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Then & Now
A day in Ashram


Convocation Address by Maharajakrishna Rasgotra
At Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning(Deemed University)
22 November 2004

Revered Chancellor, Bhagwan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, Respected Vice-Chancellor, Honoured members of the Governing body and the Academic Council, Learned Members of the Faculty, Graduating class, students and friends,

This University is one of its kind; there is none other like it in India or elsewhere in the world.

Nor is there another teacher like the founder, mentor, guide and Chancellor of this great seat of learning, the fount of divine wisdom and knowledge, the Avatar of our age, Sri Sathya Sai Baba. His abode, Prashanthi Nilayam is the world’s spiritual heart.

The convocations of this university, unlike similar occasions elsewhere, bring together a vast congregation of men and women of high achievement and a large number of people from all over India and the world, to bless the year’s graduates, as they cross the threshold into life’s arena of works and responsibility. Participation in this unique function is an exalting and sanctifying experience. They are festivals of celebration of spirit of love of human unity.

There is no greater honour than to be asked to be the chief guest at this event. It is my good fortune to be here today as chief guest for the second time. I hold no special qualification or position to merit this honour. I have done nothing to earn it. Presidents, Prime Ministers and others of high distinction have graced these occasions as chief guests. By summoning me here today, my benign Master has lavished yet another shower of grace on his humble devotee. To Him, I simply want to say : Swami, I am doubly honoured, I am twice blessed : I thank you.

When I addressed the convocation in 1989, the Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning was still in its early years; but intimations of it being the harbinger of much needed change in the arid scene of Indian education and in the country’s life were there. There are two ways of initiating change: one, can discard or destroy the old and begin anew, or retain what exists and reform and renew it by introducing new catalysts into it.

Sai is the messiah of change through reform and reconstruction. He has infused in the prevailing pattern of education a stream of spiritual awareness and social responsibility by inculcating in the child’s conduct, during his years in school and college, the human values of sathya, dharma, shanti, prema and ahimsa.

Today, 15 years later, this deemed university is, in the words of the National Assessment and Accreditation Council of the University Grants Commission, “a model worthy of emulation by the institutions of higher learning in the country and elsewhere”. It is a well-deserved tribute to the Institute’s pioneering work and it is to be hoped that the prized features of this model will be replicated in all other Indian universities.

Young men and women, who pass through these portals into the wider world are persons of character and integrity. Imbued with the best in Indian cultural tradition and ethic, they are modern in outlook without the frivolity and pomp of modernity. They are living examples of a good life of simplicity and honesty, of compassion, love and service. Ten thousand of them already in the field are changing life and environment around them. As their numbers grow the university’s contribution to the making of a new Indian society will become increasingly apparent.

Of the several new dimensions added to the conventional teaching in this Institution, two, in my view, are of singular importance not only to character-building of the scholars but also to the future of Indian society. These are the university’s Gram Seva programme and the vocational training imparted as a regular feature of hostel life. Introduction of these programmes in the country’s schools and colleges will go a long way in reducing unemployment and in energizing the process of national integration.

The Gram Seva work, in particular, makes education socially relevant. It gives the disadvantaged in our villages the feeling of being part of a society which cares, and it brings the educated elite closer to the reality of life in the country’s vast hinterland, with uplifting effects on both.

Low cost and easily available rural health care facilities in the villages of India are a vital and urgent need. Unfortunately, the system of Indian medicine, which can provide such medical care in the villages, has remained an area of comparative neglect.

The rural health scene in China was revolutionized by “barefoot doctors” administering indigenous Chinese medicine. I wonder whether, as part of the Gram Seva programme, or in some other suitable way, this university can take the benefits of ayurveda to the villages served by the Grama seva programme. Or, perhaps, this pioneering Institution could set one more example for other major universities by adding to its already considerable assets a College of Ayurveda.

Institutions dispensing allopathic medicine and specializing in complicated surgery are also necessary, especially in our metropolitan areas. Bhagwan Baba has already set-up two magnificent super-speciality hospitals where the most advanced medical treatment is made available to the poor and needy of our country free of cost. These and His projects to supply clean drinking water to hundreds of villages in drought prone areas are examples for our State and Central governments and the country’s growing corporate sector to replicate in different regions of our country.

Applications in the field of the University’s scientific research has already benefited rural development, environmental conservation and agriculture in neighbouring areas. Good pioneering work of this nature deserves to be more widely known so that its benefits become available to other needy regions also in due course.

My dream for this university is that it should become, like Taxila of yore, the intellectual hub of modern India, that in due course men of the caliber of Panini, the grammarian, Kautilya, the celebrated theoretician and practitioner of statecraft and diplomacy, and Charka, a progenitor of Indian medical science, will lend luster to this institution and that its research work in science and other branches of knowledge will bring international acclaim and laurels to India.

In saying all this I am conscious that it takes time to build the knowledge base and traditions of a place of learning. There are no short-cuts to utopia. But considering what the university has achieved in its short life of 22 years, its accomplishments in the next decade or two may well exceed our expectations.

I offer my warm felicitations to graduates who have received their degrees today, and to those who have won medals and other distinctions. I pray for your success in all your undertakings. You have been prepared well for life’s varied tasks and responsibilities. I shall not, therefore, invoke the usual convocation homily: sathyam vada, dharmam chara etc. During your stay here, you have integrated all that and much more in your daily conduct. I want to speak to you, instead, about the world you are about to encounter outside these hallowed precincts, and of India’s place in that world. Also, as a fellow Sai devotee I want to share with you my understanding of Sai’s mission and His teaching.

First the world: Of the many changes sweeping the world, globalization of its trade and economy and of its politics is of particular importance. The phenomenon is unavoidable, because astonishing advances in technology, especially in transport and communication, have virtually eliminated the necessities of distance and time. Day by day, the world becomes a smaller but also a more complex place. Far-away happenings affect our lives in unpredictable ways, and old notions of nationhood and sovereignty are loosing some of their meaning.

Globalization is driven by the powerful market forces of the west led by the United States of America. It has generated some unsettling effects in the economies of several developing countries. But we have to live with it, and I believe India today is strong enough to cope with the phenomenon, and even derive some benefits from expansion of the world economy by improving its own manufacturing capabilities and by enlarging its base of knowledge services. India’s progress since independence has been impressive. India’s GDP has grown from US$ 1 billion in 1947 to $ 475 billions today. Similarly, India’s annual trade has increased from around $1 billion in 1947 to over $ 100 billion today. Today, Indian economy is fourth or fifth largest in the world and it is growing at a healthy rate. There is substantial progress in the spread of education. There is greater political and social cohesion in the country. Cleansing of the country’s politics, of its corruption and crime make it stronger still and will ensure even more rapid progress in the future.

We are witnessing wondrous new advances in medicine, genetic manipulation and space travel. Nanotechnology, the latest discovery of science which involves making tiny robots designed to hunt down anything from dust particles to germs in the human body, is revolutionizing medicine, chemistry and electronics. Every fresh breakthrough opens doors to new breakthroughs, unfolding before us realms of knowledge and visions of life unimagined before.

Interestingly, scientific enquiry is now also engaging in the search of answers to the timeless questions about the nature and origin of the universe and of man, and there emerges before us the prospect of bridging the gap between science and spirituality. By demonstrating that through our molecules, we are all physically connected, science is pushing empirical understanding closer to recognition of the transcendental reality of integral unity of all life. Can living entities that are physically connected be spiritually isolated from one another? A few more leaps in scientific knowledge and will a Newton or an Einstein proclaim with the Vedic seer!

“ekam jyothi bahudha vibhati.”
i.e. one and the same light illumines all forms
(Atharva veda XIII,3.17)

The irony of it is that each scientific invention, while opening up fresh prospect of man’s progress, also brings new perils to human security in the shape of ever more lethal weapons of mass destruction. Our world is, by no means, the ideal of Vasudhaiva Kutumukum, contemplated by our sages and seers of yore! Humanity is splintered by hatreds and conflicts of race and ethnicity and there is too much violence all around. Even religion, which is man’s quest for the divine, and cultures whose intermingling should enhance human bonds, lie behind much of the ongoing strife. Terrorists, armed with all manner of lethal weaponry roam the earth with singular objective of killing innocent people in the name of religion.

With all its abundance of material wealth and its great advances in science and technology, it is an unhappy world because there is a great deficit of Love in it.

In the last decade and half, the world’s political landscape has undergone a radical change. The Soviet Union, a leading power of the 20th century, has vanished from the world map and Russia is in the process of finding its feet as a democracy. Several new states have arisen in central Asia adding to the complexity of Asian politics.

Europe, for centuries the scene of schadenfreudal wars, is at peace and the European Union, comprising 25 states, is engaged in consolidating its political unity and economic strength for an enhanced role in world affairs. The centre of gravity of world affairs has shifted sharply from the Euro-Atlantic region to Asia, where China and India, the USA, Japan and Russia, are redefining their regional and global roles. It is a dynamic situation and a time of many uncertainties.

Clearly, the United States is the world’s pre-eminent military and economic power and it is likely to continue to occupy that position for the best part of this century; possibly longer, if it can eschew the war-psychology urge that often goads powerful societies to provoke challenges to their own supremacy, such as the on-going war in Iraq.

In recent years, a special link has developed between India and the United States in the shape of a two million strong, prosperous and influential community of Americans of Indian origin with roots and ties in both countries. They are playing an important role in bringing our two nations closer. There is much curiosity and general interest inside. Outside India, the USA is, perhaps, also the country where interest in Sai’s work and teaching is the deepest. We have much to give that country and, equally, a good deal to learn from it.

India’s relations with Russia – a traditional friend and supporter – and Japan, a committed democracy and Asia’s economic power-house should form the central focus of our foreign policy and diplomacy. Relations with the European Union and China will also require the closest attention.

It is ancient wisdom that a rising power – and today’s India today is a rising power – should take care not to antagonize the existing great powers. Further, it must do everything within its means to avoid any possibility of a combination of existing powers arising against it. Neglect of these maxims has caused our country much harm and discomfiture in the past.

Regrettably, our own region, South-Asia, is beset with many difficulties : a wide-spread armed rebellion in Nepal, ethnic separatism and violence in Sri Lanka, unreasoned anti-indianism in Bangladesh and instability characteristic of military regimes in Myanmar and Pakistan. Uncertainties surround the India-Pakistan peace process because of Pakistan’s pathological fixation concerning the intractable Kashmir issue. We have to learn to live with these surroundings in calm detachment. India should offer willing cooperation and help to those who want it; but towards recalcitrant neighbours a policy of benign neglect is best.

India survived a long debilitating period of alien rule because of its innate spiritual resilience which, in the course of the century preceding independence, found its expression in the lives and teachings of Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Shirdi Sai Baba and Mahatama Gandhi. That same spirit, has flowered to perfection in the divine personage of Sri Staya Sai Baba. His life, his work and teaching are shaping modern India’s destiny and preparing the country for the role of a spiritual catalyst in a changing world.

In a recent discourse, Sri Sathya Sai Baba had declared:
“In future, many great events are going to take place. The country should have no fear. Bharat will certainly become a land of plenty and prosperity. Our students will contribute a lot to the development of the country. They are the future leaders.”

These extraordinary words are a prophecy and a promise and a benediction. It is the voice of the Avatar calling a rejuvenating nation to greatness and conjuring the scholars and alumni of this university to be a major means for his mission’s fulfillment: obviously he has other powerful means also at his command, for example, his personal charisma, the miraculous magnetism of his love, and the simplicity and profundity of his teaching which goes straight to the heart.

Bhagawan Baba’s teaching is aimed, as were the teachings of Krishna, the Buddha and Jesus Christ, at raising man to a higher consciousness and thus to help him to work for his own individual perfection and for a perfect society.

All that is said or implied in the instruction of prophets, saints and seers of all times viz., human equality and brotherhood, a virtuous life of compassion and service etc., love of God and his creation, man’s divine destiny, is summed up by Sathya Sai Baba in four simple words : Love All, Serve All. These simple words, in my humble judgment, contain the core of all his teaching and the teachings of all previous Avatars andsaints. He drives the message home by showering His love on one and all without distinction of any kind.

Sai is here with us, is here in the world, to make good the deficit of love which ails the modern world.

Love of which He speaks, is the human heart’s natural surge: directed towards fellow beings love engenders the spirit of service which in turn, reinforces the feelings of love, fellowship and compassion. The spirit of service also tames the ego, ego which is the main hindrance on man’s path to God.

Sai’s emphasis on service echoes Lord Krishna’s teaching. He tells Arjuna that He, the supreme Lord, is to be known as the “friend of all beings” (suhridam sarvabhutam V.29). Therefore, those who want to attain Him must “engage in doing good to all beings” (sarva bhoot hiteh ratah V.25). His true devotee is one, Krishna affirms, who is “without ill will to all beings, is friendly and compassionate (advestaa sarva bhootanam maitrah Karun eva ch XII.13). In short, if you want to reach God, love his creation, eliminate the ego through service of fellow beings. “Love all, Service All” is the mantra for man’s liberation and immortality and also the recipe for the making of a perfect global society.

To a world riven by religious bigotry and contention Sai says:

“What is all the strife about? There is but one God, and there is only one religion, the religion of love. I preach only the religion of love for all, and this alone will integrate the human race into a brotherhood.”

Sai’s teaching is making an impact not only in India but in all parts of the world. His way of uniting humanity in a universal bond of love and service is truly globalization of the most far-reaching consequence to man’s evolution to a higher plane of existence.

My young friends,
Life’s passage is seldom smooth or trouble-free. There are surprises and allures, challenges and crises at every step. In dealing with them let the spiritual values you have garnered here and Sai’s teachings be your anchor and your guide. When in need you will find that somewhere in his teachings there is an assurance and a guideline to pull you through any and every circumstance. But faith is important. Faith may not move mountains, but it does remain man’s firmest mooring against the pulls and pressures of life.

Three routine disciplines go a long way in the making of a good and happy life. These are disciplines of the tongue or speech, of the intellect and of the mind. Coupled with charity, which is a form of service, these make living a joy in a world which the Buddha described as nothing but misery and transience: (sarvam dukkham dukkham, sarvam khshanikam khashnikam). A quatrain in Aadi Shankara’s Bhaj-Govindam is a useful guide to the acquisition of these disciplines. It says;

“Geyam gitanam sahasram
i.e. chant the Geeta and the Lords’ thousand names
(for discipline of speech)
Dhyeyam shripati roopamajassram
i.e. Contemple the Lord’s form(for disciplining the intellect)
Neyam sajjansange chittam
i.e.Lead the mind towards good company (to control the mind)
Deyam deenajanaya ch vittam”
i.e.And share your wealth with the needy.

Finally, I commend to you the necessity and importance of prayer in daily life. Prayer is an effort to reach God: it is a powerful way of communicating with Him and it is the best way to serve Him. Providence (Daivam), Lord Krishna tells us, is one of the five factors in the accomplishment of all human endeavours. Providence is unpredictable and it is also the most potent factor in human action, it is beyond man’s control. Therefore, it is best to begin each day with a short prayer from the heart asking the Lord to take charge in simple words, such as these:

Lord, be my guide this day
In all I think, say or do.
Let this be your day in my life.

And the day should end with another short prayer rededicating to Him the day’s efforts and their fruits, and asking Him to dispose of them as he thinks best
Sai Himself has often said:

“Pray to me with your heart full of love
When you pray with a loving heart
I immediately respond.”

I advise you to take Him up on his word: if my own experience is any guide, you will not be disappointed.

I pray for Sai’s blessings on you.