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THE GREATEST WONDER OF THE WORLD

By Prof. G Venkataraman


This year, the Sri Sathya Sai University has passed its twenty-fifth anniversary. [This article was written in November 2006]. The University is fairly well known in the country today, and understandably there are many visitors. Some come to just look around; some to attend Seminars and Conferences here, some to teach, some others as examiners; a few come for discussions, or for evaluation; many come to attend the annual Convocation; many more visit to witness the Sports Festival. Everyone unfailingly sees the fine buildings, the wonderful campuses, the admirable discipline, the spirit of self-confidence and self-reliance amongst the students, etc. All these are what readily meet the eye. I would rather like to describe and discuss in this article what visitors do not normally see. It is said in Vedanta that what seems real is unreal and what does not seem real is Real. In the same way, where Swami’s Institute is concerned, it is what people do not normally see that tells the real story of this truly remarkable University.  
 
Sri Sathya Sai University

Unique Philosophy - Unique Personality

To put matters in perspective, I would like to begin by referring to two points. The first concerns the philosophy underlying the educational system adopted here, while the second pertains to Swami’s unique relationship with His students. As far as the first is concerned, Swami is quite clear that education must not be reduced to just stuffing the brain; instead, it must address in a balanced manner the needs of the body, the mind, and the soul. Swami often says that Education must be for life and not for merely eking out a living. If life is to be lived the way it really ought to be, then clearly a good and noble character must be the foundation; Integral Education is what facilitates the development and moulding of good character. This system of Integral Education was conceived and crafted by Bhagavan Baba and implemented by the first Vice Chancellor Prof. V K Gokak, from which time it has been operating most successfully.

 

As for the second of the two points mentioned above, in His Benedictory Address delivered on November 22, 1986, on the occasion of the Fifth Convocation, Swami said,

“Education must reveal the path, which enables man to tap the dormant spring of Divinity within, without becoming entangled with the mass of created objects. It has to lay stress on spiritual transformation, which is more fundamental than even moral uplift. The real sign of an educated person is his equal attitude towards all. He sees in Society, the manifestation of Divinity. Education does not divert man from Nature to the all-pervading Atma. Rather, it leads man to study Nature with the unifying Atmic outlook.”

This statement is very important, especially the last two sentences, because they give us a clue to the remarkable and intimate relationship that Swami has with His students. Let us turn now to the history of the Institute.

Ladies First

The seeds were sown way back in 1968, when Swami established in Anantapur, a College for women. It was significant that His first College was for women rather than men; that in itself tells a story. One thing about Swami is that once He wills/wishes/decides to do something, He wastes no time in getting started. Thus, without waiting for the buildings to be ready, the Women’s College started functioning right away in temporary quarters. The buildings came later and were duly inaugurated by the then President of India, Mr. V V Giri. That was in the year 1968. Speaking on that occasion, Bhagavan Baba said,

“India is being forged into Bhogabhoomi [land of luxury], a land of skyscrapers, tinned food, air-conditioning, and television. Indians are being shaped into an imitative, insurgent, ill-disciplined mass. They are being transplanted on other soils and encouraged to grow without roots. This is an insult to the past and a dangerous defiance of history. It is a sacrilege on the history of Time, and on the sole purpose of the human body. That is the reason I have decided that this College be inaugurated on Gurupoornima Day, as a reminder of the highest tradition, in which the highest ideals of life were instilled by personal example and guidance by the Guru, to pupils eager to imbibe…The seed has been planted; it will sprout and spread, heavy with fruits, providing shade, security, and sustenance to all.”

Yes, the seed had indeed been planted, and what a majestic and magnificent tree has emerged from that tiny seed! Education being dear to Swami, He did not stop with merely establishing the Anantapur College. Rather, He became deeply involved in its functioning and made regular visits to Anantapur, spending several days at a time. There, He would talk to students and teachers, listen to Bhajans for extended periods, go on inspection trips around the Campus, and give Discourses. He would even drop into classrooms, sit at the back and quietly listen to the lecture in progress! Dr. Rajeswari Patel, formerly a student of the Anantapur Campus and now a teacher there, recalls those events: "The beautiful thing is He used to come and sit inside the classroom, when the classes were going on. He would sit behind, and listen to the lecture. And if the students turned round to look at Him, which they often did, He would say, 'No, no, turn back and listen to your Teacher!' He used to be that casual!" (From Radio Sai Archives)

Now why did Swami occasionally visit the classroom? Was it to check on the Teacher? Not entirely; He would, at the end of the class, often place the lesson taught in a wider perspective, far beyond what even the Teacher was aware of.

Whenever there was something important going on in Prasanthi Nilayam, Swami would send for the Anantapur students and give them a chance to participate in the local activities. For example, they often used to come to help with the construction of the Sarva Dharma Stupa that now majestically stands near the Mandir, and with the construction of the Poornachandra Auditorium. Here is a charming recollection of those days from Dr. Rajeswari Patel:

"When the Sarva Dharma Stupa was being built, every week a bus used to be sent to Anantapur and we used to come to Puttaparthi to help in the construction. Today when we see that structure, we feel an intimate association with it. Swami used to come, go round, and supervise. I remember He once gave us an Interview right there, sitting on a small chair. We all sat around Him on the sand near the Stupa – under construction. He then brought oranges, even as we were singing Bhajans. The song went: 'Aao Sai!' Swami smiled and responded: 'Aatha hoon! Aatha hoon!' He then came near and started tossing oranges to each one of us. It was all so wonderful!" (From Radio Sai Archives)

 

Brindavan Blessings

The next step in Swami’s Educational Mission was the founding of a College for men in Brindavan. This happened in 1969, and this is how late Mr. Kasturi recalls that event.

 

"On the opening day, the College looked spick and span ….. On 9th June, 1969 , the Chief Minister of Mysore State, Mr. Veerendra Patil had the honour of inaugurating the College. ….. Speaking on that occasion, Dr. V K Gokak, Vice Chancellor of Bangalore University to which the College is affiliated welcomed the new addition as 'a gem in the crown of the Bangalore University.' Dr. Gokak added, 'This College would set the pattern for College education, not only in the academic field but also in the ethical and spiritual fields. This is a College conceived, devised, and completed by Baba’s Love, Grace, and Wisdom. Brick by brick, plank by plank, He attended to every detail. It is a lesson for all who seek to do sincere loving service.'” (Sathyam Sivam Sundaram - Part III, SSSBPT, Prasanthi Nilayam, 1974, pp.54-55)

 

In those days, Swami spent most of His time in Brindavan, which meant that He became even more deeply involved in shaping the students of the Brindavan College than He had been with the Anantapur students. Here is how Kasturi describes it.

"There is no activity of the College in which Baba does not evince interest, for He knows that it is the atmosphere in which education is imparted and imbibed that really counts. Since the College and the Hostel are situated within the compound, Baba walks in during the Prayer Session, presides over Moral Instruction Lectures, and Himself supplements the Instructor. He writes and directs plays for the College Dramatic Society.

"Often, He pats a good student on the back, pulls up a Lecturer who saunters into the Lecture Hall a few minutes after the bell, inquires from a sluggard the percentage of marks he secured at the monthly test, creates a fountain pen or a watch for some diligent, well-behaved boy about whom the Principal has given a report that confirms His own opinion, advises the Librarian about classification, peeps into the dissection room of the budding zoologists and generally moves about as the Guardian Deity of the Institution." (Sathyam Sivam Sundaram - Part III, SSSBPT, Prasanthi Nilayam, 1974, p.58)

Kasturi was no doubt a keen witness to all that Swami was engaged in during those days, but it is from the students that we get a more detailed picture, and what an amazing picture that is! Those were the days before the present Trayee came into existence. At that time, there used to be a building known as the “Old Bungalow” which was Swami’s residence. Swami’s quarters were upstairs, and one of the rooms below, which in earlier days had apparently served as a garage, was the Hostel! This gave the boys of that era an unimaginable proximity that students of today would scarcely believe.

 

Many a morning, Swami would come down and personally wake up the boys for the Suprabhatham. There were a few cows attached to the Ashram, and it was the boys who did the milking! Often Swami would ask about the yield, the health of the cows and so forth. The boys had to help the cook, and their duties included making chapathis! Swami would drop in, watch the boys rolling chapathis, rally them on the odd shapes they were producing, and at other times give tips on how to get the shape right! When old students recall those days, the dominant feeling one gets is that they were all living like one big family.

Work was not always specifically assigned but the boys instinctively knew what had to be done and when. The spectrum of work the boys were involved in during those days is astounding – everything from security duty, to whitewashing, tree planting, and taking care of the birds and deer that used to live in a cage adjoining the Bungalow.

Swami no doubt gave boys many liberties but that did not mean He compromised on discipline. Here is a recall from Dr. S Siva Sankar Sai, now a senior member of the Physics Faculty and Warden of the Prasanthi Nilayam hostel; at the time of the incident, he was a student; this is what he says

'One day, Swami got very angry about the discipline of the students. He told us He was going away and left for Prasanthi Nilayam. We all became upset and did not know what to do. The then Warden blasted us and said, “If you behave like this, you would lose the opportunity to enjoy Divine proximity. Now repent for what you have done.” All the boys prayed intensely and the Bhajan sessions became passionate and emotional; they were very nice. About a week later, Swami wrote a most beautiful and loving letter. He said, “Boys! Though I came off here, I just cannot help thinking about you. All of you are so dear to Me! Even though I went away from there in a huff, you should not become depressed. I did so in the interest of discipline. I want all of you to become good boys, God’s boys! That alone would save you!” That letter really touched us all!' (From Radio Sai Archives)

In short, during those glorious Brindavan days, the boys were literally living with God, picking up innumerable lessons most unconsciously. I shall comment on the lessons themselves a little later but let me now offer an example of how close the bond between Swami and the students is, and how He responds to their wishes. The incident happened sometime after the permanent buildings for the Brindavan College had been built – this is the fine edifice that we all see today, beyond the sports field. Though the College had a new building, the students continued to live in the improvised Hostel, and Swami was not too happy about that. So He asked late Col. Joga Rao, a retired Civil Engineer who planned and built all the buildings in those days, to plan a good Hostel for the Brindavan boys. Joga Rao did as told, located a site adjacent to the new College building, got it cleared, drew up a plan for the Hostel, got Swami’s approval and even fixed a date for Swami to lay the foundation stone. On the previous day, Swami dropped in at the temporary Hostel and started talking about the new Hostel, the wonderful facilities it would have, etc. Something amazing happened then, and this is how Mr. Veda Narayanan, then a student and now a Teacher in Swami’s High School for Boys recalls that incident.

 

'The day before that, Swami came to the garage that served then as the Hostel, sat down, looked around and said, “Boys, soon you will have a new Hostel. Here you are all cramped and have absolutely no convenience whatsoever. Swami is not happy about that. In the new Hostel, things would be much better and you would have many facilities that are absolutely lacking here. Tomorrow, I shall be laying the foundation stone.”

There was a small boy standing next to Swami, and he was holding a letter in his hand. Swami turned to that boy and picked up that letter. He then read it, after which He turned to the boy and said, “Shall I read out this letter to the boys assembled here?” The boy who gave the letter replied, “Swami, as You wish.” Swami then called the Warden and asked him to read aloud the letter. The Warden did so. The boy had written,

“Swami, we do not want any new Hostel. The present accommodation can easily take in another two hundred boys. We can always adjust. If we go to the new Hostel, we would be far away from Swami’s Mandir. We just do not want to go away from Swami. If Swami is so particular about the new Hostel building planned next to the College, then Swami must have a new Mandir constructed right next to the proposed new Hostel.

"Then we are prepared to move into the new Hostel; otherwise, we would like to stay here, right next to Swami.” Swami was so touched that He immediately sent for Col. Joga Rao and said, “Joga Rao, the boys say they do not want to move from here. Can the Hostel be built right next to the Mandir?” Joga Rao replied, “Swami, that is not possible; there is no place around here. In the only open spot available, we have a tank here.” And then, something amazing happened. Right there, Swami started explaining to Joga Rao how a building could be constructed around the tank! And that is how the Brindavan Hostel came to be where it now is, right next to Swami’s Mandir, all because one boy spoke so feelingly, touching Swami’s Heart!' (From Radio Sai Archives)

Lastly a University in Prasanthi Too

In 1979, Swami established the third College, this time in Prasanthi Nilayam. Unlike the other Colleges, this was to be substantially a Post-graduate institution. Once again, the classes commenced first in improvised locations, the building coming up later.

Swami now began to spend more time in Prasanthi Nilayam, but His interactions with the boys remained as intimate and vibrant as ever before. Caring for students did not always mean talking directly to students. He did this in many ways, as Mr. Venkatachalam, who for many years has been supervising the Mess and other facilities in the Senior Boys Hostel in Prasanthi Nilayam recalls:

'In those days, Bhajans used to be held very late, around 11 a.m. So Swami would find time to come to the Hostel around 10 o’clock. I would be alone then since all the students, barring those who had fallen sick, would have gone away to attend classes. Swami would come to the Hostel in His car and I would open the door – it was all very casual. The first thing Swami would ask is, “What’s the news? Have all gone to the classes or are some boys sick?” Swami would then ask me to lead Him to the rooms where the sick boys were staying. There He would drag a chair, sit on it, and then talk to the boys.

It would be just a small talk but very soothing for the sick boys, since it was always full of Love. Swami would then materialise vibhuti for the sick boys and tell me, “Take good care of the boys. When I get back, I shall send a doctor to attend on the boys.” After that, Swami would go on an inspection tour, visiting the dining hall, the kitchen and even the bathrooms! If the place was not clean, He would pull me up saying, “You fellows keep everything clean when Swami is coming for a function, but rest of the time? No, the place must be clean all the time.” Swami never scolded me or ever got angry with me. Yes, He criticised me and chided me for my lapses but it was always tinged with a lot of good humour. To me, He was ever intimate but also Divine!' (From Radio Sai Archives)

 


 

Teachers too were quietly taught many valuable lessons. Here is a recall by Dr. Sainath of the Physics Department, going back to the time when Swami often used to casually drop in at the sports field to witness matches in progress. This is what happened when Swami came to witness a volleyball match:

'During that time when the volleyball match was going on, Swami turned to one of the Teachers and said to him, “You see this game? There is a big lesson in it. You see that person serving the ball? Once he serves the ball, his teammates would do anything, including crawl on their knees, bruise their forearms and elbows, to make sure the ball does not touch the ground. Your job is something like that. I serve the ball, and you must ensure that the ball does not touch the ground. I give the initial push and it is up to the Teachers and senior students to make sure that the enthusiasm, the discipline and the lessons that I teach, never slack. They must maintain them always.' (From Radio Sai Archives)

I can go on and on in this vein, recalling innumerable instances of how Swami grants Divine intimacy to His students and teachers, moulding and shaping them in amazing ways, but I shall not since that is beyond the scope of the present article. Instead, let me place all the above in the context of the second of the two points mentioned in the beginning.

Learning by Divine Example

By being close and intimate with students and teachers, Swami grants them a chance to observe Him in action. And what is it He wants them to see? He wants them to see how Swami deals with the world. Where dealing with the world is concerned, Swami is very practical. Yes, He does want students to worship God, pray to Him, meditate on Him, and so on. However, Swami does not want them to become monks or recluses. Instead, He wants His students to look at the world and nature in a practical and yet divine way.

Take the enforcement of discipline; it has to be a carrot and stick approach. Take games and sports; they are very much needed for a healthy body. However, be careful and avoid aggression; and make sure you do not get hurt. As for food, eat well, but in moderation. Go ahead and eat ice cream if you want to! (In fact, Swami Himself distributes ice cream on many occasions.) But let everything be within limits. You want to go on a picnic? Go ahead and enjoy nature – nothing wrong in it. (In fact, when He goes to Kodai Kanal, Swami Himself takes the boys out for picnic, complete with games and snacks!) The long and short of it is: “Live in this world and don’t try to run away from it. Lead a full life; but live seeing God always and everywhere.” Swami tells us that this is precisely what Emperor Janaka did; and now, He is quietly teaching that same lesson all the time.

 

All this is fine but does it really work? Does it all rub off on the students, and how do they behave when they go out into the wide world? I can write chapter and verse on this subject but shall restrict myself to citing just one example, a powerful example I might add, brought to public attention by Sanjay Sahni, now Principal, Brindavan Campus. This is what Sanjay said during a Panel Discussion at the time of the Summer Course in 2002. It is all about a Sai student who was caught up in a city torn by riots, and how he put Swami’s teachings into practice in an hour of crisis:

Character Shines in a Crisis

There was this youngster who was in Ahmedabad, when the riots broke out. To his utter horror, this boy found that people whom he had known for years, his friends, his neighbours whom he used to address as uncle, people who were well-to-do, people who were well educated, all of them were leaving their homes to join the mob.

The mob was in a frenzy and in a killing spree. The youngster asked himself the question: “What should I do? What is my duty? What is my Dharma in this particular situation?” After pondering for a while, the boy came to the conclusion that he would not join the mob; if he did, he would himself turn crazy. He said to himself, “The least I can do is not to join the mob; if I cannot help, at least let me not cause harm.” That is the first principle of service.

His next thought was: “I cannot stop the riot; I cannot put out this raging fire. But there are people out there whom I know. Perhaps if I talk to them, I might convince at least some of them not to participate in arson.” He did talk to a few and succeeded in preventing them from joining the mob. To prevent people from doing evil is also service.

 Finally, he asked himself: “There are so many people affected by the riots. Can I help them in some way, say by talking to them and consoling them?” He did just that. That was positive action, and it did not cost a penny.

 

 

What better testimony is needed to highlight the impact Bhagavan Baba makes on His students! I have had the privilege to see many Universities all over the world, but I can honestly say that I have never seen anything like Swami’s Institute. The more I become familiar with it, the more I am amazed. Officially, Swami is supposed to be the Chancellor of the Institute. In practice, He is anything but the Statutory Chancellor. Students hail Him as Father, Mother, Teacher, Friend, Philosopher, Guide, etc. All these roles He undoubtedly plays. But beyond all that, as Dr. Gokak so aptly described Him once, Swami guides them all silently as the very Chancellor of the Universe.

Yes, Swami has been quietly teaching that there is really nothing airy-fairy about the Atma. And one can deal with the Omnipresent Atma immanent in the diversity of Creation, without any mumbo jumbo, enjoying the good things in life, and by being helpful, kind and compassionate as much as possible. What is unique about the Institute is that though it has many Campuses, Departments and Teachers, in essence, there is only One Teacher, and that is Swami.

Truly speaking the Institute is a modern Gurukulam, with Swami playing the role of the Guru. The students live with the Guru, learning constantly from Him. Only, this Guru is no ordinary Guru, but the Guru of Gurus, that is, God. That is what makes this Institute, at least for me, the greatest wonder of the world. Jai Sai Ram!


Dear Reader, did you find this article helpful? Would you like more articles on the Institute? Please tell us at [email protected] mentioning your name and country.  Thank you for your time.


 

 

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Vol 5 Issue 06 - JUNE 2007
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