Previously in this series: The Farm: Origins
Context: This series on The Farm comprises a Case Study in Intentional Community
Stephen Gaskin's language, philosophy and spiritual orientation were Haight-Ashbury (Hashburian) street hipster, psychedelphian spirit-guide and Buddhist mystic. Even stranger to the mainstream culture then than it is to us today, this package had strong appeal because of both the messenger and the message.
Educated, articulate, 10 years older than his audience, 6'5", and good looking, Gaskin was a commanding presence. And his message had both warmth and strength: moral grounding, clarity of purpose, and compelling relevance to an audience committed to making a radical break from the traditions that had produced so many dire social and environmental conditions.
Though not so readily apparent to those engaged in the established order, these problems and their sources were painfully visible to many groups in the day; not only Gaskins' movement, but the Beats, Diggers, New Left, Black Panthers and others. They may not always have correctly teased out the causal relationships or their solutions, but they knew better than to leave it up to the establishment if they expected change.
The following passage, from Manhood in the Age of Aquarius, by Tim Hodgdon, traces the central pattern in Gaskin's weave of hippie jargon, Buddhism and psychedelic experience.
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.Thus, the spirituality that emerged from the Class borrowed from both karmic and tantric yoga.
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.
Karmic because only recognition of and commitment to one's "responsibility for the consequences of choice" (mindfulness) would enable one to shake free from his "hang-ups" and achieve ego-detachment and higher levels of consciousness.
And Tantric because transporting life-force energy (qi/chi) from the astral plane was embraced as a community goal, one which would increase harmony and stability and reduce human suffering on the material plane.
Gaskin's approach to "the battle between the sexes" was an important feature of the movement and played no small role in his and its success. Overwhelmingly, those who experienced the 60s instinctively saw this "battle" and the ending of it as integral to dealing with all of the other problems mankind had created.
As one might imagine, at this early stage of the transition away from thoroughly patriarchal expressions and norms -- a transition far from complete even today -- tendencies in language and behavior throughout this period were frequently self-conscious, awkward and contradictory, despite the best intentions of almost everyone involved.
Even among enlightened, willing and determined parties, liberation from tradition is a process, one which is very visible in the history of The Farm.
So we read of circumstances in which men sincerely seek to "cop" to their women's needs for respect and influence, while also embracing liberated gender roles in sex, for example, in juxtaposition with trace chivalry and traditional role-playing in the day-to-day operations of the community.
Excluding many conservatives, we are arguably much better today at anticipating and avoiding the common markers of discriminatory language and behavior. Even those who resent having to do so.
The gender-jungle bushwhackers of the 60's and 70's, however, knew better why it's important; not just because it's fair, ethical, "right," but because equanimous gender balance changes everything. And they wanted to change everything at its root, the very definition of radical, in human behavior.
In the Class, relations between the sexes were incorporated into the communal goal of achieving ever higher and ever-widening group consciousness ("oneness"), all for the purpose of reducing mankind's suffering.
Gaskin...shocked many in the counterculture with his advocacy of lifelong marriage, but, in light of the spiritual centrality of both karmic and tantric yoga in his teaching, marriage of some sort became a necessary component of his utopia. The law of karma pointed toward the importance of fair dealing with all persons. But the intimacy and vulnerability of sexual relationships—especially those of the tantric variety—presented many ethical challenges for Gaskin and his village of believers, who sought to change the world by introducing a pure, spiritual "vibe" into worldly affairs. Those whom Gaskin served as spiritual teacher would make little headway if they tolerated black magic in affairs of the heart, the copping of others' minds and "ripping off" of others' spiritual energy, by either men or women. Gaskin described tantric marriage as a lifelong agreement between male and female seekers, not only to practice tantric loving, but to assist one another in maintaining a high level of spiritual consciousness in all aspects of the relationship.In the winter of 1969-1970, Gaskin was invited to speak at churches around the country. By various accounts, these invitations came from the American Academy of Religion, Methodists, theologians, or other clergy.
-Manhood in the Age of Aquarius, by Tim Hodgdon.
When he announced to the Class his plans for a national tour to convene an "Astral Continental Congress," his followers were stunned.
"No way were these adoring students, fans and tribe going to let Stephen go easily," Stiriss writes. "Stephen laughed and said that any of his students who could manifest a bus and gas money, keep it together and keep up with him, could join him on this revolutionary caper."
Gaskin's most committed students sold their worldly possessions, buying and retrofitting old school buses and delivery vans. They were going to be part of this caravan.
-"'Holy Hippies' Tells Story Of 1971 Pot-Fueled Spiritual Bus Caravan" (book review of Holy Hippies and the Great Round-the-Country Save-the-World School Bus Caravan, Part I. of the Voluntary Peasants Trilogy, by Melvin Stirris, founding Farm member
The 60's and Occupy Wall Street
Many 60's revolutionaries knew as did many occupiers that the root causes of the enormous problems of our respective times stem from fundamental flaws in how we relate to each other and the planet as reflected in our behavior, especially our decisions. What is startling in both cases is that mainstream culture, faced with severe global consequences in virtually every sphere of human activity, remains as unaware of how fatally incompetent its decision-making traditions are as it is of the need for and means of correcting them.
As over-matched as intentional communities, Occupy and other isolated efforts in which people are adapting to more mindful, cooperative modes of living may seem to the escalating threats created by the thoughtless, recklessness of mainstream culture, ultimately they may be all that stands between civilization and its fall.
Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us. - Jerry GarciaTo be continued.
Note: With the exception of direct quotes, I will put a bibliography/links in the final diary in the series, since all the diaries refer to the same ten or so sources.