Sri Sathya Sai Education: For Life, Not For Mere Living – By Damu Nair

‘Education is not for living, but for life’. When Bhagawan makes a statement like that, He has already put the system and process in place to bring that to fruition. What differentiates our education is the presence of this robust system. The courses that we go through or the electives that we choose are not going to be immensely different from those of other Institutes. The single biggest lesson that I gained; being a student at Parthi is work ethics.

‘To Be, To Do, To See and To Tell’ is an axiom Bhagawan puts forward for Leadership. In today’s corporate jungle where everybody wants to be a leader and an equally good percentage of leaders are mocked at due to their lack of ability, Bhagawan’s teachings help us to differentiate ourselves. Being in our Institute, day in and day out, we witness examples where people lead from the front, be it Bhagawan Himself doing Narayana Seva or our teachers attending to the chores in the Hostel. Recently I was assessed to be having a “Pacesetting” leadership style. It was not a surprise after my seven years stay in His inspiring presence. All through my stay in the Hostel, I was involved in various activities and notable among them was being the student coordinator of the maintenance team. Even to this day, I draw upon the practical lessons that I learned during those days when I was leading a group of 20-30 students.
Sathya Sai with Students after a Convocation Drama
During the hectic activities for the Convocation Drama or Sports Meet, every one of us was driven by the single thought of pleasing Bhagawan. To draw a parallel in work life, I have seen that it is easier to be self-motivated to work hard for the satisfaction that you derive from a job well done, rather than for any other worldly gains.

The events that we staged in front of Bhagawan are some of the best examples of well coordinated projects; they are the epitomes of team work. In a typical Convocation Drama, at least 150 students would be involved directly or indirectly. Though very few would go on to the stage and get physically noticed by Bhagawan, all of us would contribute our best to make it a success. This is Nishkama Karma in practice.

It was during our stay in Puttaparthi that we took a fascination to building mammoth structures for the Annual Sports Meets. Initially we made structures out of bamboo, paper pulp, etc., and soon we graduated making full-fledged steel structures. On one occasion, due to non-availability of professionals and late delivery of materials, we fell behind schedule on the fabrication of a structure. The structure that had to be made was a huge stage with two ramps on both sides, and this was to be the centre piece of our inaugural session. The practice was to start the next day and we were left with just one night to finish fabricating the structure but with no welder to do the job.

With hardly any knowledge about welding but with sincere prayers in heart, our team started working on the job. Into the wee hours of next morning, I could hear some kind of a strange sound from behind. I saw the other brother who was doing the welding, fallen asleep and making a hole in the iron pipe. The person who was helping him had also fallen asleep. I woke them up to continue the job. No one wanted to quit. A couple of hours later, we completed the work. The splendour was that our entire team including the teachers-in-charge, kept awake and gave us the support that we badly required. This was probably known only to the handful of students who were present that night. Sure enough, in Puttaparthi these are not isolated occurrences. Instances like this taught me the importance of team work and more so the drive to do things for the larger good.

One might question the relevance of these in a corporate setting with all the cut throat competition. When Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the USA, said “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” he might have been referring to Nishkama Karma. A great team cannot be made up without a noble thought. Putting it in a different way, a good leader should be one who is ever ready to give the credit to where it is most deserved. If a leader always wants to grab the credit for success, he creates the recipe for disaster.

In early 2002, we were in Germany for a project. We had a team of about ten people. One weekend; we planned a visit to Paris. We were to start on a Friday evening driving through Belgium and to France. When the project manager came hurriedly to our room on that Friday afternoon, I felt something was amiss. As it turned out, one critical component for the project was running behind schedule and to make things worse there was not even a design on how to build it. I was drafted to look into it immediately and to have a solution ready by Monday. Along with another colleague of mine, I started on the job. In a rare show of solidarity, our entire team cancelled the trip to Paris and stayed back in the office, supporting us. We were able to provide a solution that was well appreciated.  Our team work and dedication went a long way in cementing a long term relationship with that client.

It might seem contradictory that I am referring to Nishkama Karma and of furthering business interests at the same time. As Bhagawan sometimes says, we plant a tree sapling with the intention that it will provide shade. If it grows up and yields fruits that is only a collateral benefit. When we sacrificed an enjoyable weekend and worked, hardly did we imagine that it would start a business relationship which is continuing even today. The intention was not for any selfish gains, nor for any personal extolment. It is my belief that if the drive is superior, we accomplish results that far exceed our capacity.

This philosophy also works at a different level. Time and again I have seen Bhagawan making people do seemingly impossible tasks. It could be as simple as giving a diffident student the confidence to address a large gathering or as complex as helping a doctor perform a complicated surgery. In these cases when Bhagawan guides, we cease to be the doers and we become instruments in His hand. It becomes possible because we no longer attempt to parade our oratory excellence or the intricate surgical skills. Our goal is to share our experience to help others. Obviously this is not an easy task to do in everything that we perform. With Bhagawan’s blessings, I believe, we as Sai Students should take every opportunity to work in accordance with this principle.

If you are beginning to think that I have started delving into purely unrealistic gibberish, I would like to draw your attention to the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, author of the best seller “Built to Last”. In this book, written after five years of research, the author comes out with a very provocative finding as to what makes great companies with level 5 leadership. Jim Collins defines level 5 leaders as those leaders who ‘channelise their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company…their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.’  The book talks about a galaxy of great leaders who led their respective companies to great heights of economic performance. None of them were boastful of their accomplishments; in fact they did not feel that they had accomplished anything other than doing their job the right way. Every one of them attributed their success to other people, external factors and ‘good luck’.While in Puttaparthi, the system instilled in us a discipline by which we did everything as an offering to God. From the time we woke up to the time we went to bed, every activity was punctuated by a prayer that let us offer activities to the Supreme Being. When I was doing my MBA, we were fortunate to have weekend sessions where Bhagawan used to come to the Institute to exclusively address the MBA students. On one such session, one of our lecturers prayed to Bhagawan to grant a boon that none of our students would ever do anything wrong. As I remember, the gist of Bhagawan’s reply was that when our students act with the full faith that what we are doing is an offering to Him, with the awareness that He is operating through us, there is no prospect that we can go wrong. 

Sri Sathya Sai addressing the Management Students in the Prasanthi Nilayam Campus
For a professional course like an MBA, the real test is about how successful the graduates are in the corporate world. While business cannot be always about altruism, we are able to take it one step further and use the yard stick to measure how much difference our graduates are making to the society. A quick look at our alumni database will show that our graduates are spanning an entire spectrum of activities around the globe. We have brothers who are holding very responsible and prestigious positions in reputed firms, we have others doing social service activities and yet others teaching and spreading Bhagawan’s ideals. I am sure each of them can vouch for the great work ethics that we have learned at His Lotus Feet. Somewhere deep inside us, we do know and always practice the truth – ‘Education is not for living but for life’. 

- Damu Nair
Student (1991-96), Department of Physics
Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning
Prasanthi Nilayam Campus

Currently, Vice President - Program Management and QA – Utegration, Dallas, USA


                                                                     
Source: Fragrance 2005

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