At age 17, I faced a decisive moment in my small town existence – go to big city Delhi with its cool air ( metaphorically speaking of course, as my small town is 2000 meters above sea level) and cooler life or go to an ashram for a ‘nunnery’ like insulated education. No, I wasn’t pushed; I really did fall – I jumped rather, in response to a subconscious calling. I chose the ashram over the city, the chanting over the dancing – I chose Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning.
So, what was it to be a student? What did that trickster miracle man indoctrinate me into? Here’s what was drilled into me until I heard it in my sleep, believed it, and lived it as much as I could-even decades after I came ‘out’ into the world.
– Character the end of education & it starts with thoughts:
We are masters of our own destiny, He said. Student life is the most important, most impressionable – DON’T WASTE IT in unproductive pursuits. He incessantly urged us to use our student life to build our character along the 5 human values of Truth, Righteousness, Love, Peace and Non violence. We are the masters of our destiny, and it all begins with cultivating good thoughts:
You sow a thought, reap an action,
You sow an action, reap a habit,
You sow a habit, reap a character.
– Discipline & Self Control :
Discipline is the ‘medium of instruction’ in the institute, and man, did they make us feel it! Strict regimens, dawn to night, where no spare time was allowed to indulge in frivolous chit chat or time-pass activities. Every hour passed in pursuit of self excellence.
– Irreverence :
For an ashram, it was unique in that He never required students to undertake fasts. He often said ‘don’t have blind faith. Come and test me, question me’… and of course I did. I still do. I question rituals, superstitions and social traditions that I am not comfortable with, and their need to be followed. He told my father, a non vegetarian, not to get pressurized to turn vegetarian -told him to leave only when he wants to. He told a very-guilty classmate living in New York it was okay to not wear Indian outfits.
I learnt to seek the principle behind the structure.
– Service :
Day and night the concept of service to others was drilled in. Teachers, elders, seniors… Hands that serve are holier than lips that pray, He said. As a fresher in the college, no one was ragged- in fact we were spoilt by our seniors! Even my luggage, as I entered the hostel, was carried by some senior who offered to show me my room; meals those first few weeks were served entirely by the teachers!
– Self Help/Dignity of Labour:
We are masters of our own lives, He said. At college that meant we all had to take turns looking after the premises, including cleaning the toilet once a week! Every hostel activity had a team of students managing it along with a teacher in charge.
– ‘Ceiling on Desires/ Respecting Parents:
A brake on the consumerist trend here. Every semester He would remind us ‘every paisa you spend is like a drop of blood of your parents- don’t waste it.’ Don’t chase material things.
– Unity of Mankind :
Love is the only religion, Humanity the only caste. Even today, where ever in the world I have been, I have found it easy to get along with people, irrespective of their background, economic, cultural or religious.
– An alternate Societal Model:
He gave us a glimpse of an alternate society, where our hostel rooms weren’t locked, yet theft was a rare occurrence; where teachers taught secretly in hostel corridors even when the whole nation was shut down due to strikes.
AND WHAT DID HE ASK IN RETURN? To quote:
“I expect from you only one thing i.e., you should transform yourselves into ideal children full of bliss, the very embodiments of Atma, proving all this to the world by your behavior and conduct in life. That alone is True Education.”
I have NEVER been under any pressure to join the Sathya Sai Organisation, even while organizational activities have always been open to my participation.
So, there you have it in a nutshell – that trickster tricked me into being a better person! His hold has been so strong that even 2 decades since my student days, I still spend most waking moments in pursuit of bettering myself.
Posted by Lom harshni Chauhan
Alumnus, Anantapur Campus, 1991-94