Last updated on 16th Dec. 2015
Preface: This post has NOT been made from a viewpoint of denigrating spiritual missions, but from a viewpoint of sharing some human issues that come into play in Indian spiritual missions/ashrams. It may serve to better prepare some persons to handle these challenges if they are involved with such spiritual missions, or intend to do so in future. This note is based on my experiences as well as my readings about Hindu, Christian and multi-faith (SarvaDharma) spiritual missions/ashrams in India. end-Preface.[Part 1 of this article is available here: http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2015/12/the-five-human-challenges-to-overcome.html]
I came across the term institutional inbreeding or academic inbreeding only after I got associated with a deemed university in India as honorary staff/faculty. From http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20131009120224656:
"The narrower definition of academic inbreeding assumes that only PhD candidates hired by the same university where they graduated and who remain there throughout their career should be considered as academically inbred.
The broader definition assumes that graduation level is not critical as long as the academic is hired straight after concluding their bachelor or masters degree, becoming an academic at the same graduating university."
I think this institutional inbreeding matter applies to spiritual institutions/ashrams as well. In a typical spiritual ashram there are disciples of the spiritual master/leader heading the ashram, who get special attention from the spiritual master, and some of the senior disciples head various ashram activities (with the ashram leader being the top-level head). In a Hindu ashram, usually these disciples are sannyasis or sannyasinis, with their ochre robes clearly indicating their sannyasi/sannyasini status. I think the typical pattern is that these senior disciples would join as a brahmachari/brahmacharini and spend some years imbibing the teachings and traditions of the ashram and its leader/master. Those who are able to stay the course and are keen on further growth, are then granted the status of sannyasi/sannyasini. And some from these sannyasis/sannyasinis, over time, become senior disciples of the master taking on important responsibilities of ashram management.
Lay people associate with the typical Hindu ashram and assist in many ways, especially in areas where they have special skills (e.g. medicine, teaching secular education, engineering work, administrative work etc.) However the top responsibilities lie with the senior disciples. The lay person, even if he/she associates full-time with the ashram, will typically NOT be considered for any top responsibility in the ashram.
Further, sannyasis/sannyasinis who are associated with another Hindu ashram/master may also not be accepted easily for top positions in the ashram.
I think it would be similar for Christian ashrams/missions in India.
An interesting variation of the above are institutions which are a mix of secular and spiritual, having an associated educational mission from schooling to university level. In such cases, passed out students/graduates of the educational institutions are strongly preferred as employees of the institutions associated with the secular-cum-spiritual ashram (which includes the educational institution itself). In the case of educational institution associated with the ashram employing its own graduates as teachers & other staff, it is the classic case of academic inbreeding.
What are the pros & cons of such inbreeding in ashram institutions including secular-cum-spiritual ashram institutions?
Strong exposure to teachings and traditions of the ashram and its leader are VITAL for all those who take up significant level responsibilities of the ashram. The teachings & traditions have to be consistently followed, as far as feasible, across various ashram activities. Another sensitive aspect in favour of such institutional inbreeding for ashrams is LOYALTY. Large ashrams face some strong opposition or the other. This seems to be almost inescapable. The opponents/critics are eager to gather inside information from the ashram that can be used to malign the ashram. A person who has been with the ashram and its leader(s) for decades and has gone through the stages of brahmachari/brahmacharini and then sannyasi/sannyasini OR been through its educational mission as a student and then worked in the ashram for a decade or more, will usually have a high level of LOYALTY to the ashram and its leader. [Some cases of long-term disciples turning against their spiritual master/ashram do happen but it is quite rare. However, even if rare, those cases do gain a dubious & sensationalist kind of fame.]
One of the disadvantages of such inbred ashram systems is the resistance the system has to incorporate improved practices, both secular & spiritual, from competent persons who come to their system from outside. Related to this disadvantage is the challenge involved for the system to attract accomplished non-inbred outsiders into their system. Inbreeding is a form of groupism. In any part of the ashram system that has an overwhelming majority of inbred persons, they will naturally form a group. While they may be polite to a non-inbred person who joins in their activities, they will typically not consider that person to be one of them. In extreme cases, the competence of a non-inbred outsider could be viewed as a threat by the majority of inbred persons in an ashram institution dept., resulting in a situation where either the competent outsider has to keep a low profile and bow down to majority will, or the competent outsider may find himself/herself forced out of the unit/dept. on some flimsy excuse or the other.
Now these disadvantages related to inbreeding are human interaction realities and there is no point in getting too worked up about it. The wiser approach is to understand these human weaknesses aspects and factor them in when one is involved with an ashram system.
An unusual case is that of a powerful mystic who founded educational institutions from schools to university level, and who invested significant time & resources for these institutions, with the hope & dream that its products (graduates) will be the kind-of chosen torch bearers of his mission to re-inforce Sathya (Truth), Dharma (Righteous Living), Shanti (Peace) & Prema (Love) in the world. The mystic publicly and repeatedly praised the students & alumni of these educational institutions and prophesied that they will lead his mission forward.
That had one rather unfortunate side-effect of some of these students & alumni considering themselves to be superior to the rest of the devotees of this mystic. This superiority complex that some of them developed made other non-alumni devotees become somewhat wary of them. However, when the powerful mystic was alive, the students & alumni received special treatment from the powerful mystic himself, and so the rest of the devotees had to simply accept their (students/alumni) special status if they wanted to be around the mystic.
Once the powerful mystic gave up his body, there was a dramatic change in the situation. In the years that followed it was efficiency and capability of the alumni in the various roles they were playing within the ashram system and in the associated organization outside, that became the important factor in the system. In a sense, the special status given to the students and alumni by the powerful mystic started wearing off. The playing field among the devotees of the powerful mystic started becoming more of a level playing field between alumni and non-alumni devotees, with performance in their roles within the ashram system, and in the associated organization outside the ashram system, becoming the key measure of their contribution and so, their importance, in the system.
Those alumni in important ashram positions whose arrogance was tolerated when the powerful mystic was alive, had to face the rather unpleasant experience after the powerful mystic gave up his body, of people either returning their arrogance with counter-arrogance, or people simply avoiding them. In the associated university there was a very strange effect of senior academics flight after the powerful mystic gave up his physical body, as some senior academics felt slighted or even humiliated that they were being bossed around by younger alumni-staff of the university who had been promoted to powerful positions in the university overlooking other (non-alumni) senior university staff. Perhaps the top decision makers had thought that as the powerful mystic had said that his students will run his mission, it was appropriate to hand over important and powerful positions in the university to alumni-turned-staff even if they were younger than some other staff (some of whom had even been their teachers). But the reality was that senior staff found it very difficult to digest reporting to these bosses who were younger and junior to them. Arrogance on part of some such alumni-bosses, who perhaps felt themselves to be inherently superior to all non-alumni university staff (including senior staff and including their own teachers) due to the special treatment/consideration given to them by the powerful mystic, made it significantly worse. The net result was that, especially in a year or two after the powerful mystic gave up his body, many senior non-alumni academics quit the university. Quite surely, this was not exactly what the powerful mystic would have wanted for his beloved university, as he gave a lot of respect to the elder non-alumni teachers/academics of his university. Academic inbreeding in such secular-cum-spiritual educational institutions in a special case of academic inbreeding and can have some serious bad effects for the performance of the institution, and so special care must be taken to tackle these serious bad effects.
A veteran of a spiritual-cum-secular ashram institution commented on the above post contents sent to him over email, as follows (slightly edited to fix typo kind of issues):
Very, very good, elaborative, exhaustive and detailed study of the subject! Very nicely written with thoroughness and deep analysis. I wish every one should go through this unbiased. It is written in general interest keeping in view the progress and growth of the institutions by and large. Policy makers and seniors must read and give a serious thought to the content given when we intend to maintain expected standards of founders of these organizations be that a school or college or hospital or any. Efficiency and quality suffer if we do not cognize the ills of the problem posed. Mere loyalty with no creativity and closeness by being a YES man and a talebearer will not serve institutional obligations. Any way it is a thought provoking write up. Thanks for sharing.