for him that there was a reality of spirit and energy, of which the physical universe described by science was but one product. Ignorance of the metaphysical led, Gaskin believed, to willfulness in the exercise of human free will that he described as "uptightness"— attachment to the self and its desires. Not only did attachment render individuals prone to personal suffering; for Gaskin, as for so many others, ignorance—or denial—of the realities of Spirit made existence on the material plane a Hobbesian hell of systematic human exploitation and environmental ruin. Furthermore, karma—responsibility for the consequences of choice—accompanied the power of free will. For as long as humans chose ignorance and attachment, then suffering would be their lot; and, over time, the accumulation of negative karma might make the planet literally uninhabitable.
The alternative, Gaskin taught, was for humans to pull themselves up by their karmic bootstraps. The cultivation of enlightened nonattachment—a state of consciousness in which humans could become increasingly efficient, tantric "transceivers" of qi flowing from the astral to the material plane—would counteract the entropic tendencies so evident in the American way of life. Disciplined and compassionate trippers would introduce a new "vibe" into human affairs that would attract others. Over time, commitment to Spirit would reach a critical mass, resulting in a higher denominator of spiritual agreement that would enable humankind to transcend conflict and suffering. Based on a hermeneutical equivalence between the "high" produced by psychedelics and the Buddhist concept of enlightened nonattachment, Gaskin conceived of the Monday Night Class as a vehicle for serious trippers to get high and stay high, with or without the assistance of drugs, in order to perform the vital work of counteracting the entropic tendencies of industrial civilization.